30 December 2011

2012: The Year of the Con

2012 is going to be a kick-ass year. I'm excited! I have so much planned for this year and I can't wait to hit every goal on my list!

Notice these are not resolutions, but goals. My mentor Scott A. Johnson wisely wrote in his blog that resolutions beg to be broken, so it's better to call them what they really are: goals. Goals are solid and unbending. and life-changing. So here's what's brewing for 2012...

2012 is the Year of the Con!

Conventions are a big deal. It's not just for fans to attend, but for artists and authors as well. My mentor Tim Waggoner told me in one of our very first meetings that conventions are a way of life for published authors, and that I need to go to them to see what it's all about. Of course, there's exciting programming and the potential to meet some very talented and famous people there (you can also make big strides for your career like fellow author John Dixon did at Thrillerfest), but it's also a learning experience...who knows, someday I may have fans, or may host a panel, or be invited as a pro/guest of honor. Right now I'm happy to call myself a fan/student in the convention world until I make a name for myself as a writer/artist.

The convention world indeed was a shadow-world to me until 2010, when The World Fantasy Convention was held in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Me and my friend Drew Brigner attended--both our first conventions, I think (it was mine, anyway). I attended a few panels, was gobsmacked by all the authors who attended, and delighted by all the books and swag we got. And Drew and I spent a good deal eating good food and talking good storytelling--it was a nice intro to the convention world.

And then I didn't attend any after that. What's wrong with me? Nothing in 2011? Whaaaaat?

So...to make up for that dry spell, I'm going to four conventions this year (Ohio has waaaaaay more cons than I expected, and they attract some pretty big names). Here they are:

OHAYOCON January 27-29, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.

TYPE OF CON: Anime, Manga, Japanese Art and Culture

I have never been to a convention like this before...and I still consider myself a newbie to anime and manga, so I will either love this convention or feel totally out of place here. Likely a mixture of both. Since this is my first anime convention this is a 100% learning experience...and that also means I'm not cosplaying at this one. Instead I'm probably gonna walk around with my mouth hanging open, snap pictures of bad-ass costumers, and attend a bunch of how-to panels. Still on the fence about whether or not to stand in line for autographs and/or photos, 'cause I only recognize two names on the guest list and that's only because of FMA Brotherhood. Hmmm....

Anyway, this con is just around the corner! Expect some reportage on this event soon!

MARCON April 6-8, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.

TYPE OF CON: Fantasy and Science Fiction

This isn't just sci-fi and fantasy fiction...more like sci-fi and fantasy everything. Film, music, television, fiction, gaming, anime, manga...everything. I'm really excited about author Tamora Pierce being one of the guests of honor. Since this con is less specialized, I'm sure if I feel out of place and inexperienced in one field (like gaming), I can just hop over to something familiar (like literature). Should be good.


COLOSSAL CON June 7-10, 2012 in Sandusky, Ohio.

TYPE OF CON: Anime, Manga, Japanese Art and Culture

Um....uh.....heh heh.....I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I mainly want to go to this 'cause of this actor. *blush* Actually, there's a decent chance I may not be able to attend this convention at all if it conflicts with my summer residency at Seton Hill University. I won't know my June residency dates until a week or so after this January's residency ends. So I'll keep you posted.


CONTEXT September 28-30, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.

TYPE OF CON: Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction

This convention is a bit more literary, but there's still room for games, anime, manga, comics and graphic novels,  films and more. One thing I'm looking forward to are the writing workshops...always room to keep on learning, that's for certain!

 These are my convention goals for 2012. Of course this is contingent on the following:

1) The world cannot end

2) I have to have money

Barring the above, it looks like nothing's standing in my way. I'm looking forward to attending these cons, learning as much as possible from them, making beneficial and fun connections, and getting my geek on a bit.

Maybe I'll be brave enough to cosplay at one of these...gotta be fit and fabulous for it, though.  If I do get brave enough to cosplay (and hopefully with a group of friends; I won't do it by myself 'cause I'm a wuss) I may consider this character, seeing how we're both  monochromatic, with long, wavy hair, and, yup, I'm saying it, a bit on the busty side.

But she's a babe, and uh....I haven't been close to being a babe for a while. I think any potential babeness I had went into retirement around the year 2005 or 2006.

But that's another goal I'm looking forward to writing about in an upcoming post: the return of good health in 2012!

25 December 2011

Happy Holidays

(cc)  Photo by Jeff Weese   
Wishing everyone a warm and fuzzy holiday season...

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

This year I'm very much on the poor side of things, and I've had to really downsize on who gets presents this year (immediate family only, sorry everyone else) and the type of presents they're getting (homemade! free samples!). And I'm not really done with one of my biggest homemade presents yet (for my Mother).

So guess who'll be up late tonight painting, gluing, and wrapping? I wonder if someone will take pity on me and leave me cookies and milk tonight. Hmm...
    The Phoenix by
Friedrich Bertuch (1747-1822)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the end of this year and the beginning of a new one. I'm optimistic it will be a great year, with projects completed, goals met, new opportunities, and deepened perspectives. And yeah, it's supposedly the end of the Long Count, and perhaps the end of the world, but that's not really true. An ending, whether happy or sad, is just another beginning... or, as Schmendrick the Magician would say, "There are no happy endings, because nothing ends."

GOODBYE 2011....

...WELCOME 2012!

08 December 2011

Ivan Reitman's "Ghostbusters"

The 1984 film poster.
GHOSTBUSTERS!!!!! The last required film of my horror genre class and it's the crown king of blog assignments.

The Ghostbusters franchise is my childhood. Seriously. I am unable to come up with anything critically valid or academically sound because its awesomeness and nostalgic happiness has blown my mind. Everything in this post will have a strict bias and some form of personal attachment.  Huzzah!

And I couldn't watch the first Ghostbusters film without watching Ghostbusters II right after it. And then, if you have the gift dvd box set, you can watch the little episodes of the cartoon series they include in the bonus materials (I wish there were more included)!

Not only is Ghostbusters  one of the most quotable movies on the planet (Try to go through life without shouting "Don't cross the streams!") but it's really the series that introduced me to the supernatural, and more importantly, the horror genre.

IMDB lumps the film under the fantasy and comedy categories. Sure, it fits the bill for both, but for a kid like me who was born in the 80s and grew up with the franchise, Ghostbusters also introduced me to the paranormal, supernatural, metasciences, psychology, etc., and therefore I'd call it science fiction...and yeah, I'd still call it horror. The films scared the crap out of me but also made me laugh ("Cats and dogs living together!"). The cartoon series (when it was The Real Ghostbusters and before they kiddied it up with a lot of Slimer) scared the crap out of me too (as it did for many others)...remember the Boogeyman and Samhain? I still do. And I haven't watched those episodes since the series ran....so that's like twenty years ago or something. Holy crap.

Ghostbusters was released in 1984. I was born in 1983. So...I was too young to remember the movie when it came out, obviously. I have to admit, I've seen Ghostbusters II more than the original (that came out in 1989, so I was six at that point and could live the phenomenon as it was happening) and have a better quote-memory for it ("Two in the box! Ready to go! We be fast and they be slow!") and a bit more of a personal affinity for it (the movie is a weird love letter to New York City, and I'm from Queens originally.). However, I love both movies.

I'm sure nothing like Ghostbusters ever existed before in the world of film, and Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis penned such an awesome, unique screenplay. Ghostbusters introduced me to the wonder that is Bill Murray as well, and I had a fascination for Ernie Hudson (especially in the second movie. "WIIIIIIIINSTOOOOOON" in the subway, oh my!) too.  And for some reason, when they show reruns of the movies on TV, I will always sit down and catch at least some of it. I don't tire of the films at all, no matter where I am or what I'm doing.

And Ghostbusters is kind of inescapable. In 2004 when I lived overseas, me and a girlfriend spent a weekend in Paris and when we'd wind down in our hotel room, the only thing on television we could somewhat comprehend was the cartoon series Extreme Ghostbusters, even though it was dubbed en francais (kinda neat to hear Garret and Kylie and Eduardo and Egon speak French!).

So yeah. I think I've seen every incarnation of Ghostbusters imaginable, and I'm a dork for all of it.

Besides being fun and hilarious, it really is a gateway drug into the world of the supernatural, the occult, parapsychology, and weird mythology. Watching these movies and cartoons showed me that it is fun to be scared, and it's fun to explore what it is exactly that scares me (and the list is looong). And before things got too dark or twisted, something awesome and funny would happen to temper the paranormal weirdness. Things would get spooky, but never too bad that it would scar me for life. It would just turn me on to horror for the rest of my life.

Now let's hope that Ghostbusters 3 comes out and won't suck.

Source:
Ghostbusters. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Perf. Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson. Columbia Pictures, 1984. DVD.

03 December 2011

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

The 1996 Illustrated Edition.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The last ghost story we have to read for my horror genre class, The Haunted. Just in time for the holiday season, now that it's December...

And I really did not want to read this book. Call me a humbug, but every year I celebrate Christmas (which used to be my favorite holiday), the harder it gets for me to celebrate it.

And since every year we are inundated with different versions of Dickens' classic, and I've had to read it for school a few times in the past, I just didn't want to bother with the story again.

It's only December 2nd and I am Christmased out. Christmas commercials started October 31st this year (hello, Kmart layaway, I'm talking to you) and every year it seems to come sooner. Every year my ears bleed from all the radio stations that play nothing but horrible Christmas songs for 24 hours a day (do we really need to hear a song about "Hee-haw! A magic Christmas donkey!" ?) And I normally wait to put up the Christmas tree (I refuse to put it up before December 1st) but because we had family visit for Thanksgiving (and we won't see them for a while again) I thought it would be a good idea to put the tree up early so they could see it. Now I kind of want to punch the tree, even though it's pretty. I regret putting it up so soon.

Pretty tree? Punch in the face!
Charlie Brown got it right all those years ago (in 1965!) about how horribly commercialized Christmas has become...(funny enough, Wikipedia says Coca-Cola sponsored the animated special, so I guess not even the Peanuts gang is immune to corporate commercial crap)...and things are sooooo much crazier today with all of that stuff.  It's a sad cycle--stores push us to shop for presents to "stimulate the economy" but not too many people can really afford to shop for presents; and since people aren't buying like they used to, stores are pushing harder for people to buy with crazy sales and hype and discounting and layaway and blah dee dee blah dee blah.

So, yeah. Long ramble about Christmas being difficult to deal with. And that is too sad, because it really did used to be my favorite holiday. I got warm fuzzies back in the day, and all into the spirit of giving, (and I even celebrated it for its original religious purpose) but over the past few years it really has been getting tougher each year. Yeah, a lot of it is related to finances (and I definitely cannot afford presents this year, so it's a homemade gift/Vista print free sample Christmas), but I think it's also harder for people who suffer from mental illness...just a lot of stress and pressure. I should know. I tend to dip into an irritable/depressive cycle around this time of year, despite all the things for which I should be happy and grateful.

Maybe in a weird way, then, I needed to reread A Christmas Carol just to kind of go back to some of the original points Dickens was trying to make when he wrote the novel.  Basically, instead of it being "Tis the Season" for charitable giving and selflessness, we really should be like this every single day of the year, in our hearts and in our minds. If you haven't lived or thought this way before, Christmas just happens to be a great time to start--it is the ultimate enabling holiday for the virtues of charity and love for your fellow man.

If we want to get back to basics with the holiday--as in, back to its original purpose for existing--this is the day chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and in that way, it can be viewed by those who believe that Jesus is God's gift to mankind, and is therefore the ultimate act of charity, sacrifice (considering Jesus dies on the cross for our sins later in order to save humankind), and love. So....we are supposed to emulate these things: charity, sacrifice, and love; we do it at Christmas time to honor Jesus (if you believe in it); and if you aren't Christian, that's okay too, because charity and sacrifice and love is contagious (another reason why Christmas is considered a national holiday of American Civil religion, where everyone can celebrate) and one of the best things about being alive and being human (also a cause to celebrate).

Of course.....the best thing for all of us is to be loving, charitable, and selfless every day of our lives. As Dickens' tale suggests, we are to live our lives for others in this world and will most certainly be judged in the next (if you believe in it) for how we've lived. As Marley's ghost says to Scrooge, "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business" (Dickens 61); and this is to be our business, too.

Sometimes it's difficult to do the right thing all the time. We are human, after all. But it never hurts to start over after we fail, and, given the nature of the Christmas holiday season, this is the time of year where we can pick ourselves up and try again once more. We can't allow ourselves to be haunted by our failures...like Ebenezer Scrooge, we are lucky: as long as we are alive, we still have time to live for others.

Source:
Dickens, Charles, and Gustave Doré. Charles Dickens' a Christmas Carol: with 45 Lost Gustav Doré Engravings (1861) and 130 Other Victorian Illustrations ; Introduction by Dan Malan. St. Louis: MCE Pub., 1996. Print.

18 November 2011

Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity"

The 2009 DVD release.
It's hard re-watching this film after seeing Paranormal Activity 3 in theaters a few weeks ago... My brother and I decided to see it after we saw that Entertainment Weekly gave the movie an A- (and it's rare to see anything with an A grade anymore, even with a wee little minus attached to it).

So, going back to the first film that started it all, it's difficult not to compare this one with the newest movie release. Both PA films stick to the formulas established in the series, but PA3 is a sleeker, glossier (and creepier) version, complete with an 80s retro vibe (I can't believe the decade in which I was born is officially retro!!) that made the film more personally appealing to me.

That, and they got Bloody Mary right. Ah, summer camp slumber party memories. *Sigh*

Anyway, before I go off on a nostalgic tangent I'm going to get back on track by talking about Paranormal Activity's formula. Now, I've only seen the first and third films, and the formula seems to work for both...so, know this--I HAVEN'T SEEN THE SECOND MOVIE so if it defies the formula I will be rendered gobsmacked and hereby apologize in advance to all PA film fans, including my brother.

The magical elements in a PA film:
  •  Mysterious events (supernatural in nature) warrant documentation, investigation, and proof.
  • The video camera and related technology (computer, audio equipment, etc) is introduced as means to provide documentation, investigation, and proof.
  • There is a direct correlation between the level of investigation and the intensity of the haunting. Efforts made to document, capture, or clarify manifestations are interpreted as provocations and activity worsens.
  • Additional research is conducted (most often by the person filming the haunting) and sources on folklore, religions, and the occult are consulted in order to bolster (or create) an explanation for the haunting to exist.
  • Although the manifestations may be witnessed by multiple parties, the haunting tends to center around a specific individual, aka a "target."
  • The person who doubts or underestimates the forces behind the haunting (most often the person filming and recording the events) tends to get a ghostly/demonic comeuppance (killed in a nasty way right in front of their very own video camera. That'll teach you, doubters!)
As an added bonus, two more unofficial clauses in the PA film contract:
  • The person documenting the haunting will set the camcorder up in the bedroom and casually ask his girlfriend if he can film them having sex ("Wanna make a home movie? tee hee").
  • At some point, someone will be dragged backward across the floor by the ankles, face turned towards the camera, screaming.
Aside from the goofiness of those last two bullet points, the above formula is the promise the PA film series makes to its viewers (kind of like the reader-author contract for genre fiction!); these qualifiers are a big reason why these films have been so successful.

Now, some context:

Paranormal Activity came out in 2007 and it's safe to say that ghost-hunting (amateur or otherwise) has been firmly ensconced in popular culture as its own separate genre. To be honest, this niche has been around well before the Naughty Aughties. When I was in high school (97-01) it wasn't uncommon to find ghost hunting/paranormal documentary shows on MTV, ABC Family, Syfy, A&E, TLC, Discovery, etc...not to mention all of the fun ghost-hunting marathons they'd run on Halloween (Scariest Places on Earth, for example). I also can't help but mention the game changer, The Blair Witch Project, which was considered innovative at its time (people believed it was real!) as a compilation of discovered documentary footage providing evidence of a haunting (again, not real, but it sure fooled a ton of people). 

And maybe it's even more important to mention that this time also signaled the birth and rise of social networking sites, You Tube, etc....so this is the generation of people who literally see it to believe it and believe it when they see it. This is the "Broadcast Yourself" culture, where anyone and everyone documents everything. This is a hard generation to scare, I think (yup, I'm a part of it, those lovely Millennials attracting a lot of attention in the media for being "failures" at the moment, or just being "jerky and self- entitled") because we've seen everything, even if we haven't. The articles are apt to call us a "plugged-in generation;" it's 100% true. So think about it....this is a culture that documents everything, is big on the prefix "self", and tends to lump "amateur" and "professional" together in the same sentence (if it's the same work and skill set, there's no distinction, right?)....the audience is full of experts (with or without quotation marks) that you have to win over. And experts are hard to impress.

So...given the nature of its multitasking, plugged-in audience, Paranormal Activity has to multitask and keep its audience plugged in. Ha! I'm so creative, see how I spun that? Please, tell me I'm perfect because I already think I am and I need validation cause I'm a Millennial (Sorry, couldn't resist).

The foundation of Paranormal Activity is the good old-fashioned haunting (without this you have no film, period): objects move by themselves, there are strange noises (banging, humming, breathing, growling), strange shadows and shifting shapes, and of course things get even more intense when the supernatural forces are underestimated. Without question PA has to get this part right because it is a horror film and a ghost story first. The technology and documentation only serve as a means to relate the story to the audience. It still has to be done right, since this is the mode, but it is secondary in importance to the story (At least that's my opinion. I'm not a filmmaker--but maybe the mode is primary in function because it is a film, and then the story closely behind? I don't know. But movies that treat stories as secondary in importance tend to suck. So there you go.).

When it comes to both aspects of PA--the ghost story and the documentary--I think the movie pulls this off well for the most part. Some of the footage was pretty hokey at times (the spinnerooney Ouija board anyone? Keep it classy and subtle by having it catch fire at the end of the planchette dance. Yeah.) but there are genuinely creepy moments here and there. The best evidence of haunting captured on video had to be the things you can easily overlook: the curtains rustling, the light fixtures swinging, etc. These little details are ignored while Micah and Katie wait for the BIG BAD SCARY to happen,which is their mistake--they don't realize the depth of the trouble they are in until it's too late.

The scariest things sneak up on you. Standing over the edge of a cliff is much scarier and engrossing than jumping off of one. When the PA films understand this principle, the movies work--you meet the horror criteria and the documentary (realism) criteria. But when the movie overdoes it, blehhh. Case in point, and yes, SPOILERS:
  • Katie getting pulled out of bed and onto the floor by an invisible force YES!! // Katie getting dragged backward across the floor and down the hallway NO!!! (This is a stupid cliche and I've seen it in tons of horror and sci-fi films and trailers. HOLLYWOOD, STOP DOING THIS!)
  • Micah's body slamming into the camera YES!!! // Katie crawling over Micah's body and sniffing his corpse  MAYBE... // Katie looking directly into the camera, her face transforming, scream-growling NO!!
Don't get me wrong, despite these little qualms I do like the PA films; they're fun and entertaining (and yeah, I'd say No. 3 was pretty good!). But if they keep making more PA movies, and they want to convince the audience that this very well could be "found footage,"then it would be better to walk the line instead of cross it...you know, be a little more subtle. You don't have to show us everything. We can fill in the blanks on our own, trust us! We'll make it real, we'll make it scary.

If you give your audience a 10, you bet they'll make it an 11. That's the reward for keeping your promise to them.

Source:
 
Paranormal Activity. Dir. Oren Peli. Perf. Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat. Paramount Pictures, 2007. Streamed via Netflix.

12 November 2011

Elaine Mercado's "Grave's End"

The 2001 cover.
So...it's 11pm and I am writing this blog essay one hour before it's due. I totally suck! I've been in a mode for the past few weeks where I've become easily distracted and have waited until the last minute to complete any and all tasks. Bad dog! I need to break this habit fast!

The good news is that a lot of my brain's wanderlust has been devoted to the novel I'm working on, but unfortunately at the expense of other things. And I read Grave's End last weekend and had plenty of time to draft a sound, critical essay. But, no. I've been overly ponderous. And instead of being a good student, today I devoted eight hours to my good friend Drew, where we discussed the mysteries of the cosmos. Of course, this was all for the sake of my novel (which becomes more and more esoteric and mystical as I plot the rest of it) and I've got the gears working, so I'm confident it'll be a while before I smash into another dreaded writer's block.

Because I spent the last eight hours asking all of those BIG QUESTIONS with Drew, my brain is still in epic ponderous philosophical mode. So I'm going to spin this into my reading of Grave's End and focus on Elaine Mercado's own BIG QUESTIONS.

When we try to uncover the truth, there are several ways of looking at it. Elaine Mercado dealt with a long, consistent haunting that spanned many years, experienced by her own family and witnessed occasionally by people outside of it. This story is labeled as a "true ghost story."

There's truth, and then TRUTH! This story could be false because there are no such things as ghosts, or a spiritual realm, or unseen sentient forces we cannot control (no proof anyway). There's never been consistent evidence to validate things of this nature; but they live on and are discussed because it is the beliefs of others (their faith, or perceptions) that makes these things real.

Elaine's story sounds real. I don't know if every single thing happened exactly as she wrote it down (memory distorts actual events; word choice and syntax can change the meaning of her sentences; she still has to tell a story even though it's a recounting of actual occurrences), but I do think she truly experienced these strange events. Because she believes, 100%, that they did happen.

This story is ELAINE'S TRUTH. But is it THE TRUTH?  There's a difference between the two, and the key is perception.

The biggest reason why I think Elaine's story is more believable than something like, oh, I don't know, the Amityville Horror, is that she really seems to struggle with her belief systems and comprehension of the events. She seeks THE TRUTH throughout the entire story, by enrolling in college courses about parapsychology and the paranormal, by asking for help and validation by people outside the tight family unit, and most importantly, by asking THE BIG QUESTION (right after the house is "cleaned" of its spirits):

"[Was]...the phenomena [...] really gone, or [did] ...we just perceive it as gone?" (Mercado 164). A few pages later, and after some exploration and reflection on the haunting, Elaine dives in a little bit more: "What if our ability to perceive the paranormal had been impaired? What if everything was still going on, but we couldn't see it, hear it, or feel it?"

Of course I can start right off the bat and go, "What if you perceived your house to be haunted and it actually wasn't?" But we'll skip over that. The house is pretty consistent with its manifestations, and exhibits some "common" symptoms of hauntings. Even the "suffocating dreams" Elaine and her family has is a documented phenomena (look up the Night Hag in Great Britain. Freaky). The things that happened in the house were weird and random, but they didn't seem like things someone plucked out of the air, or from 30 different B-horror films (ahem, Amityville and your green slime marching band demon pig madness). You've got the bad dreams, the feeling of being watched, the balls of light, the Mist, audible voices, etc. Classic haunted house stuff.

Even if Elaine decided to research classic haunted houses and then spin a "true story" that exhibited classic haunted house behavior, the fact that it went on for YEARS (versus 28 days), and the number of people who experienced strange things to corroborate the events, and the fact that she didn't right away attribute the hauntings to god or the devil--the faith struggle came AFTER the house was cleaned....it just seems more plausible. And you can't fake that type of emotional response. Especially because Elaine spends so much time trying to process what actually happened once they're free and clear.

The point is she expresses doubt for a lot of these events. She questions her perceptions, if the "cleansing" was actually a type of paranormal placebo, if there is a logical explanation, if these hauntings are TRUTH that there is something beyond life and the world we live in now.

She's a lot more endearing and sympathetic to me because she isn't sure exactly about everything that's going on or what it all means. She has her truth, which she can verify because these things actually happened to her, she perceived these things while they happened and experienced the outcome of the each paranormal event. She's content with her truth, and doesn't need to understand TRUTH itself.

This really spoke to me because it falls under the issue of perception creating truth, but not necessarily the actual truth. My research paper for this class focuses on this idea, as well as my novel itself!

You've got one end of the spectrum, where perceptions can manifest the haunting. This is in the form of preknowledge...a classic case where people know the history of the haunted house, and then they go into the haunted house and the paranormal events happen to perfectly coincide with the backstory.

The human mind wants to establish connections to everything it perceives.

If I go into a house, and I'm told that for a fact an axe murderer chopped up seven people and it's "haunted," you bet I'm going to be looking for axes in the corners, and pieces of people in the fridge. The idea has been planted. I perceive the story I've just been told as fact, and even if strange phenomena occurs that doesn't seem linked to the axe murderer story, my brain will find a way to establish a logical connection to it anyway just to keep me from going insane. Hooray defense mechanisms!

But what if I go into that same house, still confirmed haunted, and I don't know what's waiting there for me?  Will I perceive the strange occurrences just for what they are--strange occurrences? What if someone just says, "that house is spooky?" and that's all I've got before I go inside? Will I see weapons and dead bodies? Will I hear noises? Will I see "orbs" because I've watched too many paranormal investigations shows? What will I try to do to rationalize all of this?

My character Lily in my novel, The Name and the Key, asks these same questions when she experiences some bizarre events. She is told not to look in mirrors after someone dies, because it's a window to evil spirits. She looks into a mirror and wham, evil spirit. Her friend Andresh tells her not to keep anything that belonged to her dead mother, because if she holds onto it, she actually carries the dead with her. So guess who follows her around because she "hasn't let go?"

But the interesting thing is that Lily has never encountered this belief system (based on Roma and how they deal with death, mulo, and the unclean) before until she met Andresh. Andresh tells her what will happen if she doesn't do X, she doesn't do X and it happens exactly as Andresh says it will. Would she have come up with any of these manifestations if Andresh hadn't planted the seed in her brain?

In Grave's End, this swings in the other direction for Elaine when she questions whether or not the house is still haunted after the "cleansing" is done. Is the house clean because these experts told her they cleaned it, and went through a time-consuming series of "rituals" to purge the house and "redirect" the spirits? If the paranormal investigators kicked them out of the house, did the cleansing on their own, and then let the family back in without a single word, would Elaine still perceive the house as haunted because she didn't witness the cleansing (she has to take their word for it)?

It reminds me of a shamanic healing ceremony I went to in the spring. I'd never gone to anything like it before and I was invited to go because my sister is badass, has trained to be a healer, and this is part of her belief system. I'm still struggling with my belief system, but I was game for it anyway because I thought it was all really neat. My brother refused to go because he is skeptical of many, many things and thought the whole thing was kinda crazy sounding. I think he and my sister are both right and true.

When I left the healing ceremony, I did feel lighter and better about myself and I tried to explain it logically to my brother. I said, "I don't know if what they did literally helped me; if these healers saw the things they said they saw; or if it's just random images that popped in their heads that they perceived as real...the point is, I went into a room full of people who just wanted to help me, to make me a better, stronger person, and for nothing in return. Just that alone was enough to make me feel healthier after all was said and done. Of course I left the room happy; I was with a group of people who really loved what they did, believed it with all their hearts, and believed that they were there to help me."

Sometimes that's really all you need to know. It's okay to ask the big questions....I walked out of that shamanic ceremony with my truth, but not necessarily THE TRUTH. And in the end, I felt better, and that was the point of the ceremony.

It doesn't matter if Elaine's house is still haunted or not, and if they can still perceive spirits or not. The point is, they're no longer afraid or trying to fight their experiences. It happened to them, they perceived it as really happening, so who's to say it isn't true (even if it's not TRUE)? Elaine met people who spent hours of their time (granted, for $250) with the intent to help not only the house's residents, but to help the spirits who were for whatever reason stuck there. She doesn't need to know the answers to her questions about perception, because the end result is what matters. She perceived the house to be clean, and it's what she wanted, and she met good people. So...the house is clean.

I enjoyed reading this book precisely because all of the connections I made to it on many personal levels. And I like the idea of asking questions, and experiencing doubt, and wondering about the nature of things...but sometimes, you don't need all of that. You can still get a positive outcome without having solved life's mysteries.

As I continue writing my novel I'll bear all that in mind. Good stuff to think about! yeah!
Source:

Mercado, Elaine. Grave's End: A True Ghost Story. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2001. Print.

05 November 2011

Jay Anson's "The Amityville Horror"

The 2005 cover.
(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

The tag on the cover says, "This book will scare the hell out of you." Kansas City Star, we need to have an intervention. I understand that life in the 70s is different than our lives today, but come on. Hell House was a billion times scarier than this, and that came from the 70s, too.

Oh, wait. This book is supposed to be scary because IT REALLY HAPPENED, right? Nothing is scarier than the truth, is that the idea? So that means the author can take a break from creating fear and tension and let the story tell itself, right? Um...yeah.

The big thing about the Amityville Horror is that it's supposedly a true haunting. (Um....) 112 Ocean Avenue belonged to the De Feos, who were all shot in their sleep by the son, Ronald, who later got life terms for each family member he killed. Then the house went on the market, and the Lutzes moved in, and they only lasted 28 days in the house because some freaky stuff happened there. Flies and blackened toilets and angel pigs and marching bands and green slime and mood disorders and invisible hugs and temperature discrepancies and....stuff. 

First of all, it's hard for me to take anything the book has to say seriously. What really hurts the credibility is the quality of the writing. Personally I find many of the events that occurred at the house hard to believe, even when I actually do believe in ghosts and hauntings. Even if the book was written by someone like Dave Cullen, the Lutzes' account is still hard to swallow.  And the quality of the Anson's prose doesn't do the Lutzes any favors.

Some examples:

"He had been a bear all day, and by eleven o'clock that night, when it was time to go to bed, Kathy was ready to crown him" (Anson 29). I have no idea what this means. And I don't have sympathy for the excuse that "this was how people talked in 1977." It doesn't matter. This sentence doesn't tell me anything concrete, and if I take it literally, it makes no sense, except to say that the author thinks George Lutz is the Grizzly King. 

It's always best to pick solid, straightforward words to convey meaning, and to use words that have mileage to them. By mileage, I mean words that have been consistently used for hundreds of years, with no sign of an expiration date. The printed word is permanent, and authors need to make sure that someone thirty-four years into the future will still be able to understand what they've written.

"She began to gag at the sour smell, but couldn't retreat from the sight of the crucifix--now hanging upside down!" (Anson 43) or "[...] Missy's little chair was rocking slowly back and forth!" (Anson 55) or "It was only six in the evening and Harry was fast asleep!" (Anson 68) or "[...] He was stunned to find the two hundred and fifty pound wooden front door wrenched wide open, hanging from one hinge!" (Anson 37). !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The exclamation point has been overused so many times in this book that if I tried to do a running count (just like I did with the breast tally in an earlier post) I'd go insane. So for simplicity's sake let's say that the author used exclamation points 942 times.  As I've said before, anytime you overdo something (a word, a phrase, an action), you render it meaningless.  If the exclamation point was used to signify importance, then it right at page 18 things no longer mattered. Because if EVERYTHING you read is important, then it means that NOTHING is. 

And...I thought the exclamation points were insulting to the reader, actually. The only way the reader is able to distinguish the supernatural from the mundane is to ascribe an exclamation point to every single unexplainable event! If there are no exclamation points, how can you tell that ghosts or the Devil are behind the phenomenon, and not something that can be rationally explained?!?!  If there are no exclamation points, how can you believe what I'm telling you is true?!?!

What if my head explodes?!?!?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I'm also going to harp on the inclusion of mundane or unnecessary information to suggest that everything being presented is factual.  A lot of sentences contain details down to the exact temperature it was outside, the exact time something occurred, the exact day blah blah blah....because the author is being so specific, that means everything that happened has to be true, because it's been so completely and thoroughly documented!

The book doesn't need forewords from priests, or copies of the house's floor plans, or Missy's drawing of Demon Piggly Wiggly  (Jodie, the angel pig). This is just extra crap thrown in to make it seem like the story can be corroborated by others. It's like, this priest is here to tell you the history of human civilization and how man has grappled for eons to understand forces beyond himself! Since man has grappled with outside forces, outside forces must exist, and I'm a priest, so believe me! And wow! 112 Ocean Avenue is a real house! If you don't believe me, here is the floor plan! Missy drew a barely intelligible picture of an animal! It must be Jodie! And George Lutz also saw a pig, and if Missy saw it, that means more than one person saw it, so it's real! And Missy drew it, so she saw it! It's real!

Lastly, what pisses me off the most is the book's message that they ram down your throat over and over again. The preface from Rev. John Nicola rambles on about the three ways people believe or interpret phenomenon (scientifically, superstitiously, and religiously = irrelevant), but the point that he's making is that you still need to believe in forces that are beyond your control, because if you don't believe that these things are real, then you're in danger: "I, as a believer in science and in religion, would be remiss not to warn readers against the dangers both of an arrogance that professes a grasp of the unknown and of a bravado that boasts a control of the transcendent" (Nicola x). George Lutz himself "hope[s] that those who hear his story will understand how dangerous negative entities can be to the unwary--to the unbelieving. 'They are real,' George insists, 'and they do inflict evil when the opportunity presents itself'" (Anson 232).

Because the book tries so hard to pass itself off as a true story (you're pummeled with it all over the book jackets, in the preface and afterward), I don't see any of those quotes as a general push for the reader to acknowledge things beyond themselves...the preface, afterward, and George Lutz's final commentary all seem like bully tactics to me. It comes across like, BELIEVE THIS BOOK. IT'S A TRUE STORY. IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE THIS BOOK...THEN YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD! AND THAT'S THE WORST KIND OF PERSON TO BE, YOU NON-BELIEVER!

If the book was devoid of all the problems I listed above, then maybe, just maybe, I would actually stop and wonder if the events in this story were true, or plausible. I consider myself to be pretty-open minded about the unexplainable and God and the"forces beyond myself" (because I do believe in these things). But since I have a hard time believing the Amityville Horror, then I guess my bravado and arrogance have condemned me to certain dangers anyway. I guess I've been warned. Thank you, Jay, George and John!

Source:
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977. Print.

29 October 2011

Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones"

The 2002 cover.
This book has touched many readers in a profound and personal way. When it debuted in hardcover in 2002, every member of my family picked up their own copy based on rave reviews, TV blurbs, personal anecdotes from fellow readers, etc. For some reason I didn't follow suit and get my own, I was too busy thinking about other things at the time (college, probably).

My mother had a copy, my brother had a copy, and my sister had a copy. I don't remember my Mom and brother's specific reactions to the book, but I know they were positive. What I do remember is my sister's reaction to it. The book appealed to her emotions based on the relationship between the sisters: Susie, who is deceased, and Lindsey, who lives on without her (and in a way, for her).

 Based on my own sister's reaction alone, I knew at some point I needed to read this book: does she see us in it? Is the love the sisters share for each other like ours? Is the sisterly relationship between the girls something she and I have, or something we should aspire to?
With all of those questions floating around in my brain, somehow I still didn't pick it up and read it. Even when the film came out in 2009 I didn't pick up the book. I saw the movie last year when it was available on demand, and only then did I go...Hmm. Maybe I should just read the book. This was because I didn't care for the film. I thought it was trying to be two separate movies--a meditation on life, death, and family, and then a crime thriller--and just didn't pull it off. I figured the book would unite the two styles, and anything it had to say about death, family, life, and the afterlife, would touch me on a personal, emotional level just as it did my family.

I tried to read the book right after the movie and stopped after the first few chapters...I just ran out of steam. And this was before my father died that year, so it wasn't because I was particularly sensitive to the subject of death...I just couldn't get through the book.

So here it is, October 2011, and now I can say that I've read The Lovely Bones from cover to cover (hooray for it being assigned for school). And when I was finished, the first thing I thought was: Is there something wrong with me? Because this book appealed to so many people, and I didn't get emotionally attached to it or profoundly touched by it on any level. It was well-written with some lovely turns of phrase and ideas behind it, but in the end, for me, it was a book where not a whole lot happened.

And I don't want to be negative about this book, I really don't...I want to like it very badly! But...

The book felt like Susie's afterlife to me, except without the cute dogs or Evensong or nice weather or intake counselors and gazebos.  As in: This book feels like an eternity. Or Purgatory. As in: I am detached from the world and characters inside this book, and I keep trying to connect with it somehow, but I can't, so I'm relegated to just watching what happens passively and in silence. 

And maybe this was the author's goal, for the reader to experience how Susie's afterlife affects her; so we are in Susie's shoes throughout and we have to deal with the disconnect just like she does since she died. The problem is, as a reader, I don't like being passive, I don't like being disconnected, I don't like wandering around and watching the world pass by me. So even though this book is well-written and we truly get a sense of what it's like to be in Susie's predicament, I didn't want to be in Susie's predicament. This is probably why it was so hard for me to get through this novel on the whole.

I disliked Susie's mother and never felt sympathy for her, and I sniffed her affair with Len miles and miles away; when Butch later says "fuck you" to her, I thought, "Hell yeah! You've got it right!"  I never got the feeling that Susie's mother left the family to deal with her grief; it always seemed like her mother was stuck in the land of regret, wishing she never became a mom, and when the family unraveled at Susie's death, she took the opportunity to leave and live as a non-parent under the guise of that grief. I can't believe she had the audacity to send postcards to her kids at every place she visited: "Hello, I'm in Dayton. Ohio's state bird is the cardinal." "Reached the Mississippi last night at sunset. It certainly is a big river" (Sebold 220). If I was her daughter, I'd hate her more and more with every postcard, because to me, it would feel like she's rubbing it in my face that she's free to travel and do whatever she wants, and sorry, I'm living life and having fun and you can't come with me! So, you bet I was pissed off when she came back in the story after the father's heart trouble, and things seemed sort of okay between all of them. Except Buckley. Thank you for saying what I feel to your mother. 

To be honest, I didn't get into the other characters at all, either. Lindsey and Samuel are probably the only ones I liked "watching," because their relationship seemed picture-perfect despite all the crap life throws at the Salmons (although I do think it's a little weird that Susie watched them have sex for the first time). Grandma Lynn is a hoot, so I guess I'll add her to my "like list." Susie's father was a good enough man but I didn't care about him; I didn't care about the Singhs or Ruth or anyone else. And I actually didn't like reading anything Susie learned about Mr. Harvey...because I didn't want to have sympathy for him, or try and learn anything to justify (lay the foundations) for his actions. I didn't want to hear Susie tell us that Harvey tried to stop himself from killing people by killing animals, and I didn't want her to fill us in on Harvey's crazy Mom and Dad. It didn't matter to me, because it still never revealed motive, but instead just a behavioral pattern, which still didn't matter because the guy was a murderer.  And the case to get him caught just didn't hold my interest...it went cold. Like a lot of murder cases in real life.

And lastly...I don't know. Don't get me going on the whole Ruth/Ray/Susie thing. That didn't ring authentic to me on any level. I didn't buy it in the movie, either.

Wow! There we go. That was an emotional response!! Sorry, I stand corrected. I guess it did speak to my emotions. But I was looking for kind of a happy, warm fuzzy feeling like, "I'm glad to be alive. I do hope I have a long and happy life, just like Susie tells us at the end. I love my family, I'm so happy, la la la. And there's hope for when we die, even though no one wants to die."  I didn't feel anything like that. I didn't feel what my sister felt when she read the book, either.  I felt happy I finished the book on the second try, and that I finished so I could post about it.

Source:

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones: A Novel. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002. Print.

22 October 2011

Alejandro Amenábar's "The Others"

The 2001 movie poster.
I can't believe this film was made ten years ago. Where did the time go? Ten years ago I graduated high school and became a college freshman. And yes, ten years ago I went to the movie theater and saw this film.

It's memorable enough that I very well knew the ending when I watched this again for my Horror genre class, and there were even some visual images that I thought I'd shelved that came back to me right when I sat through the opening credits.

It's a great ghost movie, very stylish, very good with pacing, very atmospheric, and very, very pretty to look at. 

If anything, the film reminds me of an old-fashioned play, and I mean this as a compliment. The movie has an antiquated feel to it anyway, given the time period (1945, Jersey-The Channel Islands) and the illustrious old manor house and lands in which the movie's set. But something about the structure and pacing reminds me of 19th century theater, as well as the visuals and even the character mannerisms and dialogue.

Visually, the film seems tinted with gray and sepia, and lit by gaslight (technically lit by candles and oil lamps) which helps with the antiqued look. The musical score enhances this (composed by Alejandro Amenábar, who also wrote and directed the film) with its hints of Romanticism and emotionalism...the strings are a wonderful effect, particularly the cello when it's played in the higher octaves. Very beautiful, and melodramatic (in a good way).

And now here's a mystery for all of you....I'm embarrassed that I haven't found the answer to this, considering I have a background in theater and play writing....

I've spent hours and hours looking up a very specific narrative device used in 19th century theater and melodramas regarding exposition. I have not found the term yet and it's driving me crazy because I feel that The Others employs this technique to a degree, which contributes to its classic feel.

Here goes--

In older theater of the time, the most common form of narrative exposition is provided by secondary characters, namely of the lower social classes, like servants or housekeepers or tutors. They nonchalantly have a conversation where they gossip about the major characters, and therefore very obviously inform the audience everything they need to know before the major characters show up on stage (an example of this device--see Act One of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler).

There is a magical little term for this type of narrative device and it eludes me! I've looked in all my theater books and I can't find it...arrgh!  

Anyway, in The Others, the three servants, led by Bertha Mills, often have scenes that function as little asides...they don't always serve as exposition or explanation, but they sometimes they're there just to reinforce that there's more to the story than meets the eye. 

You know, sections where they cut to servants from the main action just so we can hear things like "Mr. Tuttle, I've reached the end of my tether. Uncover the graves" or other phrases along the lines of biding time, or waiting for the moment to reveal the truth, or having patience, etc. etc. Or casual remarks about the state of the house and their Mistress's sanity/ability to uncover the truth, and how the children are doing. The use of this device really works for the film's style, and I appreciate it...especially since (SPOILER) the servants are actually from the 19th century. See how that works?

And probably most of all, you've got good old-fashioned Christianity/Catholicism in the mix. Yes, there are still Christians and Catholics in this world who practice and believe, but for the most part we've embraced secularism, or are at least trending that way. God and the Afterlife aren't so embedded in the daily lives of the populace as it has been in the past...so the dialogue regarding Limbo and Purgatory and Damnation in this sense helps with the authenticity of the film to its time period as well as contributing to the classic, old-fashioned style it displays so well.

I think this film holds up over time. As with all movies that center on a big "aha!" twist ending, once you learn the twist, it may lose its punch, but on the whole this movie can weather repeat viewings. There's great, emotional performances (I have a soft spot for Nicole Kidman's character when she breaks down to her husband about the war that "had nothing to do with us!"), great atmosphere and tension, and again, the film is visually stunning.  

Source:

The Others. Dir. Alejandro Amenábar. Perf. Nicole Kidman. Miramax/Lionsgate Films, 2001. Streamed through Netflix 19 October 2011.

15 October 2011

Stephen King's "The Shining"

The 2002 cover.
Roque. Stroke. Good shot!

Ah, The Shining. My favorite Stephen King novel of all time. Probably my favorite horror novel of all time. The last time I read it was in 1997, right after watching the miniseries King scripted for ABC.

It was one of the few moments where everyone in our house piled in front of the television in silence. The miniseries scared the crap out of us and we were obsessed with it! Given that all the kids in the house were teens (me and my brother were 13 and my sister 16), obsessiveness is usually a simple thing to fall into at that age.

Picking up the actual novel was the next logical step. So at age 13, I read the book, which was the scariest thing I'd ever read, and reread, and reread...and then that summer, right when me and my brother turned 14, we actually got our great aunt and uncle to take us to The Stanley hotel, where King stayed and where the miniseries was filmed.

The obsession continued. We watched the Stanley Kubrick film and idolized the The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror version (The Shinning). We quoted from the novel randomly at awkward points in real conversations (Roque, stroke!!) and I even wore an elaborately decorated REDRUM tee shirt as much as I could at the time. I recited the little snippets of songs King included in the novel (Roll me over in the clo-oh-over, lay me down and do it again) even when I didn't know the actual song or what the lyrics meant. We even defaced one of the unfinished walls in the basement laundry room...if you look closely you can see in kiddie pencil scribbles quotes from the book. And yes, "redrum" appears again on the walls.

I guess we were special children growing up.

Anyway, The Shining  became the official Ambassador of Horror for me...I'd read the genre before, but this was the first book I loved, and it set the standard for me. Every horror novel I read after The Shining always got quickly compared to it, no matter how hard I tried not to.

And then for some reason, I took a very long break from reading horror altogether. I'm not sure what happened. I just stopped wanting to read them one day...and I don't remember which book I read that helped me into that decision (yet oddly enough I knew that I wanted to write horror even after giving up on it). Aside from the occasional short story, the next time I read horror regularly was in 2010, for my first Readings in the Genre class at Seton Hill. I'd say it was about a ten-year break from the genre altogether, if I'm recalling it correctly.

When we were assigned the book for this term's Horror Genre class, I felt a tiny twinge of fear: I love The Shining, but it's been forever since I read it! Would I still love this book? We've heard about looking at the past with rosy-hued glasses, or absence making the heart grow fonder...so I guess I was afraid that I'd read it this time around and end up calling my past self a moron for liking it so much. I wanted it to scare me still, and I wanted it to be good, and I wanted it to be effective.

Verdict: Still holds up. Still creeps me out. And The Shining is still my Knight carrying the Banner for Horror Fiction. Huzzah!

But I've read it with new eyes...obviously they're older, but they're more open this time around. I've been educated as a fiction writer, so I viewed the text as a writing student or novelist would. And this time around, things that got on my nerves when I was a young teen made far more sense to me now.

For example, when I was 13
(I had just gotten pointe shoes for ballet the first time and they made me six feet tall when I'd go up, tallest girl in the class on or off tiptoe and now taller than my sister, ha ha she won't beat me up now)
I couldn't understand TELL THE TRUTH, YOU JUST SKIPPED OVER IT, YOU DIDN'T TRY TO UNDERSTAND why King did these quirky little things in the narrative when all I wanted to get to was the story
--not the story, who cares about the story, I just want to see the ghosts--
and see what happened next. But now that I'm older and learning about writing fiction I hope this MFA is worth it add the thousands of dollars I borrowed from the government to the twenty-thousand I borrowed for undergrad oh my god my books better be turned into movies that make stupid amounts of money or I will be a slave to debt forever I can see how this method of showing multiple POVS
--I'm still learning about POV by the way (Tim Esaias, yeah) oh crap did I spell his name right-- and intimate trains of thought really are an expert way of putting the reader inside the minds of the characters, and considering how easily distracted human beings are (I forgot to put the milk back in the fridge, hold on) and how a single image, sound, or sense of smell
I can't seem to forget you
The first time I ever met you
Your Windsong stays on my mind
can make the attention span change course, the format of the narrative reflects the human mind rather well. I hated this at first (I can make allowances, though) and hate it when other authors do it;
(And it sure seemed like this style came up in Straub's writing in Ghost Story)
I don't forgive them for it or have the patience to read it
(if you're still here with me, great)
 so either I have an extreme bias towards King (plausible) or other writers just don't pull it off with the same finesse (also plausible).

Such as myself. I hope you appreciate (or at least recognize) that the above was a lame attempt at a King impersonation. And I didn't mean it in a snarky way...I actually admire that King can do this. If King made himself into a brand (he kind of is, to be honest), the style above is certainly one of his trademarks. I hated reading it when I was younger but I appreciate it much more now, and I can understand how difficult it is to pull off. Hats off.

I even caught onto things that are obvious now that I overlooked in the past. For example, Part Three of the novel is called The Wasp's Nest. When I was younger, I thought the title was selected because the next scene had Jack Torrance on the roof fixing shingles when he finds the nest. My brain went, "title of section" = "chapter event." But now I see that the entire event of the wasps nest foreshadows (or is a metaphor for) the nastiness of the Overlook Hotel itself.

Quickie rundown: Jack is the caretaker for the hotel. He finds the wasp's nest hidden underneath the roof and the bugs sting him. Jack thinks he's wiped it out with the bug bomb but when his son Danny gets a hold of the nest by keeping it in his room, the wasps not only reappear but in a huge swarm. They sting everyone, of course, and Jack is horrified: "They had come back. He had killed the wasps but they had come back [...] And suddenly he found he didn't like the Overlook so well anymore, as if it wasn't wasps that had stung his son, wasps that had miraculously lived through the bug bomb assault, but the hotel itself" (King, 149-150).

Good call on Jack's part, and a great setup on King's part. Think of it like this: the wasp's nest is the hotel's evil. People think it's dormant because they can't see it, but it's alive and humming beneath the surface. Jack is the caretaker (and the Caretaker), so he finds the nest while doing work on the hotel itself. Jack thinks he's done his job (using the bug bomb) but when Danny, who has the shining, is brought in the picture, things get crazy. Danny's shine is powerful, and when it comes in contact with the hotel, it enables the ghosts and evil things to manifest...more than the dead brought to life, and more than "pictures in a book" (King 100). So...the fact that about 50-100 wasps explode out of the seemingly "dead" nest when Danny's around is a good clue as to what Danny's power can do to the hotel's.

It's been a pleasure rereading The Shining. I could go on with examples (which would probably help make this post a bit more academic and critically sound) as to how this time, the book seems richer to me than before, but I'm done waxing euphoric. Instead, I'll leave you with a picture from the vault:

Image (cc) KEB
This is my photo collage from the trip to The Stanley. For most of my time growing up I ridiculously over-documented everything with photos and albums. Thought you guys would get a kick out of this.

I am so happy that my handwriting doesn't look like that anymore. :)

Source:
 
King, Stephen. The Shining. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977. Print.

07 October 2011

Beauty and the Beast retold--a work in progress

Beauty and the Beast by Warwick Goble (1913)  
Hello, all. The last time I talked about my MFA thesis novel was here. This was a wonderful post because I got a lot of comments and input when I wrote about my adaptation of Beauty and the Beast...it's wonderful to see that people care about what you want to write and are interested in it.

Here's the thing: since this is my first novel ever, in the beginning, I made stupid mistakes everywhere and spent a lot of time rewriting (I still make mistakes, but they're not as stupid).  And after rewriting, I resubmitted the same chapters over again to my mentors. Speaking of mentors, they are the pinnacle of awesome. Shout outs to Tim Waggoner and Scott Johnson!

Anyway, I took for granted a lot of my time with my mentors and critique partners in the program. I should've conserved my time and energy by finishing the book instead of going back and rewriting all the time (even though the work needed some heavy editing). The rewriting problem stems from my perfectionism, and another habit: impulse writing. This is not only writing "whenever the mood strikes," but also writing with no plan in mind...just improvising as you go along.

Impulse writing is NOT a bad thing (in terms of improvising. It is BAD when you write only when you feel like it)...the key word here is risky. As in, you run the risk of having your writing take you in a completely different direction, and having this happen frequently. 

Being in a great program like Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction has taught me so much. And it's also confirmed a few things I already knew about myself: my best writing comes when I do not plan or outline. My best writing comes when I feel the pressure. When I overplan, over-research, and overthink, the end product requires a lot more revision and rewriting. But I can't drop-kick planning and plotting and scheduling out the window...because if I do, it leads me to the current problem I'm in...
Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane
  • I don't have much time to finish the work, let alone revise it. I have messed up, and it's no one's fault but mine. I can still finish and do well, but at this rate it's like a devil's deal. I have ensured the project will not end easy for me!
  • By writing by the seat of my pants, I've done some awesome things, but now the story does not lead to or resemble Beauty and the Beast in any form. This is a huge deal (and something my mentors could see coming from a mile away, back when I submitted a detailed plot outline a few semesters ago).
  • By writing by the seat of my pants, I've made choices that have destroyed what little detailed plotting and structure I already painstakingly created.
All is not entirely lost, though. I can work some Beauty and the Beast magic into the novel, but only if I render it more like an archetype and less like an actual interpretation of the tale itself. 

I'm excited and angry about this at the same time. I had some really cool ideas about the Beast's castle, how he got enchanted, and what exactly the Beast's curse entails. I had several neat subplots involving all the fairytales that are concerned with beauty (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty...I even had Donkeyskin in there but doesn't exactly fit in with those fairytales). I had an Evil Uncle archetype, an Older Sibling Mentor, and several Supernatural Beings (like fairies and such...but the older, darker fairies, not Pixie McGee).

What's funny is even I saw this coming...a long time ago!  During my second mentor meeting with Tim (January 2011), I said, "I think...I already think I'm going to have to cut a lot of this stuff..." At the time I was considering all the fairytales. I had no idea I'd be cutting MUCH more than that.

Here are the casualties so far. Let's sing a song of farewell before we bury them: We wish we knew you, knew you well. But if I keep you, the book's gone to hell. *Sigh*
Characters:
-Kizzy Camomescro
-Lord Marcus Noreth
-The Beast/Prince

Settings:
-Northerton
-The Beast's Castle

Plot and Subplots (some literal, some metaphorical):
-Nods here and there to Jean Cocteau's masterpiece, as well as the Villeneuve version of the tale
-The Beast as Sleeping Beauty 
-Lily and Mother as Snow White & the Queen
-The Mother as Sleeping Beauty 
-Andresh as the Gaston/Avenant character from Beauty and the Beast
-Laney and Lord Marcus as the Princess and King characters from Donkeyskin
-Kale Camlo and Estella Noreth backstory
-The Beast and the Fairy backstory
-The merchant Father and his encounter with the Beast in the castle
-Pretty much all of the traditional Beauty and the Beast fairytale
-Andresh's sacrifice (involving Laney..I won't blab it cause I may be able to save it)

The Title of the Novel!
-Lily Beauty, Lily Rose
-The Fire Lily

That's a lot of cutting. Some whoppers on this list. Whew!

If I think about it, a lot of my changes were inspired by television shows I've watched religiously: FMA, FMA: BrotherhoodGame of Thrones, True Blood...and some of it's inspired by books I've read: Sabriel by Garth Nix, the horror novels we've had to read for my Genre Class...some from the research I've conducted (Buddhism, Hermetic Alchemy, Shamanic Healing, the Roma, etc.). Even my fellow writers at Seton Hill have inspired me (shout out to all my classmates in my horror class, to all the Troublemakers, and in particular to one of my crit partners-- author Jennifer Loring, who's been through chapter one and onward). Not to mention close friends and family members. Everybody's opinions and input keeps my brain whirring.

What did all these things do for me? It made me realize the following:
-I can make the story darker
-I can cross genres!
-The characters need to be stronger and more complex
-The story needs a lot more action and a stronger, better plot
-I need to keep my reader contract
-I want to pass The Fantasy Novelist's Exam (tee hee)
-I need to up the stakes
-There needs to be more magic in this world
-I want the story to be badass, so bring it on
-One character: Andresh Camomescro. I've made you too freaking interesting. Congratulations, you're not Avenant anymore. You are now my Beast. And I think secretly, all along, this might've been what I wanted.

Yeah, all of the above has shaken the story into something completely different, but despite all of these changes, I want to keep the story's strengths in characterization and relationships. And yes, there still has to be love in the story, too, despite all the stuff I'm tweaking...part of the reader contract, you know. What a tall order....

So.

Shit's about to get crazy! Let's see what rabbit I'll pull out of my hat next.  I'll keep you updated.