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Anatomy of Writing

Feb 17, 2019

Writing a story is an act of faith. I understand that some writers outline their narratives before they begin them. But, when I’ve taken that route, I find myself bored by the actual writing of the story because there aren’t any surprises left for me to uncover; if I know where I’m beginning and where I’m ending, then all that’s left is to enjoy the ride. But, if we’re honest, the ride is hunching over a keyboard and glaring at a blinking cursor that hasn’t learned a new dance move since the 80’s.

Stephen King writes. He dives into a story and lets the process figure itself out. I’ve always been more intrigued by that idea. Let’s go into a bar where we’ve got some unsightly characters and some escalating tension and see how it all shakes out. I’m curious.

But, Stephen King also notes that his ideas come in the form of “cups” and “handles.” And, what he means by that is, he’ll get a theme or an idea that’s not enough to carry a story on its own. It needs a “handle” – the characters or the twist or the purpose that completes the project.

In that way – playing matchmaker – the ride becomes a train through uncharted territory where, for all you know, the gravity is different on the other side of the window. You have to pay attention to find out. Even still, though, sometimes that train takes you to a bar with unsightly characters and escalating tension, but the only action is the characters yelling about how much they agree with one another.

So, writing is an act of faith. You dim the lights and pour the sacramental wine – maybe even play your favorite hymns to fit the mood – in hopes that you’ve set the stage for something meaningful to happen. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m working on a story right now that I’ve written and rewritten three times. It seems that no matter what, that train takes me to the most unremarkable and forgettable destination I’ve ever seen. Whatever image that conjures up for you, go with it, but picture it again in monochrome.

I’ve mashed all kinds of characters and monsters together, and none of them have had the decency to clash with any kind of spark. So, now I find myself with about 15,000 words to be gathered in a wheelbarrow and ushered to the crypt where they’ll be stored and forgotten. The hope is that some future version of me goes digging for them one day and finds a pulse buried within them. Then, maybe a few of those words can attach as arms or legs to another project in the future. But, for right now, it’s time to dim the lights, pour the coffee, and sit down with my blinking cursor friend in hopes that something meaningful happens.

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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Killed By Happy Endings

Don't let good stories get killed by happy endings! Read my thoughts about it on Jeyran Main's website!

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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The Story Behind the Story: Things in the Attic

Jan 27, 2019

I was very close with my grandfather, and when he passed, I sought out a way to contact him. The recommendation was to wait at least three days before trying to find a way to reach him. But, I was impatient, and I wanted to get through to him that night.

I first started by attempting some kind of self-hypnosis protocol (as pretentious as it sounds). In all, the process lasted close to an hour. It began with progressive muscle relaxation and evolved into a stated intention of openness to see and hear from spirits or beings or others who might help to facilitate a meeting with my grandfather. Stating such a large intention was naive.

The only success I can speak of in regard to the self-hypnosis was that I was confident I had contacted something, even if it was not my grandfather. I never saw whatever it was, and I never heard anything externally the way one typically encounters sound. But, it was as if the empty study I was occupying had become crowded. My mind, too, felt very busy with noise. Alas, no objective contact had been made with anything supernatural, and I decided to take the process a step further.

I proceeded to the next room where a large mirror hung on the wall. I repeated my intention and stared at my reflection in the darkened room. I was reminded of old encounters with the Bloody Mary of my childhood nightmares, but she never showed up then or now. Though, something was different about the experience of looking into a mirror in a dark room in the middle of the night as an adult; it had an tone of seriousness that had been absent decades ago.

At first, the mirror was unremarkable. But, gradually, my reflection began to change – as if my face were transforming into other faces. Some were older; some were younger. It could have been my eyes playing tricks on me or an illusion of the unlit room. But, paired with the sense of unease I had in my gut and the overwhelming sense that I had not been alone since the hypnosis experiment, I suddenly wanted to stop. I needed to stop.

I turned from the mirror and closed the ritual the best I could and attempted to make my way back to my bedroom in the basement. In consideration for everyone else in the house who was not awake in the middle of the night, I left the lights off. Navigating the shadows was easy, knowing every nook and cranny of my childhood home. But, I still could not shake off the overwhelming sense that I was not alone. I had the sensation of being stuck in a crowded hallway despite being by myself.

I made my way down the stairs in the dark convinced that someone or something was hanging its head next to mine, speaking to me even if I was refusing to hear it. Upon finding the basement, the sensation intensified – not just one disembodied head whispering at me, but many. With the hair rising on the back of my neck, I stopped in my tracks and announced, “I am going to go to a bookshelf, pull a book from the shelf, and place my finger on a sentence or a cluster of words. Let those words reveal you to me.”

I walked towards the wall and placed my hand against it to keep track of my place in the mostly barren basement. I walked forward to where I knew a bookshelf rested against the wall. Upon finding it, I did as I had proclaimed. I reached for a book, placed my finger somewhere within it, and then made my way back towards the lights where I could read what I found.

My finger was placed in the center of one sentence from a random page of Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl. I wish I could say the words came from Bram Stoker’s Dracula or any other classic work of horror instead, but Loose Girl was the book I selected, and I have not altered or added any details to this story to portray anything other than what happened. With that understanding, I read the words underlined by my finger: “we are the dead.”

This is the story behind the story of “Things in the Attic.” You can read an excerpt of it on Sandra’s Book Clubblog website here.

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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Highbrow Horror

Jan 19, 2019

I’m remembering a videogame called "The Last of Us." On the surface, it's a game about a man and a child traveling across the country after something like a zombie-outbreak destroys conventional society. The story had the twists and turns of any good narrative where the flawed heroic characters began an emotional journey in one place and ended in another. It was a fictional work featuring an ever-present threat of undead, but the game was at its scariest when the characters had to interact with each other – the often flawed humans whose moral integrity was absent in a disorganized world. The threat of Ellie getting kidnapped and raped by gangs of bandits pervaded every step into uncharted territory. And that’s what it felt like to be a part of the world presented in “The Last of Us” – endangered and vulnerable. The truth in that work of fiction plays in our world so well because the scariest component of the game – predatory humans – was also the most unnecessary and preventable part of that world. More so, it was the part of that world that most mirrors our own. Zombies aside, how long would it take for a society to unravel if its people were to lose their faith in the system that binds them? Our history books might offer some answers.

Some people struggle with fiction as a genre. I think their concern is that if the content they are reading or watching (or otherwise) is not based on something real, then what’s the point? If the emotions they feel as an audience member are not in response to something historical or factual, then does it make their experience inauthentic? But our textbooks, with their nuanced terms and dry descriptions, fail to convey any felt sense of the chaos and horror of the world they seek to record. In contrast, good art – in any form – touches upon and reveals to us the truths of our subjective human experience. You see, we can find our reflections in all things in this world, but sometimes it takes something otherworldly to most confront us with ourselves.

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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Vampira!

Jan 13, 2019

Before there was Elvira, Svengoolie, or even the Cryptkeeper, there was Mailia Nurmi as Vampira - the world's very first "horror host." And, I'm excited to share my Carl Shears original Vampira charcoal drawing with you.

Carly does wicked custom art, makeup, and hair. If you're in the Chicagoland area, check her out at vitoanthonysalon.com or on Instagram.

To learn more about Vampira, check out this interesting documentary about her called "Vampira and Me" here

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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A Review in Scream Magazine

Jan 07, 2019

I am excited to announce that Screams Before Dawn was reviewed in the 52nd issue of Scream magazine! You can check them out here: https://www.screamhorrormag.com/

They wrote, “This anthology comprising of an array of gruesome and entertaining stories hits the sweet spot, making for solid bedtime reading during these dark winter nights.” They called the book, "[...] an engaging page turner with a variety of stories that offer something different each time."

You can also find an ad for the book in the same issue right after their article on the “Halloween” movies. It’s an honor to be featured right next to a headshot of my longtime friend and confidant, Michael Myers.

For those of you in the US, stop by your local Barnes and Noble or Books a Million to check it out! Canadians can find it at Chapters/Indigo stores, and our fiends in the UK can find it at Eason, WH Smith, or Forbidden Planet stores or at any independent Newsagent.

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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Welcome to 2019.

Jan 01, 2019

Tabula Rasa: we begin the year with a fresh start and a clean slate. For me, the turning of the calendar page calls for an inventory of sorts – a meeting with those blasted skeletons hanging in the closet. “New Year’s” is a holiday that always felt like a promise that bit off more than it could chew. For all the firework explosions and kisses at midnight, there’s also a lot of vomit in the street, so to speak. Nonetheless, I like to start my new years with a resolution, and my resolution for 2019 is to spread more cheer! How are we doing on that so far? [insert grin here]

I have to admit that 2018 was good to me. I saw the launch of my book, Screams Before Dawn, and I had the honor of meeting several of my heroes – from Kane Hodder and John Kassir to Nim Vind and Argyle Goolsby. And, in-between all of that, I managed to finally defeat Dracula in CastleVania III, thus ending a 20-year endeavor. But, 2018 wasn’t all accolades; we lost several heroes too – including Anthony Bourdain, the incredible Stan Lee, and J-sin Trioxin of Mister Monster. As we move into 2019, we appreciate where we’ve been while we look ahead to where we’ll go next.

On that note, this start of the new year serves as an opportunity for me to refine the scope of this blog – to increase the breadth and depth of the content we examine here. To that, I say cheers, happy new year, and...

Keep it spooky,

-HvW

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