On What Ifs and Horror Writing

Published October 4, 2017 by admin

Oh, October. I love you. Somehow, even when I was a scaredy cat growing up, I still wanted to live in a haunted house and played pretend that I was some sort of ghoul/ghost princess in a graveyard or ran around wanting to be a ghostbuster getting sucked into an alternate dimension…you know, normal kids stuff.

It probably had to do with the sheer amount of different things I was around to as a kid, so I can actually totally, completely, mostly blame my parents, family, friends, and the 1980s on me turning out this way. It’s a relief, let me tell you.

I think I’ve always been in awe of the what if in horror. Obviously, this is a thing in other genres, but it’s especially powerful when coupled with the fear, pessimism, anxiety, or whatever outlook you’re shaping it with in horror. What if there’s someone calling from inside the house? What if vampires are real? What if one typical day turns into your worst nightmare?

There’s something empowering about exploring it, as well as something chilling about reading it. In some ways I think I like writing horror for a sense of control, in others I think I like it because there’s still this weird viewpoint that as a gal I’m somehow not supposed to think like this or whatever (obviously those with that pov haven’t hung out with a ton of women, just sayin’).

A lot of my short horror has started from the what if concept: What if all your inanimate objects were conscious and secretly hated you? What if vampires existed in the untamed woods in the 1800s? What if on one of the happiest nights of the year, the world was ending? What if this little incident that you think is so mundane is far from innocent?

I kind of blame this on the ’80s, too. Growing up in the time of stranger danger, just say no, razorbladed halloween candy, people trying to get you in a van, combined with just how bizarre Saturday morning television was, well, I mean we really didn’t have a chance. Something was always on our minds, even on the playground. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. Kids are way savvier than you think, they pick up on stuff, but they also misstranslate it and get it all turned around. To this day I still remember odd convos in the cafeteria about like what a friend of mine thought communism was and how we’d all die at any minute, along with urban-legend type stuff, like a spot on the ceiling of a dining room that grew as a family ate and took them straight to hell.

I think I was seven or eight for those, by the way, so yeah, talk to your children, because they’re probably walking around with some amazing irrational fears.

Combine THAT with things on the news like the Challenger, the economy fluctuating, and THAT with episodes of Punky Brewster showing the kids getting eaten by a demon and Care Bears going borderline possession in a Dark Heart storyline, Ponyland getting eaten by ooze, and characters getting their souls sucked out every other week, Freddy Krueger might come get you, spiders could take over a whole town, and who knows what else – and put all of that in a blender…in a world full of what if’s, Halloween felt like a relief, a constant: you always cut jack-o-lanterns, you always dress up, you always go out and come home with candy. Heck, you alwsays come home, as long as you’re careful and wear reflectors and obey the rules. These days, I realize how naive that sounds, but back then it was comforting. Witches and monsters and vampires can’t really hurt you, the masks in the store are always going to smell weird, the same houses are always going to give big candy bars. Those constants gave way to fun what ifs – what if a house could really be haunted, what you actually went to one of those haunted houses no one has ever gone all the way through, what if…whatever.

It was almost a balance as a kid – accepting some things with belief while still being rational enough to be wary. I suppose writing horror as an adult is a little like that, too. It takes some suspension of belief to write some of the concepts I do and have them be effective. It takes a balance of fear and technique, of keeping one foot out and one foot in.

It was fun to just drop everything and embrace what I considered scary. It’s fun these days to drop everything and embrace things that lurk at the edges of my thoughts and freak me out. And if those what if’s freak out other people, hey, so much the better.

So what’s a what if that gets under your skin…what are the things that get to you?

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If you want to explore some creepy what ifs (and some that aren’t so creepy), feel free to check out my books!

Or, if you just want a taste, there are a lot of quick flash horror fics in the free read section!

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Costume-palooza: Batgirl

Published October 3, 2017 by admin

It’s one of those weeks where I’ve got nothin’ new goin’ on, so let’s go to the archives and see what we can talk about. And since it’s Halloween and my daily artistic life is costumes, guess what another theme this month is…

Pssst, it’s costumes. Totally costumes.

At the moment I’ll stick with stuff I’ve done for myself, because I’m still going through the 9 million possible portfolio shots I’ve taken in my lifetime of other stuff that I have yet to edit and arrange (seriously. So great with documentation, not so great about doing stuff with it). I also like showing stuff I’ve done for myself, because some years I pull out all the stops and other years I am tired and lazy and end up being a car lot noodle (and you think I’m kidding).

This one falls somewhat between extremes, and is admittedly one of my faves. Babs Gordon/Batgirl somehow ended up as like a giant beacon of a role model for me as a kid. I grew up watching reruns of the old Adam West show, I vaguely remember reading comics during church choir practice when I was supposed to be paying attention (I guess I felt I wouldn’t be allowed to borrow them from my guy friends, so I have no idea. It seems silly that I was hiding that habit, now). Of course, as I grew up and really delved into her storyline, it just blew me away. The fact that this character could go through intense trauma, be forced to give up the one of the things that made her who she was, and then come blazing back as Oracle has always stuck with me through my own changes and growth. And sorry, I do not accept non-Oracle plotline Babs. Not gonna happen.

It was the animated series, though, that really grabbed me by the nostrils as a teen. That whole show had an artistic sensibility and design that I really hadn’t seen up to that point. The storylines blended humor with some really serious plot points, and kept the characters fairly true to their roots. I can’t help but think that I learned a lot about story development from that show, as well as episodic fiction, because I just straight up devoured it as long as it was on. Beyond the Tim Burton movies or anything else that I’d grown up on, Batman TAS was and will always be my Batman. So years ago when I was part of a group costume challenge where we decided the theme was cartoons, after some brief debate, I went with Batgirl.  Admittedly I had to go with the redesign because I was also working a ton of hours building Halloween event stuff, but I’m pretty in love with the outcome.

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The basic suit was actually done with cuddleduds – they have a nice sheen and honestly with my body proportions (long torso, wide hips, short legs), I didn’t have the time or desire to build my own catsuit (and I likely would have had to. I’ve had some bad moments with store-bought catsuits). The tops are usually pretty long, so if I keep it pulled under the belt, you really don’t notice from a distance that it’s not all one piece.

The cape was fairly easy to do out of stretch jersey, and it took some off and on googling to figure out which bat was the right bat for that uniform. Admittedly the belt isn’t completely right (I think it’s actually like a series of circles). At the time I could only find partial views of her head to toe (or mid-move where things were blocked), so I went off the original belt a litle bit combined with what I could see, but I don’t really mind it. I was going for a purposefully cartoon look to match the TAS feel, so I used car upholstry liner as the base then covered it with fabric. Gloves and boots are bought because I don’t hate myself that much, and I made gauntlets to go over the gloves out of a yellow party satin and more car liner. The mask is spandex and involved me sitting still for it to be draped to the shape of my head – the one thing I didn’t do (and should have) is put the wig on for that (it may have still been in transit, actually), so the fit is a smidge off, but nothing too bad. The mask was the thing that did take me a while to do since I wasn’t the one draping it. Figuring out how far the darts had to go and positioning the holes did give me some fits, but it was definitely worth it. I think, all in all, I got this done for a little over 150 – for as simple as it looks it did take a little bit to pull off.

 

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Obviously I don’t have fun with this one at all.

 

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Want a creepy read for Halloween? I’ve got ya covered! Check out Mooner, my historical vampire tale, or try any of the genre-defying shorts in Lost in the Shadows! Not into horror? No prob, check out all the other fun titles I’ve written!

 

 

SJ Reads: Space Case

Published October 2, 2017 by admin

 

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It’s that glorious, wonderful, macabre, spooky, creepy, magnificent time of the year! And of course I’ll be reading creepy stuff all the way through it. For this month’s SJ reads, though, I thought I’d do something a little different and heap a big ol’ spoonful of nostalgia on this month’s pics (Don’t worry, I’ll likely throw in a few posts of horror stuff here and there, too, because it’s me).

Growing up, I loved Halloween books. It was hard for my mom to keep them designated to one time of year (and to her credit, she was adept at using them for bribes other times of the year). In remembering some of my favorites, it’s not that hard to see how I grew up to become the person I am. So let’s look at my cute/creepy title of the week!

Anyone who remembers Reading Rainbow should remember Space Case. I mean, anyone who was growing up in the eighties and in school at the time should remember it. This was one of the titles that my mom gave in and bought for me in the school book order program, and I was beyond ecstatic when it came.

It’s a simple story: A thing from outer space visits a boy while trick or treating. The boy passes the thing off as a friend, they get a lot of candy, and the next day the thing comes to the boy’s rescue at school. Still, the pictures are still quirky and plain fun – I found this in the basement a couple months ago while cleaning and admittedly fell into it again. There’s something really approachable about the work of Edward and James Marshall. It’s not too cutesy, it’s not mean, there’s just enough suspense for a little kid, and it’s fun. I think there is actually a follow-up book, but I can’t begin to tell you what it is off the top of my head.

I think this appealed to me because I really wanted some sort of strange adventure to happen while I was trick or treating growing up in the worst way. The thought of an alien just coming by to say hey and tagging along with me was just the greatest thing ever at the time. As an adult, it’s an admittedly quick read, but titles like this also make me slow down and appreciate the art more, appreciate the beats of the story more. I’m kind of in awe of children’s writers, because it takes a lot to tell a full story with so little. The pictures really remind me of something I’d want to be able to draw as a kid – they look approachable and not super hard (which I’m sure is deceptive), and they have a fun humor to them that invites you to sit and stare at the little details.

This title also still feels really Halloweeny to me, even with a distinct sci-fi vibe. Plus, it’s kind of cool how it doesn’t just end on Halloween but carries over into the next day – what kid doesn’t know the feeling of being tired and forgetting something at school after a night of trick or treating?

Whether you remember this from your own past or have kids, this is a super-cute, non-intense read for the season!

 

 

 

The Caturday Critique Club

Published September 30, 2017 by admin

Something fun for the weekend…so one of the things I never talked about because it was too hard at the time, but a few years ago Sam, the furry editor, finally passed. I still miss him like crazy, but I haven’t been really in a position (or ready) for another kitteh, so I’ve been doing the next best thing: hiding out and writing at a cat cafe. And by writing I mean ignoring my manuscript unless I’m reading it to indifferent felines that I call my critique group. It’s awesome. Heres some reactions for your Caturday:

 

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I can feel the raging anticipation. Moving on. 

 

 

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What can I say, I’m not above bribery to get a good critique

 

 

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Yeah, I feel the same going back over some of my own work some days. 

 

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I think I have a fan.

 

 

 

2nd Look: Library Livin’

Published September 27, 2017 by admin

Besides teachers, I think sometimes we take for granted how much libraries and the communities they foster can really, truly encourage people, especially kids. So today’s look back deals with some of the libraries in my life.

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I’ve talked about it off and on in interviews and the like, but I cannot stress how big of an influence libraries have had on me. I still remember going into my first one as a kid. It was built into a former residence in a small Illinois town, the librarian still lived above it, and it was magic. Rooms chock full of shelves, a lovely, open front room with homey windows and dark wood, just the stuff of story books. The very first book I ever was allowed to take home was There’s a Nightmare in my Closet, and even though I already knew the plot, the thought of plucking it from a shelf (it was misplaced in the adult shelves so that made it even more important-seeming) and taking it home all by myself was a beautiful feeling. I went on to do the summer reading programs there, get vacation packets for long car trips there, I was even able to check out puppets there, something that I’m sure fed my love of the art form early on.

My mom made a point of taking me to the library any time I was interested in something, and I give her a lot of credit for my voracious love of reading today. After every Reading Rainbow episode, we made a list of titles to go searching for. Anything that I wasn’t allowed to buy on the Scholastic book forms we put on the library list. There were times during the summer when we were there every other day. I was encouraged to read anything that took my fancy, although she quickly had to put a cap on the number of titles I could get at one time (I may still have problems with limiting my TBR pile…).

That was also the library where I was accidentally locked in during the librarian’s lunch hour.The children’s room was in the very back of the place, time got away, and there I was with my mother, completely panicked that I’d never get home again…for the first five minutes until I realized that I had All. The. Books. to myself (even if I had to share with my mother). I have a vague recollection of compiling a massive stack in the amount of time it took for her to fetch the librarian’s niece, convince her that we weren’t hiding downstairs on purpose, and get her to fetch her aunt so she could let us out.

To read on, click here

Free Flash Fic, Reviews, & More

Published September 26, 2017 by admin

New stuff for your Tuesday! Note – I’m still catching up on personal correspondence from the last week. I’m working on a few possible future things lately, so I’m balancing that with trying to get media organized again, and some other things, as well. So I am getting there.

Congrats to the winner of the birthday caption contest – Rie Sheridan Rose! Thanks for participating, and I’ll be in contact about ze prize.

 

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New YA graphic novel review up for Books by Violet – this week I’m looking at the illustrated memoir of a small-town girl going off to art school: Little Fish. 

 

 

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I accidentally missed the second of my manga reviews for I Smell Sheep, so here it is. I’m starting everyone off nice and easy with a feel-good shojo story with some interesting twists and turns: the classic title, Fruits Basket!

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This is the most recent manga review for I Smell Sheep – a shorter series at only seven volumes, but still really interesting. Think Snow Piercer mixed with sci-fi mixed with a more kid friendly rating. It’s excellent, I swear. To read my full review on Saturn Apartments, go here!

 

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I participated in this month’s Ladies of Horror flash picture project – and was given the above image. To see what I did with it (and to read it and other free flash horror stories), go here!

 

 

 

SJ Reads: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Published September 25, 2017 by admin

I was going to wait until October, but since the news broke last week that it’s getting a TV option and I LOVE this series, I decided what the hey.

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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is another offering from Archie Horror, who brought us the magnificent Afterlife with Archie. A few things to keep in mind:

This is based off the 60’s comic book Sabrina, so it takes place in 1966. It has absolutely nothing to do with the 90s television series – the character went through a lot of incarnations before this point. Honestly, for me it makes it a little easier to take, because there’s less of an association with the outright familiar.

This series has much more of an existential dread vibe than Afterlife. There’s not really any humor, and between the time period and the art, there’s a nice tension throughout the story. In the intro to vol 1 the comparison is that if Afterlife is Evil Dead, Chilling Adventures is Rosemary’s Baby or Exorcist.

If you are offended/bothered by anything of an occult nature, you will not like this series. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You can dislike that they did this, dislike that it was with this character, but there are a lot of Archie stories, so luckily you don’t have to wander into this if you don’t want to. There is no denying that the witches are malevolent in this series. The occult/satanism vibe is extremely overt, so it’s not something you can really read around if it bothers you.

This story has nothing to do with Afterlife – Sabrina, Betty, and Veronica are characters in both, but the stories don’t cross over at all, so just pretend they’re not even in the same world.

There are some similarities to the show, mostly that Sabrina is half witch/half mortal. Also, like in the show, witches aren’t really supposed to fall in love with mortals. That’s about where things end.

The day that Sabrina is supposed to be claimed by the coven as an infant, her mother rebels, which leads her being lobotomized by spell and put in a mental institution. For other reasons, her father is sent to Hell, so she’s raised by her aunts in another town. As she hits her sixteenth birthday she has to make a decision as to which way she’s going to live her life. Meanwhile, her father’s old ex, Madam Satan, has been summoned from Hell and is after revenge, and Sabrina.

So, yeah, little different.

There are a lot of interesting things going on here. The time period lends itself not only to the horror vibe, but to the subtexts of racism and gender roles, as well. You always get a sense that Sabrina is fighting to be who she is around different groups of people, which makes for an interesting read. It’s also picked up with the Betty and Veronica practicing witchcraft in secret storyline, and some other places, as well. A lot of the characters we’ve come to expect as being benign become super-interesting in this version. Hilda and Zelda, as well as Sabrina’s father, project a definite malevolence, though her aunts sort of swing back and forth. They want the best for their niece, but they also definitely want her to commit to the coven.

And by commit I mean sign her name in Satan’s book. Let’s just put that out there now so I don’t get yelled at when someone tries to read this thing. I told you, this ain’t yer 90s Sabrina. There’s also some very sixties stuff with school shenanigans and trying out for a play, and other things that are foiled when Madam Satan shows up in disguise and takes Sabrina under her wing.

Sabrina, herself, is facinating. She’s the protagonist, but she also isn’t the goody goody we’re used to seeing. She’s somewhat victim to manipulations, but she also is ready to stand firm in what she wants and believes. She’s hardly innocent and uses her powers however she wants. I think there’s even a moment where she says something like ‘I’m a teenage witch, this is what I’m supposed to do!’

Honestly, after so many seasons of seeing her as a kind-hearted goofball (and I love Melissa Joan Hart’s portrayal of her), it’s kind of awesome to see her like this. She’s still kind of at the mercy of some things, but more of her decisions (even if she’s being misguided) come more from her.

You’ll still see familiar faces – there are some from the comics that we don’t see a lot of in the show. For you 90s fans, Harvey makes an appearance (heh), and Salem is there, though in a much less comedic capacity. Ambrose, her British cousin, also shows up and ends up joining Salem as more of a sympathetic sidekick.

It’s very important to note that this isn’t Sabrina as Buffy, Sabrina as Practical Magic, Sabrina fighting evil. And honestly, I don’t want those. This is what I want. This is horror. This is dark. This is something distinctly of and for this character. This reads like a showrunner snapped after being criticized over the 90s show one too many times and decided: FINE, SEE HOW YOU LIKE THIS. (note: this is my headcanon and not the actual origin of this series. The writer and artist are amazing in their own bodies of work and deserve a ton of praise for this). This is something that absolutely should not work because it is definitely against type and uncomfortable.

And it is magnificent.

Honestly, I was shocked when I read it. I did not expect it to be good, let alone this good. Does it unnerve me? Sure. Does it make me uncomfortable? Yep. But that’s what good horror does. Seriously, if you can step back from your expectations and how you feel about the television show, if you can embrace this for what it is, it’s truly amazing how strong of a title this has turned out to be. My only gripe is that it’s super slow to release (something that I hope changes now that it’s under the public eye).

The art is also some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen in a horror comic in a while. It has a distinct retro/vintage feel (some of it has a straight up EC or Creepy/Eerie vibe), and with the majority of muted colors, you just feel everything knot up inside you while reading. Characters you want to like and agree with become horrifying then revert back, and the familiar never feels altogether safe. It’s easy to fall into this series based on the art alone.

As for my thoughts on the television show…I’m not sure. I think it could be amazing. I really want it to be all that’s in my head. However, I also expect that because it’s going to CW that there will be changes (there’s at least one aspect that I kind of wonder if they’re going to have to change), or be dialed down, or whatever. I hope I’m wrong, because I think there is a market for this as is, if it can overcome people’s nostalgia over the 90s show.

For what it’s worth, I loved the 90s show. I thought it went on too long and became somewhat stale and a caricature of itself, but I loved the first few seasons. It’s cute, it teaches lessons, it’s feel-good. Salem is one of my favorite characters. However, it’s been done. I don’t need the further adventures of, I don’t need soap opera Sabrina or teen angst Sabrina or whatever.

Something based straight from Chilling Adventures would give them a lot of room to build (it’s only 2 collected volumes so far, I think), plus it provides a lot of subtle social commentary. I don’t know that marketing it is going to be the easiest thing between instant knee jerking and people wanting something close to what they remember, but with Riverdale’s success, hopefully I’m wrong.

If you’re brave enough to check out the comic, you can find the first volume here. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but if you like horror and different takes on the familiar, definitely give this a try.