Thursday, June 04, 2015

David Dunwoody: A Grin in the Dark

I'd like to welcome our guest blogger today, David Dunwoody!

Born in Texas and currently wandering somewhere in Utah, David Dunwoody writes subversive horror fiction including the EMPIRE series, HELL WALKS, THE 3 EGOS, and the collections DARK ENTITIES and UNBOUND & OTHER TALES. His fiction has been published by outfits such as Gallery, Shroud, Dark Regions, Belfire, Evil Jester, Permuted and Chaosium.

In this post, Dunwoody takes on a subject near and dear to my heart: humor in horror fiction.



About a decade ago when I was first published, I wanted to be known for dark, dark fiction. An eight ball at the bottom of the ocean at midnight, that kind of dark. I wanted readers to come away from my novels feeling drained. And I still do, but I’ve come to realize that there’s such a thing as balance, even in a realm of writing where doom and gloom pervade. Especially then.

There are few involuntary responses which we all share. Two are the belly laugh and gut-twisting dread. Though they may seem strange bedfellows at the onset, humor and terror often complement one another quite nicely in fiction. When thinking back over some of the darkest, scariest works I’ve ever read, I can’t help but notice that many feature moments of black humor and even laugh-out-loud bits. Some of the funniest people I’ve ever met are horror writers (they’re also by far the most normal, but that’s another blog). So how do scares and chuckles work together without being jarring?

Sometimes the jarring effect is exactly what works. The levity of a humorous moment, followed by a radical shift in tone, strikes one hell of a contrast. That may sound like the anatomy of a cheap scare, but I think it’s all in the execution. Perhaps the main thing to consider in such a case is whether you’re doing it for the story or the future reader. Are you in the moment? You’re not a short-order cook, after all and you, of course, write for yourself first.

While you don’t want to manufacture forced scares in service to your prospective audience, you don’t want to stand in your own way either when it comes to humor. Follow your gut on these questions of tone. Most of my novels are apocalyptic in  nature and there are many tremendously dark moments, unrelenting moments when I am unable to step back and catch my breath. When they have their place, bits of levity can be a welcome respite and a chance to explore other aspects of my characters.

With regard to characters, humor can also work well when following terror, or a scene of intense sadness or hopelessness. In life, we often deal with such feelings by cracking wise. It’s a coping mechanism and one of the things that makes us human. It makes characters human too. (Or let’s say relatable, for those non-human ones.)

Just as fear takes different forms, and encroaches by varying degrees, so too does humor. From outright absurdity, to inside jabs between friends, to the all-too-true sentiment that elicits a sardonic smile, there is a lot to work with.

I’d never say that everyone should always try to inject humor into their dark fiction – but I will say that, if your muse is suggesting you do it, don’t shy away. Don’t worry that it’s going to water down the product. Follow your gut! A grin in the dark only makes its surroundings that much darker.



Learn more about David Dunwoody's work at http://empirenovel.blogspot.com/ . See the trailer below to learn more about The 3 Egos.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Memory: Carrie

CarrieCarrie by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a real landmark book for me when I found it. I loved the notion of telekinesis - even had a set of the Rhine ESP cards - but the language and sexual content of this novel took me out of the realm of kiddie books.

It was the mass market paperback release, and I was twelve when I found it in my local bookstore. I was immediately gripped by the opening because a few months before, I had started my own cycles, and it's a bit of a shock even when you're expecting it. You may consider this TMI, but if that sort of stuff bothers you, you're not going to like parts of this book.

I felt a strong connection to Carrie because I was also unpopular and very much the misfit. King's frank portrayal of what we would now call bullying, without sugarcoating or moral lectures, felt more honest than the books I'd been reading. I won't spoil the ending for anyone who HASN'T seen the movies or read the book, but it was satisfying and dismaying at the same time.

I still have this beat-up paperback among my books. It's been... a lot of years.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cover Reveal: Nightmare Noir by Alex Azar!




Presenting the cover of Nightmare Noir, the newest publication from Mystery and Horror, LLC. James S. Peckman is a former police detective turned paranormal private eye after the suspicious deaths of his wife and daughter. When clients come to his agency, it's not to find the Maltese Falcon.

The cover was done by TJ Halvorsen, a talented artist in St. Petersburg. The book comes out on April 13th, but three copies are being given away this weekend. One is being given away at Goodreads (enter below), but we're giving the others to two lucky people who comment on this blog and/or the other blogs participating in the reveal. Check the MAHLLC blog for other pages participating in the reveal. You will get as many entries as the number of blogs you comment on.




Goodreads Book Giveaway

Nightmare Noir by Alex Azar

Nightmare Noir

by Alex Azar

Giveaway ends April 30, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Life Imitating Art

Last summer, my wife and I moved into a manufactured housing community. That’s a trailer park with more expensive lot fees. But it has a pool, a hot tub, and a view of the water. It’s also… drum roll… a gated community with a homeowner’s association. Yes, I’m finally living in a setting with some resemblance to my first novel.

I didn’t realize how close a resemblance it would bear till we attended our first HOA meeting. In February, they'd had board elections. We got the voting info beforehand, same as everyone else. Four slots open, four candidates retired from occupations where they earned more money than I’ll ever see. We work all day and part of the night; we don’t know many people there yet, so we didn’t attend. It seemed to be a done deal.

I was wrong. The March meeting began with the usual reading of the past minutes – the ones from January, which I thought a bit odd. Next, a brief bit about last month. The treasurer gave a report on the HOA finances. Then… people began reading their resignation letters from various committees. Apparently, there was a hostile takeover at the February meeting. The mood took a definite downturn and the crowd got ugly. We left when the name-calling started.

You have not lived till you’ve heard a 70+ year old person call another 70+ year old person an asshole. You know they’re accurate, because they’ve had time to learn what a real asshole is.

For obvious reasons, I’m not going to identify the location here. But we won’t be attending any more HOA meetings for a while.

---

Friday, February 06, 2015

History and Mystery, Oh My: T. Lee Harris and the Seer

I've done some research on the Bronze Age, but it is mostly confined to Greece and Turkey. When I received T. Lee Harris' story, I had to look up a few things. I learned about the Burnt City - but, more importantly, what had recently been discovered there. I'll let her tell you about the discovery, and I think you'll understand why it inspired a story!


When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

That would be in the second grade when the teacher caught me writing and illustrating poems during a lesson in another subject. Thought I was dead because she was sort of strict -- well -- okay VERY strict. Actually, we kids firmly believed she was an escaped Nazi SS commander. Anyway, instead of putting me in front of a firing squad, she stapled the poems into book form and put it on the classroom reading table. Suddenly, kids who had been bullying me and calling me names were telling me how much they liked the poems. What? People actually LIKED what I did? I was doomed then and there.

How did you come up with the idea for your story in History and Mystery, Oh My?

I read archaeological news stories every morning and frequently, one of the articles will really grab my attention. One item that I've been following with great interest is the excavation at Shahr-e Sukhteh in present day Iran. The Persian name roughly translates to the Burnt City. It was a bronze age settlement that was burnt to the ground three times. It was rebuilt after the first two fires, but was abandoned after the third. It seems all the archaeologists have to do is stick a trowel into the ground and something amazing pops up like a 10-centimeter ruler with an accuracy of half a millimeter and a painted bowl that might be the world's oldest example of animation.

Many of the burials at Shahr-e Sukhteh were unusual, too -- including that of a very tall, muscular woman who wore her hair in beaded braids. She also had the oldest known artificial eye: a bitumen orb, covered in gold and held in place with fine gold threads. Her grave goods indicated she might have been a seer. Close by were the graves of an archer and a professional rider -- likely a courier. That was all my storytelling gland needed to kick into gear.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I'm working on finishing up the first full Josh Katzen novel. Josh is a former military intelligence agent who is trying his best to retire. Josh is an artist and photographer who specializes in ancient art and artifacts -- I just can't seem to get away from history even in my work set in present day. After that, it'll be back into the past for the first full-length Sitehuti and Nefer-Djenou-Bastet mystery. Sitehuti is a scribe at the time of Ramesses II and Neffi is a rather opinionated temple cat who has adopted him and drags him into all sorts of trouble.

You can read T. Lee Harris' story, "The Scent of Anger", in History and Mystery, Oh My!, now available at Smashwords and Amazon. I think you'll find K'Natu Golden Eye as interesting as I did. 

You may also enjoy her most recent release, New York Nights, Book 2 in the Miller & Peale Series. The series is a paranormal thriller -- think Lethal Weapon meets Dark Shadows.

--

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ahimsa Kerp's Trial of Socrates

Yet again, it is my pleasure to present an author writing in a time period I enjoy. I got to translate sections of Plato's Apology in college, but Ahimsa Kerp presents a very different view of the Trial of Socrates. Kerp is the author of the historical horror novel Empire of the Undead from Severed Press and co-author of the mosaic fantasy novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte from Reputation Books, as well as a contributor to many anthologies including Cthulhurotica, Tales of the Talisman, and Dead Harvest. Ahimsa hails from the Pacific Northwest but has been living overseas since the aughts.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I don't know exactly. But since I learned how to read, I've always been fascinated with stories. And you can only read so many before you want to start telling your own. I was writing stories about orcs living in Mordor when I was 8, though I'm not sure if I could have articulated that I wanted to be a writer at that age.

How did you pick the genre/setting/era you (usually) write in?
It just depends. Each story needs a different setting and that's part of the initial process. When is best to tell this story?  I one story set in 1920's New Zealand, because a lot was going on in the country then. Another is set during 1890's China, with some of the events right before the Boxer Rebellion. Others are near future, or set ancient Rome or Greece.

How did you come up with the idea for your story in History and Horror, Oh My?
I always thought there was something fishy about Socrates. Why didn't he leave anything recorded? What was his part in the war with Sparta? It's hard to trust Plato and Xenophon, as both clearly had vested interests in his martyrdom. Once I started thinking about the Lovecraftian angles with the worship of new gods, the corruption of youth, and of course Atlantis as a briefly sited R'lyeh, it was hard not to write.

Did you encounter any obstacles in researching the setting?
I re-read the respective Apologies by Plato and Xenophon but frankly not much of that made it in. I realized this story could either be 12,000 words long and have all kinds of historical elements that might not be exciting to anyone other than history geeks, or 2000 words and do a similar job. So in the end I didn't use most of my research.

Do you have a favorite historical period you enjoy reading or writing about?
For reading, I don't have a preference. I love the breadth of history (up unto about the 19th century when it's a bit too modern.) Give me medieval castles, Mongol hordes, Janissary soldiers, intrepid Vikings, solitary Ronin, and the redoubtable Praetorian Guard.

Who is your favorite author, and what really strikes you about their work? 
Zoinks; tough question.  I suppose my current favorite is China MiĆ©ville. His prose is poetic and I don't think anyone else is as good at boiling "big ideas" down into pulpy adventure.

Okay, so you're an author. What do you enjoy reading?
For those who like historical specfic, Tim Powers is super duper incredible. Books like The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides, and Declare all use real history but postulate supernatural reasons for unexplained phenomena. It's really cool.

Read Ahimsa Kerp's story for yourself!
History and Horror, Oh My! is now available in ebook formats on Smashwords and in print and Kindle formats on Amazon.

Friday, December 26, 2014

History and Horror, Oh My: Morgan Crooks


The pics _I_ take when I visit Lido Key.
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a few years studying Greco-Roman history. I'm accustomed to being the only person in the room who likes that stuff, so it was a real pleasure to read stories from professionals in the area. Morgan Crooks grew up in a hamlet in Upstate New York and now teaches ancient history in Massachusetts. His story, “What the Prodigy Learns," is his fourth published work. He lives with his wife, Lauren, near Boston with one professional cat and one amateur dog.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
When I was about five or six I got this brown Fisher Price tape recorder. After I had listened to all of the Berenstain Bear and American History cassettes that came with it, I start recording my own stories. I remember this one where I took a vacation to Mars, which in a weird way feels like the story I've wanted to tell ever since.

How did you come up with the idea for your story in History and Horror, Oh My?
Roman history, particularly the transition from the Republic to the Empire, has always been fascinating to me and I got interested by the idea  a horror story set in that time, focused on Roman characters facing Roman nightmares. Then during my research, I read about wandering scholars like Strabo collecting information for vast encyclopedias. That pretty much gave me the character of Marius and once he started talking the rest of the story seemed to fit together.

Did you encounter any obstacles in researching the setting?
I found a wealth of information about Rome, Roman Daily Life, and social classes but nothing that brought the idea of Roman horror alive. To me this is one of those topics that I’ll never tire of, so I guess the biggest challenge was deciding when enough was enough. Eventually I started reading The Inns of Greece and Rome, and a history of Hospitality from the Dawn of Time to the Middle Ages, by W.C. Firebaugh. Firebaugh describes this system of post-houses that sprung up alongside the Roman road system. Basically with a writ from the government an upper class Roman could make use of these houses anywhere in the Empire. A sort of unofficial pilgrimage existed in the Eastern Half of the Empire, as young Romans saw the splendors of the ancient world as they traveled from inn to inn. That gave me the setting and the impulse to just start writing the first draft already.

Do you have a favorite historical period you enjoy reading or writing about?
That’s a tough question. Being an ancient history teacher, I’d say just about everything I cover - Stone Ages right on through to the Fall of Rome - is incredibly interesting. Late Republican Rome is probably my all-time favorite historical period, though.

Who is your favorite author, and what really strikes you about their work? 
Kim Stanley Robinson. In addition to having some of the best depictions of realistic space travel committed to print, he also has a really amazing sense of scale and history. He does what I think every great writer should do - hold up something familiar and boring and show you how it’s the weirdest, most interesting thing in the universe.

What are you working on now?
I’ve got a longer horror novella I’m editing as well as a few flash pieces.

Okay, so you're an author. What do you enjoy reading?
I try my best to keep up with what’s going on in short fiction by reading Apex, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. This year I spent catching up on weird fiction: Laird Barron, John Langan, and Thomas Ligotti but I also found time to read Gibson’s latest, The Peripheral. I’d recommend it.

Do you have any other works out right now?
My flash science fiction story, “Belongings," came out on the Theme of Absence website on December 12th. I’ve also got a science fiction story about drones that will be appearing in this month’s The New Accelerator anthology. I’d check out my blog at ancientlogic.blogspot.com to see what other work I’ve got out there.

Read Morgan's story for Yourself!
History and Horror, Oh My! is now available in ebook formats on Smashwords and in print and Kindle formats on Amazon.

ShareThis