Welcome to the Writer’s Apocalypse

I’ve always found the word “apocalypse” to be fascinating. It can mean a prophetic revelation, but it can also mean a widespread or universal destruction or disaster.

As a Christian and a Horror Writer, both those definitions weigh heavy on the subjects I write as well as the content I include in my works. Some may think that the two terms, “Christian” and “Horror Writer,” mix like oil and water. It all depends on how you write the story.

If you Google the phrase “types of apocalypse” here’s what you’ll find:

  • Alien Invasion
  • Time traveling robot infested future
  • Rise of mutants
  • Cloned dinosaurs
  • Apes conquering the planet
  • Divine Judgment
  • Technology Singularity
  • Humans all turned into batteries

The list comes from this site. The article is titled “Apart from zombies, what other types of apocalypses are there?” Give it a read, it’s rather interesting.

The Writer’s Apocalypse. When I first came up with the name for this website I was taking a college course called W315: Writing for the Web. I had to create a website with a topic of my choosing. At that time I was just an aspiring unpublished writer. The main topic of the site focused on writing and my personal struggle to become a published author. Years later, I am the author of three novels and four short stories.

I am a survivor of the Writer’s Apocalypse.

However, even a survivor can die after the initial apocalyptic event. Look at The Walking Dead. Characters die from a plethora of ways, not just from zombies. In order to prolong that survival, one must sharpen their skills. Hopefully that way I can show others to survive the wasteland that is the Writer’s Apocalypse.

On this site you will find not just my books and origin story. You’ll also find author interviews, book and movie reviews, and my weekly blog Mastering the Craft.

Books make the best gifts

Okay, so maybe books don’t make the best gifts. I’ll admit that I’d rather be given a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ over a Stephen King book. One exception to that if the Stephen King book was a first edition signed copy. If my “Secret Santa” was looking to gift me one of those phones, then make sure it’s able to be on the Sprint network. Just saying. Now onto this week’s rant.

There are many reasons why books make the perfect gift. Here are some reasons why:

1. Books are easily transportable. You can’t take a 72-inch flat screen television with you to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and watch as you wait in line to renew your driver’s license. You also can’t take a Playstation 4 with you to a government meeting and play the new Star Wars game a few minutes before the meeting convenes. I’ve tried. You just end up with council members giving you weird looks as you try to plug an HDMI cable into the monitors. Books can be taken with you wherever you go. It doesn’t matter where you go: churches, meetings, the BMV, even the bathroom. All of those places and more, a book can be taken with you. Last detail about that: if you’re borrowing a book from the library or a friend, don’t take it into the bathroom. That’s common courtesy.

2. Books are cheap. If you’re like me, a writer, you can’t really afford to spend a bunch of money on Christmas presents. I mean, you could spend rent and bill money to buy that perfect, albeit expensive, gift for your loved one. You might be asking them for a place to stay while you catch up on bills, but whatever. Books are the perfect alternative. You don’t have to drop $400 dollars on a book unless it’s a signed first edition of Stephen King.

3. Books are personalized. Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction, etc. Everyone has a preference when it comes to works of fiction. Or non-fiction. Choosing the perfect book for that person tells you that you know them enough to know what types of books they like to enjoy. Televisions aren’t personal like a book can be. Just make sure you take in deciding which book is right.

4. Books require no assembly. Unless you buy a book from Ikea, you don’t need to assemble anything the night before Christmas. Plus, they need no batteries. I can’t tell you the money I’ve spent buying batteries for gifts that didn’t include them.

5. Books make the perfect re-gift. When you’re finished reading a book, you can pass them on as a White Elephant book. If you’re like me, you wear a book out in the first reading. I typically crack a spine of a book more than I crack my own. If it’s a hardback, then maybe that’d be an okay book as a regular gift. However, if you bend the edges of the pages like I do, then maybe consider buying a newer version.

6. Books don’t hurt as much as other things. Have you ever stepped on a bunch of Legos? Have you ever banged your head on a television? Stepping on the edge of a book, a pointy hardcover, is a pretty difficult thing to do. I don’t think I’ve ever done that.
Literature is something that I’ve tried to purchase for my friends and relatives for birthdays and Christmas gifts. Personally, I like hunting for the right book. Sure, it may take time but that’s what makes gifts so enjoyable. Remember that old saying, “It’s the thought that counts?” Books personify that sentiment.

Happy hunting and merry Christmas!

The Thankful Writer

As I write this, I’m sitting in the living room of my aunts and mother’s home. It’s mid-afternoon and we’re all waiting for Thanksgiving Dinner. My sister’s family and I piled into their van early in the morning to travel to Illinois where our aunt and mother live. It’s a rather short trip, just under three hours, and we were fortunate not to experience any kind of traffic. We stopped for gasoline once and I was able to refuel my caffeine tank while my brother-in-law filled the van’s. The dinner we had consisted of turkey, ham, potato casserole, cheesy broccoli, and some type of cranberry concoction. It was delicious. When we finished and washed the dishes, we had dessert. As tradition dictates, that dessert was pumpkin pie with whipped cream. While we devoured the pie, the Disney Plus movie “Noelle” played. That too was pretty good. Sure, it had a lot of product placement and a predictable ending, but the casting was great and the humor was flawless.

Overall it was a rather perfect day free of any kind of drama.

To say that I have a lot to be thankful for is an understatement. The first thing that I’m thankful for is my family. My family has supported me and has had my back even at my darkest, lowest moments. I count myself blessed to be apart of this family. Another thing I’m thankful for is my job. As an author, it’s difficult to find a job that grants the flexibility needed to actually get some book writing done. It’s also very fulfilling and entertaining. Covering the news, you will always get something different coming across your desk. Being able to help get the word out on various topics, organizations, and causes is something that I take pride in. I’ve also made many friends and acquaintances in my four and a half years as a news writer.

My faith is something that I don’t touch on very often during these times together. That’s something I could talk about later on, but for now let me just say that without God, I might’ve succumbed to the devastating depression that followed my separation and divorce. I’m so thankful for all the things that God has done for me, even if some of those things weren’t all that great.

One of the final things that I’m thankful for is… you. The reader. You’re the one that reads my weekly rants, my articles, and (hopefully) my books. Without you guys, I might not be here every week ranting about one thing or another. I’d most likely be working at a gas station on third shift. As a side note, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I had worked third shift at a gas station in South Bend and I despised it. Working nights at a gas station in the south edge of a minor city in Northern Indiana was boring and soul-crushing. However, I did meet a lot of interesting individuals during those nights. An example was this one guy that was walking to Kokomo from Michigan because he was kicked out of the state.

There’s always one person on my Facebook feed that likes to remind their friends that this holiday was based on White people taking advantage of the natives. Whether that was the case or not, it really doesn’t matter much because the past is the past.

What does matter is that on Thanksgiving, we acknowledge the blessings that we have been given. We need to remember that not everyone has been blessed as we have. For me, I know that things could have gone a very different route if it hadn’t been for my family, my God, my job, and readers like you.

So, what I guess what I’m trying to say is… thanks.

If You’ve Never Watched Horror

So, I have a lot of people tell me that they don’t like watching Horror films because they have too much violence/gore/swearing/jump scares/takes place in Michigan or some variety of other reasons. Or maybe you have a rule about not watching films that are Rated R. Since it’s Halloween soon, this rant I’ll be listing my top five Horror film picks for people that don’t watch a lot of the genre.

1. Psycho (1960) directed by prolific Auteur Alfred Hitchcock. Basic premise: Woman decides to embezzle money from employer and during her escape she finds refuge in a motel ran by a psycho with a mother obsession. And yes, it’s Rated R but hear me out. Back in the ‘60’s this was considered R, but in today’s standards, it’s PG-13. Hardly any violence or gore (Hitchcock used chocolate syrup as blood since it was filmed in black and white), one profanity and that’s the “OMG” phrase, and the only nudity was a silhouette of Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene. Having sad this, Hitchcock was a master at building suspense and crafting deeply disturbing narratives.

2. Insidious (2010) directed by James Wan is bordering on what I’m including on this list. Basic premise: family moves into a new house and are plagued by evil spirits and soon realize that a demon has trapped their son. So, it’s rated PG-13 and includes a single use of the “F” word. There’s a bunch of other mild obscenities. The violence in this film is very little, but there are multiple jump scares. No sexual content which is a plus. What might deter some people from watching this is the intense demonic entity that threatens the family.

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) directed by M. Night Shyamalan is another film that borders what I’m comfortable suggesting to you all. However, it’s such a great PG-13 rated film, I have to include it on this list. Basic premise: kid sees dead people and a psychologist tries to help the kid. Mild profanity, moderate frightening and intense scenes, mild sexual content, but moderate violence and gore are in this film. The ghosts appear how they looked at time of death, so some scenes are pretty grisly looking. However, if you’re wanting to watch a ghost film, this one is a must see.

4. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) directed by Scott Derrickson. Try finding a decent exorcist film that isn’t Rated R and you have this film here. Basic premise: A lawyer that doesn’t believe in good and evil takes on a negligent homicide case centered on an exorcism. The lawyer begins to question whether or not good and evil exists. This film is unique because it focuses on the exorcism after the fact from the lawyer’s point of view as she tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to Emily Rose. There are a handful (maybe two handfuls) of curse words, moderate violence, and really no sexual content. It’s the perfect film for someone wanting to dip their toes in an exorcism movie.

5. Beetlejuice (1988) directed by Tim Burton is one of those films that you watched when you were younger, but when you watch it with your kids you wonder “Why did my parents allow me to watch that?” It’s Rated PG, but in reality, it should be Rated PG-13. In fact, the entry above is tamer than this one and that was about a demonic possession. Basic premise: Homeowners die and haunt their house. They seek help from the “ghost with the most” when new homeowners move in. It’s a great scary/funny film, but I’d suggest watching it first before letting your kids watch it.

With all that being said, I really thought that finding five films that weren’t all that gory and graphic wouldn’t have been so hard. I’m sure there are a plethora of other films that would make this list, but I either never came across them or I’ve forgotten about them. Hopefully you all have/had (depending on when you read this) a Happy Halloween! Wishing you all a treat filled and no trick night. Dress up as something and eat some candy because dressing up as a character from your favorite movie/book/show/video game only comes once a year. Right? Oh wait, that’s what cosplayers do every day.

If I survive the night, I’ll talk to you all later.

The Curse of the Written Word

Keeping up with this month’s theme of the spooky and creepy, I want to share my feelings about one of the curses of the Written Word. Don’t worry, it’s not really one of those curses that’ll turn you into a frog, newt, or any other amphibian. I don’t have that power.

But I do have another power granted to me by the Written Word.

See, words have power. The power to create, to sustain, to build up, and to grant freedom. Take the United States Declaration of Independence for example. Written in 1776, this document explained why 13 colonies sought to free themselves from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

You can’t tell me those two paragraphs are simply a well-connected string of words and punctuation. Those words have meaning. They, and the entire document that follows them, contain a power that has created a nation, has sustained that nation for over 200 years, has built up other countries that have sought independence, and has granted freedom to an unmeasurable number of men, women, and children.

People say magic doesn’t exist. Whenever I hear that claim, I ask them if they’ve ever read a book.

With all powerful things, there are neglectful people that use it haphazardly. And, of course, there are evil people that use it for abusive practices. Look at Twitter to see some of those abusive practices.

You might be thinking, “Jim, who are you to accuse us of abusing the power of the written word?” Because, dear reader: I’m a horrible practitioner of the written word. If you’ve read my past rants, you’ll know what I think of both James Patterson and the State of Michigan. Unlike the Founding Fathers, I’ve never used my power for good when it came to those two subjects.

Recently, I’ve been using it without thinking of the implications. The true curse of the written word is that it’s hard to interpret a message from a friend. I remember when I was married, my wife accused me once that I didn’t love her. It was on a way home from work. She was sitting in the passenger seat of our van and I was driving. She was abnormally silent, and I knew something was up. You could always tell when she was angry about something when she was quiet. Silence, in this case, was deadly.
After spending some time coaxing her into talking, she responded that I hadn’t ended a text with “I love you.”

It didn’t help that I laughed when she said that. I couldn’t help it. I thought I’d accidently done something wrong. After a few more minutes of driving in silence (her anger had renewed and grown after my outburst of laughter), she informed me that when I had texted back “Sure, Taco Bell sounds good” and I had left out those essential three words, the message was interpreted that while I loved Taco Bell, I somehow didn’t love her. So, after that day, I’d always text back with those three words. Even when I was indisposed. Example: “I’ll be downstairs in a minute. I’m using the bathroom… I love you.”

It’s been my experience that I often text something I think it funny, but when others read it, they are offended, confused, or think I’m serious. That’s why if I ever text you, you’ll usually receive another text saying “lol jk.” For those that don’t know lol means laugh out loud and jk means just kidding.

It hits me hard when I hear back from people that I’ve offended them by something I’ve texted. I recently hurt someone close to me due to this. It’s painful for them, and it’s painful for me.

Texting someone is convenient, but we lose something in the translation between word of mouth and the written word. That’s the true curse of the written word.

As Uncle Ben once said to one of my favorite superhero’s: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Treat the power you have. Don’t trick people with it.

Book vs Film: Scaring your Audience

Since it’s October, I thought it’d be appropriate to write a series of scary topics to coincide with All Hallows’ Eve. To kick off this series, I’ll be discussing the differences between a horror book and a horror film.

Boo!

By your reaction (yes, I’m watching as you’re watching this) I failed in my attempt at a jump scare. You see, that’s the main difference between a visual media and a written version. For those that don’t know the term, a jump scare is used to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event. Typically, that means something, or someone appears in front of the audience and often accompanied with a loud noise. At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two friends of mine. One friend, we shall call Angela, is particularly good at two things: hiding and jump scaring the other friend. The other friend, we shall call Kenny, is particularly good at one thing: being scared. Let’s just say, jump scares are an effective way to frighten your audience.
When used in films in an effective manner, jump scares can be a sudden payoff to a long period of suspense. As the tension builds up, the jump scare is the climax. They’ve been called “one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies.”

Recently, the use of jump scares has been criticized as overused and a lazy method to scare the audience. Which is true. Going back to my two friends, Kenny is like the audience and Angela is like the movie. Kenny’s been scared so many times by Angela that he’s used to it by now. Of course, that just means that Angela (and films) have to figure out new ways of scaring.

In a literary work, the author doesn’t have the above-mentioned technique to scare readers. Like film, authors must find alternative ways to scare the reader. One of those methods (there are many and I have just a limited amount of space, so I’ll only cover one in this article) is to create a false sense of security.

Simon Kurt Unsworth, author of The Devil’s Detective, talks about creating a false sense of security. He explains that if you make your story based in the real world so that readers recognize and relate to it, then add elements that show that world’s weaknesses. “Real fear comes from seeing in the narrative a set of events that, if they occurred, could threaten what’s important to the reader, and could change their world into something they no longer recognize or understand,” he once said. He goes on to say, and I really like this line, that “monsters aren’t really scary; monsters walking up the street where we’re living and threatening our children? That’s scary.”

Why do you think Stephen King’s books are so scary? IT, The Shawshank Redemption, The Institute, The Shining, Carrie, Firestarter… I could go on. He’s written so many books that are set in the real world and shows us that sometimes it isn’t a scary monster that’s the villain. It’s often society or the government that’s scarier than the space alien that feeds on children’s fear and then feasts on their flesh.

Even when your story is fantasy, there are still elements of realism that can be incorporated into it to make it more relatable to readers. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the characters are effected by addiction and mental issues even as they traverse across Mid-World on the Path of the Beam. Sometimes, the things that scare you are the ones that live inside your head.

Like the King of Horror once said in The Shining, “Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.” Sure, he was talking about a haunted resort, but it also meant Danny’s father turning into a homicidal abusive patriarch.

The real world is scary folks. Hopefully, we only experience it through the pages of a book or through the screen. It’d be nice to think that. Maybe that’s why we read and watch cinema. To escape the horrors of our everyday life. One last quote by Stephen King, I know, I quote him a lot. I think this sums up the article so here goes:

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win,” King said. Isn’t that the scariest part of life and literature, when the monsters win?

Review of Joker (2019)

jokerSimply put, Joker is a great film. Better yet, it’s a better comic book adaptation. Even better than all of those things, I dare say it’s the best DC film since The Dark Knight (2008). I’m sorry to have to break it to all two of you that liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but it’s true. Joker is the equivalent to Marvel’s Rated R film Logan (2017). This is a gritty, dark, disturbing, and wonderful look at one of the most infamous comic book villains.

All DCEU bashing aside, Director Todd Philips was able to reinvent the classic Batman nemesis into something that serves as a cautionary tale, but also creates an interesting character story. As the title suggests, this film centers around the origin of Joker. Audiences watch as the character of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is slowly degraded and humiliated by society until that smile he tries to keep on his face turns into a snarl.
I say that this is a cautionary tale simply because, unlike most comic book adaptations, this one could actually become reality. Social Services, local government, his family, and the rest of humanity failed Arthur Fleck which turns him into the Joker. Unlike other films in its genre, there isn’t a radioactive spider or magical ring from outer space that creates the protagonist. It’s simply the way Fleck is treated that turns him into the crown prince of crime. The moral of the story is: be kind to your fellow man.

The highlight of the film is the acting performance by Joaquin Phoenix. From the odd dancing and the shots of his gaunt rib cage to the ill sounding laughter, Phoenix will definitely go down as one of the best Jokers in film history. One of the quirks that the character portrays is an uncontrollable laugh that displays itself during moments of intense awkwardness or stress.

joker 3The supporting cast is quite remarkable as well. Robert De Niro plays Murray Franklin, a late-night show host that is the focus of Fleck’s comedic career. Zazie Beetz plays Sophie, Fleck’s love interest. Frances Conroy, who many will remember from American Horror Story, plays Penny Fleck, Arthur’s sickly mother.

The thing that sets Joker apart from the rest of the DC superhero films is that this is a standalone story, not linked to the other films in the DC Extended Universe. Having said that, expect to see a young Bruce Wayne. As stated before, Batman doesn’t appear in the film nor is there a hint of an antagonist other than those that are the target of Joker’s ire.

If you’re a fan of comic book villains, Joker is an interesting origin story that will keep you wondering if you should be rooting for Fleck or hoping the police bring him down before the credits roll. I will caution anyone that wants to go see it, this is a Rated R film for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images. This is not a film to take your children to. Don’t think that just because this a character in the Batman universe that this is a safe, child friendly film.

Review of The Institute

institute.jpgLet’s get this disclaimer out of the way so that we can get down to the meat and potatoes of this book review. I absolutely, positively love everything that Stephen King has ever written. Not so much his film adaptions, but that’s another review for another time.

Released in mid September, the storyline of The Institute follows two main characters. The first readers encounter is Tim Jamieson, an ex-policeman that’s traveling to New York for a job. Following his intuition, Jamieson ends up in DuPray, South Carolina. He ends up being a Night Knocker. For those that don’t know what a night knocker is, don’t worry I didn’t know either. Basically, it’s just a lowly paid member of local law enforcement that walks around at night making sure places are locked up. Jamieson has his own interesting history and is developing a life in DuPray when the story shifts over to the central character of the novel, Luke Ellis. 

Luke is a twelve-year-old genius that’s about to enter college. One night, he’s kidnapped from his home in suburban Minneapolis and taken to The Institute. It’s a facility located in Maine. Luke soon finds out that he and all the other kids in the facility have either telekinesis or telepathy. Oh, and the facility is operated by a super secret shadowy organization.

Going into the novel, I was certain that it was a sequel King’s 1980 novel, Firestarter. It’s essentially the same premise. A child with pyrokinetic powers is hunted by The Shop, a super secret government operation that does drug testing on people with telekinetic abilities. Spoiler alert: Firestarter ends with The Shop reforming under new leadership. With Doctor Sleep being a sequel to The Shining, it wasn’t that hard to think that The Institute was a sequel to Firestarter. However, don’t get your hopes up. There’s no references to the book that was adapted into the 1984 film starring Drew Barrymore.

While I really enjoyed Luke’s journey of survival and vengeance, all I really wanted to do was get back to Night Knocker Tim. For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tim’s normal, everyday life compared to the freaky and slightly traumatizing tale of Luke Ellis. As you could guess, the two main character’s path eventually collide and that’s when the story picks up. To quote Pam Beesly-Halpert from The Office, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Stephen King is one of those authors that has an innate talent to craft a decent story with children as characters. The Institute is pretty much a mash-up of IT and Firestarter. You take a shadowy government organization testing children and the children must band together to survive. Luke and the other children share a deep relationship together and King so masterfully gives each child a story arc without bogging down the narrative.

The one thing that I truly did not like were the political digs at President Trump and the Republican Party. If you follow King’s social media, you’ll know that he doesn’t particularly look on them with a positive light. There aren’t many of these references, but they always made me cringe and pulled me out of the narrative when I read them.

I guess I wouldn’t be a good reviewer if I didn’t mention how the novel parallels real world events. When you finish this 576 page science fiction/horror thriller there are a few things that hit close to home in terms of vaccinations, missing children, and zealots that believe that the ends justify the means. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that The Institute is an interesting look into these issues and the deeper and terrifying implications they have on society.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, The Institute will itch that literary scratch. For those that haven’t delved into the deep library of King, you’ll find this book a great introduction into it. The Institute is definitely one to put on your To-Be-Read list.