Coffin Hop Contest: Halloween Mad Libs

What’s your favorite part of Halloween… Costumes? The creepy atmosphere? Carving jack-o-lanterns?

Or is it… FREE TREATS?

You’re in luck, because I’m giving away a delightfully spooky prize this Halloween! This year’s Coffin Hop contest, back for the second year running, I bring you the ever-popular and hilarious HALLOWEEN MAD LIBS!


All I need from you is a list of words, which will then be used to fill in a little Halloween story. Comment below with your name, e-mail (so I can contact the winner), and a word of your choice for each of the following:

Verb (past tense):
Noun (plural):
Name (of a person):
Emotion (noun, e.g.: happiness)
Noun (plural):
Verb (gerund—ends in “ing”):
Noun (plural):

You’ll have until 11:59 PST on October 27th to enter. At that time, I’ll compile your responses and post the stories with your words. Then, dear Coffin Hoppers, I leave it up to you: you’ll have from October 28th until the start of Halloween to vote on your favorite story. Whoever gets the most votes wins!

And what will you win, you might ask?


Coffin Hop Prize 2014

  • 1 autographed paperback copy of PANDORA
  • 1 PANDORA bookmark
  • 1 Damnation Books metal bookmark
  • 1 Damnation Books pen
  • 1 Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA

Let the Mad Libs begin! Don’t forget to check out everyone else’s great giveaways for this year’s Coffin Hop.


Fourth Annual Coffin Hop

coffin-hop-2014Can you believe this is not only the fourth Halloween in which this website has been in existence, but also the fourth annual Coffin Hop?

You know what the Coffin Hop is, right? RIGHT?

If you don’t, gather round, folks: I’m going to tell you a story about a little gathering of horror blogs that became the biggest Halloween blog hop this side of the internet…

In 2011, evil mastermind Axel Howerton (author of Hot Sinatra) decided to create an online event specifically for horror writers, artists, readers, bloggers, and Halloween lovers. Word got around the ‘net, and that year, over 100 authors and bloggers participated; that number doubled in 2012, and 2013 proved to be the most popular hop to date.

Every year, horror writers lure in thousands of readers to their devilish web of Halloween-love and contests galore, in which they give away e-books, paperbacks, autographed copies, toys, décor, movie posters, etc…

So, what is the Coffin Hop?

Starting October 24th and running the whole week leading up to Halloween, you’ll be able to “hop” between all of the participating blogs, which will be dedicating their posts to the holiday. You can find the master list for 2014 and other info at the official Coffin Hop website.

Some other death-by-drive-inthings you’ll find at that site: a link to the official online store, which has shirts, shot glasses, hats, and other Coffin Hop themed goodies. You’ll also find info on last year’s scarily successful Coffin Hop anthology: Death By Drive-In. Inspired by B-movies, this monster-filled antho is brimming with originality, hilarity, and some good old-fashioned scares.

Want more Halloween in your life? Take a look at my 2011 Halloween Countdown, an epic list containing everything you need to do to prepare yourselves for Halloween.

This week on my website, you can expect such excellent Coffin Hop delights as…

  • An exclusive interview with bestselling zombie and horror author, Scott Kenemore!
  • This year’s jack-o-lantern art!
  • An all-new creepy short story just for readers of!
  • And, back for the second year in a row… Halloween Mad Libs!
  • The chance to win a signed copy of PANDORA, pumpkin spice coffee, and other awesome swag!

Now get out there and Hop til you Drop!

Movie Review: “As Above So Below”

as-above-so-belowIf there’s any location on earth that deserves to be a horror movie setting, it’s the Catacombs of Paris. Miles of tunnels wind beneath the surface of the city, filled with six million corpses, dead ends, flooded areas, dead drops, and more. While a small section is open for public tours, the vast majority of these tunnels is available only to extreme risk-takers who are willing to break the law and venture deep into the dangerous underground. Battery dies on your flashlight? You’re dead. Run out of water? Dead. Lose your way after a cave in? Lost and, eventually, dead.

Seriously, tell me there’s a scarier place on earth.

Therein lies the appeal of low-budget found-footage horror film, As Above So Below. And while it uses the catacombs to creepy effect, it doesn’t quite manage to live up to its horrific promise.

The movie starts slowly after a prologue in a cave system in Iran. The main character, Scarlett, is a fearless woman who has multiple doctorates, speaks six languages, and has a black belt. Oh, and she’s also an alchemy expert seeking the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.

Some clues lead her to believe that the stone may be hidden in the catacombs, so she gets a crew together and they descend. There are some truly tense moments here that will make anyone with even mild claustrophobia squirm. Early into the tunnels, they find an entrance to a “bad place,” from which no one has ever returned. Of course, they end up having to go in. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.

That’s when the creepy stuff starts happening. But… that’s sort of all it is. Generic creepy stuff. Exactly the kind of stuff you’d expect the be lurking in the background of dark tunnels. And then of course there’s a ringing phone, a dusty piano, a burning car… you know, horror movie stuff. We encounter some interesting mythology, including a cool riff on the “as above, so below” saying when the world seemingly turns upside-down. I think they could have done more with that, actually. I also don’t think I’m really spoiling anything when I say they find the entrance to Hell (really, who saw that coming?) and of course it bears the inscription, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.”

This is where the movie loses all logic and descends into pure visual madness. There is little explanation for most of the things we encounter, and a lot of shaky-cam to obscure what’s actually going on. My guess is they used that because even the filmmakers weren’t quite sure.

So despite all the creepiness, which was, in fact, pretty well-done, I had a few beefs:

What’s the point of having this be a search for the Philosopher’s Stone? I realize they had to have some reason to go digging around at the bottom of the catacombs, but I’m not sure this narrative thread held up too well. Especially the wishy-washy direction it eventually goes in.

Why is there an inscription in Aramaic that, when translated, just so happens to rhyme perfectly in English? Seriously. That’s not how language works. Words that rhyme in one language won’t rhyme in another. Take “bug” and “rug,” for example. In Spanish, that’s “bicho” and “alfombra.” See? They don’t rhyme. I really couldn’t get past this, probably because they keep repeating bits of the stupid rhyme throughout the movie. For someone who speaks six languages, you’d think Scarlett might have questioned that.

Is it creepy, though? Yes. If you have any interest in the catacombs, I’d recommend it for the cool setting alone. But if you’re looking for a brilliant horror movie, this probably isn’t it. Oh well. We can always reserve our hopes for The Pyramid, which looks basically like As Above So Below 2, but in Egypt.


Plot / Originality: 4 out of 10 broken piano keys

Acting: 6 out of 10 broken piano keys

Visuals: 8 out of 10 broken piano keys

Music: 7 out of 10 broken piano keys

Script: 4 out of 10 broken piano keys

Scare Factor: 7 out of 10 broken piano keys

Overall: 6 out of 10 broken piano keys

Book Review: “The Grand Hotel”

The Grand HotelScott Kenemore, king of zombie literature, has ventured into new territory with his latest novel, The Grand Hotel—and boy, does he do it in style. The author of The Zen of Zombie as well as a state-themed zombie series, which so far includes Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, has proven his skills at creating unique, engaging tales of the undead. But he debuts a new kind of story with The Grand Hotel: one with a unique form, a clever narration, and complex ideas that will stick with you long after you “check out” of this mysterious hotel.

Rarely does a book manage to pull off that quirky space between “novel” and “short story collection,” but The Grand Hotel encompasses the best of both these formats. Our narrator, the front desk clerk at the eponymous hotel, introduces us to the setting through his guided tour. We feel part of the tour group as we are led from room to room, at which point the narrator introduces a new character with an intriguing story to tell.

The interconnected stories, though different in their content, create a narrative thread invoking curiosity, questions of morality, and the supernatural. Some of the highlights include a sci-fi tale about a mission to Mars, an encounter that brings to mind Lovecraft’s Deep Ones, a brilliant mash-up reality show that combines cooking with ghost hunting, and the story of a violist and the bizarre trees from which her instrument was crafted.

At no point does the narrative drag. Each story is just as engaging, surreal, and interesting as the last, and the journey of the tour group invites the reader to wonder what the connections are between each story—an idea that is cleverly injected into the overarching narrative by means of a curious library. This is truly a story about storytelling, a narrative that explores narratives, and a must-read for anyone interested in this most noble and ancient linguistic art.

As a horror novel, The Grand Hotel delivers plenty of creepiness. Along with the perfect setting of a moldering, ancient hotel, there are ghosts, demons, dead bodies, and all manner of unnamed and unnerving occurrences to keep you spooked but thirsting for more. And the final eerie tale brings everything together in a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Several days after finishing it, I’m still thinking about this book—and discovering clues and layers I hadn’t noticed before. I’m also interested, now, in looking into a story cycle from ancient India that partially inspired the book. Already, The Grand Hotel has become a favorite of mine.

Scott Kenemore’s The Grand Hotel is available October 14, 2014. I suggest you run, don’t walk, to grab a copy. You can find The Grand Hotel right here on Amazon!

Find more at the author’s website,

Movie Review: “Oculus”

OculusWho would have thought a horror movie about a mirror would turn out to be a unique narrative with surprising twists and turns? Not someone who’s seen the 2008 flop, Mirrors, let me tell you. Color me pleasantly surprised by Oculus, the story of a demonic mirror with the ability to bend reality.

Though the movie starts off slowly, it does a great job introducing the characters, who feel authentic and understandable for all their quirks. Eleven years after a tragedy that left their mother mutilated and murdered, brother and sister Tim and Kaylie reunite in their old home. Tim has spent this time incarcerated, while Kaylie has become an obsessive-compulsive supernatural expert intent on destroying the old mirror that once resided in their father’s office.

The narratives of what happened to the siblings as children and what is happening to them now as adults run parallel… at first. Usually I’ve got this kind of narrative pinned down from the start: we’ll see the two stories play back and forth, both simultaneously reaching their climaxes (I’m talking about the stories, guys), and emphasizing the outcome of the adult scenario as a means of overcoming what they failed to accomplish the first time around.

What we get, instead, is an intricate, singular story in which the two narratives twist into one another. Time comes undone. The actions of the present somehow transform into and affect the actions of the past, and vice versa. Somehow, Tim and Kaylie seem to be simultaneously children and adults.

This works to great effect in a story wherein the characters go insane around a possessed mirror, experiencing delusions that make it impossible to tell what is real. This unique type of narrative takes the viewer along for the ride, creating the same unsettling loss of reality for the audience. It’s tricky to pull off because eventually that audience might stop caring about what’s happening, if they can’t tell what’s real.  Oculus, however, manages to retain a great deal of suspense; in fact, not knowing what’s real ends up being an important plot point that leads to a particularly horrific finale.

Katee Sackoff will spend a good chunk of the movie freaking you out.

Katee Sackoff will spend a good chunk of the movie freaking you out.

Aside from that, the movie is saturated with a creeping dread and some truly eerie visuals that will keep you as far away from mirrors as the last time you watched Candyman. If you want to see a unique, surreal psychological horror flick, Oculus should be at the top of your list.


Plot / Originality: 10 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Acting: 9 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Visuals: 8 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Music: 6 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Script: 8 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Scare Factor: 7 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Overall: 8 out of 10 haunted mirrors

Book Review: “A Winter Haunting”

A Winter HauntingAbout a year after I read Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, I’ve finally gotten around to picking up the sequel, A Winter Haunting. “Sequel” is a sort of interesting term for it, since I’m not sure you even need to have read Summer of Night to appreciate this psychological ghost story.

A Winter Haunting is a completely different kind of book from its predecessor. While the first book was a lengthy, raucous tale of boyhood, monsters under the bed, creatures at the school, and disbelieving adults, the second book is the quiet, internal story of a haunted man passing middle age who is trying to understand the trajectory of his own life.

Dale Stewart, the protagonist from the first book, takes center stage again here—but it is the narrator who provides most of the insight into his thoughts, his attempted suicide, his possible psychosis, and his failed love life. The narrator in question is Duane, the boy genius who dies in the first book. Here he is played as an omniscient abstraction who is able to see Dale’s life better than Dale himself.

Having decided to spend his sabbatical back in Elm Haven, the town where he grew up, Dale heads to Illinois for the winter. What’s more, he has decided to stay in the old farmhouse where Duane lived and died, in order to grieve his old friend and to provide inspiration for the novel he is writing about that summer of 1960.

That’s when the ghosts start popping up. Simmons masterfully delivers the creepiness, and he does it in a way that leaves you wondering what’s real, what’s in Dale’s head, and what’s supernatural. This, along with his beautiful prose and brilliant use of a dead narrator, provides the story an eerie, unsettling atmosphere that is perfect for a chilly winter at an abandoned farmhouse.

A much simpler, straightforward narrative than the sometimes meandering and chaotic first novel, this one still carries many layers of complexity in its themes and characters, revealing painful truths about life, aging, potential, and human connection.

It’s also peppered with classic literary references like Henry James and Beowulf, Old English, Egyptian worship, philosophy, and proof that our young dead narrator knows more about writing than even seasoned writers and academics.


Storyline: 9 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Characters: 9 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Originality: 8 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Writing Style: 10 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Scare Factor: 7 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Overall: 8 out of 10 ghosts from the past

Finding Beauty in the Macabre: NBC’s Hannibal

Now that the second season of NBC’s Hannibal has concluded, and the show has been renewed for at least one more season, I’d like to take this opportunity to implore anyone who hasn’t been watching the show to catch up.

Yes, you might have seen the movie Hannibal (starring the iconic Anthony Hopkins, and Julianne Moore as Clarisse Starling) and Red Dragon (Hopkins again, and Edward Norton as Will Graham). Those are arguably Hollywood fluff in comparison to the dark, artsy, surreal, psychological twister that is 2013’s TV incarnation. The show stars Hugh Dancy as Will Graham (much darker and moodier than the Fight Club actor, who was surprisingly blasé in Red Dragon), Laurence Fishburne as FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford, and Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

It also, apparently, stars Carcosa from True Detective.

It also, apparently, stars Carcosa from True Detective.

In the show, Will Graham is a professor with a strange gift for empathy: he can basically see into the minds of serial killers, observing crime scenes and visualizing how the murder went down (a little like Dexter‘s keen eye for blood spatter, but more visceral). He aids the FBI in hunting down the Chesapeake Ripper.

Season one is part serial killer of the week, part descent into madness, wherein Will vacillates between believing he is physically ill, and mentally ill.

Yep, totally normal clock.

Yep, totally normal clock.

Throughout, his friendship with Dr. Lecter proves to be a psychological game of cat-and-mouse. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Hannibal asks Will to draw a clock.

Season two moves the story forward. No, they will not be stretching out the serial killer of the week trope the way other shows might be tempted to: instead, we find Will being framed for murder, revelations about the true nature of our favorite characters, and a cat-and-mouse game in which it is almost impossible to tell who is the cat and who is the mouse.

One of the most striking aspects of this show is how dark it is willing to go. Our protagonist, Will, exhibits some… questionable behavior. He must play the part of a killer in order to convince Hannibal that he’s on his side, and throughout, we’re never quite sure just how much he enjoys the killings he has committed.

Also, at this point, almost the entire cast has eaten people.

Also, at this point, almost the entire cast has eaten people. Cheers!

What the show may be best known for, however, is its unique visual aesthetic: macabre, artistic tapestries of death, killers who display their victims in a myriad of horrible and beautiful ways. As a writer who explores that strange connection between beauty and horror, I find these visuals very intriguing and bold for a network TV show.

Like these angels.

Like these angels.

Hannibal tree

And this corpse tree.

And this totem pole made of bodies.

And this dude that was turned into a cello. (Did I mention I'm a cellist?)

And this dude who was turned into a cello. (Did I mention I’m a cellist?)

Mikkelson, for his part, embodies the role of Hannibal in a way that is entirely different from Hopkins. Not having read the books, I can’t say which is more accurate to the original canon, but he certainly brings out something unique in the classy cannibal. Whereas Hopkins is immediately creepy, his staccato voice alone creating a sense of unease, Mikkelson’s Hannibal is a subtler kind of monster. At first, he seems quite benevolent, obviously brilliant, and even friendly. But once you glimpse the psychopath within, who is willing to toy with the lives of those around him out of sheer curiosity, the true depths of his depravity surface. And for one so intelligent and charismatic, as successful psychopaths tend to be, it’s both easy and chilling to see how he manages to get away with so much, right under the FBI’s nose.

I, for one, look forward to seeing where they go in season three… and which of our  characters survived that blood-soaked finale…

Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers

Most folks in the literary world are aware of the prestigious magazine, Glimmer Train, and its lauded contests like the quarterly Short Story Award for New Writers. (If not, go check it out!)

I’m pleased to announce that my story, “Westward,” earned an Honorable Mention for the February 2014 contest. While it did not make the top-25 list, it was in the top 5% of over a thousand entries.

Click here to see the full list of of stories that got an honorable mention. The results of the winners will be posted on May 1, but a premature congratulations to them!

As my friend Axel Howerton said, “GT is a notoriously hard nut to crack,” and he’s definitely right about that. On the other hand, as my other esteemed friend, Richard Bausch, said, “There aren’t 25 stories that are better than that one. It should have won.” Many, many thanks for your continued belief in my writing.

One of the most gratifying aspects of writing is getting to share if with readers; I would love to share this story with all of you. I’ve submitted it to other publications, one of which will hopefully pick it up. I look forward to the day it is published and I can share it with everyone.

Until then, I’ll just keep on writing.

True Horror in True Detective

Everyone’s been talking about it: Mathew McConaughey. Woody Harrelson. The King in Yellow. Carcosa. And many have been asking, even since the finale, what does it all mean?

One of the reasons this show has people buzzing (and frantically flipping through old horror novels) is because it deftly crosses genres in its brief 8-episode run. What appears to be a noir / Southern Gothic detective mystery is overlaid by a larger story of horror and modern mythology.

Hey, I'm warning you! Stay the hell back if you haven't watched yet. This post is riddled with spoilers!

Hey, I’m warning you! Stay the hell back if you haven’t watched yet. This post is riddled with spoilers!


This show is all about storytelling. Through interviews with the detectives, we get the story of a gruesome murder case that Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart solved (or thought they solved) back in ’95. The case comes back to haunt them in the present, as it seems the mysterious figure behind it all—the King in Yellow—is still at large.

On the show, he is spoken of in awed whispers, along with the word Carcosa. Everyone watching quickly realized this was a reference to a book of short stories by Robert Chambers, published in 1895. Chambers, a forerunner to the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, wrote about a play called The King in Yellow that drove people mad during the second act. He also wrote of a strange lost city called Carcosa, which he nabbed from an Ambrose Bierce short story called “An Inhabitant of Carcosa.” Lovecraft (as well as many others) later used both of these motifs in his writing.

the king in yellow

The connections between The King in Yellow and True Detective run much deeper than mere name-dropping. For instance, Carcosa is inhabited by people wearing skins, and the cultists behind the killings of True Detective wear animal masks. In fact, masks play an important role in Chambers’ stories (there is even one called “The Mask”). And there’s that weird line in the finale of True Detective where Errol Childress, aka the King in Yellow, tells Rust to “take off your mask!” (before he stabs him).

True Detective’s vision of Carcosa is deliciously creepy as well. Carcosa is described as having “twin suns,” “black stars,” and “strange moons.” It is a cursed place filled with dead trees. On True Detective, some of these aspects are mentioned by people who claim to know of Carcosa. Psycho-killer Errol Childress’s lair of Carcosa, which we see in the finale, is a dark tunnel system filled with those strange stick-sculptures that appear throughout the season, mimicking dead trees.

I wouldn't go in there if I were you.

I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.


If this show were your typical crime series, the ending would have given us some twist that explained everything: who was the killer, and why did he do it? We find out that scarred Errol Childress is the killer. We find out that he is truly evil and psychotic through his seedy house, the way he fluidly transitions from one accent to the next as if he doesn’t have one fixed identity, his narcissistic god-like mentality, and his eerie lair. But why would someone do these things? What is behind his cult?

Why does he love riding lawnmowers so much?

Why does he love riding lawnmowers so much?

That we are left to grapple with on our own, just like Rust and Marty. The ending of the season is reflective of the ending of classic horror tales: the broken characters, having come face-to-face with true horror, must reconcile their experiences with their lives. In many Lovecraft stories, these characters go insane or become suicidal.

The horror elements come out in more than just the ending, though. This thread of weird horror, best known in Lovecraft’s writing, explores the idea of peeling back reality and glimpsing the infinite and the incomprehensible beyond our world. Perhaps Rust’s drug-induced hallucinations are more than they seem. Perhaps he’s seeing into greater dimensions of reality, seeing the circle of time from the outside.  Carcosa, it is said, is a city outside of time. Part of the horror of Rust’s story, then, are these moments when he traverses into the infinite.

Oh god, Cthulhu is coming! Run for your life!

Oh god, Cthulhu is coming! Run for your life!

Most people who get these glimpses go insane. Rust’s character is appealing because he can have these experiences without going completely nutty.  For instance, other characters who have harrowing experiences related to the Yellow King or Carcosa start screaming or babbling manically when they speak of them. We understand their horror through their reactions to it.

This idea of seeing vs. not seeing the horror ourselves, as viewers, is an old trope used by the likes of Lovecraft. In the finale of True Detective, we are privy to a videotape of one of Childress’s crimes. We don’t see the full video, but those who watch it end up screaming in horror. This is even more disturbing than showing us what is on the tape because it is left to our imagination. It is unthinkably horrific, like many of the things Lovecraft wrote about.


The way True Detective has tapped into this mythology of the Yellow King and Carcosa is not, perhaps, the way we would expect a modern TV show to use literary allusions. Viewers expected an explanation and resolution of the Yellow King and Carcosa, but we were left feeling that, though Errol Childress is dead, these ideas that fueled his killings are not. Characters on the show declare that the King in Yellow was before and is always—out of time, eternal. It doesn’t die with the death of one man.

Maybe because the King in Yellow is actually composed of dead people.

Maybe because the King in Yellow is actually composed of dead people.

The show is accomplishing the same thing as all of the literature that has used this mythology. Chambers, Bierce, and Lovecraft are not the only ones to write about the King in Yellow and Carcosa. What they’ve done, however, is to develop a new mythology. True Detective is only one more piece in the puzzle, building on this mythology in a literary way.

This show is all about storytelling. In the last scene, Rust talks about how, as a kid, he would look up at the stars and make up stories. This is exactly what our ancestors did thousands of years ago. They made up stories, which were passed around and built upon until they became mythologies. They created a shared literature, and True Detective revels in this idea.

I’ve always been interested in mythology. My first novel, Pandora, involves Greek mythology. My current novel includes Native American mythology. These are ancient mythologies. The King in Yellow is a new mythology. We can trace it back to its beginning. We are doing, now, exactly what our ancestors did. Time, as Rustin Cohle says, is a circle. We do the same things over and over again.

True Detective is a story as ancient as stories themselves. We seemed to have entered an age where television can accomplish the same things that literature has been doing for hundreds and hundreds of years. And that is pretty damn cool.

Fictional Cartography: the Art of Mapping Imaginary Settings

Recently I taught a creative writing lesson to a group of high school students about creating and mapping fictional places. The kids loved it; they came up with some wildly imaginative places (one of them includes a military base with no doors, an inactive volcano, and an entire town fenced in by barbed wire). Then they wrote stories taking place in their towns.

I realized, as I was crafting the lesson, that there are a few different kinds of fictional places. I broke them down like this:

Type 1: Fictional towns, cities, countries, and continents that take place in another world from our own and have no connection to our reality.

Some examples of a type 1 fictional setting include Westeros from Game of Thrones and Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings. Often these kinds of places are used for fantasy novels, although I would also include the setting from Star Wars here. China Miéville also utilizes this kind of fictional setting, and he does a fantastic job of world-building in his vivid, surreal writing: check out Perdido Street Station to see what I’m talking about.

Science fiction and fantasy are notorious for using these kinds of fictional places. Thankfully, many of these books also include maps to situate the reader in the fantastical land, since we have no other reference point aside from the descriptions given by the writer. Here’s a map of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth, given so that we can see Frodo’s journey from the Shire to Mordor:

Middle Earth

Type 2: Fictional towns, cities, countries, and continents that take place in another world from our own, but which can be accessed through our reality.

In this case, the reader is introduced to the fictional land by way of the real world, usually through some magical or unusual form of transport. For instance, in The Chronicles of Narnia, we start out grounded in the real world; then we go through a wardrobe and arrive in Narnia. This technique works well to introduce readers to these purely fantastical and imaginative landscapes by taking their hands and transporting them away from their solid footing in the real world. Children’s stories often use this type of fictional setting because it is easier to grasp than a type 1, where you are thrust without context into a strange new place.

Here are two examples of type 2 fictional settings from children’s literature. The first is Neverland from Peter Pan:

NeverlandHere we begin in the real world (London), and then Peter and Wendy fly off to the fictional realm of Neverland.

Likewise, in Alice in Wonderland, we begin in the real world, and then Alice falls through a rabbit hole and winds up in Wonderland:


Type 3: Fictional towns and cities in real states/countries in the real world.

While the other two types of fictional places are largely used for speculative fiction in the science fiction and fantasy genres, this type is used more frequently by writers of all genres. Being in the real world, the cities and towns of a type 3 place must therefore abide by at least some laws of reality. Thus, writers from Stephen King to William Faulkner have all created imaginary towns in the real world.

Some writers even set multiple works in these places, creating a sort of alternate world to our own. Take, for instance, H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham, a sinister little town in Massachusetts:

“What lay behind our joint love of shadows and marvels was, no doubt, the ancient, mouldering, and subtly fearsome town in which we live—witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham, whose huddled, sagging gambrel roofs and crumbling Georgian balustrades brood out the centuries beside the darkly muttering Miskatonic.”
The Thing on the Doorstep

This eerie town, which is home to Miskatonic University (researcher of all things “weird”), appears in many of Lovecraft’s stories, from his Cthulhu mythos to the Dream Cycle. Naturally, Lovecraft needed to know where everything was in the town, if he was to write about it consistently. Maps are useful not only to help the readers, but also to help the writer keep everything straight. It’s pretty obvious that Lovecraft never intended on publishing this scrawled piece of chicken scratch:

Arkham Map LovecraftBut hey, as long as he can read his own handwriting! Thanks to computers, others have cleaned up this map and made it legible for Lovecraft fans everywhere:

Arkham Map CleanI had a blast teaching this lesson because, over the years, I’ve acquired an increasing interest in fictional cartography. Each novel I’ve written takes place in a type 3 fictional setting. Like Lovecraft, I’ve found myself sketching out these places, crafting them for my readers, my characters, and myself. This is why the towns from my two in-progress novels feel much more real to me than my first attempt with Pandora‘s Sickle Falls. Unfortunately, Sickle Falls feels half-complete because I never mapped out the town itself.

Hopefully these novels I’m working on now will be published in the future, and you can see for yourself how real the places feel. Let me transport you to Bryn Du Bluffs, West Virginia, where legends of an evil cemetery on a hill and the ancient Moon-Eyed People spook the superstitious folks in town. Let me take you to Rockhaven, Nebraska, where abandoned farms become the playground of meth-heads and an old crone guards her haunted well.

Let me take you there. These places have become real now. They’re all mapped out… and waiting for you.