Tag Archives: spooky

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

My Reoccurring Nightmare

I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.

The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.

While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.

The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.

For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.

The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.

There’s only one way to find this place.

I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.

Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.

I breath it all in. Continue reading My Reoccurring Nightmare

A reading from The Pigeon King

The following is a spooky excerpt from my short story The Pigeon King.

CLICK HERE to find out what happens next. Continue reading A reading from The Pigeon King

An excerpt from The Pigeon King

The following is an excerpt from The Pigeon King, my new short story (at 7,500 words it’s more of a novelette) now available on Amazon.

Chapter 1: A Little Too Quiet

It was move in day and my new condo was far from furnished, save for a coffee table and a floor full of boxes. Still I couldn’t wait to test the acoustics. I had tried to record a podcast in my previous basement apartment, but every passing car, barking mutt, and hooting frat boy had me pressing PAUSE. Recordings that should’ve taken minutes took days.

That’s why I persuaded my parents to invest in a top floor unit, high above the street corner brawlers, bus stop freestylers, and dissonant dive bars.

My new building was made for peace and quiet. It had glass fiber insulation, triple pane windows, and concrete walls. It had two security officers, cameras in every corridor, and a lease specifically stating: no parties whatsoever.

No longer would I wake up to a gaggle of giggling gals, flooding out of the stairwell in stiletto heels. No longer would I be a captive audience to a domestic dispute and no longer would I have to hear the makeup sex that came after.

I could sleep comfortably knowing the only thing waking me up in the middle of the night would be my own bladder.

The condo was like something out of a dream. When I stood in the center of the living room all I heard was the ringing of my own eardrums. I couldn’t believe this was mine, Daniel J. Cameron’s Casa de Heaven.

I shut off all of my electronics, except for the computer, turned down the furnace, and flicked off the lights. I dumped my journalism texts out and taped the box over the window. I even draped a blanket across the balcony doors just to be safe.

With the exterior of the space taken care of I pinned a roll of duct tape to a desk lamp, stretched a sock around it, and positioned it in front of my microphone. Voilà: I had a homemade pop filter to catch those stray P and B sounds before they could taint my audio with artifacts.

It was finally time to open the decibel meter on my phone. A whisper quiet library sits at 35 decibels. A bedroom at night rests at 30. I’d managed to get this place down to 25. Continue reading An excerpt from The Pigeon King

The Pigeon King Book Trailer

The Pigeon King is now available on Amazon!

Submitted for your approval, a mind-bending short story that’s one part Alfred Hitchcock and another part Wile E. Coyote.

We invite you to enter the home of one Daniel J. Cameron, an aspiring podcaster with a penchant for judging other cultures. Daniel lives a privileged lifestyle in a condo purchased by his parents, but something is about to break his comfortable silence: Pigeons. Avian vermin.

Birds of a feather flock toward Daniel’s balcony, clogging his home with cooing sounds. He’ll seek peace by going to war with them. Little does he know something supernatural summons these squawking squatters to sully his solitude.

In just a moment Daniel will learn that madness doesn’t migrate, that some sounds cannot be suppressed, and that isolation can serve as an invocation of a entity known only as “The Pigeon King.”

We invite you to partake in a truly bizarre experience, from the Twilight Zone to Amazon and ultimately your e-reader. Follow the link to find out what happens.

You’ll never let your guard down around pigeons again.

Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

A horror story about a dark passenger too many of us are forced to chauffeur: depression. Continue reading Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

Black Noise Podcast Episode 1: Red Flags

Welcome to the inaugural episode of my Podcast: Drew Chial’s Black Noise, where I premiere short stories in the spirit of the Twilight Zone. Unlike my previous audio shorts I plan on prefacing these recordings with informal thoughts on my writing process.

This first episode is largely unstructured. I’ve yet to develop any bits beyond the reading and an artist statement. So I winged it. Maybe next time I’ll have a checklist.

Feel free to share your ideas for future episodes in the comments.

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My audiobook Terms and Conditions is now free on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here!

The Phantom of Truth

The Phantom of Truth appeared at the foot of my bed. His black robe draped over the mattress. His boney knees made the springs squeal. He pinned me to the pillows with a crocked finger as thick as a broom handle.

The Phantom did not fade in and out like a waking dream. He was a real tangible thing, buckling the floorboards, scrapping his hunchback against the ceiling, getting dust all over everything. He was a giant whose every movement shook the room. If he jumped he’d take the whole floor down with him.

It occurred to me that his long black robe was made from scales. I thought the robe might’ve been stitched together from snakeskins, until I saw it puff out on its own like the sack beneath a frog’s neck. The cloak had no seams. I couldn’t tell where it ended and the creature’s long arms began. Continue reading The Phantom of Truth

Dream Detective: Audio Short Story Collection

Here are 8 Dreams and Nightmares turned into 8 works of flash fiction, all in 18 minutes of audio. Each one is something straight out of the Twilight Zone: haunting, surreal, and filled with twists. Stream for free or download and pay whatever price you want.

My Audiobook is now on Bandcamp

My horror novella Terms and Conditions is now on Bandcamp! Find out what happens when an artist accidentally sells his inspiration to the devil.

Download the audio from Bandcamp:

Continue reading My Audiobook is now on Bandcamp