One day I was rummaging through some old folders filled with long forgotten free verse poems I wrote back in high school. Much of the experience was nostalgic. I could remember the very place I wrote some of them all those years ago: the doorway to the faculty lounge and the round table by the trophy case. I could vaguely remember the emotions motivating each piece, most of it teenage angst of feeling like a misunderstood mutant. Nothing was salvageable from the folders, nothing except a title: Graffitied Soul.
I was on the phone with my brother at the time, a man who is a singer/songwriter. I was reminiscing with him about the old days of my youth, reading him a passage or two from these old stack of poems, and usually we got a good laugh from it. Sometimes we cringed. Then I picked up one with that title: Graffitied Soul, and my brother said, “I think you might have something there.”
The original words to this poem were absolutely dejecting. Not that I’m totally against darker themes; I am a horror writer after all, but this one just seemed destined to be something else. The story is always the boss; I merely give it a place to grow. One morose passage declared, “I’m a disease. Burn me alive.” My brother and I bounced around ideas, hoping to update it, to find new meaning out of the intriguing title. Below I will share with you what I came up with. The plan is to utilize the words for a song one day.
Here goes nothing:
“There you stand on the evening horizon, looking back on how far you’ve come. Windin’ trails that lead to abandon. Memories forever sewn in the dark.
And that’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.
Raindrops obscure the view outside the window, a view of a world moved on. Hearts broken. Stale grudges. Lay it to the dust. I’ve forgotten you cuz I was staring in the sun.
And that’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.
Like a train moving on to the fading horizon, time once again is on your side. No longer shall you molder in the dust of dried out umbrage. Time is but a mote on an eternal sea.
And that’s your soul. That’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.”
There you have it. It’s still probably doggerel, but it beats the original lyrics that declared “I’m a disease. Burn me alive.” So I’ll take it!
You’ve probably heard this writing metaphor before when it comes to characters: what is depicted on the page is just the tip of the iceberg, hinting at something more vast and complex beneath the surface. The vast structure beneath the surface of what you see depicted in a scene is the backstory of that character: what came before to make them who they are in the present. Even if those buried traits do not rise to manifest themselves directly in a scene of your novel, they still serve as an indirect influence in subtler ways.
I like to imagine my character alone in their bedroom. Maybe this room is a small studio apartment, or one of many in a grand mansion. Perhaps your character is a drifter staying in motel rooms or sleeping on strangers’ couches. Whatever the scenario, how they interact with that room will tell you a lot about them. Are they extremely tidy? Do they carefully fold each piece of clothing and stack it in the same place every night? Do they feel near panic at the slightest sight of dust and must clean it immediately? Why? What influences them to be this way? Did a family member from their past exhibit this same behavior? Does your main character still hear this family member’s demanding voice echoing in their mind? If the room is tidy or messy it reveals a lot about the character’s personality and backstory. Explore it.
What else can you describe about his/her private room? Does abstract art hang on the walls? If so, what does that tell you about your character’s way of thinking? Perhaps instead they like to display pictures of family. This tells you family is special to them. Why? Is their a particular family member they value most? All kinds of character revealing pathways to explore in the art and decorations throughout the room.
There’s one important question I always ask myself when exploring a character’s private room. This question really penetrates the heart of them, the juicy center: what secrets do they conceal in their room? It may be an object hidden in the closet or under the bed. What does that object mean to them? Why is it kept hidden? This question can lead to some fascinating answers about your character, and sometimes the answer is the course of a plot, which happened to me while writing a short story called “The Butterfly Girl” (unpublished). I discovered that a hat belonging to her father was very special to her, because it triggered precious memories to her mind about fishing with her deceased father when she was a child. Later she uses the hat as part of a conjuration ritual in an effort to contact her deceased father’s spirit.
The secret doesn’t have to be an object. It could also be an activity they practice alone that nobody knows about. Either way, exploring your character’s bedroom is an invaluable tool for character development and backstory.
Tonight, she walks amongst the moon-frosted forest. Wretched figures stir the gloom, thrusting like pleading worshippers before an alien god. Their insatiable cries transfix her. She awaits the fateful embrace of wailing and gnashing teeth…
Shawn Burgess is a dark fiction author, avid horror fan, and Halloween junkie. He has a BA in English from the University of Florida and focused on literature for his postgraduate studies at the University of North Florida. His stories often blend two or more of his preferred genres: thriller, mystery, horror, crime/police procedural, urban fantasy, and suspense.
In his fictional worlds, realistic characters collide with the strange, unusual, and sometimes frightening. Ghosts of Grief Hollow, the sequel to his Amazon international best-selling debut novel, The Tear Collector, is due out in late 2021.
Tell us a bit about your fiction. What does it mean to you, and why do you think readers will love it?
I’m a dark fiction writer with a tendency to blend several genres, so my stories may not always fit neatly into one box. I like to tell complex tales with fairly large casts—perhaps partly because of my propensity for ushering many of them to tragic and sudden ends. I’m a big believer in having at least some relatable main characters that readers may readily identify and empathize with. I’m also intending to ground a reader in a realistic feeling world before things really go sideways so that they’ll maintain a level of suspension of disbelief. You’ll uncover more about my characters through their dialogue, actions, interactions, and behaviors than anything I’ll ever outright tell you in a story, which is my preference for both characterization and pacing.
Looking at the bigger picture, I love the strange, unusual, and terrifying. The supernatural, paranormal, and the occult. Ordinary, every-day people confronted with the most extraordinary of circumstances and phenomena. It’s in those moments and all the ones leading up to it, that we really discover who these characters truly are. Despite modern society’s technological advances, there exists that kernel of doubt, the sense that we as human beings can’t possibly understand everything that coinhabits the Earth with us—and that’s where I like to play most as a writer—amidst all that fear and wonderment.
To me, fiction is pure, unadulterated freedom. I can go anywhere on the page, within the confines of my own story, of course, but the possibilities are truly boundless. I write with one overarching goal, to tell a compelling story that will hopefully entertain and thrill most readers.
If you like action, adventure, mystery, suspense, and horror with memorable characters, I believe you will enjoy my fiction. Like twists and turns as well? We’re probably reading from the same sheet of music in terms of taste for what we like to read and what I like to write.
Do you remember the first moment the horror/sci-fi genre attracted you?
My parents were part of an organization that built haunted houses for their biggest charity fundraising event each year. I was exposed to it at an early age. My father also had a love for Halloween and would build a home haunt to entertain and scare kids and parents alike. I naturally gravitated to these creepy things and found enjoyment in them.
Allowing yourself to get scared by putting yourself in these situations while knowing you’re not actually going to be harmed is exhilarating, fun, and reminds us we’re alive. It’s why Halloween has become a multi-billion-dollar holiday, and why events like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights seem to print money every year.
As I got older, I found that same enjoyment in books and movies. It was a natural extension of the things I already enjoyed, and my writing would quickly follow in the same path.
What’s your creative process?
With my debut novel The Tear Collector, I began with three characters in a dialogue exchange. From that small scene, I got a very clear picture of who each character was. I built the rest of the novel around it. I mostly wrote it on airplanes at 30,000 feet and in hotel rooms while traveling for work. My soon-to-be-released sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow, was written during the pandemic. I started with an idea for how I wanted it to start and end, plus a few key scenes, and wrote it from about 10PM-2AM each night over the course of about five months, so it was really quite different for me as far as the execution of it.
As it relates to the creative process itself, I’m rather flexible, depending on the demands of the project. I don’t really have any set writing rituals I keep. I have a notebook of novel ideas and choose whatever sounds like the most fun for me to write. I don’t work from outlines but do tend to plot in my head quite a bit further into the manuscript than wherever I’m currently working in it. I always leave room to take enticing opportunities when they present themselves, and I’m not necessarily married to an ending I’ve selected at the onset. This rough structure works for me and likely leads to the books having more unexpected twists and turns.
What are some of your favorite books and movies?
There are so many fabulous books and movies I love. I’ll start with some books, but I’m going to give more of the love to some indie and smaller press authors because they’re fantastic and they don’t necessarily garner the attention of the King’s and Koontz’s of the world.
One of my recent favorite books was Ross Jeffery’s cosmic horror novel Tome. This is probably the most high-profile book I’ll talk about in regards to indies since it was nominated for a Stoker Award. Jeffery’s writing is terrific, and I was gripped throughout, even as some truly horrifying things were happening on the page. Think the old HBO prison series Oz meets cosmic horror and you have a recipe for an excellent read.
The Navajo Nightmare coauthored by Steve Stred and David Sodergren was a splatterpunk Western that was really a lot of fun. A supernatural tale of revenge about a gunslinger trying to make an honest go of it, and being dragged back into his old life and worse. It’s a true blood fest, but a really compelling read.
There’s a new novella coming out by indie author Dan Soule called The Jam that I got an opportunity to get an early look at, and I absolutely loved it. It was really a fun and unpredictable story.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few others, Dawn Hosmer’s Bits & Pieces, Angelique Jordonna’s Dani, Charly Cox’s All His Pretty Girls, Jotham Austin’s Will You Still Love Me if I Become Someone Else? and Barlow Adams’ Appalachian Alchemy—all of them excellent reads.
As far as big presses go, Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar was a recent favorite that I tore through, and I thought Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark was fantastic.
Some of my favorite movies are The Silence of the Lambs (also loved the book), Seven, The Lost Boys, Better Off Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, A Quiet Place II, Get Out, Pumpkinhead, Beetlejuice, Jaws, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Jeepers Creepers, The Prophesy with Christopher Walken, and In the Mouth of Madness, just to name a few.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Superpowers are a slippery slope. As a dark fiction and horror writer, I imagine them in the wrong hands being used for very nefarious purposes. Take the thriller, The Invisible Man—no good can come from that. For my own superpower, I’d choose the ability to miraculously heal other people, at the cost of years taken off my own life each time the power was used. Every superpower needs some type of built-in guardrail. Otherwise, I could heal the countless masses, leading to an explosion of the Earth’s population, scarcity of resources, and most likely, my subsequent murder.
What advice do you have for the novice writer?
Write and read as much as you can. Fill up notebooks, even if you know it’s with stories and scribblings that will likely never be published. The more you practice, the better you will become. In my eyes, the most important thing about writing is having fun. If you’re having fun with your story, it’s much more likely to connect with a potential audience. If it feels like a chore, you’re probably writing the wrong story, or perhaps approaching it in the wrong way. Never put too much pressure on yourself. That’s not to say don’t be driven to accomplish your writing goals but remember that writing is only one part of this amazing life we’ve been given. Make sure you live it to the fullest.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I’m just enjoying life with my wonderful wife and two amazing sons while writing on novels in the evening. In the next few months, my second novel Ghosts of Grief Hollow is set to release. I immersed myself wholly into this project during the pandemic. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out and can’t wait to share it with readers. In addition, I’m picking back up on a novel project I paused in order to write GoGH. It’s pretty different than The Tear Collector and one I hope readers will thoroughly enjoy. Other than that, I plan to continue putting out novels as frequently as I can write, revise, and edit them. Ideally, I’d love to see one of more them ultimately translated into film, which is also a medium I love.
For many, this question might have an obvious answer, but it is something I have wrestled with for years. Back in my twenties, when I was balancing college classes and a job, I was obsessive about scheduling and planning. I accumulated piles of notebooks filled with planning notes. Each day was organized hour by hour, including the exact time I would brush my teeth and eat breakfast. Life is chaotic; I firmly believed that my daily schedule was like a well-armoured tank charging through the enemy of chaos unscathed.
Well, my plans would remain unscathed for a couple days, but eventually even the most rigid armour can weaken. At some point my schedule would topple over like a flimsy wooden fence. What are the reasons for this weakening?
Some of the reasons were internal: my mood would change; I would grow weary of the constant repetition, feeling a little bit like an animatronic stuck to its programmed course. Some of the reasons were external: someone from work would unexpectedly call me to cover their shift, a friend or family member would unexpectedly stop by for a visit, or a homework assignment would take much longer than expected.
Back then I would become overwhelmed with guilt when my plans fell apart. I would beat myself up. I was lazy! Undisciplined! Or I would become frustrated and panicked about the outside world creeping through the cracks of my best laid plan. The vicious cycle would tear me down more, and sometimes I fell into a hiatus of aimless stupor.
Ten years have passed since those days, and I still believe planning to be invaluable. However, I’ve learned to look at best laid plans as a guideline, not a rigid, unbreakable code. I’ve learned to be flexible, you see?
Why do I find planning invaluable? 1) everyone needs an aim. If you want the day to be productive, if you want to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be, you need to aim at something. When you set a target of accomplishment, this also helps you to identify when you have failed, so you can return to the drawing board and recalculate your goals. 2) having a plan makes you more adaptable. When obstacles get in your way, you still have the target in your sights. Thus, you can make the proper adjustments and still hit your target, despite the turbulence. 3) planning is a launchpad. Planning is motivation to live. If we approach each day in an aimless stupor, all we will do is drift. Aimless drifting will not develop ourselves into who we are meant to be.
To plan or not to plan…that is the question. The answer seems pretty obvious to me: make a plan!
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Rami Ungar is a novelist from Columbus, Ohio who has enjoyed writing and scaring people silly since he was young. He has both self-published and traditionally published short stories and novels, including Snake, Rose and The Pure World Comes. When not writing, Rami enjoys anime and manga, reading, and giving people the impression that he’s not entirely human.
Tell us a bit about the stories you write. What do they mean to you, and why do you think readers will love them?
I tend to write horror and supernatural stories. I love a scary monster, some weird concept or idea turned into a full story. Especially if I can take my interests or my eccentricities and put them into a story. That’s what my stories are, in a way: they’re my love of the dark and the strange, a crystallization of the macabre with my eclectic interests (which includes the macabre). And I think people will not only love the stories for their plots and unique touches, but also for the love and passion I include in my stories.
Do you remember that first moment when the horror genre attracted you?
I think it might have been Stephen King’s IT. I was on vacation and we stopped at a bookstore because my family always needs something to read. I recognized IT from seeing a DVD copy of the miniseries once, so I thought I’d check it out. Probably one of the best decisions of my life, nightmares notwithstanding.
What is your creative process?
When I decide to work on a story, I come up with a few central characters and their key traits/role in the story. I then work on and outline the story, and then I write the darn thing. I’ll usually have music on in the background, a tea or soda nearby and some incense burning. All those things really help me get the words out (along with a good story, of course).
What are some of your favorite books and movies?
Good question. As you might have guessed, my favorite books are mainly horror. Kill Creek by Scott Thomas is my current favorite, though something else might replace it someday. I’m also a huge fan of writers like Stephen King, Ania Ahlborn, Anne Rice, HP Lovecraft, and many others. As for movies, there are a lot of horror movies there too: Overlord, Perfect Blue, Prince of Darkness. That being said, Avengers: Endgame and The Prom is what I watch when I need a mood lift. And I have a soft spot for Titanic.
What else are you passionate about besides writing?
I’m a huge fan of anime and manga. Every week, I watch several episodes of new and old shows and go through at least four or five volumes of manga a week. I also enjoy going to the movies, seeing live shows like musicals and ballets, and cooking. If there’s a box that I fit neatly into, I haven’t met it yet.
What advice would you give to the novice writer?
Actually carve out the time to write. A time fairy isn’t going to come by and grant you that time to write. You have to make it yourself. Stephen King used to give himself time to write when he was still teaching high school. Back then, he lived in a trailer with several small children and wrote in the laundry room. Yet he still put out several pages a day. Imagine what you could do if you did the same.
I know you’re passionate about Halloween. Tell us a bit about your love for Halloween.
Halloween is such a fun time! For a short while, a lot of people and places share in my love of the dark and the macabre. I have such fun memories of decorating my house, watching scary movies, putting on creepy costumes and eating way too much candy. It’s because of Halloween that I have the best roommate, the skeleton Jonesy, as well as so many creepy decorations! Not to mention some of the best scary movies come out around this time of year.
By the way, how’s Jonesy?
He’s good. He’s hanging around in my apartment, as per usual.
Tell us a little bit about your current work in progress and future plans you might have.
I’m actually editing the last story of a collection of short stories. Once it’s done, I want to try shopping it around and find a publisher. I also have some other works I need to edit, and a few more short stories to write. And I’m thinking of writing another novel, one that’s been building in my twisted mind for the past several years. Fingers crossed I not only get to work on it, but that it turns out awesome.
To learn more about Rami Ungar, you can follow his blog: ramiungarthewriter.com.
Dawn Ross is a daydreamer who has been perfecting her writing skills for over twenty years. With an imagination inspired by a few decades of fantasy/sci-fi books, movies, and television, she has created her own epic sci-fi full of rich characters in a vast universe. It all begins with StarFire Dragons, which Kirkus Reviews says is “A thoughtful novel that owes a debt to Star Trek but works on its own terms.”
Dawn has a Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude meritum, in financial management. She also self-studies history, writing, and various sciences including astronomy and physics. Her character-focused stories include scientific elements such as space travel, space battles, fascinating worlds, cybernetic beings, and more.
Tell us a bit about the stories you write and why?
I’ve always been attracted to fantasy and science fiction stories. I love how they spread beyond the boundaries of reality and into worlds of endless possibilities. Not only do they provide an escape from reality, but they also spark my imagination. I’m drawn to tragic characters who’ve had the odds stacked against them their whole lives and yet still manage to rise above them to become better people. It gives me hope that others can do it too. I’m also inspired by stories where the good guys win and bad guys get what they deserve. All these things together have inspired numerous stories in my head, but none as epic as this sci-fi series I’m writing now. StarFire Dragons: Book One of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles was initially inspired by an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “Suddenly Human”. The story has a Star-Trek-feel, but it doesn’t end there. I have dozens of novel ideas following this one, most of which follow the life of Jori, a ten-year-old warrior with amazing and sometimes deadly abilities.
What is your writing routine? How do you schedule your time to write?
That’s an easy one to answer: As a stay-at-home mom, I spend the first half of my weekday volunteering, running errands, and/or cleaning house. After lunch, I generally have 1-3 hours to write before my child gets out of school.
What’s your creative process like?
Many of my stories have been partially daydreamed in advance. I don’t just keep them in my head, though. I keep a ton of notes. I have notebooks all over the place, including in my car. I sometimes use the notes app on my iPhone, and I have several documents on the cloud and saved on my desktop and tablet. This might seem very unorganized, but in truth, all my notes eventually end up on the cloud and on two separate external hard drives. My notes are very well organized in specific folders, making it easy for me to find individual stories, specific characters, and certain worldbuilding details. Every year in October, I pick one novel-worthy story and outline it. I start with the basic Plot Dot method, then flesh out the details chapter-by-chapter. By November, I’m ready to hammer out the story. I do this with a group of other writers, both online and locally, through an event called NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and can be found at NaNoWriMo.org. The goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. Even though the story is outlined in advance, I’m not afraid to veer off track. Sometimes I find interesting subplots and sometimes I realize the story won’t work as originally planned. After November, my tasks are as follows: write the second draft, get feedback from beta readers, write the third draft, self-edit, edit using ProWritingAid, send to a professional editor, then fix the final draft.
What are some of your favorite Sci-fi/Fantasy movies and books?
This is always a difficult question to answer because there’s so much great stuff out there. I grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek so even if some aren’t great, they still have a special place in my heart. Firefly is one of my favorite TV shows. The movie that came after it, Serenity, is fantastic. Regarding sci-fi books, I’ve always loved Isaac Asimov. I’ve recently enjoyed James S.A. Corey’s series as well. And since I’m a sci-fi Indie author, I want to mention some great sci-fi Indie Authors: Elysia L. Strife, Craig Alanson, and E.J. Fisch, just to name a few. Frasier Armitage also has a novel that I love. It’s not published yet, though, but he’s a sci-fi author you should look out for. Allen Huntsman isn’t a sci-fi writer, but his horror short stories always give me chills.
Thanks Dawn! That’s very generous of you. Have you ever imagined writing in a different genre? If so, what?
Writing sci-fi/fantasy has always been my passion. The great thing about this genre is it can easily incorporate other genres such as horror, mystery, or suspense/thriller. No holds barred in sci-fi/fantasy!
What other things are you passionate about besides writing?
I love animals and nature. Growing up, my family frequented the Cascade Mountains. We went to places with no amenities like well water, bathrooms, or cabins. We hiked, explored, and camped far from civilization. It was an exciting time for a curious child to discover the spectacular facets of nature. My love for animals and nature led to my love of art. I enjoy drawing mountains, trees, birds, and mammals using vibrant colors. My favorite subjects are carnivorous animals like eagles, wolves, and tigers.
I also enjoy drawing pets, especially dogs. You could say dogs are also my passion. My mother was the unofficial rescue lady of our town, so we always had them around. I’ve rescued many myself over the years, and have worked at or volunteered for animal shelters, boarding kennels, and veterinary offices.
You can find Dawn Ross’s epic sci-fi series on Amazon in paperback or as an e-book. Read her blog at DawnRossAuthor.com and find her on Twitter @DawnRossAuthor.
My writing process has definitely changed in small ways over time. Some tools I’ve held onto, while others I’ve completely discarded or modified to befit my own personal needs.
Back in my early teen years I was sure I wanted to be a screenwriter. A brother in-law supported my interest and photocopied a book for me all about filmmaking. The first section of the book focused on building the script, providing examples of different ways a screenwriter will present their work to a producer: it starts with the simple “concept,” a short paragraph summary of the movie’s basic premise; the “scene outline” follows, which is a shallow summary of what occurs in each scene; the “treatment” looks a lot like a novelization of the scene outline with detailed descriptions of what happens in each scene. Finally, the “master script,” including all the key details and character dialogue. I followed these illustrations like they were a step by step process on how to write a screenplay. My school buddies and I spent hours pretending to be the next Steven Spielberg or George Lucas with the little video camera I got for Christmas one year.
Years later someone gave me the idea I could skip the production pains of filmmaking and write a novel instead. During this time someone else gave me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft.I took a very different approach to writing my first novel, diving right into composition, putting down my thousand words a day like Mr. King suggested. It was a start. Stephen King’s book definitely inspired the work ethic I hoped to one day achieve.
Throughout my college years I became somewhat obsessed with learning about how different writers approach the craft, trying a variety of methods and tools. One of the most bizarre revision tools I discovered involved making a list of the most repeated word in your story, and then sort of creating a revised spine for your second draft using the themes you derive from this word collage. It was interesting, but I’ve never used it again.
The most helpful tool came from David Morrell’s book The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing. I love this method for its simple ingenuity. Mr. Morrell suggests that while you’re spending all that time contemplating and focusing your idea, why not record it on paper as a conversation with yourself? Many would argue this is just like an outline, and it is technically an outline. The difference is you can sprawl. A conversation with myself on paper is informal; I’m not boxing myself in with all those carefully aligned Roman numerals and strict lists. A conversation is loose, allowing me to pick up and test ideas and easily discard what I don’t like. This sprawling freedom allows for depth and detail as well, which in my opinion is more conducive to creativity.
My writing process these days has become focused to four drafts. Before starting each draft I begin by using Mr. Morrell’s method of a written conversation, discussing plot, character, research (if necessary), structure, and viewpoint. Subsequent written conversations analyze and revise these elements in each draft. The final fourth draft is typically a line edit.
This is my second experience with the works of Rami Ungar. My first experience was his novel Rose, a story about a woman who turns into a plant creature (you can find my review of that story on my YouTube channel DeathGroundReviews). Published back in 2013, The Quiet Game definitely shows its stretch marks. You can tell Rami’s still learning his craft and discovering his voice (of course, it’s arguable we are always learning our craft, even for the seasoned veteran), but don’t disregard this collection outright. It still has its charm. One thing I love about Rami Ungar is the robust exuberance of his imagination. You can tell he’s having a damn good time when he writes, and as a reader, I sense that as well. Even with some of the weaknesses in this collection, the charm of his excitement for the strange roads of his imagination pull you on through anyway. Rami’s not just writing because he thinks he can make a lot of money or attain a lot of fame. He loves it. He lives and breathes it. It’s who he is. Rami Ungar is a serious writer. I respect that.
“Addict” is the first story in this collection. It’s a story about a man struggling with a sex addiction who one day, after encountering a woman struggling with heroin addiction, becomes inspired to overcome his addiction. Using a video that guides him into a meditative state, he encounters symbolic and tormenting visions of his addiction, women he saw in porn videos, prostitutes, girls from high school that teased him. During this delirious process, the entity guiding him into the hypnotic state discloses the void in his life that he feeds with continuous consumption of filth. This is the definition of lust: one who greedily consumes but is never filled or gratified. This story surprised me. Rami handled it quite maturely, despite some moments that felt somewhat overly contrived. He illustrated well how temptation torments us.
The second story, “I Want To Be The Next James Bond”, was the weakest of the group for me, though it still has its charm. It’s a tale about a group of teenage kids encountering a haunted abandoned hospital. The main character Ronnie uses his James Bond fandom as inspiration to brave the ghosts they encounter. I related to ole Ronnie in this tale. When I was thirteen, I loved James Bond flicks (thanks to the N64 game Goldeneye, a gateway to James Bond for many my age). I spent many summer afternoons pretending I was the charming and sophisticated secret agent, defusing bombs, fighting villians atop moving airplanes, jumping out of high rise buildings as they exploded without a scratch, and don’t forget seducing the ladies with that magic line, “The names Bond, James Bond.” All this is part of my issue with the story. I was distracted by the Bond element. The haunting elements and possessed doll lost their punch. Maybe it could have worked better in the longer form of a novella or short novel, allowing more investment in Ronnie. Perhaps the James Bond fandom could have become a running theme throughout the story, his imaginative scenarios strengthening him against worse encounters with ghosts. Some of my issue was the humor, too. It ruined the horror effect for me, making it feel more like a Scooby Doo cartoon instead of a horror story. Though, maybe that’s my fault as a reader, expecting the story to be something it’s not. Perhaps Rami meant for it to be more like an adventure fantasy, not a horror story. The galumphing title suggests this.
“In The Lady Ogre’s Den” comes next, and now we’re talking. Rami hits a strong stride with this one, showing us the bizarre and disturbing experience of a young autistic boy named Jason. He suffers abuse at the hands of a nurse in the hospital and receives visits from a creature called a death wolf that preys on those nearing death. The story gives us an interesting view into the experience of someone suffering autism. Rami himself suffers with the disorder, though at a high-functioning level. He states in a postscript to the story that he dredged up “…long buried memories to write from the point of view of Jason Cambridge, along with calling upon my own personal experiences with autistic children.”
“The Quiet Game” was the first story Rami wrote for this collection, and it’s definitely a strong point. The girls at St. Dunstan wake up one morning to the eerie shock of not being able to hear. Everyone in the entire school is deaf, requiring them to resort to white boards and projector screens along with limited lip reading in order to communicate. Soon they learn that a mysterious force has overtaken the school, and it wants them to play a little game in order to escape this awful scenario. Can they solve the game and be released? Can they play within the rules to avoid elimination? This was a great story. It felt like something that would have fit perfectly as a Dr. Who episode. There’s also a hectic moment near the climax that brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” This story is definitely a pleasure.
The collection finishes with a slam bang win. “Samson Weiss’s Curse” feels like a pure horror tale. Samson Weiss is a senator working hard on the campaign trail, meeting hectic appointments for speeches and interviews. Then one of the worst nightmares for a man in his position turns up: a stalker begins to hassle him. He soon discovers matters are much worse than your traditional stalker. This woman is a carrier, the carrier of a demanding message beyond the grave. This story is about a dybbuk, a wandering malevolent spirit that possesses the living until it can be exorcised. There’s a great moment in the story when a horde of hellish locusts invade the senator’s bedroom that had me grinning ear to ear, but in a good way. Rami also does a good job sprinkling in those background details of Samson’s life as a senator, adding in useful verisimilitude, which makes the extraordinary moments more impactful.
Overall, I rate The Quiet Game by Rami Ungar with a 3.5 out of 5. The stories are great. There’s nothing wrong with Rami’s imagination, but one big downside of this collection are the punctuation errors, especially when it comes to dialogue. There are so many moments when a sentence of dialogue should have ended with a comma followed by the dialogue tag. For example: ” ‘Well done.’ he said, clapping his hands theatrically.’ These kinds of little mistakes constantly pulled me out of these wonderfully woven tales. That’s a key reason I marked it down. However, as I said before, don’t disregard the collection. This is one of his earliest works, written eight years ago when he was discovering his craft. I stillthink you’re in for a great pleasure.
May I introduce you to the strange and exciting imagination of Rami Ungar? Please do meet him. You can find him here.
This has been a good week. A lot of great goals have been set and much progress has been made with those goals.
1. I’ve committed to a schedule. This has been very helpful. I’ve consigned much of my writing to 6:30 in the morning, a sacred time, a time when not much is happening to distract me. I even managed to wake up this early every day of the week. Good consistency.
2. I’ve got a lot of works in progress. One is a novel about a man in a religious order who has reached the evening of his life and now confronts his greatest challenge yet: transcendence. Even got a title for it now: The Miracle Morning. My short story “Moon-Frosted Forest” has gone through a few beta-reading rounds; I express thanks to all who helped with that. I definitely have more directions I can take the next draft. As you saw in my previous “Nightmare Shards” post, more story ideas have been showing up when I need them. I started outlining a tale inspired by one of those dream images this morning. A serial killer artist is the subject of the story.
I hope next week I can press onward with the same consistency. I’ll sure give it my best effort. Tune in next week! I’m sure I’ll have some mysteries for us to puzzle over.