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These are the first four entries in my ongoing poetry saga. As always, eBook versions are $3USD or less – several are free, including a PDF version for those without eBook readers. These are available from Smashwords, Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, and others, and all have a print edition for sale. Feel free to add them to Goodreads if you have an interest in reviewing one later. These make up books zero-through-three and the fourth and fifth should be out this June.

Absolute Heaven Blurb: Absolute Heaven is an omnibus of poems that capture the darkness which hides deep in the mind. Devilishly blurring the lines between romantic hatred and grotesque love, Absolute Heaven is a work of raw emotion, blood and nightmare that spans all genres of horror. Not for the faint of soul or the weak at heart.”

Cosmic Love Blurb: Solemn and dreamlike, Cosmic Love paints a vivid image of love and hurt in the wake of an unknowable future. An infusion of science and magic, heart and mind, this poetry collection rains down its verses like stars. Cosmic Love is nothing short of inspiring with its dark, imaginative romances.

Blood Ballet Blurb: Straight from the dark side of the female experience, this collection is a theatre of blood sprouted from an embryo of prejudice, injustice and mental illness. The poems in Blood Ballet may wear a violent mask, but their core holds a thousand years of women’s heartbreak and pain. Blood Ballet is a social and psychological horror story of murders, witch hunts, self-harm and nightmares – a hidden history brought to the open in honor of those who have had to suffer it in silence.

Infinite Summer Blurb: Infinite Summer is spun with a love that peaks and dies like the sun. Inspired by the dual nature of fairytales, this collection of poems is heavy with magic, ghosts, and memories lost to the golden enchantments of a summer’s day. Infinite Summer is in equal parts haunting and charming, a macabre kind of romance that only an imp’s curse could bring about.

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Worst Horror Games #4 – Alone in the Dark 2008

worsthorrorlogohalloweenaitd

★★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii, PC
Publisher: Atari
Published: 2008

Summary – Alone in the Dark (2008) follows paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, who awakens suffering from amnesia in a building that is gradually collapsing. After escaping the building, he finds that the entire city is in a destroyed, apocalyptic state due to strange, supernatural fissures forming through it.

Overall Thoughts
I’m going to make this brief, because to be honest, Alone in the Dark 2008 isn’t a godawful game. It has a significant fanbase, and I understand why, but I don’t personally enjoy it even remotely. This list is pretty subjective, so it only made the “Worst” list, like Silent Hill Homecoming, because it’s one of my least favourite horror games. I specifically only put mainstream console games on this list, because if I hadn’t, 99% of the “Worst” would be Steam or PC horror games, which are often made by tiny teams with no budget. I don’t feel it’s fair to count those.

Love it or hate it, Alone in the Dark 2008 was always destined to be plagued. It was a loose tie-in with a film that’s often called one of the worst movies ever, with a whopping 2.4 out of 10 on IMDB, which in turn was a loose adaptation of an early 90s cult classic horror game.
Now, I don’t have a vicious opinion of either the movie or this game. I don’t especially like either, but I don’t think they’re deserving of the sheer, seething, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that’s thrown at both of them. At their worst, I think they hit at just below the threshold of “tolerable”.

Alone in the Dark 2008 did see an improved re-release, but as far as the original, I found it extraordinarily frustrating. For positives, the graphical design, soundtrack and puzzles are quite well-made and there are some great anxious, scary moments. I like the Lovecraftian themes and apocalyptic settings. Oh, and the monsters! The monsters are supremely creepy!

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/aloneinthedark/images/e/e0/Subway_Monster.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20180108035747

There’s a real sense of mass destruction and impending danger that could’ve made for a great experience, but the story wasn’t enough of a draw for me to force myself through the rapidly shifting, disorienting, and sometimes glitchy gameplay though. There was a function to skip chapters, which I found myself doing often enough that I completely lost track of what the plot was supposed to be.
In short, I wouldn’t call Alone in the Dark unbearable, but it is difficult and annoying to the point of not being fun. What differentiates a video game from a film or a book (and apparently this shouldn’t have been a film, either) is the interactivity, and if that’s no good, the positive qualities it might have all fall apart.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe..? The Alone in the Dark series was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos, so I suppose it could.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 3.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Poem – Comatose Awake

Comatose Awake

Comatose awake, dead alive
Retreating into the clouds that bore us,
The windswept plain of a childhood
Passed like water through the palm’s grooves

A signal delayed, a synapse broken
Forgetting how to function on a day
If you suppose it’s sorrowful, consider
That maybe bliss of the fog is better

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Best Horror Games #7 – Luigi’s Mansion

besthorrorlogohalloweenluigi

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Adventure
Platform: Gamecube, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Published: 2001 / 2018 (Re-Release)

Summary Luigi, of Super Mario Bros. fame, receives a mysterious letter telling him that he’s won a mansion. In reality, the mansion is not the beautiful one depicted in the letter, but a haunted, dilapidated mansion in the remote woods. According to a scientist who lives nearby, the mansion appeared there on its own several days ago, and the ghosts who inhabit it have kidnapped Luigi’s brother, Mario.

Overall Thoughts
Luigi’s Mansion is a perfect example of horror that could appeal to anyone. It’s not gory, so it’s alright for the kids, but is entertaining and offers enough challenge for adults as well. This game is nearly twenty years old, believe it or not, but it’s aged astoundingly well. The unusual, creative blend of cartoonish characters and elaborate, almost Victorian settings is still pleasing to the eye. I’ve played Luigi’s Mansion about a hundred times and never had any technical problems or glitches, either.

The aesthetic and gameplay reminds me an awful lot of a softer, more colourful version of the first Resident Evil, which also takes place in a massive, sprawling mansion full of hidden rooms and traps. There are no weapons at your disposal, though. It’s not like they’d work on a ghost anyhow, so it’s just Luigi and his Ghostbusters-style vacuum cleaner.

The story is kind of basic, like a lot of Super Mario Bros. games, but the fun comes from exploration and defeating ghosts rather than plot. One thing I love in particular is the bosses. Every now and then Luigi will encounter the ghost of a human, who are much tougher and smarter than the Boos and smaller, blobby ghosts that show up around the mansion. These ghosts have to be tricked somehow into revealing their weak point so they can be captured. Usually, it’s something that has to do with their personality, which you’re left to figure out for yourself through clues in the ghost’s room, as well as notes and even on occasion, a conversation with the ghost.

File:Henry and Orville Hide and Seek.png

As a kid, I always loved Big Boo’s Haunt on Super Mario 64 and thought it was the creepiest thing, so of course it’s great to have a full-length game based on that design. I would also consider the sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon to be pretty great, but I don’t have enough experience with the sequel to make a separate post about it. Both are extremely fun games with a light survival horror feel to them.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I don’t think so, actually. Some horror games would, but there’s not enough linear plot to work with here. I feel like Luigi’s Mansion would get pretty repetitive if you tried to translate it into a book. A graphic novel might be serviceable.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 4.5 out of 5

Upcoming Books, Frustration and News

This year’s been a right beast, hasn’t it? Don’t you think so? In a way, I wish this span of time were a literal beast, that way I could just kill it. Put the horrible, mutated thing out of its misery. I’m more than ready for 2020, in other words.
This year has tortured me like clockwork, too. Say, if I promised you today that I’d begin, I don’t know, writing a novel tomorrow, and I was truly dead-set on writing it, something out of my control would be thrown in front of me to ensure I couldn’t possibly go through with what I promised to do. The whole year has been a constant torrent of that. After Halloween, I did want to start finishing my backlog of book reviews and ARC books, because it’s gotten quite hefty, but I can’t guarantee I will, at least not judging by the way it’s gone for the past several months.

I have an updated schedule for the books I’ll be publishing. You can find the ones I’ve got out on Amazon or Smashwords, but also several other eBook stores. Pick your favourite mainstream store, they’re likely there. Most of them are free, except for the two that are for the time being, exclusive to Amazon. I’m working on getting them international as well, but I might have to wait awhile because of the Kindle Unlimited policy. Anyway, here are the things that I can guarantee, for sure, are coming out in the next year or so.
Haunt Me to Sleep initially was supposed to come out on Halloween, but there were about five or six stories I ended up having to finish or rewrite, and I didn’t want to rush them out for the sake of a holiday I barely celebrate, so it’s back to it’s original planned date of December or possibly January.

Haunt Me to Sleep (Fantasy / Horror) – Winter 2019
Atlantis Drowning (Poetry) – Summer 2020
The Gutterpunk Blues (Poetry) – Summer 2020
One of three short novellas – 2020
Drift From Electric Green (Dark Poetry) – Spring 2020
Watercolour Hearts (Horror / Fantasy) – 2020-2021

Worst Horror Games #5 – Silent Hill Homecoming

worsthorrorlogohalloweenshhco

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Published: 2008

Summary – Silent Hill Homecoming follows Alex Shepherd, a soldier who returns to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen to discover his little brother has gone missing. Following a sinister link between his family and a religious cult, Alex goes to the town of Silent Hill to look for him.

Overall Thoughts
“In here is a tragedy. Art thou player, or audience?”

Truth be told, maybe it isn’t fair to put this game on the “Worst” list at all. I think Homecoming gets picked on a little too much. The circumstances behind this game are incredibly unlucky and fraught with poor and dubious decisions. A lot of its issues can be traced back, surprise surprise, to the publisher, Konami. A European development team was thrown the task of this title with little experience with the series and an unrealistic deadline, so it honestly surprises me that anything good was able to be eked out of the project at all. I won’t be too hard on it, but I will say that when compared with most other Silent Hill entries, this one leaves quite a lot to be desired. It’s essentially a watered-down Silent Hill 2 with more out-of-place fighting sequences.

There are good ideas present, including the melancholy soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka, and I think if you prefer action horror and enjoyed the Silent Hill film, you probably wouldn’t hate it. I don’t dislike it, but it is objectively bad. The controls and gameplay when you’re not exploring are pretty awful, and the weird focus on combat in a series that’s… never been known for that… erases the impact of much of the otherwise creepy and often rather pretty imagery in this game. I can understand why there are ardent fans of this game because it can be beautiful, visually disturbing and macabre, but there is no real threat or depth to back it up.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/silent/images/c/cd/The_Church_of_the_Holy_Way.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20141214091441

Alex Shepherd and his dysfunctional family had a lot of potential, and some parts of the story are cool, but it doesn’t jibe with the established story of the series, and the psychological aspect could have been handled so much better. They basically drill into your head that Alex was “in the army”, when in reality… (spoiler) no, he never was. It’s kind of obvious. He’s just insane, I guess.

The characters are passable, for the most part. I love the designs of the monsters, but none of the human characters besides the protagonist stood out to me, and that’s the true shame. Silent Hill was never about the monsters of dreams, but the monsters within human nature. This is a common misunderstanding when people try to adapt the series, and I’ve never gotten it. How do you miss the point so much?
That’s basically all I have to say about it. If the developers had been given an inkling of time to develop Homecoming properly, it could’ve been fantastic, but as is, it’s just okay.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe. There’s a lot of unexplored potential that could be toyed around with to make a decent book, if you were a skilled enough writer.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps

The Ghost Next Door  (Goosebumps, #10)Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps, #1)The Haunted Mask (Goosebumps, #11)

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps is a series of children’s horror novellas that’s recently seen a revival in popularity, along with its more young adult counterpart, Fear Street. I kind of stopped keeping track of Goosebumps after the original 90s run and some of the early 2000s books, because well, I grew beyond the demographic. I still read Fear Street fairly often, and of course I have a huge appreciation for Goosebumps, and all the subtle phobias it instilled in young children.

The original Goosebumps series ran from 1992 to 1997 and consists of about 62 books, most of which I’ve read at some point, though there are several I’ve forgotten about or have never seen. It’s been reprinted a couple of times with new covers, but the classic covers will always be the iconic ones. These are, in my opinion, the five BEST books of the series up to 1997.

5. I Live in Your Basement (#61) – Published 1997
The original Goosebumps series ended on a pretty weak note with #62, arguably the worst in the series. However, the penultimate book before it is spine-chilling. I Live in Your Basement is about more of an adult fear – stalking, with some themes of hallucinations and mental illness, if you want to read into it that way. It pulls out all the stops on the grotesque factor, as well. I suppose this would be a pretty good precursor to surreal horror for kids who would later be into that sort of thing.

4. The Haunted Mask (#11) – Published 1993
Why the long face? It’s not like it’s going to get… melded to a demonic mask, threatening to rip your skin off, right? Well, that’s what this book is about! A girl goes in search of a Halloween mask, and ends up in a very dubious novelty shop, where she steals a disgusting, horrifying mask that grows rather attached to her face. Eventually, she isn’t able to take it off, once she’s left it on so long. The thought of something parasitic latching and welding itself to your face, suffocating you and taking control of your thoughts, I would say is still pretty disturbing.

3. One Day at Horrorland (#16) – Published 1994
Amusement parks have a sort of ominous vibe to them anyway, and it really doesn’t help if it’s run by cannibalistic, sadistic monsters who pit the human fair-goers against each other in an attempt to kill them all. Sheesh. Continue reading “Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps”

Best Horror Games #8 – Shadow Man

besthorrorlogohalloweenshad

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 64, Playstation, PC
Publisher: Acclaim / Night Dive Studios
Published: 1999 / 2013 (Re-Release)

Summary Shadow Man follows Michael LeRoi, a man who has been chosen as the next “Shadow Man”, a warrior and voodoo priest who protects the living from the chaos and violence of the restless dead. The prophetic dream of a priestess, Mama Nettie, warns Michael of a demon, manifesting itself through the reanimated corpses of serial killers, who plans to create an army from the dead that Michael has to stop before it can begin.

Overall Thoughts
So, there are probably much better horror games I could’ve placed in this spot. I considered something like Yomawari or The Evil Within for this place, but Shadow Man is rather special to me. It’s terribly underrated and glossed over, and I have yet to meet another with the unique atmosphere of this game: a mashup of Western gothic, Faustian and Lovecraftian demonology. There’s a sinister, mythological vibe of black magic and irredeemable curses that’s kind of hard to describe, but Shadow Man doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Dark comedy abounds as well.

The characters and settings are by far the best part of this game. Believe it or not, Shadow Man was a partial inspiration for one of the shorts from my upcoming book, because I loved the over-the-top insanity of some of the villains. The settings use a lot of canyon scenery and abstract, otherworldly lighting, and the design in general reminds me heavily of Silent Hill. It looked pretty good for its time, anyway.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/shadowman/images/2/2b/Trueform_attacks_10.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20131019061954

Shadow Man is based off of the series of graphic novels by the same name (not to be confused with the Cody McFadyen novel, Shadow Man), though the game has taken some liberties, mostly positive. To date, it’s one of the extremely few mainline horror video games I’ve seen with black protagonists. Michael LeRoi and Nettie are fun and badass characters, too.
The villains are very memorable and bizarre, and hit this weird area between hilarious and disturbing. The main antagonist is Jack the Ripper, of all people, or at least Jack the Ripper as possessed by the demon Legion, who revives a number of serial killers (some ridiculous, some legitimately creepy) to serve as his minions.

You may have noticed this as a trend with horror games, but the actual part that distinguishes it as a game, the interactivity, is kind of wonky. The physics are prone to glitches, even in the better versions, and there is a hell of a lot of backtracking. I don’t know about you, but backtracking always makes me feel like a mule. Overall, I do enjoy the mix of action and adventure. There’s a lot to explore. Just… don’t get the PlayStation version, if you decide to try this game. The port was a special sort of disaster, littered with bugs and technical issues, so go for the N64 or the PC. Shadow Man was recently re-released for PC and Steam.

The soundtrack is creepy as death and amazing. It’s actually kind of a jam, to be honest, and it’s rather sad not more people recognize this game for its music. There are some beautiful, ethereal pieces like “King’s Hymn” or a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but also some terrifying pieces, like one song that uses the sounds of music boxes and drills going through bone to create this horrible, nightmarish atmosphere.

Would it Make a Good Novel?

Shadow Man is based on a pretty good comic series, so yes, it’s not much of a stretch to think it would translate to a good novel. American Gods and its sequel Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman have some similar shades, if you’ve read those, as does The Gunslinger series by Stephen King.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 3.5
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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Poem – “Tied Up”

Tied Up

Cannot be counted on the devil’s palm
The arrows embedded in your chest
A sacrifice on the eve of child warlocks
Boy premonition, blood slave to a sorceress
All tied up on the skin of a juniper man
Weeping, gleaning the eyes of faerie youth
Spinning blood into his web of ropes
Keeping you hostage, a blasphemous bondage
Configured in riddles of the cell, without answer

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Book Review – Card of Fate by The Duke of Quails

Card Of Fate: Poems of a Gambling Addiction

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: December 7th, 2016
Publisher: Independent

“The card of fate was never to be wagered but intended for you to keep. Dear, to bet or gamble on such a card is to place your soul on the devil’s feet.”

Addiction is a rough path, full of setbacks and dotted with many camouflaged pitfalls and brambles. It’s a nagging, teasing sort of demon who stays hooked in you like a bumblebee’s stinger, poisoning you little by little from the background. Some are lucky enough in their lifetimes to only have to skirt around this path, but most will at some point have to face that personal mire head-on, or risk losing something precious.

Card of Fate is a series of free verse poems from the viewpoint of victims to gambling – an addiction that carries some of the highest risks, yet is tragically easy for anyone to fall prey to, whether they’re a parent, a child, rich or poor, young or old. Desperate or self-assured. True addiction is a devil’s game, debilitating and not the least bit picky in who it takes as its hostages. It’s rarely just the addict who suffers, as well.
Gambling addiction is a resilient and strange monster in that it feeds on so many high, sometimes conflicting emotions at once. The initial happiness and elation of winning quickly turns to greed, which in turn becomes pride if you succeed, and depression if you don’t. And then it convinces you to flip that cycle around again. It’s always “just one more chance”.

The prose in this collection flows easily, and the themes are beyond relatable. I’ve never personally had an issue with gambling, but I can definitely understand the mindset, as would anyone who’s harbored an addiction of their own. Some of the poems are a little repetitive when read in sequence, but I love the concept of different perspectives and drives behind gambling. It’s very personal and seems like a lot of consideration, reflection, pain and heartfelt effort was put into these poems – strife of the past rewritten into a cautionary tale for the future. It reminded me strongly of Requiem for a Dream, except to be honest, I enjoyed this writer’s more concise, straightforward style of prose over Selby’s ramblings in that novel. Card of Fate has a slam poetry feel, moving very fast and cutting deep, and I appreciate that.

Time and money pass like water flowing downstream to the addict, and before they know it, important things have become irretrievably lost. Card of Fate really captures and jibes with that feeling – and who has never felt that way, really? – and I would definitely recommend it if you want to understand more about these personal, emotion and sometimes dark depths of addiction.

“The regret in the word gambling comes from what you have lost: family, respect, and trust that you will never get back.”

[Thanks to the author for the book trade, and for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

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Best Horror Games #9 – Little Nightmares

besthorrorlogohalloweenlittle

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Playstation 4, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Published: 2017

Summary – Little Nightmares follows a little girl named Six, who wakes up trapped in a massive citadel called the Maw which floats on the sea. The Maw is inhabited by giant, grotesque, cannibalistic adults who have been imprisoning human children (and whoever else they can get their hands on) in order to eat them. Six sets out to escape the Maw before she starves to death or gets eaten by one of them.

Overall Thoughts
It’s like somebody made this game with me in mind. I flipping adore these dark themes of childhood, fairytale cannibalism, and the horrors of decadence. Artistically, it’s pretty much the best I’ve seen in recent years. It hits that sweet spot between delightful and disgusting. The villain characters range from vulgar, gluttonous beasts to giant things that don’t entirely seem human.

Obviously, they were going for a cinematic feel with this, and it succeeds. Little Nightmares is almost more of a movie than it is a game. The gameplay is interesting enough, but that part does seem lacking in something. The experience overall is quite short and simple, but the design is so creepy and Burton-esque that you likely won’t care. If you care about active gameplay or an intricate story only, you might not like it, but if you want something dark and ambient and closer to a silent animation, you will love it. (Most horror games are like that, though, really. If we’re being honest.)

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/littlenightmares/images/9/98/01-The-Maw.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20170517142348

The story itself is pretty vague, and leaves a lot up to your own personal interpretation. The only things that are set in stone are that there’s a little girl and some other tiny creatures getting chased by giant cannibals in a ship (of sorts), and their leader is possibly a witch? Nobody really has a strong “personality”, per se, but the way the characters and conveyed without words is executed extremely well.
Like I said, it feels like a cross between a Studio Ghibli animation and one of the classic Tim Burton films. The Nightmare Before Christmas, especially. The puppet-like chefs (pictured above) strongly resemble characters from that movie, as do other villains in this game.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Certainly. In fact, there exists a graphic novel adaptation that was published as a tie-in, though I’ve never read it and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have great reviews. (Maybe it wouldn’t make a good novel, after all…)
In any case, Little Nightmares reminds me of aspects of my own work. I did mention it seemed specifically designed to cater to me. I do love and frequent toying with these tropes – cannibalism, mistrust of authority, and so on.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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My Favourite Horror Collections

Teatro GrottescoNothing Is StrangeSmashed: Junji Ito Story Collection

I’ve always considered horror one of the best and worst genres for short stories. When short horror works, it can breed one of the most haunting, terrifying things you’ve ever experienced. However, making it work is no easy feat. For every disturbing, unsettling piece you’ll find, there will be ten out there that just won’t do it for you. There is nothing that will disturb every reader, though it’s possible to come close, and if you don’t succeed in scaring them, there are still ways to entertain them.

These are my top ten, for the time being, favourite collections of horror stories. I love variety, so there’s a bit of each kind of horror here – dark fantasy, visual horror, bizarro, classic horror – you name it, you’ll find it somewhere on this list. Some aren’t necessarily meant to be straight horror, but have a significant horror flavour to them that I felt qualified them enough to make the list. These are in no particular order. As there were quite a few books, I might include some honorable mentions in a later post.

Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
I would feel confident calling Teatro Grottesco the best compilation of horror shorts I’ve ever read. It remains, several years after I first read it, one of the few books of the genre to legitimately unnerve me. Ligotti’s prose is sinister and elaborate, like a spiderweb with the remains of cocoons dangling through it, yet this book reads very easily. I’d honestly recommend any Ligotti collection, but this one in particular is truly flawless.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
I covered this one in-depth not too long ago, so check out my review if you want. Smashed did not get as good reviews as his other recent collections, but I personally like the surreal, cosmic tone of these stories, especially the title story. Who knew a fruit tree could be so terrifying?

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Arguably, Pretty Monsters is the most somber book on this list. The overall tone of this book is depressive and gothic, as if it’s being told by a series of ghosts who find the whole thing darkly amusing. You really don’t see enough young adult horror anyway, but especially not of this caliber. This is a book that will bury itself in your skull.

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Nothing is Strange I don’t think was actually intended to be frightening, but well… strange. It’s in the title. I did a review on this and its sequel collection, Strange Secrets, but both reviews need an upgrade. Nothing is Strange can be breezed through in a day or two, but you won’t want it to end. Russell’s ideas are so original and inventive, and the imagery is so perfectly bizarre that it’s difficult to step away from the world he’s created.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
Genre: Horror
An old childhood favourite that I’m still fond of. The illustrations are what it’s known for, I mean, just look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Gammell’s drawings still have power and are unsettling to look at as an adult. The stories are fun, too, especially for the folklore aspect. Schwartz was a collector of traditional stories, folklore, and American myths, so his notes on the writing of the trilogy are also pretty fascinating.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Dark Comedy
I’ll probably do a full review on this one later in the month. It would be fitting for the season, yeah? Something I love about Ito is that he can take anything, no matter how small and innocuous, and turn it into something to fear. A phobia. A paranoia. Continue reading “My Favourite Horror Collections”

Poem – “Hanging From the Juniper Tree”

Hanging From the Juniper Tree

A noose for a basket full of aspirations,
Wicked dreams that sliver through the hooves
Of horses decomposing in the plains of night

A weeping tragedy, ten headless kings
Hanging from the juniper tree
On the path of the prisoners’ walk

The crying red moon is bleeding tender
Over the forbidden waters of the dead
And not one drop penetrates a severed soul

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Worst Horror Games #6 – Rule of Rose

worsthorrorlogohalloweenror

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Published: 2006

SummaryRule of Rose, set in the remote countryside of 1930s England, follows a teenager named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in an orphanage, ruled by a cruel and ruthless group of young girls who call themselves the “Red Crayon Aristocrats”. She must appease them in order to escape, all the while forced to confront her own childhood at the orphanage.

Overall Thoughts
It physically pains me to start off the “Worst” list with Rule of Rose. The story and cast are so, so well-written. The setting, which even though it’s set in the 30s, still retains a sort of late Edwardian, melancholic feel to it, is phenomenal, and it borrows heavily from the dark tones of Grimm’s Fairytales. Story-wise, it is tragic, haunting and beautiful, and reminds me heavily of Lord of the Flies, but with mostly female characters.

I wish that this had been a movie or a book instead of a game, because the medium, in this case, does not do Rule of Rose any favours. The gameplay part just sucks. There’s no way around it. The developers weren’t given nearly enough time to perfect it, and it ends up ruining what is otherwise a great experience.

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From a technical standpoint, the graphics and design are nice. The soundtrack is spectacular – a romantic, gothic blend of 1930s swing and classical music of the Victorian era that’s addictive to listen to. You’d be better off listening to the soundtrack and watching the story segments on YouTube than you would be trying to find a copy of this game. Seriously. Take a listen to this.
Rule of Rose is exceedingly rare due to poor marketing, bad press and poor sales, and now goes for a whopping… $80-$200 USD, at the least, and that’s for a garbage used copy. You can buy reproductions, though, if you’re that curious, but the gameplay portion is honestly, very bad and unfinished. The difficulty is unfair, the controls are clunky, and there are long sections of hunting items with Jennifer’s dog that quickly become tedious.

Rule of Rose was met with controversy in Italy and England due to a false rumor that the game was about “murdering children”, part of the reason why it did not sell. Spoiler – it isn’t. Rule of Rose is a psychological exploration of childhood trauma, the differing and sometimes troubled relationships between girls and bullying. The entire plot occurs in Jennifer’s mind, and is her twisted memories of being forced to stand up to her peers, at the cost of more than one best friend. Like I said, it would be a stunningly beautiful experience if it had been anything other than a video game.
In short, if those idiots in Hollywood want to make an all-girl Lord of the Flies, they ought to just adapt Rule of Rose, and actually do this plot some justice.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Hell yes, it would! This could possibly be the best novel of the psychological horror genre. It also makes me think of the novel John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins, which has a vaguely similar premise.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 5
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Poem – “Black Aura Mystery”

Black Aura Mystery

I know you didn’t even try to save me
When my black aura mystery
Infected the vein and left be decaying
Wreathed with barbs from the inside
One for each hour my suicidal self
From the past before mine awakens
To find he’s never become healthier
His black aura mystery fails him all the time
I wasn’t beyond an embryo then,
I know you didn’t even try to save him
Green eyes necrotize in the grave’s hearth
Tears of blood and a black aura mystery

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Taking Q&A on Goodreads

Just very briefly. I meant to post this ages and ages ago, but I’m taking open questions on my Goodreads author page now. They do not have to be related to books or writing, they can be literally anything… well, almost literally anything. I’m sure there’s a few I would be tempted to report but probably still answer. Ask something ridiculous if you want.
Anyway, if you’re on there, feel free to send me one, or more if you want. I love getting these.

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Best Horror Games #10 – Clock Tower

besthorrorlogohalloweenctower

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Mystery
Platform: SNES, Super Famicom
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Published: 1995

Summary – Clock Tower follows an orphaned teenager, Jennifer Simpson, after her adoption by the Barrows family, along with several other girls. The Barrows’ enormous, labyrinthine mansion is terrorized by a killer, known as Scissorman, who starts to target the girls one by one, forcing Jennifer and the others to try to escape.

Overall Thoughts
Clock Tower is far from perfect, but it’s an innovator in the survival horror genre, and deserves respect for that. The series was inspired by the Italian horror film Phenomena, with the protagonist and plot bearing strong resemblances to those from the movie. To have what is essentially a video game version of a Dario Argento film is really cool in its own right, but Clock Tower also made extremely clever, disturbing and creative use of pixel art and storytelling choices.

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There are multiple endings one can get in the story, depending on the small decisions you make in the Barrows house, while all the while being stalked by a boy wielding a massive pair of scissors, and the deranged Barrows family themselves. If you like retro horror, you’ll love it. It’s not a difficult game, and is point-and-click, which takes some of the stress out of the action parts, if that’s not something you care for. The soundtrack is sparse, but pretty good whenever it’s there, especially for an older game.

This series, sadly, has been condemned to relative obscurity, and flopped outside of Japan. The upside is, you can get a fan-translated English version of this game made for the SNES, if you want. Despite never being “officially” published in English, the first and arguably best Clock Tower is surprisingly less rare than the parts of the series that were.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Definitely! Clock Tower has obvious shades of vintage horror novels from the late 80s and early 90s, when the “final girl” trope was at its peak popularity. This game reminds me so much of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street. It has the same sort of atmosphere, that’s creepy and entertaining without taking itself too seriously.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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How to Sabotage Your Own Writing

The most damaging punishments are the ones you place upon your own head. You know what you won’t be able to survive more than anyone. There are a lot of factors outside of our control that can hinder our writing. I’ve had to deal with those quite often this year – from mental health to just unlucky timing. Nonetheless, at least seven times out of ten, what stops us from succeeding, from finishing our work, it’s something we could have prevented ourselves.

I consider it something of a miracle that I’m able to write at all, and I thank the readers of my blog for having patience with me, and not posting as many book things as I used to. This year made the disaster that was 2016 look like a day at the park. What I have learned with the recent collection I’ve been working on is how to effectively destroy your own motivations, recognize that you’re doing it, and stop it before it can happen. This is, in a nutshell, how one sabotages their own writing.

1. Constantly compare yourself with other writers.
Do not do this. Comparison is poison for the creative, it really is. No, your book might not be like Stephen King’s books, or J.K. Rowling, or whoever you take your inspiration from. Be inspired by good authors and their successes, but understand that yours will be different than theirs. No less good, if you’ve worked hard on it and are passionate about it, but the voice will be unique to you, and that’s never a bad thing.

2. Get out of the habit, and purposely put it off when you have the urge and time to write.
This tends to happen with me whenever I get sick. I think, well I don’t feel like it, so I won’t write tonight. The problem is, this same mindset carries into the times when I feel fine, when I feel up to the task of writing. Take caution to be aware of when this happens with you, because procrastination will absolutely slaughter your book, or whatever you might be working on in general.

3. Put down your own ideas without getting any outside feedback.
This one’s self-explanatory. Don’t shoot yourself down too much. Some ideas are objectively bad ones, true, and thoroughly dissecting your own work with a fresh eye is helpful to improving it, but you should try to get somewhat unbiased feedback from a beta reader or friend as well, preferably several people if you can, if you’re not sure. You could end up destroying something wonderful. Continue reading “How to Sabotage Your Own Writing”

🎃Harvest of Horror 2019🎃

The month of Halloween, the only socially acceptable time to be creepy, in both demeanor and your cerebral interests. And yes, I said month. As if Halloween lasted only a day, are you kidding? Not in this household.
Since I felt that last Harvest of Horror was churned out rushed and somewhat lackluster, I’ve planned this one way ahead of time. I’m always busy in October for whatever reason, usually because I have something being submitted for publishing around this time, so I’m actually writing my Halloween posts from back in May and June and touching them up from the present in October. Confused? So am I, by this point.

Image result for we have to go back meme

Anyway, all this means is there is no particular schedule like there was last Halloween. There will be something horror-related every day. I thought I’d be a bit different this year and branch out into other things besides books and writing, so there’s to be a miniseries on the best and worst (in my opinion) horror video games, some artwork for Inktober on DeviantArt, some reviews and poems scattered throughout as usual, amongst other uncanny novelties.

The series on video games I think you’ll find especially interesting, since despite the cult following many of them have gotten, not many people discuss them in the same vein they would a book or film review. If you’re into games for the story aspect, or don’t know much about them and want to, you might like these. My recent trend of talking about video games probably won’t spill into the rest of the year, though, as I’ll likely be going back to a focus on writing and books when I can, but I feel like to be a writer-reader, it’s best to understand every medium.

I had considered doing a mini-series on the Fear Street saga by R.L. Stine, but I didn’t realize the later books were out of print, and quite expensive if you aren’t lucky enough to happen across them in a thrift shop. I certainly was not up to hunting them all down. I might talk about Fear Street and Goosebumps a bit, but no promises.
Anyway, enjoy the special, and have a horror-ific October!

Poem – “In Agony”

In Agony

Tremulous tendons, strung like piano wire
In the valve of the heart of anxiety
Little spectres in agony, fitful dying dreams
When they wake, a field of eyes follows
What thoughts might lie behind that cluster
Of prying eyes, it is what keeps them haunted

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Haunt Me to Sleep Preview!

“Float far out into the Pacific. Follow its surface in any direction you want, whenever the anxiety gets to be overwhelming, whenever there is no treatment left for the black clot that forms a body-wide cancer. Adrift in the crystalline sea, you will come upon a cavern, whether you intend to or not.”

One of the prose pieces from the upcoming horror-dark fantasy collection Haunt Me to Sleep, “Grotto Siren”, was published in Radium Piano Band. You can read it for free at the link below. Haunt Me to Sleep is a mix of horror “atmospheres”, ranging from dark humor, to fairytale, to existential horror, to grotesque. It was difficult to place a specific sub-genre to its name.
I had originally intended for this book to come out around October 7th, but due to the massive rush on horror during that time, I’ve decided to move it closer to Halloween itself, when, believe it or not, fewer horror books are published. The final date for all versions, at least, will be between October 21st and November 9th, the ePub version coming out slightly later than the paperback and Kindle ones.

Radium Piano Band – Issue #17