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”

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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.

Are Young Adult Books More Progressive?

Just some random musings on a positive and surprising trend I’ve noticed recently. There’s been much turmoil in recent years over diversity in literature. It’s misunderstood that the conflict comes from people thinking that every young adult book should be inclusive of every group, ever, and that’s not the case. The argument comes mostly from authors trying to portray a group, but not doing it accurately or with sensitivity to their issues.

Even if that is true in some cases, the fact that there is such a massive variety of diverse books in young adult that you can compare and contrast them easily is uplifting. For example, YA books with LGBT+ protagonists, that are neither pandering nor exploitative, are quite easy to find with a few searches. Novels for adults in the same vein… a wee bit trickier. And there’s not, stylistically speaking, that rigid of a difference between adult and young adult books. One could argue that the slowness to change is because of the more restrictive nature of the publishing industry when it comes to adult fiction. Continue reading “Are Young Adult Books More Progressive?”

7 Hardest Types of Books to Review

I like to read pretty much anything that looks remotely interesting, I don’t care what genre, who wrote it, or the hows and whys of them pulling it out of their brain onto paper. As long as it’s decently-written and valuable in some way, that’s all that matters. That being said, when it comes down to reviewing it, that’s another matter entirely. Some reviews I absolutely hate writing, but still feel compelled to just because I took the time to read it. Comprehensive reviews even written for fun aren’t always easy. These are the categories that I still have difficulty reviewing after three years of practice. Have one of your own? Feel free to leave a comment below!

7. Poetry and Art

I adore reviewing poetry, as you’ll know. I’m actually a little proud of the fact that my most frequented review genre is one that’s considered among the most complicated to review. ARC reviewers often won’t accept poetry because it’s just that hard to articulate. Especially if it’s good or middling. Poetry isn’t visual exactly, but it’s an abstract, psychological feeling than a novel can’t provide in the same way.
Art and graphic novels are also difficult because they are more visual than writing. The review ends up being a lot of descriptive words, and reviewing several at one time makes it clear how same-y it can be. I don’t typically review every volume of a graphic novel or manga series for this reason, when it can be summed up in a few of its entries.

6. Indie Books, Especially Bad Ones

If you ever review indie books, the author will read it eventually. I find this kind of nerve-wracking, even though I value indie books and am lenient on their faults, if they have any. It’s awkward even to have an author “like” your gushing, positive review of their work, and I try to evade being trapped into writing negative ones if at all possible.
I enjoy neither dishonesty nor ripping on someone’s personal work, and those who do enjoy tearing apart indie ARCs ought to re-examine their relationship with books. You have to consider it’s one person doing a team’s job. If the book is genuinely bad and you’re still stuck with reviewing it, it’s better to be critical in a helpful way than critical for laughs. Continue reading “7 Hardest Types of Books to Review”

National Library Week – 5 Ways to Support Your Local Library!

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National Library Week runs in 2019 from April 7th to April 13th. This movement began in the United States, but I don’t see why it can’t be celebrated elsewhere as well. Libraries are vital for much longer than a week! These are five ways you can, very easily, support your local library.

1. Be a Frequent Patron

This is the simplest way. Borrow lots of books. Just having a heavy patronage supports a library more than anything. This seems obvious, but many public libraries have shut down, if not due to financial upkeep, then lack of patrons.

2. Donate Money and Volunteer

Whether you have a massive, metropolitan library or a remote one with a modest choice of books, many libraries will accept and are in need of donations. It can’t hurt, in any case. Depending on what country you’re in, your library system will still likely have some kind of group, such as the Friends of the Library Society, that support libraries through charities and volunteer work.

3. Recommending and Donating Books

Donate books that you don’t read anymore that are still in good shape to your local library. If you think your library does not offer enough of a certain type of book that there’s a demand for, say for example, science fiction, then you can donate books of that sort or personally recommend them for purchase. Continue reading “National Library Week – 5 Ways to Support Your Local Library!”

Musings on Dreams and Classic Monsters

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This is peculiar and specific, but it’s something I’ve noticed with hearing people’s dreams, what they often have nightmares about. I’ve noticed there’s always a certain monster that’s prevalent to that particular person’s nightmares. It’s usually a classic one, like vampires or werewolves, I think because there’s a form of those in most cultures, and a lot of this century’s generations have grown up around horror movies. Even if they never watched them, they saw horror movies everywhere in posters and references, and now online. Vampires seem to be really common. I have had some insane dreams that I recall having some kind of vampire before.

Everyone has their individual classic monster. My personal one is actually zombies. If there’s a threat or presence I recognize in a dream, it’s often zombies or mummy-like humans. No clue why. I don’t recall ever being scared of zombies. Mummies, yes, at least as a kid. But it’s more frequently zombies, and I used to think zombies were like an ideal beauty standard or something.

Okay, maybe not that far, but I did love the way zombies looked. Continue reading “Musings on Dreams and Classic Monsters”

Thoughts on What Holds Us Back

Completionism, procrastination and lack of confidence, I can tell you right now are the unholy triad of offenders that keep us from achieving more. The last one is not as much of a worry for me as the first two, but a lack of confidence in a particular project can damper it to the point where it stays in hiatus hell for a long time. Until a couple of months ago, that’s where most of my writing was.

I don’t have any clear-cut, good advice that works for every individual when it comes to completionism and procrastination, as they are much, much trickier to overcome. The former is responsible for the hiatus on posting my artwork, because I’ve been set in this mindset that I realize is absolutely the stupidest, that I need to finish every piece I’ve begun before I can post any of it because it should all be posted together.
Yes, it is ridiculous, but when you are a perfectionist these little things will drive you mad while nobody else notices! It’s the key reason I wanted to redo those chapbooks so badly, because I can’t stand to have anything that seems unfinished or flawed. Even though they weren’t – to me they could have more and better content, so that’s what they’re getting.

Procrastination is a matter of breaking habits, namely avoidance and laziness. Procrastination is kind of like a very persistent and needy phantom that clings to you whenever you have the time and need to work. Like I said, I have no advice for this, it’s just something you’re going to have to decide to stop when you’ve had enough of it. No motivation in the world is going to work if you don’t really want to change. Some personal ambition grown from your own heart is necessary.
What I find squashes the want to procrastinate quicker than anything is thinking of what you won’t have in the years to come if you don’t do it while you can. You may miss your opportunity to write anything if you don’t seize them while they’re there. I have finished more in this month than the entirety of last fall and winter by keeping this in mind, so if it helps. It’s probably not too healthy to panic under time, but considering how little there is in our lives does make one want to live for more, I believe.

Some Underrated Classics

Rummaging through vintage books and the public domain, I feel a lot like the hoarder goblin from Labyrinth, wanting to just keep all of them and somehow read them all simultaneously. I mean, you’ve got the quintessentials – Poe, Austen, Tolstoy, etc. but I kind of favour the lesser-loved. They haven’t been talked about to the extent that you already know the spoilers long before you’ve read it. These are a few pretty solid, varying shades of obscure books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. Maybe they’ll get a full review one day (if they’re lucky).

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Golding is one of my favourite authors, but the bane of high schoolers. I think why so many of his other novels get overlooked is because of people who hated reading Lord of the Flies while they were pretty much living it out in school. That’s fair, but I think in some aspects, his later novels are better. A little more polished, if also much darker. Darkness Visible is about a man who was severely burned as a child during the Blitz, and becomes this sort of bizarre messianic figure. It’s written as a dreamlike occurrence, and is overall a very difficult book to describe, but I would recommend it for those with the stomach.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Maybe not super obscure, but so many people are traumatized by forcing themselves through Atlas Shrugged that they forget Anthem. I’m teasing, but I don’t know that I’d ever be brave enough to attempt Atlas. I really did enjoy Anthem, as a dystopian work. It’s a strange story about thought police defeating the individual personality – a world where everyone is a hive mind who have never seen their own faces. An interesting fact about why it’s now in the public domain is that whoever owned the copyright kind of… forgot about it, apparently, and it never got renewed. Continue reading “Some Underrated Classics”

Silent Hill 20th Anniversary – An Overview

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Harry Mason has been looking for his daughter at the mercy of someone else’s demons for twenty solid years today. This was foretold by gyromancy!
Being my favourite disturbing influence, I had to do a mini-special for Silent Hill‘s landmark birthday on the good parts, the bad parts, the books that it brought me to and influence on my own work. Which is more than Konami will do for their own series today, I promise you that.

I know it’s a series that ended rather unceremoniously some time ago, but its impact makes it the only one I will draw something specifically for for its anniversary.
What’s scarier, Silent Hill or the fact that 1999 was twenty years ago? Yeah, pretty much nobody born in the 90’s is in school anymore. That’s… bamboozling for some reason, and I didn’t really get to experience the 90’s save for the tail-end.

Anyway. I don’t want to go into a boring essay – there have been dissections upon discussions upon dissertations on the series and its symbolism for years. The series is old enough to buy cigarettes on its own now, so there ought to be by this point! So don’t worry, this won’t be that. Just an almost-short dedication to a really phenomenal series with a handful of recommendations.

The Books
Silent Hill is based heavily around literature, both English and Japanese, as well as a couple of darker films like Jacob’s Ladder. There are numerous references to Shakespeare, Stephen King, and contemporary writers like Richard Matheson and Andrew Vachss. One creepy creature that stands out from the series is based off of Caliban from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, a man who is half-human and half-beast.

SH brought me to the discovery of my current favourite author a couple of years ago when I got into the series. The entire insane plotline of the fourth SH, which revolves around a serial killer obsessed with his mother and a hermit who finds himself in the killer’s mind, is based on the novel Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami.

The similarities aren’t… incredibly apparent, other than both are based around two men who are close through isolation but end up taking opposing paths, though both paths lead to bad places.
In the novel, they are brothers who have an obsessive hatred for their mothers who abandoned them to die at birth – one becomes a criminal and murderer while the other loses his mind after feeling alone all of his life, even after he becomes a famous musician. In the game, they are a man abused as a child by a religious cult who becomes a fanatic and murderer, and a recluse who may be beginning to lose his mind being trapped in isolation for so long with this murderer.
I recommend the living crap out of the novel, and the game too if it’s your thing. Continue reading “Silent Hill 20th Anniversary – An Overview”

Top 10 Songs from Silent Hill

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I don’t normally do music posts and don’t plan to start writing them regularly, but this is a rare occasion. On the threshold of the 20th birthday of my favourite series, which is tomorrow, I was surprisingly befuddled on what to analyse and dissect and ramble on about.

Silent Hill, for the uninitiated, is a psychological horror video game series that behaves strangely like artsy cinematic novels, and centers around a tourist town with a bad history. The town harbors a demonic entity that calls broken and vulnerable people to it and creates a delusional world out of the fears it senses in them. It was THE psychological horror series and still holds that place today, despite being indefinitely killed off by its own publishers. There are novels, comics and two films based off of it. I don’t recommend most of those, save for the 2006 film, which is how I discovered the series in the first place, and some of the later comics such as Past Life.

I decided that I should start with a short piece on a part of the Silent Hill series I could recommend to anybody and would be fun to talk about, regardless of the interest they might have in the series itself – the music. If you absolutely hate, hate, hate horror, it would still be unlikely that you’d dislike these soundtracks entirely.

Akira Yamaoka’s compositions for Silent Hill are legendary. They are pretty much the god of soundtracks, and other soundtracks have to earn their blessings before they’re even allowed to exist.
I exaggerate… but not by that much. These are innovative, multi-genre albums that make creative use of more traditional alt-rock, electronica and metal, ambient noise, discordant industrial sounds and even classical music to breed a new genre that’s unique to Silent Hill.
Despite there being some truly disturbing songs, like the infamous “Prayer” from the third game, which sounds like an actual replication of Hell, more often the soundtracks are introspective and mellow rather than scary. “Prayer” itself is quite beautiful in its own demonic way, and I’d love to know how something like it was even made.

I’ve boiled my personal favourites down to ten. Shaving them to this tiny number was no small feat, as including cut material and remixes, the first four entries in the series alone amass 300+ tracks of music with a plethora of different moods within those. Silent Hill‘s vocal themes with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn are pretty popular, but this list is solely for Yamaoka’s instrumentals. They’re really a monster of their own.

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This list is in no particular order, and I’ve given the YouTube link to ones I especially like so you can give them a listen. You can find most of the soundtracks, save the fan-made OSTs of cut and salvaged material, on other music sites as well. There are much, much more than just these. If you’re already familiar with SH, feel free to leave your own faves in a comment!

10 – “Theme of Laura” and “Theme of Laura (Reprise)” from Silent Hill 2
“Theme of Laura” is the series’ theme song by this point. I guarantee if you’re into soundtrack music or have browsed for ‘relaxing’ instrumentals, you have run into the reprise at some point. I guarantee it. Continue reading “Top 10 Songs from Silent Hill”