I haven’t listened to podcasts for a while, as my Audible subscription keeps me pretty busy and happy. A friend of mine at work discovered one he really liked this summer called Lore. Knowing I write horror, he recommended it to me. When my other friends at work started listening as well, I finally decided to check it out so I could join in on their discussions. I downloaded the first five episodes and took a listen on my way up to Salt Lake Comic Con a couple weeks ago.
Lore Podcast explores urban legends, weird accounts, and dark figures from history, blending enough facts and commentary on human nature with myth to create haunting narratives that will get under your skin just a little bit. Like chocolate-covered bacon, I devoured one episode after another because I couldn’t decide if I liked this…or not. The podcast was definitely effective at creeping me out. I love it for the storytelling, and I can’t wait for the next episode!
I also wanted to highlight this podcast today because it appears Aaron Mahnke, the creator of Lore Podcast, is an indie author, much like myself. Many independent authors I know dabble in home podcasting as a way to spread the word about their self-published or small-press fiction while offering a unique sample of their creative sweat and advice for free. I admire these people for being brave enough to put their work and their ideas out there in yet another medium for people to praise or criticize as they will.
For an indie podcast, Lore’s narration and production are fabulous, incorporating eerie background music to set the perfect spine-tingling atmosphere. I do think some episodes of this podcast are better organized and better polished than others, and I think some listeners who are more familiar with these urban legends and creeps from history than I am wish the episodes delved a little deeper or revealed something more novel. That said, and like I said, I love it for the storytelling. This appears to be an experiment in self-marketing and personal brand expansion that has really taken off, and I hope this podcaster-author continues to do amazingly well. Lore is free, and it’s wicked entertaining.
If you’re into creepy stories, or you’re looking for something to indulge in during the month of October, there are currently sixteen episodes available and they’re well worth your listening time.
To learn more about Lore Podcast and Aaron Mahnke, check out the website: http://www.lorepodcast.com
Or download the episodes straight from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/lore/id978052928
You can also support the podcast on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/lorepodcast?ty=h.
The leopard in Tarzan’s Treehouse at Disneyland hisses air out of its mouth, catching me by surprise…
The fascinating thing about fear is its power to override logic and reason. Walking through a local haunted maze attraction with friends or a sweetheart, we remind ourselves that the actors in creepy clown costumes with chainless chainsaws and flamethrowers can’t actually touch us with their weapons if they don’t want to get sued. If we’re less confident, we may straight-up tell the actors, “I’m not afraid of you,” hum our favorite hymns about Jesus, or scream at everything we meet to get over the sheer anticipation of being startled (I’ve seen all these responses on such group activities). Then, all of a sudden, another costumed actor appears, hobbling along beside us in the hay. We really freak out this time and kick them square in their creepy masked face. After we leave the attraction, we spend the rest of the night racking our brains to understand why we lost control of ourselves and hurt somebody when we knew all along no one was going to hurt us. If fear is so dangerous, is there any value at all in scaring ourselves?
Humans are emotional creatures. To broaden the scope of what this means, I just read a popular article on BuzzFeed shining an amusing spotlight on an array of Tweets in which real people appear to have asked aloud whether the new hit movie The Martian is based on a true story. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t actually sent people to Mars yet. The story resonates. It feels so real that it seems some people wonder, regardless of the facts.
I love the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I know enough about how everything is supposed to work to explain away all the mechanical trickery, and I also enjoy the jarring choreography of the car’s motion. Notwithstanding, I often dread the idea of the ride stalling while my car happens to be crossing the vine bridge, which appears to dangle over a nebulous pit of mist and lightworks. The physical illusion, and my dislike of falling, are sufficient for my brain just to wonder what would happen if this part of the track broke, collapsed. It, again, doesn’t matter how unlikely this event is to ever occur, especially in the way I imagine it. I feel concern, and a part of me believes I have good reason to be concerned, all the same.
Emotions are powerful. They’re intuitive signals about things happening around us in our environments, and within us. They’re more primal than language. This emotional intuition, or instinct, has helped life on Earth survive a lot longer than critical and analytical thinking have. In the words of Joy from the Pixar movie Inside Out: “Fear is really good at keeping [us] safe.” This explains a lot about why we might literally lose control and do weird things when we’re afraid. Feelings, rather than thoughts, have a tendency to drive us to take action, especially when we feel threatened. It’s also natural and fairly inevitable that we pay closer attention to how we feel about something than to what other people tell us, and what we tell ourselves.
Feelings as well as thoughts play an important role in our moral behavior. While many have developed an incredible skill of discerning when something is off from “gut feelings,” in truth, fear has also been the basis for many bad, cruel, and downright ugly decisions throughout history. Again, is there anything good about scaring ourselves? My answer is…it depends.
The horror genre is often described as “entertainment that scares us.”
Why do we like things that scare us?
Perhaps, like taking a ride on an intense roller coaster, we enjoy the adrenaline rush, the sensation that we narrowly missed death by a brushstroke. Or we get a trippy thrill out of having our emotional defense mechanisms triggered when we know we aren’t actually in danger. Perhaps, like the simple act of tickling a child, a sibling, a friend, or a spouse, it’s a bonding experience that lets the people we care about know their defense reflexes work just fine and that they can trust us to protect them, not to hurt or abandon them.
I like being tickled, but I don’t like things that make me grumpy. Intense roller coasters are among the things that tend to have a negative impact on my mood, so I tend to avoid them. While I’ve never kicked anyone in the face at a scare attraction, I’ve been cautioned ahead of entering them to prepare myself and be mindful about the possibility my fight-or-flight response could be triggered–because people have been hurt.
For those who enjoy and create horror as entertainment, there is a wide range of appeal and sensitivities to consider. Some find scare attractions so disturbing that they won’t go because it won’t be a good experience for them. Others choose not to celebrate Halloween at all because it seems wrong to take the evil that exists in our world so lightly or to seemingly welcome it into our lives in a way. I avoid R-rated horror films (and R-rated films in general). I know I’ll be haunted by what I see much longer than I would like, and I can’t stand them. Someone else, however, will feel differently and have different experiences. We all have different temperaments, and that’s part of what makes being human awesome. It’s important, as a creator, to know your audience, and to know yourself.
Shocking, thrilling, disgusting, sad, or spooky, with many more flavors still, the situations we create may be illusions, but the fear, revulsion, etc. we illicit in others can be very, very real and even deeply upsetting. The key to writing a great horror story? Be sensitive to the fears of others while exploring the terrors that resonate with you. This doesn’t mean hold back or sensor your work in contrived ways–but be prepared for a proverbial punch to the face from those who may not react to certain aspects of horror the way that you do. Don’t take it personally if someone felt the need to close your book or turn out of your attraction and walk away.
For others, perhaps, on another level, there is value in knowing, in feeling and in scrutinizing, the things that disturb and terrify us. Because, in tense moments when our emotions take over and we lose our ability to think rationally, we want to know ahead of time what we can do to be brave, fair, and compassionate–to react the way we want to react. We’d like to know how to take control and tame our own fear, so that our fear can teach us something about our natures and take us to back to the humanity, if not the safety, we seek.
Back in May, I fell in love with an audio book about two young boys whose lives change forever when a circus with an enticing and terrifying secret comes to their town. It is easily one of my favorite creepy stories, one which I’m delighted to share my thoughts on today.
Ray Bradbury is an amazing storyteller. His imagery and his ability to evoke mood are haunting and wonderful. His way with words is a treat in itself. Something Wicked This Way Comes is the story of Evil, in all its subtle creep, seeking the destruction of the most fundamental part of our humanity, that which gives our lives meaning–our relationships–with a candy apple smile and tantalizing false promises to satisfy our lusts and desires while preying on human misery. With it’s beautiful nuggets of wisdom about love, life, family, friendship, time, and the battle of good vs. evil, this story is as powerful and allegorical as it is imaginative.
This is a great story!
This is a great author.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from this book:
“The train skimmed on softly, slithering, black pennants fluttering, black confetti lost on its own sick-sweet candy wind, down the hill, with the boys pursuing, the air so cold they ate ice cream with each breath.”
“Oh, what strange wonderful clocks women are. They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it. Why speak of time when you are Time, and shape the universal moments, as they pass, into warmth and action? How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever.”
“Why love the woman who is your wife? Her nose breathes in the air of a world that I know; therefore I love that nose. Her ears hear music I might sing half the night through; therefore I love her ears. Her eyes delight in seasons of the land; and so I love those eyes. Her tongue knows quince, peach, chokeberry, mint and lime; I love to hear it speaking. Because her flesh knows heat, cold, affliction, I know fire, snow, and pain. Shared and once again shared experience.”
*Love is rooted in empathy.
“And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells…. Oh, it would be lovely if you could just be fine, act fine… But it’s hard, right? With the last piece of lemon cake waiting in the icebox, middle of the night, not yours, but you lie awake in a hot sweat for it, eh?… Add up all the rivers never swum in, cakes never eaten, and by the time you get my age, Will, it’s a lot missed out on… So, minute by minute, hour by hour, a lifetime, it never ends, never stops, you got the choice this second, now this next, and the next after that, be good, be bad, that’s what the clock ticks, that’s what it says in the ticks… But then, through plain dumb cowardice, I guess, maybe you hold off from too much, wait, play it safe…. Too late, I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else.”
*A complicated one, but I love how it depicts sin as springing from the simple dread that we might be missing out on something, so we cheat others to get what we want now and, in the process, cheat ourselves. On the other end of the spectrum is a sense of lost time because we didn’t try worthwhile things, avoiding the risk of failure.
“[Y]ou take a man half-bad and a woman half-bad and put their two good halves together and you got one human all good to share between.”
“He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it.”
The Audible edition narrator, Christian Rummel, was absolutely fabulous. He did a great job voicing the various characters, and he brought out the mood of the book exceptionally well.
You can check out the Audible edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes here: http://www.audible.com/pd/Classics/Something-Wicked-This-Way-Comes-Audiobook/B00KQBMIBW
Or the Kindle and print editions on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Something-Wicked-This-Comes-Greentown-ebook/dp/B00C2C637I.
Depictions of skulls and bones in artwork are common, especially during the Halloween season when we celebrate the things that most terrify us. Often, portrayals of the barest human and animal remains are associated with death, fierceness, or foreboding. What’s unusual is to find skeletal art that invites us to consider the once-living or the otherworldly in a reverent, uplifting way–as a reflection of life and the glory of living processes rather than focusing on fear, disgust, and suffering. Almost no one does a better job of deriving positive significance and beauty from bones than scientists who study them.
At Salt Lake Comic Con last weekend, I came across a rather interesting booth that, at first glance, appeared to display photographs of various animal skeletons. Companies who manufacture high-quality fossil casts sometimes come to these events, and I thought perhaps these were advertisements for such. After taking a closer look, I realized these images were not photographs but digital renderings. With some inquiry, I came to discover that the booth represented a laboratory at the Idaho Museum of Natural History which has set up an ambitious project of digitally imaging fossil and archaeological bone collections to make specimens more widely available for educational and public perusal.
The skilled “digitization specialists” of the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory appeared to enjoy not only expanding their digital archive, but also manipulating the 3D images to re-imagine fantastical creatures like dragons (using dinosaur skulls, of course), mermaids, a steampunk orca, and the mythical Pan. All images invite us to literally flesh out and imagine these creatures as they might have appeared in life–if they were real.
Here are some of the creative images they came up with, available on their Facebook and Pintrest pages:
My favorite image they put together, which I bought as a poster, was something more simple and realistic that resonated close to my heart: a Neanderthal gazing at a skull of Paranthropus boisei (an older relative on the human evolutionary tree), with a modern human skull sitting next to it. On the lab’s Pintrest page, the image bears this description: “As no post on this page is quite complete without a little sciencey 3D model action, here is a Neanderthal contemplating his past, present, and future.” If you look closely, you’ll see that the rocky outcrop behind him is also a zoomed-in cross section of bone.
As human beings, we have powerful minds. We can use our imaginations both to solve mysteries about things that really happen, and to create new things that have never existed before. I love science because it teaches us that knowledge is power. Wisdom is mankind’s flashlight, rendering harmless the shadows of the unknown. Exploration and discovery give us more choices and control over our environment, chasing away fear, doubt, and misconceptions.
I’ve heard people joke that paleontologists, anatomists, and even doctors must be psychos because, to some extent or other, we “love playing with dead things.” The difference between the mad scientists who will grace our television screens or fill our spooky story indulgences this season, and reality, is that true science inspires and advocates a deep reverence for life. When science loses its reverence for life, it ceases to be science. Thus, as a natural scientist myself, I hold immense awe and respect for bones and the extinct life they represent, from which I have had the opportunity to learn and to contemplate worlds past time and again.
To learn more about the Idaho Virtualization Laboratory, check out these links to their website and social media pages: