These Books Are A Scream

jackolantern

In the spooky spirit of Halloween, I’m listing my favorite classic horror novels. I read all of these books in a single semester in a Gothic Literature course some years ago, and each left a creepy impression on me:

  1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1816). Shelley’s masterpiece about a scientist and his “monstrous” creation is my favorite of the group. We’re all familiar with the shambling, pathetic monster of early movies and probably grew up thinking he was the bad guy (and that he was the one named Frankenstein). Once I finally read the book I realized a) the scientist who created the creature was named Frankenstein, and b) the creature turns out to be more human than his creator. The most accurate movie version I’ve seen is Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version with Branagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert DeNiro as the Creature.

    frankenstein
    Robert DeNiro as the Creature.
  2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886). At less than one hundred pages, this story is more of a novella than a novel. Those Victorians! So prim and proper on the outside, but seething with sin on the inside. All that badness had to come out somehow, and Mr. Hyde is the result. He’s not really described as a werewolf, but he certainly fits the bill: a wild, almost bestial creature, free to express all the vices and feral impulses of repressed human nature in howling ecstasy. I watched the 1931 version with Fredric March, but nothing more recent. I’ll have to investigate more modern versions.

    Hyde
    Fredric March as Mr. Hyde.
  3. Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1899). The original bloodsucker, the granddaddy of them all. Written as an epistolary novel (a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, etc.), it tells the tale of Count Dracula’s sinister plan to settle in England and terrorize the locals. Luckily, Dr. Van Helsing helps Jonathan Harker and his friends fight back and save Harker’s wife Mina, and England itself, from the terrible menace. All the old films are fun to watch, but I liked Francis Ford Coppolla’s 1992 version with Gary Oldman as Dracula, and Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. It takes a few liberties, blending the plot from Stoker’s novel with the historical and mythical figure of Vlad the Impaler, but it certainly is entertaining.

    Dracula
    Gary Oldman as Dracula, and Winona Ryder as Mina.
  4. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959). A ghost story told with enough ambiguity to make it interesting. Are the guests at Hill House suffering from mass hypnosis, and nothing is really happening? Is a poltergeist causing the paranormal activity through Ellie? Or is the house really haunted or somehow alive, causing all the supernatural phenomena? You decide. The 1963 movie called The Haunting is a great adaptation; the 1999 remake was simply silly.

    Haunting
    Claire Bloom and Julie Harris in The Haunting.
  5. Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin (1967). This story about a young couple who move next door to a group of Satanists is pretty chilling. Poor Rosemary unwittingly becomes the mother of the Antichrist, proving that evil isn’t “out there”, but disturbingly close to home. Mia Farrow plays Rosemary in Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie.

    Rosemary
    Mia Farrow as Rosemary.
  6. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971). While all of the above books are entertaining, and fascinating from a literary point of view, this is the one that really terrified me. I’ll be honest–the idea of demons scares the hell out of me. Re-animated corpses, werewolf-like creatures, vampires, even ghosts and Satanists, I can contemplate with a fair amount of equanimity; but the idea of a purely evil entity that can possess and corrupt innocent little girls (or anyone!) fills me with a very real, horrible dread. The book was scary, and the 1973 movie? Well, I’ll never watch it again, if I can help it.
Exorcist
Linda Blair as a possessed Regan.

Have fun scaring yourself this Halloween!

What about you? What are your favorite horror novels, classic or modern? What horror movies do you like to watch on Halloween? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

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Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned From Star Wars

Star Wars Logo

Well, okay, maybe not everything. But with Episode 7 slated for release in December, and a few tantalizing trailer snippets whetting my appetite, I find myself revisiting my childhood obsession with all things Star Wars (Episodes 4-6, of course; we won’t speak of Eps 1-3). Here are a few important lessons learned in a galaxy far, far away:

  1. Princesses can be tough cookies. My only exposure to princesses at age ten was through Disney–Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Beautiful, delicate, downtrodden girls who needed a Prince Charming to save them. This was long before the tougher, more independent princesses of today, like Mulan, Elsa and Anna, or that chick from Brave. When Princess Leia grabbed her rescuer’s laser gun and said, “Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”, it was  a revelation.

    Princess Leia
    Royal badass. But with a heart.
  2. Every story needs a handsome rogue. Luke Skywalker’s journey from boy to man is the central focus of Star Wars, and I love him like, well, a brother. It was Harrison Ford’s wise-cracking, cynical Han Solo that set my young heart aflutter. We like you because you’re a scoundrel, Han. Even in his dotage, it’s Han Solo I’m most eager to see in Ep 7.

    Han Solo
    Remember this guy?
  3. Daddy issues are a rich vein to mine. Who can forget when Luke, broken and bleeding, finds out that Vader is his father? The loss of his hand is negligible compared to the loss of innocence our hero suffered on that parapet. His spiral down the mineshaft perfectly symbolized the flushing of his spirit down the toilet. Yet later, when the Emperor is killing him, it’s his father that Luke cries out to. I can’t describe the jolt of electricity that went through the theater when Vader lifted the Emperor and, in a clever reversal, threw him down a different shaft to save his son. Epic stuff!

    Luke and Vader
    I have a bad feeling about this…
  4. Everyone needs a higher power to believe in. Whether it’s the Force, love, or a common cause, characters need something bigger than themselves to fight for. When your home world is blown to bits, when you’re freezing to death on an ice planet, when you’re tortured and encased in carbonite, or otherwise hopeless and dejected, don’t give up. Fight the good fight.
  5. Never underestimate a good gimmick. If points 1-4 aren’t quite enough to produce a stellar story, you can always throw in some Ewoks. Just kidding. The Ewoks are a painfully embarrassing episode in an otherwise perfect space opera.

    Ewok
    Necessary?

Well, there you have it. My young mind imbibed these lessons like mother’s milk. Now, it seems no matter what novel I’m working on, there’s a tough chick, a handsome bad boy, plenty of daddy (or mommy) issues, and a world to save. But no Ewoks. I promise.

What about you? Are you a Star Wars fan? What lessons have you learned from the Jedi Masters? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!

My Favorite Writing Books

Nat Goldberg quote

A lot of writing books have come and gone on my shelf, but there are a few that have stood the test of time, and that I still reach for again and again. Call them my writing gurus, if you will. One is on creativity, one is on the craft, and one is on dealing with the business of writing.

  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This is the book that inspired me to get started all those years ago, when I was younger and searching for permission to be a writer. Her rules for longhand, timed writing practice include: keep your hand moving, don’t think, lose control. You might start with what you ate for breakfast this morning, and end up deep in a memory of your grandmother. Goldberg, a Zen Buddhist, is fascinated with how the mind works. I use her methods when I’m experiencing writer’s block and need to get the pen moving again.
  • On Writing, by Stephen King. I’m not an avid King fan, but I’ve enjoyed a few of his novels, and believe he truly shines in short works (check out Full Dark, No Stars; it’s a masterwork of short, chilling pieces). In this surprisingly spare book, he chronicles the events that influenced his becoming a writer in the autobiographical first half; the second half is a down-to-earth, nitty-gritty discussion on the craft, in which he describes the tools every writer should have in her “toolbox”. King’s conversational tone is always entertaining, often humorous, and gives some insight into a legendary writer.
  • The Shy Writer Reborn, by C. Hope Clark. Shy writers rejoice! There’s someone out there who feels your pain, and her name is Hope Clark, a mystery writer out of South Carolina. She understands your introverted ways, and the absolute terror you feel at having to come out from behind your writing in order to be successful in today’s publishing world. After all, most of us became writers because its solitary nature suited us. But Hope maintains you don’t have to change who you are–you just need a different set of tools to cope and succeed at online platforms and social media, interviews, publishing, and everything that goes into marketing your work. I found this book through her newsletter Funds for Writers (an excellent resource for paying markets, check it out); it’s the reason I found the courage to start this blog. So thank you, thank you, thank you, Hope, for reminding me I’m not the only one who feels this way, and for helping us shy types believe we can make this writing thing work.
Invisible
Trying to come out from behind the book (and writing).

Craft books abound; the above are mostly guidebooks on living the writer’s life. We’re on odd bunch, and constantly need reassurance that we’re not completely insane and throwing our lives away in pursuit of our passion. Whenever I feel this way, I look to these books and know I’m not crazy. Well, not totally, anyway.

Brave New Writing World

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Blogging? Um, okay…

So, I’m new to this blogging thing. As a writer of fantasy and paranormal fiction, I keep hearing from various sources that if you want to write, then write. But if you want to write and be successful (published, paid, known), then you need an online platform. Period. And the easiest way to do that is to blog.

I resisted. For a long time. In fact, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon on this point. What? I can’t just spend my precious free hours in the blissful creation that is writing? Now I have to spend more hours in front of the computer doing this social media thing? (Grumble, grumble.) Friends and family know that even though I have a Facebook account, they rarely find me on that site. I’ve never been to Twitter. I don’t know what Tumblr is, or Instagram, or the numberless other social media sites that seem to pop up every day.

What I do know is that I love writing, and that I want to share it with others, and maybe even get published and paid for my work someday. Even in the “good old days” of traditional publishing, writers had to do a certain amount of marketing for their work. That fact hasn’t changed. What’s changed is the medium, and the sooner a writer accepts that fact and makes it work for them, the better.

With this blog, I’m hoping to:

  1. Develop an online presence.
  2. Connect with other writers and readers.
  3. Talk about what I love–writing and books–in a (hopefully) thoughtful manner.
  4. Improve my writing.

So here I am in this brave new writing world. There’s going to be a learning curve, as I feel my way around here, as I figure out what works and what doesn’t, as I tentatively put my thoughts out into the blogosphere for all the world to see.

Who knows? It might even be fun.