Every now and again, Pandora’s selection algorithm gives perfect voice to the screaming inside my head. It’s rare, but much like an alien abduction during a solar eclipse, it can and does happen. I suppose it’s only appropriate that it happened today of all days.
I’ve been stewing about today for months. Ever since I got word from Angry Robot that my debut novel would hit the (North American) streets on this date, it has been fixed in my mind as a Rubicon of authorly fate. Once today rolled around, everything would be different. My life as an unpublished novelist would be over. Now that today is here, I can go into a bookstore, point to Chris McGrath’s cover art, and claim the words behind it as mine. People might even pay money to read those words, and some of that money might find its way to me. Citizens of the United States or Canada can pick up that book and read it. Those words–my words–may have an impact on them, whether that impact be amusement, sadness, anger, distaste, fear, or just plain entertainment. Not everyone will like it. Not everyone has. Some people will love it. My novel’s exposure is now only limited by language barrier; anyone who can read English may come across it, read it, and form an opinion.
I’m not really sure how I feel about that.
Prevalent wisdom says fuck that noise. I should just write what I want to write, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. To a large extent, I’ve already done that. Weird Westerns aren’t exactly a guaranteed hit, but they’re what I wanted to write. I don’t regret a single moment spent writing The Dead of Winter or She Returns From War. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but I’m damn proud of them. That feeling of accomplishment, of having reached a milestone in life that few attain, is impervious; nothing anyone says can mar that. No matter what else happens in my life, no matter where I find myself doing, no matter how much I hate it, I still got a fucking book published.
On the other hand, I got a fucking book published. That means that anyone at all can judge its merits using whatever standard they see fit. They are free to loathe everything I’ve accomplished and possibly my existence for bringing my books into the world in the first place. That kind of exposure leaves me feeling, well, exposed. I’ve lived on the Internet long enough to understand the tendency of people to be shitheads, but now I’m a possible target for that shitheadery. Despite my cool affectation, I’m as human as anybody else. If my books receive overwhelmingly negative responses, I’m not sure how that will impact me. That uncertainty lends a good deal of apprehension to today’s celebratory mood. Then again, so did the giant wolf spider that watched me shower this morning.
All that to say, I found it extremely appropriate that Pandora chose to open my work day with Nightwish’s Ghost Love Score followed by The Black Mages performing Seymour’s fight theme. The two songs played back-to-back made for a nice auditory expression of the various emotions vying for control of my thoughts.
If you’re interested in contributing to my visceral maelstrom, you may do so by picking up a copy of The Dead of Winter straight from the source and passing your own judgment.
Today, I will be making some recommendations for entertainment. In keeping with the spirit of the local deciduous flora, these recommendations will focus on the temporary nature of all known life and the hideous deaths that await us all at the end. Suggested consumption of these various titles includes occasions of depression, hopelessness, and Hallowe’en parties. Also, despite the various media represented on this list, I expect full participation.
R-Point: Classic Korean horror set during the Vietnam War, this movie has fantastic atmospherics and an interesting take on the “vengeful ghost” trope. While there is a long-haired girl in a white dress, she isn’t the only confused, eerie presence to haunt the Korean soldiers deployed to the titular location. Such things must be expected from a mournful bog that collects the souls of the dead like raindrops.
A Tale of Two Sisters: Yes, Korea has put out some absolutely top-notch horror films in its time. This one delves deep into the confusion and paranoia of psychosis with singularly-disturbing visuals and a fevered pallor. In the years since my first viewing, it still remains among my top horror films of all time.
The Eye: You probably remember seeing ads for the American remake of this one with Jessica Alba. While decent, the original film by the Pang brothers outshines its progeny. In what some may call a Chinese take on The Sixth Sense, the protagonist learns that not all of the people she sees are there in the strictest sense. Free of Shyamalan’s pathological need for a twist, however, this film focuses on the absolutely terrifying aspects of such an ability.
Rule of Rose (PS2): A true masterpiece of psychological exploration. Sure, Silent Hill 2 had dead-wife-something-something-dong-headed-guy-raping-mannequins going for it, but Rule of Rose braves the fear, cruelty, and jealousy of childhood while making you battle fish-headed orphans and vomit-spewing mermaids. Also, it is a rare horror title that comes equipped with an honest-to-God, I-shouldn’t-be-crying-this-much-over-a-game ending.
Kuon (PS2): A lesser-known title, this game utilizes two separate characters to tell the story of a priest gone mad with power. Set in feudal Japan, you must explore a sprawling mansion for clues to mysterious disappearances. Unlike Rule of Rose, the protagonists have decent arsenals to deploy when confronted with spirits and monsters, but the game is no less frightening for your exorcismal powers. Running isn’t an option, either, as it attracts very unpleasant attention.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (PC): The only PC game to date that I actually had to psych myself up to play. Playing as intended (in the dark with headphones), this immersive, dungeon-crawling fever dream synthesizes the best of Gothic horror with a Lovecraftian sanity system to create panicky, ball-shrinking experience that is not easily forgotten.
Fatal Frame (PS2): Can’t get through a list like this without giving this one a substantial nod. Combat in this game consists of staring at the most terrifying thing in the room until it’s close enough to pluck out your nosehairs, then taking its picture. It may sound simple, but when you’re facing a woman who slithers out of the ceiling to the sound of her choking on her own hair, your underthings tend to get warmer and wetter. Unnerving auras, creepy visuals, and a twisted story make this one of the best survival horror games on any platform.
House of Leaves: I’m not easily frightened by books, which is why this is the only entry in this section. In all my years of reading, the only book to give me actual chills was Mark Danielewski’s convoluted, misshapen debut. Much like Naked Lunch, this book captures everything that terrifies me about the thought of losing my sanity. Some of the worst nightmares of my life were fever dreams when I was a child, and this book revives that feeling of sheer uncomprehending terror.
Now that mine are out of the way, I’m curious: which specific interactions with creative media triggered your Paleolithic survival instincts?