(Un)Dead in the Darkness

Hey there, friends and fans! Once again the power of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us! I hope this year is proving to be lovely and terrifying for each and every one of you. I’ve immersed myself in countless instances of new horror, and look forward to enjoying it for one more day before the world turns over to Christmas.

As a horror lover, I often consume all manner of spooky, scary, eerie, and dark stories. From ghosts and goblins to aliens and demons I have watched, read about, and listened to stories of it all. But through everything there is one creature that has captured my interest above all others. I’m speaking, of course, about the vampire.

Cultures the world over have told tales of the blood or life-energy draining creature that comes to us from the grave, spreading its chilling affliction. Sometimes these creatures are described as spirits who come and slowly pull life from the living, while others present us the image of corpses who dig from their earthy beds to consume the driving force of their dead relatives. Still others present us with the image that has become synonymous with the word. A pale skinned, dark clothed figure with menacing eyes and fangs long enough to pierce the throats of their living victims. These creatures rise in the night and drain the blood from unsuspecting mortals, often leaving death and infection in their wake.

Something about this creature has grabbed the imaginations of writers, music and film-makers, readers, and even avid television watchers for centuries. The most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has appeared in more than 200 instances of film and television alone. And we still can’t get enough.

But why? What is it about these immortal beings bent on taking our lives, our will, our mortality that makes us fascinated?

Earlier this year I  had a chance to sit down with Dacre Stoker, great grand nephew of the infamous Dracula author for a discussion on the latest Stoker contribution to the Dracula legacy, the novel Dracul, written with author J.D. Barker. Stoker had much to say on the reason vampires have remained such a popular legend throughout history.

“The vampire was actually created out of something that everybody in the world believes in or thinks at some time: and that is what happens in the afterlife,” Stoker said.

In times of death, disease, famine, growing scientific belief, and general open-mindedness, the legend of the vampire ran rampant and explained a lot of horrific death as well as the spread of illness. Stoker said he felt one thing that contributed to the power of the legend was the knowledge of the time.

People weren’t aware of how illness worked. Germs and viruses were knowledge far beyond the most advanced medicine. When an explanation came along that gave a possible insight into the death of a large number of people, it took root.

The legend of the vampire, in addition to help explain violent death and illness, was also increasingly appealing for those examining mortality.

“What if there was immortality,” Stoker said, noting that this question alone makes the appeal of the vampire grow exponentially.

In literature and film there are few creatures as versatile as the vampire. Even in the Anne Rice saga of bloodsucking creatures of the night, there are class systems and different beliefs and ways of life. From the high class vampires that blend into sophisticated society to those who live in tombs under graveyards, almost no two vampires are the same.

Personally I feel part of the appeal of the vampire is not only the fact that they do have such versatility, but what they stand for. For millennia humans  have been terrified of dying, death, and what lies beyond. The vampire stands as a doorway to that question. On the one hand, the vampire can dole death daily as a means to survive, literally taking the lives of others to continue their own, but they can also provide immortality to those they choose. This almost reversal of a divine power is enticing to anyone who has ever pondered the end of life and what else may exist. Stoker said this thought of death is one of the reasons vampires will always be a part of culture.

“It’s so deep rooted in our psyche, that quest to find out what happens after we’re dead. That’s why it [the vampire] never does go away.”

So, as the spooky season comes to a close over the next few hours (or days, depending on your interest in multi-cultural views), I invite you to ponder the vampire. Is it a cunning, shadowy demon, hiding in the misty ruins of a graveyard, or is it a suave and charming socialite who attends the highest social functions and feeds only on the upper class? Whether you fear a spirit who feeds on energy or a fanged physical being that slips into open windows in the night, I advise you to be on the lookout tonight, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Make sure the window latches tight, hold tight to your crucifix as you cross the darkened dooryard after work and, whatever you do, don’t invite someone you don’t know to cross your threshold.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

The Holiday Season

It is officially the Holiday Season, guys! Halloween has passed us by and we’re well into the second week of November. Less than three weeks stand between us and Thanksgiving, and just over a month and a half await before Saint Nick makes his way around the world to visit us all in jolly peace. As I’ve stated before, the holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. Of course, if I’m considering every holiday that I love, that means my favorite time of year is from October through the first week of July, but that’s beside the point. The typical holiday season is the focus of this post. The glorious time of year that brings us from All Hallows’ Eve, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, right into the start of a brand new year – which is really just a reset so we can do it all again, right?

Of course. Many people share my love of this time of year, with decorations galore and festivity so thick you can cut it with a knife, but are we celebrating quite like we should? It’s no secret to many of you that it seems like the older you get, the faster the years go by. It seems like just yesterday I was a senior in high school, when realistically my ten year reunion is next year. Yeah, that reminder hit me today. Talk about feeling old, but that’s life. In all it’s fast-paced glory. And what more could we ask for? We’re a species that is always looking to tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. But is that really a good thing? Our holidays can be great for us, but often we find ourselves thinking of the cleanup while everyone is tearing into gifts, instead of just letting the paper build up. We think about how to improve next year’s celebration before this year is even over. But, what’s the best way to improve the moment?

Be in it.

Slow down. Take it all in. Let the magnificent fun of the celebration seep into your very bones, and just … be there. I’ve always been one to enjoy the present, look to the future and remember the past. I’ve also, unfortunately, been known to compare present celebrations to those past, which can be dangerous and vastly unproductive. As much as I would like to caution everyone against this behavior, I can’t pretend I won’t likely be doing the same thing this year. This will be my family’s first holiday season without my grandmother. No matter what was going on in the world, she was the first person to make sure the holidays were planned for, often going above and beyond in every way she could, regardless of her own health or situation. My family has always been one that doesn’t always find it easy for everyone to get together at once, but the holidays always gave us that. My grandmother would plan for weeks on end to hold our celebrations on a day that would see as many of us as possible under the same roof. It meant the world to her.

As the holidays she loved most approach us with an ever-quickening pace, I want to hold on to the spirit of the season, the reason for the season, and the amazing way I always felt during this time of year growing up. Thay is the best way, in my opinion, to really enjoy the season.

The main reason I wanted to present this post goes back to what I said earlier – slow down. We are all guilty of that “tomorrow” attitude, being so worried about what the future holds that we can’t stop to take a breath and enjoy things right where we are. I’m quite guilty of this myself at times. Whenever I start to slide into that habit, I try to remind myself of the bible verse:

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” – Matthew 6:34

Of course, there, Jesus was cautioning us about worrying about money, food, and the like. He was telling us that God will provide these things for us, because we are his beloved children. I know that was the meaning behind this verse, but I do believe it can be applied to everything. Don’t spend your day off wondering what the following day of work will bring you. Don’t keep yourself up at night worrying about the morning commute. Don’t squander the opportunity to love and celebrate with your family this holiday season, worrying about things that are or are not going to come regardless of your concern.

When your family is right in front of your face, put aside everything else. Live in the moment. Make memories, instead of comparisons or regrets. As the holidays approach us, I think we should all take a moment to prepare ourselves for the amazing time we can have this year if we just celebrate the moment. Personally, I plan to take every moment in stride, enjoying my family, friends, and loved ones with every second. I do hope you’ll all join me in that resolution (oh no, it’s almost time for those again, too!) and make an effort to live in the moment this holiday season. There will never be another today, but there may be any number of tomorrows. Let them deal with themselves. Instead of wondering about that hypothetical future moment, let’s keep our brains trained on the moment we’re in. After all, it’s the only one we’re certain we’re going to have.

In light of the holiday season, I’d love to hear about the traditions you guys hold dear. I think as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach I’m going to write a post or record a podcast talking about the traditions that have helped make my own holidays so memorable. In the meantime, I thank each and every one of you all for reading my blog and listening to my podcast. If you can think of anyone that would enjoy either or both of them, I invite you to share away. I’m always happy to reach a new mind and enjoy new ideas, as well. Feel free to share this post, and share your ideas and traditions with me, either in the comments or by going to my contact or social media pages. I love hearing from you guys, and I appreciate the feedback more than you all know. I hope you had an amazingly spooky Halloween, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Until next time, friends and fans.

The featured image for this post is one of the dual Christmas trees in Bristol, Virginia from 2016.

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween, everyone!! I trust October has been a spectacularly spooky month for everyone, hopefully made all the much eerier thanks to this month’s book club read. William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for nearly half a century now, but the text itself is written in a fairly timeless manner that allows the spooks and scares within to still affect readers today. The subject of many controversies of both religious and moral natures, “The Exorcist” still finds a way to worm its way into the minds of those daring enough to delve into its demonic depths.

First and foremost I have to say that, as a horror buff, this book has long been on my list of must-reads. The fact that I got to read it in October, for my Halloween book club choice admittedly makes it even better to me. The way Blatty tackles the very difficult subjects of possession and its effects on those around the possessed are still admirable qualities of the book. The helplessness that seems to drip off the pages from both Chris MacNeil and Father Karras are enough to give the reader cause for tears with each new chapter. The fact that Reagan’s consciousness is completely absent for the majority of the novel is something that differs from other exorcism tales of similar caliber. I like that, rather than being made to feel sorry for her because she begs us to, we are made to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t get the option of asking. I think that was an incredibly wise choice on Blatty’s part.

The continuous allusion to Karras’s failed faith, and the hints that he had done or said something wrong that wasn’t explicitly laid out by those around him is one of the endearing qualities of the novel for me. I loved the constant struggle between his science and medicine-based training for psychiatry and his religious need to see the meaning behind things and try to save Reagan’s life – even her soul. One thing that has seen slight controversy and confusion for critics of the work is the reveal of what Karras’s guilt may stem from. It comes from the end of the novel, when the demon is pushing him and screaming at him, and it’s one word in a part of the novel that moves about as fast as a bullet car. “homosexual.” The demon tells Karras what he has feared throughout the entire novel; he is not worthy. He is, in fact, so corrupt that worms won’t eat his corpse. The fact that this has slipped by without scrutiny and analysis for so long, to me, is a testament to both the author and the readers. Blatty spun the web so well that we see Karras’s worth, despite his worry. Even the critics of a time when being gay was seen as incredibly taboo didn’t have much to say about this because Blatty made it obvious that this made Karras no less worthy, no less of a holy man. I am rather fond of that and applaud him for it. I would have liked to see a short scene with Karras finally feeling his worth, but of course that could be his death scene if one chooses to interpret it that way.

I like the research that was put into this book as well. So often popular culture spins exorcism as an easy thing to get. You just tell a priest you  have a demon and soon there’s holy water and pea soup everywhere. But that’s not the case. The Church (notice that organizational classification) has rendered exorcism as a very taboo last resort. There are definitely hoops that must be jumped through and proof that has to be gathered before priests will be bringing The Host into your house and trying to rend the devil from within. The fact the Blatty emphasized that heavily here, and even presented us with a knife’s edge that could have led to Reagan’s death had the church gone in the other direction are further reasons I respect his work to no end. I loved the use of other languages, mentions of both religious and occult texts, and the overall feeling of added stress the reader is given at having to follow this proof-gathering quest. Had Karras been able to walk in and say “yeah, let’s do an exorcism” I don’t think the book would be nearly the great piece of work it is today.

There were a couple of things I had problems with, of course. One thing that I’m sure many of you noticed ( at least I hope it wasn’t just me) was Blatty’s style. He was great at setting up a scene for the most part, but there were times when his execution fell flat. A lot of times in the novel I found myself wondering why such pointless dialogue and irrelevant detail made it into the scene. I don’t know if Blatty just wasn’t good at dialogue, or if that was just his way. I haven’t read anything else from him yet, so I may have to return to that question at a later date. I also would have liked some sort of clear resolution of the strange priest that appeared to Karras in his room before Merrin was approved. We get a very tense conversation for a strange, crutched man who ends in Karras being warned to leave the MacNeils alone and to beware of Sharon, and then he wakes up, leaving us to think the conversation was just a dream before he finds the cigarette in his ashtray. One obvious interpretation would be that it was a nightmare visit from the possessing demon in an attempt to scare him away, but why the strange fat priest, why the crutches, why have him smoke the same imported cigarette as Chris, and why the warning to beware of Sharon? Am I missing something? One more minor thing I have a slight confusion about; Pazuzu is mentioned by Merrin, the statue of Pazuzu is the forefront of the beginning of the novel, and the name comes up again, but I don’t recall the demon or even Merrin explicitly saying that Pazuzu is the entity tormenting Reagan. I only bring this up because it has somehow become all but canon with the novel and the culture surrounding it, but I never got the solid affirmation I expected.

Regardless of those things I do think this book is well worth the read. For any lover of horror or even just mystery, this novel will keep you on your toes. I know there are a lot of religious arguments against it, but I don’t know if I understand that. The book certainly doesn’t encourage witchcraft or seeking demonic possession. If anything it does the opposite. Maybe it’s just the fictional representation that can be interpreted as supporting the attempts at exorcism. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, follow your own inclination when considering whether or not to read the novel. I recommend it, particularly keeping in mind the faults I mentioned. As always, I look forward to everyone’s contribution and comments. Feel free to comment on any and all posts or send me a private message anytime (you can send me a message on the website, and you’re welcome to send Facebook messages or DMs on Twitter). I look forward to conversation and further book suggestions! Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit tomorrow night to protect yourself, and keep in mind that, for myself and many others, Wednesday means Christmas will take over everything!!

October book announcement

Good Monday, everyone. I know life is too much like a horror story these days, but it’s time to make that October book announcement. This month I wanted to focus on something terrifying, yet fictional. Something we can feel afraid of, but understand that, when we close the book, the terror ends there.

To do this, I chose the novel that inspired the movie that has long been called the more terrifying movie in history (not to mention the subsequent television series, which just began its second season); William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.” The novel tells the story a young girl who is possessed by the demon Pazuzu who threatens not only her immortal soul, but those of her mother and the priests who attempt to save her. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.

This novel and its franchise has been scaring audiences for more than four decades and has inspired multiple sequels/retellings, as well as the sequel series and some of the most iconic cult horror scenes and references in pop culture history.

If demonic possession and terrifying scenes of religious desecration are too much for you, you may not want to sit this one out. As a Christian man, I understand if anyone wants to sit out. Fortunately the novel is fiction so, as a horror author, I’ll be checking it out for posterity and research.

As always, feel free to comment and message me your suggestions for future reviews. I look forward to speaking with everyone who participates! Expect this review to go up on Halloween, naturally, for fright’s sake. I hope you’ll join me in reading this scary novel, and I hope you enjoy!

All Hallows’ Eve

In just one week Halloween will be on us again. The time of the year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest is fast approaching. As always, this time of year is one that both excites and disappoints. The excitement comes from an extreme love of all things horror. My entire life has been full of a love of the paranormal, supernatural, spooky and strange. Legends and myths of monsters and their interactions with humans have always fascinated me.

I can remember being a kid and always having an extreme love for monsters, ghosts and the like. Of course vampires have always been my personal favorite. There is just something about the sly, charming and unnatural life in the shadows that has always drawn me in. I don’t really know what sparked my love of bloodsuckers, but it’s something that tends to consume my whole life at times. I’ve got tones of movies on them, at least a few dozen books on the subject and I’ve written extensively on it myself. I’ve always had the dream of seeking out one of the historic myths to see what I get from it. But that’s a story for another time.

The disappointment I spoke of comes from the background I have with the holiday itself. Growing up in the 90’s I had the best Halloween experience. Movies were still scary, decorations were still terrifying and the sense of horror still surrounded the holiday. Any given year you could still turn on the television and see Disney’s Halloween Treat, accompanied by real horror movies and shows about hauntings that weren’t all just camera tricks and jokes. Now movies can be frightening, stories can still have a nice turn and haunted houses are all the rage. But it isn’t exactly the same. Halloween decorations now are more often goofy and silly, while the commercial end of the holiday has become a joke. Trick or treating is even less what it was in my day. The magic of the holiday does still exist, however.

For me it comes from keeping a love of the unexplained, the unexplainable and trying as hard as possible to seek out all things frightening. In my opinion, if you work in that manner, keep yourself immersed in the mystery of life, the magic of the world still remains. What I’m curious about is, how do you keep the holiday? I know things are different in other countries and even other states from my own, so I want to hear about your traditions. What sort of things set this time of year apart in your lives? Do you go to graveyards and haunted houses looking for ghosts and werewolves and things that go bump in the night? Or do you put out jack-o-lanterns, either made from pumpkins or turnips (as they started) to keep away the dead?  Let me know in the comments what sort of traditions you have for Halloween and what the season means to you. I look forward to hearing about some traditions from other places and other families!

Halloween Collection!!!

Just as a reminder on this most epic of holidays, I have been featured in a very awesome Halloween collection of shorts and I would love for everyone to get it and let me know what you think. Below are links for both a paid and free version of the collection (the free one is in PDF format) and I would love it if everyone would get it, share it and read at least my story (because I want you all to love it) and let everyone know about it. There are a lot of authors in here who really deserve the recognition, so let’s help them out!!!

FWG Presents: Hallowe’en Drabbles (FREE FICTION)

http://www.amazon.com/Jack-o-Lantern-Tales-Treats-Tricks-Halloween-ebook/dp/B00OZ1SI36/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414763282&sr=8-1&keywords=Jack-o-lantern+tales+of+treats+and+tricks