Coffin Hop Day 3: Examining “Take Shelter”

Hi Coffin Hoppers! Given that today is a busy day for me, I thought I’d share a post from last year to make people aware of this overlooked horror gem.

From my youngest days, I have been a horror fan. I cut my teeth as a tyke on films like AlienTexas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th. I saw them at a lot younger age than I should have, but my parents explained that no one really died in the movies, so I could enjoy getting the crap scared out of me. It was one of my favorite pastimes, which probably tells you a lot about young Jonathan.

That thrill continues to this day, the only caveat, of course, being that it’s a lot harder to scare me, or even make me tense during fiction. Slasher flicks long ago lost their thrill; my eyes glaze over. The danger is not real to me. I mean, aside from the classics, of course. The problem is that one of the key elements of horror is to present something that’s familiar and yet completely unexpected. If you’re expecting a slasher, sure, it’s familiar and comfortable, but if horror was about familiar and comfortable it would be a lot more mainstream, you know?

If I had my way, the slasher genre would disappear for about twenty years, then return, much in the same way that Psycho set up the genre, but there was a significant gap between it and the films that evolved the concept.

There is, of course, the wave of zombie movies, which were my go-to horror from the early 90s to the mid-00, with what were once obscure films like Lucio Fulci‘s Zombi and some bizarre takes like Zombie Lake (seriously, nazi zombies – check it out, it’s so bad it’s great). Then somewhere everyone decided that zombies had to be everywhere. Now, don’t get me wrong – the original Dawn of the Dead will forever be one of my favorite films. Return of the Living Dead? Great horror-comedy. Original Night of the Living Dead, awesome. Hell, I even like the remakes of Dawn and Night for what they are. But I have major zombie fatigue. I should be eating up the Walking Dead, as I loved the comic, but some part of me is incredibly resistant. I need a break.

Oh, and I think we can all agree vampires started being about horror right around the time they started sparkling, although Salem’s Lot remains one of the most intense books I’ve ever read.

But you know, I found out that a horror film can still surprise me when we saw Take Shelter in Manhattan last week. After a long trek from the Port Authority up to Rockefeller Center and further on to Central Park, we decided to take a break at the Lincoln Center Cinema and take in an indie film. What could be more New York?

The movie was sold on the theater’s website as being about a man who begins having dreams about an apocalyptic storm, and the man begins to question whether these dreams are prophecy or represent him slipping into the schizophrenia that runs in his family. Life changes for him due to the changes in his life as he prepares for this storm that may or may not be real. Continue reading

Word Snobs, Mass Murderers, and Prestidigitation

Today I want to talk about…words. This entry is partially inspired and in response to R.S. Guthrie’s post last week about being a “word snob“. Let me note UP FRONT that I’m not downing what Rob is saying; in fact, I agree, and he puts it well in the comments:

I enjoy learning new words and eloquent language — when written by a master. If a novice uses a word too big for their writing, it’ll tear the piece apart quicker than you can SAY ” thesaurus”. And I do think as writers we should push ourselves. I always read above my skill level. How else do I become better myself?

So this post is not a shot at Rob in any way, shape, or form.

Now, that out of the way. I have recently read some reviews of intelligent novels wherein otherwise sane reviewers complain about writers using “big words” in their writing as a means of “showing off” and that they’re better than others. In particular, I’m thinking of the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, a  heart-wrenching story about the mother of a mass murdering teenager.  After watching the movie, I checked out the book’s Goodreads page to see if it was worth worth my time. I saw a lot of five star reviews – a good sign for a mass market publication – but I also saw some one star reviews. As I usually do, I checked the one-star reviews first, as they’re far more instructive than the glowing reviews. I’ll talk about that in my post The One Star Review Method in the near future.

No less than three of the one-star reviews complained about what I said above: the writer was showing off how well she could use her thesaurus, and/or was showing off that she had a better vocabulary than everyone else. Continue reading

Tour Type Thing: A Review of Zombie Candy by Frederick Lee Brooke

We return this week, as the title so graciously states, with a review. This is one of those Novel Publicity Whirlwind Tour deals, so there are prizes for you at the end of this. Stay tuned! Yes, prizes are great. I’m entering, too, but prizes are not why I’m participating. No, no! Instead, this is part of my challenge to bring you more of the good, original indie stuff.

It’s a scattered approach, I must admit. One of the drawbacks of these things is that I have to sign up before I read the content, so while I can read story descriptions, I can’t know for certain whether a given story fits with what I’m trying to promote. The whole thing is a bit sticky, but in the event that I promote a story that doesn’t feel original to me, you’ll be able to tell. In the midst of telling me to get on with my review, you might also be asking if this really is a unique story. The answer:

That said, let’s get on with the review, shall we? Continue reading

In Review: The Four Essences of a Good Novel

First things first: the ever-awesome dynamo Shannon Mayer recently gave me a chance to pontificate interviewed me at her great site, Wringing Out Words. Interviews are a lot of fun because you get to discuss so many things that you wouldn’t otherwise bring up on the site. Scurry on over there and check it out.

Now, then. Maintaining a busy schedule has been wearing me down. As I told a friend yesterday, who knew starting a business was such hard work? But I mention this because I haven’t found myself with a whole lot of time to read. At least, not as much as I would like, and when I do read, I find it hard to take the author cap off. It’s probably why I started reviewing stories once I finish them. I’ve already posted one of these, and you can expect to see more if I think that the author could use a little boost.

Almost every book is a learning opportunity. These reviews help me to solidify the lessons that I’ve learned from that book. Of course, I could ramble on at length about a story, so I’ve had to distill my reviews down into examining four core essences; the things that are important to me in making a good book. So let’s take a look at these four essences. Continue reading

Sunday Single Review: Rose in Winter by Marie Loughin

Welcome to the first in hopefully an ongoing series of Sunday book/single reviews, which I hope to trade off with Six-Sentence Sunday. I haven’t written a whole lot of reviews, and this week’s review is my first for Amazon, but I’m finding it incredibly enjoyable, so I figured “why not?”.

This week’s review comes from next week’s interview subject, Marie Loughin, and is a Kindle Single called “Rose in Winter”. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

New to the court of Aerovale, Rosabel Damask dreams of finding acceptance and belonging among the nobles of the land. But just as her deepest, most secret wishes seem to be coming true, a stranger arrives with the wind and the frost. Now Rosabel must choose between fulfillment of everything she has ever hoped for and a mystery that promises so much more.

This fairy tale first appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana Paxton. Continue reading

Getting Along: Reviewers and Writers

Happy Friday, everybody. I’m just bursting at the seams with ideas lately; this one came to me a few days ago. I’ve been cleaning out my Twitter account (which, by the way is, please, follow me, I’d love to interact with you there) and I was creating a “Writers” list and debating whether to create a “Reviewers” list. This got me thinking…I know, shocking, right?…about the difference between writers and reviewers (or critics, if you prefer).

Once upon a time I think there was a clear delineation between reviewer and writer, at least an artificially clear one. Lord knows that I read some book reviews in the New York Times that were just as good as a lot of things that I’d read in books. I wondered at the time what kept some of those people from pursuing a career in writing books. Some did, but a lot didn’t. I guess because of that, I bought into the myth that if someone couldn’t write, they would review for a long time. Of course now I realize that, aside from being elitist, it’s just flat-out ridiculous. If you want to be a better writer, you need to be good at reviewing works and critically analyzing them.

So really, what is the difference between a writer and a reviewer? Not sure I can define that, because I’m not sure it actually exists. Definitely not anymore, if it ever really did. I spend a lot of time – and enjoy – checking out book blogs and discovering new, exciting writers, whether they’re writing fiction, non-fiction, or reviewing other works, and you can definitely tell the difference between a good reviewer and a bad reviewer, in the same way that you can tell with a traditional writer. A good reviewer can make someone’s story seem like poetry, even if the story itself is not so great.

Honestly, I don’t care about whether a reviewer is overly critical or effusive about a book. I don’t think that defines the quality of a critic at all. It’s more a question of their mastery of the language. A lot of the better reviewers read so much and have such good taste, along with a command of the language, that it really shines through in their reviews. I know this sounds like ass-kissing, but I don’t know any other way to put it. This is why I don’t think there’s much of a difference, and it’s why a lot of reviewers have such large followings, dwarfing even some very good writers.

Some of that audience can be credited to clever marketing or being in the right place at the right time, sure, but I’ve pretty consistently found that those reviewers who’ve been around for awhile and have a lot of readers have those readers for a reason: consistent, quality content. I mean, yes, I’ve found some obscure reviewers who are fantastic and deserve a larger audience, but most of those are new to the scene, and I have faith that given enough time and word-of-mouth, they’ll find their audience.

So, as a fiction writer, while the purposes of what we’re writing may be different, in the end we’re both kind of trying to do the same thing: trying to tell a story. I’m trying to tell the story that comes out of my head and the reviewer is trying to tell the story of the book. Hell, sometimes the story of the book is more compelling than the book itself. Look at something like Steal This Book, which, while fun, has a far more interesting back story in terms of the culture and times that produced it.

We need people to tell the stories of books. We can only do so much ourselves. There is a definite need for reviewers to help build the narrative of our works and the industry as a whole. If you’re somebody just starting out, whether a writer or a reviewer, I think there’s a lot to be gained by following a quality reviewer who just hasn’t broken through yet, even if just to chart your progress against how they’re doing, and who knows, maybe your book can be the one that helps them break through.

In short, I reject the old concept of ghettoizing reviewers as compared to writers. I don’t think the divide is valid, and I don’t think reviewers deserve that. So a lot of respect to reviewers who are out there working as hard as any one of us.

Oh, and a complete side-note. I wrote a piece about one of my hobbies, “Thrifting for Fun and Profit“, for my buddy Rob (or Crash Preston) to post on his blog, Distorted Zen. The post in question didn’t fit with the theme of this site, and we’ve been wanting to do a guest post exchange for awhile, so I figured why not? I encourage you to go on over there and check it out. Maybe you could pick up some tips on how to make some money by thrifting. Well, as long as you’re not practicing it in my neck of the woods.

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