June Book of the Month

June’s book of the month was Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Blake has become a substantial author in young adult fiction, especially with her current series Three Dark Crowns. I was surprised to see the range of genres from horror to fantasy, and also comforted by the fact authors can reign free and not necessarily get locked into one, and still be successful. Anna Dressed in Blood was her debut novel, and it was encouraging to see that ghost stories are still popular, and popular enough to get picked up as someone’s debut. I love ghosts, probably a little too much, but at least not as much as Cas. I gave this book a full five out of five stars.

Anna Dressed in Blood is about Cas Lowood, a fresh, young ghost hunter who picked up his father’s ghost-killing athame after his father was killed by a vicious spirit. He moves from town to town with his Mom to get rid of local haunts. He moves to Thunder Bay to hunt down a notorious ghost, who has gained the title “Anna Dressed In Blood.” In his pursuits of hunting her, he befriends a local mind-reading witch Thomas, along with the most popular kids in school: Carmel, the queen bee who is actually a decent person, Mike, her dumb jock ex-boyfriend, and Will, the jock’s sidekick who’s got just as much intelligence as he has kick in him.

The characters were easily my favorite part of the book. Each one seemed like someone I would’ve met in high school, and even though Cas stereotyped them in the beginning, they each became more than just a character type. Even Anna, dead and from another time, showed significant wit and character beyond just being a dead girl. At certain points different characters went against their own personalities, usually for superficial reasons, but at no point did any of it feel fake. Kendare Blake knows her audience well, and has a strong grip on the voice of teenagers. I found myself laughing out loud from Cas’ remarks throughout the book, like his constant insistence that he’s not one of the Ghostbusters and rejecting the idea of teaming up to become a ghost fighting group. Even the adults were entertaining and well fleshed out despite their limited appearances.

The plot of the story was tightly woven, and where there were some gaps of knowledge, I’m certain they’ll be answered in the second book. How do I know that? Passing details that didn’t seem significant wound up being monstrously important throughout the ending, and everything that Cas set out to do was solved but left with different cliffhangers. Naturally, he can’t accomplish everything the way he had planned, but even the cliffhangers were tight and gave a solid idea of where the series would head afterward. Every piece of information given was used and transformed as the story went on. Even the hitchhiker from chapter one is referred to later.

Overall, this is one of my favorite books. I’m glad I accidentally bought the sequel first; if I had it with me for the start of July, I’d easily make Girl of Nightmares my July book of the month. Unfortunately, I could only haul so many books with me when moving, so it’ll be on its way when my mom comes to visit about halfway through the month. So in the meantime, the sequel will have to wait another month before I can get to it. Instead, July’s book of the month will be The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I haven’t read a historical fiction book yet, and I’m interested to see how I enjoy it.

March Book of the Month: Survive the Night

My book of the month for March was Survive the Night by Danielle Vega. As much as I love the horror genre, I was surprised to realize that this was the first official book I’ve read in the genre. I’ve watched more horror movies than I can think of, but I was shocked that it took me this long to read something in the current genre. (Besides Carmilla, I suppose, if you count that as horror.) Overall, I found the book incredibly enjoyable and I was able to finish the last hundred or so pages in one sitting because I was so invested. (I usually read between my classes, therefore, multiple sittings. I read outside of my class time for a lot of this book.)

I immediately related to the main character, Casey. Although, that’s likely just a coincidence. She had dislocated her kneecap playing soccer, and from being active, meanwhile, I dislocated mine walking energetically in gym class. However, unlike her, she became addicted to her pain medication, and we are introduced to her as she’s coming home from rehab.

I only have a few aspects of this book I had some critique on, and the first act was so long it almost made me flip ahead to check if anything juicy happened sooner. I was eager for the horror. The information delivered, while important, took up slightly over four chapters of the book before we got to the promise of the premise, surviving the night. At the very least, getting to the actual club and the first hint of horror.

Another aspect I didn’t enjoy that also occurred throughout the first portions was Casey’s fixation on her ex-boyfriend. At first, it seemed a little below her character to be so focused on him for his sort of approval but looking back I’m more lenient on it after certain revelations. I suppose you could say his love was one of the drugs she had been addicted to in a way. His character confuses me a bit as we find out more about him, along with his involvement with Shana.

Once they finally get to Survive the Night, the exclusive club that they had to get a homeless man’s help to find, the fun begins. Well, the deaths do at least. And that’s what we’re here for in horror. Or I am, at least. The promised premise certainly delivers, and it amps up to the point I kept wondering what could happen next. Usually I’m able to generally guess where a plot is going, and this one kept me fresh and engaged the entire time. The stakes were eternally high throughout the book.

While the ending tied up the majority of the plot points with grace, I guessed the mysterious insinuation it leaves you with from when I read the synopsis. It almost reminded me of the movie Shrooms. However, it left enough threads throughout the narrative to be able to make your own conclusion while further heightening the events that happened. I’m trying not to spoil much with this, so I won’t say here what I think happened. I plan on making a video about that with a spoiler-filled review on a new YouTube channel I’m making. I’ll post the link on here when I do.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Survive the Night. I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Besides the few minor grievances, I think it’s safe to say this is one of my more recent favorites. It also makes me interested in reading Danielle Vega’s series The Merciless. I loved her style throughout the book. I don’t own The Merciless so it won’t be the next book of the month. I think I’m going to go for a sci-fi approach and read Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa. I’ve had this book for a little over a year now, and I should get down to reading it.

Childhood Vampires Haunt My Writing

I was looking at an article the other day talking about different towns that were great suburbs around Philadelphia. I grew up around Doylestown, and one of the charming features of the town they mentioned was the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle. It reminded me of a field trip we took there when I was in elementary school. Besides being in awe of the spectacle of how much Henry Mercer collected, I remember one specific item that is the metaphorical anchor to the memory of visiting the place itself: the Vampire Killing Kit. Although artificial, it was one of the first instances where I found something mildly scary and influential in my storytelling.

 

The Vampire Killing Kit in question.

 

Around the same time, or perhaps something created by seeing the vampire killing kits, my neighbor had managed to convince me that there was a vampire in my closet. Edward Cullen hadn’t come into popular culture back then, so what I was picturing was some Nosferatuesque fresh-from-the-crypt terrifying creature of the night. She also convinced me they were real, pointing to the books in the nonfiction section of the library that were about vampires. Although it was more of a cruel joke on her part, I have to thank her for it. If I had not believed steadfast in vampires from her assurances, I would’ve never found the beginning of my interest in the supernatural. I would’ve never found my main genre influences.

For years, I was unable to watch anything that I deemed “scary,” however, the only exception was reading things that contained paranormal factors to them. Most of those things were manga or tv shows with low-key elements, but a lot were nonfiction books. I own probably way too many ghost books for my own good. Ghosts were the second topic that I wound up fixating on. I tried to convince my teachers for my sixth-grade assessment. I argued because there was scientific data involved and nonfiction books in the library on the subject that I should be allowed to research and present on that topic. They humored the idea briefly before shooting me down. I then switched to Velociraptors.

I remember specifically caving to my Mom’s persuasion into watching Jurassic Park when I was 12. It lit the fuse of the explosion of terrifying movies I would binge-watch for the next few years. I had a collection of older horror movie classics my mom got me, and I started out right. A Nightmare on Elmstreet, Friday the 13th, Night of the Living Dead… All the good trusty, terrifying movies from before I had ever been born. I was able to expand my monster list and the types of unique figures that people created, to the point I was able to create better, original monsters of my own.

And I have to thank my pugnacious, mildly tormenting neighbor. If it hadn’t been for her insistence, I’m not sure I would’ve come to my genre so early on. Reading some of the stories I started and stopped when I was younger, I never intended to write horror stories. They became scary stories by their own spirit. Their own will.

Fear as a Choice

We all have something we’re afraid of. Whether it’s something abstract like loneliness or more concrete like clusters or patterns of holes, there’s going to be something. When I was little, I was afraid of most things. Darkness, bees, scary movies, and aliens. Especially the latter two. I broke those fears on my own through a series of exposures. Sure, I’m still a little spooked by darkness, bees, scary movies, and aliens, but I no longer scream and cry in pure terror. Now the only things that scare me are when I’m sleeping.

In my child mind, I had classified Jurassic Park as a horror movie. I was scared of the dinosaurs hurting people and didn’t want to see them die. When I watched the movie, it was like taking a first dose of a life-altering drug. I was thirteen and I was hooked on horror movies. I started with the classics and branched out through other genres. In about a year’s span of time I remember watching Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Ring, Poltergeist, even Night of the Living Dead in its black and white glory. I speedily destroyed that fear and it became an addiction.

The intense fear of any and all aliens was one of my irrational fears I held the longest. It probably stemmed from the scene in E.T. when he was sick and even more gross looking than he usually was. In the end I thought he tried to steal the dog with him on the ship and that also had upset me. Some time after that, my parents and I went to Planet Hollywood in Disney and we were seated underneath the most horrific alien-like statue that lurched over the table. It was much taller than I was and ever will be, and we had to move our table because I couldn’t stop crying.

I’m certain it was this one. What idiot puts a little girl underneath this thing, anyways?

I still had that fear at age 16, apparently. By then, I was a seasoned horror movie connoisseur and could take just about any type of horror movie. My dad, stepmom, couple-months-old baby sister and I were watching Dark Skies. My dad had been under the impression that it was more of a paranormal movie instead of an alien one like I had said. I was right. The one scene that caused me to scream to the top of my lungs and spontaneously start crying was one in the third act of the movie where the camera casually panned across the living room where four tall grey aliens stood. They weren’t even doing anything threatening; they were just standing there. Lurking.

In that moment I decided enough was enough; I needed to combat the irrational fear. So you know what I did? I rewatched the movie. Again and again. And when it began to feel too familiar I switched to The Fourth Kind. And then I repeatedly watched that movie too until the ideas stopped scaring me. Those two movies are the only ones that have ever affected my sleeping habits.

I realize that December, the month of happily enjoying major holidays, is usually not the one to be posting about fears. I’m about two months late on that train. However, for the first time in about four years, I had a nightmare the other night. One that sat with me wrong, that made me launch myself awake and gave me trouble falling back asleep. It’s when I remembered that oh: lots of my dreams would probably constitute as nightmares for most people. As a writer, I use my dreams as fuel for stories I work on. I use the vivid images in my dreams to inspire the heartwarming or heart-wrenching imagery in my books.

Most people would call a dream at a mansion party where your guests are getting murdered one by one so you and the others try to escape only to get shot in front of a GameStop to drop to the ground and sing a creepy song while you lay dying to be a nightmare. Most people would probably call a dream where you stand alone on the bleachers of a field and watch a plane release a yellow substance over everyone on the field to cause their skin to become pustules and pop as they disintegrate into nothing a nightmare. To me, those are a typical Tuesday night. And story ideas.

It Comes At Night [REVIEW]

This movie came out earlier this year, and the marketing team did a wonderful job boosting the intrigue to this movie to the point that I actually wanted to see it. I had many questions going into the movie that I wanted to know the answers. What’s behind the red door? How/why’s the lady vomiting black goop into a guy’s mouth? And the most important, pressing question of them all: WHAT COMES AT NIGHT? Continue reading

IT is IN (It 2017 REVIEW)

This Thursday, despite being displaced from both my home and my college dorm because of hurricane Irma, I made sure to get to a theater and see It. This movie is the most recent adaption of Stephen King’s novel It, which also was adapted in 1990. For some unknown reason to me, I haven’t seen the original It movie. (Maybe I saw it when I was on a horror binge when I was 13. Either way, I don’t remember it.) I haven’t read the book either. Therefore, I will be reviewing the movie as a standalone piece.

The movie opens with little Georgie getting his little sailboat waxed and going out to follow it in the water going to the sewers. It inevitably goes into the sewer, but Pennywise the clown happens to catch it for him. Somehow Georgie is unfazed by the large clown man somehow being in the sewer, but he talks with him nonetheless before Pennywise strikes. This scene, at least, is common knowledge as it sets up the premise for the movie itself and is included in the majority of commercials.

We get introduced to the main group of kids, AKA the Losers’ Club, and subsequently begin to see how they interact with the other kids at their school and around town. Naturally, like any piece of media about geeky kids, there is the stock jock bully and his friends that seem to be a common link between all the kids involved. Bill, Georgie’s surviving brother, persuades the rest of the kids to go on an adventure to the pine barrens and check to see if his lost brother Georgie is there.

As the kids begin to enjoy their summer as much as they can —in a Stand By Me sort of fashion, if you can count searching for your probably dead brother as enjoyment— each kid begins to encounter Pennywise in multiple forms, individually tailored to their own terrors. (I don’t know about them, but if I even thought I was hallucinating or even dreaming some weird nightmare fuel I feel like I would’ve told my friends earlier about it than they did, but I digress.) Once Bev has her encounter, the pace tends to pick up as the kids realize that they’re all seeing the same thing and decide to take a stand.

The plot, which had been a bit slow picks up for the second half of the movie as each kid mentally prepares for facing Pennywise. Each of them play an important role to their team of clown hunters. From then on, the pacing picks up and more of the interesting parts of the movie happen. I won’t spoil from then on, but each kid manages to be developed despite there being a decent number of them to juggle.

I appreciated the amount of detail that went to accurately portraying kids around that age. It’s been a handful of years since I was as old as the Losers’ Club members, but I remember that there was plenty of swearing involved. Along with painful jokes that even we ourselves cringed at, thanks to Richie’s unending bout of awkward, classic jokes that never seemed forced by the writers. They felt like a kid genuinely forcing the jokes to seek approval, something that seems to make sense for a talkative character. (Side note: I was totally glad Finn Wolfhard played him. To see him swearing and playing video games makes me wonder if any casting people saw him on Game Grumps.)

Despite It being directed by Andy Muschietti, the guy who somehow let Mama’s painstakingly obvious 3D effects happen, It’s 3D effects, while plentiful, never interrupted the narrative. As an animation major, I’m able to spot what cheap, inexperienced 3D effects look like, and that’s what Mama had. It, on the other hand, managed to make me forget the plentiful hours of animation, visual effects, and other post production additions went into the movie. The only thing that stood out to me while watching was how beautifully the scenes were shot with the compositions and color toning. It was a beautiful horror movie, something that is hard to come across.

It’s horror didn’t come from baseless, cheap knee-jerking jump scares and splatter fests like many modern movies rely on. It went into the very basis of fear itself and different literal and metaphorical representations of it, and yet, didn’t beat you over the head with the metaphorical parts like some other movies do whenever they don’t just want to get you with any jump scares. (The Babadook. Cough. Cough.) The journey comes to an end with a realistic acknowledgement of all that the kids have been through (especially Bill) and the consequences of both their individual and combined journeys.

It ends with a plethora of opportunities to continue the narrative, and I look forward to seeing when chapter two comes out. I might just have to float to my nearest movie theater and tie myself down at the risk of being blown away again.

King Challenge 2017 – Results!

This July, I challenged myself to write 6 pages a day, every day for the month of July. (In a previous post, I talked about being inspired to do this from watching a video where George R.R. Martin and Stephen King had a chat.) Originally I had a mini-vacation planned that I was going to exempt from my challenge, but eventually my plans fell apart so I wound up not going anywhere. Therefore, I wrote during those days as well. My second goal of this challenge was to finish writing a book of mine that I started last year. Let’s see how I did.

 

I succeeded! In retrospect, I shouldn’t have had too many issues with succeeding due to my limited amount of plans; the majority of the days were free and I was alone in my cabin with my only distractions being the ones I created for myself. A couple of the weekends I traveled back to visit nearby family, and the travel time was usually around 3 hours, so that took significant chunks out of the day.

There were two days (July 6th, July 22nd) I almost couldn’t get to my goal. The sixth was the day before the vacation when I wound up being mentally overloaded so I called it off, and the twenty-second was my sister’s belated birthday party. Considering the house had over 100 people in it throughout the day, and the fact that for the better part of 3 weeks I had little face to face contact with other people, it was pretty draining.

Both of those days, along with one or two more, I didn’t work on my book. I didn’t want to write such an important first draft with little to no energy, and so I worked on some short stories or scenes for other stories/books. I’m always juggling projects, so it’s not like it’s not helping in any way.

In total, I wrote about 447.5 pages in that month, along with 122,424 words. When I picked up writing my book, I had been at around page 75. In total, my book wound up having 256 pages. So that means I wrote about 181 pages during the month towards it. Less than half of what I wrote that month went towards the book. I found that pretty ironic, considering that finishing the book was my entire goal for doing this self-imposed challenge. When I go through my files from the past month, a lot of them are from the warm-ups or other books I worked on. (I remember on Monday the 3rd I came up with a new book idea and worked almost exclusively on that. My brain seems to never stop, even when I want to sit down and focus on something.)

My writing habits usually are to write in the midday, but during the month I found myself writing fairly late into the night/early morning. There were many days where I’d be deliriously blasting 80’s horror movie music while bopping around and writing. It was great. My sleeping schedule wasn’t as great, but I had nothing too significant to do in a strict, timely manner so it all worked out. Every day I wrote for at least an hour, and near the end I started writing for about an hour and a half to two hours. Usually I can accomplish six pages in an hour.

I also decided to try a sub-challenge as I went on; I later learned Camp NaNoWriMo was occurring, and looked up the general suggestions and rules for it. Because I was aiming for adding around 40k to my book, I felt it would be wrong to put all of my book in the box that you copy in. Therefore, I decided to try to do their suggested ~1,666 words a day. There were two days I didn’t manage to hit that goal, but the others made up for it. For my book, I wound up adding 51,989 words to my book for it to total 72,786. If you’re curious how I kept track of all the numbers, I tried out the 5KWPH app throughout the month to keep track of my writing sprints. I’m going to make a post about my experience with that soon, because through that I learned a lot as well.

So overall, my findings for my experiment were about what I expected, but it’s really cool to see the numbers behind my productivity. I wish I kept track of how much I wrote during January and February when I finished two books I’d been working on for years; it would’ve been wild to see the amount of words I wrote per day then! This experiment also tells me that I can most likely complete NaNoWriMo. It’ll be harder to accomplish from school being in session, but I’m sure I’ll find my way to succeeding with that as well.

I encourage anyone to try this out and see what your results are. It’s an interesting labor of love for writing and experiment to be able to see what you can accomplish. In my case, it wound up being rather encouraging, and I hope it is for you too!

REVIEW: The Babadook

With the Babadook resurfacing in popularity recently from becoming an LGBT+ icon (due to a mixup in Netflix’s labeling system and people running with it), I decided that it would be an opportune moment to talk about the movie it came from. Rotten Tomatoes’ generated critic score gave the movie a score of 98% Fresh, and the audience’s generated score is around 72%. Those are both some generous ratings. I would give it somewhere around a 65%, and that’s being generous.

This movie had so much hype when it originally came out; it made me want to enjoy it. It was recommended to me by one of my English teachers who asked if anyone in the class had seen it. She said her friend watched it and was really freaked out from it, and I told her I’d watch it to give her some insight. I’m not stirred by much in horror movies, and I love the creepy, psychological kind, so I figured if there was anyone in the class to take it on, it’d be me. If it was that scary, it would be a good movie, right? (I was wrong.)

We’re introduced to Amelia off the bat as a grieving wife because her husband died in a car crash on their way for her to give birth to their son. Immediately I thought: Oh. This is probably going to be some metaphorical thing for her grief in the end, isn’t it? I pushed that thought aside with hope that it would be something else as I continued to watch the incredibly slow-paced film.

It never built any tension up for me as it progressed; I found myself falling asleep during the mid-section. Although the movie is roughly an hour and a half long, it felt like it was twice that. The writers were hyperfocused on making sure the viewers knew that Samuel was a troubled child, and spent a majority of the movie showing the various ways he was acting out and how Amelia was failing to do anything that helped the situation, and actually made it variably worse. They did a very good job of making the viewers as annoyed as the Amelia, to the point where I too felt like strangling something. I was hoping she’d strangle the child because I couldn’t stand to watch him anymore. (I can’t stand misbehaved children on screen or in real life.)

The movie picked up pace when the mother was “possessed” by the Babadook because she let it into the house and let it take control of her. Unsurprisingly, and as I already had guessed, the Babadook became a personification of her grief, as she took a hold of it and dealt with it in the basement every day while her troubled child began to live a better life.

Very clearly, I’m not a fan of the writing. However, the movie was shot brilliantly enough that I was able to –at the very least—visually appreciate it. The color toning, the cuts, the environments, all of the actual filming and composition was well done. Even the special effects, while few and amateur, were effective. The actors played their roles well and were entirely convincing. They were just stuck with a bad script.

I really wanted this to be as impressive as the short film it was loosely based on. I saw the short film before the movie came out while on YouTube binge watching short horror films, and that captivated me much more than the actual movie itself. Meanwhile, my emotions shifted between bored and annoyed. _______ as a personification/metaphor for grief is an overused writing theme that, for a horror movie, just isn’t worth the time it’s given.

Whenever I see the image of the Babadook I don’t feel Amelia’s grief throughout the movie, or Samuel’s terror of the monster itself; I only feel rage for wasting 93 minutes of my life watching this shallow movie.