Constantine Cocktail: The Steamed Demon

I’m so excited for Friday night’s premiere of Constantine that I’ve taken to drink. It’s not like I’m counting down the days or have watched the preview over three times, really, it’s just that, you know, some shows demand a cocktail creation.

IMG_1031My Steamed Demon here is similar to a whiskey sour, except it’s with red cranberry juice and the addition of a little pop and heat– just like hell. Plus there’s a demonic garnish. (Pro tip: cut the garnish before consuming any cocktail.)

Ingredients for 1 Steamed Demon:
2 oz. bourbon
2 oz. club soda
4 oz. cranberry juice

1 tsp. lemon juice
1 T. sugar
1 red apple

Into your cocktail glass, pour the bourbon and soda and swish together.

Cut one side of the apple. Out of this, cut out two thick triangular wedges. Press these down perpendicular to your glass till they are speared on. Like horns. You may have to try a few times and lose a few apple slices, but sometimes you’ve got to suffer for your art. IMG_1026

If you’re handy with a knife, peel off a strip of the remaining apple skin and slice it into a thin strip, then cut a small triangle out of one end to make a forked tail. Smear a drip of honey on one side of your glass, and affix yIMG_1035our demon tail to it. Sure, it’ll fall off at some point, but you’ll be too drunk to notice.

Heat the cranberry juice on low-medium heat till hot but not boiling. Add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and let it set one minute. It might be dangerous to put a heated liquid into glass, but then again, so is demon hunting.

Pour the heated mixture into a glass with the bourbon and soda. The glass should steam, hence the name. Serve warm, while it’s still heated and you’ve still got your soul.


Writers Who Read: Amy Kathleen Ryan

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with YA author Amy Kathleen Ryan.

Who are you?amykathleenryan
I am Amy Kathleen Ryan, author of the young adult Sky Chasers series, which has been published in over a dozen languages, and also the contemporary YA novels Vibes and Zen and Xander Undone.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, a fascinating science fiction story about the power of love. This is the first children’s book I read that didn’t seem to be talking down to me as a reader. It is full of brilliant, fascinating ideas, and challenging language.

The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham, a completely heartwarming tale of friendship. It deserves to be a classic.

The Little Engine that Could, a story retold by many authors, based on the sermon by Charles S. Wing. I obsessed about this story as a very young child, and I believe it contributed to my perseverance, which has allowed me to be a professional writer.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Lately I’ve been pushing Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood on people. It’s a really great science fiction novel about an insane plot to restore the natural order to the planet by killing every human. The world that is left is so riddled with genetically modified animals that the future looks very monstrous indeed.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? (Example: I have a strange weakness for books with British characters, bawdy writing, and stories involving high school reunions.)
That’s funny, I love books set in England too! Books that I tend to love have a few things in common: Great characters who are realistically flawed, absorbing setting but not so much description that I feel bogged down, and a story that doesn’t make me want to ask the question, “So what?”

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Quiet house, dogs on my chair with me, cup of Earl Grey with milk and sugar, snowing outside, nothing to do all day long. Been a long time since I’ve had that perfect alchemy. The last time was when I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clark, about nine years ago, in our dingy little apartment in Brooklyn. (There were about nine colors of blue paint in that place, but it worked for me. I like blue.) Since then I’ve moved to Colorado and had three kids! Very little time to read now.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I think because of Madeleine L’Engle’s depictions of family life, I would have to point to her as the reason why I write for young adults. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, like almost everyone I think, and I coped by losing myself in books that showed stable parents and a loving family setting. This isn’t to say I wasn’t loved. I was, but my parents were overwhelmed, and had a hard time responding to my emotional needs, something I understand better now that I’m a parent! Madeleine L’Engle was balm to my soul. I want to offer the same comfort to my readers.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?amykathleenryanbook
Balance? Could you define the term? I am unfamiliar. The truth is that since I had kids, I am out of balance most of the time. (Since I started writing the answers for this interview, I’ve broken up two fights and provided a hasty morning snack.) While my kids are very young I feel that they must be my first priority. I owe that to them. So for a few years I have no balance, and finding the energy, time, and head-space to write is a constant struggle. I can only hope it will get easier when they are older.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, preferably from the library. I like worn-in books that have been read by a lot of people. It makes me feel like I’m part of a community.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I would love to be part of a book club for the social aspect, but I think I would never actually read the books. I’d just show up for the wine! The truth is I need to be able to flit from book to book at will, and read only what I am in the mood for. My reading time is so very limited I don’t want to spend time on books that someone else chooses.

What are you reading now?
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, about a boy who survives a terrorist attack in a museum and becomes the accidental custodian of one of the great works of art. It’s really a wonderful novel and I think she deserves the Pulitzer for it.

You can learn more about Amy and her books at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

The Method in the Monster

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Today I welcome a guest post by Kieran Lyne discussing Sherlock Holmes and the longevity of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ as part of the Halloween 2014 series

Some words possess a quality, a magic spark which instantly conjures certain images to our minds. If I were to say ‘Halloween’ for example, what would come to mind? Personally I instantly think of a headless horseman as I can recall a particularly unpleasant image of one on TV as a child, whereas that could well be the last thing on someone else’s mind.

There is something out there that scares the “bejesus” out of all of us: whether it’s Chandler Bing and his dancing Irishman, spiders, heights, responsibility, death, work, exercise, failure… Dale Winton. But what is it that makes some stories scarier than others? Not every book has us on edge, jumping at the slightest of sounds. And why is it that some stand the test of time, while others have been allowed to drift off into that bleakest of wildernesses, obscurity?

Though there are many titles which fill this criteria I have chosen one in particular from that miserable bunch we call the Victorians, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’

Like Halloween the title is engrained in our culture and psyche. It has that magic and even if it doesn’t conjure up images to everyone it certainly evokes a sense of foreboding. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is the most iconic title relating to one of literature’s most iconic characters, Sherlock Holmes. Considering the popularity of criminal fiction it might seem a bit surprising that the great detective’s most famous case revolves around a spectral hound, but for many this is the Sherlock Holmes story, and I think I know why.

It is the masterful conflict between the pure logic of Holmes pitted against the horror of the hound.

To most, this will sound obvious. But what Conan Doyle expertly does is draws us deep within the horror of the story by convincing us that it might actually be true. We are introduced to the problem via a trustworthy source whose evidence we are not likely to dismiss as fanciful. By having Holmes and Watson dissect the character and therefore reliability of Dr. Mortimer before his arrival, we are already prepared to accept the validity of his testimony, which makes his revelation so chilling and memorable:

‘Mr. Holmes they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!’

This sets us on course, but after laying out this sinister and intriguing plot, Conan Doyle then separates Holmes from Watson and with it our sense of security, which is only heightened by a rare display of affection by Holmes toward his companion:

‘I give you my word that I shall be very glad to have you back safe in Baker Street once more.’

Watson is sent into the heart of this darkest of mysteries alone, which allows for a much greater sense of trepidation to build. The foreboding image of Baskerville Hall, a woman sobbing quietly in the night-time, and then the first sound of the dreaded hound sweeping across the moor, all combine to create a truly gripping atmosphere.

The hound is slowly building from myth into reality. There is undeniable proof of its existence: it leaves prints, howls across the moor, and even murders a man in cold blood; but it is through Holmes that our own fear is heightened:

‘ “Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul.’

And this is what elevates ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ and why it could only ever work to such a degree as a Sherlock Holmes story.

As most will know Holmes is not a usual detective: though he is the foremost champion of the law, he does not necessarily base his actions accordingly; he is the final court of appeal, and champions a higher power, logic. He is constantly searching for that tangible thread which will bring instant, rational clarity to what are often exceedingly complex or mysterious situations.

‘When you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’

The story is no longer simply about criminal vs detective: it is about the plausibility of myth, superstition, and horror triumphing over the purest form of rational thinking. It is tradition against modernity, belief over reason. It is unsurprising that this famous line was saved for the ‘Hounds of Baskerville’ episode in the BBC’s Sherlock, as in this instance the writers have flipped its reasoning: no longer is it an argument for rationale, but to question just what is possible and highlight how deeply shaken Sherlock has become. In no other genre could Holmes suffer this raw sense of conflict.

Fans of pure horror who like to escape into the realm of monsters and evil will perhaps not enjoy it because of this. But for those of us who find fright within the depths of plausibility and reality, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is still one of the best.

 

Kieran Lyne is a Suffolk-based author and writer of tongue-in-cheek reviews on Film, Literature and F1. His debut novel, The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes, was released in September 2014 and he is the youngest writer to be endorsed by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. He is currently penning a set of Holmes short stories which he hopes to release in 2015, and also plans on writing another Holmes novel, as well as his own original material.

You can find out more about Kieran at his website or on Twitter.image

About The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes:

In the dawn of 1891 Sherlock Holmes is locked in a deadly game of wits with the sinister Professor James Moriarty; but events will soon transpire which will question the very outcome of Reichenbach. With Holmes presumed dead, the streets of London are panic-stricken, as a resurrected terror takes hold of the city; whilst in the upper-echelons of Government, a singular, undetectable force can once again be felt manipulating the criminal underworld.

The ever reliable Dr. Watson has deceived us all, as he finally reveals the far more shocking events which led to both the return of Sherlock Holmes and his involvement in the suppression of London’s most notorious criminal.

Where Have the Horror HEAs Gone?

I’ve loved horror movies since I was a kid, but it’s different now. Horror has changed.

I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, with its implication that there are worlds and creatures unknown and unseen in our daily lives. And within the fantasy realm I’m especially drawn to dark paranormal stories, in the same way my toddler is drawn to the color green: I don’t know the reason, but when I see it I want to pick it up.

And so, back in my ’80s childhood, I picked up The Monster Squad and Poltergiest, Ghostbusters and Fright Night (Chris Sarandon’s demon face leering at me from the cover of the VHS at my video store).

My favorite movies back then intrigued me, startled me, and freaked me out. But, at the very end, they did something else too: they gave me hope. The poltergeist was vanquished, if at least temporarily. The vampire next door who bit your girlfriend met an explosive death in the sunlight. Evil had come out to play, but it didn’t have the last word.

Horror movies have lost their happy endings. When I venture to a scary movie nowadays, I’m often impressed as well as scared by the improved effects, psychological twists, and genre-pushing thrills. But when it’s near the end and I’m ready for my reprieve, a sense that everything will somehow be okay, it gets worse, oh so much worse. The murderer isn’t killed, the ghost lives on. And it kills your mother and your sister and your sanity. Instead of hope, there’s a knife twist.

Maybe this is a genre expectation now, or what hardcore horror fans like. Maybe we want our fear with a side of fear, and then topped off with a thick dripping slice of terror for dessert. Maybe conquering monsters at the end means they weren’t such baddies after all, nothing to be afraid of–and so something we shouldn’t see in a scary movie.

I don’t know. But I miss the stories where the monsters turn to dust when the day breaks.

This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series, featuring my posts and guest posts on all things spooky, from Sherlock to spiders to the scariest stories ever read.

On Writing What People Fear

Today I’m welcoming writer Cait Spivey, author of the novella I See The Web and its sequel, A Single Thread, which comes out on Halloween. I gulped down I See the Web over the weekend, and, despite being a severe arachnophobe, enjoyed reading a unique tale with a funny young adult narrator. (But, yes, I did check my walls for spiders a few times.)

This post originally appeared on Ann M. Noser’s blog as part of the I SEE THE WEB blog tour.

I love horror movies, but I never thought of myself as a horror writer. The goal of my stories has never been to tap into the fears of my readers.image

And then I wrote a novella about spiders.

Of course, I See the Web isn’t really about the spiders. It’s about a seventeen-year-old lesbian named Erin who discovers that her crush has a crush on her just as a horde of supernatural creatures demand her assistance.

But the fact that those supernatural creatures are spiders can’t be ignored. Because people are afraid of spiders.

I used to be one of those people, and I’ve talked a couple of times about how I grew out of that fear. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where even our biggest spiders don’t get that big compared to my own size, and most of the ones I come across are smaller than my pinkie fingernail. Why on earth should I be afraid of such a little thing?

The truth is, I learned to be afraid of it. My mom was creeped out by spiders. Spiders are everywhere in spooky Halloween decorations. Their bodies are so different from mine, so alien. They’re movie monsters–seeing Eight Legged Freaks as a kid virtually guaranteed that I would be afraid of spiders. So I went along with that narrative until I was forced to spend twenty minutes watching a tiny spider cling for its life to my side mirror while I drove up a highway at seventy miles per hour.

Yes, spiders are venomous, and some of them have especially nasty venom. We’ve all been warned against, for example, black widows and brown recluses. But do you really, for one second, believe that you are the target of an insect smaller than a quarter? (Fun fact: black widows and brown recluses are two of the most venomous spiders in the US, but they are non-aggressive, bite only when threatened, and almost never inject enough venom to be dangerous to healthy adults.)

Spiders aren’t like mosquitoes or ticks, who feed on the blood of large mammals. They aren’t like wasps and hornets, who swarm us to defend their nests. Literally the only time a solitary little spider will bother with us is when we’re inadvertently stepping on them, or whacking at them while we blindly reach to that dusty top shelf, or leaning against a tree and crushing them into the bark.

My friends, spiders actually are more afraid of you than you are of them.

I See the Web was inspired by a night I spent fearfully watching a spider that was so uninterested in me it was almost funny. When I wrote the book, I didn’t think about how hard it might be to sell a story that prominently featured an arthropod that is so commonly feared.

I should note, by the way, that I would never ask a formally diagnosed arachnophobe to read I See the Web unless they decided to incorporate it into their exposure therapy. But for the rest of us, our fear of spiders was probably absorbed from and unchallenged by entertainment media (with the notable exception of the adorable Spider Bro).

So back to trying to market I See the Web, a book that is not about spiders but still features them pretty explicitly–a book that many people cannot bring themselves to read, even if they really want to, a book that people must get up the courage to read. A book that many of the bloggers hosting me on this tour could not read, because they are too creeped out by spiders.

I asked myself a single question: do I regret it?

No. Because while the goal of my stories has never been to tap into the fears of my readers, it has been to tap into the feelings of my readers, and that is something at which I See the Web has been successful. Spiders make us feel afraid, uncomfortable, on edge. Spotting one makes us become very aware of our surroundings. We hold our breath and a shoe, waiting for our moment to strike–or we lose sight of it and try to move on, but our skin dances with phantom itches, and we jump when the slightest movement catches our eye.

The same thing happens to Erin in I See the Web. See, Erin doesn’t like spiders either, supernatural or otherwise. She has the same reaction to spiders that most people do–namely, oh god get it away from me get it away. And what Erin learns, in the space of heightened awareness the spiders induce in her, is that the spiders have their place in the world just like everything else.

Some stories we read because they give us what we expect, and that’s all we want from them. Some stories we read to escape, to be transported. And some stories we read because we want our expectations flipped. Sometimes we want to face our fears through the safe lens of fiction. Sometimes we want our pulses to quicken. Sometimes we want our flesh to crawl.

Sometimes, we’re horror writers after all.

Cait Spivey is a speculative fiction writer, author of the paranormal novella series “The Web”. She is also an intern at Corvisiero Literary Agency and a freelance editor with Bear and Black Dog Editing, LLC. In her spare time, she plans her next tattoo (there will always be a next tattoo), watches too much Netflix, and spends quality time with her darling husband Matt and completely adorable dog Jay. The rest of her time is devoted to her tireless quest to make America read more.

Website: http://caitspivey.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CaitSpivey

I SEE THE WEB buy links:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/I-See-Web-Cait-Spivey-ebook/dp/B00K11QVMO

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-see-the-web-cait-spivey/1119064299

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/424634

imageThe sequel, A SINGLE THREAD, will be out on Halloween.

Writers Who Read: Elizabeth Enslin

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Elizabeth Enslin.Official headshot

Who are you?
Elizabeth Enslin, author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal, recently released from Seal Press. I was once an academic anthropologist but now write literary nonfiction and raise yaks, pigs, geese and chickens on a farm in eastern Oregon.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Never Cry Wolf, My Family and Other Animals, Wind in the Willows. I loved any book about animals or animal characters.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
It depends on where conversations go and what interests I perceive. I especially like recommending books that expand horizons around complicated cultural and political issues. These days, I often find myself suggesting The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. Smart, poignant and highly readable, it provides a nuanced and informed understanding of immigration issues in the US.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Long, nuanced, many-layered, multi-vocal works that weave in some political or historical angle. I especially like books that explore complicated cultural encounters, gender, class, race, marginalized groups. I also love books that weave in natural history.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
It used to be in bed at night. But now, I need reading glasses, more light and reclining positions not so friendly to reading. I need to develop new habits. In fact, rather than a writing retreat, I think I need a reading retreat so I can shift out of some stale homebound habits and give more sustained attention to a growing stack of to-be-read books.

WhileGodsSleeping_printWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As I made the slow transition from academic to literary writing about culture, I found great inspiration in fiction, such as (to name a few):

The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh
Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga
Love Medicine (and others), Louise Erdrich
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Hummingbird’s Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Not very well. I need to sink fully into one or the other.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I worship physical books, but I enjoy the convenience of my e-reader. I especially like being able to make font sizes bigger. I haven’t used audio books much but hope to listen to some in the next few weeks when I’m driving around the Pacific Northwest for the first phase of my book tour.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I’m not much of a joiner, especially around reading. I’ve tried keeping lists but never seem to be able to find them (even on the computer!) when I need to choose a new book. I have a running list in my head but like many other things there, it shifts around a lot.

What are you reading now?
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You can find out more about Elizabeth at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Girl B Bites It: A Horror Trope That Needs to Die

Today I welcome a guest post by Hillary Monahan, author of the new YA horror Mary: The Summoning, talking about a horror trope that needs to die as part of the Halloween 2014 series.image

Our scene is a party, possibly in a frat house but more likely in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Loud music, alcohol, possibly drugs. In one corner is Girl A, a quiet girl who refuses to partake in any of the excess, afraid her parents will find out where she is and be angry with her. Maybe she’s the designated driver. Or maybe she was dragged to the festivities against her will by a friend. This girl makes sure you know she is out of place—she says she needs to be studying or doing homework because she’s a good student and good students don’t party. She’s conservatively dressed, young, and fresh-faced. If she’s wearing makeup, it’s subtle enough you can’t tell she’s wearing it.

In the other corner is Girl B. She shamelessly drinks beer. She dances with the boys. Maybe she dances with other girls and grinds against them. She’s wearing heavy makeup and revealing clothing. If cleavage is not shown, it’s hinted at with a clingy shirt. She’s an openly sexual creature, Girl B. When she’s asked about school, she’s disdainful of it. She likes to party, and partying is clearly more important than her future. At some point during the party, Girl B will inevitably be mean to Girl A, telling her to lighten up. Mocking Girl A for her sheltered lifestyle and unwillingness to participate in the fun.

Eventually, Girl B will find a boy she likes. She will go to a dark, secluded place with him. There will be kissing and groping. Girl B’s shirt will be removed, her breasts exposed. Sex happens, and it includes a lot of bouncing as sex is wont to do. There’s groaning and gasping and dirty words. Right before Murder McMurdypants shows up to hack Girl B to pieces.

Enter the slutty girl gets murdered trope in horror.

We know the scenario outlined above because it’s prevalent in horror culture, especially in slasher films. Girl A is the survivor girl who will, at some point late in the story, claim victory over Murder McMurdypants due to pure spirit. But before we can hand victory to this female paragon of virtue, we must sexualize and in turn butcher her opposite. We must kill the slut. I’ve heard some people say that Girl A is empowered, that she wins the day and that’s a win for women as a whole. No, not really, because Girl A doesn’t exist. She’s a caricature of my gender, but not really my gender. She’s an unrealistic ideal.

Thoughts. I have them.

A) Girl A is pretty, but not too pretty. At the very least she’s not aware of her pretty because women who acknowledge their prettiness are vain and vanity is bad.
B) Anything that calls attention to Girl A’s pretty, meaning makeup or revealing clothing, detracts from her worth. It’s medieval times all over again! A girl’s worthiness (and in this case worthiness of life) directly correlates to her purity.
C) Girls aren’t supposed to have fun! Dancing is bad. Drinking is bad. Parties are bad. Girls are supposed to want to go to the library or church all the time. Or stay home alone on a Friday hoping the perfect dude (Girl A’s writer/creator?) asks her out.
D) Girl A definitely won’t have sex with anyone until she’s in love. Because sex before you have selected a proper long-term partner is bad. (Which is hysterical since there’s a prevalent mindset in our society that men are owed sex after they’ve invested X amount of energy into a woman, wherein X is a variable that includes approximately three dinners.)
E) Girls who have sex ARE DUMB. According to this trope, virginity is tied to intelligence. Only stupid girls take off their clothes for a boy. Sluts don’t care about school or their futures.
F) Also worth noting–everything Girl B does is never for her. It’s never a self-empowering “I’m a sexual creature and I want to look good tonight” thing. Girl B dresses and acts the way she does TO GET A MAN.
G) Because Girl B wants to trap you with her lady parts, and if you succumb, you, too, will be butchered by Murder McMurdypants.
H) Which I guess teaches girls not to get with men. Because the moment our boobs are shown, Murder McMurdypants appears to do his murder thing. Three bounces and he’s summoned from the ether.
I) Sure, the body count in the slasher film usually slants more towards guy bodies over girl bodies, but how many dudes are sexualized before they go to the chopping block? (The answer is none, by the way.)
J) So you’re going to kill the girl who does all of these bad girl behaviors, but not until she’s given you a pants tingle?
K) DO YOU NOT SEE HOW SCREWED UP THAT IS? To want that moment of leering bliss before watching Girl B get hacked into fifteen trillion pieces?

There is nothing wrong with virginity or virginal behavior. There is, however, plenty wrong with shaming (McMurdifying) women who choose another path. Loving yourself, your body—loving fun and letting go every once in a while?—these are not punishable offenses. These are not things that deserve a gruesome end. While heaps of male bodies is exploitive in its own way, the problem slants towards a female-centric issue the moment the woman’s sexuality is invoked and the male’s is not. And in horror, the female’s sexuality is almost always invoked before her demise.

I’m begging future writers to consider what you’re saying when you punish Girl B. There is more at play here than a few seconds of bouncing boobs for fun and laughs. There’s a baseline misogyny that screams of slut-shaming. As a horror fan who just so happens to also be a feminist, I cannot in good conscience include this trope in my work without feeling like I need a delousing afterward.

 

At night, when the lights are dim and the creepy crawlies scuttle around in the dark, Hillary Monahan throws words at a computer. Sometimes they’re even good words. A denizen of Massachusetts and an avid gamer dork, she’s most often found locked in a dark room killing internet zombies or raging about social injustice.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HillaryMonahan
Blog: http://www.hillaryjmonahan.com

Check out Mary: The Summoning at Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

 

Top Ten Reasons Romance Writers Should Pen Horror

imageThough I’m mainly a romance writer, I’m writing a horror story this fall. I’ve long been drawn to ghosts and gothics, and it’s been a great experience. Here are ten reasons why all romance writers should try writing in a genre like horror occasionally.

(Of course this all comes with the caveat that seasoned horror authors may take a hatchet to some of these points. Go ahead; I’m waiting for you.)

1. You’ll write outside your comfort zone and learn in the process. Writing romance is like your preferred form of exercise: if you’re a runner, you get better by more jogging, but it can be helpful if you also lift weights and stretch to round out your fitness. So write in your genre(s), but try something new to stretch your mental muscles. Think of it as cross training.

2. But it’s still about the seduction. In romance, you don’t usually have the main characters have sex on page two. You build to it, having the characters glance at each other, maybe brush against each other in an elevator or exchange witty repartee. Likewise, in my horror story, I am trying to slowly build fear, creating a creepy atmosphere and tension before any ghouls show up.

3. You can still let your romance flag fly. In my short horror story, there’s a monster, but there’s also a girl who really wants to kiss a boy. You don’t have to kill all things romance in a scary story.

4. But you’re not bound by romance conventions. The romance doesn’t have to be central, the hero and heroine don’t have to end up together. Happily never after? Yeah, I’ll write that sometimes.

5. Characters still matter. Even when we are talking about blood and guts and thrills and chills, the characters still have goals, conflicts, and feelings beyond just shrieking at the bad guy under the bed.

6. Relationships matter too. Complex characters in any genre have complex relationships. We romance authors write in a relationship-focused genre. We totally got this.

7. You can make it about something else. My favorite horror tales are those that use zombies and ghosts to tell a human story. Romances I love do the same. Some people may accuse romance as just being about sex. It’s not, and neither is good horror just about monsters.

8. You’ll learn to invoke fear. This could be helpful if you’re interested in writing paranormal or suspense romance, or even if you are just thinking about ways of creating a particular emotional experience for the reader.

9. You’ll also learn to linger in the uncomfortable spot. When writing romantic comedy, I enjoy writing scenes of delicious awkwardness or sexual tension. When writing my horror story and really putting myself in my character’s terrified shoes, all I want to do sometimes is get her to safety. But that’s not very scary, so it’s teaching me to sit in the icky spots for longer, which is helpful because, I don’t know, election season?

10. But you’ll have fun. Monsters, vengeful ghosts, and crazy sociopaths in a dental office have one thing in common: they are limited only by our imagination. For those of us who write romance set in the real world, it’s wonderful to be able to let our freakish imaginations run wild, if only in October.

This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series. For more posts in this series (Bigfoot! Victorian horror! Scariest stories!), click here.

Why is Bigfoot Scary (and Funny)?

Today I welcome a guest post from author Ann Gelder, author of Bigfoot and the Baby, writing about Bigfoot as part of the Halloween 2014 seriesann_g_wall2_BW

I’ve always felt that even the sunniest-seeming lives are ringed with darkness, like scraps of paper slowly burning. The fire that eventually consumes us also gives us light.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I was, for a time, absolutely terrified of Bigfoot. This happened, I think, for a couple of reasons. I’d seen a movie called Monsters! Mysteries or Myths? on television, and this dubious documentary introduced me to the infamous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film. It also, as I recall, showed a woman brushing her hair at a night table, when suddenly a massive, hairy arm shattered a nearby window and reached for her … I don’t remember what happened after that.

Right around the same time, my grandmother purchased a cottage on a small lake in northern Michigan as a gift to her extended family. My mom and I began spending our entire summers at the cottage, while my father went back home to Cleveland, for weeks at a stretch, to work. Those nights he was gone, I lay in my bed, surrounded by windows and swaying, dark trees, waiting for that hairy arm to break through. A Freudian psychologist–which my mother just happened to be, by training–would have had a field day with this nightmare/fantasy, and so I kept it to myself. Instead I gobbled up a seemingly endless supply of paperbacks about Bigfoot at the nearby bookstore.

What was I after in seeking out all this “information”? The comfort of understanding, or greater terror? Looking back, it seems like both; that scary time feels, in retrospect, also magical. In writing my novel, Bigfoot and the Baby, I wanted to capture that feeling above all–that place, at the margins of our ordinary nights and days, where curiosity, desire, and fear intersect.

But Bigfoot, perhaps more than any other legendary creature, is also funny. We seem to like laughing at all our ape relatives, but that laughter partly comes from nervousness. They’re just a little too close to us, reminding us of the wildness in ourselves. We can cage chimpanzees, and dress them up to calm ourselves down, but Bigfoot’s too big and too elusive for that. Always just beyond our capture, he’s the fear we have to live with.

You can find out more about Ann at her website or on Twitter: @AnnBGelder.

 

Writers Who Read: Scariest Stories Ever

I asked the authors who’ve participated in my Writers Who Read interview series a simple question: What’s the scariest story you’ve ever read? Down below are their answers, from Stephen King to Shelley to an old MR James collection of ghost stories.

Adrienne Celt
H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House”
I read The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft while living in Chicago and experiencing some sort of ghost story fugue state: the weather was dark and gloomy, and I was probably a little too into it. Taken as a whole, the collection isn’t actually all that scary – it’s compelling, rather, as an overview of Lovecraft’s chaotic vision of the horror just behind the veil of human consciousness. A lot of the pieces are fragmentary, and I was starting to get frustrated by all those barque snippets when I hit “Dreams in the Witch House.” Let me just say: this story scared the pants off me. On the first page, I was stretched out on the couch, lazy and happy. By the last, I was crunched into the smallest ball my knees and elbows and spine could possibly conform to. Highly recommended, if you never want to sleep soundly again.

Stephanie Feldmantumblr_m4wheupwiH1rnjpbv
MR James’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
Oh, how happy I was to discover these old time-y ghost stories. I especially love “The Mezzotint,” in which a curator receives an unremarkable picture of an unidentified estate. He shares it with an appraiser, hoping to learn why it’s been valued so highly—and the friend observes a figure in the corner of the frame. The narrator seeks out another opinion, and finds the picture has changed again: “In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was crawling on all-fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.” And the picture continues to change.

James’ tales are not polished, workshopped fiction–they’re brilliantly creepy, unsettling fragments and vignettes to dip into in October, preferably on a dark day when you’re alone.

Amanda Gale
Frank Norris’s McTeague
The scariest story I’ve ever read is Frank Norris’s novel McTeague. It isn’t only the eerie events that occur, the dark behavior of the characters; the real horror lies in the suggestion that we are all at the mercy of primal, animalistic forces from within, that we are doomed to destinies almost preordained by our flaws. Norris’s characters are ordinary people, merely a few among millions—but each has a unique secret, an undeniable drive in his or her core. In their helplessness, they seem childlike, which makes their actions all the more disturbing and creepy. And though they are caricatures, we can easily find them in the world around us, and that is the scariest part of all.

Ann Gelder
Jo Walton’s Among OthersWalton
Jo Walton’s Among Others isn’t terrifying in the usual sense, but unsettling—and it’s stayed with me in a way that many other books haven’t. The story uses hints of the supernatural to express the deep sadness and fear of adolescence—especially the sense of possible total rejection by your own family. The world will always feel weird to some of us … but Walton offers us hope for true friendship and great joy.

Daniel Hales
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”
The story with the distinction of haunting me for the longest is Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I was about 13 at a youth group Halloween party. We were sitting on hay bales in a dark barn after a hayride, and one of the leaders read it by candlelight—and he read it masterfully, smug and calm at first, with mounting hysteria. Then, unexpectedly, he screamed the last lines (the killer’s confession to the police) and blew the candle out. Even more than the spooky setting and the theatrical delivery, the tale stayed with me because it was the first that made me complicit in the crime. In so many scary tales, the killer’s out in the dark, lying in wait. Poe was a master of putting the reader inside the twisted, obsessive brains of madmen. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator, tries to deny his insanity, then takes another tack, conceding, even defending his madness: “the disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them.” What could be scarier than having your own brain, your very senses, conspire to destroy you?

Kieran Lyne
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Frankenstein. It is fabulous not only for its horror elements but also its philosophical, which still resonate today. A man-made monster twisted into evil by the rejection of society, giving chase to its creator, all set within a variety of atmospheric 19th-century backgrounds. What more could you want?

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Amy Kathleen Ryan
Stephen King’s The Stand
The most book-scared I’ve ever been was when I read The Stand by Stephen King, a novel that depicts a horrifying pandemic that kills 99% of the world’s population in a few weeks. Cocky singer Larry Underwood decides the best and fastest way out of New York City is by the Lincoln Tunnel, which happens to be stuffed full of dead bodies. And rats. I’m naturally squeamish, and honestly wanted to put the book down but I couldn’t because Stephen King’s masterful prose wouldn’t release me. I still remember how scared I was. It was the middle of a Vermont summer and I had no air conditioning, but I felt cold in my red flannel bath robe. I couldn’t sleep at night, and decided I had to commit every waking moment to finishing the book so that I could finally be free. That was one of the most thrilling reading experiences I’ve ever had.

Tanya Selvaratnam
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary
Choosing a book by Stephen King is obvious, but the truth is the story I was most terrified by was Pet Sematary. It’s about a family torn apart when they move to a small town in Maine near a cemetery for pets and an ancient Indian burial ground where people and animals could be resurrected. When I was reading the book, I was in boarding school in New England, and my bedroom had a view of a cemetery. I had to sleep with the lights on. Also, because of the cat in the book named Church that comes back to life and starts ripping apart other animals, cats freaked me out.

Gabrielle Selz
Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. So engrossing and simple. My mother, a writer who loved “the gothic” and who wasn’t always careful about what she exposed her children too in the name of art, read this story to me when I was seven. I was shocked by the ending, by the realization that even family members could turn on each other. I understood, on a level I was too young to articulate, that violence and persecution was random. The Lottery was written in 1948, only 3 years after the end of WWII and it perfectly captures Hannah Arendt’s term, The Banality of Evil, to describe Eichman, but also a larger population and their inability to think for themselves. This short story scared me so much that it haunts me even now.

Maureen O’Leary Wanket
Peter Straub’s Ghost Story
Ghost Story by Peter Straub is my favorite horror novel of all time. Straub takes his sweet time telling this awful, intricate story of a group of old men facing the ramifications of an awful thing they did together when they were young. Fred Astaire is in the movie version, which is weird enough in itself. The movie is okay but the book got under my skin from the beginning. I read it for the first time when I was a teenager. The characters of two brothers who live in the woods are awful and terrifying. This is a story of supernatural evil that Straub writes with complete conviction. This is a scary and brutal story, impeccably and elegantly told.

Laura Madeline Wiseman
Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder
I read the audio version of State of Wonder in the evenings the year I finished my Ph.D. and while listening in the darkness of my bedroom, the creepy world of insects, swelter, and sickness made my skin crawl, made me think that the equator would never be a place I wanted to go. One aspect of the novel focuses on the protagonist’s search for her missing colleague in the Amazon rainforest where a scientific study is currently running. It is a place where culture, science, and women’s reproductive capabilities take a haunting twist. It was this—women curiously giving birth in their seventies and sightings of a white creature floating through the treetops—that made me shiver, turn on the lights, and look for a cat to scratch for comfort.

This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series. Find out more about this series here—if you dare.

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