Poem – “Surface Wound”

Surface Wound

Slicing thinner than a cat’s claw
Into sensitive throes of pain
That mean less than they imply
Only a surface wound,
But one infested with parasites
Implacable, coiling where they fall
Never relenting to leave you alone
Amidst your own thoughts

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Is It Ever Okay to Ban Books?

You would think the automatic, short answer to this question would be a resounding “NO”, and you would be correct… ninety-nine percent of the time. There is the rare book that should be banned for promoting hatred, but unfortunately, these tend to only be published within private circles. The good thing about that is they’ll probably never reach the mainstream public, but the bad thing is that someone thought it necessary for hate lit to exist in the first place, and also that they sometimes slip into the library of public domain if they’re old enough or the copyright has expired. Who would ever want to own the copyright for a piece of hate lit is beyond me, though.

When you consider most classics were banned somewhere simply for being honest about uncomfortable topics, or “brazen” with their writing styles, it really makes most controversies with books seem pointless. I think that there are cases where toning down content or mild censorship for a specific audience are okay, or even a good idea. But it should always be the decision of the author to do so. Massacring the hard work of another because of your own cowardice is the sin of sins, to me.

What brought the question up is that I’ve seen a recent upswing in banning and ordering censorship edits of books within independent publishing – yes, independent books, you read that right. The avenue created expressly for freedom of content is not allowing certain books on their platforms. And before you ask, yes, it’s mostly erotica and horror being subjected to censorship. What are arguably two of the first genres to ever exist, along with fantasy, have been challenged right and left since conception. Continue reading “Is It Ever Okay to Ban Books?”

Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Mystery
Series: John Cleaver
Publication Date: March 30th, 2009
Publisher: Tor Books

“Fear is about things you can’t control. The future or the dark, or someone trying to kill you. You don’t get scared of yourself because you always know what you’re going to do.”

Dan Wells’s debut is an unusual witches’ brew of dark humor, cerebral horror and bleak small-town life. The writing has jagged edges in its beginnings, but I have yet to find another series that I love with so little wavering. This is one of those rarities where I feel it was written specifically for me, with everything I knew and didn’t know I sought in a novel.

Me and this series are like connate flowers. However, John Cleaver really schemed and staked his way into my heart, and was cemented as an instant perma-favourite series to me with the second book, Mr. Monster. I Am Not a Serial Killer suffers from initial uneasiness as Wells gets on his feet with the series, and sudden doses of genre whiplash. The first novel pools its arachnoid feet into many genres, but gives off a flighty self-consciousness about taking the leap from a mystery with paranormal aspects into straight-out horror, which it definitely becomes by the second book. This was the only trait it had I didn’t care for, and I still don’t upon revisits, but the unsure tone actually fits when the main character’s chaos of self. John is never sure what he wants to be.

John “It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think When You’re Right” Cleaver is a bitter, anxious, antisocial teen with hair-trigger violent tendencies that he struggles to keep from unraveling on those who don’t deserve his wrath, whether it be his mother or his friends. He is pulled between crushing loneliness and craving nothing more than being alone, something that reflected painfully when I first read it. His discussions with his therapist, Dr. Neblin, devolve from him not taking them seriously and trying to freak the doctor out, into panic and emotional decay from trying to hold up the façade of being “normal” and never showing anger, out of fear of what he’ll end up doing.

“I’m on the edge, Neblin, I’m off the edge – I’m over the edge and falling to Hell on the other side. […] I’m down in the cracks of the sidewalk,” I said, “in the dirt and in the blood, and the ants are looking up and we’re damning you all, Neblin. I’m down in the cracks and I can’t get out.” Continue reading “Reviews Revisited – I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)

Sorry for the delay between this and Part One, which began the countdown of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark I find to be the most unnerving, gruesome and haunting of them all, in light of the upcoming film adaptation. Please read Part One first if you haven’t already, and take into context that these are plucked from the original, beloved Schwartz and Gammell books, not any of the alternate reprints. Gammell’s illustrations (and a decent dose of nostalgia) have a massive effect on the creep factor that is absent from the Helquist-illustrated version.

5. Oh, Susanna! from Book 2
The story itself is disconcerting enough, being about a serial killer who sneaks into a student’s dorm and beheads her roommate while she’s trying to sleep, but the illustration for this is so abstract and bleak and “WTF” that it unintentionally makes it far more nightmarish. It depicts, at least in my personal interpretation, the killer as a skeletal beast severing the head of Susannah, the roommate, which carries the protagonist off into the abyss of horrific realization.
While it does it through grotesque methods, “Oh, Susanna!” is a great point to bring up when discussing cerebral depth in children’s books. This drawing made my imagination go insane and back around again, trying to determine what it meant.

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4. Harold from Book 3
“Harold” is the darling of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and features on most of the new film’s promotional art. Scarecrows are not fundamentally scary. They are big, stuffed dolls with silly faces and button eyes. But that unchanging expression would be disturbing if say, you abused a scarecrow for kicks and it learned how to move like a person just to spite you. And it only gets worse. I won’t spoil this one because the ending is brutal. Most of the Scary Stories library, as far as the actual plots go, would not be upsetting to an adult, but I think this is one of the exceptions. Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 2)”

Depression and Recovery

Has this been the worst, most godforsaken, vindictive, worthless year in existence, or what? I thought 2016 was nothing but suffering, but 2016 was baby toys compared to what 2019 has been. It’s just 2016 with the last number turned upside-down, which apparently makes it worse, though some kind of time necromancy.
Apparently I am not the only one, because I’ve seen more posts about recovery, depression, mental breakdowns and sorrow than I can count in the past month, on different blogs. I usually can find something creative to say when an experience is bad, but I have none for this year, and it’s only halfway over.

I’m battling an extremely difficult recovery, so I know it’s only been a few days since I posted, but that’s the primary reason my review series haven’t wrapped up or developed. All the words have been gradually stolen from me by the abyss, even the ones written by other people! It seems like every time I try to read, a boombox cuts on somewhere and I get serenaded to tuneless bass. Such is life, and nobody in mine can stomach silence.
Cleaning up my ghost stories project has also cannibalized a chunk of my free time, but that’s one of the rare things that are actually positive, so I’m not going to blame it. I feel better now, so hopefully I’ll be able to get to them soon. I suppose many good things have come out of this year, but the costs they’ve come at are almost not worth it.

Thanks to Recent Poetry Readers!

Thank you so much, those who have supported my site and been reading my books! It’s much appreciated, especially in these trying times! 🙂
Somebody definitely has been reading them, as three have consistently been in the Top 10 for Contemporary Poetry on Amazon for over a month! The last upcoming poetry collection I’ve got for awhile has been delayed until July, but in the meantime, these are still free.

I wish I had realized this earlier, but please note that some versions of Amazon only offer some of the Kindle chapbooks that are supposed to be free for free, for whatever reason, but Smashwords offers an alternate Kindle version worldwide. It’s just not as pretty as the Amazon version. They can be bought for inexpensive, though, and they’re available in print, so please take a look if you haven’t already! Be sure to add them to Goodreads, too!

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Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Full Title: Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Genre: Biography
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Publisher: First Second

There is no more straightforward way to put it – this graphic novel is phenomenal. If you need a boost of vitality and determination in such trying times as these, look no further than Brazen. This book makes you reflect on yourself and say, I could do this too. The obstacles suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable anymore, at least for awhile.

Though if I did learn one important fact in this collection, it’s that most artistic and scientific fields historically have been overseen by, well… bigots and incompetents, and even with the efforts of these wonderful women and others, are still very much in dire need of an overhaul in their bureaucracy and ways they practice. Most, if not all of these women, even those alive in more recent years, have had to struggle for recognition because of these institutions and their staunch attitudes that they can do no wrong. If we hope to make any positive change to this little gloom-ball we live on, sometimes the system has to be challenged.

Bagieu tells the shortened but fascinating legacy of thirty important women, both influential and underappreciated, in all their determination, wit and triumph, giving each of their stories their own unique colour scheme. Not only is Brazen a visually beautiful and charming book, but it never feels anything less than passionate and heartfelt on the artist’s part, and is one of the most inspiring collections I’ve read.

What surprised me is that I actually knew most of these women. I’m very familiar with Tove Jansson, Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, but I didn’t know the sheer extent of their accomplishments. That’s something a simple search won’t really elaborate on. Some of these women were practically the nucleus of their field, it being nonexistent or a hopeless train wreck before they came along. Continue reading “Book Review – Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu”

Poem – “Don’t Dream”

Don’t Dream

Better never to fear the abyssal and endless
Better to witness darkness than what it hides
Don’t dream, don’t sleep, don’t awaken
And you’ll never have to face seeing it
To speak in your head catches its attention,
To hear what it craves is to succumb to madness
Better never to fear the cloak that veils it

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)

Image result for scary stories to tell in the dark illustrations

A few days ago, I wrote some meandering thoughts on the upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film adaptation, which I’m simultaneously uneasy and excited about, so I thought for the fun of it, I’d do a countdown of my favourites from the classic children’s trilogy. This book series, as I’ve noted, is vital in forming my love of the horror genre. It’s about as important to me as one of my own creations.

These are loosely rated from tamest to scariest. What I found unnerving could easily not be to somebody else, however. I personally find ones with human, or once-human, perpetrators to be the most memorable, rather than the more supernatural shorts. Each of the three books has its own signature “feel” as well, which affected my ratings. Whereas the second book is about human evils and the third about paranormal, cosmic horrors, the first book is more lighthearted campfire horror and hence, fewer stories from it made this list, though I would call it equally as enjoyable as its sequels.

10. Such Things Happen from Book 3
The fear of witchcraft is heavily ingrained in American folklore. In my speculation, it’s a combination of the young country’s large expanses of isolation, which can lead to seeing things that aren’t easily explained, and America’s staunch religious background. Its root is a fear of becoming cursed or damned, and that fear is portrayed with eerie accuracy in this story about a man who accidentally earns the hate of a supposed witch by running over her cat. “Such Things Happen” doesn’t get mentioned enough, as it’s more on the psychological edge and it’s possible there’s nothing paranormal in this story.

9. The Window from Book 2
A woman wakes up late in the night to find a golden-eyed corpse staring in her window. She makes the mistake of running and it attacks her. The woman and her brothers discover that it’s a vampire ravaging fresh crypts in the graveyard and bleeding the living who are unlucky enough to be in its path. What makes this story haunting is the sheer anxiety of looking out the window at night. What would you do if you saw something that wasn’t exactly human anymore?

8. One Sunday Morning from Book 2
“One Sunday Morning” is an extremely short story about a woman who arrives at her church early to find she has intruded on a sermon for the dead, but all you need to care about is this illustration, and where it will show itself in your nightmares tonight.

Related image Continue reading “Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)”

Thoughts on the Scary Stories Movie

The new Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark film has broken my personal record for being the third book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever actually been hyped for. I mean, this means as much to me as a film adaptation of my own books would. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, if you’re not familiar, are a trilogy of books by folklorist Alvin Schwartz and artist Stephen Gammell. Its legacy is being one of the most banned and challenged children’s series in recent history, compiling folklore, ghost stories and urban legends and retelling them in a nightmarish and surreal tone.

Scary Stories has been challenged by a number of American and international school boards for its raw and unrelenting depictions of cannibalism, black magic, violence, death and the undead. The Grimms could get away with it but Schwartz and Gammell couldn’t, the reason being that there’s something these books have that the Grimms didn’t… and that’s the signature artwork.

The disturbing artwork is the primary reason it was banned. Gammell’s work is stunningly beautiful from a technical perspective, but often featured grotesque, deformed humanoid monsters and scenes of surreal horror that were difficult to describe even as an adult. Obviously, they gave a number of children unlikely and specific phobias, but that hardly stopped them from loving the series.
There exists an alternate version with more subdued artwork by Brett Helquist that is largely, and unfairly, disliked by fans. Brett Helquist is a great artist, but his style is not the most suited to this collection, in my opinion. I feel the artist caught an unwarranted amount of hell for his work on the rerelease, seeing as Helquist was just doing his job, and his illustrations were good. They just weren’t Gammell’s.

Stephen Gammell’s notorious illustrations are one of the driving forces behind my desire to create. I had and have never seen anything vaguely akin to his style. It can’t be replicated, by anyone who retains their sanity, at least. Something interesting is that Gammell is quoted as being bemused that so many children found the illustrations scary, believing they were far too unrealistic to creep anyone out. About that…

Image result for scary stories to tell in the dark art

When I heard that the plot of the upcoming film, which comes out in August, would involve teenagers in a haunted house, I was devastated… I thought, oh God, they’ve turned my beloved into another cheese-laden summer slasher movie… but I was relieved quite a lot when I saw who the directors were and the monsters’ visual appeal in the trailers. I was severely anxious for a minute there. My reaction was about to become a horror story of its own, but I’m less doubtful now. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Scary Stories Movie”

Writing Progress – Project Gluttony

This is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write. The apt name Project Gluttony is a working title for a horror novel which will be part of a heptalogy loosely correlated to the seven deadly sins. It’s not exactly a series, but I’m treating it like one for the sake of progress. The books are barely related to each other, and might not even have the same publisher.
I feel like Gluttony will not be the most difficult of the seven, but it’s veering damn close, so perhaps it is better I’m getting it over with this year. Project Gluttony and Project Envy are the most pressing because they are the most developed – Envy has been much easier, since it’s basically a full-length adaptation of a short story I’d already written. (It wasn’t so short either, topping out at about forty pages.) Envy is also nearing completion, which means I’m allowed to take a break on it.

Gluttony, however, deals with more tender subjects that I have to be more careful with handling – namely abuse based in religion, and it is for the most part completely freestyle, since only a half-draft of the first two chapters existed, and I’ve since had to rewrite from scratch because they were terrible. I originally began the novel for an open call for pieces of horror fiction, which I’ve since forgotten the initial point of and is possibly long over. Continue reading “Writing Progress – Project Gluttony”

Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy

My book blogging unrelated to my own work is going on a soft hiatus throughout the summer. Reviews won’t halt, just slow to a crawl because this project will and is starting to eat up my already scarce reading time. Due to recent unforeseen upheavals in my life and this heptalogy, I won’t have as much opportunity to curtail the reviews, and would rather not update than risk posting something that was notably low-quality. Not a huge deal, this is just so you won’t be surprised when there’s more list reviews and re-reviews than previously unexplored books.

Anyway, what the seven sins heptalogy is, is not exactly a “series”. It is seven books that are tenuously related at best – I think some might be set in the same universe but with little-to-no overlap in settings and characters – but are labelled by their general theme. Project Envy, Project Gluttony, etcetera.

I have a lot of difficulty focusing on specific projects to finish, so decided to pull ten major ones that I cared about most from my list and complete them all before I allow myself to start anything new. I figure that if I can finish these works of fiction, I will be able to consider myself a true success as a writer, even if they don’t come out immediately after they’re done. Future works will flow out with far less distress. Continue reading “Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy”

Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

★ 1.5 Stars

Genre: Romance / Erotica
Publication Date: May 25th, 2011
Publisher: Vintage

Volunteering to read Fifty Shades of Grey is like volunteering to be waterboarded, except with poor writing in lieu of water. Just when you think the torture might be over, another faceful of metaphor slurry and childish dialogue floods into your lungs. You knew what you were in for, and you knew exactly how fun it would be, and yet some irrational seed nudged you into doing it anyway.
In a way, Fifty Shades does succeed at being the ultimate act of sadomasochism. It actively hurts to continue and yet you remain compelled to. This is not so much out of intrigue, as trying to figure out what value anyone could possibly see in the experience. Why was there such a mysticism and phenomena surrounding this chunk of fanfiction? That’s all it is, really, and reading the entire series I imagine would be something akin to spiritual suicide.

At the height of Fifty Shades of Infamy, I saw what I’m pretty sure were middle-schoolers toting copies of this stupid book. Which, by the way, the physical design shocks me. The cover is as aggressively uninteresting as its innards, and looks like an early vanity press churn-out. It has that same plastic, filmy feel and cheap JPEG texture to the design. I couldn’t believe Vintage published this! Their books are typically beautiful. It’s like they were subtly trying to inspire you to avoid it, but were stuck promoting it at the same time.

Fifty Shades of Grey, as you likely already know, revolves around a closet serial killer, Patrick Bate– I mean, Christian Grey, who, in his spare time between being a pompous entrepreneur and being a Criminal Minds villain, seduces a blushing idiot named Anastasia. They get into a relationship that borders on abusive and a series of embarrassing euphemisms ensues. What is supposed to be steamy deflates quickly as it begins to come off as creepy.
The more mundane scenes aren’t much better, full of nonsensical pseudo-economics and a general dull lack of realism I shan’t bother going into, because you might fall asleep on your keyboard. On the other hand, you might accidentally type out a better book than this if you do, so maybe I will…

I am a survivor of Victorian in-joke Irene Iddlesleigh, so in fairness, Fifty Shades is hardly the worst book I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s tedious and insulting, and romance readers deserve better, but it is at least a functional book that humans can read easily using their eyestalks. But that’s a bare essential, not a compliment.
Everything about this novel is boring. “Boring” is the deadliest of the seven book sins. Rarely, the amateurish writing has the good grace to be amusing, especially with the “sex scenes”, which are almost the exact antithesis of sexy, coming off as peculiar, awkward and strangely prudish, despite trying their maximum try-hard level of hardest to be edgy. But mostly, Fifty Shades of Grey is more like Fifty Shades of Brown, because it’s about like watching molasses drip. It’s not even fun to parody, as you’ll notice if you look through the plethora of equally boring parodies that were churned out in its wake. Continue reading “Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James”

✨Infinite Summer is Free on Kindle!✨

ChapbookCoverIS(Ebook)

I believe nearly the entire Poetry Collection is effectively free in all of its digital forms, except for the omnibus of art and cut materials that is Book Zero. This particular entry is loosely themed around fairytale horrors and romances.
This giveaway, like the others, is indefinitely permanent, because it’s my personal motto that poetry is the one genre that should not be barred behind hefty prices. If it’s in my control, at least, which most of it is. By its nature, poetry is intended to be shared among others. It and the rest of the series is available on Kindle, but the first three are also in ePub and PDF formats on Smashwords, Kobo, and other major sellers worldwide. Enjoy!

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