Tag Archive: Horror

  1. From Stephen King to Lovecraft

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    Readers of my work probably know by now my love for lore — I spent many of my grad school days studying legends, folk tales, fairy tales and myths. If there really are only a handful of stories, then they were all told before people were writing things down. Some of the greatest stories ever told were passed down from generation to generation. The fact that they still survive today is a testament to their power to connect to the reader/listener.

    I’m not the first author to mine these ancient tales, and I certainly won’t be the last. Authors as wide ranging as Shakespeare, Stephen King and Charlaine Harris have used ancient stories to populate their works with depth and history. There’s a reason Harris only needs to mention “vampire” in the opening chapter of her Sookie Stackhouse series to give the reader a general idea of what the atmosphere of the story is going to be. Those stories have existed in our cultures for hundreds of years. When King does the same in Salem’s Lot, the reader understands the basic horror of the story without it having to be elucidated. In Shakespeare, when fairies appear in Midsummer Night’s Dream, the viewers have the understanding that shenanigans are about to ensue, because all the stories they’ve read or been told inform them that that’s what fairies do — cause mischief. Taking these old tales out for a new spin is a way to create a history without having to write it. It’s also a way to upend expectations.

    In Harris’ books, the vampires aren’t just blood sucking monsters — they have political aspirations and a deep social hierarchy that causes strife in ways unrelated to the horror of preying upon humans. King loves to twist around the tales he uses, subverting reader’s expectations and going in directions you weren’t expecting to keep you guessing. Is Jack going crazy in The Shining? Or is it the ghosts of the hotel? We, as readers, are familiar with malevolent ghosts from all the scary stories we’ve ever heard about them. But which of Jack’s actions in The Shining are more influenced by his alcoholism than by the fact that he’s gone stir crazy, or by the spirits of the Overlook? By blending the standard ghost story with psychological horror, King keeps us guessing at what is truly destroying Jack, all while providing a new twist on an old haunted house story. Most readers will have an idea of what happens in a haunted house, but with the added element of an unstable, recovering alcoholic, it makes the story fresh while familiar.

    In Voro, I’ve incorporated a similar ancient story — though perhaps one less common than a ghost story. I won’t say which story — that’s part of the mystery after all — but similar to King, I’ve added other elements to the story to make it fresh. The familiarity of the monster I’ve chosen will be a shortcut to the horror – once you’ve discovered what it is, you’ll understand the motivations and how the creature operates. But the full extent of the horror isn’t revealed until closer to the end, where you’re left questioning what exactly it is this creature wants and how it chooses its victims.

    In addition to the core of the story being based on an old legend, I’ve used a number of tropes and homages from various horror media I’ve consumed over the years. Scary stories are my second favorite, just behind trickster stories. If trickster tales illuminate and celebrate the resourceful side of human nature, scary stories shine a light on and critique the darker impulses of people – a reflection of the parts of society we generally deem to be bad or even evil. Voro is no exception in that it explores the idea of monsters, both inhuman and human – as to which is worse, that’s up to the reader to decide.

    I open the book with a scene that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen even a smattering of horror movies – two teens necking in the woods. As you can guess, things don’t go well for these teens. This is a way for me to both introduce the monster of the book, as well as signal the book is firmly rooted in the horror traditions of cinema.

    There are many other such scenes in the book throughout: the woods as a place of terror (nature vs man), premonitions (supernatural elements), dark settings (fear of the unknown), bullies (man vs man) and even more vaguely, the constant reminder that it’s the end of summer and fall looms on the horizon — the cycle of life and death.

    More specifically, there are hints to some of the classic works of horror I’ve read or seen. Some will be easy to spot as they’ve become meme-worthy over the years. Others are more subtle, but I suspect my fellow horror aficionados will have no trouble spotting them when they occur; they could be anything from a scene to a line of dialog. This book is as much a new story for you as it is a kind of love letter to the horror I enjoyed growing up.

    If you’re reading Voro, I hope you’ve been enjoying it. In my next post I’ll talk about why I chose the main character I did. Thanks for reading!

    P.S. Surprise cat.

  2. The claustrophobia of one mind

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    Starting today, readers signed up to my list will have had a chance to take a look at my newest book, Voro. In a little over a week, it will be available on Amazon for 99¢, so make sure you get your copy. I’ll make a posting when it goes live. The 99¢ sale will only run for a few days before it goes to the full price.

    Fans of my work will notice some differences in the way the story was told. I’m going to go over one of the key decisions I made when writing Voro that gives it that unique feel among my other works.

    Third person limited omniscient narration

    Readers of my work know I typically write in third person omniscient. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means the “narrator” of the book can see everything, up to and often including the internal thoughts of all the characters. When you read a book like And Then There Were None by the late, great Agatha Christie, you notice she jumps from head to head to give the reader insight into the motivations and reasoning behind the characters actions and words. This can be a very powerful tool for an author as it lets us really dig in to all the characters.

    When I think of books people call “character driven stories” I often think of third person omniscient, because it’s the easiest way to make a story more about the characters. It’s not more work to write one way than any other — each style of narration brings its own set of rules and best practices. I’ve gotten better over the years with how I employ third person omniscient, primarily because I started studying how it was done in other great works, and read up on the best ways to approach it – by the way, if you’re thinking of writing and wondering what person you should put your narrator in, I highly recommend Ursula Le Guin’s book, Steering the Craft. She has a whole section on narration choice, including prolific examples of each form presented alongside the perks and problems with each.

    I choose to write this way because I like the freedom of exploring all the characters fully. That being said, I knew when I started writing Voro that it was a different kind of story. For one, it’s a horror story. I felt like some of the mystery of the story might be diminished if the reader was able to see so much of everyone’s thoughts. While a book like the aforementioned And Then There Were None uses head hopping to keep the reader guessing whodunit, I didn’t feel that would work so well with my story due to the much smaller main cast. Christie’s seminal mystery has at least ten main characters, thirteen if we include the inspectors, which allows a lot more room for mystery to unfurl. Voro has three main characters and a smattering of side – though important – characters.

    Secondly, I wanted the narrative to feel claustrophobic. I wanted the reader to actively feel like there was knowledge out there that could ease their uncertainty, but be unable to access it. The best way to do this was to make my third person omniscient constricted as well, by limiting the viewpoint to one person. For the majority of the book, you only see things through the eyes of the main character, Casey. In the opening scene, you are in the head of a young woman. But that’s the last you ever see of her. In a later chapter, towards the end of the book, I go into one other head – I won’t say who here, so as not to spoil anything for readers. The narrator can see things Casey doesn’t see, but I only used this sparingly, to note specific things. In fact, I can think of only one place in the book where the narrator calls out something Casey can’t specifically see.

    Limited third person omniscient can be employed in this way — probably the most famous current example is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one character. That means what you’re “hearing” in the narrator’s voice is tinged with the opinions of the character’s perspective. Cersei might perceive herself as a victim in one scenario, whereas another character at that same point and time might see what happens to her as justice. Third person limited omniscient is a powerful narrative device that can help get a reader to empathize with an otherwise despicable character, something Martin excels at, as well as slowly revealing a full picture of events as seen through different character’s eyes.

    In the case of Voro, I’m using it to close in on the reader, to restrict their access to knowledge — to keep them in the dark. I want the reader to be just close enough to the truth to be frightened of it without giving away the true terror until I’m ready. I want the reader to invest in the character of Casey before I let them in on the horror. Limited third person omniscient provides a way for me to control pacing as well as atmosphere.

    This was a new style of writing for me, so it took me longer than usual to finish the book. The closest I think I ever came to third person limited omniscient was The Arbiter — most of that story is told from Drystan’s perspective – though I was less aware of what I was doing at the time since it was the first book I wrote. Since then, I’ve been more purposeful with my choices in narration. I think it’s made my stories better, smoother and easier to read.

    I do look at my reviews, and I take in the criticism with a careful eye for what is simply someone who doesn’t like my style versus someone making commentary about the craft of the story. If I get a review where someone complains about, for instance, too much “relationship stuff,” I take that to mean my stories probably aren’t for them. But, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of comments that use the phrase “head hopping” to describe my work, and not in a positive way. I have taken this comment to heart, and upon re-examining some of my earlier work, I can see that the transitions between character’s thoughts were sometimes jarring. I’ve since been more conscientious about these transitions, and have been working harder to make them feel more natural. Voro is probably the most constricted I’ve ever felt writing a book, in large part because I couldn’t just explore the other character’s thoughts; everything had to be relayed through Casey’s eyes and feelings. Writing this book helped me get a better grasp on the techniques of storytelling, and I feel it shows in the work I’m editing now – a fantasy series told in traditional third person omniscient.

    My next post will be about some of my influences in writing Voro, including horror masters, as well as ancient stories older than the written word. Thank you for reading!

  3. The night is hungry


    I know most horror movies tend to come out in the fall, usually planted somewhere around Halloween. Some authors also release scary short stories during that time as well. I could have waited to drop my new book until then, but summer just felt like the right time. For one, the book takes place in August. For another, summer is as much a time for horror as Halloween. So many classic horror stories take place in the summer. When we think of horror and summer, images of creepy summer camps and serial killers spring to mind. Scary stories told around a campfire or at summer sleepovers are also common tropes. That’s the vibe I was going for in my newest book, Voro. In the stifling heat of summer, monsters come out to play.

    In the next few days, perhaps even tomorrow if I can make a little magic happen, I’ll be sending out a copy of Voro to all the readers subscribed to my email list. It’s a thank you of sorts for being patient as I get through some of the long term stuff I’ve been working on. I know it’s been more than a year since you’ve seen any new stories from me, and I apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve been busy writing a four part fantasy series all at once. I’ll tell you more about that later — I don’t want to steal the spotlight away from Voro. The book will be available for pre-order on Amazon shortly, and on all other retailers beginning in October. I’m entering Voro in the Kindle Storyteller contest, which requires Amazon exclusivity temporarily. I’d like to take the shot, long as it may be, on the chance that this book might catch on with Amazon readers.

    Voro isn’t the first horror book I’ve written, but it will be the first I publish. It’s a standalone title in the style of other classic horror books like those by Stephen King or Clive Barker. It’s a monster tale, so not a serial killer horror or psychological horror — more IT than The Shining. I’m really excited to hear what readers think. My editor loved it, and I feel like it’s marked a new period of growth for me as an author. By now, I’ve published more than a million words. I’ve probably written closer to two million, but I’m pretty sure I’ve scrapped a million words over the course of my career as an author – either through editing or simply restarting a book I wasn’t satisfied with after I’d mostly finished it. In that time, I’ve grown immensely in terms of technical expertise. My editors continue to send me fewer and fewer comments with regard to my technique. I’m starting to feel like I’ve hit a new level when it comes to the craft. I hope you enjoy what I’ve come up with.

    I’ll tell you more about Voro in a couple days, including some of the decisions I made when writing it regarding style and technique. For now, I’m going to make this promise: I will update this blog more. It might not be weekly, though that’s a tentative goal I’m working on, but it will be at least monthly. I have a lot of things to update everyone on, so there will probably be more posts in the next few weeks than usual. Just know that I have a lot of big news to share regarding upcoming books — my new fantasy series announcement and, yes, news about the next installment of Mission’s End. Thank you so much for your continued support!



Section Break - The Books