DeathGroundWriter Spotlight: Interview with Author Kateri Stanley

Kateri Stanley graduated from The Open University with a degree in Arts and Humanities and worked for the National Health Service for 8 years. When she’s not writing stories, you can find her binge-watching films, creating playlists for her projects and dabbling in the occasional video game. She currently resides in the West Midlands, United Kingdom with her partner and their two cats, George and Maxine.

Tell us a bit about your fiction. What does it mean to you, and why do you think readers will love it?

Kateri: I’m a big lover of dark fiction, no matter what the genre, whether its sci-fi, horror, thriller, mystery, drama, fantasy, romance, you name it.

My debut novel, Forgive Me (published by indie press house, darkstroke books) is about an investigative journalist called Stripe McLachlan who is hired by Isaac Payne to write an article for his online business. Stripe has had a troubled upbringing as her father was killed by the axe murderer the media labelled “The Night Scrawler”, a monster who was never found. Usually, her projects delve into more uncomfortable, questionable topics, but there’s a deep, almost hauntingly familiar pull about her new client that intrigues her. As she learns more about Isaac, Stripe digs up fresh secrets about the murders, arousing her suspicions. After an awkward confrontation, she wakes up in Isaac’s bed — with a chain around her ankle.
My fiction is like another lifeline, it’s tied to my mental health. As my Mom has said before, “she needs to write or she’ll end up in a mental hospital.” Ha, very true Mom. 🙂
I hope my work gives readers an experience something they haven’t seen before but most importantly, I hope they can get lost in my characters and the story and forget about the troubles and stresses of their day. I know it’s cheesy to say, but it’s true.

Do you remember the first moment the horror/sci-fi genre attracted you?

Kateri: The power of film introduced me to the worlds of horror and sci-fi. I’ve been going to the cinema ever since I was a kid. I remember watching The Fifth Element when I was five years old, utterly besotted with the interior of the cinema as the ceiling looked like it there were tyre tracks painted across it. I also remember being fascinated with Milla Jovovich’s orange hair in the movie. 🙂

What is your creative process?

Kateri: It comes in different stages and not always in the same order. Normally an idea (it could be a situation, a scene, a character etc) springs up on me and I let it stew in my mind for a while. Characters and the story build up and if I think it has potential, I plot it out. Before I start to write a project, I normally have a general idea of what is going to happen in the story and how it will end. I plot several chapters and then I write them out and I repeat this process. Sometimes things will happen, a character will do or say something I didn’t see coming. I love it when that happens, it keeps me on my toes and it means the characters are coming out of their shells. I always write to music and I keep a list of the songs for each project. I find having something playing my ears really helps me get into the zone especially when it comes to a handling a delicate scenario like an emotionally charged scene.

What are some of your favorite books and movies?

Kateri: I have an ever-growing list of books and movies I love so I can’t pick favourites.  But if I had to choose I adore Hannibal by Thomas Harris and the movie, The Crow starring the late and beautiful, Brandon Lee.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Kateri: The power of levitation would be great. I’d make a mug of tea sitting in the office and have it floating up the stairs to my desk.

Any new projects we can see from you in the future? 

Kateri: The audiobook of my debut novel, Forgive Me is being recorded right this second. My wonderful producer/narrator, Zack Kirchner is working really hard and we’re aiming for a Halloween release. 
I recently completed my second novel, a supernatural mystery/thriller called From the Deep. I’m currently putting the feelers out for it, hoping it will be out sometime in 2022.I’ve also made a start on Book no.3 which will be a dark supernatural drama with historical and religious elements.

Learn more about Kateri Stanley:

Website: https://www.kateristanley.com/

Facebook: Kateri Stanley

Instagram: sal_writes

Twitter: @sal_writes

Find her books on Amazon!

DeathGroundWriter Spotlight: Interview With Author Shawn Burgess

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.

My copy of The Tear Collector! You can find it on Amazon!


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.

Learn more about Shawn Burgess:

Website: shawnburgessauthor.com

Twitter: @ShawnBinjax

Instagram: shawnbinjax

Find his books on Amazon!

Author Spotlight: Interview With Rami Ungar

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.

Follow him on Twitter: @RamiUngarWriter.

Find his books on Amazon.

Book Review: The Quiet Game-Five Tales To Chill Your Bones, By Rami Ungar

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 still think 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.

Nightmare Shards: Fragments Of What Could Be

I’ve heard it said that we dream every night, but we usually don’t remember our dreams. Seldom do I remember mine. Only a handful of times can I recall the details of my dreams vividly, and the few fragments I do remember seem like they would serve as inspiration for a really good horror novel, or collection of shorter stories. I’ll tell you about them, and perhaps in my examination, further inspiration will germinate.

Back in high school much of my writing consisted of emotional ejaculations all over numerous notebook pages–free verse entries I claimed to be heavy metal lyrics. Me and a group of school chums started a power metal band called Codessa. I took on bass playing duties and lead vocals. Day in and day out, while I should have been taking notes and completing homework, I spent most of my time indulging in my teenage angst, writing songs with titles like, “Internal Bleeding”, “A Demons Crucifixion”, and “Can’t Deal With Myself When I’m Dealing With You”, and composing nauseating doggerel with lines like this, “Your hypnotizing scream. What does it mean? The confusion of this is making me insane. In this world of the mentally ill. All souls I’d kill. Kill the will to feel.” So on and so forth. Stilted bursts of trivial vexation.

No surprise, the band didn’t make it. We all graduated high school and went our separate ways, as the story always goes. Then one night I had the dream. I know what partly inspired it. Having seen the movie The Ring not too long before my nightmare, I’m sure the wretched figure crawling out of the screen in the movie played an influencing role.

I found myself in a derelict church. Cobwebs festooned the corners of the ceiling and draped over the abandoned pews. I stood at the end of the aisle, near the pulpit. Waiting. A storm raged outside. Rain and wind pummeled the building. Thunder rumbled. I saw her, a woman in a white wedding dress, face covered with a veil, slowly walking toward me, hands behind her back. I waited as the lightning flashed, highlighting the scene with flickers of electric blue. Soon she stood before me, removing the veil with one emaciated hand, revealing a desolate gray face that hissed at me with horrid anguish. No eyes in that gaunt skull, just pits of darkness. She then revealed a dagger with her other hand and stabbed me repeatedly. The last thing I saw before waking up was the sight of my bleeding body curled up on the ground.

I was stunned. I remember every detail with near perfect clarity. The dream is responsible for my renewed efforts at writing fiction. I abandoned my efforts of writing lyrics for heavy metal music after experiencing this dream. I wanted to complete the story the nightmare image suggested. I’m still seeking the answers.

Years later, another nightmare hit me like a high velocity bullet. I woke up feeling like I had been physically indented by the dream, as if something had entered me. Again I wandered about a nearby church. There was a small graveyard just behind the church building. A sickening feeling of terror overwhelmed me as I walked amongst the gravestones. All of them were marked with strange graffiti (by golly, I think I just discovered the title for this story–strange graffiti), alien symbols of crosses, swirling circles, and bizarre shapes covered each grave marker. I wanted to scream, but for some reason I couldn’t. It was too overwhelming for me. I wanted to run away, but the nightmare held me in that unholy, desecrated place. I awoke gasping, as though I had escaped a room filling with poisonous gases.

Nightmare shards, fragments of what could be. In time, my friends, these tormenting visions will be made whole.

Why Do I Choose The Haunted Path?

In a previous post I discussed what attracted other horror writers to the haunted pathway. Today, I’m going to try to understand why I write horror.

It’s hard to explain why, exactly. I don’t remember a moment in my life when I stood at a crossroads, one path designating a sunnier atmosphere of flower blossoms and butterflies fluttering over green grasses–the non-horror path. Whilst the other path designated withered flowers and dead grass, most of it eerily shrouded in mist–the path of horror. It’s kind of always been with me, lingering like a shadow companion.

I remember the first story I ever wrote. This was twenty-eight years ago, when I was seven years of age. I scrawled it out on folded sheets of blank paper, even supplying crude stick-figure illustrations to aid my storytelling. The story was about my little sister and I battling a strange monster. The monster gobbles us up and traps us in its belly like Jonah in the whale. No worries, though. We discover the power of transformation and change into fire, burning our way free of the monster and destroying it in the process.

As you can see, the first story I ever wrote was a horror tale, a battle with a fierce beast from the unknown wastes clashing with my ordinary world. The horror tale has always called out to me.

But why? I get asked this question fairly often, most often by relatives who are worried about me, believing us horror writers go into maniacal fugue states in the middle of the night or something. Sometimes a joke is the best answer the horror writer can provide, as the late and great Robert Bloch did, stating that “Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a little boy. I keep it in a jar on his desk.”

I’ve referenced Stephen King’s nonfiction book Danse Macabre on this subject before, and dammit, here I go again, but King supplies another answer to the “why I write horror?” question that’s frequently crossed my mind. Back in 1979 Stephen King attended a panel discussing horror with other authors of the genre. One of the questioners asked, “Can you recall anything from your childhood that was particularly terrible?” (another concern some of my fretting friends and relatives express to me). None of the other authors on the panel supplied an answer to this, but Mr. King didn’t want them to be totally disappointed. He told a story of a time in his youth when he witnessed one of his friends being run over by a train. King was so traumatized by the event he didn’t retain any memory of it. All he knows is what his mother told him. She even supplied the grisly detail that they picked up the deceased boy’s pieces in a wicker basket. After telling this story, Janet Jeppson, a fellow author on the panel who was also a psychiatrist, responded with, “But you’ve been writing about it ever since.”

When I was only months old, my mother suffered a stroke and died. Of course, I have no memory of the incident, only the fragments of memories some of my siblings have been able to supply. I was told she was holding me at the time she suffered the stroke and set me on the counter before she collapsed. One of my older brothers attempted to give her CPR. My grandma said at one point after the funeral that, “I was the saddest baby she’d ever seen.”

Have my stories about monstrous possession and transformation been disguised dreams of this traumatic moment from my youth?

King’s response to Janet Jeppson’s statement: “There was an approving murmur from the audience. Here was a pigeonhole where I could be filed…here was a by-God motive. I wrote ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and destroyed the world by plague in The Stand because I saw this kid run over by a slow freight in the days of my impressionable youth. I believe this is a totally specious idea–such shoot-from-the-hip psychological judgments are little more than jumped-up astrology. Not that the past doesn’t supply grist for the writer’s mill; of course it does. (Danse Macabre, 84).

Specious indeed. I think we’re attracted to this idea because it exhibits a clear logic: writer writes x (horror) because y (trauma) occurred. However, logic does not mean truth. One can carefully craft logical lies. I agree that past events can serve as an indirect influence to a writer’s imagination. My short story “Lights Out” is about a boy who kills his parents inadvertently by a power inside him he doesn’t know how to control. My mother’s stroke was caused by a blood clot resulting from the pangs of my birth. I was an indirect cause to her death. Could my short story be an expression of grief and culpability through the character of Tommy? Maybe. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing. One thing I do know–I certainly didn’t consciously plan or realize this expression when I wrote the story. The realization came later, revisiting the story.

Trauma is part of the human experience. We can’t escape it. We live in a fallen world, susceptible to failure, disease, betrayal, and all kinds of suffering. The stories we tell reflect this reality, and the horror tale is a useful vehicle for it. I guess there’s a part of me that’s either more susceptible to noticing these hardships–relating to Richard Laymon’s explanation that the horror writer is a “worst case scenario specialist”–or I cope with the suffering of life more effectively when I confront it through symbolic form in the horror story.

Before I close, another experience comes to mind from my impressionable youth. This might have been around Halloween, because my sisters and I were enjoying the fun play of building spook alleys. We dressed up in spooky costumes, creating eerie scenarios for them, acting out horror tales, in other words. At the end of our fun, we sat down in the dark and by the dim glow of a flashlight took turns telling scary stories to one another. Who could create the scariest tale? It was a contest. I can’t remember any of our stories ( vaguely I remember my older sister telling one about a possessed doll), but I do remember ending our session feeling frustrated. My story was the unscariest of them all. My sisters laughed at it; they told me it was boring. So badly I wanted to scare them. Talk about the past haunting us. Perhaps all this time I’ve been writing horror tales in reaction to that evening with my sisters. Each horror tale I write today is my symbolic attempt to win that contest and scare the living daylights out of them. Considering the fact that none of my sisters dare read any of my horror tales, I must have finally won.

“… horror stories aren’t so much about making the world a better place as they’re about trying to get out alive, with as many shreds of your soul as you can steal back from the darkness.”

Stephen Graham Jones

A Discussion Of My Short Story Hooked

The inspiring image for this story was quite different than the final product. Just a sketch of this strange cave encrusted with lichen and moss, and the terrible rumblings from the depths. I had no back story or characters to explore the cave. I could never figure out the rest of the story, so I shelved it, and moved along to work on something else.

Months later I wrote 500 words of a new tale, this one about a school teacher named Frank who enjoys his summer vacations doing yard work and walking around the neighborhood park. Soon reading becomes his new pastime when he meets a mysterious tattooed man sitting at a park bench writing in a notebook. This new acquaintance is horror author Charlie Royal. Frank strikes up a conversation with the man and learns about what he’s writing. Frank has never been a horror fan. He just can’t understand why anyone would want to dream about horrors with so many real horrors going on in real life. Yet, he’s curious. He wants to understand the attraction. He steels himself by reading stories from classic authors in the genre, preparing to read Mr. Royal’s work in progress with the hope of helping him critique it. Matters turn very dark when Frank begins reading Charlie’s tale. The ink in those diary pages conjures something menacing, and Frank becomes possessed by it. The sketch of the cave I had made months prior turned out to be the lair for the monster that possesses Frank.

I wrestled with conflicting matters while writing this story. I love horror stories, and part of me wanted to express that love for them, to celebrate them. However, there were many other conflicting voices in my head at the time, particularly of those that expressed Frank’s opinion: “Why would you want to dream of horror when so many real horror takes place in real life?” I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and still practice the religion today. I’m someone who has grown up around the opinion that stories about demonic possession, rampaging zombies, serial killers, and the many unnameable terrors out there can invite evil influences into your life. Part of me even agrees with this sentiment to some degree, although I see the line differently than many in my community, and a discussion on the matter should be consigned to an entirely different post. Let’s just say I’m fine if evil is depicted in fiction, so long as the author isn’t attempting to promote or enact the evil.

I love the horror story, but I guess there’s a part of me that still feels a little guilty about it, because those voices from my upbringing continually echo in my head. “Hooked” was an attempt to puzzle out the quandary as well as an opportunity to explore the opposite point-of-view through the eyes of my main character. I see some maturity in this story. The characters are far more fleshed out than my previous stories. They exhibit more depth and complexity, the story’s greater length allowing for this.

A small amount guilt for my love of horror still exists to this day, and maybe that’s healthy. It’ll hold me back from becoming too gratuitous with a violent scene and prick at me if I do cross the line into the territory of promoting evil instead of merely depicting it. I sure hope I never create the monstrosity Charlie Royal does with his writing, or readers of my work will be disappearing into a dreadful place.

You can find my story here.

Book Review: Frankenstein- Prodigal Son, By Dean Koontz

This book has been on my reading list for some time. In fact, the paperback in the photo above has been on my shelf for nearly six to seven years, and finally I have gotten around to reading it. I’ve been hesitant with Koontz. Partly because my last reading experience with him was not good. The first of Koontz’s catalog to reach my hands was a novel called Tick Tock, which attempted to mix slapstick comedy with horror. For me it was the literary equivalent to smearing ice cream and cake into Spaghetti. Left a bad taste in my mouth. Plus, any time I would hear someone talk about his books, they always emphasized how hit or miss he is, and it seemed, at least based on the opinions I experienced, that he was more miss than hit. Well, I must say, with Frankenstein, I lucked out with a hit.

The story introduces us to Deucalion, a mysterious sleight-of-reality artist who has isolated himself in the Tibetan mountains for some time, living the lifestyle of a monk. Deucalion is well acquainted with suffering. “I don’t fear pain,” Deucalion says at one point before his departure from the Tibetan hideaway after receiving bad news from a messenger. “Life is an ocean of pain.”

Meanwhile, Detective Carson O’Connor and her partner Michael Maddison are investigating a string of victims in an ongoing serial killer case. Nicknamed the Surgeon, the killer removes different parts of the body with surgical precision, hoping to find the element of humanity he is lacking. When Deucalion and Detective Conner’s paths cross, they learn of a far greater threat to the city. As Deucalion describes it, Victor Helios (the scientist once known as Frankenstein who created Deucalion two hundred years prior in Austria), has created “machines of blood and bone”, an entire race of killers described by Victor as The New Race. Stripped of human passions and emotions, these beings are meant to replace the imperfect Old Race and assert a new society. However, many of Victor’s creations, once released into society, become confused as they realize they lack a completeness that the Old Race exhibits, which drives some of them to kill and dissect in the search of understanding the happiness and contentment they lack.

It’s truly an inspired play on the Frankenstein narrative, updated to a modern audience. Instead of creating this new race by harvesting body parts from corpses, Victor does it through synthetic biology. Yet Deucalion remains a link to the old Frankenstein narrative. Two hundred years ago he was formed using the body parts of criminals. Starting out as a brute monster, he develops humanity over time. His creator, Victor Helios, demonstrates a reversing arc. Originally a man, driven by his obsession, he becomes a monster. I really enjoyed the reverse dichotomy between the creation and creator. Victor views all passions, emotions, and religious beliefs to be imperfections, along with physical flaws. Using direct-to-brain downloading, he programs his creations to be free of human passions, running strictly on the program he designs. Even sex becomes merely a means of venting stress for the potential New Race, animalistic and instinctual, free of any feelings of love or infatuation.

The struggle between domineering rationality and emotional passions became a common conflict throughout the novel. Victor Helios reveres rationality as the path to enlightened perfection and sees human passions as a distracting pollutant to human progress. Even Detective Carson O’Connor, driven by a job that requires the proficient use of reason and analysis, struggles to repress her feelings for her partner Michael, believing such feelings will be a distraction, negatively effecting her job performance. A theme is pronounced from this conflict that seems to say that human passions and cold rationality lessen the human condition when one or the other is deprived of the other. One driven and possessed by human emotions alone becomes reckless and harmfully volatile. While one driven by indifferent rationality becomes the merciless, selfish tyrant represented in Victor Helios. Emotions of love and compassion temper the brute instincts and create a more enriching human experience. Meanwhile, rational proficiency motivates the competencey necessary for productivity in society. Both are needed for healthy function, but both must be bridled.

Overall, I give book one of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein a 4.5 out of 5. I marked it down half a point because something seemed off concerning the narrative tone in the novel. Perhaps some of this had to do with the flippant banter between O’Conner and Michael throughout the story, which made it feel more like a cheap Hollywood cop movie at times. At one point, after O’Conner has opened up about her encounter with Deucalion, and they are on route to meet him at the old movie theater, Michael says, “Do his palms grow hairy when the moon is full?” O’Conner replies, “No. He shaves them just like you.” Har de har har. Roll your eyes. Perhaps I’m being too sturm und drang, which is something I’m guilty of in my own writing, but some of these quips didn’t work for me.

Overall, book one of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein both thrills you and provokes thought, the chief delights of great fiction. I highly recommend it.

Frankenstein Prodigal Son is available on Amazon.

Lessons Learned While Writing A Short Horror Story

I published “Lights Out” back in the Spring of 2010, but I wrote the rough draft back in 2007. This story went through many incarnations. Most of them were completely ridiculous. Let me tell you why.

Beta readers can be a wonderful asset. Sometimes writers can get too close to their work, falling so deeply in love with their own writing that they miss major plot holes or wonky characterizations. Or the complete opposite occurs and the writer thinks their story is a total drag, an embarrassing mess that should be deleted to the void and forgotten about forever. The beta reader can help us writers in a few ways.

1) They can bring us to the realization that our literary darlings aren’t as dazzling as we think they are, bringing us back down to earth from our ethereal writing heaven.

2) They can emphasize what is working when we falsely think every word is dead on the page.

3) They can drive us crazy, sending us in a vicious cycle of endless revisions and editing.

Number three is what happened to me. At the time I was writing “Lights Out”, I was also taking my first creative writing class. The idea for the story had been on my mind for some time and I decided I could use it for the class and find ways to really improve the story from class instruction. Early on, the instructor for the class, a stocky bald man who went by Dr. Armstrong, emphasized the importance of dramatization, especially when writing a short story of eight pages. In the first draft I summarized too much. You know the old saying every writer gets pounded on the head with now and then: “show don’t tell.” I was telling too much. “Too much exegesis. Dramatize. Cinematic rendering.” I think these were some of the comments my instructor wrote on the first draft.

When it came to my fellow classmates’ comments, they had a far different issue with my story. Their issue had something to do with my use of enigma. “Lights Out” is a story about a detective investigating a scene where a young boy’s parents have mysteriously died. Blood seeps out their ears, darkness has engulfed their eyes. The boy feels certain he is the cause of their death, and Detective Palmer believes this troubled guilty reaction is just the trauma talking. He plans to take the boy to his grandma’s after further investigation at the police station. Matters turn very bad on the drive to town. A deer runs out in the road, causing the detective to wreck the car into a tree. Stranded and waiting for backup, the boy unveils to Detective Palmer that he has a strange light inside him, a power, an entity, that when awakened can cause devastating effects. This power is demonstrated, and when other detectives arrive on the crash scene, Detective Palmer is dead (exhibiting the same death signs as the boy’s parents), and the little boy is gone, until they get a clue of his whereabouts, a mad cackling in the woods.

Fellow classmates liked the story. They were fascinated by the concept and the eerie atmosphere of it, but the enigmatic ending bothered them. Many of my classmates deluged me with numerous ideas of how the story should end; they wanted it wrapped up in a pretty bow. Others suggested the eight pages written were the prologue to a novel (this I have considered, though I haven’t seen the rest of the story yet). I took every one of their comments seriously. I wanted to please every one of them. Let the maddening vicious cycle begin. I ended up rewriting the story nearly a dozen times, trying to correct what everyone saw wrong with the ending. My various incarnations of the story grew so out of hand that they no longer resembled the original draft.

One day Dr. Armstrong flat out told me just to ignore them. I was hesitant to do this. Wasn’t that rude? Didn’t they have something helpful to add to my story? My instructor insisted, “Ignore them.” I did.

A couple years later I returned to the original draft of this story, polished it up again, and submitted it to Dark Gothic Resurrected. The chief editor, Cinsearae S. appreciated it, replying in the acceptance letter that it was “creepy as hell.” I was glad it found a home. All these years later it has found a new home, a reprinting in Dark Dossier.

I learned a couple lessons from writing this story. Even though beta readers are invaluable for the purpose of helping you see your story in new ways, at the end of the day you’re not going to please them all. You’re the boss of your story when it comes down to the bottom line. Also, not every suggestion they make is correct. I think the enigmatic ending of my dark tale works better than a more unambiguous ending. The enigma sends that thrilling shiver up your spine and stimulates conversation amongst readers, allowing them the pleasure to puzzle over together what happened in the ending.

If you’d like the pleasure to puzzle over this dark mystery of my imagination, you can find my story in two locations below:

Dark Gothic Resurrected

Dark Dossier