Focus is an important aspect of creating horror. Too often a movie will tip its hand early, showing the monster full-on in total focus before the film’s climax. Better to keep the creature only half-glimpsed, in the background, blurry and out of focus as it drifts behind the characters and through the viewer’s psyche.
Hyper-focus or lack of focus is important in creating a sense of dread in the viewer or reader. Too much detail or too little can be terrifying, but its the middle ground, just the normal amount of detail, that I think tends to kill horror. Leaving a monster at the barest sketchy outline, only the teeth and sclera and weight of it, is just enough to allow all childhood fears to leap to the foreground. Describing the minutiae of a hallway, the simple distance between the bedroom and an intruder in inches and centimeters and the way the air still smells of the repaved parking lot and the sounds of the pipes creaking as they always do at night but there are two points of light at the end of the hallway, two reflective eyes becomes a terrifying overstimulus.
Leaving the details up to the imagination allows the reader to supply their own personally horrifying details, filling in the blanks with their own worst fears. Hyper focus can cause the reader to dissociate from what is normal around them, making something banal horrifying by revealing new layers of seeing.
Yikes these got away from me. here’s two months of catch-up updates.
I went to the Queer Young Adult Literature Conference at CU Boulder in April, and got Malinda Lo to sign my copy of Ash, even though I had to leave her talk early for work. I also got to see all of Sara Farizan’s talk, which was amazing. Listening to the two of them speak was very inspiring, in the way that I just wanted to rush home and create something.
In March I got my short story “Crocodiles in Wake” published in the Spring 2015 issue of The First Line.
I’ve been trying to get back in the habit of writing every day, with varying success. My previous job really threw me out of habit, and I’m still trying to build back up.
I’ve got a couple outlines written out, but now I’m having trouble focusing on just one. I think this sort of lack of focus is one of my biggest problems currently as a writer. That and writing dialogue. So, trying to work on both of those while I get back in good writing habits.
Short Stories I read and really recommend:
Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The New Atlantis”
Emily B. Cataneo’s “Speaking to Skull Kings”
K. M. Ferebee’s “The Earth and Everything Under”
I also finally finished Ursula Vernon’s webcomic Digger, which I’d started back in December and then been unable to finish due to my previous job. I really enjoyed it overall. When one of the characters dies near the end Vernon wrote that “Some characters come to you carrying their deaths with them…” I sort of fundamentally disagree with her about how much control characters have over the author versus how much control the author has over the characters, but that is such an amazing sentence. I think it affected me more than the character death itself.
My dream last night was set in Kansas. The sun was out, it was the middle of summer, and it was hot, but frost hung to the edges of plants. Spider-web ice spindled its way up bushes and trees, slowly, slowly, so most people didn’t notice. It was getting colder. And we were all fleeing. Something had happened. Something had happened to force people from their homes, and my family off the highway, which had been overrun and clogged by the amount of people trying to get anywhere else.
My family had joined a small group of people heading to a supposed “safe zone” – some sort of sprawling shopping center/ university campus with a large crowd milling about in an expansive parking lot. There had maybe been a convention of some sort around, because there were quite a few people in superhero costumes. My mother was looking for her tonton, who had just moved to Kansas from France, saying how it wasn’t fair to him that this had just now happened.
Everyone was talking about what had drove us all here – the monsters in the fields. And just about everywhere was near some fields. They had the teeth and mouth and fins of sharks, but their bodies were made up of thousands of writhing maggots. They tunneled deep in the earth, probably lived down underground, that’s how no one had seen them before now, and were coming up in droves to devour people.
In even quieter tones, a few talked about what the things that had driven us here might become. There were rumors of a pupated form – something huge walking around above ground, knocking over buildings and cities. The stream of refugees swore to it, but we hadn’t seen them yet.
“Fairy tales hardly ever come true for quiet girls.”
My short story “Crocodiles in Wake” was published in the Spring 2015 issue of The First Line Magazine. All the stories start with the above line. Please give it a read!
Oh man, this was supposed to be a post way back in December, but I didn’t get around to it for reasons I’ll talk about later.
Year-end Updates! In 2014 I got one story published, “Abomasum” at Theme of Absence. 18th Wall also released its Anthology “Those Who Live Long Forgotten” which contains my story “Painted Hounds.” This was less of a publication rate than 2013 for me, but both of the acceptances were paid, which was not the case for my work in 2013. I also submitted to fewer places than I had in 2013 which was my first year of trying to get my work out there. In 2014 I did 16 submissions, compared to 2013’s 25.
I re-edited and sent out two older pieces of flash fiction that I had. I started a new short story and made a rough outline of a longer piece I eventually want to work on. The past few months, I’ve been having trouble actually finishing anything new, so I need to work on that in December. I might have to make a rule for myself that I can’t start anything new until I’ve finished an older piece.
I also started work on a horror twine game, which has been very fun so far. I’ve been having a little trouble outlining some of the later parts, since there’s a fair amount of branching options. I maybe should have started with a simpler story, with fewer paths, but I’ll still be able to finish this one, with some more time.
Dragon Age: Inquisition came out in November, which surprisingly actually upped my writing productivity, so I’m pretty proud of my self-restraint.
I also finished reading XO Orpheus this month. The last 20 or so stories didn’t particularly grab me. They were all very good mechanically, I just wasn’t as thrilled with them as I was with the first half of the book. I maybe should have taken a break with something else in the middle, and then I would have liked more of the remainder of XO Orpheus. Brian Aldiss’ “the Hungers of an Old Language” was my favorite story in the later half of the book, and I’m going to go back and re-read Ander Monson’s “In a Structure Simulating an Owl,” because I enjoyed it but couldn’t quite follow some of it.
For December I’m going to start reading Junot Diaz’s Drown.