Did we learn nothing from Pennywise?

This post contains spoilers for Stephen King’s It and last week’s American Horror Story, but not this week’s, because I haven’t watched it yet. I don’t mind if you spoil it when making comments, though.

American Horror Story has made me sad. They had such a great thing going with that clown. But they ruined it. No no, not by killing him. I mean, I’m kind of bummed about that too, because it’s too early in the season to lose their best feature, but I could have handled that.

But first they had to give him an origin story, and that’s where it all went wrong. Horror rule, you guys: leave the clown alone. Resist the urge to mess with the clown.

Do you remember when you read It, and Pennywise was just the most terrifying thing? And then the makeup came off and it was just, like, a big bug? That was such a letdown. The only thing that kept it from ruining the book was that the rest of it was so damned scary that you could forgive even that big a flaw. American Horror Story just made the same mistake, and they haven’t got Stephen King’s skill to talk their way out of it. (Don’t feel bad, Ryan Murphy and friends. Nobody does.)

Because you have two kinds of villains: villains who are uncomfortably like the rest of us, and monsters. The former are relatable, and that makes them both scary and tragic. You might hate them, but you get it, how they became what they did, the things that make us crack, the darkness within all of us. Nobody likes to look too long into that darkness, and these villains work because somewhere in the back of your mind you’re afraid that, given the same circumstances, that could be you.

These are good candidates for origin stories and mask removal. We need to know their motivations and we need to understand them. They need character arcs of their own. They don’t work otherwise, and they come off flat.

But monsters work the opposite way. They must be mysterious. The source of their terror is their otherness, their inhumanity, the sense of something bigger and badder than any of us. It’s great for them to be disguised as something familiar, especially if it’s something related to childhood, like a clown or a doll. That only adds to the effect. But you must make me imagine something awful under there without ever, under any circumstances, showing it to me. Take off the mask and give me a big spider, or a sad man who hasn’t got the capacity to judge the right or wrong of his actions, and you’ve just replaced the mystique with something I can deal with, even something mundane. The trick to the monster is understanding that you can’t scare someone better than they can scare themselves.

Where American Horror Story went wrong is that they started with a monster and then at the last second tried to swap it for the human kind of villain. Once you’ve put someone in a clown suit, he is not that kind of villain. He is unequivocally a monster, and there’s nothing you can show me under his makeup that will be scarier than him with it on.

Okay, fine, maybe they didn’t want him to be scary anymore. But why not? Why ruin all that terror momentum they had going, just on the off chance that they could use a few minutes before they killed him off, after we’ve been watching a monster for weeks, to make us see a sad man instead, and feel sorry for him?

There’s no point to that, and also, it didn’t work. The origin story wasn’t interesting or good. And going for the cheap gross-out with that jaw? Totally ruined a perfectly good evil clown. It’s like Pennywise all over again.

Just leave the clown alone.

Props for getting Wes Bentley though, AHS.

The Ghost has landed

ebooksmGhost in the Canteen is now available in ebook and paperback formats, exclusively at Amazon. Click here to find out more, download a sample, or buy the book.

Thanks to all my peeps who’ve been so kind, helpful, and supportive while I was getting this book ready for release.

This also seems like a good time to publicly express my gratitude and admiration for Passive Guy, David Gaughran, Hugh Howey, Data Guy, Joe Konrath, and all the other indie trailblazers who’ve thrown their cloaks over the mud for those of us coming after, and generously given their time and energy to educate us on the business.

I want my book to be fun for you. I don’t want you to buy it because I gave you a desperate scary hard sell, like that lady in the store who’s all “Can I help you? Huh? Huh? Can I? Pleeease? Help you?” I hope you’ll check it out and, if it seems like your kind of thing, I hope you’ll buy it and read it.

And hey guess what? The holiday season is coming, and Kindle gifts are cheap and easy! So if you know someone else who enjoys supernatural stories, I hope you’ll keep my book in mind.

My final hope is that if you do read it and enjoy it, you’ll consider leaving a review on Amazon. This need not take long. Just a sentence or two makes a huge difference, because reviews are the tasty snacks that feed Amazon’s magical algorithm dragon.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a celebratory rye and tonic calling my name.

Everyone hail to the pumpkin song

Eleven things for Halloween:

1. The post title, of course, comes from the song “This is Halloween” in A Nightmare Before Christmas. This was the correct answer to the October poll asking for the best Halloween movie. Fifty percent of you got it right.

2. The other half of you chose It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which is certainly a good one. But you’re still doing Halloween wrong if you don’t know Jack Skellington is the pumpkin king.

3. Nobody chose either Halloween or Night of the Living Dead. I was especially surprised that Michael Myers did not garner a single vote, although I quite agree with you. (By the way, there is no November poll because mah book is being released next week and will be occupying the sidebar space where the poll normally sits. But I’m sure we can all agree that the best Thanksgiving pie is cherry anyway. Shut up with your pumpkin.)

4. ahsclownAmerican Horror Story, which was maybe the least scary thing on TV last year, is the scariest it’s been since Season 1 this year, and maybe even scarier. You really can’t beat a creepy clown when it comes to scares, and John Carroll Lynch is giving us the creepiest one since Tim Curry played Pennywise.

5. The adaptation of It in which Tim Curry played Pennywise was not scary, despite Curry doing a fantastic job. The production values were… not high. So there’s no point in watching that for Halloween, but you might consider reading it, because it still wins my scariest book ever award.

6. ‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary are my runners up for scariest Stephen King books. His son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is also really scary.

7. That family hasn’t got the corner on scary, of course. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that stands up, and Poe will always be the master. I haven’t read much lately that genuinely scared me, though. (By all means, give me your recommendations in comments.)

8. If you want a movie instead, my personal picks for scariest movies are Seven and Silence of the Lambs.

9. Last year’s The Conjuring deserves a mention too, because it brought the scary back to scary movies. We need less of that nauseating found footage nonsense, and more good old fashioned scares.

10. I’m going to say it one more time, movie people: startle does not equal scare. Don’t just make me jump and call it a day. I’m not going to have nightmares about being startled. You’ve got to disturb me.

11. My fun sized candy bar of choice this year is Almond Joy. Yours?

Liar liar pantser

First, I lied last week about that being the final book cover. It seems CreateSpace does not work and play well with dark colors, and we’re having to make some compromises. Of course I could just use a different cover for the paperback than the ebook, but I’m leaning toward consistency.

Second, NaNoWriMo starts in, what, ten days? I’ll be pantsing it this year, by necessity rather than choice. I’m a really big planner by nature. I’ve only tried pantsing once before and it was a disaster. It’s okay, I’ve got time built into the workplan for ignoring everything I do during NaNo if I have to. But who knows, maybe it’ll allow some brilliant ideas to spring up from the dark recesses of my brain, where the things lurking are… usually not brilliant.

So, wish me luck, even though I’m a liar? I guess is the point.

Ghostly cover art

final cover smaller size

Here is the really final (we’re pretty sure) cover for Ghost in the Canteen. Let me know what you think!

Observant subscribers to my newsletter may notice that it doesn’t match the one I sent out last week–same artwork, different visual effects and layout. My cover designer did this one in the interim, and although I really love both, we agreed that this one gives better thumbnail.

November 6!

I would always rather be happy than dignified

I’ve harped on this elsewhere in the past, but I firmly believe that an adaptation of Jane Eyre rises or falls on the strength of its Rochester. It’s not that Jane isn’t a great, complicated character. It’s more that there’s absolutely no way you can dislike her. She’s one of the greatest literary heroines we have. Nobody sitting in that audience is going to have a hard time rooting for Jane.

Rochester, on the other hand. Kind of an asshole, right? No, no, not entirely. I’m not saying I don’t love Mr. Rochester. Of course I love him. But I do have to be brought around to loving him. Come on, the guy keeps his wife locked in the attic. Whatever the circumstances, you can’t just let that go with nary a raised eyebrow, you know?

For viewers to fully appreciate Jane’s struggles, sympathize with her, and ultimately nod in teary delight at the point of reader-I-married-him, versus screaming “YOU DID WHAT?” and throwing the popcorn, they have to be able to see what she sees in the man. While Jane is busy declaring herself his equal, the rest of us are wondering if he’s really good enough for her. If your Rochester can’t pull it off, even a flawlessly played Jane isn’t going to save that film.

fassbenderochesterThis is why I’m not surprised that the Wasikowska/Fassbender version of Jane Eyre won the September poll by a landslide, with 56% of the vote. Michael Fassbender, please don’t take this the wrong way, because I know nothing about you personally and I’m sure you’re a nice person, but you’re a very convincing asshole. You can probably blame Cary Fukunaga for that if you want, because this is an expertly directed film. There’s no shying away from the darker sides of Rochester’s character, but it’s mixed with the exact right combination of vulnerability, sympathy, and emotion (and, because this is Rochester we’re talking about, brooding) to make the whole thing work. Plus, regardless of everything I just said about the cruciality of Rochester, Mia Wasikowska delivers a really excellent performance as Jane.

stephensrochesterI was glad to see the Wilson/Stephens version come in second place with 22% of the vote, because I quite like that one, too. It’s a different spin, to be sure. Neither character is really dark and broody enough, and Toby Stephens’s only flaw here is that he’s just a bit too likable. But the performances are very good, and the chemistry as well, so it all works anyway. And of course the beauty of the miniseries format is that there’s more time to get in more of the book. Everything benefits from the highest possible amount of Brontë.

The October poll is up, be sure to cast your votes!

The post title is not terribly relevant, except that it’s one of the best Jane Eyre quotes, and probably appropriate for my blog. Or my epitaph.

Authors United’s big play

How I imagine the text chat that led to this:


SPECIALSNOWFLAKE38: Nobody seems to care how much better we are than the toaster guys. Should we do another New York Times ad, or what?

WRITERGRRL: Hey, I know! Let’s write to the Justice Department!

GUARDIANOFCULTURE: Okay! And then let’s send it by Federal Express!

WRITERGRRL: Be sure to mention the sanctions.

POMPOUSAUTHOR3541: Um… did you look up what “sanction” means?

WRITERGRRL: I don’t have to look it up, I’m a writer. What else should we say?

SPECIALSNOWFLAKE38: Just ask them to look into Amazon’s business practices.

POMPOUSAUTHOR3541: Wouldn’t that give the appearance of taking sides, though?

WRITERGRRL: Of course not. We don’t take sides. We just want Amazon to do the right thing and allow pre-orders of products from a supplier they have no contract with. In good faith!

SPECIALSNOWFLAKE38: What do you mean products?? Books are not products! They’re intellectual products!

POMPOUSAUTHOR3541: …

IHEARTCHEAPRAZORS: Guys. Can we focus? If we’re writing to the Justice Department, should we have some actual evidence, or…?

GUARDIANOFCULTURE: It’s fine, just make sure you send it by Federal Express!

WRITERGRRL: Wait, evidence of what?

IHEARTCHEAPRAZORS: Well, don’t they have to do something illegal before the Justice Department gets involved?

WRITERGRRL: No, they just go after villains, and tie them up and stuff. Amazon is totally a villain! Books are not goods to be sold! But they must be sold at a discount!

SPECIALSNOWFLAKE38: Wait, what do you mean they tie up villains?

WRITERGRRL: You know. Wonder Woman uses her lasso of truth on them. She’ll make Amazon admit to the sanctions!

SPECIALSNOWFLAKE38: Wonder Woman…?

IHEARTCHEAPRAZORS: …

GUARDIANOFCULTURE: …

POMPOUSAUTHOR3541: Um, I think you’re thinking of the Justice League.

WRITERGRRL: Isn’t that the same thing?

POMPOUSAUTHOR3541: No. No it isn’t.

GUARDIANOFCULTURE: Whatever, just write to both. And send the letters by Federal Express!

September wind-down

This image belongs to Disney.

This image belongs to Disney.

Just a week left in September. Time to stow away the Earth, Wind, and Fire and pull out the Danny Elfman. I think that’s not a bad trade. I’ve always felt that October is unequivocally the best month of the year. And not just because of the Halloween treats. Okay, mostly because of the Halloween treats. But also foliage! And fall weather! And the Carolina Renaissance Festival! Although let’s face it, the purpose of the Ren Faire has a lot to do with caramel apples, which just brings us back to treats.

My next newsletter is coming in early October and will include the recipe for the coconut-curry-lentil soup that sustains me for the first half of NaNoWriMo. Whether you participate in NaNo or not, this soup is just the best if you live somewhere that has autumn. Or lentils. Also in that newsletter: the first look at the ebook cover for Ghost in the Canteen, the latest release information, and great mostly-semi-healthy snacks to eat at your desk.

Speaking of NaNo, the site always resets around October 1, so that’s a good time to register, if you haven’t already. If you’re into the November madness and want to be my buddy, I’m hiding there under the very clever alias of jenrasmussen.

Finally, you’ve only got another week to cast your vote in the September poll in the sidebar. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised the Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles version hasn’t gotten more love, though it’s not my personal favorite. I’m sure the October poll will be something super fun an exciting! Well, mostly sure. I haven’t thought of it yet.

CreateSpace formatting, Aunt Nancy, and galoshes

Someone smart needs to tell me what I’m missing. Or if you’re not that smart, but still know what I’m missing, that’s okay too. I won’t know the difference.

I built a ton of time into my workplan for CreateSpace formatting. That’s because everyone told me what a nightmare it would be to do myself, especially this first time. I am prepared for a long haul.

So here’s how I started the haul. I picked a trim size. (5×8, a conclusion I reached after exhaustive market study, or, by grabbing a few of my favorite trade paperbacks off the shelf and measuring them.) I downloaded their template for that trim size. I copied and pasted all my chapters into that template. I uploaded the file. Then I looked at their interior reviewer.

And: it looks pretty much like a book. It’ll need tweaking. I don’t like how I formatted the couple bits of verse that are in there. (That’s because I just put them in italics and called it a day.) And it’s not very fancy, to be sure. I may do something interesting with the chapter titles. But that seems like kind of minor stuff, no? Where’s this nightmare I was warned about?

The best I can figure is, this interior reviewer is a trick that makes me think it looks like a book, but when I get the proof in the mail, it’ll actually look like someone’s Aunt Nancy made it herself in the craft nook in the corner of her basement. Because craft nooks are certainly scary, and BAD THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN IN BASEMENTS.

So tell me, experienced friends. What horrible things are about to come out of the basement? Will I need a can of bug spray? Protective herbs? Galoshes? What are your CreateSpace formatting tips?

Authors United vs. Amazon: a Primer

I strongly suggest to you all that you read the latest letter from Authors United to Amazon’s Board of Directors, because seriously, it is just the very cutest thing. My favorite is “books are not consumer goods,” but the cry that traditional publishing and traditionally published authors like themselves are crucial, because editors (and also America), paired with the error in the very first line, is pretty good too. Over a thousand people signed that letter, and it claims that every one of them read it first. So I guess they’re right. They really do need editors.

But, I know my peeps are busy. Maybe you don’t have time to read it. Because you’re working, like, day jobs, and writing books and stuff. So to help you stay informed within the confines of your busy schedule, I’m going to go ahead and sum up this whole kerfuffle for you.


AUTHORS UNITED: We’re really mad because you’re blocking sales of Hachette titles!

AMAZON: We’re not blocking sales of Hachette titles. Go buy them from our site right now.

AUTHORS UNITED: Well, our sales are down.

AMAZON: Then maybe some of you clowns should stop urging your readers to boycott us? (shrug)

AUTHORS UNITED: But you’re not stocking them in your warehouses! Or putting pre-order buttons on the pages!

AMAZON: We can’t be stocking or promising future sales of books from a supplier whose products we have no contract to sell. Business and customers and stuff? And by the way, the reason we don’t have a contract with this particular supplier is that they let the contract expire and refused to negotiate a new one.

AUTHORS UNITED: Okay, but we’re really mad because you’re blocking boycotting sanctioning Hachette titles!

AMAZON: Are not.

AUTHORS UNITED: Are too.

AMAZON: Whatevs.

AUTHORS UNITED: LITERATURE! CULTURE! BOOKS ARE NOT THINGS AND STUFF!

AMAZON: …

AUTHORS UNITED: AMAGA YOU ARE NOT DISCOUNTING OUR BOOKS!!!11!!one!

AMAZON: But your publisher is arguing that you authors can’t eat unless the prices are kept high, so…

AUTHORS UNITED: You can’t just go charging the price Hachette put on the cover, are you nuts? Nobody is going to buy books at that price! YOU OWE US DISCOUNTS! WE ARE ENTITLED TO DISCOUNTS! Also, we have never commented on the price of books.

AMAZON: But… isn’t complaining about discounts kind of like commenting on the price of books?

AUTHORS UNITED: Books are not consumer goods!

AMAZON: Then why are we discussing discounting and warehousing and selling them?

AUTHORS UNITED: We are prominent and important! We are PROMINENT and IMPORTANT! WE ARE PROMINENT! AND ALSO IMPORTANT!

AMAZON: Kk. We’re going back to work now.

NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: No! Listen! They are prominent! Also important! WHALE MATH!!!!


So there you have it. HTH.

Further reading:
Joe Konrath’s hilarious fisk
Hugh Howey’s summary of lies from many directions