Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Writer's Worst Fear

In continuing with our new members theme's of what scares them, I'm going to jump on board and for my Year Of Living Authentically talk about something that scares the hell out of me: writer's block.

And we are not talking stuck in a plot hole or writing yourself into a corner with world canon.

 I'm talking about actually having nothing to say about anything.
Sam Jinks is awesome and creepy and awesome

Which I have been currently wading in knee deep for the past moth.

These are probably the first decent words that I've written in weeks. Everything else has been fluff with no real purpose. Wanderings, but not journeys.

Since I'm not on contract for anything (probably not helping the matter), I didn't realize I hadn't been writing. I only noticed when my hubby was like, "What have you been working on at night?" and the only answer I had for him was "Reorganizing my Pinterest boards and online shopping." But hey, my boards look gooooooood and I am totally ready for winter.

So I tried the normal stuff to get out of writer's block. I went to watch a movie, only to discover that everything I like to watch is totally not kid-friendly.

I tried just being outside to detox from my fluorescent-lit lifestyle, but allergies are terrible right now and I sort of like breathing through my nose and not itching all over.

And so I thought, Reading! I'll read more, only to find that nothing in my library even looked good and I have about 0 hours in the day to read and have recently discovered that audio books put me to sleep. So the normal routes to tempt my muse weren't/aren't an option right now.

So then I was like, Why don't I have anything to say? There is so much crap happening in the world right now. Why don't I have anything to say about it? (Yes, writers talk to themselves this much).

I had to go back and read a few of these posts to get the answer. Writers are hermits, but they need input so they can output. Writers are introverted souls, but they have to say YES sometimes. Writers have to experience things and I was just sitting at home, hiding from the heat and pollen.

So I'm saying YES again. I'm doing a book club tomorrow. I'm hosting parties for good causes. I'm volunteering to help my local chapter of NaNoWriMo with free lectures.

I am starting to Journey again and hopefully in the chaos of teaching and speaking engagement and the Ordeals that are the holidays, I will find something, I will see something. I will feel something that I have something to say about and have the courage to say it.

Wish me luck!

Amanda Arista

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sense of Place: Alternate Worlds Versus Our World ...

Recently I was asked whether I thought it was easier to achieve a strong sense of place in an alternate world, like Westeros in George RR Martin's A Game Of Thrones, or Haarth in my own The Wall of Night series — as opposed to Fantasy stories based in what is recognisably our world, like Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely or Patrica Brigg's Mercy Thompson novels.

Which created a fair amount of food for thought!

At one level, creating an alternate world may give you more freedom to create things the way you want, but I can also think of some contemporary urban fantasies where the use of real-world places are used to powerful ‘world building’ effect.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one great example, and Charles De Lint’s Newport another  — and I also love Charlaine Harris's Louisiana backdrop to the Sookie Stackhouse novels (televised as True Blood.)

And  in terms of almost-but-not-quite-this-contemporary-world building, I personally don’t think you can go past Robin McKinley’s urban fantasy, Sunshine ...

In all these stories the sense of place is very strong, almost a character in its own right, and I feel that this sort of world building would have taken considerable imagination and craft.

So, too, of course, does creating an alternate world — and although 'creating your own world' may give you more freedom, you also have to give considerable thought to creating landscape, built environments, and associated cultures, to ground your readers in an authentic sense of place.

So perhaps, in that sense,  being able to use our world, where those aspects are taken as given, is a little easier.

The excitement, though, arises in the successful contrast of the fantastic and paranormal with our everyday experience — something we're all about on the Supernatural Underground!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And now for something creepy: The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

It's almost-not-quite-October, and after numerous false starts on this post, I've decided to throw caution to the wind and talk about a creepy little novella that might have flown under your radar. First written in 1842, The Black Spider, remains one of my favorites, and I've read it a couple of times since discovering it last year.

Before we start, let me clarify that when I talk about horror, I don't think of slasher fiction, or torture porn. Those types of fiction simply aren't my speed.

I enjoy the gentle dread concealed within dark fairy tales and Gothic horror. The stories tend to be more intricate and rely heavily on a sense of mood and place. The Black Spider falls neatly on the side of the macabre, but Gotthelf does not rely on graphic descriptions of blood and gore. His is a much more subtle touch, one that I think you might enjoy.

The Black Spider is a Christian fairy tale filled with the familiar themes on the dangers of outsiders and dealing with the devil. There is an evil knight, frightened villagers, the devil, a good priest, and ... oh, a spider.

The story flips from the present to the past and back to the present. The prose is simple but exceedingly visual.

During a "modern day" (modern in 1842, anyway) christening party, the godmother of the child notices that although the grandparents' house is new, it contains a black post, which appears to be much older than the rest of the house. The child's grandfather then spins the tale of the black spider where we find that many, many years ago, the village was ruled by a Teutonic knight, who made terrible demands on his subjects. The villagers were too weak to deny him, and each task became more outrageous, more arduous.

The knight's cruelty culminates with a command to replant trees from a distant mountain to his estate. He wants a shady path to his castle. The people are faced with the terrible choice of either moving the trees and neglecting their harvests--thereby starving to death over the long winter--or resisting the knight and facing his wrath.

In pops the devil to the rescue.

Well, he doesn't actually "pop in," he sort of shows up in the guise of a "helpful hunter," known throughout the story as "the green man." All the green man wants in return for the boon of helping the villagers is a newborn unchristened child. Such a small thing to ask.

Of course, the villagers decline the offer.

Moving the trees becomes increasingly difficult, and as the knight's deadline and the harvest draw closer, one of the villagers, a woman named Christine, devises a plan. Christine advocates making the deal with the green man. Let him help them move the trees, and then when he comes for the newborn, she tells the villagers to have a priest present at the birth. That way, the priest can christen the child before the green man can claim the child.

Frightened of the green man, the villagers send Christine to negotiate the terms. Confident that her plan cannot go wrong, she meets the green man on the road, but Christine forgets one very important detail: the devil always finds a way to claim what is his. The green man seals their deal by giving Christine a kiss on the cheek.

No ordinary kiss is this.

"Basler-Kopp Die Schwarze Spinne"
by Franz Karl Basler-Kopp
Time goes by and one of the village women becomes pregnant. When she has her baby, the priest is called, and he christens the child before the green man can claim it. Everyone is fine, except for Christine, who feels as if "a glowing iron had suddenly been pressed to the spot where she had received the green man's kiss."

With each passing day, Christine suffers more and more from the green man's kiss. A black spot grows on her cheek. She appeals to the unsympathetic villagers, and begs them to give the green man the next unchristened infant. The villagers refuse to alleviate Christine's pain, and thus the spider is born.

Filled with dark delights that will leave the reader shivering, The Black Spider is an excellent story to kick off the haunted month of October.

Give it a read. You won't be sorry you did ... or maybe you will be ... just a little bit ... after dark.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

It Knows What Scares You

My favorite time of year is just around the corner. In preparation for that, I’d like to mention some of my favorite Horror novels and stories, and why I love them.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Last time, I mentioned that I love great dialog. The other thing I adore is atmosphere, and if there’s one thing that Jackson exceeds at, it’s atmosphere. She has a way with words and the psychology of her characters that’ll make your skin crawl. The other thing I adore about her is that she’s subtle. Everything seems ordinary on the surface, but the feeling of unease creeps in and builds and builds. Her skill with unreliable narrators is incredible. It’s like magic. I’ll give you the opening paragraph:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

I understand she based the setting on the Winchester House, which is interesting, since I understand there’s not a square corner to be found in it at all.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury 
This was the first adult SFF novel I ever read. I was obsessed with it as a kid, and I still read it every Halloween. Published in 1962, any spooky story involving carnivals and sinister wish-granters owes a debt to Bradbury. (Yes, including Stephen King’s Needful Things.) It’s a wonderful parable about the good and evil inside every human being. It’s about temptation, sin, love, and courage. It’s about hope too which is odd, I know, for a horror novel. That’s what’s so wonderful about it. And while I felt the film captured the feel of the novel perfectly, and the casting was dead right, I hated Disney’s version of the witch and its rewritten ending. (I still do.) The Dust Witch/Mummy is creepy as shit. Bonus points for killing off the Big Bad™ with a smile.
Carrie by Stephen King — Based loosely upon King’s memory of a long dead classmate, this is the most exquisite horror novel. So much of it resonated with me. I didn’t fit in as a kid, and King did a brilliant job of tapping into the psyche of the outcast teenaged girl. So much so, that it still rings true after all these years. (It was published in 1974.) Definitely read the novel—although, the 1976 film version is very good. With its fake newspaper clippings inserted in between chapters, Carrie references Truman Capote’s (non-fiction novel) In Cold Blood[1] in a way. Ultimately, it makes it even more realistic and terrifying. King’s book (like Capote’s) is a heavy-hitter. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful. (It’s also connected to Firestarter. Do read that too.)
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is a wonderfully creepy novel all on its own. Mind you, it has very little to do with the film. (I adore the film too.) Read it. It’s fantastic, poetic, atmospheric, and wicked. Hoffman is one of my favorite writers.
If vampires are your thing, I highly recommend Nancy Collins’s Sonia Blue series. Start with Sunglasses After Dark. Her work can be difficult to find, but it’s well worth the effort to track down. After Collins, I’d also recommend Charlie Huston’s Already Dead
If you like Lovecraft, I recommend Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft. Priest is a great writer. She took the Lizzie Borden story and gave it a Lovecraftian twist. Thoroughly researched, it’s really, really good in much the same way as the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore.
Speaking of comic books… the last thing I’ll recommend is John Constantine: Hellblazer. It is, hands down, one of my four favorite comic books ever. Forget the movie.[2] The comic book series is where it’s at. Constantine is a near-perfect analog for British Colonialism. Self-involved and arrogant, he takes anything he fancies will grant him a bit of power and makes it his own—and then everyone pays a very high price for it, including himself. It’s very dark and haunting and wonderful. The interesting thing is, I don’t much care for assholes who don’t get their due. And that’s why I love seeing Constantine getting the snot kicked out of him. I do feel a little sorry for him, but like every other person that knows him for longer than a quarter hour, I know he’s a weak asshole…except when he’s not. He’s complicated. I love complicated.
Enjoy! And have a wonderful October, y’all.
[1] By the way, Capote’s In Cold Blood is the first True Crime novel. If you’re into those, you should definitely read it. Then watch the film Capote afterward. It’ll thump you a good one upside the head, particularly if you’re a writer. Talk about horrific. Wow.
[2] Although, I admit I have a weakness for it [cough]Tilda Swinton’s Gabriel[cough], but even I have to think of it as a separate entity from the comics.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fact in Fiction: A Gate to Hell

Sometimes the saying is true: Fact is stranger than fiction. A writer will stumble over many examples of this in their research. We’ll look at it and say, “No one will believe that,” so we fictionalize it, oddly making it more “believable”. While writing The Dark Cycle Series I definitely found an example that fits this bill. 

The Devil’s Gate dam in Pasadena, California. Just the name of the place is confusing. Pasadena? What’s devilish about Pasadena? The Beach Boys said that’s where the little old ladies live. But then the Devil’s Gate part sends a bit of a shiver through the bones. And being in the location doesn’t help. If the stories of disappearances and deaths surrounding the land, and the strange rock formation shaped like a devil’s head don’t make you wary, then the story behind the myths most certainly will. 

The Devil's Gate Dam entrance
The land has always had the humans steering clear. Before the dam was built in the 1920s the Arroyo Seco River ebbed and flowed over the area on a seasonal whim. At times it would rage, causing serious flooding, then other parts of the year it would be as dry as a bone. The Native Americans believed that the land was cursed and barred their own from going anywhere near it, many saying there was a dark doorway in the area.

In the late 1940s, a very real reason became evident, and many more people began viewing the dam as a porthole to Hell, as one event after another spread the mythos. These events were said to be triggered by the real-life magic workings of the famous rocket scientist and occultist, Jack Parsons, along with the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. They believed the dam carried magical properties and powers, as the Native Americans had always said. But they also believed they could harness that power to call up something called, a moonchild; an anti-god that could abolish civilization as we know it. 

These rituals and magical spells (dubbed the "Babylon Working") performed at the dam, as well as at Parsons' home, were said to have opened a porthole to another world, allowing demons to come and go as they pleased. 

Occultist Marjorie Cameron (The Scarlet Woman) & Jack Parsons
Sounds crazy, right? And when you hear the whole thing (including Jack's belief that his wife, Marjorie, was the whore of Babylon) it seems like a story written by a seriously strange mind. 

Soon after the last ritual, Parsons died in an experiment he was performing at his magic-infused home, seemingly killing the myth of devils and gates along with himself. The man, L. Ron Hubbard, became a famous novelist and the leader of Scientology, and nothing more was said of the gate to Hell. It seemed to fade into obscurity. 

Until 1956 when two young children where brutally murdered on the land, their bodies later found when their killer committed suicide. A year later, another boy disappeared when he walked ahead on the path a few yards away from his family. Later that year, another boy vanished without a trace on the trails. Those two boys’ disappearance remain a mystery. 

Since the ‘50s the legend has only grown, with people who visit the area experiencing ghost sightings of a woman in white, feeling burning sensations, and coming home with mysterious scratches. People feel watched, chased, and touched by something in the shadows. Porthole or not, the fear of the land is very real. And the origin of this real life mystery is definitely stranger than fiction;  plus, there's so much more to the tale that I don't have room for here. I encourage you to look it up, especially if you like old Hollywood Heyday drama.

As an author who writes about portholes to the World of the Dead, and demons walking among us, I can’t imagine it all really happening. But what if it did in Pasadena? Apparently that little old lady The Beach Boys sang about was no slouch, living in such a dark and dangerous place. 


Rachel A. Marks is the author of The Dark Cycle series, beginning with DARKNESS BRUTAL. You can read more about her weird hobbies and see some of her artwork on her webpage: You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Introducing Teresa Frohock: A Very Warm Welcome To The Supernatural Underground, Teresa!


Welcome, Teresa Frohock
Today, I am delighted to welcome Teresa Frohock as a new member of the Supernatural Underground.

Teresa will be posting with us on the 30th of every month, so I hope you will join me in giving her a warm Supernatural Underground welcome to our community.

But first off, I must introduce her to you properly...

Teresa hails from North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which she tells me is a southern colloquialism for lying. She is also an author who has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. 
I first encountered Teresa in 2013, initially through the medium of her novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale (Nightshade, 2011), a supernatural fantasy with overtones of horror that I enjoyed very much.
So I was very excited when I learned that Teresa had a novella series, Los Nefilim, being published through Voyager Impulse -- and in fact the first book, In Midnight's Silence, has been recently released. 
It look's intriguing, doesn't it? You can read the synopsis and first chapter here:

Los Nefilim: The Fate Of Mankind Has Nothing To Do With Mankind …

And learn more about Teresa and her writing here:
I am sure it will make you eager to  check out her first post with us on September 30 – and welcome her to the Supernatural Underground in person.

In the meantime, to bridge your wait, here are links to early reviews of In Midnight's Silence:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Marinating Ideas

Loui Jover
Ideas hit hard and fast, right? A bolt out of the blue! A flash of insight! A stroke of genius!

Apparently, no.

Ideas do not come in a burst followed by the classical Eureka exclamation. They are not Athena, goddess of strategy, born fully grown, bursting from her father's head, wearing armor, shouting a war cry.

Research shows that ideas are a slow punch. They fade in after lingering in and around the corners of the mind.

Steve Johnson does a wonderful TED TALK on this. The upshot is, ideas marinate in a stimulating, chaotic soup. When we finally articulate them, they've actually been brewing for a substantial amount of time.

The myth of writers taking those long, solitary walks in nature, returning with the genius idea, or the philosopher sitting quietly by the fountain with chin resting on fist until realization bursts to life like a chorus of Kookaburras (listen to a chorus of Kookaburras here) is only partly true.

What really stimulates new ideas is coffee.

 Okay, not exactly coffee, but the coffee shop.

According to Johnson, the consumption of coffee coincided with the age of enlightenment, not so much for the stimulating properties, but because drinking more coffee meant drinking less alcohol. Let's face it, the water wasn't  exactly bacteria and parasite free. It was safer to drink beer, rum and wine day and night, which dulled the creative edge. Ideas definitely became sharper with the switch to a cup o' Joe.

Once out of the drunken stupor and into a kind of "writers room" environment with diverse and stimulating perspectives, ideas went wild, and they've been accelerating ever sense. The chaos and unpredictability of like and unlike minds, bantering in a free-for-all is much more conducive to flipping on the new neurons in the brain.
The Muses by Maarten van Heemskerck
Johnson says your office should look like a Maarten van Heemskerck rendition of Apollo and the Muses.
Think about it. Are the Muses - representing the manifestations of creative ideas - ever drawn in isolation, brows creased, nose in the books?

Most images I've seen are festival like dalliances that seem to go on day and night without end. There is definitely a lot of dancing and cavorting.

What this new research, and ancient wisdom, tells us about cultivating ideas can be summed up in four simple steps:

a) drink less alcohol

b) brainstorm with others

c) allow ideas to marinate and grow

d) nurture more connection; less protection

What I want to know is, where do your new ideas come from? Isolation or collaboration? A bit of both?

Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels.

You can find out more about Kim at the 11th House Blog, and on FaceBook and Twitter.

She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month.

Her latest release is "Blood and Water" in Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild