Author Archives: cmsaunders

About cmsaunders

I write stuff. Pretty much any stuff. My dark fiction has appeared in Asphalt Jungle, Raw Nerve, Roadworks, Dark Valentine, Screams of Terror, Shallow Graves, Fantastic Horror, The Literary Hatchet, Gore and numerous anthologies. My first book, Into the Dragon's Lair – A Supernatural History of Wales was published back in 2003, and I've worked extensively in the freelance journalism industry, contributing features to numerous international publications including Fortean Times, Bizarre, Urban Ink, Loaded, Record Collector, Maxim, and a regular column to the Western Mail newspaper. I lived in China for over five years where I taught English during my search for enlightenment, before moving back to the UK in January 2013 to work as staff writer on Nuts magazine. Later, I was senior writer on Forever Sports magazine and associate editor at Coach magazine, before leaving to chance my arm in the world of pro freelance. In recent times I've devoted more time to dark fiction, my latest offerings being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut), Human Waste and X3, my third collection. I also edit, copy write, proofread and ghost write. I am represented by Media Bitch Literary Agency and drink far too much craft beer.

RetView #12 – Ringu

Title: Ringu (Ring)

Year of Release: 1998

Director: Hideo Nakata

Length: 95 mins

Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato

Ringu-1998-movie-Hideo-Nakata-6

It would be a huge generalization to say that I love them all because like anything else, the genre can be a bit hit n’ miss. But I’ve spoken at length before about my fondness for Japanese horror movies. Ringu (the original version of the Ring, followed in 2002 by a big-budget and hugely successful American remake) is quite possibly the king of J-Horror. It’s without doubt the movie responsible for sparking a western fascination with Asian horror movies which was mined extensively over the next decade or so with varying degrees of success. Think Pulse, the Grudge and Dark Water, all of which were remade for western audiences.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that until Ringu burst onto the screens in all its grainy glory, western horror cinema was going through a notoriously bad time. We were still bogged down in the deranged serial killer/slasher genre, which was getting decidedly old by then. There are only so many cheap scares and bloody, increasingly imaginative kills an audience can tolerate before they get desensitized to the whole thing. We wanted something new. Something that wasn’t the same as everything else. Then came Ringu.

The film begins innocuously enough, giving barely a hint of the edge-of-the-seat creepiness to follow. Two cutesy teenaged girls, Masami (Sato) and Tomoko (Takeuchi) are messing around in an apartment and discussing a cursed videotape which supposedly kills its victims after they receive a phone call seven days after watching it, when one of them confesses to watching just such a strange tape a week earlier. Then the phone rings. Some time later, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Matsushima) learns that her niece Tomoko (Yup, thadda one) and three of her friends died under mysterious circumstances, and sets about investigating. The trail leads to a cabin in the Izu area of Japan. There, she finds an unlabelled video tape. Obviously, she watches it, thereby starting off a trail of events which might just be the death of her. She enlists the help of her ex-husband (Sanada) and together they attempt to break the spell and avoid Reiko’s imminent fate. More than two decades on, that unforgettable scene where Sadako the ghost girl climbs out of a well (and then through a television screen) remains one of the simplest yet most evocative slices of cinematic history ever committed to, er, videotape? Though many have tried to replicate the effect, it has never been emulated.

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Adapted from the 1991 novel Ring by Koji Suzuki who, in turn, based the story on an urban myth , the movie has long been noted as examining Japan’s obsession with the clash between tradition and modernity. This is only one of the many subtexts critics have pointed to, another popular one being that ghost girl Sadako is a model for the modern woman and how independence conflicts with the traditional core values of motherhood. Whether you agree with any of that or not, it’s clear that Ringu is an extraordinarily complex film that works on many levels. It is a visually stunning piece of work, so heavily steeped in Japanese culture that as a westerner it’s practically impossible to grasp all the subtleties. It draws on many aspects of history, folklore, and even theatre, to create a mash-up that is much more about fostering a pervasive sense of dread rather than going for cheap jump scares. Much was made at the time about Sadako’s jerky, twisty, hauntingly deliberate movements. These were actually based on a kind of interpretive Japanese dance called Butoh, which became popular after the Second World War. Even Sadako’s classic look is no accident, having been based on a specific species of ghost called the yūrei, which invariably feature stark white faces, long black hair, and white kimonos. The reason yūrei appear this way is because that’s how Japanese women looked when they were buried.

In fact, everything about Ringu was designed to creep the viewer out. One way it achieved this was through use of a technique called ‘Ma,’ where sound effects and musical scores are deliberately punctuated with sequences of rapid pauses or even long, drawn-out silences. This was another way the film differentiates itself significantly from Western films. While Western horror uses sound to let the audience know how they should be feeling, J-Horror (and Ringu specifically), uses Ma as a way to keep the audience thrown off balance. This is just one reason the Guardian named it the 12th Best Horror Film of all Time. By the way, you can watch it in its entirety (with English subtitles) HERE.

Trivia Corner:

In what proved to be a shrewd and innovative move at the time, both Ringu and its sequel Rasen (not to be confused with Ring 2), were released in Japan on the same day, January 31st 1998. Both films had different writers and directors, yet shared many of the same cast members. Shrewd and innovative this may have been, but successful it wasn’t as Ringu was an international hit and Rasen a comparative flop.

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For the Love?

There’s a worrying trend developing whereby publishers (often individuals who just call themselves publishers, with about as much market knowledge as a used condom) snap up stories, compile them into ezines or anthologies, and put them on the market hoping to make a fast buck. They don’t pay contributors, instead calling themselves ‘For The Love (FTL),’ or ‘exposure’ markets. It’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. There’s been a debate going on over the viability of these markets since forever, the main argument in the ‘for’ column being that they provide platforms for emerging writers to break through. That may be true, but only because more established writers don’t work for free.

Generally speaking, there are two distinct forms of FTL market. The first is where the publisher invites submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, free to the public. This is a true ‘FTL’ market. Everyone works for free; the writers, the editor, the artists, using the publication as a platform to showcase their work. This is perfectly acceptable.

Then there is the dark side.

Other publishers invite submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or anthology, CHARGES the public money for it and keeps the profits. They don’t pay the writers, or the artists, and what’s more, where possible they charge for ad space, thereby creating two revenue streams (sales and ads) whilst incorporating virtually non-existent overheads and operating costs.

The publisher, who is also usually the editor, maintains he or she invests a lot of time in the project and should be compensated. That is true. But what about compensating the contributors who also invest a lot of time in their work? And make it possible for them to make their cut? Not only do writers invest their time, but also money in the form of materials, hardware, software, electricity, etc. It actually costs money to write and submit. The ‘exposure’ guff doesn’t cover it. Would you ask a workman to your house, ask him to build you a wall, which you then charged people to look at, and when the workman asks for payment (or at least a cut of the profits) you say, “Well, didn’t you enjoy building it?”

I don’t think so. Not unless you want a punch in the face. The same principal should be applied here. Otherwise, you are effectively profiteering. The publisher will probably maintain that they can’t afford to pay contributors. But in that case, the project isn’t economically viable and shouldn’t even have left the ground. Would you start building that wall if you couldn’t afford to buy the bricks?

Of course, there is a wicked little sting in the tail here. These non-paying markets rarely attract writers of the calibre required to shift large amounts of product, because a lot of these writers have been around a while, quietly building their reputations, and know their worth. They put their hearts and souls into their work, and aren’t about to give it away for free (apart for the odd charity contribution), and stand by while someone else makes money off them. Therefore, the only people who contribute to these publications are writers ‘on the way up.’

This isn’t a judgement of their quality. They might be, and probably are, very capable writers. The problem is they are yet to build an audience, so very few prospective readers know who they are. This doesn’t sell books. Obviously, submitting to FTL markets is part of the process of building that audience, but it does nothing for sales in the short term. Publications need a few big hitters in order to sell copies. But if you don’t pay, you won’t get those big hitters and you won’t sell many copies.

Catch 22.

Of course, you can flip that equation on its head and say that if a publication offered contributors even token payment, the quality of submissions would increase and so would sales. From there, the more money you offer, the better standard of writers would contribute and consequently, the more copies you sell. The more copies you sell, the more you can pay contributors, and so on. This might be a very simplistic way of looking at it, but why can’t it work? If only more people recognized that you get what you pay for, we would all be better off.

This post was first published on the Deviant Dolls website.

And don’t forget, you don’t always have to start at the beginning!


You Don’t Always Have to Start at the Beginning.

You may wonder why I don’t post more about writing and/or publishing. After all, I’ve been doing this a long time. Well, the answer to that is that I jealously guard any knowledge and information I’ve gleaned on my journey and file it away for my own personal use. Find your own knowledge and information!

I’m kidding.

Kind of.

I have written about some aspects of writing on this blog before, most recently writer’s block and indie publishing and do so occasionally for various publications like Writer’s Weekly and Funds for Writers. But thinking about it, the reason I don’t do it more is because writing is such a subjective topic that it’s very difficult to impart any actual bona fide wisdom. What works for you, might not work for anyone else. I can give an opinion, sure. Maybe even an informed opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s still just an opinion, and as the saying goes, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. You like the way yours smells, but everyone else’s stinks.

Anyway, from an altruistic point of view, I probably should blog more about writing and publishing in the hope that someone somewhere might take something from it. So today I’d like to address what I see as one of many rookie errors, and that is the assumption that when writing a story, a novel, a novella, or even a feature or article, you have to start at the beginning and work diligently through to the end.

It’s bullshit.

That’s right. You can start in the middle if you want. Fuck it. If you have a killer final scene, write that first then work backwards. Obviously, I don’t mean write the words backwards. I’ve never tried it, but I imagine that would not only be ridiculously taxing, but satanic as fuck. Plus, editors won’t appreciate it.

Moving on…

It genuinely amazes me how many people start a writing project full of optimism and the very best of intentions, only to grind to a shuddering halt for some reason, abandon the project, then just moan about how hard it was instead. It’s easy to blame writer’s block but c’mon, you know that’s just an excuse. My advice is, if you are struggling with a particular scene, or have some plot issues to work through, or have plain hit the wall, just pick up the story at a later point (on the other side of said wall) and continue from there. When it’s finished nobody will even notice, much less care.

For example, imagine you are writing a murder mystery and the victim has just been found dead in the kitchen with their own intestines stuffed in their mouth. Maybe you aren’t sure about the order of events leading up to the murder, or the weapon used, or what day of the week it was, or even who the killer is. Maybe you can’t decide on the time frame, motive, or any number of other technicalities. Don’t sweat it, just let the story hang there for a while and move to another section. Believe me, sooner or later things will fall into place.

Personally, I often start short stories with little more than a single scene in my head, then I write around the scene. If I’m lucky, I’ll have several semi-related scenes floating around. Then it’s just a matter of stitching them together. Sometimes the initial scene doesn’t even make a final cut. It’s there as kind of a sign post or marker, and when it has served its purpose I might pull it and throw it away, or use it in another story.

How you write is up to you. That’s the beauty of it. You are the master, and the page is your domain. Own it. The important thing is the end result. The story. How you arrive at the destination is irrelevant. You don’t always have to follow convention, and you certainly don’t always have to start at the beginning.

This post first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.


RetView #11 – Thinner

Title: Thinner

Year of Release: 1996

Director: Tom Holland

Length: 92 minutes

Starring: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney

Thinner

Adaptations of Stephen King books are almost always given a rough ride. Even such classics as The Shining and Misery are not without their detractors. I don’t really understand why that is. My theory is two-fold. On one hand, there are a lot of Constant Readers who place the books in such high regard that they are considered untouchable. Woe betide any director who dares change the smallest detail, let alone put his own stamp on it no matter how talented he is (Stanley Kubrick being a case in point). On the other hand, there are others who just don’t like his work and are resentful of his success. I feel the same way about Justin Bieber. Another possibility is that the ‘good’ ones suffer from being associated with the shit ones. Who can forget Lawnmower Man? In that sense, Stephen King movies draw eerie parallels with his beloved AC/DC. For every Highway to Hell, there’s a Fly on the Wall.

Unlike some SK movies, usually those adapted from short stories which struggle to provide enough material for a full movie, Thinner benefits from a good, solid premise. Billy Halleck (Burke) is an arrogant and morbidly obese lawyer who has gotten rich keeping mobsters and crooks out of jail. One night he is out driving with his wife (Jenney) after celebrating a big result when she decides to give him a spontaneous (and ill-advised) blow job. That’s one way to tear his mind away from food. Understandably distracted, Billy knocks over and kills an old gypsy woman. Being personal friends of his, the local police chief and the judge conspire to have the case dismissed, and Billy walks free. Outside the courtroom, he is accosted by the old gypsy woman’s 104-year old father, who touches Billy’s face and whispers one word, “Thinner,” before leaving the scene. Almost instantly, Billy starts losing weight. At first, he is elated, then starts to worry about his health. He undergoes medical checks, which come back clear, leaving him in no doubt that he is being afflicted by a gypsy curse. He investigates and finds that the police chief and the judge have also been cursed, the former with the word ‘leper’ and the latter with ‘lizard.’ As Billy’s health wanes, he comes to the realisation that he needs help and enlists the services of one of his old mobster friends to track down the gyspies and make them lift the curse. From there, the situation escalates to a thrilling, and shocking finale. At the movie’s end you’ll be left with two, ahem, take-aways.

1: Never attempt oral sex when you are in control of a vehicle.

2: Don’t eat the cherry pie.

Thinner (originally titled Gypsy Pie) was first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1986. Though it garnered some good reviews, it wasn’t an immediate hit, selling ‘only’ 28,000 copies. After being outed as King, sales jumped to 231,000. Ultimately, it is a story of revenge, and the lengths people will go to in order to get even. Contrary to most King books, Thinner benefits from a very downbeat ending, something typical of King writing as Bachman. Burke (Robocop 3, Tombstone, Simple Men) is superb as Halleck. Okay, he looks a bit silly in the first quarter of the film when he is parading around in an outrageous fat suit pulling funny faces, but once that is out of his system and the horror sets in, he plays the part a bit too convincingly. The dialogue is passable, and the tension expertly built by director Tom Holland who cut his teeth in the horror world on films such as the original Fright Night (1985) and Child’s Play (1988). It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s all campy fun.

Reviews of the film were mixed. Noted critic James Berardinelli claimed, “Thinner could have been an opportunity to examine the ethics of a slick lawyer who refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. Unfortunately, questions of morality are of secondary importance to a film that emphasizes its Death Wish aspects.”

It didn’t exactly set the box office alight, either. In fact, it barely broke even. But this is another example of a film overcoming an indifferent initial reaction to slowly evolve into an underground cult classic. In a 2011 review, www.horrornews.net said, “Thinner, commonly mistaken for a mediocre movie, is in fact a crap-tastic masterpiece.”

I concur.

Trivia Corner:  

Thinner is partly based on an episode in Stephen King’s own life. He weighed 236 pounds and was warned by his doctor that he needed to lose weight and stop smoking. He began to contemplate what would happen if someone were to lose weight and then be unable to stop.

For the previous entry in the RetView series, please see here.


Take Us Away

Summer’s here! Find out which travel destinations are important to the Dolls, and why.

Deviant Dolls

Christian had this idea that you guys might enjoy knowing a few of our favorite things. Maybe he was wrong, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Since it’s summer, when most people embark on holidays and gloriously awful family vacations, let’s all share our favorite holiday destination. Personally, I can’t afford a holiday, but let’s play along just the same.

Katrina: Hahahahahahahaha. Vacation? You’re hilarious.

Here’s a holiday destination for you: My living room, after the children have gone to bed, with a glass of bourbon sweating on the coffee table and something mind-numbing on the TV. Heaven.

Tony: Mountains. We like a good couple of days to day-hike and stay in a cabin with a view. Our current number one spot to visit next is the redwoods in California.

Liam: This one is easy… Okracoke Island North Carolina. Specifically, Howard’s Pub. The place isn’t what…

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Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I

I’m pleased to announce that my short story Roadkill is included in the new anthology Digital Horror Fiction, Volume I alongside a host of stellar names including Aaron Gudmunson, James Dorr, Gregory L. Norris and my fellow Deviant Doll, Renee ‘Twisted Bitch’ Miller.

Digital Horror Fiction

Roadkill was inspired by a feature I did for Nuts magazine back in the day about rogue ambulance crews in south America. They patrol the roads, listening in to police scanners, looking for accidents. Then they ferry the dead and injured to hospitals and pick up their payment. Of course, the system is wide open to manipulation, and makes a great backdrop for a horror story. I started thinking, what if, one day, a rogue ambulance crew picked up a casualty who really should be dead, but wasn’t? In fact, what if he flat-out refused to die?

And what if he had a score to settle?

It’s probably fair to assume that heads will roll.

I had a lot of fun writing this story. It probably represents one of my first shambling steps into splatterpunk. It’s a bit over the top but hey, it’s fiction! If it makes you crack a smile, as well as turn your stomach, then my work is done.

Roadkill has been previously published in the anthology Fading Light and was also included in my collection X2.


Plotting or Pantsing?

The Deviant Dolls address one of the big talking points in writing and, as usual, can’t agree on anything.

Deviant Dolls

This is a debate every writing group from forever has had, but I think we can all agree neither is right or wrong. Both are acceptable ways of crafting a story and it really depends on how the author works best. We decided to discuss it anyway.

Steve: Pants it, then plot it! Plotting requires a beginning a middle and an end, and they all turn up eventually. Ideas are what require thought. I’m not a clever man, so my higher mind rarely steers the ship in creative endeavours. A lot of books use my characters to explore and articulate the dark suspicions of my gut, the worrying questions of my dreams and the reflexive chauvinism of my drunken snarling. As such, sometimes I don’t know what I’m trying to say until I’ve said it. Then I have to edit it before people find out how terrible I am…

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