Rarest Japanese Books in English

Ultra-Gash Inferno

“Rare” is really a state of mind. You could say that the scribbled page I tore out of a notebook last night was “rare”, seeing as I’m the only one who owned it. You could say that a rock you found by a river that looks like Gumby’s head is “rare” because there are no other rocks shaped like it. Most people wouldn’t call those things rare, however, because there is no real demand for them. They’re one of a kind, sure, but have no particular value.

The ironic thing is that something NOT being in high demand and not selling in the first place is usually what CAUSES it to become rare, in the case of books and other media. Something niche and obscure may suddenly come into fashion, or be sought after by collectors years later. Personally, I hate when this happens with media. I just want to watch or play or read whatever, and not spend hundreds of dollars to do so. I can’t help but think:
“Well, why was nobody interested in it when it was new? Don’t treat it like gold now when you ignored it on purpose then!”
In my opinion, there are no books worth paying triple-digit or higher prices for. None. It would have to be pretty damned special, because anything less than that would be a massive disappointment and probably a bad investment.

That being said, I have a penchant for Japanese books in translation. I love the prose and themes of Japanese literature, but I’m not so fluent in the language, which presents a bigger obstacle than you’d think when looking for new books to read.
Japanese books have had significant trouble breaking into the mainstream in English-speaking countries. Why is this? For one, the most desired books tend to be in somewhat niche genres like psychological horror, and for two, written Japanese is incredibly difficult and tricky to translate into English. Translators will tell you that it’s often more art than science.

Translated Japanese novels and manga have seen a recent upswing in popularity, but in the 90s and early 00s, there were many unfortunate books to which the English rights were lost, floating in the copyright abyss to this day. These are the rarest ones that I know of. They’re not always expensive, but can be stupidly hard to find. Keep in mind that this is only the case with the English editions. Japanese copies are a lot more common, though that’s not very helpful if you’re not able to read them.

Rare translated books are difficult to research, as is why exactly they became rare and valuable in the first place. Could be that they didn’t sell well, are very sought-after, or that everyone who bought it is just determined to keep their copies. To make the list, the book must only be available in print – no eBooks – and must currently be out of print. They’re in loose order from the easiest to find and cheapest to the hardest and priciest. If you know of any that should’ve made the list, feel free to comment below! Continue reading “Rarest Japanese Books in English”

Inktober 2019 – What’s in My Sketchbook? (#1)

This is the first year I’ve actively participated in DeviantArt’s “Inktober”, a challenge which entails that you begin and finish as many drawings as you can manage throughout the month of October. The purpose is namely for relaxed, unfettered practice – to stop hyper-correcting and judging your own work, and just getting it finished. I filled about a third of a palm-sized Moleskine storyboard sketchbook with small drawings, all sketched and inked in roughly four hours or less.

Here are some raw snapshots of some of them. Fair warning that these were taken on my phone, and are unedited, so still retain pencil marks. I’m a miniaturist at heart, so these drawings are also tiny, which made them harder to snap. One square is about the length of my thumb, if not shorter.
I corrected the photos enough to where the drawings were clear, though. I did think it was kind of cool how a phone camera sometimes reads the faces of drawings as human faces and focuses in on them. I will upload high quality, clean versions of all of these to my DeviantArt later.

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Sailor Moon on the top right! The top left drawing looks very similar to the illustrations I did for Loverboy. I prefer to work on miniscule scales such as these for book illustrations, too. Why? Well, the details of small drawings remain intact no matter how you resize them. While large-scale illustrations are often amazing, a lot can be lost when they are squeezed down to fit into a standard 5×8 or 6×9 novel. Continue reading “Inktober 2019 – What’s in My Sketchbook? (#1)”

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”

The Books of the Series (SH Special)

I mis-scheduled the Haunt Me to Sleep preview for a bad time. If you missed it, because I’m pretty sure almost everyone missed it, and want to read it, it’s here in Issue #17. I’ll put the original post back up on Sunday.

So, I’ve been talking about the Silent Hill series for a few days, though I suppose it’s been more like rambling on. I’d planned all this for Halloween, originally, but I already had a slightly better mini-series written out for then. As you probably know, the popular psychological horror series is largely based on books. I actually found one of my all-time favourite authors through Silent Hill, believe that or not. Well, technically it was through one of the creators’ commentaries on the making-of, but still.
Here are the best books I’ve found through this series’ recommendation, intentional or unintentional. They are in no particular order.

Carrie by Stephen King
Genre: Horror / Paranormal
This is considered a horror classic, but truthfully it wasn’t even on my radar until I found out the villains of the first Silent Hill were based off of Carrie and her abusive mother. I didn’t, at the time, really want to read about some poor, socially inept girl getting relentlessly abused and having pig’s blood dumped on her, even if she does take revenge. The idea just kind of made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t regret reading it when I did. It’s King’s first novel, so it has some rough edges, but overall it’s a pretty good book. What makes Carrie so ground-breaking is its sense of sympathy, and a well-written, not conventionally pretty, relatable protagonist at a time when women in horror novels were largely supermodel murder victims. Still an issue that pervades the genre to this day, despite horror arguably being one of the more progressive genres. Continue reading “The Books of the Series (SH Special)”

Thoughts on the Western Silent Hills

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This will be a lot briefer than yesterday’s post on the series, as to tell you the truth, I just don’t have as many personal feelings about the American and European Silent Hill series. Are they as good as the originals? Well… yes, and no. They’re all fun, and for the most part pretty, but if I had to complain about anything, they don’t take nearly enough inspiration from their parent series. The Western Silent Hills seem significantly more “video game-ish”, if that makes sense. The only one that is somewhat immersive is Shattered Memories, and ironically, it’s probably the biggest departure from the norm. Years later, people are still complaining about how these games are “too different” from the quartet, and I don’t think that’s fair. Considering how much the publisher loved to abuse this series, we’re really lucky that we got these at all. They’re not perfect, but they aren’t terrible, either. They’re like reading a well-written, plausible fanfiction.

Thoughts on Silent Hill 0rigins
If you’re in these for the literarary aspect, a large part of 0rigins is based off of Shakespeare plays, which is incredibly cool. This was supposed to be a prequel to the first one, but um… it doesn’t quite jibe, story-wise. Several aspects don’t quite make sense, and it’s interesting to watch someone try to tie it and the first one together, because they always get confused before they manage to. I love the design of this game (and the fact that the protagonist can, for whatever reason, carry twenty portable televisions in his pocket – which, true story, he can beat the god of death up with), and the shout-outs to its predecessors. However, despite the creators obviously being bibliophiles, it egregiously lacks the “interactive novel” kind of feeling that’s important to the series.
For some reason, physical copies of this game tend to be pretty expensive, or at least they were. So, probably better to research it in detail to make sure you’d want to buy it first, if the series interests you.

Thoughts on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Shattered Memories is incredible. I don’t care who says otherwise, it’s good. SH:SM reminds me so much of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books that were popular in like the 90s and early 00s, but surprisingly emotionally powerful. Unlike well, the entire rest of the series, SH:SM has no action element, it’s namely exploration and story. Is that for the better? In this case, probably. The action parts in 0rigins were cartoonish and difficult, so maybe it’s better that they left them out. I keep comparing them to novels, but this one seriously is novel-like, about the closest you could get and still keep a fully interactive element intact.

Thoughts on Homecoming and Downpour
I feel like these two get a bad rap, and are generally considered the two worst of the series. Homecoming is objectively bad, and spoiler alert, made my Harvest of Horror list for the worst horror games, but I can see where someone would love it, too. The characters are interesting enough, and oh man, the horror designs are beautiful. The main thing I would say about Homecoming is that it under-utilizes or overdoes everything – there is no good medium anywhere in it, which is tragic, because if the developers had been given more time to perfect it, it could’ve been so awesome with what it has to work with. It’s very similar, thematically, to the Silent Hill film, and I don’t think that was a bad decision in itself, because that movie’s absolutely gorgeous.

Downpour is actually good to me. I love Downpour. It suffers from, again, the developers not being given nearly enough time to clean it up. If they just could’ve touched it up, Downpour would have been one of the best, but as it is, it’s still far from the worst. It returns to similar literary influences – Hansel & Gretel, classic American horror novels, and so on. I wouldn’t call it scary, for sure, but I think it’s a worthwhile experience. Something of a shame that nothing has come of the series since, though.

Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet

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The first four entries in the Silent Hill series, which I usually call the “quartet” for convenience, were developed from 1999 to 2004 by Team Silent, a bunch of incredibly talented literature and American horror movie fanatics who were essentially given free reign to develop a horror series for the PlayStation. I think the publisher and everyone else expected what they made to be a rip-off of Resident Evil, but fortunately for us all, they ended up making this fantastically beautiful quartet of lore-rich, tragic and terrifying games. Unfortunately, Team Silent was split up by Konami shortly after the fourth one came out – the first of many extremely questionable choices made by the publisher. I won’t get into that, you can probably look that up if you want to see the whole laundry list. It’s a shame to think what could have been had the team had been allowed to continue their own series, but we’ll always have the quartet.

The series was shipped off to several different developers afterwards. Whether this was for better or for worse is highly subjective, as every single Silent Hill entry, including even the books and movies, has an atmosphere that is entirely unique to that piece. The first one, for example, feels almost nothing like the second one, but they do have in common that surreal, interactive-novel vibe that is the series’ signature. Silent Hill is, in my opinion, an underappreciated influence on the psychological horror as a whole.

I owe this series my will to start writing. I mean, I’ve always wanted to write, but the Silent Hill quartet invigorated me to actually go through with it. I recommend the living heck out of it for writers and would-be writers.
Hold on a minute. You’re like, Emm, I don’t even like video games. That’s fine, I understand that. I’m not the biggest expert on them myself, but if you want to go into horror, especially ambient or psychological horror, you owe it to yourself to at least research it. The price on actual copies tends to go up and down, seemingly at random, but like I said yesterday, you can always use YouTube or the Wiki. (Or a reproduction game. Not as good as the real thing, but we take what we can get, yeah?)

Anyway, I’m probably never going to do a full-out review of any of these, as it would take video equipment I don’t have and likely weeks of effort to do them justice in a review. These are just some loose thoughts I had on each entry. Tomorrow I’ll cover the Western-made ones, which are certainly their own animal. If you’ve played any of these, let me know what you think!

Thoughts On the First Silent Hill
It will never cease to surprise me that this series ever became mainstream in America. There’s so much occultism, and even though the first Silent Hill has a far less realistic tone than the later ones, still has some pretty frank depictions of religious abuse. Not to mention, the main antagonistic force who underlines the entire series is a demonic god of blood and suffering. That’s damn dark for a major video game made in the 90s. I wouldn’t call the series as a whole extremely “violent”. It can be violent, if you choose, which gives it an ongoing theme of moral choice, but as a default, it’s not.
The first Silent Hill is admittedly, an acquired taste. It’s more action-based than exploration, and therefore slightly less to my personal preferences, and the story can be confusing. The protagonist, Harry Mason, can be a bit of a tactless doofus, too. (I made a comic about that, in fact.) The monster and character designs are really good, especially for the time, but I find myself coming back to it the least. You could say its predecessors did all of the horror tropes it introduced better – distortion of reality, human and inhuman evil, so on. Fun fact, that the Gillespie family, the main (human) villains, are based off of Carrie and her mother from Stephen King’s Carrie.
Continue reading “Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet”

What Makes a Novel Scary?

This question is almost impossible to answer, but I believe it boils down to atmosphere and the author’s personal goal. Horror is all-around a difficult genre to work with, because horror is just so subjective, but books, as I’ve found, are one of the harder mediums to make scary. Movies, I think, would actually be somewhat harder because they require a large, perfectly functioning team effort, but as far as something you would create by yourself, it’s books and stories. I love horror for its creative stories, but personally have only been not just unnerved, but genuinely scared by a very, very tiny handful of books. This makes me either an amazing or a terrible horror writer, because nothing I create scares me, either. Granted, once you’ve spent hours tweaking the details of a phantom, it kind of loses every ounce of its fear factor, but working on this latest book, I have learned a lot about what horror takes.

What kind of “scary” you’re going for can be changed instantly depending on how your concept and execution match up. If the concept is terrifying, but the execution is over-the-top and silly, a thrilling, serious horror could turn into an unintentional comedy. The overlap between humor and horror is really difficult to prevent, though I’ve found most good horror books have a bit of self-awareness about it when it happens.

When you are creating horror, consider what scares you, and what you want others to feel from your book. Dread? Panic? Fear? Sorrow, even? Or would you rather it be a dark comedy? Horror relies heavily on anticipation. The general feeling, and how this anticipation will be built up is the most important thing to know, before even deciding if it fits into any sub-genres. Genre labels are not actually that important, in the long run. Many of the greatest books I’ve ever read, or ones that are celebrated by the public, do not clearly fit into any singular genre. Some do, some don’t. It’s good to know, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as succeeding at whatever atmosphere you want to convey. Continue reading “What Makes a Novel Scary?”

Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review

 

I have no strict review guidelines, at least not as far as my casual reviews. I used to think it was better to try to make them poetic… which, looking back at some of my older reviews, maybe it wasn’t… But there are some books, while I might have liked them, I don’t feel adequate in reviewing them. I love nonfiction and memoirs, but I slightly dread getting requests to review them, because I’m not often as knowledgeable about the subject as I feel I would have to be to do the book justice. These are some that I probably won’t ever review, at least not in-depth, though some hold a lot of interest for me and I like to discuss them.

The Bible
Genre: Religion
I’ve read the majority of the Bible, and even took a class on theology. It’s a fascinating subject to me, but understandably, I would never feel right “reviewing” a religious text, period, even though it would be more of a general overview than a typical review. How could I possibly? The Bible means so much to some people, and to others bringing it up infuriates them. It’s not fair to either party, and I would need to gather loads of historical information and context to even begin. Not to mention that the only version I’ve read likely is missing crucial pieces. You can also count other religious texts as literature I will never review.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Genre: Magic Realism / Science Fiction
Infinite Jest tested my patience. I don’t believe I finished it. I admire Wallace as a journalist, his nonfiction is amongst my favourite, but I don’t personally enjoy his fiction. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s a strange science fiction novel about the size of an orca, with about ten squillion characters, each with their own unique narrative styles. I don’t not recommend it, but to me, it wasn’t pleasant at all to attempt. It would be ideal for a specific type of reader, that is not me, but I would definitely download a preview before you buy a copy. Continue reading “Books I’ve Read But Will Never Review”

Psychological Novels You Should Read

Psychological thriller and its fraternal twin, psychological horror, are hands-down, my favourite genres. It’s the genre I strive to carve my name in, and it’s the one I get the most excited about when seeking new books and movies.
While few and far-between, compared to other genres, the spectrum of dark psychological fiction consistently churns out works of pretty high quality. There are exceptions, of course, but of all the psychological media I’ve watched, read and played, I can’t name ten that were any worse than “mediocre”.

That being said, I believe that the key reason for this, unfortunately, is that the genre is somewhat alienating. You have to be passionate about it to make it, and creating a good psychological work involves an exploration of dark places in the human psyche. Not exactly a fun weekend trip, that. Discovering new works in the genre can be difficult. So, I thought I’d share a handful of diamonds in the rough that I’ve discovered, and loved, in my eternal quest to scour everything the psychological duo have to offer.

The Coma by Alex Garland
Genre: Psychological Suspense
The Coma is like a softer, more sinister Inception, taking place in the mind of a man after he is assaulted on a subway, and wakes in the hospital to find he can no longer hold a grasp on what is real and what isn’t. Everything that was once normal in his life seems out-of-place and has a surreal, stilted tone to it.
I finished this novel over a weekend, and at first wasn’t sure what to make of it, or even if I enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I think it’s excellent. Garland conveys a transfinite reality that can be broken and morphed at will by one person’s subconscious.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Genre: Psychological Horror
Though its place on the roster shifts now and then, Perfect Blue is one of my favourite novels of all time and will likely remain one forever. It is, as you might have guessed, the basis for the cult horror anime Perfect Blue, but despite that and sharing a title, the film and the book aren’t incredibly similar other than the basic premise, and the creators’ shared disgust with the pop idol industry in Japan, and how those idols are (mis)treated by media and fans alike.
The master of creeps, the unnamed “Darling Rose”, who stalks and attempts to murder the pop singer heroine throughout the novel, is one of my favourite book villains. He is borderline inhuman, yet with an uncanny basis in reality, mirroring the crimes and motives of many real-life celebrity stalkers. Perfect Blue is not for everyone – some may be turned off by the blunt violence and abstract style, but I personally think it’s phenomenal both as a social satire and as a piece of horror. Continue reading “Psychological Novels You Should Read”

Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)

I recently pieced together a rough selection of books that, for the time being, are the most likely to make it onto my “Best Books of 2019” list at the end of the year, so figured I may as well tackle the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’m at it. These are the current contenders for the most disappointing books I’ve read in 2019. If you want to keep up with my books, feel free to follow or friend me on Goodreads, too. Goodreads feels dead as a cemetery lately, so I wouldn’t mind more interaction.

Keep in mind for this list that a novel being disappointing does not necessarily make it “bad”, so if one of these happens to be your favourite, that’s totally fine. Varying opinions are what make people interesting. If they made it on this list, it simply means I didn’t enjoy them, expected much more from them, or expected something different than what I got.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Books about bullying and how it differs between say, a lower-income public school and a prestigious prep school, carry a lot of psychological baggage for their writer to convey. Or, they should, if they want to remain in good taste. Gossip Girl was too self-indulgent and easy to take unironically for me to even find it a guilty pleasure, like I do the similar series, The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Neither I feel are especially good influences, not for their intended audience.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
What I expected to be one of the best books, since I loved the film so much, turned out to be one of the worst. Starts strongly enough, but is ultimately made pointless by its ending and comes off as shockingly racist. I usually like to begin reviews with a quote and couldn’t find a suitable one in the actual meat of the text, so ended up having to use an unrelated quote that the novel used as a chapter header. That should tell you something. Skip the book and just watch the movie adaptation, you will have a much more fulfilling experience that way. Continue reading “Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)”

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

On this day, more of this year is now dead than alive. Normally I cling to time like a miser clings to pocket change, but I will be happy when this year’s over. Not merely happy, but elated. 2019 has worked its way into the official hall of shame in my memories, slightly higher than middle school but slightly lower than the entirety of 2016. And there’s still five long months to suffer through!

One of the few upsides, however, is that I’ve discovered some truly wonderful books. Most of my reading this year has been average, as usual, with only a handful of ones I would call “bad” reads, and a surprising amount that really stood out. So far, these are the best contenders, in no particular order, for the final countdown I’ll be doing around the end of the year. Be sure to check them out if you can. These are books and authors definitely worth their salt!

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Every now and then, the stars align and produce the exact book you desire at the exact moment you want to read it. This is one of those rare occurrences. The Mad and the Bad is an older, and comparatively obscure piece of noir fiction that is at the same time, far different from any noir fiction I’ve ever read – quirky and outlandish yet with an insanely dark sense of humor and irony. I plan on doing a review of this one eventually, so won’t spoil too much. You should just go out and read it, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to finish it.

Stain by A.G. Howard
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Young adult fiction needs more writers like A.G. Howard. Her writing style is unabashed and intelligent, and wickedly contorts the over-used tropes of fairytales into something brilliant. While I thought Howard’s more famous series, Splintered, was phenomenal, Stain shows a stronger sense of mischievous, calculating cunning and maturity in its development that ultimately made for a deeper story.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Short Stories
I am a hardcore Junji Ito fanatic, so pretty much any new work of his, even if it’s a stylish reprint of older stories, will automatically make the Top 10 for that year. Smashed got mixed reviews for being, I suppose, more haphazard in tone than his last two horror omnibuses, but as far as enjoyment of the stories goes, I actually liked this one more than both Shiver and Frankenstein. Continue reading “The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”

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?”

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)”

Top 10 Scariest Stories to Tell in the Dark (Pt. 1)

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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…

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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”

Trying Unusual Candies From Japan

 

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Strange candy is a topic that fascinates me, though I, uh… wish it didn’t. Sugar loads a nice sucker punch to my gut every time I give it a chance, so I try to actively avoid candy. (Candy is bad for you, kids.) Odd flavours of candies, however, notably KitKats in Japan was something I feel a lot of people are curious about, and I’ve always wondered too, so when the opportunity cropped up, I thought I’d tell you what the experience was like! KitKats have such a variety and popularity in Japan because the name sounds like a Japanese word for “winner” or “sure winner”, so are thought to be something of a good luck charm for students.

First thing I noticed is that, compared to Western candy, these were not that sweet at all. Even the ordinary KitKat was far from that saccharine, milky taste they have in the Americas. But the so-called “weird” flavours were delicious.
Some of note were the roasted tea (the one with the cup of tea on the second row) and melon and marscapone (bottom left). The roasted tea has a savory, bitter taste that’s quite rare and unexpected in a piece of candy. It tasted almost grain-like, reminding me strongly of dry noodles with its texture.
The melon and marscapone cheese was, oh, absolutely the best. It was one of the sweeter ones, but again, not in that syrupy way. There was a more natural melon flavour with a cheesy softness afterwards. Just hearing “melon and cheese”, that might not sound like a tasty combination, but believe me, it was! The green tea and wasabi were also interesting, though definitely for more of a bitter pallet. I don’t really see those being popular with children. They seemed like more “mature” flavours to me. The wasabi wasn’t spicy, which is what surprised me the most. Continue reading “Trying Unusual Candies From Japan”

The Book Genres I Don’t Like

At the risk of coming across as one with that title, I am not exactly a literature snob. I don’t care what it is, who wrote it, whether it came out as a mainstream title, indie, or had to be etched on a tome of warlock flesh. I do not care as long as it’s decently written and has visible effort put into it, even if marginal amounts. Transgressive or clean, unorthodox or classic, I like certain things about most types of books.

That being said, there are genres I won’t read and don’t like. There are a handful of exceptions in these genres that I’ve picked up, and I don’t think that they are “worthless” genres. Somebody loves them, or they wouldn’t be written and continuing to sell copies. I just have not acquired the taste for them. There are my opinions, I don’t fault anyone for finding something they love in these genres that I don’t see in them. To each his own.

Splatterpunk
This one pains me on a heartstring level. I adore horror. All of its subgenres, too… except splatterpunk. Splatterpunk is the black sheep (or bloodstained sheep?) of horror to me, I cannot force myself to like it no matter what. If anyone can point me to a quality splatterpunk book, please do! I want to like this subgenre so badly.

I’ve concluded that what I don’t enjoy about it is not the relentless violence, although that is admittedly pretty boring after so much exposure, but the ones I’ve stumbled upon have not been well-written. They read like edgy high-school essays sprinkled copiously with the thesaurus choices for “viscera” and “blood”. One exception is Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, which are decidedly more dark fantasy but have a distinct splatterpunk element and are a good read. In fact, Barker is cited as one of the fathers of the splatterpunk movement, but I suspect this is more for his Hellraiser works. (I liked the first movie, never read the novels.) I think splatterpunk can work when moderated with something else. Like, just describing gore is not going to evoke fear automatically, even in the very sensitive.

Body horror I find unsettling because it creates an “uncanny” effect – it seems human or animal, but it’s neither and your eyes and mind register that. Gore on the other hand is not fundamentally scary, not even in real life. In real life, it’s only scary because you want to get the person whose guts are hanging out to a freaking hospital. What could make that situation horror is if the hospital was an American one and turned them away, intestines in hand, because they didn’t bring their wallet.

Contemporary Romance and Harlequins
I know, I know. True lit snobs always bear an avid hatred for the romance genre. I don’t dislike romance, though. As is the case with splatterpunk, I feel like diluting the genre with some other genre or factor makes it better. As a pure chemical, it ain’t digestible. Like sodium and chloride. Individually, they are dangerous, together they are delicious table salt. Continue reading “The Book Genres I Don’t Like”

Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail

From personal experience and discussing this with other readers, it used to kind of bemuse me how much people hate detailed physical descriptions of characters. I’ve not been able to pinpoint why, but upon taking this into consideration, I’ve noticed many (but not all) of the best novels I’ve read don’t rely heavily on what a character looks like. It’s usually kept to simple descriptions or notable features, say for instance if they have piercing blue eyes or are unusually thin, but their every freckle and hair won’t be described in detail. It’s just enough to fuel an image for the reader, who will make what they will of what the author’s given them. Not all readers, but many readers, will feel a bit stripped of the chance to stretch their imagination if you describe literally everything about a characters and leave nothing to be visualized on their own. Continue reading “Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail”

Writing Process – Comparisons

One of my much-abused quotes, because of how appropriate it is for about anything, is the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not only does it describe the culture of social media with the accuracy of a five-inch syringe, it also describes the nature of writing with an equal lack of mercy.

I mostly write these for those just getting on their legs, as I’ve been. Anyone who’s authored for awhile will know, too, that to actively compare yourself with the work of others while you’re in the midst of a project is the worst idea you can get. It often can’t be helped if you’re a reader, but you must try to, even if that entails taking a hiatus from books. This kind of comparison is responsible for things like the time one writes and re-writes the same paragraph multiple times, while not getting any more of the book done at all, besides that one piece.

Technical comparisons, on the other hand, can be an excellent tool and a way to better habituate writing every day. What do I mean by that?
Well, breaking up your writing into fragments and measuring them is one example. Quantity over quality, despite what you’ll hear, is best for a first draft. This is not the case with revisions, but if you give yourself plenty of material to work with, you can gradually prune away the garbage and poor metaphors for a tighter, polished draft. Best not to worry about that bridge until you get there, though. For the beginning, just concentrate on the journey and getting it all down on paper. Continue reading “Writing Process – Comparisons”

Writing Process – The First Chapter

I will, to the hour of my death, stand by the belief that the hardest part of writing any book, of any genre, is the very first thing you have to write. There’s a volume of quotes about this issue said by authors and public speakers throughout the years, and with reason. I’ve been toying around with a trio of novels in the time when I’m not working on cleaning up and publishing what poetry I’ve finished, and I’ll just level with you.

There is absolutely NO guaranteed way to make the first chapter easy on yourself. It’s going to be doubtful, aggravating and you’ll likely have more drafts of that chapter than any other in the book. Unless, that is, you just have years of experience under your belt already, but even then, a lot of highly-regarded writers still get “brain farts” when it comes to beginning a new project.

Something I’ve tried, and it seems, for some reason I can’t quite configure into an explanation, to make the first chapter flow easier is writing it down by hand. Isn’t that strange? For some reason, it’s easy to type out the rest of the story but the first chapter benefits from a sketchy draft on paper. You can try it if you want, see if it works for you. It’s not much to write, in any case, if it doesn’t work out. Everyone goes about the process in different (and often very eccentric) ways. I have tried and gleaned little else that helps, even having plenty of inspiration and reading about writing and reading books. None of that seems to mollify the beast that is Chapter One, at least not for myself.