‘Not Only the Dead’ Part 1

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

Not Only the Dead

            I saw her again tonight. As I lay, awake in bed, her familiar scent clawed its way into my nostrils. I pulled the covers tight around my head and did my best to keep my breath slow and quiet. Maybe this time she would not see me. Would not hurt me. But, just like every time before, her smell worked itself up through my nose, to my olfactory lobe, and into my brain. And just like before I pulled the blankets down and prepared myself to be eaten alive.

***

            I woke up today with the hopes of erasing her from my memory, like I have been doing for the last several months. I am thankful to be alive, but that is the only positive sentiment that I can share. When you prepare yourself for death each and every day, only to be left alive and confused time after time, the other things in life inevitably become smaller and smaller.

“You are late again!” My boss, Mr. Lavone, screamed.

To me, his voice echoed like the empty cry of a man stranded at the bottom of some remote and abandoned canyon. My ears were as receptive and sensitive as the swaying branches of oak, or shrub, or cacti. Meaning to say, of course, that his words fell on:

The deaf.

The indifferent.

The heartless.

Just enough of my old self still hides inside of me however; naked and afraid, and raw. The primal or instinctual me watched from behind my blood shot eyes.

“I am here though,” I replied.

I watched as the old pudgy man looked upon me with his wide and surprised eyes. He didn’t know how to handle me lately. Since I had something to fear more than him. Since I wished that every morning would be my last and that I would be allowed to fade into death, hurting only myself.

Mr. Lavone stewed. The tension of building agitation making his jaw flex and expand like a reptile. His arm began to rise, I looked down at it and saw that the pointer finger was extended. His finger, his whole hand, seemed hyper-real. My sleep deprived eyes focusing on each individual pore, wrinkle, and follicle. Without thinking I reached out and grabbed it. The shock on the man’s face was unexpected, but rewarding. I leaned into him, I had never noticed, but I was about an inch and a half taller than Mr. Levone. This newly realized height advantage, despite it being only a slight one, forced the man to lean back to keep our faces from becoming awkwardly close.

“I think I’d better get to work.” I said, turning to my desk, not giving Levone a chance to react.

“I think that you should.” Levone said in an authoritative voice.

I expected as much.

I let him have the last word.  

Hey there horror fans,

After finishing an initial edit on my novel a few weeks ago, I thought I would post a good ol’ scary short story to get the momentum and regularity back on the site.

I had set out to write around 3-5 pages…

Well, it turned out being longer.

And, uh, taking longer.

So, this morning I decided to take a break from ‘Not Only the Dead’ and write some flash fiction to post today. As I saved the file to my one drive, I thought, “the first paragraph DOES tell its own story and actually acts as a hook for the longer work. Why not post it!”

So here it is, ‘Not Only the Dead” part 1/2:

I saw her again tonight. As I lay, awake in bed, her familiar scent clawed its way into my nostrils. I pulled the covers tight around my head and did my best to keep my breath slow and quiet. Maybe this time she would not see me. Would not hurt me. But, just like every time before, her smell worked itself up through my nose, smashed through my olfactory lobe, and burrowed into my brain. And just like before I pulled the blankets down and prepared myself to be eaten alive.

Since the dawn of human culture, a mostly silent debate has been occurring. It is one that transcends religion, cultural expectations, as well as political or geographical boundaries. You as the reader may have some idea as to what the topic might be, and I can assure you that some knew what to expect from this post just from reading the title. Either way, this post may at first seem out of place on my website, but I assure that as the subject matter unfolds, or more appropriately manifests, it will seem as right and familiar as a drinking buddy’s sofa bed.

husband sleeping on the couch

The debate I refer to is that of the existence of the paranormal. This can be considered a somewhat broad and all-encompassing word as it can refer to anything that falls outside the boundaries of normal perception; this could be a spiritual abnormality, an extraterrestrial presence, a crypto-zoological encounter, or a simple glimpse into the world of extra-sensory perception. These topics are almost always laced in obscurity and veiled by a tarp stitched with the thread of cultural taboo. Academics are often shunned or ostracized if they acknowledge any of the aforementioned topics with anything more than a wry comment and a disbelieving smirk.  Then of course there were the classical attacks on the paranormal by organized religions throughout history, including, but not limited to the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials.

Now with the broad strokes taken care of, we can take a look at the esoteric meat and potatoes of the subject. Most people have had (or think that they have had) a paranormal experience or at least know someone who has. A 2005 Gallup poll showed that 74% of Americans believe in at least one aspect of the paranormal (which Gallup broke up into the following categories: Extrasensory Perception, Demonic Possession, Psychic Healing, Telepathy, Haunted Houses, Extra-Terrestrial Visitation, Clairvoyance, Astrology, Ghosts, Reincarnation, Post-Mortem Communication, Witches, and Spiritual Channeling). Notice that the pollers did not even mention the existence of crypto-zoological entities like Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and Moth Man; I would think that this would push the believer percentage up to at least 80%. According to Americans, the most believable paranormal categories were ESP (41%) and that houses can be haunted (37%).

With numbers and percentages like these, the reason that books, movies, and other entertainment mediums often find a reasonable level of success in the horror/sci-fi genres becomes self-evident. People are intrigued by the thought of the “beyond” and many find a sense of comfort and even quasi-immortality in the idea of some sort of existence beyond the grave, whether it be spiritual or  esoteric. I would postulate that many of the writers who choose to express themselves in the supernatural genre have likely had some type of paranormal experience of their own. This makes sense if you think about it; most drug and alcohol counsellors have had experience with substance abuse, most psychologists have experienced some level of psychosis (or have witnessed it in someone close to them), and every exterminator has probably seen Starship Troopers too many times.

Stephen King has sold an estimated 350 million copies of his accumulated and extensive creative works. Nearly all of King’s books at least skirt upon paranormal topics, and some of them would be more accurately described as driving through said topics with a bull dozer constructed with words and driven by fear. King has discussed paranormal topics in countless interviews over the years, and is a believer in ESP (like 41% of America!) and has alluded to some ghostly encounters at the Stanley Hotel, which became the basis for one of his more popular novels, The Shining.

Clive Barker, the spinner of such twisted tales as the film Hellraiser and the novel, Imajica, has never publicly alluded to any personal paranormal experiences. However, when Barker was a young boy, he witnessed the unfortunate accidental death of a prominent sky diver in a grandiose Liverpool airshow.  The experience, although not paranormal, may have set the tone for many of his macabre tales. Understandably so, considering how a young person’s mind often times tries to rationalize death as a point of spiritual transference as opposed to one of finality.

Dean Koontz is another well-known horror writer, who finds himself in the company of the aforementioned authors, but is included in this short list with a slightly different subtext. A quote from Konntz’s  novel, Velocity, is a very good example of how the author may feel on the subject of the paranormal; “Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts.” The author is a proponent of spirituality, but in a way that may not be expected by some of his readers; Koontz is a devout Catholic and in reality his personal views on the paranormal are more likely to resemble those of a clergyman than a carver of gory and suspenseful stories. Koontz’s background with his sociopath father and the subsequent attempts that the man had made on his life also were likely contributors to the author’s paranormal lexicon.

The long and short of it: people have different views on the paranormal. Some embrace it fully and like to imagine themselves painted into the pages of some illustrious and terrible tale of demons or zombies or things with long teeth and short tempers. Some see the hope of otherworldly existences as a comfort to their own mortality; while others like to listen, let their imaginations run rampant, and fall asleep with one eye opened just wide enough to let their night lights give them comfort.

To me the question of whether or not the paranormal is real is irrelevant. It is all based on personal and cultural perception, and whether we like it or not, the dark and terrible is here to stay. And it is a part of us.

Until next time horror fans!


Being a writer comes with its own set of unique challenges. Many writers would argue that the biggest challenge is the act of writing itself; others would likely state that finding the time to write is the hardest part. Despite these differences, most, if not all writers would agree that the act of putting words on the page is one that is both intimate and personal. Some have even likened the sharing of one’s writing to a metaphorical baring of the soul or as being viewed naked and vulnerable by anyone who reads it.

This brings us to the elephant in every writer’s living room and the subject of today’s blog:

THE FEAR OF REJECTION.

                Many writers use their words as a source of introspection or even self-supplied therapy. This is why it is such a big decision for a writer to choose to share their work with even a single person. For non-writers this feeling of vulnerability could be replicated, or at least understood, by a hypothetical breech in personal privacy such as the reading of a journal or diary, personal emails, or even text/voice messages.

This delicate situation presents one of the most important transformations that one must undergo in order to be a successful writer:

DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

                Stories of overnight success are certainly present in all disciplines, such as acting, music, writing, and just about any other outlet in both the creative and non-creative worlds. In the screenwriting world, many would think of Shane Black upon hearing the words “overnight success”. Black sold Lethal Weapon, his first screenplay, for $250,000, and has had several high-grossing/ successful projects since. Of course, what you don’t hear about is HOW Black ended up at the top. Did he get a good break? Sure. Did he connect with just the right people? Absolutely. But, what he did first was write and when he was finished; he did not let the fear of rejection keep him from realizing his dream.

Very few writers will experience the rapid rise to notoriety that Shane Black did, in fact, many well-known writers have had more than their share of rejection. Stephen King, in his must-read book, On Writing, tells of how he fell in love with the craft of writing at a young age and how he endeavored to become a writer. He would tack rejection letters on his wall and when the weight of the letters became too much he used a nail; by the time he was fourteen the letters were so numerous and weighty that he pinned them to the wall with a spike. If King had not pushed through the endless rejections, to eventually receive a glimmer of hope in the words “not bad”, the world would have been denied some of the most original and groundbreaking horror/thriller stories ever told.

King’s lesson:

BE PERSISTENT.

                Neil Gaiman echoes this to some degree in a 2004 journal entry on his website. He recommends building such a powerful ego/confidence that rejection is not an option. Of course, the possession of iron-clad confidence will not be enough to prevent rejections from coming, but it can definitely help to make them into something that can be used productively (or as Gaiman says in his journal, “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!”).  There are many more great insights on Gaiman’s original post: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2004/02/on-writing.asp

Gaiman’s lesson:

TAKE CRITICISM AND KEEP WRITING.

                Any blog or article on writing craft and rejection would be lacking if it didn’t borrow something from one of the most professional and inspirational writers of the recent past: Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is perhaps best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later turned into a movie (one that Pressfield was not particularly thrilled with) starring Will Smith. One of Pressfield’s crowning achievements however, comes in the form of a short work of non-fiction. The War of Art is a must have for anyone that hopes to make a living in a creative discipline. I could write an entire blog on each and every chapter of this book, so I have opted to include a couple of quotes from the book that are relevant to the subject:

“We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.”

                Perseverance seems to be the underlying theme. A writer will never be able to write professionally without putting themselves in a position that could illicit rejection. Hypothetically, a writer could hit it big on his or her first submittal, but it is far more likely that their road to success will be paved by rejection letters and ‘pass’ emails. The professional will not only move forward after rejection, but use the criticism to further their own ideas and constantly improve upon their work.

So with that being said, it is up to the individual to judge within him or herself if rejection is a crippling rebuke or simply an opportunity for improvement. I have had my share of passes and rejection letters from movie studios and like King, I save them (in my cluttered email archive as opposed to the spike!). I have had some that were short and impersonal and others that were more of a personal attack. Like with most things, NEVER taking it personal is something that is easier said than done; I have tried my best to treat rejections like building blocks to hone my craft or stepping stones to my next success. A particular writing style might not be for everyone and sometimes rejection can take a form that actually makes you feel better about your work. One of my favorite rejection letters was from a mid-sized and fairly young UK based production company. The letter praised my script (a modern-day paranormal thriller), and even outlined what they liked and how excited it made them. The reason for the pass: the last scene was effect heavy and they didn’t feel like they could do it justice. They recommended a couple companies and gave me their best.

 To me, that rejection is one that I will always cherish.

Until next time horror fans!

http://www.starburstmagazine.com/images/june2011/androidcover.jpg

As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was conditioned to look to the stars for the future of humanity. Outlying colonies on the moon or some distant star system seemed not only feasible, but likely as the population of Earth became too much of a hindrance on our (ever-more decreasing) natural resources. The current trend in technological development has been in complete contrast to my original view of the future; the past few issues of Bloomberg Business Week have all had some thought provoking articles on the subject of robotics. Why would we as humans choose to populate the world with an entirely different set of entities, when space is becoming an issue and general employment with a sense of purpose is becoming less and less attainable?

http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Third_Party_Photo/2008/11/08/robot__1226162867_2223.jpg

The first article that I read claimed that many jobs would eventually become irrelevant due to the advent of automatized machines that could replicate lower-level basic functions. My first thought on this article was positive; why would people want to subject themselves to repetitive and menial tasks that could be performed better by a machine? Sure it is an attack on human employment, but isn’t technology meant to make life better? And what could be better than allowing individuals previously damned to menial tasks to find work that would allow them to become more self-actualized?

The bottom line:

  • Robots would take jobs from humans
  • Individuals tasked with menial jobs may not have better employment opportunities
  • Robots may develop to a point that would threaten more than just lower-level jobs

So, just as I was able to force myself to sleep after reading this article, (not that I have a menial job, but I have seen Terminator more than once!) I came in contact with another article in the same publication. This article outlined the exponential growth of robot and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies in Japan, China, and Korea. Japan (Toshiba) has gone as far as creating a life-like android clothed in traditional Japanese garb at one of the nation’s major airports that provides basic information to travelers based on voice recognition and a sophisticated series of algorithms. So, where does my nerdy mind go? To popular fiction of course!

Humanoid ChihiraAico, clad in a Japanese kimono, greets a customer at an entrance of a department store in Tokyo, on April 20, 2015

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2015/04/20/article-doc-1u2oo-6XvfFvnHlHSK2-197_634x456.jpg

In Spike Jonze’s modern day masterpiece, ‘Her’, an artificial intelligence is able to bridge the gap between mechanical regularity and humanistic emotion. I originally saw this idea as benign, as it was not attached to a physical body. Now, if the two ideas previously discussed are combined, I think that there may be a need for concern. Any Sci-Fi fan worth their salt would remember Phillip K. Dick’s look at the disconnection between the human spirit and mechanical logic as depicted in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ’In the novel, androids had become so life like that a series of psychological tests were created to determine if an individual was a human or an android; the twist: many of these creations were implanted with artificial memories and didn’t even know that they were not human!

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e1/45/b9/e145b9f2f2fc3c4310f1c6190550d05d.jpg

What would these creations be considered if they were able to pass the Voigt-Kampff tests depicted in the novel? As algorithms become more sophisticated, artificial intelligences will likely be able to bridge this gap in the very near future.

And who knows?

Maybe Phillip K. Dick’s title question may one day be answered by an artificial consciousness that cannot be discerned from that of a human.

Hey There Horror Fans!

As I sit here editing the portion of my novel that was written during NaNoWriMo, I have been blessed with the great pleasure of removing extra letters from words and fixing/adding punctuation. It’s crazy how much can slip through the cracks when you are focused on just getting words on the page!

The drawback: editing is oftentimes not nearly as much fun as the initial creation of a story.

So, when I stumbled across this little section told through the eyes of an eight year old girl and found it needed little attention (editing wise), I decided to share it here.

The editing is going slowly, but steadily and I should have a great working draft within the next month or so.

Enjoy everyone!

Addie could hear her family downstairs along with the all too familiar orchestra accompaniment of that one movie with the spiders and the scary boulder that almost smashes the guy in the hat. She usually didn’t like being upstairs by herself, but lately it seemed alright. She wasn’t really by herself anyway; Suzie was with her at least. The doll had been so much more than just a doll over the last several weeks.

            Addie remembered the feeling that she had on the day of Joey’s accident. It was before anyone had arrived for their welcome home party and she was still thinking of all the bad things that had happened. She remembered that she was already dreading the mere thought of sleep, because every time she had tried to take a nap on the way home from the Grand Canyon, she had seen the dead man and her donkey on the backsides of her eyelids. She had heard the term ‘burned into memory’ before and at her young age, she really didn’t understand it, along with a ton of other things that her parents and other grown-ups said. Anyway, she had hoped that those things were not burned into hers. Not now. Not ever.

Thanks for reading– Jim

          

  Everyone who has taken a creative writing class has undoubtedly heard the phrase, “write what you know”. Readers are always able to separate the authentic from the roughly postulated or the completely fabricated. Why do you think Stephen King uses writers or English professors as his main protagonist in many of his works? Or that John Grisham uses an up and coming young lawyer as the underdog hero of many of his? Exactly, they wrote what they knew. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that it takes a vampire to write a vampire story or a sociopathic serial killer to write Silence of the Lambs.

                Many of my earlier works were done in such a way, with a male protagonist close to my age       (+ or- about 10 years) and usually going through something that represented a greatly amplified version of something I had experienced myself. This may sound outlandish, considering that I primarily write in the horror genre, but the problems that my characters faced were still human problems and the monster lurking in the shadows often symbolized or mirrored the emotions that the characters and I were feeling. It is easy for a writer to use this type of familiarity to create a level of authenticity in their prose and without authenticity there is no readability.

Now this is not saying that the above mentioned authors always played it safe, in fact I think that Stephen King is one of the bravest and most inspirational writers of our generation (one of my biggest influences to begin work in the horror genre). He has had some main characters that simply were not the warmest or fuzziest; namely, the brutally cold Roland from The Dark Tower Series or the drug-addicted Jamie Morton in his newest novel, Revival. Imagine investing the amount of time that it takes to create a novel or screenplay from scratch just because the power of the story was greater than an aversion to a character or their situation.

I actually pulled “myself” out of one of my more successful screenplays, which focused on a male detective looking into a string of home-invasions that had no ‘normal’ explanation. When the detective was brought together with a female paranormal journalist/rape survivor, I knew that the story was really about her, so I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I threw out what I had on the project already (which is way less painless when using a computer, I just filed it in the ‘old work’ folder as opposed to crumpling it up and burning it) and began writing the story from the journalist’s perspective. Needless to say it was the right choice, the change in perspective MADE the screenplay.

Now horror fans, you may have guessed that this “Write what you know” blog was really just a clever lead into some background and promotion for another one of my screenplays. Tune in next time for some insight into my own writing process and my creative influences for the paranormal thriller, Things Taken.