Advice to live by, don’t you think? 👊😎👍
Advice to live by, don’t you think? 👊😎👍
The work-in-progress epilogue for my work-in-progress Shayateen, third book in the Martuk…the Holy series.
Her thoughts begin…
“For me, having an appreciation for horror movies falls into the category of ‘Things I Understand Exist, but Reject Wholeheartedly,’ right alongside anime and micropenises. When I learn that someone I respect likes the genre, I immediately change the subject. I can’t fathom why, so it feels dirty and uncomfortable to me–akin to hearing the word ‘moist’ uttered out loud.
…and that’s where I rolled my eyes so hard I’m pretty sure I saw 1972.
Because, listen, besides the slam against anime and micropenises (OMG, she said “micropenis!” She’s daring! And naughty! Sooooo edgy!!!), Abigail McCoy’s recent article in Glamour is an unapologetic — perhaps unaware? — glimpse into a sadly myopic world view that’s become common in recent years. One that says “I don’t like this so, therefore, if you do, well, something must be wrong with you, so whatevs.”
A world view that for me, frankly, feels a little dirty and uncomfortable — akin to hearing the words “pumpkin spice latte” uttered by a girl in Uggs searching for the make-me-look-like-a-supermodel filter on her Instagram.
Now, I don’t have the pleasure of knowing Miss McCoy (nor do I think I want to, to be honest) but I do know Sour Patch Kids — file under “Things I Begrudgingly Accept are a Thing, but Make Me Throw-Up a Little When I Think of Them” — and according to her bio she’s absolutely besotted with them.
But I don’t like them.
To me, they’re sparkly gag-inducing bull farts rolled in dollar store sugar, passed through an anime micropenis and tucked under Trump’s left armpit until appropriately moist. And anyone who likes them, well, I just don’t get you.
But like those “smart women” Abigail knows who “claim” to like horror movies, there are obviously people out there who love eating sparkly gag-inducing bull farts.
Okay, I’m stopping there because, honestly, my mind is a bit too broad to continue the charade of hating Sour Patch Kids even if Miss McCoy’s achingly self-important ramblings seem to be driven by the sugar high she gets from double-fisting them.
How else could she write such gut-busting gems as
“But I maintain that there is absolutely no value in feeling scared. Why do people want to be scared? What is good about that? Feeling scared is always, always a negative experience, and I don’t think it’s even the kind with a silver lining”
“I can wrap my head around the whole ‘thrills minus actual danger’ appeal, but can’t you just get your rocks off by watching Homeland or something else written by writers whose artistic vision extends beyond scenes cast exclusively in blue-grey light with recently-widowed women being terrorized by things and beings that hopefully don’t exist IRL?”
Writers “whose artistic vision extends beyond scenes cast exclusively in blue-grey light with recently-widowed women being terrorized?” “I maintain…I don’t think…I can wrap my head around…?”
Perhaps if she put down the sparkly bull farts, looked up from her venti-soy-half-caf-light-whip PSL, and wandered outside the cozy confines of her cosseted tribe at Glamour, she’d learn that A) the world is not driven by Her Royal “I”, B) not every horror film revolves around a recently-widowed woman — did I actually have to just write that? — C) blue-grey light is totally a director/lighting design/production design call and has nothing to do with the writer — seriously, doesn’t anyone at Glamour know this??? — and D) real life is full of things and beings that terrorize far beyond what you see on-screen.
And that’s why horror films and books are important.
Despite her accidentally arrogant assertion that feeling scared is “always, always a negative experience” — yeah, still scratching my head at that little gem getting past her steely-eyed editors; wait, are there editors at Glamour? idk — feeling scared, for some, is actually healthy.
In fact, for some, it’s necessary.
There are those who’ve seen and experienced things most of us simply cannot imagine. Things that have left them scarred in their deepest places. Experiences that have sliced deep, gouged muscle, carved into bone and left gaping wounds that still bleed — silently, invisibly — years, decades, later. To experience fear in the safety of a film or a book, a medium that can be controlled at will with a click of a remote or a closing of the Kindle or book, is sometimes the only avenue these people have of subtly releasing the pressure they feel. Of “reliving” their terror without actually touching their personal emotional third rails.
They find freedom and a sort of peace in the dark words, thoughts, imaginations of those who write and create horror. It connects with a necessary part of them that’s desperate to have a voice, but isn’t sure how to speak.
Now, one can optimistically assume Miss McCoy’s scars aren’t as deep and her wounds aren’t still sobbing. If fact, I hope it’s safe to say the most memorable terrible thing Miss McCoy may have experienced in her relatively young life is a viewing of The Ring fourteen years ago. And that makes me happy.
No, it truly does.
Because it’s, perhaps, that absence of scars, of wounds, that leave Abigail cold when it comes to horror films. Her joy is found elsewhere. Her healing is maybe more gentle. The release of her inner scream is found in frivolous things — as she herself said.
And that’s to be applauded.
I just wish those who truly do enjoy horror — yes, Abbie, they do exist and they are, in fact, smart and no, for cripe’s sake, they’re not lying — could be spared the unnecessary, dare I say shallow judgement of a woman who should know better, but sadly doesn’t appear to.
Because, like it or not, the world beyond Miss McCoy’s list of scary “Things I Understand Exist, but Reject Wholeheartedly” is much greater, much more interesting, and much more useful than she can ever imagine. Maybe if she found her courage, opened her mind and took a true, sincere, objective look, she might be surprised by what she finds.
Even if it does feel dirty and uncomfortable.
I don’t know about other writers, but when I find I’ve written something a bit rough or cruel or viciously brutal— this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen — I feel more than a smidgen of guilt.
Not necessarily because of the experience the Reader will go through — they did sign up for it, though, so… — but more because of what I put the characters through.
Interesting, isn’t it?
For better or worse, I feel deeply for people who exist solely on the page. But that’s what I suspect gives my work emotional resonance: these people are real to me. Very real.
They are telling their stories. And, for better or worse, those stories follow me. Poke into my thoughts months, years, after being told. The consequences of what I create keep me awake at night.
No, seriously. That happens. A lot.
Almost a year after its initial release, Click, the third story in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast, is one of those stories I can’t get away from. And it’s not just because of how brutal it was, but because of the innocence of the victims and the dangerous psychosis of the killer.
I’ve said this before, but I simply could not get my head around the absence of empathy and the glee he took in the act of hurting another.
You see, with my immortal Martuk, he does bad things, but there’s always a reason. So, at the end of the day, readers may disagree with what Martuk does, but they understand on a visceral, very basic level why he did it.
With Martuk, you hate him, you love him, you fear him and, most importantly, you understand the Why of his What.
But with Colton in Click?
He was pure evil. Evil and insanity. And, yes, there were reasons. A litany of Whys to his What. Wounds that drove him. Ancient scars that still bled.
But none of that excused what he, the Character, insisted I, the Writer, create for him.
I remember writing the story while sobbing — like, really SOBBING — because I HATED what was happening. Hated it. Made me sick to my stomach. Forced me up and out to take long walks just to escape it for a much needed breath of fresh air.
But it was the story that needed to be told.
You know, I still get emails and private messages via social media raking me over the coals for Click. Questioning my sanity, my kindness, my heart. Questioning what kind of monster I am to put on the page someone as horrible as Colton.
And I get it. I do.
Which is probably why I’m feeling the need to write what’s turned into an open letter.
But, listen, those of us who invest ourselves totally in our work sometimes don’t have the control over the final product people think we might. Sometimes our characters want to tell stories that we vehemently disagree with. Sometimes they grab us by the arm and drag us, kicking and screaming and, yes, crying, much deeper into the dark than we ever wanted to go. And when we stumble free, back into the light, after the story’s told, we find ourselves changed, wounded, even scarred.
But that’s the deal we made to do what we do. Life isn’t always pretty and perfect. Sometimes vicious people do atrocious things with no rhyme or reason. As someone who writes horror, it’s my job to capture the barest hints of that so that my readers can exorcise, vicariously, their own demons. I guess. I don’t know.
All I know is that I relish returning to the relative normalcy and sanity of my dearest immortal Martuk as I dive into Shayateen, his third and perhaps final book.
Still, though, I do wonder if there should be apologies…perhaps.
Looks like I still have some psychological knots to untangle.
I got an interesting email the other day. And although I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether or not to share this, I decided to do so because I suspect others might benefit from my experience.
The note was from someone who claims to be an editor. Someone I know of through social media. Someone who had, on the advice of “high ranking writers” — we have ranks? I had no idea! are there medals? sashes? a dental plan? — decided to take a chance and see if this new guy — me! — is as good as they said he is.
And, in their opinion, not only do I suck, but my work was LITERALLY unreadable. (Btw, that was in ALL CAPS in the email, so I REALLY feel the need to be consistent) Like, they couldn’t EVEN — again, ALL CAPS — get four pages in before they threw it across the room.
Now, what’s interesting about this isn’t the criticism — it comes with the job and I’ve heard much worse — it’s the list they kindly offered me.
Yes! A list!
Whoops, forgive me. I meant THE LIST. You know, a gentle reminder of what I can and cannot do as a writer. A little something to help me out — paraphrasing here — before I go back to school and take a ton of seminars and learn how to actually write a book, etc and so on.
So, this list of “Can’ts” included
It was a very generous list. An exhaustive list. I needed a cookie and a nap after navigating, like a less-ambitious, slightly disinterested version of Marco Polo, this list. A great deal of thought went into this list.
Toward the end of THE LIST I found myself envying their free time.
Of course I responded and thanked them for writing and wished them well. I did not apologize for my work and I did not apologize for the way I write.
Because my answer to that list of Can’ts is
Yes I Can.
Again, the criticism is not the issue. Art is subjective and, hey, everyone has their own opinion. What I do is sometimes unique and it won’t always be to everyone’s liking. And that’s okay! No harm, no foul, right?
I’m just gonna do what I do regardless because it’s who I am.
What is the issue is an industry – which this person had decided to speak for, I guess – that actively bemoans everything sounding the same and the lack of new voices taking risks and then, when someone does find the courage to throw a curve ball, smacks them down because it breaks their rules. Raps them on the knuckles, brands them with the He Can’t Write label and pushes them to the back of the line until they “learn how to do it right.”
Well, even if it slows my ascent, I’ve never really paid attention to the rules. Hell, I can’t imagine a life (which is limiting enough, thank you very much) where I choose to limit MYSELF by quieting my voice by following rules.
Because you know what?
Those who do well, and I mean those who do well enough to break down walls, destroy boundaries and flip the script when it comes to how society see things, don’t do so by following the rules. They know the rules, understand the rules, know the limits and have worked within the limits. They’ve mastered building castles in that sand box and now spend their lives slowly pushing, testing, forcing these rules to stretch and bend and change.
But when they do this they put a target on their backs for all those armed with Lists lying in wait to bury them in an avalanche of Can’ts. And they endure that, all while paving the way to Freedom for everyone else. They go unread and misunderstood and discarded so the next crop can come in to find those earlier boundaries changed. And these new voices then build their castles in a bigger, somehow better sandbox.
Those who, supported by the rules, then decide to break them do this understanding the path they’re agreeing to walk. But do so anyway because their need to create the way THEY want to is stronger than their desire to be the Flavor of the Month.
So, if I write something that’s roundly rejected by Those Who Follow the Rules, that’s fine.
No, really. It is.
Listen, I have a voice, a unique voice, which often results in interesting stories uniquely told. That’s not going to change and if the bending and breaking of those rules disturbs someone’s sensibilities, I’m okay with that.
Because, truth be told, I spend my days surrounded by people telling me No, You Can’t. And, every day, week after week, year after year, my answer has been and will always be
Yes, I Can.
Occasionally, just occasionally, someone will pepper me with questions for which occasionally, just occasionally, I’ll offer somewhat cogent, intelligent, dare I say “witty” answers.
This was one of those times.
What attracted you to writing horror?
In my opinion, horror lets you write your own rules. I can create a haunting something out of a forgettable nothing in horror. A speck of dust, a loose thread, a glance in the mirror. In other genres, those everyday things are just that: everyday things. In horror, at least for me, they’re jumping off points for the total unraveling of a life, of one’s sanity, of one’s grip on reality. For me, they’re the necessary first step into the hungry shadows of deepest dark.
For the rest of this fascinating — occasionally, just occasionally — read, head on over here.
Because, as I also said,
in my opinion, the more I dig, the more I realize we’re in a bit of a Golden Age when it comes to fantastic writers.
Yeah, I know, right? Good stuff!
So, take a look, have a read and enjoy.🙂
Jonathan Winn is a screenwriter as well as the author of Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast (Crystal Lake Publishing), the full-length novels Martuk … the Holy (A Highlight of the Year, 2012 Papyrus Independent Fiction Awards), Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche (Top Twenty Horror Novels of 2014, Preditors & Editors Readers Poll), the upcoming Martuk … the Holy: Shayateen and The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of short fiction inspired by Martuk …
In addition to Forever Dark, his award-winning short story in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2, his work can also be found in Horror 201: The Silver Scream and Writers on Writing, Vol. 2, all from Crystal Lake Publishing.
I recently ran across an interesting – albeit brief – read about the current state of Hollywood. In it, the writers says
Part of Hollywood’s current decay was unavoidable. As a monoculture splintered permanently into niche groups, the idea of a film everybody sees and everybody can’t stop talking about fades further into the cultural past. The rise of cable networks willing to spend serious money on shows like “Game of Thrones” further dents Hollywood’s ability to be the main supplier of big stories.
The article then goes on to discuss how the business model they’ve created has painted them in a corner where heartfelt sincerity is out, out, out and big, big, big profits are in, in, in. Where audiences have, when it comes to summer movie-watching fare, either this superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved -or not) or that superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved – or not).
And if the superhero movies are all basically interchangeable and easily forgotten, where’s the magic in going to the movies? Short answer: there is none. Which is why people are staying home and watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever.
Now, I understand the financial logistics of this. I know foreign markets (China, Russia, Israel, Germany) drive profit. That Hollywood, being a global business – as in the whole world and not just America, a fact we somehow forget here in the States – isn’t necessarily making movies just for the domestic audience which, in truth, feed less and less into their bottom lines.
Really, though, Hollywood knows films that are heavy on action, explosions, dudes in capes and light on dialogue are easily translatable for Chinese, Russian, German audiences. And if your business is making money – and Hollywood’s is – a film that translates easily regardless of borders is, or could be, the way to go.
But they’re forgetting one important fact. They’re ignoring the one thing that makes it harder and harder to get those butts in the seats:
Where are the big stories?
Really. Where’s the frickin’ magic? Why go to the movies anymore? Where’s that one film that slyly incorporates those special effects audiences love while giving us characters audiences care about, feel for and never forget? Because that’s the film this industry needs. Desperately.
Being the relentless optimist I am, I strongly believe you can have action and magic in a film without relinquishing heart and soul.
If you revisit franchises like Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games, those movies ticked a lot of boxes. Centered around strong narratives – remember those? – they both successfully blended the fantastic with emotion. They married action with heart. And they gave audiences necessary, important battles without abandoning reason or hope. Cities didn’t need to crumble, the universe didn’t need to quake and thousands of cars didn’t have to get trampled underfoot for those films to make their point and make an impact on audiences.
You see? If you have a true big story – not just a loud story – you can go simple. If you’re supported by a strong narrative peopled with unique, relatable characters, you can be quiet. And if those people are imbued with hope, heartache, anger, fear, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, doubt, strength, the story they tell, even without the predictable Armageddon, will be unforgettable.
Why? Because no matter how different that person on the screen is from those in the audience, they’ll be speaking the same language. A language which doesn’t rely on translation or destruction or annihilation. A language that can be felt in a place deeper than words.
If you really want to find the big stories in today’s Hollywood, the stories audiences are truly craving – reminder: everyone’s staying home watching cable — that’s where you begin. With what people feel. And if you can bring to life a solid story with a character who is blessed – or cursed – with the impossible and yet is still driven by their hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, disappointments and dread, a person driven by their emotions, that’s where audiences will go. In fact, that’s where audiences will go again and again and again.
I believe if you can reach into someone’s heart, speak to that part of them that wants to feel – it’s why we go to the movies, right? – and reawaken that innate hope we all have being part of something bigger while still entertaining, still dazzling, still scaring and surprising them, they’ll come. They’ll leave their homes, come to the theater, make a night of it and see that film. They will. We’ve seen it happen before. And, god willing, we’ll see it happen again.
But that journey has to begin with the heart.
Because that’s where the big stories are.
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