Author: S. Gepp

10 Lesser Known Conspiracy Theories


Crazy man affraid of conspiracy and extra terrestrial aliens

We all know the good conspiracy theories that are out there – UFOs at Area 51; contrails are chemtrails, 9-11 was anything more than religion gone insane; David Icke’s lizard-people shape-shifters ruling the world; the USA government creating COVID-19 and using it against China under Trump’s direct orders. While I wouldn’t put that last one outside the realms of possibility, when it comes to any conspiracy theory anywhere, I have one word to say to you: Watergate. If a break-in could not be kept quiet and eventually implicated a paranoid president, then how could anything else be kept hidden? And the bigger the theory, the more likely it is BS. Think of the sheer number of people who would have to know, and who those people know… and all of them keep quiet? No way…

 

Before I start, I should point out that I have studied conspiracy theories for a number of years because of my involvement in a skeptics group. I have seen the science (as in real, peer-reviewed, actual science) to disprove 90% of the theories, and those that cannot be disproved because of “magic”, well, I am a scientist. If you can’t prove it, forget it.

 

But the main reason I am mentioning theories is not to convert you or to make belief in them seem stupid, it is simply because studying these theories gives great ammunition for stories.

 

Having said all that, there is one theory I do believe – big pharmaceutical companies deliberately stymie drugs that are cures. Why? Because keeping people sick and needing drugs that only keep things under control is more profitable than a cure which ends everything, and that means they get less money. And this, strangely, comes from my research. I thing Big Pharma is almost as evil as Walt Disney Corp. That’s it. Sorry.

 

Okay, so here are ten lesser known conspiracy theories writers could use to spice up their horror worlds. You might have heard of some before, but to the world at large, they are not that well-known.

 

1) The real reason for the invasion of Iraq was not WMDs but because Saddam Hussein had a Stargate
Yep. You read that right. A Stargate, a thing from a great 1980s sci-fi film, was actually found and Saddam owned it and the USA wanted it… and, more than that, they got it. That is why technology has become so much more pervasive, more powerful and has greater ability since the 1990s. Try telling a 1990s kid that we could say, “Alexa, order me a pizza the way I like it and get me tickets to the latest Marvel movie,” and a computer did it and we’d think you were writing some weird science fiction. It’s too much too quickly; therefore, it’s all coming through the Stargate. Makes sense, really.

 

2) Britney Spears protected George Bush no.2
This theory states that every time a big thing was happening in the White House during the Bush Administration that was bad for said administration, suddenly Britney did something weird. The timing is reasonably good, truth be told, but it might just have been a simple case of “Look at me!” syndrome or it could have been (shock!) coincidence. Still, Britney dropped her baby (allegedly) when Bush’s approval ratings hit shocking lows, she shaved her head when it was obvious Bush lied about the war in the Middle East being over, the CIA person who blew undercover operatives’ covers was thrown off the front page by Spears’ two and a half day marriage. And what happened when Obama became president? Spears started to lead a normal (by famous person standards) life. However, Miley Cyrus started to act crazy… and then calmed down when Trump took over… Hmm…

 

3) Vaccination trackers
We’ve all heard the vaccination conspiracies: vaccines cause autism (false, proven so, and started by a doctor to sell an alternative); vaccines contain nanobots to control us (then explain people doing inexplicable things); vaccines contain drugs that make the population stupider (then why do anti-vaxxers appear to be more stupid than average?). You know the drill. But how about this one – vaccines are a means of putting in secret tracking devices so governments know our every move and, according to some, even our every thought. The problem? In the Western world with the rise of smartphones and everything being done online, this is totally unnecessary. We tell the government what we’re doing and where we are. (more…)

10 Horror Short Stories You Most Likely Wouldn’t Have Read (But Should!)

The word TOP 10 written in vintage metal letterpress type on a soft backlit background.

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I like to think I am slowly becoming a writer. A real writer. As well as columns wherever the people running the website will have me, I have had short stories, poems, essays and even books published (and, no, I don’t do self-publishing). However, at the moment, short stories have been my fictional bread and butter. The Horror Tree here have even decided to publish a couple of my works (drabbles and short stories). What this means is that I have appeared in a vast number of anthologies. And that means I have read a lot of horror shorts. Unfortunately, some of these books might be out of print. Still, search for the authors, find second hand copies, have a look around. They are absolutely worth your time!

 

So, what I have decided to do is look through some of the anthologies I appeared in in the early 2010s and give you some of the very best of the short stories in these books. Why those anthologies? Well, because I recently re-read them all. That’s all. There are reasons for that that I won’t bore you with, but I did read a great number of short stories in a short period of time. And instead of letting all of that reading go to the wasteland that is university study, I decided to use it to give enjoyment to others.

 

And with that in mind, here are ten horror short stories that are truly magnificent and that you should seek out.

 

’53 Minutes’ by Kevin G. Bufton (from Under The Knife, Cruentus Libri Press, 2013)
This reads like one of those urgent hospital dramas, where there is 53 minutes to get something done after a woman dies on the table. What is it? A need for her organs? To save her? What? Well, the truth is quite eerie and comes out of nowhere. The way it jars from drama to horror seamlessly is very well done, and a skill I am still struggling to come to terms with.

This title is out of print but can occasionally be found on Amazon.

 

‘Blood On The Rose’ by Dorothy Davies (from Beyond The Grave, Static Movement, 2011)
This is short and is a first person narrative told from an interesting point of view. In fact, it’s just a ghost story. But what gets me about this story is just how well written it is. The use of language is sublime. It was always an issue appearing in a book with one of Davies’ stories because you would be judged against her work and be found lacking. Yes, I am a fan, and I just enjoy this tale so much.

This title is out of print but can occasionally be found on Amazon.

 
 
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WIHM: 10 Books By Female Writers That Deserve More Attention

As a part of Women in Horror month, Stuart asked me if I had a column about women in horror that I could give him. Well, not so much horror, but horror and fantasy, sure. And here it is. Now, I read a lot, but, I am ashamed to say, around 85% of my books were written by men. So I did an online check and found that women have been vastly under-represented in these genres across the board in the past. However, I have discovered that in the past twenty years or so, that has changed markedly. In fact, the last book on this list is one of my 3 favourite books from 2019.

 

Now, this list concerns books that I feel are simply not given enough love. That does mean I won’t be mentioning anything by JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Ursula K LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley or other more popular authors and their works. And no Stephenie Meyer… but I think her works are poorly written, poorly plotted and morally dubious, so I wouldn’t recommend them in a fit.

 

However, I think these fantasy and horror books by these fine female authors really do warrant some re-appraisal and I would really recommend you search them out, and have a good read. I present these in order of year released, and I have tried not to include spoilers. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

 

1) The Sword Of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett (1953)
Leigh Brackett was one of the first female writers to make a success writing science fiction. Yes, before Ursula K LeGuin, there was Leigh Brackett. Now, I have not read a lot of her work, but this is one I own and I think it’s great. It is pure pulp Sword and Sorcery… set on Mars, borrowing a lot from Burroughs’ John Carter setting (though the setting is about all she borrows). This story of time travel, galley slaves, fights and looking for tombs is rather convoluted, but it is one of those “something is always happening” stories that just keeps on driving forward. This is a great example of why pulp fiction is my favourite genre.

 

2) Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff (1958)
Admission – this was a book we had to read in high school English. Admission 2 – it was one of the best things we read in high school English. This tale of a young man in Bronze Age England struggling to overcome his serious physical disability while trying to prove himself as a man, along with a wolf in a similar situation, resonated with a lot of us. It is a coming of age story, sure, but it is also a historical fantasy and an amazing tale of survival and overcoming the odds. Maybe that was why the school got a bunch of teenaged boys to read it. It has stuck with me for more than thirty years. So well written.

 

3) Daughter Of The Bright Moon by Lynn Abbey (1979)
This is one of my favourite fantasy novels ever. I bought it second hand when I was at high school and trying to find anything to read after working through Tolkien, Howard, Burroughs and the usual suspects. So, I went through the local second hand book shop with my Christmas money and bought whatever looked like fantasy. This was one of those… and it is wonderful. Abbey has developed a magnificent world and the journey of Rifkind is so different, and I think that’s because we are looking at a female on the Hero’s Quest, not a male, and the dynamics really stand out. In a good way. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy.
Oh, and Lynn Abbey also wrote D&D modules back in the day when I was a role-playing gamer (that is, before version 3 ruined D&D). How cool is that?

 

4) Savaged by Victoria Bugoyne (1980)
This story of hyenas loose in London is written in a style that is really easy to get into: over the course of two days, a gruesome story unfolds, and each chapter is another brief time period. It’s like 24 for horror lovers. A family of hyenas, their mother, a human family… Just on the edge of your seat horror. I think my biggest issue is Keith’s response at the end. It just feels… odd. I’m not going to tell you what he does, but you’ll know when you read it. Despite that, the hunting by the hyenas and the police out to get them is just so well done. It’s a game of cat and mouse… or lion and tiger, really, as they’re all out to kill everything. This is a book that flies by. Great, just great.

 

5) The Watch Gods by Barbara Wood (1981)
A rather intriguing little horror-fantasy novel. An Egyptologist is saved from unemployment, some-one dies, and he takes it upon himself to complete the search for the famed tomb of Akhnaton. However, there are curses and more people die and roadblocks are thrown in his way. The story drives along at a right cracking pace. But… the ending does let it down. A major death was not permanent, the main character (Mark) does things against his character, there’s some strangeness and it almost felt like it was rushed through. But, that aside, this is a great adventure yarn, harkening back to the pulp fiction I love so much.

 

6) Tales Of Natural And Unnatural Catastrophes by Patricia Highsmith (1987)
Okay, bit of a cheat – Patricia Highsmith is well-known still and this is not a novel. But this collection of 10 short stories is one of her works that is overlooked, and I think undeservedly so. These are weird horror tales, some with a slight political bent to them, but all with an odd ending. Even an ending that is just there is not something you see coming. My favourite was ‘Nabuti’ about an African nation doing all it could to appease the UN… quite nastily, too. Not what I expected when I was gifted the book in 1990! (Thanks, Troy & Leanne!)

 

7) Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (2007)
A funny fantasy about Greek gods living in our world. This was given to me by a very nice editor when I gave her my manuscript of a story… about Greek gods living in our world. I’d been beaten to the punch. However, the tales are different enough, I’m still trying to sell mine (hint, hint to all publishers reading this!) and this is still a fun read. And an easy read. The gods, see, live together, they’re losing their powers and then Aphrodite and Apollo get into a fight and suddenly two mortals have to act like heroes. It’s odd and entertaining and an enjoyable read.
But, seriously, publishers – mine’s called Gorgon With The Wind and is 40,000 words long.

 

8) On The Edge by Margaret Visciglio (2014)
Yes, I’ve mentioned this book before, but I am huge fan of Margaret’s work; she is a wonderful writer and a wonderful person, so I have no issues at all in promoting her work again. Three-headed cat monsters, a young adult work, set in Australia – it’s great, and it has a decent message underneath all the strange horror-fantasy. So, yes, I have discussed this one very recently, but I don’t care. Buy it! read it! It’s great!

 

9) Her Crown Of Fire by Renee April (2019)
Another young adult book, the opening salvo in what will probably end up a series, this is a book that borrows a lot from the Harry Potter sort of magic school for kids trope. But this has enough strong differences for it to be easily kept separate. Through portals, two kids are transported to an alternate world; one has magic, one doesn’t. There are friendships made, young love blossoming, magic galore, deaths and it’s the sort of thing that it seems younger readers enjoy today. But one thing separates it – Rose Evermore, the main character, is completely compelling. She is believable and her struggles coping with this new world make sense. She carries the tale, and I really do recommend it for people who like this sort of fantasy.

 

10) The Teacher’s Piano by Jennifer White (2019)
And I’ll finish with a gentle ghost story. Horror story? Murder mystery? All of them? Look, this is a really well-written book and the imagery is so well put forth that the self-publishing errors (punctuation, inconsistency in formatting) and my personal bugbear (present tense… which Her Crown of Fire also suffers from) are very quickly ignored as you are sucked into this world of love and death. The piano is front and centre, there is death and there is a strangely happy ending despite it all. It is a novella, so is a relatively quick read, and it is one of the best paranormal romance tales I have come across in a very long time. Really recommended. One of my top 3 books of 2019.
I should also mention her 2019 collection of horror short stories The Eyes Of Death, which is a really good collection. Jennifer White is an author worth keeping an eye out for; her work is brilliant!

 

A decent spread of story types, I think, but every book here is a great work and worthy of renewed (or brand new) attention. And after reading White, April and Visciglio, the future is in safe hands. If you only buy three books from this list, those three are the ones to go for. Seriously – support these new, modern writers.

 

Yet all of these are great, fun reads. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

 

Good reading!

 

10 Forgotten or Ignored Horror Novels

The word TOP 10 written in vintage metal letterpress type on a soft backlit background.

I am pushing 50 years old. My mum taught me to read before I started school. That means I have over 40 years of reading under my belt. I was not even 10 when my grandmother introduced me to pulp fiction, especially science fiction, some old horror, and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. However, after being introduced to Stephen King on my 12th birthday, I found my true reading love. And so more than 30 years of horror reading began (although, as you will see, it did start before then, it just wasn’t quite so all-encompassing).

 

I don’t exclusively read horror (nor exclusively write it), but it is my first love. The problem is, many modern horror books just don’t do it for me. They go for gore or overt sexuality at the expense of a tight, taut story, or are cliché-filled bore-fests. And talking about this with some other writer/readers, I decided to present ten horror works produced in my lifetime that have disappeared from the collective consciousness, and yet that I think are well worth re-appraising.

 

Now, we are not going to have any of the usual suspects here. No Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz, et al. And no anthologies. These are stand-alone stories that I like.

 

And, tempted as I was, I am not going to include my own work Sins Of The Fathers (https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp-ebook/dp/B07XBDP2RF/ and https://www.bookdepository.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp/9781947227408 and Barnes & Noble…). Even though I am amazingly biased, I think it is a fine horror book.

 

I present these in order of year released, except the last one… but I’ll explain that when I get there. And I will try not to include spoilers. So, hopefully, here are 10 books that you will seek out and enjoy as much as I have.

 

1) Uncle Gustav’s Ghosts by Colin Thiele (1974)
This was the first horror story I ever read. I was apparently 6 years old and I loved it. It is more a children’s/young adult book (as most of Thiele’s works are) but even reading it as an adult, he mixed horror and humour and great characters so brilliantly. With an introduction like this, it’s no wonder I fell in love with horror. Set in South Australia (where I have lived my whole life), a missing bride comes back with poltergeist activity to afflict a family. Simple, yes, but so well written. Amazing book.
I will add here I was fortunate enough to meet Colin Thiele when I was in primary school (I would have been about 9 or so) and he autographed my copy of this book. It is still one of my most cherished books.

 

2) The Curse Of Loch Ness by Peter Tremayne (1979)
I did not read this until over ten years after its release, but it was something that struck me because it took a thing so common – the monster of Loch Ness – and turned it on its head. None of my friends liked it, but I didn’t care. The way the build-up of terror is done is quite eerie. There is a lot of foreshadowing, though, and some of the appearances of the true monsters feel a little contrived, but it feels like the pulp fiction I love and it just rattles along at a nice pace.

 

3) The Shaman by Frank Coffey (1980)
Quick side-story. I wrote my first “long story” in 1982, at the age of 11. Around 30k words long, it was as crap as you would expect from that sort of a kid. But it told me I could do it. I started high school the next year, and by 1985 I was again writing long stories. After a few attempts, a friend gave me this book because, according to her, I wrote like this guy. Not as good (she was always honest with me, for which I will be forever grateful) but the same sort of style. So I read it. Reading it again recently – yeah, this is the pulp fiction I write. A tale of Aztec magic and human sacrifice, its horror is mixed in well with a history of the Aztecs without it being info-dump time. And it also showed me that the ending can be a happily ever after one in horror. I also like that a lot of the horror is implied; there is not a lot of gore. Yeah, this one resonated with me as a teenager.

 

4) Tricycle by Russell Rhodes (1983)
A blind teacher, a sex-starved woman with a creepy five year old son who rides a squeaking tricycle, a flood, mysterious deaths – this story has a lot in it, and yet it manages for the most part to keep up a sense of dread. The story is well-written – there are some literary allusions throughout, which feel a little odd – and the blindness of the teacher is well-written. Only the ending lets it down. Still, up till then, a strange little story.

 

5) Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart (1983)
A former athlete becomes crippled, and is given a monkey helper. So far, so good, possibly a tale of man and animal working together. Well, yes… and no. See, the monkey is given psychotropic drugs to increase its intelligence. Then the owner starts to take the drugs as well. And they share dreams, and things spiral out of control from there. This is a slow-burn horror novel. It’s a style I have tried myself, only to be told it does not sell that well any longer, but I enjoy it. However, again, the ending leaves a bit to be desired, with things wrapped up a little too neatly. But until then, a nice study in terror.

 

6) The Long Night Of The Grave by Charles L. Grant (1986)
The final book in a trilogy I have not read, but it stands well enough on its own. This is a story of the mummy, the good ol’ Universal monster. An ancient Egyptian mummy in a small town in England is brought back to life by some priests, people are killed and it feels like it was pushing for a chance to be made into a movie. Despite this, there is a nice feeling of impending doom over everything. Maybe not complete terror, but there is an uneasiness, and the characters do come to life on the page. And the ending definitely left the story open.

 

7) Saurian by William Schoell (1988)
When I first read this in the mid-1990s, I did not like it. I think I was comparing it to the works of Stephen King, which I was devouring completely (I was working and could afford to fill in the gaps in my collection). However, I had the chance to re-read it a few years ago, and I was much more impressed. Okay, sure, it has one of the worst-written female characters I have come across in modern horror, and the monsters seem to gain new powers as the book goes on, but this is an incredibly original monster. Alien mutant things crash-land on Earth, and adopt the first form they come across – dinosaurs. Fast forward and one can also become a human now, and he destroys sea-side communities (as a monster) so he can build more expensive properties there (as a man). What takes this above crap territory is Schoell’s amazing grasp of place. His descriptions of where things are happening are so good, they really do add to the book and make it better than it otherwise would have been.

 

8) The Wrath by David L. Robbins (1988)
Let’s go back to ancient Egypt again! But we don’t have mummies this time – now we have a plague. It turns people into a strange undead dog-like creature. It reads like Indiana Jones meets 28 Days Later. There’s martial arts, the army, a stupid woman putting everyone’s lives at risk and it is a fun ride. But… the women are portrayed as such 2-dimensional ciphers they might as well be cardboard cut-outs. They are given no real character. And the ending is, frankly, stupid and too neat. I think it might have over-reached itself. Still, fun read, just turn your brain off to do so.

 

9) On The Edge by Margaret Visciglio (2014)
Wow, there’s a jump in years! And it shows what I came to think of horror produced in that time not by some of the big names. Unfortunately. We were dumped with more vampires than you could shake a stick at, or gorefests with all the scares of a House of Horrors at a carnival. Then Margaret (who has been a supporter of my work as well) released this. It is for young adults, it is almost fantasy, but it is so well-written and the characters live on the page. In rural South Australia, a family find a three-headed cat and they have to decide between protecting it and letting vested interests take control. It is a bit preachy about ecological issues (I don’t mind that, personally), and the horror diminishes in the last half, but still a great book well worth tracking down.

 

10) Pig by Kenneth Cook (1980)
Now, first, the reason this is at the end of the list. This is my favourite Australian book. Ever. Any genre. Bar none. It is easily in my top 5 books of all time. I am biased – I love this book. Basically, it is the story of one conservationist’s desire to kill the largest feral pig he has ever come across, leading a horde of other feral pigs across the Australian outback. The final third of the book is just such an exhausting roller-coaster ride of adventure that I could not put it down. My aunt gave me this book when I was about 13 years old or so and she discovered I liked horror; this was the first ever “adult” book I read in less than 2 days. I could not put it down. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the far inferior Razorback and its awful film adaptation with a terrible puppet pig. This is so much better. I know some people have an issue with the lack of chapters; don’t care. This is so well written and so well plotted and so well described, it stands head and shoulders above so many books that are better known and regarded more highly. If you can find a copy – get it. Read it. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

 

Now, I am the first to admit that not all of these will appeal to everyone, and that many are quite clearly of their time. The 1980s have a lot to answer for, and some of the story tropes visible here are proof of that. But these are fun reads and something different in light of the horror that is available today.

 

Good reading!

10 Lesser Known Cryptids That Could Be Utilised By Writers

The word TOP 10 written in vintage metal letterpress type on a soft backlit background.

My first column (is that what I’m doing here? writing columns?) for the Horror Tree was my list of 10 mythical creatures that I felt were just ripe for using by some wonderfully talented author (https://horrortree.com/top-10-mythical-creatures-that-deserve-their-own-books-or-films/). Now, I don’t know how many people actually bothered to read that column, but some must have because I received a DM over on the Twitter thing suggesting two other creatures for a second list, should I be so inclined.

 

Wonderful, I thought… except they were not mythological creatures. These were cryptids.

 

What the…? was the response I received.

 

Now, I am sure hard-core readers of the paranormal will know the difference. A Cryptid is something that could conceivably exist, based on terrestrial science (such as it is used here). So, an extraterrestrial is not a cryptid, a dragon is not a cryptid, but a bigfoot is a cryptid. One other thing is that evidence of its existence should have been seen, but not everything claimed to have been seen is a cryptid (mothman is an example of this). Cryptids could be creatures out of place, creatures out of time, or creatures that evolution had a field day with.

 

Does that make sense? Too bad if it doesn’t, I guess, because that’s another essay for another time (and I have indeed written just such an essay about what makes a cryptid a cryptid… sad, I know).

 

So, this list is about those lesser known cryptids. No lake monsters, no bigfoot-style apemen (even if the Australian Yowie is little known), and no prehistoric creatures. Still, 10 animals for your reading pleasure. Maybe one of these beasts could make an appearance in some-one’s fine work!

 

  1. Ahool (also known as Athol)
    What is it? A large bat, found primarily on Java (the Indonesian island). Its wingspan is about twelve feet or so and it has a flat face, more like a monkey than a bat. Its cry gives it its name and it is said to feed primarily on fish.
    Story concept? Come on, this is essentially a winged monkey. Up the ante and make it decide that feasting on humans is a good idea. And it is huge. Imagine a cloud of these attacking a cruise liner or something like that.

 

  1. Artrellia (also known as Papuan Dragon)
    What is it? Essentially, an enormous monitor lizard found in Papua New Guinea, up to 30 feet in length and with a venomous bite (which it appears many monitors, including the Komodo dragon, do possess). It attacks by climbing trees and dropping onto prey, which its weight crushes, and it then eats.
    Story concept? It was first recorded in the 1930s, and was still being noted in the 1980s. In World War Two, two soldiers were reported as having been eaten by an Artrellia. Set your story back then. Think Predator with killer lizards in a Papua New Guinea jungle in 1944.

 

  1. Dobhar-chú (also known as Dobarcu or Doyarchu)
    What is it? While a part of Irish folklore, there are cryptozoologists who consider it real – a crocodile-sized dog with the head of an otter, flippers instead of legs and a vicious streak. Sightings have persisted into the twenty-first century.
    Story concept? A standard monster tale, set in a remote part of Ireland, with these animals attacking the group of teenagers. Different monsters always make the old tropes better.

 

  1. Gambo
    What is it? Known from corpses washed up in Gambia, the most notable being in 1983. Four and a half metres long, four flippers, tapered short tail, dolphin like head with more teeth than any dolphin, and nostrils on the end of the snout. It seemed to confirm long-told stories of sea crocodiles in the area.
    Story concept? Sea crocodiles? Come on, this writes itself. A whole bask of these things attacking shipping, coastal towns, whatever, and you can’t kill all of them, wipe out an entire species… can you?

 

  1. Gerota
    What is it? Reported as recently as 2011, this is a winged possum with horns and protruding fangs, possibly omnivorous, found in the Catlins in the south of New Zealand’s South Island.
    Story concept? Killer possums? A part of the world not completely explored, with very little human habitation? This thing writes itself!

 

  1. Intulo
    What is it? Found in many countries in southern Africa, this swamp-dwelling creature is a bipedal lizard that shows human traits, including weapon usage.
    Story concept? This is a real-live lizard-man, living in the swamps of southern Africa! Not a dinosaur remnant, but a highly evolved reptile. How advanced is their civilisation? How long have they been there? Do they pre-date humans? How much of human history was influenced by them? Did humans drive them into the swamps? The possibilities are endless.

 

  1. Ngoima
    What is it? Seen in the Republic of the Congo and other sites in western Africa, this is an enormous eagle, with a wingspan of four metres or more (to give context, the largest known eagle wingspan is 2.5 metres, Stellar’s sea eagle, but a wedge-tailed eagle in Australia was measured at 2.8 metres), that is known for eating monkeys. Its claws and talons are comparable in size to a man’s arm and hand.
    Story concept? A legitimate huge bird, known for eating monkeys. What if, due to man’s interference, they run out of monkeys? And humans are just there? Who would believe (to paraphrase Lindy Chamberlain), “An eagle stole my baby!”?

 

  1. Peel Street Monster
    What is it? In the 1930s, in Wolverhampton, England, this creature appeared, attacking and biting children – a four foot long rat. Extremely aggressive, the people kicked it to death. But where there’s one…
    Story Concept? Four foot long rats living in populated areas of England. Think about that. Not the rats in the walls of Lovecraft or the creatures in any of James Herbert’s vermin-themed books, but real large rats in large cities attacking people in broad daylight. To tell the truth, the idea of this gives me the willies. And I live in Australia where 90% of the wildlife actively tries to kill you.

 

  1. Trunko
    What is it? First seen in the 1920s off the coast of South Africa, two whales were fighting this thing. It’s the size of a whale, covered in white fur and with a long, flexible trunk. Its carcass was subsequently washed up on the shore, measuring 47 feet in length. 10 years later, a smaller one was washed up on the Alaskan coast.
    Story concept? What is it? How many are out there? Is it good or bad or just an animal? Should it be hunted or studied? So many story arcs open up with this strange, unknown sea creature.

 

  1. Upah
    What is it? Known to Westerners as the giant shrieking centipede. About a foot long, pale green, living in Sumatra and with a very painful, venomous bite. But it also makes a loud call or shriek, sounding somewhat like a cat in distress. It has been reported all the way into the twenty-first century.
    Story concept? There are not many arthropod cryptids, so having one that could be poisonous, living on a jungle-covered island could surely open up for some-one to have fun with. Next to nothing is known about them. How many offspring do they have? How often do they breed? What are their predators? If you took one away from Sumatra and its predators, how soon before they overtook a city? As a writer – go for it!

 

So, there you have it. 10 creatures that cryptozoologists legitimately believe could well be living out there in the wide world, and which could be perfect for a creature feature story, screenplay, film or whatever other form of art you want to go for. All of them have some great possibilities for narrative; it’s up to the creators to take the ball and run with it.

 

Happy writing!

 

10 Alternate Psychological Concepts

The word TOP 10 written in vintage metal letterpress type on a soft backlit background.

As part of a writing discussion group, I recently did a brief summary of what a psychopath and a sociopath actually are. (Why me? Long story, but it involves some studied I did in one of my university degrees…) Anyway, these two character types often appear in horrors and thrillers (even if the details are usually completely misguided) and seem to be the dominant psychological tropes that occur. Sure, there are some others – amnesia, kleptomania, various phobias, megalomania (especially in the mad doctor vein) – but there are so many more that could surely make a great basis for a horror story.

 

Now, before I start, I do not consider the autism spectrum disorders as psychological. They are a part of neurodiversity. The same can be said of Downs Syndrome. And, as far as I am concerned, those who identify with any aspects of the LGBTI+ (LGBTIQQAA) community do not deserve to be placed here either. I’m also going to try to steer away from things that lend themselves a little too much to pornography.

 

This is not going to be a list of phobias and philias, either, though some will appear. These are psychological devices I think could be well utilised in good horror or thriller stories. And, as is the nature of these columns, here are 10 if them I think are seriously worth considering.

 

1) Déjà vu
What? The strange feeling that what you are going through now you’ve already been through before. It’s not amnesia, as you remember it, but it is the feeling you are reliving a part of your life.
Possibilities: What if the déjà vu was real and the MC had experienced it before? What if s/he was being set up to think they had experienced it before? Yes, you could go into full Groundhog Day territory (great film, by the way), but what if it was more subtle than that? The same people on the same corners? Same words being spoken? But enough changes you know you’re not reliving the same day over and over. Some intriguing possibilities here.

 

2) Zoanthropy
What? The delusion that one is actually a non-human animal.
Possibilities: This is when a person honestly thinks they are an animal, not just identifies with an animal or believes they change into one. And it involves real animals, not mythical/mythological ones. How would a person cope if their loved one came to develop Zoanthropy? What would go through the afflicted person’s mind? How would they start to see the world around them? This seems to open itself up to some deep psychological explorations.

 

3) Xenorexia
What? The compulsive desire to swallow non-food objects. Could be specific objects – dirt is surprisingly common – to anything non-food.
Possibilities: While it is not good to make fun of or victimise those afflicted by psychological issues, a person suffering from this could well be a nice, low-key villain. Or they could add an extreme complication to the hero’s quest to do whatever it is the hero has been set to do in the story. It can lead, obviously, to some pretty severe physiological effects as well. What would a hero have to do to cope if s/he had this issue? While maybe not a driving force, it would definitely add a really interesting layer to a character.

 

4) Acathexis
What? When a person exhibits a distinct lack of emotional response towards something that should be considered of considerable importance.
Possibilities: This would be an absolutely fascinating character trait in an MC. The inability to feel strong emotion gives rise to the question: How would they be motivated to do something that was going to change the story/world they lived in? It is not a complete lack of emotion, but that there is a lack of emotion in a crisis. An example might be a person who is annoyed on September 12 because he can’t get to work, the Twin Towers falling having no effect on him. Sometimes it is a response because the magnitude of the event cannot be absorbed; sometimes it is a long-term psychological factor where large life events just do not register. That could be a really different MC.

 

5) Traumatophilia
What? When a person seems to be unusually accident-prone. This is not general clumsiness or being unco-ordinated (as I put my hand up here in embarrassment), but describes people who seem to repeatedly put themselves into situations in which something goes wrong, resulting in injury to themselves or others. Despite the name, it is generally accepted there is no sexual element to it.
Possibilities: A minor character, a really bizarre MC, a henchperson of the villain – this character could appear just about everywhere. It should also be said they do not want to commit suicide, just hurt themselves. Objectives can be looking for sympathy, they feel they deserve pain, proving they are worthless, a need to be saved, whatever. There are so many possibilities in this one.

 

6) Scopophobia
What? The fear of being seen by others. Not just being spied on, but being seen, full stop.
Possibilities: Scopophobia is a very genuine form of social phobia, one that is apparently increasing as more and more people live their lives entirely online. However, if the victim of a big bad in a horror tale suffered from this, how would they let anyone know of their very real distress? If the antagonist knows this is a person’s fear, then they could constantly go about setting up situations where the person was put into a situation of being seen. Think: webcams in the house, the poor victim getting an email address and discovering their every movement was being broadcast. There would be a heightened sense of terror, compounded by the phobia. Like a modern day take on Audrey Hepburn’s classic turn in Wait Until Dark.

 

7) Capgras syndrome
What? This severe psychosis is marked by the delusion that ‘doubles’ have replaced persons whom one knows. Not an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers situation where it is real, but the delusion that that is the case.
Possibilities: The person suffering from this could be quite a hindrance to any story. Maybe they could see their own doppelganger and that could just heighten their paranoia. What I would not want to see, however, is for the delusion to be true in the end – everyone really replaced by doubles. I think that would diminish the true horror of Capgras syndrome and make it just another “they’ve come and taken us over” bog-standard sci-fi/horror story.
(There is a related delusion: Mignon delusion. This is a surprisingly common childhood fantasy that one’s ‘real’ parents are famous, illustrious persons who will eventually come to rescue them from their current lives. Unfortunately, some do carry this on into adulthood, with horrible results on Dr Phil.)

 

8) Histrionic personality disorder
What? This personality disorder is characterised by immaturity, self-centredness, attention-getting, manipulativeness and quite often a vague seductiveness; such persons are overly dramatic, reactive and intense in their interpersonal relationships. (Come on, you know some-one like this…)
Possibilities: Look, characters like this have been a source of fun in 1980s teen comedies (I was a teen in the 1980s… I saw wa-a-ay too many of these films to be healthy), but to transport a person like that into a horror story could be intriguing. In that case, they should not just be the victim everyone is happy to see killed off, but the person being stalked all the way through, with their former behaviours meaning they are not taken seriously or are treated derisively. Writing a person like this so that in the end there is sympathy for them could be a good writing exercise.

 

9) Omnipotence of thought
What? This is the belief that one’s wishes, hopes or thoughts can affect external reality. It is actually common as a developmental stage of childhood, where it is referred to as ‘magical thinking’.
Possibilities: Unlike Capgras syndrome, this is one where the intriguing thing might be “what if it was real?” A person could well think it was happening, be slowly talked around that it wasn’t – and this is tough because they will deny proof that says they are wrong; it’s a part of the psychological implications of the disorder – but then people realise that maybe s/he is affecting the world around them by their thoughts alone. Subtle creepy terror is imminent.

 

10) Parataxic distortion
What? This is when a person has a distorted view of reality brought about by inferring a causal relationship between events that are actually independent.
Possibility: Actually, we’re seeing this all the time in the real world.
Sorry.
My bad.

 

Writers, try challenging yourself. Give your characters something beyond the normal psychological issues we see and read all the friggin’ time. Some of these might be a little different, and give your work that difference that could make it stand out. And the characters these lead to could well become unique and saleable. In my opinion (caveat!), of course.

 

Good writing!

 

10 Public Domain Characters Some-one Could Seriously Consider

One Pirate Skull with a Red Eye and a Patch

The legalities of copyright law are dangerous, strange, fraught with danger, confusing and have an element of danger about them. They differ from country to country and have been made a mockery of by the Disney Corporation who have decided they want to own everything everywhere and do not care about anything not Disney until they own that, too.

 

See, originally, copyright was limited. People were encouraged to take the characters and extend their adventures, and after only a few years, they could. But with the process of re-sales and seeing some classic writers die poor, things were made a little more favourable to them. Now things are made favourable to the evil Mouse. However, there are some things even Disney does not own.

 

See, there is still a thing called Public Domain. Old characters can still be used in some cases. Now, of course, there are some that are logical – anything from mythology, from religion, from folklore (like Robin Hood or King Arthur and all those entail), and anything Shakespeare. Just don’t copy the way things have been done by others (if original) and you’ll be fine. Even fairy-tales are fine (just don’t use anything developed by Disney for their properties; if Disney stole it from the Brothers Grimm, then it’s fair claim). And some others have been used often – Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Invisible Man. All of these are Public Domain.

 

So, here is a list of some little known or maybe forgotten Public Domain characters that could be used for stories by today’s writers!

 

Now, going off-track (again) for a second. Fan-fiction is not what this is about. I am in two minds about Fanfic – I can see how it can help authors develop their craft in the early stages of learning, or just having fun; however, part of being a writer is developing characters and settings and doing the work involved there. I will leave that there, as I copped some serious abuse on the NaNoWriMo forum when I dared say I felt Fanfic was maybe not the best writing. And, to be honest, I have not read any Fanfic that improves the original. You might have. Your call.

 

1) Rip Van Winkle
Who? Washington Irving’s sleeper who wakes up and finds that the world has changed.
And? Use it again, have him wake up now. Standard fish out of water tale, sure, but could be a great basis for looking at how the modern world really does suck in so many ways… and also how things have improved. Using RVW automatically gives the reader a point of reference.

 

2) Dr Moreau
Who? HG Wells’ beast-man creating doctor, on an island somewhere.
And? With modern technology, DNA splicing, cloning, all that jazz, surely an update of Dr Moreau is just crying out to be written. And ignore the films – in the book the beast-men overthrow Moreau half-way through and then their so-called civilisation degenerates into anarchy and chaos, showing their animals sides. That’s the bit ignored and forgotten, and could really be played with, I think.

 

3) Robinson Crusoe
Who? Defoe’s island marooned sailor who somehow survives with a racially disturbing stereotype.
And? Ignore Friday, and put Crusoe anywhere else and you could have an interesting look at how modern man copes in the world. Robinson Crusoe On Mars did this; Castaway was arguably a version as well. But that does not mean it could not be used again. Or reversed – an alien marooned on Earth? Yes, E.T. was a role-reversal Robinson Crusoe story.

 

4) Professor Challenger
Who? Doyle’s hot-headed, fearless scientist-explorer (quite different to his Sherlock Holmes), who first appeared in The Lost World.
And? Professor Challenger was such a more relatable character than Holmes. Everyone must have met some-one like Challenger, driven by ego, doing crazy things, but somehow always coming out okay. Imagine him as a space explorer, or deep-sea diver. He is perfect for a ready-made explorer.

 

5) Allan Quartermain
Who? Haggard’s precursor to Indiana Jones.
And? I am an unabashed fan of H. Rider Haggard, and I enjoy the Quartermain series (though She is my favourite, a non-Quartermain tale), and think that if some-one wanted to write an Indiana Jones story without all the Fanfic headaches of copyright, then Quartermain is the go-to character to use.

 

6) Carnacki, The Ghost Finder
Who? Hodgson’s pre-modern technology Ghostbuster, the supernatural answer to Sherlock Holmes.
And? Well, it’s ghost-busting steampunk! He used strange devices to help his investigations and capture the ghosts all before nuclear reactor backpacks. In fact, the whole Ghostbusters franchise could well be said to be an update of Carnacki. But with steam-punk all the rage, why not just take Carnacki and up the inventiveness and go for broke!

 

7) Sheena
Who? A female Tarzan, but brought up by the male witch-doctor who killed her father (or the daughter of dead missionaries brought up by a female witch-doctor; yes, two origin stories).
And? A female Tarzan? Well, technically, Tarzan is also Public Domain, but he’s been done to death, so why not go for the female counterpart, the first female character to have her own comic book. She was so important in the old days of comics and now is all but forgotten. She would be a great character to bring back, examining gender politics though a female without gender politics. (In the same vein, you could also consider Judy of the Jungle…)

 

8) Kit West
Who? Female comic book cowboy, one of the best horse-women of the West.
And? The world is just crying out for a decent female Western character. So many have failed to hit the mark when they’ve been bothered to be used at all. If they want to bring back the Western and do it in the same way they brought back Ghostbusters, but hopefully with a better script (the film really was not that bad), then why not bring back Kit West?

 

9) Blackbeard
Who? An English pirate who was renowned for his viciousness and cruelty.
And? So, you want to write a Pirates of the Caribbean Fanfic, but those pesky copyright laws get in the way. Why not take a real live pirate person and make up some adventures for them? He was active from the late 17th to early 18th centuries. But did he really die? There’s your story!

 

10) Miss Fury
Who? A female superhero, who becomes a killed acrobatic crime-fighter when she wears a magic black panther skin.
And? Superhero films/ books/ comics are all the rage now and look like remaining all the rage in the foreseeable future. Who wouldn’t want to join in? Well, with Miss Fury, you get a gorgeous woman, a superhero and skin-tight clothing all in one. So why not go for it?

 

[I have had a story published featuring a Public Domain character called Tabu, written for a book called Pulpsploitation. I transferred him through magic from Africa to modern America, made him a professional wrestler and had him fight the Russian mafia. It’s fun!]

 

There you have it – ten characters from the old days of literature, comics and reality that could well be used in modern stories through the joys that are Public Domain! There are, of course, many more, but these are just some of the ones I have read comics or books concerning, so know a little bit about. There’s lists on the Internet, so go for it.

 

Happy writing!

 

 

10 Under-Utilised Horror Settings

It’s the Gothic mentality that still permeates horror fiction. The dark castles, the grave-yards, the small country towns, the old churches, the old deserted houses, even the cellars – it’s all there. Always all there. The settings for the standard horror stories.

 

Look, I’m a reader and a writer, and I understand the sense of isolation that can increase tension and terror, and the darkness is something that makes horror work because the hidden is often more terrifying. There is something to be said for the imagination of the reader/viewer being allowed to have a go. I think that’s why a lot of horror does not translate well from book to screen – what they create visually often does not match what we have created in our own minds. And I’m going off track.

 

The point I’m trying to make is that we see these settings and we know we need to be ready for jump scares and clichés and the old-fashioned tropes. And that’s fine; it works and the reader knows what to expect. But in my reading, I feel there are some other settings that are not used anywhere near enough and yet could well be used to create a gripping horror story. In my opinion.

 

Here’s ten I think should be looked at more closely.

 

1) Schools
Now, what I mean here is a regular school. Stephen King’s recent The Institue (https://www.weekendnotes.com/the-institute-book-review/) is about a special school that is more a concentration camp, but what I am talking about is a real school. The Treehouse Of Horror series from The Simpsons may have reduced this idea to a concept of fun, but I feel there is still great value in a school. And not a deserted school, but an operational school with real people and students and teachers and administration staff and custodial staff and all that goes along with that. There is a myriad of possibilities there. And if you don’t think schools are scary places – ask any kid about that…
(Note: I did sell a ghost story set in a school a few years ago, so this is a possibility.)

 

2) Suburbia
Take a standard Australian soap opera – Neighbours or Home And Away for example –and you have suburbia in all its dull, tedious, banal boredom. Boring normal people doing boring normal things, just amped up to make it vaguely interesting for people with nothing better to do. However, how hard would it be to tweak that to make it the setting for a good horror story? I don’t mean a done-to-death zombie flick but something more insidious. We’ve seen it a few times – Invasion Of The Body Snatchers for one, Stepford Wives for another – but nowhere near enough. A normal suburb with normal housing (no deserted old house on the hill tropes) surely has great possibilities for horror beyond replacing people.

 

3) Seats of Power
Some would say that looking at the current crop of world leaders that maybe horror has infiltrated the seats of power in real life, but we read horror to escape, and so we could surely up the ante in these places. Not necessarily those in power – who are, after all, just puppets, if the brilliant BBC series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are anything to go by (and they are) – but those bureaucrats pulling the strings. The horror could possibly be an all-encompassing “devil in charge” tale to a strange creature using politicians to get access to victims. And, really, who wouldn’t be scared when faced with mind-numbingly brainless politicians zombies slaves to aliens ruling the world?

 

4) Factories
The nooks and crannies and machinery make a factory the ideal setting for strange goings-on and evil to lurk. We’ve seen it in the beginning/end of The Fly and there’s a scene in one the Hulk movies and the ending of Terminator 2 set in factories, but these are really just scenes. A whole factory with workers and functioning machines could be an ideal setting for a creepy horror film. There is so much darkness, with all those nooks and crannies and hidden places, that this could be a great setting for a swarm of rat-like creatures to run amok. Or people to merge with their machines. Or… look, there are a heap of possibilities. And I’m not going to give away all my ideas…

 

5) Shopping Malls
Sure, Dawn Of The Dead was set in a shopping mall, but that was a deserted one, post-zombie-apocalypse. For an idea of how a shopping centre could be used in all its glory, see the car chase scene from The Blues Brothers and nod and smile. Now, take away the cars and replace with, say, a werewolf (An American Werewolf In London style of huge animal, not a wolfman) and let the horror and fun begin! You have so many different shops, so many hiding places, so many potential victims, so many other things that could go awry in these places!
(Note: I did sell a story last year about a hungry escalator in a shopping mall, so this is also a definite concept.)

 

6) High Rise Apartments
We’ve had suburbia, so how about a different sort of living space? The high-prise apartment block, many storeys high and filled with different rooms and different people living in them and different levels… Again, it lends itself so well to a nice open-ended world in just one place. Again, not a deserted one, but one where normal people live and work and play. Rosemary’s Baby was set in a similar place, but there are so many more ideas than just a cabal of Satanists bringing forth the anti-Christ into the world. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more often, to be honest.

 

7) Pubs, Hotels, Bars and/or Nightclubs
Drinking establishments. Places where people go to get drunk, to catch up, to unwind and be with like-minded people. Yes, there have been vampire books with nightclub settings (e.g. Robin Baker’s Chasing The Sun) but let’s get away from vampires and look at something a little different. Pubs are a great place to set all sorts of things. FAQ About Time Travel is an awesome sci-fi comedy set in a pub; The World’s End is a great sci-fi apocalyptic comedy. What about real horror, though? Surely, we can find something out there that works because pubs can be quite disturbing places. Think about it – a nightclub which is actually a level of hell where people are forced to dance for eternity… and that’s off the top of my head.
(Note: I have sold a story about a barman that kills certain individuals, so this has selling potential.)

 

8) Beaches
Not out in the water, like Jaws and its sequels, but the actual beach. Sure, the 1980s gave us Blood Beach (a ‘so bad it’s good’ film) but if we take that as a precursor to some more interesting horror concepts (though the idea of a beach that eats people is awesome) then the beach can become a scary place. It might look idyllic, but go to an Australian beach when it’s forty-plus degrees Celsius (104°F) – which is quite common – and tell me that despite the clear blue skies and golden sands and wonderful ocean you don’t feel like you’re dying. Monsters, people, sands – there are so many things we could worry about in an Australian summer. Or a Hawaiian summer. Or a Californian summer…

 

9) Art Galleries
Museums have been done, although I am yet to see a good one (except maybe some of the Wax Museum films… and Stiller’s Night At The Museum is not a good one), but what about the art gallery? Pictures, sculptures, installations – you name it, there is everything there for a decent horror yarn. Statues that come to life, paintings that trap people, installations that draw people in – these are all tales that have been mentioned in passing or used as part of a greater story, but to bring these aspects out on their own could make a really decent little horror story.

 

10) Brothels
Now, I do not watch pornography – never have doubt I ever will. Just does not do anything for me, I’m afraid. And this means I do not know if any porn horror films set in brothels have been made. However, for a mainstream horror tale, the setting could be ideal. I have seen some horror comics with a tale in a brothel – all involving vampires, I’m afraid – but surely it could be so much more than that? There are endless possibilities in an establishment that exists slightly outside the law, and so could be forced to deal with its horrors in-house. Whatever those horrors may be.
(Note: I have sold a story about a ghost brothel, so this is yet another idea with distinct possibilities.)

 

Of course, I am the first to admit I have not seen or read everything to do with horror, so there could well be some fine examples set in these places. But for writers looking for somewhere different, looking to avoid the clichés of writing, looking to expand themselves, these ten settings could well lend themselves to all sorts of wonderful tales.

 

Good writing!

 

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