Saturday, January 30, 2010

Follow Me..or at least don't ignore me

The brilliance of the internet is its ability to bring people together and to create a sense of connectedness. Since I've begun to post blog entries some years back, I have made several contacts and friends through an online communication flow. Also, as a writer, I've been able to listen closely to a market base and keep an ear on what the consumer is hankering for.

Many folk will discount the importance of  Facebook or Twitter, but while some people may consider them to be a ridiculous waste of time (and they can be), if they are used intelligently, they can be a wonderful tool. For instance, I use Twitter to keep track of different news items from different groups and publishers, as well as to see what websites different writers may be trying to point people to. Furthermore, I've used Twitter to promote this blog and my educational blog. To separate Stewart-the-Writer from Stewart-the-Teacher, I have two Twitter accounts.

Twitter and Facebook have gotten some bad ink thanks to people who feel the need to update people with meaningless posts such as "I'm on my porch..." "now I'm in the livingroom" "now I'm eating burritos" and "I wish I hadn't eaten those burritos".

Before passing judgement one way or another, I urge you to explore Facebook, Ning, Twitter (at least "follow" me if you're a Twitter user) and Plurk. Me? You'll catch me on all those networks, including Masters of Horror, Crimespace, Lost Zombies , The Horror Cafe, and even The Sherlock Holmes Social Network

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where Are All These Zombies Coming From?

I have been reading all manner of zombie books and film for some time now and I am always fascinated by what happens to spark the event. Actually, the reason for the zombie "plague" is usually little more than an interchangeable vehicle getting the action going. Still, it's interesting to compare the causes of plague and to see what effect they have wrought on the plot and character development.

For instance, in "Night of the Living Dead", the grand-daddy, we have no idea what creates this nightmare other than the radio acts funny and there might be something going on with a military satellitte. In the book "The Cell" by Stephen King, the origin of the plague is equally vague, with some mention of terrorists programming cell phones to alter peoples' brains and inadvertantly creating some sort of hive personality. In the "The Rising", Keene's successful novel, the zombies are the result of life-forms who animate corpses following a scientific experiment that opens a dimensional gate ( I won't describe the scene where the protagonists are ambushed by zombie deer and other small game).

In Pallid Light, which just had a release party at Confusion, author William Jones takes a different approach. In his novel, the phenomenon that brings about the creation of  the walking dead (a much better term than zombie, if you ask me) is a mysterious event preceded by, but possibly not linked to, a mysterious storm and strange colored lights in the sky. The story unfolds in a short period of time, the action and tension building quickly, giving us the tagline "with the flip of a switch the world ends."

When writing The Ravening, I knew it would be a virus, and at first I thought of it as just another throwaway device. However, when I started researching viruses, I warmed to the more horrific possibilities presented by viruses as an apocalyptic catalyst. Simply put, viruses are scary as hell. Zombies and viruses are a perfect marriage.

To appreciate the horror and destruction that a virus is able to perpetrate upon our world, all one has to do is take a look at the spread of AIDS or look back to the turn of the last century and see what happened during the great influenza epidemic. These health events have become part of our pscyhe. Look at the response we had as a society to H1N1 virus. People were nervous. The threat of a "super-flu" will keep people indoors and away from heavily populated areas.

At the risk of sounding callus, the fear of infection from something as primitive a lifeform as a virus, is a writer's playground!!! Add to this fear the reality of bacteriological warfare and the existence as such places as Plum Island, and what's not to love.

For my novel, The Ravening, I created the Zagreus Virus...a name based on Greek mythology. I wanted to suggest rebirth, since religion is a major theme of the novel and the creation of zombies is a perversion of Judean-Christian resurrection mythology. According to myth, Zagreus was a son of Zeus. He was destroyed by the Titans, who cut him into little pieces and devoured him. However, his heart remained, and Zeus absorbed it to resurrect his son.

Ah, backstory.

I have also implied in my novel that the virus is constantly mutating, adaptaing, as though it has the awareness of a more sophisticated life-form. While this is aspect is never elaborated on in the book, I am writing a sequel where more questions will be answered and more posed.

In the coming weeks, I will be dropping additional information about the novel and soon will give you a sample of the first couple chapters. Hopefully, you won't get tired of this, but rather have your interest piqued to the point where you are clicking on a link in Amazon to pre-order (that link will be available soon enough).

Friday, January 22, 2010

What An Angel

During the eighties, we saw resurgence in fascination with angels. Not sure why. Perhaps given the tensions between the Soviets and the Reagan administration at the time, it made some sense. Also, if I'm not mistaken, there was much discussion about organized religion and the religious, with the Moral Majority up and coming. That being said, some folk saw angels everywhere and felt their presence at all times. It's as though each person was assigned some supernatural guardian to watch over him or her. To each his own.

Things seems to have shifted though, and continue to shift. In the nineties, I remember seeing a film called "The Prophecy",which, while it may not have been a great work, was at least intriguing.

The concept was that the angels have been war, that two factions have turned against one another over the issue of jealousy for God's affection for the human race. Perhaps the most memorable moment was Viggo Mortenson's turn as Satan as he attempts to put an end to the battle because, after all, the angels are intruding on his territory. Watch this scene, a bit dark and a bit long, but Mortenson is deliciously creepy.

A couple years back Keanu Reeve appeared as Constantine, a demon hunter who also finds himself in a battle between angels and demons and has a face to face with The Dark One. Feel free to watch the below scene, again, a bit long, but I do enjoy this interpretation of Satan.

More recently, the under-rated television series "Supernatural" has effectively dealt with this theme. Two brothers, or hunters, who take on all manner of monster and demon, eventually, through the last several seasons of the series, find themselves in the middle of the Apocalypse and through their actions and interactions with angels and demons, find themselves dealing with Lucifer himself. Some of the creative forces behind this series were responsible for "The X Files" and they in plotting the story arc of the show, they did something "X-Files" creator Chris Carter never seemed to be able to do, keep a together a tightly woven and consistent mythos. Of course, when one has the Christian and other religious mythos to work from, the job is mostly done for them. Still, although it felt like "Supernatural" started out as a horror version of "90210", it became something unique and often brilliant and witty.

And now, the angels are coming again in the form of "Legion", a motion picture which is described in this manner: " When God loses faith in Mankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner and the Archangel Michael. (Sony Pictures)"

Really? I don't know about this one. When Hollywood releases a film in the dead of January, it's always a bad sign. When the producers refuse to give it an advance screening for's a worse sign. I'm afraid that much of what I've heard about "Legion" confirms my fears.

However, I still think there is something here. Folk have asked "What do we do after the vampires and zombies have played out?" I think the answer is in angels. As we approach 2012 and as talk of apocalyptic misery increases, so will the appeal and appearance of divine creatures, coming to both torture mankind and save him.

Me? After I finish my next zombie novel, tentatively called "The Horde", I'm writing me some angels. But they won't be all fuzzy and pink, and not one of them will be named Clarence.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Roomful of BOB

I have a friend named Bob. I love him. He's an educator in a women's prison (he once suggested I apply there, then we both laughed and laughed). He's also a history freak, a major gamer (although its mostly chess these days) and an aficionado of classical music and fine wines. He's a brilliant individual who follows his own path. Unique.

Imagine my surprise then when last night my wife and I attended a Mensa get together and I found myself in a roomful of Bob. I'm not saying they were all into fine wine and classical music, but there was a strange ambiance in the air, an ambiance one finds at different fan conventions, an aura of sheer---nerdhood.

Mensa is a group of people who have passed an intelligence test come together to socialize and bask in their intelligence, or at least to find an acceptance they might be denied in the world of the normals. Instead of long discussions about Klingon and the inconsistencies in Cameron's "Avatar", they talk about --- Klingon and the inconsistencies in Cameron's "Avatar". Instead of awkwardly looking for camaraderie and perhaps finding a possible date for an undateable soul---they awkwardly look for camaraderie and hope to find a possible date for an undateable soul.

Much of the evening was spent playing games.

I noticed an absence of the usual fantasy and science fiction activities that one would find at a genre convention. Instead there were a good deal of games that Mensites (my term), would play to affirm their Mensitiness. I'm not saying these games were any more complex (they weren't), or that they relied on a special knowledge (they didn't), but one could imagine a game manufacturer sitting in a marketing meeting saying: "Put it in a plain box and include obtuse and intentionally confusing instructions, the Mensites will eat it up." Much like the manufacturers do for the genre community when they say "Put it in a box with an alien and a half-naked broad on the cover and include obtuse and intentionally confusing instructions and the fanboys will eat it up."

My wife keeps at me to take the Mensa test and to join their horde. I refuse..."I don't know my IQ and I don't want to," I protest. "What if I take an IQ test and find out I'm an idiot who's been overachieving all these years."

"You won't," she coos and daubs at the drool at the corner of my mouth.

Mensa and Furries, there's not a lot of difference other than the costume.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Shape Of Things To Come

Here is a preview cover for my debut novel from Elder Signs Press, to come out Nov. 2010. Cover art by Malcolm McClinton. This release date gives me time to figure out how best to market it. A zombie novel, a novel of the apocalypse, a novel for fans of action and suspense, but most importantly, and I promise this, a novel about people. I worked hard to make this a character driven piece.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

How Do You Teach Creative Writing?

How do you teach creative writing?

I've been an English teacher for sixteen years and have taught all manner of writing, much of it expository. However, I have always struggled with the idea of teaching creative writing, whether with a group of high schoolers or college students.

Sure, we can teach the basic concepts of plot, character, development and theme. We can help students dissect the works of other writers, looking at how those authors practiced their craft and how students might be able to cherry pick from that ideas to help in their own development. We can ask students what their creative intent was in their story and discuss reader reaction and ways to deliver that intent.

However, at the risk of buying into Jon Zech's theory of talent and craft, I sometimes think that writing classes should be a culling process and that those students who have been indentified as showing promise should be invited into a more advanced class where they can receive individualized attention. I also believe in the ideas of a mentor taking a less experienced person under his or her wing and helping to develop that person's talent. How Italian Renaissance of me.

That, however, can be exhaustive, too. I have often received numerous short stories and novels from people asking for feedback and other forms of assistance. Their position is that even if I'm not approaching their work as a writer, I am approaching their work as a teacher. I mention this because I don't necessarily think I have the credentials as a writer to mentor anyone. Still, mentor and peer support are critical elements in most writer development. It's one of the reasons that writers' groups are popular. Of course, some could argue a writers' group is a matter of the blind leading the blind.

One of my fellow writers, Joe Ponepinto, has always promoted the idea of a writers' community, a network creating bridges between writers of different skills and different disciplines. When I joined the Horror Writers Association, one of the things I liked is that they had a mentor's program. I have never taken advantage of it, but I was pleased that they offered a helping hand for new writers.

Ultimately, people can learn skills but to be able to apply those skills in a creative manner is key. Jon would argue that you could teach people writing skills, but you can't teach writing.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Horror

She looked at me. "So, um, what do you write?"

I wanted to say: "Fantasy. Dark fiction. Black comedy. Mysteries. Thrillers. It depends... all sorts of genre." What I said was: "Horror."

Although I have submitted many things to many places, including a novel of black comedy called "Palpable Illusion", the only success I've had is as a horror writer. To date my published short stories have included a comic tale about a demon escaping Hell through the body of a little girl, a tale about a father taking a son on a fishing trip and using faeries as bait, a story about two young boys discovering the darker nature of God, and three Lovecraftian tales, one on the high seas, one set in the mountains in the west, and a third set in a New England college town.


And soon a novel--- The Ravening.

So, I'm a horror writer. I should point out that I am in good company as I look at some other authors who have written in the genre. Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Algernon  Blackwood, Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Bloch, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joyce Carol Oates, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Ambrose Bierce, Richard Matheson, etc.

Okay, maybe I'm not quite in the same ballpark as these individuals, but I'll settle for a suburb and catch fly balls outside the stadium.

"You write horror?" she asked.

"Horror?" he seconded.

I nodded, growing more secure, feeling the niche and becoming comfortable in it. Even horror writers need love.

"Cool," they said. "Cool."