2016 Masters of the Macabre – Who Will Become The Master?

(image via Wikimedia)We all know and love them. We’ve been obsessed all our lives and can’t get enough of them. As children they frightened us to death. Every country, region, and town has their own urban legends…

Source: 2016 Masters of the Macabre – Who Will Become The Master?

African American Folklore, Magical Realism and Horror in Toni Morrison novels

Toni Morrison, 2008 Photo by Angela Radulescu/Entheta

Source: African American Folklore, Magical Realism and Horror in Toni Morrison novels

Bloody Good Writing Volume #5: Writing A Novel In A Month

Source: Bloody Good Writing Volume #5: Writing A Novel In A Month

Another excellent article by Tom Leveen.  This one is on the rewarding hard work associated with the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month.

Response to “The Daily Post”: Subtleties in Writing

Writing at Hasting's Hardback Café, October, 2015
Writing at Hasting’s Hardback Café, October, 2015

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.”

I received this writing prompt from The Daily Post on November 8: “What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.

I started to write a glib response about numerology, but then a bell went off in the back of my mind.

While I don’t believe in numerology, I do like to toy with things like this in my writing for the enjoyment of people who do. Having been a graduate student at one time, I know how grad students and other literati like to analyze a text to the nth degree, searching for hidden but profound meaning in every nuanced word or misplaced comma.  I seldom do this with the intent of relaying some arcane theme (people will interpret stories however best fits their worldview anyway), but just so the literati will have some fun analyzing and arguing about the story.  For me, this is part of the fun of writing.  But the more practical side of me also sees it as a way to build up a readership.

One way for a story to become known is via word of mouth.  They will discuss the book if they find it interesting or they find something in it to argue about with their colleagues in the English Department or with friends at work or with like-minded enthusiasts at the local book club.  So I give them something to debate.

Mostly, the understated connections I use are meaningless.  For example, I have been working on a sci-fi short story in which I wanted to mention a sidearm astronauts 200 years from now might carry, but I did not want to use a type of space weapon that has become a cliché in the sci-fi world like a Star Trek phaser or a Star Wars blaster or a Flash Gordon ray gun.    I named it the Hawking S-505 Black Particle sidearm.     Hawking, obviously, for Stephen Hawking, who I am sure will have tons of scientific stuff named for him in the future including spaceports and starships.  “Black Particle” as a form of dark energy relating to dark matter, which is cutting edge science these days, but will probably be trite in two centuries.  S-550: the “S” is for sidearm; 550 is a US highway that runs through the town where I live currently.  If I need a number, such as a serial number, I often use an old phone number or my birthdate or some other useless bit of trivia.   As the original post from The Daily Post suggested, I might use a form of today’s date or some other date with meaning in my life.  If the subject relates to magic(k), I might consult a book on numerology and choose/compose something appropriate.  For example, in one horror story I have been writing for a long time, the protagonist walks through a tunnel under a dilapidated castle, where black magick was once practiced.  The sides of the tunnel are covered in symbols and numbers including the number “4”, which symbolizes evil in some traditions.

For the names of characters, I frequently glance at the bookshelf to the right of my easy chair, where I write on my laptop, and combine the names of two authors to produce a name that has the right “sound” for the character or I might combine names from history or art or some other field.  For example, I see I have one book by Bill Moyers and another by George Plimpton.  I might name a character Bill Plimpton.  In another sci-fi work (yet to be published) I needed the names for a nine man reconnaissance team to go aboard a derelict starship.   I went to Google Translate and took the word for “warrior” from nine languages ranging from Gaelic to Swahili, so none would be immediately recognizable as a word for warrior (at least in the US), yet the names would express the cultural diversity of the crew.

Anyway, for me that is part of the fun of writing.  How do you have fun with your writing?

Thoughts? Comments?

Farmington Writers Circle in Development

Writing at Hasting's Hardback Café in Farmington, NM, late evening of October 16, 2015 (self-portrait)
Writing at Hasting’s Hardback Café in Farmington, NM, late evening of October 16, 2015 (self-portrait)

I would like to establish a writers’ circle for the Farmington, New Mexico area, including San Juan County, and anyone from the Four Corners area.  I will he hosting a meeting on November 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Farmington Hastings’ Hardback Cafe to establish how many people are interested.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  The mission of the Writers Circle will be to promote Farmington area writers of any genre and skill level, to advise each other on being published, and to establish useful contacts within the regional and national literary communities.   If anyone in the Farmington/Four Corners has an interest, please contact me via this website by commenting below.

Thoughts?  Comments?

“Victim/Victor” at The Drabble

Source: Victim/Victor

Good story from The Drabble. If you are not familiar with them, they are dedicated to publishing fiction and non-fiction of 100 words or less.  They occasionally post a story that breaks into horror, such as this one (reminiscent of the French conte cruel), but the site is definitely worth visiting just to see how writers handle the challenge of extreme brevity.  The Drabble generally publishes one story per day, and you can be included in their feed to have it sent to you.  You can find them at https://thedrabble.wordpress.com.

Thoughts?  Comments?

The Dark Language

Working on a play in Hasting's Hardback Café, late evening, October 16, 2015.
Working on a play in Hasting’s Hardback Café, late evening, October 16, 2015.

As I was preparing to go to the local theatre this evening, I was thinking about how I can improve my writing and what distinguishes the great writers of horror.  Of course, the first two that came into my mind as being easily discernible from all others were Poe and Lovecraft.  Obviously, what distinguishes them is their use of language.  Both use very intense, muscular language with a distinctly archaic tone.   Not knowing if there a precise term already exists for this style, I decided to call it “the dark language”, because of its tight connection with the horror genre and with the horrifying in general.   For me, there seems to be something archetypal about this, arising out of the Jungian collective unconscious.   Perhaps it is just that Poe bound the Dark Language so intimately with scenes of horror, terror, and suspense, which is also bound with genres such as the Gothic novel, that the sound of it automatically brings forth societal memories of dread.

I need to finish dressing if I am to dine at my favorite local sushi restaurant before heading to the play.  Somehow, I just have the taste for something raw tonight.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Observations on the X-Files: Redrum, Season Eight, Episode 6

Relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening circa 2013.
Relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening circa 2013.

I recently purchased seasons  8 and 9 of the X-Files to complete my collection of the entire series.  As you can note above, I am up to episode 6 of season 8: Redrum.  No, it’s not based on The Shining or the famous line that sprang from there.   This is a completely original script and I think one of the best X-Files.   Why am I mentioning a Sci-Fi series in an article that should be about horror?  This article is about good writing, whatever the genre.

I will endeavor to avoid spoiling the story for you.

As we all know, “redrum” is murder spelled backwards.  This story is about a murder, but the alleged murderer finds himself traveling back in time to the day of the murder with the knowledge of how to prevent it.

I find the plot’s basic concept fascinating.  A prosecutor (and friend of Agent Doggett) wakes up one morning to find himself in prison for the murder of his wife, about which he remembers nothing.  As he is transferred to another facility for his safekeeping, he is assassinated.  However, at that point time starts to flow backwards for him.  Each morning he wakes up another day in the past (first he wakes up on Saturday, then on Friday, then on Thursday, etc.).  With each day he learns a bit more about his predicament until finally he wakes up on the day of the murder and he has an opportunity to prevent it.

Unexpectedly traveling back in time is not a common theme, but it’s not rare either.   I have to ask myself how Maeda and Arkin came up with the idea for this episode.  Maybe it was based on amnesia;  someone can’t recall his crime or immediate past and has to learn about it bit by bit, day by day, as the prosecutor does here.  Maybe it arose out of a philosophical question such as “if we could travel back in time, we could change our future but would the ultimate destination be the same and all we change is the route we take to get there?”   Maybe it was a thought that most stories show a protagonist going back in time to a certain point in time and then returning to the present; what if going back in time was not one big step, but several little steps.  How could we change our lives in that case?   What if as we traveled back in time, we knew as little about the past as we do about the future?  We wouldn’t be able to convince those around us that we are traveling back in time, because we wouldn’t know any history to prove our story.   They would believe us to be insane.

The whole scenario intrigues me.  One man goes back in time for unknown reasons while the rest of the world around him proceeds as normal.

I have to ask myself what their creative process was.

This scenario opens up so many questions and possibilities.   I love its originality.    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend renting it as soon as possible.

We never find out what causes the protagonist to travel back in time.  Like in a Stephen King novel, paranormal events happen out of the blue and at random.   But according to Lovecraft’s theories of weird fiction, not knowing the cause/origin of a horrible event, makes the event more horrifying, because the event could happen to any one of us at any time.

A common principle of writing is “to suspend belief” (some say “to suspend disbelief”).   In stories like this though, it is the natural laws of the universe that are suspended.    Everything else, all the world/universe surrounding the event. is quite believable, which emphasizes just how weird the event is.

The story was written by Steven Maeda and Daniel Arkin. A quick search in Imdb shows that Steven Maeda has an extensive list of credits as either a writer or producer for such television series as X-Files, Lost, CSI:Miami, Helix, Lie to Me, and many others.   Likewise Daniel Arkin has an extensive list of credits as a writer or producer for such shows as X-Files, Suits, Las Vegas, Alias, Medical Investigation, and others.  I will have to watch for more shows with which either one is involved.

Thoughts?  Comments?

The Final Re-Post from Open Culture: John Steinbeck’s Writing Tips

John Steinbeck  (from the website  Letters of Note)
John Steinbeck
(from the website
Letters of Note)

Here is my final re-post from Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2012/02/john_steinbecks_nobel_prize_speech_and_his_six_tips_for_the_aspiring_writer.html.

The article is brief, but I won’t copy it here, because everyone with an interest in the art of writing should watch the accompanying five minute video of Steinbeck’s profound acceptance speech of the 1962 Nobel Prize.  I will, however, copy below a short paragraph immediately preceding his six tips (I also highly recommend following the link to an entertaining and insightful Paris Review article on his observations on the art of fiction):

And for insights into how Steinbeck reached that pinnacle, you can read a collection of his observations on the art of fiction from the Fall, 1975 edition of The Paris Review, including six writing tips jotted down in a letter to a friend the same year he won the Nobel Prize. “The following,” Steinbeck writes, “are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.”




More from Open Culture: Humor and Writing Advice From Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, 1972
Kurt Vonnegut, 1972

Here’s a brief video with Kurt Vonnegut giving a fun presentation on the shape of a story:  http://www.openculture.com/2011/04/the_shape_of_a_story_writing_tips_from_kurt_vonnegut.html    Be sure to read the short article below the video.  It contains a link to Vonnegut’s eight rules for writers.

From Open Culture: Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Stephen King at Comicon, 2007 Photo by Penguino
Stephen King
at Comicon, 2007
Photo by Penguino

Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers

Great article.  Over the next week I hope to post more writing tips from great authors as they appeared in Open Culture.  They have a wealth of good advice that I would like to share.

Observations on “Baby Shoes” and Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle

Ernest Hemingway Thought I do not know who the creator of this work is, I must ask that you respect their copyright.
Ernest Hemingway
(Though I do not know who the creator of this work is, I must ask that you respect their copyright.)

There is a story that Ernest Hemingway wrote the following to win a bet with other writers that he could write the shortest story:

“For sale:  baby shoes.  Never worn.”

Even a little research on the Internet shows that there is considerable doubt that Hemingway wrote this story, with the earliest reference to it as a Hemingway work not appearing until 1991.  There is also considerable evidence that the story existed in various forms as early as 1910, when Hemingway was 11 and well before his writing career began.   Whatever the facts, it is an extreme example of the lean, muscular writing for which Hemingway was famous.

In an interview with The Paris Review (see The Writer’s Chapbook, 1989, pp. 120-121), Hemingway did say:

“If it is any use to know it,  I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg.  There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.  Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.  It is the part that doesn’t show.  If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story…First I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened.  This is very hard to do and I’ve worked at it very hard.”

So “Baby Shoes” is a good example of Hemingway’s iceberg principle, even if he didn’t write it.

“Baby Shoes” is also a good example of what I like to think of as the Tao of writing (see my earlier posts):  creating a story by a careful, strategic use of what is not said.  No where in the story does it state that a couple had apparently been expecting a baby, that they bought shoes for it, but then something happened to the baby to cause its death, and now the parents want to sell the shoes.    None of that is stated.  It is all implied, but yet we know what happened–or at least we have a good idea of what happened, even if we do not know the concrete facts of the matter.

There are also other facets of the story that we can infer, albeit tenuously.  From the fact that they bought baby shoes we can infer that the parents were probably eager to have the child.  From the fact that the parents want to sell the shoes we can infer that they probably don’t want them around any more as a remainder of a painful experience, but at the same time they may want to see someone else make good use of them or that they are hard up for money.

But one question I have that concerns human psychology is why is it that most people can read these same six words and come away with the same perception of what occurred?  Does it have to do with Jungian Archetypes floating around in each of us or is it that each of us has had the same broad experience(s) so that we can interpret these six words in a very similar way?

In the art of sculpture, those areas of a work that are empty, yet give the work its form, are called “negative space”.  An example is the space between each of your fingers.  If there were no space, there would be no individual fingers.   In that sense, a story like “Baby Shoes” makes maximum use of what might be termed “literary negative space”.

It is not really the words that give this story its power, but how we psychologically connect the ideas behind the words that fuel this extremely brief, but epic and poignant tale.

This is part of the magic of writing:  conjuring worlds out of nothing.

Thoughts?  Comments?


Guest Blog: ‘The Raven’ – Nevermore

Edgar Allan Poe, 1848
Edgar Allan Poe, 1848

Guest Blog: ‘The Raven’ – Nevermore.

Interesting article, though I tend to disagree with his descriptions of what was going through Poe’s mind when he wrote this.  Though I am not a skeptic, I tend to be skeptical when someone tells me in effect “yes, that is what he says, but this is what he meant…”  Poe definitely hyped the bejeezus out of the poem (and his ego) by calling it the best poem ever written, but as for the rest…who knows?

Thoughts?  Comments?


Just a few quick thoughts…

The blogger relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening.
The blogger relaxing by the front yard firepit on a chilly New Mexico evening.

I was just sitting here trying to choose one of my many first drafts to work on for tonight, when I started thinking about the different “approaches” (for lack of a better term at the moment) to horror.  By “approaches” I mean a very brief synopsis of a writer’s general outlook on or method of writing horror.    Maybe a better way to express it would be to say the way the author approaches his genre (still not quite right, but I am getting closer to the idea).

An example would be to say that Poe’s approach was to bring out the horror in realistic situations (mostly, he did dabble in the fantastic occasionally).  “The Black Cat” is about a murderer who unknowingly seals up a cat with the corpse of his victim.  Nothing fantastic there.  “The Tell-Tale Heart” is about a murderer whose conscience drives him to confession.  “The Fall of the House of Usher” is about a family with an inherited genetic trait of hypersensitivity.   So forth and so on.

Lovecraft’s approach was to spin tales of the fantastic, especially about a race of elder gods who once dominated the planet millions of years ago and of which mankind encounters remnants on rare occasion.

Stephen King’s approach is to plant an element of the fantastic among ordinary people in ordinary places and watch them react to it.

Clive Barker’s approach seems to be to take something that is fantastic, bloody, cruel, evil and gruesome and either drop it somewhere a single character can deal with it or bring it out of the shadows where a character can deal with it.

Seeing these different approaches in relation to each other makes me think about how do I want to approach an idea or a draft I have of a story.  Do I want to drop the fantastic into the real or bring out the horror in the everyday or in realistic situations or can I come up with something else, my own approach, that is none of these?  That is the challenge of creativity:  to come up with something no one else has done.   Maybe I can just go with the purely fantastic.  Maybe I can try to find the real in the fantastic.

How many different ways are there to horrify an audience?

There is the real and the fantastic and all those subtle shades of gray in between the two.  Can there be anything else?

Thoughts?  Comments?

Mentalfloss Article: 7 Creative Ways Modern Horror Films Get Rid of Cell Phones

The blogger hiking in the Bisti Wilderness near Farmington, NM.
The blogger hiking in the Bisti Wilderness near Farmington, NM.

Here’s an interesting article for those writing a story and are trying to find a way to negate a cell phone.  You probably won’t want to use these (that runs counter to being creative), but these methods may point you in the right direction:  http://mentalfloss.com/article/56842/7-creative-ways-modern-horror-films-get-rid-cell-phones.