Standing before the mirror, she gazes into her reflection. Pale skin. Small prickles of hair emerging from her head. There’s a large oval -shaped scar on her neck. She focuses on her eyes–windows to the soul. Staring into them is like falling into a dark bottomless pit. She sees stains of guilt within them. She sees a mind like a grotesque dungeon, a place where thoughts wander blindly like prisoners, wailing at walls of misgiving and despair.
“Who am I?” she asks.
She gets the same answer as always. It comes to her as a hissing whisper in the back of her mind: not Meredith. Meredith is dead…
Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. Over a month. A lot has been going on since my last post. My journey has not come to an end, however. It has broadened, become more complicated, and increased in pace.
Since my last post an exciting new opportunity has entered my life. I joined the staff of The Dark Sire Journal and became their new Assistant EIC. The Dark Sire publishes Horror, Gothic, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism. For those of you who have read previous posts or visited my YouTube channel, you know how fitting such a journal will be for me. I love tales of monsters, vampires (particularly the disturbing kind; I can do without the sparkling), eerie haunted minds, strange old castles, and so much more. TDS is a place of all my passions. It’s a journal that truly loves horror fiction and allows it to be horror. What do I mean by that? Well, they allow for the blood, the mayhem. They truly want to make your spine tingle when you view the art or fiction featured in one of their issues. It’s refreshing to see this when so often I come across horror magazines that want monsters, as long as they don’t commit any mayhem. They want vampires, as long as they don’t actually draw any blood. Where’s the horror in that? Magazines like TDS are becoming rarer these days, and I hope to help keep this one alive and well.
My goal is to post once per week. In next week’s post I will tell you what I’m learning about developmental editing.
First of all, I’m absolutely stunned by how prolific a writer Mr. Hubbard was. The man published 250 novels, novelettes, short stories, and screenplays in every major genre. I thought that might be a Guinness World Record or something. I googled to see who the most prolific author is, and it turns out to be a Brazilian author named Ryoki Inoue, with 1,075 books published under many pseudonyms. Still, 250 is impressive. It takes me nearly a month or more just to complete a short story. Mr. Hubbard could probably write several in a week.
This novel often gets the label of being the first modern thriller. As I was reading it, it kept bringing to mind movies like The Machinist, Memento, and Shutter Island. This novel definitely provides a surprising twist in the ending. You’ll feel a sadness for the main character Professor Jim Lowry.
The plot: Professor Jim Lowry is a man who denounces phenomena like demons, spirits, and the supernatural. He has traveled the world in his profession, investigated many obscure locations and experienced a wide variety of cultures and religions. To him, it’s all superstition: man’s way of explaining the unexplainable until efforts of material science find a true explanation. Then one day, after having a drink with his friend Tommy Williams (who, by the way, half-jokingly warns him that all his denunciation of the supernatural will antagonize the demons, motivating a vengeful return of them to ruin his life), he abruptly wakes up having lost his hat as well as the memory of the past four hours. Lowry is now on a quest to find those four hours, and during his quest is haunted by strange experiences. A shadowy phantom stalks him, only allowing him a brief glimpse in the corner of his eye. When he tries to eat dinner with Tommy and his wife Mary, his plate annoyingly and mysteriously moves, and he can’t be certain, but it looks like fangs are pointing out between the lips of his friend and wife, though when he looks directly at them, he doesn’t see fangs at all. These are just a couple of the strange happenings he experiences. I don’t want to spoil all the fun for you.
What did I enjoy about the novel? First and foremost, I had a blast falling into this twisting, strange labyrinth with Lowry. After each bizarre occurrence, I read with anticipation for what would come next. How much weirder would it get? It was fascinating seeing Lowry’s original belief system (his denunciation of the supernatural) begin to crack and give way as he encounters each new absurd event. I enjoyed the dialogue as well. Every conversation crackled with life, and felt like a genuine exchange between two people. Now, I don’t think Fear is known for its exceptional dialogue or anything like that, but it worked well for me.
What to learn from one of the weaker elements of the novel: if you can achieve the writing goal you have set for your story without certain scenes, go ahead and delete them. Author Nancy Kress once stated in her book Beginnings, Middles, and Ends that a scene must accomplish at least two of three things: advance the plot, deepen characterizations, or fill in back story. This novel is a tad bit overwritten. There were certainly scenes that distracted and slowed the pace down too much, and I found myself skimming some of the material.
Overall, I give L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Fear a 4/5 rating. You’ll have a thrilling good time in this bizarre funhouse of a story.
I was gripped the other day by a sudden jolt of nostalgia. You know the feeling. It’s when some sensory stimuli triggers an entrancing, meaningful memory. Maybe the smell of smoke in early winter reminds you of Christmas time and family fun from your childhood. Perhaps an old movie you loved to watch as a kid causes a glimmer of the same excitement you felt back when you couldn’t help but frolic throughout the living room pretending to be the hero of said movie. Well, I recently stumbled across something that reminded me of my undergraduate college days, a time when you’d often find me guzzling caffeinated beverages (writing fuel, I called them) while cramming to complete midterm papers a day before they were due. Ah, the good old days.
What is nostalgia? How does it really influence us? Is the nostalgic return a refusal to take responsibility for problems in the present by hiding in pleasures of the past, thus delaying progress? Or is it an effort to reacquire tools, solutions, or a renewed faith from successes in the past for the purpose of overcoming present problems? I guess, depending on the circumstance, it could be both. However, in my case, I would argue the latter applies. The object which triggered my nostalgic return was an old book I used for a college Creative Writing class. The book was titled, “Behind The Short Story: From First To Final Draft,” edited by Ryan G. Van Cleave and Todd James Pierce.
The Final Draft. That sounds like a wonderful place to be. Lately, I seem to have forgotten how to get there. I’m lost at sea, adrift. A faint flicker of hope warmed my heart while I brushed the dust off this book, remembering moments attending the class the book was assigned for. Back then I had confidence. Not just confidence. I was a little arrogant, and ignorant of my limitations. Nowadays I’ve become well acquainted with my weaknesses, especially the more I see time slipping away like the sand seeping from the hands of the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “A Dream Within A Dream.” Writing is a lonely job. Stephen King once described it as like floating across the Atlantic ocean in a bathtub, and he’s right. You’re floating along a vast ocean of words hoping for meaning and much of the time all you’ve got for company are your weaknesses, glaring down at you mockingly as you stumble from word to word.
The book reminded me in the smallest way of what it felt like to be confident again. I remembered that first day of class when we so easily imagined we’d become the next Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf, even if it was a bit arrogant. The book also made me realize I could try again, a little of that renewed faith. This time I could dig a little deeper into the book’s insights and utilize the suggestions with more sincerety. This time perhaps I could cross the treacherous Mariana Trench that stretches between the first and final draft. What if this time I even became a better writer on the other side? By the way, you’re welcome to join me on my journey if you like.
The nostalgic return isn’t just sappy escapism. Sometimes it can revitalize your life.
This is one of Stephen King’s lesser known books, lost behind the massive shadows cast by books like The Stand, It, and his magnus opus The Dark Tower.
The plot is simple and engaging: a man and woman participate in a top-secret government experiment that produces psychic abilities within them. They get married, have a child, and their daughter, Charlie, inherits her own psychic ability: she can start fires with her mind, and she struggles to control this force. Matters get worse when Charlie and her father are on the run from a government agency called The Shop, who want Charlie back for their own destructive means.
Lean and mean at 426 pages, the narrative moves along at a breakneck, paranoid pace. I enjoyed the dynamic between the adult and the child. You really feel the suspense of Andy’s paranoia as he must not only be responsible for himself, but he must keep Charlie calm while impending danger is constantly breathing down their necks.
The novel plays a lot on the theme of cost; Andy must weigh the cost of every choice he makes along the way. This especially plays to importance when he uses his own psychic ability, something he calls the “push,” which allows him to manipulate minds. For instance, he convinces a cab driver early on in the novel that a one dollar bill is a five hundred dollar bill for a fare to Albany. What’s the cost for using this ability? Headaches, nosebleeds, and potentially a brain hemorrhage. Oh, and he can accidentally cause severe psychological side effects to those he pushes, haunting hallucinations, something he calls a ricochet. Later in the novel you get some creepy demonstrations of this, one of them involving a sink disposal unit and someone’s arm. Another man is disturbed by the hallucination of snakes lurking in every corner of his life. King has fun knocking around in these peoples’ heads, and I had fun going along for the ride.
Charlie McGee’s struggle controlling the force within her was fascinating not only for its effects on the other characters and the course of the plot but also for its thematic significance: Charlie’s ability to start fires can be interpreted as a young adolescent’s stirring sexual awakening, the realization of her powers of feminity, and her difficulty learning to control them. Throughout the novel Charlie’s father tries to help her control it, especially when she is emotionally charged, for emotions such as fear and anger can escalate the forces within her. Andy even refers to Charlie’s ability as the Bad Thing, a similar connotation to a parent referring to sex as the bad thing. Perhaps the novel is suggesting that we should learn to embrace the powers born of our masculine or feminine traits, but we must strive to do so with a bridled, temperate approach. Otherwise, we just end up stirring chaos, destroying the good order of things. I think I’ll end this segment here before I start writing an English midterm paper on the nature of feminity in Stephen King’s Firestarter, but I hope you get the point of my brief hobbyhorse.
I want to share a paragraph from the novel, because I found the writing fascinating. It almost feels like beat poetry. The scene it paints is tragic and really escalates the feeling of paranoia throughout the novel. The paragraph is found on page eight of my signet paperback edition:
“Andy McGee and his wife, pretty Vicky. They had pulled her fingernails out, one by one. They had pulled out four of them and then she had talked. That, at least, was his deduction. Thumb, index, second, ring. Then: Stop. I’ll talk. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Just stop the hurting. Please. So she had told. And then… perhaps it had been an accident…then his wife had died. Well, some things are bigger than both of us, and other things are bigger than all of us.
“Things like the Shop, for instance.
“Thud, thud, thud, riderless black horse coming on, coming on, coming on: behold, a black horse.
Stephen King’s novel Firestarter is a hidden gem. I suggest you read it.
“Read a lot, write a lot.” That’s the number one rule for the aspiring writer. You just got to do it. Practice. Try different approaches. Try new things that challenge you.
Reading is invaluable to the writer. It’s sort of the stream of life for the writer’s imagination, the place he or she goes to fill their head with more words when their well has run dry. We read to be inspired by the work of others, to learn from their narrative strategies. Then we turn to our own work in progress and find new ways to utilize those strategies, to give them a unique spin with our own voice.
Horror is my mainstay, and when I came across this list in the revised addition of the On Writing Horror Handbook by the Horror Writers Association, I nearly shrieked in excitement like a giddy child. Some of these I’ve read before and certainly deserve a revisit. Some will be a new experience for me. Here we go:
1. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
3. The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
4. The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
5. Burn, Witch, Burn! by A. Merritt
6. To Walk the Night by William Sloane
7. The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft
8. Fear by L. Ron Hubbard
9. Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
10. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
11. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
12. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
13. Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vol. I, II, III
14. Hell House by Richard Matheson
15. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
16. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The hands twitched in the grass like wriggling worms. My heart leapt with hope. Was he still alive, or was it spasmodic nerves? All the others were dead. I crawled to the edge of the slope and called his name as I looked down toward him. His face was pressed in the dirt. A gash stretched across the side of his neck like a bloodied rictus. “Can you hear me?” I said. A guttural moan oozed from my friend as his head turned up and I saw eyes that were not his. Something hungry and evil had replaced them. It reached for me with one pale hand. I stumbled to my feet and blindly ran. Behind me, I heard it’s galloping trot as it chased me. A ferocious howl ripped across the silent island…
It’s time to walk into the shadows and confront this topic, especially with Halloween around the corner when all things spooky shall be unleashed upon us. Besides, Iseult Murphy dared confront her five worst fears, why can’t I? What are the five things that scare me?
1. Torture: If a character is being chained up to something and mercilessly whipped, burned, crushed, whatever it may be, I very well may shudder and cover my eyes. One who is being tortured is in ultimate despair. Long moments of agony followed by death; how can it get worse than that? My deep-seated horror for torture started when I was an eleven year old kid. The history channel depicted the torture rack during a show focused on torture devices of the Medieval period. Seeing that poor guy gasp and moan as his bones cracked and blood oozed from his wrists stunned me. Worst of all, I couldn’t find the remote; it had fallen behind the couch, so I had to watch the full thing. Nothing horrifies me more…
2. … except for maybe demonic possession. Just hearing the word makes me feel sullied. I experienced the demonically possessed monster for the first time as a teenager, watching the classic horror film The Exorcist. For a week after seeing that movie, I continually imagined Regan in her possessed form hobbling over to my bedside to stare down at me with that craggy, glowering face, growling obscenities and well…pea soup anyone? (Sidenote: wouldn’t that be a great Halloween Party gimmick? A Lifesize Possessed Regan headpiece set up before a delicious bowl of pea soup for party goers to dish up from. Get it? It looks like she vomited into the bowl. I guess you’re not as monstrous as me).
3. Dark Mysterious Caves: Lovecraft once said our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown, and nothing represents that better than a dark, mysterious cave. Anything could be in there. How about an enormous snake that will crush your bones and swallow you whole? Flesh eating bacterias, swarms of rats, and the list could go on. Your greatest fears are represented by the dark, mysterious cave. I shiver at all the terrible possibilities.
4. Spiders. Eek! Yes, you did just hear me shriek. Just this moment at mentioning their name it feels they’re clambering all over me. All those beady eyes, eight long legs. Some of them grow to the size of frigging hairy dinner plates. And some of them…if they bite you…I think I’ll avoid talking about it.
5. Witches. This is a topic that used to not scare me at all. Maybe it’s because every gal I went to school or worked with dressed up all cute with the pointed hat and dark eyeliner during Halloween, and it all just seemed so commonplace. Then I saw the 2015 movie The Witch. So much of the creepy factor was the atmospherics of the movie, all that unknown forest surrounding them, and gradually, the evil influence slips into that family like a dangerous snake sneaking in on a small nest of eggs. The eeriest part for me was the ending of the movie. All of those women chanting some alien language as they float in the air above the fire. Is Thomasin truly liberated in this initiation with the other witches, or is she just trapping herself into worse captivity? It was the strange mixture of pleasure and rueful pain wincing on Thomasin’s face at the end of the movie that made me ask this question, and this was also what gave me the deepest chill. She was in possession, not liberated. Witches are just another captive of the evil one. Disturbing indeed.
Now, do you wish to walk into the stirring shadows with me. Take my hand. What scares you?
Good news! I was able to make some decent use of the early morning hours. I woke up at five and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to make use of that quiet time to work on a story I’ve been grinding away at for the past couple weeks. The rough draft looks to be more novella length than novel, but maybe the story will expand when I progress to revisions later.
In the meantime, I got a really good idea for a story yesterday on my walk. I will carry on with the rough draft before I go back to revisions of this recently finished project. The working title for my next project: Nightmare Shards. I’m going to have some fun playing with the werewolf myth.
Some minds are like a beautiful meadow, a field of grass dotted with colorful flowers. Thoughts flow like a crystal clear stream. A mind of pristine concinnity.
Others resemble a grotesque dungeon, a constricting space of stirring shadows and rattling chains. Thoughts wander blindly like prisoners, wailing at walls of misgiving and despair. A mind of haunted asymmetry.