Category Archives: Guest Blog

HP Lovecraft | Inspired by Darkness by Scott Roche

H P Lovecraft

I’ve been a fan of HP Lovecraft’s fiction and perhaps more importantly of adaptations of his fiction since grade school. This probably goes a long way towards explaining the quirks in my personality. Regardless of his effect on my psychology, his effect on my writing has been profound. And I’m not the only one he’s touched. I recently received a copy of Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions by Guillermo del Toro. It’s not surprising that del Toro was also influenced by Lovecraft, to the point that he has a life sized and very lifelike statue of the author in one of his libraries.

In that first sentence up there you may notice that I put supreme importance on the adaptations of Lovecraft’s work. There are countless movies, books, games, and graphic novels that have used either his mythology or his direct writings as a jumping off point. If anyone has influenced my writing more than Lovecraft, it’s writers like Brian Lumley, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. Without the founder of the Cthulu mythos, we arguably wouldn’t have those three gents as we know them.

The impact of an artist on the world goes far beyond just the first generation of writers and readers they inspire. I can only hope that the style that I’m honing will cause future Metallicas to write music taking my lines of prose. If there’s an artist like HR Giger who takes my works and gives it three literal dimensions I would be absolutely tickled even though I, like H.P., wouldn’t likely be around to see it. And that’s even more impressive. The man died at the tender age of forty-six. He’s been dead for just over seventy five years, and he continues to inspire creators.

I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. I did a little digging and the breadth and depth of what HP Lovecraft wrote is staggering. In addition to his short fiction and novels, he wrote a staggering amount of poetry. He also has a large body of non-fiction work in the form of letters, scientific and philosophical articles, and editorials. I likely haven’t read even one percent of everything he produced in his lifetime. When you’re as smart and/or as prolific as he was, there’s bound to be something in there worth thinking about.

The other, and to me even more interesting, thing about HP Lovecraft is that he was typically published in pulps. His writing was far from popular in his own day. He received rejections because his works were often seen as controversial, and I suspect because they were in many cases very non-traditional. As a writer who struggles to make my career take off, I take some comfort in knowing that, even if that never happens, we as writers can attain varying degrees of immortality through our work.

So how did HP Lovecraft impact my writing?

One of the things I appreciate most in the Cthulu mythos is that evil is often inexplicable and ultimate. Bad things happen in his worlds and the human beings that they happen to are tossed around like bowling pins. They lose their lives or their sanity or both in confronting the evil. I love playing around with Big Evil in my stories. It will often use human beings as pawns, much like in Lovecraft’s works. The important thing for me and the thing that stands out, perhaps more in those works influenced by him, is that no matter how dark things get or how high the odds are stacked against them the heroes of the story fight to their last breath. They may not always win, and even if they do the victory may be small or temporary, but they strive.

His heroes and mine also have a few things in common. The men and women in my stories are usually very much the products of our modern times. They don’t believe that there are things hiding behind the surface of the world that want to, can, and will eat their souls. They barely want to acknowledge the mundane “evils” of our present world, much less the ancient and perhaps unknowable evils that exist on its fringes. The supernatural conflicts that occur in my stories remove that choice from them. The heroes must look upon the face of that evil and change or die. The evil presence and the magic it uses in my stories are also often of a primitive and visceral nature.

Don’t get me wrong. As a person he may have been absolutely horrid, or perhaps just a product of his time. I don’t know. He certainly had views on women, people of other races, and religion that I vigorously disagree with. I am not and will not defend those things. The measure of a great artist transcends these things in my mind though. I don’t have to admire an artist as a person in order to appreciate the art and its impact. Whatever you think about him and the more controversial aspects of his life, I don’t think you can deny that the impact of HP Lovecraft’s thoughts and writings will echo through our culture for decades to come.

About Scott Roche:

Scott RocheSome creatures feed on blood and revel in the screams of their prey. Scott Roche craves only caffeine and the clacking of keys. He pays his bills doing the grunt work no one else wants to take, bringing dead electronics back to life and working arcane wonders with software. His true passion is hammering out words that become anything from tales that terrify to futuristic worlds of wonder. All that and turning three children into a private mercenary army make for a life filled with adventure.

 

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HP Lovecraft | Horror Feminae by Bea Embers

HP Lovecraft

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear – HP Lovecraft.

It’s no secret that HP Lovecraft, one of the most renowned horror authors of our time, had a long list of fears himself.

Not least of all was an ever present dread of the unknown, wherein lay his Thalassophobia, or fear of the sea – an abhorrence that extended to sea food and the smell of fish. He fed those fears and used them to create the fantastical and bizarre creatures he left behind after his death.

HP Lovecraft did, however, have fears and anxieties many would consider to be irrational, perhaps most interestingly his supposed and often disputed Genophobia and Gynophobia.

Genophobia is defined as the abnormal fear of women and gynophobia as the physical or psychological fear of sexual relations or sexual intercourse and many today believe that, despite his short marriage to Sonia Greene, he suffered from both, perhaps sprouting from his overly anxious, obsessive mind and an overbearing, domineering Mother. She repeatedly told him he was hideous, an opinion which he carried through to later life, and she herself had a history of hysteria, a condition often characterized by overwhelming fear.

We can clearly see that Lovecraft had a tendency to nurture his horrors, revelling in his own madness. He shaped his fear of the unknown to create the Elder Gods and a host of other horrors, his dread of the sea spawning his most famous creation, Cthulhu. So it would stand to reason that, by looking at his works, we would find the same emphasis on women and sexual relations if they were truly two of his fears.

But HP Lovecraft seemed to try and ignore women and sex entirely within his works, regardless of the storyline. Perhaps the best example of this is the unfortunate Lavinia Whateley in The Dunwich Horror. Described as a somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman, she was mother to the children of Yog-Sothoth, an extra-dimensional creature who impregnated her after being summoned by her father (and perhaps Lavinia herself.) It seems safe to assume that the unholy coupling would get a mention and that Lavinia’s feelings on the matter would be voiced as part of the story.

Nope.

Lavinia doesn’t have much focus in the story, despite having such an important role to play. She, like most of the women in Lovecaft’s works, becomes nothing more than a vessel by which the more important, male characters are brought into the tale. She vanishes without a trace and everybody seems to forget about her.

Some use points like the above to claim that Lovecraft simply had little time for women, seeing them as lower beings (an opinion that wasn’t uncommon at the time), and that, if he had a deep rooted fear, he would have included it more in his works instead of just shoving it to one side.

It’s a widely known fact that many of HP Lovecraft’s opinions were as hideous as the works he penned (he made no secrets of his racism and homophobia) and that women may just have been of no interest to him. He certainly spent his time almost exclusively in male company.

The same is said for his aversion to sex, some going as far to suggest Lovecraft was asexual. He once described the act as: Purely animal in nature and separate from such things as intellect and beauty.

It is worth noting that whenever sex is an important part of his work, death and destruction follow close behind it. In the Dunwich Horror a creature of terrible power is born from Lavinia, trampling people as it ambles along the countryside and in Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family, upon discovering an admittedly uncomfortable truth about his ancestry, Arthur Jermyn runs out onto the moors and sets himself on fire.

Although Lovecraft is known for having a fear of pretty much everything, he’s also known for disliking almost everyone who wasn’t a straight, white male, making it difficult to distinguish his fears from his prejudices.

Indeed, in Lovecraft’s case, his fears and prejudices often seem to become so inextricably entangled they become impossible to separate. Perhaps Gynophobia and Genophobia are two more phobias to add to his already lengthy list.

About Bea Embers

“I am an author of melancholy books & poetry for creepy Teens.  My work was included as part of the Poe cottage restoration project. My piece ‘Night & day’ is safely bricked up inside one of the old walls in the Poe cottage. From there I wrote The Girl With Glass Eyes, a children’s horror book with smatterings of poetry throughout.  I’m currently working on my first full-length novel, Ashdown Asylum. I’m a lover of all things macabre, haunting & grotesque. I’m also a nerd for villains. I know they do bad things, but they do them so stylishly.”

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HP Lovecraft | Guest Blogs Needed

I want to run a series of blogs on HP Lovecraft over the next few months and I’m looking for some esteemed “guests” to impart their wisdom on this much-loved and widely-read giant of fantasy and horror fiction.

I read somewhere recently that Lovecraft shuffled off this mortal coil firmly believing that he had been a failure as a writer. I wonder how he would feel about his enduring popularity if he was here today.

If you would like to write a guest post for The Feckless Goblin I’ve put in a few suggestions below but if you want to do something different then please knock yourself out.

In return for your hard work I can offer a short biography and a link to your site/latest novel/a picture of your Aunt Mimi’s feet…whichever takes your fancy.

Guest blog suggestions:

  • A critique of your favourite HP Lovecraft story
  • How HP influences your work/the work of a famous author
  • The life and times of Lovecraft
  • Lovecraft’s take on horror writing

If you would like to submit something then  DM me on @ziggykinsella and I will forward the email address to send it to.

The Accidental Horror Writer by Katherine Hajer

horror writer

I told a co-worker about seeing The Woman in Black. I admitted that I’d deliberately seen a matinee, but wound up putting on extra lights at night because I was still freaked out come nightfall.

She laughed. “Why did you go see it if you scare so easily?”

“I thought it would be scary like Skeleton Key.”

Pause. “I saw that. That wasn’t scary.”

“Yeah it was. For me.”

“Wait,” she said. “Wasn’t that story you got published last spring about someone being buried alive?”

Yes. Yes it was.

Horror, like its next-door neighbour science fiction, has invaded the mainstream cultural consciousness to such an extent that it can be hard to tell where the genre ends and the mainstream begins. It can be difficult for the reader, but difficult for the writer, too. It isn’t necessarily horror just because it’s scary, and it isn’t necessarily horror because it has supernatural elements and/or gore in it either.

On both the reading and writing sides of stories, there’s a tendency to feel around what a story is with syllogisms: “X recommended this to me, and I liked the last thing X recommended to me, so I will try and read this (or try to write more like that)”. Or simply, “Everything I ever like to read in this bookshop winds up being from this section, so this must be the genre I like the best.”

It gets tricky when the fit is less than perfect. Horror means gory much of the time, and if you can’t handle a lot of gore (I can’t), it means there’s a lot of perfectly good and scary books and movies that you can’t experience. It also means that it can be difficult to see yourself as a horror writer (or just as someone who wrote a horror story) if you associate the genre with things you can’t handle, rather than the stories you enjoy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story based on a passing remark a horror-fan friend of mine made. Since I quoted what he said in the story, I passed a polished draft to him to get approval for using the quote.

When we discussed the story, he gave the names of some magazines to submit the story to for publication.

“But those are all horror,” I said.

“It’s a first-person account of someone reanimating after being dead for days,” he said. “That counts as horror.”

And maybe that’s the problem with the idea of genre in general: too much overlap, too much activity at the border areas, too much debate about what is “core” and what isn’t. Just because someone likes near-future thrillers doesn’t mean they like space opera. Just because someone enjoys zombie films doesn’t mean they enjoy serial-killer slashers or torture porn.

Maybe the accidental horror writer is a sign that it’s time for the genres to be redefined.

You can find out more about Katherine Hajer at http://the-eyrea.blogspot.com/

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Writing Horror by Lisamarie Lamb

It seems an odd thing to do, writing horror. When there is a wealth of genres out there and I could be writing about perfect love or fantastic dragons or gun-toting cowboys, why choose to create the most terrifying, the most soul-shredding, the most unwelcome?

My answer is a simple one: because I like it. I like horror.

I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to think about it, and I like to write it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

As to why I like it, that’s a more complicated question, with a different kind of answer.

As a child, I was scared. A lot. Most of the time. Not that I wasn’t a happy child, with a normal family and normal surroundings and normal friends. I was. Perfectly normal. But I was also perfectly scared. There was a seeping, creeping horror that hovered around me, enveloped me, and at night I would scrunch my eyes shut and hide beneath the covers in the hope that whatever it was wouldn’t see me because I couldn’t see it.

And there was, as far I can tell, as far as I can remember, no reason for it. Nothing that particularly stands out as being that one specific moment in which something happened – something ghostly and ghoulish and downright petrifying – that haunted me for the rest of my days.

I was a normal girl, but a strange one.

Being alone was bad. I hated it. These days I crave a bit of solitude, but then, when that fear stole over me, I only wanted to be around people. It’s just that sometimes, there were no people to be around. And so I created some. I reached the age of twelve and simply decided that I needed constant, immediate access to someone.

But who? And how?

I started to go to bed and instead of cowering under the covers I moulded myself heroes and heroines, safe houses and refuges. I began to make up stories. These stories became my talisman, protecting me from the real evil by pretending about it. It seemed to me that nothing in the real world could possibly be as frightening as the world I was creating in my head, and so my heroes were slain, horribly. My heroines were kidnapped and tortured. My safe houses and refuges were pillaged by monsters and demons and ghosts.

And because I’d made it all up, just me, by myself, it wasn’t so scary after all. I enjoyed it. And I began to write my stories down. I began to read other people’s stories. I began to watch the films. Because it was all safe. It was all made up.

I’ve been doing that ever since.

Just don’t ask me to read or watch any ‘true’ horror stories.

They keep me up at night.

You can find out more about Lisamarie at The Moonlit Door.

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The Perfect Horror Monster by Brian Fatah Steele

horror monster

The perfect horror monster? Sigmund Freud would’ve had a blast with that concept. Joseph Campbell would’ve just thrown some random book of mythology at your head. Jean-Paul Sartre had the quote, “Hell is other people.” Perhaps, if anything, the truly monstrous is relative and personalized, unique to the individual.

But, hey…monsters are cool! From Lovecraft’s Cthulhu chomping on your sanity to DC Comic’s Doomsday leveling a city for giggles, we get a kick out of them. And if we should attempt to objectively describe ten characteristics of the perfect horror monster, well, that’s just fun. However, we may need to dig deeper than sharpened claws and alien origins.

10 tips for the perfect horror monster

Something Recognizable. No one’s imagination springs anew from a vacuum, and even if it did, nobody else would understand what you were talking about if you tried to describe the creepy stuff in your head. As much as Howard Philip spoke of things “unknown and eldritch,” he brought up tentacles a lot, too. Readers understood tentacles, and knew they were gross. A great deal of Christian symbolism relies heavily on images of bats and goats when detailing the Devil. Why? Because humans can more easily conceive of animal parts than a living darkness that wants to torment their souls for eternity.

Something Perverted. No, not in a sexual way. I’m talking about taking something familiar and comfortable, then twisting it into horrible new proportions. This is why toys, pets, grandmas, doctors and anything we usually perceive as innocent or benevolent is instantly rendered terrifying and becomes the perfect horror monster when revealed in a distorted manner. You’ve recognized it, but now it’s been transformed into an incorrect version of itself. Hello, Pennywise!

Something Imminent. Whatever threat or danger presented by our monster, something must somehow be displayed as impending. Here we get our blood-dripping fangs, our cybernetically implanted laser guns, and our crackling beams of dark magic. We need something that can cause immediate harm, and therefor, immediate fear. Any demon-possessed maniac swinging a chainsaw at you is a good example of this.

Something Subdued. While the giant scorpion tail or exoskeleton made out of razor blades is freakin’ horrific, we need more for our perfect monster. It needs a presence, an aura of sheer malevolence that we feel in our guts. Perhaps a certain sound it makes, or the way it moves, something about it affects us on a deeper level. This is the malignancy that lingers and haunts us later. We’re now in Hannibal Lector territory, but with actual shark teeth.

Something Revealed. The horror lurking in the shadows is always disturbing, but sometimes knowing can be worse. A glimmer of knowledge, a snippet of information, that’s all we get, but it’s enough to know we’re screwed. Have we discovered its origin, its destination, its reason for eating everyone’s faces? That little puzzle box you’ve been trying to open just got a whole lot more ominous.

Something Reserved. It needs intellect, or purpose beyond being a mindless killing machine. Unreasoning zombies are bad, yes, but you can take out one with a shovel to the skull. This thing had a hidden agenda, secret abilities and maybe even disposable minions. Maybe we don’t really know it’s origin, just what it wants us to think. This is a singular monstrosity hellbent on something we can’t even fathom, deceptions behind the lies, and chances are we’ll never know everything.

Something Abstracted. In some manner, this perfect horror monster must transcend our rational mind. Whether from a post-apocalyptic future, the pits of hell, or the planet Yuggoth, it has to have some ties to a concept that forces us to suspend belief. This is an atrocity incarnate, so logic isn’t really going to apply here. Some part of it will factor outside the realm of reason, a large part of why it’s so terrifying. Dracula does not care if his snack believes in him or not.

Something Actualized. Dropping back into the real world, there has to be some aspect of it that we comprehend as well. Remember the giant scorpion tail? Kind of like that, but we’re more into the essence of our monster now as opposed to the appearance. Should we give it a name, or has it named itself? We understand names, and we even can conceive of the future, hell, and other planets. Nyarlathotep was bad as The Crawling Chaos, but somehow it sucks way more when it’s smiling at you from across the coffee shop.

Something Conscious. At the end of the day, our perfect monster must somehow reflect the human experience. We have to see some identifiable part of ourselves in it, and feel that connection on a cognitive level. There has to be something that makes us say, “This monster represents this,” or “Is a manifestation of that.” Whether these allegations are true or not is irrelevant, because some part of us will feel as if we’ve conquered it… right up until it tears our limbs out.

Something Unconscious. Finally, we must empathize with this horror monster on a more emotional level. It has to speak to us in some deep, almost primitive fashion. We acknowledge it is an avatar of nightmares, a walking obscenity, and accept this fact. While we may not agree with this abomination’s existence, we agree that it does indeed exist. The monster buried inside all of us finds comfort in its more obvious abhorrent nature, but we will never voice this.

So there you go, ten characteristics of the perfect horror monster. A bit philosophical overall, but deconstructed to more base creative elements. Needless to say, if anything remotely this nasty decided to stroll down the road, I’d sob like a little kid. Regardless, I’d still love to see it through my tears those last few moments before all the screaming and the bleeding ensued.

BRIAN FATAH STEELE, a member of the indie author co-op Dark Red Press, describes the majority of his work as “Epic Horror with lots of Explosions.” Along with multiple books, his articles and stories have appeared in various e-magazines and online journals. Steele lives in Ohio with a few cats that are probably plotting his doom. Surviving on a diet primarily of coffee and cigarettes, he occasionally dabbles in Visual Arts and Music Production. He still hopes to one day become a Super Villain.

http://brianfatahsteele.com

http://www.darkredpress.com

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What makes good horror by A W Marsden

What’s that? Corner of your eye… no, don’t look. See. That’s it. Over there, at the very edge of your field of vision, in that fuzzy zone between colour and shadow. It’s gone now. But it was there, wasn’t it? You believe your own eyes, don’t you?

What about that noise? The little rustle from the far side of the room. Just rubbish settling, plastic uncurling in the wastebasket. Or is it?

I grew up on Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Every night after school, I would rush in, get changed out of my uniform, grab a plate of Jaffa Cakes from the fridge, and settle down in the living room to be scared.

Not every tale scared me.

So I started reading the books, harassing the librarians for more every week. The books did scare me. Not just when I was reading, but long after I’d put them down. Alone in my room. As I turned the lights off. It was my own imagination that scared me the most. I was hungry for more.

So began my love affair with all things dark and macabre.

These days, I still get scared. I sometimes scare myself, late at night when writing. Getting too caught up in your own little worlds is a hazard of the job, I suppose. It’s not the buckets of blood and gore that scare. It’s the sudden movement you think you saw a moment ago. The sound that you don’t recognise. The strange coolness that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you realise you’re the only person in the room, in the house, but the door is open to the landing and the stair just creaked and at any moment something will walk or crawl or shuffle or lumber through the door.

Our imagination, given enough fuel (by enough I mean: very little), can wreak havoc on our vulnerable nerves. When Ofelia (Pan’s Labyrinth) eats two grapes despite the Faun’s dire warnings, it is not the grotesque image of the Pale Man, eyes-in-hand, that frightens us. It is the thought of what he will do to us if he catches us that makes our hearts hammer and our knuckles bite deep into the arms of the chair. We get that not from him, but the sketches on the walls of children ripped apart and eaten.

The opening of Jurassic Park still sticks in the mind long after the film is over, a fierce yellow eye and a flash of teeth are all that hint at the poor worker’s fate before Bob Peck orders his men to “Shoot her!” A serene lake dissolves into view to the sound of gunshots, while we breathe deep and try to calm ourselves.

A trope of theatre for centuries, the worst violence almost always occurs off stage. Only the bloodied daggers are testament to the atrocity that Macbeth has visited upon King Duncan, yet in our minds eye we play over and over every cut and thrust of the blades as they pierce Duncan again and again.

Good horror, in my humble view, uses scares that we cannot see, forcing our own imagination to do the work. Even with modern CGI effects bringing every little drop of blood and viscera to the lens, the best scares are when something appears for only a moment. I’m not talking about that overused cliche ‘jump-moment’ either. That tactic is a tired, pathetic excuse for horror. Give the audience a clue, the slightest one. They are intelligent, they will scare themselves easily enough.

But why? What does horror set out to do, other than just scare people? After all, the blood, gore, monsters, death and jumps are all capable of inducing fear.

These aren’t enough, because they don’t get people to think.

There are many horrors in the world today, real, tangible. From Gaddafi’s bloodied face on the front pages of the tabloids, to the bodies falling from the World Trade Centre towers, through mutilated corpses of women and children online. These things are terrible. But people easily form detachment from them. I’ve seen young teenagers reblog gore-fest pictures right alongside fluffy kittens and cute topless girls on Tumblr as if they’re just texting their mates a ‘hey’. To them, it isn’t real.

Horror has to be real, to remind people of what is good and bad in the world. Good horror does that by scaring us deep in our hearts and souls, with the creepy sense that something is not quite right in the world. Everything is not okay, you are not okay. I am not okay, I promise. And we need to do something about it.

Now, what was that? Over there, corner of your eye…

You can find out more about A W Marsden at  http://terrierandy7.com/

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Good Horror by Smokey Joe Mayes

good horror

I love good horror stories. As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved being pushed to the edge of my nerves, being terrified to the point that I couldn’t sleep, wondering if the ping, ping, ping outside my bedroom window was the sound of killers breaking in or simply magpies pecking at the dog’s dish again.

I grew up watching Dark Shadows, Night Stalker, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, and any horror movie that was playing after midnight on the UHF channels on Friday and Saturday night.

I never stopped to think about why I liked these, let alone why certain stories had the power to frighten me. I just loved the feeling of being carried off to another world, being in the middle of the action, and being completely powerless to alter the outcome.

While I enjoyed the crisp telling of a good horror story on television and in movies, the first book I remember being truly terrified by was Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I had just completed basic military training where 30 of my closest friends and I shared not only military training but also seemingly every germ any of us had ever encountered. For more than a month, it was a continual transference of viruses so coughing and sniffles were rampant for all of us.

As the story unfolded it became apparent that during the time I’d spent in basic training, a new strain of virus had been launched on the world. I plunged into the book as I battled my perpetual cold symptoms, every sniffle and sneeze convincing me that Project Blue had claimed another victim. Captain Trips had me and I was not going to survive to the end of King’s epic masterpiece.

After I finished the book and crawled out from under the covers, I asked myself why this book scared me, why I had bought into King’s story. Why did this book scare me when others had failed?

The answer was simple: I believed this could actually happen to me.

The symptoms of King’s killer superflu weren’t far-fetched. It wasn’t like the victims were covered in paisley warts or grew third arms in the middle of their foreheads. The onset of the superflu was marked by simple sniffles and sneezes, symptoms I’d experienced often in my life and was, in fact, experiencing as I read the book. I could have been part of King’s 99% of the population affected by this killer bug.

Over the years, as I’ve watched, read, and especially written in this genre, I’ve thought back to the simplicity with which King roped me in. I noticed that all good horror stories (in addition to good storytelling, of course) presented the terror as something that could happen to the audience. It was presented as something that could happen to me.

Of course all the other elements of a good story have to be there for the horror to work. The writer must create believable characters the reader (or audience) cares about. The theme of the story has to resonate with the reader and the action must engage them, propelling the story – and reader – forward.

If the reader isn’t emotionally invested in a story’s characters, the action will have no impact. Here’s an example (as well as shameless self-promotion): the opening scene of my short story “Love Stinks” presents a graphic murder scene. A man lies dead on the kitchen floor, a kitchen knife buried to the hilt in his lower abdomen. Blood and effluvium fill the room and a woman and small child are witness to it all.

But there isn’t any horror. There is no emotional reaction to the graphic display depicted in this scene whatsoever, in fact. It’s intentionally a simple recitation of the facts, a sterile description of the scene in the kitchen. As a result, there is no horror associated with it.

Why?

First, we don’t yet know or care about the characters involved. We don’t know the man who’s been killed. We don’t know the woman or the boy who stand over his dead body. In other words, this didn’t happen to real people because we don’t know who these people are.

Later in the same story, however, there is another murder scene involving the two main characters. At this point in the story, however, there is an emotional reaction because now we know them and empathize enough to care what happens to them. The fact that the reader cares about the characters makes this scene matter. It makes it horrible.

Another distinction between horror and any other good fiction is the nature of the action. The action must be such that it creates fear for the characters and, by extension, the reader. There has to be a genuine danger and the stakes of the characters’ conflict have to be graver than in other fiction forms.

Of course, putting a character the reader cares about in danger isn’t unique to horror. For example, in John Grisham’s “The Firm,” Mitch McDeere is a truly sympathetic character. He’s presented to the reader as very likeable, someone who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps to make a life for himself and his wife. Grisham puts this likeable character in grave danger by pitting him at odds with dangerous elements, people who want him dead and against whom there appears no defense for poor, overmatched Mitch.

But while certainly a well-crafted thriller, “The Firm” would never be considered horror. We have some of the elements of horror: good story, likeable characters, grave danger, and fast-moving action.

So what’s missing? Why didn’t “The Firm” scare me?

Because I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

I am not an attorney with a high-dollar law firm. I am not – and likely will never be – in circumstances like those faced by Mitch McDeere. I care about him making it out alive but I never once fear for myself.

In The Stand, 99% of the population was affected and I could easily imagine myself in that 99%. I could imagine myself as a writer in an empty Colorado hotel, tormented both by guests from yesteryear and by writer’s block (King’s “The Shining”). I’ve been to the beach and could be eaten by a shark (Peter Benchley’s “Jaws”). I could even imagine myself as one of the poor citizens of Haddonfield, tormented by the killing machine that was Michael Myers in “Halloween.” These horror stories all stir the nerves because they present situations in which I could imagine myself.

And triggering that imagination in the reader is the real challenge facing the horror writer. It’s not the horrific action alone that gives the audience the chills. Don’t believe me? Check out any of the “Final Destination” movies. Absolutely horrific events happen in these stories but, frankly, the stories are pure camp because the elements of a good story aren’t there. It’s gore for gore’s sake and leaves the audience laughing rather than hiding under the covers.

So the final element of delivering a good horror story is to know thy audience. The writer has to know who will be reading the story and how to manipulate their imaginations to the point that they put themselves in the middle of the action, or at least could imagine a scenario in which they could find themselves there.

In other words, the writer has to be at least as invested in the reader as the reader is in the story.

It’s the only way to make them believe it could actually happen to them.

Find out more about Smokey Joe Mayes at http://smokeyjoemayes.blogspot.com/ 

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On Being a Writer by Adam J. Shardlow

The plus side of being a writer…

  1. Never having to wear a suit – As a writer you can wear whatever you like. Ageing shorts and t-shirt combo, distressed jeans coloured with last nights Chinese hoisin sauce, dressing gown that smells of sleep, Goofy slippers and bandanna. You can even do a Hemingway and go naked. This has the helpful economic advantage of keeping laundry bills to a minimum. Basically, you can wear whatever or as little as you like. No one will ever know.
  2. A short walk to work – You get up, breakfast, watch the news and then sit down to work. No having to step out into the wilds of the city streets, no having to deal with dawdlers and bus queue pushers, no having to spare change for the man with drool hanging from the corner of his mouth or avoid the water filled pot hole. You’re at work in seconds, dragging valuable time from the lack commuting that can be put into your current magnus opus. Valuable time that is yours to do with as you wish.
  3. At home during the day – You can order whatever you like and parcels will be delivered straight into your hands. No more worries that delivery companies will push those annoying little cards through your door telling your that you weren’t in (obviously) and your carton of brand new reading material has instead been left at a vast concrete hanger twenty five miles outside of town and you have two days to come and get it before it’s returned to sender.
  4. Time to yourself -You sit and reflect on your current work. You have the time to be creative, to move about your apartment deep in thought, playing creative mind games and dabbling with new forms of writing style and experimental artistic projects. Your time is your own to plumb the depth of creativity. You dictate what you work on and have the freedom to follow the creative flow.
  5. Your own space – You work at a desk in a book lined den. Your MacBook is set up and connected to the world. You have fresh coffee whenever you want it, warmed bagels for lunch. You can listen to your music, relax in your favourite chair and watch the sunset from the panoramic window before you, marvelling at its majesty, as your fingers tap away at those keys.
  6. Forging your own path – You write what you want to write. If you decide the world needs the first ever 1000 page fictional account of the life of a parasitic pinworm, then so be it. You can create works so challenging, so original, so daringly innovative, that your place in the literary canon will be secured for generations to come.
  7. Adoring fans – You have fans who visit your web page every day. They read your blog entries in minute detail and make insightful comments. They hang on your every Twitter and Facebook update, they send you gifts in the post. At signings the queue snakes around the block, each fan asking you in excited, nervous voices for your signature and photo. You give each fan as much time as possible, building your base, cementing sales and a world tour.
  8. Conventions – You get invited to writing conventions where you give inspirational speeches to the next generation, many of whom remember what you say and in turn become writers because of you. Being such a guru they ask you to write the introductions for their next book, your name and fame helping them to carve out lucrative careers.
  9. Agent lunches – Your agent takes you out for expensive lunches at fabulous London eateries to discuss your current work; how it will be marketed, showing you cover designs and giving you the tour details. All the bills are paid and they send you home first class.
  10. Film options – Hollywood, realising the golden egg that you are, beats a path to your door to option your entire back catalogue and turn them into blockbuster movies in which you have sensibly taken a percentage payment, meaning that you can afford to buy property in London, New York and Paris. This fame however, will never change you. You remain a dedicated artist, creating great works of literature.
However…
  1. Never having to wear a suit – You are sitting naked in front of a computer screen in the middle of the day and don’t give a damn.
  2. A short walk to work – You’re fat. You don’t get enough exercise. You barely leave the flat and have worn tracks into the carpet from using the office wheely chair as a convenient method of transport for getting to the kitchen.
  3. At home during the day – Morons and religious freaks, can rattlers and do-gooders, double glazing salesmen, drive tarmac-ing, collection agencies and pedlers. Each and everyone knocks on your door and expects you to answer and contribute.
  4. Time to yourself – You check Twitter, Facebook, web bookmarks, writing blogs and other sites less savoury to mention – normally every hour. You watch the news, then catch a comedy and remember that you recorded a film two weeks ago that needs to be seen. You do the washing, read a comic book, play the latest PSP release. You Skype, IM, text and take a long lunch. You do the ironing and clean the shower, make the bed and cook a meal for the evening and then wonder where the day has gone.
  5. Your own space – You haven’t seen anyone for two weeks. You could die and no one would know until your decaying body juices soaked through the floor into the flat below.
  6. Forging your own path – You haven’t been paid in six months. Your bank statements only come in the colour red.
  7. Adoring fans – Does your Mum count? Really?
  8. Conventions – You never get invited. You have to pay the entrance fee like everyone else and spend the entire weekend in the bar getting drunk.
  9. Agent lunches – You’re not convinced your agent knows your home telephone number and you’ve only met him once. You bought your own coffee.
  10. Film options – You have a Blockbusters membership card. That is as Hollywood as life ever gets.
More about Adam

Adam J. Shardlow is an author. He spends his day sitting in front of a computer making stuff up until his head hurts and he can longer see straight. Many say he writes works of fantasy, others say its science fiction, some shake their heads in irritation and give a long drawn out sigh before claiming the genre is in truth supernatural thriller, whilst one clearly mad individual with a long white beard and rolling eyes chants from a street corner that it is speculative fiction. Whatever it is, it’s his own style, and on these pages you can find some of his works. Others you will have to find in a bookshop. There is also a blog where he can bore you with all the mundanity and minutia of his life.

Visit Adam J Shardlow’s website.

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Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing by Scott Nicholson

Because I’ve been both indie and trad, I’ve blogged this topic a few times but it always comes out fresh. I love every single aspect of my new business—writing, marketing, formatting, conceptualizing, accounting, networking—but you might not.

So maybe I can encourage you or scare you away, whichever makes you happiest. Because happiness is more important than book deals.

Self-publishing pros:

  1. You are boss. The mad scientist in your own lab, cooking up your Frankenstein monster. And you always get the creature you deserve.
  2. You keep all gross proceeds. Actually, you will be spending it on business investments, but instead of receiving 4 to 15 percent of list price, you will be earning 35 to 70 percent on ebooks and probably 25 percent on paper books.
  3. You choose the cover, genre, and overall presentation based on your understanding of your core audience.
  4. You have control of your content and can react quickly in a rapidly evolving landscape, without worrying about what’s best for corporate shareholders or a larger structure, only what’s best for you and your products.
  5. You write whatever you want.

Self-publishing cons:

  1. You are boss, but would you really hire yourself if you had to apply for the job?
  2. A hundred percent of nothing is still nothing.
  3. You may not understand your audience at all, or you may have no audience.
  4. You’re stuck with your content because no one wants it or buys into it.
  5. You may suck and never know it.

 

More about Scott:

Scott Nicholson is author of 13 novels, including the bestsellers The Red Church and Disintegration.

His new releases are the romantic paranormal mystery Transparent Lovers and the mystery Crime Beat.

He’s also a freelance editor and runs http://www.hauntedcomputer.com.

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