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Horror Writer’s Workshop day four: Stretching my muscles

This week in Romania has been stretching my muscles, literally and figuratively. At least three hours each day is spent in a writing workshop with author Richard Thomas.

Richard has been throwing us some curveballs. Just when you start to relax, he wants you to write the perfect opening line to a novel. And he wants you to do this three times. In fifteen minutes. No problem, right?

Or craft a scary story that builds tension using a number of different techniques in twenty minutes. And then offer it up to the rest of the class as a sacrificial offering.

At first my brain protested at the idea of this impromptu writing. “I can’t!” was always my first thought, until–surprisingly–I realized IΒ can.Β When I read my opening line aloud, Richard put it to the class for debate:

“What works?” he asked.

“Everything,” Scott, one of my kind fellow classmates, replied. It was a good day, but you can never rest easy. You never know when your pathetic attempts to build tension will put your colleagues to sleep.

Mysterious unfinished settlement at Simon Forest in Bran, Romania. According to local legend, the settlers vanished without a trace.

Mysterious unfinished settlement at Simon Forest in Bran, Romania. According to local legend, the settlers vanished without a trace.

 

In the evening we went on a hike through a haunted forest in the Simon Village of Bran, Romania. The forest is cloaked in superstition and there are many eerie tales of early settlers and park wardens vanishing without a trace. Noted Romanian writer Igor Bergler rolled his eyes. “They tell the same stories about every forest here,” he said.

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Haunted Forest in Simon Village, Bran, Romania.

 

Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately, based on my freakout over the Bran Castle photo) we didn’t see any ghosts in the haunted forest, and we all made it back alive. The real challenge was to come later that night.

The Mama Cozonacilor Hotel has gigantic rolling hills behind it. For days, Richard had been saying he wanted to climb one, and I’m always up for a challenge. After a bonfire, Igor bet me 100 lei (almost $25 USD) that we couldn’t make it up the hill and back down in three hours. It was on.

Bolstered by two shots of palinka, I gamely attempted to keep pace with Richard, who at first tried to jog up the hill. That didn’t last long. The incline was so steep that he was afraid of sliding back or losing his footing. With my calves screaming for mercy, I pressed on, doing a weird crab-walk routine in order to keep from tumbling down the hill and breaking my neck.

It took us fifteen minutes to get to the top. I couldn’t believe we’d done it. We started out at dusk, but by the time we reached the summit, it was pitch black. I used my camera’s flash to signal to the others that we’d made it.

Getting down was a more treacherous proposition. We now couldn’t watch for obstacles, and even standing up on that incline made you feel like you would fall over. Finally, we decided to slid down on our butts. This resulted in epic wedgies, but we made it down Romania’s Everest with our dignity intact and our hearts pounding. The stinging nettles had their revenge, but they didn’t get the best of us.

Mission accomplished, along with another 100 lei to spend at the markets.

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21 Comments

  1. Roland Yeomans

    Sorry that I’ve been absent — my computer is on the fritz. Sigh. Using the keyboard on the Kindle Fire is NO fun!

    You’ve got a great locale for writing horror. Read Michael Crichton’s true account of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in his fascinating “Travels” and you will scratch that particular mountain off your list!!

    You seem to be having a wonderful time. I’m glad. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Roland, and welcome back! Sorry to hear about your computer. I promise to catch up with your blog when I get home. Please forgive–we aren’t given a lot of downtime, and I think the bit we do get is supposed to be spent working on our dreaded stories.

      I’m torn about Kilimanjaro. I would like to do it, but then there’s the cold.

      Always happy to hear from you. Hope you’re having a great summer.

      Reply
  2. Sara C. Snider

    I like how you had to go climb the mountain just before it grows dark. You horror writers are crazy! πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve been very much into pushing the limit here, Sara. Not sure why, but I like it.

      Reply
  3. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Those writing exercises would be challenging.
    Glad you won the bet. Although coming down that hill in the dark must’ve been freaky.

    Reply
    • JH

      It was such a rush, Alex (in spite of the pain). As soon as I got down, I wanted to do it again. Thanks for commenting! I promise I’ll catch up with you as soon as I get home. Hope you had a great vacation.

      Reply
  4. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    Those writing challenges are scary – ha, no pun intended! – because it’s basically our guts on the page. There’s no time to clean anything up. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JH

      You got it, Madeline. And you know that phrase, “My mind is a blank”? Let’s just say it’s a cliche for a reason.

      Reply
  5. Chrys Fey

    Write a scary story with tension in just twenty minutes? I want to say that I wouldn’t be able to do that. But maybe I can….

    The hike into the Haunted Forest sounds like fun. πŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • JH

      It was, although I didn’t feel the slightest bit spooked there, which was a disappointment. But I guess you can’t conjure up ghosts on command. That may be too much to ask, even of the Romanians.

      Of course you can, Chrys! Everyone in the workshop managed, and you would too. I have no doubt. Thanks for commenting. I PROMISE I’ll catch up with you once I’m home. xoxo

      Reply
  6. C. Lee McKenzie

    Writing impromptu is almost as scary as the vanishing inhabitants and all things supernatural. However, just as you say, it can be done when it must be done. Congratulations on leaping over that hurdle.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee! A lot of great stuff came out of those sessions, and I’m not talking about my own, although I’m happy with what I walked away with.

      Reply
  7. Birgit

    We never know what we can do until we test the limits and beyond. Congrats to you for the writing and climbing that steep hill at night no less. I think I can say you love a challenge

    Reply
  8. dolorah

    Getting up is usually the easy part; coming down though is scary. At least for me. I avoid climbs whenever possible. Not a fear of heights, a fear of falling πŸ™‚

    Sounds like the retreat is as much fun as challenging work. Wish I could be there.

    Reply
    • JH

      It would have been great to have you in our group, Dolorah. Maybe next year?

      I’m afraid of falling too. Sliding down was a relief, even though it ruined my one pair of shorts for the trip.

      Reply
  9. Lisa S.

    OMG you crazy girl! Lol. I can just see you making your way down that hill. Of course, you managed to pull it off. No surprise there. Great posts!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lise! What, you didn’t slide down an epic hill when you were here? :O I thought that’s what everyone did.

      Reply
  10. Elle

    You’re a wild woman! I’m glad you are enjoying your trip so much.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Elle! Me too. Money and time well spent.

      Reply
    • JH

      Ha! If only, Anna. I’ll catch up with your blog when I return–thanks for commenting.

      Reply

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