My Favorite Spooks

So, Daniel, do you want to keep talking about horror movies? Yes? Perfect, because that’s the only thing I like to talk about. Hate to break it to you, but about 90 percent of my personality is made up of horror movie knowledge. The other ten percent is beer and anxiety.

Again, I am a simple creature.

Anyway, as you know these past few weeks have been very busy for me. I spent last week in Boston for work and then the weekend down in Portland so, being a terrible person with no time management skills, I completely missed my post in our other blog. So this week I had intended to write my post for this blog early, spending plenty of time researching and reviewing my opinions on the psychological importance of villains and scary stories.

Well, guess what! Surprise, surprise, I completely lost track of time and I am now writing this post Friday afternoon. For being a professional writer, I’m terrible at keeping a writing schedule.

So in the interest of keeping this post simple and NOT continuing a rant about horror movies that nobody actually wants to hear, I thought I would talk about my favorite horror monsters.

Now, before I continue, I think I need to define what I mean by horror monster. I feel like when most people hear the term “horror monster” they think of the classic movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein’s monster, or Pinhead. When I use the term horror monster, what I mean are monsters that often appear in scary stories, things like vampires, werewolves, and zombies.

Basically, whenever I log into Netflix and look through my recommended list, any horror movie that has one of the following monsters in it automatically gets added to my watch list no matter how many stars it has. The following monsters are basically sure-fire ways to get me to watch a horror film:

Wendigos

First Introduction: Pet Sematary

Favorite Horror Movie Appearance: Ravenous

Wendigos are probably my favorite mythological creature. My first introduction was in Pet Sematary by Stephen King, but it was in the Hannibal TV series that I really started developing an odd obsession with this strange, majestic creatures.

The Krampus

First Introduction: Myths & Legends Podcast

Favorite Depiction: Krampus

Despite being a very season-specific monster, I absolutely love the Krampus. A demon that beats up on naughty children? I am a bitter, jaded adult and I love the concept. Sign me the fuck up.

Werewolves

First Introduction: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Favorite Depiction: American Werewolf in London

I’m not sure why, but when I was in middle school there was this bizarre divide amongst my friends. You either likes vampires or you like werewolves, you could not like both. I have no idea where this weird binary came from, but it was in that period of my life that I decided I liked werewolves. I loved the idea of turning into a wolf at the full moon and spent many hours reading up on them. Thankfully, extensive knowledge of werewolf mythos is a very useful thing to have, right?

Mermaids/Sirens

First Introduction: The Little Mermaid

Favorite Depiction: Siren

Wendigos might be my favorite mythological creature, but mermaids and sirens have probably been the creature I have loved the longest. My favorite movie as a kid was the Little Mermaid and ever since I’ve loved the ocean and everything it contains. Well, as an adult, I now understand how dangerous and spooky the ocean is and love it even more.

Alright, this post is somewhat done. I promise I’ll get back into the flow of writing very, very soon. Sorry for being the worst, Daniel.

-EMS

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To Woobify or Not to Woobify

Alright, everyone ready for me to continue rambling about scary stories and evil characters? No? Well, too bad. My blog, I do what I want. Also, the only things I think about on a regular basis are beer, scary stories, and my ferrets so give me a break. I am a simple creature.

In my last post, I talked about how we sometimes have a hard time letting evil characters be evil. It seems like we think that liking an evil or morally questionable character means we’re evil or morally questionable. So, instead of trying to understand an evil character, we tend to kind of ignore the shitty things they’ve done and focus on their good qualities even if they’re few and far between.

Of course, it was Tumblr that finally gave this phenomenon a name and it is the goofiest thing you’ll probably ever here. The word Tumblr uses is “woobify.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the word “woobie” is used as a term of endearment for a thing that is sweet and comforting, like a stuffed bunny or baby blanket. Over the years, I’ve also seen many people online use it as a term of endearment for overly sweet or precious characters. From my experience, it’s kind of interchangeable with the phrase, “sweet, precious cinnamon roll” in that this character is so pure and good-hearted that it’s a little sickening.

However, despite wasting years of my life on this godforsaken plane of existence we call the world wide web, I am no expert in any of this gibberish. Forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted the word “woobie” and I will go weep in shame.

Anyway, based on the term woobie, Tumblr came up with the verb “to woobify,” which means to give morally ambiguous characters pure, precious, and almost immature characteristics. The character I’ve seen woobified a lot in recent months has been Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars movies. I am by no means a Star Wars fan, but I know enough about Kylo to know that he is a morally reprehensible man who represents the worst parts of toxic masculinity. Well, Tumblr users have fallen in love with him and instead of allowing themselves to love an evil man, they’re overemphasized his few sympathetic qualities, like his tragic relationship with his family and the dark side. They’ve taken an evil and complex character and turned him into a helpless child, a victim of circumstance and thus blameless in the shit he’s pulled as an adult. They’ve woobified him.

Not okay, not okay at all.

I don’t know a whole lot about Kylo Ren’s backstory so there may be some traumatic events that explain his behavior that I don’t know about. So, before I go on, I want to say that I am in no way trying to be dismissive to people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives that continue to affect their behavior. Everyone has a story, everyone has a struggle, and I strive to keep my mind and heart open to people just in case they need help.

However, a traumatic past is not a legitimate excuse for hurting people in the present. To quote a very wise detective by the name of Jake Peralta, “Cool motive. Still murder.” No matter what your excuse is, the thing you did is still shitty. 

By purposefully changing a character’s narrative to be more sympathetic, or woobifying them, you’re not only discrediting the entire plot, you’re also dehumanizing that character in a sense. Making that person a victim of circumstance, helpless and lacking free will. A person is not defined by their past, they’re defined by their actions and Kylo Ren, by definition, is evil.

And guess what, that’s okay!

As I said in my last post, connecting with a villain does not make you a villain, it makes you a complex human being with more than two emotions clinking around in your skull. Good stories are meant to challenge you, to help you grow and understand yourself and how you fit into the world.

And sorry to break it to you, but no human being is one hundred percent good or evil. We all have things in our life that we have to fight against, things that could very easily turn into our “villain origin story” if we let them. Villains are in stories to help us recognize the darker parts of ourselves and thus more effectively fight against them.

So, liking a villain doesn’t mean you’re evil and “woobifying” a villain isn’t good because it means we’re trying to deny your own evils. And we all know the least effective way to handle a problem is to deny it.

So, summary, don’t woobify. Denial is never a good strategy. 

-EMS

 

Let Villains be Villains

Last November, Charles Manson finally passed away. Right around the time he died, the internet was flooded with people saying “R.I.P. Manson” and “so sad to see him pass” and other completely tasteless, idiotic things.

As you can probably tell, I have no sympathy for this man. He was a monster who literally brainwashed children to kill for him.

Now, I have read Helter Skelter and watched as many documentaries as I could find on the Manson Family, their crimes, and the following legal battles. I do find the story of Charles Manson fascinating and I’m probably safe in saying that I know more about him than the average citizen.So, in retrospect I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise when an acquaintance asked me if I was sad to see Manson die.

Of course not I wasn’t sad to see him die, I told them.  

Well, I know you like serial killers, they responded.

Which was fair, so I couldn’t really be offended. However, that conversation got me thinking about a recurring problem I’ve seen amongst true crime and even some horror movie fans: the inability to separate fantasy and reality.

Now, before I start talking about my theories behind this behavior and whatnot, I would like to acknowledge that some of these assholes are just that, assholes. I’m pretty sure most of us went through that “I’m so complex and no one understands me” phase when we were determined to shock our parents into thinking we were edgy. Thankfully, most of us grew out of that, but just based on the number of tweets I saw mourning Manson or the many Tumblr accounts I’ve seen that post artsy photos of the Columbine killers, I know some of us didn’t. These people are just looking to cause drama and, instead of dying their hair blue and piercing their face, decided to spit on the memories of these criminals’ victims.

I have thankfully matured enough to realize how tasteless that is and opted to pierce my lip and buzz my head instead. This way I’m only hurting myself while I show the world how edgy and cool I am. I might crochet throw blankets and sing show tunes to my ferrets, but I’m a bad bitch and my hair proves that.

Anyway, I should also admit that the people out there mourning Manson and fawning over the Columbine shoots are extreme cases. I don’t really need to prove that these people are being assholes. However, this trend of blurring the line between fantasy and reality also shows up in more subtle ways and it’s having a weird effect on the horror and true crime genres.

You ready for me to dive into some pseudo-psychological bullshit, Daniel? Brace yourself.

I think we as a culture have a difficult time understanding how to handle the concept of evil. We see things as black or white, good or evil, and therefore when we come across something that’s “evil” that we enjoy it’s hard for us to handle. We can’t be a good person and enjoy “evil” things, and so that evil thing must not be that evil.

A good, recent example of this was the reboot of Stephen King’s “It” in which the very attractive Bill Skaarsgard played the killer clown, Pennywise. I know you’re not on Tumblr, Daniel, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say Tumblr was ridiculous in the weeks following that movie’s release. The amount of extremely sexual Pennywise fanart and fanfiction that appeared on my Tumblr dash was unreal.

I won’t deny the fact I played into the mania a bit myself and made my fair share of “Float me, daddy” jokes. But that’s exactly what my comments were, jokes. I know that Pennywise is evil and that, given the chance, I would also shove a metal fence post through his face before I would ever hop into bed with him. Some Tumblr users on the other hand seemed to be crossing that line from harmless joking into actually wanting to sleep with this murderous, Lovecraftian monstrosity. A tad concerning in my opinion.

What I think happened is that, after seeing the movie, these people decided they liked Pennywise. Well, Pennywise is evil, which means they must be evil, but they’re not evil so instead Pennywise must not be that evil. So, in order to justify their love for this killer clown, these people just opted to pretend he wasn’t that bad. I’d bet that the same kind of logic is used to justify loving serial killers and criminals.

However, the world isn’t black and white. Liking a character/person/thing that is evil does not make you evil. It makes you human. It only becomes evil when you decide ignore the despicable things that character/person/thing did in order to justify your fascination with them. I can enjoy the story of the Manson Family, read Stephen King novels, and watch gorey horror movies and enjoy them while still understanding that these people are evil, that what they’re doing would never, ever be acceptable.

Basically, this entire argument boils down to the idea that you can like a villain and not necessarily be a villain. Let your bad guys be bad guys.

I feel like this is getting a bit rambly. I think I’ll cut it here and maybe pick this up in my next SDoS post. I have lots of thoughts about scary stories I want to share. Might just be time to bite the bullet and go back for my master’s in scary stories.

-EMS

For a Professional Writer, I’m Super Bad at Keeping a Writing Schedule

How long has this blog been going for? More than two years at this point? And in that time only one of us has earned a punishment, and that was me. Last time I felt like I had a pretty decent excuse. I got a sudden migraine the evening I was supposed to write and ended up in bed, waiting patiently for my eyes to stop throbbing.

Well, I have officially earned the second punishment in the history of Seven Degrees of Smudde and guess what my excuse is this time? Well, surprise, surprise. I have none.

Want to know what I did today? Well, I woke up at 11 a.m., hung out with the ferrets while I watched reruns of Gilmore Girls, read the novella “Cannibals in Candyland,” and then binged the first season of Netflix’s “Frontier” in preparation to binge the second season tomorrow. It was about two beers and four episodes into this Netflix binge that I remembered what day it was. At that point it was a quarter after 10 p.m. and, honestly, I didn’t really feel like pausing my show to write. I just texted you and said to start preparing a punishment because I didn’t feel like writing.

God, listen to me. I didn’t feel like writing. I’m a professional writer. I get paid lots of money to go to work, sit behind a desk, and write things for eight hours. I’m also a pretty responsible and organized writer at work. I rarely miss deadlines and when I do, I let my team know that I’ve been delayed. And while I might not have a good excuse for being delayed, at least I know my schedule well enough to know that I’m fucked.

And yet, when I get home, I become a terrible writer. A terrible writer who sometimes forgets when things are due, like I did today.

I’m not exactly sure why I’m like this. When I was younger, I was always writing. I never stopped writing. You probably remember, Daniel, the way I always carried notebooks with me and would sit for hours writing in them. I always had a story I was working on. Granted, back then, I didn’t have any deadlines to meet, but I’m 100% positive I would have met my deadlines if they had existed. I would have met them because I always felt like writing.

Now that I’m older and I kind of have the writing job I always wanted, I don’t feel like writing. I feel like sitting and watching Netflix and reading trashy horror novels.

Sometimes I think it’s because I’m getting older and I don’t have as much of an imagination as I did when I was a kid. Sometimes I think it’s because I spend all of my time writing at work that when I come home it’s the last thing I want to do. Sometimes I think it’s because unless there is an immediately tangible reward or consequence to a task, I have no motivation to complete it, which is a common theme in my life. For example, unless I have an early meeting at work or I’m going somewhere fun, I cannot get up with my alarm in the morning.

Anyway, I hope you have fun thinking up my punishment, Daniel. Sorry for getting this up so late! I need to keep better track of myself. In other news, “Cannibals In Candyland” was just as ridiculous as it sounds.

-EMS  

 

All I Read is Stephen King

There’s something magical about reading a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching horror films. Some of my favorite movies are horror films. I am always down to watch Descent and House of 1000 Corpses, but given the option I would rather read a scary book than watch a scary.  

There’s just something wonderful about experiencing horror through the written word. I absolutely love Stephen King and have actually been on a binge this past month. I’ve read It, Christine, The Dead Zone, Dolores Clairborne, Desperation, and The Regulators to name a few. And let me tell you, it’s been great! I’ve literally been knocking out a book a week because I can’t put them down.

You asked me what my passion was and honestly, horror novels are it right now. When I think about what I’m looking forward to the most it’s hanging out with my baby ferret and reading. I can write about Fijit the ferret in my next post if you really want to know more about her.

Anyway, I think it’s because in my opinion horror novels are scarier to me. Now that I’m older, horror films don’t give me nightmares like they used to. My nightmares are usually about realistic fears, like finances and my career and crap like that.

But, I have had nightmares from a few scary novels. Salem’s Lot, Dolores Clairborne, and The Regulators are the ones that immediately come to mind. Now, none of these are about extremely scary things. Salem’s Lot is about vampires, which if you were a teenager in the early 2000s you know all about. Dolores Clairborne is about a woman who murders her husband, not incredibly groundbreaking. The Regulators is about an ancient god that takes control of a suburban neighborhood, which although it’s unique isn’t exactly realistic. Why did they give me nightmares? How could they give me nightmares?

Because, by reading these stories, I had the chance to create my own worst nightmare. In horror films, the monster is there. Someone else created it. It’s their worst nightmare, not mine. I talked a little bit about this in my last horror post. Horror really works when you give the viewer the chance to add their own spin on things.

stephen_king_salems_lot_01In Salem’s Lot, a tiny New England town is overrun by vampires. The people of the town keep disappearing and then mysteriously reappearing at night. I specifically dreamed about the little boy who was taken in the night. He reappeared in his friend’s window late one night, pale as a ghost with dead eyes, and asked to be let in. He didn’t demand anything, he asked if he could come hang out with his best friend.

When I read that scene, I could picture my old childhood room and I could see my elementary school friends, pale white and monstrous, hanging on my window. I couldn’t tell them no, they couldn’t come in. I loved them and I wanted to be with them. That’s what scare me.

alb-008In Dolores Clairborne, the main character murders her husband by getting him drunk and leading him to an old well. He fell down, but didn’t die instantly. When Dolores looked down, he was looking up at her and his eyes looked black. He was calling her name and, at one point, climbed up the side of the well, covered in blood and grinning.

I read that scene in bed and I got goosebumps. I could see his bloody, dirty face. I could see his creepy smile, a dead man’s smile, as he climbed up. I could feel Dolores’ panic as she thought about what to do next. What could she do? This wasn’t part of her plan. That feeling. That’s what I dreamt about that night.

theregulatorsLastly, in The Regulators, a little boy wanders down an abandoned mine shaft and stumbles upon the sleeping place of an ancient evil. A miner follows him in with a flashlight and when he finally catches up, his light falls on the boy’s face. The boy is grinning a freakishly big grin. His eyes are bugging out and the corners of his mouth are pulled all the way up to his ears.

When I read that, I could see his smile. I could picture a normal little boy’s face becoming freakish and deformed. I could see the way the whole space was in darkness and the way the flashlight bounced off the walls before landing on his face. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

If I had experienced these stories are movies, I doubt they would have had the same effect. I would’ve been able to brush off the child vampire in the window as an actor in make up. I would’ve known that Dolores’ husband was just a guy covered in mud. I would have seen through the fake smile on the kid.

That’s what I like about reading horror. It gets under my skin, which is exactly what it should do.

-EMS

Waiting for the Hook

173I liked the show Stranger Things.

If you’re out of the loop, Stranger Things is a Netflix series about a small town right outside a secret government base. Something happens and people start to go missing and it’s up to the town’s residents to figure out what’s going on and save a little boy named Will.

Anyway, I really loved this show. It’s a wonderful blend of three very common horror narratives: children coming of age and fighting monsters, like in Stephen King’s It or the movie Super 8; high school hallway horror, like in any 80s slasher film; and adults fighting human monsters and government corruption, like Cabin in the Woods. Stranger Things combines all of these plots to create one cohesive, highly addictive story that had me hooked as soon as I started watching it.

Now, earlier this week you brought up the show and said that you HATED it. The first three episodes were so boring you got up to do laundry while you watched. You also hated the characterization, which to be honest was one of the reasons I liked it. Anyway, my response to this was asking how far you got. You said three episodes and I said “oh, it picks up after that. You just have to push through.”

Where in the world did this logic come from? Why in the world do we force ourselves through boredom or painfully bad acting in hopes that it gets better? That’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about since we talked about Stranger Things, Daniel. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it all depends on who told you to.

So looking back at my own life I’ve on multiple occasions pushed my way through something boring because someone I trusted told me it would get better. The best example I have is Parks and Rec, a show which I can say without any sarcasm actually changed my life. However, before you get to the wonderful, positive, hilarious bits of that show you have to sit through the first season, which oh my god. I could get through maybe an episode a day and that was it.

It took me maybe two weeks to get through the first season. I got through the next six seasons in maybe a month, that’s how much it picked up.

2013_0821_parks_and_recreation_640x320_mdot

If I had just given up when it got boring I would never have experienced the positivity and beauty of that show. Why did I not give up? Because my friend Meredith told me not to, and I believed her. If anyone else had told me to keep going, I might not have, but I respected Meredith’s opinion.

divinationharryron

Me reading about the Dursleys in the first chapter.

Another example is Harry Potter. Now, I don’t know if you remember this, Daniel, but I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone first. I tried, but the first few chapters were SO BORING. I just couldn’t get through it. Then, my wonderful older brother gave me Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He told me “it’s kinda like a scary story and you like scary stories.” I gave it a try and WOW. I had been missing out!

How do you feel Daniel knowing it was you who got me into Harry Potter? If you hadn’t done that, I literally might not be married right now. Let that sink in.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of instances where I heard that I had to stick with something and it would eventually get good and it never did.

tumblr_lzz15vb8ir1qi4nyc

Wanna know something? These twins,  the most iconic twins in all of movie history, WEREN’T IN THE BOOK. OH MY GOD.

 

The movie version of The Shining for instance. Stanley Kubrick ruined The Shining. He completely destroyed my favorite characters and stripped out all of the amazing characterization in order to prop up Jack Nicholson’s acting skills. I could go on, but I could write an entire spoiler filled post about how much I hate that movie.

The John Carter of Mars series was another. I read the first one. It was okay, but I kept hearing from people “oh, you have to read the rest! They’re amazing!” Actually, no they’re not. They’re surprisingly racist is what they are! I almost couldn’t finish them because I felt SUPER UNCOMFORTABLE.

When I think back to these two instances though, you know what the difference is? No one I trusted told me to give them a try, it was society that insisted these things were good. Everyone loves Kubrick so much so The Shining had to be a good movie! Wrong. Everyone adored John Carter of Mars so the sequels had to be awesome. Uh, no.

The point I’m trying to get to is that sometimes there are things that you have to “suffer through” to get to the good parts, but you shouldn’t use that logic for everything. Listen to the people who know you and follow your own interests rather than those of the masses. It will save you a lot of boredom.

Well, before I end this post I’ll just say, after some consideration, don’t bother trying to finish Stranger Things, Daniel. It tapped into my love of horror, which I know you don’t share so don’t put yourself through it. I will just be alone in my adoration of this show.

-EMS

Horror Makes Me Happy

Okay, so first of all, you’re lucky there’s even a post up. Michael and I just downloaded Pokemon Go and just spent the last three hours driving around Pullman trying to find a Meowth and Dugtrio. The only reason we’re back is because our phones were about to die. The couple that nerds together stays together, I guess.

Anyway, I really liked your last post. You touched on something that a lot of storytellers just don’t understand. You have to respect your viewer/player/reader and treat them like an adult, but you still need to give them enough to stand on when it comes to exposition. Never hold your audience’s hand, but at least light the path for them.

Finding the right balance in my writing has been one of my biggest challenges as an author. Sometimes I fall in love with my story and want to give my reader every single detail, which would just overwhelm them. As the author, it’s my job to immerse myself in the story, but only bring back enough so the reader can get their feet wet.

This concept is especially relevant in horror. I’ve always loved horror. I love horror novels, horror films, horror video games. I have since I was little and to create a scary story, you really need to find that sweet spot between giving enough exposition so the audience understands why they should be scared, but not so much that they can’t project their own fears onto the monster. That’s what makes good horror good, it gives you the room to add your personal fears to the story.

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It (1990)

I’m not sure why I’ve always liked horror. When I was little I used to read a ton of Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark. My favorite movies, outside of the Little Mermaid, were the made-for-television Goosebump shorts and Beetlejuice.

The only thing I can really pinpoint that may have started my love of horror is my birthday. As you know my birthday is right before Halloween so more often than not my birthday had a Halloween theme. I remember having a cake with a little graveyard on it. I remember going trick-or-treating with my friends and then having a birthday sleepover. I’ve always associated my birthday with skeletons, ghosts, monsters, and just creepy stuff. Therefore, Halloween has always been my favorite holiday just because it meant I would get presents.

Not sure if that’s the only reason I love horror, but it makes sense, I guess.

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House of 1000 Corpses (2003…wait, this movie is 13 years old?! Fuck.)

Nowadays, I’ve graduated from Goosebumps to Stephen King and Jack Ketchum novels. I still like Beetlejuice, but I also enjoy gorey films like House of 1000 Corpses, Aliens, and Hellraiser.

Why? Why do I like these things? These books and movies are just full of horrible imagery and people dying. Why in the world do I crave them?

Adrenaline, pure and simple. There is something so energizing about reading a good scary story. It makes me feel alive and in the present. It’s a feeling you can’t really get in day-to-day life without doing something expensive or stupid, or both.

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Heathers (1988)

I think this adrenaline addiction is the same reason I like getting tattoos and going on rollercoasters. During the event, it’s painful and terrifying, but when it’s all over your body feels electric. Horror movies and books do the same thing for me. I just get excited.

I also think I love horror because, in a weird way, it’s a way to cope with all the real horrors of the world. I can watch a movie with computer generated monsters and for a little while I can escape from the mass shootings, racism, and homophobia in our world. I can handle a fake monster because I know it’s fake. The real world isn’t so easy.

I’ll probably be a horror queen for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that.

Now, I’m going back out. I need to catch me a Gastly.

-EMS