Four Holiday Gifts for Book and Zombie Lovers!

Ah, the holidays. I love them. My kids and I nagged sweet-talked my husband into dragging our Christmas stuff in from the garage, and now we already have our tree up. I love walking into stores and hearing holiday songs. Yes, I’m weird.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a lover of books and the paranormal, so I thought in the spirit of helping others get some Xmas shopping knocked out of the way, I’d do a fun-gift post.

This year I’ve decided to either hand make my presents or buy them from artists in the U.S. A GREAT place for this is Etsy. You can even sort artists by region, if you want to support people from your country, or if you’re from the US, your state (or states that had the most damage from Sandy).

Click on the pictures to go to the artist’s Etsy store.

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by storiarts on Etsy.com

This scarf is cute and meaningful! From a distance it looks like it’s printed with random words, but they’re actually from Jane Eyre, which is kind of awesome.

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by NeverlandJewelry on Etsy.com

Here’s a breathtaking pendant that looks like an old book. I love miniatures (told you I’m weird), so this really, really appeals to me. It’d be great for author friends or bookworms in the family.

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by dougfx on Etsy.com

If you’re into more of the creepy stuff, here’s a kick-butt zombie garden gnome! Seriously, who wouldn’t want one of these in their garden? Or even an entire horde?! I might just buy a couple for myself.

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by BombshellKitty on Etsy.com

Oh, and look at this! An heirloom to treasure through the generations. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in ornament form. Which self-respecting zombie lover wouldn’t want that, I ask you!

Comment here and let us know what book-related gift you’d like to give or receive, and you could win a $50 Amazon gift card and books to fill up those cold winter nights ahead!

Happy holidays!

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Treasured Memories

I have to admit, Christmas is not one of my favorite holidays. Mainly because I dread going shopping. While I love giving (and receiving) gifts, I hate the mad rush of people at the department stores, the rudeness of others (aren’t the holidays supposed to be peace and good will towards man?), and the loss of time one gets when you realize you have to pay more in shipping than the gift itself because it’s one week until the big day.

I’m not completely anti-holiday. I love what it represents. I still believe in Santa and he believes in me. I enjoy the traditions and stories that come with celebrating Christmas. Whenever friends of family ask what I’d like from their vacations*, I ask for ornaments. No silly keychains or magnets for me! I want something I can display on my tree, even if it’s received months before the actual holiday itself. On the rare occasions I travel myself, I always pick up an ornament or two to commemorate the visit, so I can have a story to tell about its origins.

This summer, my basement flooded three times. My box of ornaments were the only thing down there I cared about. I dreaded checking the box, fearing the worst. So this weekend, I finally gathered the courage to check my tub to see the extent of the damage. Fortunately, about 80% of my ornaments survived (most of the ones that perished were my cheap glass filler ornaments from Target). But a few cherished ones were lost: my dancing Pinocchio that my friends bought back from Italy when they went on their honeymoon (a thanks for dog sitting), the expensive work of art my husband purchased for me in Santa Fe during our first Christmas as a couple (which we didn’t spend together).

What I have left of my collection after years of collecting.

Then I realized that the memories, or stories, weren’t gone from my mind. I still have them, even if the ornaments that represented those moments in time are lost. It’s no different than the stories that we read or tell. Once we’ve experienced the moment, it’s hard to forget. I still have the little Russian doll ornaments I got when I went to Alaska, the Hershey bears when I visited Hershey, PA, and even the pirate skull ornament I got in the Outer Banks during our yearly trip to the beach, but the stories are no more fresh in my mind than the stories attached to the cherished treasures I lost.

I hope everyone celebrates traditions old and new this year and store all the memories for years to come. You don’t need tangible objects to remember, you just need to re-tell the stories.

And as a way to celebrate the holidays, we here at Spellbound Scribes will be hosting a Holiday Giveaway! Prizes will include several ebooks by Spellbound Scribes authors and a $50 gift card to Amazon! More details to follow!!

*My parents are celebrating Thanksgiving in New Orleans this year. My mom is bringing me back an ornament (I asked for a voodoo doll). When I get it, it will remind me of the time “my parents went to New Orleans and didn’t take me.”

Listening to Fear

I remember reading once that we are born with two innate fears: loud noises and falling.

Every other fear we have is learned behaviour.

Scary Mask 10-24-2009a
“Let’s go kiss some babies.” Scary Mask 10-24-2009a (Photo credit: Brendan O’s)

I’m not saying go test this out by dressing up as a grotesque monster dripping blood and cooing at some babies to see if they giggle or scream, but when I think about the things that scare me, they are things that I’ve learned.

I learned to fear spiders when I watched Arachnophobia at the age of four. I learned to fear clowns when I saw It at age eight, and I learned that dolls are creepy when I watched all the Child’s Play movies when I was six or seven. All of those things stuck with me because filmmakers and writers created something truly frightening.

creepy Chucky doll lashed to a bike
Yup. The little freak still creeps me out. Creepy Chucky doll lashed to a bike (Photo credit: massdistraction)

For years, I would read R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books before bed and sleep just fine. Rotting purple flesh, decomposing cheerleaders, bodies hanging like pendulums — none of that scarred me for life, but it taught me to respect fear.

Fear is an emotion that’s made out of many series of psychosomatic impulses. It’s mind and body, working together to give you a wiggins. It’s why the image of a foreign finger tracing an ice cold line down the back of your neck is probably creepier than a knife by itself. Fear is something that is built up in the mind and expressed in responses of the body.

The great writers of horror, like H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, understand that creepy is a state of mind. Before you can make an audience jump or shiver or perspire, you have to lure them into your world. Here are a few of the ways to do that.

Creepy House on Mill Dam Rd
Creepy House on Mill Dam Rd (Photo credit: vork22)

Isolation

Are the scariest scenes set in crowds of bodies? Not usually. Most real horror involves isolation. Most often this is physical, but sometimes it is mental isolation. One of the first films I remember truly terrifying me was The Blair Witch Project. In that film, the three protagonists are isolated in the Maryland forests. Once it becomes clear that something scary is going on, they can’t seem to find their way out. They are in almost total isolation, stuck with a malevolent force.

This theme is also true in one of my new favourite shows, American Horror Story. In the first season, you have a family isolated in a home filled with dead people. They can’t sell it, and they can’t afford to move. In the second season, the show bridges both the inherent physical isolation of an asylum, but also integrates the mental isolation of the asylum’s masters and those imprisoned within its walls. A great example of mental isolation is the film The Craft, where the protagonist isn’t necessarily physically isolated, but the tension between her and her coven gradually increases her mental isolation from her family, her classmates, and her love interest.

Baby socks
Baby socks (Photo credit: Being a Dilettante)

The Unexpected

Sure, the image above isn’t that creepy by itself. But what if I told you it was taken at a crime scene? That would bring to mind questions. Who arranged those socks like that, and why? Were babies harmed? The unexpected isn’t about startling people into jumping high enough to bonk their heads on the ceiling. The unexpected is about putting something safe and familiar in a hostile context.

Some of the most iconic moments in horror stem from something unexpected. A child twitching a finger and saying, “Red rum” over and over again — who doesn’t remember the first time they realised he was saying MURDER backward?

Museum Collections Centre - 25 Dollman Street ...
Museum Collections Centre – 25 Dollman Street – cages – grandfather clock (Photo credit: ell brown)

Toy With Time

Fear is closely tied to suspense. Both are an anticipation of something to come, though fear has a more negative connotation. As writers, we have the unique ability to slow time and stretch out moments. Where fear and suspense in film are often heightened by details and focus on one thing (a long dark hallway, or silence), in writing you have to tie together multiple elements to create a truly scary scene.

Time can be slowed by zooming in on one detail. A fluttering curtain when all the windows are meant to be closed. Or it can be slowed by concentrating on a protagonist’s emotion, like the slickness of sweat on the back of his neck. The real magic happens when you strike the balance of giving the reader just enough to pull them from sentence to sentence while drawing out the moment of reward as long as possible.

Military Cemetary

Repetition

When done with care, weaving in a repetitive detail to a narrative can increase suspense. It can provide a reader with clues about when it’s time to be scared. In cases where repetition is used with extreme subtlety, it can foster a sense of foreboding without the reader even being able to pinpoint the reason for it.

An example of using repetition is what was done in the film The Ring. By the time you first saw the video in the film all the way through, you already associated the phone ringing with death and violence. When I first watched that film with friends, the phone happened to ring at that exact moment. We all screeched — wouldn’t you? This is one of the more obvious examples of repetition, but it can be a very effective technique no matter where you aim on the spectrum of subtlety.

Creating fear in a reader is a daunting task. It takes drawing on your own experiences as well as an understanding that just about anything can be frightening if you give it the proper attention. As writers, our words and stories can take people beyond the simplicity of loud noises and falling to deep psychological disturbance and pulse-pounding terror. It’s all up to how you use them.

What are your first memories of fear? What experiences do you draw on when you write scary scenes? How do you twist the mundane to push the reader in uncomfortable territory and then over the line into fear?

Write what scares you to scare others

I think, to be a successful Paranormal writer, you have to still believe in the unbelievable. Unfortunately that doesn’t just mean Santa Claus and fairies in the garden. If you’re going to believe in the light, the dark has to be just as real because one cannot exist without the other.

I believe in many things most people start to give up as they get older. Even now as I approach an age I care not to give voice to, I sometimes worry about standing too close to the edge of my bed for fear of the monsters living under there. I feel the cool breath of air as they crawl to the surface, the scratch of claws as they reach their gnarled fingers, coming ever closer to my ankle, ready to pull me into the abyss.

An ax wielding maniac does little to raise the hairs on my arms but an unseen specter, ruffling the curtains, brushing their icy fingers along my neck, now that will send me screaming for the protection of my covers.

I have always said that I am not afraid of the dark, but rather what is in the dark that I cannot see. So when I set out to scare my readers, I do not throw a bunch of blood and guts on the wall and expect them to stay up at night, afraid to go to sleep. After all, slasher movies don’t scare me, they just gross me out. Maybe it’s different for you, but for many, when we turn our eyes away from the sight of a machete cutting through flesh, it has nothing to do with fear of that happening to us; it is just shock factor of things that were never meant to see the light of day.

Ask me to walk down a long, dark hall with the narrator warning us of the unseen bend up ahead. Tell me about the possibility of something creeping up behind me, fingers just grazing the back of my shirt and no matter how fast I walk, it’ll never be fast enough. Put that invisible hand on the small of my back and push me into a run. That is what scares me.

That is what I try to tap into when I want to scare my readers. I want to send them to bed, clutching the covers over their heads, knowing if they give up the magical protection of their covers, there just might be something waiting in the dark.