Sunday, October 30, 2016

Underrated Horror Movies (Brian Katcher)

Ah, Halloween. The gods decided that it fall on a Monday, cursing every elementary school teacher (myself included). Before I hide in my front bushes with the garden hose, let me give you some of my favorite under-appreciated scary movies.

The Grudge (2004)

Image result for the grudge 

Somewhat of a hokey Ring knock off, I still have to admit that I covered my eyes during that scene where you realize when you see the woman's face, her jaw is going to be torn off.

Alien 3 (1992)

Image result for alien 3

True, it wasn't as good as the first two movies, but that was a lot to live up to. The fourth movie sucked dog butt, though.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) 

While this movie didn't age well, it does star the great Vincent Price. I still get chills when I hear 'Nine killed you, nine will die.'

Signs (2002)

Image result for signs movie 

Not Shyamalan's best work, but it had some great jump scares. My future wife lived out in the country--way out in the cornfields--at the time. I'm surprised she still married me after I kept saying 'Did you hear that?'

 Tales That Witness Madness (1973) 

Not a great movie, but best poster ever.

Well, happy Samhain, everyone. Got to go scatter my paper razor blade wrappers among the Halloween candy.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Uses for scary things (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Our topic this month is scary things, and boy is that a broad topic. A narrower one would be, what doesn’t scare me?

I’m not the sort of person who rushes out to challenge all my fears, to overcome them by sheer force. I’ve faced some of them. I’ve climbed mountains that scared me (Gothics, in the Adirondacks, I’m looking at you). I had a panic attack on the second plane ride I ever took (not the first, but the second, which caught me off guard), and yet I’ve continued to fly. I once explored a cave despite claustrophobia. I go to the doctor even though needles don’t thrill me. But thousands of other fears go undefied because the reward isn’t great enough, or I am just not willing to put the time and energy into chasing down the endless parade of fear triggers.

Scary things are good for writing, though. They provide built-in conflict and reader investment (hence the perennial popularity of scary stories). And the page provides a great way to pin down a fear, dissect it, even control it. The story provides a safe distance. We can immerse ourselves in the fear, or—step back and close the book. We don’t have to respond immediately, as in a life-or-death situation. We can think out the possible responses. We have the thrill and challenge of high stakes, while the real-life stakes are low.

An excellent thing to do as part of developing characters is to identify what scares them the most ... and then throw it them. (For the most blatant example, see George Orwell’s 1984.) Not only does that provide the highest stakes, but it gives characters their biggest opportunity for growth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reality, Imagination, and Walter Blythe (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

It's taken me a long time to get around to writing this post because I've been trying to decide which of my most rational and irrational fears are worthy of a look. 

I keep coming back to Walter Blythe.

One of my favorite novels is Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. It's the eighth and last book in the Anne of Green Gables series. The main character is Rilla Blythe, Anne and Gilbert's youngest child, who lives out her teenage years on the Prince Edward Island home front during World War I. Rilla of Ingleside introduced me to the Great War, formed one of my historical obsessions, and recruited me to the "Boo-Hoo Brigade" of people who think the Great War was a senseless tragedy and still cry about it sometimes.

This is the cover of my copy. The covers of Rilla have been rightly criticized for attempting to reduce the book to a historical romance. It is a book that is not easily pigeonholed and thus has trouble attracting readers. Lord, how I sympathize with Montgomery on that. Cool article that should persuade you to read the book, here.

(Spoiler Alert: I'm going to talk about the book, so don't keep reading if you don't want to know what happens. If you've read it, give me a shout out. I rarely encounter anyone who made it to the 8th Anne book.)

One of the major conflicts is the response of Rilla's three brothers to the war. At the outset, only Jem and Walter are of an age to enlist, and Jem does so without hesitation. Walter doesn't. He waits, he's not sure, about the war or about his own participation in it. Walter is the poet, the one who inherited Anne Shirley's imagination and way with words. The war has him imagining terrible things. He's not afraid of being hurt or even of dying. He's afraid of what war will do to his mind, of what he will be asked to do and how it will affect him.

In the patriotic furor of the first year of the war, Walter suffers the consequences. He's called a coward, someone sends him a white feather (a common way to accuse men not in uniform of cowardice).

Walter does eventually join up and is killed in action. But before that, this happens.

In May Walter wrote home that he had been awarded a D.C. Medal. He did not say what for, but the other boys took care that the Glen should know the brave thing Walter had done. "In any war but this," wrote Jerry Meredith, "it would have meant a V.C. But they can't make V.C.'s as common as the brave things done every day here."

"He should have had the V.C.," said Susan, and was very indignant over it. She was not quite sure who was to blame for his not getting it, but if it were General Haig she began for the first time to entertain serious doubts as to his fitness for being Commander-in-Chief.

Rilla was beside herself with delight. It was her dear Walter who had done this thing--Walter, to whom someone had sent a white feather at Redmond--it was Walter who had dashed back from the safety of the trench to drag in a wounded comrade who had fallen on No-man's-land. Oh, she could see his white beautiful face and wonderful eyes as he did it! What a thing to be the sister of such a hero! And he hadn't thought it worth while writing about. His letter was full of other things--little intimate things that they two had known and loved together in the dear old cloudless days of a century ago.

After the war ends and Jem returns, Rilla asks him if he was ever afraid.

"Afraid! I was afraid scores of times--sick with fear--I who used to laugh at Walter when he was frightened. Do you know, Walter was never frightened after he got to the front. Realities never scared him--only his imagination could do that. His colonel told me that Walter was the bravest man in the regiment."

I've held that line in my heart for a long time because it describes me so well.

Realities never scared him—only his imagination could do that.

It's probably an occupational hazard of being a writer. I know from experience that I'm surprisingly calm and controlled and even brave in a real crisis. But nothing can have me cowering under the covers quicker than all the imaginary scenarios my mind can throw at me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Stuff of Legends (by Patty Blount)

I'm a huge fan of the show, Supernatural. For those who've never seen it, it's a series now in its twelfth season and stars two brothers who travel the country hunting monsters that the rest of the world believes are just folklore and legends.

You've probably heard about a lot of these legends. Bloody Mary, The Hitchhiker, scarecrows coming to life, ghost stories, grim reapers -- you name the beast, and Supernatural's probably done it. And done it so well, I never watch this show alone. 

I've often wondered if the show's creators ever traveled the country like the main characters, searching for legends to inspire the next script? 

Doesn't it seem that every group or every town has their own scary legend? I grew up in Queens, NY. When I was a teenager, there was one such legend that terrified us all...but not enough to stay away. 

The legend of the Pin Man. The story was passed on from older teens to younger ones and often required a car trip to the Pin Man's House while someone told the story: 

Don't ever drive through the town of Douglaston on the night of a full moon. 

Wearing high heels. 

That's Pin Man bait. 

There's a narrow cobblestone road that twists and turns through the woods and passes an abandoned cabin. 

That's where it happened. 

That's where the Pin Man took his victims -- a young girl and her boyfriend, whose car broke down. They ignored the signs that said No Trespassing. They knocked on his door. They opened it when no one answered. They walked in, looking for a phone. Her high heels echoed on the rotting floor. 

The cabin had no furniture. No lights. Covered in dust and cobwebs, it stank like something had rotted there long ago and was still there. The couple found an old stick telephone, tried to make it work, but it was futile. 

This place was forgotten long ago.

Not just cold, but so icy, they saw their breath as they each decided it was time to leave this horrible place. The girl turned first but froze when she heard it. 

A soft snick sound followed by a gasp. She spun around, found her boyfriend staring at her -- through her -- his eyes already clouding in death. She ran to him, tried to help him, tried to fix whatever was wrong but she couldn't see anything or anyone. He just stood he was suspended by -- 

Another soft snick and this time, she saw it... the large knitting needle that had pierced straight through him from behind -- first his heart and now his throat. 

She ran, her high heels slowing her down. She kicked them off and ran barefoot through the woods and back to the cobblestone road where they'd left the car. Safe! 

She was safe. She wrenched open a door, flung herself inside and made sure all the locks were fastened before she leaned on the horn, praying help would come. 

They found her the next morning, still leaning on the horn, two knitting needles protruding from her body -- one through the heart and one through the throat. 

The car doors were still locked. 


Well, I won't be sleeping tonight. Who's up for some Words With Friends? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What Makes Something Scary? (Alissa Grosso)

Some years back when I worked for a small newspaper publisher, I was given the assignment of writing about a local haunted house. This was not an actual haunted house, but a Halloween attraction that a local fire company ran as an annual fundraiser. In order to write my story, I was given a private, guided tour of the haunted house. Unlike the paying customers I toured the house during the day, with the lights on. The creepy music had not yet been turned on and the volunteer actors whose job it was to pop out of coffins or materialize out of dark corners were not yet on duty. The result was that I could enjoy my tour and write my article without fear.

You probably aren't all that scared by this photo taken inside the haunted house thanks to the bright light and the lack of scary of music.

I don't really do scary. My boyfriend can attest that even in mildly suspenseful films I've been known to watch half the movie with my eyes closed or uncomfortably grip his arm during particularly tense sequences. Scary isn't my thing. If I hadn't been working for a newspaper, there's no way I would have toured the local haunted house, because there is no way I would walk around there in the dark with the spooky music going. That I was able to breeze through there painlessly during the daytime, shows that scariness requires just the right set up.

In a 2014 article, showed 7 Iconic Horror Film Moments That Are Totally Normal Without the Sound. By using different YouTube clips of traditionally scary scenes and instructing readers to watch them both with and without sound, they showed how creepy music and sound effects have a huge impact on our perception of a scene. For example, here's a scene from Twilight Zone The Movie. Watch it without the sound first, and you'll see it isn't really that chilling, but it becomes much more tense and spooky when the volume gets turned on.


Of course, when it comes to creating scary stories and novels, we can't use the tricks of music and sound effects to spook our readers. So, how do we go about creating genuinely scary horror fiction? We can use the power of words to set the mood, describing a setting in a way that makes it seem dark and creepy, choosing words that highlight the ominous nature of things. You can unnerve your readers by giving them glimpses of the uncanny and bizarre.

And glimpses, may be the key to making things genuinely creepy. Sometimes the shadow just at the edge of one's vision or the predator we can only partially see from our hiding place, is far more terrifying than the monster described in minute detail. A hint of something untoward or just a bit off can make even ordinary settings or objects seem terrifying.

I still think one of the scariest works of fiction I ever read was The Langoliers by Stephen King. It's about people who survive a mysterious plane journey only to find themselves in an eery and empty world. These are ordinary passengers on an ordinary plane. It's not as if the world is teeming with zombies or other monsters. In fact the world is completely empty, which is what makes this such an unnerving and spooky story. With just a little twist, just a hint of wrongness the ordinary can become frightening.

Stephen King is considered a master of horror because he knows what can unnerve us. Perhaps more than a few of the creepy clowns out there were inspired by his novel It.

We've seen that in the real world this year with an outbreak of creepy clowns. While a small segment of the population has always suffered from coulrophobia or fear of clowns, this year because some folks dressed in clown costumes have appeared in unexpected places and acted vaguely menacing, clowns are creeping out a lot of people. In response, McDonalds has said they will limit appearances by their Ronald McDonald mascot and national chains like Target and Goodwill have said they will not sell clown masks this Halloween. My guess is there won't be a lot of parents hiring clowns for their children's birthday parties, either. Clowns, something normally associated with comedy and lighthearted jokes, have become the stuff of nightmares.

A certain amount of realism is needed to make a story scary. If the world and the creatures who inhabit it are too fantastical, it's not likely to spook readers. The story will entertain them, but it will not haunt them. Readers should feel like your story is real, even if they know it's a work of fiction. If things seem too over the top, if your description is too heavy-handed, you run the risk of creating the literary equivalent of Troll 2.

This cult classic movie is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, and is even the subject of the brilliant documentary, Best Worst Movie. It's supposed to be a horror movie, but a ridiculous and confusing premise, campy special effects and some comically bad performances makes the movie into an inadvertent comedy.

If you want to make your readers prickle with fear instead of roar with laughter, you're going to want to turn down the lights and strike up some scary music, at least metaphorically. Subtlety is your friend. Reveal details sparingly and keep things realistic and recognizable, just slightly off. Finally, borrow a trick from the fire company haunted house. Just when your audience is starting to get comfortable, lulled into complacency by the stuffed dummies that sit in chairs in dimly lit rooms, scare their pants off, by having one of those presumed dummies suddenly come to life and jump up from the chair. A well timed shock or twist, will get the pulses racing far more than pages and pages of heavy-handed description.

Alissa Grosso is too much of a scaredy cat to write horror, but she is the author of three mostly-unscary (really, it depends on what frightens you, but there are no creepy clowns!) YA novels Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. You can find out more about her and her books at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Walking While Female (by Jody Casella)

We were eight years old.
We were twelve. Sixteen. Twenty. Thirty-five. Eighty.

We were walking.
We were jogging. Dancing. Drinking. Not drinking. Riding the subway. Swimming. Stepping onto an elevator. Carrying groceries. Sleeping.

We wore short, tight skirts.
We wore bikinis. Sweatpants. Pantsuits. Prom dresses. Pajamas.

We were assaulted.
We were molested. Groped. Degraded. Raped. Silenced.

We are your mothers.
We are your daughters. Your wives. Girlfriends. Sisters. Co-workers. Strangers.

We are Women.
We speak for ourselves.

And we say:
No more.  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Each Story Inspires Its Own Fears (Sydney Salter)

Every time I sit down to write, I experience a slight shiver of fear. I've learned not to analyze the feeling, but to ignore the twanging little wah-wah-wah and start putting words onto the page. Just move the story forward, fix it later, don't think about readers right now.

Upon finishing a novel or story, I allow myself to think about the particular fears haunting that work.

Jungle Crossing was the first novel I wrote, so I mostly worried that I would not know how to write a novel. Yet each writing session grew the story--I was doing it! I should have feared revision (and rejection). Instead, I made the classic newbie mistake and sent that raw flawed manuscript out to all the editors listed in my backlog of SCBWI Bulletins. Writing four other manuscripts and learning to love revision taught me what I needed to know to fix the story.

I wrote Not A Doctor Logan's Divorce Book quickly before attending a writing workshop. The words flowed easily because I'd been waiting to write that story ever since my parents divorced when I was nine years old. Maybe I should have feared the marketability of a book about divorce, but I didn't worry about that. If it never got published, my dad would never read it. Oh, how I dreaded having my dad read that book! After safely sitting in my file cabinet for years, my little divorce book was published by a small press. So my dad did read the book, and he loved it, maybe more than any of my other books. I realized that while my emotions were very real, I had written a fictional story, and my dad understood that too.

My first published novel (4th written) was the one I feared the most. It took me months to tell people the title: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. I dreaded having to talk about big noses, my nose, essentially admitting that I had a nose, maybe a big nose, maybe a big nose that I hated. Oh, did I end up talking about my nose. Over and over again. I learned that there's nothing like repetition to end a dumb fear.

Swoon At Your Own Risk was my sixth manuscript. I put a lot of my mom into the story, but she loves attention of all kinds, so I never worried about her reaction. I had, however, based the love interest on a teenage boy in my neighborhood who skateboarded to high school, gracefully weaving down the street, sometimes holding a coffee in one hand.
A real hottie! Sure, I felt like a creepy old lady, but I was sure no one would ever really know. But then right as the book hit the presses, my youngest daughter became best friends with my inspiration's little sister. Best friends! Soon we were getting together as families for BBQ's and sitting together at biweekly soccer games. Awkward! I'm not sure that my inspiration has read the book, but his younger siblings loved it--and likely did not see much resemblance aside from skateboarding because I'd turned their physicist brother into a poet.

Right now I could swamp myself with all the fears involved with the current story I'm telling--what if X? What if Y? What if Z? But I've learned that most of my fears turn out okay in the end. So I'm going to ignore that wah-wah-wah and just move the story forward, fix it later, and not think about readers right now.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

I Am Not the Jackass Whisperer--by Kimberly Sabatini

This month we are writing about things that scare us.

Let's be honest.
There's an epic ton of things that make me go...

So, I've tried to narrow it down. Neither one of us has the time.

 But do I pick THE scariest? What does that actually mean?
Longest held fear? Newest fear?
Writing fears? Young Adult Fears?
Which direction should I go?

In the end, I decided on the fear in my life that is yelling the loudest at the moment.

The Homo Sapiens.

Yup. I'm bat shit scared of people right now. 

If your looking at me and scratching your head, clearly you haven't been following the election. 

But it's not just that. Although, clearly--that is enough.

I'm not ignorant, hate is a staple in our world. But right now, it feels like there is so much darkness out there. So much more than usual. It's like someone gave hate permission to wave it's freak flag. And it's not just the onslaught of this ugliness that's getting to me. It's also the perception that it's coming at me from so many different directions. Some days it's overwhelming. And it doesn't just scare me, it makes me sad--deeply sad. 

And as I watch so many heroes stepping up, fighting for love, kindness, light and all those other good things in life, I want to be doing that, too. I am against ALL THE BAD THINGS. At least the ones I can think of. Heck, I'm even against the stuff I inadvertently do wrong, the crap I'm too ignorant to understand about my own mistakes. Sometimes I mess up, but I want to be better. 

I want to step upon the battlefield of life and do my part to fight the good fight. I long to be another sandbag on the front line, stopping the flood of haters, even when they keep coming in endless waves.

But some days I don't even know where to begin. Some days I'm overwhelmed and I feel insignificant and not up to the task of saving the world. And often that scares me as much as the haters do. And then I run the risk of shutting down completely and rocking in a corner while eating chocolate ice cream. It's not an attractive picture.

So, I've been thinking about it a lot lately--you know while I've been downing the chocolate. And I've come up with a solution that appears to be working better than anything else I've devised up until now. 

I figure I can't be the only one feeling this way. 
So, I thought I'd share it with you...

There you have it. My plan is NOT to be the Jackass Whisperer.  
Well, that's at least part of the plan. 
Step one.

I think of it like putting my oxygen mask on first. I can't help anyone else if I'm unconscious. I can't be anything good for anyone else if I've been "infected" by the haters. If they make me loose my cool, stoop to their level or just doubt who I am and what I'm about--the haters win by default. 
And that just sucks.
 And even worse, when the haters get inside my head and heart, I'm no good at implementing step two.

And step two is all about understanding who you are. Knowing what YOUR super powers are and figuring out how to use them to your best advantage. To everyone's benefit.

Lately, I've been thinking about what I bring to the table. 
I provide words in the form of books. 
Not everyone can do that. 
But I can. 

So, I've opted to stop trying to win over the haters and instead I'm focusing on my writing.
It probably isn't the bravest, most earth shattering thing that can be done to change the world. But it is what I can do. And what I CAN do is probably a lot better for the world than listening to me whine about what I CAN'T do.
And maybe when my words are in the world, there will be readers who find me and are sparked into seeing the possibilities of what they CAN do. 
Perhaps they will find something between my pages that will help them to feel less scared.

So, here's my plan moving forward:

I'm done trying to win over the haters. 

I'm dedicating myself to the people who are worth my time, love and attention.
I can not fix you. 
You can only fix yourself. 

And because of that, I'm taking my gifts and giving them to the people who aren't screaming hate. 
I'm giving the best of me to those whispering...find me.

I AM looking for you. 

Now I ask you...
if you stopped being a Jackass Whisperer, do you know what you could do?

Friday, October 7, 2016

What Scares Me Now (Joy Preble)

The things that scare me have changed over the years. I'm assuming that's true for most of us. I've got some constants, sure, like spiders and snakes and rodents and ghosts (some, not all!), but those probably don't make me top ten list these days, nor do they generally consume much of my thought process. Okay, the other day while walking the dog I somehow got bitten by what I assume was a spider and the huge red splotch gave me some momentary loop of "Hey maybe it was a brown recluse. Remember that teacher I used to work with who got bitten by a brown recluse and had to have a chunk of her leg dug out? Is it that? Are there red streaks? Should I do something? Is this tube of cortisone cream expired?"

But mostly, I worry about other, more complicated and harder to avoid things. (I couldn't even avoid the spider because I never saw him. But I digress)

What scares me when I let it? A list of the top four, in no particular order:

1. I'm scared that I won't sell another book, that the ideas will dry up, my 'it girl' factor-- limited as it may be--will blow away, my agent and editors will just keep saying no, no, no. This is not a constant worry, but lately as it's been taking me a verrrry long time to finish this one project, it is one of those things that gets my brain all swirly in the middle of the night. Returning to a part time day job has helped take the pressure off-- as Elizabeth Gilbert promised it would in Big Magic-- but I still worry about this, worry the usual author fear that everyone will discover that I'm just a fraud and not talented at all or whatever, and that worry is scary.

2. As a thyroid cancer survivor, I am sometimes afraid that the disease will return. This happens, I know. And disease doesn't discriminate. It came the first time just as I had hit a larger sort of success with my debut and so yeah, I worry about that and that worry is scary.

3. I'm afraid of the societal and political ugliness that seems larger these days. I don't know if it really is larger but certainly the conversation has gotten less civil and the causes are complex and the things I suddenly know about how some of the people in my life feel about issues also scares me. A lot.

4. I'm scared of random things happening randomly. Just last week, there was a mass shooting only blocks from where I work. A lawyer went crazy and went out to the street in his neighborhood and started shooting people on their way to work/Starbucks/the gym.  At least nine people were injured, a couple very seriously. I'm also scared that because no one was killed, the news cycle moved on very quickly from this.

What are you afraid of?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Night of the Bats (Bill Cameron)

Writer Bill was born when I was about seven years old. My aunt and uncle gave me an old, but well-maintained, manual typewriter, and I used it to create newspaper “Extras” recounting the depradations of one Herman the Ant, a giant arthropod with a thirst for blood and masonry. I carefully typed each issue in a three-column layout under a newspaper masthead, with hand-drawn “photos” of the monstrous Herman eating buildings and people. Those were grim times in the world inhabited by Herman.

That was Writer Bill in larval form though. Herman’s stories, while gruesome and dramatic, lacked narrative structure. They also lacked spelling and grammar, but what can I say? I was seven. A couple of years later, I would grow into an actual storyteller when I wrote “The Night of the Bats” for English class. The assignment was to write a three-paragraph essay on what we liked best about Halloween. I turned in a six-page — front-and-back — tale of Halloween horror.

The story opens on Halloween afternoon with a boy arriving home from school to put on his costume: a custom-made bat outfit with realistic wings, head, and a fur body. He can’t wait for his best friend to arrive to go trick-or-treating, but is he ever in for a surprise. His friend, it turns out, is wearing a bat costume as well, complete with similar fur, ears, and flappy wings. Outside, they quickly realize they aren’t the only bats out that Halloween. Everyone, it seems, chose to be bats. Even people who answer the doors and pass out treats are dressed as bats. Frustrated and sad, our hero takes off his bat head and decides to go home. But with his human head exposed, the others in the neighborhood suddenly turn on him — and that’s when he realizes they are all actual bats! He flees as hordes of swarming, human-sized bats pursue him, screaming for blood. Even his friend is in on the chase. Fortunately, he’s able to evade capture by sneaking into an old shed. There, he puts his bat head back on. When he comes out again, none of the other bats pay any attention to him, so he runs home. Unsure what else to do, he climbs into bed falls into a troubled sleep. He awakens the next morning, sure it was all a dream — until mom and dad come into his bedroom and he realizes they’re both giant bats. The end.

The main thing I remember my teacher saying was that the story was too long and didn’t follow the assignment, but since it was creative I got full credit.

That story has stuck with me over the years. In high school, I rewrote it for a creative writing class — doubled the length and added lots of gore. Gore is always good, right? Later I did another version that actually submitted to a few magazines. No luck there, I’m afraid. The editors were probably all giant bats who didn’t want their secret to get out.

Sadly, those early versions are lost. Too many moves, including a cross-country jump in 1990. But the story stuck with me. From time to time, I’ll have a nightmare that rather closely follows the plot of the original story. It’s not always bats, but people turning into other things which then try to eat me is pretty common. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “fear” of mine, but there is a consistent theme at work.

As for “The Night of the Bats,” it did inspire a story that actually has found its way into print. Originally published in Anne Frasier’s Deadly Treats anthology, “Sunlight Nocturne” will be available at on October 15th if you want to see what I did with the original idea forty some odd years later.