Why I’m Still Afraid of the Dark

Confession time. I’m 36 years old and I still jog up the staircase at night after turning off the lights on the floor below. I’ve got an inner dialogue going on the whole time that sounds something like this:

“This is so stupid. You are way too old to act like this. Seriously, what (or who) do you think is going to come after you? The boogeyman?”

Followed quickly by:

“Man, I need to get to the gym.”

That second part is a self-deprecating story for another day.

Let’s focus in on the fact that I turn into a ten year kid in my own house by letting fear almost completely overrule every rational thought in my head. When it comes down to it, I’m not a fan of the dark. I don’t find it particularly comforting, and instead it has always represented in my mind a place where things that want to hurt you hide away until you are completely vulnerable. Then those things will lunge out and grab you with no remorse and reduce you into a crying, terrified, now-I-need-therapy mess (that is, if you weren’t completely spirited away into another universe of course).

You may chalk it up to my early discovery of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the like. Or the fact that I read every Stephen King book I could get my hands on somewhere between fifth and sixth grade. My middle school mind was shaped by these big uglies who had their terrifying agenda of revenge and often stalked their prey at night. You know, when everybody was sleeping. I got older and even though I knew that none of these things were real, I was even more drawn to them (ahem, vampire junkie anyone?). But that fear of the dark remained.

Then as a grown-up, I learned a shocking truth. You don’t need a Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers to come along and do evil things. Human beings, the ones that exist here and now in the real world, are just as capable of the dastardly awful things that I saw in movies and read about in my fiction books. I learned that there are people out there who don’t know me, but given the proper motivation (in their minds anyway) would hurt me without hesitation or provocation. Usually you can’t see those people coming either. They hide behind normal faces in normal places. They could be anywhere. That fear becomes even more pronounced as you transfer it to those that you love.

You may wonder how a big old scaredy cat like me could write horror or any other kind of spooky story about things that go bump in the night when I feel this way. Part of the reason is because regardless of how I feel about the creatures themselves, I still get a little bit of a thrill out of being scared inside a safely contained fictional environment. I’m the first person in line to see movies like Resident Evil (and all of its sequels) and the remakes of my favorite horror movies from when I was a kid (even though they are almost always spectacularly bad). I think the important words there, in case you missed them, were “safely contained” and “fictional”. When I’m in control of the words going down on the page, those things hold no power over me. In fact, I could erase them without a second thought. No, those fictional baddies don’t scare me.

But movies like Blood Diamond and Tears of the Sun stress me out and put me in a melancholy depression for days – because even though the story may be fiction, the truth behind the story is not. What human beings can do to other human beings is ghastly and deeply disturbing to me. In the end, that’s why, at 36, I’m still afraid of the dark. It’s not because of the monsters inside my head or that I find in other writers’ work; it’s the real monsters out there that I know exist. I hope they never find my doorstep, or yours. But in the meantime, you’ll still find me looking over my shoulder when I climb those stairs at night.

Paranormal Headliner: Tunku Halim

Today I’m bring some international flair to the Paranormal Book Beat in the form on my latest Paranormal Headliner, Tunku Halim.

Tunku has published two novels and five collections of short stories, the latest being 44 Cemetery Road and Gravedigger’s Kiss. His novel, Dark Demon Rising, was nominated for the 1999 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award while his second novel. Vermillion Eye, was a study text at The National University of Singapore.

Welcome Tunku!

A Little Bit about Tunku

Tunku lives in Australia but is a frequent visitor to his country of birth, Malaysia. He is a lawyer turned writer. He is interested in real estate design and development.

Recently his stories “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” and “Keramat” have respectively appeared in The Apex Book of World SF (Apex Publications) and Exotic Gothic 3 (Ash-Tree Press) whilst his essay on Margot Livesey’s Eva Moves the Furniture was published in Twenty-First-Century Gothic: Great Gothic Novels Since 2000 (The Scarecrow Press). His latest tale “In the Village of Setang” is soon to be published in Exotic Gothic 4 (PS Publishing).

He also writes non-fiction, including A Children’s History of Malaysia and History of Malaysia – A Children’s Encyclopedia.

You are my first international Paranormal Headliner! Can you tell us a bit about the places that you’ve lived and what you liked best about them?

Tunku: I was born in Malaysia but was sent off to a boarding school in England at 13. I’ve been living in Australia for almost 20 years, 10 in Sydney and 10 in Hobart, Tasmania. I love the gothic atmosphere in so many English towns and villages. The natural scenery in Australia, especially Tasmania, is stunning. The social scene in Malaysia is great. Good food and lots of friends and relatives who love discussing about ghosts and ghouls!

What do you do to unwind and relax?

Tunku: I used to be into Karate, but now I do Yoga. I recently have taken up oil painting and drawing.

Tunku on Writing

What is it about writing that brings you back to the page for more?

Tunku: I suppose there’s a yearning to share something, to tell a tale, to explore an idea and to create something.

What were the key influences for your books?

Tunku: Being born in Malaysia, its myths and legends are very important. I also like to think that there’s a hidden world behind our day-to-day one, this is what’s drawn out in my writing. Of course, I love Stephen King too!

Are any of your characters based on people that you’ve known, or situations in your books things you’ve encountered in real life?

Tunku: Yes and yes. But I wouldn’t want to go into any details. Trade secret …

What is your writing process- do you plot/plan or do you write from the seat of your pants?

Tunku: I write organically. I start out with a scene, a character or an idea and I see where that takes me. Staring out with a well-formed plot would be too uninteresting for me and removes the pleasure of the unknown journey before me.

How much research do you do for each of your projects?

Tunku: Very little. Most of the research is in the head!

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Tunku: Getting started on a story.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Tunku: Write as much as possible. Don’t worry about the quality of what you’re written. Find out about the writer’s craft from books and courses. Writing is like playing the piano, the more you write the better you get at it.

What are you current working on?

Tunku: A short story for an anthology called “Exotic Gothic 5” (edited by Danel Olson).

Tunku’s Paranormal Perspectives

Do you identify more with the horror genre or the paranormal (or both)?

Tunku: I started off as a horror writer but gradually the desire to strike fear into the heart of the reader became less and less important. I certainly use elements of horror but without the blood and gore. I wrote what can be called a paranormal romance novella several years back called “Juriah’s Song” but it was well before the Twilight novels
became such a hit. I think I’m more comfortable with the phrase “Gothic fiction” or “dark fantasy”. It allows me to soar anywhere on these old bat wings.

How you feel about the boom of paranormal fiction recently?

Tunku: There’s too much of it and this will lead to its eventual demise. This is what happened to the horror boom in the 1980s. Good fiction will always stay with us though.

What scares you?

Tunku: Horror movies. Humanity’s stupidity.

What do you think draws people to this type of fiction?

Tunku: We all believe that if we find the perfect man/woman then we’ll finally be happy. I don’t believe anyone has found that perfect person. So many romances have been crushed. The paranormal romance novel implicitly recognizes this and so takes it to one extreme. The perfect partner has to “super human”, a vampire, a werewolf … but with a heart of gold.

Connect with Tunku:


Paranormal Headliner: G.R. Yeates

Do I have a treat for you all today! G.R. Yeates is joining us for a little sit-down, and he writes….Horror.  With a capital H. Sure you’ll find some flavors of the paranormal in his books, but G.R. is going after the dark with gusto- which I think is awesome. (You are all familiar with my weakness for B-rated horror flicks, right?)  So without further ado, let’s hear from the man himself.

A Little About G.R.

G.R. Yeates has been published in the Dark Continents anthology, Phobophobia and has been accepted into the Horror for Good anthology coming soon from Cutting Block Press. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed Vetala Cycle, a trilogy of vampiric horror novels set in World War I. The first two volumes, The Eyes of the Dead and Shapes in the Mist, are available now and the third and final installment, Hell’s Teeth, was just released in March. Expect more, much more, from this writer in 2012.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

G.R.: As a child, I wanted to be a painter but I never developed a talent for it so I decided, and I remember this very clearly, that I wanted to learn how to paint with words – and that’s how my path to becoming a writer began.

What do you do to unwind and relax?

G.R.: I’m not good at either to be honest – recently I would actually say writing short stories. After six years of writing and revising novel-length manuscripts, writing self-contained pieces of a few thousand words feels like a break.

G.R. on Writing

What is it about writing that brings you back to the page for more?

G.R.: It started out being something I enjoyed and then became a means of catharsis when I was a teenager and in a number of situations where there was no real way for me to express and feel better about certain things. In that respect, my writing has become like a diary, journal and even a form of confession for me.

How did you come up with the title for your books?

G.R.: The titles always come first, otherwise I don’t know what I’ll be writing about. As to where the titles come from, I don’t know, they occur at the right time, they come to me when I need them.

Are any of your characters based on people that you’ve known, or situations in your book things you’ve encountered in real life?

G.R.: I think they are all amalgamations. A writer can only capture so much of reality when they set a story down and even then it is filtered through their own perception of people and events so what you get a reflection and a distorted one at that.

Your vampire trilogy set in WWI looks amazing!  What drew you to wanting to write a series of stories in that time period?

G.R.: I developed an interest in the First World War as a teenager after reading Wilfred Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum est. It just presented itself as something else that would make my first books stand out when I decided I wanted to write horror and place vampires in a more unique setting. To date, I’m only aware of a couple of horror films set during this era, The Awakening and Deathwatch, as well as a few stories, Minos or Rhadamanthus by Reggie Oliver and A Question of Obeying Orders by Mark Samuels. All of which I recommend, by the way.

How much research do you find yourself doing for each of your novels?

G.R.: I overdid it with the research for The Eyes of the Dead, six months of reading I did for that one, but it paid off as I was then able to just do quick skims for the next two books. I’ve been complimented on the thorough detail of my books, which has pleased me a great deal because as much hard work as writing is, spending all those months researching would feel like a waste if people didn’t pick up on it.

You have a lengthy list of upcoming titles- how do you keep all of those stories straight as you plan your next novel?

G.R.: Fairly easily because most of them have been written and planned out to one extent or another. I started researching The Eyes of the Dead in 2006 and in 2008, I signed with an agent and up until we parted ways in early 2011, I just kept on writing. The three novellas that I will be releasing in the next few months are all derived from novel-length manuscripts that I drafted whilst I was waiting for that traditional publishing break that never came.

Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”?

G.R.: A pantser – I use minimal notes and guidelines and just follow my muse. I probably hit more blind corners and dirty curves than those who plan extensively but I still get there in the end.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

G.R.: The midway slog – being halfway through a novel and knowing you have another half to go. At those times, it’s just a case of exercising discipline and keeping on with the writing until you reach that point where you feel all the threads of the story drawing together and tying up for the climax and coda.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

G.R.: Work as hard at what you do as much as you love it. Make sure you get a great editor and proofreaders if you can. Get a great cover artist who can realise the concepts you have in your head. And never be over-awed by anyone – respect is something earned and that goes for those you meet and work with as much as it does for you.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

G.R.: To be honest, I’m not sure. I tend to just sit down and write and write until I’m done. I don’t have any quirky rituals – unless you count ensuring I have something caffeine-rich to drink near at hand.

What is your favorite supernatural creature to write and why?

G.R.: Well, I would say it’s creatures that are truly alien to us. Writers like Lovecraft are a big influence on me because they were able to come up with creatures that were beyond our world and what we understand. That sense of the alien, the cosmic and the illimitable has always fascinated me far more than more conventional ‘evil’ monsters and I hope I’ve managed to tap some of that into the Vetala.

G.R.’s Paranormal Perspectives

Do you identify more with the horror genre or the paranormal (or both)?

G.R.: I would say horror, without a doubt. One of the reasons I decided to self-publish was so that I could call my work horror rather than labelling it as paranormal thriller or dark urban fantasy, for example. None of these definitions sum up what I write, for me, as effectively as the H-word.

How do you feel about the boom of paranormal fiction recently?

G.R.: One of the writers who I really admire is Alexandra Sokoloff – her stories walk the dividing line between paranormal and horror very adeptly and she has a knack for unsettling nightmarish imagery, particularly certain scenes in her novel, The Price. I would also recommend any writer who is struggling with structure and planning to read Alex’s blog, the Dark Salon. It’s a great source of information.

What scares you?

G.R.: An abstract sense of abandonment – that’s just based on the last panic attack I had where I thought I was trapped in a waking nightmare and about to die.

What is your favorite paranormal book?

G.R.: I would say, at the moment, it is Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco. A collection of short stories that radically rewrote what I considered horror to be and what I could and should look to achieve in the genre as a writer. It was the most revolutionary thing I had read since H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider when I was a teenager.

What is your favorite paranormal movie?

G.R.: This one changes but it is usually only a change between a handful of films – these being Ridley Scott’s Alien, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Actually, I will include Werner Herzog’s remake of Nosferatu in there as well – a beautiful homage to my favourite era of cinema, German Expressionism.

What do you think draws people to this type of fiction?

G.R.: I think on the most basic level, people enjoy a good scare and to be entertained by something that is of the darkness rather than the light. On more complex levels, you get into the different aspects the genre has and how it unsettles us through gore, ghosts, psychological aberrance and cosmic horror, where we see our true insignificance in comparison to the stars that will burn and the black holes that will continue to yawn millennia after we are gone.

Connect with G.R.:

Website: http://www.gryeates.co.uk

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/gryeates666

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/_gryeates_

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4874291.G_R_Yeates

Librarything: http://www.librarything.com/profile/gryeates

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/gryeates666/

Thanks for visiting G.R.!