Choosing Not to Write – Why *Stressful* Procrastination Can Kill Your Writing

Procrastination

Most people have issues with procrastination in one or more areas of their life, some (me) more than others. And in the year of our Lord 2019 there is an unlimited supply of things to distract ourselves with, each one designed to keep our attention at all costs. So, for writers and artists of all kinds, how can we avoid procrastination and get our work done? Especially since more and more of us are doing it after our usual 9-5 jobs, right when your brain is telling you that you need to relax and take a break. What if we chose to procrastinate and feed our creative minds, rather than passively accepting it and punishing ourselves for it?

nanowrimo notebooks
I have so many notebooks I really wish I could read my own handwriting.

First, let me tell you a little story. I’ve been writing a novel for, oh, I don’t know, a million years now, and last year just before Christmas I finished my first full draft. I won’t go into exactly how I did this, though I will say I was working a very slow job at the time and was able to write at least a few hundred words every single day at work. My family are from the middle of nowhere Donegal – no internet, no phone service – and I always go up for Christmas so I figured I would get a whole lot of writing done. This time, that did not happen. My sister got internet for the first time ever and seemed to have unlimited movies on her television, so I literally watched 9 hours of movies a day, and I loved it. I don’t think I wrote or edited a single word while I was there, and I made a conscious decision not to write. I’d spent the previous few months hammering out a word count and felt like I needed a break and deserved one.

When I came back to Dublin I was focused more on my burlesque dancing and performing, getting back into singing, and supporting other artists, so editing a second draft fell by the wayside for a while. I’m sure we’ve all heard the tip that you should put your draft away for a while before coming back to it and I definitely did that and did so much better coming back with a fresh mind to edit it for querying. I’m doing that at the moment, but my time spent resting my writing mind taught me so much about how I had been sending my time previously, how much I guilted myself and punished myself for going to the cinema or taking a night off to see a friend. I realised that I’d gone back to my Leaving Cert. days where just sitting down to watch the Simpsons when I knew I should be studying gave me heart palpitation – and I didn’t really give a rats ass about the LC. Procrastination is often, though not always, a sign of underlying anxiety, something I do struggle with, a fear of failing so you don’t even start or leave everything to the last minute. But these days there’s so much more than that, so much more to distract us it’s almost impossible to stay focused on the things we really care about and thus end up feeling like we are failing, even though everything around us is designed to grab and keep our attention. We are living in a world designed to make us passive. 

 

img_20190121_213314

 

Why We Can’t Relax Anymore

We are all constantly on our phones, there’s no two ways about it. Even if you profess to hate social media like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter seem to think, you’re still on there, scrolling and like, comparing and judging, and it just isn’t healthy. Most of what we see also isn’t realistic. Think about it, if you follow loads of people but they only post when they’ve done something cool or a product to sell it looks like everyone is constantly doing more than you are and we all think like that! We can’t relax because we can see how much other people are doing with the same time and resources and we feel like we’re wasting our lives because we aren’t building businesses, or ‘brands’, or volunteering, or travelling. To sit and do nothing but scroll is to sit and do nothing but stress. Here’s an article from Moodpath that delves deeper into this.

And even when we aren’t on social media, we are all accessible, ALL the time. Anyone else have family who look their collective shit if you don’t answer the phone immediately? I’ve been trying for a long time to figure out how we made plans and kept them before mobiles and I honestly can’t remember. We are never actually alone anymore, and as an introvert, that sucks.

Our fear of missing out leads us to constantly pick up that phone, even when we don’t want to, even when it makes us feel bad, EVEN when we have a project that we are passionate about and want to finish – it’s so hard to stay focused. Eve calling it a project feels somewhat wrong when you’re motivation is coming from the heart, it’s so mechanical. I feel like this is also the reason why I can’t read like I used to. Even in college I could finish books no problem, but since I started using smart phones, I find it very hard to make it through a single chapter even without checking Twitter, which is insane! I even procrastinate procrastinating by watching a movie, then ignoring it and scrolling through Instagram. We can’t relax because there’s always more content to consume, always more to catch up on, ALWAYS more ‘hustling’ to do. No wonder we’re tired all the time.

IMG_1535.JPG

 

The Weight of Guilt

Do you ever sit down to watch a movie or tv show and feel guilty? Does scrolling through your list on Netflix make you feel like you are a failure? You are not the only one.

I have only recently been talking to friends about how we used to LOVE getting to the weekend because you got to just do nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Can you remember the last time you did that and it wasn’t linked to depression? I feel like these days the only time I do nothing is when I am so overwhelmed I just can’t, instead of purposefully doing nothing and enjoying the freedom of not having a to-do list, not having a schedule, and not feeling like I’ve failed when I don’t get things done. These days, weekends are for doing the things you can’t do during the week, or for some of us, to work on what we really want to do outside of the job we need to pay the bills. For me, Saturdays are for running errands and cleaning things, Sundays are for classes I’ve scheduled, updating social medias and this blog. Every spare minute of every week day is for writing, including lunch at work. I have to schedule in time TO DO NOTHING like it’s a real chore or something, and isn’t that weird?

IMG_1818.JPG

Our Self Worth is Tied to Productivity

I believe, and there seem to be some studies that show that people in general these days, are more anxious than previous generations. Obviously there are different types of stress and anxiety, there are different things that make our lives easier and possibly make them worse, but our constant access to everyone around us and to so many types of ‘product’, ie videos, podcasts, photography, music, books, art etc. that other people are making, it shows us that we can do those things to. This can inspire, but it can also crush your soul. Yeah you could have all that too, but you aren’t doing anything to get it. I could have written multiple books and worked hard to get them published by now, but I haven’t. I’ve wasted my time right?

No, just because you aren’t constantly being ‘productive’ it doesn’t mean you are failing. Everything you do when it comes to art is a choice, most of the time there is no one pushing us, no hearts to break if you don’t pant that picture or finish that story, we have put the pressure on ourselves and that is why it’s hard to get things done, because we are the ‘Boss’. Artists of all kinds these days are struggling to keep up with the constant demand for new content and few spend the time that they should creating something that is whole and finished. It takes so much time to write a book, or create a show, or an album, but we demand more stuff, more often. Binge culture is feeding into this and the pressure to get something out as quickly as possible is killing so much creativity.

Blindboy Boatclub from the Irish comedy duo ‘The Rubber Bandits’, has a podcast about art and mental health, and in it he points out that we need conscious relaxation to take in other people’s art in order for your sub-conscious to later create its own art. We are all filters of the world around us and the art and experiences that we consume and have. If we never watched movies, read books, listened to music, put blinkers on and only wrote our own stuff, we would never get the fuel for further art. Eventually our inspiration would run out and we would again feel like failures.

 

Coming Back After a Break

When I came back from my intentional break, did I have anxiety about writing? Of course I did! I freaked out for a bit, thought maybe I’d forgotten how to do it, had fallen out of whatever semblance of a routine I’d made for myself, but I definitely don’t regret taking that break. I watched all the movies I’d been missing because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do anything but write for so long. I had basically been punishing myself, and though this worked sometimes, more often than not it just wreaked havoc on my mental health and made me feel like a failure no matter what.

And you know what’s really irritating? Constantly complaining that you aren’t writing, or you haven’t written enough. Your friends and family will get real tired of that, real quick, even if they don’t want to admit it.

If you are going to procrastinate and watch Youtube videos or listen to podcasts, or hel make bracelets out of coke can tabs (yes I do this), do it on purpose. Do it consciously. Focus on the things that you are using to distract yourself. Get rid of the stress, get rid of the pressure to get back to writing. Now, when I sit down to watch movies or read books I’ve bought, I focus solely on that one thing, put my own book aside and know that I will get back to it. I know that what I take from the experience of that other piece of art will feed back into mine, maybe even plug up a few plot holes, or teach me how to set a scene better.

 

Do you have a problem with procrastination? Do you feel guilty or anxious when you aren’t writing? Let me know down below. 

 

‘Siphon’ by A. A. Medina – Review

“The cadence of the story was beautifully choreographed and flowed like a well-orchestrated horror symphony. This was original, a bit peculiar and out of the ordinary with a very strange and dark sense of humor thrown in to make it all that more eerie and fascinating.” – William Bitner Jr.

IMG_1467

 

Extract

Control is something I’ve never had.

I didn’t choose my profession – Francis did. He said the only men he respected were men with titles, and his grandson sure as hell had to have one. I had the choice of military or medical school. For eighteen year old scrawny, scared , and awkward Gary, it was an easy decision.

I didn’t choose to live where I live – Francis did. My parents owned a quaint little house on about fifty acres of land about an hour outside of Claybrook City.

Being the next of kin, I own the house. Francis hated that house and refused to live there. I rent out this shitty townhouse, in shitty downtown, to take care of his shitty ass… Well, figuratively shitty.

I examined the bathroom. My clothes were scattered across the floor. Feces, blood, and vomit smeared along the scuffed tile and dusty baseboards. Shower-water, and what smelled like piss, pooled up at the foot of the tub and around the base of the toilet.

I couldn’t even control myself. ‘

 

Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle. Burdened with the an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can’t catch a break.

That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self , forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.

 

IMG_1471

 

‘Siphon’ is the story of disturbed and delusional man who holds no power or control in any aspect of his life, and suddenly finds the strength to act, to take what he wants, when a new urge takes a hold of him – the urge to drink blood. Him being a hematopathologist is convenient in that respect but as repressed memories begin to surface, it may be that he was destined to find his calling in blood.

If you are looking for sympathetic characters to really feel for you won’t find it with this book. Dr. Phillips is a thoroughly unlikable character and it took a few chapters to realise that he was supposed to be. If you can go into ‘Siphon’ knowing that you aren’t supposed to like him however, the story is much more palatable. Probably the wrong word to use there really, but here we are. What would today be described as an ‘incel’, a morose and secluded man who feels no power in his subordinate job supervised by a much younger man, no courage to ask out his attractive co-worker, and no fortitude to stand up to his grandfather, the man who raised him and who calls the shots in both their lives – it is not unkind to describe Dr. Phillips as pathetic, but rather apt, and this explains the stranger events of the short novel.

At times it can be an uncomfortable read, but that is the point of horror, to make us uncomfortable. Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, ‘Siphon’ plays on all of our voyeuristic tendencies and though your stomach may turn at the events and even just the thoughts of the protagonist in this book, you do keep reading, and you keep looking through his eyes. You might briefly wonder how his young work colleague could tolerate him for a second, how even a sex worker self medicating on drugs can see past the atmosphere of weirdness that surrounds him, but again maybe they don’t. Maybe the smiles he sees are plastic, the acceptance he feels a product of the fear they feel around them. It seems almost inevitable that they are but as we only see things from his perspective, we can only take the story as it is.

 

IMG_1479

 

Being as disturbed and unhinged as Dr. Phillips is, he presents as a classic unreliable narrator. You may believe that he sees the people around him as he claims to, but can you believe the supernatural elements or are these just another part of his fantasies? Is there really an entity pushing him to drink blood or is that simply a scapegoat for his own actions, an excuse to act out his darkest fantasies? Even his claims to the women he has slept with, clearly meaning to sound unfortunate yet involving scenarios that are unlikely given his personality and general hygiene, could hardly be considered embarrassing when the only two experiences he has could be taken directly from a porno script – teenage friend’s older sister and college threesome? Woe is me. Dr Phillips does not come across as a man you can take at his word. This unreliable narrator side to the novel did have me thinking of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho on more than one occasion, but with a much more submissive energy to it.

The horror of ‘Siphon’ is Medina’s refusal to shy away from the gruesome details of Phillips life. From vomit and feces, to menstrual blood and rotting corpses, if you have a thing for bodily fluids then this novel will peak your interests. You are with him every step of the way, probably wincing, almost definitely not eating, and truly horrified that there are people like him out there, and we are the unsuspecting victims he feels entitled to. Anyone who thinks that referring to a woman’s eyes as ‘mossy ponds’ and thinks it’s romantic must be messed up.

 

Overall, if you have a strong stomach and search for the darker side of horror, if there is such a thing, ‘Siphon’ might just be the book you are looking for. But if you need a happy ending, or someone to route for, I’d be a little worried if you found that in Dr. Gary Phillips, just saying.

 

About the Author –

medina

A. A. Medina is a writer and reader of strange things who believes in the power of stories to inject mystery, joy, and even fear into our every day lives. Living in Arizona with his wife Samantha, their fat cats and a dog, he also co-runs the fiction magazine Aphotic Realm. Follow him here on Twitter

 

 

Links to ‘Siphon’ (ALWAYS LEAVE REVIEWS!):

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Goodreads

 

What do you think about the unreliable narrator trope? Do you avoid books that have unlikable characters? Let me know down below!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

The Shatter Point by Jon O’Bergh – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

AFFIDAVIT FOR ADMISSION TO HORROR PLACE:

Horror Place offers an experience that is physically demanding. Therefore, you must be in excellent physical condition. If you have any medical conditions, illnesses, or pregnancy, you will not be allowed entry. The actors will touch you, but you are not allowed to touch the actors. You will also be filmed throughout the ordeal and you consent to these videos being publicly released. You may experience some mild injuries due to the nature of the experience. By signing your name, you understand and accept these conditions. 

IMG_1452

“I think you should do it,” said Jada, fixing her eyes on Asher. 

Brianna looked at Asher sympathetically. “He should only do it if he really wants to. For himself. No one should pressure someone to do it.”

Jada glared at her. Brianna could almost read Jada’s mind and the words ‘stay out of my business, bitch’. She wondered why Jada was insistent that Asher experience Horror Place. She could tell that Jada’s willfulness dominated Asher’s insouciance. Perhaps that was the attraction for Asher, that forceful personality so unlike his own, compensating for something he thought he lacked. Now his motivation for Horror Place became clear to her. Brianna suspected it had not even been his idea. Jada was exciting to be around, no doubt about t. But with that excitement came a touch of danger. That also explained why Megan liked to hang out with Jada. The thrill of risk. Not the risk Brianna had undertaken when she tested herself at Horror Place with a purpose in mind, to make herself stronger, but the risk that hinted at transgression just for the sake of transgression, or simply out of boredom. Brianna’s initial goodwill toward Jada cooled. The girl was clearly trouble, and Brianna’s heart went out to Asher. 

Jada repeated her statement, a little more quietly but with emphasis. “I think he should do it.” 

 

When lives intersect things can get messy. This is no more apparent than in Jon O’Bergh’s novel The Shatter Point. In it, we are led through the lives of he slowly waning romance of Jada and Asher, brought together by their differences and slowly being worn down by them, the troubles of Asher’s band, ‘Lavender Lush’, and the calamity surrounding the newly constructed horror experience known as Horror Place and it’s neighbour’s in such a ‘nice’ neighbourhood. Lives and characters intersect, ghosts from the past are revived to haunt again, anxieties of the future are brought to bear on the present – but who will break first?

IMG_1448

The Shatter Point is a slow burn of a dark thriller intermixed with paranormal and supernatural leanings, ghosts that appear only at the corner of the eyes. O’Bergh cleverly brings this suburban gothic into the twenty first century by blending social media with prose, present anxieties with recurring past traumas, and complex characters. Given that much of the plot is centered around Youtube videos and the glory that comes from impressing thousands of strangers online, or the shame of not impressing them, the story needed social media and the type of commenting that comes with it and O’Bergh was able to capture – usernames and all – the vitriol and one-upmanship that comes with it.

O’Bergh explores many themes, the most noteworthy being the pull of internet stardom and just how fickle audiences can be, failed masculinity as can be seen in many of the character’s need to prove themselves and the women who push them to it, absent fathers, and illusions. When the internet and social media command more of our attention than our own family and friends, how do you know what is real and what is not real? What is constructed for an audience and what is natural? O’Bergh weaves all of these themes through a narrative that works for the transition between characters though at times can be quite restrained. For a novel that deals so eloquently with the comments under Youtube videos, an update of the prose would not have gone amiss.

One thing I can say for The Shatter Point is that it has some twists and turns that I did not see coming. The violence that occurs in the book is inevitable and you can feel it coming for you from the first page like a rolling train, but when it does hit, you will not see where it came from. The shifting perspectives of the story keep it from becoming stale and each character stands on their own. From the manipulative relationship between Jada, Asher and their hanger on Brianna, to the carefully balanced lives that make up a neighbourhood where disrespecting one another’s roses can lead to deep rooted grudges. The Shatter Point smashes together social norms and requirements with our own need to prove ourselves and find out who we really are, and it does so in a sometimes subtle and sometimes unmistakable way.

IMG_1447

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an intriguing and modern urban thriller. The Shatter Point readily provides believable characters, complex relationships and twists that will leave your jaw on the floor.

About the Author:

Jon O’Bergh is an author and musician from Canada who loves a good scare. He has written two groundbreaking books which link music and stories: “Song of Fire,” a memoir about the role of music in our lives, and the short story collection “A Book of Hauntings.” With the publication of his first novel, “The Shatter Point,” he continues to link music and writing in a unique way. He also co-authored “Elliptical: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello.”

You can follow him on Goodreads and Twitter.

61lyjqihhsl._us230_

Purchase links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

Goodreads.com

 

Have you read ‘The Shatter Point’? Do you agree with the inclusion of social media and technology in modern fiction? What do you think is the right way to include them?

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact! And don’t forget to follow for more reviews and musings on writing. 

Why It’s Okay That I’ve Never Won NaNoWriMo, and How Netflix Stole My Idea

So, it’s that time of year again – NaNoWriMo 2018! Or, as my boyfriend thinks it’s called, WriterReeno. Currently at the end of the 6th day and as is my custom, I am yet to hit my daily word count. According to my average I’ll be done some time in February next year so… let’s look forward to that! But I’m fine with not hitting the word count for a number of reasons and despite all this talk about ‘winning’ NaNoWriMo and all the merchandise they sell so you can prove it – it’s not actually about winning.

What is NaNoWriMo?

For anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual event that stands for National Novel Writing Month and it runs for the thirty days of November. In those thirty days, the general idea is to write 1,667 words every single day to arrive at 50,000 on the last day – which is the generally accepted minimum number that a piece of fiction needs to reach in order to be classed as a novel. The site includes pep talks from famous writers, a community globally and also local write-in events where you can meet writers in your area, and a lot of the money raised through donations and merchandise sales goes to fund programs for young writers. Simples!


My Own Experience With NaNoWriMo

The site is great in that your account keeps all your stats and you can track your progress over the years. When I joined in 2015, I’d had a novel in my head for years already and NaNoWriMo was exactly what I needed. I had the story, the plot the characters, beginning, middle, and end – I just couldn’t force myself to get it down on paper. Using Nano, I wrote my first 27,000 words in one month. It was incredible to me. Not only did I get more written than I had ever done before, but it also proved to me that the story was actually big enough to stretch a novel, that the story was deep enough to carry right through to the end. And now, in 2018, that novel is fully drafted, almost edited, and I will soon be sending it out to query. I didn’t get the 50k but I still feel like I won.

My next attempt was 2016. I only logged in recently and discovered that I had apparently written another 20k of something I didn’t recall in the slightest. It only hit me the other day that I had had a lightning strike of an idea, an idea so unique it was going to take the fiction world by storm. I was going to be an overnight billionaire to rival Stephen King and all I had to do was get it all worked out. EXCEPT… I wrote this in November 2016 and any Netflix enthusiast will tell you that December of 2016 was the release of a new, and unique series called ‘The OA’. That was my idea, I shit you not. I had never heard of it, my idea was that a girl who had been missing showed back up suddenly, wouldn’t tell anyone where she had been, wanted to go back where she had been and she had numbers all over her body? Why the numbers? That was how many times she had been killed by her sick science experiment captor and brought back to life of course! Fucking heart broken I was and this is exactly why you shouldn’t hang around with ideas – YOU WILL REGRET IT!

nanowrimo progress
Roll on February 2019!

My current NaNoWriMo project, as seen above, is a new idea that recently hit me so if it shows up on Netflix next month I’m just gonna walk into the sea and call it a day. It’s only the bare bones of a story so I don’t expect to get anywhere near 50k but it’s the first big chunk that really tells you whether it’s even worth spending time on. And if it turns out to be a short story instead – still worth it!

 

nanowrimo notebooks
I have so many notebooks I really wish I could read my own handwriting.

Why NaNoWriMo Gets So Much Sh*t Every Year

There are people out there just looking for things to complain about. People who have to find something wrong with everything, people who see a ray of sunshine and instead of basking in it, tell you they’re blinded and UV rays give you cancer. And every year there are tweets and posts and blogs written on why NaNoWriMo is a waste of time or why you’ll only produce crap during November if you sign up for it. Some of these people may have good intentions but a lot of them are elitist and ‘traditional’ writers who think that isolating yourself and slogging away for months at a time is the only pure way to write.


Set Your Own Goals

It’s not too late to sign up, but if you want to wait til next year just remember to see it as an exercise, as something that will help you get words on paper. Use it as a tool, whether it’s the looming deadline, the daily reminders, or the community that helps you along – you can use all of these things to meet your own goal. Screw the 50k if that’s not what you want! You can use NaNoWriMo to edit a collection of short stories or fill up your repertoire of poetry if you want. It is what you make of it. Even if you only write 100 words, that’s still 100 more than if you didn’t start!

So, don’t shit on things that other people are enjoying just because you don’t want to participate. Let people do their own thing, and you worry about your own. And yes, before you ask, writing this was totally procrastination from hitting my NaNoWriMo word count – deal with it!

 

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Instagram

Follow me on Facebook

‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer – Review

Disclaimer – I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“For months, the nightmares of battling the sea would find him in the small hours. Fighting wave after wave, he struggled to keep afloa “For months, the nightmares of battling the sea would find him in the small hours. Fighting wave after wave, he struggled to keep afloat as the undertow pulled him away from the land. In the deep ocean, he’d surrender and beneath the water, he went.

 

His lungs would flood.

 

He wouldn’t die.”  Sea Ate Nine, ‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer t as the undertow pulled him away from the land. In the deep ocean, he’d surrender and beneath the water, he went.

His lungs would flood.

He wouldn’t die.”  Sea Ate Nine, ‘The Sea Was a Fair Master’ by Calvin Demmer

 

‘Connection. Disconnection. Loneliness. Love. Friendship. Murder. These are but a few of the elements of great horror, and Calvin Demmer expertly blends each one into his fiction – to a supremely devastating and unsettling effect.’ – Gwendolyn Kiste

calvin demmer the sea was a fair master south african horror short story horror

From the dark depths of the ocean to the love of an android’s heart, you can expect a lot from Calvin Demmer’s latest collection The Sea Was a Fair Master. Offering a generous collection of 23 dark fiction stories, all short but none of them sweet, you will definitely find a story in this book that resonates with you. Despite what the title might imply, there are only a few stories in the collection centered around the sea so if you aren’t into nautical terrors never fear – there’s plenty in this collection for everyone. The overarching theme of this collection, in my opinion, would have to be darkness. I feel like the sea as in the title of the collection captures this pretty well, but the stories in it also get at the darkness in humanity and explore the possibilities there in a chilling and honest way as well.

The Strengths

The strengths of The Sea Was a Fair Master, and Demmer’s writing in general, are his creative focal points and unique ideas. He comes at stories from an angle you aren’t expecting and this can make what would otherwise be considered mundane, a surprising and exciting twist. His stories open doors into the darkness inside us that we all like to ignore, and point out how easy it is to do just that, to believe that we could never be persuaded to commit crimes or harm ourselves. If you were looking for renewed faith in humanity, I think you picked up the wrong book. 

The stories that stood out for me were ‘The Snakes or The Humans’ with it’s chilling and yet lovely ending, and ‘Underneath’ with it’s complete and satisfying ending – I would have even liked to see this in a longer version that expanded more on the characters and motives.

 

What Was Missing

I have to say I did find some of the stories a little confusing. When it comes to very short fiction it can be hard to fit all the needed details in and a couple of stories just didn’t quite get it all in there for me. I was left wondering where the twist came from, re-reading to see if I missed something or if it was supposed to be that ambiguous.

skulls short story collection horror calvin demmer south african horror the seas was a fair master

I would recommend this collection for anyone looking for fresh dark fiction, not just horror, but suspense, crime, sci-fi – it has it all. They are short reads so you can fit them in anywhere and still feel satisfied with the stories.

 

About the Author

Calvin Demmer is a dark fiction author from South Africa. When he’s not writing he’s studying the night and the sciences of the universe. You can find him online at calvindemmer.com and follow him on Twitter here.

Do you have any sea centered stories of horror? What is it about the dark depths of the ocean that sets our imaginations ablaze? Do we need more dark fiction that captures the endless unknown of the sea? Let me know down below.

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

Vintage Review – ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson – Horror, Humour, & Lesbians

the haunting of hill house shirley jackson

In case you’ve been living in an underground cave that doesn’t even have basic amenities like WiFi or even just in rural Ireland, you’ve heard of the newest rendition of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘, now blowing up Netflix. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who has also done Hush, Oculus and Gerald’s Game to name a few of my favourites, this is the latest attempt at bringing Jackson’s story of dread and unease to the visual stage, but it is not the first. In 1963 Robert Wise directed ‘The Haunting’, and in 1999, under the same name, Jan de Bont released his version. Both of these movies stick to the basic premise of the original novel with some minor changes, while the new Netflix original series has created it’s own fresh narrative. So why has the story of Hill House survived for almost 60 years? And why is it routinely recognised by the likes of Stephen King and many others as the greatest haunted house story ever written?

Basic Premise – 

The story of Hill House begins with Dr. Montague, a psychologist who rents the infamous Hill House in the hopes of documenting scientific evidence of the supernatural. To do this, he invites a group of people he believes have had some kind of interaction with the supernatural to stay in the house for the summer and take notes on everything that happens there. Unfortunately, only two show up to the house, Eleanor Vance and Theodora, just Theodora. Luke Sanderson, the light fingered nephew of the owner is sent to stay with them too though he has no connections anything out of the ordinary. From the very first moment they all feel that there is something off with the house, maybe its the fact that it was purposefully built to be off kilter and confusing, or the dark history of Hugh Crain and his family that were to inhabit the building, but whatever it is, this feeling permeates the group until odd things, undeniable and unambiguous things start to happen.

jackson_shirley

Jackson’s Writing – 

One of the reasons that Jackson’s writing has stood the test of time for so long, is the delicacy and intricacy with which she writes. Every line is deliberate, every character full and complete. You can see this in Jackson’s other work as well but when dealing with the monstrosity that is Hill House, you feel the building take on a character of its own, and you understand completely the apprehension the characters feel just being there. It’s been said before, but Jackson’s story could have been written off a pulp novel and forgotten if not for her treatment of the words. She draws you in from the very first line, that first paragraph quoted so often that always sends chills down my spine. From that first couple of lines you know something is fucked up here, and you have to read more. 

The scares in the book aren’t bloody or gorey, they aren’t over the top or ambiguous. They are conscious and intentional, they are knockings on the wall and cold spots that everyone can feel, things that no one can deny being there. There is no what if about Hill House, it’s darkness is already there, seen even in the daylight, and everyone fears the coming of the night – especially the Dudleys.

lesbians the haunting of hill house
Lesbians were forbidden to be seen in colour until the 90’s. They’re still embracing technicolor to this day.

Theodora the Kickass Lesbian – 

My first introduction to Hill House was the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’, where Theodora is a fashionable fun sister and friend to the sheltered and nervous Nell. Maybe I was naive, but I never got the lesbian feeling from Theo in that adaptation, but then again I was born without gaydar so who knows. But when I started reading the novel, having don no research whatsoever, I was genuinely surprised to immediately think ‘Hey! She’s a lesbian!’ It was obvious in the text and even more obvious in the 1963 movie version. But even thought the novel was written in the fifties, the treatment of Theo as a lesbian, (sexuality is not discussed in the text, but there may as well have been a neon sign following Theo around), is surprisingly positive? If that’s the right word to use?

Theo is often seen as a mirror to Eleanor, even given that she doesn’t have a second name like every other character. She is open and expressive where Nell is closed off and repressed, she has her own place where she lives with a woman, where as Nell feels homeless and lost. Theo accepts that she has some psychic abilities whereas Nell denies that the stones that fell on her roof as a child had anything to do with her. The two become close even sharing a bed, Nell begging Theo to come and live with her when she is forced out of the house for her own good. If lesbianism as a theme is to be taken seriously, from my reading it felt as though Nell wanted to be with Theo, but Theo knew they couldn’t, and Nell went mad from that small touch of freedom and home that she felt in Hill House, allowing it to consume her.

In the 1963 movie Theo is played as more forward with her advances towards Nell, and when emotions run high Nell accuses her of being ‘unnatural’, but in the new Netflix show Theodora is out and proud, as she should be in this day and age. The theme of sexual repression and repression in general is something that gives Hill House it’s power not just over Nell, but to continue as a specter of dread and fear for the past sixty years. It’s the power to not just kill you or possess you, but to turn your own mind and your own fears against you.

the haunting of hill house horror
This is what smiling looks like right?

Humour in Hill House – 

One of the reasons I love the novel so much and will read it again and again, is the humour shown between the characters. In my opinion one of the most important things in horror, especially a story that relies on dread and tension, needs something to offset this. It can be the saving grace to a terrible movie, and serve as a break for the reader/viewers nerves so that the story can keep on scaring. I’ve found a few of Jackson’s stories have made me laugh out loud, not least of which is ‘My Life With R.H. Macy‘, I was cackling at that for hours.

The humour in Hill House serves two functions though – to ease the tension for the reader, and to allow the characters to escape the really horror they are in. Even sitting in the house for breakfast makes them feel like they are somewhere unnatural, but pretending they are fictional characters, sisters on a picnic, they can imagine themselves somewhere other than Hill House, proving, if nothing else, that ‘No live organism can continue for long to exist under conditions of absolute reality.

There’s little humour in the 1963 movie or the current Netflix series, however they both still work well. If you haven’t seen the new Netflix show I can’t recommend it enough, I will being going back to watch it myself just to try and find all the hidden background ghosts. I have a feeling this story will continue to permeate through the coming decades and get a few more adaptations. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, let’s just hope no one really ruins it.

What did you think of the newest adaptation? Did you see Theo as gay when you read Jackson’s novel? Would you like to see more humour in horror? Comment down below and let me know!

 

If you have a horror/dark fiction/sci-fi/thriller novel, short story, or collection you would like me to review, please get in contact!

 

 

 

 

Genres – Why We Need Them and Why Elitism Harms Readers and Writers

 

So, a little story time first.

I studied English in university and during an exercise in one of the classes, we were asked to take a list of writers and place them within a circle. The more influential the writer was the closer to the center they would go, the least influential sticking to the outer rim. We were given a handful of writers from modern to ancient but the two I remember were J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Byron. I argued in my group that J.R.R. Tolkien should be near the middle because his work has had such a huge influence on popular culture, even if you hate fantasy and you’ve never read Lord of The Rings, when you think of an elf or a wizard, you are thinking of his creations. The rest of my group agreed. Our lecturer however, did not. I was given a condescending sneer as she moved Tolkien‘s name to the furthest reaches of the circle and told that because he was a ‘genre writer’ and because Lord Byron was a ‘literary writer’ that obviously Lord Byron had more influence. I don’t know about you but I can’t name you a Byron poem, and I studied the guy. All I remember is that he had a club foot and he was there when Mary Shelley, another genre writer, wrote Frankenstein. I’m not saying he wasn’t influential and his work should be forgotten, but we have a habit of rehashing old stuff when we should be supporting writers and artists who are alive right now and actually need it.

That class was my first look into genre elitism, and as I did a double major and studied music, there was plenty more where that came from. But just like everything else in life, genres are not inherently bad, they do serve a purpose, it’s our fault for how we sometimes use them.

blank-business-card-697059
Enter a caption

What are genres good for?

We love to categorize everything because it helps us make sense of things in a complicated and messy world, and this is no less true when it comes to books. Genres are a way for us to simplify and find the things we need, they help publishers sell books to the people most likely to enjoy them, and they help readers find more of what they are most likely to enjoy – so in that sense having genres is a win win.

Have you ever been excited for a book or movie only to realise that it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be? Marketing can really be to blame for this. There are loads of movie trailers online where they’ve made kids movies look like horror, and thrillers look like teen coming of age stories – its all in how you present it.

Take this for example:

220px-Ghost_Cat_PosterIMG_20181005_232549

In early 2000s Ellen Page stared in a two movies called ‘Ghost Cat‘ and ‘The Cat That Came Back‘. If you looked at these two posters they look like completely different movies, the left looking and sounding like a horror to me, and the right like a heart warming tale of love beyond the grave. The problem is, these are the same movie, and it even had a third name ‘Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat‘. WHY? Because once you stick a label on something you are shutting off the opportunity to use other labels. If you market as a horror, you get horror fans, if you market as a feel good movie, you get feel good fans, so why not cast your net wide and get both?

It’s absurd to think about now, but it’s the reason books have different covers in different countries, and why, when they realised men weren’t drinking Diet Coke because it was a ‘women’s drink’, they came up with Coke Zero, which is much more manly.

genres
Judge Judy wouldn’t stand for this nonsense.

Genre Snobbery

Genres can morph and merge, they can cross borders and reinvent themselves and we see this all the time in stand out books and movies. It all comes down to the formula and tropes that are used to tell the story. We all know them, and if we see certain tropes we get an idea of what we can expect from the story and we automatically label it a ‘western’ or a ‘crime novel’. But those same tropes, with just a little bit of tweaking can completely change how we think about the story. Take ‘women’s fiction’ for example, if you were to take a woman’s fiction book about family, divorce, realistic life struggles, and replace the female lead with a male lead, you suddenly get ‘literary fiction’, the golden boy (pun always intended) of genres. Sometimes books don’t fit the mold of a clearly defined genre, or the can easily slot onto the shelves of many.

Literary fiction is always given more respect than any other forms of writing. I can’t tell you how many writing groups I’ve been in where I was the only ‘genre writer’ and every time someone read a piece of mine they started with ‘I NEVER read stuff like this, so, I did’t really know what to make of it…‘ or ‘You guys are so clever coming with all this stuff! I really envy your imagination. I wish I could write like that‘. In short, it’s cute but there aren’t enough metaphors for sex or impotence. And if a literary fiction writer in one of those groups goes ‘a bit mad’ and decides to throw in something surreal, they are praised for picking elements or for transcending the genre, another sarcastic way of saying ‘you are better than them’.

The fact that its called genre fiction leads you to believe that literary fiction lies outside of genre altogether, that it is the basis for everything and therefore the most pure.

genres
Look at all those unnecessary commas…

And look, I’m not shitting on literary fiction, what I don’t like about genre elitism, is that we make people feel bad about what they like. We should be celebrating reading and writing, not shaming teens for ready YA, BOOKS WRITTEN FOR THEM I MIGHT ADD, or adults for reading Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Genres are a pointer, a helpful hand given us something to start with, but a great story is a great story.

Readers – Expand your reach, try new things and don’t have ‘guilty pleasures’, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Writers – Mix, melt, merge and smash together. Don’t let people tell you you can’t write X because you only write Y, or that no one respectable reads Z. Just make the story great.

 

What are you opinions on genre? Have you been duped before by a movie trailer or book blurb? Or do you think that ‘genre fiction’ really is sub par? Let me know down below.