Where Nightmares Come From, A Must Read for Horror Buffs

Where Nightmares Come FromWhere Nightmares Come From

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a must-read collection of essays for anyone who:
• wants to write horror literature or scripts (or entertainment in various forms)
• wants industry insights that would otherwise take decades of trial/error to learn
• is a connoisseur of horror who wants richer perspective on how creators work

All the essays are well-done. There is plenty to learn from the ones focused on script-writing, even if you’re more interested in horror fiction like me. So do read them. However, based on my tastes and biases as an aspiring horror writer I’ve selected three standout essays from Where Nightmares Come From.

Pixelated Shadows: Urban Lore and the Rise of Creepypasta by Michael Paul Gonzalez

A brilliant, original exploration of how the Internet has paradoxically taken humans back to primal methods of storytelling. By osmosis, it’s also a useful guide on crafting creepy shorts for marketing purposes!

Bringing An Idea To Life Through Language by Mercedes M. Yardley

As a person who has read volumes on crafting characters and finding your writer’s voice, this is by far the most beautiful and effervescent essay I’ve read on the topic. Yardley’s personality is a bonus, though, not a gimmick–this short essay about word choice/character/voice deserves to be taught in Fiction 101s and MFAs.

The Process of a Tale by Ramsey Campbell

If you’re a fiction writer, at some point you’ve no doubt read a story and thought, I wish the author could take me step-by-step through how they pulled this sorcery off! Good news, kids! Ramsey Campbell, horror fiction icon, uses his story “The End of a Summer’s Day” to take us from idea germination to draft-by-draft processes and rewritten passages to final product. The lessons are conveyed with remarkable accessibility and humility.

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HINNOM MAGAZINE ISSUE 006 TOC REVEAL — Gehenna & Hinnom Books

I pre-ordered mine before tomorrow’s release. You should do the same. The industry’s best Cosmic Horror for only $3!

Greetings from the Ether, As a lot of you probably saw in our newsletter this morning, it is time to reveal the table of contents for Hinnom Magazine Issue 006. We have ourselves a stacked issue with immense talent, new and veteran alike. We can’t wait to share this issue with you, and we hope you’ll […]

via HINNOM MAGAZINE ISSUE 006 TOC REVEAL — Gehenna & Hinnom Books

Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, A Review

 

 Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why did I care about Malorie so much?

That question’s haunted me ever since I put Bird Box down.

I’ve read many post-apocalyptic novels. Some of them had characters I loved and rooted for. Some had characters I despised but through whom I experienced vicariously the darkest sides of human nature. And the worlds they struggled through to survive, though they blur now, were compelling then. Sure, the Flu-ravaged world of The Stand kept me up late into the night; The Road saw me pulling for Father and Son to survive frigid hellscapes en route to the sea.

Malorie, though…

I’m not one for hyperbole or sentimentality, but Malorie had flesh in all 250-something pages–skin in the game, as they say.

Her heart’s desires, her sole-purpose of protecting Boy and Girl, and getting them to a vague sanctuary posited and promised them by a voicemail. Rick. A voicemail from a man named Rick urged her to strive out into a world of horrors, down twenty miles of a Michigan river, so that after four years void of hope, Malorie and Boy and Girl could find some: hope. Written in present-tense, in a tight third-person point-of-view, I felt this urgency–Malorie’s–on every single line.

Maybe I loved her because of the depths she went to in order to protect Boy and Girl, one her child, one not.

You see, in the world Malerman’s created, survivors must go outside blindfolded. Some unknown form of creature, when seen, cause the person to go mad, killing themselves and/or others. It happened to many millions, including Malorie’s parents and sister. During her pregnancy, one of her more cynical housemates offers a solution. Take some chemicals, he says, and blind the newborns as soon as they exit the birth canal. That way, they’ll never be at risk of seeing the creatures to begin with.

Malorie refused.

The majority of the gore that results from one seeing these creatures is conducted off stage, implied (the death of Malorie’s parents, for example), or glossed over with narrative summary via the media discussing the horrors out there. Bird Box is wonderful and claustrophobic in that way–the point of view is so limited that your imagination is required to engage the broader implications. However, Malerman gives us one scene of true horror that involves a child. A dead one. A scene done with quiet mastery. And, not in Malorie’s point of view, serves as a counterpoint to what Malorie’s relationship with Boy and Girl is.

The boy in his Sunday’s best, propped against the headboard in his room, dead from starvation, the rot from his corpse permeating the house.

That image delivered in two sentences by Malerman, walloped an entire universe of heartache for me. Just picture the terror the boy would’ve felt after his parents died. There he is, scared of the boogeyman outside, and waiting for someone to provide him food and guidance. Neither would come. This was one of the most powerful moments I’ve come across in recent fiction.

Malerman providing a concrete example of a child suffering and dying in this world, located mid-book, gives context and gravitas to all of the struggles we’ve seen Malorie undergo to care for and raise Boy and Girl. She raised them well enough to survive to the age of four. Her training them to wake with their eyes closed, or to having almost superhuman powers of hearing, become elevated from cool to read about, to visceral maternal love.

Through thoughts and actions of hers, we learn that Malorie would do anything for these two children. What tugged at my heartstrings for the duration of the novel, though, is Malorie’s terse dialogue–by which we sense that she is keeping the children at arm’s length, in case any members of this survival trio die, the anguish wouldn’t overwhelm her.

Death seems inevitable. What are the odds that a young child, well-trained as Boy and Girl are, won’t take off their blindfolds, or curious to finally see the sun hanging in the sky, peer out a window?

Malorie barks at them.

“Boy, listen!”

“Girl, don’t talk. Listen.”

“What do the two of you hear? Listen!”

“LISTEN.”

The word listen comes to symbolize an external survival mechanism for Malorie. She needs Boy and Girl in many ways. Using their trained sense of hearing for survival on the river happens to be the most immediate. Barking orders at them, keeping them on their toes, is her way of keeping the terror she feels from coursing through their small minds. In short, her gruffness is sublime.

Every page of Bird Box feels immediate, each of Malorie’s two complimentary storylines speeding onward in present tense.

So why do I love Malorie so much?

Because she embodies the wild all-encompassing love of mothers in the trenches–the human mother bear ripping someone to shreds to protect her cubs. Again, I never considered myself a sentimentalist. However, I think Josh Malerman did something in Bird Box that I’ve seen few writers able to accomplish. Frankly, I’ve seen few brave enough to try and risk failing.

He took the concept of unconditional love, more or less a weakened cliche of an idea, and gave it emotional truth. I love Malorie because she embodies, in sharp contrast to the darkness and blindness around her, the brightest and clearest example of the pinnacles of human nature.

Love. Unconditional love.

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Zdzisław Beksiński, Nightmarescape Photographer

The Polish artist Zdislaw Beksinski created masterful work of macabre fantasy. He stated that his artistic aim was to photograph dreams.

My interpretation of this is that he sought to capture the disjointed, disturbing, impressionistic, and fleeting emotional imagery that visits us all at night. Put another way, dreams are sort of meaning soup–upon waking we ladle the broth hoping to catch a noodle or a hunk of meat.

Zdislaw was born in 1929. He finished an architecture degree in Warsaw in 1952. The location and timing of his young manhood leads many to think that WWII would’ve had a profound affect on his psyche; logically it follows that the trauma Hitler inflicted on the world, and the decayed state of Poland in the aftermath of the Holocaust, influenced his dark fantastical realist style of art.

Glancing through Zdislaw’s work though, I think Christianity, and in many ways a positive internalization of it–or to the non-believer, man’s capacity for spirituality allowing him to transcend the evil of worldly flesh–is what made him tick.

Mexican film director Guillermo Del Toro says this about Beksinski:

In the medieval tradition, Beksinski seems to believe art to be a forewarning about the fragility of the flesh – whatever pleasures we know are doomed to perish – thus, his paintings manage to evoke at once the process of decay and the ongoing struggle for life. They hold within them a secret poetry, stained with blood and rust.

Personal accounts of Beksinski pegged him as a pleasant intellectual with quite the sense of humor despite his grim fascinations. He fancied himself an optimist, stating that his work often went misunderstood–morbid horror representing bleakness. However, Beksinski considered his works uplifting and even humorous.

Zdislaw had no interest in the meanings of his paintings, refusing even to title them. I think this is such a wonderful artistic trait because an artist should simply be a conduit. My art philosophy aside, it complements Beksinski’s work harmoniously because his vision was to paint as if photographing dreams.

The interpretation should be left to the viewer of his work because only the individual who has had the dream can truly understand their own subconscious sludge.

Enjoying Zdislaw Beksinski’s work for its macabre beauty is easy. I’m interested to see how people interpret some of his images knowing that he considered them optimistic and humorous.

Find some positive meanings in the images below and share your thoughts in the comments.


I’ll get things started with the first image of a crucified torso.

zdislaw 6.jpg

In the background, the sun bakes the clouds to an orange-blue haze that reminds me of a hellscape on the planet Venus. The wrists are nailed into a cross missing the top portion of its column beam. Behind it leans a clean blue crucifix.

The ragged torso of an individual long-since crucified represents Jesus Christ. Jesus embodies the ultimate sacrifice, the absolution of humankind’s sin.

In the Judeo-Christian world this is the greatest gift ever given. The most merciful act of God, arguably of any god, in that its purpose was to forgive humanity for its sinful nature.

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in the context of this painting states the following: no matter how fallen the world is–even if God’s chosen Jews are being rounded up and exterminated in concentration camps and Europe is being torn to shreds by Allied and Axis Powers because of it–God’s gift of Christ to redeem humanity persists.

The painting means that it doesn’t matter how incredulous one might be in a moment of staggering evil and carnage like WWII, depicted by the ragged appearance of the headless torso, the decayed bone, the sinew connecting right arm to shoulder about to give, that the redemption remains, right there in the pure blue crucifix behind.

In essence, this image symbolizes that humanity will persevere through any evil, and that deeply flawed as we are, we are good.

If that isn’t positive, I don’t know that is.

 


Now enjoy several more samples of Berksinski’s work.

 

zdislaw 5.jpgzdislaw 4.jpgzdizslaw 3.jpgzdzislaw 2.jpgzdzislaw.jpg

Thoughts?

 

Toonocalypse by Sci-Fi Short Filmmakers Dust Is a Glorious Foray Into New Weird

I’ve been parsing through definitions of the various sub-genres of weird and horror and fantasy fiction lately.

While I don’t think it necessarily matters what labels we put on creative work, I find that most definitions of Weird include supernatural, mythological, and scientific tropes. From personal taste and opinion, I’d also add that Weird involves surreal elements, as well as fear and humor that results from uncanniness–e.g., cute cartoon aliens instead of Alien aliens…

Toonocalypse captures Weird perfectly then.

We get cartoons, alien science fiction, the apocalypse, a creation story.

I would be interested to see what you think of this. Feel free to comment below. Enjoy this seventeen-minute film!

Summary:

Two students document the arrival of cute, cartoon aliens in Edinburgh, but after a year on Earth, the pair discover the true intention of the aliens visit. Watch “Toonocalypse” by Owen Rixon