October 30

1000 words on Ferocious today, though some of them may not survive the next edit. It may be too much of a lull in the action; I’ll review for that after I finish the chapter.

Not to brag or make you jealous, but today was…laundry day! Since we don’t have a washer or dryer, I get to go to the Laundromat, where all of your dreams come true. I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own schedule, so I don’t have to fight people for a machine, but if my ego ever gets out of control, this is a regular method of squashing it.

The TV there is often playing Matlock. I don’t watch it, but I can hear it, and I’m amused every single time by the way the goofy exit-to-commercial music is completely at odds with whatever dramatic revelation has just happened. Admittedly, the mood will be spoiled anyway when the catheter commercial comes on, but why not a dramatic musical sting to give us a couple more seconds in Matlock’s world of danger and intrigue? The show ended in 1995, so I guess my suggestion won’t be incorporated, but I just figured I’d throw it out there anyway.

 

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October 29

Put Ferocious aside for today to finish up the short story that’s due on Halloween. And, 3000+ words later, “The Last Thing You Want To Be” is done. (What’s the last thing you want to be? You don’t want to know.)

And I voted. It was an electronic touch screen, so voting was like a video game with real-life high stakes consequences.

Waiting on paperwork for something pretty cool (though in the very, very, very early stages). Not sure how much I’ll be able to blab about it, but I’ll blab as much as I am able.

October 28

2000 words on Ferocious yesterday and 1000 words today, bringing the total to 21,000. Wondering how long I can stretch out this particular sequence; really, I’d like it to be almost the length of a novella, but it depends how much I can wring out of a fairly simple setup. I know the big turning points of this book but not the details, so we’ll see what happens.

My essay for the StokerCon 2019 souvenir book got extremely good feedback. This wasn’t unexpected. Sometimes I send off a piece and wonder if the editor is going to respond with “WTF were you thinking, Strand???” and sometimes I know I sent them exactly what they wanted. This was the latter.

Dread Central has reviewed Hark! The Herald Angels Scream and had this to say: “Jeff Strand’s ‘Good Deeds’ is a terrific, blackly comic take on the “giving” spirit of the holiday season, the kind that makes you suicidal — in the most hilarious of ways.”

Last night’s Scary Fireside Stories for Halloween event was an unqualified success. We had a nice big crowd, the weather cooperated, and many s’mores were consumed, even though by my observation about 97% of the marshmallows burst into flame. (I ended up going with “Jigsaw Puzzle” as my story.) The audience was into all of the stories–it’s often hard to gauge the success of a non-funny piece, but there were shudders throughout the evening. As a super-special surprise bonus, the legendary Seed & Feed Marching Abominable showed up to play a couple of songs, causing many to almost wet themselves with glee.

This will definitely be an annual event. Thanks to Brian Kirk for organizing it, and thanks to me for doing an exquisite job of carrying stuff beforehand AND afterward. If you were in awe of how well the folding chairs had been transported from one location to another, I’m the one to praise.

October 27

No work on Ferocious yesterday. I wasn’t being a lazy slacker–I had an essay to write for the StokerCon 2017 Souvenir Book. But I got that done, and also started a short story that’s due on Halloween. (And I got up early this morning and did 1000 words on Ferocious, with the plan to do another 1000 before I have to leave, so you need not worry about the zombie animals being neglected.)

Today is Scary Fireside Stories For Halloween, a local Atlanta event organized by Brian Kirk, though I’ll be getting there early to help set everything up. It’s free (including the s’mores!) and involves ten authors reading very short spooky stories of five minutes or less.

Since every issue of my newsletter has a flash fiction piece, I have a lot of choose from. I was originally going to read “Jigsaw Puzzle,” one of my most popular newsletter stories, but the whole story is a build-up to the final reveal, so I think I’m going to swap it out for “A Real Haunting.” If the audience boos at the end, I’ll know I made the wrong choice.

October 26

2000 words on Ferocious yesterday, bringing the total to 18,000. For the non-writers looking for a sense of what this means, novels like Sick House, Bring Her Back, and Blister are in the 60K range, novels like Pressure, Dweller, and Wolf Hunt are in the 70K range, and Cyclops Road is in the 80K range.

Last night I was on The Panic Room podcast for the fourth time. I read a non-filthy excerpt from Bang Up and talked about the awkward time I read my story “Werewolf Porno” in front of an audience.

The third of this week’s new releases came out today: Fantastic Tales of Terror. This is another anthology where most of the contributors are way more famous than I am. My story is about Buster Keaton doing battle with living stone gargoyles. Get it HERE.

Fantastic Tales of Terror

The Scariest Haunted House

Jump scares in haunted house attractions have no effect on me.

I’m not saying this to imply that I have nerves of steel. If there’s a jump scare in a movie, there’s a 99% chance that I’ll jump out of my seat. If I’m awake when the alarm clock goes off, I flinch. I jump at the doorbell even when I hear the person walking up to the door, though at least I don’t let out a yelp. I’m an easily startled guy.

But in a haunted house, with actors constantly leaping out at you with the specific intent of making you jump…I don’t. I LOVE haunted houses, but I’m not tense or scared when I walk through them; I’m mostly just going “Ooooh—that’s cool!” and admiring the artistry.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live a convenient distance from some of the most highly regarded attractions. The houses at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights are fantastic, though the lines are the scariest part (the days when you could get through all of them in one night through careful planning and strategy are over).

Netherworld in Atlanta is like going through all of the Universal houses back to back—it’s gigantic and there’s absolutely no wasted space. The queue to get in is so impressive that I didn’t realize the actual haunted house part hadn’t started yet. There is misdirection galore. Yet with these top-notch attractions, I’m impressed but not scared.

Scream-a-Geddon near Tampa, Florida feels like you’re going to meet the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family before you even finish the drive. One of the houses is a prison-themed attraction where you can, by wearing a glow-in-the-dark necklace, give the actors permission to touch you. (You can withdraw consent at any time by removing the necklace.) I figured they might brush up against you every once in a while, but no—my wife and I were separated from each other within 30 seconds, and it became a solo nightmare, with actors constantly grabbing you, pushing you through the rooms, aggressively getting in your face, shoving you down into a dentist chair, locking you in a jail cell, etc. Way more intense than the average haunted house, but still, for me, not scary.

Nope, the scariest haunted house was in New England about twenty years ago, run by high school students.

My wife and I had taken a Halloween vacation up there. One day in Salem (which we assumed would have awesome haunted houses), one day at Spooky World, and one day hitting what other attractions we could find. Spooky World had several houses, plus a hayride and a magic show, and we figured it would take up most of a day.

But the fire marshal had shut down all but one of the houses. Did we say:

  1. a) “Well, it’s good to know that our safety is the #1 priority.”
  2. b) “Whaaaaat??? That sucks!!! We hate you, fire marshal!!!”

The answer is obvious, and it’s the reason the mayor in Jaws kept the beach open. We didn’t care about the risk of a flash fire, we cared that our fun had been ruined. So we found ourselves with a lot of extra time, and decided to check out a haunted house at a high school. This was pre-GPS, so finding the school was a nightmare by itself, but we eventually arrived there and went through the haunt.

Not too impressive. Lots of dark hallways without a lot going on. The actors weren’t great.

But there are certain—not rules, but traditions in a haunted house. You’re most often walking down a hallway. If you’re in a room, there’s still a clearly defined path to follow. Sure, there are dark mazes or mirrored walls to get you lost, but there’s still a path, even if you’re going down the wrong one.

So, we walked through a dark hallway, turned a corner, and stepped into a huge, wide-open room, taking up much of the gymnasium.

Several actors were standing there in Scream masks and cloaks.

They all turned to look at us. And then started slowly walking toward us.

I’m not scared of high school students in Scream costumes. But suddenly being in a wide-open room, when I was conditioned to expect narrow hallways, was completely disorienting, and we weren’t sure where we were supposed to go from there! We had several actors moving toward us and no defined path to escape!

It turned out that all you had to do was walk across the room and the next hallway was easy to find. But for a few seconds, this haunted house had successfully freaked me out.

There’s no way the kids said “We’re going to mess with their preconceived notions of how a haunted house should work, thus creating a sense of unease.” It was unquestionably a time/budget thing. Unintentional or not, by defying expectations, they created the scariest moment I’d ever encountered in a haunted house.

Fun fact: This also works for writers.

October 25

1000 words on Ferocious yesterday, bringing the total to 16,000. I also did a beginning-to-end read of what I’ve written so far, to make sure the pacing is okay. A lot has happened, but our heroes aren’t in serious danger yet. That’s about to change. And once the really bad stuff kicks in, it doesn’t stop. These characters are not happy to be in this particular book.

I did an interview with Lionel Ray Green, which he already posted HERE. It’s mostly focused on my new novel Bang Up which you should immediately purchase if you’re over 18 and not offended by a novel that’s way way way more sexed up than my usual work. It also answers the question of whether I consider myself a horror author or a humor author.

Later today, a bonus essay!

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