Monday, December 30, 2019

Horror Fiction Redefines What It Means to "Like" a Story

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
In my last post, I sought a scientific explanation for why people like the horror genre, even though it’s repulsive by nature. I don’t believe there’s something wrong with people who like to be scared—they’re still scared, and that’s still not an inherently pleasant thing. But that just brings us back to the core question: if people are repulsed by horror, why do they like it?

Let’s go back to what it even means to “like” something. Feeling joy is certainly one route to liking. When you eat a piece of cheesecake and your tongue tells your brain to leak happy chemicals into its mushy folds, sure, you like cheesecake. However, we humans are complicated, and the range of human experience is much broader than a neural thumbs-up or thumbs-down in response to a given thing.

When it comes to horror, here are a few reasons to “like” a scary story despite your brain often giving it a vigorous thumbs-down:

  • Relief. It feels good to be done with a bad experience. It may even feel better than how you felt before the bad experience. So part of enjoying horror may be chasing a high—not during the scary bits, but during the comic relief, or when there’s actually nothing behind the door, or when the big bad monster is finally defeated.

  • Expression. People like to express themselves, and a person who likes horror may want to express that they are the type of person who likes horror. In my research on the topic, I’ve found certain personality traits that predict self-reported enjoyment of the genre—for example, people who describes themselves as agreeable are less likely to say they like horror, and people who describe themselves as thrill seekers are more likely to say they like horror. However, crucially, they had the same emotional reactions to horrific imagery. It’s more of a self-expression thing—we all construct an image of how we see ourselves, and how we hope others see us. Saying we like horror is one small part of that. And I don’t think expressing ourselves through our preferences is “fake” in any way; it’s core to how we operate as social beings, and as genuine as loving cheesecake.*

  • Connection. Serious academics have named this the “snuggle theory” of enjoying frightening media. It mostly applies to film—two people watch a scary movie together and one acts scared while the other acts brave, which brings them closer together, which leads to babies and the continuation of the human species. I think it applies platonically too, though. The horror community is one of the most interesting and generous I’ve seen, so our shared love of getting freaked out can lead to connecting with awesome like-minded people.

For me personally, it’s all of the above, and one more thing that I haven’t come across in the academic literature. I’m a scientist myself, so I have a weird need to understand the unknown, but also an attraction to the unknown itself. After all, science shines a light in the pit of the unknown, but there are always more shadows, and we have to be curious enough to jump in the pit in the first place.

For me, the most sublime horror is this poster for It Comes At Night:

Or this video of unidentified howling in the woods:

Or this pie chart:

Or the best cosmic horror novels. Just pure unknown, or unknowable.

I love that feeling of the unknown; the bittersweet unease from realizing there could be anything out there—or nothing. This feeling may overlap with fear, and it may be ambivalent rather than pure joy, but I think it’s worth seeking out. Maybe my attraction to the unknown is why I’m sometimes accused of writing novels without endings.

Human minds are some of the most unknowable objects in the known universe, especially as we're all trying to understand them from the inside, but hopefully this series of posts helped in understanding, just a little bit more, why the human mind would be attracted to darkness.

*Another point under the “expression” theme: when I wrote about horror on Medium, a reader named Caryn wrote this comment about how expressing fear may be taboo in certain cultures, except during a horror movie. Horror can allow people to express themselves in a society where they otherwise can’t.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Review of RISE OF SKYWALKER with Karissa and Mary
I just literally got back from the theater and I'm ready to hash out my thoughts about Rise of Skywalker. I have to confess, I was less excited about seeing Rise of Skywalker than I have been about the other movies in the newest Star Wars trilogy. I think it's because my disappointment in The Last Jedi was pretty profound, and time had only made it worse. I was excited that J.J. had taken over the reins again as director, but there was a lot of damage control to be done, and I didn't know if he could do it. I know saying that will already have fans of The Last Jedi protesting. As I get farther into this review with Mary, I think my thoughts on why The Last Jedi was disappointing will become more evident. I certainly don't expect people to agree with me, and I'm more than okay with that. I'm a long-time fan, but I welcome the fact that we have a variety of opinions.

I'm so privileged that Mary saw this on opening weekend (opening night?) and was available to talk to me the moment I walked out of the theater.  I'm so glad she was willing to share her thoughts with me for this post. I have a hard time processing movies on my own. Also, my son has turned out to be a great font of Star Wars knowledge and I'm glad he watched it with me. Some of his knowledge also contributed to our discussion. Thanks kid!
Mary and friend on opening weekend
Me a few days later (I hate opening night crowds!)

Now, for warnings. This post is SPOILERIFIC. There will be no holding back, no hedging, no hints. We're going to talk openly and blatantly about this movie. If you haven't seen it yet, stop now. Go back. Run Away, Run Away!!!!!
Karissa: So, Mary, where to we begin?
Mary: Hmm, where do we begin? Let's start with the elephant in the room: REY. Her identity has
been the core of fan discussions since she first turned up in The Force Awakens. Theories abounded afterward, spurred in no small part by the inclusion of the Skywalker lightsaber and how it calls out to her, thereby implying some kind of connection. Then Rian Johnson was like "jk lol" in The Last Jedi, which just made me facepalm.
Karissa: UGH ME TOO.
Mary:And now we have JJ Abrams retconning the retcon.
Karissa:YUP LOL
Mary: SO. Rey Palpatine.
Karissa: So, this is a good place to mention the spoiler I saw on Twitter this morning right before going to see the movies (Assholes!). Someone posted basically saying "Who would have sex with Palpatine? WHO?"
Mary: Ugh, RUDE
Karissa:We knew, or suspected, from the trailer that Palpatine was back. With that knowledge and that major spoiler of a tweet, I knew in an instant that meant Palpatine had offspring and that was going to wind up being Rey. And...I wasn't that surprised.
Mary:That's a real bummer. I went in cold, not knowing anything, but when it was revealed, I just rolled my eyes. I mean, it makes no narrative sense! And it's obvious they didn't plan it from the beginning. Knowing JJ's "mystery box" style of storytelling, I'll bet he didn't even know who he wanted Rey's parents to be (but the visual filmmaking heavily implied that she was Luke's daughter).
Karissa: That was my son's argument. He was so mad. "That just came out of NOWHERE," he said. I said, "Not nowhere. That came out of having to do damage control from the last film". In a sense, I kind of felt like J.J.'s hands were tied.
Mary: I don't know... if he was going to retcon, he could have retconned it to something that made more sense. Now we're left with several gaping questions: Who was Rey's grandmother? Was her father force-sensitive too? And if so, why didn't Palpatine capture him and turn him instead of killing him?
Karissa: I did wonder A LOT about her father. 
Mary: Disney's probably already planning a line of novels and/or comics to explain Palpatine's son. Hey Disney, if you're looking for someone who can write 'em, I'm an expert at patching up plot holes 
Karissa: So much storytelling...such limited time and space in which to do it. And that brings me a little early to another issue. I think J.J. was pressured to pick a non-Skywalker answer to satisfy the Reylo shippers. BUT LETS SAVE THAT FOR LATER. UGH
 Mary: OH GOD
Karissa: Are we ready to go there or do you want to finish talking about "The Problems with Palpatine".
Mary: In hindsight it makes me laugh that she gave him the literal kiss of death.
Karissa: ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Mary: Up to you where to go next! I could ramble on forever haha.
Karissa: Okay we'll circle back around to Reylo later. Another "spoiler" I kept seeing was "Justice for Rose" and I thought that meant she died badly or got jilted by Finn in a bad way or something. I think it simply meant she didn't get sufficient screen time or a satisfying heroic arc.
Mary: Yeah, she was severely sidelined. I'm going to give JJ the benefit of the doubt and say he just didn't know what to do with her character. Some bad-faith tweeters are saying he caved to the racist/sexist trolls who chased her off social media. I don't think that's the case, but I do think she deserved a better story arc. Basically, Kelly Marie Tran's acting transcends how terribly her character was written into the plot.
Karissa: My benefit of the doubt analysis was that it came down to (as many things in this movie did) not having the time or space for it.
Mary: And yet they had the time and space to give both Finn and Poe beards. Don't get me wrong -- I liked Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell's characters! But it was so obvious that it was like "people keep shipping these totally not-gay boys so let's give them girlfriends."
Karissa: Ha ha ha it's so true. At first I was okay with them just being buddies, but by this movie their chemistry is off the charts! And Yes I agree about Naomi and Keri. That was so obvious it was a bit painful. Covering it up with Poe asking to kiss her jokes was funny but we could see what that was.
Mary: Yup
Karissa: And I think that segues nicely into a discussion of Finn. Sigh. I love Finn. Let's talk about Finn's "secret."
Mary: Oh boy
Karissa: There were times throughout this series when we wondered if the writers were going to push
Finn and Rey together romantically. And when they were sinking in the quicksand and he said he wanted to tell her something, it's obvious they wanted us to think he was going to confess his love. I didn't buy that for a HOT MINUTE. And the longer the movie went on, I knew he was going to tell her he thought he was Force Sensitive.That's his secret. Right? And also that he loves Poe. Ha ha!
Mary: According to Abrams and Boyega, yup that was his secret. I gotta say, though, it doesn't make sense in context. Why is it a big secret? Why can't he say it in front of Poe?
Karissa: I agree
Mary: He thought they were going to die, and the thing he wants to say is "I have a power like yours"?
Karissa: It only makes sense in the context that it was trying to tug on romance strings, but that was not a good choice. It didn't work for me. It didn't work for you. Who did it work for?
Mary: It also annoys me how many times Abrams leaves things dangling and explains them away later. A film should stand on its own (he did it with R2-D2's awakening back with TFA)
Karissa: I feel like he was trying to satisfy too many people and satisfied no one, maybe. Unfortunately I have to bring up Reylo again here.
Mary: Let's dig into it!
Karissa: There were basically two camps (well 3). Rey+Finn; Rey+Kylo; or Rey all on her own as most Jedi are raised to be. It's like J.J. tried to make all those things happen. Ultimately, Rey+Kylo got a lot more than I ever wanted them to get. Sigh.
Mary: Indeed. I think JJ felt he had no choice after TLJ because that movie was literally dripping with sexual tension but I think he was setting up Rey and Finn in TFA.
Karissa: Uh...yeah (see my note above about TLJ being a disappointment for me. This was one of the many reasons why.) I agree about Rey and Finn in TFA.
Mary: Weirdly, TROS seems to both pretend TLJ doesn't exist while grudgingly picking up where it left off the whole thing about Rey feels like the two filmmakers flipping each other off.
JJ: Rey has a mysterious parentage that's going to be significant
Rian: Lol no she's nobody
JJ: Whatever, her parents were nobody because they chose to be but actually she's connected to the most powerful baddie in the galaxy.
Karissa: Yup, those were my thoughts exactly. It saddens me that so much energy had to go into undoing what a previous director chose to do. Look, I'm all for burning down harmful institutions. I don't like to think I'm a slave to tradition. BUT… In this case...I dunno. I was mad at Rian for trying to undo, in one movie, a whole world that I was devoted to and had been for almost 40 years.
Mary: Yeah, exactly. Critics were kowtowing the so-called originality. But I say if you want to be original, be original. Let Star Wars be Star Wars. Make your own damn franchise.
Karissa: Yup. I wanted that original story to be finished. Then you could tell a new story that turns the old tropes on their heads and subverts tradition.
Mary: Exactly. Or heck, even a spinoff. I thought Rogue One was quite original and it didn't fuck up the original universe.
Karissa: And I think in the end Finn's "secret" was also an attempt to satisfy fans of the last movie. HE was the "nobody" with the potential to become Jedi. That could have been set up from the start, though. It was obvious that wasn't the intention from the beginning, but it had to be done to make the three movies cohesive. I love the idea of Finn being a Jedi, by the way. I just wish that it had been set up in TFA.
Mary: Yes exactly! I thought it was kind of set up in TFA with Maz giving him the lightsaber.
Karissa: Oh, yeah, maybe. I kinda forgot about that. But it seemed to be forgotten in TLJ, perhaps.
Mary: Oh yeah, it was completely forgotten in TLJ. Overall, the trilogy needed more cohesiveness. Say what you like about the prequels, but at least Lucas was telling a single story.
Karissa: Indeed
Mary: I gotta say, though, the whole 9-film saga is a lot better if you think about it not as the Skywalker Saga, but the Palpatine Saga.I mean, if Rey was a Palpatine all along, and the 3rd trilogy was all about her, then it works!
     Prequels: Palpatine rises to power
     Originals: Palpatine's fall
     New trilogy: Palpatine attempts to come back via his offspring
Karissa: Sure. I'll accept that! Pretty brilliant.
Karissa: We haven't talked much about Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. We'd be remiss if we left him out
Mary: Indeed!
Karissa: So...did any of us doubt there would be a redemption arc for him? I never did. And, I think it went about the way I expected (except for that damned kiss!!!) (I love Adam Driver, by the way. I want to see him in more action films. His physicality is so impressive.)
Mary: 'Tis the Season of Adam Driver.
Yes, I liked his story arc overall. I liked that it was his parents who redeemed him in the end.
BUT. I thought it was incredibly lazy that he died
the whole death-as-redemption thing is as hackneyed as it is... well, lazy haha
imagine if he'd had to fix his mess
he's still the Supreme Leader.
Karissa: Yeah, I wanted to bring up that I had seen grumblings about villains whose redemption arcs were too easy. That death let him off too easily.
Mary: Imagine if he looked at the world he created, regretted it, and had to spend the rest of his life trying to make it right.
Karissa: Right. I would actually have loved to seen that. See him come back and be tried for his crimes and sentenced. Not to prison necessarily but to "community service" basically.
Mary: I remember even as a kid I was frustrated by the whole "death-as-redemption" arc you saw in so many stories. So much so that one of the first things I ever wrote was about somebody who fell to the dark side, regretted it, and had to fix it (and then lived in the end).
Karissa: Yeah, I'm guilty of writing death-as-redemption myself. Oops.
Mary: Yes, the Trial of Kylo Ren would have been a fabulous movie.
Karissa: I'm sure there will be fanfiction.There should be.
Mary:I mean, if you want to give Star Wars some originality...
Karissa: I also saw grumblings about how well all the old ships worked after being exposed to harsh conditions.
Mary: Hah, well never mistake Star Wars for hard sci-fi.
Karissa: Right. That required a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it was one I was willing to make.
Nostalgia is a strong force to reckon with. Especially for those of us who have been fans for the long run.
Karissa: My son, who is more familiar with extraneous Star Wars lore than I am (he plays the video games and such) pointed out an interesting fact to me. I'm glad he was there or it would have gone over my head. The significance of Rey's gold/yellow/orange lightsaber in the end--he explained to me that in the games that meant the force user was neither good nor bad but almost utterly neutral.
Mary: Oh, interesting!!
Karissa:That makes perfect sense because at the end of the movie, Rey is the only Sith/Jedi left
She must embody the balance of good and evil solely within herself.
Mary:I like that.
Mary: Now, how do we feel about "Rey Skywalker"?
Karissa: I'm still processing that! In the car ride home I told my kid that I hadn't made a decision about that.What do you think?
Mary: I didn't like it. I would have preferred she answer "Just Rey" or something.
thereby freeing herself from both legacies. It also doesn't exactly make sense that she would choose "Skywalker". She knew Luke for about 3 days and he was a jerk to her. Leia was her master
and Leia never claimed the name Skywalker. So if anything, it should have been "Rey Organa"
Karissa: Or even Solo because it was obvious she latched on to Han as a father figure right away. But that might have impeded on the Ben Solo romance factor, so...
Mary: oh god, if it had been "Rey Solo," it would have given such Star is Born vibes. I mean, "Rey Skywalker" already kind of did.
Karissa: I 100% understand not wanting to be Palpatine, but Skywalker wasn't right either.
Mary: Exactly.
Karissa: Skysolo? Solowalker? Ha ha ha just kidding
Karissa: Anything else you want to bring up? If not, I'm curious about your overall general thoughts about this movie as the endcap to a 9 episode saga stretching over 40+ years.
Mary: Well, I guess I've spent a lot of time griping about what didn't work for me, so let me just add that overall I did enjoy the movie in the moment. Loved the acting, loved the action sequences, loved the chemistry between the characters. And I really liked what they did with Leia. A wonderful send-off for the character. Also loved Lando's return.
Karissa: Oh yes Lando!!! I was glad he made an appearance.
Mary: Overall I feel like this 9-film saga deserved a better endcap, but it wasn't all TROS's fault.
TLJ really fucked things up. But at least they did their best to tie up all the loose ends and leave the saga in a place where you can comfortably say "the end."
Karissa: I wish I could reply to or comment on that, but you really just took the words right out of my mouth. Feelings are the same.
Mary: Hah! great minds.
Karissa: Oh, I forgot about Hux. Hux was the mole. And then his death was so comic.
Mary: Oh god that was annoying. It was a cool twist, but they did nothing with it.
Karissa: Right? I believed that he could be the mole because he hated Kylo that much but it was such a throw away. 
Karissa: I'm sure I'll have more thoughts as the days wear on (and upon future viewings) but for now, this was a pretty good wrap-up for me. A great way to decompress. I'm not gonna lie. I cried
Mary: Aww
Karissa:I cried when Leia died, although it was right.
Mary: Yes, I like that she died saving her sonan d I understand why she had to die (because there's only so much cut-and-paste Carrie footage lol).
Karissa: I cried when the "cavalry" showed up and saved the day. But that had more to do with me just needing to see good people defeat evil than anything particularly Star Warsy.
I did have one more big thought to discuss... So, I was really bugged by how in TFA it seemed the end of The Return of the Jedi was dismissed. It looked like the Rebel Alliance had not only failed but The "Empire", now the First Order, had never actually been defeated.That still bugs me BUT
I've also gained new perspective on that in the years that have come since TFA's release.
Mary: Sigh, indeed.
Karissa: Because we've been dealing in the real world with proof that history repeats itself--that the evil that you thought had been defeated all those years ago really was just lying dormant, waiting for an opportunity to re-surge. And after the past 4 years...maybe I can believe that Palpatine and the Empire never really were defeated. It just went dormant, biding it's time.
Mary: That's a very good point. I guess that movie was unexpectedly prescient. As were the prequels.
Karissa: Thanks for talking it through with me. You going to watch Rise of Skywalker again anytime soon? Or are you satisfied for now?
 Mary: Satisfied for now. I'll probably rewatch it at some point but I have no need to rush back to the theater like I did with TFA.
Karissa: I think I feel the same. I am, however, ready to see Knives Out again. But that's another post for another day.Thanks for chatting with me. I needed Star Wars counseling, and you're always the best therapist.
Mary: My pleasure!Thanks for the convo! I'm always up for talking Star Wars.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Ghostliest Season of All

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  The holidays are already upon us and I am swamped so this will be brief.

Over the last year and a half, author Wile E. Young and I have been working on a ghost story, my first, in fact.  I always attempt (if perhaps not always succeed) to make my novels at least somewhat well, novel.  I know they say sub sola nihil nova, but if I can't at least attempt to write something new, I don't see much point in diving into a story.

We ultimate came up with (I think) a rather clever conceit, which is that our story takes place in a world where ghosts are commonplace, and therefore a house not being haunted would be shocking.  So it's sort of a reverse haunted house story.

Sometimes these new ideas come to me relatively easily.  Other times, as in this case, it takes a long time to come up with something new.  Perhaps that's because ghosts are one of the oldest kinds of horror.  In fact, they're so ubiquitous that folktales and campfire yarns are sometimes just called "ghost stories."

But did you know that ghosts and horror have a long tradition of being associated with Christmas?  Christmas is usually thought of as a jolly, festive time of year, but the dead of winter also has a strong horror component.  There are many classic Christmas horror films, like the recently remade "Black Christmas" or "Gremlins" as well as newer fare like "Krampus" or our good friend Mike Lombardo's "I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday."

Image result for i'm dreaming of a white doomsday

There's also "The Nightmare Before Christmas," a staple of both Halloween and Christmastide.  In fact, at the balloon shop we've had our Jack Skellington up for the last two months.  :)

In the UK, telling ghost stories at Christmas time is a storied tradition.  On this side of the pond, you'd probably be most familiar with Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which is so ubiquitous there are probably at least 500 versions once you count in tributes on sitcoms and the like.  This year, though, the FX remake seems to be making a pointed effort to turn the certainly hoary, sometimes hokey tale into something more like straight horror.  I strongly recommend you check it out.

Image result for fx a christmas carol

So, maybe this year, don't think of Christmas as just a time to bust out "The Grinch" and "Elf."  Think about popping in a nice horror movie, or picking up a horror novel (perhaps from one of your fine young friends here on the blog, even?)  Or, maybe you could go full British style and spend your night telling ghost stories.  But however you do it, enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Spiraling Narratives and Labyrinth Thoughts

By Cheryl Oreglia

Have you ever walked a Labyrinth? It's an ancient spiritual practice that takes you on a circular path to the center of some symbolic heart, and back out again, hopefully transformed by the experience of quiet, thoughtful, annular movement.
“Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.” Umberto Eco
The labyrinth begins at the outer edge of a circular maze which draws the participant inward, they are not extravagant, or meandering, but smooth and direct, spinning one around and around until they find their center. It sounds like it would be a dizzying experience but it turns out to be a rather mystifying and unexpected journey.

Spirals are everywhere, on the tracery of our fingertips, in our DNA, the coiled tendril of a grapevine, a snails shell, a spiraling stairwell, or monstrous hurricane, how the Earth orbits the Sun, not to mention the way water spirals down the drain.

It's interesting because this is also how my mind works, spinning a problem or story, drawing me deeper and deeper into a vortex of thought, until I'm completely lost in the minutiae of my theoretical, or if you will, theatrical ideas.

In terms of writing it seems our narratives follow this same sort of spiraling pattern. The reader starts at the edge of a story, moving in towards some magnetizing crescendo, before being released to circle back out of the tale, hopefully spellbound, maybe even transformed if you will, by a riveting plot, passionate love affair, or some sort of horrific tale.

A spiraling narrative could be drawing the reader slowly into the characters soul, or backwards into the past, upwards towards the future. Sometimes it's difficult to write yourself out of a spiraling tale, just as difficult as it is to spin my thoughts in a new direction, but the point being there is a purposeful maneuver at the pinnacle of the narrative, which sends one back the way they came, only altered in some profound way.

At the present moment I feel as if I'm spiraling out of control, propelled into this mysterious labyrinth with the onset of Advent, and then I run like a lunatic around and around as the celebratory birth of Christ spins into focus. I'm being drawn towards some sort of unachievable standard, only to be spit out come January, into the harsh realities of debt, decorations, and department store returns. Have I been saved? Has anyone?
“The difficulty in dealing with a maze or labyrinth lies not so much in navigating the convolutions to find the exit but in not entering the damn thing in the first place. Or, at least not yet again. As a creature of free will, do not be tempted into futility.” Vera Nazarian
This year I took an intentional pause not only in the movement of my mind, but the motion of my memories of Christmas past, and I stood still for an entire weekend doing exactly what I wanted, which was to sit in my pajamas for the better part of the day, writing, and devouring enormous amounts of coffee. I accomplished absolutely nothing between sunrise and sunset except finding my center and contemplating my return.

There is a central story line that goes with this annual nativity story, with several mini stories circling the larger one, they all fit into a familiar narrative which offers all new life, joyful hope, and illumination. As the days grow longer and the darkness recedes I'm trying to slow down, to make it all last, to restore my sense of wonder and awe. When I lose sight of that which is really important I'm reminded to pause in the midst of chaos, and allow myself to be transformed by quiet, thoughtful, annular movements.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Have you ever been corralled into a labyrinth of nonsense?

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Hey everyone! It's my turn for a back jacket hack job, which basically means taking a book's blurb - the back jacket copy - and turning it inside out a little bit. It's meant to be fun - and funny - and no authors are harmed in this monthly feature.

Since I'm a rom com reader and writer, today I'm highlighting a rom com from earlier this year that I LOVED. Also, full disclosure, Marika Ray is a friend of mine and we recently met IRL for the first time at the Romance Author Mastermind conference. She's tall! And just as nice in person as she is online. Also, I'm super jealous that she lives in sunny California because, you know...sun...

Her September release, DESPERATELY SEEKING HOUSEHUSBAND is the third book in her Reality of Love series and the "official" blurb is:

I just needed a fake boyfriend to be on the reality show Desperate Househusbands with me to prove once and for all I was over my evil ex and living my best life.
Too bad the only guy willing to do the job turned out to be my ex’s half-brother.
Dimples are my kryptonite and he’s got two of them.

I was intrigued by her before I knew who she was.
And I admit, I signed up for the fake boyfriend position because I was curious how someone so successful could have dated my asshole brother.
Maybe it’s the way her edges soften at night when she cuddles up to me.
Or maybe it’s watching her rebuild her confidence brick by brick.
Maybe it’s just the goats stirring up repressed sexual desire.
Either way, I have feelings. Real ones.
Which is a bummer when my brother, the wrecking ball, comes back through the door, ruining everything we fought so hard for.
Where’s a goat to rekindle the flames when you need one?

It's a pretty great blurb, right? And this cover:

He's the perfect Rhett! But what the blurb doesn't tell you is that the story opens with Gabby interviewing potential fake husbands and the third nipple guy made me nearly spit out my tea. On page two. Spoiler alert - he doesn't get the househusband role. But Rhett does.

And, oh my, the chemistry between him and Gabby is both funny and super swoony/hot. Yes, they have their awkward moments as they get to know each other, but they're very real, and I liked them just as much separately as I did together.

However, the scene stealer is the goats. Hell, I think the goats steal the story. Marika weaves them in via a side character and they become an important - and hysterical - part of the story. 

A lot of self-professed rom coms are really romance with a dose of humor, but I can honestly say that DESPERATELY SEEKING HOUSEHUSBAND is a true romantic comedy, with equal parts giggles and swoons. If you need a bit of comic relief in this stressful holiday season, I highly recommend this one. As for me, I feel a re-read coming on. For the goats. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Reasons to Put Your Books on Your Resume

A post by Mary Fan

Published authors with day jobs – do you put your books on your professional resume? I do. It goes in that little miscellaneous section at the very end – the usually reserved for volunteer work and community activities (I call that section “volunteer/independent work” and for a spell would put my freelancing gigs on there). So far, it’s worked to my advantage when it comes to interviews. Of course, there are certainly reasons to leave the books off – for instance, if you write in a genre some employers would frown upon under a pen name. But those circumstances aside, here’s why you should include your masterpieces on your resume.

It showcases a lot of useful skills
If you’ve managed to not only write a whole book, but also survive the hellish obstacle course that is the publishing process, you’ve probably gained a lot of buzzword-y skills along the way. Writing and communication, sure, but also time management, project management, and… well, people management. Not to mention the stuff you have to do to market the damn thing – you’ve probably picked up some public speaking skills while participating in book talks, some event marketing skills from attending conferences/conventions, etc. Oh, and then there’s all the accounting and logistics. It’s been written on this blog before that being an author is like being a small business. And running a small business involves a lot of skills that workplaces find valuable. Adding your books to your resume gives you an excuse to talk about them.

It makes you more interesting than cookie-cutter candidates
I’ve recently wound up on the other side of the hiring process, and let me tell you, it can be exhausting scanning dozens of identical-seeming resumes that all have the same basic educational backgrounds and experiences. Anything different and interesting is a plus.

They’re going to find out anyway
Your interviewers are going to look you up online. Unless you write under a pen name, your books are going to come up, and they’ll probably be curious. You might as well get in front of it.

What do you think? Do you put your books on your resume?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Plotting the perfect crime: the 4-act structure

Hello, troops. It is not even officially winter yet and I am so over it. Northeastern PA got hammered with a winter storm that kept us inside for a few days. Our school district has also already used up one snow day. I guarantee we will use up all eleven (that's right! We get eleven!) and then some. Blech.

So what's a girl to do to defeat winter doldrums? Concoct the perfect murder? For my book, of course.

Truth is, I don't believe there is such a thing as a perfect murder. Not in books and not in real life. Killers evade capture--not because they're sticklers for details and thought of everything--but because of timing, chance, lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, lack of reasoning. But that doesn't bode well for a mystery novel. I don't need to create the perfect crime. I wouldn't even know how. I just need to fuss with variables such as timing, chance, and evidence, so that it seems near perfect. So it seems damn near unsolvable.

And how do I do that?

Well, I work backwards. I start with the victim. Who is she? Or he. What got them to this place? Then I wonder who would kill them and why? None of my books, so far, have focused on serial killers or random violence. Every crime has a reason, and every criminal, a motive. A puzzle to solve.

I then focus on the murderer. What are they afraid of? What is their motive? What is behind their rage? And then I write two scenes: one from the victim's POV, and the other from the killer's POV. These scenes don't always make it in the book, but they provide me with something for my protagonist to figure out. Also, if you know your crime scenes (ha! pun), then you can figure how realistic it is to die that way. *Looking at you wonky poisons.

Once I have the murder(s) down, I break up my Scrivener file into four acts. Why four? Well, it's because a few books ago I read this great blog post by John P. Murphy in which he elaborated on how the talented P.D. James would plot her novels using, what he calls the two-body plot, and what I just call Kim's New Outlining Method. Either way, it works. I can also break down my word count this way to keep the pacing on point.

In Act 1, I introduce my protagonist (detective, amateur sleuth, whatevs), a cast of characters, and the crime. This might be a murder or it could be a missing person or kidnapping. In School Lies, I introduced readers to a missing person. In Dead and Breakfast, I introduced a ghost who had been murdered in the 1960s. In other words: shady stuff has happened.

In Act 2, my protagonist is on the case. Either metaphorically or literally. In my current work-in-progress, my detective is trying to solve a murder. She unravels the clues in a linear fashion. She learns A so she investigates, which leads her to B, so she investigates. She's picking up those breadcrumbs and seeing where they lead. BUT, she's also making judgements. Preconceived biases get in the way. So do unknown villains. And then, ANOTHER BODY!

This is where I took Murphy's/James's second body advice and put it in practice. I killed another person. I feel like murder mysteries are most fun when there's more than one victim. It revs up the intrigue.

In Act 3, my protagonist is done with everyone's bullsh*t and she starts to take all those little clues and shove them together into a more cohesive bunch. She knows who is lying to her, but not necessarily why. Anyway, no more screw-ups here. She's out for blood. Whereas before, she was collecting the right info with the wrong intent, now she's on the right track. And so is the antagonist. Danger lurks everywhere.

In Act 4, she's got 'em. She knows the identity of the killer(s) and she's out to expose them. Here is where I make it life-or-death for my protagonist. How will she get out of this alive? There's a showdown and the aftermath. My protagonist is a changed woman. And safe. Until the next book.

So there ya have it. My mystery writing outlining as succinctly as I could put it. If you write crime fiction and are struggling with plotting, take a look at John Murphy's blog post. Read a P.D. James book.

Do you write murder mysteries? How do you plot the 'perfect crime'?

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Paradoxical Appeal of Horror Fiction

Art by Prettysleepy2.

Hey. I’m P.T. Phronk, the new guy around here. I write genre fiction—mostly horror. I’m also a brain scientist. For my first post here, I thought I’d combine those things and explore the irrationality of the horror genre with an attempt at rational thought.

Have you ever thought about how damn strange horror really is? Yeah yeah, obviously spooky stuff is strange, and it’s always been an outcast of a genre due to the icky subject matter, but I propose that its strangeness goes deeper than the obvious, because horror is inherently paradoxical. In horror, what’s bad is good. The worse it is, the better it is. How does that even make sense?

Horror fiction goes through periods when it’s embraced by the mainstream, like the “post-horror” label a few years ago, when horrific media stumbled into the territory of Very Serious Critics™ and was judged to occasionally have redeeming qualities beyond the ghosts, goblins, and guts. That doesn't change the fact that the core of horror—the defining quality—is repulsion. If it doesn’t contain something you want to turn away from, then it’s not horror.* Why would anyone be attracted to repulsion?

It’s tempting to think there’s something wrong with people who are really into horror. Maybe some neurons got wired into the wrong places in their brains, and they actually experience bad things as good. They are the defective humans who, outside the comfy modern world, would have been compelled to enter Earth’s darkest corners, only to add to the piles of skull fragments and femurs lying there.

But I don’t buy that anyone who likes a good scare is defective.

In my PhD thesis on horror (read it here if you have a few hours to spare), I used a special technique to get at people’s gut reactions to frightening media, free from cultural baggage and other explicit thoughts that come into play if you simply ask someone “do you like this gushing neck stump? I know you're not supposed to, but do you???” That's one of the reasons it's so hard to understand why people like horror. You can't just ask them.

Anyway, coming at it more indirectly, I found that when you pull out the repulsive elements of horror movies and show them to people, everyone has a negative gut reaction. There are no—or at least very few—people who see something scary or gross and feel pleasure instead of repulsion.

I think this applies even more strongly to written horror. There are no noisy jump scares or visual gross-outs in a novel, so there’s even less room for the theory that people consume horror because they’re getting some cheap thrill out of it (not that there's anything wrong with a good cheap thrill—we're on the verge of a recession, after all). Those defining repulsive elements are necessary for horror, but not sufficient for enjoying it. There must be something deeper. Something that I believe gets at the core of what it means to “like” something, and ultimately, what it means to be happy.

What explains the paradoxical appeal of horror?

That’ll have to wait, because this post is already getting long. Sorry to leave you hanging, but I’ll return at the end of the month with more thoughts on horror and happiness. In the meantime, let me know: are you one of those baffling people who likes to be scared? If so, why do you think that is? I know a few paragraphs ago I said you can't just ask people about this stuff, but we horror fans have to be comfortable with paradoxes. Comment right here, or find me on Twitter @Phronk.

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs