Like literary mad scientists in our labs, horror writers mix verbal solutions and concoct new terrors to unleash on the world. We take the wholesome goodness of something like a child’s laugh and pervert it until the reader feels a chill at its mention. Most cultures have a Halloween or Day of the Dead, where death is not a specter floating in the background, but the guest of honor.
Why do we celebrate death? What is the obsession with the macabre that makes us want to be afraid and stare at scenes no one should ever see? Why do we need horror?
For all its gore and guts, monsters and devils, fears and frights, horror is an art. Like all art, it has beauty, strange though it may be. Since all beholders are different, this beauty is not seen by everyone. All art forms share this challenge. Not everyone can appreciate the grace and strength of ballet, ordered chaos of abstract paintings, or rage-filled catharsis in rap and heavy metal. Artists practice for hours until each step, stroke, and verse is executed with a seemingly effortless perfection. Just as every pas and pirouette adds to the beauty of the dance, each carefully placed shadow and echoing footstep adds beauty to horror.
Beyond beauty, art feeds needs we may have not known we had. Art gives society the shared experiences that bind us together as one body with the senses it needs to thrive. As a world body, we see the harmony of colors, hear the melodies in life, and laugh at the absurd. We each appreciate these things differently, but we learn to perceive them through art.
Horror addresses fears. The dark. The unknown. The mad, wild, and insane. Evil in its infinite disguises. Pain. Bloodletting and disembowelment. Above all these, sits the timeless king of fears, ole’ Mr. Death. These are things which can never be controlled and, as such, cannot be avoided. What cannot be foreseen cannot be stopped. Madness defies logic and understanding. Evil always ignores the rules of righteousness and the safety these rules provide. There will be pain. Injuries will happen. Mr. Death is coming.
Horror tales are our waking nightmares with lessons to share. We must face the monster in the dark and feel the fear. If the fear grows too great, close the book, turn off the movie, look away, and feel safe again. After the terror subsides, we can be bold enough to look again, replay that movie, and open that book. If scared enough times by the monsters hiding in the dark, fear scares us less. The monster is not as big as we thought; the dark, not so mysterious. We can face uncertainty because we have seen these battles play out on screen or in pages. When we meet Mr. Death as we all must, we can match its empty-eyed stare with a steely-eyed glare of our own.
We learn to feel our fear and still do what needs to be. Acting in spite of fear is the essence of bravery.
So, write on, you Stealers of Sleep and Knitters of Night Terrors. Make the witch cast her spell, the ghost rattle his chains, and the werewolf howl at the moon. Bring Mr. Death in all his many forms. Create the nightmares the people of world need so badly. After the screaming and the tears, they will all thank you and line up again for another fright.
(Originally posted on Facebook on September 8, 2016)
I met a kid at the YMCA. What caught my attention was that he stuttered. I felt the need to talk to him and tell him that I can help him. I'm not even sure why I thought he needed help. I guess it was God talking to me. I met with him and his family and talked about my experience as a stutterer and how I've learned to be at peace with my stammer and stop fighting with it. This seemed like a totally new idea to them. They told me about all the therapy the kid had been through and how none of it worked. No one ever suggested to them that they should not fight against it but accept it because everyone stutters at some point - just that some do it more than others.
I started thinking this way after meeting the National Stuttering Association. Before that time, I was always hoping to beat my stutter. Then, I scored a job as a teacher before I realized that it meant I would be regularly talking for almost 4 to 6 hours every work day in front of three to thirty people, depending on enrollment. So I joined the NSA and hoped to find the magic bullet that would change everything for me and make my stutter stop.
I met Katherine. She's the first person I ever met that made me think that a stammer can actually be beautiful. She was so relaxed when she talked. She stuttered, but she didn't tense up and fight with it. She knew the tricks and techniques to work through the blocks - I watched her do easy onsets enough times that I learned how to do them - but she never seemed to be at war with it. I also learned that from another beautiful stutterer named Lucy. They were cool about it. Even kinda casual. Stuttering became as significant an issue to me as if someone spoke with a lisp or a foreign accent.
That was the first time in my life I learned not to fight with this demon. (BTW, I had literally been told by some well-meaning people that stuttering was a sign of having a demon attacking my soul and that I needed a laying on of hands to achieve deliverance. Even at a young age, I knew to smile and nod politely as I backed away towards the door.) From the NSA meetings, I learned the saying that "Stuttering is what happens when you try not to stutter". When I stopped fighting with it, guess what happened?
No, I still stuttered. But everyone stutters at some point. It's just that some do it more than others.
What happened was that I relaxed. If I stuttered, I stuttered. If I didn't stutter at any one moment, I would at some point later. And it's alright. It won't kill me. It's not a disability. It won't hold me back unless I let it. And now, I've been teaching for almost 10 years and I'm getting better at it every day. Not one time in any of my days as a teacher has anyone complained to me or my bosses about my stutter.
Maybe that's why I talked to the kid and his family. I remember what it was like to be 15 and stutter around kids who needed to make themselves look and feel better about themselves by picking on the kid who was different. Kids with stutters make for easy targets. I remember having well-meaning family who didn't know that things they were doing to help me talk was actually making the problem worse. I also remember that stuttering never stopped me from making friendships with people worth knowing and holding onto for the rest of my life. It never stopped me from telling a joke, though every PWS will tell you that we always block on the punchline. It did not stop me from having a rich and happy life full of love and good memories, and it wouldn't unless I allowed it to.
I stutter. You do, too. And that's alright, baby. That's alright.
Here are some comments I received to this post:
I refuse to allow stuttering to define me. I will allow the love and support of my friends and family to encourage me in my difficulties and challenges.
Music has the power to soothe the soul, drive people to obsession, and soundtrack evil plots. Is music the instigator of madness, or the key that unhinges the psychosis within? From guitar lessons in a graveyard and a baby allergic to music, to an infectious homicidal demo and melancholy tunes in a haunted lighthouse, Crescendo of Darkness will quench your thirst for horrifying audio fiction.
HorrorAddicts.net is proud to present fourteen tales of murderous music, demonic performers, and cursed audiophiles.
Please enjoy an excerpt below from Crescendo of Darkness.
“Circe’s Music Shop”
by A. Craig Newman
A music store owner, who won’t be bullied into submission, teaches two hitmen the meaning of pain.
“Check me,” Johnny said. “Do you see it?”
After a cursory inspection of Johnny’s waist, Fats replied, “No, boss. You look fine.”
Johnny made a mental to note to pay a visit to his tailor later. For a $1000 suit, he ought to look better than fine.
Fats opened his leather jacket enough for Johnny to see the silver .38 revolver in his shoulder holster.
“You really expecting trouble here, boss?”
“Two weeks ago, two of my top earners came in here and disappeared. A week ago, two more do the same. Let’s just say I want to be ready for anything.” Johnny took out a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Fats led the way down the stairs from street level to the basement store. Above the door was a small lit sign displaying, “Circe’s Music Shop.” There was no storefront window or neon lights or signs with posted hours. Just a small sign over a solid oak door in the basement of a brownstone.
When Fats opened the door, it struck a bell, announcing their presence. The young black lady behind the glass counter to their left looked up at the two men, and then went back to her reading. They closed the door, striking the bell again. Fats walked deeper into the store. Johnny stayed at the front and looked around.
The store was small, but functional. Musical instruments of all types were mounted on the walls, grouped into functional sections—guitars, basses, and violins; trumpets, saxophones, and flutes; clarinets, oboes, and pipes; and all kinds of drums. There were tables against the walls lined with sheets of music, books, tapes, and CDs. If it weren’t for the open central space to the shop, the place would have seemed impossibly cluttered. As it was, there was only a path through all the ordered chaos to a beaded curtain on the back wall.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” The lady didn’t look up from her book.
“Are you Circe?” Johnny laid his hat on the counter.
“No, I’m Tamisha. There is no Circe.”
“You’re the only one that works here?”
“Owner, proprietor, and sole employee.”
Johnny nodded and wiped his eyes again as he noticed Fats walk through the door at the back of the showroom.
“What is your friend doing?” She turned a page.
“Just checking to make sure we’re alone.”
“We need to be alone?”
Johnny leaned on the glass counter. “Well, we’ve got some important and urgent business to discuss with you and we want to be sure we aren’t disturbed.”
“Ah. Well, he needn’t bother. There’s no one else here.”
“We just wanna make sure. Say, whatcha readin’ there?”
“It’s been around for more than two thousand years. Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty good.”
Fats reemerged from the backroom and nodded. Johnny crooked his thumb toward the door.
“Now, we can talk,” Johnny said as Fats locked the front door.
“So, talk,” Tamisha said without looking up.
Johnny reached over and grabbed her book.
“I would like your undivided attention.” He closed the book with a loud clap and tossed it onto the glass counter.
Tamisha sighed and rose from behind the counter. Green and purple flowers on her floor-length dress rippled as she walked to the front of the counter and sat cross-legged on the glass.
“And now you have that. What are you names, sirs?”
“I’m Johnny Teardrop.”
“‘Teardrop’? Sounds like a nickname. Why do they call you that?”
Johnny wiped his eyes again. “Because I kiss the girls and make them cry.”
Tamisha smiled. “Right. Ok. And your name, sir?”
Fats made no effort to answer.
“His name isn’t important. If I like the answers to the questions I have to ask, you’ll never have to deal with him.”
Tamisha nodded. “I’m all ears. Ask away.”
“Four of my boys paid you visits to talk business. I was wondering if you remember them.”
“What kind of instruments did they need?”
“Not that kind of business. They wanted to discuss our insurance policy with you. A policy that all your fellow business men and women in the area have purchased.”
“Insurance? Hmmm…this is starting to sound familiar. Do you have pictures of these men?”
Johnny snapped his fingers and Fats produced a picture of four men on a boat holding up an enormous bluefish. Tamisha smiled and nodded instantly.
“Yes, yes. They didn’t all come together. But the guitar, the mandolin, the kettle drum, and the recorder—I remember these men well.”
To read the rest of this story and thirteen
other horror music shorts, check out:
Crescendo of Darkness
Edited by Jeremiah Donaldson
Cover by Carmen Masloski
Let music unlock your fear within.
(Originally posted on Facebook on September 14, 2016)
How I write:
Sit in a room alone with writing equipment, prepared to create.
Stare at the paper and write nothing.
Wonder why I'm not writing
Wonder why I'm not having any ideas
Stress that I've lost my ability to write
Realize that writing is all I've ever wanted to do and I'm nothing without it.
Hear the voices of people who told me to give up
Hear my own desperate plea to God for inspiration
Hear my loved ones who have cheered me on to chase my dream
Hear the naysayers argue with my loved ones as to why my writing is worthless
Hear my loved ones tell the naysayers eat it cuz I got talent
Hear the naysayers promise to lay the smackdown on the loved ones for being stupid
Hear my loved ones threaten to rip the naysayers lungs out if they say anything else
Hear God say "The voices in your head are arguing, and you're just sitting there???"
Write down what the voices are saying
Hand in first draft
Drink until the voices stop
At Wilkes University's Creative Writing program, I learned that much of what I had learned about writing was wrong. Over the years, I had heard and shared plenty of "rules" about writing that were more restrictive than they were helpful. I was encouraged to read other published and successful authors and see just how many of them break the rules and the writing is better because of it. When I saw this pattern, I tried to throw out those rules.
This list is not a list of rules. They are not restrictive at all. Instead, I find these ideas and practices to be quite liberating. I've never written them all down and shared them with anyone. I hope you enjoy reading them and that they encourage you to write as well.
I am quite excited about developments in my writing career that have taken place over the past year.
Relaunching this website was a big step for me. It gave me a chance to re-imagine what I wanted it to do and style it towards those goals. I took the time to rewrite a story or two and to post new work and some older work that had not seen the light of day before. In short, I'm putting myself out there for everyone to see. I suppose this is my way of "embracing my destiny" to be the kind of writer I am.
I'm sorry if anything I write offends anyone. It's not my desire to be "controversial" or extreme in my content or style. I just want to tell good stories and have fun doing it. I am having fun; you can judge if the work is good.
It's been almost a year since my last posting. I have not written much original work since then. When I sat down to write, nothing came out. As I said before, I had no voice, so I didn't know what to say.
I did, however, get accepted to a graduate school program. I'm attending Wilkes University's Master of Arts in Creative Writing. It is a low-residency program, which means that I will be attending classes on the campus twice a year and the rest of the work will be from home. My first residency was last week. It was many times better than I thought it would be.
I met so many accomplished writers who are members of the faculty that I lost count. Many of them had been published many times over and are doing what I aspire to do one day - make a living with words. They were very approachable and willing to discuss writing and their work at any moment. They talked with the students about their writing techniques. Some things, like a penchant for writing longhand, were things I do and enjoy already. Other things, like the need for daily exercise, were things I knew that I should add to my routine and process. None of it was unobtainable. They made me feel that I had a chance to be a good writer one day. They enjoyed my work and encouraged me to keep on my chosen path.
I also met a great bunch of new friends in the other students who were in the cohort. (Currently nicknamed "The Band of Misfits") They were all great writers with vastly different personalities, funny as all hell, and supportive of each other. When I stood to read and started by saying bad things about my work or myself, they admonished me to let the work speak for itself and not to "poison the well!" They, too, encouraged me to just be myself and write what I enjoy. But they also let me know that I'm not going through this alone. They will be my friends and partners and support structure as I will be to them and we all move towards writing success.
I left the residency aching to write. Unfortunately, I've been told to hold off until the assignments come in from school and focus on school work. :( This is good advice, I know. But now, for the first time in a long while, I'm hearing a distant voice. What exactly it sings is a little to indistinct to hear. It's too soft and too far away. But I hear it. The voice is mine and it sings the future of my work and talent. I can't wait to hear that song up close. That's when I will produce again. I'm moving towards the voice on this journey of mine to writing success. And I'm hearing more and more every day.
I was watching a Biography Channel special on Stephen King. I used to read his work constantly when I was in high school. In college, I remember being so frightened by one story, "The Mist", that I didn't want to be left in my apartment alone that night. No lie, I had to go to my friend Tamisha's apartment for a couple hours so my heart would stop racing. I would trade a year of my life for the secrets to how that man does what he does. I say that I want to be the Black Edgar Allan Poe, but it wasn't always that way. Originally, I wanted to be the Black Stephen King. So, I tend to jump at any chance to learn more about the man and his work and his process.
I knew some things about his story before watching the show. I knew he was in a bad financial situation when he got Carrie published. I knew he didn't like Carrie when he first wrote it. He threw it out and his wife had to save it from the trash. What I didn't know is that after Carrie was published and he started making a name for himself, he went to some old novels he had written and tried to get them published too, even though they had been rejected by others. This was when he got Rage published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
Now, you've got to understand that I think Mr. King's best work was Carrie and Rage. His later books are awesome, but I thought those were AWESOME. Carrie ought to be required reading for anyone learning to structure their own story. He experiments with storytelling techniques and I think he succeeds marvelously. And Rage was such a surprise wonder to me. I read that story in high school and I remember thoroughly enjoying it, even if I didn't understand it all. Chris Leon, my best friend at the time, and I debated its meaning and characters' motivations as if we were in English class.
Here's what bothered me about what I saw in this show, however. First, Mr. King wrote for a long time before he landed Carrie - long enough to have a cache of novels to go back to to review for publication when the opportunity came. That takes patience and drive. LOTS of patience and drive. I'm working on one novel now and it's driving me insane. I can't picture working on novel after novel after novel and not getting proper responses or respect for any of them. That's what he faced and he kept fighting on. I wonder if I have that in me, and I fear that I don't. Will I try a couple times, fail as most writers are doomed to fail, and give up? Or will I have the heart and the balls to power through and keep getting smacked down again and again and hope that I have something - SOMETHING - in me that will be publishable one day? No, neither option sounds particularly enticing.
But, that's the problem - it's not an "option". I used to call writing "my madness" because getting a story stuck in your brain is like having a mental illness. I remember my brother used to ask me who I was talking to when no one was around, but I was acting out some scene I imagined my characters in some story going through. A story gets in your veins and goes to your brain and you get hooked on it. You feel euphoric when you get a scene right and depressed when you can't figure out exactly what dialogue a character might say. You get to this point where you've GOT to finish writing the story. You're obsessed! Food? Don't bother me with trifles such as food when I've got the lives of a collection of slaves in my hand and I need to get them to safety! THIS IS IMPORTANT! I MUST figure out what drives my main characters and why they constantly conflict, yet seem to love each other. This is no "option"! This is a central force of my life!
As I watched this biography and thought of the man's work, I realized that success in an art form is a mixture of so many things, including a healthy portion of luck. Whenever you have someone who relies on luck, they have a secret that most people don't consider: If you play any game of luck enough times - stick to it long enough - you're bound to get lucky to some degree at least once. Are you guaranteed to hit the trifecta? No, but at least one of you horses will come in if you bet enough times. Win the lottery? No, but you'll hit the Powerball a couple times - giving you just enough money to buy more lottery tickets. Write enough books enough times and send them to enough people and - if you've got ANY true writing talent - you're bound to hit on something at least once. It may not be the big win, but it certainly won't be a loss.
I want the Big Win, however. So fine, there's luck, but I want his other gifts. Mr. King found the right stories to go with his particular voice. Every artist needs to find the subject that matches his technique and style. Picture the David carved by Rodin. Mona Lisa by Picasso. Ode to Joy by Quincy Jones. None of that makes any damn sense, does it? Why? Because the artists are talentless? Not at all! Each one is a master craftsman. The subjects were bad? No, they are beautiful each one. But put the right two together - the right subject/work with the right artist - and you've got lightning in a bottle. Pick the wrong combination and you've just got your basic flashlight. Only Stephen King could have written Carrie, Rage, Firestarter, It, The Stand, Misery, Christine, etc. Those were his masterpieces and they ring with his voice.
I have no freaking voice. I haven't found it yet. I don't know how I sound when I sing, so I don't know what song sounds best from me. I don't know what I want to say or how I'm going to say it yet. Right now, I'm floundering and hoping a hit on something that says "Craig Wrote Me and I Am AWESOME!!!" Instead, my work seems to say "Craig Wrote Me. Read Me if You Have an Hour To Kill."
This novel I'm writing isn't great and it's frustrating me. It's average. It's mediocre. I set out to write the definitive ghost story and I fell like I've kept the "definitive" and forgotten the "ghost story". I spend so much time explaining everything and I don't spend enough time scaring anybody! Explanation isn't scary! After months of work, it hit me yesterday that what is UNKNOWN is scariest. The reader will be far more traumatized by what is hidden by the mist than by what they see. What's a freaking ghost story that isn't scary? I'm almost afraid to have anyone read it because I don't want to defend its mediocrity.
So here I am looking at my work and this story and wondering "What would Stephen King Do?" The story isn't done yet, but it doesn't seem to be going how it should go. Do I trash it and hope someone saves it for me? Do I finish it and then put it on the shelf for consideration later? Do I just move on to a new story and come back to it when I rediscover my love for it? I feel as if I'm at a crossroads and I don't know where to go. Do I press on, turn left, turn right, or just abandon the whole damn thing and turn back?
I've been working on this story under the advice I got from a book on writing. The advice was "FINISH THE DAMN NOVEL!" It seemed like good advice, but I may not take it. I think it might be best to walk away from it for a bit and work on other ideas. Maybe I can find that voice I seem to be lacking.
Over the years, I've taken a couple different courses in starting businesses. I haven't been successful yet, but I did pick up a really important talent: creating a business plan. Whenever I do this, I find myself enjoying the process, even to the point of exhilaration. It's exciting to think of all the possibilities you could possibly take and pick the direction you want to go in. You decide who your market and audience is going to be and how you're going to get their attention. You step back and honestly try to assess the feasibility of what you're doing.
I started writing a business plan for my writing career this weekend. I'm not foolish and I know there are some things over which I have no control. I don't know when I'm going to get published and if or when I'm going to be famous. But that's not the point. The point is to exam your possibilities and pick a course. The point is to make a plan for your journey so you know where you're going. And that's what I feel like I'm doing right now. I'm embarking on a journey as a writer.
So I set up a schedule for myself where I'm doing something related to my writing career practically every day. I think it's pretty ambitious. Of course, my wife will tell me when I've spent too much time in my laboratory, cooking up a new monster to unleash on the world. She knows how I can get lost in a new project and forget to do the important things like tend to life. I get tunnel vision when I work on a new business and tunnel vision when I write. So, I'll need someone to snap me back to reality.
Well, I look forward to getting lost in this project. Do me a favor and send me a note if you haven't heard from me in a while. Fire off a flare. Send out a search party. Have them check my desk first.
I saw a video online that reminded me of my son.
My son is 4 years old and has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In short, he shows some of the signs of autism, but to a lesser degree than many, more severe patients. He's in a great preschool program now and he's showing great signs of improvement. When he's ready for kindergarten, he should be main-streamed.
His improvement makes me happy. I look forward to a day when I can read him something I wrote as a bedtime story. Of course, it'll be something with a lot less blood and guts as my usual gore-fest, but I want to read my work to him, even if I have to explore an unfamiliar genre. When he's older, I want him to want to read Daddy's novels. I want his feedback on if it was good or bad and what he thinks would make it better. When he's a man, I want him to want to read Dad's work to his kids. Most of all, I want him to be proud of Daddy. I want him to look to me with the same love, awe, and respect I looked through when I was a boy looking at my Daddy.
I get inspiration for different stories from different places and at different times. As writers, we should always keep our eyes open for the next idea that might take hold of our imagination. But Sam is the reason I write at all nowadays. I feel that success as a writer will make him most proud of me. When I look at my current stories, I wonder, "What will Sam think when he reads this?"
Sam, when you read all this one day, I want you to know that Daddy loves you very much. You are my inspiration to be the best writer - to be the best man - I can be. You've given me the gift every writer needs to succeed: motivation! You make me want to write. I hope you're proud of what Daddy does.
Give your father a call. I'm sure he misses you.