It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life edited by Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (December 14, 2018)
280 pages; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are books on writing that inspire, ones that feed the muse, ones that teach, but rarely has there been one that encompasses all three aspects that result in a must-read, must-have companion for the writer’s lair.
Last year’s Where Nightmares Came From came pretty close with articles and essays on the horror genre from a writer’s perspective. It’s Alive continues that journey, but burrows deep within the authors’ psyche to where the story lives, breathes, and pushes its way out into the world. The massive collection of articles and interviews has something for every fan and everyone who has ever thought of writing, in this genre or others. Yes, it’s a book on horror, but its knowledge can easily be transferred to other genres as it focuses on the true ART of storytelling, something most reference books fail to acknowledge.
The following pieces are highlights for this reviewer, but in no way do I mean to diminish the others. Wherever the writer is in his or her career, or whatever stage of the story they may gravitate towards, any chapter could hit the bullseye for them. Tomorrow, a new favorite may emerge, which is the beauty and accessibility of the book. Some chapters at first appear to cover similar material, such as the age old “show versus tell” argument, yet how it’s approached and attacked vary in style and application. Reading how so many greats in the field carve into their imaginations and create something from nothing proves the infinite paths to travel to arrive at the story’s end.
Jonathan Maberry kicks off the book with his recollections of learning from two of the greatest writers of the the twentieth century, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. His experiences as a child playing the “What If” game with these giants sounds simple but delves into the crucial questions that every storyteller must answer.
Yvonne Navarro tackles the “to outline or not to outline” in a sensible manner that doesn’t demonize either and shows how both can aid the writer in distress. For the artist who abhors one method or the other, this should be mandatory reading as it can redirect a story over the roughest terrain.
“The Horror Writer’s Ultimate Toolbox” by Tim Waggoner at first looks simple for the seasoned writer but when read thoroughly, it takes on different meaning. There exists here a trio of articles on characterization that all bring something special to the table,even though the initial premise is similar.
Paul Wilson, Brian Kirk, and Kealan Patrick Burke pen intelligent, easy to apply tutorials on how to craft the characters that will stand out in a short story or novel. Creating empathy, conveying the true heart of that main protagonist or villain, or simply adding layers to an existing person that will keep the reader engaged is something every writer strives for yet often comes up short on. The applications by Wilson bring to mind his iconic “Repairman Jack” character, who could have been a terribly bland player on the page, but by utilizing the suggestions in the chapter, force the writer to dig deep and give the characters life in ways he or she likely had not even considered. Kirk and Burke delve further into this, stoking empathy for even the toughest characters to love.
Delivering the writer’s voice onto the page is something that’s been written about in countless books, yet Robert Ford almost makes it sound easy. Del Howison’s interview with Heather Graham, Mick Garris, Steve Niles, Maria Alexander, and Mark Anderson unravel their methods of getting the idea stuck in the writer’s head to the page or screen.
Finally, there’s the interview with the elusive by legendary Clive Barker by Tim Chizmar. While several pieces can be pointed to as the pinnacle of the book, this one hit home with just one bit of advice from the master. Barker’s insight into the macabre art of creating is worth the price of admission.
It’s Alive creates something special here. Crystal Lake continues to prove why they’re at the top with this.
Highly recommended reading for anyone who feels the need to create—it should be required reading for the anyone starting out in the field.