Category Archives: Halloween

How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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B is for Bat (Art Nouveau – #AtoZChallenge)


by Lillian Csernica on April 3, 2017

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Of the many popular motifs in Art Nouveau jewelry, I have to say bats are among the strangest. Flowers? Sure. Insects? OK. Abstract geometric designs? No problem. But bats?

Thanks to the erudite Jewelry Nerd, you will find some possible answers here.

There are plenty of examples of this particular critter done in various precious metals and gems. I’ve included only a few. I guess the fashionable ladies of La Belle Epoque must have included some Goths!

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Bat pin of plique-a-jour enamel, pearl, diamond, with ruby eyes, 18k gold, 4″ wing span

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Bracelet by Philippe and Marcel Wolfers.

From 1stdibs.com: “A superb and iconic art nouveau portrayal of a Parisian goddess of the Demi-Monde. She has style roots going back to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. The very revealing décolleté, flowing hair, bat wings and diamond Aurora head dress suggestively alludes to pagan pleasures and entertainments of the night, the practitioners only heading home with the dawn.”

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Art Nouveau Japanese Inlaid Damascene “Bat and Crescent” necklace in gold and silver.

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Art nouveau Czech bat pin with vaseline rhinestones.

Yes, that’s right. Vaseline rhinestones. Prior to the Cold War, jewelers could use uranium in the creation of certain types of art glass. The results resembled the appearance of the petroleum jelly as it was produced at that time.

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The Wonders of Digital Fiction Publishing


by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2017

 

Michael Willis is a  lovely man who treats writers with respect. I’ve sold three short stories to DFP so far, and I look forward to submitting more work there in the future.

David Tallerman, another DFP writer, has encouraged me to share his excellent blog post on the merits of working with DFP.

10 Reasons You Should Be Submitting to Digital Fiction Publishing

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Why You Want These in Your Treat Bag


by Lillian Csernica on October 28, 2016

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Just 99 cents from now until Halloween!

Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Also just 99 cents until Halloween!

Suzie Lockhart and Digital Horror Fiction are thrilled to present 32 chilling tales of terror from some of the best authors in horror. Killing It Softly includes stories from New York Times best selling authors Nancy Holder and Elaine Cunningham, together with more shocking short nightmares from the finest award winning female writers in the genre.
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Trip Report: Con-Volution 2016


by Lillian Csernica on October 6, 2016

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I had a wonderful time! As always, I was sharing a room with my usual traveling companion and parter in crime, Patricia H. MacEwen. There was a lot to see and do, between the panels and BoFs and the evening events and the hands-on workshops. Big kudos to Con Chair Jason and his Mighty Minions! (My apologies for not getting these links put in sooner. Last week included five appointments, two meetings, plus all the usual chaos.)

It’s Shirley Been 100 Years

I’m very happy to have been appointed moderator for this panel. I had to catch up on some background reading, which brought to my attention just how prolific Shirley Jackson really was. As primary breadwinner for the family, she had to keep the work going out and the money coming in.  At the same time she had to shoulder the load expected of a ’50s housewife. All four children were her responsibility, along with every household chore.  What an inspiration!

Kaiju, As Far As The Eye Could See!

This panel brought me the best of both worlds. I got to participate, drawing on my fascination with Japanese culture. Then I had the pleasure of listening to my fellow panelists and learn from their amazing expertise. Wanda Kurtcu made an excellent moderator, keeping us all in line when the synergy of ideas got too rowdy!

Fear of the Other

The diversity of panelists made for a variety of perspectives on this topic. We were happy to welcome Garrett Calcaterra to his very first con! He got thrown in at the deep end, and he acquitted himself very well. Keep an eye out for his YA fantasy series, The Dreamwielder Chronicles. The first two books are available now!

Stranger Things BoF

I managed to catch the last thirty minutes. Lively and intelligent discussion of our favorite characters. Debates about their true motivations and upcoming loyalties or desertions. Much love for the Christmas lights as a communications device! Many thanks to Mark Gelineau, our host and moderator.

DIY Room: Monster Pop-Up Cards

It’s not often I have time at cons to go indulge myself in a programming event just for fun. Trish Henry displayed her amazing skills at paper sculpture by walking us through the basics of making a pop-up card. We started with a heart. From there people made butterflies, a dragon, even a house! Trish provided plenty of colored paper, glitter pens, other decorative supplies, and chocolate eyeballs! Does it get any better than that?

Green Room

Minions #1, #2, and #3 provided simple, hearty fare that was ready and waiting no matter what time I wandered in. Chili over potatoes both baked and quartered, veggie pasta with an excellent sauce, and much to my utter screaming delight, my absolute favorite: homemade biscuits with sausage gravy. Snack baggies held a choice of popcorn, M&Ms, and even wasabi peas!

The Party Floor!

When I first got off the elevators on my way to my hotel room, I all but walked into a sign that proclaimed the hotel’s policy of keeping things quiet between nine p.m. and seven a.m. That made me burst out laughing. I was on Three, where the Quiet Zone started. The Party Floor was on Two, and it was crowded! Walking the big circle brought me to a new sign every three or four doors, heralding another party with another theme. On Friday night I spent most of the evening hanging out in Kevin and Andy’s ’60s themed bash. On Saturday night the ConJose party was the place to be. Gorgeous lighting effects, lots of comfy furniture, and some salted dark chocolate caramels that were divine!

I’m looking forward to Con-Volution 2017, at the San Ramon Marriott!

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The Age of Monsters


by Lillian Csernica on September 28, 2016

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I hope to see lots of you folks during Con-Volution this weekend at the Hyatt Regency SFO  in Burlingame, CA. With Halloween just around the corner, I’ve been working on some fun freebies. See me at a panel, catch me roaming around the hotel, and you will walk away with some fun, useful, and downright eye-catching items.
And yes, I do sign body parts, provided the Medical Examiner is already done with them!

My panel schedule:

It’s Shirley Been 100 Years

Friday 17:00 – 18:30, Boardroom V (Hyatt Regency SFO)

In December of this year, Shirley Jackson turns 100. Best known for her story “The Lottery” (1948), Jackson has been read by teenagers across the world. But her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle endure almost as strongly. What is Jackson’s legacy to modern horror? What women are carrying her torch in today’s horror market?

Carrie Sessarego, Lillian Csernica (M)

Kaiju, As Far as the Eye Could See!

Saturday 12:00 – 13:30, Boardroom IV (Hyatt Regency SFO)

Kaiju are a special breed of monster, and deserve a panel all their own to spotlight their talents in thrilling us!

Lillian Csernica, Colin Fisk, BuddhaBabe (M), Xander Kent

Fear of The Other

Saturday 20:00 – 21:30, SandPebble B (Hyatt Regency SFO)

Horror from previous generations draws much of its power from the fear of the Other. In some cases the other is an unknowable being, a cosmic terror, but just as often it’s not, referencing instead more mundane distinctions between us and them. How problematic is the use of the Other to engender fear? Has fear of the Other led to some of the challenges genre faces today relative to inclusiveness and equality?

Lillian Csernica, Juliette Wade (M), Garrett Calcaterra, Gregg Castro t’rowt’raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone, Sumiko Saulson


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Light That Candle


I’m sitting here crying. The family of a friend of mine has lost a little girl. There was an Amber Alert out for her, but the authorities didn’t find her in time. This loss, on top of France and Dallas and the rest of 2016, is just too much. I’m reposting this blog in the hope that these stories provide some inspiration and perhaps even comfort.

Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

by Lillian Csernica on August 16, 2014

It has been a long and difficult week all over the world.  So many losses.  So much upheaval.  I’ve seen a lot of information out there about depression and how to cope with it.  I’ve seen a lot of really stupid remarks by people who have no idea what it’s like to live with the big Black Dog day in and day out, to go to sleep (if you can) with the Black Dog sitting on your chest and then wake up to it gnawing on your heart.

One suggestion I’ve heard several times is to go do something for other people.  Get out of your own head, away from your own life, and help somebody who needs it.  You could make all the difference.  With that in mind, I’d like to share seven events from my life, seven moments where the kindness…

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How I Made Death A Laughing Matter


by Lillian Csernica on May 18, 2016

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My dear friend and colleague Sarah Zama over at The Old Shelter has been kind enough to include my ghost story “The Family Spirit” in her Thursday Quotables.

 

Thank you, Sarah!

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M is for Money


by Lillian Csernica on April 15th, 2016

Here in the U.S. today is the deadline for turning in our income tax forms.  Money is a subject very much on most people’s minds.  This can be stressful.  To honor the occasion, here are some highlights from my travels when money was the crucial element.

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One Halloween my friend Don suggested we go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The theater was in Newport Beach, CA, about twenty minutes from my house, where all the rich people lived down by the water.  This may not sound like I traveled far at all, but I assure you, this was a walk on the wild side into terra incognita.  I’d never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I’d heard about it, of course, as all teenagers had in my high school days.

Don said if we showed up in costume, we’d get in for free.  I went as a voodoo priestess and Don dressed up as a zombie.  Zombies weren’t all the rage in those days, so this costume was pretty bizarre.  When we got to the box office, we discovered costumes made no difference to the ticket price.  Neither of us had any cash on us, and we were too old to go trick-or-treating, so our night was about to go down in flames.

A woman sitting inside the lobby stood up, walked over to us, and slapped a ten dollar bill down on the counter.  “You’re in,” she said.  We thanked her up one side and down the other, then hurried in to find seats just as the house lights went down.  The forbidden fruit was all mine, thanks to that generous stranger.

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On the night Pat and I arrived in Kyoto, we were both hungry and exhausted.  The bus from the Osaka Airport delivered us to the Kyoto Station.  It’s one of the five most expensive buildings in the world.  As a transportation hub and a shopping complex, it’s practically a city unto itself.  We found a store that sold take-out food.  Pat trusted me to identify what was in the deli-style racks and cold cases.  I picked out some attractive items and got into the checkout line.  When the cashier told me the total, I could manage the paper money, but the coins defeated me.  There were tired commuters queuing up behind me, so I held out a handful of change with a sheepish, “Tasukete, kudasai,” which is the formal polite way of saying, “HELP!”

The next and larger problem was the way Japanese do not handle money directly.  When you buy something, the cashier puts a little tray down in front of you and you put the money on that.  The cashier then picks up the tray and puts the money into the cash drawer.  I don’t know if this is a Shinto thing or what.  This particular cashier took pity on me and everybody in line behind me.  She picked out the right coins, gave me my receipt, and sent me on my way.

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In an earlier post I mentioned the weekend bus tour I took to Paris while I spent that summer in the Netherlands. The people on the bus with me were mainly retired folks or middle-aged teachers. I was always the last person to get on the bus because I sat in the tour guide seat right up front beside the driver. This put me in the perfect position to lend a hand when some of the older members of the tour needed help with that first step up into the bus.  Since I was on my own, I brought out the parental instinct in everybody.

What does all this have to do with money?

Just before our tour of the Louvre, our bus driver collected everybody’s twelve francs entry fee.  Then our French tour guide showed up.  Slim, glamorous, pushy, and condescending, she took one look at me and we both knew we’d never be friends.  She demanded the entry fee from me.  I told her I’d already paid.  She got very patient in a way that clearly implied I was trying to weasel out of paying my fair share.  The Dutch ladies came to my rescue.  One of them said to me, “You are my daughter.  You are seventeen years old.”  I had no idea what was up with that.  I started to explain that I was actually eighteen.  She shook her head and spoke in the voice of a career teacher, saying, “If you are under eighteen you do not pay.  Come with us.”  She and the other ladies formed up around me and marched me past the tour guide, giving her looks that should have set her false eyelashes on fire!

Customs sign on a Georgian building

On my way back into the country from the Netherlands, my flight had to land in Seattle as its first point of entry.  We all had to go through Customs.  That was simple enough, but then we sat there in the airport lounge wondering what was holding up our departure to Los Angeles.  My name was called over the public address system.  Just my first name.  That was strange.  I presented myself at the appropriate desk.  A Customs official took me to an office where another teenage girl from my flight was looking seriously freaked out. Her eyes were red and her makeup all smeared from crying.  She begged me to help her.  I was the only person on the plane she’d talked to, so mine was the only name she knew to call for help.  She’d made some mistake filling out her Customs forms.   They wanted her to pay them twenty dollars or they wouldn’t let her continue on into the country.  I had the money on me, thank God, so the officials were satisfied and we all got to fly on to LAX.  The poor girl couldn’t stop thanking me and apologizing. When we got off the plane, I was quite relieved to see her mother there to meet her.  (My boyfriend was waiting for me, but that’s another story.)

That unknown lady stepped up and paid my way into the movies.  Those Dutch ladies stepped up and protected me when I needed help.  I’m glad I had a chance to pass on the kindness and help that girl get home safe and sound.

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A New Anthology Release!


by Lillian Csernica on February 4, 2016

I am delighted to announce that my story, “The Screaming Key,” is now available in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

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This story came about as a result of me spending my teenage years staying up late on the weekends watching horror movies on Channel 13. (I lived in Southern California then.)  More influences include all of the 19th Century ghost stories I love to read, especially the works of M.R. James.  I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Neil Gaiman for creating the Sandman graphic novels. They set my imagination on fire and went a long way toward planting the seeds of inspiration for “The Screaming Key.”

 

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