I am pleased to announce that I’ve just launched my first podcast, COUNTING CASUALTIES.
A twice-monthly podcast, I’ll be talking about gothic fiction and horror, fangirling over favorites like Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, and hopefully entertaining you with humor. I’ll also be making “reads” casts, where I choose a Gothic work and, well, read it to you. Because I like those.
Wanna check out the first episode?
Episode One: Gothic Fiction
Like what you hear? Want to suggest a topic or ask a question? Follow the show on Twitter @CasualtyPodcast.
Again, I’d like to thank Amy Lukavics, Andrea Judy, Kira Butler, and Katie Locke for being my test audience. I adore you gals. I also need to add Brian LeTendre to the list of people I am indebted to. Thank you so much for your help. Brian ALSO makes podcasts and writes Lovecraftian things. Check out his work over here: http://www.seebrianwrite.com/
Since I finished the rewrite on my manuscript last week, I’ve been devouring books like a woman starving. So far, one of my absolute favorites isHillary Monahan’s Mary: The Summoning.Can we just talk about the cover for a hot minute here?
Creepy mirror face, wax dripping like blood (Or actual blood). I love it. But wait, there’s more! I can’t stand to read books with the jacket on (because I’ll mess them up and weep forever). Having a blank hardcover is fun, but Mary goes a bit deeper.
Oh yeah, she’s printed on the hardcover too. I really love that they did this. Two great covers and it’s like a mini jump-scare before you even GET to the story. Props to you, art department.
The story itself is a new take on a very old legend. We all know that if you go into the dark bathroom and say “Bloody Mary” three times in the mirror, Mary appears to scratch your eyes out/haunt you/steal your soul, etc. Monahan takes it one step further:
There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.
Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.
A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.
Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.
A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?
I’m a sucker for research and ritual. The fact that Jess tweaks their circle each time to summon Mary for different results is awesome. Let me tell you, Monahan pulls no punches. From the second Mary escapes that mirror, it is non-stop full-throttle scary. And Mary has rules, which is absolutely killer. All shiny surfaces are Mary’s domain. I’ve never been dared to summon Bloody Mary and now I never, ever, will. EVER. Let me tell you guys, I have never been more keenly aware of how many reflective surfaces are in my home.
There are 49 in my bedroom alone. Damn gallery walls.
If research and ritual weren’t enough, Monahan also uses history. Well, urban legend history. Her Mary is Mary Worth, one of the popular origins for the legend. Many claim she was a witch, and Monahan truly brings her to life through letters written from Mary to her sister, Constance. The way she ties it all together is perfection. The flaw I found is that book ended.However, I know she’s busy drafting Mary 2, so I can wait.
I finished the book in two days and it only took me that long because I had to go to work. It’s well-written, beautifully crafted, and pretty scary. It’s got that old school ghost story vibe I loved so much in Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box.
If you guys love a solid and creeptastic horror story, I’d check out Mary: The Summoning as fast as your little feet can get you to a bookstore, library, or eReader.
So, we tried to create an episode of “Meghan and KJ Talk Horror” for you. Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have attempted to do a vlog during Mercury Retrograde. Live and learn. What you CAN see is Meghan performing a card trick and KJ’s WHAT DID SHE JUST DO? face.
One thing you would have learned about the vlog was that KJ decided to be a better person after first watching SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Because Hannibal prefers to eat the uncouth. SAW reiterated this fact. I think I’ve done okay on becoming a good person as I recently got this text: “You’ll be fine. Michael Myers only kills the bad kids.” I’m not entirely sure I buy that logic, but as I’m also unrelated to Michael Myers, I think it works.
Meghan, what horror movie affected you the most?
MS: In the limited number I’ve seen, I’d say it was LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. It’s terrifying, but it has this edge of innocence that I found fascinating. Throughout the film, Eli keeps saying “I’m not a girl,” and I, like Oskar in the film, assumes she means she’s not a girl because she’s a vampire. There’s a secret revealed in a flashback that makes us understand what Eli means. Those deeply emotional scenes interspersed with violence and bloodshed made me reconsider what horror could mean.
KJ: We talked more real life horror, and our Halloween plans for this year. KJ lit a candle for her ancestors on Day of the Dead. Meghan went to a ghost tour – and had some spine tingling events happen.
MS: Yes! I went on the Roswell Ghost Tour for the second time. Last year, one of our group caught a face in the door of Creepy House. Creepy House is the second to last stop on the tour. You walk past an abandoned restaurant, through the parking lot, some woods, and Creepy House springs up in the middle of nothing. I was brave enough to walk up the porch this year and the interior had been partially renovated. Honestly, just walking up to it make me sick. The house is unsellable. In fact, if you rent said abandoned restaraunt, they throw in Creepy House for free.
However, Creepy House was NOT the strangest part of the tour. Bullock Hall is the first stop, a giant mansion now home to a museum and two dead slave children. The girl is known to mess with the lights in the house because she was in charge of lighting when she was alive. She disappeared and several days later they found her in the well out back. The guide noted, as she did last year, that sometimes scratching and screams are heard from the well.
As we were walking down the drive toward the next stop, I heard her scream. It was definitely female, childish, and muffled. Only one other person heard it.
KJ: I’ve only ever seen one ghost child – and I didn’t realize she was a ghost at first. My middle school was rumored to be on old Native American land – which honestly, the whole county probably was. I’d never noticed anything even remotely strange until they started renovations. My mother worked at the school, so pre-teen KJ got to stay late whenever there was any sort of teacher’s meetings and amuse herself on the internet. (High speed internet, y’all! It was dialup everywhere else.) I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and spun in my chair. A girl of about six was standing in the doorway – I don’t think I’ll ever forget her image. Porcelain skin with faint freckling, cornflower blonde hair in braids, and an adorable blue and white gingham dress. I introduced myself and asked who she was, while she just stared at me silently. I’m staring back at her wondering why she’s not talking…when I realize I can see through her. For whatever reason, pre-teen KJ is way cooler about this than current KJ is, and simply calmly watches her fade away.
Current KJ would probably say “OH HELL NO” and consider bolting out the door. Her coworker from the haunted office would agree as she’d get text messages of “Was that large bang you or should I stay in my office clearly behind my line of black salt?” For reference, she usually told me to stay in my safe office. And once she brought me holy water.
KJ: I can’t remember the first horror novel I ever read. The first that ever made me want to write was R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga. Cheesy, right?
Even cheesier – I once had a necklace inspired by the necklace on this Fear Street saga custom-made for me, but it came out atrociously. I still vie for this necklace. One day, it’ll be mine.
Stephen King probably impacted my writing the most, as his books were the first time that I became legitimately terrified from words. It was the first time I’d seen the power that you could create with fiction, the impact that you could create. I think that was the first time I saw horror as a legitimate genre, and not something to be guilty about. I’ll admit though – to this day I still consider my campy horror reads a guilty pleasure.
MS: There was actually a VERY long period of time when I wanted nothing to do with horror. I remember being told I couldn’t watch AHHHH! REAL MONSTERS because it gave me nightmares. Chucky scared the hell out of me when I was 5. I distinctly remember being afraid of the horror section in my school’s library though I don’t know why. When I checked out scary stories, I’d leave the books facedown on my desk so they couldn’t see me.
The first horror book I remember reading was On A Dark, Dark Night, and “The Green Ribbon” became my obsession. I picked it back up a few years ago and discovered there was a fashion trend in France in the 18th century know as a la victime, or “of the victim.” Ladies of the aristocracy would wear a thin red ribbon around their necks mocking a guillotine slice.
Naturally, I wrote a short story about it.
The book that impacted my writing the most is HEARTSICK by Chelsea Cain. Badass. Female. Serial Killer. I guess it’s not technically “horror,” but there are some dark, twisted things going on and I loved every minute of it.
KJ: I think I originally watched more horror movies than I read horror novels. It was weird to me when horror movies became suddenly mainstream. I boycotted CABIN FEVER for months because of how popular it became. I didn’t trust it to be good. I wasn’t impressed on my first watch, but I do find it interesting that the shock value scene of the movie did still stick with me – and we’re back to that tie in of sex and death. I can’t remember a particular scene from a horror novel that’s stuck me with me as vividly, which is odd as I’m a really visual reader.
Interestingly enough, I shy away from writing solely horror in the demographic that I write the most – young adult. I’ll incorporate touches of horror into my works, but I wouldn’t dare – at least at this point – try a full on horror novel, because they don’t really exist in the YA world in the way that I think about horror, and I’m unsure how to approach that.
What do you think defines horror as horror? Is it just the feelings it evokes? The way it haunts you later? Do specific things have to happen?
MS: As a so-called “horror writer,” I really struggle (especially in Queryland) with how people separate Horror and Thriller. I think they’re interchangeable most of the time, but Horror invokes a sense of something supernatural or paranormal. Horror needs something bigger than just everyday fear. Horror is when something completely throws you off guard, whether it comes from ghosts or demons, or what people can do to each other.
I hate being scared. Those “What’s Wrong with this Picture”-suddenly Regan pops up and screams tricks terrify me. I won’t click links unless I know where they’re going. What I DO like when reading or watching is that psychological element. If you push someone far enough into terror, what will they do?
My favorite aspects of reading and writing horror are those moments when everything is so surreal, you wonder how you got there. And once you know, you can never go back to the way things were.
Once you’re haunted, you’re always haunted.
Thank you again to Kristen for blogging with me! It’s been so much fun, but it’s not over yet, readers. Catch up with our stories in the DARK CARNIVAL anthology on PenandMuse.com:
Hello, Creeps and Ghoulies and welcome to the first in a three-part conversation with the darling and intimidate, Kristen Jett of PenandMuse.com, one of the lovely hosts of The Dark Carnival series. I didn’t even have to bribe her!
Kristen and I got to talking over Twitter about horror movies and it was love at first geek. So in the first bit of this mini series, Kristen shares with us how she got into horror, what scares her, and an extremely disturbing experience. You did read the title, right?
What is your earliest horror memory?
KJ: Somehow as a child, I managed to get myself into a room showing The Exorcist. To this day, no one’s sure how this happened – my mother swears she wouldn’t have let me watch such a thing at the tender age of five, while my father questioned if I snuck into the room unknown. (If you’ve ever watched me try to sneak around a house quietly, you probably won’t buy this answer.)
I have no answers. All I know is Regan MacNeil fascinated me. Her filthy mouth. Her savage changes from innocent to tainted. The lesson of just what could be lurking in the everyday shadows. The possibility of that being any girl. It could happen to me. I was too terrified to climb out of my blanket and leave the room, and I was too mesmerized to even consider not watching. This was my first encounter with horror – how fear could be entangled with so many other emotions to become something almost enjoyable.
What got you hooked on horror?
KJ: I’ve always been fascinated with the taboo. Ouija board? I was going to try it. Haunted railroad? Sure, I’ll go sit in the dark and wait for it. Since this activity wasn’t always encouraged as a child (I can’t imagine why), horror movies and books were my go to. I enjoyed the rush, the flirting with darkness, and the hint of the shadow world represented in them, but I don’t think I quite understood how powerful horror could be until I read Stephen King’s IT. I’d never met a book which could reduce me back to a little girl who needed a nightlight to go to sleep before. I’d never met a book that had me eying the sunset, knowing I was too superstitious to read the book past it. The concept that mere words could take over my life in such a way was addictive.
We could psychoanalyze this with the comparison of how fear is like sex. (I spent my first semester of college studying this. There’s a scientific reason why you should take your dates to horror movies, boys.) But there’s more to it than just that. Horror is about letting go – losing control, and finding the peace in that. Horror is about discovering the complexities of your shadow self. Most importantly, horror is about breaking all the rules.
Note that my horror addiction hasn’t ever brought me back to read IT again. Oh, I’ve looked at it in bookstores. I’ve eyed it like a long lost lover. And with one small shudder, I always turn away in a hurry to reach for the unknown – which is somehow safer than the known lands within the pages of IT.
What scares you?
KJ: Cornfields. I grew up in an one-stoplight farm town, but I still could never rationalize my fear of cornfields away. There could be people hiding in them. OR CREEPY LITTLE BLONDE CHILDREN TRYING TO SACRIFICE ME TO THEIR DEMON OVERLORD. Thanks, Stephen King. On a similar note, (as you may have guessed) I hate clowns. You can blame Stephen King for that too. Don’t let your children read IT when they’re in middle school, y’all. Just don’t.
Not to undermine my fear or cornfields and balloon toting clowns, I think people tend to be frightened by the unknown or the unexplainable. As a reader, I’m more frightened by what I can’t rationalize. I expect the unknown and the unexplainable in novels. But if I can rationalize it away in any form, I can quiet the fear. Otherwise, I’m awake at 4am during a snowstorm muttering about how there’s no such things as vampires and I’m sure they can’t possibly be on my roof as I cringe at the sound of every fallen snow bluff.
Do you have any real life horror stories?
KJ: Enough to fill a novel. I’m the bonafide supernatural expert in my friendships. I’m also not sure this is a title one should wear with pride, but… *shrugs*
My first encounter with the supernatural was a ouija board at a slumber party. Aren’t they all? (Hadn’t I learned anything from The Exorcist? Apparently not.) I didn’t believe one single bit, especially as we were doing it in the daytime. What ghosts are out in the daytime anyway? We were “talking” to a boy about our age, as I rolled my eyes at the whole ordeal. Did I believe in the supernatural? Yes. Did I believe that some spirit didn’t have anything better to do than come amuse a bunch of bossy little girls? Nope. Little naive KJ learned better when “Be my girlfriend” spelled out, and a wet kiss landed on her cheek – followed by visible (and touchable!) kisses on all her friends. A few high-pitched shrieks later, a run to the bathroom to inspect our faces, and that Ouija board was tucked firmly away.
My last encounter could be a novel by itself – I worked in a haunted office where I’d leave the room for thirty seconds to find my very heavy keys were on the middle of my desk, sitting on the papers I was just using, instead of in my zipped purse (that resided inside a tote bag)…when I was the only person in the building, had a parrot scream at me in what I think was German before telling me to go lock the door, and have been called into a dark corner by my coworker’s voice after I just saw her walk out the front door. (If you’re imagining my OH, HELL NO face, you’d be right there.) At the peak of the….activity…in the office, I refused to walk into two particular rooms by myself unless EVERY SINGLE LIGHT was on because you can’t exactly tell your boss “Oh by the way, there’s something very dead in the other room, and I don’t think he likes me very much.”
Not if you want to sound sane anyway.
Why do you think people are drawn to horror?
KJ: I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this, and I typically find them lacking. You know the sort: adrenaline, arousal, to escape the horror in their own lives, that sort of thing. Those do make up for a bit of it, but that’s a bit incomplete. I pick up any book to escape from my life – regardless of how good or not so good it may be at that time – so what is it that makes me pick up a horror novel over say a smutty romance? I’m certainly not an adrenaline junkie, so we can rule that out as the sole why.
I keep buying those horror novels and sitting through marathon hours of horror films because it fills a void. Even when they’re entirely implausible (Hey Halloween series, I’m looking at you.), they drum up real feelings. I can depend on horror to make me feel something, even if that’s just shock or fear. I can depend on horror to make me want to be something – to be brave, to be strong, to be a better character. I can depend on horror to keep me questioning why people behave the way they do, and what secrets are being unraveled in the dark. Other genres may make me think and feel as well, but they’re not dependable.
What would you like to see more of?
KJ: Intelligent horror. I think it’s become easy to use tropes in horror – and as enjoyable as the tropes are (and as much as I love campy horror novels!) – I really like to relate to a character. I don’t want to spend large portions of the book or movie rolling my eyes at the protagonist, or screaming WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? DO YOU WANT TO DIE?
Sure, the average person isn’t going to do the perfect thing in the face of sheer horror (says the girl who once stuck her head out of a window when someone knocked it in the middle of the night), but I expect a character to still mostly make rational decisions, and react in a way that makes them relatable to me.
Also, I’d LOVE to meet a character who really knows their supernatural stuff. I’m tired of amateur ghost hunters who walk into a building unprepared. (To get me into a truly haunted house, you’d have to promise me a supply of Holy water, Florida water, and sea salt as a bare minimum. I wouldn’t say no to one of those handy rock salt shotguns from Supernatural either.) I want smarts, wits, and spooks. Can’t a girl have it all?
What’s your favorite scary movie?
KJ: The Exorcist.
My guilty pleasure movies are: 30 Days of Night (because vampires who are monsters are a breath of fresh air), Wrong Turn (because I secretly want to be as tough as Eliza Dushku’s character), and Resident Evil (because if zombies ever attack, I hope I look as hot as Alice does). I’ll also never say no to a Scream movie, even if I’m the only one in the room who appreciates the clever parodies of the genre hidden within the film.
I hope you all enjoy this little chat with Kristen (I did, and now I’ll be salting my room this evening). Come back tomorrow–yes, it’s a THREE POST WEEK–when KJ and I will be talking and showing our favorite horror tropes.
Kristen Jett (or KJ) writes YA fiction – often with a touch of paranormal presence. She hopes if vampires exist that it’s the drop dead gorgeous kind, and not the eat you for dinner kind. She’s the co-founder of Pen and Muse + Pen and Muse Press, havens for those who love the written word. Feel free to scream with her on Twitter when girls run up the stairs instead of out of the front door in horror movies.