The Silence of the Hills – Pre-Halloween Special

Happy Pre-Harvest of Horror! Not that that’s going to become a thing. We are rolling into Halloween, which I was going to save this for, but decided to post it a bit early, just because I wanted to. And also, my Halloween schedule is clogged, and I won’t have time to post it then.
Silent Hill is a psychological horror franchise that began in the medium of video games with Silent Hill for the PlayStation in 1999, which was rather unorthodox for its genre and methods of storytelling at the time. It has since branched out to two feature films, multiple albums worth of music and a smattering of novels, comics and artworks. Silent Hill is acknowledged as one of the forerunners of the survival horror genre, along with its different-yet-alike sister series, Resident Evil and Clock Tower.

Though it continues to have an active fanbase, and recently was cited as one of the inspirations behind the popular Netflix show, Stranger Things, sadly, as of writing this, Silent Hill itself is no longer being developed. After several… dubious decisions made by the publisher, Konami, the latest entry in the series was canceled and it was shelved indefinitely for future projects.

While the series itself is largely based on literature, it’s had its own unique, powerful effect on the psychological horror genre as a whole. Silent Hill was one of the first video game series to break into the mainstream that used the supposed “limitations” of the medium to tell realistically dark, atmospheric and emotionally complex horror stories, the likes of which had never really been seen that often in video games beforehand, outside of maybe certain RPGs, making Silent Hill more like a fully interactive novel or art piece.

If you’ve been following my little blog for awhile, you’ll know how much I love, love, love this series, even the parts that are flawed. It’s the perfect video game for a bibliophile, as well. This series has introduced me to not only one of my favourite authors, but a multitude of excellent stand-alone novels that I likely wouldn’t have had an interest in or even heard of otherwise. More importantly, it’s one of the key factors that inspired me to become a writer.
For this not quite Halloween special, I’ll be doing a rundown of almost every piece of the series – the original quartet, the Western video games, the books, the movies – pretty much the whole shebang. Mostly, I wanted to share what I love about it, but you might discover something awesome from this, too.

Obviously, I recommend the Silent Hill video games, even if you don’t care for video games. Like, I mean this. If you like this kind of horror at all, you’re doing yourself a grand disfavor by avoiding them because of them being games. If you don’t like the thought of hunting them down solely on my recommendation, there’s always the Wiki and YouTube to get some of the experience. None of the series is “rare”, per se, but some pieces can be difficult to track down physical copies of, namely Origins, the first one, and for some reason, the graphic novels, but we’ll get to that, and why those might be somewhat more rare. Here is the upcoming schedule for what I’ll be talking about or reviewing! It’s in no particular order, just like the plot!

It should be noted that I won’t be covering either Book of Memories, the Play Novel, that HD Collection that supposedly sucked, or the Japanese novels, because I have no experience with any of them, and therefore nothing to talk about.

Sept. 23 – Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet
Sept. 24 – Thoughts on the Western Silent Hills
Sept. 25 – The Books Behind the Series
Sept. 26 – Thoughts on the Films
Sept. 27 – The Strange Legacy of Pyramid Head
Sept. 28 – The Silent Hill Comics, Pt. 1 (Reviews Revisited)
Sept. 29 – The Silent Hill Comics, Pt. 2 (Reviews Revisited)

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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?”

Halloween on the Horizon

Image result for creepy vintage halloween costumes

Halloween, limited to a single day? I don’t think so. Didn’t you know that the entirety of September and October exist solely as an excuse for horror to be socially acceptable for awhile? Who am I kidding, of course you did! They haven’t renamed it Septober on Mars for no reason…

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I already prepared most of this year’s Harvest of Horror special back in May and June, because I was anticipating publishing a book near Halloween, and wanted to give myself plenty of time. I ended up with a couple of excess horror-related shenanigans that I no longer have room for to publish during H.H., and I don’t really want to save them for next Halloween, so I’m going to go ahead and publish those this month. I only start to wake up around September, so this is a perfect way to get started.

Last year’s Harvest of Horror was somewhat unfocused, because it was the first Halloween special I’d done since starting this blog, but I ended up featuring mostly books. This year, the special will revolve around horror as an interactive medium, in video games and other alternative methods of storytelling. I’m doing a countdown of the, in my opinion, best and worst horror video games, as well as some unrelated horror reviews and posts, and of course, Haunt Me to Sleep should be published by the end of October. I’ll be posting previews of it sometime this month, too, as I think I’ve already mentioned.

Some more of what’s happening in September includes a week dedicated to the Silent Hill franchise and its legacy – the main series, the books, the movies, everything – and some miscellaneous horror reviews and poems. Also coming up is some art! Yes, I’m actually posting some drawings again. I talk about it often, but go through with it rarely. The ePub and paperback editions of MHz should also be out soon. There was some complications with the cover design and formatting that prevented them coming out when the Kindle version did, and I didn’t figure anybody was in a huge rush for it to be out, so I’ve put off fixing it. ‘Tis the way of procrastination. Anyway, hope everyone’s looking forward to Halloween as much as I am!

A Commentary on Cosmic Love

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+Cosmic Love is free to download on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Smashwords. Get a copy worldwide in any format here. Add Cosmic Love on Goodreads here. A paperback is also available.+

Genre: Poetry / Dark Fantasy / Romance

Commentary: Cosmic Love was unceremoniously plopped out as a miniature chapbook of haiku in early 2018. Its second half, Parasite of the Sun, was also supposed to be its own separate book, but the two were so thematically similar and short that I conjoined them to save time.
The project began namely as an experiment to test myself, to see if I could handle the rigors of publishing a piece of writing. Spoiler: I couldn’t! The initial “beta” version was not that good, and it still brings shame to me just how many people read it! I suppose it shouldn’t. I mean, there must have been something salvageable about it that I didn’t see, or there wouldn’t have been nearly over a hundred downloads by the time I took it out of print that fall.
I feel like, no matter what I write later on, Cosmic Love will always be my most popular poetry book. At least now, I can be somewhat proud of it! In both cases, I was determined for the cover to be pink. And it is certainly pink.

The new version was developed from February to April 2019, off and on and in snippets. The haiku are still present in the final, or what I like to call the “real” version, but cleaned-up and strung with the freestyle poems in a more coherent way, to form working themes of tragic love, cosmic horror and cosmic beauty. The oldest poems are “In the Land of Rust”, “System Time” and “Patchwork Tower”, which are all out of a notebook I kept in high school. They have been cleaned up heavily from the source poem, don’t worry! They aren’t that old, but it’s amazing to see how your writing changes and, hopefully, improves in just a few years.

Some of the inspirations for this collection were the science fiction novels Double Star by Robert Heinlein and Dune by Frank Herbert, and various sci-fi horror films like Sunshine and Fantastic Planet. Retro sci-fi in general, with a blend of Eastern philosophies served as kind of the building point that Cosmic Love grew from. One poem that might be intriguing is “Wandering Melon”. The title, and obviously the poem itself, were inspired by the nara melon, a mysterious fruit that somehow survives and thrives in the hottest, most arid parts of the world, in Namibia.

What ended up being probably my personal favourite poem, “Hidden in a False Sun”, was written on a day, on a whim to enter into a contest. It didn’t win but it did appear in an issue of Radium Piano Band, along with my second-favourite, “In the Land of Rust”.

The passion of sound flares my final dream
I evaporate in the corals of Neptune
Into the parhelia of a hidden sun –
No one else will know what I found there

-from “Hidden in a False Sun”

Personal Fave Poems: “In the Land of Rust”, “Hidden in a False Sun”, “Promenade of the Palm”

Never Finding the Book You Want

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Something that has always plagued me when seeking out new things to read is that there never seems to be enough of what I crave from specific types of books, whether we’re talking about the psycho-visual aspect of the writing or the story itself. This is even true with just a single author’s catalogue. One of their books may have that exact “vibe” I’m looking for, and the rest may lack it. It’s hard to pinpoint anything about the feelings I seek through books, save for a jumble of loosely coordinated images.

All of my current books are poetry, but I’m a fiction writer at heart. To soothe this dilemma was one of my key motivations in transitioning more and more into fiction, beginning this fall. Poetry can capture some of those, I don’t know what exactly to call them, I suppose “ambiences” or “atmospheres” would be appropriate, but not nearly as efficiently as a story, which has more time to build it, until it becomes a tangible thing that you remember, though of course none of it actually happened.

There are two “ambiences” that I have the most trouble finding in published books – one I could describe best as “urban psychological”, like that feeling you get wandering an empty, fluorescent-lit street or listening to smooth, ambient lo-fi music. Japanese novels and urban thrillers are probably my best bet for reliving this feeling in a book, as I’ve had the most luck with them, but unfortunately, there is only so much to choose from. The second is the “ambience” of occult mystery. I have yet to find more than a rare handful of books that truly capture that sinister feeling, and it would be difficult to describe. A transcendental, conspiratorial sort of horror, maybe. One that got that “ambience” right – even though the book itself isobjectively not that great, I loved it nonetheless for this reason – is the obscure paranormal novel The Sisterhood by Florence Stevenson.

Anyway, just some curious musings on my never-ending scour of the shelves. Have you had a similar problem? Feel free to leave a comment.

“Biotica” Featured in Radium Piano Band

My poem, “Biotica”, was recently featured in Radium Piano Band, along with some extraordinary poems by other indie poets. This poem is the sausage ground up from several different incarnations, was supposed to be in multiple books that it never appeared in, and went by several different titles, including the rather peculiar titles “Biotic Black Hole” and “Dreams of Human Sacrifice”, before landing on simply “Biotica”. The final result is… kind of an insane poem, not going to lie.
“Biotica” will be featured as well in my upcoming multi-medium horror compilation, Haunt Me to Sleep, which I talked (read: aimlessly blathered) about yesterday. That book will likely be published in late September or October.
You can read or download the August issue of RPB here:

Radium Piano Band – Issue #16

News on Haunt Me to Sleep

Haunt Me to Sleep is my debut fiction project. I’ve talked about it a little bit, but before I was positive about what the project was going to be like. It hasn’t quite strayed entirely away from poetry, as there are multiple prose pieces, but I thought a mix of styles would be perfect for what I was trying to convey. There are 52 pieces total, most of which are stories or prose. I think about 10-12 of them count strictly as poems.

Haunt Me to Sleep is an unorthodox book of “ghost stories”. Some are ghosts in the traditional sense, and some are more like mythological monsters. On the other hand, some are more metaphorical “ghosts” – something that haunts a character that isn’t really a tangible person or thing. I drew heavily from Japanese and Cherokee mythology for the design and nature of some of the ghosts, as well as themes of existential horror and common phobias.

This book, this insane book, which began as a pet project, has absolutely consumed the majority of my spare time. (Have patience with me! This book might have actually become some kind of evil entity by this point.) What was initially a poetry book of roughly ninety pages is now a fully fleshed-out book of short stories that I estimate will top out at 43k words. I’ll probably be able to post some illustrations from it soon, as I’ve set it to be published between late September and mid-October.

As of today, I still have about eight stories to clean up. Seems like a lot, but none of them are over eighteen pages. Everything else is finished, save for the cover and some touch-up on the interior artwork, which hopefully, you’ll love. The ghost portraits turned out very creepy and quirky. I am not as practiced a horror artist as say, Junji Ito or Stephen Gammell, but for a twenty-something novice, the illustrations at least look professional and smooth. Anyway, it’s something to look forward to, and I really can’t wait to start sharing some excerpts from it! 🙂

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”

“Sunshine Weeping Demon” Featured in RPB

Avant-garde magazine Radium Piano Band is back after a brief hiatus, and was kind enough to feature two new poems of mine – “Sunshine Weeping Demon” and “Rose and Thrombus”. These appear in my chapbooks MHz and Infinite Summer as well. A neat little fact about these two poems is that they were both inspired, in an abstract sense, by the creative work of two different horror-film directors – Dario Argento and Shinya Tsukamoto. It might show, it might not.
This issue is a very strong one, and I especially love the first poem, “The House of Blue Lights” by Lee Ballentine. Check it out! 🙂

Radium Piano Band – Issue #15
Infinite Summer on Amazon
Infinite Summer on Smashwords

Finally Back on Track!

Hello, I’m finally back on a somewhat regular basis, and with a lot of fresh content! July and June have been really weak months for me, and I’ve been focused on trying to get Haunt Me to Sleep‘s semi-final draft finished so it’ll be ready to format by October. Of the 54 pieces in the collection, around 46 are on their final draft, so I feel that’s good progress. Apparently, it’s only taken around five months, combined, to put this collection together, which surprised me.
For the rest of July, I’ve got several new Lovecraft reviews, stand-alone book reviews and some poetry. I’m also working on content for my Halloween special, because I have something fun planned and want to perfect it ahead of time.

Anyway, about the final poetry book I’ll publish this year, MHz, it’s gotten pushed back several times but God and the fates willing, should be out at last on July 31st. If not then, then August 7th. It should come out around that time, in any case, inititally for a dollar, and become free slightly later. Unless you want a print copy, which there will be. The three previous collections are still all free or cost under $3USD to download an eBook copy of your choice on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

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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)”

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.

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…

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”

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”

A Note on “Reviews Revisited”

I have to restrain myself from re-reading older reviews sometimes, especially ones from before 2018. I’ve completely rewritten many of them, but the remnants are some sweet cringe. At least to me. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of these books and I think I will start a new branch of book reviews on ones I’ve already covered, but may think differently about, or think they deserve a better (or worse) review upon another examination. I’ll list them as “Reviews Revisited”, so if you’ve seen the book on here before, you’ll know why. A lot of movie critics will do this, but books I feel take more of an effort to decide if you like it or not, or what it objectively deserves. They consume a lot more time to finish and have a more unusual set of nuances than film.

Not that it matters when you’re just writing reviews for fun, but it’s good to have some spores of integrity. People have worked hard on these, and though many of the authors whose work I’ve written about will never see it, several actually have, so I think on that off-chance, they deserve honesty. And anyway, it takes some effort to get a cruel review from me. It’s got to be some maggot-ridden dumpster fodder to get stamped with a one or zero-star rating.

I grade books a little bit differently from most reviewers, I believe. The Goodreads star system, for example, rates one-star as a standard “I didn’t like it”, but I personally consider two-star to be in that range for me. Two-stars or a low three is just an ordinary bad read for me. I didn’t like it but someone else could. It’s competent as a book, at least, if not enjoyable. One-star I reserve for books that are in some vein harmful, pure idiocy, bad pseudo-science, abusive, slandering, unreadable, poorly written, non-plotted pieces of smoldering, grade-F guano that should be left to rot, if they aren’t already being used as torture devices to get people to confess. It has to really suck, in other words. As far as I recall, only ten or twelve books have ever earned this place. I’ll get to those eventually, too.

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”

My Books Hit #1 and #2!

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This was really awesome, and thanks so much to anyone who downloaded a copy! I promise to bear a larger variety of posts next week. My fiction and the poetry book coming out on the 25th have eaten up much of my reviewing and book-related posts, you’ll understand. Today is one of the last to get Absolute Heaven for free if you want it.
As a side note, you can’t really see it in the screenshot but it kind of unsettled me that Absolute Heaven‘s occultish cover was next to this incredibly wholesome-looking religious poetry collection. I’m like, oh no, this looks awkward, but hey, the symbolism on AH’s cover is Christian.

To tell the truth, I never expected even this much out of my poetry. You would think with the constant of poetry on book sites that it’s not as much of a niche as it is. Feel free to support their ongoing progress with a review if you’re up to it. Cosmic Love, as it has been since its publication a month ago, is always free on most eBook sellers.

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