Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Edification of Horror

In honor of October and things that go bump in the night, I'm writing about the times in my life when I was scared shitless by horror. I admit, I was inspired by Stephen Kozeniewski's recent post on different types of horror, and my love/hate relationship with this genre. Dredging up the past was painful, it's like visiting the gravestones of long buried fears, exhuming them one by one, and contemplating the edification of horror. 
"From goulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night Good Lord, deliver us!"
The first movie that I had no business watching was The Bad Seed staring Patty McCormack. I was maybe nine or ten years old, I already had a dysfunctional fear of the dark, and this movie only served as confirmation. It is the story of a young girl who was born bad to the bone and I'm not talking 'mean girls' here. She is a self indulgent little girl, who looks and acts like an angel, so no one suspects she is capable murder. Her behavior is so unsettling it had me questioning the very nature of my most trusted companions. Eventually we find out her biological grandmother was a psychopathic killer. The movie suggests killers are genetically determined and the thought that this could lead one to kill without remorse is troubling. I remember glancing sideways at my angelic sister and wondering if either of us had a dark side buried deep in our genetics? I slept with a nightlight for several years, okay, until I got married.

The next horror movie I got talked (coerced) into seeing was The Exorcist. My best friend promised, "It's so ridiculous it could almost be considered a comedy." A scream, I'd say. It was released the day after Christmas in 1973. I was a young teen by then, barely over The Bad Seed, and now I'm confronted with a possessed teenager, and two determined priests. Most of the movie involves these priests trying to exercise the devil from a young Linda Blair who does an amazing head spin, floats in thin air, stabs her vagina repeatedly with a cross, and barfs green slim. It is the most horrifying, disturbing, immoral film I have ever seen. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed fantasizing about the beach on a warm sunny day. I was completely traumatized and perhaps this is the reason I became a Catholic. This movie introduced me to the idea that an innocent person could unwillingly be controlled by an evil presence. Who writes this shit? I thought this would be the end of my short horror movie career but it was not to be. 

I started dating Larry in high school, when he finally got his driver's licence, I was promised popcorn, ice cold soda, and a great movie at the drive-ins. I wanted to appear sophisticated and maybe a little dangerous so I eagerly agreed. When the title scrolled across the screen, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I turned a few shades lighter, the nausea came later (Linda Blair style). I spent most of our date on the floor of the truck and if that wasn't impressive enough I screamed right through the chain saw scenes to drown out the sound. If not for his adorable curls and sweet disposition (haha) this could have been our first and last date. The movie is about two siblings who are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths while visiting the grave of a grandparent. I feel compelled to mention meat hooks are involved. The movie is so unbelievable the trauma is actually minimized, if that is even possible, and the fact that I fit comfortably in the foot space of a truck is pretty damn impressive. 

I have to admit, my forth exposure to horror was intentional. It was early December, 1983, in my first month of marriage. Larry could not believe I hadn't seen the "iconic" movie Psycho, a pretty descriptive title, but I was naive (in love). So we snuggled together on our second-hand couch and settled in for a horrible experience. I had to get up and pace it out in the hallway a few times but I made it to the end. This movie explores issues of mental illness, identity, and showering in hotel rooms. It does not end well. Of course there was a storm raging outside, we lived on the outskirts of Portland Oregon, and I didn't sleep a wink that night. A few nights later, still feeling spooked, I went into the bathroom to wash my face before bed. Our bathroom was located in the middle of the apartment with no exterior windows. It was very dark. When I pulled back the shower curtain to reach for my washcloth, I encountered a strange man standing in my shower, holding a butcher knife. I screamed bloody murder, popped a few veins, and I'll only admit this to you, I peed my pants. Larry worked for Proctor and Gamble at the time and he 'borrowed' a life-size, full color, cardboard display of a man pointing to the shampoo aisle. He cleverly duck-taped a kitchen knife to the raised hand. He thought it would be hysterical to surprise me with this unexpected guest. I tore that display to shreds, slammed the door to our bedroom, after throwing Larry's pillow in the hall. He slept on the couch until about 2:00 am when fear outweighed my anger. What a comedian. 

I avoided horror movies for at least another decade. Then it happened one night, almost organically, when I was all alone. Larry was traveling for business and I just put the last kid to bed. I switched on the television and the movie Halloween was just starting. I was a full fledged adult for goodness sake and my sister lived only seven minutes away. How bad could it be? The movie is about a psychopathic killer who returns to his hometown for a killing spree on Halloween. Trust me when I say it builds, and perhaps you'll understand why I called my sister late that night, and demanded she spend the night. She was eight and a half months pregnant, but she waddled over with her overnight bag, and climbed into bed. That's my sister. Her water broke in the wee hours of the morning, Larry's side, karma's a bitch.

So that is my walk down horror lane and one that I hope to never repeat. I decided in honor of October I would read a scary novel instead. Since this post was inspired by Stephen Zoeniewski, I decided to try one of his novels. Billy and the Cloneasaurus should be arriving any day. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes...

Love to hear about the edification of horror in your life. Join me in the comments?

Itching for more? Visit me at Living in the Gap a lifestyle blog minus the horror.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back Jacket Hack Job #14 - IT

Hey everybody!  Abigail here with my first Back Jacket Hack Job.  Since it's the spoooooookiest month and all, and since I told you all in my intro post last month how much I love Stephen King, I thought "IT" was a natural choice.  Fun tidbit I found in researching this piece - if you google "IT Stephen King plot synopsis," you find somebody has replaced the summary with the plot synopsis of "Some Like It Hot."  What a clown.

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“Kick off your shoes, take a deep breath, and pull up a seat next to your ol’ pal Boz. You’re an adult now. So I can tell you things I never dared to share when you were younger.“ - Bozo the clown

Thirty years ago, people liked clowns.  They were every kid’s favorite part of the circus, and every mother had the “Clown” section of the phone book earmarked for her next child’s birthday party.  In 1985 clown school enrollment was at an all-time high.  People loved clowns.  Not Stephen King.  Stephen King, not content to leave bozophobia in the house of rare fears and discomforts, opened up the sewer grate and dragged a white-faced gentleman named Nickelwise out of the drain and into our nightmares.  Today, you hire a clown for a kid’s birthday party, you get a call from Child Protective Services.  He made clown terror the hottest phobic ticket in town.  He made it “IT.”  

Thirty years later, being scared of clowns is old news.  Can creepy clowns still be called “IT” when they roam the forests of flyover country, bothering middle American basic betches?  Stephen King wove the fear of clowns so deeply into our collective national psyche, I bet you can’t even remember why you are afraid of them.  I bet you can’t even remember when you read this book.

Have you even read this book?  You really can’t remember, can you?  I bet you haven’t.  You didn’t seem to notice how I called the clown “Nickelwise” up there.  That was a test.  His name is Pennywise.  Or is that the name of that bad punk band from the ‘90s?  Or are they named after the clown?  You have no idea, do you?  You know you’re scared of clowns, though, and you have a vague sense that started when you read this book.  But you could be wrong.

You know you read “The Stand.”  That was the one in the desert.   Wait, that was “Desperation.”  Didn’t you read “Misery” at the beach a few years ago?  No, actually you’re thinking about how you watched part of the movie on TV when the weather turned really shitty the day before the vacation was over.  Damn, have you read any Stephen King at all?  Or is his work just so pervasive that you feel like you’ve read all of it when you’ve really just watched a few movie adaptations?  

No, you must have read at least one of his books!  You must have!  This is driving you insane!  Why don’t you just crack open the front cover here and read the first few lines, that should jog your your memory.  Come on, you’ve already read this far on the back jacket.  Just open it up and read a few lines.  Just do it.  I’ll wait.

Ha-HA!  You see, this special 30th Anniversary Edition of “IT” is equipped with a high-tech sensor that can tell when you open the book and will charge your Paypal account accordingly.  Stephen King knows nobody reads books anymore.  Now he knows all your account information as well.

Pretty freaky, right?  If that doesn’t scare you, how about this spoiler alert - the climax of the first half of this book features an underage underground gang bang between all the prepubescent protagonists.  Not joking.  

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What is Horror?

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Greetings, boils and ghouls!  Ah ha ha ha ha ha!

If you're too young to know who this is...sigh.

Did you stop by the blog today looking for treats?  Well, all right!  I've got two for you.  First, HUNTER OF THE DEAD is on sale for $1.99 all month long.  And if you swing by Amazon October 24-25, BRAINEATER JONES will be on sale for only $0.99!  Happy Halloween!

As your resident horror author, Halloween is my favorite time of year.  This is the time when all the muggles come over to the dark side, at least in some capacity, even if the scariest thing you can handle is "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

The ultimate in grueling terror for at least some of you.

Which leads to the topic of today's post.  What exactly is horror?

Earlier this week the AV Club posted a clever little comic addressing just that subject.  And, yes, to some extent "horror" is all about personal preference.

Definition-wise, horror is fiction that seeks to induce fear or dread.  Of course, what everyone fears or dreads is different, meaning that what constitutes horror can vary from person to person.  Some people are terrified by the slightest blood or bodily injury.  I suspect Johnny Knoxville would not be.  Parents are usually haunted by the thought of something bad happening to their kids.  For someone without children like me it's a very abstract worry.

Horror is also a very new genre in a certain sense.  In the 1920s, what we call horror today would have been wrapped up along with science fiction and fantasy and called "weird fiction."  So there's quite a lot of cross-pollination between the old "weird fiction" genres (what we'd call "speculative fiction" as an umbrella term today.)

For instance, do you consider "Aliens" to be sci-fi?  It certainly is.  It was also one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen.  Do you remember the "Hardhome" episode of "Game of Thrones?"  It's been called one of the greatest zombie pieces ever made by greater minds than mine.

Or to flip the script a little, "Looper" fits pretty comfortably into the sci-fi arena.  And yet to this day I am still haunted by the scene when one of the loopers tries to run.

There's already a lot to unpack there.  And that's without even looking at the other side of the coin of horror being a newish genre.  Horror is also one of the ancientest genres.  Hell, "Gilgamesh," which is the earliest extant piece of fiction, featured corpses rising from the dead.  Fairy tales and folklore are often explicitly meant to be horrifying, as cautionary tales, which means that much of oral tradition is, in the strictest sense, horror.  Even FRANKENSTEIN, considered the first modern horror novel, lumbered to its 200th birthday this year.

But setting aside the squishy stuff for a minute, and because I know you all love listicles, let's take a look at some of the most important horror genres.

1.)  Quiet Horror - Quiet horror will tend to lack all the telltale attributes of the genre.  Instead of trying to get your heart thumping with a breakneck race through the woods, it'll try to get your spine tingling with a look at the shadows the trees cast.  The goal of quiet horror is not to induce instant tension and revulsion, but rather to slowly evoke an unsettling feeling, that can become so deep it swallows you up.  Think of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven."  Nothing particularly scary happens.  And yet the narrator is reminded, even assured that his deepest dread is real.  A hundred and fifty years later it still haunts even the modern mind.

2.)  Extreme Horror/Hardcore Horror/Splatterpunk - On the far opposite end of the spectrum is extreme or hardcore horror.  I've written some of this, and the goal is to gross out the reader with ever more over the top disgusting situations.  Edward Lee, Wrath James White, and Monica J. O'Rourke are three modern extreme horror authors whose works will sear your very soul.  "Mr. Torso," oof, man, I can never unread that.  And I included splatterpunk which I think of as a movement and an era, which harnessed the power of extreme horror for a certain political purpose and ethos.  Not all extreme horror is splatterpunk, but all splatterpunk is extreme horror, if that makes sense.  David J. Schow would be an exemplar of splatterpunk.

3.)  Body Horror - Body horror stems from the very real worry that our bodies themselves are betraying us.  We've all probably noticed as we get older we seem to get slower and fatter.  A pregnant woman might feel like she's no longer in control of her own body.  Sickness or injury can cause us to question what makes us us.  Body horror takes these simple and reasonable impulses to another extreme.  What if your pimple was really you growing a second head?  What if your pregnancy was really an alien monster?  What if, as in Clive Barker's THE INHUMAN CONDITION, your limbs had minds of their own and tried to chop themselves off?  Think of any great eighties movie when the human body was twisted and deformed out of all reason by those mortifying practical effects, like the transformation scene in "An American Werewolf in London."  Body horror, especially in film, can be terrifying for all the same reasons as the blood and guts of extreme horror, but it also strikes at a very real and very human fear that something can get even deeper than under your skin.

4.)  Gothic Horror - Often quiet, though sometimes bloody, Gothic horror is sort of like the O.G. horror.  Anything that takes place in a winding castle, like FRANKENSTEIN, or a spooky mansion, like DRACULA, or on a fog-swept moor.  Think of 19th century mores and traditions, usually European, but occasionally American.  Gothic horror often has to do with doomed romances among the dismal and dying gentry, dressed in far too much elegant clothing. set against a Victorian backdrop.  Modern Gothic horror apes the sensibilities of those times, even if relocating the story to the present era.

5.)  Psychological Horror - Psychological horror could be quiet, like "The Yellow Wallpaper."  Or it could be quite extreme, like "Jacob's Ladder."  In any case, it has to do with the human mind and often its descent into madness.  These stories can have a dreamlike quality, and will tend to have unreliable narrators if there is a narrator at all.  The story will be less about what's actually happening and more about the main character's attempts to parse out his or her own hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions from what (if anything) is real.  Something haunting like "Donnie Darko" would be psychological horror, as would something with an extreme and violent descent into madness, like "The Shining."  Another can't-miss modern day example would be "The Babadook."

I could go on and on for...well, books.  But I'm interested in what you think.  What was the most horrifying thing you ever read or watched?  What images or stories can you never forget?  What genres of horror do you love (or hate) the most?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, October 17, 2016


A post by Mary Fan
I was supposed to put some pages up for critique today, but... I got nothin'. None of my WIPs are in any kind of critique-able form yet. And to be honest, I've had a craptacular couple of weeks and don't really have it in me to write a real post right now. So here are some pretty pictures of books from my Instagram feed instead. I spent way too much time "posing" them. Since these are roughly reverse-chronological, you can also witness my reading mood swings... depressing non fiction, contemporary YA, nerdy books...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Don't bring on the noise

I love Twitter. It's how I get my news. It's where I learn quite a bit about what's going in the world, either globally, or sometimes just in my own writing community. But lately my feed has been stressing me out, and believe it or not, it has little to do with the election.

I've been writing a YA mystery, set in the 90s. I'm passionate about this project but I feel insecure even on a good writing day. Every so often a tweet pops up on my feed that just sets me back emotionally. The other day, someone posted about how YA books set in the 80s that feature music are really nostalgic reads for adults. Maybe that's true, but tell that to Rainbow Rowell whose Eleanor and Park was widely loved by teens.

But then I worry about my WIP. Am I writing an indulgent nostalgia 90s trip? Will agents think that? Readers? I'm working so hard on this book -- is it all for nothing? Will an agent take one look at the setting and disregard it?

Yeah -- they could. They could easily do that.

I have to be realistic about this business, but I also have to do my own thing without worrying about trends or prevailing thoughts on YA. It's no one's fault but my own if I get hung up on my insecurity. I've been purposefully staying off my writing forums and querying sites in order to stay positive. If my WIP secures me an agent, awesome. If it doesn't, I'm no worse off.

But for my own sanity, I think I'll just stick to tweets about the election.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Proud to be a BRAG’er

I’m not one to brag often. Not because I think negatively of those who do like to brag (OK, so I might think negatively of some people who brag often—it all depends on intent and execution). I just donbecause it’s not how I’m made.  That makes it kind of ironic to have a BRAG Medallion for two of my three books. So today I decided to embrace being a BRAG’er.

When I started this writing gig I didn’t have a single creative writing credential on my resume. I took a technical writing class back while studying Mechanical Engineering at Purdue, but that’s a far cry from writing a fiction novel. I was seriously worried about publishing my first novel, Kingston’s Project. I thought I’d be laughed at. I thought I wasn’t good enough. I felt like an imposter.

I found the courage to publish my novel despite my fears (you can read about it here in the first post I did on Across the Board). Positive reviews for Kingston’s Project started rolling in from people I didn’t know, and I started to feel more comfortable. But I won’t lie—I was still waiting for the curtain to be pulled back.

I had read several posts about how book contests/awards could help with promotion. I was hesitant, that voice in my head shouting at me that it would just be a waste of money because I wasn’t good enough. (Now, some are a waste of money, but that’s an entirely different post). I actually hated the idea of submitting my book, but I figured if I could publish it in the first place then I could select one or two awards to apply for.

I was in contact with another author who launched her first book around the same time I did. We would share information we found, and she was the one who first introduced me to indieBRAG. I reviewed the information on their site and decided to submit Kingston’s Project.

I have to admit I was both shocked and thrilled when I received the email that Kingston’s Project had been awarded a BRAG Medallion. Only about 10-15% of the books submitted are selected, so I was feeling extremely honored. I felt it was the validation I needed to help shut down that inner voice telling me I was just an imposter.

What I came to learn about indieBRAG is that they are a wonderful community of readers and writers. They don’t just send you a happy congratulatory note and a png of the Medallion. Their ‘next steps’ email has nearly 20 items on it. They are supported by a network of bloggers who offer to do author interviews or review your book. They do blog hops and host BRAG Medallion authors on the indieBRAG blog. They share information from BRAG authors on their social media sites. It’s a continuous support system—which is awesome.

My latest book, Shattered Angel, was recently awarded a BRAG Medallion. Yay! I’m super proud to be a two-time BRAG’er :)

If you’re an Indie author, I highly recommend submitting for an indieBRAG. The indiBRAG folks do this for their love of discovering new great reads and supporting the indie authors who create them, which can’t be said for all the award programs out there. If you’re looking for some great Indie reads, check out the list of indieBRAG books.

~ Carrie

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A "Present" For You


 A Post By Jonathan

"Do not stay in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate on the present moment."
― Buddah

"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present."
 ― Lao Tzu

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.
Bil Keane (the guy who wrote the Family Circus cartoons)

First off, a bit of a disclaimer. I am not a mental health professional, a certified writing coach or some new age Yogi perched upon the precipice of a cliff at sunset with my legs crossed, thumb and forefingers pressed together, going haaaummm. I'm just a regular guy trying to make it through life with the best outlook possible, willing to take advice from just about anyone.

That said, I do turn forty in a couple a months. And as I approach the "top of the hill" I've been thinking a lot about contentment and what it means to be happy in this often crazy world. In my search for the meaning of life, I recently came across a concept that I wanted to share (just in case  you haven't heard it before). I think it can help both in writing and in life.

The official term is Mindfulness, but it's also called being in the present. According to Webster's dictionary, mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. Basically it means that you are not busy focusing on or lamenting the past and you are not pining or wishing for a better future. You are simply thinking about where you are and what you are doing at that particular moment. Nothing else.

If this sounds familiar, it's probably because mindfulness closely resembles the mental state that is achieved during the best and most subversive writing sessions. We've all been there before. All other thoughts are blocked out, totally in the moment, just you and your character(s) in your world― and it feels great! And it's probably what keeps us coming back for more.

But sometimes I think it's easy for us writers to let our thoughts get away from us, and take a turn towards the negative. We are not nonjudgmental― and easily our harshest critics. Especially the newbies.

Some days when I sit down to write I tense up with all sorts of notions about how I'm not good enough, or how my work will never be published. I probably think I'm not good enough because of things that have happened in my past, and I probably think I'm not going to get published because I'm focusing too much on an uncertain future. But if I could block these doubts out of my mind, and just focus on the present (and the act of the writing), I'm sure I could be much more productive― and eventually more successful. Just a thought!

As you can see from the quotes above, from ancient and modern philosophers alike, being in the present is not a new concept. But it's kind of new to me. I for one know that I am going to try to think (and write) more in the moment moving forward, and I hope this post helps you do the same.

As always, thanks for stopping by. And please let me know what you think!

Monday, October 3, 2016

How To Read E-Books for Free Without Spending a Dime

Authors! Raise your hand if you've found your e-book files available for free download online. 

You and you and you. Oh, and you in the back. And all of the published authors who contribute to this blog. All of them. 

I checked. It was incredibly easy. And infuriating.

When I first started publishing, a savvy author friend suggested I set up Google Alerts for my name and my book titles so I could keep on top of reviews and mentions on the interwebs. Great idea. What she didn't tell me was how often those Google Alerts would be for a listing of my book available for free download on a pirate site. The more books I have, the more pirate sites pick up my books. 

I even get alerts that Lies We Live, my FREE book -- yep, the one that's FREE on all major retailers -- is available on pirate sites. Why??? Is it the thrill of getting something for nothing? The excitement of doing something slightly illegal?

Pirating books (and movies, and music and art of any kind) is illegal. In case there was any doubt, let me spell it out to be clear. Unless you receive a free e-book from the author, as a gift (via download from a legitimate retail site) or a public library, downloading free books is stealing.

There is no way to justify it and if you try, I may cut you. Seriously. Because the thing about pirating books is you're damaging a livelihood. As a self-published author, for every person who doesn't buy my book, that's a $2 royalty I don't see. I suck at math, but even I know that when my professionally designed book cover costs roughly $400, I have to sell 200 books to recoup that cost. Add on costs for editing, advertising, proofreading and that's a lot of books I need to sell just to cover my costs. And if I want to make an actual profit? Well.

For traditionally published authors, the impact is different but certainly not less. Publishing contracts are decided on sales success and I can't even count how  many authors I know whose series were cut short by their publishing houses because they weren't making the sales necessary to continue.

"But books are expensive and I don't have any money," you say. "No way I'm spending $9.99 for an e-book. No. Way."

I feel you. I read at least 10-12 books/month and even $2.99 e-books add up. But e-books from my library are free! That's right. Lots of libraries have e-books available in Kindle and ePub format and all you need is your (free) library card. This list, although not completely current, is a pretty good resource for e-book libraries by state. 

If you're a member of Amazon Prime, you're eligible to borrow one Kindle book free per month from the 'Zon. Amazon doesn't make it easy to find the list of free books, but this article on Lifehacker can guide you through it. You'll have to search the Amazon store on your actual Kindle device to be able to borrow for free, but there are worse things (like, ahem, pirating books).

Finally -- and I'm speaking only for myself here, although other authors, please feel free to weigh in via the comments -- if you are absolutely DYING to read my books and for whatever reason you can't buy them, get in touch with me directly. I give away advance review copies of my books prior to release and, post-release, I've been known to do a giveaway just because it's Monday. I'm not saying I'm willing to give my books away to every Jane, Jo and Janet who asks for one, but I am saying I'd rather give my books away than see them pirated. I'll bet you your next Kindle purchase I'm not alone in that.

If the title of this post lured you in under false pretenses, I'm not sorry. If you've read all the way to the end, I hope you'll consider where and how to get your "free" e-book without damaging an author's career. If you've read all the way to the end and you're about to hit the back button on your browser to find some "real" info...I'm a writer with a pretty good vocabulary, but the best I can say is: That sucks.

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