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What Scares Me

January 17, 2016
By lydia in Uncategorized

Originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 2013 as a Halloween themed op-ed series

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Every day I sit around and think about how to scare you. I think about how to exact that pound of flesh. What would you find more terrifying, pain or suspense? All the monsters we know stand patiently in line and wait their turn. In my head I go over the words that would enhance a theatre of fear, then decide where in the audience you sit. I think about how to scare you, and I think about it a lot.

Writing horror makes for peculiar bedfellows. Like Grey’s Anatomy; the book, not the show. That was a good start when I was writing in high school. Now it has progressed to the Colour Atlas Of Forensic Pathology and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Scary stuff, but not from my textbook point of view. Call it desensitization but from where I sit that’s not a bad thing. Looking at violent or grotesque imagery does not scare me. Sure, there may be a level of discernible distaste, but pages flip over. Books close. Movies fall in that same milieu.

Shocking images can and do scare people. Some don’t like it. It is easy to think about what scares others but to have horror really bleed out across the page, I need to be scared. I need to creep me out. I need to freak out Lydia and that isn’t easy.

Having lived in the countryside near dense forest, I’ve faced a lot of things that do scare people. The Dark. Wild animals.  Isolation. Things I have a healthy respect for but no fear per se. These are real fears that present themselves but so far, I’ve encountered nothing that makes me afraid to venture into these places. Dark trails, abandoned hotels and ghost towns? Yes please!

Not long ago, I was upstairs in my house having conversation with a friend near three in the morning. We heard a noise. Something clattered off the counter downstairs, near the back door. I rushed down three steps ahead of him. My friend was stronger, faster and way taller than I and clearly the obvious choice to send after a bump in the night. Home invasions and burglars are scary things. It was my house after all, and in the moment, I would not say I was scared but very concerned.

Spiders, wasps, snakes and assorted creepy crawlies can be terrifying. I only had to go through handfuls of the thousands of encounters to verify I was certainly not afraid of them. Luckily, when a friend has a bug on her shirt I have no problem rescuing the poor creature before panic takes hold. Sure, I’ve been startled by a spider dangling over my face or a sudden snake slithering across a path. Startled is not the same as scared.

Am I afraid of heights? No. I get vertigo, but I know that already. When hiking, we’ve opted to not cross a busted bridge spanning a craggy crevasse over rushing water on my insistence, but I don’t call that scared. I call that smart.

There is one thing though. One thing that goes beyond being startled. It’s not about being smart or careful. This is something that scares me and I have no control over it. When it happens, my imagination runs wild, my heart leaps into my chest and my blood will run cold.

In the dark of night, I may be up, drifting off, or dead asleep. I’m all alone and the telephone rings. Looking at the display, if the call is coming from my parent’s house the fear sets in. Even worse, the call is coming from my sister, or a close uncle. After midnight, they are all supposed to be asleep. Something terrible must have happened.  Scenarios rush through my mind, and for a moment I can’t move. I don’t want to answer, I don’t want this to be happening. Then, the phone rings a second time.

Adults around me when I was little had the same reaction. After midnight, if the phone rang, everyone would bolt upright and look at one another with this faint look of dread. People asleep would trundle out of bed asking who was on the phone, yawning but anxious to hear the answer. Rarely was it anything alarming. Sometimes someone had passed away, but nothing terribly tragic. Never as horrible as the things my imagination inserts between that first and second ring.

Terrible news can come from any number when you least expect it. Late at night though, it’s different. There is suddenly too much physical distance between that handset and mine. There is nothing I can do no matter what has happened. So, it is either silly and simple, or my most terrifying unknown: a telephone ringing in the dark.

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To Provoke and Offend

November 28, 2015
By lydia in writing

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This caught my attention a few weeks ago…

“My interests are still too dark, controversial and antisocial to be successful today. See, in the 80s and 90s transgression was hip. Being a provocateur was admired. Today with the closing of the human mind – because people from every sector of society think of themselves as vigilantes, and think of themselves as crusaders and jihadists and zealots and there’s so much more fanatics today then ever before – if ten per cent of our mail was hate mail in those days, I think at least fifty per cent of it would be hate mail today. With that kind of opposition and hostility and fear that it creates, it’s much harder to operate as a provocateur these days. And when I say provocateur, the provocation was strictly aesthetic. A lot of people read politics into everything today and there’s zero tolerance. There’s zero tolerance for innovation, there’s zero tolerance for experimentation, and zero tolerance for taking risks. It would be too unprofitable today, or even dangerous, to flirt with that sort of aesthetic anymore.”

Fred Berger, creator of the long defunct Propaganda Magazine, as said on Cemetery Confessions podcast.  

When I write a short story there are three ‘dream markets’ I submit to. These are publications I’ve wanted to be in since either the start of wanting to be a writer–think Cemetery Dance–or that have become a new benchmark, like Nightmare Magazine and Black Static. So, after collecting rejections, I move the piece along. It’s only the first rejection that ever made me question the quality of my writing. (Not to say there is no room for improvement as there Always Is. Always.)

Every rejection since has me question if this is the right venue, and where their sense of morals lie. Perhaps this is not a wall that writers of vignette, romance and mystery have to scrabble over. The testing of limits. The dark query of how low will you go, what’s wrong and what is right, and can you handle the unhappy ending or the fact that there may be no end at all. Writing horror is running a gauntlet of torture in your mind only to present it to editors while you are still bloodied and bruised, panting with the sweat slick thrill of having just narrowly escaped your own creation only to be told it isn’t what they are looking for right now, but please send more. Please send more. But, more of what?

With that busted compass, it’s not a wonder the smaller publishing houses are a mixed match of quality and content. They aren’t as concerned with the status quo and what mythological audience they ought not offend. I worry that it isn’t my writing style at all, but the content. The offensiveness. The darkness. The unhappy ending. If it were my style, that’s fixable. Some other things just can’t be fixed.

And now, a snippet my most favourite rejection note ever, Amen.

“Some good descriptions and boldness to it, but no plot line; it’s a complete editing mess, just a rambling sex and gore fest; the tenses are all over the place. A bad BDSM trip with some sexual venting…”

– an unnamed editor, circa 2011

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By lydia in books, Dead Air, events, horror, HWA, podcast, typicalbooks, writing

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Three days of following and participating in this past weekend’s writers conference have come to a close. Since it was uncommonly busy for me being on Halloween I opted to not bring books or promotional materials as a way of simplifying. Seeing as I did get to spend almost enough time reading and watching scary movies as I wanted, it all worked out even though I wasn’t present in the dealers room or at after-parties.

To further ease that, here is a list of some of the books and podcasts mentioned in the panels I was on. This conference offers some really great workshops, panels and reading from mainly fantasy and science fiction work, but does have some really rich horror content. Often these genres are blended and as much as I’d love a horror-only event such as this, having Can-Con here in Ottawa makes it so easily accessible.

Horror Reading panel:

  • Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen and the Criminally Insane, edited by John Skipp – specifically ‘Jesse’ by Steve Rasnic Tem and ‘Life With Father’ by Bentley Little on Amazon
  • The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology, edited by Richard Thomas – specifically ‘Father, Son, Holy Rabbit’ by Stephen Graham Jones on Amazon
  • Carnal Surgery, by Edward Lee, a collection of gory and boundary-pushing short stories on Amazon
  • People Live Still in Cashtown Corners, by Tony Burgess on Amazon
  • Something Red podcast
  • This Is Horror podcast
  • Horror Writer’s Association new releases
  • The Wicked Library episode Bad Shepherd by Lydia Peever

Ghost Story panel:

  • Ghosts by Hans Holzer, if not his entire body of work on Amazon
  • Growing up Haunted by Alexandra Holzer, Hans’ daughter on Amazon
  • Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi, on Amazon
  • The Entity by Frank De Felitta, on Amazon and the film from 1980 to be remade by James Wan
  • Kettle Whistle Radio episode 35 Talkin’ Ghosts and the episode 118 where we discuss The Entity

In both I mentioned the podcast I co-host with Wes Knipe, Dead Air, part of splatterpictures.net and my favourite horror film and discussion podcast Bind Torture Kast. The stories I’ve written that were mentioned can be found in my small collection Pray Lied Eve, and the West Pigeon Press anthology For When The Veil Drops. For other works, check out my Amazon author page or find me on Goodreads.

Thanks!

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

For the sake of time I began my Halloween viewing at midnight on Devil’s Night. Since I have Can Con events tomorrow, and a Patron Saint of Plagues show to attend, and a recorded live episode of Bind Torture Kast to get into, I figured I’d get rolling with the most fitting picks on the holiest of my holy days, Halloween. Both have perfect titles though easily confused. One is an anthology and one is dark woodsy horror. Either way, perfect viewing by candlelight for the spookiest day of the year.

Have a dark and unsettling one.

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All Hallow’s Eve 2 (2015)

IMDB or Wiki

From the first segment I knew I’d like this as much as the first installment. Then, add Julian Richings in the next, and I was pleased. Bill Oberst as a carnival barker was a treat and the only trick was that the wraparound wasn’t as integrated as All Hallow’s Eve 1. Unlike most anthologies, every single segment here has it’s merits and every single one is acted and filmed extremely well. Perfect holiday viewing, and that Jack O’lantern mask is creepier than I thought! Pro-tip here, you don’t need to put the whole pumpkin on while it’s face will do.

All Hallows Eve: October 30th (2015)

IMDB or Wiki

This marks my first YouTube rental. I really thought I’d like this best of the two, being kind of backwoods, but it’s really just the lesser film by comparison. Very cult and occult influenced to start, the acting is just not on par with what I was hoping for then just gets worse. As does the camera work.

The 31 Days of Horror ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. I had a lot of fun participating for once even though this is mostly representative of what I’d watch any given day. Writing it all out only kind of puts this in perspective, as I already knew how much film I consumed. Also, this does not account for the books and music, all horror themed! This ‘hobby’ or affection I have for horror has been a lifelong habit and something that has really got me through some really shitty times in life and also made the good parts really, really good. This time of year heralds the coming winter which I don’t look forward to for many reasons. The least of which being depression, which pretty much kicks in today. Where some people whine about loneliness on Valentines or Christmas, Halloween is about the only time my being single for over a decade really hits home. It’s not even the things you’d expect like couples costumes or kids and candy – things that might spark loneliness in average people – but something else. A reminder that when I say ‘everything I really love to do I end up doing by myself’ is really too true. Suppose that this is the way I prefer it, so I won’t say it’s an unhappy time by any means. I’m just very glad that for a little while the rest of the world is in tune and I can watch the seasons crop of horror, more bands release scary tunes, and horror authors release their darlings. For what is my brightest time of year, there is that nagging dark side however, so I am very grateful for the distractions! Bats, rats and cats! Blood, bones and bodies! Skulls, spiders and spooks! Thank you to all manner of dark and crawling things. Without this, I don’t know who I’d be.

See what others watched on The Mortuary which I always creep year ’round as a great list of horror. Happy Halloween!

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

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We Are Still Here (2015)

IMDB or Wiki

In preparation for a ghost story panel at Can Con tomorrow, I thought I’d catch this new haunter. The house reminds me of my childhood in a lot of ways, also, the nature of the haunting fits well there too. Yup. Those cinder-ghosts and blood geysers really take me back.

The 31 Days of Horror ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

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Coffin Baby (2013)

IMDB or Wiki

Known just as well as Tool Box Killer II, Coffin Baby: The Toolbox Killer is Back or TBK: The Toolbox Murders 2, I prefer the original title. This is a good return to the horror I like best from watching some classics, some sleepy thrillers and a few unique picks. TBK is a good example of how to weave gore and story into a very effective horror film. Those who accuse this of being to heavy on splatter aren’t looking past the blood, and those who pass it off as derivative aren’t appreciating what a well made film it is. If only more horror worked out like this film did! Watching it felt like my birthday as it seems someone finally made a very fun film just for me.

Fifteen (2015)

IMDB or Wiki

Aired on Twitter’s Periscope, I was going to pass this up but… hey, it was fifteen minutes of some kind of horror history, right? A live one shot film aired with input from viewers. Plot wise, this was really plain and I honestly expected far more creativity considering the thought put into the delivery concept. I’d love to see Joshua Hoffine do something like this, since he is where creativity and delivery are honed to the sharpest point.

The 31 Days of Horror ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

juneJune (2015)

IMDB

After some non-horror yesterday, I eased back in with June since I do like to see little telekinetic or possessed girls fuck shit up. Not all bad, though nothing spectacular either. The parents are little more than cardboard cutouts of stereotypical 30something sheep, but the little girl does have some good personality building. The acting is good, it just could have used more than utilitarian writing. Something a little more intelligent would have taken this out of the cookie cutter. The effects are done well though underused. A gentle little creeper.

The 31 Days of Halloween ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

englandA Field in England (2014)

IMDB or Wiki

While this film has 87 per cent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and from the good things the person who lent it to me had to say, I’m obviously not part of this collective appreciation. Then again, I’m pretty used to not being part of much so that fits. Sure, this is a beautifully shot film and acted very well. I just felt stuck in the longest Radiohead video ever. Perhaps, it has no end. Someday I will revisit this to be sure. I see it had been rebranded from Horror to Thriller, and I think it should be rebranded from there as Art Film if that’s a genre.

The 31 Days of Halloween ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

exorcistThe Exorcist III (1990)

IMDB or Wiki

I’d set this nearby to watch soon, then read a post about people pushing to have the studio release fabled cut scenes so had to get to it. Blatty had requested the material from the vaults before, and according to Wikipedia it didn’t exist so I wonder if there are intact scenes to be had. As it did when I watched it, this makes me want to watch Heretic again. Perhaps one of the few series that is fun to watch backward.

Ghost Hunt (2006)

IMDB

As there is a Dead Cells episode still forthcoming, I rewatched the last three episodes of this. Maybe not super action packed but I like the character building and to see the end (for the third time) is always fun.

The 31 Days of Halloween ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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By lydia in 31 Days of Horror, films, horror, movies

All Hallows’ Eve (2013)

IMDB or Wiki

The first two installments in this story were not as attention getting as the last. The wraparound kept me interested, as it not only takes place on Halloween night, but features a creepy clown and a mysterious videotape. The third act though, sold me forever and has me excited for the sequel. This is one I had started watching a while ago but was sidetracked a few minutes in and forgot about it until now. Yeah. The third act was awesome if you like nightmarish brutality and want so very badly to be afraid of clowns.

Flatliners (1990)

IMDB or Wiki

This one holds up beautifully! I’d forgotten entirely that it takes place over the Halloween holidays, so here is another for the pile. Seeing this after 25 years have passed didn’t seem like so long since the story and filmmaking are sound as ever.

I also got into the second episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Liking that so far, because: Clowns.

The 31 Days of Halloween ‘Challenge’ is where you take in one or more horror films per day during the month of October. Aside from networks airing more horror for the month, many forums and social networking sites do the same. See what others are watching on The Mortuary.

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