The Man Behind #PitDark: An Interview with Jason Huebinger

 

#PitDark logo by Saren RichardsonHey you! You with your mind full of beautifully scary things, sulking there at your laptop, pouting over a world ignorant of the words poured out of your twisted, sexy soul. There is someone out there trying to improve your plight at this very moment, so let me tell you about him. I know Jason from my work as an editor for Pandamoon Publishing. He is a talented author with a debut supernatural novel just out, a fellow member of the Horror Writer’s Association, and a dedicated and supportive peer in the writing community. He also seems to keep his whip-smart sense of humor at all times, despite his busy life of practicing law, writing excellent fiction, and getting ready to be a new dad. When he came up with the idea for #PitDark, I was one among many who jumped at the chance to help promote it. He has put in a great deal of hard work securing agents and editors for participating authors, as well as putting his mighty Twitter following to good use in getting the word out. I will be one of the editors reading pitches for Pandamoon Publishing on May 12th, and my creepy little heart can’t wait.

So, what’s a Twitter Pitch Party?

It all started with Brenda Drake’s #PitMad: a brilliant use of Twitter where authors can sum up their novel in 140 characters or less, and “pitch” to the publishers, editors, and agents currently interested in acquiring new projects. Just another way modern social media can help an author circumvent the slush pile. After the success of #PitMad, numerous pitch parties have cropped up to serve specialized genres and demographic representation.

How is #PitDark different? Well, I’ll let this excerpt from the rules/info page say it:

#PitDark is the first and only Twitter pitch event to highlight literature of a “darker” nature.  Importantly, this is not limited to horror works; however, any pitched manuscript must contain an element of horror or darker writing.  Examples of such categories include pure horror novels, dark fantasy, murder mysteries, psychological horror stories, non-fiction works about darker subjects, etc.  MG, YA, NA, and adult age categories are welcome.

I can tell you that as a horror fan/editor who has read pitches for pitch parties before (of which there are now many), I have found the lack of horror pitches frustrating. Horror (and its comparative genres) offers an expansive opportunity for literary genius, and still the majority of the mainstream seem to throw lazy tropes full of werewolves, vampires, and zombies at it. I hope #PitDark will encourage a flood of authors to see dark literature as an esteemed place to hang their categorical hat, so to speak. While the Big Six may not be obviously clamoring for it, there are legions of fans who are and publishing professionals that realize that.

Jason took some time out of his very busy schedule to answer some questions for all of you, so have a look:

S: Tell me about your inspiration for #PitDark.

J: Well, I am the product of a pitch contest—when I was first sending out my manuscript to agents and publishers, I stumbled across a Twitter event called #PitMad. At that time, I was new to Twitter and unfamiliar with #PitMad. So, I decided to send out a couple tweets about my unpublished horror manuscript, FATE’S PAST. To my surprise, my tweets were favorited a few times. A month later, I signed a publishing contract with Pandamoon Publishing. And because a pitch contest changed my literary life, I’ve always wanted to get involved in some manner with a pitch contest.

S: As a horror author, what are some of the struggles and stumbling blocks you both directly encounter and see your fellow horror authors dealing with when seeking publication?

J: I think there are misconceptions about horror. Many people think of horror in the “blood and guts” sense. Horror is not so limited; in fact, I could argue that horror is the broadest of all genres. Also, there are fewer agents that represent horror; for example, if you put in “thriller and suspense” as a category in QueryTracker, it will present you with 377 agents representing that genre. On the other hand, if you search for agents who represent horror, only 70 agents will pop up. This is especially interesting as there is a great deal of cross-over between the horror and thriller genres. The benefit, however, is that people who are into horror tend to be very into horror. My only advice is to really know your book and comparable works. If you are going to pitch your work as horror, you better be able to explain why it fits into that genre.

S: How do you see #PitDark serving the community of both writers and publishers of dark literature?

J: There simply wasn’t a pitch contest that targeted writers of dark and horror works. #SFFPit does a great job of highlighting Science Fiction and Fantasy writers; we hope that #PitDark can do the same for its target audience.

S: Can you share the names of some of the participating publishers and agents?

J: Over *twenty agents and editors have confirmed they are participating in #PitDark! Confirmed participating agencies and publishers include, among many others, The Bent Agency, McIntosh & Otis, Writers House, ChiZine Publications, and Pandamoon Publishing.

S: Your debut supernatural novel comes out soon. What steps did you take to get published?

J: I pitched in #PitMad! My biggest hope is that someone else finds the same publishing success I have because of #PitDark.

S: Do you have any advice for fellow writers looking for the right publisher?

J: There is no one “right” way to get published. For me, I’ve loved working with an indie press like Pandamoon because I’ve had a great deal of input into things like my cover design and marketing. Others may be more interested in having a larger press do everything. And, of course, there is self-publishing for those who want total control. My only advice would be to really think about how you want to be published before you start submitting, because once you sign that dotted line, there’s no going back.

S: In the horror/dark literature genre, what themes and “big questions” inspire your writing the most?

J: Regret, destiny, and the fear of death.

S: What is Fate’s Past about and what inspired the story?

J: The idea for FATE’S PAST came to me as I was driving with my wife on a beautiful road in Oregon. The original concept was about how someone would react to driving on an endless, unchanging road. That morphed into the current story about a couple on a road trip to New Orleans who are hunted by their biggest regrets.

S: When and where can readers get their hands on Fate’s Past?

J: FATE’S PAST is available on Amazon in print, on Kindle, and for FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

*30+ agents/editors at time of this post

 

#PitDark promo image

So, if you are an author of dark literature, please head directly to the rules and info page for #PitDark and start getting your pitches ready. The #PitDark page has all the info and advice you need, as well links to help you craft great pitches. If you are not an author, but would like to support the Dark Lit community, please share this post via social media and help get the word out. The more authors that get signed, the more great books you will have to read and have your art/film/life inspired by.

I’ll be reading pitches (maybe yours?) for Pandamoon Publishing on May 12th! I’ll be using my editing twitter handle: @Saren Richardson.

 

The Witching Season

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

http://www.witchingseasonfilms.com/

Today, I am reviewing The Witching Season, an anthology-style horror web series. As you may have noticed, I do not bother reviewing big-budget horror films. There are too many talented and eloquent folks out there doing that already, and far better than I could (like this brilliant lady). Frankly, with respect to my beloved Fangoria subscription, I think too much attention is paid to feature-length films in general by horror fans. There is an incredible wealth of art, indie comics, podcasts, poetry, music, online writing communities (CreepyPasta, anyone?) and short films that are able to touch aspects of this genre that the medium of a feature film simply cannot. So, speaking of short film…

James L. Morris of Witching Season Films sent me info and links to a new horror web series called (you guessed it) The Witching Season that he and his talented team have been working on. In his own words:

“I won’t lie and say that we were trying to make a social statement, but I think the way we have created the episodes will speak volumes towards our desire not to portray the same old “Lets go see what made the noise in my panties” kind of mindset we all too often see.”

Well, after I immediately went out and had “Lets go see who made the noise in my panties” printed on 100 t-shirts (so I never run out), I snuggled in bed with my laptop to watch the first two episodes of The Witching Season. I really enjoyed them, and I think you will too. Let me tell you why.

Within your dark little heart resides the memory of Halloween, experienced as only a child can. You yearn for the glow of jack o lanterns, the sound of fall leaves crunching beneath your feet, the blustery winds chilling your small frame amidst the speckled October sunlight, and the strangle tingling mix of hopeful fear as you look for (dread) ghosts and masked slashers in every shadow. You will not admit this, of course. You’d rather impress everyone with your bootlegged Fulci collection and share gleeful and cynical laughter over craft beers while watching The Human Centipede for the tenth time with your equally iron-stomached friends.

But it all began with Goosebumps books and Tales from the Crypt, didn’t it?

The Witching Season will take you back there. The opening credits are a beautiful collage of Halloween décor dripping off of trees and hanging off of houses. Seriously, it’s fucking gorgeous.  Slasher Dave delivers a great score that is both classic and nostalgic.

Episode 1: Killer On The Loose

 

A young woman flees from some mysterious, pursuing enemy through the woods at night. As a flashlight searches the trees behind her, she comes upon a seemingly deserted house festooned with Halloween decorations. She enters the equally-Halloween-adorned interior of the house and shuts the door behind her. She looks down at her wrists and rubs at the raw skin there (from ropes? from handcuffs?). Several of the decorations seen can be recognized as being from the opening credits, which strikes me as a brilliant way to both cut set design costs and create an enduring and continuous atmosphere. Her white shirt is spattered with what looks to be blood; as it is obviously Halloween, we are left to wonder if it is real or not.

What follows is an all-too-familiar scene of “girl hides from unknown bad guy” reminiscent of Scream/Halloween/mostslashersevermade, but it is all polished up like a revered idol. The shots are pretty remarkably seamless for an indie work. The lighting and shadows are spot on. Actress Hailey Nebeker delivers a tense and believable performance. Randin Graves scores the action with music that is an effective blend of scene-centric drama and classic slasher-film homage. You start to wonder if it will all play out as expected; and of course, it doesn’t. The twist isn’t ground-breaking, but it is clever and grin-worthy. And once revealed, you find new meaning in previous scenes because the dual perspectives were handled with care.

 

Episode 2: Princess

Same great credits with another classic set-up: A mother and daughter move into a new house. Mom is full of hope for the future and kid is full of trepidation at the big change. Again, you’ve been here and seen this all before, but the Halloween atmosphere and classic/homage score (again from Randin Graves) keep it from feeling redundant. It is more like revisiting something well-known and well-loved. The little girl (very impressive performance by young actress Emily Broschinsky) hears noises in the night that draw her down to explore the basement. There she finds…of course! A creepy doll! A very creepy half-doll, half-bunny thing that looks like a promotional toy for The Island of Dr. Moreau. Predictable plot points follow, but the ending managed to be both bad-ass and hilarious. I laughed out loud at something that should have made me wince, and when a film is able to pull a reaction out of you that surprises yourself, I call that an achievement.

Last but not least, this delightful bit of entertainment is free: served fresh from their talented team and onto your plate (youtube). If you watch these episodes and enjoy them, help make sure there is more to come by taking some time to give them love via social media shares/likes and even donations if you can. The trailer for Episode 3 comes out this weekend, and the full episode should be available early-mid April.

Now go on. Gets to watching!

visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/witchingseasonfilms

check out their website: www.witchingseasonfilms.com

 

Mental Illness Stigma in Horror: Thoughts on loving a genre that often perpetuates an offensive stereotype

Guess what? This is not the face of Mental Illness. Like it or not, it is the face of Mental Illness Stigma.

As a woman who is a lifelong horror fan and yet also a feminist and supporter of equal cultural representation for all genders, races, sexual orientations and abilities, I have often found my values shit on by my favorite genre. Nowhere is this more evident than the historical perpetuation of mental illness stigma by lazy and offensive depictions of mental ill characters in horror. I say “lazy” because it is too often used as a convenient plot device instead of actually using creative storytelling to explain who the villain or threat is and why they do the murderous things they do. I say “offensive” because these depictions are almost always grossly inaccurate and perpetuate a view of mental illness that causes untold shame and despair for individuals already suffering an incredibly difficult condition.

How can I reconcile this with my sincere enjoyment of such films like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Maniac, or The Crazies? I don’t know that I can. Furthermore, I don’t ascribe to the idea that in order to be able to enjoy a work of art, it must strictly adhere to my personal values. However, I try the following things:

I call myself on it. I question my own view of the mentally ill character and try to separate the metaphor from reality. I recognize that such depictions are never literal to me; they are representative of some societal big bad and not transferable to any individual human walking around on earth.

I listen to the objections of the community and take their views seriously. I may continue to support said work (or not), but I don’t seek to silence those that question it. There is this pissy sort of entitlement that comes out, often in the comments section of any article that points out that some aspect of an “entertainment” work (film, videogame, book, etc) hurts and offends some people. Something like this sarcastic piece of shit found in the comments section of this excellent article on mental illness depictions in videogames: “I can’t wait for the day when video games have no plots or artwork or mechanics or other elements that could possibly offend anyone in any way. Now those are going to be some fun games. Also, I won’t have to worry about forming my own perception of the world anymore because I’ll have those nice developers doing it for me.” (Sound familiar? How dare anyone get offended by anything and ruin your fun, dude.)

I actively seek out artists who are using the incredible potential of the horror genre to challenge this stigma, and when I find them, I support them. How do I do this? Well, I blog about it. I share it via social media. I tell people about it. I give money when I can to their crowd-funding campaigns. I volunteer my time and skills. I go out of my way to let them know that I appreciate their efforts.

So, in keeping with my pledge to share such stigma-challenging work in horror, I’d like to highlight two articles that explore some independent horror videogames that are specifically motivated by a desire to engage the gamer in an empathic (ethical) relationship to the struggles of a mentally ill protagonist:

 

Fans of Edward Gorey will love the pen and ink graphics of this beautiful game. Go here to play: http://www.neverendingnightmares.com/

Sarah Leboeuf writes from The Escapist: Neverending Nightmares Fights the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Psychological Horror. She had a chance to interview Neverending Nightmares  developer Matt Gilgenbach at an Indiecade convention:

“In Neverending Nightmares, you take the role of a young man named Thomas who keeps waking up in his bedroom from a series of ever-more-disturbing dreams. “I want to capture the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and horror that I’ve faced in my own experience and channel it into the game,” Gilgenbach told me in an email after the convention. He finds it “tough to communicate what struggling with those issues is like to others,” and Neverending Nightmares is his way of doing just that.”

 

 

Knock-Knock, from developer Icepick Lodge, features a protagonist who spends much of the game rationalizing his hallucinations as an effect of his diminished emotional and mental state. Go here to play: http://knock.ice-pick.com/index.html

 

Patrick Lindsey wrote this excellent article for Polygon: Gaming’s Favorite Villain is Mental Illness, and it Needs to Stop where he offers insightful criticism of current “crazy is scary”trends in horror games, as well as some examples of games that challenge such trends (such as this gorgeously illustrated game Knock, Knock).

 

I encourage you to check these articles out and let them lead you to some innovative and entertaining horror games that offer a more nuanced perspective on the role of mental illness in horror narratives.

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