Book Review: The Nothing That Is by Kyle Winkler

I just finished reading Kyle Winkler’s novella, The Nothing That Is, and I wanted to tell you about it. I loved it because it’s: 1) Short. 2) Contains delightful similes. 3) Quirky and weird. 4) Set in the 80s. 5) Darkly funny. 6) Mentions food, eating, and chafing dishes. 7) Actually freaked me out a few times.

About this last point: I read mostly horror, and it no longer scares me. Yet I found myself reeling on the brink of terror from Winkler’s descriptions of cosmic horrors, like I was about to lose my grip on reality and become untethered, set adrift in the chaotic void. His narrative is reminiscent of early Ramsey Campbell, the master of paranoiac disorientation.

I adored the characters and characterization. Tension mounts to the point of unbearability (a good thing, don’t you think?). I heart Kyle Winkler because of sentences like these: “I felt like I’d fallen behind the couch of reality…” (me too) and “My red-drenched hands hung at my sides like gore mittens.” Yeah, baby!

And 8) You can’t beat cosmic horror from the mouth of a dead raccoon.

Buy it. Read it. You’ll love it too. 5 stars!

https://kylewinkler.net/ Follow on Twitter @bleakhousing

Ramping Up My Writing Process

Productivity ChainA few weeks ago, I posted my 2021 writing goals. Toward that end, I’m ramping up my writing process. Here’s the well-greased chain I’m shooting for to increase my fiction-writing productivity:

Ideation > Brainstorming > Plotting > Outlining > Drafting > Editing > Marketing

Ideation: This is generating a story idea. I do this purposely several times a week on Twitter. For example:

You open the front door to get the mail. In the mailbox is a severed hand. Who put it there and why. How do you find out?

Brainstorming: Great idea. (I’ll write it someday.) But it needs a little—okay, a lot—of work. Here’s where I go through a process of answering questions about my character and his or her goals. I do a lot of work before I tackle structure. After all, I need events and motivation to plot.

Plotting: I develop character arcs for all my major characters and conform the brainstormed material into classic story structure. More at How to Write Stories that Sell.

Outlining: Here, I sort the information into a sequential scene-by-scene list from which I’ll write. I like my ducks in a row so that when I plant my butt in the chair, I can write without interruption.

Drafting: Using my outline, I write from beginning to end, incorporating all the information from my brainstorming, plotting, and outlining. I use Scrivener to build my manuscripts.

Editing: After one or more days, I’ll print the draft and edit it, making sure all the necessary information is in place and that I’m using the best language to tell a story. I go through at least five drafts before I consider the story ready for the reading public.

Marketing: I now have everything beta read. (If you’re a published writer and are willing to beta-read my fiction, contact me.) After final changes, I submit it to markets. If I don’t place a work after a while, I publish it myself.

This is my process, and I hope to perfect it this year so that I’m regularly churning out story after story, novel after novel. Expect to see more published this year. If learning about my process has been helpful to you, please leave a comment. I’d like to know your process, too.

Guest Post: Why Ghosts Haunt Me by Mark Allan Gunnells

I’ve been a lover of horror since, let’s see… Well, I don’t ever remember not being a lover of horror.

One of my earliest memories is of my family watching the original Salem’s Lot miniseries when it first aired in 1979. I was five. In the intervening years (no, I won’t tell you how many, and how rude of you to ask!), I’ve delved into every conceivable type of horror there is, and I love it all.

Mark Allan GunnelsBut when it comes to subgenres within the wider genre, I must admit I have a favorite.

Ghosts.

Tales of spooks, apparitions, and hauntings really hit my sweet spot. I enjoy other subgenres—vampires and serial killers and werewolves and, yes, even zombies—but ghosts thrill me most.

I’ve written many ghost stories. Hell, I published a haunted house novel, 324 Abercorn, last year, and my latest release, 2B, is about a haunted apartment. I can’t get enough of exploring this subject.

Why, you ask? Good question.

It boils down to my penchant for atmospheric horror over the more graphic. Don’t get me wrong, blood and guts don’t bother me, but when it comes to what really scares me, I favor more subtle things and the ambiguous. Uncertainty and the unknown haunt me, pardon the pun, longer than something more concrete and in my face.

Ghost stories aren’t the only types that employ the atmospheric approach, but they do it most effectively. At least for me.

Ghost stories often start out subtly, with things slightly off kilter, the characters questioning if it’s all in their minds. This early part, when things are uncertain, is what I find the most suspenseful and unnerving, because we’ve all been there. Did I move my wallet from the table to the counter and simply don’t remember? Did the glass fall because it was sitting too close to the table’s edge? Is that noise like footsteps only the house settling? (After years of watching haunted house movies, “the house settling” has become to me a euphemism for “This house is haunted as shit, and we should get out before blood starts pouring out of the walls!”)

In my favorite ghost stories, such as The Dwelling by Susie Malonie and Stephen King’s The Shining, suspense gradually builds and tension tightens as events escalate. Even then there can be ambiguity. Some ghost stories intentionally leave you unsure if the haunting was real, suggesting the main character had a breakdown and was imagining it all. This in itself can be horrifying. I’d rather have an undead spirit in my house than realize I’m losing my mind and my grip on reality.

One terrifying implication of ghost stories is that we can never truly escape toxic or dangerous people. If death cannot stop some folks from tormenting us, then what hope is there?

2B by Mark Allan GunnellsThe flipside is that those we love and cherish may never really leave us and, in this respect, some ghost stories can end on an uplifting note. This doesn’t make them any less horror, as I don’t believe all horror stories must end with the death of hope.

These thoughts are why ghost stories are my favorite horror subgenre and why I keep going back to it.

To see what I mean, check out my new novel, 2B, available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. “When your ex wants you dead, they will take you to the grave with them!”

Mark’s blog is at https://markgunnells.livejournal.com/. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @MarkAGunnells, and Instagram.

Book Review: Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner

The Best of How-to-Write Horror

I’ve read a ton of how-to-write-fiction books including a number of texts on writing horror, but Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark is the best of them all.

Writing in the Dark by Tim WaggonerIt opens with an intro by Tom Monteleone of Borderlands fame demonstrating why Waggoner is qualified to write the book. He’s a prolific writer of both horror/dark fantasy and media tie-ins. In the preface, Waggoner reveals why he writes horror. We’re of roughly the same age, and his journey in many ways mirrors mine. (It’s great to meet a new member of the Horror Family. Weirdos unite!)

He progresses through chapters such as “Why Horror Matters” and “Things Unknown” and turns a corner with “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” He covers various subgenres of horror, generating unique ideas for stories, and building one-of-a-kind monsters. I especially enjoyed the chapters “The Horror Hero’s Journey” (Poor Bastard’s Descent into Hell) and the importance of including an emotional core relayed through immersive POV.

Every chapter is insightful, helpful, and entertaining. Each ends with exercises to enable eager writers to implement what they’ve just learned as well as three or four “voices from the shadows”—accomplished horror writers—who discuss what makes good horror and best advice for beginning writers.

Waggoner teaches college-level writing, so you’re getting a college course in a book. I love to study, so I consider it a textbook that’s also a tasty morsel of how-to darkness.

My rating is 4.6 stars. The book lost a few tenths because the type is so small. As I read through, I was hoping for a workbook that expanded the exercises. Well, Guide Dog Books/Raw Dog Screaming Press recently announced a companion workbook is coming, so I’m excited about that. I’ll be buying it, too, when it comes out. But I hope the type is a little bigger for those like me over fifty.

I can’t recommend this text highly enough. Whether you’re a beginning, intermediate, or advanced horror writer, you’ll get something useful to take your writing to the next horrific level.

Follow Tim Waggoner on Twitter @TimWaggoner. Check out his website at http://www.timwaggoner.com/.

“Home”: My Favorite X-Files Episode

I loved The X-Files. It’s one of my all-time favorite TV series and the best of the 1990s, in my opinion. It had sci-fi, fantasy, the paranormal, the weird, and horror. I not only wanted to believe, but I did believe.

Inbred cretins in "Home"My hands-down favorite episode was the second in season 4, originally airing on FOX October 11, 1996. “Home” was controversial because it was so dark and violent. In fact, it was the only episode to carry a TV-MA rating during the series.

Mulder and Scully investigate the death of a baby born with severe physical defects. Traveling to the small isolated town of Home, Pennsylvania, the pair meet the Peacocks, a family of deformed farmers who have not left their house in a decade. Initially, Mulder suspects the brothers kidnapped and raped a woman to father the child, but the investigation uncovers a long history of incest…”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_(The_X-Files)

I’ll leave the rest for your viewing pleasure.

If you love horror, you’ll want to watch “Home” for yourself. This seminal episode is what inspired me to produce the horror/crime anthology Tales of Blood and Squalor at Dark Cloud Press. “If you were a mother, you’d understand…”

Watch Will Johnston’s review of “Home” on YouTube (Warning: contains spoilers!): The Best X-Files Episode | “Home”

Movie Review: Antichrist (2009)

Antichrist 2009Antichrist (2009), by controversial director Lars von Trier, is the most disturbing horror film I’ve ever seen.

It opens with one of the most horrifying scenes in any movie I’ve watched. The ending scenes are even more excruciating. I won’t go into details to avoid blunting the shock factor, but consider yourself forewarned.

After the death of their toddler (“Nic,” played by Storm Acheche Sahlstrom), a couple who remain unnamed throughout the movie (Willem Dafoe as “He” and Charlotte Gainsbourg as “She”) deal with Her atypical grief over this heartbreaking loss. After She is hospitalized for a month, He, a psychotherapist, transports Her to their wilderness cabin, which harks back to the Garden of Eden and is in fact named “Eden.” There, they embark on psychotherapeutic exercises to help Her overcome Her grief and fear.

She and HeThey seem to make progress, but His strange encounters with dead and dying animals—the Three Beggars: Grief, Pain, and Despair—coincide with Her descent into madness. He discovers Her thesis notes on “gynocide” that have degenerated over time into incoherent scribbles. He realizes She’s not as good a mother as He supposed.

FoxShe tells Him at one point, “Women do not control their own bodies; Nature does. … Nature is Satan’s church.” She demonstrates when she begins to terrorize him.

Fearing He will leave Her, She’s convinced He has become the enemy and intervenes violently to prevent abandonment. These climactic scenes are unbearably intense, gory, and sexually explicit. (Several scenes should have earned the movie an NC-17 rating, so beware.)

Von Trier’s perverse film is not for the squeamish. He developed it during a severe depression (which I admire because I’ve been unable to write while depressed), and his mental and emotional state during the writing and filming leach through to infect the mind and soul of viewers.

At the cabin, She renounces Her thesis and tells Him She believes that women are evil. Is the movie misogynistic? That depends on your point of view. Von Trier’s female characters are often abused, and NPR paints Him like male characters in von Trier’s other works as “a smug, sententious fool.”

While this film is sinister and unpleasant, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is gorgeous—especially the black-and-white scenes, the close-ups, and out-of-focus shots.

The acting is exceptional. Dafoe, who played Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), always gives a good performance, and Gainsbourg (Claire in von Trier’s Melancholia [2011]) is stellar.

The movie deals with biblical themes about Satan, the Fall, and the nature of evil. But I couldn’t understand why the film was titled “Antichrist”; it had nothing to do with the man of lawlessness. When the handwritten credits rolled, I found out why: the director is billed as “Lars von Trier Antichrist.”

You will either love or hate this film. But as a study in dramatic horror, it’s a must-see for film students and enthusiasts alike. 4.7 stars.

Watch the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgkoWZzOrc

Lars Von Trier

Interview: John Grover, Horror Writer

Horror writer John Grover lives in Massachusetts, not far from Boston, where he was born and raised.

“I first started taking writing seriously around the age of eighteen,” Grover says. “I’ve always loved telling stories ever since I was young. I used to staple paper together to make books and would write into them and draw pictures to go along with the story.” But it wasn’t until high school and his English classes that he really started to write real fiction. “My work is mostly horror with some dark fantasy on the side. My stories tend to have a Twilight Zone flavor or a bit of a creature-feature vibe.”

Which book inspired you to begin writing?

John GroverI was lucky that my English classes in high school introduced me to a lot of gothic and horror fiction. Most people would say they were influenced by Stephen King to write horror, but I was excited to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.

The author I remember inspiring me most early on was Shirley Jackson. Her story “The Lottery” amazed me at the time, and my favorite book growing up of hers was We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I still remember everything about it today and the class discussions we had in school.

How hard is it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Sometimes it can be very hard, but I try to manage it every day. I have no shortage of ideas but sometimes the motivation isn’t there. In those cases I try not to force it because I feel the work suffers if I do. I do something else or take a couple days off to recharge and then get right back to it. Most of the time the story flows and I’m in the zone.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I have. I actually wrote one book under a pen name. It didn’t really take off or do much in the way of sales. I had a hard time trying to market something under a different name and keep it a secret, LOL. Despite that, I have another book in the works under the same pen name and I’m going to give the experience another try.

What are your favorite literary resources (magazines, websites, etc.)?

I used to have a subscription to Writers Digest when I was younger. I learned a lot using that as a reference while I was growing as a writer. For fiction over the years I’ve enjoyed Cemetery Dance, Shroud magazine, Flesh and Blood, and others. I also regularly visit Dark Markets and Ralan.com to stay up-to-date with the writing markets and publishing news.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The ability for it to take you away from the world for a little while. It’s all about escapism, and I really feel books do that for us.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I check out my reviews but I never respond to them. The reviews aren’t really for me; they’re for other readers, but I do try to learn from any negative ones.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

There’s a good part of me in all of my books, but I tend to pull from the people around me as well. I love to people-watch and observe everyday life. So I use a little bit of my friends’ and family’s quirks, habits, humor, and use a lot of my own experiences from traveling, reading, and going through daily life.

Which of your books took you the most time to write?

I’d have to say my dark fantasy book Knightshade: Perdition Bleeds. It has a very rich world and mythology, and I wanted to make sure I really got it right and it delivered the experience I was looking for.

Are there any recurring themes in your horror fiction? If so, what are they, and why do you think they keep cropping up?

Family ties seem to come up a lot for me. In my novel Let’s Play in the Garden, the central plot is about the children in the family playing a cat-and-mouse game with the adults as they try to uncover their family’s dark secrets.

In many of my short stories I have a theme of parental betrayal or something the parents are trying desperately to keep from their children. But it’s not all dark family secrets. In my “Underground” series, a post-apocalyptic story filled with zombies, family drives my main character to keep going and to protect those he loves.

In my new Kaiju book Behemoths Rising, the hero keeps his family in the forefront as he tries to save the world from a monster mash-up and the terror that comes with not knowing if his loved ones made it out of the crumbling city in time.

Has COVID affected your writing routine this year? If so, how?

I lost my job due to COVID in late March, but I didn’t let it stop my creative endeavors. I decided to use the time to throw myself into my writing. So it has actually lit a fire under me to write more and got me really excited about my writing again. I feel lucky that I’ve had the free time to dedicate to my books and be a lot more productive than I ever dreamed.

Tell us about your current project.

My newest book is a supernatural thriller set in the eighties called Goddess of Bane that is part of my “Retro Terror” series. It’s about a malevolent entity who seems unstoppable rising up in a small town to seek revenge for her defeat at the hands of the town’s ancestors. It’s filled with mythology, eighties schlock, and some gooey fun. I’m doing edits on it now and hope to have it up on Amazon at the end of this month.

You can learn more about John Grover at http://www.shadowtales.com/. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/johngroverdarkfictionauthor and Twitter @JGroverWriter. His Instagram is @jgroverwriter. His Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.com/John-Grover/e/B004B7MHG8.

SubscribeGoddess of Bane by John Grover