Many are just that and more. Enjoy.
From Thought Catalog: 40 Freaky Creepy Ass Two Sentence Stories...
Many are just that and more. Enjoy.
Step into The Hole
The Hole by William Meikle is another blockbuster lead from DarkFuse. The novella is about a series of massive holes that begin swallowing up a small town. Casualties are high, and the survivors are haunted by something terrifying…demons, ghosts, aliens - no one knows for sure. The survivors know one thing: that the situation is likely to kill them and they must find a solution before it does.
This synopsis seems pretty simple, but the narrative is anything but simple. The plot is exciting, the tension is overwhelming, and the story is quite unpredictable. The characters are terrific – nicely drawn and very individual. The story line contains elements of horror and disaster/adventure and Mr. Meikle uses these to their fullest extent. Who lives and who dies is not foreseeable.
One minor criticism is the author’s portrayal of rural townspeople. Everyone uses “ain’t” quite frequently, and many have the habit of using singular pronouns with plural verbs (e.g., he weren’t). The author seemed to be painting with an awfully broad brush to characterize nearly everyone in this manner.
I strongly recommend this novella. The pacing is excellent, the scares are timely, and the story is jaw-dropping fun.
3, 4, or 5 stars?
I was recently talking with Shari Stauch from Where Writer’s When who is teaching me about the uses of social media in preparation for the launch of Birth Offering. Somehow we had gotten on to the topic of review ratings on Amazon. I expressed doubt about the veracity of reviews that were one-sentence, 5-star reviews. My reasoning was simple (or so I thought): the reviews were likely from friends and family of the author – and maybe the publisher. The one-sentence comments indicated that few, if any, read the book.
Shari is too kind to say this out loud, but I think she thought I was crazy – or self-destructive. Five star reviews were coveted by everyone – the best marketing for selling a book. Of course that’s true. I want 5-star reviews for Birth Offering when it comes out next week. But, then I wondered, am I shooting myself in the foot for thinking this way – and now writing about it. Am I inviting reviews that describe my book as mediocre (or worse)? I thought about this, and (gulp) maybe I am.
Here is my logic. When I read a review on Amazon or Goodreads, I pay close attention to thoughtful reviews that provide logic or rationale or some kind of analysis. These don’t have to be necessarily long, but they are often multiple sentences at least, and quite typically multiple paragraphs. A 3 or 4 star review that indicates what the reviewer found exciting, pleasant, or gripping, along with a mention of flaws or less than ideal prose are worth their weight in gold to me as a potential customer and to the author. The reviewer shows that he or she read the book and felt strongly enough about the book to provide the review. That means it had an impact. I can trust this type of review. Sometimes, even the described flaws can make me curious enough about a book to read it. I suppose even some 1 or 2 star reviews can have the same impact (assuming of course, these are moderated by a lot more 3-plus reviews).
On the other extreme, I do not give any credence to 1-star reviews along the lines of “the book sucked” and “I only read the first 40 pages and then gave up”. The former reviewer should give more detail as to why the book sucked, and I wonder whether the latter reviewer should even write a review.
During all of my considerations on the topic, I began to wonder if I am in the minority – and that some of the less that 5-star reviews I have “awarded” may have dissuaded readers from reading outstanding novels. For instance, I have read and provided reviews for a number of horror novels and novellas in recent weeks (The Tent, Fevered Hills, The New Flesh, The Cold Spot, The Bleeding Season, Conjure House, The Dazzling Darkness, Old McDonald). All of them were wonderful reads… scary, exciting, gripping (use whatever adjective you want). I don’t think I gave any 5-stars, mostly because of my approach to rating things. When I review, I try to outline things I liked, and things I thought were weaknesses. This comes from my day job – a university professor. I find myself rating novels like I am grading a research project or an assignment. In the case of these books, the extensive pluses far outweigh the few minor negatives. They are fantastic works of horror fiction. I would give anything to be as talented as these writers. So, by all means, read them.
When Birth Offering comes out, (please) read it. I will be pleased, honored even, to receive thoughtful and honest 3 and 4-star reviews. Of course, don’t feel bashful about giving a 5-star one either. I’m not that crazy to turn those down.
Sleep lab experience
The other night I was evaluated at a sleep clinic. My snoring has been driving my wife crazy, and she reports that I often snort and gasp myself awake – indicative of sleep apnea, I suppose. So after some considerable foot dragging that went on for years, I succumbed and made an appointment with the help of my primary care physician.
I enjoy a certain amount of fascination regarding medical and health procedures. I am comfortable with visits to my doctor, and I make sure that I get my money’s worth by asking all kinds of questions – some of which have little if anything to do with me or my health. The MD perspective is rather unique and I enjoy picking his or her brain. This sleep clinic experience was going to be uncharted territory for me, and I anticipated storing up nuggets of information.
As luck would have it, I was the only patient that night. The technician was a young guy named Eric, and he was friendly and eager to talk about the process and his work. I knew a fair amount about sleep disorders from my own work, but I quizzed Eric on his experience with sleep walking (I did that a lot in my twenties), sleep terrors (not my experience), sleep paralysis (ditto, and evidently quite terrifying for those who experience it), people who act out their dreams (e.g., start hitting their sleeping partners or try jumping out windows) and the other mundane sleep problems. Turns out that the sleep clinic serves children to people in the 90s. The “average” patient is in his or her 40s or 50s, although anecdotally Eric has been noticing an increase in folks in their 60s and 70s.
I wish I kept track of the number of electrodes attached to me. There had to be twenty of them, and they were attached to my scalp, forehead, near my eyes, on my jaw, neck, behind the ears, and even my legs (to monitor restless leg syndrome). I also had two straps around my chest for measuring heartbeat and breathing. With the exception of these straps that were attached by Velcro, the electrodes involved this gooey paste-like substance. When Eric was done attaching everything to me – and the process took twenty minutes – I looked like something from a science fiction movie.
By Eric finished, the time was approaching 11:00 PM and I was getting pretty tired. Eric asked me to start the night sleeping on my back. Snoring and issues with sleep apnea are more likely to occur when someone is sleeping on his or her back. When you fall asleep, everything relaxes, including your throat and tongue, so there is a tendency for these things (including that thing that hangs down the back of your throat) to collapse. For those individuals who are prone to sleep apnea, the throat collapses entirely – and you stop breathing. At that point, your brain has to make a decision, either remain sleeping or wake up and breathe. The resumption of breathing is the default option, so the sleeper is jolted awake, often with a (loud) snort. The most common patient with sleep apnea is obese with poor health habits, but I don’t fit that description. I’m 6’2” and 170 pounds, and I work out 4-plus days a week. However, my problems seem to be structural… I don’t have much of a chin so stuff is rather tight in that area to begin with. When I doze off, it doesn’t take much for the inner structures to relax and close.
Anyway, I digress. Sleeping on my back, as per Eric’s request, was not going to be a problem. I often start out in that position anyway, so this was no big deal. So, lights out.
I couldn’t fall asleep.
Surprising as it sounds, the wires were not a problem. Rather, I kept thinking I’ve got to fall asleep. If I don’t I’ll screw up the data. So, I talked myself into a mini-frenzy. I wanted to “do well”. I wanted answers. The only way to get answers would be to fall asleep.
The other factor adding to the pressure was that if I met criteria for sleep apnea, Eric would try out a CPAP unit on me. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. The unit keeps a relaxed airway open by providing a constant flow of air pressure. And, I wanted to see if that would be beneficial for me.
Finally, I feel asleep, but only after turning slightly to my side. Sometime later, Eric asked me via an intercom to turn to my back. I complied, but couldn’t fall asleep again.
This was getting crazy.
Finally, I said the hell with it, and turned to my side, and fell asleep.
There was no clock in the room, so I couldn’t tell the time, but sometime later I vaguely remember Eric appearing and putting a CPAP unit on me. I was thankful, because this meant my breathing data suggested something. I could sense the slightest pressure opening my airway, and I recall thinking the experience was remarkable.
Morning came, and more staff was on duty, including a woman with blue hair. People started giving me feedback about my results, which was surprising given that Eric told me the night before that he couldn’t provide any information. The doctor would be doing that next week.
Suddenly, I hear Eric say, “Okay, Tony, time to wake up.”
I did when he pulled the drapes open slightly to let some light in. He told me it was 6:15 AM. No one else was in the room. No young woman with blue hair. I had been dreaming that part of the whole thing. It was just Eric and me.
I asked him when he came in to put the CPAP on me. He stopped and stared.
I brought my hand to my face. Sure enough, there was nothing there beyond the numerous wires from the night before. I was stunned. I thought I was getting a great CPAP experience.
“You had a very difficult time sleeping on your back.”
I was disappointed. That meant that the results might be inconclusive. My breathing didn’t justify putting on a CPAP. But maybe that was because I didn’t sleep well on my back, and I really had sleep apnea – but they won’t know because I wasn’t a “good” subject. Would they have any answers for me? I don’t know. I won’t meet with the physician later next week.
My poor wife may have to live with a loudly snoring, non-sleep apnea husband. Sigh.
Afraid of Social Media
When I found out that Birth Offering was accepted for publication, I was ecstatic, of course. But very quickly I realized that I needed to learn the ropes of self-promotion/marketing. All authors do it now, or so I was told (and later found to be true). The bulk of the promotional efforts would be through social media.
Here’s what I knew about social media: nothing.
I’m 59, which means I’ve been able to live my life without having to use any of the platforms. I learned to use email – that was simple. Everyone uses it in academia, and typically that is how students communicate with their professors. In addition, email approximated the timeless practice of writing notes and mailing letters. Except, the process was a lot faster.
I learned about online course platforms to bring my teaching into the 21st century. That task wasn’t too bad either. I was able to develop a wide range of activities for the delivery of information to students. So, not only do I use traditional face-to-face lecturing, I also have asynchronous online discussions, group projects, portfolios and so on. In addition, some assignments involve the students recording presentations on YouTube and uploading them to the online course platform.
All well and good, and the variety of activities serves the students well.
Now, though, with Birth Offering slated to be published, I had to learn an entirely new set of skills – all of which had been unnecessary for a happy life up until this point. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus. Sheesh.
“Get you kid to create a Facebook page,” more than one person said.
“But, doesn’t marketing need more than stupid pictures of me?” (Or some variation of this…)
“Nah, nope, I don’t know…”
I was overwhelmed with the task. So I started seeking help.
Thank God my wife’s cousin creates web pages for a living (Webbones). She created the website (thanks, Susan).
The social media would need a lot more work, though, for one simple reason – the stuff is very confusing to me. Not the least of which is the rationale for even doing spending time doing it.
I signed up with Shari of Where Writers Win to train me in the art of social media involvement. Her guidance has been outstanding and I’ve learned about all of these strategies and then some.
There have been some clear positives to these things. I’ve networked with other authors. I’ve obtained some ideas about how to write blogs (although I find this rather difficult to maintain on a daily basis). I’ve made contact with potential readers who are horror fans. Goodreads has been a very pleasant adventure. I’ve gathered some good book recommendations and I’ve had interactions with horror authors. Google Plus and Facebook have resulted in similar experiences.
The downfall of engaging in social media is the sense of drowning in quicksand. Time disappears. Hours are swallowed in a black hole regardless of the form of social media. To make things worse, the process of developing a connection with other people “out there” is slow and often painful. Like most other authors trying to do engage with potential readers, I do have a day job with takes most of my energy. In addition, I still want to write my own fiction, and of course I have a family with whom I like to spend time.
A number of bloggers recommend being choosy with the social media. That is, go with the form that you enjoy and not worry about the others. I haven’t figured that one out yet, and I need to learn how.
Review of Old McDonald
Full disclosure: I was offered a free copy of this novella for an honest review, although as a Prime member, I was able to download the work for free. Old McDonald is like The Walking Dead, but with farm animals. Bio-Barn Corporation has developed a means for cloning farm animals (cattle, goats, chickens, you name it) and has started selling their products to farms of all sizes across America. This is the answer to food production problems and high risk agriculture. One of the customers is Gene Gibbs, a farmer in an unspecified mid-western state. Something unthinkable happens, however. These cloned animals are “different” and soon turn on humans. It’s like the food chain has suddenly reversed itself in a cruel (for the people anyway) twist of fate. All of these docile animals become carnivores, ripping, tearing and then devouring men, women, and children alike. When Gene’s wife is seriously injured in an attack, Gene and his young farmhand must run for help. So begins the story.
Author Andrew Saxsma has written a deviously fun novella – which actually appears to be the first in a series. The story is wonderfully told, the pacing is perfect, and the plot is gripping. Granted, the plot is ridiculous, but I didn’t care – I was wrapped up in the world and I was able to suspend disbelief. There are some genuinely creepy and gruesome moments. There is a section where hundreds of cattle attack Gene in his truck which is quite unsettling (I kept thinking, who would have thought you could make cows horrifying?). Needless to say, I think Andrew Saxsma is quite a gifted storyteller.
There are some flaws that the author may want to address in this and future efforts. For instance, he missed occasional misspellings, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies in emotion and logic. There are frequent shifts in point of view – often with each paragraph and sometimes within paragraphs. I found the shifting to be confusing and unnecessary – sticking with one character would have been sufficient and more effective. Nonetheless, the story itself is quite good, and I wouldn’t want any of these things to deter someone from reading Old McDonald and missing out on a rip-roaring yarn.
Back from vacation...
After a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I am back at the old routine. Well, not really, but working my way into it. I managed to read a few novels and novellas (one was The Dazzling Darkness, and I was able to post a review last week). I will be posting more shortly and over the next few days. Also, Birth Offering is coming close to its launch date. The excitement builds.
While my favorite fiction genre is horror, I am fond of mystery, suspense, and thrillers. I began my read of The Dazzling Darkness by Paula Cappa expecting a horror novel. But it started off as a gripping mystery, and I remember thinking this is a pleasant surprise as I was riveted to the story of a missing five year old boy named Henry. His parents Antonia and Adam, along with older sister Laurie, are frantic after he disappears walking home from school (just behind his sister who is perplexed because he was just right behind her). As time passes, anxiety turns to panic and terror as the boy does not come home. The police are called and soon the entire community is galvanized to search for the missing child.
The tension that comes with the territory in a story about an abducted child suddenly turns eerie when the family begins seeing strange people in the vicinity of their home and hearing the giggles and whisperings of Henry – who remains frustratingly out of sight. The atmosphere is influenced by the presence of a cemetery close to their home, both of which, by the way, are surrounded by woods. The caretaker of the cemetery, who lives on the grounds, is creepy Elias Hatch who has a friendship with a Catholic priest whose best intentions do not seem as straightforward as he wants everyone to believe. When it becomes clear that the strange people roaming the cemetery are ghosts, the mystery turns to horror as the supernatural elements rev the story into high gear.
Before the novel concludes, the reader is treated to secret underground passageways below the cemetery, crystal skulls that generate impossibly strong electromagnetic waves that leave traces of the skull long after it is removed from a location, rituals for raising the dead, more ghosts than you can count, discussions of transcendentalism, secret Vatican organizations, police procedural investigations, the poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the One True Cross, and heaven knows what else I am forgetting.
This summary may seem like a confusing mess of genres, but amazingly it is not. The story is wildly fascinating, and all of the plot lines dovetail nicely together. The conclusion, in which everything comes together, blew me away – I mean, I was really stunned.
The setting was very captivating. The home, woods, and cemetery were characters in their own right. Ms. Cappa described them so clearly that I could “see” the paths through the woods, the damp grounds of the cemetery and the dripping grave markers. The characters of Antonia and Adam were very well drawn. The anguish they display as they await the news of their son is portrayed vividly. Elias is fascinating when he is “on stage”, and even Henry, in his absence, seems astoundingly real.
If I have any criticism it would be the portrayal of the detective investigating the case – which is unfortunate because his point of view takes up at least one-fourth of the novel. My understanding of police investigations is based solely on what I have read and learned in novels and on TV shows like CSI New York and Law and Order. All by way of saying, my take on this might be incorrect, but here goes. The detective seemed to be reacting to events as they happened instead of investigating. Also, professional boundaries seem to be lacking in his decision making. He includes the parents in various aspect of the investigation, including interviews and access to crime scenes. I kept wondering if his behavior would destroy evidence or harm the legal case against a suspect. As result, his character just didn’t ring true to me and his behavior distracting.
The Dazzling Darkness is not a traditional horror story full of shock and gore. Despite everything going on, it is a “quiet novel. I do not mean boring, far from it. I couldn't put the book down. Rather, the intensity comes from wondering what in the hell is going on as the author throws one curve after another. The novel is beautifully written and quite surprising in many ways. Highly recommended.
Book Review - Conjure House
I’ll be honest up front… I am biased towards psychologists writing horror novels (since I am one and trying to make contributions to the genre). I’m not sure how many there are, but running into one gave me quite a thrill. I wasn’t aware of the background of author Gary Fry when I started reading Conjure House. When I read his bio at the end of the novel, I was pleasantly surprised to read he had his PhD in psychology. I should have known based on some of the passages in the novel.
I struggled with how to write this review because while there are a number of positives about the novel, there were a couple of things that drove me crazy (sorry, bad choice of words).
First, the positives… The plot to this novel is downright bizarre. There are basic conventions to haunted house stories that everyone has done to death, but you won’t find them in this book. There are creepy ghosts, evil monsters, unsettling hints of torture, and aberrant images presented within Conjure House story line that I haven’t seen before and a climactic series of events that I didn’t see coming. Dr. Fry also mixes in a little psychology, with one clever description of a haunted house consistent with levels of human consciousness. That is, the upper level of the house is devoted to abstract and higher order thinking – complete with instruments of science and investigation, ground levels of the house are associated with creative aspects of personality (art and music), and the basement is the site for the baser instincts of human nature (the unconscious levels), a site for torture – which is hidden behind a false wall and out of sight (repressed?). The entire narrative has a feel of audacity, and I mean that in a positive sense. There is no hedging – the author displayed real boldness.
The negatives though had to do with structure and pacing. Every single character is catching glimpses of these strange creatures out of the corner of their eyes. Yet, they attribute these things to moving shrubbery or the wind or something natural. While this is fine in the early stages of the novel, this pattern continues to the end – and gets very repetitive. I recognize that part of this is meant to indicate how the things move or appear, but still. Many of the characters even obtain objective evidence of the creatures’ existence, and still they blow off sightings as if it is the wind. This happens even to the point of placing a child in jeopardy, and still these people have blinders on…
A pet peeve of mine is when characters have information that would help solve the problem but don’t share that with others for no other reason than to keep the plot moving. That happens a lot here (and talking about the odd goings on would be quite normal under the circumstances – but no one mentions anything). All somebody has to say is, “Hey, is it me or have you seen these things with their thumbs missing?” If that happened, the problem could have been dealt with before turning into a crisis.
Anyway, sorry for the rambling.
By the way, I did notice one typo which presented some unintended humor. Anthony, the main character, is trying to cross the street and has to stop in the middle of a traffic circle to let cars pass. He notices a block of stone with strange symbols. The sentence reads… “It was set on grass at the heart of the roundabout, and after peeing in diminishing light, he was able to examine, for the first time with adult eyes, the curious shape carved into its face.” I may have missed something earlier about his inability to find a bathroom, but I think Anthony is meant to be “peering”.
Despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, there is a tremendous amount to enjoy in this novel. I especially liked the interactions between Anthony and the town historian. I often find the painstaking investigations or interviews conducted by characters to find out information as exciting as action scenes (if not more so). Weird, I know. Finally, the creatures and other strange entities that Dr. Fry has created and populated within his novel are worth the price of admission. Even with my relatively minor reservations, I would strongly recommend the novel.
I often hear the comment that for horror fiction to really work – that is, grab and hold a reader to the end of the book, the reader has to suspend disbelief. The job of creating a story that makes suspending disbelief possible falls to the author, of course. Let’s face it, horror fiction frequently involves plots that are often ridiculous, and authors must make them “work” for the reader.
When I read horror (which is, well, a good part of the time), I find that continuity of character within this context makes the story believable. Plots that are constructed well are necessary, of course, but the characters need to be grounded in a natural and human way. The emotional and behavioral reactions of the main characters must remain inherently true to themselves. There has to be a baseline level of character depth that sets the stage for the character action later in the book. The emotional responses need to be consistent and logical given their personalities. When this doesn’t happen, we can’t trust the characters, and quite frankly we can’t trust the author to lead us honestly through frequently bizarre twists of plot development.
Anthony Hains is a horror & speculative fiction writer.