The Literature of Love… Scary Love

(c) Prawny

(c) Prawny

Muses, I want to share with you my love inspired reading list. There is no better day to share this list than on Valentine’s Day. Ah, when romance is in the air, I get this dizzy-tingly sensation in my head and a flutter in my stomach… a response also known as nausea.

What, did you think I was actually going to share a list of my favorite Romance stories? You did!? Oh, sweet muffins… NO! (*elbows Chris in the ribs* “Stop laughing!”) The list that I am sharing today is of love inspired horror stories. Nothing says “I Love You” more than a sharp object through the heart.

In all seriousness, authors who are able to combine these two distinct and contrasting genres within one story are able to weave a tale that leaves readers completely out of touch with their emotions. The ratio of fear and love must be balanced to elicit a sense of uncertainty on whether one is to feel a sense of romance or terror.

Love camouflages itself with a sparkly, warm exterior. However, underneath its disguise, love is a dark, murky beast that lures in those naive and unaware. When you let your guard down and invite love in, the one you open yourself up to holds your beating heart in his or her hands. The organ, which is sparking your life, is to be treated with a tender touch. Yet, humans are not gentle creatures by nature. Uncaring emotions always surface and your delicate heart is easily crushed by the fingers of the one you trusted with every ounce of your being.

Love is patient. Love is observant. Love waits for the perfect time to strike. Love turns into the most horrific of monsters. Love will break you…

On this day that celebrates romance, read something that will make your heart race from both tenderness and terror. Read a story that exploits the unmerciful nature of love:

1. Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates
2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
6. Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen
7. Northanger Abby by Jane Austen
8. The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allen Poe
9. The Mask by Robert Chambers

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Do you have a favorite story that combines the romance and horror genre? Comment below.


Writing Dark Stuff

Writing Dark StuffAmanda recently wrote a post on getting rid of our writing filters and I’m still thinking about the topic.  My writing friends are not surprised when I pull a twisted, blackened story out of the stuff between my ears, but my relatives are always taken aback. I’m the responsible one, the nice one, the compassionate empathetic one. I laugh easily and smile often (regardless of my perpetual RBF). I look harmless.

But there’s a part of me that is happy to write stories that horrify my mother and make my children a little nervous. I research serial killers and psychopathology. I spent several months learning all I could about long-term captivity and Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t mind talking about autopsies and the Body Farm at dinner (I assure you they very much mind listening).

Joanna Penn has commented several times on her videos that people ask how such a happy, smiling woman can write about things like corpse desecration.  I understand how she feels. There’s something about the dark side that feeds my inner storyteller. I wish I could remember who said this (if you know the reference, please let me know), but someone commented that comedians are often quite depressed and people with bad childhoods often learn to entertain. He or she posits that people with normal lives or happy childhoods might wander into the blacker side of storytelling. I suspect most horror writers are quite normal. I don’t think, if you met me in person, you’d suspect I’ve written about a serial killer’s first time or the calculated revenge of pets.

My filters are to avoid writing anything that might offend family and more delicate friends. For the most part I don’t write gruesome, but turning off that filter on occasion has led me to a few pieces I’m quite happy to have written. The freedom to write what comes to mind is the best writing gift I’ve ever given myself (and credit is due to the Muses for encouraging it).

So why am I telling you this? It’s because I hope all writers will allow themselves space and time to write what comes. You don’t ever have to show it to someone or publish it, but putting the words down is a gift to your inner writer. I think there are two reason for that. The first is that you are getting beyond your filters and thoughts of “I can’t write that!” The second is  that, since writing begets writing, you are opening yourself up to other story ideas if you let yourself go.

I do have hard lines I don’t cross. Ever. But they are a choice rather than a filter imposed upon me by someone else. I hope that makes sense. This post is as much my reaction to Amanda’s encouragement as it is my hope for fellow writers. It’s written in first person because I believe we are not alone in our anxieties when it comes to the words we write. It won’t kill me to be vulnerable, right? And if it helps someone, so much the better.

What I want to say is to write what is in you to write. If that’s zombies, cannibalism, human experiments a la Dr. Mengele, or (insert squeamish thought here), then write it. Leave it in a corner of your hard drive forever if you want, but all writing is good practice and opening yourself up to writing without filters teaches your writer brain to be more forthcoming.

Have you written anything you feel might horrify someone close to you? How difficult was it to write?

Write or Robots will take over the World: An Evening with Chuck Wendig

(c) Amanda Headlee

(c) Amanda Headlee

At the time of this writing, it is 9:09 pm EDT on August 17, 2015. My brain is fueled by espresso and California Tortilla’s Chips & Queso (that shit is liquid gold). I just spent the evening listening to Chuck Wendig talk about his amazing new novel, Zeroes. So let it be known that it’s about to get all crazy up in here!

First off, if you don’t know Chuck Wendig, stop reading this now and go to his website, Terribleminds. You’re welcome.

Now that we have established that and you are more privy to his world of writing, let me start by saying his book launch of Zeroes at the Doylestown Bookshop was Earth shattering. Not only was the night filled with an except reading from his latest novel along with a Q&A session, but he discussed his writing process, the imminent possibility of A.I.s taking over the world, and terrifying realities of the interconnectivity to EVERYTHING via the Internet. Needless to say, the little story minions in my head started conjuring up ideas and I had to poke them with a sharp stick to get them to shut up so that I could hear Chuck speak.


His views on the horror genre closely resemble mine, and to hear that validation was something that I am very thankful for. As I have said in other articles on the topic, “horror” is not necessarily a genre, but an emotion. It can transverse all genres and rear its ugly head when least expected. A tactic, that when properly used, will keep a reader fully engaged with the story and embed a scary memory in their brain. It is the most primal emotion that humans feel:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. — H.P. Lovecraft

A strong tool that all writers should equip in their arsenal for world domination via books. Chuck is one who wields horror like a young, charming psychopath who found a shiny, new machete in his daddy’s dresser drawer and has a vendetta against his hometown. He meticulously plans out the invocation of fear in his stories. All actions of “horror” are precisely placed to generate the most explosive experience of terror in the reader. Using horror in his work is like “turning the volume from 0 to 10”. The fear tactic is expertly played.

Authenticity vs. Fact

Chuck indicated that research is tricky, and while important (especially when writing on a topic that you are not a subject matter expert), with fiction there is an allowable amount of leeway. In most cases, authenticity is favored more than cold hard facts. True accuracy is not always riveting. Case in point, his novel Zeroes delves into realm of hacking. Hacking itself, for an observer, can be rather boring. Hacking in the real world is someone sitting at a computer screen for hours upon end stringing together lines of code. Chuck equated this to an author being observed writing a novel. Watching paint dry is more exciting — unless you spying on a writing Harlan Ellison sitting in a certain 5th Avenue bookstore window. TV shows, like the CSI types, tend to play up the suspense and make hacking look like a quick push of a button to blow up a helicopter or cut the electric grid in a major metro area. Unrealistic portrayals. Scenes like these are where authenticity is favored over factual content. The authenticity is more exciting than reality.

One is writing fiction, after all. So some fictitious license is acceptable. Just as long as your creative spin is believable.

The Thunderdome

How do you come up with your ideas? Chuck’s response, “How do you get them to stop?”. The plague that most writers experience: over influx of ideas that traumatizes the brain because we can’t find the time / energy / finger strength to write down every tidbit. Chuck alluded to his selection process for choosing an idea as if his brain were the Thunderdome. Whichever idea survives the odds against the others (the idea that resurfaces) is the victor and tends to be the one worthy for a story. A good analogy for any writer who struggles to pinpoint one concept to follow through on: choose the idea that resurfaces over and over again. That may be your brain’s subliminal way of saying, “Hey dummy, pay attention to this one. It’s some good stuff!”

Evolve your Writing Process

Towards the end of the evening, Chuck made a rather keen remark about the writing process that all writers (nonfiction, fiction, business, etc.) need to heed:

Writers should always modify their writing process

As writers, we are continually evolving and adapting to the world around us. Thus, our writing process should grow along with our evolution. The writer we are today is not the same writer we were 10 years ago nor will become 10 years in the future. Your writing process must be agile and reflect your growth. A dormant, unchanging writing process will never lead to success. There is nothing learned or gained from stagnation. The biggest take away from Chuck’s discussion is to allow your writing process to be fluid. It should be adaptable and agile, morphing into a form that differs year to year to reflect the amazing writer that you are evolving into.

This is his best piece of advice from the evening.


I lied. The best piece of advice is: “Don’t kick the robots. They remember.”




Amanda Headlee and The Martin Lastrapes Show Podcast Hour

Martin Lastrapes Podcast with Amanda Headlee

Our own Amanda Headlee recorded a podcast with Martin Lastrapes not long ago and it aired this morning. Martin had lots of nice things to say about The Sarcastic Muse and Amanda herself. He quoted from her post, Where Is Your Telescope, and said the interview was one of his favorite conversations on the podcast.

In addition to discussing horror and the horror stories that they love, Amanda and Martin talk about pantsing vs outlining, indie vs traditional, the differences between writing short stories vs writing novels, and H. P. Lovecraft.

Martin was having so much fun he let the interview run to 90 minutes. Listen to the podcast here on Martin’s site or at iTunes, Stitcher, or here:


What I learned about writing from Jurassic Park

Dinosaurs have eaten my brain!  Every time a Jurassic Park movie comes out, I just get sucked even more into the dinosaur world.  I really should have become a paleontologist…  On November 27th the Jurassic World trailer, the 4th installment of the Jurassic Park series, was released.  If you haven’t seen it, click here.  Please don’t come at me with all of the inaccuracies.  I have already seen them, vented on a paleontology blog, and left it go in anticipation for the June 2015 film release.  I am a diehard JP fan after all.

Cloned Dinosaurs: the perfect muse (c) Sarah_Ackerman

Cloned Dinosaurs: the perfect muse (c) Sarah_Ackerman

Coincidently, on the day that the Jurassic World trailer released, at The Sarcastic Muse, we posted about books we are thankful for.  I was told – at the threat of having my “experiments” set free – that there was a 2 book limit.  Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton was sadly cut from the list.

Therefore today, I am saying poo-poo to the other muses and dedicating this ENTIRE post to the wonderment that is Jurassic Park and the epiphanies I had whilst reading it…

I can remember the first time I held the book like it was yesterday (cue wavy visuals for a flashback scene):   I was a wee lass entering my middle school’s library for the first time.  The scent of old books was pungent on the air while the sounds of harps gleefully filled my ears, this place was my equivalent to heaven.  Expansive collections of books lined the room from floor to ceiling.  The card catalog towered in the center of the room, begging to be rifled through.  While the rest of my classmates shuffled about, not quite sure what to make of this treasure room, a white paperback with the silhouette of a Tyrannosaurs Rex paperback caught my eye.  I couldn’t believe what I had just seen —  Jurassic Park was a book?!?!  A few months prior I had just seen the thrilling movie of the same title on the big screen.  Lo and behold, here it sat before me in written form.  In my 10 years of life I was never more stunned with happiness: someone turned that beautiful movie into a book!

I was so naive back then.

Needless to say, I scooped up the text and devoured it in two evenings.  Once finished it, I sweet talked my parents into procuring a copy for my collection.  They were hesitant to allow a girl of such an innocent age read a gruesome book filled with dinosaur feasting carnage, but they really had nothing to fear.  I turned out somewhat right in the head…

After I got over the initial shock of realizing the book existed BEFORE the horribly inaccurate movie (velociraptors are in reality the size of a large chicken!), I continued to re-read the book and have done so every six months since my eyes first graced the story’s pages.  You may call me obsessed… and you may be right… but my obsession is so much more than that.  It is a paradox.  My absolute favorite book in existence is horribly flawed!

Epiphany #1: Make the Imagination Reality

I have so much useless dinosaur facts crammed in my noggin’ that unless you are a fellow paleo-nut, you most likely don’t care. Reading Jurassic Park opened my eyes to the creative liberties that authors can take with their writing.  Crichton made a lot of errors with the dinosaurs and the science of the cloning.  If you look at his story with a scientific eye, the whole story is preposterous and almost impossible to finish.  However, if you turn that scientific mind off, you fall into a brilliant world of genetic magic filled with horrific monsters that want nothing more than to feast on your flesh.  It is really a fantastical story that broke the mold of Sci-fi / Fantasy / Horror stories of the 1990’s.  Crichton took those fiction genres to a new level  with Jurassic Park, despite being factually incorrect in almost everything.  In the realm of fiction, an author can do almost anything – as long as they make the story believable (and can quiet the fact-checkers).  Crichton accomplished this.  Jurassic Park is a completely believable work of fiction.

Epiphany #2: Flaws will happen

The flaws in the 1st edition of Jurassic Park are abundant.  There is not a chapter that survived my rebellious teenage years of correcting errors with a red pen in my copy of the book.  The typos, grammatical issues, and even a character mixups (Genaro hands himself a grenade to instead of to Muldoon) are evident within the pages.  At first I was a little disgusted that something could be published with so many problems, but then I realized the severity of my criticism.  There is nothing in this world that is perfect.  And Crichton wrote one hell of a story.  All of the flaws, while many, were honestly minor in comparison to the entirety and magnitude of the novel.  Minimal flaws are acceptable to readers as long as the plot and characters are strong.

(If you have major flaws and a weak piece of fiction… then that’s another story and you should probably get some help to rework your story before publishing.)

Epiphany #3: Carnage and Memory

Jurassic Park paved my road with blood.  The macabre, I have been intrigued with that my whole life, but not so much with the gore.  Crichton’s book was the first “gory” book that I had read… once I got my hands on King at the age of 12, it was all downhill from there, but that’s another story.  Crichton’s descriptions of the dinosaurs hunting, killing, and eating is mesmerizing. He accomplished “show, don’t tell” with all of his action scenes.  Every little sentence seems to be planned out on how to evoke the strongest emotion of fear or thrill out of the reader.

There is one scene that stands out to me because of the language of the prose and the emotions that flare from reading it.   The scene is when Tim slides the baby Raptor over to the group of adults.  As the reader, you think that the adults will be lovingly distracted by the little cutie… but no!  They freaking EAT HER!  Crichton’s depiction of the “baby raptor happy meal” was so visual that his words burned like a film into my memory, and I can recite the scene almost word for word.  The scene was rather poetic, down to the little tiny blood splatters that paint the floor when the two adults play tug of war with the baby, pulling both of her legs in opposite directions…

Oops, sorry, this is The Sarcastic Muse blog and not my personal horror blog!  I will refrain from anymore gore (and spoilers).  I should probably wrap up this post before I face the wrath of Robyn and Michelle for getting Chris all riled up over scary stuff.  He and I are cut from the same cloth.  It is never good when the two of us are on a horror tangent at the same time…

If you are a writer and a fellow JP-nut, you must read the book.  If you are not a JP-nut, read it anyways.  And read it twice:  First time for fun and the second time with a critical writer’s eye.  Then sit back and contemplate on how the two reads affect you.  Do you have the same conclusions as I have?  Or do you have something entirely different?

What are your feelings on “creative liberties”?

Are you able to look past flaws (typos, grammatical errors, etc.) in a story if the plot and characters are compelling?

Do you have any books that you have read that have affected you in this way?