Posts Tagged ‘WWII/Holocaust’

I normally don’t review non-horror media on this blog. I stopped doing that at some point in college, when I decided to focus more to better appeal to my audience (I’ll do an anime recommendation post every now and then, but only because that stuff helps my craft). That being said, I feel compelled to review this film for a number of reasons:

One, this is an anime movie about Anne Frank. Yeah, you read that right, an anime movie about Anne Frank. Second, it was released free of charge to watch on YouTube last month, and so far as I can tell, this was done legally by its American distributor, not by a random person hoping to make a quick buck off ad revenue or who feels media should be free on an accessible platform. And three, even my parents, neither of whom are anime fans, are curious about this film! Given all that, I decided to watch it and see if it’s any good. And given what I saw, I felt a review on the blog was necessary.

Anne no Nikki, or Anne Frank’s Diary, follows the life of Anne Frank as she, her family, and four others go into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland in a tiny apartment above her father’s former workplace. Based on the diary she kept during the war (something people who complain that the lockdown and social distancing restrictions are too onerous need to reread), the film starts right before her family goes into hiding, and ends right as they are discovered and sent off to the camps.

This film…is a bit of a hot mess.

For starters, let’s talk about the animation. While the backgrounds are lovely enough to make me nostalgic enough for the short period of time I lived in Europe, the characters look flat, grey and unrealized. I think the animators were going for realism rather than stereotypical anime style character designs. However, when you compare it to the characters of Perfect Blue two years after this was released, or films like My Neighbor Totoro or Grave of the Fireflies, both released in 1988, and all three aiming for realism in the character design, it just pales in comparison.*

And at times, the movement is really weird, like they had to cut frames or the characters’ mouths don’t match what’s being said. It’s hard to believe this film was animated by Studio Madhouse, responsible for some of the best anime ever made, including the above-mentioned Perfect Blue, one of my favorite films ever, and my personal favorite anime, the isekai fantasy epic Overlord. What the hell?!

How the hell did the studio that produced Perfect Blue (lower) produce Anne no Nikki (upper) two years prior?

As for the plot, you have to wonder about a lot of decisions. Trying to fit this story into ninety minutes, a lot of material is skipped over, truncated or changed. Much of what allowed us to get to know and love Anne is rushed through, and perhaps a little too much time is spent on Anne’s romance with Peter.

I think the film’s worst sin, however, is that it doesn’t carry the message of Anne’s diary very well. While making us experience the darkest moments of Nazi occupation and living in hiding, Anne is still able to show us how life can go on and even be filled with hope for the future and human kindness. The film tries, but it can’t bring about that message. At least not in a way that feels authentic and powerful.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Anne Frank’s Diary a 1.7. If you want to experience the story of Anne Frank–I mean really experience it–read the actual book. Watch one of the film adaptations (I hear the 1959 one is really good), or see if there are any recordings of the play available to stream (I saw it several years ago and highly recommend it).

Just don’t watch this movie. It was released on YouTube for free because the distributor knew they could make more money from YouTube ad revenue than if they put it on DVD/Blu-Ray or to rent on another site. I’m convinced of that after wasting my evening with it.

This has been Rami Ungar, wishing I had watched something else instead. Good night!

 

*For non-anime fans, think of a beautifully drawn Disney character, and then compare it to a character from a Saturday morning cartoon with a low budget. It’s close to that.

What’s up, Followers of Fear and other assorted humans? Recently, at the start of my self-isolation, I read a historical fiction novel with supernatural overtones called The Deep, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see my full review here). Having spoken with the author of The Deep, Alma Katsu, a few times over Twitter, I thought I’d ask if she’d like to be interviewed. She agreed, and the following interview resulted. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary gentility, allow me to introduce the author of The Deep and The Hunger (which is on my TBR list), Alma Katsu!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Ms. Katsu. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

Alma Katsu: My name is Alma Katsu and I’m the author of five novels, all historical with some element of horror or the supernatural. My most recent book is THE DEEP, a reimagining of the sinking of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. My previous novel was THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party. I was very lucky with THE HUNGER, as the book made a number of best books of the year lists and was nominated for several awards, including from Locus magazine and the Bram Stoker Awards.

RU: Please tell us about The Hunger and The Deep, what inspired them and what the writing process for them was like.

AK: Both books are similar, in that they use a historical event as a springboard for a story, but different, too. THE HUNGER is a more of a dystopian—some people have compared it to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and Dan Simmons’ THE TERROR. But both books are reflections of the eras in which they took place, which means THE DEEP is a more romantic story, very much of the Edwardian era, with its love of occultism and spiritualism. I tend to write character-driven stories, which might make for a slower pace than some fans of thrillers prefer, but I think it will hit the spot for people looking for a richer read.

 

My writing process for these books might seem a bit heretical, depending on what you’ve heard from other writers of historical fiction but I keep a very tight schedule doing the research. I was a professional researcher for over 30 years, so I have the benefit of a lot of trial and error and learning what works for me. I do a lot of on-the-spot research along the way, of course. Generally it takes 4-6 months to write the first draft, and then there are rounds of edits, some of which can end up changing the story quite a bit. Writing a novel is definitely a marathon, not a sprint!

RU: Or several marathons, sometimes. Continuing on the topic of historical fiction, obviously you have to take some creative liberties when it comes to famous events in history for the sake of the story. How do you decide what changes to make and how do you go about making them?

AK: Historical fiction is quite a big tent. Some books strive to be reproductions of historical fact with a thin veneer of fiction on top, but that’s not me. I use the historical event as the basis of another story, a different story, usually centered around a theme. The idea behind the THE DEEP has to do with women’s rights, which was a huge issue of the day. In the novel, you see a range of women, poor and very, very rich, struggling with the confines placed on their lives by society. On one end you have Annie Hebbley, the main character, a poor Irish girl who has come to work on the Titanic, and on the other, Madeline Astor, new second wife of JJ Astor, the richest man in America. In between you have a woman doctor (a rarity of the day), an aristocrat who earned her living running a high fashion house, and other poor women with few choices. There’s also the issue of class, and I can think of few settings better to explore this issue than the Titanic!

The changes I make to the historical record are in order to tell the story I’m trying to tell. As long as readers understand that, and are willing to give me a chance to tell them an entertaining and (hopefully) enlightening story, I don’t think there’s an issue.

RU: I have to ask, how hard was it to resist making a snarky reference to the movie Titanic in The Deep? Because the temptation would’ve killed me if I resisted.

AK: I hadn’t seen the movie until I went to write the book, because the movie is what most people today think of when they hear “Titanic,” and I wanted to know what their expectations would be. So, while it wasn’t my favorite movie of all time, I can see why it was popular, and what chords to strike with some people.

RU: You also host a podcast called “Damned History,” about the history behind the stories you write. Can you tell us a little more about that, and the writing process for each individual episode?

AK: The idea for the podcast came from the talks I gave on tour. Audiences told me they got a lot from the talks that enhanced their understanding of my books, but there are only so many people who are going to make it to a live event, so I thought podcasts were the perfect medium to make them available to anyone, anywhere. So, the material in the podcasts for THE HUNGER come from my book tour.

 

For the episodes for THE DEEP, they’re more on what I think people might find interesting, or what the questions so far have been about, so there’s one episode on Titanic conspiracy theories, and another on some of the real people on the Titanic.

RU: Are you working on anything new right now? And are there any historical events you would like to write about stories about someday?

AK: I’m working on the next historical novel right now, which will deal with World War II, and gearing up for the release of my first spy novel next year, RED WIDOW. This is a first for me, drawing on my career in intelligence, and I hope readers will give it a try.

RU: I’ll check them out, especially the WWII novel. That was the focus of my history major in college, after all. So, when you’re not writing, researching or podcasting, what do you do with your time?

AK: Working! I may retired from government but am still a consultant. There’s a lot of juggling going on in my life right now.

RU: I know what that’s like. What is some advice you would give other authors, regardless of background or experience?

AK: Write and read. Read a lot, read outside of your genre. And try to write every day, write through problems in your story, because writing is like a muscle.

RU: Finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were picked up, which would you bring with you?

AK: That’s tough. I’m not one of those writers who worships a particular book, and I like to use my reading to study how other writers have handled a particular issue in writing. I’d definitely have a Sandor Marai book among them, because I love the way he unfolds these terribly complex stories. Right now, I’m enjoying good mystery writing, particularly those of Laura Lippmann and Denise Mina. I like old Barbara Vine mysteries, too.

RU: All are excellent choices. Thanks for coming on the blog, Ms. Katsu. I hope you come by again with your next book.

 

Both The Deep and The Hunger are available from most book retailers. If you would like to check out Ms. Katsu’s podcast Damned History, you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Soundcloud. And you can find more about Ms. Katsu herself on her website Alma Katsu Books, as well as on Twitter.

If you would like to see more interviews I’ve done with authors, check out my Interviews page.

And if you’re an author who will be releasing a book soon or just released a new one and would like to be interviewed, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. If I’m available, we’ll make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re celebrating a holiday this weekend, I hope you’re finding it spiritually satisfying. Until next time, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares!

A poster from a play from the Grand Guignol.

*Trigger warning: this post goes into a lot of dark and uncomfortable topics. If talk of gore, murder, sexual assault and similar subjects upset you, stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

Have you ever seen any version of Sweeney Todd? Whether you saw a stage production or watched the movie, Sweeney Todd is somewhat of an outlier among famous Broadway musicals. It’s dark, bloody, and deals with subject matter other plays don’t, such as rape and cannibalism. It’s basically a slasher story with singing.

Now, if you’re like me (and I assume most of you are, if you’re reading this blog), you not only wish there were more plays like Sweeney Todd, but that some of these plays went further in terms of gore and terror. Well, recently I found out that there was a theater dedicated to plays just like that. And it ran for nearly seventy years.

The Grand Guignol Theater was a theater set up in an old Paris chapel in 1897. To summarize its history, the theater at first performed naturalistic plays centered around prostitutes, street thieves and alcoholics. A typical evening at the Grand Guignol would feature five or six short plays, alternating between cynical slice-of-life comedies, horror shows, and more traditional comedies. However, after a change of ownership, the theater began to focus more on horror.

And as time went on, the theater became famous for it. In fact, the Grand Guignol performed over twelve-hundred plays in the course of its existence, focusing on subjects such as insanity, strangulation, rape, leprosy, hypnosis, eye gouging, stabbing, rabies, and so much more. One actress, Paula Maxa, estimated she’d been “murdered” at least ten thousand times in sixty different ways, among other things. To enhance the terror, the theater staff developed a number of techniques to make the horror onstage seem as real as possible, and actors acted as if everything onstage was actually happening.

It wasn’t uncommon for audience members to puke or faint during performances.

This was all to the delight of Andre de Lorde, one of the Guignol’s writers, who judged his plays based on how many people fainted during a show. Along with psychologist and friend Alfred Binet, he wrote over a hundred plays, all particularly gruesome.

And audiences kept coming back. Like many modern horror fans, they were seeking a thrill. And the Grand Guignol provided. At its peak, celebrities and even royalty visited for shows.

So why did it close? Well, there are a number of theories. By the 1930s, the theater had shifted away from gory shockers to psychological dramas, and attendance began to dip. The rise of movies and TV shows, some of the former being quite gory or sensational themselves, may have also played a part. Theater management even believed revelations about the Holocaust may have played a role, saying “We could never equal Buchenwald.”

Whatever the case, the Grand Guignol closed in 1962. Today it’s a theater space for a deaf acting troupe.

But while the theater closed, its legacy still exists. Many small theaters and troupes around the world have been formed to preserve the Guignol’s legacy and produce their own Guignol-style plays. The Guignol’s also made its way into popular culture, and has been referenced in music, movies, books and more.

Still, wouldn’t it be amazing if the Grand Guignol was truly revjved? If one of the groups inspired by it managed to achieve the same popularity and staying power as the original theater?

Perhaps someday it will come back. And then perhaps Mr. Sweeney Todd won’t be so lonely anymore.

“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

I’ve been trying to think of the words to say for hours. I’ve been wondering if I should say anything. I’ve wanted to throw myself into anime or a book or into any form of entertainment, because sometimes the made-up worlds are better than the real one we inhabit. In the end though, I had to say something. I think I knew I was going to the moment I heard what happened today. And I had to let you know, I’m afraid in a way I don’t like to be.

Earlier today, a man named Robert Bowers opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three different services for three different congregations were being held that morning, with nearly a hundred people in the synagogue. Eleven people were killed and several more were injured, including four of the police officers who showed up to subdue Bowers, who has made numerous statements on social media about the Jews and “invaders,” aka immigrants and refugees. Tree of Life has been active with organizations that help out immigrants and refugees, including most notably HIAS, which may have played a role in Bowers’s selection of Tree of Life as his target. He has been captured and is awaiting being charged, including federal hate crime charges.

I found out about the shooting this afternoon while out with my cousin, who is here in Columbus for an internship. A friend sent me a link to an article about it. I felt my blood go cold, but I didn’t tell my cousin. I didn’t want to ruin the day for him. I’m sure by now he knows. And he’s probably as scared as me.

This is the second mass shooting in the United States that has been associated with one of the facets of my identity. The last one was when Pulse was shot up in Orlando, Florida, two days after my twenty-third birthday. Pulse was a gay nightclub. Fort-nine people died. I’m bisexual. I wasn’t affected directly, but I was affected.

This was worse. I’ve been Jewish, knew I was Jewish well before I was aware I was bisexual. I feel connected to my religion in so many ways. In college, I studied the Holocaust and have pursued it further since. I’ve noticed the climb in anti-Semitism in the United States over the last two years.

And I knew people from Tree of Life. In high school, my synagogue’s youth group would meet up with other youth groups from throughout the region several times a year to hang out and be Jewish as a group. Tree of Life would sometimes join us.

And before my family moved to Columbus, we considered living in Pittsburgh. We even visited to look at houses and to see what the schools and synagogues were like. I don’t remember what synagogue we were considering joining, but for all I know, it could’ve been Tree of Life. And even if it wasn’t, who knows where I might’ve ended up worshiping later in life. Who knows what might’ve happened if my parents had decided Pittsburgh was a better choice than Columbus?

I’m afraid. I’ve known for a while how anti-Semitism in the US and around the world have been making a comeback. I knew it was real. But it’s no longer that far removed from me. It struck close today.

I’m terrified. But I don’t want to be terrified. And, as happens when I’m scared, I have to fight and conquer what scares me.

We need to do more to stop monsters like this poor excuse for a man. Or more like him will copy him. And many more may die.

The Anti-Defamation League said this was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in this country, and that it’s “unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.” I say that it was not only thinkable, but more than likely to happen at some point. And that’s the problem we need to fix.

People are going to offer thoughts and prayers and suggest armed guards to stop this from happening again. The thing is, the people at Tree of Life were thinking and praying. Among our liturgy are prayers to be kept safe from the enemies of our people. And many synagogues already have security in the form of retired or off-duty police officers. And as we saw at the Stoneman Douglas shooting earlier this year, the presence of an armed guard doesn’t always deter a violent man with a gun and a goal in mind.

I’m a big believer in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.” I also believe that if you take a step towards a goal, the universe takes a step with you. And I think it’s high-time we treat this chronic disease we’ve been dealing with in the United States for far too long. Very soon, Americans everywhere will have the chance to set the course of our country for the next couple years. I’m asking every American reading this, and all the ones who aren’t, to take advantage of this opportunity to set this course. And to please set a course that involves making the requirements to own a gun as stringent as the ones to drive a car, as well as increased care and research for mental illness, and for higher tolerance for all peoples, not just the Jewish people.

Because in the end, we are all one humanity. Forty-six genes in every cell, five fingers and toes on each limb, same organs and blood that is red and carries oxygen to our cells. And if we can’t make members of our species realize that, what good are we as a whole?

I also encourage you to donate to HIAS and other organizations that try to foster understanding and help those less fortunate than others. Because in the face of hate, the most powerful weapon we have is love. So show love.

Make your voice heard.

Take action.

Because all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And we can’t allow that to happen.

Be brave. Fight back against evil. And above all, be safe.

Thanks for listening.

You ever find yourself doing something casually, thinking it’d be a fun hobby or just a way to pass a couple of hours, and then it ends up becoming something much bigger than you could ever have imagined? That’s happened to me a number of times. Reading Harry Potter as a child and then reading Stephen King’s It as a tween led me to become a writer and a horror writer, respectively, when I’d only been looking for something new and fun to read. Likewise, reading books about the Holocaust while traveling through Israel during the summer before senior year of high school led me to want to study the Holocaust along with creative writing in college.

And just recently, a story I started writing in-between drafts of Rose back in spring has quite possibly become my next novel. And I have no fucking clue how that happened.

Let me explain. Back in late winter/early spring, right after I’d finished another draft of Rose, I started a story I’d been wanting to work on for a while, both to pass the time and to experiment with writing by the seat of my pants. I didn’t think it would be a very long story, maybe twenty-thousand or thirty-thousand at most (so a novelette or novella), so I thought it would be a good side project. I named this story River of Wrath, as it deals with a certain aspect of Dante’s Inferno, and I went at it.

The writing by the seat of my pants didn’t work out so well, and I only got about nine-thousand words or so in before I had to do another draft of Rose (still impressive, but I felt like I could do better). I got that draft of Rose done, and then sent it to the imprint that would become my publisher. I worked on other stories while I tried to figure out how best to edit River of Wrath. After I sent the latest draft of Rose back to Castrum and did a few other stories, I decided to write an outline for River, and then go off that.

Whoo-boy, did that work! Writing the story went a lot faster, especially after I went through the initial thirty pages or so and tried to clean them up a bit. I was enjoying the story, and I found it challenging in a fun way, which is usually a good sign.

And then I got past ten thousand words.

And then fifteen thousand.

And then twenty thousand.

Thirty thousand arrived before I knew it.

I reached thirty-five thousand around Sunday.

And last night, I reached forty-six thousand. Yeah, I wrote around eleven thousand words over three days. I’m not sure how I did that either. On the bright side, I think I can do it again and write stories a lot faster now.

But back to point. Defining novels by word count varies from person to person. Mine is usually around sixty thousand (for clarity, the first Harry Potter is seventy-seven thousand words, give or take a few), but many people and quite a few publishers consider forty-thousand words or higher a novel. As I said, this novel’s upwards of forty-six thousand, so some would definitely consider it a novel. And I have a feeling River’s going to be at least fifty-thousand or higher by the time I’m done.

Like I said, I did not intend for this story to get so long. I thought it would top out at twenty-thousand. At the outside, it might reach thirty-thousand, too long for a magazine but perhaps good for a future short story collection. I never thought it would get this long! But parts of the story I thought would be short as heck became entire pages, complete with dialogue and inner thoughts and a couple of crazy scenes for people have to fight for their lives! And I felt that if I was going to do this story justice, I’d just have to go with the flow and write till I finished it.

So yeah, I’ve got another novel in the works, one called River of Wrath, and one I didn’t even know I was writing until it got as long as it did. And if I’m lucky, I’ll finish it by Halloween (which, coincidentally, is also when this story takes place). And afterwards? I plan to hand it off to some beta readers and do some edits, of course. And hey, if Rose sells well and Castrum wants to continue working with me afterwards, maybe they’ll take on River of Wrath and publish that as well.

But I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them. First thing’s first, I’m going to finish River. And when I do, I’ll celebrate with a drink and let you all know about it (whether or not you want to know or not).

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed and think of more scary stories to write. Expect a review of the new Halloween movie at some point this weekend. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Agh! I’m late! I have to get to my flight! I’m flying a dragon back to Ohio. And while dragons are rather flexible with what time they take off (they’re awesome that way), I’d rather not keep this one waiting. Anyway, welcome back to Day Nine of the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’m almost through with this challenge, so I’m making sure to keep putting up interesting books so neither you nor I get bored with it.

Thanks again to my cousin Matthew for nominating me for this on Facebook. I hope you don’t mind I made this into a blog thing. And if you do…well, it’s too late to do anything about it, isn’t it?

Now for the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the other reason why I decided to take up a History major in college and studying the Holocaust. That book is Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (yeah, not all of these are fiction novels. Some are about actual events).

I’d seen the movie earlier in the year I read this book, so I was curious about the book it was based on. I ended up reading it during a five-week trip to Israel alongside The Plot Against America. And Schindler’s List affected me way more than Plot. Reading all those stories from people who had known Oskar Schindler, a complicated man who grew to care deeply about the Jews under him and decided to risk everything to protect them, in a time where that could lead to execution, spoke to me on a level that few books do. I decided then to study the Holocaust when I got to college alongside English and creative writing.

I also came back from Israel with a ring on my finger that says in Hebrew, “He who saves a life, it is as if he’s saved the world entire.” This is similar to the ring Oskar Schindler was given at the end of the book and the movie, and I had it custom made so I could remind myself of that every day. I still have that ring, and I wear it every day. It shows how much one person can do if they put their minds to it, and the good that come from it.

Perhaps someday I can have the same effect or inspiration on someone else someday. We can hope.

Today I’m tagging my friend Tricia Drammeh. Hope you have fun, Tricia. I know I have.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m headed back to Columbus. I look forward to sharing the last book in the challenge with you tomorrow. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Don’t fly off without me, dragon! I need to get home!

It’s Saturday, and I’d like to be sleeping in. However, weekends don’t mean I’m slacking off. Or maybe I am, but I don’t consider it slacking off. I’m just working in a way most people don’t see as working. Anyway, welcome back to the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought by my cousin Matthew. Here are the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is special for me, as it was part of the reason I took up a history and studied the Holocaust in college. Allow me to introduce The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth.

An alternate history story, Roth inserts himself as the childhood narrator in an America where Charles Lindbergh gets elected President of the United States during the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Lindbergh acquiesces to the wishes of the America First crowd and declares America neutral when it comes to events transpiring in Europe. However, moves made by the government under Lindbergh makes Roth’s family and many Jews suspicious that Lindbergh may secretly be a Nazi sympathizer or pawn. And as time goes on, events transpire to make that fear seem very reasonable.

Alternate history is supposed to give us a view of what could’ve happened if a few things were different, and The Plot Against America does just that. While I do find it difficult to believe that Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer, it does go to show what could’ve happened if his America First policies did shape America for a few years, as well as if more anti-Semitic practices or ideas were made law. But it also shows what could happen if a young boy in America saw his very people suddenly under threat, at risk by something behind-the-scenes, and how his family reacted to that. It’s not just interesting, but engrossing and makes you think about how only a few minor things could have seriously changed America’s destiny.

From what I hear, a TV miniseries based on the novel is in development under the guy who created the TV show The Wire. Honestly, with the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America, I can’t imagine a better time to adapt this story. Hopefully it gets a good network or streaming service that will ensure it’s seen by a lot of people. And in the meantime, I hope you take the time to check out the book. Believe me, it’s worth a read.

Today, I’m tagging my friend Pat Bertram. Pat, I know you’re busy these days, but I think it’d be cool if you could do this. Good luck if you can!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back later today with a review of The Nun. Until then, I hope you’re enjoying the weekend. I know I plan to.

 

There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Aokigahara forest.

On December 31st, YouTube star Logan Paul visited Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is visited by thousands of tourists, families, and school trips, but has a dark side. Aokigahara is a popular suicide spot, to the point that its nickname is Suicide Forest. The Japanese government has even posted signs throughout the forest encouraging visitors to choose life rather than take their own lives. While there, Paul and his friends came across a hanging body, filmed it, and posted the video on YouTube (the body’s face was blurred out). The video quickly went viral, garnering a lot of negative controversy. Within a day, Paul took down the video, and issued an apology over Twitter, but people are still very upset and there has been a lot of talk online about his actions.

Before I get into the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about with this post. Firstly, I am about to talk about a sensitive subject, and I am going to approach this with as much care and respect as possible. Still, I am an imperfect being and I make mistakes, like everyone. So if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, please understand that is not what I intended. I’m just trying to make sense of a difficult topic in a world that doesn’t make sense that often, and sometimes I miss things that cause misunderstanding between others and myself without meaning to. So please bear with me as I try and explore a topic that a lot of people have strong opinions about.

Second, there are two things about me I would like to tell you all. One is that I have experienced depression before, and a couple of times it made me think of suicide. Those times when I considered suicide, it was because I had toxic people in my life who made me miserable. I still remember the crushing despair, the feeling that things were never going to get better, and the thought that I could just make it all better by leaving this life and falling into–I don’t know. Something better. It took the extraction of these toxic people in my life, as well as the help of a lot of good friends and family to help me find happiness and hope again.

The Yahrtzeit candle I lit at Sachsenhausen.

The other thing I would like you to know is that back in 2014, I visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp twenty-two miles north of Berlin as part of my study-abroad trip. Around thirty-thousand people died at that camp while it was operational. When I arrived, it struck me as a very tranquil place. There was lots of grass and trees, the sun was shining, and there were only a few buildings left from when the camp was operational. But you spend enough time there, and this pall of despair settled over me. It was like the prisoners had felt over seventy years ago had seeped into my very body. An hour there, and it was just hard to even breathe there. I lit a Yahrtzeit candle, a ritual candle in Judaism for memorializing the dead, at a wall used by firing squads. And when I left, I was glad to get out of that anguish-infected place, even as I was glad to have visited a place connected to the history of my people.

Now to the point of why I’m writing this blog post. You see, a month before I went to Sachsenhausen, I wrote a blog post about haunted locations I wanted to visit, and Aokigahara was on that list (even before it became a suicide hotspot, the forest was well-known as a place for hauntings, hence why it was on the list). Given that, I feel like I have a responsibility to talk about this controversy, as well as my desire then, and now, to visit Aokigahara.

Obviously, what Logan Paul did was extremely disrespectful, the equivalent of taking a photo of the corpse at a funeral, or a selfie at Auschwitz or at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. It shows total disregard for the deceased and their loved ones in favor of quick-lived social media attention, and should be discouraged at every opportunity.

However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to visit Aokigahara in itself (hold your comments, let me finish). As I pointed out above. Aokigahara is visited every year for totally innocent reasons. However, no matter what reason you go to visit the forest, it should be done with respect. Any death is horrible, and suicides are especially tragic. We can never know what is going through someone’s mind or what is happening in their lives, let alone someone dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not unless we’ve been there ourselves, and sometimes not even then. But in every case, it is terrible, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.

With that in mind, anyone who visits the forest should do so with respect and cognizance for what has happened there, the same same way I approached visiting Sachsenhausen. Be respectful of what has happened and is happening there, understand that depression, suicide, and the forest itself has affected a lot of people in horrible ways, and if God forbid you do come across a body, leave it alone and notify the authorities. Only take photographs or footage if it is to help the authorities find the deceased, not for views or likes or whatever. Other photographs can be taken of the forest, or of the tourist attractions there such as the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, but definitely not of the bodies.

Remember, 1-800-273-TALK.

This is how, if I am ever lucky enough to visit Japan and I end up visiting Aokigahara, I will approach the forest. Not for ghosts, not for likes, and definitely not for suicide, but to pay respects to the dead and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle of suicide the world over. I may even bring a Yahrtzeit candle or some incense to burn, provided I can make sure it won’t cause a forest fire or injuries. Because what happens in this forest is a tragedy, and should be treated as such, no matter who you are or what your background is. Even as I enjoy the beauty of the forest and the tourist sites, I will remember these people, and hope they find rest, even as I hope others find the will to continue on and live.

And if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that things do get better. There were times when I thought my life couldn’t get better, but it did, and now, my life is great. And if you keep living, there’s always a chance your life could get better too. Every day is an opportunity for improvement. All it takes is the will to continue on. I support you, I’m there for you, and I hope you take this message to heart.

And again, if I said something wrong or caused offense, I beg your forgiveness. It is not my intention to cause any hurt feelings. I only want to make sense of something horrible and help those in troubled times. Thank you for reading.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, please also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will help you through this crisis, and help you find the light to fight off the darkness.