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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.