Horror Stories: A Literary Tradition

In order to welcome Halloween, here are a few classic horror short stories worth exploring. These Victorian writers are particularly interesting, and their work is old. However, many of the stories these men wrote paved the way for the modern horror we see in bookstores this time of year.

The first of these writers is M.R. James. James attended King’s College in Cambridge, England in 1882. After graduating, James became Provost. He enjoyed writing ghost stories purely for entertainment, and at Christmas time, James would invite students up to his study to listen. The students would nestle down around a fire with hot drinks, and eagerly listen to James relay his stories. This tradition continued for years, and his first compilation was published in 1904. M.R. James’s best ghost stories include:

  • “Lost Hearts”
  • “The Ash-Tree”
  • “Number 13”
  • “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
  • “The Rose Garden”

In addition, H.P. Lovecraft, a contemporary of James, used similar writing techniques. Both of these stimulating writers engage each of the senses, causing the reader to literally cringe over certain descriptions. Lovecraft strikes fear in his readers by showing them the horror of the unknown. People are only afraid of what they cannot understand, and Lovecraft reminds you of this buried fear. Some of Lovecraft’s best tales are:

Both James and Lovecraft played major roles in bringing the ghost story tradition to life in the 20th Century. They inspired famous horror writers of our time, such as Stephen King, and BBC still airs cinematic versions of James’s stories in December.  We should remember their tradition whenever Halloween costumes plague the racks at Wal-Mart or when Paranormal Activity -15 comes out in theaters. Let’s make this Halloween a classy one, and remember a couple of the writers who inspired the modern horror story tradition.

Review of “Damned” by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuck, an American novelist and freelance journalist known most for his novel “Fight Club”, which was later made into a feature film directed by David Fincher, is a transgressional fiction writer who has written other successful novels, such as “Invisible Monsters” and “Choke”. His novels, mostly fiction but heavily influenced by Palahniuck’s personal life, are notorious for their “illicit” and somewhat “disturbing” content, of which was the cause for the initial rejection of his first publication attempts. Although his novels received little recognition when first published, his works grew in popularity due to a cult following years after the publication and movie production of “Fight Club”. Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel, “Damned”, is a story about a 13-year-old, Madison, daughter of two very famous hollywood actors, who awakes finding herself in Hell. The novel unfolds as Madison explores Hell, which is similar to that described by Dante’s “Inferno”, as she attempts to find out why she went to hell when she died, and exactly how she died. This novel cleverly portrays the thoughts, actions, and internal controversy of the protagonist as she gradually recounts the memories of her life leading to her death while associating with those also in Hell. The story emphasizes the theme of finding one’s personal identity, alluded to in the passage “It’s stunning how having nothing to lose will build your self-confidence”. Palahniuck also writes, “In Hell, it’s our attachments to a fixed identity that tortures us”. Although this book provides an entertaining read, it’s obvious Palahniuck made a careful attempt to write something fresh and creative, yet failed to gradually build the enthusiasm of the plot, making it tempting to put down at times. Although the climax and twist at the end of the novel are quite creative, its significance will alienate readers who are not familiar other famous literature, mainly British. I would mainly recommend this book to famous literature readers, but not particularly to casual readers who would probably prefer his earlier works more so than “Damned.”

The Host: a Review

“The fight for your world has ended. The battle for your future has begun.” Look out, fans of the Twi-verse, because Stephenie Meyer has another hit coming up fast and hard. In Meyer’s novel The Host the threat is no longer warring vampires and werewolves, but aliens. No, not the squishy little green guys the mainstream has had us come to expect, but an enemy so powerful they take over the world with humans none the wiser. To live in a world where aliens with human skins called “Souls” outnumber the natural born humans and any second could be your last as a free being would be a living nightmare. This is Melanie Stryder’s reality. In an attempt to save her aunt and cousin who are hiding in Chicago, Melanie is ambushed by a group of Souls and is implanted with a Soul named Wanderer. Unlike the other human hosts, Melanie refuses to be pushed aside and slowly fade away. After Wanderer witnesses Melanie’s memories, she and Melanie form an unlikely partnership as they set off to find the humans they have both come to love.

This novel has all the elements we’ve come to expect from Meyer: action, adventure, and an impossible love triangle. Once again Meyer has pulled these elements into an entertaining thriller that makes us believe that love truly can conquer all. I highly recommend everyone, Meyer fan or not, to put aside your opinions of the Twi-verse and dive in. For those who want to visually dive into yet another Meyer world, you’re in luck. On 29 March 2013, the takeover begins as theaters across the country release the movie adaptation to the masses. So grab a copy and prepare yourself for the takeover.

Get Out of the Writing Rut: Writing Exercise

Have you ever wanted to write something, but as soon as you sit down inspiration simply will not come? Don’t fret. This is common for many writers, but to skip any future afternoons spent staring at the wall begging a muse to bestow you with a stroke of creative genius, I have included a writing exercise that I have used over the years to get out of a writing rut.

First, get four pieces of paper that are all different colors. If you do not have this take four different colored pens or markers and color the back of each sheet a different color.

Then take one of the sheets and cut it into four sections. On one section create a character including name and personality. On another section come up with a setting (a rural town in the middle of May, etc). On the third section write out a plot. On the final section write a specific mood you want the story to convey (happy, sad, mysterious, etc). Do this with the other three sheets, coming up with different characters, settings, plots, and moods each time.

Now take all the characters and put them in a hat, shoebox, anything that you can mix them up and choose one at random (No peeking!). Do this for the settings, plots, and moods, but be sure to put each section in a different box. Once you have chosen your four slips of paper make sure each piece of paper is a different color or has a different color dot.

You should have four story elements. Your challenge is to use these to come up with a story. Don’t be scared if they don’t make sense together, that’s the fun part.

Happy writing!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: a Review

“We are infinite.” The tagline for the national bestseller and critically acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower says it all. The novel, published by Stephen Chbosky over a decade ago, has become a household name to most young adults. It is written in the main character, Charlie’s, point of view in letters to an unknown friend describing Charlie’s anxiety about starting high school, meeting new people, and ultimately, about the two seniors that accept him as part of their group and show him how to live life and accept who he really is inside. Charlie faces many trials and finds himself facing many of the experimentations that most adolescents must go through in order to really know themselves. The novel is an enlightening look into the mind of an extraordinary student that isn’t even aware of his own worth. It is a must read for all young adults that have ever gone through something difficult or oppressing, which, of course, is all of us. With the novel being made into a feature film to be released on September 20 of this year, there will be plenty of publicity about it, but don’t let it’s newfound popularity discourage you. The film, starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller, will just be a bonus after diving into the wonderful world that Stephen Chbosky has produced. And, for the movie buffs out there, the film’s screenplay and directing are both being done by Stephen Chbosky so the film should run very close to the book. So, grab a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and get ready for the film on September 20!

Remain Silent – Katrina Clark

The last time I really talked to my grandma was three summers ago.  Since I was only nine years old, I had to stay at my grandparents’ house during the day while my mother went to work.  It was better than having to go to camp with a bunch of kids I didn’t know even if my grandparents’ house did always smell like cleaning supplies. I loved my Grandma B dearly.  We didn’t have much in common, except we liked to watch Chuck Norris kick ass on Walker, Texas Ranger.  My Grandma B could probably take on Chuck Norris, or at least she would have tried.  I liked to listen to her stories about the battles she won as a child.

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Interview with Philip Graham

Philip Graham is the author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and he is the co-author of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and the forthcoming Braided Worlds. His most recent book is The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney’s dispatches from Lisbon. Graham’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the Washington Post. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, two Illinois Arts Council awards, and the William Peden Prize, Graham teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a founding editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter.
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