Genre Month: Horror, Part Two

By Cammi Woodall

It was a dark and stormy night. It automatically sets the mood, doesn’t it? Horror as a literary theme continued into the 1900’s and gained  in popularity.

The late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of the Penny Dreadful, mass produced periodicals that made popular fiction available to a much larger section of the population than books. Lurid tales of werewolves, vampires, and ghouls helped spur sales. Due to their low cost, sales of the magazines skyrocketed. After purchase, the magazines could then be passed around for many to enjoy, escaping the uncertainty and fear of the Depression and the World Wars.  

During the 1960’s and 70’s, elements of horror in literature became more visceral. Supernatural and creepy overtones were no longer enough for the reading public. Intense moral situations, vivid descriptions of gore, and stories based on real-life tragedies flooded the best sellers list. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Amityville Horror by Jan Anson, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby contained graphic accounts of adult situations more extreme than previously depicted in mainstream literature. The public responded favorably, with several horror novels reaching epic sales during this time.

Click to tweet: What do you think is the bestselling modern horror novel of all time? Names like Stephen King or Clive Barker may come to mind, but that title goes to a book published in 1979. V. C. Andrews wrote Flowers in Attic. #horror #amreading

Due to intense moral dilemmas, the book was banned from many schools and reading fairs. The shocking tale follows the Dollanganger children. The unexpected death of their father is only the first of many calamities that follows the siblings through the five book series.

No article about horror fiction would be complete without mentioning Stephen King. He is the master of horror with over 50 best selling novels. Just a few of his titles include The Shining, Cujo, Carrie, Misery, Needful Things, Thinner, Salem’s Lot, It, and The Running Man. His tales range from a rabid dog terrorizing a town (a real-life horror we could all encounter) to a post apocalyptic America fighting a maniacal evil (something I hope we never face). Often knocked by critics, especially for his earlier work, King’s stories resonate with the reading public. People who do not typically read horror will read Stephen King.

Even kids want to get scared. R. L. Stine published his first scary teen novel, Blind Date, in 1986. (Tagline – It wasn’t a date! It was a nightmare!) It was an instant success. He went on to write the Fear Street series and the Goosebumps series. Both series spawned movies, television shows, and merchandise that were extremely popular. The Fear Street series remains one of the best selling Young Adult series of all time.

This article only touches on a few writes of horror literature, but I am running out of room! There are countless other authors to explore – H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Frank E. Peretti, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, RAy Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Joe Hill, Seth Grahame-Smith… Well, you get the idea. There are horror novels for whatever ‘fear level’ you want. Your public library is a great way to check out a new author and see if you like their style.

So, after this history lesson, you may be wondering. Why do we read or write horror stories? Isn’t real life filled with enough despair, mistrust, uncertainty, and cruelty to fill dozens of horror novels? Yes, unfortunately. I hope none of us will face a killer clown crawling out of the sewer, or have a family member converse with skeleton parts, or conduct cadaver experiments in our creepy lab. These are abstract horrors because they are not liable to happen.

But we will experience grief as we lose a loved one, terror if we are attacked, loneliness, despair, regret, anxiety, betrayal… By reading horror, you escape the everyday fears we face. Writing horror allows the author to exorcise demons they hold within. When you hold a book or an unfinished manuscript in your hand, your are the master of that tiny little section of your universe. The story can allow you to escape for minutes or hours; the heroes and heroines may save the day and defeat the horror. If it gets to be too much? Simply close the book. Stop writing or reading. You control the horror.

All this research has made me want to re-visit some old favorites. I think I will curl up with my dog-eared copy of It. Wait, do I hear a tapping at my chamber door? It is a dark and stormy night, after all.

Writing Prompt: The pounding on the door stopped. The sudden silence was more unsettling than the rattling door.

Genre Month: Horror, Part One

By Cammi Woodall

Ho, ho, horror! Not your typical December greeting, is it? My topic for today is horror literature. The first part of this article focuses on classical horror, up to the 20th century.

We are all scared of something. Maybe your fear is something concrete – spiders, clowns, darkness, thunder, taxes. Maybe you are scared of intangibles – loneliness, death, imprisonment, hatred, racism.  A typical definition of horror is ‘a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.’ Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you!

Horror in literature actually dates back to ancient Sumer with tales of a supernatural being called Emikku who could inhabit dead bodies. Its roots began in early Church essays describing how to combat witchcraft and devil worship. Works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy took these essays and put the Church’s warnings into a fictional account of the atrocities of Hell and Purgatory.

William Shakespeare might be an odd choice for an article on the horror genre, but the Bard’s work has several overtones of horror – the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, the Ghost of Hamlet’s father running around plotting and encouraging revenge, Hamlet’s slow descent into madness.  Alas, think of poor Yorick! Hamlet stands in a cemetery speaking to the skull of his dead companion while he contemplates the finality of death. It doesn’t get much creepier than that! His macabre elements still inspire authors today.

The first true horror book is often credited to Horace Wadpole.  His Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, was published in 1765 and contained the elements that would become standard for Gothic novels to come. A creepy mansion, underground passages, maidens in distress, ghosts, and mistaken identity depicted a supernatural fantasy at a time when most authors strove for realism. Critics considered the story in poor taste, but the public loved it.

The early 1800’s saw the rise of horror’s most well-known author, Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe’s use of short, staccato sentences and use of first-person view throughout his work heightened the tension, drawing the reader in to the terror happening on the page. Stories and poems such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, Annabel Lee, and The Tell-Tale Heart still enthrall readers today. Who can ever forget the epic poem The Raven, never flitting, still sitting, and the ever lost Lenore?

The 19th century saw a turn away from Gothic elements to what is considered modern horror. Tales such as Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man relied less upon creepy atmosphere and drew inspiration from science and alchemy. Many of the novels during this time went on to become iconic classics immortalized in film, stage, and television.

No article on classical horror would be complete with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both are available as public domain books, so no true sales figures exist, but together they are considered the highest selling horror novels of all time.

Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first modern horror novel, as well as the first science fiction novel. During a bout of bad weather and boredom, Shelley’s companion Percy Bysshe Shelley a contest for best ghost story. Mary was fascinated with galvanism, a scientific fad at the time of using electrical currents on animals and convicted criminals to stimulate muscle contractions. Study of her journals also reveal that she constantly thought of a baby she’d lost a few years earlier. Her emotional state helped her craft a true tale of horror, with both Dr. Frankenstein and his creation.

Bram Stoker spent seven years writing his masterpiece, Dracula. Many believe he based his story on Vlad the Impaler, and that is was the first vampire story. Actually, Transylvania and its famous nocturnal inhabitants had been popular in literature for many years. Stoker just took these basic elements and crafted a true tale of horror and suspense. His influence lives on today, with popular vampire stories like Joe Hill’s Nosferatu, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and Stephanie Myers Twilight series.

Horror even spilled over into tales for children. The stories written by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen have been sanitized for today’s market, but children gathered around their mother’s knee or tucked into their cozy beds in the early 1830’s were familiar with very different versions of these beloved tales. The Little Mermaid suffered excruciating pain with each step, her feet bleeding, till she flung herself into the sea after her prince married another woman. The Evil Stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet to make the glass slipper fit, only to have their eyes pecked out by birds at Cinderella’s wedding. The Wicked Queen is forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance till she dies at Snow White’s wedding.

Click to tweet: Horror writers attempt to make some sort of sense of the senseless, bring order to the chaos, and scare the daylights out of you! Find out more about the genre known as “horror.” #horror #amreading

Not exactly the Disney versions, are they? Where are the grouchy lobsters or birds who help clean house? These stories often served as cautionary tales for children, much like modern day warnings of the Boogey Man.

The next part of my article tomorrow will focus on the 20th century. Stay tuned!

Writing Prompt – It was a dark and stormy night.

Geocaching 101: If You Hide It, We Will Hunt!

By Cammi Woodall

I hunt for Tupperware in the woods. How do you spend your weekends?

No, I am not careless or forgetful of where I put my belongings. My family and I are part of a growing group of ‘treasure hunters’ who participate in an exciting hobby called geocaching.

So what is geocaching? Well, it is basically what happens when nerds go outside to play. A person takes a container, hides it somewhere outside such as in the woods or in a city, marks the coordinates with their GPS, and logs that information onto a website. Our favorite is the free site geocaching.com. Indiana Jones wanna-be’s then log those coordinates into their GPS systems and head out to search. When you get to the correct coordinates, put your GPS on Pedestrian Mode and start to hunt! Once you find the cache, you sign a log book provided, and register your find on the website. Caches can be anywhere – city streets, local parks, scenic byways, bridges, cemeteries, even underwater! They can be tucked under rocks, in hollow logs, in magnetic holders on anything metal (like a tank – no joke!), or hanging from a tree branch. Harder caches can even require scuba gear or rappelling equipment.

Geocaching got its start in 2000 in Beaver Creek, Oregon. To test the accuracy of his GPS unit, a man named David Ulmer took a small plastic box and filled it with goodies like books and CD’s. He hid it alongside a popular nature trail and logged the plotted coordinates on his website. He invited readers to try and find his hidden stash to test the accuracy of their own units and his.

Within three days, two people had found it and responded back. They loved it! Slowly the activity caught on and was featured on an online tech magazine, in the New York Post, and on CNN. This media attention drew seekers from around the world. The website geocaching.com was born and the hunt was on!

But there were only 75 known caches in the world. Chances were a caching newbie was not close to one. So if you couldn’t find caches, why not hide one for someone else to find? Thus started the geo version of “Field of Dreams” – if you hide it, they will hunt. So they hid it and we hunted. We are still hunting. From its humble beginnings, geocaching.com has grown to over two million caches sought after by more than five million seekers. Caches have been placed on every continent, even Antarctica (my bucket list geocaching destination)! There is a good chance you are within walking distance of a cache right now, or at least a short drive.

You are in nature so be aware of dangers. So far we haven’t been chased by a large boulder “Temple of Doom” style, but we have encountered several snakes, dogs, ticks, and stinging bugs. My sister was chased by a buffalo once! Well, the buffalo was safely behind a fence a long distance away from her and she was never in any danger, but we still laugh about that. (My parents and I do, my sister not so much.)

Why Tupperware? Because it lives up to its reputation for keeping contents fresh! All caches are not stored in the iconic containers, but it is certainly popular. Caches are susceptible to weather, so you need good containers that will protect the contents. They can range in size from micro (a small metal tube half the size of your pinkie finger) to large (about the size of a five-gallon bucket). There are even a few caches the size of telephone booths.

I’ve had several people ask, “But what do you get?” Many people hear ‘cache’ and thinks ‘cash’. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. The treasure you find will be stickers, small toys, beads, pencils… anything that will fit in your cache container. The smallest containers will only have the logbook.

So what do you get? Well, you get the rush of searching for a lost container, the satisfaction of finding the capsule and signing your name with the others who came before you. You get the thrill of discovery as you visit new places. You get a sense of community when you meet fellow cachers also out for that elusive treasure. You get that thrill of competition when you find the cache before the people with you. You get time spent with family and friends.

My hearty recommendation is to try it at least once. Grab some bug spray, pack a picnic, pick some easy caches nearby, and start hunting! I just checked geocaching.com and there are 22 caches within ten miles of me. There were only 18 the last time I checked. Excuse me, but I need to grab my GPS and start looking for some Tupperware! Hope to see you out there!

Click to tweet: Geocaching 101: If You Hide It, We Will Hunt! Article at the Inspired Prompt blog. Have you tried geocaching? #geocache #amwriting

Writing prompt: Darla drew near the large oak that stood in the middle of the park. Had she finally found…

Motivated by Many: One Writers Perspective

By Cammi Woodall

This was a hard article for me. I am supposed to explain how an author inspired me. How do I pick just one? In Icebound, Dean Koontz wrote a scene of a man underwater struggling to break through the ice. I found myself holding my breath along with him! Stephen King’s imagery and turn of phrase has scared me, sickened me, enlightened me, and encouraged me. And who didn’t cry when Dobby died? How could you, J.K. Rowling?

I decided to fudge a little and write about three different ladies close to home who have inspired me.  Please forgive me, Jennifer and Betty (the blog administrators)!

In 2006, my sister and I took a class offered by our local Board of Education, called “As the Pen Spins”. It was a writing seminar taught by a great lady named Jane Carroll. To start the first class, we all had to stand up, introduce ourselves, and tell what we do.

I said, “Hi, my name is Cammi and I work in a bank.”

She challenged us to reintroduce ourselves and say, “My name is Cammi and I am a writer!”

I did not have the exclamation point in my voice when I stood up in class but much more of a question mark. Me, a writer? In my mind, that word conjured up the New York Times bestsellers list, contracts, agents, movie rights. I was a bank teller who scribbled ideas on scraps of paper and hid them away from the world. Who was I to call myself a writer?

Jane taught me that a writer is simply one who writes. Quantity doesn’t count, only the fact that you write and do not stop. Did you compose one line about the beauty of the morning sunrise? Did you write an article for your company’s newsletter? Did you pen a short funny story for your grandkids? Then, my friend, you are a writer. Stand up and say it out loud! Thank you, Jane!

Jennifer Hallmark, one of the moderators for this site, inspires me in several ways. She was in that first class with my sister and me. I can still remember her saying, “I’m really just interested in learning more about writing articles.” She has certainly done that in abundance, but Jennifer is also the proud owner of a book contract for a fictional novel. (I am not jealous, I am not jealous, I am not jealous!)

She has grown as a writer and gone down different paths to find her way. I never considered writing articles until she asked me last year to contribute to this blog. Now, thanks to her, I have a few articles posted here and am scheduled for more later in the year. This lady has definitely made me jump out of my comfort zone and find some new paths of my own! Thank you, Jennifer!

My sister Holly is a writer in a different situation. As a United Methodist preacher, she faces the challenges of caring for her congregation’s needs and helping them grow in the Lord’s way. Each week, she writes a sermon that is God-given and inspirational, and each week she teaches me something new. I face enough of a struggle writing an article occasionally for a blog so I admire the strength and courage she brings to her calling.

Holly also inspires me with encouragement and gave me my favorite compliment I’ve received about my writing. While looking over an article I’d done about Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption, she said, “You have such an easy style. It reminds me a lot of Stephen King. Not the horror, but like you are sitting here with me telling a story. I like reading your work.” Bring on the tingles of excitement, tears of joy, and the blush of embarrassment! A simple compliment but one I hold close to my heart. Thank you, dear sister!

Do you have an author who inspires you in your writing? I certainly hope so. But how about this? Go be that inspiration for someone. Give encouragement, offer to read, spread the word about their accomplishments. You never know what action you take will resonate with another and stay on their heart. Who knows? You could end up in an article!

Writing prompt “At least it is over now.”

She shook her head. “No, I am afraid it has just begun.”

Click to tweet: Go inspire someone, a writer. Give encouragement, offer to read, spread the word about their accomplishments. You never know what action you take will resonate with another and stay on their heart. #amwriting #motivation