by Brian Rella

It was never a straight line to get them home when they came to him. Sometimes they liked to play a while.

“You’re cheating!” Paula said. Her voice accusatory, but her smile playful.

“No, I’m not,” Walker said. But you are, he thought with a small grin.

“I’m five, and I’m just better than you,” she said boastfully.

“You sure are, Paula.” His grin widened, but there was a touch of sadness in it.

She stuck her tongue out at him. She was cute.

He’d been playing checkers with Paula for a few hours and letting her win. He’d made a show of his turn, looking at the board carefully, holding his finger on the checker, making sure she couldn’t jump him, and then he’d raise his finger, and nod. Your turn. He watched her eyes seeing the glee in them at the tack-tack-tack of her pieces moving over his.

“You lose,” she said delightedly.

He chuckled. “You win, again,” he said, folding his arms.

“Wanna play something else?” she asked. “Let’s play family. You’re the daddy and I’m the–.”

She stopped short and a melancholy shadow passed over her pallid face. Paula’s gaze fell to her hands and her long dark curls drooped forward covering her big brown eyes. Walker saw the depression on the top of her head. His throat felt full and his heart hurt looking at her. He didn’t know the details of what happened. He didn’t want to. He’d learned not to ask. Instead, he pushed his emotions away and asked her if she wanted to sing a song. She peeked from behind her curls and he watched her sadness melt away.

“Do you know Let It Snow?” she exclaimed, and proceeded to belt out the chorus.

Before Walker could ask her to turn down the volume, an anxious voice echoed up the stairwell.

“Walker? Are you okay?” It was his mother.

Paula abruptly stopped singing and her gloom returned. “Your mom doesn’t like me,” she whispered.

“Fine Mom,” he replied.

Their gaze held each other for a minute. “Time for me to eat now,” he said. Her eyes glistened back at him.

He stood and she followed him like a puppy down the stairs and to the front door. He turned to her.

“Hug,” she said and opened her arms.

“Walker…” his mom croaked from the hall. He turned toward his mother. Her face was grave.

“Coming,” he said.

He turned back to Paula but she was already gone.

Walker frowned. He went past his mother to the kitchen. Her chest heaved a sigh of relief as he sat down at the table and held his chin in his hands.

“You shouldn’t get close to them,” she said.

Walker didn’t look at her. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for the children. They were lost like the others but…they were just children.

“What were you playing?” his mother said placing a dish in front of him. Cheeseburger with all the fixings. His favorite.

“Checkers. Then she was singing,” he mumbled.

“Will you take her soon?” she asked, stroking his hair.

Walker shrugged. He would take her when she was ready. He had no say in the matter. He glanced up and her face was dark, her eyes wet.

She was scared. He was too. They only had each other, now.

He touched her hand, “It’ll be okay, Mom.” She squeezed his hand and went to the stove to clean up.




“…8…9…10! Ready or not, here I come!” Paula shouted.

Walker grinned from under the deck. He hadn’t played hide and seek for years and peeking through the lattice as she passed, her steps eerily silent on the fallen leaves, a wave of nostalgia passed over him.

A moment ticked by. The air was quiet and still.

“Gotcha!” she called from behind him, startling him, and a small yelp escaped his mouth.

“Walker!” His mother immediately called from above, worry knotting her voice. “Walker!” she called louder.

Paula’s frown showed in the squares of sunlight that passed through the latticework. Walker glanced up and his mother’s worried footsteps rained dust and dirt down on him through the cracks in the deck. He sneezed and she stopped above him.

“Walker,” she said, relief replacing worry in her voice.

“She hates me,” Paula said. Walker glanced back to where Paula had been, but she was gone.

“Coming,” he said.

He crawled out from under the deck and met his mother’s frightened gaze at the steps. “Hide and seek,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

His mother’s lips were tight. “When will you show her how to get home?”

He kicked the bottom step with his sneaker uneasily. They’d had this conversation before.

“Has she asked you yet?”

“No,” he said and his eyes dropped to the bottom step, kicking it harder. “Soon, I think.”

“Can’t you just take her, Walker?” she asked. “Why do you–”

“It doesn’t work like that, Mom,” he said softly. “I told you before.”

“I’m frightened,” she said, her voice thick. “There’s something not right with her…”

Walker nodded and a moment passed in silence between them. He glanced up. “It’ll be okay.”

“That’s what your father said. It’ll be okay. And now, he’s…he’s… Don’t you let her…like they did to him…I…” she couldn’t finish.

Walker took the steps, putting his arm around her as they went inside. “They’re not all bad, Mom. Most are just lost…”


Walker opened his eyes. Paula sat criss-cross-applesauce beside his bed, her brown curly hair hiding her face. Pale light stuttered across the floor behind her. It’s time, Walker thought and adrenaline pumped into his veins.

“Do you like playing with me?” Paula whispered.

“Of course I do,” Walker said.

“Will you come with me?” she asked, her voice pleading.

“I can’t,” he said. “But I’ll show you how.”

Tears fell from her eyes.

Walker got up slowly and walked to his closet door. He pulled it open and was blinded by a burst of flickering white light from inside. He glanced back at Paula.

“This way,” he said softly.

Paula shook with a sob.

“It’s okay,” he said, “It’s where you belong now.”

Paula rose and glided, head down, to Walker’s side. She hovered there, the white light dancing on her pale form.

“I’m scared,” she said, choking on the words.

“I know,” Walker said. “Don’t worry. I’ve shown a lot of people how to get home.”

She reached for his hand and Walker felt an electric tingle on his skin. Whispers echoed into his room from the closet. Hundreds of them.

“Please come,” she said.

“I can’t,” Walker replied, but he felt her pulling him. Her grip became like iron, and fright leaped into Walker’s chest as he stumbled forward.

“No!” he shouted. “Stop, Paula!” His heart hammered in his throat.

Paula sniffed and looked sideways at Walker. Her face was grim and filled him with dread. “I need you,” she said. “We need you…”

The shadows closed around him and the whispers rose to a clamor. Cloying air and the smell of dead things and rotting meat filled the room. Walker’s bedroom door burst open and his mother ran to him, and wrapped her arms around him.

“No!” she shouted. “Leave him alone!” Tears ran from her eyes. Her arms bulged.

Paula’s face darkened and so did the light from the closet. “He is ours!” she said, but her voice had become all of the voices reverberating in the room.

“Not my son too!” Walker’s mom cried, veins popping out on her neck as she pulled.

Paula’s skin fell away exposing a luminous skull and eyes as dark as the deepest ocean. The light behind her changed to crimson and fire. Paula’s hand became a claw, and tore into Walker’s arm. The voices howled, rattling Walker’s teeth.

Walker felt a surge of power flow through him. White light exploded from his chest. The voices in the room shrieked in unison, and Paula was thrust backward and into the fiery light. Walker slammed the closet shut. A thunderclap and a gust of hot wind pushed Walker and his mother to the floor.

The room was suddenly still, and they lay on the floor, holding each other. Walker’s mom wept on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he said. But there was nothing he could have done. This was his curse.

She sobbed and he rocked her. Another lost soul would be along soon. They weren’t all like Paula, but some were.


Horror Saved Your Life!

by Robert Holt


The title may have been click bait, but while I have you, horror really has saved your life whether you realize it or not, of course not in the Caped Crusader sense or even the chemotherapy sense, but in the very way the repulsive taste of rotting meat saves your life by warning you away from ingesting it. Horror is a tool to sharpen our awareness and keep us from fearing things that can’t hurt us, teach us to avoid the things that can hurt us, and helps us strategize a plan for facing the real threats that we face every day.

Ever seen the film from the 70’s Night of the Lepus? If you have not, don’t. It was a failed effort. There are reasons for the film’s failure other than psychology (like the poor script, worse special effects, and just laughable dialog), but the Night of the Lepus’s biggest blunder was having it be about Lepus. Evolution has taught us plenty about how to survive. One key little thing that has been engraved into our genetics is to not fear rabbits. So when they made Night of the Lepus, everybody’s first reaction is always, “Really?       Killer rabbits?” The second reaction is to call for the Holy Hand Grenade. This film illustrates the first way horror really helps us grow as people. It helps us to sort out what should be feared and what shouldn’t. This is also where many sequels fail. Halloween 37 for example, or whichever one came right before H20, in that one they tell us that Michael Meyers is actually driven mad by the moon and star alignment on Halloween night. It was such a ridiculous explanation that the movie instantly fell to being on par with the average Scooby Doo episode, with slightly more bloodshed. The suspension of disbelief is more crucial for horror than for any other genre…except maybe erotica. The instant you are able to stop believing you stop fearing.

While discussing the Halloween franchise, the reason the series worked so much better as truly scary films is because being scared of large men in Captain Kirk masks is probably a pretty good idea. Horror exploits those real fears we have and makes us keep them in the forefront of our minds. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh yes, but don’t forget the bats and spiders and rats. Building terror from the real dangers that we face daily keeps us on our toes. The black plague is often blamed on the rats and mice and with good cause, but they hadn’t acted alone. They were just victims of a bigger culprit: the fleas. Swarms of the black bugs came from the rats and crawled through the body hair, inching their diseased bodies up pants legs and into the tussle of pubic hair before biting down into the skin to drink the blood and spread the walking death. Go ahead and scratch at it, you are already infected. Ah, but the flea itself, like the scurrying rodents, was also just an accomplice. The virus itself was the true culprit, and the thing that most crucially needed to be avoided. Is it any wonder that our makeup has a natural inclination away from all three of these threats? We have grown to avoid them, even though the rat in itself is no more dangerous than a cat or dog or any flea carrying vermin.

The years following the release of the film Jaws had fewer reported shark attacks than any of the years in recent history. The reason was because of the movie. Jaws hit the natural chords in our brains that made us fear sharks, something that the vacationing tourist usually didn’t think about. Jaws brought it to the public’s mind, and the public reacted to it. Shark attacks also became big news, and every lost toe was reported from Portland Oregon to Portland Maine, just to keep the public afraid. The movie was able to capture one of humanity’s genuine fears. The fear has been diminished now, in large part by Sharknado and its bastard offspring. These films lose the suspension of disbelief before they even begin, making the very concept a joke, resulting in a declining respect towards the danger presented by both sharks and tornadoes. Films like Sharknado, while fun, are bad for the psyche and should either be avoided of followed up with Open Water and a Weather Channel specials on sharks and tornado destruction just to balance out the mind.

When a horror novel or film is done well, it should be something that makes you question the choices of the characters and has you thinking of how you would have handled the situation. Would you have taken the chainsaw instead of the machine gun, knowing the demonic rhino had to be decapitated? Would you have burnt the house down with the killer inside and not worried about the damn cat? Would you have taken the ear rings off the old dead lady and melted them into bullets to kill the werewolf? These are good questions to ask yourself, as long as you don’t let it get too far. Most families in America have a zombie apocalypse strategy but not a house fire strategy. That’s a problem. But having a home intruder plan, an attempted abductor plan, or even a S.H.T.F plan is a good idea. Watching and reading quality horror fiction will better prepare you for all possible scenarios.

So yeah, horror has saved your life, or at least it has mine. When I was a child, I used to catch snakes and play with spiders. The horrific scene in the Well of Souls in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the scene with the snake in the mummy’s mouth stopped me from catching snakes. The silly John Goodman movie Arachnophobia actually got me to leave spiders alone. The multitude of ghost stories had me staying away from abandoned buildings. Reading Cujo made me stay away from strange dogs. I’m sure one of those saved my life, but if not there are hundreds of other scenarios I could think of. So embrace the fear this fall, and allow it to steer you to a rational and healthy fear of all that could threaten you.



A Dark Blend: When Fantasy and Horror Meet

by A.M. Rycroft

Anyone who knows me well can tell you my love of all things fantasy and horror started at a young age. So when I started writing my first epic fantasy novel some 17 years ago, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone — let alone me — that elements one might find in a chillingly good horror novel started popping up in my sword and sorcery tale.

Since then, I’ve written several more books that one could easily call not just dark fantasy, but sword and sorcery/horror mash-ups.

So how does one make that blend of fantasy and horror work well? How do you introduce horror into sword and sorcery without jarring the fantasy reader or turning them off to your story?

Well, you can’t just mash fantasy elements and any old horror elements together and hope they go together. Otherwise, it will come out looking more like Frankenstein’s monster than a well-structured, pulse-pounding novel that any fan of fantasy or horror could enjoy.

Everything has to blend seamlessly for the reader.

When a barista makes a latte, what they hand you at the end of the process isn’t just a bunch of splotches of milk suspended in the espresso. Everything is one well-blended drink. That’s what you want at the end of creating a good fantasy/horror mash-up. Only instead of putting the steamed milk in the espresso, you start with milk and add the espresso. And you want to start slow for the reader as you’re building your blend.

You don’t want your mix to slop out all over the page. Ease the reader into the horror so that by the time you really flip the switch and put your characters into a scene worthy of a full-blown horror tale, your readers are prepped for that extra dose of spine-tingling horror.

How do I mean start slow?

Let me use Into the Darkness, book 1 of my Cathell series, as my example. The book starts out with a deadly curse and sell-sword Aeryn Ravane’s quest to not only break that curse, but find the legendary sword trapped in the caverns sealed off by that curse. It has a lot of the elements of a standard epic fantasy setup. But it slowly turns into something darker as Aeryn explores the cursed caverns where the sword had been locked away for the last century.

She soon gets the sense she’s walking into something very dark and very wrong. She finds murals that depict strange ancient rituals and a room with an altar and a black rock she feels inexplicably drawn to. When she touches that rock, bad things happen, and throughout the caverns, she cannot shake the feeling she’s being watched.

So now the reader has been introduced to elements more common to a horror tale, but in the context of a fantasy tale. So for the fantasy reader, it works. Now the stage is set for me to throw in a little more horror. But I always take care not to move past the confines of a sword and sorcery tale.

What are “the confines”?

There are some expected tropes in sword and sorcery fantasy — swords and magic, obviously, but also dragons and other fantastical beasts, goblins. You get the picture.

If I throw in elements that fall well outside the normal realm of fantasy — like adding a Pinhead or Pennywise type character — I risk confusing and even disappointing the fantasy reader who picked my book up expecting dark fantasy, not The Hellbound Heart with swords. So I can’t do that.

Adding horror into a sword and sorcery novel requires thinking a little outside the trope box. But not too far. Every piece of horror I put into my novels is relatable to a fantasy reader in a sword and sorcery fantasy context. Honestly, there are still plenty of things to choose from, like a vampiric sword and The Harbinger’s armies of the dead.

Are you talking about zombies?

Yes, zombies play a featured role in modern horror flicks, survival horror games, graphic novels, and plenty of dystopian novels. But fantasy?

Consider this: they work equally well in a novel that features an evil god or a necromancer or two. I have it on good authority from my fans that zombie-type creatures are no less frightening when chasing the heroes through the streets of a medieval-style city as they are when chasing people through a modern American city. So I’m not afraid to let the zombies out, in limited quantities.

Keep in mind that zombies have also been a little overdone in contemporary supernatural and urban fantasy books. I tend to choose wisely where zombies come up when it comes to my dark fantasy novels.

So how do you know when you’ve gotten the blend just right?

Let your book reviews spell that out for you. If you get a lot of comments about too many horror elements happening for a fantasy book or that your book was too scary to finish, you know you went too far. Instead, you want a review that says something like this one for Into the Darkness:

“An excellent read, one which I wholeheartedly recommend to any fan of fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof.”

If you get that kind of a review, you know you got it just right.

What Drew Me to Write Horror Stories — Even Though I Don’t Like Horror

by Andy Zach

Several reviewers of my book Zombie Turkeys have commented, “I don’t normally like zombie books, but I loved yours!” I know exactly how they feel, for I feel the same way.

In my fifty-five years of reading, I read one Steven King novella, in the anthology Legends. I enjoyed it, admired his craftsmanship, but I didn’t like the genre. I also read John Ringo’s zombie apocalypse series, ‘Dark Tide Rising’. I loved that, but I generally love John Ringo. The zombies were just a convenient opponent . I looked with horror on the rising tide of zombie popularity in our culture, generally thinking zombies were disgusting and not nice.

Then I wrote Zombie Turkeys. What made me change my mind? My mind didn’t change; I just enjoy parody. So I have to read zombie books and watch zombie movies to write my parody. No one said the life of a writer was easy. I knew that when I signed up.

What was the genesis of Zombie Turkeys? Where was the moment when I, like Dr. Frankenstein screamed, “It’s Alive!”?

Frankenstein, “It’s Alive” scene.

I just fried a turkey, outside in the driveway, with my obligatory bottle of cold beer. We got a new turkey fryer and I wanted to test it before Thanksgiving. I achieved complete success. My family gathered around the table, laden with the golden turkey and I had a funny, random thought.

“What if the turkey came back to life and started eating us?”

And one of my children, not known for reticence, chimed in, “A zombie turkey!”

“A zombie turkey!” I exclaimed. “That’s it! That’s what I’ll write for NaNomo!” That’s National Novel for November month.

You see, I had been forced into retirement at 59. My company, Caterpillar Inc., was in the third year of a sales slump and as a grizzled, highly paid veteran, I was on the chopping block. They made me a retirement offer I couldn’t refuse, so I didn’t. This happened in September. By October I decided to write my first novel for NaNoMo, so I wouldn’t sit around and mope. I expected to fail with the first novel, so I wanted to write something light, easy, and expendable. Fail worthy, if you will.

Zombie Turkeys filled the bill. I could visualize the whole plot immediately: the zombie turkeys start from a small flock and spread irresistibly over the whole country. I could start in central Illinois, where I lived for the past thirty years. I would use all the standard zombie tropes: people would begin with denial and disbelief. There would be horrible grizzly deaths—not by a grizzly bear, but by a turkey. The government would be forced to take action by the outraged citizenry. There’d be political infighting. There would be denialists. There’d be blazing military action. There’d be chainsaws and axes.  There’d be screaming teenagers.

And every time the turkeys seemed defeated, they’d come back. But they’d be better, stronger, more numerous than before.  Then, just when all hope seemed lost and the country and the protagonists were going under, they’d discover the cure and stop the plague.

In November 2015, the story seemed to write itself—except when it didn’t. This was the first time I had written a novel full time with a deadline. I soon discovered I loved writing dialogue and action scenes—but I hated transitions and descriptions. Every time I came to a lull in the action, I got bored and stuck.

I knew this was a learning process, so I stuck to it. To my chagrin, the novel ended and I didn’t have my required fifty thousand words. I went back through it and added descriptions and transitions. I only had forty-eight thousand words. So I failed NaNoMo’s goal of fifty thousand.

Worse, I knew the novel needed to be longer if I wanted to sell it. I imagined selling thousands due to its novel nature. But I was burnt out. It was December and the holiday season. We were busy spending my severance pay and we had a big Christmas planned. So I took the month off.

In January, I searched earnestly for a ‘real’ job, as a project manager. I applied to hundreds and got lots of interviews, which took my time. I also read about publishing, traditional, indie, and hybrid publishing.

The more I learned, the less I wanted to go the traditional route. I had to sell my book to an agent, then he or she had to sell it to the genre editor, then the editor had to sell it to the company. Too much waiting, too many things I couldn’t control.

Indie publishing, using Amazon, Smashwords, or other online publishers looked really good. I loved the idea of selling with no inventory. I soon realized the major criticism of indie authors who were self-publishers was atrocious editing. Having gone through my Zombie Turkeys six times by March 2016, I realized I couldn’t edit myself.  I had to pay the piper, the editor.

One of my neighbors had written and published a children’s book and he suggested some editors. I contacted them.

“Too gory!” said one.

“I don’t do horror,” said another.

But one editor suggested another and I contacted her, Dori Harrell. She was willing and gave me a sample edit. She really made the first chapter better! Dori was positive and encouraging, just what I needed after months of discouraging self-editing. Oh, and I got turned down from all my job interviews too.

I had some more self-editing to do before I sent the manuscript to her. I had been busily reading about publishing and writing. I re-did several scenes and honed my transitions and descriptions. I also added a surprise ending. Then I sent it off in June 2016. My baby had left home and was in the hands of another.

Meanwhile, I knew I needed a book cover. I was quite pleased with the title, Zombie Turkeys, but I knew the cover was just as important. I had no clue about what to use, but I thought an action scene from the book might be good. Then, there was the minor detail of the artist.

I talked with my son, who led an art group when he was in college. He recommended his childhood friend, Sean Flanagan, who was an excellent artist. We talked and he agreed to do the cover art. With a couple of other artists, we brainstormed ideas for the cover.

They considered my action scene too busy. Looking at the top selling zombie books I saw all the covers were simple and dramatic.  Sean came up with a group of cover proposals:

I liked the first image, but all the artists liked the third one. I thought it was a little childish, but I trusted my artistic crew. We went with the third image for the cover. My action scene idea was deemed acceptable for the back cover.

This was in August. Dori had been in steady, encouraging communication with me. She was doing line editing, going over every sentence, making it better. She pointed out several scenes where I didn’t describe the setting or the placement of the characters. She loved certain characters and I suggested adding a romantic subplot for them. Between corrections, additional descriptions, and new scenes, my forty-eight thousand word novel was now fifty-four thousand. I really felt it was salable now.

I just needed the cover and chapter icons. We brainstormed chapter icons, where a brief image would summarize the chapter. Sean worked on those and the covers.

My first launch date was September 30, 2016. The chapter icon artwork wasn’t ready in time. Also, I had passed the manuscript from Dori to my layout editor, Rik Hall. He formatted the interior and the chapter icons, and much to my surprise, I found additional errors both Dori and I had missed.

I had decided to go Amazon Kindle and Createspace for publishing. I set up my accounts and got everything ready. I got the cover art in time, but even if the icons had been ready I couldn’t make the interior and exterior ready for the launch date. I pushed it back to October 31st. That seemed strangely appropriate for Zombie Turkeys.

The book was also set from November to New Year’s Eve. Everything came together in synchrony for October 31st. I arranged the launch party at the local library. I invited dozens of guests. And I became a horror author.




by Melissa H. North

Firstly, I should say the purpose of this article is not to steer you away from clichés but rather to help you recognise them, then twist them into a different evil mould.

There are many clichés and right off the top of my head, I can name at least five. The main character gets eaten; a scientist with the ego tries to play god by preparing an experiment that goes dastardly wrong, the characters ignore warnings, vampires and the like – rules set in stone – (and although it is hard to steer away from main stream perception, it would likely create a great prose if you did), another cliché is the characters splitting up to supposedly increasing the chance of survival.

And don’t get me started on the weak and helpless heroine scanty dressed with big breasts and long blond hair.

Turn the knife a little and you have to admit, most clichés can be the output of lazy writing. Some writers repeat what earlier writers have written, only to end up disappointed with the performance of the novel in the literary arena. This imminent death is a lack of imagination and, if not kept in check, and may lead to Coronary Writers Disease!

My point is, these plots, have been beaten to death and some writers may think it is becoming increasingly harder to develop your own original idea. But it’s not. And I’ll tell you why.

We humans are inherently evil! *loud wicked laugh escapes and twists hands in a circular motion* Have a look at the news headlines on any random day. There’s endless reports of robberies, bullies, murderers, corporate fraud and terrorists. Not entirely convinced we are predisposed to evil inclinations?

What about Funniest Home Videos? Who of you actually looks away when the young child on a bike runs over his little sister on purpose? Didn’t you want to do that when you were younger? You laughed as well, didn’t you? Questioning your stance yet?

Hands up who’d you rather be – a troll living under the bridge coming up with ingenious malevolent ways to stop people getting to the other side or a fairy flitting around the bulb of a lovely sun yellow flower? The latter, I’m sure you’d agree, would become boring quite quickly.

It comes down to this, do you yearn to take the opportunity to answer the dark whisper that lingers to the front of your mind every once in a while, the one that aches to know what full control and complete power over another human feels like? The answer should be ‘no’, however, there is an internal nature of evil in us and we can choose to embrace it or suppress it (For writing sake).

Let’s adapt clichés by wrenching them forward to the present and by defining our thoughts on the word evil. If we are so inherently wicked then it stands to reason that we write from our black hearts.

Sometimes it’s not easy but the monsters we create may well be looking back at us in the mirror on a daily basis.

By defining evil as it relates to ourselves, not as an enigma, writers are able to feel the struggle within their characters; imagine how it would feel. It may be painful at times, it may show a lack of moral solitude or ethics but when all is done, you may well have a best-seller on your hands.

There are three types of horror to help you move forward from the plot cliché.

  1. The Gross

CLICHÉ – This is the slimy green ‘Ghostbuster-type’ stuff or the severed head on a stick.

  1. Unnatural Horror

CLICHÉ – The huge spiders of Harry Potter or the dead rising to wreak havoc on society.

  1. Terror

This is what puts the horror into horror. The psychological terror of messing with your mind, your life and society. The real-life, where our readers are not yet conditioned to this way of thinking.

Sigmund Freud said, “No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.”

The facts cannot be ignored any longer, you must put yourself into that character’s head, that terrifying hypothetical situation of dire consequences. The chilly truths of your minds darkest secrets provide a prose which eliminates the clichés or at the very least twists them with the sadistic scrutiny of a real-life human.

Be the monster!

The genre of horror can potentially inject a potent concoction of originality, style, 3D characters and a plot that you can really get caught up in if you allow the darkness within you to rise.

I have an idea for a new novel. Opening chapter begins with an crazy mob carrying fiery torches and pitch forks, heading to the laboratory of a mad scientist who is experimenting with powers of creation. The leader of the mob, likely a religious man, is taken by a ‘monster’ which escapes.

A few years later a group of fit super-model teens run out of fuel and end up in the township, they decide to split up after the monster, half-human and half-beast, scares the bejesus out of them.

The gorgeous blond, Bimbo, is trapped in the old lab. Its dark and when the monster enters the store room, she heads in too investigate why she heard a strange moaning noise come from inside.

Now, a lot of running and screaming happens as she tries to escape after the monster kills her friends.

With just Bimbo and Dumbo (her soon to be boyfriend after such a tragic situation brings them together) left, they confront the monster and kill him.

But wait! He’s not completely dead!

The monster rises and while Dumbo isn’t looking the monster kills him. Leaving Bimbo left to finish off the monster and leave the town alone.

What do you think? Do you think this plot line is original and would sell? What would you do to make it better?


Lets Talk Horror

by Brhi Stokes

Halloween is coming up this month so I thought I’d start my scaring posts now (you can tell I love this holiday). Today, I’ll be talking about a few types of horror elements in books/media.

We all know that there’s plenty of genres of horror out there. However, people often forget that scary elements can be incorporated into genres that aren’t just horror. My own book is an example – its urban fantasy with some dark overtones. I would say there’s definitely a horror element to quite a few scenes given urban fantasy’s nature of involving the supernatural. So let’s have a chat about three of the main scary elements in non-horror books.

1. Physical Horror

This is the most straightforward, to me, and the one I make use of in CALIGATION. It involves something that is physically greusome or horrifying (eg: monsters and beasts) whose threat to the characters is purely physical. This is incorporated into a lot of fantasy (as, oftentimes, characters in most genres are chased by some sort of nasty creature) and probably one of the more family-friendly types of scare.

However, it can easily become dark and gruesome, depending on the levels of violence and gore, or just make for very suspenseful scenes.

Sub-genres include body horror (eg: disfiguration) and splatter-house (eg: gore). Both of which are much less family friendly but can also be added into other genres to turn up the tension or add a bit of unpleasantness for the characters.

2. Fear of the Unknown
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Featured Author ~ Brent A. Harris

New Release

Featured Author

Brent A. Harris

Interview by Bonnie Milani


Bonnie: Your up-coming novel, ‘A Time of Need’, is an alternate history set during the American Revolution.  Could you explain a bit just what ‘alternate history’ means?

Brent: Sure! And thanks for having me. Alternate history is when a writer takes one historical fact about our past and changes it. Then the past as we know it unravels to reveal a completely new world. What if a sharp-eyed soldier saw Lee’s Special Order 191 on the ground and recovered it before it fell into the hands of the Union? What if Teddy Roosevelt won his third term in office and persuaded a reluctant America to enter WW1 early? These are threads that masters of the genre have woven, and they’ve inspired me to write my own.

Bonnie: In ‘A Time of Need’ you’ve re-imagined George Washington as a British loyalist (Oy!) and Benedict Arnold as the great American leader with some serious character flaws.  Talk about a reversal!  Whatever made you conceive of Washington as a British loyalist?

Brent: The nice thing about writing alternate history, as the late Robert Conroy once said, “You’ll never run out of ideas.” The truth about Washington is that he always wanted to be part of the British forces, but every attempt was either thwarted or he was turned down. His mother refused his attempt to join the Royal Navy. And his service during the French and Indian War was all in the attempt to petition the British Foot for entry. I believe he tried and was turned away three times in his quest to purchase a commission. Washington’s eagerness to lead the American forces twenty years later came from both his ambition and perhaps a feeling of scorn at being passed over by the British so many times.

Bonnie: What is it that drew you specifically to the time period of the American Revolution?

Brent: I’ve always loved history the same as a poet loves words or an artist loves colors and canvas. Not a lot is written about the American Revolution; go to a bookstore and compare sections: Civil War and WW2 are fat with books while America’s founding is skeletal. It’s a shame because our history wasn’t founded on the mythos of founding fathers rallying the war cry for liberty. It was founded on rifts between families, loyalists and rebels, fought by famished farmers, led by a few ‘radical’ idealists up against the greatest army of its time. The future was far from pre-ordained. It’s scary how close it came to collapse on many occasions. One loud clang of pots to break the still night air as Washington retreated, one clear morning instead of fog; the Revolution was, in many cases, constantly one clear sky away from failure.

Bonnie: You’ve said elsewhere that history needs to be taught as real stories about real people instead of flat, dry facts.  That is SO true!  How do you think ‘A Time of Need’ could help Americans of any age better understand our actual history?

Brent: History is about people. Flawed, angst-ridden, passionate people – who made a lot of mistakes. The American Revolution is about those people. It’s about the slaves that found themselves caught-up in a world where words like ‘freedom’ didn’t apply to them. It’s about farmers who didn’t know if they could grow enough tobacco or indigo or rice to make it through to the next trading season, or if they had a trading partner left. It’s about Hessians who had no interest in being involved at all. And it’s also about the generals who cared for their own ambitions and agendas, sometimes moreso than the people under their command. If there’s one thing I hope to do with A Time of Need, it is to hold its world as a mirror to our own. After you’re entertained, of course.

Bonnie: Now, tell us something about yourself.  What first drew you to science fiction and alternate history as opposed to, say, writing straight historical novels?

Brent: Historical fiction is a pretty fun and gritty genre. While I appreciate the stories it brings (I haven’t shut down the possibility of writing in the genre in the future) I’m too much of a science fiction fan to start off limiting myself to what is just in the historical record. I like the Science Fiction aspect of building new worlds and discovering what those worlds might say about our own. I think alternate history bridges that gap between Science Fiction and straight historical dramas.

I read a lot of Science Fiction and we exhale what we take in. I love history, comics, board games, and all things science-fiction, so for now, I think I’ll meddle in the genre some more until, like my cat getting her ears scratched, I see something shiny dangling in the corner and stop, then stalk over to pounce it.

Thank you for having me!

Brent A. Harris is a Sidewise Award nominated author of alternate history. He also writes science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Previously published works can be found through Insomnia Publishing, Rivenstone Press, Rhetoric Askew, and Inklings Press, the latter having published his short story, Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, which reaped the Sidewise Award nomination.

He is the author of A Time of Need, an alternate history of the American Revolution, which sees a world where George Washington fights alongside the British against American forces marshaled under a power-hungry Benedict Arnold.

Brent A Harris resides in Southern California, where he’s become convinced that Joshua trees are in fact, real trees. When not writing, he focuses on his family, shuttling children around as a stay-at-home dad, and staying up late to write after they are nestled in their beds.

What Makes an Epic Fantasy

By Aaron-Michael Hall

When most people hear that question, common images come to mind. We usually think of fantastical, imagined worlds with knights, sorcerers, exceptional creatures, new species, and in some cases, new languages. There are heroes and heroines, life-changing quests, battles with swords and magic, and evil-doers plotting to destroy mankind and obliterate life as we know it.

Those are some of the images evoked when most people think of this genre. But what is Epic Fantasy? That question appears innocuous enough. In the age of Google and instant information, it’s simple to find the answer to such queries. Or is it? When typing “epic fantasy definition” into my search bar, the first response is Wikipedia. Ah yes, the wealth of information that it provides is astounding. However, when I click the link, “High Fantasy” is the result. For some reason, High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy are presented as interchangeable genres, having exactly, or nearly identical meaning. From my perspective, the concept of Epic Fantasy has become simplistic and marginalized over time.

Let’s look at the short definition Wikipedia provides: High fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, defined either by its setting or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot.

The EPIC in Epic Fantasy should be an indicator of something deeper and more multifaceted than a fantastical world encompassing heroes and like themes. In an Epic Fantasy, the cast is large, the world building is intricate, it’s usually expressed in several viewpoints, and the success or failures of the “heroes” has a substantial effect on the entire world. That level of intrigue elevates the story and increases the breadth and controversies (moral and otherwise) associated with it.

The word EPIC itself is in reference to an epic poem, epos, or epopee. These lengthy works detailed exploits of heroic deeds and events significant to differing cultures and nations.  Classic Epic Poems recount the journeys of their heroes and the physical and mental fortitude brought forth to overcome and subsist during devastating trials. They were lengthy and complex works depicting great battles, mystical forces, intervening deities, and malefic beings. The Epics weren’t meant to merely entertain; their meaning was greater than that. They not only told these masterful stories, they revealed the impact these adventures had on the world as a whole. A few examples of such works are Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Aeneid, Mahabharata, The Iliad and Odyssey, Story of Ramayana, and Paradise Lost.

So, what’s classified as Epic Fantasy in 2017? That definition has certainly altered over time and will probably continue to remain malleable to a certain extent. Evenso, there are specific criteria that we look for in fantasy as a whole. I’m not speaking of the common tropes readers and unfortunately many authors have begun to rely upon: elves, dragons, ogres, and dwarves. I’m referring to much broader elements and concepts. Some examples are the story’s time-span encompassing years or more, a new and engrossing world or setting, a well-defined magic system, devastating conflict, complex characters, and mythos. Those common aspects are almost universal and applied differently depending on the author.

The world itself is contrived by the author and requires time to acclimate the reader to this fantastical creation, its magic systems, mythos, species, deities, and histories. Most Epics are grand in scale, structure, concepts, and prose. Thusly, Epic Fantasies usually span several volumes, covering multiple years, and depict the growth of characters and their mounting conflicts.

When discussing Epic Fantasy, one author is mentioned before any other. J.R.R. Tolkien is usually revered as the master of Epic Fantasy. His novels, unique languages, and fantastical worlds have fascinated readers for decades. With his exceptional world building, characters, and structure, Tolkien is an accepted standard for many fantasy authors and readers alike. But even Tolkien received inspiration from other sources. The exceptionally written epic poem, Beowulf definitely fits that bill just as the Elder Edda, Leiden Riddle, Macbeth, The Pickwick Papers, and greats like William Morris, George MacDonald, and Owen Barfield.

Recently, I was a panelist with Christopher Paolini and Michael Livingston at a convention. It was enlightening to hear their viewpoints about Epic Fantasy (classical and otherwise). Both are accomplished authors in their own right and draw inspiration from Tolkien and others. During our conversations and audience questions, the definition of what constitutes Epic Fantasy varied immensely.

What is Epic Fantasy? That question will probably be debated for years to come. Epic-ness isn’t defined by merely the length of a story or even by how many battles are fought and how much magic is used. Epic tales definitely encompass a new and fantastical world facing perils and destruction. There’s a well developed magic system, complex and flawed characters, unique world building and species. But if it lacks a definable and significant change to this world and what its denizens must undergo, relatable and complex characters growing to achieve this common goal, and how this failure would impact the world, it’s lacking in Epic-ness. Epic doesn’t speak of the verbosity of the author. Epic speaks to the depth, significance, intrigue, scope, characterization, and plot created by the author to draw us into this fantastical world and care about the outcomes of its characters.

How to Improve Your Writing

By Bonnie Milani

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison

I don’t remember the first time I tried to tell a story.  My mother always maintained it was about forty seconds after I said “mama’.  I’m inclined to doubt her on this one point, since it takes more than a word or two to make a story.  Still, by the time I was six or so, it was my duty and delight to tell Mom a bed time story each night.  And, like bed time stories everywhere, my tales did the trick: Mom never stayed awake to the end. That might be satisfying – or just a relief – when you’re a parent.  It feels a whole lot less satisfying when it’s my stories that put my audience to sleep.  Obviously, I had to improve.

I spent my youth and early adulthood working through the ten thousand ways that stories don’t work.  I experimented with POVs; came up with intriguing, intellectually stimulating plots that disregarded mundane things like logic or character or development.  Then I tried ignoring plot altogether – character was the thing!   Always, I could feel the story I was trying to get out.  I could feel the wrenching emotions of my characters.  I just couldn’t get the damned stuff to come across on the page.  My readers – Mom, my Grandmother, and any unlucky cousin too slow out the door – tended to wander off within a page or two.  Or worse, fell asleep.

It’s a testament to just how deep the need to tell my stories ran that I kept on trying.  Non-fiction was no problem:  in college, I wrote an early environmental fairy tale that was picked up by the State of NJ for its grammar school curriculum.  I scripted TV programs for the school.  And I kept writing stories.  Only now my audience consisted of college professors.  The universal advice:  stick to non-fiction, kid.

So I did.  I went on to earn a Master’s in Communication (Journalism, what else?) from Stanford.  I freelanced feature articles for newspapers up and down the East Coast, did a cover story for Science Digest, and features for magazines ranging from ‘Peninsula’ to ‘Mankind’.  I built up a portfolio, but my bank account stayed close to empty.

I finally got tired of living on the border of bankruptcy.  I moved to L.A., developed a career in insurance for the Hollywood crowd.  I had one huge advantage over other agents: everybody else believed that selling life insurance is the hardest sell on the planet.  I knew better. Compared to trying to sell my stories, getting somebody to put money down on his own death was child’s play.  I built a career, earned a good reputation.  By the time I left to start my own agency I was representing Hollywood lawyers under pension audit to the IRS.  (A job, I might add, that is guaranteed to make one sympathize with the tax man.)

It wasn’t until my whole family died that I realized I had to either figure out how to make my stories work or go not-so-quietly crazy.  So I threw myself into really studying what makes a story work. I took classes: UCLA extension, post-grad Professional Writing classes at USC, where I had the great good fortune to study under Hollywood’s structural guru, Syd Field.  I found a professional caliber writer’s group that was willing to let me in.  I wrote stories and turned them in to be shredded.  Only now, finally, I had critics who told me why my stories didn’t work:

  • No conflict
  • No clear protagonist
  • No clear antagonist
  • No desire line for the protagonist
  • No character development
  • No plot development
  • Faulty structure and/ or pacing
  • All of the above

I asked questions.  I rewrote.  Listened to my best effort get shredded.  Again.  Re-rewrote.  Swore, pounded desks, swore some more.  Tried whiskey; didn’t help.  Drunk may have worked for Joyce, but it only rendered my stuff incomprehensible.  But over time, slowly, I learned what makes a story tick.  I learned it’s not any one element of character or plot or structure but all of them together, weaving in and out and around each other within the DNA strand of the story world.  I learned why generalities don’t work for characters and their motivations.  I learned to hate and cherish the question ‘why?’.

And if I learned nothing else it was that writing in and of itself is not the way to improve your story-telling skills.  Simply writing and rewriting without honest, critical feedback only hardens errors into bad habits.  Nobody can teach you the NEED to tell stories; that’s a divine gift.  But effective, emotionally powerful story telling is a craft.  To make your stories affect readers the way you intend, you need the guidance of writers and editors who can analyze your work and explain the elements you’re missing.  Why?  Because, pure and simple, no writer can see those mistakes on his or her own.  We’re just too close to the material.

The good news is that today it’s easier than ever to find honest, critical feedback:

  • Join a FB writers group (where better to start than our own Sci Fi Roundtable?)
  • Put your stories up for critique. Note that’s a critique, not an Amazon review.  Your first (and second and …) draft is just a starting point, not the finished product.  As Hemingway supposedly said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
  • LISTEN to the critiques! A good critique will NEVER take aim at you personally, but having your best work-to-date reduced to rubble still hurts.  Accept it – and get better.
  • Remember that your story MUST stand on its own two feet. Readers can never feel what you did putting the words down unless those words make them feel it.
  • Resubmit to your critique circles.  When your story is as good as you can make it, then hire a professional editor to critique it.
  • Then LISTEN to your editor! It will hurt (trust me on this one!) but listen anyway.
  • Rewrite
  • Resubmit
  • Repeat

And finally, the day will come when a beta reader picks up your story and feels what you felt. There are precious few thrills on Earth to match the feeling.

And then it’s time to take everything you’ve learned up another level with your next story.



Being a Fantasy Reader

By Claire Buss
Originally posted on April 23rd 2017 on Matthew Olney’s Blog

The Most Precious Treasure courtesy of Dragon Lady Art

I never need an excuse to spend the evening curled up with my favourite book, but events like World Book Day aim to encourage non-readers to pick up a book and have an adventure. That’s the great thing about reading, it will take you somewhere you’ve never been before or if you’re lucky, take you back to explore it all over again. Often readers of fantasy get a bit of a bad rap – there can be mocking and sometimes you don’t want to admit that you read sci-fi & fantasy because it puts you in a pre-determined box, but when you’re celebrating reading I think we can stand loud and proud and shout to the stars that we read fantasy and it’s brilliant.

Or to put it another way – isn’t all fiction fantasy? Because it’s fiction therefore it’s not ‘real’. When you read that chick-lit novel about girls doing lunch and talking about their love lives you may sit wistfully wishing you could be a “lady wot lunches”. It’s no different to me wishing I could go on a quest in a magical land. My imagination just requires a little more immersion, perhaps.

It can be difficult for an avid reader to entice a non-reader to pick up a book, especially when you stumble over the intricate plot twists of sorcery and sword fights. But think about the books that brought you into the genre. I can go as far back as The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, talking animals in Farthing Wood by Colin Dann and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. These aren’t hard-core fantasy tomes. They’re magical children’s books and what a great way to get kids reading by giving them a little bit of adventure. I mean, Harry Potter wouldn’t have been the sensation it’s been without the reader’s ability to immerse themselves in an alternate reality.

Not only am I an avid reader – of all genres but with a particular liking for fantasy & sci-fi – I am also an author. My book is hard to define, it doesn’t really set within a predetermined category. It’s listed under sci-fi because it’s set 200 years in the future but there are no aliens or spaceships. It’s dystopian because there has been a mass extinction event; we learn how humanity coped, adapted and now tries to break free of control. But it’s hopeful and in general, dystopian novels are bleak and literally end of the world. And my book is not about a plucky group of teenagers. Instead it looks at the relationships of couples and how they cope with massive life changes. Being a new author it’s hard to get readers at first so you turn to friends and family, most of whom said ‘Oh I don’t read Sci-Fi’. However, once I am able to convince them that The Gaia Effect is not hard-boiled sci-fi, that they should try it, that they might be surprised and hey look, it’s such a lovely slimline novel with great cover artwork – how can you say no? Then they read it and text me, telling me off for making them cry. Success! All reviews from family and friends start with the phrase ‘This is not my usual genre’ or ‘I don’t normally read Sci-Fi but…’ and I think that’s the key, if you can just get a non-reader to try something new they might be surprised.

Let’s not forget that genre is an invention of the publisher to make it easier to categorise books and not a request from the reader. I don’t think about genre when I recommend books to friends and family. I think about them and choose books to fit, overriding any objections of ‘I don’t read that genre’ with reminders of all the previous excellent recommendations I’ve made. Once we’ve managed to get sporadic readers picking up our novel and getting to the end, our next challenge is to ask them to write a review – even a simple star rating is enough, every little bit helps.