Guest Post: Embracing Failure: The Requirements of Growth

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Baby writers are never all the same. It is just the broad strokes–no sense of marketplaces or paths or realistic goals—that give new writers that patina of predictable and homogeneous. What a baby writer has to offer is, by definition, unique and as yet unrealized.

In my twenties, I spent years on journal writing, along with attempts at poetry and fiction that were all imagination—my imagination—but definitely lacked discipline and craft. I wrote boxes worth of notebook prose and MS Word documents that fizzled out long before I figured out how the hell I could make those mental images, feelings, ideas work on the page. 

Bravery or stupidity? I’m not sure, but for this essay, I decided to actually open some of those earliest documents. Dear Lord. A few were more than enough: recent memories parading as short stories, a partial novel liberally sprinkled with clichéd phrases. It’s not that the writing is bad, though it certainly doesn’t feel like the dance my fingers perform across my current keyboard, the really glaring issue is that my writing back then lacked the experience and confidence to burrow into my fleshy predictions, the creepy, augmented bodies, the rough sensuality and the anger, and, yes, the humor and the pain. Skimming a few stories, I remember the settings and characters I imagined far more than I ever expressed them on the page. Yeah, I most definitely failed.

And then after the gap of a few years and a newborn child, in my early thirties, I tried again. In a nod to bravery or extreme stupidity, this afternoon I dug through some of these files as well. But…but…there was a leap somewhere between my twenties and my thirties that I cannot quite pinpoint. I find my writing from this second period has a much deeper sense of “me.”

I still have fond feelings when I think of the vampiric Christmas tree that a couple of rather creepy characters maintained in the basement of a 1950s split-level. The tree and its guardians(?) acolytes (?) were part of a dark fantasy family saga that included the German art scene from La Belle Epoch through to the Expressionists of the 1920s, along with at least a dozen characters based on actual artists, writers, editors, and gallery owners. 

At around 80,000 words, that novel never moved past incomplete, but my failure stuttered in a different way from earlier attempts. It was almost five years of this baby writer’s work. And despite the historic Berlin photography books, the biographies and old travel guides, despite all that research and so, so many written words, I failed yet again—definitely and spectacularly. This time my stumble involved a years-long explosion of words. All that effort and I could not bring the whole damn project to a satisfactory conclusion. 

Thinking about my failures this afternoon as I write this essay, I have realized a different truth. It took away the wrong lesson from that experience. Allowing myself to judge my Storyman novel and decide that longer works were not within my purview—that, in fact, I was incapable of weaving the various elements of a longer story together—that was the real crime. 

Over those four or five years, I hijacked one of my strongest skills, obsession. I organized my research into categories and summary sheets. From a story perspective, I unwound my imagination’s tangle using spreadsheets, outlines, and whatever the hell else I could think of until I had a stable framework I could work from. 

Failure? Really?

For fucks sake. I did not give up when it got hard. I figured out a new tack to get me across the gap. Sure, the goal was not reached. The novel never came to light, but the way I managed that “failure” deepened my writing practice in a way that only hard-won experience can provide. All those spreadsheets and research notes? Turns out, they are exactly how I continue to manage all fiction writing: short and long. But it is not just the craft skills. Remembering the characters that make up the novel, Achim, Melanie, Theo, along with the Storyman’s contentious (imagined) painting, I feel a dreamy sort of satisfaction. Whatever I did or did not deliver, I clearly scratched a very deep itch. 

But lingering with the same story forever was never my game, which is part of the reason the story got so out of hand, I kept adding “more” and then “even more than that.” At some point, I looked at the unwieldy mess and decided to charge ahead and play with short fiction, a form I’ve always adored reading. As it turned out short fiction is a very different creative discipline and one that both suits my swirling imagination and my urge to experiment with structure. It is my sort of creative fun. In my forties, I have published dozens of short stories, and in 2018, seven years after my first published story, my debut collection UNCOMMON MIRACLES was released.

 But I like to try things. I like to play. It was not my love of short fiction that kept me from attempting another longer work after that first novel “failed.” It was that F word, failure, the weight I gave it, the way it made me flinch. My first longer work, a one-hundred-and-forty-page theological horror novella called THE RAMPANT was just released by Aqueduct Press. But it almost didn’t make it into the light of day. I wrote my initial incomplete draft more than five years ago and then set it aside rather than taking the most difficult of steps: slowly exhaling and continuing to try. 

Why did I finally pick up that partial draft of The Rampant and try again? Why did I allow myself to fail one, two, who the hell knows how many more times without tossing the project? Part of me thinks I finally had the necessary skills, but most of me knows that is not the answer. Somewhere along the way, I finally found the confidence to fail and keep going, fail, and ask for help, fail, and battle with myself until I fought through to the other side. On my best days, I learned to embrace failure. On my worst days, I continued to turn away from failure. But there’s a secret I uncovered somewhere along this writer’s journey; a secret some people find much easier to learn than I did: every day does not have to be the best day. Best days are like happy days, or sunny summer afternoons, you only need enough of them to keep picking yourself up, along with the work you are attempting, and step forward once again.

 

Synopsis: It’s ten years since the hordes of old-world Sumerian gods arrived in Southern Indiana to kick off the end of the world, but things have not gone to plan. A principal player decided not to show. Now humanity is stuck in a seemingly never-ending apocalypse. Sixteen-year-old Emelia Bareilles and Gillian Halkey are determined to force a change, even though it means traveling into the lands of the dead.

Publishers Weekly described the work as “Equal parts playful and heartbreaking, this apocalyptic novella offers one-of-a-kind answers about the end of the world. Gillian Halkey and Emelia Bareilles, both 16, have spent most of their lives enduring the nightmare of the never-ending rapture. It’s been a decade since the ancient Sumerian gods descended on Indiana, promising that the chosen people would ascend to Nibiru, but the terrifying entity called the Rampant—the last of the Evil Messengers heralding the destruction of civilization—seems to have missed the memo. Until he shows up, the rapture can’t happen. Meanwhile, bored gods are eating people. It’s up to Emelia and Gillian to descend to the Netherworld, using Gillian’s prophetic dreams as guidance, in hopes of liberating the Rampant so the judging can begin and the suffering can end. Mixing a coming-of-age and a second coming, the story is unmatched in its idiosyncrasy. Day conveys genuine empathy for the two young women, who are still learning about themselves (including a sweet crush of Gillian’s), while never relinquishing the archaic fear instilled by the presence of ancient gods and the televangelists who have smoothly pivoted into running the Sumerian Revivalist Church. This clever and surprisingly fun take on the rapture is the perfect theological horror story.”

Available on Amazon.

Julie C. Day

Julie C. Day

Julie C. Day’s dark fantasy novella THE RAMPANT was released this September by Aqueduct Press. She is also the author of the collection UNCOMMON MIRACLES released by PS Publishing in 2018. Her numerous short stories can be found in publications such as Black Static,The Dark & Podcastle. Wearing another, related hat, Julie is co-editor of the charity anthology Weird Dream Society due to be released May 5th, 2020. Proceeds from the anthology will go to RAICES.

Julie lives in a small town in New England with her family and a menagerie of variously sized animals. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and a M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. You can find her at @thisjulieday or on her blog stillwingingit.com. Café writing and long baths with paper books are also a thing.  

Skin in the Game: When Your Antagonist Goes Viral

Imagine this: Your protagonist is faced with a deadly enemy that can’t be seen, felt, smelled, tasted. Undetectable until it’s way too late. Imagine victims dropping all around him, many with horrible and frightening symptoms and signs. Things like blotchy purple skin rashes, raspy, wheezy breathing, bloody vomiting and diarrhea, confusion or psychotic and aggressive behaviors. Yet the cause of all this mayhem is unseen, and unknown.

 

How do you identify such an enemy, or defend yourself from it?

 

Infectious diseases have terrorized the world for centuries. The Black Death was just one, the worst, of the plagues that swept through Medieval Europe. It killed one third, maybe one half, of Europe’s population. With many of the above symptoms. The meager state of medical care—-or understanding—in 1350 could do little. The church was equally impotent.

 

Imagine the terror that gripped the entirety of Europe. What caused these horrible things to happen? Was it bad air, some miasma? Was it spread by one group or another? Was it punishment for your sins?

 

Where could you go to avoid the plague? What could you do to protect yourself and your family? Who could you turn to? What would you do if an infected stranger appeared at your door? Would you trust your local officials or pray to a God that let this happen?

 

There were no heroes available at that time.

 

But there have been, and are, other plagues that are more modern and equally as deadly. The 1918 flu claimed millions of lives around the world. Now we have such pleasant afflictions as HIV, Ebola, and the Marburg virus. Besides, isn’t the coming Zombie Apocalypse due to an errant virus?

 

Scary stuff.

 

The Plague was caused by a bacterium that today is easily treated with antibiotics. Drugs that weren’t available in the 14th century. Okay, great, The Black Death can’t happen today. Not so fast. What about viruses? Things like Ebola and Marburg. We have little effective testament for these guys. So, a new Black Death is always possible. And as the world turns, new creatures are evolving. A series of simple mutations could easily produce the next pandemic and yet again kill off half the population. In fact, it probably will someday. History repeats itself.

 

And such an unseen enemy can make for a nearly perfect fictional antagonist. I mean, you can flash a mirror, or cross, at Dracula, or fire a silver bullet into the Wolfman, or simply run from Frankenstein—he wasn’t very fleet of foot. Godzilla stomping your city to rubble creates different, but not insurmountable, problems.

 

But where do you hide from a virus?

 

I’ve practiced medicine for over forty years and I can say without doubt that the greatest stress placed on any human is when they face death, disease, or injury. There are so many unknowns and the feeling of helplessness is universal. The same is true if the sufferer is a parent, child, or loved one. It produces anxiety on a very basic and visceral level.

 

This innate fear of death and disease is part of the human experience. And excellent fodder for thriller writing. Sure Frankenstein and Godzilla are scary, but what about an unseen, unavoidable, untreatable enemy? One that has no boundaries, permeating the air you breath, the water you drink, the loved one you hug. There is nowhere to hide since the miasma can creep beneath your door.

 

It doesn’t bite, or maul, or stomp, or any of those physical things, but rather attacks from within. By the time the victim realizes something is wrong, it’s often too late to fix. Or worse, there is no fix.

 

Infectious processes have been the subject of many thrillers, both written and cinematic. Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain (1971) was an early example. An organism comes from outer space and kills quickly. Earthlings have no defense. Just as Europeans had no defense when the Black Death appeared. Others include The Cassandra Crossing (1976), 28 Days Later (2002), and Outbreak (1995).

 

Thrillers need a resilient, believable, relentless, deadly, seemingly-unstoppable antagonist. An unseen infectious creature that attacks from within fits the bill.

 

 

The Black Death: http://www.historytoday.com/ole-j-benedictow/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever

 

1918 Flu: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

 

D. P. Lyle, MD

D.P. Lyle is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 18 books, both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, Jake Longly, and Cain/Harper thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he was the co-host of Crime and Science Radio and hosts the podcast series Criminal Mischief. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.

 

Website: http://www.dplylemd.com

Blog: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com

Criminal Mischief Podcast Series: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

Crime & Science Radio: http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html

Raised as siblings by an itinerant “gypsy” family, knife expert Bobby Cain, trained by the US military in the lethal art of covert eliminations, and Harper McCoy, nurtured by the US Navy and the CIA to run black ops and wage psychological warfare, are now civilians. Of a sort. Employing the skills learned from the “family” and their training, they now fix the unfixable. Case in point: Retired General William Kessler hires the duo to track down his missing granddaughter, a Vanderbilt University co-ed. Their search leads them to a small, bucolic, lake-side town in central Tennessee and into a world of prostitution, human trafficking, and serial murder. The question then becomes: Will their considerable skills be enough for Cain and Harper to save the young woman, and themselves, from a sociopath with “home field” advantage, a hunter’s skills, and his own deeply disturbing agenda?

Guest Post: The Evolution of Requiem in Frost

It’s 2016. I’m struggling with a novel project—a big, epic dystopian fantasy that I have no clue where I’m taking. I have a big list of short stories I want to eventually write, but I don’t make time for them because I’m too fixated on this novel. A simple story idea occurs to me one cold winter day: a little girl moves into a house haunted by the ghost of a black metal musician. I imagine it being oddly funny and heart-warming, but I don’t have time for it now. I must heed the call of the novel and its ever-reproducing plot holes. The girl and her ghost are banished to the black hole that is my “Story Ideas” Word file.

 

Flash-forward to 2017. The girl and her ghost are swirling in the “Story Ideas” void, seemingly never to return. I audition for Horroraddicts.net’s “The Next Great Horror Writer” Contest and am accepted, becoming one of fourteen eligible contestants. Every few weeks, we have another writing challenge to compete in—from a horror romance poem to a blog post. In June, hostess Emerian Rich tasks us with writing a music-themed short story. Out of nowhere, I remember the girl and her black metal ghost, and get to work immediately. With that, Requiem in Frost is born, escaping the void as few other ideas can.

 

It’s hard pairing the story down to fit the word count requirements, but in the end, I turn in a rough draft I’m proud of, and feel connected to. I don’t win that challenge—that honor goes to the amazing Naching T. Kassa—but I do score reasonably well and get a brief mention on the podcast.

 

I do eventually win the contest as a whole, earning a novel contract with Crystal Lake Publishing and a short story contract deal with HorrorAddicts.net. They choose Requiem in Frost as the story to publish under their Horror Bites imprint. I’m more than happy for a chance to share the story with people, and also for the chance to expand it past the 5,000-word limit.

 

Flash-forward to 2019. I’ve edited the story, turned in my draft, and gotten notes back from both Emerian and Naching (who is now working for HorrorAddicts.net). Their feedback is hugely helpful, and I use it as a guide to whip the story into even better shape. Certain scenes get expanded; others are trimmed. They suggest Ingrid be aged up a bit, and I agree. Eventually, we get it into its final draft.

 

What I’m getting at here is that even for a short story, writing is a long, multi-year process. And when that story is finally out, it feels amazingly good to share it with others.

 

I’m stoked that I’ll finally be able to share Requiem in Frost with you after all this time.

BLACK METAL LIVES! Located in the deep frostbitten woods of Norway, Ingrid’s new home is old, spooky, and possibly haunted. Guttural screams wake Ingrid and her mother nightly. When they discover the shrieks belong to deceased former occupant and extreme metal musician, Skansi Oppegård, Ingrid investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Hoping to exorcise Skansi’s ghost, she talks her mom into being part of a metal band. Oppegård’s last musical creation awakens forces beyond Ingrid’s understanding and causes Skansi’s murderer to resurface. In the battle between a madman and zombies, metal may be the only weapon she has. Available on Amazon.

Jonathan Fortin

Jonathan Fortin is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus (coming December 2019 from Crystal Lake Publishing) and Nightmarescape (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian gentleman, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.   

10 Most Hated Zombie Clichés

Okay, maybe hate is a strong word – how about “over-used”? When I decided to write my zombie novel, Body Farm Z, the first thing I did was make a list of every trope I wanted to avoid. I checked online for other people’s opinions too. Only then did I start blocking out my plot. And guess what? I still have that handwritten list in my novel’s research folder. Here’s my opinion – and yours may differ – on the ten most well-worn clichés:

 

  1. The apocalypse happens in the USA

 

Americans are incredibly adept at documenting their own culture. The West is dominated by their movies, TV shows and fiction. (Which are often terrific – I’m not complaining.) So, no surprise that almost all zombie stories are set on US soil. This cliché was easy to sidestep because I’m an Aussie. The events in Body Farm Z play out in an area just a few hours’ drive northeast of my home, in the bushland that lies beyond metropolitan Melbourne.

 

  1. Cities, supermarkets and shopping malls

 

Of course, I get it: setting zombie stories in urban environments gives the writer a lot of scope. With access to food, cars and guns, the characters have options. But I decided to set my story in an isolated facility without a street address. To find my forensic body farm, you need to key its longitude and latitude into your GPS – but only a limited number of people know the coordinates.

 

  1. Superhuman strength in a rotting body

 

As a health and medical writer for many years, this one bugs me. A fit man in his prime could no more fight his way out of a buried coffin than leap over a tall building in a single bound. Not only that, the decay process begins soon after death, which means a zombie would automatically be weaker than the average living person. I kept biology in mind while I was writing, and considering my fascination with human physiology, did I have a choice?

 

  1. Characters can’t outrun a shuffling corpse

 

Generally speaking, people don’t tend to fall over very often. Can you remember the last time you took a spill? Yet able-bodied characters in zombie stories are forever tripping up so they can lie screaming on the floor while zombies converge. Twisted ankle, anybody? It’s a well-worn and hoary staple of horror movies overall. I’m sure that no one in Body Farm Z falls over. Pretty sure, anyway.

 

  1. The ubiquitous chainsaw

 

This one is right up there with the cliché of never-ending bullets. Actually, one of my characters happens to own a chainsaw – he’s the caretaker at the body farm, which is set in the bush with plenty of eucalypts, paperbark and wattle trees – but uh-oh, the chainsaw is unfortunately at the shop getting repaired when all hell breaks loose. What a shame.  

 

  1. The defence forces are defenceless

 

The military forces, particularly in the US, are well-armed and formidable…until a zombie apocalypse occurs. Then, the military is next to useless or, even worse, somehow complicit. Happily, I didn’t have to worry about this cliché. The action in Body Farm Z occurs at the facility and takes place fast – over the course of just two hours.

 

  1. A bitten character hides their infection

 

There are variations, including a character hiding from the other survivors that their loved one – typically a spouse or child – is infected from a zombie bite. I turned this cliché on its head. When one of my main characters becomes “zombified”, cataloguing the stages of transformation using his own deteriorating point-of-view both challenged and satisfied me.

 

  1. The annoying guy who always takes charge

 

Ah yes, the character you apparently love to hate. His ultimate death-by-zombie is supposed to make you cheer. I avoided this trope completely. Along the same lines, I didn’t have any characters making overtly stupid decisions. (How many times have we seen the girl in a house of horrors run upstairs instead of out the front door?)

 

  1. Oh no, the real monsters are actually us

 

Many zombie stories are an allegory for the breakdown of society. And while it was a cool theme at first, the notion that “humans are the scourge of the earth” is now commonplace. (I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of being told I’m some kind of parasite.) My take was to internalise the zombie allegory and explore a range of psychological issues such as identity, self-image, sanity, family relationships, and social isolation.

 

  1. “What the hell are those things?”

 

Oh man, this is my greatest bugbear – how come characters in a zombie story don’t have any idea what zombies are? What alternate universe are they living in? Half the plot is taken up with the characters trying to figure out what we, the readers and viewers, already know. In Body Farm Z, the first time a zombie appears, one of my characters yells, “It’s a zombie!” And soon after comes the sage advice, “Shoot it in the fucking head!”

BODY FARM Z BY DEBORAH SHELDON (SEVERED PRESS)

Available on: Amazon

To solve murders, you must understand the process of decomposition. Australia’s newest body farm, the Victorian Taphonomic Experimental Research Institute, is hidden in bushland some four hours’ drive from Melbourne. Scattered across its 150 acres are human donor cadavers and pig carcasses arranged to mimic some of the ways in which police might find murder victims: exposed to the elements, buried in a shallow grave, wrapped in tarpaulin. Forensic scientists and graduate students meticulously track each stage of putrefaction. Today, Detective Rick Evans of the Homicide Squad is at VITERI for the re-creation of one of his cold cases. A human donor will be locked inside a car. But the donor has other ideas… So begins a facility-wide outbreak of the reanimated dead.

Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum. Some of her titles include the horror novels Body Farm Z, Contrition, and Devil Dragon; the horror novella Thylacines; and the collections Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories, and the award-winning Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (Australian Shadows “Best Collected Work 2017”). Her short fiction has appeared in Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Breach, AntipodeanSF and many other well-respected magazines. Her fiction has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing. Visit her at deborahsheldon.wordpress.com

Can some of us ‘sense’ Hell?

“For centuries many have pondered the prospect of an afterlife and feared what came to be known as ‘Hell’.

In the near future, we map the elusive ‘dark matter’ around us, only to find out that it is Hell itself, and it is very real…”

That is the premise for the new novel Complete Darkness which sees us humans come face-to-face with the existence of a horrific afterlife destination. Very bad things happen as the satanic President Razour attempts to bring forward Armageddon to prevent humanity repenting. So, with the fate of us all resting in the hands of Cleric20, a hedonistic loner with a chequered past, and his robot sidekick, GiX, this Halloween you can grab this new ‘what if Hell was real’ scenario.

 

But is it possible that throughout time, some humans have been attuned to the potential existence of Hell? You don’t need to be bible basher to be interested in the afterlife either. Plenty of books that have plots that visit hell by authors such as William Blake, CS Lewis, Jonathan Swift, Chuck Palahniuk and Terry Pratchett. Cinematic depictions can be found in films like What Dreams May Come, Constantine, Event Horizon and Hellraiser. Videogames designed to allow players actually to battle in Hell include huge selling Diablo and Doom franchises. Various artworks from classical Jan Van Eyck’s The Last Judgment and Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, through to modern Franz von Stuck’s Inferno and contemporary Jake & Dinos Chapman’s F**king Hell.

 

There are even musical works both classical – Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and Liszt’s Dante Sonata, and popular Slayer’s Hell Awaits or Highway to Hell from AC/DC. It seems that Hell has been much on people’s minds having formed inspiration for such creative outputs.

 

Oddly considering it being one of only two possible endpoints for life there’s little description of Hell by the authors the Christian Bible which has more than 600 mentions of Heaven but only15 of Hell.

 

Two of the probably best-known Hell architects who may well have been somehow ‘aware’ of Hell are the poets – Italian Dante (c1265) and English John Milton (c1608). 

 

Dante is cited as the architect of how many, especially in the West, conceive of ‘Hell’ as he describes it vividly in his Divine Comedy that tells of Dante’s journey through the three realms of the dead. Sure, he might have just been having a dark few months, but his vision of Hell is intricate – describing it as consisting of nine concentric circles, going towards the centre of the Earth. Each of the nine is the destination for various sinners – depending on the sin – with circles devoted to gluttons, heretics, the lustful and fraudsters etc. This realm even has a river ‘Acheron’ running around it, separating it from the outside world – that’s quite a lot of detail to go into for a setting for a poem.

 

The modern image of Hell, with pitchfork wielding imps and possibly Pin-headed demons is actually not much worse when compared with some of the medieval depictions. The popularised ‘firey’ view is probably the legacy of Milton, who in his epic ‘Paradise Lost’ goes heavy on the heat imagery with phrases such as ‘with flames that offer no light, but rather darkness visible’.

 

The Hell attuned visionaries In the Middle Ages, seemed to see it as being located literally beneath us, underground, and this in no small part fuelled legends of travellers seeing its smoke coming up through holes in the ground even in England. Dante would concur having placed Satan at the bottom of Hell, in the centre of the Earth.

 

It’s not all hot stuff though – in the ninth and deepest circle of Dante’s Hell, Satan himself is encased in ice which makes the possibility of Hell freezing over fairly high, backed up again for Milton who includes regions of icy desolation in his Hellscape.

 

More modern perceptions of Hell have come both from some who claim to have contacted the residents of the afterlife realms directly such as James E. Padgett (c1852), a prominent Washington, D.C. lawyer who started receiving spirit communications after he lost his wife. He heard from spirits that Hell wasn’t a ‘place’ but more a ‘state of unpleasant existence’ – he also said he got long messages from Jesus but those weren’t about Hell.

 

Along with the host aforementioned films and novels keeping the imaginations ‘firing’ for creatives who seem prompted to imagine what lies in wait for wrongdoers after death. My inspiration for making the mapping of Hell a core element to Complete Darkness was the sheer enormity of the gambit i.e. after our few short years ‘alive’ where will we spend eternity?

 

I think we are perhaps due a new imagining of what potential Hell might be awaiting us? Having recently read the late great Iain M Banks’ Surface Detail where he envisions a far future where we have created electronic ‘Hells’ in which to torture those found guilty of crimes during their lives. The prospect of man-made virtual Hells, each bespoke to cause maximum discomfort to its inhabitants might just be the scariest prospect on the subject matter yet conceived.

 

What creative interpretations of Hell are your favourites?

 

Have you ever sensed ‘Hell’?

Wondering what to expect from ‘Complete Darkness’? Here is the novel’s synopsis!
For centuries many have pondered the prospect of an afterlife and feared what came to be known as ‘hell’.

In the near future, we map the elusive ‘dark matter’ around us, only to find out that it is hell itself, and it is very real…

As the satanic President Razour attempts to bring forward Armageddon to prevent humanity repenting, the fate of us all rests in the hands of Cleric20, a hedonistic loner with a chequered past, and his robot sidekick, GiX.

An action-packed literary shock to the senses that mixes flights of comic fantasy with bouts of brutal violence. Mankind’s only hope seems to be having a very bad day.

Can Cleric20 halt Razour’s devilish plans after an experimental bioweapon deployed to kill him accidentally gives him superpowers?

Has the Devil inadvertently created a hero who could actually stop him?

Little can prepare you for this spiritually-charged, cyber-noir thrill ride.

Matt Adcock

Matt Adcock

As well as an author, Matt is a blog editor, Head of Communications for a charity, and the weekly film reviewer for a regional newspaper group.

Matt is a lover of all things virtual, sci-fi, superhero and theological… 

He loves to interact: Tweet him: @Cleric20 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/completedarknessnovel/

Buy your copy of Complete Darkness: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0957338775

Discover more about the Darkmatters Universe: artwork, merchandise, links to prequel short story, media and future plans at: www.Completedarknessnovel.com

‘Ration’ Guest Post – It Starts With A Voice

It starts with a voice. The sound of the hollow throat of a building or the leaves left behind after the blast of a bomb shook them prematurely from their newly charred branches. It continues with the sensation of the wind chewing at the bones of the dead coyote in the ditch, fur scattered in the dirt ruts of a road freshly gutted by heavy tires and hard soled boots of hundreds of silent soldiers moving beneath a low moon. My senses are flooded with sound, sensation, even the taste ash and dust left behind in the shadow of violence that will never happen on the page of the story I am working on.

The process of building is remarkably similar to planting bean shoots and watching the green vines grow. The details are very rarely clear to me in the beginning. Like the bean, I start with something simple, something vaguely intentional. I spend far too much of my time as a writer day dreaming about places completely empty of characters, mental sketches of cities, mountain ranges, subway tunnels, all empty, all silent. These are the seeds of a world, waiting for me to lose focus enough for them to sprout.

Once I have imagined these places, which usually happens during a long commute or a long stretch working at my desk, I add the fertilizer necessary for my world to grow. I ask the terrible question that all world builders love to hate and hate to love: why? Why is there a dead coyote in the ditch of my mind? Why are the soldiers on the move in the middle of the night? Why is it Fall? The question of why is the single most dangerous question in world building. It opens a never-ending floodgate of information, one that can drown a writer and eventually drown their reader or one that can freeze a world solid before it begins to grow.

How many whys is too many? How much do I need to know before I start my story in the first place? This is the magic trick. In my own writing practice, I have discovered that you can’t know too much about your world but as a writer, you must share carefully with your reader. Your world is full of secrets. My coyote died of starvation because the war has bleached the land with hatred and fire. The soliders move at night because the balloons far above bristle with snipers wrapped in leather military coats lined in fur. The roads are worn things, army after army flowing back and forth over their churned bodies, ground lost and gained over months of death. How much of this does my reader need? This question is difficult to answer and in my experience is one driven by characters rather than the need for information. But how much of this does the writer need? The answer is easy, all of it. Every detail is necessary for the world to fill every paragraph.

Watching my worlds grow, asking why as each detail emerges is a meditative experience, a delicious form of daydreaming that feels a little like slipping down the rabbit hole but like all things creative it has its dangers. Filling my worlds with people requires I open these empty places to the emotions and needs that come from the histories generated by my why questions. Inviting the first character into my world requires that I speculate their place and the risks they must face. This is also the moment my story, much like the bean in my previous comparison, twists for the first time. Characters produce plot, a slightly toxic side effect of world building, a type of drug that is necessary for the consumption of stories.

Characters rarely arrive in my creative process as nebulous beings. They stride in and demand things. They might demand to put on a uniform and notice the dead coyote in the ditch and express their disgust, all the while worrying over their infant son back home, left with a grandparent to tend while the war spins on and on. They demand to see the things I have created and they demand to react to them, creating a disharmony that will eventually lead to my plot. The world itself will eventually harden around these invaders, reacting to them, growing with them and eventually becoming a character itself leaving me with another blank spot in my mind to fill with yet another seed. A cycle that is a little addictive and perhaps a more than a little strange. 

Cody Luff

Cody Luff

Cody’s stories have appeared in Pilgrimage, Cirque, KYSO Flash, Menda City Review, Swamp Biscuits & Tea, and others. He is fiction winner of the 2016 Montana Book Festival Regional Emerging Writers Contest and served as editor of the short fiction anthology Soul’s Road. Cody completed an intensive MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He teaches at Portland Community College and works as a story editor. Cody grew up listening to stories in his grandfather’s barbershop as he shined shoes, stories told to him at bedsides and on front porches, deep in his father’s favorite woods, and in the cabs of pickup trucks on lonely dirt roads. Cody’s work explores those things both small and wondrous that move the soul, whether they be deeply real or strikingly surreal.

Website: www.codytluff.com

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