Monthly Archives: September 2013

the lure of horror

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I’ve felt the lure of horror stories since I was seven and wrote about a shark biting me in the neck.  I believe that was the same year my cousin Stacey and I made a sheet tent over the television in her basement while our mothers (who were sisters) spent a few hours talking upstairs at my aunt’s kitchen table.  

We promised we wouldn’t watch a scary movie, but my uncle’s collection of VCR tapes had too many enticing titles.  We chose “Return of the Living Dead: 2.”  

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As soon as it was finished, we ran upstairs to confess—not out of shame or guilt—but out of pride for having watched a real horror movie and lived to see the end credits, lived to pull aside the sheet tent, crawl back out into the light of day, and know that there would be no zombies.

My first long piece or prose, written in 8th grade, was called The People in the Lake.  It was a hundred hand-written pages with illustrations, about a town in New Hampshire plagued by lake zombies who basically pull you down into the lake if you swim after dark.  One girl has the power to release the spirits of the people in the lake, but there’s a good guy and an evil guy…and you know the rest of a story like this.  I was thirteen.  I loved the idea of zombies, I loved my vacation cabin on a lake in New Hampshire, and I loved the idea of a good boy that seems bad and a bad boy that seems good.  

I also used to write short plays that my cousin Stacey and her little sister Allison and I would act out with my aunt’s old dresses, costumes, and cabbage patch dolls.  

I’m not sure what happened to me in High School to make me switch from writing horror to writing nearly all poetry or high fantasy.  I got into witchcraft and I fell in love with The Princess Bride and Neverending Story (the book, though the film was great, too), and nature.  

I suppose those were nice diversions from the darkness in the corners of the room and under the bed—darkness that I still filled with monsters, reaching hands, or evil fairies.  

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I’m still in love with horror, still reading Steven King, Anne Rice, and other, less known horror writers like Poppy Z. Brite, from time to time, though I mostly feed my craving through movies.  Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorite horror movies.  I love everything Joss Whedon does, though.  Older horrors I still watch are Jaws and the Halloween movies.  I love The Walking Dead and Dexter, too.  

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There’s a part of me that’s sad I am not writing horror now, and I can see myself gravitating back that way in the future.  What has prompted some new thoughts about horror as a genre has been Kristen Lamb’s blog.  

Horror author Kevin Lucia has been guest blogging on her website, and his words have been truly awesome for me to ponder.  They’ve brought me back to that little girl I was under the sheet tents watching zombies, the teenager who surrounded herself with stuffed animals every night so that the monsters under the bed and the evil fairies in the corners of her room wouldn’t get her while she slept, and the adult who still can’t sleep on the edge of the bed, and who still prefers to swim in any water with a companion (a companion who somehow makes Jaws or the people in the lake or the people in the pool—not get her).

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Read Kevin’s wise words here:

Why is Horror Important—Part One

An excerpt:

“…we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones...”

Why is Horror So Important—Part Two

“Good horror takes characters of depth and exposes them to their worst fears, watching closely how they either rise or fall…which speaks (no, SHOUTS) volumes about us as humans.”

Why Writing Horror Is—SHOULD BE—Hard Part 1

“In the right hands, horror can hold up a very unflattering mirror and show us what we really are: broken, scared creatures flawed and cracked, a species tragically ruled by fear, prejudice, insecurity, pride, anger, selfishness and cruelty.

And in the right hands horror also shows our better selves rising above our flaws.”

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There’s probably going to be a part two for that last post, but I’m too excited about this to wait!

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In conclusion, I resonated with Kevin Lucia’s theories and I was reminded of reading King’s novel Cujo in 7th grade, and spending the last hour of reading in tears.  

Horror isn’t scary because of the monsters, it’s scary because all of these monsters are inside of us already.  

We’re the monsters.  

We’re the heroes, too.  

As humans, we literally can be anything, and sometimes it takes horror to show us the depths that despair or pain can lead us, or the heights we can reach when we are tested.

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words of wisdom

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Sometimes I’ve found it to be important to write down inspiring words from friends or fellow writers.  Even just short little things like, “you only live once,” or “every dark cloud has a silver lining.”  It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve already been said, or how cheesy they sound when you’re feeling positive already and you don’t need more positive affirmations.

When I’m depressed, these little bits of sunshine give me hope.  And when I have writer’s block, they can sometime act as wondrous prompts.

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At AROHO’s retreat this past August, I was able to meet Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black.  

She sat down across from me during lunch one day before I realized who she actually was, and then I proceeded to tell her how much I loved White Oleander and I was nervous to talk to her.  We did speak, though, many times during the week, and my silly nerves went away quickly once I realized how down to earth she was, how friendly and sweet, and all the little things we had in common.

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{Janet and I at the dance on the final evening of the retreat.}

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Janet said so many wise words during her presentations that I found myself, for the first time, desperately attempting to write down or paraphrase everything that was particularly awesome WHILE watching my interpreter interpret her words into ASL.  Janet did give me a typed sheet of the main part of her talk, but a lot of the things she said before and around it were the kinds of things you say spontaneously, while staring into the eyes of almost a hundred women looking back at you.  I added them, in red ink, all over the margins and the back of the paper.  Messy little scratches of inspiration.  And then when I got home, I copied them into my journal, so that I’d always have them in a place where I can find them easily.  

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Now, I realize, I should give them even larger lives than that.  Right now, I wish to give them to you—to the world—because I know they will help some of you just as much as they’ve helped me.

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  If you look for the miraculous—you will find it.

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Live slower, more child-like, like a poet.

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You are where you should be.  

You’re always in the right place.

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You can catch the beauty in life without being the beauty—you can see it, and it’s yours.

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Write from the neck down.

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Let things happen, don’t force anything.

Allow it to happen.

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We can use our “imaginary friends” and discover things we didn’t know we knew!

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I also wrote other more personal notes like:

Janet was a child liar (told stories), like me!!!

As a teen (and sometimes later on, too), I often wrote into the margins of my favorite books, and my comments were usually things like:

“Me, too!!!”   “YESYESYESYES!”   “F**king LOVE THIS!!!!!”   “I’m like him/her!!!”

Now, thankfully, I can just highlight the phrases I love in my Kindle (though I can still add extra exclamations —or exclamation points—when absolutely necessary).

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I’d like to offer up this writing assignment to everyone:  

When you hear a phrase you love, write it down in your journal or a notebook, quote it on Facebook, scribble it onto a napkin.  

Save it’s wisdom for later.  You never know when you might need it.  And I honestly believe words can be saviors, to non-writers as much as writers.  

Words can heal.  And when you hear something that sings to you, words that empower you to do something you’ve never done, or say something you’ve never said, then it might do the same to someone else.  That’s when you know you should probably share those words of wisdom. 

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Sometimes I wish words could fall from the sky like autumn leaves.  

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{I love the shape and vibrant yellow of the fallen cottonwood leaves at Ghost Ranch.}

Here’s another writing (or life) “assignment”:

The next time a leaf falls on you when you’re out walking or hiking, or just standing under a tree, catch it!  

Close your eyes with the leaf in your hands.

And listen for the word it could be telling you.  

Listen for the word you need.

(In times of desperation, or for variation, please feel free to just go and find a leaf already fallen, a leaf waiting for someone to rescue it

and give it new meaning.  

This, I believe, is yet another way of going out and finding the miraculous.)

If leaves don’t “speak” for you, find a stone, a shell, a button, a penny.  

The objects we usually overlook might hold the most meaning,

because honestly, the miraculous really is everywhere.

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the importance of writing retreats

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I’ve recently returned from AROHO‘s women’s writing retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  I came back to the woods of New Hampshire, my toddler, my puppy, and my partner weeks ago, but I am still half in the desert, and half with the 100 other women as we communicate via social media and emails, trying to maintain the interconnectedness we felt at the ranch.  

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I want to use this post to stress the importance of writing retreats for every writer.  Right now.  If you are a writer, please go online and look for a writing retreat.  Apply to dozens that offer scholarships or free residencies.  AROHO’s retreat was packed with so many presentations, readings, and workshops that it was hard for me to get much actual writing done there, but the AROHO women are working hard to provide all of us with so much stimulation, that I wasn’t disappointed by any means.  They always have a literary agent attend their retreats, which is an invaluable thing to writers who do not yet have agents.  She answered all of our questions and offered genuine, caring advice to anyone who approached her.  

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Other retreats and residencies do not have so much interaction.  But they also may not have agents attend or presentations that change your entire life or work as a writer.  AROHO changes me, every time.  I’ve only attended two retreats of theirs, but each one gave me gifts I could never have found in books or online.  Gifts that have enriched my writing and my life immensely.  

And because I am writing fervently right now, I am finding my blogging-self lost for words.  So, writers, I urge you to GO.  

Research what YOU as a writer NEED RIGHT NOW to get your words on the page more freely.  Expand your concept of what you deserve as a writer—because writers, I think, can often sacrifice their writing for their family or their pets, even.  Your writing is calling.  And I firmly believe all writers need at least 1-2 weeks, or longer, per year to be in a place where they can write without thinking of anything else, not food, or anyone else in their lives.  You can make your own retreat if you know of someone with a log cabin, or a small apartment, or anything you can rent or care for while you stay there ALONE and WRITE.  

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Wishing everyone the best of luck in finding solitude…and writing to their heart’s content.

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