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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Behold The Void–Nay, Behold Philip Fracassi.

https://www.amazon.com/Behold-Void-Philip-Fracassi-ebook/dp/B01N7WAWGG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519578936&sr=8-1&keywords=behold+the+void

Buy. It. Now. $7.

Philip Fracassi is the next big name in horror. Get in on the ground floor and be a “horror hipster” who discovered him first–before he is so mainstream.

This short story collection renewed my faith in fiction as entertainment. Especially in the short fiction form.

Too many short story writers think we pay the price of admission for wispy tales, with depressed characters who stare out windows, and end on “subtle,” “ambiguous” notes.

*fart sound*

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi delivers the goods–each story stands alone as a bolt of lighning. His characters and the plots they’re unfortunate enough to be in make you give a shit.

There isn’t a single bad story. Here are my top three (light spoilers):

  1. “Altar”
  2. “The Horse Thief”
  3. “Mandala,” the capstone novella

“Altar”

I read “Altar” on my Kindle in a cafe. People shot me dirty looks because I kept fidgeting in my seat and swearing in disbelief under my breath. That was only the second story in the book. I knew I was in the presence of a special horror genre talent—a master.

Fracassi handles three dynamic characters, a feat in itself in short fiction: a mother, her adolescent daughter, and her ten year old son. He captures their broken home, split fresh by divorce, and the swirling confusion of growing up/raising kids deftly, all while ratcheting up a tower of tension. The culmination–glorious, glorious cosmic horror!–where we literally see a community pool open up into a void, where a demon who eats children waits, mouth salivating.

Think H.P. Lovecraft without the social ineptitude and misanthropy, and you’ll appreciate how amazing this story (and Philip Fracassi, generally) is.

“The Horse Thief”

I have a special connection to this yarn. My favorite literary writer is Cormac McCarthy, author of Blood Meridian, arguably the greatest novel of all time. Many try and fail to imitate McCarthy’s mystical and effusive style and fall short at the man’s feet.

I haven’t a clue whether he was trying to evoke McCarthy in this story or not. But my God. Pitch wise and thematically and lyrically, it was close. The main character is a Mexican immigrant who steals horses, who gets roped in with a sadistic buyer, so content-wise, the shoe also fit.

I finished the story and thought to myself, if Philip Fracassi ever crosses paths with Cormac, that wise old imp is going to clap him on the back like an approving father.

“Mandala”

This novella is worth paying for as a stand-alone book. You know that tired-ass cliche people throw around about being grabbed by the throat? This novella leaves choke marks.

I can’t remember reading such taut, compelling prose. This story involving two families at their summer homes in Washington State, dealing with two intertwined tragedies, is harrowing. Literal connotation. What separates Fracassi from other writers (in any genre) is the artful way he develops his characters.

Here, the central tension is whether or not our main character Mike is going to drown. His friend leaves him handcuffed to a railing at the shoreline–when the tide comes in he must fight to keep his head above water.

In Fracassi’s hands, Mike is a real boy. We feel each excruciating physical and mental struggle that he goes through–it’s grueling. The act of reading almost leaves you to suffer the shortness of breath and the brutal sunburn that Mike does. I haven’t rooted for a character to survive as much as I did with Mike in “Mandala” since I first started reading fiction as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed pup.

Buy Behold The Void

Philip Fracassi is brilliant. I’ve bought all his other work already, and intend on ripping through it like the characters in this collection hurtle headlong into the void.