Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: Dean Koontz

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Frederik Andreasson

Since we are coming up on Halloween, I’d like to take a moment to talk about my favorite genre—horror. I can’t get enough of it. It is a genre that fascinates me simply because I believe it is the most difficult genre to write. Sure it was probably easier back in the days that movie audiences ran screaming from the man in a really bad plastic ant outfit. But these days? As desensitized as we have become? Unsettling people is no simple task.

That’s why I’d like to talk about it today because no matter what type of fiction we write, we can learn a lot from what horror authors do well.

Powerful fiction mines the darkest, deepest, grittiest areas of the soul. GREAT fiction holds a mirror to man and society and offers messages that go beyond the plot.

Elisabeth Kubler Ros once stated:

There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.

This means, the more we understand fear, the deeper our writing becomes, the more meaningful, visceral, and profound. In love stories, fear might be of being alone, of never finding “the one” or even losing “the one.” In a literary, the fear can be of remaining the same, or of regressing, or of failing to evolve and learn the critical lesson provided by the story problem.

Fear is the lifeblood of fiction because conflict is always generated by fear. The protagonist wants something BUT THEN… The more intense the fear? The higher the stakes become? The faster the reader turns the pages.

What Horror Says About Conflict

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Here is where we need to be careful. There is a fine line between a bad situation versus authentic conflict. This line makes the difference between a meh novel and something people hold onto and read and reread. It is what makes the difference between a B horror movie that is utterly forgettable, versus a horror staple that endures for generations.

In horror, bad situations can be monsters or an ax-wielding psycho, but, without conflict added in, it quickly devolves into a sort of wash, rinse, repeat. Oh, he chopped up a teenager! Now two teenagers! Now he skinned them and danced in a woman suit made from their flesh! This is the basest form of horror, the horror that depends on shock value (gore).

And before anyone says, “But that is horror, it doesn’t apply to me!” Be careful. I get a lot of new fiction that it is simply bad situation after bad situation—and another car chase—and the reason this falls flat is that the “badness” is purely external. The characters are passively receiving “bad things happening” and the writer leaves it there.

So what makes it conflict and not just a bad situation?

Monsters & Men

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I liken humans to a tea cup. Whatever we are filled with is what will spill out when we are rattled.  When the heat is on (story problem) do we rise to the occasion or is our darker self revealed?

A great example of this is Stephen King’s The Mist. Sure it is a monster story. Scary strange mist, creatures in the mist, tentacles, blood, OMG! And if King had made the focus of the story the aliens, we would have a pretty forgettable movie.

Oooh a giant tentacle!

What now?

A BIGGER TENTACLE!

What now?

Have it eat someone!

Oooh! And now?

Have it eat MORE people!

ZZZZZZZZZZZZ

You can clearly see how this would have become a seriously tedious story if it simply relied on a string of “worsening” situations. But King is too smart for that. No, he appreciated what I talked about a moment ago. Sure humans are a nice enough bunch so long as there is food and shelter and the power works. But take away the conveniences. Scare people, really scare them and we get to see who they really are.

We take that external problem and make it internal.

The source of conflict (and in this case horror) has far less to do with the aliens outside and much more to do with what that outside problem does to the people trapped in the grocery store. We see the characters fall all along the spectrum. The ordinary and unremarkable cashier risking his life to help others contrasted against the “good Christian” woman escalating to full scale cult leader (human sacrifice to appease the beasts outside included) in less than 24 hours.

The monsters inside become far scarier than whatever is outside.

If we think about it, this is what makes for a good ghost story, too. It is less about what the ghost is or isn’t doing and more about what it is revealing about those being tormented. A fantastic example of this is Prisoner of Hell Gate which I recommend any time, but especially for some really great Halloween reading.

Strand a boat full of college students on an island where Typhoid Mary died and sit back and watch the fireworks. Again, the horror is less to do with the island and more to do with what the peril brings out in the people.

I also recommend Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island and Dean Koontz’s What the Night Knows.

This Applies to ALL Good Fiction

But as I mentioned, this “turning the external internal” is what makes ALL great fiction. Toss in a problem then watch what it does to the people around it. In Big, Little Lies (general fiction) a Kindergarten schoolyard rumor escalates to murder. The story really has nothing to do with the murder and more to do with how a simple little rumor has the power to undo lives. It is the rumor that brings out the best and the worst in people.

Fiction is about problems and then putting on the pressure. The story problem serves as a crucible. We can make our story forge so hot it rivals the surface of the sun, but unless we toss the character(s) in it? Doesn’t matter how hot it is. It is our job (no matter the genre) to poke and prod and expose that which people fear. Hone in on the pain points and THAT is what makes for dimensional writing from the fear of burying your own child (Steele Magnolias) to the fear of being invisible (Fried Green Tomatoes) to the fear of being powerless (The Labyrinth).

Writers are brokers of fear 😉 .

What are your thoughts? What are some of your favorite horror books/authors? I am a HUGE Koontz fan. For those who maybe eschew horror, can you at least see how these tools might enrich your fiction?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the NEW Plotting for Dummies class below!

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes TOMORROW!

 

SATURDAY, October 22nd Blogging for Authors

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

This class is going to cover:

  • How author blogs work. What’s the difference in a regular blog and an author blog?
  • What are the biggest mistakes/wastes of time?
  • How can you effectively harness the power of algorithms (no computer science degree required)
  • What do you blog about? What topics will engage readers and help create a following?
  • How can you harness your author voice using a blog?
  • How can a blog can help you write leaner, meaner, faster and cleaner?
  • How do you keep energized years into your blogging journey?
  • How can a blog help you sell more books?
  • How can you cultivate a fan base of people who love your genre.

Blogging doesn’t have to be hard. This class will help you simplify your blog and make it one of the most enjoyable aspects of your writing career.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

~*~

Kait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, this reformed Pantser is hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

Made it back from my trip to LA on Monday. Six days away from home, but it was a blast. It was a real treat to get to attend the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, and I would recommend it for any author, even if you don’t happen to write romance. This conference, first of all, is MASSIVE. I believe someone said that there were 1500 attendees, and from what I witnessed, that number appeared accurate.

I arrived in LA on Tuesday afternoon, which was nice in that it gave time to get to the hotel, wind down and find a few authors to talk to. The Bonaventure is a leviathan, and I believe it was designed by MC Escher. Seriously. Like elevators that don’t go to every floor and stairs that seem to lead nowhere.  The inside of the hotel, while lovely, reminded me of the video game HALO…where, coincidentally, I spent most of my time lost as well.

I wore my Body Bugg the first day and I took almost 12,000 steps that day, mostly because I always seemed to be in the wrong place or the wrong floor. By the time I figured out what I was doing and where I was going, it was time to come home to Texas.

Sigh. Ah well.

My panel was Wednesday afternoon, and I have great news. Apparently, the lessons I have been giving you guys are spot on. As if you doubted. I was even quoted by the Los Angeles Times as an expert, and since then have not been able to fit my head through a door.

RT had a stunning array of experts to teach about EVERYTHING. Forensics, firearms, screenwriting, you name it. The wealth of training offered is worth the conference fee alone, and they hold some pretty killer parties, too (though I was too wiped to enjoy those to the fullest).

The best part of the conference, though, was that I was able to meet a lot of really talented authors of all levels. I even got to know some top-notch authors—those folk who live at the level I hope to one day see. The cool thing is…and don’t tell anyone that I told you…they are actually human and even very nice. Kathy Lyons (a.k.a. Jade Lee), Stephen Jay Schwartz, Allison Brennan, April Smith, Boyd Morrison, Brett Battles, F. Paul Wilson, Dianne Emley, Barry Eisler, to name a few. I hope you guys will check out their sites and their books. I bought books from each just because they were all such great people.

I  even got a chance to meet…

Are you ready for this???

DEAN KOONTZ!!! HOLY CRAP, I GOT TO MEET DEAN KOONTZ!!!!

OMG!!!!!!!

I have read Dean Koontz since I was in middle school. Back when I was a kid, there was no such thing as YA, and so I read a lot of J.R.R. Tolkein, L. Ron Hubbard, Stephen King, David Eddings and, yes, Dean Koontz. I don’t tend to be much of a fan-girl as far as music or movie stars, but boy do I get silly when it comes to meeting some of the writers who have inspired my career choice. And my favorite of all time has got to be Dean Koontz, so to get to meet him was sublime. And, he is really interesting and funny and brilliant and at the end of the day I realized…I like Dean Koontz.

I find it interesting how I can preach this stuff all the time, and yet still be amazed at the truth the lessons I share with you guys each week. It is so critical that others like us. Being likable has tremendous power.

I came home with a suitcase full of books that I’d purchased for the simple reason that I liked the author and wanted to support him or her. It is strange how likability filters into how we spend our time and money as consumers.

I remember when I was growing up, there was a comedian whom I LOVED (won’t mention any names). I would rent his videos over and over and over and play them until I thought the tape would break. When I made it to college, I scraped up enough money to go see this comedian, and he happened to be signing autographs before the show. I stood in a line that went on for miles in the freezing winter weather all to get my 30 seconds to tell him how much I loved his work. Yet, when I finally got to talk to him, he was a nasty, sarcastic ass who was too good to be bothered with the likes of me.

I was crushed.

That night’s show was the last time I ever watched him. His career seemed to dissolve away after that. I wonder if his poor attitude finally caught up with him. Maybe all the people like me realized we could find another comedian to love, one who would be nicer and more grateful to have our devotion.

The authors I met at RT were all so wonderful, and I know that I will actively support them in any way I can. And it is for no other reason other than they were kind. Fame can make us weird. I know I am nobody and let me tell you, when I saw my name in the LA Times, it was easy to get a puffed up ego. But, I think we are always wise to remember that this…all of this writing and blogging and tweeting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is ALWAYS a team effort and we need to always thank our team, remember them and let them know we would be nowhere without them.

Authors only become best-sellers because readers are willing to part with their money to support us. Twitter only works if others are willing to help us spread the word. Yes, there are increasing numbers of self-published or indie published authors enjoying large sales numbers, but often that is due to the social platform who was willing to help spread the word.

I work very hard to post great content regularly, but it means nothing if you guys don’t take time to read. I am so very grateful for your support.

So what do you guys think? Today, we’re running a very unscientific social experiment. What makes an author likable? Am I putting too much weight on likability? Would you buy books from an author you liked as a person, but didn’t care for her novels? Conversely, if you met an author who was a real toad, would you still buy his books because his writing was superb? Same with movies. Do you find it harder to watch movies with starts known for poor behavior? Or? Does that not mean anything to you? I want to know what you guys think.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

WINNERS CIRCLE

Last week in March Winner of Critique of First 5 Pages (approx.1250 words)–JM Cornwell

Month of March Winner of 15 Page Edit (approx. 3250 words)–Patti Mallet

April Week One Winner of 5 Page Critique (approx. 1250 words)–James Loscombe

April Week Two of 5 Page Critique (approx. 1250 words)–Jenyfer Matthews

Please send your pages, double-spaced in a Word Document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.