Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Like Father, Like Daughter...

In case you haven't heard, my youngest, Zoe, seems to have been bitten by the writing bug.  Not just that, but the evil temptress that is horror.  Yep, my little angel writes horror.  See the poem below.  Why am I bringing this up?  Because two weeks ago, Zoe entered her first creative writing contest.  The Kyle Public Library hosted their "Spooky Story" contest, which was open to middle-school and high-school kids.  Zoe entered her story, Perfect, which was about a demented doctor who kidnapped women and cut them to pieces in an attempt to make his "perfect" bride.  There were 140 entrants.

Zoe won.

She beat out 139 other kids from high-school on down to win bragging rights and a free Kindle.  Do I sound like I'm bragging?  Like maybe I'm a proud poppa?  Because I am.  Proud.  Proud. Proud.  I've also had a few relatives (grandmother, aunt) who have asked to read the winning story... Not sure I want to send it to them because I'm pretty sure it'll freak 'em out.  Seriously.  I read it.  This is twisted stuff, and I love it.

So anyway, here's me bragging.  Her name is Zoe Johnson.  Remember that name.  You'll hear it again.  And again.  And again.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Poetry by Zoe

Here's something interesting.  My youngest daughter writes.  No kidding, you say?  She writes well.  She writes horror-themed stuff.  Wonder where she gets it from...  So, I'd like to present to you a poem by my Zoe.  She makes me very proud.

Walking Among the Dead
by Zoe S. Johnson

Through the ruins of what used to be the city
the fallen men and women stumbled through their forgotten home
between the living and the dead
looking for warm muscle and flesh to rip away.

It doesn't hurt when you become a corpse like them.
You never feel pain, you never grow hungry,
and you just walk without a care in the world.
It was an undead Hell.

You still age and decompose.
You still rot away the shell of your old self.
Who you used to be doesn't matter anymore.
Your mind now belongs to them
and you can't turn back.

That's not the worst part.
Those who are alive have to deal with
the toughest challenge of their lives.
Some of the infected are recognizable.
How could you kill someone you love the most?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Here...There be MONSTERS...

The Seton Hill "Readings in the Genre" course has begun, lead by your's truly. Our subject this time around?  Monsters.  They hold a dear place in my heart because, really, aren't we all monsters of a sort?  More on that in a minute. 

I've chosen a motley crew of misanthropic mayhem masters about whom my students must read.  Included are Vampires (that don't sparkle, dammit), werewolves, golems, demons and... well... snow.  Trust me, it all works somehow.  But I think the question that begs answer is this:  Why are we so fascinated by monsters?  Lets look at the famous monsters of literature (I'm not talking movies...Most of those are one-dimensional sacks of fetid dingo's kidneys) and see what makes them so special.

Adam (the creation from Frankenstein... yes, his name was Adam) fascinated us with his simplicity, his desire to be loved.  Child-like, he was dragged into this world and before he could even begin to question his existence, he was rejected by his creator.  Anyone who's ever watched children on the playground knows how children act:  As Adam himself stated, "If I couldn't inspire love, I would then cause fear."  How many children react to rejection with more rejection?  Most of them.  Adam is, for all intents and purposes, a child in the body of a man, lacking the maturity that comes with age, but possessing all the tools to destroy his enemies.

Dracula, on the other hand, possesses the wisdom of immortality.  Say what you will, butDracula is not a horror story.  It's a romance.  A tragic romance, to be certain, but a romance nonetheless.  It is, for all intents and purposes, the story that asks the reader how far he or she would go for love?  Cross an ocean?  A continent?  Reject God?  The titular character is, from his point of view, justified.  Granted, he's been driven mad by the rigors of immortality and having to feed on the life forces of others to survive, but in his mind, all he wants is the girl he lost to an uncaring God.

Look at Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame or Eric from The Phantom of the Opera and you'll see miserably misshapen men brought to their demises by the search for love and the madness that comes with it.  But the last two aren't "monsters," are they?  Not really, but they became monsters.  Much like we do.

Monsters, historically, take one of our darkest desires, one of our emotions, one of our flaws, and amplify it (or them) to ridiculous degrees until the creature in question becomes the stuff of nightmares.  So if that is true (and it is), then why are we so fascinated with monsters? 

Because they are us.  They are our fear.  They are our passions.  They are our souls, twisted almost beyond recognition and then shown to us.  They are what happens when we forget our humanity.  They are what happens when we lack the wisdom to walk away.  Monsters are designed to teach us lessons about ourselves.  You'll notice, I never called Adam a monster.  Because he wasn't.  His creator, Victor, blinded by ambition and selfish pride, was the monster.   Yet it was Adam with whom we identified.  Because we've all been that creature.  We've all felt betrayed, thrown out by those who should, but don't, care. 

They are us.  We are them.  When you read about monsters, think hard about them.  Sympathize with them.  Because they are our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Things I'm Tired of Seeing

I recently returned from Seton Hill University (where I teach in their MFA Writing Popular Fiction program...  Go look it up), and the powers that be handed down a topic of conversation.

What are you tired of seeing in your genre?

It's actually a very complex question that deserves a great deal of examination.  No matter your genre, there are tropes, cliches, overused situations and rip-offs that drive writers and readers up a wall.  If you are writing, it is your responsibility to try to constantly improve, to elevate the genre, if you will.  So, taking a cue from Rob Hart in his blog-post, I thought I might share ten things that make me kitten-punching angry when I read them for the millionth time.

10.  Weak Female Characters - Women that "need" a man, women that are incapable of making decisions on their own, and women that exist for no other reason than to be a damsel in distress, lead me to ask one question of the writers who create them:  Where the hell do you people live?  I'm in Texas, and women here don't act like that!  Point me to the city of simpering gyno-Americans and let me open up a Kajukenbo school there!  Please!  Look, when you create a character, you want that character to be real, right?  You want people to resonate with them?  You want them to be loved?  Maybe?  The women I've always found attractive, or even mildly interesting, have never been the "oops-I-fell-down-please-help-me" type.  They've been the "oh-no-he-DIDN'T" type that has opinions,  strength, and enough intelligence to accomplish her goals.

9.  Sex for the Sake of Sex - Look, I'm not a prude.  Really.  But if your manuscript reads like the plot to every bad porno that's out there, you're doing something wrong.  Sure, it's fine to have your characters bonk like rabid weasels.  But in your book, there has to be a reason for it.  It should advance the plot.  It should define the character.  It should not be "Well, I haven't put a graphic description of someone's wang in for about fifty pages..."  Even in erotica, the sex should do something to advance the story or character.

8.  Magic Without Consequence - Magic, by definition, is the manipulation of energy to influence an outcome.  That's the truncated version, and I don't feel like typing the whole thing when I'm ranting, so go with me.  That energy has to come from somewhere, right?  I mean, Einstein said so, right?  So that means it has to come from either an outside source or the user's body.  If it's from the body, that energy has to be generated by the consumption of food, otherwise the body will wither and die, so that character is going to be hungry all the time.  If it's outside, where's it coming from?  The plants?  Okay, they'll wither and die.  Gods?  Better believe they'll want something in return.  And if you're directing the energy through the character's body, how much energy can that body handle without going into "HOLY-SHIT-I'M-ON-FIRE!!!" mode?  Think these things through, people.  Please.

7.  "The Chosen One" - If I had a nickel for every story I've read (both published and not-yet published) where some kid is revealed to be the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD! (cue music) who has been hidden in plain sight for fifteen or so years, I'd have a rather large sack of nickels.  Please, people, I know it's a time-honored storyline, but it's been beaten bloody lately.  Let is rest for, let's say, ten years?  Fifteen?  That might be nice.

6.  Monsters who Aren't Monsters Anymore - Quick as you can, think of the last time you've been really scared by a zombie?  Or a vampire?  Or a werewolf?  Sorry, but we (I'm in America, BTW) just can't seem to have monsters that are, you know actual monsters anymore.  We have to make them fluffy.  We have to make them brooding and sympathetic.  We have to take away what made them scary in the first place and make them emo-kids or whining little snots that deserve our contempt and not the legions of lovesick sparkle-pants that flock to see their movies.  How 'bout this:  What about a monster that is (gasp) evil?  That is scary?  Would that be so bad?

5.  Chisel-Chest - You know damned well who I'm talking about.  The perfect hero.  The guy.  Former special ops, long flowing hair, damaged with a good heart, strong jaw and a body made of rock-hard granite just waiting for a squishy female (see number 10) to come and drill through to his ooey-gooey center of love and creamy nugat.  BLECH.  How about a real person?  Real people are overweight, out of shape, have bad hair and skin, and are constantly being told they're not good enough by mainstream media.  Why contribute to that problem?

4.  Poor Research - Guys and Gals, if you rely on what you see in movies and/television to tell you how things work, news flash:  You're wrong.  Your writing will show it, and people will point and laugh.  Your book will become the butt of every literary joke in the world.  For example, in an enclosed apartment, a man fires a gun three times, then whispers to his partner "you go around back..."  Guess what?  If he whispers, his partner will never hear him because guns are really freaking loud.  Espeically in an enclosed space.  Wanna know about a particular religion so you don't sound like a bigoted schmuck (or ignorant)?  Read a book.  Do some research.  Talk to people who know the subject.

3.  Ultra-Boob - Related to Chisel-Chest, Ultra-Boob is the female version.  Spunky, gorgeous, vivacious, always described as under 5'5," under 110 lbs, and able to beat the snot out of a mountain troll with nothing but high-heels and attitude.  Really?  Your (insert angry stereotype minority heritage that writers are constantly trying to prove how cool they are by perpetuating it) blood makes you more than a match for something twice your height and six times your weight?  Yeah, right.  Sorry, but it reminds me of one of those annoying yip-dogs that people all hate, but no one kicks because it wouldn't be worth the effort.  Yes, we all know she's a joke, and that one good backhand by an ogre would send her crumpling (possibly with internal hemmoraging and/or a mild case of death), but no one does it because... well, why?  What would be the point?  Writers, this person is annoying in real life and doesn't come across as a "strong female character."  She comes across as a bitch.

2.  M-Night-Shayammalammadingdong Endings - The twist.  Lead the reader through the whole book, and then, in the last ten pages, (gasp) he was the bad guy all along!  Or (gasp) it was all a dream! Or (gasp) insert-your-annoying-plot-twist-of-choice!  It's lazy.  It's lying to the reader.  It betrays the reader's trust and you need to form that trust relationship with the reader so he or she will continue on your journey of insanity.

1.  Vampires (and, to a lesser extent, Zombies) - Seriously.  Stop it.

Bonus:  The Mash-Up - We've all played the drunken game of "What book would be made better with zombies/vampires/leprechauns/smurfs," and for a while it was amusing.  Now it's old and played out and, really, did we need a version of "Moby Dick" in which the whale was white because it was an undead zombie whale?

So that's my list.  Feel free to share yours in the comments.

Thanks for reading.