We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to bring you…well, you’ll see.
This won’t be a typical blog post, partly because Kristen is multi-tasking (trying to fight off a cold and pack for a trip while dealing with car issues), and partly because I have my hands full getting ready to teach The Creature Feature class bundle and preparing two really cool NaNoWriMo prep classes (more about that later this week!).
However, we know that you have come to depend on us for both solid writing advice and quality snark about that writing advice. Therefore, Kristen and I are pleased to bring you…
…some utterly ridiculous videos.
Reynolds & Lamb — Not the comedy the world needs, but what it deserves.
If you have enjoyed this ridiculousness, feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel.
We promise that we’ll be back in the next blog post with awesome content that you can really sink your fangs…er, teeth into!
Cait & Kristen
THE CREATURE FEATURE CLASS BUNDLE
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!) Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: (see below)
Get three live classes plus all recordings for the price of two! Get YOUR spot in ALL of the classes…even if you can’t make it to the live sessions. HOW? FREE RECORDINGS OF ALL, BAY-BEE!
Ever get the feeling that a paranormal romance WIP is turning out more reality ghost-hunting television than Demi Moore pottery party?
How about when a demon ends up sounding more like a goth teenager than an all-powerful agent of everlasting darkness? Or, when angels get confused as to whether they are supposed to be Nicholas Cage in ‘National Treasure’ or ‘City of Angels’?
Let’s not forget the time when asking friends and fellow writers for advice turned into a 172-comment trolltastic thread debating minutiae of scripture and ended with all our ‘Team Long Island Medium’ friends blocking our ‘Team John Edward’ friends.
All of this comes from a fundamental paradox in writing about the paranormal:
We are trying to define and describe the unexplained and unexplainable for the reader.
Well, get your EMF ghost meters and EVP recorders ready, because in this class, we’re going to turn off the lights and turn on the night vision cams…
This class will cover:
Ghostbusters: five questions every writer needs to answer when writing about the living-impaired;
Chills, chills, chills: writing the spooky stuff so readers feel like they’re really there;
Flirting with danger: walking the fine line between the mysterious angelic stranger and creepy stalker demon (hint – one of them stalks your Facebook);
The demon is in the details: from scripture to spirit boxes, how to get your ‘facts’ right, avoid trolls, and find that unique angle that will make your story stand out.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
URBAN FANTASY: SALT CIRCLE NOT INCLUDED
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, October 19, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST
Be honest. How many voodoo dolls have you mutilated in your quest to become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Sherrilyn Kenyon?
0-9: You’re probably too virtuous to ever get published.
10-19: Equivalent of the New Year’s resolution of voodoo…fizzles in week 2.
20-29: You’ve won NaNoWriMo once or twice and wear lucky writing socks.
30+: Now, we’re talking.
In all seriousness, urban fantasy has emerged as one of the strongest and most competitive categories in publishing, building on the momentum of legends like Anne Rice and expanding to embrace all kinds of sub-genres such as YA, satire, and romance.
But for all its badass convention-breaking, urban fantasy also a genre boobytrapped with the worst pitfalls of all the genres it borrows from.
If we’re not overdoing the Mickey Spillane-esque hard-boiled grit, we’re confusing which supernatural creature has which power. Or, we’re creating characters that are so wrapped up in their love lives with <insert hot supernatural guys here>, they almost miss the climactic battle between good and evil happening a couple blocks over.
Fear not! Strap on your vampire-hunting gear, grab your wolfsbane gris-gris, and don’t forget to bring your sarcastic sidekick to this class where I will help you navigate the mean streets and treacherous back alleys of urban fantasy!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
BLOODY BEASTS: VAMPIRES, WEREWOLVES, AND OTHER BEASTIE BESTIES
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Friday, October 26, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST
Every few years, publishing declares, “Vampires are dead!” and technically, this is correct. They are undead. You can’t keep a good vampire down. Or a good werewolf. (Down, boy!)
Like a dog with a bone, readers keep coming back to stories about vampires, werewolves, and other creatures because there is something irresistibly compelling about the danger of the ‘other’ that makes us question what it means to be human. Plus, vampires and werewolves can be totally hot, amiright?
However, trite tropes and careless creature creation can raise a reader’s hackles faster than a bad batch of AB negative. Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the awful mixed metaphors and puns. Still, a story that doesn’t offer anything new or compelling will suck the life out of a reader’s interest faster than day-old vampire…yeah, I know…bad joke…sorrynotsorry!
This is going to be a super fun class with a lot of juicy stuff to sink your teeth into…can’t-stop-won’t-stop….
This class will cover:
Only human: how to walk the fine line between immortal angst and everyday relatability and create characters so cold, they burn, baby!
Sparkle, shmarkle: picking through the mystery, history, and science of vampirism to create your own believable and betwitching bloodsuckers;
That time of the month: from caricature to cryptozoology, what writers get right…and wrong…about werewolves and wolf shifters;
Mortal problems: Do vampires pay taxes? If a hunter shoots a werewolf, is it involuntary manslaughter? ignoring these details can deal a fatal blow to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
About the Instructor:
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.
Seriously! It’s the only way—aside from global domination—we will ever get to arrange the world exactly as we want. Don’t like green peppers on your supreme pizza? Banish them! Hate people who squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle? Declare them subversive enemies of the regime!
Yet, some genres are trickier than others when it comes to creating backgrounds and context. Science fiction, ‘apocalit’ (zombies optional), horror, and dystopias all require as much if not more work than more mainstream genres like historical when it comes to world-building. Why?
Because unlike historical, where it is mostly a matter of doggedly researching established facts, speculative fiction forces us to create those facts.
What’s more, we must do all this while keeping an eye on opposite ends of the setting spectrum. We have to track the big picture logic and global structure as well as check for consistency and catch everyday details.
As if that weren’t enough, we have to embed all of this into prose that is designed to give momentum to the narrative, not serve as a expository guidebook for the Totalitarian-Regime-Next-Door.
Worst of all, if we don’t get it right, the reader is the one who suffers. Our brains recognize hiccups in logic on a subconscious level. This can lead to reader attention wandering, which can easily become the dreaded…BOOKMARK MOMENT.
Burn the world with a burning reason
Good stories always have at their heart a burning reason. It’s the message, the theme, the desire to share a truth of life that drives us to write. I talk more about the burning reason in this post.
Speculative fiction has given us some of the most memorable burning reasons in all of literature. They incinerate our complacency and comfort zones, leaving only questions and ashes in its wake.
Can’t think of any speculative fiction books off the top of your head? How about:
Farenheit 451, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Lorax, The Stand, Neuromancer, Ender’s Game, Divergent, World War Z, Underground Airlines, Brave New World, Ready Player One, A Clockwork Orange, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (just to name a few…)
Now, imagine doing a lightning round of ‘Name the Theme’ for each of these books. You just started ticking off themes and messages in your head, didn’t you? I know I did. For a fraction of a second, I also relived the deep existential unease each book left me with.
Coming up with the burning reason can be uncomfortable because it means asking hard questions. We have to skate a little too close to the edge of moral insanity. It’s the double-dog dare to look through a mirror darkly and see some chilling truths about human nature.
However, if we do our job well in coming up with the burning reason and translating it into world-building, the reader will remember our story long after the thrill ride through post-apocalyptic totalitarianism (zombies optional) is over.
Means to an end (of the world as we know it)
The good news is that once we have come up with the burning reason, we have done the hardest part of the whole exercise. If we feel wrung-out, slightly distraught, and in major need of a glass of wine, then we know we’ve done it right.
Now that we know why our world exists (i.e. the message), it’s time to figure out how we are going to convey that message. In other words, what are the tangible means that will give us the ability to show-not-tell when it comes to explaining this brave, new, freaky world?
Let’s take Fahrenheit 451 as an example. The burning reason of the story (pun FULLY intended) is to make us question censorship and the role of mass media in society. Bradbury then translates the qualms and questions into both physical objects (paper, books, written word, flame-throwers, the Wall) and social structures (‘firemen,’ the governing laws, the underground culture of dissent).
In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Margaret Atwood uses color and clothing to deepen the impression of the politicization of women’s bodies. An old Scrabble game set becomes another tangible symbol of oppression, rebellion, and consequences.
From the Barbaloot suits of ‘The Lorax’ to the spice and sands of ‘Dune,’ speculative fiction requires a blood sacrifice of something ordinary. We find the everyday things that best represent the burning reason. Then, we offer them up to be stretched, twisted, and torn until they become truly frightening.
Until they become perfect.
Twist and shout
The good news is that we are done with the really hard parts. Figuring out the burning reason behind our world involves uncomfortable questioning. Identifying the tangible symbols requires logic and hard choices. But turning the symbols into that freaky mix of familiar-and-yikes?
Okay, so maybe you and I define ‘fun’ a little differently. Is it so wrong for a girl to enjoy daydreaming about turning the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into Twitter handles that secretly hide the not-so-benevolent intentions of a multi-national cabal bent on eradicating our civil liberties in a post-nuclear-zombie-disaster era?
In all seriousness, this is the part of world-building where we get to flex our imaginary muscles and muscular imaginations. Once we have a tangible symbol, we need to put it through an intellectual stress test.
Let’s look at ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card as an example. The burning reason behind the world-building is questioning how far we are prepared to go to survive as a species. The tangible symbol is a military academy (among other things). The stress test is that Card stretches the concept and purpose of a military academy to its most extreme limit.
While these academies have a goal of instilling loyalty and discipline, producing genocidal sociopaths isn’t in the brochure for West Point.
We take the concept and purpose of each symbol and either stretch it to its limits…or compress it until it becomes oppressive. The books in Fahrenheit 451 are examples of compression. Books are compressed by fire and memory, leading the reader back up through pondering the concept and purpose of books, and eventually to the questioning of censorship and mass media.
Whoa, did I just bring that full circle? Boom, baby!
The whole world in our hands
World-building is the most fun a writer can have when it comes to distributing death, distruction, and dystopia for speculative fiction. (Legally. Whatever you do in your off-time is your business. *snerk*)
When it comes to the down-and-dirty process of creating our worlds, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. While I like to nail down every detail I can, from toilet paper to totalitarianism, other writers prefer creation-on-the-fly. Both methods work. There are also problems with both methods. My way can be a bit too rigid and create unnecessary roadblocks. On-the-fly creation can lead to logical holes the size of the Grand Canyon.
At the end of the day, both methods require a balance between flexibility and attention to detail. Both techniques work best when we grant ourselves the grace of time. Time to think. Time to imagine. Time for our brains to catch up and wave the red flag of contradicting details. Time to find deeper meanings and motives behinds the symbols and reasons.
Time to create the best dysFUNctional world we can.
What’s your favorite dysFUNctional world? Tell me in the comments!
Regularly scheduled mayhem
No surprise here, but I have SO much more to say about this. I am itching to talk about space operas, zombies, YA dystopias, and flavor-of-the-month apocalypses.
From limits to liminality, I have a LOT to say about world-building in general. Kristen is kind enough to occasionally remove my muzzle and allow me to spout off deconstructionist analyses of various books, shows, and movies. But then, the timer goes off, and the muzzle goes back on. *le sigh*
Still, she has found a way to channel my slightly manic musings (after we realized the electro-shock therapy just wasn’t working). Kristen and I are offering a Saturday workshop of three classes about speculative fiction. I’ll be teaching world-building (naturally). You’ll get a double-teaming treat of me and Kristen TOGETHER for the character class. Then, Kristen brings some sanity back to the proceedings (after using the tranquilizer gun on me) with a class on plotting for speculative fiction.
If you’re interested, check out the classes below! More classes listed here.
Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Cait Reynolds Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.
It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’
But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?
This class will cover:
Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST
It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.
It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.
But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?
How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.
This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.
This class will cover:
Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
And so much more!!!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction
Instructor: Kristen Lamb Price: $55.00 USD Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.
Basically, all the weird stuff.
Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.
In this class we will cover:
Discovering the core human story problem.
How to plot these unique genres.
Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.
***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle
Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!) Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.
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
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
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!
A BIGGER TENTACLE!
Have it eat someone!
Oooh! And now?
Have it eat MORE people!
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 Gatewhich 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.
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.
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 bookRise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World onAMAZON, 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.
Eh, it’s Friday, so we’re going to have a little fun debate. ZOMBIES. I never actively intended the undead to be part of my author brand, but strangely? It fits. Just take one glance at an author trying to make deadline (hmmm, word choice?) or someone who’s been through Revision Hell? The term “Walking Dead” fits. These poor souls shamble around moaning. They wear stained clothes, coffee mug in hand and have that creepy thousand-yard stare.
Don’t shoot! Well, unless it’s a tranquilizer gun because that is the only way many writers in these stages are going to get any sleep.
Jokes aside, why have zombies invaded pop culture?
The Spawn and Zombies
It started out kinda cute. It was Halloween and Spawn was three. But first, a tad of backstory so y’all have context.
When Spawn was slightly less than two, he began to speak…beautifully. His third word was “dinosaur” and it was as clear as if an adult said it. I was so excited. He was talking! And just like every child I’d cared for in the past, he was speaking early, intelligibly and articulately. Then he was in a terrible accident and knocked his four front teeth into the maxilla. $20,000 of emergency maxo-facial surgery later? I had a baby bat who rarely spoke and hid his face.
Back to Halloween, 2013.
So Hubby and I were thrilled when all of the sudden, from the back seat, we hear this tiny voice say, “ZOMBIE.” That is SO OUR BOY!
Everything became about zombies and we’re still not exactly sure how since it wasn’t like we’d done anything to actively introduce him to the topic. I was addicted to documentaries about physics at the time.
Anyway, Spawn began making up zombie songs.
My husband loves heavy metal. All the sudden, I hear a growly toddler voice “singing”:
Zombies and BABIES
Zombies and BABIES
Meet you in the dark. Eat you in the park.
ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! ZOMBIEEEEEEE!
I confess, I laughed. I encouraged it because at least he was talking and singing. Then one day I hear him singing the Zombies and Babies tune, but the lyrics changed.
Zombies and Pears
Me: Zombies and pears?
Me: What kind of zombie eats pears?
Spawn: *matter-of-factly* Vegan Zombies.
And HOW do you argue with THAT?
And the ZOMBIE SAGA Continues…and CONTINUES
At first it was cute, then adorable. But after almost a year of nothing but zombies? I’m a bit weary. But, the only time I can even understand half of what he is saying is when he talks about zombies. He tells stories, makes up songs, asks lots of zombie-related questions, makes zombie rhymes.
And for those who have followed this blog, my four-year-old son was fired from preschool for his love of zombies. No, he didn’t bite or attack anyone, he just liked to wander around the playground with a blank stare and moan. Clearly the school didn’t see he was BORN to run for government office.
So now Mommy is homeschooling (unschooling actually). What I’ve decided is if he wants zombies, that’s what he’ll get. Think of all the topics! ZomBIOLOGY 101.
Prevention, pathology, epidemiology, history, plagues, prions, viruses, the CDC, ethics, and on and on. Either I will burn him out and he’ll find something new, or at least I can have fun, too.
But it does beg the question…
Why Are Zombies SO Popular?
My friend Kevin Lucia is a horror author who’s taught for WANA International and guest-posted here about this often misunderstood genre. One particular Lucia post was fascinating because he spoke about how “horror” often reflects much of what we’re facing as a society. For instance, after the invention of the A-Bomb, radioactivity was all the rage. Movie theaters and comics offered up all kinds of radioactive spiders, lizards, superheroes, super villains etc.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre came on the heels of the Vietnam War, a war which decimated accepted rules of combat and exposed authorities as flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy.
Now we exist in a world where we are no longer fighting countries or governments, we’re fighting ideas/behaviors—The War on Drugs, The War on Obesity, The War on Terror.
War of Words
Most of these “wars” are rife with ambiguity. Which drugs are the enemy? We’re Janus-faced. Our government burns poppy fields while doctors hand out Oxycotin like candy. The DEA torches marijuana fields, but then we can order “special” brownies in Colorado. Meth is evil, but then elementary schools are swimming in amphetamines (ADD meds).
Talk about confusing.
Then there is The War on Obesity. Sigh. I’m close to 170 pounds, but I wear a size 8. I fired my last doctor because he kept sending me for tests to figure out why I was so “morbidly obese.” Despite the fact that all my tests came back the picture of optimal health and my diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, soda-free, low in sugar and no processed carbs, organic, non-GMO and I work out constantly, I was “fat.”
Ironically, if I wasn’t a white female, I’d be “curvy.” The African American nurse was my strongest ally and thought the doctor had four holes in his head. She made it a point to tell me I was beautiful and to ignore him.
The terrifying part (for me) is that ideas are malleable and can be redefined. “Terrorist” is all about perspective and personal value systems. I’ve had people on Facebook call gun-owners domestic terrorists and viscously attack me for having guns. Of course, the interesting part is many of them live in major metropolitan areas. Politics aside, a large portion of these detractors don’t live in places where their definitive position at the top of the food chain not is static.
We’ve had nests like these (above) at our property, even beneath the HOUSE. I’ve nearly stepped on a rattlesnake countless times. Also at our ranch, we’ve been battling a MAJOR wild boar infestation. Wild boar can weigh hundreds of pounds. They’re viscous, invasive, aggressive, territorial and have long razor-sharp tusks that rival a French chef knife.
Cell phones rarely work out there, and even if they did, it would take at least 30 minutes for outside help to arrive.
New Kinds of War
Also, these days there is NO way to really know or see the enemy. The enemy (like Vietnam) can be anyone and everyone. It isn’t a soldier dressed in a blue or red or green uniform. Men, women, children, babies, elderly are all potential killers in many parts of the world.
Interesting how this parallels with the idea of zombies. However infected, the zombie is just as much a victim as its prey. A virus “recruits” universally and doesn’t discriminate.
A Universal and Politically Correct “Enemy”?
I was a child of the 70s and 80s. We were a seriously un-PC generation. We fought the Russians daily in our backyard and all watched the 1984 Olympics with more enthusiasm than any Olympics since. Our goal? BEAT THE RUSSIANS. Then the Iron Curtain parted, the Berlin Wall fell and a world with two major axes of power crumbled.
Also, with an increasingly globalized world most of us live in very heterogenous populations. I live in a relatively small satellite community in DFW. I see Vietnamese, Koreans, Indians, Muslims, Africans every time I go to a grocery store. This notion of we are ALL in this together? Clearer by the day.
Sure we witness human-against-human war all the time on the news, which is why I limit how much I watch. But my opinion? The biggest threats we will face in the future are not people, but biology.
Beat the Russians Bugs
In the 80s and 90s, doctors threw antibiotics at EVERYTHING. We’re seeing all kinds of superbugs emerging. I was an early adopter and contracted Swine Flu the year before it paralyzed the US. I’ve never been so sick in my LIFE. I had a boiling fever (104-108) for two weeks and it took THREE MONTHS to fully recover.
Add in SARS, Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, MRSA, Flesh-Eating viruses, Tuberculosis, The Kardashians and Honey Boo-Boo?
It makes sense that zombies would be part of the national consciousness when every time we get sick we need GODZILLACILLIN to tame a simple ear infection.
Zombies—A Social Observation? How We Feel About Others
Zombies. Mindless. Unaware of anything but their own hunger.
A couple posts ago, I mentioned going to yoga to decompress and have quiet time away from the noise of our fast-paced world. The woman next to me texted THE ENTIRE TIME. She couldn’t set down the cell phone for an HOUR.
Fifteen years ago, if a car was going 20 mph in a 50 mph zone and weaving through lanes? Probably a drunk. NOW? Likely texting or looking at a phone.
I was at a 7-11 trying to buy water to bring to the park. I happened to be behind this young 20-something with his pants nearly to his knees….on a PHONE. The poor clerk kept having to redo the transaction because this guy was chatting away and kept hitting the wrong buttons on the swipe pad.
It took everything for me not to rip the phone out of his hands and yell, “I’m happy you are wearing underwear, but don’t need proof. Please pull up your pants, hang up the phone and give this person working to HELP you the respect enough to be present. You are not the only one in this world and there is a line of people behind you who’d kinda like to buy stuff too and not stare at your @$$ any longer than necessary.”
How We Feel About Ourselves
I can’t speak for all the world, but I can speak for Western culture. Every time they give us a new “time-saving” tool, they just pile on more stuff to do on our heads. When I was in the corporate world, there were people who bragged that they hadn’t taken a vacation in a decade.
Please do, because you are a worn out jerk and everyone HATES YOU.
If you took a vacation, it was frowned upon and not-so-subtley punished. Even taking SICK DAYS was punished. When I worked in paper, I got pneumonia. They forced me to come to the office (loaded with paper fiber) and we were located next to a concrete plant so the air was full of concrete dust…but then had NO IDEA why I wasn’t getting better.
Many of us deal with workplaces that would rather us lumber in with 103 degree fever than take a day off.
Thanks for infecting the rest of us.
So why ARE we fascinated with zombies? Many of us spend a lot of time burned out and surrounded by stupidity. We’re medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. I don’t know about you, but I seriously miss my BRAAAAIIIIINS. I also miss when Spawn loved NASCAR. Sigh.
What are your thoughts? Why have zombies taken the place of Godzilla and Giant Spiders from Outer Space? Do you think the zombie craze is a reflection of our social angst? Or maybe we relate to the poor zombie more than we’d like to admit?
It’s Friday, let’s have some fun and be Armchair Anthropologists and Sideline Sociologists!
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, 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).
SATURDAY is my ANTAGONIST CLASS. NYC Time 12:00-2:00. Use WANA15 for $15 off. Have an idea for a book? Stuck and can’t move forward? Keep starting books you can’t finish? THIS class is the cure! You get two…okay usually more like three hours of instruction, the recording, detailed notes AND you can upgrade for personal consulting to help you repair or construct your masterpiece.
Today is our final segment from AMAZING author and WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia. Why horror? If you’ve followed this series, you now know many of the books you might already love are actually horror, but tend to be classified under different names—science fiction, dark fantasy, noir, etc. So for us to shiver and say, “Oh, I don’t like horror” is funny because most of us have been enjoying horror for a long time.
Sort of like how Mom hides the green veggies in a cheesy casserole ;).
Oh, what vegetables? Look at all the CHEESE!*whistles innocently*
Horror is a very important, but often misunderstood and overlooked genre. Yet, it is one of the most powerful. Much of the literature that has endured for generations and even altered society and science can thank horror. A great example? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (every ambulance now has chest paddles to use electricity to restart a heart). It took a horror author to wonder about death and what constituted life. Could it be prolonged? Should it be? Horror authors are known for asking the tough questions and are unafraid to give real answers sans candy-coating.
Take it away, Kevin!
There are some writers’ whose work transcends the horror genre. And then there are some writers who can literally write whatever they please, virtual “jacks of all traders.” That’s the focus of today’s blog, a handful of writers who have written just about everything, and then some, “horror” being only one aspect of their talents.
Everyone should know Robert E. Howard. Hopefully, many folks reading this blog are nodding, thinking: “Of COURSE we do. He invented Conan the Barbarian. Solomon Kane. He wrote horror, sword and sorcery, Lovecraftian tales, weird fiction. He wrote fabulous westerns, and probably helped invent the weird western. He’s ROBERT E. HOWARD, for Pete’s Sake.”
However, if you DON’T know Robert E. Howard, you need to rectify that situation as quickly as possible. His bibliography is staggering, considering his career came to an abrupt end with his suicide at age thirty. And his prose his something behold. It drives with this rhythmic, pulsing power that, in anyone’s else’s hands would sound ridiculous and overwrought, but somehow, coming from Howard sounds powerful and unrelenting.
A caution: like Lovecraft, he did unfortunately indulge in racial caricatures at times. We don’t have the space to debate that here; but those who want to investigate his work should know that up front. That being said, “Black Canaan” and “Pigeons From Hell” are two of my all time favorite stories. For his westerns, I recommend The End of the Trail. For an eclectic mix of his fiction, The Black Stranger. For his Solomon Kane tales, The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane and for a collection of his horror stories, The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.
Who would I consider the contemporary equivalent of Solomon Kane? Well, even though he’s never neared the same kind of output, the obvious choice would be Norman Partridge. First of all, Norman’s blog is one of the few author blogs I actually read on a regular basis. Never pretentious, though he sometimes writes about writing and offers advice, most of the time he writes about what he loves: Universal horror films, pulp and Noir fiction, cars…you name it, be he blogs about. His fiction is not to be missed, either. It offers that same hard driving, rhythmic pulse that Howard’s does…but Partridge has his own unique voice.
And his tales vary. He’s written some of the best Halloween-themed fiction I’ve read in recent years, and his Stoker Award Winning Novel Dark Harvest should become an annual Halloween read, along with his short collection that’s linked to the world of Dark Harvest, Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season. His collection Lesser Demons was like a crazy mix of Bradbury, Howard, Lovecraft and King, all in one volume. Slippin Into Darkness is a crazy-fun Noir/Crime/Horror/Ghost Story mix, and I’m not sure WHAT genre his Jack Baddalach novels Saguaro Riptide and The Ten-Ounce Siesta fit into, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re adrenaline-laced crime/noir/mystery craziness that read faster than greased lightning.
Another writer whose reach extends past the horror genre is Al Sarrantonio. He’s written westerns and science fiction, but honestly, his horror fiction is the best. And, like a lot of the masters, his work has been re-released in ebook format, though used copies of the paperbacks are still readily available.
His “Orangefield” cycle (Horrorween, Halloweenland, Hallow’s Eve) novels invoke all the cider and autumn spice of Bradbury andare entertaining and lyrical. Totentanz, (think Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but with bite)Octoberand The Boy With Penny Eyes offer some fine, fine reading, and his short fiction collection, Toybox, offers short fiction that maybe outshines his novel-length work. And the best part? So much more Sarrantonio out there.
So we’re at the end of our journey, for now. I hope I’ve turned your attention on toward a group of horror writers who are (or, in some cases, were) among the best in the business. Again, I can’t claim I’ve read everyone, and there are still so many that I need to read myself, but these are the ones I’ve discovered and read over the past five years that have impacted me deeply, as I hope they impact you.
THANK YOU, KEVIN!!!! *stands and applauds*
Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror Channel. His podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrifyandhis short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, 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). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!
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