Chain of Evil by Michael R. Collings – A Review

Chain of Evil: Journalstone’s Guide to Writing Darkness
Michael R. Collings
JournalStone (August 2014)
nonfiction (2.75/5)

Chain of Evil

I’ve had a mixed experience with the books that JournalStone publishes. The last JournalStone book I received through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program didn’t do much for me. On the other hand, I found Mr. October to be a fairly strong collection and I have high hopes for JournalStone’s latest collection Out of Tune (it’s edited by Jonathan Maberry and contains a story from Seanan McGuire, among others–how can I not?).

Unfortunately, Michael Collings’ Chain of Evil is another that falls into the former category. I was hopeful when I first requested it. I’d like to write more horror. A book that claims to be a “guide to writing darkness” seemed like something I should have. And it’s not utterly useless. However, it’s not completely useful either.

Let me explain.

Chain of Evil is a collection of essays written over the course of Dr. Collings’ career as a professor teaching creative writing and as a horror writer. The topics (of which there are many) range from general ideas of what horror is and where it comes from to the nitty-gritty of very basic grammar.

Some of these essays are quite helpful. I found the chapters on dialogue tags and “saying more with little” to be especially good reminders. For a beginning writer, many more chapters might be handy.

That said, I found a lot of the essays to be rather old-hat, somewhat dull, and filled with more autobiography than horror writing analysis. Stephen King made this work in his classic On Writing. It didn’t work for me here.

Another disappointment I had with Chain of Evil were the writing examples Collings chose to use. While he does quote some of the authors he declares to be the masters of the field (Lovecraft, King, Koontz, Maberry), he mostly quotes his own writing, as well as his son’s, neither of which impressed me. It didn’t help that he argues with Amazon reviews criticizing his work. I found that to be an extremely tacky choice.

And let’s not speak of him sticking up for Orson Scott Card. The less said of that, the better.

In general, I found myself finishing essay after essay wondering “What does this have to do with writing horror?” I was hoping for something with more meat on its bones than this collection, something more inspiring, especially from someone with such a long history in writing and in the genre of horror itself. I didn’t find it here.


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Monday Morning Music

I’ve been a fan of the Be Good Tanyas for a while now. One of the reasons is Frazey Ford’s gorgeous voice. Here’s a new solo piece from her most recent album, Indian Ocean. The track’s called “September Fields” and my only complaint about it is that it wanders away with a fadeout at the end. Still good, though. Enjoy!

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Monday Morning Music

Well, as promised, here’s video from the band I got to see while I was in Boston the weekend before last. These folks are a Canadian quartet consisting of two brothers (the guitarist and the drummer) and two unrelated folks (the harpist and the keyboardist/percussionist).  They played “Half Crazy” at the show and I found it to be… well, transcendent was the word that came to mind at the time. Hope you like it, too.

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Fat, Strong, and Confident (Guest Post)


I used to lift weights regularly. This post from Fit Is a Feminist Issue has me thinking I ought to get back into it. So much positive stuff.

Originally posted on Fit Is a Feminist Issue:

Five years ago I couldn’t walk three blocks without an embarrassing amount of huffing, puffing, and sweating. I would cancel invitations if there was any amount of walking. The shame of falling behind or asking to take breaks was unbearable. That’s if I got close to getting out the door. Frequently, I would cancel because I didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I would rather stay at home and lose myself in a book.

Growing up, exercise was all gym class embarrassment. Jiggling too much during jumping jacks. Being last at the mile run, every. single. time. Pullup? Ha. This time around I was determined not to fight my body. I wanted to find an outlet of physical activity that brought me joy, that helped me reconnect my body and my mind.

I started working with a personal trainer once a week for half an…

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Monday Afternoon Music

Ah, what a busy day it’s been so far. And there was an awesome, fun, busy weekend just past, as well. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Music

So, I considered myself a Grateful Dead fan (never had the teddy bears on my car, so technically not a deadhead?) long before this song came out, got huge, and the dreaded word “sellout” was being bandied about. Continue reading

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Monday Morning Music

Monday again. Yeah, that’ll happen. I woke up this morning not knowing what to post today, and I’ve been browsing around Youtube for a little while. The big discovery? Continue reading

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Monday Morning Music

Happy November! The weather is changing into winter before our eyes up here in VT. I’m still in a spooky-ish video mood, though. Continue reading

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Dog Days by Joe McKinney – A Review

Dog Days
Joe McKinney
JournalStone (July 2014)
young adult/horror
Dog Days

I received a copy of Joe McKinney’s Dog Days through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program. The book got my hopes up with a strong start, introducing us to Mark, a Texan teenager at the beginning of his summer vacation, who wakes up to the aftermath of a hurricane that has struck his wealthy Houston suburb of Clear Lake (where my dad’s sister used to live, for what that’s worth). A shrimp boat stuck up a pecan tree with a pile of half-eaten corpses inside promised a rollicking old horror story.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way for me. I found McKinney’s prose and storytelling  to be pretty stiff after such a rousing beginning, and I didn’t find his narrator’s voice very believable. Mark sounds like a grown man, not the teenaged boy he’s supposed to be. There are also a lot of loose ends left floating in the breeze by the end, none of the characters are very interesting, and I didn’t find the mystery of the Hairy Man, or the man himself, to be compelling. McKinney’s attempt at an explanation is sorely lacking. I expect more from good YA fiction, especially stories that start off as well as this one did.

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Monday Morning Music – Hallowe’en Edition

Well, October is almost over. This is its last Monday, and I’ve only posted one spooky video in honor of Hallowe’en. That’s disappointing, at least to me. I’ll try to make up for it with a trio of videos today.

First up are the Brian Sisters, a singing trio successful in the 1930s and 1940s. Here they are in 1942 performing the tune “The Boogie Woogieman” with the Will Osborne Orchestra on a soundie called The Boogie Woogie Boogie Man (yeah, I don’t know with the titles)

Next up, another fun old clip: Louis Armstrong singing “Skeleton in the Closet.” This one’s from the 1936 Bing Crosby film Pennies from Heaven. I love Armstrong’s horn playing and the dancing skeleton.

And finally, something in color, although still kinda old. Let’s finish up with one from Siouxsie and the Banshees. Here’s “Spellbound” from 1981.

Happy Hallowe’en!

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