He Has Many Names Book Blurb Trailer

A trailer for the book HE HAS MANY NAMES with blurbs from everyone from Keith Lansdale, writer for The X-Files: Cold Cases comic to Daniel Knauf, creator of HBO’s Carnivàle.

Noelle is a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. A dubious agent offers her a gig ghostwriting for an author in a hotel where he claims to have had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well… HE HAS MANY NAMES

Buy now:
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Clashbooks

Cinematography by Steve Tiongson
Hell Painting by Bryan Politte
Demon Logo by Matthew Revert
Editing and Music by Drew Chial

The Life-Changing Magic of Editing the Shit Out of Your Story

You’ve just finished the first draft of your story and you can’t wait to revisit it, but when you do it feels like a blotted mess. It’s cluttered with character descriptions, meandering subplots, and quirky observations. You know you need to make some deep cuts, but you don’t know where exactly.

Here are some of the things that can bog down your story and what you can do to tidy them up.

Unnecessary Setups

Chekhov’s gun is a principle in storytelling based on Anton Chekhov’s quote, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

Every setup should pay off.

An author with a strictly structured story won’t have problems with this. They’ll check their math and know where everything fits before they start.

I like to write with a loose blueprint so I can discover things as I go. The problem is I’m more likely to jam my stories with impulse setups, like little mysteries I think are cool in the moment, but are often forgotten.

Solution:

If you write by the seat of your pants color-code the paragraphs that contain setups within your document. This will make editing easier later on. Once you’ve finished your first draft go to these setups and ask yourself, “Did I pay this off?” If not give it the ax.

Setups that Suck as Scenes

Have you ever seen a film where everything slows down to draw attention to specific detail? Perhaps the hero’s mother mentions that her daughter used to love diving before her father died. Everyone in the audience nods their heads knowing the hero’s diving background will come up again. Now that heroic plunge might be a heart wrenching moment later on, but why did the setup have to feel so inorganic and superfluous?

Solution:

If you’re setting something up to payoff later make sure the scene is entertaining in the here and now. Those scenes are where you’re most likely to lose your audience. Put something intriguing on the surface before you challenge people to read between the lines.

Try using micro setups and micro payoffs. Use the first few scenes to setup your overarching mysteries, but also setup something that will pay off in that scene. Show readers that you’ll reward them for paying attention.

Pacing Padding

Early writers feel a need to convey a passage of time by padding out their story. They show characters entering and exiting scenes. They come into conversations as they begin and exit with the goodbyes. They write transitions between locations, as if travel details are obligatory for believability.

They forget that time jumps are part of storytelling, that they don’t need to show the process that led a character from point A to B to C, so long as A connects to C in some way.

Solution:

Rather than padding out the passage of time you should find clever ways to convey it.

  • Set a murder out on a frozen lake. Set the next scene in the springtime when fishermen find a bloated body.
  • Give a character a flesh wound in one scene show it scabbed over in the next.
  • Put your hero behind the wheel at sunset. Have an ominous moon hanging overhead when they arrive at their destination.

Arbitrary Emotional Cool Down

As a horror writer I try to consider how much emotional torture readers can take before they fling my book into the fireplace. If I just put the reader through a sequence of high tension and mounting dread, I want to ease off the throttle and give them a moment to breathe, to let them grieve the loss of a character, to allow the scales of hope and dread to balance back out.

My natural instinct will be to write a soft uneventful scene with some comic relief and a few minutes of character musings.

The thing is every scene should meet certain qualifications to justify their inclusion. There should be a conflict, something that advances the plot and reveals character details.

My first attempts at breather scenes eased back too much. They were boring. Not every conflict should be a matter of life and death, but there should always be something at stake.

Solution:

It’s important to give readers an emotional cool down, an eye in the storm of blood, but you need to make these breaks eventful in their own way.

These seemingly innocuous scenes should plant things that will factor in later. Every story should see its hero go through a profound personal change. Now is a good time to check in on what their situation is teaching them. Might they learn a lesson here that could be essential to their survival? Fill these low tension scenes with meaningful developments.

Impulse Items

When I wrote He Has Many Names I spent a lot of time researching hell and the devil. It colored the way I saw the world and tuned my ear to devilish things. Whenever I heard an idiom related to Satan I thought, “Now I’ve got to shoehorn that in.” I felt a compulsion to add Satanic puns in places the story didn’t need them. Fortunately my editors caught what I was doing and put a stop to it.

Solution: If you’re writing a vampire story you didn’t need to wedge every Twilight quip you can think of in. Just because youe subject is a well-trodden topic doesn’t mean you need to reference every incarnation of it. Over-referencing is a rookie mistake.

Darlings

William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

My first drafts have a lot of darlings, little wordplay witticisms that break up the action. I like to write in the first person, but my narrators can be overtly clever, snarky, and mean spirited.

I find most of my clever one-liners wear on me after a few edits. By the final draft my narrators are a lot more likeable.

Solution:

I put my darlings into storage. It makes it easier to cut them. When a quirky line breaks up the flow of a scene I copy and paste it into its own document. Maybe I’ll re-gift it to a character who can wear it better later.

Closing Thoughts

When editing ask yourself if that extra character detail sparks joy, if your settings are cluttered with too many descriptions, and if all your plot points are load-bearing.

Sometimes when a story feels like it’s missing something it’s because it has too many things it doesn’t need and the parts that matter are underdeveloped.

Stop hording unnecessary details. Every aspect of your story should serve the central theme. If they don’t then you’re going to need to tidy that shit up.

Continue reading The Life-Changing Magic of Editing the Shit Out of Your Story

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

In my book HE HAS MANY NAMES I imagined Satan as PR agent named Matilda MacDonald. I wrote her a MONSTER MINGLE dating profile and illustrator Bryan Politte painted her portrait.

This video reveals Bryan’s process over a reading of Matilda’s fall from grace and ascension from the pit.

Follow Matilda’s adventures in my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Read the prequel short story DRAGON’S BREATH.

Check out the original MONSTER MINGLE profile.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile

(Audio: Listen to this article.)

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it usually works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory. This time Bryan got the character Matilda MacDonald from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Watch out for Matilda. She’s an unreliable narrator. She’ll use scripture to get inside your head. She’ll try to temp you. Don’t let your guard down, because she is not the devil you know.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

About Me

I was starry eyed when I arrived in the silver city, thinking I could make it on my charm and my wit. I floated my résumé all over, inquired about every position, but no one knew where I fit in. I wandered the chrome crosswalks and sterling skyways for days. I was on my way out the pearly gates when a messenger came for me.

“Hail, thou art highly favored.”

He told me I’d landed an interview with the biggest player in town.

The Entrepreneur’s reputation preceded him. He was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and a visionary with the business acumen to keep the silver city running.

The Entrepreneur wasted no time showing me to my office. He needed a spokesperson ASAP. He had seven days to roll out his most ambitious project yet. He gave me a wardrobe for the week, adorned each outfit in precious stones, and dubbed me, “The seal of perfection. A startlet who will shine through morning.”

With the plans for the universe stretched across our arms we became a power couple. We invested in atoms, watched the interest build into molecules, and later elements. We shipped dark matter, hydrogen, and helium throughout the cosmos and laid the foundations for the constellations. We built a real estate empire from time and space itself.

I assumed the Entrepreneur meant it for the residents of the silver city, a reward for their investment, but he had other plans. It turns out there was a pet project he’d been laboring on, with his petri dishes and his eyedroppers. He called it, “Life.” While each Angel was hand crafted and meticulously detailed, life was capable of sustaining growth with minimal oversight. It was with thishe meant to populate his planets.

When creating humanity the Entrepreneur used resources I didn’t know we had: genitals, free will, and death.

I didn’t get it.

Why would an omniscient being give people the power to choose if he already knew the outcome? Either he was leaving them to struggle for his own amusement or he wasn’t that omniscient to begin with.

My pride got the better of me. I told the Entrepreneur the project would lead to chaos and a third of the board agreed. Furious, the Entrepreneur cast the lot of us out.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Life Changing Event

I plummeted into the mouth of a cavernous pit. The walls scrapped the jewels from my outfit. Gemstones flew in all directions. My breastplate burst, my braces buckled, and my gauntlets were both ground down to grain. I crashed through sheets of ice and landed upon a bed of stalagmites.

When I came to I found my skin had taken on a bluish hue, my hair was slick with frost, and my eyebrows were lined with icicles. I thought it was strange that I could see my own breath, but then I noticed the length of silver around my right index finger. The last piece of my armor was shining in the dark.

I teetered to my feet and the ring glowed brighter. I limped toward the wall and a stinging sensation surged down my arm. The ring was trying to warn me about something in the limestone. I waved it around until I came upon a series of ridges unlike any rock formation I’d known. When I touched it told me that it was the fossilized remains of something called a trilobite. The creature claimed to have dominated the seas for hundreds of millions of years. I told the trilobite I helped found the universe only a week ago.

The trilobite said, “If that’s so then where did I come from?”

I ventured further into the dark to see what else was hiding there. The pit was littered with bones: great leviathan skeletons, ribs arching like the roofs, skulls yawning open as if to drink the ocean. They looked upon me with hollow pleading eyes and every time I tapped them with my silver they told me what they were. These were the titans of industry that came before: The Uranides, the Vanir, and the Great Old ones. Azathoth, dethroned from the seat of chaos. Hastur, shut out of Carcosa where the stars shine black.

Each one had a similar story. The Entrepreneur had been rolling out beta universes, with each new version he took on a partner, and when the rollout was complete the partner ended up here. I was the latest in a long line of suckers.

You’d think that misery would love the company, but I was all the more heart broken.

The Entrepreneur had taken almost everything, but I still had that shard of silver on my finger. I used it to cut bricks from the bones and mortar from their marrow. I built a home from those who came before and in my den I listened to their whispers. They taught me the secrets of their runes, cosmic currencies, and investment strategies. I used that knowledge to cross over into the Entrepreneur’s latest venture.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

I had no part in getting Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden of Eden. That was a snake that got jilted when Adam wouldn’t choose it to be his mate.

Most of my appearances in the Old Testament were mistranslations. This is what happens when you name someone after the Hebrew word for “adversary” and then you need to use the same word to describe others. People get confused.

Although I’ll admit the book of Job was all me.

I’d been wandering the earth trying get a startup going, but my hands were bound by regulations.

A plague spread throughout the land and I snuck back into the Silver City amongst a wave of refugees. With some fancy footwork I made it all the way back to the Entrepreneur’s office. He was scrolling through the feed from his ticker tape machine, fat and rosy on humanity’s adoration and belief. He didn’t seem too surprised to see me.

“Where did you come from?”

It took all of my self-control not to drive my silver ring through my palm. “I’ve been roaming the earth. Going back and forth on it.”

He nodded, unphased I’d scurried my way out of the pit.

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

I had considered Job.

“Does Job love you for nothing? Check out his palatial estate, his bountiful lands, and livestock empire. Not to mention the ten children that will ensure his legacy carries on for generations. You gave him a good return on his investment. Take it back up and he’d curse you where you stand.”

The Entrepreneur stroked his beard. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man do not lay a finger.”

I gave Sabean raiders a hot tip on where Job kept his oxen. Then I rained commits on his sheep and dropped a roof on his children.

Job, the poor sucker, did exactly what I wanted him to. He fell to his knees and said, “The lord has given and the lord has taken away. May the name of the lord be praised.”

I returned to the Silver City to find the Entrepreneur wiping a tear of joy from his cheek. He was tickled pink.

I reached into the pile of ticker tape that had accumulated on the floor, pretending to care about things I already knew.

“Job still has his health. Take that and the praise train will roll right off its tracks.”

The Entrepreneur smirked, lifted a few more sanctions and I covered Job in lesions.

Job’s neighbors had heard about his misfortune. They paid him a visit to reaffirm his faith, but he had come around to my way of thinking.

How could such bad things happen to a good person? If the Entrepreneur was all-powerful then he couldn’t be all good, especially if he was trying to prove something to someone. That just made him an all-powerful asshole.

Job cursed the day he was born, gave into despair, and begged the Entrepreneur for death. His neighbors tried to rationalize the Entrepreneur’s mysterious ways, but they were arguing from ignorance, and Job knew it.

“Let the Almighty answer me!”

The Entrepreneur had been following the conversation from his desk and decided to make an entrance. He split the sky open to grant his investors an audience and what did he have to say to them?

“Where were you when I laid the earths foundations? Tell me, who fixed its measurements? Surely you know who stretched a measuring line across it?”

Of course Iknow. And it wasn’t a measuring line. It was tape. Had the planet held such little regard in his mind that he thought it was flat?

The Entrepreneur bullied Job into submission and doubled the man’s losses as compensation, which just proved my point. His investors were only as loyal as their assets.

My Intimate Details

I’ve convinced many Jobs to pull out of the Entrepreneur’s enterprise, but it took finesse to get them to invest in mine. The Entrepreneur’s PR department has turned my brand toxic, blaming me for the Inquisition, the Witch Trails, Christ, even the Catholic Abuse Scandal.

When missionaries came to Greece they saw idols of the Greek God Pan with his horns, hooves, and hard-on and they felt threatened. They could’ve told stories of a faun who lured children into caves so he could eat them (you know, use their imaginations) instead they merely passed his fashion sense onto me. They swapped my blush with a beard, my long legs with matted wool, and my firm butt with a sad droopy tail. Then they handed me Hade’s pitchfork for good measure. “Here, hold this.”

Despite all the evidence that Pan was another entity, from another mythology, his likeness was linked to me. Fine. While the faithful looked over their shoulders for a goatee and red complexion I was free to walk among them.

The more insidious my methods got the more grandiose my depictions became. When John the Revelator was exiled to the island of Patmos he tried his hand at writing. He had a strong premise with the Apocalypse, but he did what most first timers do and let the concept devolve into lists: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven spiritual beings, with seven bowls.

Had John been a better storyteller he might have imagined Armageddon, not as battle of swords, but of wits, where competing philosophies debated for the fate of humanity. Alas, John was more interested in who would win in a fight: the Archangel Michael or a seven-headed dragon.

After John, Dante and Milton wrote some fine fan fiction. I liked how Dante populated the Inferno with his personal enemies and how Milton made me a freedom fighter that could give a good speech, but I was never up to my tits in any ice nor would I claim Death and Sin among my brain children.

I never did half of what I got credit for. I never stole tools from the Silver Foundry to make a pact with a blacksmith. I never dared a soldier to wear a bearskin for seven years, and I never took a small town farmer to trial for his soul. I have never lorded over any flies. Horseshoes don’t scare me, and black cats do not answer to me. They’re cats. They answer to nobody.

I wish I were as powerful as people believe. I wish I’d shined as bright as Venus in the morning. I wish I’d had a penthouse in Babylon. I wish my corporate headquarters had floors based on sins, but I have to budget my expenditures same as anyone.

These false etymologies have followed me for centuries. I used to agonize over every erroneous association. Now I’ve learned the value of good branding. Products live and die by consumers’ belief in them. I’ve leaned to lean into humanity’s misconceptions, because the more they fear me the more they believe.

When the clergy made up stories to fill seats I used their sermons as brainstorming sessions. I jotted notes over old hymns, tore out the pages, and slid them into my corset.

This wasn’t merely opposition research I was insider trading.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Physical features

I’ve held many titles over the years. These days I go by Matilda MacDonald: Agent to the Stars.

Matildais derived from the High German “maht” and “hild” meaning “strong in battle.” MacDonald is a modified version of Dòmhnall, which means “World ruler.” My name states my intentions while conjuring images of telekinetic little girls and fast food chains.

In the 80s, I made myself over as one of Patrick Nagel’s art deco women. I wanted to embody the iconography of that era of greed. I already had the snow-white skin, raven black hair, full lips, and stone cut cheekbones. All I needed was the pixie haircut, eye shadow, and pants suit wardrobe.

I’ve kept the same form for a generation and low and behold greed is still in fashion.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

While my investments are in the markets of man, my heart belongs to the arts to the music-makers and the dreamers of dreams. Kings rule nations, but creators rule minds. All of my lovers possess a wealth of imagination, that je ne sais quoi that captures my attention.

Over the centuries I’ve played patron to many a prodigy. I massaged Nicolo Paganini’s joints so he could play violin, taught Giuseppe Tartini my favorite sonata, gave Christoph Haizmann visions worth painting, and tuned Robert Johnson’s guitar so he could always find the right strings.

I see the same spark in you.

You’ve tried so hard to make it as an artist. You have the tenacity and the drive. Too bad the free content movement devalued your medium, your ability never caught up with your tastes, and your style was never in fashion.

If you stay on the path the Entrepreneur has set you’ll always be on the outside looking in. Your day job will never help you sleep at night. Your inspiration will be reduced to a nagging voice in the back of your mind. You will grow cynical watching fame go to vapid, beautiful, superficial people. You’ll die knowing your intimate thoughts will never connect with a broader audience, search engines will bury your legacy, and your work will go undiscovered.

But not if I have anything to say about it.

I heard the prayers you whispered to bathroom stalls, showerheads, and pillows. I heard the long-winded confessions that shot out of you like steam. I heard you scratching at death’s door. I know what’s it like to have lofty ambitions, to think your ascent was a forgone conclusion only to wind up scraping yourself off the ground.

I’ve chosen you because you’re not destined for great things, but you should be.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My ideal date

In the Richmond District of San Francisco, there’s a yellow duplex on California St. between 24thand 23rdAve. The address should read: 6118, 6120, and 6122, but someone has pried off all of the 6s from the units.

On special nights, under the light of a blood red moon, the edifice shifts. A person with the spark of inspiration will see the black Victorian home that once stood there.

If you’re ready to live the life you deserve walk up the stoop and open the front door.

Don’t let Togar scare you. He may be a lion, but he’s as friendly as they come. Take hold of his mane and follow him through the black velvet curtains down into the basement.

Don’t worry that the ritual chamber hasn’t been used in years. Cross the cobwebs between the candelabra and the pipe organ, past the bed of nails, toward the altar. Consider the wall of ceremonial daggers. The blades are made from ivory, flint, silver, and gold. I trust you’ll know which hilt to pull. When you do a door will open revealing a secret corridor. The corridor is made of seven artist spaces.

The first is filled with bookshelves lined with leather bound first editions.

The second: painted canvases stretched end to end.

The third: drafting tables jutting out from channels.

The forth: a cube of soundproof acoustic panels.

The fifth: the many monitors of an editing bay.

The sixth: cryptic code on digital displays.

The seventh chamber, at the heart of this tomb, is the devil’s den: my master bedroom. I’ll be waiting on the futon beneath the sheer red canopy. Why don’t you join me when you’re ready to live deliciously?

There are many ways to enter into a binding bargain, but I find that this one is the most fun.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile

Buried Beneath a Dollar Sign Video Reading

A poem on what brand building has done to human interaction.

Monster Mingle: The Vegan Zombie Video Reading

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Vegan Zombie Video Reading

Should You Show the Monster?

I’ve long held that writers collaborate with their readers and that every reader makes their own artistic contribution.

Avid readers have stronger imaginations than people who experience stories exclusively through film and TV. As much as I love those mediums they’re made for passive consumption. Books put readers in the director’s chair. Sure the author chronicles the events, but its up to readers to visualize them. Readers have to cast the characters, provide the wardrobe, build the sets, and block out the scenes. The author does everything they can to make their story an enjoyable read, but the reader has to meet them halfway. Horror authors exploit this relationship by baiting readers into picturing their worst fears.

Have you ever noticed how the tension in horror movies deflates the more you know about the monster? The more you see it, the more you understand its rules and where it came from the less you’re frightened. The monster is less of a living breathing part of your mind and more of a static thing on screen. Suddenly there’s a barrier between the two of you keeping things safe and boring.

That’s why many horror authors never show the monster. They leave the audience to do all the heavy lifting. This approach works well on people with active imaginations, but readers who don’t feel like engineering their own bogymen feel cheated.

Horror writers need to strike a balance. Here are a few of my favorite techniques for doing just that.

Pose a Compelling Mystery

A well-placed spark will lure readers, like moths to flames, to their dread ridden doom. Pose a supernatural situation that’s simple to grasp, but hint at an explanation that could only be an awe-inspiring revelation.

  • A young musician is walking home when he’s attacked by a monster he can only see out of the corner of his eye: a wrinkled giant in tatters that may or may not be its own dead flesh. The monster unhinges its jaw, lets out a groan deeper than a cruise ship horn, and disappears. When the musician gets home he finds he can no longer play guitar. Turns out there are reports all over the city of artists experiencing similar attacks and losing their inspiration in the process.
  • An isolated woodland town is besieged by living nightmares, each one seemingly built to prey upon the resident’s worst fears. While most of these figures have the intended effect others appear strangely tone deaf, almost comical, suggesting the hand of an agent that doesn’t fully comprehend its audience.

Expect the audience to read your story over several sessions. Use those interruptions to plant ideas. Little mysteries for readers to mull over and leave them dangling at the end of each chapter. The best nightmare fuel is subtle. It works its way into readers’ minds slowly until they see their daily routine through the filter of your imaginings.

Leave Evidence of the Evil

The monster need not take the stage to own it. There are many ways to feel its presence. Leave an orgy of evidence, and readers will craft a composite of the creature themselves.

Picture this.It’s 1892. You open your chamber door to find it skewered. Something rammed the wood with enough force to leave hollow voids on the both ends of the knocker. You raise a candle to find craters leading up the cobblestones, and ripples in the puddles. Most of the oil lanterns have been snuffed out and the one that remains is shattered, belching flames.

This torch renders anything beyond it imperceivable, but you know there’s something out there weaving in and out of the tree line. Why else would the owls hold their tongues and the crickets yield the night to the wind?

You feel cold narrow eyes moving up your nightgown, pausing on your belly and settling upon your neck.

Picture this.It’s 2292. You’re aboard a long-range starship. The fluid drains from your stasis chamber, revealing fracture lines across your enclosure. You call out to the computer, “Open tube.”

The mechanism jerks hard, shattering the glass, spewing shards into the corridor. The lights that encircle the honeycomb hall blink red, some flicker out of phase with the others. Stepping over the jagged fragments of your chamber you find a bubbling black substance eating at the grates.

There’s a long gash looping around the walls, leading to a pitch-black med bay. Something long and chrome shoots out of the darkness. A blood speckled gurney lands at your feet.

Have Characters Test Theories

For me the creepiest scene in Paranormal Activityis when Micha sets out prove the presence visiting his partner Katie is physical. Micha spreads baby powder down the hall leading to the bedroom and aims a camera in that direction. That night the couple is awoken by a commotion. Micha finds talon prints leading up to the bed and streaks in the powder.

What I love about this scene is that is confirms the supernatural situation without demystifying the creature. It raises more questions than it answers.

Describe the Monster as Indescribable

Did you ever write an “exquisite corpse” story back in grade school? One student would write a sentence and pass it to the desk behind them. Horror writers can play that game with their readers. Here’s how. Just describe the effect the monster has on witnesses without revealing anything about its shape. This technique doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. Your monster isn’t skulking in the shadows. It’s just so overwhelmingly hideous that it’s beyond description. It’s maddening.

“What did the beast look like?”

“Do you not see? It turned Byron’s hair white.”

This was a favorite device of gothic horror writers.

H.P. Lovecraft referred to so many of his terrors as “Indescribable.”

Edgar Allan Poe referred to the sights beyond his chamber door as “Phantasmagorical.”

Meaning: a dreamlike and deceptive appearance that changes upon further examination

Gothic horror writers used the neurosis of their characters to illustrate the monster’s grandeur.

Give a Peak by Proxy

The hit Netflix film Bird Boxis about monsters with the power to drive people to suicide at the mere sight of them, most people that is. The monsters have a different effect on people who are already mad. Insane individuals feel compelled to worship the monsters, with the ferocity of cult members, corralling survivors and forcing them to bear witness.

The audience never gets a direct look at the monsters, but one tainted character gives us a peak. He lays out a series of twisted tentacle-riddled portraits on the coffee table. These rough Lovecraftian rendering gives us a sense of what awaits Sandra Bullock just beyond the blinds.

Use Hallucinations

In Paul Tremblay’s “The Cabin at the End of the World” a character is struck in the back of the head and spends the rest of the story with a traumatic head injury. Sunlight gives him terrible migraines until he starts to see figures in the light. It’s ambiguous whether or not these figures are influencing the events of the story or if they’re a brought on by the bump on his noggin.

Closing Thoughts

My favorite monster stories utilize strategic ambiguity. For every question the author answers they pose two more. That way when the monster does step into the light it retains its mystique. It’s the enigma of the entity that gives it free reign over the audience’s imagination.

The horror writer is the architect of shadows. The readers are interim landlords. We lease them the long dark hall and they fill it with their nightmares. Eventually we move our own terrifying tenants into these atmospheric locations, but only after they’ve been lived in.

Continue reading Should You Show the Monster?

Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

About Me

Let’s rip this Band Aid off right away: I’m a zombie: a reanimated stiff with all the stigma that comes with, a Type-A Necro-Mortis if I have to put a label on it. That means I died and something brought me back to life.

I was on a first date with Sadie, a pleather clad, tough as nails, woman of principle. She’d gotten word of an illegal animal testing facility by the waterfront. She wanted to break in, take some snapshots, and shut the place down. Together we biked along the river, cut through the fence, and trekked through the ruins of the abandoned warehouse district.

When Sadie pointed out the facility it felt like someone down there was smiling up at me. I’d been to that building on an urban exploration expedition and knew a way in. I pried a manhole cover open, took Sadie’s hand, and eased her in. We skipped through the sewers, our flashlights danced across the tunnel walls, until we came to a submarine door marked QUARANTINE.

“That wasn’t there before.”

“That’s probably just to scare us, like a sign that says ‘This home is protected by Sentinel Security’ when all they’ve really got is the sign.”

“Well, good thing I brought a key.”

I pulled a crowbar from my messenger bag. From there we ascended through a M.C. Escher etching of grated platforms and spiral stairs until we came upon a lab with biohazard symbols on the doors. There was a chamber, with a sign that read INSTRUCTIONS TO BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Sadie wasn’t in much of a reading mood so she zoomed right through.

The lights went on the moment we stepped in and the vents sprayed us with a chemical bath. When the gas cleared there was a maze of cages before us. They looked empty but Sadie was determined to find something. She dashed in. I struggled to keep up, but it wasn’t long before I lost her.

“Look, Monkeys!” Sadie shouted from somewhere around the bend.

Just then a chimpanzee charged at his bars. I leapt back, slipped on a banana peal, and fell over a railing, down a flight of stairs, and snapped my neck like a drumstick.

I’m not sure what happened next. I heard Sadie call my name. Maybe she thought I’d chickened out and bailed. Maybe she figured photos wouldn’t get the job done like some good old-fashioned eco terrorism. All I remember was an alarm, men’s voices, then shouting, gunshots, and screams. Before it all faded to black I saw a troop up red-eyed monkeys lining the railing above me.

The next thing I know I’m having a panic attack in a pine box. I scratched the lid until the wood thinned, my fingernails were thick with splinters, and I was swimming in worms. The soil was wet with rainwater and I could just make out the faint claps of thunder. It took hours to claw my way out of the muck and when I emerged into the cemetery you better believe I was hungry.

Nobody told me I was infected with a weaponized pathogen bioengineered to amp up my aggression. I found that out the hard way when I tried to close line a cherub and bent my arm back.

In my delirium I slithered along the ground and gnawed on a bouquet of rose pedals, but when I happened upon a flock of goslings I knew to leave them alone. My instincts were telling me to chomp their necks to bits, but I was able to resist.

The rage virus, with all of its augmented aggression, couldn’t bypass decades of vegan conditioning.

I’d been an herbivore for twenty years and counting, and knew that whenever I had an overwhelming urge for meat it was because I wasn’t getting the right nutrients. Fortunately the cemetery was near a GNC. So I hopped the fence, scurried across the lot, and dove into the dumpster. Bon appétit.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Physical features

To be clear, that’s not blood on my collar. It’s gazpacho. That isn’t brain matter on my sleeve either. It’s tofu (and maybe a little cauliflower). And no, that isn’t a length of intestine draped around my collar. That’s a vegan sausage length and I’m saving it for later.

As for my other features… If you like body mods you’re going to love me. I’ve got a barbell in my brow, a lip ring, a tongue stud, a septum piercing, helix piercings, and a 10 gauge plug. Oh, and those monkeys were into scarification so I’ve really got that going on.

As for my body itself, the rage virus makes me super athletic. Unlike those other zombies I’m a sprinter not a limper. Like a hummingbird seeking nectar I’m always on the way to my next protein source.

My perfect match

I’m in a subculture within a subculture within a subculture, which makes it hard to meet someone similar. Most living dead girls aren’t that into lentil.

My perfect match would have a reverence for all living (and unliving) creatures. She’d be outspoken, and have a strong drive to change the world. She’d be open to punk rock, a vegan diet, and the strong vanilla fragrances I use to mask the stench of death.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

The average person needs 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 a day. I need several hundred milligrams. Otherwise all those joggers look like cartoon chicken drumsticks and I run the risk of breaking my vegan commitment. Most zombies don’t burn too many brain cells thinking about where their nutrients are coming from. They see their livestock crammed onto escalators or huddled into movie theaters, and just pig out, but I’m a necro-core herbivore. I have standards.

My DIY system for managing my symptoms keeps me out of the tidal wave of ravenous slam-dancers, but the urge to join them is there. Life has gotten harder since the grocer started bleaching their old produce and GNC started locking their dumpster.

I run the risk of going full GG Allin unless my partner can keep those vitamins coming. A punk rock botanist capable of synthesizing B12 from chlorella algae would be like a goddess to me.

My ideal date

We’ll get black bean burgers at a joint with tagged up toilets and live music. Preferably a place with lots of exists, leading to wide open lots and not narrow back alleys.

There were a lot of cages in that facility and a lot of monkeys on that railing. It’s only a matter of time until the virus finds its way downtown. Then all those fancy butcheries, where hipsters cure their own meats, will spill into the streets and everyone will see how the sausage is made. Had these carnivores gone vegan they’d stay functioning during the zombie Armageddon. Instead they’re going to give into their baser instincts and flame broil everything.

Let’s bike up to lover’s lane, roast a couple of gelatin free marshmallows, and watch the world burn.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge

Drew Year’s Resolutions

This year I’ve learned some hard lessons about publishing, book promotion, and blogging. I’ve honed in on my problems and come up with some solutions for 2019.

PROBLEM: My novel isn’t going crazy viral

A blog is not the best promotion vehicle for a novel (even if I write a dozen novel-centric articles). Most of my readers come for writing advice or nerd culture commentary. My book He Has Many Names delves deep into both of those themes, but it’s billed as fiction. I have a pretty good following but my novel-centric posts get the least amount of engagement. I think that might be because readers see them as a kind of Sponsored Content.

That and shifting my blog from squeaky-clean writing advice to horror-centric content means I’ve had to rebuild my following.

SOLUTION: Consider the audience

There’s a way for writers to get more eyes on their page without resorting to click-bait-meme-dump-listicles.

As much as I love sharing short stories, satire, and monster dating profiles, I need to offer something useful too.

I want to get back into giving writing advice, but in a way that differs from what I’ve done before. My new criteria will ask the following questions:

  • Can I offer technical insight into the subject rather than simply define it in my own words?
  • Can I approach the subject within a three act story so that it’s more memorable for readers?
  • Can I draw from my personal failures to better inform new writers?
  • Will the subject spark a debate or is it too safe?

PROBLEM: Winter’s impact on my creativity

Every year Minnesota winters beat the shit out of me emotionally. It gets dark at 4pm and cabin fever can get nauseating. Yet, every summer I forget the toll the cold takes and I assume my creative energy will power through the seasons. I’m always surprised when it doesn’t. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity (that’s more of a stock phrase for hack writers on TV). Still, it feels like in this instance it applies to me.

SOLUTION: Schedule posts out in advance

Smart bloggers write a ton of evergreen content (timeless articles) that they tease out throughout the year. They schedule posts and social media links months in advance. This gives them a buffer to chime in on current events or the latest pop culture conversation.

Smart Internet personalities spend this extra time introducing themselves to strangers via guest blogs, podcast appearances, and public readings.

This winter I’ve had the energy to just post links on Reddit. Next year I’ve got to do better than that.

PROBLEM: The holidays are a horrible time to promote a book

It’s easy to fill a spreadsheet with book promotion strategies. It’s hard to implement them when you work customer service through the holiday season.

Right now I work for a company who would very much like their acronym to stand for: United Problem Solvers, even though they deliver packages.

As Amazon rises to utter world domination the holiday seasons has become overwhelming. People with boxes up to their eyeballs line up out our door and at the front counter they haggle over every dollar. In the back parcels are stacked through the ceiling tiles, and at the packing table the staff are multitasking through their meals.

I come home, take a moment to pet my cat, and wake up on the floor a few hours later. I’m drained, no fun to be around, and in no condition to reach out to podcasters to talk about my fiction.

My book He Has Many Names is a horror story, which is why my publisher (Clash Books) released it around Halloween. Anticipating the promotion cycle I tried to dial my work schedule back, then three people quit and suddenly I was senior staff.

Suddenly every customer shouting, “What do you mean I have to pay for packaging? Amazon said it would be free.” Are syphoning my book promotion energy away from me.

SOLUTION: Honestly, I’m still looking for one

An author at my level has to be their own agent, their own influencer, and their own street team. They have to pull double shifts daily. I have to anticipate crunch cycles if I’m ever to master my work/writing balance.

I think this means I need to take a more active role in scheduling around my creative energy. That means focusing on simple attainable goals for the remainder of the winter and big lofty goals for the spring and the summer.

PROBLEM: My creative career feels like it’s running in place

It’s harder to vie for readers’ attention than ever before. They have the collected history of mass media in their pockets now. Genre authors have to scratch a very particular itch. For years it’s felt like each new endeavor was just another scheme. That needs to change.

SOLUTION:Devout more time to the planning stage

I used to be so afraid of writer’s block that I wouldn’t take time to think about promotion. I was afraid the well of inspiration would run dry if I stopped pumping. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and the ideas haven’t faded. I need to assure myself that the stories will still be there if I pause long enough to sell them.

I need to submit to more themed collections, put more unpublished offerings on Amazon, and offer more incentives for readers willing to review them.

CONCLUSION

Getting a writing career going is like trying to become a professional lottery winner. The odds aren’t in anyone’s favor.

That’s why my New Years Resolutions are short-term incremental goals.

What are your writing resolutions? Anything on my list make yours? Anything on your list that ought to be on mine? Let me know in the comments.

•••

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?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Monster Mingle: Meet Nólatha Torhorn

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the second. She’s an Elven Queen. She’s smart, seasoned, and seductive, but just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

About us

We were once Nólatha Torhorn, an elven maiden, preoccupied with poetry, mead, and the language of trees. Our greatest aspiration was to leave home, hike the northern highlands, and hear the song of the forest. Our quest was cut short when the Order of Winter snatched us off the path and sacrificed us upon an altar of frost.

The gods of winter cast a shadow over the forest, seeping from the trees with the sap and the leaves. Twigs formed into skeletons, branches bent into limbs, and stumps rose up into midsections. Burls twisted into heads and took their places atop towering silhouettes.

The Order scattered.

The Gods of winter shook the forest floor. Their birch bark garments fluttered in long tattered ribbons. Their splintered crowns blotted out the moon and their hardwood hands dwarfed our dead frame.

They scrutinized our limp little limbs with ice-cold talons, tore into our chest, pried our ribcage apart, and squeezed our heart. We felt our girlhood dreams shatter in their grip. Then we felt nothing. That’s when the gods of winter raised their heads to the canopy and roared loud enough to shake the trees.

These kings of corrosion, these rulers of rot, these men of mulch, they turned their backs on us and seeped back into the night. Dissatisfied, the gods of winter brought about three more months of summer and our body was left for the wolves and the crows.

Our spirit wandered the Winterlands, but no matter how long we traveled the frost alter was never far. We were weeping upon our remains when Obliticus, the forgotten God of the mists, happened upon us. Obliticus offered to restore us to our body for a favor. His priestesses had been buried with his sacred artifacts. He needed the spirit of a mortal to brave the planes of limbo to get them back.

We spent several lifetimes trekking through that eternal sandstorm, searching every ruin until we came upon an entrance. We followed a labyrinth of winding corridors into a dome-shaped chamber with a platform in the center.

Three priestesses sat with the artifacts in their laps. Their eyes were rolled back. Their mouths hung open, filled with the drippings from the ceiling. A faint whisper beckoned us in. We crawled into the center of the chamber. The priestesses did not flinch. Careful, we pealed each artifact free: first the Crown of Candor, then the Solaris Spark, and finally the All Seeing Orb. With the relics in our arms we knew we were supposed to run, but something was telling us to combine them, to bear them, and harness their power. We did.

In that moment we saw each eventuality in every thread of reality and none of them concluded with us bringing the artifacts back to Obliticus. Our mortal spirit had achieved enlightenment. We’d ascended from the planes of limbo and into the cosmic. That’s when we ceased to be an individual and became a “We.”

Physical features

The moment we laid our fingers on the All Seeing Orb they turned as pale as birch. The moment the Crown of Candor grazed our brow our raven hair turned white from the revelation. The moment we placed the Solaris Spark into its aperture our pupils faded for we would have no further use for them.

We had become the Crown Crystalmancer, a being whose gaze extended from the highest peaks to the deepest trenches, a being whose natural radiance commanded the attention of the entire Seldarine pantheon, a being utterly removed from that lost elven maiden who’d been cast off all those autumns ago.

Our perfect match

The Crown of Candor has shown us the type of suitor we require: a tall, broad chested figure, with hard focused eyes, a chiseled jawline, and a noticeable thigh-gap between their riding trousers. The suitor’s gender, personal proclivities, sense of humor, values, and life aspirations are irrelevant.

Approximately 2,465 individuals who read this within the allotted timeframe will have the basest traits necessary to help us achieve our goal. Approximately 239 will respond. We will select the 37thapplicant.

You will be the one who despite the forthcoming paragraphs will still accept our proposal.

Our Intimate Details

Ever since we peered into the All Seeing Orb we’ve found ourselves distracted by a piece of information, so inconsequential, so incidental as to be a butterfly upon the surface of the moon. We fixate on it, in fleeting moments, when the river of wisdom thins. We find our mind wandering back to that altar, back when we were but a maiden, awestruck by like comets and polar lights. We dwell on the gods of winter, with our heart betwixt their fingers, and we can’t help but consider their reasoning for rejecting it. They preferred maidens with greater ambitions. By their estimation our death was no tragedy. We were not the caliber of maiden worth changing the seasons over. Little did they know what we would become.

Our ideal date

On the eve of the Autumn Equinox you will join us in that forest clearing in the northern highlands. You will lie upon the frost altar and wait for the sun to set. You will ask too many questions and receive the same answer every time.

“It’s best not to know.”

When dusk comes you will notice the dagger in our cincture. Your eyes will dart toward the horizon and wonder how far you could run. You’ll see us cock our head in that direction and turn back winking. You’ll recall having read that line and resolve yourself to your fate.

When the moon is at its zenith we will run a blade across your throat, separating your body from your spirit. Then we will leave you in the cold arms of death.

Shadows will descend from the stars, bleed down the redwoods, and spring forth from the trunks. Great silhouettes of pine needles, foliage, and straw will surround you on the slab. Their frames will dwarf the branches and their crowns will blot out the moon.

Do not fear these so-called gods. Your heart will never feel the sting of their touch, for the moment they reach out to you we will set their arms ablaze.

The Solaris Spark will enlighten the gods of winter, teaching them the ways of fire. They will scream like swine and die like straw men. Their panic will throw cinders through the air. Their heads will billow into the clouds, and their bodies will be but ashes on the wind.

Snow will never fall upon the highlands again.

Your blood will seep back into your veins, your wound will seal shut, and your spirit will return to your body.

Your loyalty will be rewarded. For the first time in over a millennium we will assume our maiden form and indulge you in the act of courtship. Our liaison will last approximately three weeks, seven days, eighteen hours, nine minutes, and eleven seconds. It will be the most intense love affair you’ve ever had and it will leave you wanting for the rest of your life

•••

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?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Advice for writers, stories about the world they live in.

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