Chloe Cocking is a writer of dark urban fantasy and a lover of all things caffeinated. She is almost entirely normal in her non-writing life, so there is no reason to be afraid. Her first novel Blood Rain launched in October 2017. She is hard at work on other projects. Want to know details? Sign up for her newsletter.
I spent April getting ready for the Creative Ink Festival, working on some pay-the-bills projects, and doing final edits on manuscripts.
More of the same in May until the festival itself on May 18, 19, and 20. The festival attracted people from everywhere. Some of them came on planes. I can never get on a plane without somehow catching a cold. It’s been this way for years.
I’m not French kissing everyone on the plane, nor am I chewing their used tissues, nor do I create opportunities to lick door handles, so I blame the air-recycling systems used on planes for bathing me in a pestilential miasma.
Apparently I am now such a delicate petal that I cannot be in rooms with people who have recently been on planes without catching cold. (And again, before you ask: I didn’t French kiss anyone–not even the bartender who kept refilling my wine glass for free– nor did I chew tissues or lick doorknobs.)
Since then I’ve been trying to recover from what I suppose is just a garden-variety cold, complicated by my asthma and allergies. It’s been *seventeen* days. Argh. I keep coughing up things that would not be out-of-place in the movie Alien.
The Difference between “Aspiring Writers” and “Writers” . . .
It’s funny, but the solution, while simple, is not easy.
I just saw the cover images for my forthcoming book of short stories, Fables, Fictions and Fantasies: A Compendium and it looks gorgeous!
The front cover photo:
The back cover photo:
Both a shout-out and my sincerest thanks to the two photographers for sharing their gorgeous work with the Interwebz under a CC licence. Indie publishing thanks you generous artists, too!
But Chloe–you are saying to yourself–what is this collection of short stories about? I thought you’d never ask! Here’s the back-of-book blurb:
Fables, Fictions, and Fantasies: A Compendium is a collection of thirteen short stories that feature several revenge schemes; three adventures in customer service; two accidental deaths; a vegan stripper defending herself from zombie attack; and a little girl finding the cupcake of her dreams.
Quill & Quire said: “What? We’ve never heard of her, sorry.”
The Georgia Strait said: “Stop sending us email, weirdo.”
Everybody else seemed to laugh while reading it, though. Except for the first story. And the one about pirates. And . . . ok, fine: everybody laughed at the funny ones, just not the ones that are kinda sad.
I am so excited. This was a much easier journey than Blood Rain.
I went to the “I Should Be Writing” Retreat last week: three days and two nights at gorgeous Loon Lake in Maple Ridge, BC. It’s secluded and quiet as it’s located in the middle of a research forest owned by one of the local unis.
A grab-bag of my reactions and thoughts:
Loon Lake is near-ish the top of what the rest of the world calls a “mountain” and what people in BC call “a hill” (It’s only “a mountain” if you’ve never seen the Coastal or Rocky Mountains).
Regardless of what you call it, it’s above the snow line, so there were still some patches of snow on the ground. There were a few moments of decidedly chunky rain as well.
I might have a death wish, because when I saw the swimming dock from the balcony, I was tempted to jump in. My partner has anticipated that I might feel that way, so gave strict orders: “NO SWIMMING”. We joke (?) sometimes that I should have “LOW IMPULSE CONTROL” tattooed on my forehead (as does a character in Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash)
Before I could work up a nice foamy head of oppositional defiance, I remembered that I actually loathe swimming in lakes.
I am not really “a nature person.” Probably because everything in nature is trying to kill me. (I wrote a poem about that a few months ago).
The chalets where we slept and the communal dining hall were comfortable, with all mod cons. Food was good, too.
Somehow I neglected to bring towels, but the lodge staff were very kind and hooked me up with a towel and washcloth. I’m sure my chalet-mates were very grateful I wasn’t a disgusting stinky beast the whole time.
I slept in a sleeping bag for the first time in fifteen years! I was worried about doing it because I’ve been known to have panic attacks when zipped into sleeping bags, esp. the “mummy” style. My friend Garnet gave me a hot tip re: zipper head co-ordination that allowed my feet the freedom I need to keep all my mental marbles where they belong. (Fun fact: I’ve had panic attacks in MRI machines, teensy-tiny bathroom stalls, and because my broken elbow was in a plaster cast and I thought about it just a little bit too much. Apparently it’s not just nature that is trying to kill me, it’s enclosed spaces as well)
I didn’t get any “writing” done, but I’m not in “writing” mode (which is to say “drafting chapters”). I’m in “story generation” mode, with the colour-coded index cards, notebook, and fifty-seven open browser tabs reading up on the Plague of Justinian in 541 CE and the cultural beliefs of the Coast Salish peoples. Believe it or not, in the sequel to Blood Rain (working title: Blood Down the Bones) both of those things are germane. Your mileage may vary, but I need a ten-scene outline on index cards and some character mood boards before I can get any drafting done.
I spoke with someone on Sunday about certain ideas I have for the next book, and she said, “That’s gross and creepy. Perfect!” I was so pleased!
One of my writing groups is co-hosting a blue pencil event with Lit Fest New West and Federation of BC Writers. Registration was supposed to open March 1 2018 via email, but there were technical difficulties.
I’ve blogged before about my writing process and how it fits into the Classical vs. Romantic traditions (TL;DR: it doesn’t).
So what do I do? A little bit of everything, including:
Daydream and noodle around with a notebook and pen in a public place, telling myself stories about the people I observe. (I wear ear buds that are not plugged in to anything to prevent creepers from creeping on me; it deters a few)
Read good books for inspiration
Read terrible books for even more inspiration (if you choose only one thing on this list to try on for size, choose this. I particularly recommend 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer by Kaleesha Williams. This novel is sometimes called the This is Spinal Tap of bad writing. The comparison is apt. The only thing that could improve a reading sesh of 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer is a large glass of Marques de Rojas and ravioli eaten straight out of the can with a plastic spork while listening to Sia or Lana Del Ray at a volume designed to disturb the neighbours. (No offense to the neighbours, they are probably very nice. On the other hand, fuck ’em. We must all suffer for art.)
Write down dreams I’ve had. That’s how writing Blood Rain started. Chapter two was based on a dream I had that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Summarize the ten essential scenes on index cards so that whatever I am writing has beginning, middle, and end. (How does anyone write a book without using index cards?! Impossible!)
Get the mojo running and then fly by the seat of my pants, just to see what happens.
Attend writing groups and take critical feedback on the chin.
Develop character portfolios— I know what they wear, what foods they like, their preferred footwear, what they would find if they underwent past-life regression hypnosis, what TV shows they watch, the genealogy of their horses, and much much more.
Be stubborn- I revise the first draft as many times as I have to. No piece of writing is every truly finished, IMO. There is always more to do.
Usually I write things in chapter-order, but I give myself permission to break that ‘rule’ as much as I want. I estimate that about eighty-five per cent of Blood Rain was drafted chronologically.
If you write, how do you write? Are you a disciplined Classical outliner or a free-spirited, Romantic ‘pantser’? Or are you a mixture of the two, like me?
When I tell people that I’m a writer, they typically respond with at least one of the following questions:
Would I know anything you’ve written?
Where do you get your ideas from?
I never know how to answer these questions.
(That doesn’t stop me from trying– I’m a compulsive talker).
Try as I might, people do not seem gratified by my responses.
I used to think that had something to do with me. Surely I must be giving shite answers, that must be why a look of disappointment creeps over their faces, right?
(Can you tell that I’m the sort of person who constantly questions herself?)
(Can you tell that I’m the kind of person who loves parenthetical remarks?)
More and more, I think they are disappointed because they haven’t asked their real questions.
Here’s what I imagine is going on:
Would I know anything you’ve written?
Are you rich and famous?
Where do you get your ideas from?
You have had thoughts that would never have occurred to me. How can this be?
There are answers, certainly. I’m neither rich nor famous. I get my ideas from the same place everyone gets their ideas. My ideas are not the same as yours because we are different people, with different minds and experiences.
I’m not sure there are any answers to these questions that people would find satisfying. How would you answer them?
Last time, I wrote about how urban legends about the Ouija board surged in the 1970s and early 1980s due to the influence of the film The Exorcist on popular culture.
So what’s up with Ouija right now?
In 2014, filmmaker Stiles White directed and co-wrote a low-budget horror movie called Ouija. The film cost a mere five million dollars to make, but earned over nineteen million in its first weekend alone in North American markets. While panned by critics, the film’s financial success peaked the interest of various deep-pocket movie studios.
It wasn’t just Hollywood who was interested in investing in more Ouija films, either. Toy manufacturer Hasbro–the same company that produces and sells the licensed Ouija boards– reportedly put up a significant amount of funding for the prequel to Ouija, a film called Ouija: Origin of Evil, released in 2016.
These films have some relationship* to the increasing the number and variations of urban legends around the board, such as the three used in Ouija (2014) and Ouija: Origin of Evil:
Never Play Alone
Never Play In A Graveyard
Always Say Goodbye
There are many more legends in circulation:
The true spirit board is not Ouija boards, but “Witch Boards”, so named such because witches once used them to summon demons. Witch boards have been used for centuries **
Placing a silver coin on the board prior to play will block any evil spirits from contacting you. One in each corner is the best way.
Don’t take everything a spirit says at face value. Spirits like to mess with humans because they are bored, lonely, or evil.
If you use the board for financial gain or to pry into personal matters, the board will be more attractive to evil spirits
Never use the board when you are angry, that will attract angry spirits, maybe even poltergeists
Don’t use the board when you have poor mental or physical health- you’re more vulnerable to demonic possession
Don’t use the board when you are under the influence of substances- you’re more vulnerable to demonic possession
ZoZo (or ZoSo) printed on the board is the name of the demon that likes to trick users. ZoZo may haunt people during and after a Ouija session.
If the planchette moves to the four corners of the board an evil spirit has been contacted.
If the planchette moves across the number printed on the board declining from nine on down to one, the spirit is counting down as the exit the board.
Ouija Boards that are not properly disposed of will return to haunt the owner.
If you Burn the Ouija Board it will scream
To properly dispose of the Ouija Board break it into seven pieces, pour holy water on it, and bury it.
I was amused to find a website that made this claim:
Do not use the board if you are under 18, unless supervised by an adult. Remember, the Ouija is not a toy and connecting with spirit is not a game.
‘Not a game’ but owned by Hasbro? Sheesh.
Want to know why Ouija boards appear to work? Read this
Want to see Penn & Teller debunk Ouija boards? Watch this
* Exactly what the relationship is can be left up to the social scientists. Leave me out of it, but remind to set up a Google alert so than when that literature is robust I remember to go have a look it.
** As you know from reading the other posts on Ouija, this assertion is not remotely true (which is hardly surprising).
In my last post, I wrote about how homemade “spirit boards” or “talking boards” used by mediums in the nineteenth century Spiritualism movement had evolved into mass-produced board games marketed as wholesome family fun.
In this post, I’m going to unpack Ouija’s second transformation. How did Ouija boards evolve from pleasant parlour past-time to perilous portal to perdition?
The movie is based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist. The book was a bestseller at the time of its original release. Since then, the novel has enjoyed a signed limited-edition “luxury” re-release in 2010, and a 40th anniversary re-edit and re-release in 2011 that included new scenes written by Blatty.
However enduring the appeal of the novel, it was the film of The Exorcist (scripted by Blatty himself) that gave the by-now-forgotten Ouija board game a new lease on its (after)life. Unlike the book, the film contains a scene in which Regan shows her mother how she’s been playing with a Ouija board.
It’s also the top grossing R-rated film of all time (adjusted for inflation). So suffice it to say nearly everyone who wanted to see the film back then, saw the film. Re-releases, rep theaters, videotapes, DVDs, and streaming services have continued to popularize the film.
Based on this, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the film spawned a thousand urban legends. That includes some of the ones that I heard as a girl in the 1970’s, such as “never play Ouija alone” and “Demons will enter your soul if you play with Ouija boards.”
Next time, I’ll post about the contemporary resurgence of Ouija boards and associated urban legends. Until then, G O O D L U C K.
When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I lived in British Columbia’s Bible belt. Maybe not the buckle of the Bible belt (I’m looking at you, Abbotsford, BC) but at least buckle-adjacent.
That combination of time and place meant that Ouija boards (also known as spirit boards or talking boards) were widely considered a Satanic instrument that could open the door to demonic possession and poltergeist activity. Even now, decades later, I have a beloved friend who insists that these boards are a doorway to ancient supernatural evil.
Given that this year is the 125th anniversary of the Ouija board, a recitation of facts is in order (sources are at the end of this post).
During the nineteenth century, the Spiritualism movement enjoyed public interest and popularity (more on that in a future post). In 1886, national newspapers started carrying stories about “talking boards” or “spirit boards” that mediums were using in their seances so that the spirits of the dead might tell all. These homemade boards and planchettes were more-or-less similar to that of the modern Ouija board.
In the 1890s, Charles Kennard, of the Kennard Novelty Company, produced a commercial version for family entertainment. There are a number of legends about the commercial origins of the board, among them that Kennard and his pals asked the board itself what it should be called. Apparently the planchette spelled out O U I J A and then G O O D L U C K.
Kennard patented the Ouija board (that’s another blog post also). It was a commercial success. It was so popular and so accepted that Norman Rockwell painted a picture of a couple using the board. It was a cover for the Saturday Evening Post. It don’t get more mainstreamed and uncontroversial that that, amirite?
So how did the Ouija board transform from a mainstream parlour game to a scary hell-mouth portal?
All will be revealed next week, in part two. In the meantime, G O O D L U C K.