Hey Internet! Guess what? I have a YouTube channel! Okay, I didn’t start it and I do barely any work because hey, these blogs don’t write themselves and there is that novel to revise still, am I right? Yeah, you get me. Anyhow, Danny Knightmare (my husband), Undead Jess (our cousin), Ronnie Angel, LOLZ (my son) and I (Gory B. Movie) started a horror-loving vlog. We review movies, TV and books together (okay, I do the books. I’m not sure the boys can read). We also make silly shorts and we’re planning loads more! Seriously, you should check it out because it’s awesome, it still has that new vlog smell and I’m in it!
Here is our most recent video, a review of Gone Girl on Blu-Ray. Check it out and don’t forget to hit that thumbs up button and subscribe while you’re there.
With the Insurgent movie opening next month, I figured it was time for me to buckle down and finish the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.
I read the first installment, Divergent last year and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t impressed. While the plot was interesting, the writing fell flat. Dystopian Chicago was intriguing, but beyond some stiff SAT prep definitions of the factions there was almost no world building. Roth’s writing is all tell, no show. I blame the stiff narration and the limited description in part on the first person POV.
Tris does not have a compelling voice. A great first-person novel should have a distinct voice that engages the reader. Think of Catcher in the Rye or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Tris’s voice is dull, robotic and emotionally detached.
Another advantage to a third-person POV would be a more thorough and unbiased depiction of the world. I was very interested in the setting but Tris’s limited understanding of her environment painted a very narrow picture. I’m still curious to know what the Amity initiation process is.
In the second book, Insurgent, we are invited into Amity territory. but because Tris is not interested in learning more about the faction of kindness, readers are left with more questions than answers.
Fortunately, Roth’s writing strengthens as the series progresses. She rarely gives thorough descriptions but every so often she surprised me with an elegant turn of phrase. While her description is limited, her writing is clean and easy to breeze through.
Which is good because not a whole lot happens in Insurgent. This is a filler book. Tris and Four fight, make up and then fight some more. They travel from one faction base to the next and are introduced to a slew of characters that are impossible to keep track of.
Surprisingly, I was impressed by the final book in the trilogy, Allegiant. Granted my expectations were low, particularly after reading so many negative reviews. In praise of this novel, it was interesting to discover more about the world outside the walls of Chicago. Many of the negative reviews I’ve read about Allegiant criticized the ending but I thought Roth painted a beautiful picture in the final act.
However, the alternating first-person POVs in Allegiant between Four and Tris made the story difficult to follow. Four and Tris have very similar voices and there were many places in the novel where I found myself flipping back to remind myself whose POV I was reading. There were also far too many characters introduced for me to keep up with, let alone care about.
I finished my Divergent marathon with what ended up being my favorite book in the series: Four. Roth’s love for this complex character is clear in this collection of novellas about Tris’s love interest Tobias Eaton aka Four. She writes him with a passion and insight that I felt was lacking in the Divergent trilogy. Roth’s ability to paint a scene is strongest in this book and after finishing it I am much more inclined to read future works by this author. This was a fast and compelling read. Upon finishing it, I wished I had read Four before Allegiant. I think had I done that, it would have been easier to keep track of the supporting characters.
Overall, I think the Divergent series is worth reading and if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend checking out the book series before the Insurgent film adaptation comes out in March. This is a must-read for fans of young adult dystopian books. If that’s your cup of tea, then you will love these books– though not as much as you loved The Hunger Games. If you’re more like me and you enjoy occasionally dipping your toe in the young adult fiction waters but prefer adult swim then your feelings will be lukewarm. Oh, and if you hated Hunger Games, skip this one entirely. Divergent is the Jan Brady to Hunger Game’s Marcia, the Casey Affleck to Hunger Games Ben, the Shasta to HG’s Pepsi. You get the idea.
Now I want to hear from you! If you’ve read the series, what did you think of it? Which was your favorite book? And will you be lining up to see Insurgent when it hits theaters March 20th?
You know those crane machines filled with cheap stuffed toys and the occasional awesome one that you simply must have? Penpal is a lot like those. The writing is long-winded and poorly paced, but if you’re patient, you will find that the story is worth the trouble and the purseful of coins it costs to buy the book.
Not the most enticing pitch, I know, but there is no way to soften the blow of writing that reads like an old man rambling. Seriously, the dad in How I Met Your Mother tells a more focused story. What makes this story drag are insignificant facts repeated throughout (like the main character’s best friend being left-handed). Penpal got its start as a series of posts on the No Sleep subreddit. In that forum, I can see how it would be helpful to remind readers of what they read before; however, in a novel this is redundant. The author could also do with a thesaurus. Easy drinking game for Penpal? Take a drink every time you read the word memories. You’ll be wasted before you finish the first chapter.
Auerbach also tends to lose focus and creates side stories that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Thankfully, the first act contains the worst of Auerbach’s sins. You’ll have to stick with this one if you want any kind of payoff. My advice? Skip the first chapter. No, really, skip it. You won’t miss a thing. Auerbach told Horror Novel Reviews:
“It started as a single story called “Footsteps” that I posted on a part of reddit.com called “NoSleep.” When I posted that story, it wasn’t the beginning of a series to me – that was all I was planning on posting.”
As you can assume from his quote, “Footsteps” does not read like the beginning of a novel and has almost no connection to the rest of the book.
I was also unconvinced of our narrator’s credibility and not in a fun, unreliable narrator way. First, he seems to remember an awful lot about being a kindergartener and second, what 5-year-old wanders the woods alone and calls his playmates “dude” and “man.” I’m probably being too harsh. For all I know this is the lost Treehouse of Terror tale of a young Bart Simpson.
Now that we’ve got all that out-of-the-way, I have to say, if you love scary stories, you really need to read this book. If nothing else to get the Cracker Jack prize of a campfire tale that holds Penpal together. What it lacks in editing, Penpal makes up for in creepiness. In a way the rambling old man voice of the narrator works in this respect. The narrator shares his memories (drink!) of his childhood that begin with a class project. The kindergarteners write notes, attach them to balloons (yeah, this happens in chapter two) and then wait for a penpal to respond. From that point on, the narrator feels that someone or something is watching him. That’s about all I can tell you without giving too much away. The ending floored me and was both satisfying and unexpected. Fans of Creepypastas and urban legends will love this book.
There is also some buzz that a film adaptation is in the works. I don’t say this often, but this is one of those occasions where the movie could be better than the book. I for one, would be very excited to see this. While Penpal has many flaws, they could easily be fixed in the right hands, particularly since most of them have to do with the writing. With a bit of editing, this could have been a great book. Penpal would not have been published if it weren’t for funding from Kickstarter. Based on the novel’s success, maybe there is still hope that a traditional publisher will purchase the right to polish and re-release Penpal. Flaws aside, Penpal is genuinely chilling and is sure to have you checking your back the next time you find yourself alone in the woods.
AUTHOR: Dathan Auerbach
RELEASE DATE: August 12, 2012
GENRES: Mystery/Thriller, Suspense, Horror
LENGTH: 254 pages
Writing that first line is hard. There’s all that pressure to hook the reader and rules on what not to do. Of course, I wasn’t familiar with these rules when I started my novel so, in addition to sharing the top five worst ways to start your novel, I’ll provide examples of how I’ve committed each of these sins in early drafts of my current WIP Pup.
1. Don’t start with your characters waking up!
EXAMPLE: The alarmed sounded and I smacked the snooze button before pulling my comforter over my head and returning to my dream—something about bunnies. Or was it sheep? I don’t know. I can never remember my dreams.
WHY THIS SUCKS: No one wants to read about someone getting up, making their coffee and starting their day. Alfred Hitchcock said, “drama is life with the boring parts cut out.” Get to the action already! Unless your character is waking up and realizing that they’ve turned into a giant cockroach as in Kafka’s The Metamorphoses, no one will want to read about it.
2. Don’t start with a dream!
EXAMPLE: I was enjoying the remnants of a dream, grasping onto what I could remember, willing myself back into that world. The images had begun to flit away from me like so many Polaroid pictures in the breeze.
WHY THIS SUCKS: Would you care if someone you’ve never met told you about their dream? No. Your readers haven’t been properly introduced to your character, so why the Hell would they care about her dream. This becomes a double-sin if you start with a dream and don’t make it abundantly clear. If you describe a dream in the first paragraph and reveal afterward that none of what you described actually happened, your readers are going to want to smack you.
3. Don’t start with dialogue!
EXAMPLE: “Morning Time,” called the tiny cherub bouncing beside me. I hid my face under my pillow, “it’s too early, baby. Go back to sleep.” I sighed and pressed my eyelids closed.
WHY THIS SUCKS: Sometimes this works. Sometimes. The problem with starting with dialogue is that there is no sense of character or setting. Your readers want to know who is speaking, where they’re at and why it matters right up front. Readers are greedy little bastards. They want it all and if you want to keep their attention, you better give it to them.
4. Don’t start too early!
EXAMPLE: I could hear fireworks outside. I wanted to step out and have a cigarette while I watched the festivities from my back porch. Instead, I grabbed a mystery flavored Dum-Dum sucker and stood in the sliding glass doorway. My resolution was to kick my smoking habit and I was going to make it stick. I popped the Dum-Dum in my mouth. It was root beer flavored. Happy New Year.
WHY THIS SUCKS: I call this premature plotulation. Start your novel at that point where the story starts to get good. Start with action, tension, conflict. Readers want to know that your book is worth their time so grab them with that first line. Strap them in and give them no choice but to read the next line and the next and the one after that. Never give them the option of putting your book down. Start as far into your story as you can without confusing your reader. Don’t let your readers dip their toe into your story. Throw them into the deep end and make them swim!
5. Don’t start with backstory!
EXAMPLE: Lousiana Channing had gone by many names. The first, her birth name, she viewed as a signature of her mom’s carelessness. Her mom admitted that she hadn’t given the name much thought until after Louisiana, or Louie as she preferred to be called, was born.
WHY THIS SUCKS: Force-feeding your reader backstory up front is like making your toddler eat lima beans. Let your reader come to the backstory on their own. Drop it in bit-by-bit, mix it in their mashed potatoes if you have to. In fact, try to avoid backstory all together in your first chapter or two. Once your reader is hooked, they will be much more inclined to want to learn more about the characters and then you can fill them in.
Knowing when it’s okay to break the rules
There are exceptions to the rules. There always are. The key to breaking the rules is conviction. You need to know what you’re doing and have a damn good reason for it. You can’t be a Rebel Writer Without A Cause (although that does sound pretty badass). You need a cause and that cause must be in the best interest of your story.
For instance, The Hunger Games starts with Katniss waking up and going about her day. Even in this great novel, I found waking up to be a slow start, but for the most part it worked because of something I like to call the WTF element. The WTF element is exactly what it sounds like. It is something in the opening that pushes the reader to want to know what the Hell is going on. In The Hunger Games, it is the mention of the reaping at the end of the first paragraph. As readers, we want to know what the reaping is and why it’s giving Katniss’s little sister nightmares.
One of my favorite WTF opening lines is from George Orwell’s 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” WTF? Clocks don’t strike thirteen? What the Hell is going on here? If we want to find out, we’ll have to read on. Pure genius.
Now I need your help
I’m revising the second draft of my novel. Knowing how important that first line is, I want to make sure I get it right. The current first line of my horror novel Pup is:
It wasn’t the wolf that alarmed Louie Channing, it was the little girl in the blood-soaked dress.
Does this line make you want to read on? What do you think of it? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.
Like a car crash, Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie is tragic and horrifying, but no matter how much you may want to, you simply cannot look away.
DiLouie goes for the throat, hitting us where we are most vulnerable: our children.
This apocalyptic tale introduces us to Herod’s Disease, a virus that kills every child in the world without warning. The kids are buried, they are mourned, and then, they come back. They still look and act dead with the exception of their ability to walk and say a few words— sometimes expressed as screams in the night. They’re hungry and they’re asking for blood. Once fed, they return to their former selves. If they’re not fed, they die again. Their parents are forced to make sacrifices they never thought possible to keep their children alive.
How much blood would you shed to save your child?
This is an incredible book, equal parts heartbreaking and chilling. A true literary horror tale where the writing is as strong as the plot. This is not a book for readers looking for a simple gorefest. While there are some grisly scenes, the true horror of this novel lies in the ebbing humanity of desperate people. At times watching these characters make terrible choices to save their children is painful to read. In particular, because these characters are us. These are characters you can relate to whether you have children or not.
While I was impressed with DiLouie’s characterization, I was initially put off by the slow start to the novel and the barrage of characters introduced up front. There are four primary points-of-view: a husband and wife, a pediatrician, and a single mom. I’m always skeptical when an author chooses to use multiple points-of-view, but DiLouie handled it as a true master of the craft. The languid introduction of each character is necessary to show us what is at stake— what each of these characters has to lose. I appreciated the unique viewpoints of each character and their separate journeys made for a compelling read.
This is not a book for sensitive readers. If you cannot handle reading about children in pain or dying, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a book that is intelligent, terrifying, and unique you won’t be disappointed. Suffer the Children is not only one of the most original vampire tales I’ve read, it is one of the best horror novels that I have come across in a long time. As a mother, this one got me where I live and continues to haunt me. A book you won’t soon forget.
Suffer the Children
AUTHOR: Craig DiLouie
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster/Permuted Press
RELEASE DATE: May 20, 2014
LENGTH: 352 pages
At first glance Horrorstör, the novel by Grady Hendrix, designed to look like an Ikea catalog, looks like a clever marketing gimmick, but like the Orsk store at the center of this plot, Horrorstör is full of surprises.
I recommend getting your hands on a physical copy of Horrorstör to enjoy it fully. As much care had gone into the design of the book as the story, similar to House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Inside this catalog/novel, you’ll find advertisements for attractive modern furniture with unpronounceable German names. Each piece appears harmless until you discover the numbers 666 hidden in every item number. As you progress deeper into the catalog, the furniture is replaced with torture devices and the mysterious origin of the building is revealed. There is even an employee application. Though, after reading about Amy’s experiences working the graveyard shift, I wouldn’t recommend filling it out.
Anyone who has ever worked retail can sympathize with Amy. She hates being a corporate puppet forced to endure her overzealous boss Basil, who micromanages her with pun-enthused slogans and motivational acronyms.
Amy only wants to work her shift and collect her paycheck, but that proves difficult when Basil ropes her into working overnight to help him monitor the store. The manager aims to demystify the recent vandalism and strange occurrences. What they experience is pure terror.
Horrorstör delivers the scares and some tongue-in-cheek humor. Hendrix has a clear talent for creating an atmosphere of dread, whether he’s describing the suffocating drudgery of working retail or the anxiety of patrolling a darkened furniture aisle alone.
A must for horror fans! In some respects, it’s a bit like Shaun of the Dead with ghosts. Hendrix makes similar comments on consumerism, only darker and with a lot more gore– definitely not for the squeamish. The revelation in Horrorstör, that the building was once was a prison, makes for an interesting allegory. Amy experiences both incarnations of the building firsthand; each threatens to strip her identity from her and anyone else with a name badge. Through her trials, Amy is forced to question just how much she is willing to sacrifice to survive.
I devoured this entire book in one sitting! Hendrix’s quirky humor had me hooked from page one. From there the narrative delved seamlessly into paranormal horror with suspense rising to claustrophobic intensity.
I hope to read more books from Hendrix’s twisted mind. There are coupons at the back of the book for a new store: Planet Baby. Creepy cribs and possessed toys? Oh Hell yeah! If there’s a Planet Baby book in the works, I want it!
AUTHOR: Grady Hendrix
PUBLISHER: Quirk Books
RELEASE DATE: September 23, 2014
LENGTH: 240 pages
I feel like Gollum. I haven’t been getting out much on account of Camp NaNoWriMo, so I’m all pale and my hair is stringy, my only company during the day is my hobbit-sized son and I’m OBSESSED with my precious. Not the one ring to rule them all, but my novel. All the time I devote to thinking on, talking about and, of course, writing my novel, is making me crazy.
Which is fine by me. See having a creative brain can feel like insanity. It is crazy to have make-believe people and imaginary worlds in your head and the longer we fight to lock them away or ignore them, the harder those characters and ideas fight to get out. I’m treating my particular case with heavy doses of writing. I pour all of my crazy out on the page, so that my brain can have a break from the constant hammering of ideas. It’s like popping in a cough drop to cure a sore throat. It does nothing to cure the overall condition, but it does offer some blessed, albeit temporary relief.
But none of that explains why I haven’t posted anything in over a week. I’m behind on my goal and I had a few days there where I struggled to find the words. See writing is also communication and the challenge is to take these amazing movies that we see in our heads and describe them in such a way that others can see them. This is a great plan in theory, but when I’m writing my rough draft this is rarely the case. I envision Empire Strikes Back, but I end up writing Phantom Menace.
Now when this happens, I’m tempted to throw my computer against a wall and call it a day but, while that would feel amazing, that is not how novels get written. Also, eventually the crazy of creativity will return and then it’s back to square one. No, the only real solution is to let your Empire Strikes Back be Phantom Menace. Let it be crap.
I get to the point eventually where I just throw it all out there. As Hemingway put it, bleed. Naturally this can be painful, particularly when I read through what I’ve written. I cope by leaving comments for Future Hayley like “make this suck less.” And sometimes I will write a paragraph from a new angle to see if second take is better, but I don’t delete anything.
As mentioned, writer me is nuts and what Present Hayley thinks is crap, Future Hayley might appreciate. And there is nothing worse than knowing you’ve already written the perfect words to describe something and those words are gone because Past You was a jerk and deleted them.
So, I hope this ranty rant is of the sense-making variety and if you don’t hear from me much this month or I don’t post anything for awhile, check the Misty Mountains.
Total Words Written in July: 14,788
Goal for this point: 18,387
Manuscript total: 82,101
How I feel about writing today
Now I want to hear from you! How is your writing (or reading) going? Rate it either Phantom Menace (sucktastic), Empire (you seek Muppet guidance), Jedi (fun and space bears) or A New Hope (ALL OF THE AWESOME).