In which I wake up.

At 3 am this morning, I woke up and stared at the blank canvas of my bedroom ceiling. An allegorical reflection of my life. In a week and a half, I turn 34. Life has passed in the blink of an eye. There is a feeling that all this time I have just been staring out the windows, watching the world pass by. To date, I have one short story published that is in need of a 2nd edition, 17 short stories that are in an array of discord, one novel poorly half written, and the second novel is a silent film that continually plays in my head and has yet to be scripted. All the adventures that I long to take remain as scribbled words on a bucket list. I’ve only cross off 6 out of 297.

In the wee hours of this morning, something inside snapped awake. A tiny voice whispered in my head, In life there are no dress rehearsals. This morning, I realized that the state of hibernation that I have been suffering for the past two years was finally over.

This very moment, the one we are existing in now, is the only one that we tangibly have. We can plan for the next moment to come, hoping that it appears. Yet, it’s never guaranteed. Take a breath. Exhale. In the next breath, one of us could be dead. A life instantly terminated. We are only promised the moment we hold right now. And if we allow this moment to pass unfulfilled, we may not get the chance at another.

Since 2015, I have been dreaming of what I want to do, but lacked the propulsion and motivation to achieve those dreams. An era of dormancy was maintained until I took a trip to the Baltic states last summer. While wandering the remnants of a Cold Ware era prison in Tallinn, a spark of inspiration involuntary began a transformation within the core of my soul. The spark was so tiny that I barely felt the burn, but there was a slight movement on my part to extinguish the infinitesimal flame as the fear of failing crept into my heart. However, the nostalgic warmth of my former self reflecting in that flame was captivating. The flame was allowed to burn. It took several additional months before the flame was fed and ignited into a wildfire.

The appeal to become physically stronger, to eat healthier, to travel more, and to enjoy life intensified in January.  Suddenly, I found myself exercising everyday, gorging on vegetables and fruit, signing up to run a 5K & 10K race in April, organizing an excursion to New Mexico for May, and eyeing up a September 125-mile bike ride that begins in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and ends in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (those closest to me know of the ‘saudade‘ of the ride’s finish line location). And, I decided to take the final step in committing to train for a triathlon – today I bought swimming gear and made a pact to swim laps 2-3 times a week… at 5 am…

Oh, and the words! The words! At moment of my full awakening this morning, when the inferno of inspiration was set fully ablaze in my soul, I realized that the words were back. My muse rose out of the embers and all the motivation that I had for creative writing once again burned brightly. The new novel that had been brewing as a silent film in my sub-concise showed its purpose. Today, there is direction. During breakfast, the plot was feverishly started. Then an inkling began that my blog was in dire need of revitalization.  And so, here I am.

As insane as all of this sounds, it is like the ‘light switch’ on a transformation to become my true self finally flipped ‘on’. The most amazing part of this awakening is that a change elicited in my writing style and perception.

Dark fiction is a ‘genre’ that I’ll continue to enjoy.  Fear, which is evoked in characters who are placed in harrowing situations, is quite captivating as it is an emotion that reveals a character’s true nature. Yet, it is in that moment when truth is exposed by fear that I now want to leverage as a seed for strength and purpose, as opposed using fear as a tactic to break and destroy characters with a purpose to deteriorate their will to live.  I may still base a few short stories off this trope; however, going forward, I want to convey that one’s strength and purpose are revealed when one has lost all hope. And a will to survive overcomes fear.

These past two years have changed me. For a lack of better words, the time was a cataclysmic whirlwind. Personal negative situations aside, I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted with many opportunities to travel the world. I’ve seen wondrous sites, met the most soulful people, and sampled delectable cuisine. In these experiences I found renewed creativity and inspiration to thrive.

Life’s an adventure, and our next moments stand on precipice of excitement and wonderment! Reach out, take hold, and never let go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This picture was captured whilst visiting one of my dearest friends, Michelle Muller, in Tallinn, Estonia. She knew Patarei Prison would captivate me. She wasn’t wrong. This mural, which was hand painted outside of the ‘hanging room’, triggered the start of my transformation. The mural directed me to continue the journey of wandering and wondering. (c) Amanda Headlee 2016

 

Definition of ‘saudade’:

Saudade is ‘the sorrow of not having enjoyed that which was there to be enjoyed; it is the vehement but resigned desire to enjoy a thing we were deeply attached to; and also the yearning to see, or be in the company of, someone from whom we have reluctantly been parted.

(Quoted in Dalila L. Pereira da Costa & Pinharanda Gomes, Introdução à Saudade: Antologia Teórica e Aproximação Crítica (Porto, Lello & Irmão, 1976), p. 10.)

Core Elements of a Horror Story

Strip away events, characters, and settings in all horror stories to compare the bare bones. See a pattern? The structural bones in these stories are the same. All horror stories are composed of five core elements, which must be utilized to develop an effective tale that induces terror in a reader. Other elements can enhance a horror story (e.g.; gore, porn, etc.). However, those are all secondary elements.

1. Foreshadowing is the sprinkling of bread crumbs throughout a book to prepare a reader for the impact of the climax or conclusion. Foreshadowing does not have to be direct “tell-all.” It can be small, slipped in where the reader thinks a reference or description is unintentional, leading up to an epic ending. 

Example: Something will happen to a main character that involves Chinchillas.  Little references of foreshadowing can be added to the story indicating that

Fear the Fluff (c) xandert
Fear the Fluff (c) xandert

the character (let’s name her Mary) is terrified of the adorable balls of fluff. Descriptions or situations can be added where she refuses to go into pet stores or runs away screaming when she sees a gray fur coat (even if it is faux fur). Have a special report news bulletin air on TV that warns of rabies rampaging Mary’s town. Spread these “hints” throughout the story. These “hints” will lead up to the climax of the story when a horde of rabid Chinchillas escapes a local animal shelter, happen upon Mary, and tear apart her body with their vicious little Chinchilla teeth.

Foreshadowing is an indication of future events and builds anticipation. When a reader pieces together all the foreshadowed parts, they become invested in the story.

2. Fear is the driving force behind any horror story.  Your story has to scare the ever-livin’ giblets out of a reader (yes, I made up a word, but go with it). If a story does not elicit fear in a reader, then it cannot fall into the horror genre. Fear is the element that sets apart horror from other genres because it evokes a human emotion.

Leverage the fear in your story by making it relatable to your reader. This is difficult because a readership is vast.  However, if you can take a topic and hone it to where it is terrifying to the greater audience, then you have expertly harnessed the fear element. 

Think about what Stephen King did with Pennywise in It.  Clowns do not terrify most people, but King took the element of a clown, typically a safe and jovial character, and turned it into something diabolically sinister. Spin the element of fear into everyday, ordinary things.

3. Suspense plays off of fear and is what keeps your reader’s adrenaline heightened. Fear spikes the adrenaline while suspense keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat. Without any suspense in a story, your reader is on a roller coaster that spikes with fear and then immediately lulls to mediocrity until the next spike of fear. Suspense is what keeps the reader hooked and interested in the story.

Example:  Using the Mary and the Attack of the Rabid Chinchillas storydraw out the events that happen to Mary before the big, furry attack. Create a setting that is foreboding. Maybe she breaks into an abandoned pet store to hide from a growing thunder storm. The reader knows she avoids pet stores, so something really bad is forcing her to step out of her comfort zone. The reader also know that there is an outbreak of rabies in Mary’s town, and she just broke into a place that is infested with mammals. Show how she breaks into the store and then tentatively walks about. Maybe she is scoping out the place to make sure she is alone (or at least that there are no Chinchillas). Use onomatopoeia and other sound tactics to drive and show Mary’s fear.

If the character is scared, the reader will be scared. Drag out the character’s fear with suspense, and you will drag the reader right along with it.

4. Mystery adds reliable and believable surprise** to a story. You can show some of your story’s cards with foreshadowing, but don’t give everything away. Use mystery, like suspense, as a hook so the reader knows that something surprising will happen during or after the climax. Make your reader question how the story will end.

5. Imagination is my favorite element (next to fear). Like mystery, do not show all of your cards. Leave events, situations, and character descriptions up to your readers’ imagination. Their minds can conjure visions that are more terrifying than anything that you write. Mystery and imagination play heavily with the fear element. Get your readers’ hearts pumping, palms sweating, and bodies shivering in terror by making them use their minds.

By using the imagination element, a reader is 100% a part of the story. If you can get readers to (fearfully) imagine themselves as a character in the book, then you have completely succeeded as a horror author.

** The crux of the mystery has to be 100% believable in line with the characters and plot of the story.  Do not introduce a new character or create up a new situation on a whim to close out a mystery.


Want to help your horror story’s structure?  Check out the Sarcastic Muse post Invoking Fear with the Horror Genre to help mold your story to the right horror sub-genre.
What core elements in a horror story are your favorites?  What non-core elements within a horror story excite you?

The Blog Hop: Read at Your Own Risk

Sci-fi and Paranormal author, Phil Giunta, has nominated me to participate in the Blog Hop.  The rules are to answer four questions and then nominate three other authors.  I only had one author take me up on the nomination and she is listed at the end.

At your own risk, you opened this post to read.  Therefore,  I cannot be held accountable for any maddness that may ensue…

What am I working on?

My current focus is on a short story for The Sarcastic Muse sampler that is slated to be released in the Winter 2015.  The story is about a young girl who must choose between her destiny or a most unwelcome fate.

Later this month, I am retreating back to When Words Count in Vermont to focus on my novel.  2014 has been an incredibly busy year.   Other projects, with higher priority, sidelined the novel.  However, the delay has not been in vain!  I was able to diagram out how to expand the novel into a 4 book series.  A series was something that never crossed my mind when I first started plotting this book.  Sometimes delays are beneficial.

Now, I am not ready to spill the details of this novel, as it is something unique and… taboo.  However, I will let you in on a secret: People are “munched”.

Finally, Robyn LaRue and I are working on a small book titled Project Management for Writers.  The goal of the book is to help authors manage their authorship as a project with more organization and less stress.

How does my writing differ from others in my genre?

I love leveraging a reader’s imagination.  With my writing style, I try my best not to show everything.  My favorite kind of story is one that leaves me with a sense of “what the hell just happened”, forcing my mind to conjure up something more sinister than what the author could have attained.  That is my goal in my writing – to take away the reader’s breath and leave their mind reeling about the possibilities of what could happen.

I am also a huge fan of the “cosmic horror” aspect, but that does not make me different from many of today’s writers.  The cosmic horror is a growing sub-genre these days with the resurgence of Lovecraft.  I really enjoy being an author that is a part of this growing trend.

Why of I write what I do?

Fear is the most primal emotion, and it is felt by every human being that is birthed into this world.  It is the first emotion that any human experiences outside of the womb.  Being pulled out of a nice, warm, dark cave and suddenly thrust into a cold, bright, harsh environment is absolutely terrifying.  Fear is the emotion that deeply embeds itself within our brains and resonates when we least expect it, throwing us into a panic and turmoil.

I love tapping into that with writing, to give readers that jolt of adrenaline and increase in heart rate.  Their imaginations starts awakening, because Fear never subsides – it only manifests into something larger.  The reader is stimulated and their consciousness is open.  The genre of horror and dark fiction forces the readers use their imaginations, to think outside of the box.

I write in this genre because I want to make people to use their imaginations.  Terrifying readers is an added bonus.

How does my writing process work?

My stories haunt me. 24/7 they spin through my head, begging to be written.  Their whispering continually wake me from slumber and I am awake into wee hours of the morning capturing the ideas that spill from my mind.  This starting phase I have dubbed “verbal vomit”.  It is just senseless scribbling in a notebook of all the thoughts that are running through my head.  There is no order and it is pure chaos – but it makes sense.  This is how my stories are born.  From this point, I set aside the time to plot.

I am proud to say that I am now a ‘plotter’.  In my earlier years, I used to be a ‘panster’, but I have grown to find that way too stressful and my stories were lacking depth.  Over this past year, my writing process has evolved.  In March, I completely outlined – by hand – the entirety of my first novel.  In the rare time that I found to work on this story, I developed my characters, settings, archetypes, etc.  As of today, everything is plotted to the most intricate details and contains sub-plots that leaves openings for the sequel.  Unfortunately, I now have to find the time to write… this retreat in VT is not coming soon enough.

The last step is the actual writing.  The making of a sane world out of the horrific chaos that fell from my brain.

My writing process then evolves into the editing process, and I am not about to journey down that road because it is filled with a lot of screaming and profanities.


 

Now, on to my victim, er, I mean nominee.  Without further ado, I present my nominee, the amazingly talented, Robyn LaRue:

Robyn LaRue

Thumb-One (1)I write fast, edit slow, and my toughest decision is always which story to write next. In my “spare time,” I enjoy reading, quilting, pottery, glass fusion, house design, hanging out on line with my critique partners and the like-minded, talking about everything writing, creative, and historical. Coffee is a major obsession, chocolate only slightly less so. Toast is a staple.

The Healing of Dark Fiction

Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn, interviewed J Thorn, author of Horror and Dark Fantasy, about the dark realm and how he thrives writing about the fear.  J Thorn’s best selling book has sold over 100,000 copies, which ranks him as a Top 100 Author in Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.  He is a master of the craft and educated in the occult and mysticism.  The latter lends for excellent material for his numerous tomes.  He is driven by the macabre and within this interview, you can hear how passionate he is about his genre.

I always enjoy hearing how other authors feel about the darker genres.  As these genres can delve into the gore, terror, and ultimate evil, there is a serene sentiment that is echoed in the voices of all authors who dare to craft this somewhat “taboo” genre.  We all find dark fiction healing.  There is something to be said about being courageous enough to write worldly terror down on paper and share with others.  The fear of rejection, ridicule, and hatred are a few words that spring to mind.  It is something that all authors go through, but we of the dark arts probably experience it to a higher degree… well, maybe those of erotica do as well.  We push the boundaries set by social norms.  We bring into the minds of our readers thoughts and ideas and characters that could potentially scar them for life.  But once the story is out there, once it is accepted, once it is loved… It is liberating.  It is healing.

“I believe dark fiction can be healing.” – J Thorn

Without giving too many spoilers from this interview, I just wanted to point out one other thing that J and Joanna spoke about that really resonated with me:  dreams of dark fiction authors.  What are our dreams about and how do we even sleep at night?  To that, J answered “very well”, and I could not help to nod my head in agreement.  I enlightened one of my co-workers this very morning with the fact that what I write does not induce nightmares in my mind.  I truly have no fear of ghosts or monsters or cosmic evil.  What terrifies me is real life.  I recounted to her that I woke up in tears last night by a nightmare where our office moved to a riverboat on the Mississippi river in the state of the same name, we hired an employee that I was against, my boss cryogenically froze himself – alive, and another co-worker published her first novel (80,000 words, mind you) about her amazing ham and scalloped potatoes.  I was up the rest of the night with that one.  These are my darkest fears.

Now you can go ahead and laugh at me all you want, but I am serious.  Those who write in the realm of dark fiction have fears of the everyday things.  The things that are dubbed spooky and grotesque are the dreams we crave. We want our dreams to be haunted by madness and the macabre.

J Thorn hits home in this interview and I am sure if you write dark fiction, you will feel the same as well.  There is so much more that I want to discuss, but I don’t want to reveal everything within this post.  You will have to watch and experience it for yourself.

I am looking forward to what comes next from this fellow Pittsburgh native.

 

The Truth about Horror

In all honestly, horror is only a different and grotesque view of reality.  It is based upon a person’s perception of a circumstance.  The human mind has a tendency to distort the reality of a situation — making something out to be more terrifying than what it really is.   What frightens humans the most are typically the most benign.  For example:

  • The ghostly movements of your living room curtains is really your cat playing behind the draperies with a toy mouse.
  • The silhouette of a man that can be seen through the kitchen window is actually a hedge that is in need of reshaping.
  • The blood curdling screams from the other side of your wall is only your apartment neighbor yelling at his TV when the Steelers lose.
  • The spider that crawls across the bottom of your tub — Oh my GOD! A spider! IT’S A SPIDER! Kill it!  Kill it quick with fire!!!

*Ahem*… sorry, where was I — oh yes…  It is all about one’s perception of a situation, where it can be malignantly distorted.  However, there are certain times when something seems to be all sweet and innocent that it turns out to be truly dark and sinister…

 

Was that wrong of me?  🙂

Happy Saturday!

 

2014Sept31 update:  Disclaimer – no spiders were hurt in the writing of this post, and I truly do my best to not kill any living creature – even spiders.