If It Makes You Squirm… [Brutal Light]

Brutal Light

Recently, I went over the links in my old promotional page for my debut (and so far only) novel Brutal Light from 2011, and discovered that a bunch of the links were dead. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since blogs come and go, and these essays and interviews came out twelve years ago now. So over the next few months, I’m going to be reposting these here, starting with “If It Doesn’t Make You Squirm…”, which I originally wrote for Lincoln Crisler’s blog on 12/6/11.

One of the most valuable bits of writing advice I ever read (from a source, sadly, I can no longer recall) went something like this: “If it doesn’t make you squirm, it won’t make the reader squirm.” It was a passing bit of advice with no context–at least, none that I recall–but it’s stuck with me like nothing else, and is always at the back of my mind whenever I write.

The first question as a reader you might ask is ‘Why would you want to make me squirm? What did I ever do to you?’ (That is, unless your first question is ‘Are you wearing pants?’ If so, you’re likely already squirming.) To me, as a fiction writer, it means I’ve connected with you on a fundamental level–it means I’ve successfully put you ‘behind the eyes’ of my main characters and gotten you to feel what they feel. I’ve somehow connected you with their terrors, trials, exhilarations, despairs, and joys. Ultimately, it means I’ve given you an experience that will stay with you a while.

So why do I, as a writer, have to squirm to make that happen? I got myself a nice cushioned chair to sit in while writing and possibly being pants-less, so why would I make myself uncomfortable in it?

To me, it means sincerity shouldn’t be faked. A writer who unflinchingly faces her or his fears will be able to write those fears with an authenticity that a writer who doesn’t want to step outside of his or her comfort zone will find hard to duplicate. I’m not just talking about the things that are stock-in-trade for a dark fantasy or horror genre writer–vampires, zombies, serial killers, giant snakes, and the like. There are day-to-day fears that are even harder to face with honesty.

Take the fear of opening yourself up to another person–to not only admitting your vulnerabilities to yourself but letting your guard down so that someone you love can see them and possibly mock you for having them. Take the fear that you will someday be forced to look at what’s beneath the carefully woven tapestry of words you call your identity, and you’ll discover that there’s nothing there. Take the fear that you’ll end up alone, that the one you’re with will wise up and leave you, and she or he will be right in their judgment. Even if these are not your fears, specifically, chances are you have others that cut this deep.

Horror and dark fantasy provide canvases like none other to explore these fears. Zombies, vampires, cannibals, werewolves, and even stranger beasts can give voice to our fears of what the world holds, and the desires we publically disdain while privately fantasizing about. There’s nothing like a demon for uttering something cruel and monstrous, which may be a lie but is even more terrifying if it is true.

I have fears. They make me squirm, when I give them too close an examination. So I write them–grossly magnified and distorted, mixed in with things from the dead places and lots of bloody mayhem. I have no idea if they’ll make you, the reader, squirm–my squirming is just a prerequisite, not a guarantee of success, and my fears may not be yours–but you’ll know I’ve taken my best shot.

By the way, I am wearing pants. There’s enough fear in the world without people wondering about that.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and a contributor to the dark fiction anthologies Fairly Wicked Tales and The C.A.M. Charity Anthology: Horror and Science Fiction #1. His blog originates here.

Bryan Hall: Hooks in Novels and Novellas [guest blog]

Good morning, everyone! Today I’m welcoming author Bryan Hall to this patch of virtual real estate, and a guest post by him regarding his new book, The Girl, the second in his Southern Hauntings Saga, published by Angelic Knight Press. Take it away, Bryan!

Guest Post by Bryan Hall

Bryan Hall

Some of you may be aware that myself and a couple of my writing friends (Armand Rosamilia and Billie Sue Mosiman, to be specific) get together on a weekly basis with one or more people from the writing community and talk books, mainly from the perspective of a reader. That discussion is called ‘The Pub’ and is hosted on my site. The reason I bring that up is because one of our first discussions ever was about hooks in novels or novellas. Over the course of the conversation some guests made some great comments in the comment section and joined in the discussion. It got me thinking about The Girl, out today from Angelic Knight Press.

The Girl is part of The Southern Hauntings Saga and is the first real introduction to what the main character–Crate Northgate–is going to have to deal with over the course of this series. In that initial discussion we talked about how important it was to get those hooks sunk deep into a reader quickly so that they don’t set aside your book and pick up a different one. But one particular commenter–I can’t credit him properly since he didn’t leave his real name–added some very valid points as well.

Pick up a Stephen King novel. I’m sure you’ve got one and if not, that’s okay too. Plenty of other writers will fit this exercise as well. Start reading through it. Now, you’ll notice one of two things.

The Girl

1. If you’re reading an old King novel, odds are the first pages have something to draw you in–to hook you nice and tight. ‘salem’s Lot has the tall man and the boy in Mexico and it leaves you wondering how they got there, urging you to read on.

2. If you’re reading a newer novel, or even one from the nineties, there’s a good chance the hook isn’t there. That’s not always the case, of course. Under the Dome gets going pretty damn quick, and some of his other stuff does as well. But Misery? Gerald’s Game? Nope. Hell, even my personal favorite The Shining takes a while to get going.

The point? Well, as our mystery commenter pointed out, style goes a long way towards drawing a reader in and keeping them there as well. Some writers–like King–have a unique style that some fall in love with (some happen to hate certain styles as well, obviously). Another wrinkle in this idea is simply that as King’s career progressed he didn’t have to work as hard to hook readers. They knew the goods were coming, and they’ll wait through one hundred pages of character development and backstory to get to it if need be.

With The Girl, I had to create two hooks. I had to hook readers into the story of The Girl itself. I hope I did that with the use of the main character and the overall mystery that drives the narrative. But I also had to hook readers into the Southern Hauntings Saga as a whole. As it stands I plan on this series running five or six books long. The number could change, but that’s the figure I have in mind right now. Hopefully this story and the mystery of Crate’s past hooks you in and makes you want to find out more. If so, I’ve done my job. If not… well… I just hope it does. Either way, I hope you enjoy the story and take the time to check it out.


Buy links:

The Girl is available from Amazon.com (U.S.) for Kindle and from Smashwords (multiple e-book formats).


About the author:

Bryan Hall is a fiction writer living in a one hundred year old farmhouse deep in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and three children. Growing up in the Appalachias, he’s soaked up decades of fact and fiction from the area, bits and pieces of which usually weave their way into his writing whether he realizes it at the time or not. He’s the author of the sci-fi horror novel Containment Room 7, the collection Whispers from the Dark, and the upcoming Southern Hauntings Saga. You can find him online at www.bryanhallfiction.com and learn more about the Southern Hauntings Saga at www.whoiscratenorthgate.weebly.com.


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light. His blog originates here. Guest post written by Bryan Hall. Cover art for The Girl by Rebecca Treadway.

I’m Over on Lincoln Crisler’s Blog Today, and I’ve Got Print Edition Buy Links, Too…

I’m over on Lincoln Crisler’s blog today, talking about the one bit of writing advice that I took most to heart since hearing it. (And no, it’s not “write high, edit low.”)

Also, while I’m here, I can now announce that print editions of Brutal Light are now available, from Amazon (U.S.), Amazon (Canada) and BarnesAndNoble.com. Note that if you want a print edition but don’t want to go through an online seller, you can go to any local bookstore that does special ordering and order it.

Kindle users in the U.K. can now get the Kindle version from Amazon (U.K.).

Finally, two other Amazon-related announcements: I now have an author page on Amazon.com, and I have a Kindlegraph account for those of you who want free mouse-drawn autographs from me over an image of the cover art.

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.

Top Ten Ways to Know When a Series Should End

This is inspired, if you can call it that, by a panel I was on at ConClave.

Top Ten Ways for You, If You’re a Writer, to Know When Your Series Should Have Ended

10. If you had to ask, it was two books ago.

9. Your main character, who started out with fairly little power, can now eat mountains and crap rainbows.

8. Your main character, who used to just eat mountains and crap rainbows, can now go toe-to-toe with Chuck Norris.

7. Your readers openly express hope that any prophecies regarding the upcoming destruction of your fictional world come true as quickly as possible.

6. You base your next major series-changing revelation on whatever the defacers of your series’s Wikipedia page have come up with.

5. The most popular fan-written ‘slashfic’ story for your series is ‘Any Character in This Series-Slash-Wheat Thresher.’

4. You’ve been given enough money to retire to your own personal tropical island, which you’ve already populated with zombie dinosaurs and singing pirates for your personal entertainment.

3. Your characters have run out of prophecies to thwart and now spend most of their time thwarting each other with paddles.

2. You’re dead and even that hasn’t stopped your series.

1. The shark you jumped sued you for animal cruelty.

Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet. He lives under your bed.