Thursday, May 21, 2020

Results from my poll on what scares you the most

What scares you the most?

I ran a Twitter poll asking which of these things scares horror book fans the most: creepy clowns, evil children, manipulative demons, or shadowy ghosts.

I find it fascinating that people find evil children the scariest, followed by creepy clowns.

If you look at mythology, eerie folk tales, or real-world accounts, it's usually the opposite; demons and ghosts seem to prevail.

I have a couple theories around this. First, mythology and folk tales reflect the more religious nature of older societies. I think, in the modern Western world, we are less apt to fall back on religion, and thus are less likely to dwell on demons and the devil, and maybe also less fearful of an afterlife and ghosts.

Second, real-world stories of ghosts, and even "demonic hauntings", are now relatively common, thanks in part to reality TV ghosthunter and paranormal shows and a long publication history over the decades. Maybe we've become used to them?

A third theory I have is that we may find more fearful those things that we would normally presume are harmless, like small children and babies, or clowns, but which have been perverted by supernatural forces. I'm convinced this is the most important of my theories.

I once turned harmless little rabbits into vengeful spirits, in my novelette "Rabbit Cry" (a story in my my book, Around the Corner from Sanity). I think it's the creepiest story in the anthology.

I wonder... what other seemingly "harmless" beings I could pervert into a good horror story?

What do you think? What other harmless creatures/entities/forces do you think could be a source of fear?

Cheers and happy reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Review of Edge of the Flame by James Aichinger

Edge of The FlameEdge of The Flame by James Aichinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Edge of the Flame is a scifi re-telling of the "chosen one" sort of story. Aichinger has a good writing method and an imaginitive worldbuilding, spanning three worlds. The characters have complex backstories and stand out well from one another. The main villain is fairly unique with a power that is awe-striking and seemingly un-defeatable, and you find yourself wondering how they can manage to overcome him.

A young man who lacks memory of his childhood, Adanis, realizes his home town is in flames and all are destroyed, the result of an attack by powerful creatures (ironically) called "angels" at the behest of a villain named Arek, but he is quickly rescued by two brothers and arms experts, a techie named Rascelot and his powerful "malachi" brother Raphael. A malachi is like a mutant with superpowers. Adanis learns he isn't just a malachi, but a "valkiran" who is the fated chosen one to destroy Arek. But Adanis is naive and must quickly learn all he needs from the brothers in order to fulfill his role. What follows is a chase between worlds as they run from Arek and his minions to Earth, then try to be recognized as the valkiran in the coming battle for Earth. But all is not what it seems, and who can Adanis trust?

Personally, I'm not a fan of "chosen one" stories, and this story follows the (tired) traditional "Hero with a thousand faces" story progression... *but* there is a significant twist at the very end of the book, which has to do with his lack of memory and identity crisis. Unfortunately you have to read nearly all of the 160K words to get to it. Part of the reason for the length is that there are no less than 20 major characters, most of whom have point-of-view sections and side plots of their own, not all of which really seemed to be necessary for the main storyline, such as diplomats and their personal relationships to other diplomats, or an arms dealer and his shady history. I found the story got bogged down in these side plots by around 2/3 the way through the book. Also, despite the length of the book, the ending wraps up very quickly and I found myself a bit confused by the convenient manner in which it ended. Plus, some of those many side plots were not wrapped up at all. But it's not all bad. The side plots ARE interesting on their own, even if they don't lend much to the central storyline.

View all my reviews

Cheers and happy reading!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How Much Bloodshed Is Tolerated in Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels?

It goes without saying that many fiction genres have little or no tolerance for bloodshed and pain: certainly children's and middle grade books, most romance or erotica (there's nothing sexy about being cut open and bleeding... I'm raising an eyebrow at you BDSM lovers!), humor and absurdist literature, and so forth. You might see a bloody nose or brief mention of wounds in literary fiction, cozy mysteries (like Agatha Cristie), legal thrillers (think John Grisham), and social commentary pieces, but almost never anything detailed.

giving bloody heartThe level of tolerance increases significantly when you consider thrillers of any sort. You can't have gunfights and martial arts duels without at least some pain and bloodshed, reserved mostly for the bad guys, of course. The range of tolerance here is very wide, so as a writer and a reader you have to have an idea of the subgenre and the author beforehand. And then there's horror, which takes a giant, blood-splattering leap upward on the scale. Even with authors like Stephen King you expect some grisly scenery and description, and that's not even the sort of "body horror" or "grimdark" subgenres that I think is increasingly popular. (As an aside, it's strange to me that this kind of severe bloodshed is more popular in horror movies than in books, but then maybe it's because those who find satisfaction or entertainment in such imagery are more visual than imaginative?). The stories in my horror anthology, Around the Corner from Sanity, run the full range from no blood to gore-fest.

But what about science fiction and fantasy? It seems to me that these genres fall into a sort of gray zone. I read and write in these genres, but even I have a hard time putting a finger on the preferences of the reading public. Again, there's a wide scale and as a reader you sort of have to know the author beforehand. I can't remember any reference to blood at all in Tolkien's books, despite all the battle scenes, for instance. Frank Herbert described brutal acts in Dune but only in a few scenes did he go into details. But other, more modern authors I've read, such as Dan Simmons, don't shy away from it (the creature known as the Shrike in his Hyperion novels still elicits a tantalizing shiver for me).

So I put a poll on Twitter to get some feedback on this. I asked, "#fantasy and #scifi #book fans, What level of bloodshed to you tolerate in your novels?" I expected most answers to fall somewhere in the middle, maybe skewing slightly toward the more violent end. 

As you can see, there is, indeed, the sort of distribution that I thought, with only about 5% voting "none", then increasing to 33% and 43% for "some bloodshed's fine" and "there can be heavy scenes," respectively. I was surprised by the number of people who voted for "full-on gore fest!" (19%). I figured it would be down around 10%.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, I personally have a very high tolerance and sometimes prefer the more bloody violence, as long as it fits the tone of the overall book and the plot. 

In the fantasy novels I've written, there are only a few scenes that get bloody, in a PG way, and no real "gore", though I allow myself freer space with some of my fantasy short stories. But in my space opera novel, which is written with a sort of pulp-fiction tone, some action scenes are pretty graphic and would be R-rated if made into a movie (not to mention some X-rated sex scenes!).

As a writer, I'll say that the guiding principles related to the violence to include are: what is the interest of your target audience, and is it necessary for the plot and characterization?

How do you feel about bloodshed in sci-fi and fantasy books? Leave a comment!

Cheers and happy reading!

Monday, April 27, 2020

My Review of The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey

The Unstrung HarpThe Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poor Mr. Earbrass, facing the eccentricities and foibles of the creative process that all of us writers must endure, the endless editing, and the excruciating process of getting published!

This little book is a delight and a must-read for anyone who loves books or, particularly, is involved in making them. Gorey's illustrations are delightful, and though this is a quick read and an old-style writing (as is the setting), his wit is spot-on. Perhaps my favorite part is when he is nearing the end of his creation, where "the characters have one and all become thoroughly tiresome, as though he had been trapped at the same party with them since the day before; neglected sections of the plot loom on every hand, waiting to be disposed of; his verbs seem to have withered away and his adjectives to be proliferating past control."

View all my reviews

Cheers and happy reading!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

10 Cheesy Pick-Up Lines for Writers

There's one in very nightclub. You know the type. That creepy pick-up artist who eyes you from across the bar, cocktail in hand, then sidles up to you, looks you up and down, and says .... 

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)
But no, lose the nightclub. Now you're in a cafe next to a bookstore. And everything about you says "WRITER." That introverted way about you. Glasses. Unassuming clothes. And, of course, an open book or laptop next to your pumpkin spice latte.

And up walks another writer, but instead of a cocktail in his hand it's a cappuccino, and in the other a copy of something pretension enough to worthy deep discussion. Maybe Tolstoy. Maybe The New Yorker. He's got a man bun and an ironic but neatly trimmed beard. A real hipster. The sort who boasts about his Great American Novel but is still searching for that bit of inspiration to get it started.

Then he invites himself to sit at your table, looks you up and down, and says...

10. "I like the curves of your story arc, baby."

9. "This is one conjugation guaranteed to make you comma." 

8. “You’re my climax.” 

7. "If you show, I won't tell."

6. "Ooh! I haven't seen a 'plot' that big since War and Peace."

5. "I've got some Great Expectations for you, with an Oliver Twist!"

4. "I'm plotting a way into your heart."

3. "Wanna see where I put my apostrophe?"

2. "How about we start with some foreshadowing?"

1. "Hey, girl, wanna see what's between my covers?"

and a bonus!

"Baby, if you were words on a page, you’d be fine print."

Do you have another great "writer pick-up line" to contribute? Leave a comment!

Cheers and happy reading!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A fantastic review of my horror collection, Around the Corner from Sanity

Quoth the Writer Book Reviews has regular reviews of books, author interviews (stay tuned for one with me!), and more.

Now they've just released an in-depth review of my collection of 14
The reviewer, Lisa Hodorovych, with her copy.

horror and paranormal humor stories, Around the Corner from Sanity. Some quotes from the review:
  • "one of the main reasons I loved these stories was because you legitimately felt shivers coursing through your body, your heart skipping a beat, your eyes widening in fear, and just felt a real reaction to these stories."
  • "He does a fantastic job of making you feel what the character’s feeling, of making you feel scared, of making you scream “Oh my gosh, run!” at the book. I was truly amazed."
  • "The stories in it will shock you and horrify you, but some will also make you laugh. Jason does an excellent job of tying in different emotions or behaviors, like laughter, to make it more real."

You can also go to the book's Amazon page, where you can read all seven of the 5-star reviews that readers have left.

Cheers and happy reading!

Friday, March 20, 2020

10 Book Titles So Awesomely Bad They're Good

Sometimes the title of a movie or song is so tongue-in-cheek, so kitschy, so incredibly insane that it isn't just bad, it's awesomely bad. It grabs your attention and makes you eager to learn more. In fact, it's because they are so bad that they are fun. Heckling them while experiencing them isn't just accepted, it's encouraged!

Think of movies like "They Came From Beyond Space" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!" (exclamation included!). Or songs like "One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater" or "My Ding-A-Ling." Just about any song by "Weird Al" Yankovic counts.

Why shouldn't books be any different? Oh, sure, you may be one of THOSE types, the snobbish literati who considers the written word sacrosanct and looks down their nose at anything that isn't on Oprah's Book Club list. Hey, more power to ya. There's a place for that. But the rest of us value entertainment of a more lowbrow sort, sometimes.

Here's a Top Ten Countdown of book titles guaranteed to be so bad that they grab your attention:

The cats of America are under siege!  Long gone are the good old days when a cat’s biggest worries were mean dogs or a bath. Modern cats must confront satanists, online predators, the possibility of needing to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and countless other threats to their nine lives.

9. Italian Without Words by Don Cangelosi
You don’t need words to speak Italian. You don't have to study Italian or travel to Italy to communicate like a true paesano. All you really need is this unique "phrase book" of the most common Italian expressions, complete with authentic Italian gestures and body language. It's the fastest and funniest way to learn Italian ever published. Now, even if you don't know a single word of Italian, you can learn the most common greetings and expressions, dinner-table comments, hot vows of love, bargaining tricks, insults, threats and curses. This book shows you how.

Attack of the Vampire Ninjas is the story of Tsukiko and her team of ninjas, who also happen to be vampires, as they hunt the mysterious and elusive Agent Green. Action! Comedy! Vampires! Ninjas! You'll find all this and more in Jordan Prokosch's amazing debut novel!

Because Japanese + vampire = "Jampyre"? And... they write Haikus??...

7. Here Comes the Jampyre: Book 2 of The
Vampire Haiku Chronicles by Arakaki Soto
After the death of her father, Misake vows to keep his legacy alive in Tokyo's criminal underworld. But when she spurns Boss Oh's desire to join families, the elder female Yakuza boss retaliates against many of Misake's businesses. The Jampyre in turn, wages war against the other families, systematically taking each down with the hopes of becoming the sole power in Japan.

For writers everywhere. I feel accused...

6. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why
That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield
Recognizing this painful truth is the first step in the writer's transformation from amateur to professional. 
From Chapter Four: 
“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with ev­ery sentence and every phrase: Is this interesting? Is it fun or challenging or inventive? Am I giving the reader enough? Is she bored? Is she following where I want to lead her?"

The next three are part of a series, all of which make the cut!

5. Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Jody never asked to become a vampire. But when she wakes up under an alley Dumpster with a badly burned arm, an aching back, superhuman strength, and a distinctly Nosferatuan thirst, she realizes the decision has been made for her. 
Making the transition from the nine-to-five grind to an eternity of nocturnal prowlings is going to take some doing, however, and that's where C. Thomas Flood fits in. A would-be Kerouac from Incontinence, Indiana, Tommy (to his friends) is biding his time night-clerking and frozen-turkey bowling in a San Francisco Safeway. But all that changes when a beautiful undead redhead walks through the door...and proceeds to rock Tommy's life -- and afterlife -- in ways he never thought possible.

Being undead sucks. Literally. 
Just ask C. Thomas Flood. Waking up after a fantastic night unlike anything he's ever experienced, he discovers that his girlfriend, Jody, is a vampire. And surprise! Now he's one, too. For some couples, the whole biting-and-blood thing would have been a deal breaker. But Tommy and Jody are in love, and they vow to work through their issues. 
But word has it that the vampire who initially nibbled on Jody wasn't supposed to be recruiting. Even worse, Tommy's erstwhile turkey-bowling pals are out to get him, at the urging of a blue-dyed Las Vegas call girl named (duh) Blue. 
And that really sucks.

While some lovers were born to run, Jody and Tommy were born to bite. Well, reborn, that is, now that they're vampires. Good thing theirs is an undying love, since their Goth Girl Friday, Abby Normal, imprisoned them in a bronze statue. 
Abby wants to be a bloodsucking fiend, too, but right now she's really busy with other stuff, like breaking in a pair of red vinyl thigh-high Skankenstein® platform boots and wrangling her Ph.D.-candidate boyfriend, Steve (the love monkey). And then there's that vampire cat Chet, who's getting bigger and smarter—and thirstier—by the minute. Abby thought she and Steve could handle the kitty cat on their own, mais non . . .
The next one was almost a tie for first place....

In a time when the seed of evil was covering the planet and the pure had fallen in battle, Priest-Lucius and his daughters, Destiny, Charity, Hope and Faith were punished, tragically torn apart and separated in time by a vengeful supernatural power. 
Desperate to find his daughters, Lucius embarks upon a perilous journey through the ages of time. Finally reunited in the dark flooded lawless future of the human race, Lucius is shocked to find himself in the same war, new jungle “Scumbag Central” and that certain things about Destiny, Charity, Hope and Faith aren’t quite as they should be. 
This family may be gifted, but are they equipped to deal with the sinister forces that lay in wait, and will their hellish past catch up with them?

and Number One is:

All Rebecca Carrington wanted was some decent hair care products on board the starship, but when Captain Avan Hunter walks into her life, she discovers she has much more primal needs.The six-foot tall, menacing hunk of Adasaurus hotness had her quivering to the tips of her toes, but he was a big, muscular, glorious slab of taboo.

You may have noticed a trend here: 6 of the 10 titles are "vampire" in nature. I guess you can say I'm biased. Or perhaps vampires, themselves, are so diabolically kitschy that they lend themselves to such titles.

I hope you check out of of these. I know I will!

Cheers and happy reading!

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