There are horror movies that you can’t wait to see. Literally, you are counting down the months and days until you can get into one of those fat leather recliners in the theater, bury yourself with an insanely sized soft drink and a bucket o’ popcorn the side of your head. Ahhh… finally, you’re going to watch something scary AF with an 8/10 probability of you sleeping with the closet light on, tonight right?
And then it happens. Boring happens. More often than not, contemporary horror movies fail to resonate with true terror for the most devoted horror movie fans. Have we become desensitized over years of screaming “RUN!” and “NO NOT THAT WAY!” at the big screen or our televisions? Or has there been a massive movement to ‘water down’ scary novels when they are converted to screenplays, to appeal to a boarder commercial audience?
We get it. If a movie is ‘too scary’ (personally we don’t believe there is such a thing), then a portion of the population will never see the movie. Will never buy the oversized soda’s and overpriced popcorn and cheesy pretzels the theater. And since the average movie can cost between $20 million to more than $100 million dollars to produce, you bet the studio shareholders want something marketable.
But where does that leave true horror fans? Waiting for the very rare (but jaw droppingly terrifying) psychological horror scripts. These movies are up to the standard for horror fans, because they leave you feel frankly traumatized after you have watched them. And there is not beating the adrenaline rush that psychological horror films deliver.
We pay to be scared. We want to be scared. And if you are an aspiring horror screenplay, short story or novel writer, you want to make sure you hit those valuable psychological triggers, to make your story memorable (and affectionately traumatizing) for your fans.
Write your horror to horrify the audience, with these 7 essential themes, visual tricks and audience mind games to deliver a truly frightening piece of horror.
1. Create a Safe and Loving Environment for the Characters (Then Violate It)
Have you ever noticed how some of the most classic horror movies and screenplays, do a lot of work to develop a sense of love, safety and sentimental memories? Whether it is a family cabin, with personal history and childhood pictures everywhere, with quaint homemade touches, or a contemporary smart home with virtually every security feature possible. When you set the stage for safety and security, you are preparing to shatter that sense of safety, with terrifying effect.
To empathize with the characters, horror writers must help the audience relate. From the smell of “mom food” cooking in the kitchen, to the friendly family dog (sigh… why does the dog always get it in a horror movie?), you are sharing that sense we all feel in our own home. It’s our territory. We know every square inch of our homes, and there is something sacred about your house. Which is violated the moment a really horrible monster, serial killer, alien, or scarier yet, a malicious human comes through the doors of your personal security, to do harm to family.
Oh look… they are riding in a family car and singing along like we do. And then, bad things happen.
2. Leverage Fear of the Unknown
In a truly psychologically terrifying movie, everything should make sense along the plot line, until things start to happen that make no sense. The more sophisticated kind of horror plots will take the audience along a predictable story path, where they THINK they can predict the ending, and then throw a monkey wrench into the story where literally, shit hits the fan and nothing is okay anymore.
Lulling your audience into a sense of comfort with a predictable introductory storyline, is one of the best ways to shock and horrify them. Some of the most effective horror films of our time, did not actually show us the villain. Monsters or demonic forces moving around the characters, force the audience to imagine what is lurking beyond. And when horror writers master the fear of the unknown in a novel or screenplay, the confirmation that the threat is worse than the audience imagined, makes for truly cinematic trauma.
Not actually knowing what is coming to get the characters is scarier than any special effect monster or visual.
3. Can You Make Your Audience Hold Their Breathe? Weaponizing Suspense in Horror
Nobody likes suspense. It makes us squirm. We want to know what is going to happen next, and when horror writers spin scene development to gradually increase the crescendo from audience concern, to perceived threat, to confirmation of the threat in a slow agonizing way? That’s how writers can create the adrenaline rush that horror fans love.
When the audience has affiliated or created a favorably impression about the protagonists, or lead characters in the movie, they feel some affection toward them. That’s masterful character development in any paranormal or horror story. The audience becomes invested in the character(s) and doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to them. Even though innately, they know some really bad shit is coming for the would-be heroes.
The longer you draw out the aura of suspense in a horror scene, the more time the audience has to worry about the safety of the character. To imagine the terrible thing that might happen to them next, and to formulate a guess about the ‘last character standing’. Will that character survive? Will there be any survivors? Suspense draws out that anxiety, raises the pulse of the audience, and ends up confirming their worst fears for the character. And the audience experiences the terror of the character in the first-person, imagining what they would do in a similar situation.
Some of the movies that are premiering in Fall 2020 hold a lot of promise to return to the kind of psychological horror that fans love. Like “Halloween Kills” which is rumored to be the last in the Michael Myers and Laurie Strode saga. Or the much anticipated “Antlers” lore about the Wendigo.
Do you feel like horror movies today are less scary than they used to be? We love hearing from our members. Leave us a comment and tell us which horror movie or novel remains the most psychologically traumatizing fiction you’ve ever experienced.
As a horror writer, you have been self-publishing short fiction, or novels in an effort to get the attention of publishers. Creative writers can dream of that moment when they are discovered. Much like a garage band that is signed up by a big agent for a record deal. Then suddenly, you are catapulted into fame and insanely large residuals for your horror novels, or screenplays.
That does not even happen for garage bands anymore. Unless they appear on American Idol. And even then, they are supported by a massive marketing machine to help the artist create a marketable brand. In publishing, where there are no guarantees about the profitability of a horror novel, there is no golden ticket or free ride to overnight success.
Get Down With Your Marketing to Attract Paranormal and Horror Publishers
Today, publishers only sign writers who have created that marketable brand themselves. You do not need a million-dollar budget to build a fan base, but it is a business investment and a time-consuming project. In fact, many writers can build their base for 5-10 years, feeding their fans with self-published works before a publisher will even look at providing a contract for the writer.
Horror and paranormal novelists and screenplay writers have to build their fan base first. They have to be their own high-powered marketing machine to demonstrate that their creative work is marketable. So basically, when you build that audience to the point where you are starting to make a little money on the side from sales of your books, or advertising on your blog or podcast, that’s when you’ll be ready to pitch publishers.
And start collecting those rejection letters. Do not worry, Stephen King had more than thirty rejection letters for his novel “Carrie”. He had a nail in his office that he kept adding his rejection letters to, skewering his failures, and trudging on. When the nail could not support the letters anymore, he drove a spike into the wall, and continued collecting the rejection letters from publishers. The point is, get ready for rejection, and remember that it is part of the process, as it has been for every famous horror writer you know.
Breaking into the business today takes organic crowdsourcing and a consistent effort to build your authorship. So, what kind of digital marking DIY activities are actually worth spending your time and money on?
Start With Your Author Website
Believe it or not, people still read books. And when they have enjoyed an indie self-published horror novel, or collection of short horror fiction, they want to learn more about the author. This is where a lot of writers do not take the time or effort to establish their brand persona and make it easier for readers to become fans.
Before you max out your credit card and build a complex website, understand that it is not about how ‘fancy’ your website is (or expensive). What really matters is that the core fundamentals for branding are on your author website.
Previews or excerpts from your book(s)
Links to self published books or collections for sale.
An author bio page (bonus points for a video welcome message from you, talking about your books, character development techniques, and why you love being a horror writer.
A newsletter sign-up (and you actually have to send email updates to your fans monthly to keep them interested and subscribed).
Social media accounts, sharing your insights, your process for character and plot development.
A podcast (if you hate the idea of being on live videos and in front of the camera). Some authors build a large following by reading excerpts from their books and/or providing low-cost audio downloads of their books.
We know what you are thinking; “wow, that’s a lot of work”. The good news is that if you have never set up your own website or had some experience with digital marketing (blogging, social media management, etc.) there are low-cost courses you can take on Udemy. They start at $12 per course in digital marketing, and you can learn how to create and promote your own author brand.
How Often Should I Blog?
Many writers ironically struggle to publish blog content on their own author websites. That makes no sense to anyone else but a writer. It is easy to create fiction, and not so easy to market yourself, or talk about your accomplishments and self-published works (let alone promote them). But you really do need to be your own talent agent to grow that coveted audience that publishers insist on before they start writing checks for your work.
Search engine optimization or SEO is really important on your author website. The more content you add to your website, the better. But Google and other search engines prefer high-quality content, that is longer than 1,000 words and optimized with keywords that relate to your audience.
A great software tool to use for beginners, is Yoast Premium. The plug-in is available for WordPress websites and will give you tips on choosing the right keywords and search terms, to help your blog articles attract readers (and website traffic).
Aim to add at least (4) new articles per month, or about one article per week. Yep, it is work, but hey, you are a writer! It should be a walk in the park for you to talk about the things you love writing about, ideas for new characters, and share with your readers.
Writing Articles for Other Websites? How Does That Help My Audience Grow?
If you are already thinking that writing for your own blog may be a lot of work, this next proven suggestion is going to blow your mind. Not only do you need to write for your own website regularly, but you should be seeking opportunities to publish work on other websites too. For free.
Guest blogging is a strategy that actually helps the contributing author. True, your amazing horror short-fiction piece or journalistic article about lore, horror movies or book reviews or other entertainment content is going to be published on another website. That makes them look good, to have more content! But did you know it is also a really valuable self-branding exercise?
Here are five reasons you should consider being a guest contributor on a horror or paranormal blog:
1. It does get your name out there. When you are choosing which blogs to contribute to, make sure you are selecting high-traffic websites. If the blog you are submitting to is a ghost town, it is not really going to benefit you that much. The primary advantage for guest-blogging authors, is that you get exposure to a larger potential audience of fans.
2. You get a backlink. This may be something you have to ask for, as a new guest-blogger and horror/paranormal author, a backlink. The more related websites you have linking into your own personal author website, the more traffic you can expect to receive. Usually publishers will allow you to hyperlink one work or phrase within the guest article, that clicks back to your own website. Backlink established, and a potential open door to anyone who wants to learn more about you, after they have read your guest blog post.
3. You get a valuable callout on social media. When you contribute to another blog as a guest author, ask if the collaboration will involve sharing your article on the media outlet’s social media channels. When you are picking the best guest writer opportunities, also take a look at how many followers the publication has on popular channels like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If they have a huge fanbase on social, that is a big opportunity to expose your creative writing to an even larger audience of fans.
4. It works the writer muscle and discipline. Hands up if you have 2-4 different novels saved and archived, at different stages of development. It is not really procrastination. Writing is a superpower and you have to be inspired and motivated to continue the story line. It is really about how you feel as a creative. Sometimes, you can write two chapters in a day, other times, you are staring at the page for three hours.
Being a regular blog contributor is like working out your hands, your brain, and your creativity on a weekly basis. And that can help you make progress on your own creative work, by fostering regular writing habits.
5. Guest blogging is a great way to network within the genre. You want to make sure you are collaborating with websites that gather horror and paranormal fans, since that is the genre you want to break into as a novel, short fiction, or screenplay writer. You never know who knows someone who is looking for new authors (including connections to publishers, and big horror content buyers like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime for original series storylines). The more you guest blog, the more you network, and that can lead to big things for horror writers.
There are some courses and master classes out there that can teach you some of the advanced techniques of building an author brand. For most writers, those courses (while valuable learning) are pretty expensive. You can actively build your own audience with a great website, and by writing content that people love to read, to crowdsource the fan base you will need, to successfully pitch major publishers and horror content buyers.
To learn more about collaborating with Puzzle Box Horror, and how to pitch our editorial team about a lore, horror, or paranormal non-fiction article, send us an email. Puzzle Box Horror is a rapidly growing online community of creative writers, indie horror filmmakers and artists, and we accept guest blog content to showcase the talent of our community.
many times have you heard a writer say that they are completing a novel and plan to start submitting it to commercial publishers? It an overnight success story that is kind of similar to the garage band that has a music label scout discover them, and whisk them away in a limo to sign a million-dollar contract?
It used to happen that way. But not anymore.
As we discussed in our introductory advice article for horror writers, publishers want to eliminate as much risk as possible, when they take on a new author and book launch. Until your work has been tested at the retail level, there is no way to measure how successful it may be. Will it be a profit or loss situation for the publisher?
Publishers expect writers to build their own fan base first, before launching a commercially published book. This was work that was done previously by publishers who had public relations and vast marketing budgets to create a buzz and stimulate sales for any new book.
Today, the best indicator that an author will sell a large number of books commercially, is determined by the size of the authors fanbase. Email subscribers, website traffic, social media followers and other measurable audience metrics will help you pitch your book to a publisher. The problem is that you have to spend a few years building up that fan base before a publisher will even read your excerpts.
We have taken some of the mystery out of pre-marketing and brand building for horror and paranormal writers. Here are 7 ways you can help build momentum and fan demand, while you are completing your first novel. And since no writers we know have a $50,000 launch budget, we have provided some cost saving resources and hacks to save you time and money.
1.Define Your Author Persona
It is time to get existential and ask the deep dark questions only answered on a cheap leather couch in a psychologist’s office: “who are you?” Every writer has the opportunity to use their own name or develop a pen name. When it comes to your persona, will you mirror your exact personality and lifestyle, or will you work on something with extra creative license?
When it comes to marketing and sales, a little intrigue goes a long way. Does that mean that every writer persona is made up, and not authentic? In our experience most writers incorporate a little bit of themselves into their public brand and persona, while keeping certain things private for personal and safety reasons.
Let us say you do become a New York Time’s Best Seller. Would you want the world to know your address? The names of your children, where your parents live or the kind of car you drive? Safety is usually the reason why some authors choose a pen name, and a persona that protects their identity, without misrepresenting who they are.
Because one of the coolest things an author can do, is reveal their pen name(s) after they have become an international bestselling writer. You want that option later without being accused of lying. It is a fine line you want to be aware of because fans will fact check.
2. Create a Business Logo
Have you ever looked at the logos created by and for conventional writers? It is usually the writer’s name and a small embellishment. Something dignified and understated that can look more like a signature on a check than an actual graphical logo.
In the horror genre however, writers use their logos as a powerful branding tool. We are allowed to be even more creative by celebrating the macabre with artwork in our logo. A skull? Cthulhu? A knife dripping with blood? In the horror genre, everything is fair game, particularly if it helps build audience and brand recognition.
If you do not have Photoshop chops, you can work with a graphic designer. There are a shockingly large number of designers who specialize in logo and branding materials for horror authors too. Choose a design that feels like you, and one that has an impact. This may involve driving your friends crazy and showing them a variety of different logos.
3. Build a Website
Take a deep breath… we are not suggesting that you drop several thousand dollars and have a marketing agency design an HTML or WordPress website for you. If you plan to sell e-commerce products on your website (you’re welcome; it is a great idea!) then a WordPress site is your best bet, and you will need to make an investment for secure payments, etc.
But if an e-commerce marketplace or store on your website is not part of your monetization plan, then you can choose from a variety of insanely affordable DIY website design providers. For a small monthly or annual fee, you get access to easy-to-design templates, and some even come with free photo stock images you can use.
Here are some of the most affordable and beginner friendly website hosting and design providers:
You do not have to have training in website design to be able to slap together a really great looking site on your own. Make sure that you only use copyright free images on your website. Photography that is licensed to use for a business website can be found for free at Pixabay, or through other paid photo stock services like Adobe Stock.
The design of your website as a horror writer, is probably going to be in theme and a little ‘on the dark side’ of the spectrum (which is exactly what fans want to see). In terms of the content you should have on your website, the standard pages and functional elements are:
Portfolio of Published Work
Social Media Icons (Follow Me)
One of the criteria that publishers look at, is how many followers a writer has on social media, but also on their subscriber list. Getting your fans to subscribe to your email, allows you to have a growing headcount of readers who are interested in your work. This helps later when you are pitching commercial publishers.
Some writers will add a photo gallery to their website (usually feeding from a host site like Flickr or Google Images). Fans who follow up and coming writers, enjoy learning about the creative process behind the stories they read. Writers that share images that inspired them, or a picture of a diner where they were writing a new chapter? They create a close relationship with their fans when they share the ‘behind the scenes’ details.
Make a few CTAs (call to action) elements on your website that encourage your audience to subscribe. If you really want to be proactive and grow your email subscribers quickly, consider adding a contest or incentive. Have a monthly draw for a $50 Amazon gift card or give away a horror merchandise collectible every month. Make it a fun horror trivia contest or something engaging, and you could find yourself adding several hundred new fans to your email marketing list.
And remember to send them at least one email per month to stay in touch. You can write about upcoming horror events, new projects that you are working on, releases of new horror movies and novels, etc.
4. Start Blogging Obsessively
Website visitors do not become real literary fans, until you have shared your writing with them. Since you want to sell books (including starting with self-published short works), you do not want to constantly give out previews or excerpts that add up to a reason why fans should not buy your books.
What kinds of things can you blog about? Observations about human nature, some of your personal experiences, character traits you enjoy writing about, upcoming projects, behind the scenes inspiration, creative ideas for book covers (fans love to contribute their feedback!), interviews (blogs or podcasts) and more.
Since we just mentioned interviews, you have to be your own public relations specialist and agent when you are starting out as a new horror writer. That means approaching horror and paranormal websites and podcast channels to offer interviews on interesting topics. You will have to pitch the editorial team for the opportunity and free traffic (and new audience exposure). Many blogs and podcasts will provide the opportunity for free; the largest ones require an administrative and advertising fee for putting your brand in front of a huge target audience of millions.
5. If You Do not Feel Pretty Start a Podcast
Some people love being in front of the camera. You know who they are; just check out their Instagram account, right? But many of us (myself included) would sooner watch one of those mushy Hallmark movies than jump in front of the camera to record a video for public consumption).
My phobias are pretty simply; I think I have a face for radio, not television. And that is exactly why I love to podcast. Under a pen name for freedom and anonymity. My podcast took me about thirty minutes to set up and Podbean costs me very little and is one of the easier dashboards to use for beginners. After four years, I am still using it, because it is fast and easy to use.
When you record podcasts, you can talk about any aspect of your writing and process. People love to see how a writer’s brain works, and the more details you share about your activities and how you work on a book, the more enthralled they will be. Also remember that podcast episodes can be imbedded as rich content (press to play) on a WordPress website. Do not forget to install a podcast link and player as a call-to-action to get more subscribers to the podcast and listeners.
When you are paying for hosting on a podcast, remember that you are also accessing an exceptionally large community of digitally fluent information or entertainment seekers. That is the profile for the average podcast listener. Part of the cost of subscribing to a podcast host includes that large audience, and the growth and advertising potential the podcast community provides.
6. Ramp Up Your Social Media
If you love being on social media and creating content like graphics and videos, you are not going to have a problem with this. If you absolutely hate being on social, try to change your mindset on it because it is one of your most valuable marketing tools.
You can get a little help from a family member or friend to post interesting content at a regular 2-3 times per week schedule. If you hire someone to manage your social media, make sure they are monitoring your account, and responding to as many fans as possible. That is what we do at Puzzle Box Horror, because we think if you made the effort, we should show our gratitude with some bilateral conversation and appreciation.
One of the things you do not want to do (no matter how tempted you are) is to buy followers. First of all, it is breaking the Terms Conditions and Limitations TOS for all social networks. Networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are only interested in real followers, not fake accounts, or bots. It is not the quantity of the followers but the quality that matters, as you are building your literary fan base. They can’t buy your book if they are a bot!
7. Self-Publish Novellas or Short Story Collections
People want a taste of your writing, and you can only feed your fans partial excerpts on your blog so long before they want something more substantial. That is when authors will typically start releasing self-published books or print on demand softcovers for their fans. Not novels, but novellas and sometimes short story anthologies. Like Stephen’s King’s Skeleton Crew, or virtually every amazing thing written by Edgar Allan Poe.
It is exciting to earn some residual income from your writing for the first time. Think of it as a preamble to the success you may see, if you are able to get your novel published and distributed commercially. Create small fiction works, but do not share too much about your novel(s) with your fan base. It is your product and you do not want to give it away for free; nor do you want another writer ripping off your idea. And trust us, it happens!
Three Years? That is What Seth Godin Says
Seth Godin is one of the mega marketing brains on the planet and a millionaire entrepreneur and author. This is his advice for writers who want to get published commercially:
“The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
Three years is a long time of preparation. But you can do these important marketing activities in tandem with your writing. When you need to take a break from your novel(s), consider writing horror and paranormal short stories that you can bundle into a self-published anthology. Give away some of your self-published books to fans and use them as a promotional tool to grow your audience.
Fiverr can be a great place to get some extra help, and if you think you don’t have enough time in your schedule to post regularly on social media, and create email correspondence, a virtual assistant may be an affordable way to make sure that those promotional pieces are done consistently. Ask your social media assistant to do following activities on Instagram and Twitter, to seek out horror fans to connect with.
The end goal will be a successful website that demonstrates strong personal branding. A large following of real fans on your social networks; people who are avid engaged readers who will give you feedback. Some may even become brand advocates, by recommending your novels or horror short stories to others.
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Possibly one of the most well-received writers and unfortunately, one of the most recently deceased within the horror writing community, Dennis Etchison made his waves in the world of writers at large. As an American writer and editor of fantasy and horror fiction, he has been hailed as, “one hell of a fiction writer,” by his peer in horror, Stephen King. Etchison himself described his work as, “rather dark, depressing, almost pathologically inward fiction about the individual in relation to the world,” which is fair–writing horror is a pretty grim business. It could be argued thatThe Viking-Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, which described him as, “the most original living horror writer in America,” really did recognize the genius and inspirational talent of him as a writer. At the end of this month, we’re coming up on the first anniversary of the death of this highly regarded writer of horror fiction. So join us as we celebrate the life and work of Dennis Etchison for our Dead Author Dedication of May.
Born Dennis William Etchison on March 30, 1943 in Stockton, California and he grew up as an only child when World War II was still ravaging the globe. He, therefore, didn’t have any men in his home and as a result believed he was spoiled greatly as a child where he spent most of his time without normal exposure to children his own age. It’s said that this sense of isolation from his peers, as well as the need to interact with society, was reflected later as parts of the themes of many of his work. His father regularly took him to attend shows at the Olympic Auditorium where he developed a fascination in the fight between good and evil–and gave him the ability as a young boy to become a fan of wrestling as a sport.
During his teenage years he wrote for his school papers and was a decidedly good writer for his age, having discovered Ray Bradbury and emulated his style before he had developed his own. This was the time that he began writing short stories, but upon submitting them for publication was rejected every time–that is until he remembered Ray Bradbury, who had suggested that a writer should look to a market that would be the least likely to publish their work. After heeding the advice of his source of inspiration, he was promptly accepted for publication in a gentlemen’s magazine entitled Escapade.
While we’re going to focus more on the literary career of Dennis Etchison in our next installment of the Dead Author Dedication for the month of May, we feel it’s important to recognize here some of the highlights of his achievements. Dennis Etchison had a prolific writing career when it came to short story fiction, something utterly unheard of for an author who was actually quite popular during their lifetime–considered a king of anthologies, he began with publications of his short stories in the 1960s.
At UCLA he sought a higher education in the 1960s, Etchison studied film and eventually became highly knowledgable on the subject; he wrote various screenplays, many of which were never produced. He even became a consultant to Stephen King for his non-fiction volume Danse Macabre (1981) and also wrote for television. In his expansive five-decade career, his range included short stories, movie novelizations, original novels, anthologies, essays, editorials, and radio work.
Much of Etchison’s work can be found under his pen name, Jack Martin, One thing that Etchison can be credited for aside from all of his other achievements is his excessive humility when regarding his own work. Inspiration can be found from his relatability for aspiring writers and we think that this can be summarized by one quote in particular.
I know a short story or a book that I’ve written much better than anybody else in the world. I’ve read it a hundred times. And just because it’s published doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. You don’t write in a vacuum. You write on a schedule, professionally, and something may be published that I know is flawed. I understand the weaknesses of the work better than anybody else.
I could give you an annotated version of one of my stories that would point out not only the references and the origins of the lines and thoughts, but what I was trying to do – what I wished there were more of, what I now think there’s too much of. After you’ve written it and set it aside, you can come back to it and you see it in a different light. So I now look back at any story of mine more than a couple of years old and it does not look good to me. I could go through it and make it better, but I don’t do that. It represents the best I could do at that time, under those circumstances, and it’s representative of the person I was. I am embarrassed by some of the early stories, which continue to come back in reprint anthologies around the world.
It’s nice to be paid for work I did in my teens! But I can look at it as if someone else had written them and say, “My God! Is he aware of how these words look on the page?” I have a more acute sense of style than I did then; a better understanding of myself and human relationships. Two years from now I’ll look back at the present stories and be appalled. But it’s like life: what you do is the best you can do on that day. You have to finish your job at the end of the day and say, given the circumstances, this was the best that I could do. But tomorrow’s a new day. I can try to do better.
Dennis Etchison on his own writing.
Throughout his career Etchison gave back to the next generation of aspiring writers, by teaching classes in creative writing at his alma mater, UCLA. The most admirable trait of this horror master, is that he inspired many to write down their stories and accept that our flaws as writers actually contribute to our ability to evolve and improve.
Although his cause of death has still been relatively unreported upon, we do know that Etchison was reported to have died during the night on May 28, 2019, at the age of 76. This was a tremendous blow to the modern horror community, as it lost one of the most influential modern writers who brought originality and life to such an exciting genre of fiction.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)
Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.
What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.
The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.
The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.
Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!
The Last Man (1826)
Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.
In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.
Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.
The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.
Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
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