5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

When struggling writer and paranormal podcaster Noelle Blackwood gets the opportunity to ghostwrite for a bestselling thriller author, it seems almost too good to be true. The only catch is that she has to stay at The Oralia hotel until she’s done. Method becomes madness as she falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of her own story and the demons it awakens. He Has Many Names is a fresh spin on the Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil story in the age of artistic desperation.

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WRITING FROM A FEMININE PERSPECTIVE TAKES NUANCE

In the first draft of He Has Many Namesmy editor wasn’t sure if the hero was a man or a woman. The protagonist was named Noelle but she spoke with the stock phrases one might find in a detective film. I’d just been writing a mystery and the lingo had rubbed off on Noelle.

When asked to make Noelle more feminine I didn’t want to emphasize what she was wearing or file her jagged edges down. Characteristics we identify as feminine like gentleness, tolerance, and sensitivity don’t fit Noelle. The Hollywood studio scene has hardened her. This doesn’t mean she’s stoic, like many women written by men, just that she’s tired embodying all those things people in her field consider feminine.

Leza Cantoral gave me great notes on Noelle’s voice. It helps having a female editor.

Noelle has traits that aren’t traditionally feminine in horror fiction (especially in films). She’s skeptical of the supernatural, ambitious to a fault, quick-witted, a tad catty, a bit jealous, and extremely resourceful.

SinceHe Has Many Namesis a story about storytelling from the perspective of a writer I thought it would be fun for Noelle to comment on what audiences expect from women in stories (especially in film). A producer once told Noelle she shouldn’t write herself into her own stories because she’s not very likeable. They want women to be sympathetic and vulnerable, but so resilient they never waste time whining or sulking. They want women to be gorgeous yet so modest as to be unaware of their beauty. They want women to be driven but not competitive.

I thought it’d be cool if Noelle acknowledged those contrasts before telling the audience she’s not going to write herself like that.

IF YOU PROMISE A DEVIL DELIVER ONE

The title He Has Many Namesis a direct reference to you-know-who.

Who has horns on his head?

Who has skin that’s very red?

Who has a beard on his face?

Who keeps souls in a case?

Horns on head, skin that’s red

Beard on his face, souls in a case

Must be Satan, must be Satan

Lord of the dark realm

In the first draft the entity haunting Noelle was something else entirely. I thought I was being clever setting up Satan and then hitting the audience with a sucker punch, but it was a let down. While the final draft retains many of its twists the true devil makes a grand entrance. Make no mistake Hell factors heavily into this story.

As much as I wanted to play with the audience’s expectations I forgot the “Chekhov’s gun” rule of storytelling: if a pistol is hung on the wall in the first act it ought to go off in the second. In the same sense: if someone speaks of the devil in your first act the devil better rain brimstone down on everyone in the second.

CENTER EVERYTHING AROUND THE THEME

When I started writing He Has Many NamesI had a good concept: horror writer is sequestered in a haunted hotel room, but no clear theme, no thesis statement to leave readers with, no enlightenment to go with my entertainment.

The theme presented itself in the second draft (which was more of a reimagining than a mere edit).

He Has Many Names is about creators’ relationships with their audience. Be it a writer contemplating what horror readers are looking for or a devil pondering the quality of worship their reputation hath wrought. It’s about creators using art to take control of their lives only to then lose control of their art.

Once I knew the theme it informed every storytelling decision I made from then on.

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BEING TOO META

At a certain point in He Has Many Namesit’s revealed that the story we’re reading is the one Noelle is submitting to her publisher. This is shown in a scene where Matilda McDonald, the publisher, tears everything we’ve just read apart. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written and I tried to replicate that scene one too many times later on.

I’d over-complicated the story by including references to Noelle’s imagined ending, an alternate scenario that pandered to the psychological thriller twists readers had been conditioned to expect. It was my way of playing with the readers’ expectations while promising them that this story was going someplace different.

The problem with Noelle’s prophetic ending is that it made her an utterly unreliable narrator. While it’s clear that Noelle is taking artistic license in describing these events I didn’t want the reader to feel like she was bullshitting them. So I made some adjustments. Noelle references the alternate ending, but assures us we’re reading the one that’s based on actual events.

NOT EVERY SCARY STORY NEEDS TO END WITH AMBIGUITY

Some of my favorite scary stories leave readers wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. For great examples of this type of horror check out Paul Tremblay’s ambiguity trilogy: Head Full of Ghosts,Disappearance of Devil’s Rock, and The Cabin at the End of the World.

He Has Many Namesstraddles the line between psychological and supernatural horror but ultimately it picks a side. I thought about ending the story in such a way where the reader had to sift through clues to suss out what happened, but decided it would be more rewarding if suspicions were confirmed and given a hard “yes.”

I wanted to reward attentive readers for paying attention, while giving everyone a big bold note to go out on. Without spoiling everything I chose a grandiose conclusion over an ambiguous one. Continue reading 5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

Is there Such a Thing as Toxic Positivity?

To the untrained eye I could easily be mistaken as a high-energy person. I tend to be the Tigger to other peoples’ Eeyore, getting them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

Just this weekend a friend (in his thirties) invited me to a corn maze for his birthday. When we got there it became apparent that the site had been set up for children. There was an old fashioned fire engine swarming with toddlers like war boys in a post apocalyptic wasteland.

Most folks from my generation would park on the picnic benches, pound a few brews back, and go home. Rather than roll my eyes at the kid friendly festivities I took to them with gusto. Yes. I got my face painted like Spider-Man. Yes. I rolled around in corn. Yes. I met a camel. We raced down slides, bounced on trampolines, and fired miniature pumpkins out of cannons.

I like to have fun when I can. Odds are you wouldn’t know I have clinical depression unless I told you (and many don’t believe me when I tell them). I try not to wave my depression around like it ought to grant me special privileges. I don’t wear it on my sleeve like some kind of HANDLE WITH CARE label, and I don’t like to brag about it like its some hard-earned merit badge.

My depression is there. It is what it is. I function with it on stage and deal with it behind the scenes. A good actor will tell you that you really can’t fake a smile. If the zygomatic major in your cheek and the orbicularis oculi in your eye socket are out of alignment your smile won’t seem genuine. So when I’m smiling it’s not a false front. I’m happy with you in that moment, but moments later off stage I might find myself sulking. Sometimes my energy gets depleted. Sometimes my daydreams take a hard left into nightmare country, and sometimes I’m down for no reason. It happens.

My high-energy public persona is no lie. It’s just a concentrated burst of energy. It’s who I wish I could be all the time, but I’m so often socially sprinting.

The world wants people to be at their sunniest when they’re in public. Just look at how many job postings make sure to specify they’re looking for “High energy, positive, people persons.”

Sometimes that’s an easy request to satisfying and sometimes it’s exhausting. In either event I do my best to keep my darkness in check while I’m in public.

That having been said STOP TELLING ME HOW TO FEEL IN PRIVATE.

Motivational Memes Are Anything But

Stop filling my Facebook feed with the type of positive affirmations that blame the victim for not seizing every goddamn moment. Can’t I have a minute to breathe without the Carpe diem consortium telling me how I ought to be living?

According to a meme I keep seeing Lao Tzu once said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Well Lao Tzu’s tense-centric over simplification doesn’t factor basic neurobiology into the equation.

Then there’s this chestnut, “Drama does not just walk into your life. You either create it, invite it, or associate with people who bring it into your life.”

Did you catch all that? That serotonin imbalance you inherited from your parents: that’s your fault, as were the circumstance you were born into, obviously. Oh and that traumatizing event you’re still struggling to cope with: also totally your fault. Didn’t you know you could live drama free if only it occurred to you to flip your outlook switch?

(BTW if you have the above quote tattooed to your ribcage I assure you you’re the dramatic one in your friends’ lives.)

This last example beautifully sums up my problem with these motivational memes. “Happiness is a choice. You’re the only person who can make you happy. You’re as happy as you choose to be. – Rick Warren.”

Tell an amputee they that they should choose to have their limbs back. Tell a blind person that they ought to choose to see. Tell a person with severe clinical depression that they should choose to be happy always all the time.

Toxic Positivity (or When Positive Statements Make You Feel Bad)

As someone with depression I choose to be functioning and sometimes that decision alone takes all of my engines. If I end up feeling happy well that’s just gravy, but it takes a lot more effort than a mere attitude adjustment to keep me going.

Most embroidered quotes are just fluff, but the above examples aren’t harmless. They have a cumulative effect. They remind you that you’re malfunctioning. They make it seem like other people can feel better by simply looking in another direction.

These motivational memes represent a kind of toxic positivity. When you share them I question your capacity for empathy. They make me wonder if you’ve lived a sheltered life. I interpret them as your way of announcing your status as a fair weather friend.

Positive sentiment doesn’t bother me in and of itself. Of course I want to adjust my outlook, but these quotes are never the epiphany they present themselves to be. They’re ill equip to carry anyone through the decades of emotional heavy lifting needed to affect real change. At best they’re junk food for thought, at worst they’re perky people’s way of telling the rest of us we’d be prettier if we smiled more.

These quotes appeal to our optimistic selves. They’re sugary and sweet but they lack any of the intellectual nourishment we need to improve our situations. They trick us into thinking that a positive outlook is all we need to better our lives. Our outlook does matter, just not as much as the steps we regularly take to function.

Just as I think it’s bullshit to body shame someone who isn’t runway thin, I think it’s bullshit to outlook shame someone because they’re not smiling like Tony Robbins all the time.

Long Rant Made Short

Just because positive messaging gets the blessing of social media algorithms doesn’t mean you should share that shit all the damn time. Congratulations on having a naturally positive attitude. You’re one of the lucky ones. Just recognize that you can’t prescribe your genetics and your circumstances to everyone. Realize that your good outlook didn’t happen in a vacuum. Sure, you made choices that got you there, but you had your share of blessings too.

Wear a grin if that’s how you feel, but know that you sound like a catcalling construction worker if you tell someone else to smile for your benefit.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

Every reality show needs a villain: a Simon Cowell, a Gordon Ramsay, a Donald Trump, a personality that makes everyone on set nervous. Someone who flies into fits without notice, hurling insults, criticism, and sauce pans at everyone.

Every Bachelor needs a bad bitch that calls out the bumps on the other contestants’ lips. Every courtroom needs a judge who threatens to use her gavel as an enema. Every Jersey dinner table needs a host who’s willing to call a guest a “Prostitution whore!” Demented divas give delicious sound bytes. Give them a 15-second spot and they will make an impression. It’s these villains that get viewers tuning in.

Conflict is the heart of drama and good television thrives on it. So why do so many Ghost-hunting shows have so little of it? For all their dramatic tone they are light on actual drama. As Ghost Hunterswraps up on the SyFy network and looks for a new home for its 12th season might I make a suggestion? Hire me to be your villain.

My background as a horror author makes me uniquely qualified for investigating the paranormal, and my background as an asshole (ask anyone I’ve dated) makes me ideal for reality TV. I could be your Spencer Pratt, your Puck, your Omarose.

As a purveyor of paranormal potboilers I’ve researched my share of supernatural lore. I know the long told legends, the urban myths, and the natural explanations behind them. My research has left me with an entrenched sense of skepticism. Continue reading Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

Buried Beneath a Dollar Sign

I can be
So off the cuff, so genuine
Just watch me
As I moonwalk over landmines
You will find
My loose lips so engaging
You won’t mind
My constant calls for action

I will give
Too much information
I will live
Like there’s no filters on my emotions
My realist real
Will give you all the feels
My authentic appeal
Will seal a lot of deals

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

My big secret
Is a whisper campaign
I started it
Because I have no shame
I have no need
For an advertising agent
Now that eavesdropping
Is a form of engagement

It’s a calculated risk
Yeah, I’ve done the math
I’m a prophet with a motive
I’m a social media sociopath
So talk your shit
Spread it across the city
Call me a skeptic
Because I don’t believe in bad publicity

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

We ripped up Main Street
Gutted all the malls
Circled the supercenters
And tore down the walls
We pushed all the sales reps
Out the sliding doors
Now the retail sector
Knows no borders

There are ads in the classroom
Influencers on the dance floor
Moneylenders in the temple
Because nothing’s sacred anymore
There’s sponsored content
In casual conversation
And the last shred of humanity
Is buried beneath a dollar sign

Dear Non-Creative People

Respect One Another’s Creative Energy

Everyone has their own way of recharging. Some join friends at the bar for karaoke. They stumble out of the bathroom with their pants at their ankles to sing along with off-key.

“Sweet Caroline. Bah-bah-bah!”

Some set out wine and cheese platters and go around in circles discussing highbrow literature. Some park themselves in an ass grove and multi-slack, gaming on one screen and crushing half a season of science fiction on the other.

Others sling yoga mats over their shoulders and stretch that tension out, others sprint around the neighborhood at 4AM, and others lift ingredients into pans.

Whatever it is that you do to revitalize your vitality may good vibes be upon you.

My Vice

I write. I love the activities listed above, but writing gives me a sense of agency I don’t get from other outlets. Blogging gives my passing observations a sense of permanence. Poetry gives my abstract emotions a tangible form, and narrative writing turns my daydreams into something worth sharing.

When the writing is flowing it’s a big jolt to my self-esteem. When it’s not it taxes the energy it’s supposed to be replenishing. After a day of dealing with draining customers and a night of staring at a blank page I find myself completely tapped. I don’t even have the energy to make a Netflix selection let alone migrate to the bed from my couch cushions.

Creative endeavors are both risky and rewarding. Measuring the costs and the benefits is an undertaking. A lot of patience goes into fine-tuning that work/life balance.

As artists age we can’t help but compare our status to our career minded friends. How are we supposed to afford children in this economy when our Amazon royalties are but pennies? As our lives fill with commitments our creative careers go on the back burner.

A lot of artists give up and way they reconcile with all that wasted energy is by distancing themselves from their creative identities. Continue reading Dear Non-Creative People

Thoughts on Turning 29 for the Umpteenth Time

When it comes to attaching expectations to annual events I go off like clock work. On News Years Eve I keep my head down at the count down. On Valentine’s Day I listen to a well-curated playlist of sad songs, and on my birthday I do everything I can to avoid introspection. I have a bad tendency to throw myself a pity party, to review the previous season’s events and try to figure out where it all went wrong. It’s my party and I’ll stare off into the middle distance if I want to, stare off into the middle distance if I want to, stare off into the middle distance if I want to. You would too if you were a maladaptive daydreamer like Drew.

I’ve taken another trip around the sun, but this one feels different than the last few. I’m not so worried about getting lost in the Twilight Zone of my subconscious tonight.

Rather than hold my head and wonder, “When the hell are things going to start happening?” I already know the answer.

The answer is NOW BITCHES. Things arehappening. No vows have been exchanged, no baby names have been chosen, but soon my name will soon be in print. That’s a hell of a lot of something.

Sure I’m one year further from being a rock star, but I’m one year closer to being an author (I’ve been a writer for a while, but now I’m finally getting my ass published).

This year, rather than stare off into the middle distance counting super heroes in my head to give myself a distraction I’m going to count my blessings.

I’m older, but despite a few gray hairs and handful of smile lines I haven’t aged too hard. I’m hoping I have Paul Rudd syndrome in that I have a few more decades of looking like this to look forward to (knock on wood, knock on all the wood).

I’ve also got Nemo, an adorable kitten that tears my flesh to ribbons.

And I have book called HE HAS MANY NAMES and another secret project that I’m editing (it’s called I AM FIRE slide into my DMs so I can spoil the ending).

Anyway. I have birthday reservations at my favorite establishment.

Word up to all my fellow Virgos (even though we notoriously don’t believe in astrology).

The Apple Watch Ritual

The following is inspired by the surge in instructional rituals circulating the net. Each ritual is a complex variation on the old Bloody Mary game. They take Creepy Pastas and urban legends and invite readers to participate in them. They’re good for a shiver, but they feel like they’re missing some modern flare. My ritual fixes that.

The Apple Watch Ritual

Is your Instagram feed filled with before and after photos of friends in loose fitting clothes? Are you tired of looking for reasons to stay in during swimsuit season? Or do you just want the kind of definition that attracts attention?

Well I know a way that’s guaranteed to give you results overnight. I’m talking washboard abs, bulging biceps, and a beefed up badonkadonk. It’s the ultimate workout ritual. All you’ll need is a pair Apple Watches, the drive to succeed, and a fresh corpse.

Warning:this ritual could exhaust, severely injure, and perhaps even kill you. It will most definitely void your warranty.

The Ritual

Park outside of a funeral home right before it opens. Have an Apple Watch on a charger mounted to the dashboard. You’ll also need a layer of Under Armor beneath your funeral attire, a pair of running shoes on the passenger seat, and a Teddy Bear.

Set up an Apple ID for the watch on the dashboard. Open the activity app on your phone, tap Sharingand make sure the watch on your wrist is following the one on the dashboard.

Wait for the funeral director to open the doors and for the grief stricken to start pilling in. Smear a scoop of Vapor Rub beneath your eyelids (not in your eyes, that will cause severe irritation). Check the whites of your eyes in the mirror as the menthol does its thing. Once your eyes are as red as the devil’s dick you’re ready to make your entrance.

Yes, you’re going to be crashing a wake.

Enter the funeral parlor cradling the Teddy Bear. Find the next of kin and insist the deceased made you promise they’d be buried with it. Now pay your respects. The bear is there to give you the opportunity to tie the Apple Watch around the body’s cold pulseless wrist.

Important! You’ll need to make sure the body is buried with a Series 3 (or higher) Apple Watch. The Series 3 introduced built in cellular allowing it to function without a phone.

You will also have to begin the ritual immediately after the body is buried, because the watch will only have an 18-hour charge.

Find a place to submerge your wrist: a sink, a toilet bowl, or a font of holy water. Dip your watch under and press the power button until you see the Apple symbol come on. When the watch face shows up say, “Hey Siri, message (say the Apple ID of the deceased).” Then recite the following incantation:

To the cadaver in the casket
Sinking into a grit
Of roots, worms, and maggots
Hear my unholy writ
I challenge thee to a Satanic circuit
Of upside down cross-fit
So that I may feel the burn
Of the bottomless pit

When you feel the watch’s haptic engine vibrate you’ll know that the ritual has begun.

The Rules of the Ritual

The Apple Watch has an activity monitor. Tap it and you’ll see three rings: one red, one green, and one blue. The red ring represents the percentage of your movement goals for the day. This is based on how many calories you intend to burn. Usually you set this by entering your height, weight, age, and gender, but not today. Today you’re making a necromancer’s wager. Your goals will be determined by the thing you’ve awakened.

The green ring represents your exercise time. Apple has prescribed 30 minutes for everyone, but just remember this is a competition, just because you’ve hit thirty doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near done.

The blue ring represents the time you spend standing. Apple recommends you get up and move around for a couple minutes at least twelve times a day. This should be the easiest goal to hit seeing as how you’ll have no time to sit.

Warning: If you fail to close your rings before your crypt bound competition bad things will happen.

Keep this in Mind

You will find that your watch’s sensors are a lot less forgiving than on days you’re not conjuring dead things. The watch will know when you’re standing and when you’re just lifting your wrist. It will know when you’re running and when you’re just swinging your arms. If you open the Workout app and scroll all the way down to Otheroption your watch will no longer give you credit for simply running the timer down.

Run Like Hell

You will have to run like the world is caving in behind you. Run until you’re raw and sore, until your toes are open blisters, and your shoes are pooling with puss. Once it feels like the soles of your sneakers have eroded, your skin has shed, and your exposed musculature is touching down on molten magma, then you’ll know it’s time to check your watch… And run some more.

Consider the fact that your competition is clawing at the lid of a coffin with 300 pounds of resistance. Consider the fact that the dead’s will to return to the surface is greater than your will to get fit. Consider the fact that if you stop moving something with a swollen tongue will quiet literally be licking at your heels.

Take a breather for a little too long and you’ll see what beast mode really looks like.

Commit to Infinite Reps

Once your lungs feel like they’re going to overdose on oxygen, your heart feels like it’s stuck on vibrate, and you stink like a skunk on meth, stagger into a gym and park your ass at the weight rack.

You will have to lift until you can see your veins, until you grind the lifelines from your palms, until your arms pull a mutiny and refuse commands from your body. Then you’ll have to find another muscle group and push it past the point of exhaustion.

If it feels like you’re struggling beneath the weight of the world then you’re doing it right.

Another thing to Keep in Mind

The Apple Watch doesn’t wait until you’re asleep to reset the activity monitor. It does it at midnight.

Remember when enchanted the Apple Watch will function better than it was programmed. You won’t be able to buy yourself a few extra hours by screwing with the Timesettings.

Don’t Lose

If you haven’t closed your rings and crushed your crypt bound competition you will face consequences, literally, face to milky-eyed face.

If you lose your muscles will atrophy instantly and your bones will turn to jelly. You’ll collapse into a heap. If you’re lucky your lungs will weaken and you’ll pass out from exhaustion. If you’re unlucky you’ll be awake when teeth begin gnawing on your skin, pealing the flesh from the muscle like fried chicken.

Sure, this is a worst-case scenario, but what are you willing to risk to get as jacked as a super hero? Continue reading The Apple Watch Ritual