Monday, October 19, 2020

The Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor: A Celebration of Horror

 

The Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor

A Celebration of Horror




Spoiler alert, obviously.

 

When The Haunting of Hill House was released on Netflix there was not a single horror fan that didn’t go into binge-mode with equal parts trembling excitement and agonizing trepidation. Arguably one of Shirley Jackson’s most famous works, I can only imagine the fear, the anxiety the writers of the show carried with them as they navigated a world brimming with opportunity for jump scares and creeping terror. How much should they hold back? Should they hold back at all?

The end product was—and I say this without irony—a masterpiece. Diehard horror fans and folks new (or apprehensive) to the genre flocked to social media to sing its praises. This was what horror was.

So when the same writers promised another series—The Haunting of Bly Manor—you could almost hear the drip, drop of drool hitting the floor. I was swept up in the excitement. I loved Hill House despite my aversion to screen-horror, despite my propensity to run and jump into bed, certain there was something evil beneath my bed, and couldn’t wait to enter Bly Manor.

 

The first thing you should know if you haven’t seen Bly Manor—it isn’t Hill House.

And if you have seen it? Perhaps you need reminding—it isn’t Hill House.

The writers had a choice: they could bank on a winning formula, or they could try something new. They knew what worked with Hill House and I have no doubt they could have replicated it if they’d wanted. Indeed, fans expected it to be Hill House Season 2. Clamored for it, even.

Instead, they took a risk. And in doing so, created with the two series’ a kind of love story to the horror genre, in all its complex, twisted glory.

This is what horror is, we said of Hill House.

Bly Manor politely disagreed.

Sure, we start with the scares—a terrifying apparition in reflective surfaces, children who look a little too dead behind the eyes, faceless beings and a general feeling of unease that permeates through every room of the gothic manor—but before we could start to predict the scares, before we started to peel back the wallpaper, seeking the walls of Hill House, the very center of Bly Manor cracked open.

Bly Manor is a slow burn, the pace almost mimicking the slow, purposeful walk of the lady in the lake. But it’s not without payoff. Mysteries reveal themselves, unraveling in real time. Viewers see themselves in Dani—the au pair—and we feel the depth her fear, her worry, her confusion (and this is in no small thanks to Victoria Pedretti’s acting).

But Bly Manor isn’t just about fear.

It’s about grief. Sacrifice. Love.

And this is the fundamental difference between Bly Manor and Hill HouseBly Manor, rather than skimming the surface of complex emotions in order to bolster terror, plumbs the depths of feeling, sacrificing screams for sobs. And as the layers are peeled back and complex character motivations revealed, we start to see through the terror. We stare the lady in the lake in the face (or, lack of face) and though we’re shaking, though we can see the gray, lifeless lake waiting behind her, we feel empathy. We feel pain.

Bly Manor  and Hill House together represent the complexity of horror. The potential. Horror isn’t all gore and death and Vincent Price—it’s a representation of deep, intense feeling. We cry. We scream. We feel.

In one of the final scenes, one character tells the narrator she misrepresented the story of Bly Manor: You said it’s a ghost story. I think it’s a love story.

I think, sometimes, they’re the same thing.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Jingle Balls is a USA Today Bestseller!!

 

Remember a few weeks ago, I wrote a back jacket hack job about the JINGLE BALLS charity anthology? We made the USA Bestseller List for our debut week!!!! Super cool, right? And the coolest thing is that we didn't set out to make a list. 

JINGLE BALLS was a charity anthology first and foremost, with all proceeds going to benefit the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation. We had talked early on about whether we wanted to try to hit a list and all twenty of us decided we didn't want that pressure. 

Then, JINGLE BALLS went live. We had a lot of preorders, which was fab for our fundraising. And then it just sort of snowballed. On Friday, the organizer of the anthology messaged all participating authors and said, based on sales numbers, she thought we had a great chance of hitting the USA Today Bestseller List, but we would only attempt it if everyone was in. No question - everyone was definitely in!


Admittedly, because this wasn't something we'd pre-planned for, the weekend was a bit chaotic. There was a lot of last-minute graphics making, wrangling Facebook ads and messages back and forth about opportunities for additional exposure. A few of the members of the anthology had hit the USA Today list in the past so they guided us in how much promotion was needed.

Spoiler alert: it was a lot!

We participated in Facebook parties, posted in author groups, and made sure JINGLE BALLS was in front of as many eyes as possible. Total credit goes to the three organizers of the anthology who kept everyone updated and created graphics on the fly for cohesive branding. Then Monday came and after we all breathed a collective tired sigh, we waited.

The USA Today list is published in the print version of the paper on Thursday, but available online on Wednesday. Being in the UK, I started checking way too early but the news that we made the list didn't come until about 6pm my time. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and it's amazing that the pan didn't go flying!

All of us hopped onto Zoom to share a virtual celebratory drink - and to make plans for our next anthology next year! 

Key elements to our success:
  • Strong leadership and organization
  • Facebook - love it or hate it, we had a ton of exposure on Facebook through both advertising and reader groups
  • Specific advertising targeted to readers on different vendors vs. universal links
  • A strong supportive team of authors - definitely no divas!
JINGLE BALLS is available through the end of October and then it's gone forever if you haven't snagged your copy yet.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2020

A post by Mary Fan
Do you do National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo? My answer for the past several years has been "sort of." In case there's anyone reading this who's unaware of how NaNoWriMo works, basically your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. There's an official website for it and everything, where you can connect with other writers and track your progress.

Back in April 2013, I apparently created an account to participate in "Camp NaNo", which is just an off-season version of NaNo, but only logged my progress once and then forgot about the whole thing. Since then, I've unofficially participated in several NaNos - and by that, I mean I've tried to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November (the first 50k words, that is... my manuscripts are way too long to be complete in that amount of space). While reporting my word counts on Facebook and Twitter, of course.

It's been a great way for me to kickstart whatever project I had next in my queue (I most recently did it in 2019 with Seize the Stars). Seeing all my writer friends boast about their word counts on social media turned out to be a fantastic motivator for me (though the fact that NaNo starts the day after Halloween has meant that several times, I've had to put up with said friends' bragging about all the words they wrote before noon while nursing a wicked hangover). It's an exercise in no-excuses, get-'er-done, just-keep-going writing, where the manuscript simply has to exist -- you can worry about how good it is later.

This year, I was low-key peer-pressured into re-joining the NaNo website officially (okay, a bunch of my friends were forming a group and I got jealous so I logged into my account for the first time in over seven years). After a summer spent in the indie publishing trenches, dealing with logistics, proofreading manuscripts, and arguing with printing companies, it'll be nice to just WRITE again. 

What am I going to write? That's something I'm still figuring out. I have a bunch of brainstorming notes, but all I can say so far is that it's going to be a YA fantasy set in an underwater realm (where people live in air pockets and use submarines to get around... no mermaids or anything). And there will be circuses. And pirates. And sea monsters. And... oh, hell if I know.

As soon as I get off Blogger, I'm going to try to figure that out so I'll have some idea what I'll be writing come November 1. And also watching some movies that take place underwater for procrasperation (where you procrastinate by doing things "for inspiration").

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Stuck in the Middle: Climbing my way out of the plot hole

Good afternoon, all. This is KGG coming at you from the kitchen table where I have been surfing the net and doomscrolling because I'm avoiding the pain of having to do tricky mental somersaults regarding my book.

You see, I was coasting along just fine, getting in 2,500 words at a clip, but then I hit the 30% mark and now I'm stuck. I couldn't see the forest. Didn't get an aerial view of the landscape. And I'm lost. Basically, I didn't outline far enough ahead because I wasn't sure how events would play out. 

So I gotta fix this.

Like all my tomes, this is a murder mystery. And while I have planned the crimes, and I solved the protagonist in the room with the weapon part of my plot, I have not figured out how my characters get to the magical end where everything is revealed. I know there are some authors who write as if they are on a journey and just go with the flow wherever the characters takes them, and I so want to be that person. But I'm the dope who decided on a dual narrative timelines, so I have two characters who need to be proactive in solving the crimes. Which means I can't simply tag along for the ride. I have to unwind the knotted mess of my plot arcs.

Therefore, I must stop writing and think.

So how does one do that? 

First, I get out a notebook and a pen. Kick it old school.

Then, I open up my book in Scrivener and see where I start the story and where I intend to end it. I write these two points on a piece of paper, like a vertical number line. Beginning. End. I always know how my books end.

And then I jot down the plot twists I want to hit. The moments that make you gasp at the end of a scene. I write them in the plot line.

And then, on another timeline, I map out the crime in chronological order. In this case, the crime happened thirty years ago. I can add what suspects were involved at what point. This allows me to see what my modern protagonist has to uncover so that she can properly solve the murder mystery, and so my readers are not scratching their heads at the conclusion.

And then I have to thread the two timelines together.

But, wait! I have two protagonists. So while my female protagonist is doing A, my male protagonist is doing B. This is actually where I am truly stuck, especially since they both need a proper arc.

But once I have listed the events that need to happen in order for mystery to be solved, I can see how my characters can work to make this happen. 

You'd think I would have worked this stuff out long before I start writing the first scene, but often times I haven't discovered my story yet. So, easier said than done.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone out there climb out of their plot hole.

And if you have tips or strategies that you think might be helpful, pass them along. I can always use the help.

 


Monday, October 5, 2020

Do You Recognize This Sasquatch?

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame

Listen! Do you smell something? October is in the air, in the odour of rotting leaves and the increasingly cool wind.

This is my favourite time of year. It makes me think of death. Fall is about the end of traditionally pleasant things like sunshine, holidays, and green forests, gradually getting replaced with weather that hurts a bit, spooky darkness, and isolation (especially in a year when being an extrovert is deadly). But we’re humans, we’re resilient, and not only can we get through tougher times, but we can make those endings into beginnings. We can start bundling up in comfy sweaters. We can start to turn spooky things into fun costumes and gorge ourselves on mini chocolate bars, or embrace the fear with an all-night horror movie marathon. We can embrace the isolation and stay in to read a good book.

Seeing Karissa’s post here on ATB that kicked off the Halloween season with some scary book recommendations, it got me thinking: what books have really scared me?

Not many! I think as a horror fan, and now a horror author, I got desensitized pretty early on. There is one book that I read when I was very young, and it scared the crap out of me, and also the bejesus out of me. Crap-covered bejesus everywhere! It scared me so much that I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up all night to finish it, reading by the light of a tiny lamp when the rest of the family was asleep like a stereotypical nerdy kid in a movie.

I’d recommend this book to you, but I have no memory of what it was called or who wrote it.

Maybe you’ll know it if I describe it? It was about people camping in the woods, maybe a Scout troop. They were stalked by a monster, which may have been a Sasquatch, or maybe I just thought it was a Sasquatch and it turned out to be something else. The cover may have had a campfire, and big bold yellow letters proclaiming the title, which I can’t even take a guess at. It may have been sold through those Scholastic book cart things. This book probably came out in the 80s. I’m that old.

You’d think with the magic of the Internet, I could do some Googling and find out what this book was, but all I get is stuff like this:


And I was a wimpy kid, but I don’t think that was the book I lost sleep over.


So that book remains not so much a memory as a vague feeling. In my mind, it’s the same feeling of autumn, isolation, and being scared in a good way. If I actually found the book, it probably wouldn’t invoke that same feeling for my adult self, and it could even be embarrassingly tame. Like how by late November, the cold will just be cold, and autumn will be miserable-miserable instead of fun-miserable. Maybe it’s better for some things to remain as a feeling.

 

P.S. Last year I finally met Sasquatch IRL:




Thursday, October 1, 2020

Spooky Book Recommendations for Halloween


It's October 1st, the official start of Halloween Season, in my opinion.

In honor of it being the most spooktacular time of the year, I reached out to a couple of my friends and social groups and asked for their favorite "spooky" (not all necessarily horror) book recommendations.

The first set of recommendations comes from my Foreign Horror Movie watch group, so I know they have great taste in all things spooky. Both Astra and Sunil recommend: HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

Astra also recommends:

In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.


A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naïvely assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.


"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." For those who only know Clive Barker through his long multigenre novels, this one-volume edition of the Books of Blood is a welcome chance to acquire the 16 remarkable horror short stories with which he kicked off his career.

These enthusiastic tales are not ashamed of visceral horror, of blood splashing freely across the page: "The Midnight Meat Train," a grisly subway tale that surprises you with one twist after another; "The Yattering and Jack," about a hilarious demon who possesses a Christmas turkey; "In the Hills, the Cities," an unusual example of an original horror premise; "Dread," a harrowing non-supernatural tale about being forced to realize your worst nightmare; "Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament," about a woman who kills men with her mind. Some of the tales are more successful than others, but all are distinguished by strikingly beautiful images of evil and destruction. No horror library is complete without them. --Fiona Webster



Sunil Also Recommends:

14 by Peter Clines

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

...or the end of everything.


We are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Harrison was the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he's in his mid-thirties and spends most of his time popping pills and not sleeping. Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by unreadable messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. Martin never takes off his sunglasses. Never.

No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.





John Dies at the End by David Wong aka Jason Pargin

STOP.

You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.

NO, don't put it down. It's too late.

They're watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

You may not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce , about Korrok , about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye .

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this:

The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension.

John and I never had the chance to say no.

You still do.

Unfortunately for us, if you make the right choice, we'll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity .

I'm sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind:

None of this is was my fault.

_______________________________________________

I reached out to another author friend, frequent ATB guest, and member of my Star-War-A-Day watch party (which has now morphed into other movies), Victor Catano, and asked him for his favorites. Here's what he told me:

First, the book that scared me the most as a child. When I was a young lad, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure genre, and when I got a little older I gravitated to the many D&D themed knockoffs, particularly the ones from Steve Jackson studios. The second book was called the Citadel of Chaos. You hacked and slashed through a tower full of monsters, until you came to a room with these monsters called Ganjees. These were floating heads, that glowed in a pitch black room. You couldn't fight them or hack your way past. You could only get past if you found a jar of ointment somewhere in the castle (and you couldn't go back and get it) so you would often die in your journey. I remember vividly having nightmares where I saw these glowing heads in my window coming to get me, before waking up in a sweat.


The most recent book to keep me up at night was Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone In The Dark, her study of the Golden State Killer.  Now I've read a ton of true crime fiction. Like a lot of teens, I went through a serial killer phase reading case histories of the monsters who walk among us. I've read tons of gory mystery novels, and I never had an issue with sleeping. But there was something about McNamara's vivid prose, taking you inside the homes as murderer prowled, that was deeply unsettling. No other book has made me so sympathetic to the victims and their surviving families. This book was hard to read, not because it was bad, but because it was too good. And also, I like to read in bed and a true crime book about a rapist/murderer that attacks people in their beds isn't soothing nighttime reading.





And for my all-time favorite scary stories, I'm going with Clive Barker's Books of Blood (See Astra's recommendation above). Everything about these were deeply disturbing to me as a teen. From the framing device (a con man pretends to talk to spirits, but then the real spirits get pissed off at him and invade his body. They carve and brand the print on his skin, until every inch of his body is covered with words that literally tell the stories of the ghosts and demons.) to the tales of bloody betrayal and body horror that Barker would tell. One I remember well was a tale of a small town in eastern Europe, where rival villages would battle each year in a festival, but they constructed giants made out of the townspeople, standing atop each other. One of the structures went horribly wrong, and it started to lurch across the countryside, spilling broken bodies everywhere.

Clive Barker has such vivid and descriptive prose. It's never overwrought, but the turns of phrase are beautiful and terrifying.

________________________________

My audiobook narrator friend, Dani, recommends 

The Southern Book Club's Guid to Slaying Vampries by Grady Hendrix



Steel Magnolias meets Dracula in this '90s-set horror novel about a women's book club that must do battle with a mysterious newcomer to their small Southern town, perfect for murderinos and fans of Stephen King.
 
Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor's handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in. 
 
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

________________________


Last but not least, one of my best writing buddies, Erica Lucke Dean recommends her favorite spooky books (I'm really glad she mentions Stephen King. Seems this list would be incomplete without him).

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in hopes that exploring the history of the Marsten House, an old mansion long the subject of rumor and speculation, will help him cast out his personal devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods, and only one returns alive, Mears begins to realize that something sinister is at work—in fact, his hometown is under siege from forces of darkness far beyond his imagination. And only he, with a small group of allies, can hope to contain the evil that is growing within the borders of this small New England town.

With this, his second novel, Stephen King established himself as an indisputable master of American horror, able to transform the old conceits of the genre into something fresh and all the more frightening for taking place in a familiar, idyllic locale.


 

The Shining by Stephen King

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season

caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.




Monday, September 28, 2020

Horror Christmas Kick Off!

amazon.com/author/kozeniewski

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!

Cue Andy Williams's slightly creepier older brother, because it's almost the most wonderful time of the year (for horror fans.)  That's right, Halloween, a.k.a Horror Christmas is just under five weeks away, and if the Hallmark Channel can start playing Christmas movies on October 22 (don't ask me how I know that...seriously, just don't ask) then clearly I can start celebrating all things pumpkin spice on September 28.

This year I got to ring in the creepy season with an event I've spent almost seven months planning.  Not seven months because it was particularly logistically complicated, but seven months because of the goddamned epidemic.  I had planned to host a book signing at my balloon store in March of this year.  That fell through, for obvious reasons.

But, after much vacillating back and forth and discussions with my partner and crew, we finally put together a virtual listener mailbag episode of The Horror Show With Brian Keene...three weeks after the podcast was unexpectedly retired.

Yeah, has anybody else found 2020 to be a weird fucking year?


Anyway, the reason I wanted to share this with you pretty ricky-tick is a time-sensitive one.  For the first time ever my store is selling an item which can be mailed anywhere in the US.  Normally we only do local delivery.  But in honor of our guests, you can pick up a Horror Show-themed balloon pack here.  I know people in the horror community are always looking for new and exciting things to fill the house with during Horror Christmas, and these creepy (and in some cases, glow-in-the-dark) balloons are just the thing.  But!  Only while supplies last.

And as for the Q&A itself, it was a blast.  There were special guests, there was some light ribbing, all the stuff you've come to expect from The Horror Show, except you can see everybody's faces.  You can watch the whole event here or in the embed below.  And if you want to see all the balloon sculptures featured in the event in all their creeptacular glory, you can find them on the event page here.

 
Blogger Template by Designer Blogs