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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