Top positive review
Brain-Flavored Food for Thought
Reviewed in the United States on August 27, 2019
A friend of mine is a screenwriter and every now and again I'll ask him a question on the mechanics of storytelling, some detail on plot or character development. Invariably we get to a point in the conversation where he becomes a bit exasperated with my questions and says (or shouts), "It's not math!'
What he means by this is that the creative process, by its very nature, is not something anyone totally understands, including those who've had the most success in their fields. The distinction between an art and a science applies here, and it's easy to see on which side of the divide all fiction falls (but especially horror, with its taproot of primordial fears as deep as our history on this planet as painfully sentient-but-unfortunately-very-edible prey and predator). This is good news inasmuch as it means that magic is real, or at least that some processes remain inexplicable and total mysteries, even to those who've grappled most successfully with them. It's bad news if you're looking for a "How-To" book that will give one a formula for creating works of horror. There is no blueprint, no template, no paint-by-numbers system, or if there is, the Syfy Channel has exclusive rights to that Rube Goldberg machine and you don't want what it's pumping out (unless you want the ignominious stain of having your name on the credits to MegaZombieSharkRaptor Part XVIII) .
"Where Nightmares Come From" hits the sweet spot inasmuch as it makes no outlandish claims or promises about revealing some secret method for creating horror, though the advice, ruminations, stories, and philosophies on offer here from some of the best practitioners in the field are likely to get the upstart artist's creative juices flowing, and to perhaps rekindle the flame for those who've been deterred by the hard lot of being an independent filmmaker, writer, or multimedia artist.
It's hard to single out specific essays for praise, since the offerings in the book are so diverse and each has something to recommend it, but if my neck were on the butcher's block I'd say that Ramsey Campbell's mini-workshop on writing and revising a story is worth the cover price alone. Other standouts include Stephanie Wytovich's very personal and heartwarming story about how her parents nurtured her toward the unusual vocation of horror poetess (a true rara avis in a field where a lot of people are motivated by only the most mercenary and short-term goals, like Return on Investment for a slasher flick), as well as Michael Paul Gonzalez's " Pixelated Shadows," a look into a subculture of something called Creepypasta, which is the digital version of ghost stories told around the campfire, but for kids who've had their synapses rerouted by the internet (and may not know how to build a fire without first consulting Google).
"Nightmares" is nowhere near the most exhaustive examination of the genre of horror or the industry, but for a relatively short work it is incredible rich, and quite the resource. Recommended.