Tag Archives: Horror writing

On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

The Satanic Temple is threatening to sue Netflix over The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s use of a monument to Baphomet that looks strikingly similar to theirs.

Occult author Eliphas Levi illustrated the classic Sabbatic Goat depiction of Baphomet. For their monument The Satanic Temple removed the breasts and added a pair of admiring children. The sculpture on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reflects these alterations.

When the statue was brought to his attention The Satanic Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, ”Having one’s central icon associated with human sacrifice in an evil patriarchal cult is hardly good exposure and hardly a frivolous complaint. Fighting this bullshit is the heart of the cause. Not only does it contradict what Baphomet represents, we owe it to those who identify with us to not allow this image, and by extension them, to be represented in this way.”

While The Satanic Temple’s copyright complaint has grounds, the rest of their statement on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais flawed and as a horror writer I’ll explain why.

A Little History

In 2014, The Satanic Temple crowd sourced a sculpture of Baphomet in response to Ten Commandments Monument at Oklahoma’s State Capital. Attendees had to sell their souls to get a ticket, which organizers said was to drive away the truly superstitious. The Satanic Temple’s aim wasn’t to honor an actual demonic entity, but to protest the values State Representative Mike Ritze was imposing upon them. The unveiling ceremony was a cheeky act of civil disobedience. Clever pranksters shined a national spotlight on a divisive issue and both monuments have since been removed.

In case it wasn’t obvious: The Satanic Temple does not believe in a literal Satan who comes when summoned. They see that predatory lender who cashes in on souls as a fictional character. They use Satan’s likeness as an act of protest from religious encroachment. They’re trying to rebrand the devil as a symbol of rational dissent.

Writing about this I am deeply conflicted. I’m skeptical of the supernatural. I don’t like when people turn their spiritual beliefs into public policy, and I’ve participated and even lead satirical protests myself.

But as a horror writer I take issue with The Satanic Temple claiming ownership of Baphomet and by extension Satan as fictional characters. Who are they to dictate how writers get to use Satan, especially since they’re coopting him as a tool for their satire?

Imagine if demonstrators dressed as vampires to protest rising temperatures. It would be good for laugh, but no one would take the vampires seriously if they turned around and criticized Castlevaniaon Netflix cartoon for its depiction of Dracula. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t own Dracula.

Back to Sabrina

Perhaps these threats of litigation against Netflix are continuations of The Satanic Temple’s one note joke. If that’s the case it’s just not that funny. Protesting ten commandment monuments on government land feels like punching upward. Protesting a TV show that plays with demon mythology to tell a story of female empowerment feels like punching sideways.

If most practicing Satanists don’t believe in the occult then how woke do stories about Satanic blood orgies really need to be? If you think The Satanic Temple is insincere in their belief in the Satanic pantheon than who are they to dictate who gets to play with it in fiction? In The Chilling Adventures of SabrinaSabrina isn’t a member of The Satanic Temple or The Church of Satan. She’s a member of The Church of Night. Lucien Greaves accurately pointed out that The Church of Night is patriarchal and barbaric, because of course it is, Sabrina needed something to struggle with. Give the audience some credit. Even devoutly religious viewers know that The Church of Night doesn’t exist.

You Can’t Own the Devil

If you appropriate an image of Baphomet from an occultist and rebrand the character as an icon of skeptical enlightenment, you don’t get to be pissed off if a storyteller re-appropriates Baphomet as a symbol of the occult. You may own the sculpture, but you don’t own the character.

In the demand letter sent to Netflix the lawyer for the Satanic Temple claims, “My client is struggling to overcome centuries of stigma surrounding their religious symbolism.”

Let me unpack that for a moment. The devil in bible is not depicted as a goat-legged faun like the statue of Baphomet. He’s said to be a Cherubim, a class of angel with four wings, four hands, and four heads covered head to toe in eyeballs.

Satan became a faun when early Christians took issue with the popularity of idols made to the Greek God Pan. They appropriated Pan’s likeness into their devil, who was then appropriated by Eliphas Levi into his Sabbatic Goat illustration, who was then appropriated by The Satanic Temple into their statue of Baphomet, who was then appropriated by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinafor a fun little show about witches. Centuries of stigma surrounding your religious symbolism? More like centuries of stealing.

I think everyone owes the Greek God Pan some royalties.

Also, no, The Satanic Temple isn’t centuries old. It was founded in 2012. The Church of Satan, which has rebuked The Satanic Temple, was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. People have been accused of being Satanists for centuries, yes, but people didn’t start claiming to be until very recently.

Not a Place I Expected to Find Political Correctness

As amusing as I’ve found The Satanic Temple’s protests it irks me to see an organization that stands out as the antithesis of political correctness try to weaponize political correctness to its advantage.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You didn’t get into Satanism because you were sensitive. Part of the appeal of claiming Satan is getting a rise out of people, especially when you’re driving them batty over something you yourself don’t believe.

All of this ink on The Satanic Temple’s lawsuit reads like click bait signal boosting from entertainers clamoring to stay relevant. You don’t get to cry religious persecution if you don’t buy into your own dogma. That’s some major league false equivalency bullshit.

Satanic Panic? Please

One of the reasons The Satanic Temple says it takes issue with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais how it fans the flames of Satanic Panic. I’d argue the show is far too playful to be taken as a serious representation of any strongly held religious belief system.

I’ve written articles that openly debate whether or not horror writers have any responsibilities when it comes to fanning the flames of superstition, but I strongly doubt we’ll see another wave of Satanic Panic as a result of this or American Horror Story: Apocalypse.

TV pundits aren’t talking about backwards messages in heavy metal records. Geraldo Rivera isn’t harassing Ozzy Osbourne anymore.

Few people even remember Dr. Demento’s harrowing expose on the ritual magic of Dungeons and Dragons.

“Michelle Remembers” has been out of print for a long time. No one is recovering suppressed memories of their imagined cultist upbringing. No is claiming there are mass graves on the outskirts of town.

Horror movies are en vogue again. Harry Potter protests are done and guess what? Harry Potter won.

Satanic Panic is over.

Magus Peter H. Gilmore from The Church of Satan (again, not to be confused with The Satanic Temple) refers to devil worshipers’ newfound prominence in films like The Witchand Hereditaryas a sign of “Satanic Unease,” a symptom of the toxic tribalism in all of our escalating divisions. That’s not a bad diagnosis, but I think its really just Satanic Cynicism.

I doubt any of these screenwriters think practitioners of black magic really exist, so they lump all Satanists together and treat them like any other horror trend. It was zombies and vampires last year. Now its Satanic witches (who bear no real resemblance to true Satanists or Neo-Pagan Wiccans). Soon when all the tides start rising it will be Lovecraftian ocean people with gills (oh wait, that’s already a thing).

I Too Have Appropriated Satan, Come At Me Bro

My book He Has Many Names explores the modern devil, from the few times he takes the stage in the bible, how he got his horns, and what fueled the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Neither The Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple have so much as a walk on role, because the story isn’t about Satanism. It’s about how Satan became a trope in fiction. The protagonist is a writer exploring Satan’s origins only to face a brand new mythology of my own design, and I’ll be damned if I owed anyone any royalties. Continue reading On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

How Horror Bloggers can Milk Halloween All October Long

Another October is upon us and you know what that means: morning show hosts treating pumpkin spice like it’s heroin, think pieces on seasonal depression, and outrage over tone deaf Halloween costumes (this year it’s a slinky short skirted version of the robes from the Handmaid’s Tale).

Oh, and horror writers doing everything they can to get you to look in our direction.

“Hey! You know you’ve been meaning to check out my scary stories out for a while? Well now’s the time!”

That’s right. Now’s the time of year horror writers get to be on brand and topically relevant to the normies in our social media feed. Rather than dig deep for a memoir on how the season shaped our young imaginations (something personally profound no one would read) we need quick clickable articles that write themselves.

Well if you’re looking for a template for sharable Halloween content to steal from you’ve come to the right guy.

Tis the Season to be Listing

Nothing says cheap mindless content like laying on the listicles. Sure everyone who’s into horror has seen trailers for every film that’s come out this year, but you’re a movie maven so inform everyone what they really ought to be watching.

Maybe you’ll be the 10thcritic to finally push them into seeing Mandy, it’s Nic Cage fighting cenobite bikers with a battle-axe (in a slow burning surrealist study with sparse dialogue). What’s not to like?

Maybe you can be the first of your film buff friends to pitch The Endless in a way that makes sense to casual audiences.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them.”

“It’s a coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

“It’s basically The Wicker Man meets Groundhogs Day.”

Clearly I haven’t cracked it yet. Why don’t you try?

Or maybe you can be the first amongst to laud praise on the deboot of Halloween, and champion other exhausted franchises to dump their excess canon in favor of a direct sequels to their original films.

Tap some lists out at the bus stop. Here are some suggestions:

  • Best on Screen Decapitations (The Exorcist 3 is obligatory)
  • Best Mirror Jump Scares
  • Best Demon Etching Title Sequences
  • Best Uses of Moonlight Sonata in a Horror Property
  • Best Horror Spins on Less Successful Sci Fi Premises
  • Best Recent Horrific Crimes for Writers to Base New Material on While the Families are Still Grieving
  • Most Violent Moments on Broadcast Television that Would’ve Gotten an R Rating Had They Been Shown on the Big Screen
  • Best Stephen King Tribute References in Stephen King’s Own Novels

These lists practically write themselves.

Review the Shit Out of Everything

There are too many horror shows for streamers to sift through. Isn’t it part of your vocation as a champion of revulsion to grade them with some sort of skull-centric rating system? Halloween is the Oscars for all things horror. It’s your duty as a corrupter of young minds to cast your vote on time.

Mine the Hell Out of the Past

Save your audience a Google search by listing all the Halloween themed episodes available on streaming. Rank The Simpson Tree House of Horror episodes. Add episodes from the revival seasons of The X-Files to your best of posts, and list the top 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone you want Jordan Peele to remake in the forthcoming series.

Repackage Old Articles with Seasonal Thumbnails

That old blog on Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism is just one jack-o-lantern PNG away from being relevant again. That entry on the art of Building Your Own Monsters is just a Halloween hashtag from being reblogged by readers. You got a few comments from that The War on Halloween editorial just add a devil emoji and share that shit again.

People who know me, should’ve suspected my demon nature for some time.

Streamline Your Short Fiction

Writing seasonal flash fiction is challenging. Those short stories get hits in the moment, but on October 31st they become irrelevant. Why waste your time and energy when you just want readers to click on the books for sale in the margins?

I recommend stocking up on Mad Libs and filling them with monster references:

(Man’s name) Flavius Octavius Davis walked in and opened the (noun) lead lined casket where he found a (adjective) bioluminescent (verb) mangled (noun) alien corpse with rope-like heaps of coiled tentacles. He exclaimed (exclamation) “Sweet Jesus, no!”

Make Your Readers Do the Work

Invite the audience to vote on your Halloween costume options, plans for the night in question, and ultimately your excuses for staying in.

But Whatever You Do Don’t…

Don’t give up them game by telling readers about the cynical click-bait schemes you’ve been concocting behind the scenes. That would be the kind noxious over sharing that would be harmful to your brand. You want to seem like your authentic self to readers without letting it all hang out and actually being authentic.

Only a well-trained transdimensional traveler secure in his meta-musings would poses the strength of mind to even attempt such a thing. (Drew wipes the sweat from his brow while tugging at his collar like a nervous cartoon character.)

Oh… and… uh… Happy Halloween!

•••

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!

How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird

When I was researching He Has Many Names, a story about the devil and a sleazy hotel, I Googled my share of strange things. Most of the story takes place in a forest-themed fantasy suite. As the suite’s interior decorator I had to fill the space with the right furniture. Now I can’t scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing ads for live edge redwood coffee tables, cherry blossom desk lamps, Styrofoam stalactites, moon shaped lanterns, and vine-themed sex swings.

My research queries ended up in my cookies and swapped information between all my logins. My inquiries into the etymology of the devil, his many forms, and the Satanic panic of the 1980s follow me like toilet paper on the bottom of my boot.

Thanks AdChoices but no I’m not interested in BlueDevil Head Gasket Sealer, Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners, or New Jersey Devils apparel. Try harder.

When Searches Go Public

In 2006 a large number of AOL’s users search history leaked online. The 2013 documentaryTerms and Conditions May Apply shows what happened when several anonymous users were identified by their search terms.

One AOL user in particular had a most intriguing search history. He’d looked up “How to kill your wife” multiple times along with “decapitated photos” and pictures of “murder victims.” Alarmist headlines dubbed him the scariest user on AOL and several armchair sleuths set out to unmask him.

Eventually the documentary filmmakers caught up with Jerome Schwartz and pressed him to see if these search terms were his. He admitted to looking up all of them and a slew of other macabre things. Turns out he was writer for the TV show Cold Caseand these search queries were research for his work.

In the documentary Jerome speculates what would happen if a government algorithm had flagged his searches and the FBI came knocking. I’ve joked about what would happen if the feds confronted me with my search history going so far as to turn the scenario into a short story. If these invasions of privacy become the norm a lot of authors are going to need alibis (this is why I write in public). #WriterProblems.

The New Abnormal

I have a feeling AdChoices will damn me to awkward public encounters for years to come.

I’ll be scrolling through FaceBook when someone will catch some strange shit in my border columns.

“A rhinestone codpiece, shackles, and a gimp mask? I had no clue you went in for all that.”

“I’m writing a scene set in a bondage club so those keep showing up.”

“And the adult sized Winnie the Pooh costume with the open butt flap?”

“Oh well, I am into.”

My Killer App Idea

What if there was a browser extension that recognized the online behaviors of writers and adjusted searches, ads, and results accordingly? And no I don’t mean constantly showing us ads for Grammarly or Scrivener. I’m talking about ads that are fine tuned to enhance the research process be it the intricate procedures that make up your characters’ careers, deep dives into the mythology you’re drawing from, or visual inspiration for the buildings that fill up your plot of the astral plane.

If our cookies spread our data from one site to another wouldn’t it be nice if the cookies contextualized the data as it went? The app could let sites know when we’re looking for home décor and when we’re looking for props for our settings, when we’re shopping for apparel and when we’re putting costumes on characters.

If advertisers have to mine my data they could at least draw the right conclusions from it.

Until they do I’ll just keep an ad blocker running. Continue reading How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird

Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion

I’ve always loved deal with the devil stories. From The Devil and Daniel Websterto Needful Things. There’s something about the whole situation I find appealing: the downtrodden hero, the devil incognito, the reality-bending bargain, the buyer’s remorse, and the last ditch effort by to find an escape clause. I’ve always found the situation compelling.

Despite the theology these stories draw from they’re essentially fables about grifters trying to outwit one another. But speaking of theology, I like how these stories play off our need to find cosmic conformation for our values, toy with our sense of mysticism, and challenge our beliefs.

I want to unpack why these stories work so well for me.

We’re Wired for Mysticism

Humanity has a tendency to see patterns in the chaos of nature. Scanning the forest we see faces in the bark. When the breeze shifts we feel the trees are reaching out for us.

We see things in the shadows, because darkness is not the absence of light, it’s the presence of mystery, of phantasmagorical figures and imperceivable whispers.

When our minds fail to grasp something we mystify it. Storytellers know how to exploit this glitch.

When you woke up paralyzed and saw a dark figure at the foot of your bed it might have just been a waking hallucination… but deep down you suspect a demonic visitation. Storytellers know how take your suspicions and turn them in myths.

How Satan Came From Mysticism

Stage magicians used to tell wild stories about the origins of their tricks. They’d say traveled to a misty mountain monastery in the east, in the Far East, where monks worshiped not the one true God, but many deities. It was safe for the magician to presume no one in his audience had been to the region so he filled it with giant sea monsters, strange customs, and cannibalism. The audience would believe him because they were already primed to fear what they don’t understand.

We’re wired to fear everyone outside of our tribe and the devil is the ultimate outsider.

Early Christians mystified foreign Gods by recasting them as devils. The biggest victim of this transition was the horned God Pan. At the time Greek sculptures had made more idols to Pan than any other figure. Perhaps they found his horns and hooves intriguing. Perhaps they identified with his naturalistic philosophy. Perhaps they enjoyed depicting his giant dong.

Early crucifix salesmen couldn’t handle the competition so they launched a campaign to smear Pan’s brand. The only problem was there was already an adversary in Christianity: Lucifer.

Lucifer was a fallen cherubim, a race of angels with four wings, four heads, and skin covered in eyeballs. The bible never says Lucifer changed forms when he fell from heaven, but theologians (beginning with Eusebius) decided that Satan should look like Pan. They gave the Shepard God the old Mephistopheles makeover. No longer would Pan guide weary travelers out of the woods. Now he’d try to swindle them out of their souls.

Many a Pagan deity got the same Satanic mani pedi, and in their demonization their titles got added to those of the devil. He has many names, because not all of them were his. They were stolen and handed down.

The Mystique of the Devil in the Details

The dated mysticism of the foreign other doesn’t work in a woke wired world. These days we need new unknowns to mystify. Judging by the popularity of shows like Black Mirrorwe are now mystifying technology. Even the most conditioned coders can’t help but fear the future. Most of us have a nagging suspicion that social media algorithms are unraveling our souls. There’s room for a new devil in all those ones and zeros.

Perhaps Satan is lurking in all those terms and conditions no one ever feels like reading. I mean do you have 76 days to scan through the privacy policies you agree to annually? For all we know there are incantations between the lines and that subconsciously we’ve found ourselves at the mercy of a form of bleeding edge bibliomancy. Which brings me to…

The Satanic Contract

Part of the appeal of the deal with the devil story is how it upsets the established order. The established order of things is unfair. The playing field isn’t level and many of us will spend our entire lives just scrapping by. It’s easy to be righteous when you’re rich, but when you’re sinking in the quicksand of car payments and student loans morality is a luxury.

So in walks a goat legged eccentric with a pocket full of cheat codes. He says with a little up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a select starthe can grant you whatever is in your heart. All it will cost you is that 21 grams of something that goes missing when you stop breathing. “I mean, what is a soul really?”

You take the Faustian bargain, make a pact with Satan, and get exactly what you want… only to realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all and that the game isn’t satisfying when you play it in easy mode. You want to buy your soul back, but you can’t afford the interest. Turns out the devil is a predatory lender, a shifty genie who never grants the extra wish that lets you get your ass out of debt.

Now you’re staring down the barrel of hell, your back is against the ultimate wall, and the stakes have never been higher. You’re going to have to get creative if you’re going to claw your way out of this.

I fucking love these stories.

Not because of Satan. He’s just the catalyst. He forces the hero to evolve, to better themself, and muster up all of their cunning. I love scary stories with well placed mysticism and epic villains, but secretly I long for a hard won happy ending, with a good life lesson. Deal with the devil stories are great vehicles for this. Continue reading Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion

How Silent Hill Inspired My Writing

Stories with exceptional world building stick with you long after you put them down. They invite you on detours to take in the surroundings: the blimp filled skyline, the gear filled horizon, the towers of steam. These things leave an impression. Stories that veer away from their champions to explore strange civilizations, with nonsensical norms, invite us to image how we’d fit in. Universes with different natural laws, where magic is real and sorcerers can recreate their results lead us to conduct our own thought experiments.

Stories with exceptional world building take up prime real estate in our imaginations. Their authors build the steel frames of civilizations, but leave us with enough ambiguity to fill in with our own details. That’s why people keep returning to the shires of Middle Earth, the dunes of Arrakis, and the rose fields of the Dark Tower.

This phenomenon transcends mediums, down yellow brick roads, through galaxies far far away, and even virtual Matrixes. In fact one of my favorite imagined universes comes from a videogame series called Silent Hill.

I want to explore what makes these games so haunting and what they can teach writers about the importance of world building.

What is Silent Hill?

For those of you who’ve never been to Silent Hill it’s a ghost town in rural Maine. A place where the mist hangs low and ash falls like snow. A mining community that went up in smoke when a coal deposit ignited, perhaps from a accident, perhaps from a ritual sacrifice gone wrong. The fires rage to this day, pumping plumes of smoke through cracks in the street, concealing the town’s tragic history beneath a fog of toxic fumes.

While other ghost towns are a draw for urban explorers Silent Hill attracts a different type of visitor.

Silent Hill through James Sunderland’s Eyes

James Sunderland receives a cryptic letter from his wife Mary, inviting him to join her in their “special place.” The problem is their special place is in Silent Hill at the heart of a burning hellscape. The bridges there have collapsed. Highway patrol officers guard the roads into town. Oh and Mary has been dead for three years. James goes anyway, parking at a rest stop, and trekking through the wilderness until he finds himself in Silent Hill.

On his way James encounters Angela and Eddie, others like him, summoned by the ghosts of their pasts. They mutter to themselves, thinking aloud on past sins. They all seems too far-gone to make for helpful companions.

Shortly after finding a radio James encounters a figure in a tunnel. It staggers into the light revealing its arms are bound in a straight jacket of flesh, its feet are fused with stiletto heels, and its face is featureless apart from a long zipper leading to a gash from which it spews acid vomit. The creature’s very presence makes the radio burst with static.

From here on James embarks on violent journey into the fog, through boarded up buildings, rust strewn corridors, and unspeakable horrors.

Battered and shook James makes it to Mary’s special place in the park, where he encounters Maria, Mary’s physical double and emotional opposite.

This is when story takes a turn for the abstract and James starts to question the authenticity of what he sees. Just as the town reveals its darkness James reveals the darkness within himself.

We learn Mary had a terminal illness and spent her final days in hospice, where she grew hostile to her husband. James responded by drinking himself into a deep depression. He should’ve known his wife was dead when he came into town, because he’s the one who killed her. James smothered Mary with a pillow. He’s been in denial ever since he entered Silent Hill. His journey through the city mirrored the stages of grief.

It turns out the monsters are manifestations of things James has tried to keep buried. The knife wielding nurses in their low cut shirts and short skirts represent his pent up sexual animosity, as do the leggy mannequins chasing him through dark hotel rooms, but the ultimate manifestation of James’s repressed feeling comes in the form Pyramid Head.

Pyramid Head is a giant with a Judas Cradle on its shoulders, a long apron stitched together from human skin, dragging a sword the size of a surfboard across the floor. This unrelenting boogieman represents James’s desire to punish himself. Continue reading How Silent Hill Inspired My Writing

Why Every Horror Writer Needs A Nightmare Journal

Writers are always told our fiction should be informed by our experiences, because the best stories have a kernel of truth to them. With this in mind we smuggle our quote books into our characters’ mouths. We cast colleagues as our leads, and we misappropriate our memoirs into our material. We find and replace our own names and over-share under aliases. We launder tell off speeches through nom de plumes and reveal our truth through jest.

We write what we know until we write the fantastic elements of our story. Then we drop that mantra completely. Without the experiences to draw from we use other methods to ground our stories. We impose rules on the impossible.

A ghost can pester the living from the further, but will be weaker than a person who dares to go there. A magician can project a torch flame across the room, but the heat will diminish 60%. A Jedi can project his consciousness across the galaxy, but the journey will kill him.

We rely on western storytelling conventions to suspend our readers’ disbelief. We hope an internal logic will do the trick. For the most part it works, but what if there was a way to make our fantasies resonate with the same sense of authenticity as stories in our diaries? What if we had fantastic life experiences and we didn’t even know it?

Dreams are Experiences

Dreams are the only place (outside of drug fueled journeys, psychotic episodes, and virtual reality) where we experience true fantasy. Unlike daydreams, dreams push us out of the driver’s seat. When we ride through dream country we’re not creators, we’re experiencers. Our feelings aren’t manufactured, they’re reactive, and due to this delusion of perception, our observations are authentic.

I have friends who check out whenever I pitch them a story, but they lean in whenever I start talking about nightmares.

This is why I advocate the keeping of a nightmare journal, a Compendium of phantasms, an Atlas of the abyss, a Bestiary of bogeymen. You get the idea. Continue reading Why Every Horror Writer Needs A Nightmare Journal

How to Build Your Own Inferno

Hell is an ever-changing landscape, a neighborhood every would-be master of the macabre wants to build real estate on. The bible says Hell is a lake of burning sulfur, a blazing furnace filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth yada-yada-yada. It’s actually a bit fuzzy on the details. There was a lot left for the likes of Dante and Milton to fill in. It’s from their foundations the blueprint got passed down for generations.

The Hell Loop

While hell has enjoyed many renovations since its inception several storytellers have settled on the one design. Let’s call it the hell loop. In a hell loop a sinner is forced to relive their worst memory for all eternity. It’s like Groundhog Day if Bill Murray’s character couldn’t change the events he relived, learned nothing from them, and had less time before the loop came back around.

You’ll see examples of this in movies like Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey andConstantineand in TV shows like The Twilight Zone,American Horror Story, Preacher, and Lucifer.

I think the hell loop cheats the audience. Hell is one of those colorful settings where writers have license to go big, get weird, and revel in the absurd. Looping a real world event feels like a copout. It’s an easy scenario to film on a budget and it doesn’t require much imagination. The scenario provides a safe default when hell’s architect doesn’t feel like drawing up a plan.

While a hell loop would be a horrible thing to experience it isn’t all that poetic. Continue reading How to Build Your Own Inferno

How to Scare a Skeptic

I’ve seen the northern lights stream across the sky like a special effect, but I’ve never seen an unidentified flying object. I’ve awoken to a shadow standing beside my bed post, but I can’t claim to have seen a ghost. I’ve hiked through many a forest until my legs went caput, but I’ve never laid eyes on big foot.

I’ve met people who’ve claimed to have performed exorcisms, to have had near death experiences, and to have spoken to spirits. I want to believe everything they say, because it makes the world seem magical, but there’s something I’ve learned over the years: people say a lot of things. Continue reading How to Scare a Skeptic