I’m no stranger to how old horror can kick major ass, making a monkey of most modern novels. I found this out when I discovered Jere Cunningham’s other three horror novels besides The Abyss (you may not recognize that one, either; it got a Stephen King rec’ decades ago, though), Hunter’s Blood, The Legacy, and The Visitor. But lately, I’ve found a treasure trove. There’re tons of old horror novels that jam like you wouldn’t believe it. Tons! And I’m not just talking about books by Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley–everyone knows about them. And scratch Rosemary’s Baby from this conversation. Again, we’re all aware of that one.
Our buried treasure starts in the ’50s with The Bad Seed. Now, granted, this one breaks a writer rule, that no eight year old would act like that. But it’s so well-written, it doesn’t matter. And there’s a film version . . . with a different, and brilliant ending . . . not that the book’s climax isn’t killer. Plus, give William March a break. I’ve met some tremendously bratty kids. Insane, even.
Then there’s Burnt Offerings. You’ll have to search high, low, far, and wide to find one that messes with your head like this one. It also has a film version, with Karen Black. (In my mind, I’m horror-geeking out on that fact.) You won’t want to miss Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, either, a great gothic horror novel. Tragically, Robert Marasco and Henry Farrell never wrote another horror novel, although …Baby Jane has some great short stories at the end of the eBook. And there’s a film version of this one, too, with (gasp) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford!
The best news is that I’m not even scratching the surface. These are just the ones I know about! I mentioned something about tons: I haven’t read The Other; The Sentinel; All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By; The Totem; The Ceremonies; and Sweetheart, Sweetheart yet (all the the’s and funny titles). They’re seemingly endless. So get out there and dig so you don’t have to yawn through another vampire or zombie novel.
(If your heart is dead-set [see what I did there?] on vampires, Carmilla and Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood came out before Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the penny dreadfuls were actually well-written.)
This is actually a good question. The answer is not so black-and-white. While a B.A. and M.A. in English and Creative Writing/Fiction can only help, no, you don’t need a degree to do this. One only needs to read a lot, for that’s how one gets inspired. Both Ray Bradbury and Frank Zappa basically said, this not being verbatim, that you go to college to get laid; you go to the library to get a writing education.
I learned how to type in college: Basic Keyboarding class. And I learned how to use a computer in college: Computer Usage class. I also took a couple of Creating Writing classes. But my majors were Business Management, then Travel and Tourism, then Accounting. No, I didn’t get a degree. A horror accountant: now that’s scary! When I was in school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life yet, but I was writing short stories on WordPerfect (yes, dinosaur age here) and submitting to horror ‘zines. [Believe it or not, they still sell WP–no, really, they still do: http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/911161/Corel-WordPerfect-Office-X7-Home-Student/;jsessionid=00008PKe8YhMhwbdpWcQ3t6Fk8U:17h4h7cou?cm_mmc=PLA-_-Bing-_-Software-_-911161
I’m glad I went to college to learn to type and use a computer, but if I’d tried, I could’ve learned it somewhere else. My mom attempted to teach me to use the qwerty keyboard, and I was in a program that taught how to use a computer. If I have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t listen to my parents and graduate high school–no G.E.D.; ignore the idiots that will be old, bald losers in their twenties–then go to college and get a good job. Let’s face it, you won’t get rich writing horror.
It’s your choice. Either way, if you want to try this career, it’s your funeral (I mean fun–yeah, fun!).
I’m going to make some enemies here. When The Descent: Part 2 first came out, everyone was sure it would suck. “The spelunkers all died under that cave-in,” they said, sure they were right. They even had me believing it would suck. But did they see it? I did, and not only was it plausible, but also it was brutal, and terrific. I know, I make you sick. Get sicker, and rent the film.
Think about it. The bat things, called “crawlers,” would starve if they just waited for spelunkers to get trapped under cave-ins. It doesn’t happen that often. Therefore, of course someone above would be feeding them animals in a hole in the ground that leads to their dwelling, that someone probably a Satanist who thinks he’s nourishing demons. And, sure, there could be a mine shaft, and the sheriff and the female deputy could force Sarah back underground, thinking she’s responsible for the deaths of her friends . . . and to look for bodies.
In one scene, the deputy is trapped in a cell of falling rocks, and one of the crawlers tries digging underneath the pile so it can eat her, but a huge rock falls and crushes its head. Smush! In another scene, Sarah and the deputy fall into a stinky pool . . . with crusty piles. Then a crawler sticks his ass over the pool and takes a crap. They’re in their toilet! Both scenes, swear to God, were worth the “price” of admission. Having a free month of Amazon Prime when I bought my first Kindle Fire helped, I admit.
SPOILER ALERT NO. 2!
The same thing’s true of fiction books. I read Twilight to make sure it sucked. Stephenie Meyer used way too many weak, to-be verbs like “was,” the first thing a writer learns not to do, and went on and on about a truck Bella’s dad was going to buy for her instead of just getting to the scene where Edward, with supernatural strength, saves her life in a traffic accident.
Now I’m hearing there will be The Descent: Part 3. I’ll have to see it.
You can go back to your sanity now.
Lately, I’ve been hearing how a author must plot–which Stephen King calls a good writer’s last resort and a bad writer’s first–they must have a great story arc; they’ve got to outline everything but a short story because for a long journey you need a map (neither Stephen King nor his son Joe Hill outline: ever);or you need better than an outline; that you’ve got to read a book twice–once, for entertainment, twice, to watch the writer’s style–and that you’ve got to go through nine or ten points when revising, not just to revise one thing, but one thing at a time. I’ve read never to use adverbs, but then I read a Stephen King book where there are plenty, though of the good variety; and also never to use adjectives. Or that if a writer’s not published, he shouldn’t bother, or not bother if he never got past the fluke stage of short-story publishing. Or self-publishing only works for those authors who already have a large following. Then they’ll say you must write, write, write everyday, even on your birthday, on Christmas, and on Thanksgiving, never taking a day off. Then they say all your sentences should be short, not that way in William March’s The Bad Seed, one of my favorite novels. Some say write during the day, some the afternoon, some at night. But the books of most of these advisers suck, in my opinion. (No, I’m not saying S.K. sucks.) So should I listen?
I say it’s different for every author. Some writers are ignored unless they self-publish–and yes, some make it even without an established following (Ania Ahlborn)–some publish and make a lot of money (Neil Gaiman), and some, though great talents, write for small presses and have to keep their day jobs (John Everson). Some feel taking a day off recharges their batteries, therefore coming back to work the next day, they feel refreshed. Some authors are pantsers, and some edit as they write. Some know how to use good adverbs and adjectives. Some try never to use them, or colons or semicolons.
None of you are wrong, unless you’re not trying. Unless you’re sick of writing and want to get out: then you should.
Personally, I take Sunday off; I don’t feel I lose momentum if I don’t write everyday, even though I try to when penning a novel; I outline if it’s longer than a short story; I never plot; I don’t think about story arc; I read books once and do both at the same time; I try to always use strong verbs and cut my adverbs and adjectives, but not if they’re good ones; I never got past the fluke stage of short-story publishing, but I’m not quitting because I feel I’ve got the talent, something unteachable (three of my publications got cancelled through no fault of mine); I self-publish without a following; I take Thanksgiving and Christmas off; some days I run errands and engage in non-writing activities if they need to be done (I clean and do laundry on Monday, because Mondays suck anyway); and I try to keep my sentences short, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way; I write in the morning; I like colons and semicolons; and I’m a panster, who edits later, but rarely I’ll edit during writing, as far as spelling.
I’m not wrong, and neither are you. Keep it up.
Let me start out by saying this is not a put-down toward people trying to make kick-ass horror films. The found-footage genre can be done right, as it was in Grave Encounters and Apartment 143, but lately, I’ve been seeing too many of them, and most aren’t exactly rippling with talent.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never seen people carrying video cameras around all the time–unless they’re making movies for profit–and the actors and actresses during these films speak for me when they say to put the damn camera down. I also am not on board if the films are just good. Growing up in the early 80’s spoiled me, I guess. When I sit down to watch a movie, I want it to be monumental, like One Dark Night. Most of these found-footage movies aren’t, though. I’m thinking way too many films are trying to be like Paranormal Activity and the sequels, which I personally like, because they deal more with demons than ghosts (not that I mind ghosts), but enough already and get original, please. See, I said “please.” Not trying to be a dick here.
Any genre can be done right if the talent, as well as the right work ethic, originality, or going about it in an original way, are put into the work. But too often, they aren’t. And if the rampant overdoing of vampires and zombies foretells the tale, we’ll be watching found-footage films for many years to come, or at least hearing about them. Because if it keeps getting out of hand, I’ll stop watching them.
Sorry, but in my humble opinion, sad but true.
I wanted to speak out about some “opportunities,” which, if not scams, are certainly scammish, in the writing industry: publications for no money–just an e-prize meant to look nifty on your Website–or contests with hefty fees. There are obviously a lot of writers just wanting exposure, and those are the ones that’ll write for for-the-love publishers, and will pay big fees, like $50 for the 3-Day Novel Contest, or even the $20 Writer’s Digest contests. The people giving these contests are making a lot of money from you, and you’re not being given that back. Those are too hard to win, period. Let’s face it, very few of us will win a WD contests like Dean Koontz did way-back-when. And I’m not saying those that aren’t too hard to win are fake . . . as long as they pay you.
Here’s my point: writers have a right to be paid for their hard work. That’s how they go from writers to authors. That’s one of the biggest motivators to bust your ass on these tales. And giving your stories away for exposure probably isn’t going to get your name out there enough to make a difference as far as making a living at your work. Therefore, you’ll end up working for a small press that won’t pay you enough; or self-publishing, where, if you’re not already established, will probably pay you hardly anything.
You might want to participate in some for-the-loves as a beginning writer to get some confidence, but when you’re getting published regularly, you have a right to evolve into the paying markets. And if you’re not getting paid after the newbie status ends, perhaps you might want to question whether it’s worth all your time, blood, sweat, and tears. There are authors like me who’ll never give up, but there’s nothing wrong with leaving a failed venture after two years of no monetary publications.
That’s just being smart.
I know there are going to be some cocksure writers that will try it anyway–or perhaps trendy writers–but I decided to blog on the hardest kinds of novels to write. For the impossibility factor, or for originality’s sake and to not be uber redundant, these are the worst paths to follow for a novel, in my humble opinion: ghosts, vampires, or zombies.
Vampires and zombies I shouldn’t have to explain; they’ve been so overdone I’ll refuse to read a novel if written about either. But the ghost story is just too damned hard. I can’t even count a handful of writers who did it successfully, yet some were good tries, like The House That Jack Built by Graham Masterson. Alas, tryin’ ain’t doin’, though. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Stephen King’s The Shining and Christine are the only ones I can think of that succeeded, that’s how hard writing a novel of haunts is.
Ghost stories are easier to do in movies, where you can show the audience the spook in creative and insidious ways and freak them out. I have a number of films about ghosts that I value, but even great movies are rare. Some subjects are just too difficult for the written page, though. I once had a horror tale written in Biblical times that didn’t get published because the editor said it was too hard to do. I did it anyway, and it failed miserably (at least in sales; I still value the story).
I know, I know, you’re going to try it anyway. Good luck (only for the ghost stories).
I hate to say this, and I’m not trying to be a dick, but there’s a lot of greed out there in Writerland. Why else would anyone charge over ten dollars for an eBook, almost twenty dollars for what’s practically a short story, and fifty bucks for a paper novel?
I won’t name any names, because this is happening with some authors I like. And it may not even be their fault–because they’re published–it may be the publisher’s set price. But I don’t feel it’s right, and I’d like it to stop. It’s bad enough to have to pay $9.99 for a great novel like Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and I’m willing, ouch, to do that. But to go over that? Ridiculous!
How can anyone pay these prices in this economy? So they’re looking for only rich people to buy their books? I’m almost tempted to give in and fork it over–great books are so rare, or maybe I’m just picky–but I won’t, on principle.
Like many of my opinions concerning the writing industry (like quit way-past-overdoing vampires and zombies), this will probably go ignored. Man, why do my blog posts always have to be tough love?
There are a lot of events that make it seem like real life is stranger than fiction: John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy. Wow, those are good examples. And let’s not forget that some of the best fiction stories are based on true events: Jack Ketchum’s The Lost, based on the Manson family, and Ketchum’s The Girl Next door, based on the real story of a girl tortured by neighborhood kids in a basement. How can anyone argue that fiction is stranger?
I feel it’s up to the author. If a writer really digs, can’t he come up with something crazier than real life? Are our imaginations really that limited? Doesn’t reality bite, like the movie says? I say it does. Wouldn’t it take a writer on an ego trip to say fiction can be weirder? Probably, but I’m still not convinced.
In the next novel I’m planning to put out, there are inhumanly insane events that take place. And I’m not talking about a low body count. Still, wouldn’t what Hitler and the Nazis did outdo anything anyone can dream up? Of course…up to now.
It’s been said that if true life is stranger than fiction, than the writer has a limited imagination. I agree with this. I think we, as horror authors (I’m hoping that this blog is being read by writers of the macabre), should stretch our imaginations, make readers believe the mondo bizarre with dynamic writing, and outdo the truth.
Something to ponder.