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Stephen King taught me how to write. 

Not in person, of course. I haven’t met him.

Yet.

But he taught me how to write horror with two books that get looked over when people are talking about the best King works. I’d honestly say that anyone who wants to write horror should be required to read these books before they ever pick up a pen. 

Today, we’re talking about Danse Macabre and On Writing.

Let’s start with On Writing. If this book is new to you, are you even a King fan? It’s broken into two parts. Part one is an autobiography. It’s King explaining how he became a writer. It’s also about how he became an alcoholic and drug addict, then a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.

If you’re an aspiring author, the first part of On Writing is one of the more comforting things you can read. From writing short stories on a typewriter in his childhood bedroom to having hundreds of stories beloved by millions of people, he for sure struggled. Do you remember the railroad spike of rejection letters from the first episode of The Stand? That was right from King’s youth. 

The second part of On Writing is possibly the most entertaining writing manual you will ever read. Sentence structure isn’t generally riveting material for most people. But King writes with such a funny, conversational tone that the information is absorbed right along with the great stories. 

Once you’ve got the basics from On Writing, it’s time to move onto Danse Macabre. This book is a primer for understanding the horror genre. It digs deeply into the roots of TVs, movies, film, books and even radio shows that have scared the shit out of people for six decades.

There is a whole chapter digging into some of the most classic archetypes of the genre. The vampire, the werewolf and the thing without a name. King also references the ghost as a fourth one but doesn’t show it as much attention. He discusses the roots of the archetypes, how they’ve evolved, and semi-recent examples. (The book did come out in 1981.)

Another big theme of Danse Macabre is a question so many of us have explored just as horror fans.

Why would someone want to watch/listen to/read that sort of thing? Kids getting sucked into sewers, crazy women intentionally breaking a man’s legs so he can’t run away, cocoa puffs that eat the universe. Why do we enjoy these things?

The easy answer is that we just do. Scary stories are fun. We’ve all known that since the first time some kid at a slumber party asked, ‘Have you heard the one about the guy with the hook for a hand?’. 

The more complex answer is an explanation of socioeconomic pressures and a deep-seated need for cathartic exploration of death. One that anyone who wants to write horror needs to understand. And one that Danse Macabre explains perfectly.

Finally, Danse Macabre will leave you with homework. There are so many books and movies referenced in this book that you will just have to experience for yourself. The first time I heard of the cult classic Freaks was in this book. When you finish with this book, you’ll find yourself with a to-read list that is daunting. But what great, gruesome stories you’ll discover.

There is no book that you can read and become a perfect writer. But if you want to write horror, start by reading these two books.

Remember if you want to buy the books just click below and if you do, we get some $ from Amazon.

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Book Reviews

What Have We Done: Alex Finlay Produces Another Hit

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  • Jenna: A stay at home mom with a secret assassin past
  • Donnie: An alcoholic rock star
  • Nico: An executive producer of a reality television show

They all have a past, but who is out to get them?

The Plot

Jenna, Donnie, and Nico share a troubled past. They were all orphans who lived at Savior House — which is much less savior, much more terror. When their friend Benny, a famous judge, is murdered and the FBI comes looking, Jenna, Donnie, and Nico must race against the clock to figure out who is targeting them.

The Verdict

From the author of The Night Shift, which I reviewed here, I would expect nothing less than what Finlay has delivered. Finlay notoriously creates stories with palpable thrill and spine-tingling revelations.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Jenna. She is a reformed assassin living a normal life as a new stepmom. When she is called in to make a hit and her family is threatened, she goes badass mom on ’em. While I still thought Donnie and Nico as characters were engaging, it was nothing for what I felt for Jenna.

Also, major props to Finlay for creating a character that kills with a very unique weapon. Read it to find out more!

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Reviews

“The Writing Retreat” Gone Bad: Julia Bartz’s Debut

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Keeping it all in the family, Julia Bartz’s The Writing Retreat is the debut novel of the sister of Andrea Bartz, author of We Were Never Here, which I reviewed here.

I was much more impressed with The Writing Retreat than I was We Were Never Here.

The Plot

Five up and coming female writers under 30 are invited to a writing retreat hosted by the reclusive and acclaimed horror writer Rosa Vallo. Rosa reveals the details of the retreat: each writer must complete a full length novel from scratch over the next month. The best novel wins a multi-million dollar publishing deal with Rosa.

Suddenly, the retreat turns into a nightmare when one writer goes missing in the snowy terrain outside.

The novel hinges on friendships in turmoil and has a focus on LGBT+ representation as well as interpersonal female relationships. The novel explores the dark publishing world and the search for fame and the Great American Novel.

The Verdict

This novel is atmospheric and intellectual, page turning, and the English major’s required reading. I absorbed this novel and found Julia Bartz’s writing and conceptual chops to be leagues above her sister’s.

Ths novel releases on February 21, 2023 and it should be in your cart right now.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Buy it here!

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Book Reviews

A Murder in Reverse: “Wrong Place Wrong Time”

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The Plot

“A brilliantly genre-bending, mind-twisting answer to the question How far would you go to save your child?”  — Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Jen watches her son murder a stranger. Stab him to death. She and her husband, Kelly, watch as their son Todd is taken into custody.

The next morning, Jen wakes up and it’s yesterday. Jen knows that at the end of the night, her son kills someone. She is determined to stop it.

Jen goes further and further back in time trying to discover why Todd murdered a stranger and how to stop it.

The Verdict

This book is twisty. Right when you think you know the ending, something else is there to prove that the story is more multifaceted than that. While the premise of the novel is simple, Gillian McAllister elevates a simple concept with deep, dark twists.

It is best that you don’t know too much going into this one. For fans of Blake Crouch, this is such a good thriller with time travelling vibes.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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