Book Review: “the Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny Valley…

… is a macabre serenade to a small town that may or may not exist, peopled with alive and dead denizens who wander about the hills and houses with creepy fluidity. Told by individual inhabitants, the stories recount tales of disappearing dead deer, enchanted gardens, invisible killer dogs, and rattlesnakes that fall from the sky; each contribution adds to a composite portrait that skitters between eerie, ghoulish, and poignant. Miller is a master storyteller, clearly delighting in his mischievous creations.

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I love horror anthologies. Something about collections of short stories just feels right to me when I delve into the genre.

That said, I just finished The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller, and I can definitely recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for some lighter horror fare.

The book takes a a unique approach, posing as a documented collection of essays submitted to an NPR contest. The entries were supposedly written by the residents of a strange Pennsylvania town named Uncanny Valley. As the book progresses, what begin as quirky tales become increasingly ominous and supernatural.

Most of the letters (stories) range between 2-6 pages, and are told in different narrative voices by each of the residents. This works to varying effect, and like all anthologies, some entries are better than others. However, overall Miller does a good job weaving so many tales from so many different perspectives. He doesn’t stray too far down the path of extreme horror or gore, and many of the stories are more akin to Twilight Zone than Tales from The Crypt so I think this would be a great series for younger horror fans. I also enjoyed the illustrations by John Randall York, which reminded me of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (my first true horror anthology).

If you’re looking for some satisfying, light horror that you can read in short sessions, then Uncanny Valley is definitely worth checking out.

What I Liked:

  • Interesting concept for an anthology
  • Varying narrative voices
  • Great illustrations

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Some stories were much stronger than others
  • I wanted certain entries to last longer
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Writing In Notebooks

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I plot my stories.

I plot my stories and novels, and for some reason I cannot do that effectively on a computer.

I’ve tried EvernoteGoogle Keep, and different features in Scrivener where most of the stories end up taking shape. The only place that works for me is an old fashioned notebook.

Collecting Ideas

It seems like a no-brainer that I would use voice notes or an app to quickly capture ideas for stories as they come to me, but for whatever reason, I work better when I jot them into a notebook. The act of physically writing the ideas out seems to help my brain digest and play with them. Maybe because it’s a slower and more deliberate process than typing? All I know is that I end up with a page of ideas that are more thorough and fully formed than when I try typing bulleted lists into a phone.

Plotting Stories

I also plot stories out in notebooks. Admittedly, plotting in a notebook is more arduous than in a program like Scrivener, but it seems to have the same benefits I mentioned above when I’m scratching down ideas. I’m able to put more thought into the process as I draft; full of margin notes and arrows. Many a plot hole has been preemptively squashed in a notebook after they escaped from “Idea Land”. This can be very time consuming, so ultimately, I end up putting my full final  (they are NEVER final) plot outlines into Scrivener where I can manipulate and edit them.

Object Permanence

There’s also something satisfying about having a physical thing to pick up and look back through ideas after I’ve given myself some distance from them. Sometimes to show me how terrible they were, but often to re-visit them and scratch in some new notes or revise. Again, you can do this with your laptop, phone, or a stack of bar napkins, but notebooks and journals just feel nice, and they’re convenient to keep on a shelf, in a backpack, or in your car.

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I use Piccadilly notebooks because I like the idea of Moleskin notebooks, but not the price. Plus, having that little rear pocket to stash some 3×5 index cards is useful for quick plotting and scene edits.

Do you utilize a notebook or journal in your writing process? Or maybe just a really nice roll of paper towels? Let me know down in the comments!

Writing Tip: How To Use Commas

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Oh, the comma.

Writers fret over punctuation, and there are few tools we use more than our curvy little pal. I’ve been accused more than once of overusing commas. I refer to the process as “Shatner-izing” my writing. It gives, it, more, dramatic, effect!

Star Fleet captains aside, here are some basic rules to live by when using (or not using) commas in your writing. For this post, the theme will be “aliens”.

Use Commas to Separate Elements

“The alien fired the laser, laughed, and kicked the piles of dust that were once humans.”

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Commas can be used to separate lists of elements that could potentially confuse a sentence, or just read poorly if they are separate actions that occur in sequence. The last comma in the sentence is known as a serial comma or an Oxford comma if you want to get all fancy and British about it. The general rule is a list of three or four, but there could be more if you want to get crazy.

Use Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions

I’m quite proud of the subtle segue I made in that last sentence up there. Commas can also be used with conjunctions to connect independent clauses

“The first saucer was destroyed, but more ships were on the way.”

Destruction may be inevitable, but at least our conjunctions are all sorted out.

Sidebar: The conjunction and is the one I always get crap about from editors and other writers. Given the pacing and structure of the sentence the comma isn’t always needed, but I tend to throw them in anyway. The rule is err on the side of commas. It may unnecessary, but it’s NEVER wrong.

Use Commas for Introductions

Commas are great for adding intro elements to a sentence. These can add flair, especially to action sequences (which require a minimum 37 pieces of flair).

“His energy sword crackling, the Venutian barbarian began his berserker rage!”

(I tossed some alliteration in there just because.)

Use Commas for Additional Information

If you want to add some additional information, or flavor text, that wouldn’t otherwise change your sentence, you can bust it in there between a pair of commas.

“The Martian commander, overseer of the armada, gave the signal to attack.”

 

I hope this advice was helpful. If so, here are some of my other Writing Tip posts.

Using Adverbs

How to Use Story Beats

Writing Around A Busy Schedule