Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, December 31, 2010

From 2010 to 2011

I can't say 2010 was kind to me, or that it was a good year. It was a year, it passed, stuff happened. Enough said.

Okay, maybe I won't leave it at that. When have I ever left things alone?

I didn't reach all of my writing goals, but I did progress with a few things. Dead As Dreams still needs to be completed, but I have less than one third of the rough draft left, and I can see the ending far down the tunnel, a little pinprick of light (that has been going through one huge arse mountain since I started writing it back in 2005). I completed and revised some short stories, as well as sending many stories out to slush piles. And I successfully survived my first class for my M.F.A. program.

A friend, Heidi Ruby Miller, posted her submission, acceptance, and rejection stats for the year. This made me curious what my numbers ended up being for 2010. Unfortunately, this meant I had to go through my submissions program and count everything per manuscript (since I don't have a handy spreadsheet to track the numbers yet...I will have to change that!). My numbers are below. =)

Novel Queries

Submissions: 6 (5 to agents, 1 to a publisher)
Rejections: 5
No Response (some counted from the previous year): 3

Short Stories

Submissions: 38
Rejections: 36
No Response/Still Waiting/Withdrawal (some counted from the previous year): 6

I didn't want to depress myself by listing a category for acceptances when I had none. True, it would be nice to have those acceptances, but looking at my numbers, I'm pretty damn proud of myself for submitting that much. What does it mean? That I haven't given up. Perhaps 2011 I'll happily have an acceptance category, but for now, all I can do is keep going!

So, how did you do for the year? Achieve all your writing goals, feel like you accomplished a lot, even if you don't have any acceptances as proof? It's always useful to take a look back on the year that's just passed, so you can think of what you want to do in the coming year.

Some people may roll their eyes at resolutions, but many people feel that sense of a new beginning when the old year comes to a close and a new one begins. It's a circle, the snake eating its own tail, but there is still a beginning and an end, the end being a new beginning.

How to begin 2011? Good question!

First, if you want to work alongside other writers and make a goal for each month, keep Writing Quest in mind. I just started Writing Quest - January up on Facebook. The event is open to the public, and I'll continue to host a Writing Quest each month. If you don't have a Facebook account, feel free to post your goals here!

I'm feeling pretty good right now, since I just came off a 2 hour stint of writing, ending with 7 new pages and the completion of a short story rough draft. This means I must make sure to rein in my desire to list outlandish goals and think I am Super Woman who can complete a list of countless resolutions. Got to beat down that story completion high (who needs drugs when you can just write?).

If you've been watching Twitter, I've been poking some fun at resolutions today. So, I'm going to list some GOALS for the year. For 2011, the list will not be exhaustively long. Promise.

- Revise Mind Behind the Mind once more, and start sending it to publishers (since wait time can be up to a year, it might only hit the slush of one publisher).
- Complete the rough draft of Dead As Dreams.
- Don't start anything new! Got to finish some things first. I include Fate stories in the Not New pile - hell, I had that series idea 3 or 4 years ago (hence, Not New).
- Hey look at that, my study is clean, and I just spent 2 hours in it, writing, so I don't need this on my list this year!
- Keep submitting, and submitting, and submitting....
- Survive my M.F.A. program once I start full time in June.

That's it. Short and sweet. Of course I intend to keep up with my blog, as well as critiques, but those don't need to be on my goals list. One of these days I'll get to catching up with my writing forums and listserves, but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen this year.

What are your goals for the year? Or have you chosen to make a resolution or two? I'd be happy to hear what everyone else has planned!

Happy writing in 2011!

NEXT UP: Terry Pratchett's Colour of Magic

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fringe - This Decade's X-Files?

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not watched through Season 3, Episode 9 of Fringe, there are spoilers ahead.

* * * * *

Fringe, a science fiction show in its third season on FOX, has the potential to be as successful as X-Files. The turn it took at the beginning of this season, though, could have driven many of its viewers away. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This may be a mid-season look at the show, but for those that have never seen it before, I'll go over some of the basics that I think makes this show great.

Imagine that there is a parallel universe out there, one that reflects our own in many ways. Of course there are differences--the twin towers still stand, technology is more advanced, and they contain fringe events (kind of dimensional holes, glitches from our own dimension) by sealing the location, and the people, in some sort of gelatinous mixture. They have to contain it, or our world may destroy theirs. We don't get a glimpse of this parallel universe until the end of Season 1, though, and it's not until the end of Season 2 that our main characters cross over to this different reality. In our world, Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), along with Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his son, Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), explore the odd fringe events taking place here. This eventually leads them to discover the parallel universe, a world that sees itself at war with our own--the people there think the only way to save their world is to destroy ours. Rich world-building and a well thought out plot sucks you into Fringe. Even though Olivia and her team investigate weird events, in the end those odd events still have some type of explanation (whether it's explained during the episode or a season or two later).

Yes, the world the writers have built is great, but the true shining star is the characterization. Olivia is an FBI agent who loses her fiance to a fringe event, eventually finding out he was involved. She's assigned to investigate these events. I'll admit, in Season 1, her character was the hardest for me to swallow. She felt a bit flat because I didn't see a lot of emotion from her. Seasons 2 and 3 have changed my mind, her character being fleshed out little by little. As far as we know, she is the only person who can safely cross over to the other side.

The first time we meet Dr. Walter Bishop, he's in a mental institution. A brilliant scientific mind that has fractured. He is the comic relief of this show, and by far the best character, in my opinion. His character is quirky and needy, but he still has much of the scientific knowledge needed to investigate the fringe events.

Peter Bishop, who originally was estranged from his father, is the perfect foil for Walter, and eventually a love interest for Olivia. It just so happens that Peter is actually from the other dimension (unknown to him until the end of Season 2). Walter's son died, and he couldn't bear to see this other Peter die, so he crossed over--the only way to save Peter was to bring him back to our world. This was the event that caused the instability in the other world.

It's about time I get to season three, don't you think? It starts out slowly. Our Olivia is trapped in the other world, while their Olivia is infiltrating our dimension. Walter, Peter, and other characters have no clue that there is an impostor in their midst. Our Olivia is brainwashed (with the help of some drugs and memories) to think that she is actually the Olivia from the other world. Great set-up for the beginning of the season, no? I thought it was, but it didn't stay that way.

They alternate episodes, one in the other world, then one in ours. Makes sense. Unfortunately, once our Olivia is finally brainwashed, the episodes in the other world left a bitter taste in my mouth. The characters around her weren't developed to their full potential, which made them come across cardboard and felt like mere tools. Not only that, but anything we discovered about this world didn't have as big as an impact as I think it could have. I contest that it is far more interesting to explore a new world from the eyes of a stranger. Since Olivia thought she belonged there, we saw the world from familiar eyes, so everything to her was ordinary and commonplace. The world failed to come alive for me--it had been more alive when Olivia, Walter, and Peter had crossed over initially at the end of Season 2, since they were all discovering the differences compared to our world.

The big thing that sunk me, and made it hard for me to hang on from episode to episode, was the length of time it took for our Olivia to finally get home and, more importantly, for everyone on our side to figure out that the Olivia working with them was an impostor! It's not until Episode 8 when the Olivias end up back in their respective worlds. I can see a few episodes, but not nearly half the season.

Episode 8 was great, I have to admit that. It just kills me that it took so damn long to get there. Walter was in prime form in the episode--I'm still laughing over the word he created, Vagenda (you have to watch the episode to get the context, it's well worth it). A lot of action, twists and turns, speed bumps, and someone's life sadly ends. Good fun, but it should have come four episodes sooner, in my opinion.

Am I alone in my feelings? No, I'm pretty sure I'm not. My husband read a few articles throughout the last few months that reflected dissatisfaction, and the viewers were slowly declining. I think stretching things out so long was what did it. Is there hope? Yes, I believe so. Fringe is an excellently imagined story, and if the writers pick up the pace and start throwing more punches concerning the war (which our side now knows about), then they can redeem themselves. Every series has a slump period. I can only hope that the viewers they lost will come back or new viewers will start watching. Fringe should have at least two more seasons in it--not sure if it will reach eight seasons like X-Files. It has held its own going up against the original CSI, Supernatural, and Nikita, among other powerhouse shows.

This is the clincher, though--starting at the end of January, Fringe will move to a Friday time slot (it has been airing on Thursday nights, with some odd Monday night episodes during Season 2). Many people consider Friday a death slot. Will the final bell toll, or will Fringe embrace that time slot as X-Files did in the past? Perhaps in the mirror dimension, they've already hit the cancel button, or perhaps it's been renewed for another ten seasons! No matter what, I'm sure Fringe has plenty of surprises in store for the future.

NEXT UP: Resolutions and Goals for 2011, and a look back at 2010.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Critters Workshop - Expanding to Other Genres!

Apologies for the lack of a blog post last week. My daughter and I were really sick all week (I will spare you the disgusting details), so I am behind on everything.

I've mentioned before that I belong to Critters online workshop, for SF/F/H. A few months ago, the Critter Captain (Andrew Burt), decided to create some new workshops, stretching into other genres. Yes, some of the new workshops have been up and running for a while, but I figured this would be a good blog topic, just in case some people still don't know about it. =)

If you're interested in taking a look at the new workshop offerings, you can find them all at http://critique.org/ Not only are there workshops for mystery, romance, and non-fiction, but also for other types of media, like videos and music. You need to sign up for each workshop separately, though. So, if you're looking for a place to exchange critiques, this is a good place to start!

Speaking of critiques, I have some novel chapters to read. Happy critiquing all!

NEXT UP: A mid-season look at Fringe.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

In Between

I am officially done with my Horror: Monsters class - the final paper was sent out a few minutes ago. Yay!

That means I'm at the dreaded In Between. My next online course won't start until January, but I can't let me blog linger until then (I'm not even sure if I'll need to post my essays to my blog for that course - I will be stepping away from horror and delving into Recent F/SF)!

In the past, I have had long dry spells from blogging, and though it was mainly due to lack of time, I also think it was because I didn't have any type of focus in my posts. Seriously, I have probably whined enough about my life and attempts at writing, which has probably driven most readers away.

Time for something different! The problem is, I need to figure out exactly what to do. I will probably still comment about my trials and tribulations now and then, but I'd rather post something that other people find useful (I am not so self-absorbed to think my complaints are useful).

I admit, I enjoyed posting my essays - I made sure to include my own opinions as well as taking a serious look at all of my readings. And I hope others enjoyed them too.

What I think it boils down to, though, is I need to know what people want to read. Obviously most topics should be writing related. Some of the things that have crossed my mind are as follows: book reviews/discussions, movie reviews/discussions, TV episode reviews/discussions, focusing on certain aspects of the craft of writing, guest bloggers, writing prompts and challenges (Writing Quest is still ongoing, by the way - Writing Quest December), discussions of writing related websites/blogs/internet material. And I am willing to take any other suggestions, no matter how far off the wall they are. True, these ideas don't break any new ground - there are so many blogs nowadays, especially writing blogs, that it's hard to find something new and innovative.

I do know this - as long as I am in school for my MFA, I will likely only be blogging once a week, and any required class posts will take place of a normal blog post. Once I've completed my MFA, I hope to up my blog posts to 2-3 times per week - they don't all need to be long, and I can have daily themes as well.

What do you all think? What do you want to see me blog about? =)

P.S. Don't ask about NaNoWriMo. I feel a miserable failure, even though it was school and the toddler that got in my way mostly. I am hoping to make up for my November slump. My December goal is to write 35,000 words at least! Progress will be reported via Twitter. ;)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Snow...Or Is That Really A Monster?

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Snow there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

As I read Snow, I found myself instantly pulled in--there was excellent character development and great description of the monsters. Unfortunately, about halfway through, I grew disappointed. There were several parts of the second half that just didn't work for me, especially the epilogue.

Malfi does a nice job using the prologue at the beginning to pull the reader in, to let us know that something is going on in the town of Woodson. This prologue allows chapter one to start more slowly and interweave character development as well as get our protagonist heading toward the town. The set-up here, with describing the men taken over by the monsters, also leads the reader to a knowing moment when Todd, Kate, Nan, and Fred come across Eddie wandering alone in the snow. "A man in a black- and red-checkered coat and high boots, mid-forties, bearded, pale--" (32). That last word, pale, sent bells off in my head, knowing that Eddie is no longer truly human, a perfect echo from the prologue. And that suspicion is confirmed when they find Eddie's "missing" daughter, Emily--the girl has no face. I thought that was wonderfully done.

The character development in this novel is also well done. Todd is our main protagonist, and at the beginning he is trying to reach his son for Christmas. He doesn't want to let his son down again, like he's done so many times in the past. This makes him a sympathetic character. Even his flaws--the gambling, mainly--cause his character to come to life. So we're rooting for him the entire time he's faced with the monsters.

Speaking of the monsters, I thought they were wonderfully described and fleshed out. "Like a puzzle piece sliding out of position, a section of snow seemed to unhinge itself from the rest, a compact little vacuum of white filaments sliding into the wind" (100). The characters never know if what's covering the ground is real snow or the monsters themselves. And, of course, these snow monsters can burrow into human beings, and after killing the host, use the corpses as puppets. They are also able to pull from the person's memories and experiences. Another great, creepy monster.

The scene where things started to unravel for me is where Shawna, the point-of-view character from the prologue, meets her demise. She holes up in the basement of a house for the night, her leg wound worse from recent incidents, and in the morning wakes to find the human puppets of the monsters clogging the upstairs. There is nothing peaceful about her death--she is overrun and devoured, with no one around to help. Now, I'm all for the monsters picking off characters one by one, but this death left me feeling empty. I really think that may be because I was hoping she would be made into a puppet and Todd and Kate would have to face her before the end of the book. Shawna's death scene is the last we see of her.

Nearing the end of Snow, disappointed with no reappearance of Shawna, many incongruities showed up, in my opinion. There's a scene where Kate takes a hammer to this slug-like thing. What the hell is that about? Is it the snow monster's form when it's not in the cold? If so, that needed to be established either earlier in the book or followed up before the end.

Todd is supposed to be the hero of the book. He finally contacts help outside the town. This act doesn't make him a hero, though, since the help doesn't reach them until the monsters have already left. Bruce, a minor character and the true hero, blows up a gas station, killing himself in the process, to kill many of the snow monsters. After this, the monsters decide it's too much of a hassle, funnel back up into some portal in the sky, and vanish. We find out later this happened in several small towns in the Midwest. Why exactly did they all leave, across the many towns, at the same time? It seemed weird that an explosion in one town would cause the monsters to leave all the towns. And why exactly weren't they slowly spreading to neighboring towns if they were there to feed? Once they ran out of humans to eat in Woodson (true there were a few people left in hiding, but not many), why didn't they move to the closest town over to find more food?

I also would have liked to see Kate give Todd that dollar she owed him at the end of the novel. Even though, I felt like through the whole novel, he had learned his lesson with gambling, yet in the end he gambles whether they will be able to reach help or not. That wonderful characterization at the beginning tasted a bit stale when Todd bet Kate that buck.

And finally, the epilogue ruined it for me. Eddie and his supposed daughter, whom I mentioned before, are seen driving across the country in a truck. It's that "they're still out there" moment, which I could have done without because it made me wonder why Eddie and Emily are so different that they weren't sucked back up through the portal like all the rest. And what is up with the band-aids?

So, yes, I felt Snow had a good start with a great set-up, a wonderful monster, and nice characterization. As you can see from my endless string of questions in a couple paragraphs above, though, the end left me feeling like everything wasn't thought out well enough. There were too many inconsistencies that pulled me out of the world and shook my suspension of disbelief.

Works Cited

Malfi, Ronald. Snow. New York: Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., 2010.

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

It's that time of year again! Yup, time to take on the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. And I just happen to be behind ALREADY, and it's only the first day. Dentist appointments, budgeting, and bill paying do not like being pushed aside for things like NaNoWriMo. Or sickness. My daughter was sick all last week, so I was unable to prep as much as I wanted to.

So, I still have my novel soundtrack to to figure out, my spreadsheet to set up, and of course actually having a plot. The plot bunnies are avoiding me. I have two characters in my head (one who still needs a name) and a conflict, so I'm hoping that will lead me to a plot at some point while writing.

What was that? I should be working on Dead As Dreams, you say? Maybe. Probably. Yes. But I wanted to not be a Rebel this year (at least to start out with) and write something new. The working title for this year's NaNo novel is Forsworn Madness.

Who else will be working toward that 50,000 word goal this month? You can find me on the NaNoWriMo website as alexagrave - feel free to buddy me!

My writertopia meter is below. I will attempt to update it a couple times a week. And I need to fix my word count stuff on the left side (sorry I haven't updated it in a while - class has been crazy...only one more essay and then the big paper for the term!).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Thing - Are You Really Human?

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the movie The Thing there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

Ah, The Thing. Like Alien, this is an older movie. There are various similarities between both movies, which I'll explore in a bit. Unlike Alien, I had seen this movie before--about ten years ago, so my horrible memory didn't ruin anything for me. The Thing was enjoyable, as I remembered (at least I remembered that). Not really scary for me, but I've already mentioned that not much frightens me in way of movies. I do think the monster in this movie is creepier than the one in Alien.

So, what are the similarities between Alien and The Thing? Both monsters are from space. In The Thing, the creature is on our planet, though. Yes, Antarctica--a research outpost in the middle of nowhere, and the winter storm is rolling in, so the team will be trapped there until spring comes. In both movies, the characters have no way out and are forced to face the monsters head on. My husband claimed haunted house movie again, but The Thing isn't as dark and foreboding as Alien, in my opinion.

The monster in The Thing is creepy--make-your-skin-crawl creepy. It's that fear of not knowing, being unsure who the monster actually is. Could it be the person sitting next to you? Is it your husband? Child? This monster can mimic any form, as long as it has enough private time to do so. It's not until late in the movie that they figure out a way to tell who is a monster and who is clean. Have to take a hot wire to everyone's blood, and the creature will instinctively try to defend itself. Great thing for the people with the flamethrowers (if they worked, that is). Not so great for those tied up next to the monster.

I do love the unknown throughout the movie, but I think when we actually see the creature, which is pretty much just a mish-mash of all the forms it has assimilated, it kills a bit of that unknown suspense. The transformations were wonderfully done for a 1982 movie. Unfortunately, the big blobs of flesh with raw dog heads and split human parts sticking out didn't do it for me.

I have to give props to the dog they used at the beginning, though. That dog was a great actor--he was utterly creepy (I've used that word a lot, sorry). The dog had this look in his eye, and you knew something wasn't right.

There were a few other things I felt were off and unbelievable. Many of the actions of the people were hard to swallow. When they don't know who the thing is, why would they allow anyone to go off alone? Mac is still staying in his shed by himself. Wouldn't it have made sense to stick in groups of three, since this creature prefers to attack when it's alone with a victim? Once they clear all the people who are left, aside from Blair, they split up again, leaving one person behind. Why the hell would they leave a single person alone? True, it feeds into the whole ending where MacReady isn't sure if Childs is the thing or not, but the logic to get there has a big hole in it. And near the end, when they are setting charges to blow the compound, Nauls hears a weird sound and slowly wanders to where the thing has just killed Garry. That was an "Are you really that stupid?" moment I could have done without.

True, there are a few unbelievable moments, but I still enjoyed the movie. The monster is a good one (and creepy--yes, I said it again), and not knowing if either of the survivors are really still human is a great ending.

Works Cited

The Thing. Dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell. Universal Pictures, 1982.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reading a Movie - The Wolfman

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read the novelization of The Wolfman there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

I tend to avoid reading novelizations of movies--I'd rather see novels made into movies, instead of the other way around. So, I approached The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry with some trepidation. Since I haven't seen the movie yet, that at least didn't affect my reading of the novel. My verdict this time: mediocre. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. It was predictable for me. I'm actually back and forth on some things. It felt like a quick read, but I thought the novel was too long for the plot. And then there is the werewolf, or werewolves--a great monster, but a cliche.

The predictability of the story disappointed me, but that also may be because many current movies disappoint me in this aspect. Main character gets bitten by a werewolf, he turns into one himself, he kills the original werewolf, then dies at the hands of the one he loves since it's the only way to "save him". I pretty much knew right when Lawrence reached Blackmoor that his father, Sir John, was the werewolf. There wasn't really anyone else it could have been. I was hoping, beyond hope, for a twist, that perhaps Lawrence's mother, had been a werewolf. They claim she committed suicide at the beginning, and I would have loved to see that suicide be because of the monster she was and not wanting to put her family in any more danger. Sadly, of course, Sir John was the one who slaughtered Lawrence's mother.

Some of the descriptions were nice. I especially liked the full moon as the Goddess of the Hunt and the werewolves as her children. "Outside the moon rose into the sky with regal grace and the inevitability of death. It was huge and beautiful. The Goddess of the Hunt reached down with claws of silver moonlight to take the village of Blackmoor by the throat" (189). The imagery used with this association throughout the book was great.

Unfortunately, some of the description or backstory was a bit much. This book is 342 pages, and for a book this length you would think there is at least one decent subplot, if not two, but the closest we get to a subplot is the growing love between Lawrence and Gwen. The core plot of the book is stretched out overlong, in my opinion. Likely much of the description is longer because the novel is omniscient, not sticking to any one point of view even in a single scene--this made it feel more like a movie, and I didn't want to feel like I was reading a movie.

Things also got repetitive when it came to character development. Lawrence and Inspector Aberline could have been the same person, aside from their backgrounds and professions. Lawrence's reaction to seeing the werewolf for the first time: "All he could do was stand there and behold this thing. This monstrous impossibility. This perversion of all sense and sanity" (108). And then Inspector Aberline, after Lawrence changes before his eyes: "His mind felt disconnected from reality. He could not have seen the things he had seen. It was impossible, insane" (248). Both pursue the werewolf at the risk of their own lives, both are excellent at reading people, and both in the end are bitten. Parallels can sometimes be interesting, but I felt Lawrence's and Aberline's reactions and thoughts were too similar and detracted from rounding out their characters.

In this novel, the first werewolf, or Sir John, is dubbed the Werewolf, and Lawrence is the Wolfman. As humans, both are quite different. Sir John is a true monster--he knows what he is and allows himself to run loose as the Werewolf, frames Lawrence for his crimes, and kills everyone close to him. Perhaps that's why he's more wolf than man, as per the titles. He allows his beast to take over. Lawrence, on the other hand, hates what he's become and considers ending his own life to save others. The beast inside him doesn't rule the human. Some might say he isn't a monster. Only when he turns, and all human awareness vanishes, can he be considered a monster, and it's beyond his control. You have to wonder, though, if he survived as long as Sir John, would he, in the end, become the same? It's a possibility, especially if he would have lost Gwen by his own hand.

The werewolves in The Wolfman are cliche, unfortunately. Turn at the full moon, don't remember their actions as beasts, fast healing, and can only be harmed by silver. I do like the werewolf as a monster, but it would have been nice to see something different, a new layer to an old archetype.

I can't help but mention the fight scenes, if briefly. These bugged me the most, to be honest. The first big one we see is the slaughter at the Gypsy camp. All I kept thinking as I turned the pages was that it was too cinematic and over the top. That made me feel even more like I was reading a movie. I know werewolves are powerful, but it was all overdone, in my opinion.

I might have been overly critical of the book, but the things that annoyed me stuck out in my mind more than the things I enjoyed. The Wolfman is a good choice for the reader who likes novelizations of movies, and I'm just not one of those people.

Works Cited

Maberry, Jonathan. The Wolfman. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2010.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haunted House in Space - Alien

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the movie Alien there are spoilers in this essay.

* * * * *

Here I go admitting my shortcomings again. Until now, I have never watched Alien in its entirety (as a note, I watched the 2003 Director's Cut version). Bits and pieces, here and there, yes, but not the whole thing. There was no reason why, aside from not enough time and too much else to watch--the usual. The verdict? It was a good movie. It probably would have been better if I didn't have a two-year-old making it hard to hear and causing me to pause it every fifteen minutes. Did it scare me? No, but not much does. I don't watch horror movies for the scare factor--I like them for examining the dark side of things. Alien definitely explores that dark side.

My husband calls Alien a haunted house movie, well one that takes place in space at least. I can see why he perceives it that way. Essentially, the entire crew is trapped on the ship, having to hunt down the monster that springs from one of their crewmate's chests. This is no small ship, and there are many places to hide. Even the lighting in the movie lends to the haunted house effect--everything is dark or in shadows, when they are on the hunt.

It's no ghost that they're trying to kill, though, but an unknown life form, one that is vicious and smart. It tricks their motion sensing device, and near the end its smart enough to sneak onto the escape shuttle before the ship blows up. The little creature that springs from the chest quickly sheds its skin and grows into a huge black monster with many rows of sharp, pointy teeth. Mind you, the growth time was a tad unbelievable for me, and like a snake, I would expect more than one skin shed when going from arm-size to bigger than human-size. I know there's only so much time in a movie, and you need to maintain the suspense by not taking too long to go from Point A to Point B, but I would have liked to see a better explanation of its rapid growth.

The best way to describe the alien are the words of yet another monster in this movie--Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot. He is given orders by Mother, the ship's brain, who has been programmed by the Company (such a wonderful chain of monsters here), to bring back the life form at all costs, including the sacrifice of the crew's lives. What makes Ash more monstrous is his awe of the creature, and here is where we get the wonderful description of the alien. "The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility....I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality" (Alien). The discussion with Ash, while he's a severed head, is the best dialogue of the movie, in my opinion.

Both the alien and Ash are great monsters, but they weren't my favorite part of the movie. It was actually one of the scenes added into the Director's Cut version that I liked the best. It's so brief, but I feel it has a strong impact. Ripley is the last of the crew alive (well, and the cat, which my husband dubbed the Harbinger of Death), and she is heading toward the escape shuttle. She makes a stop first, and finds two of her fellow crewmates still alive, but plastered to the walls by some unknown substance. Kind of like a spider wrapping up its prey for later consumption. The captain of the ship begs to be killed, so Ripley takes the flamethrower and ends his misery, along with the other crew member. I was disappointed to find out this scene wasn't in the original, but I'm glad they finally added it in.

Overall, I enjoyed Alien, and I thought both main monsters were well done. I just hope the next movie I have to watch, my toddler sits still long enough. ;)

Works Cited

Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. With Sigourney Weaver. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 1979.

Friday, October 08, 2010

World War Z - Zombies, Meh

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read World War Z there are spoilers in this essay.

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I'm going to be up front--I don't like zombies. Never have, never will. Therefore, I struggled reading World War Z. I tried to have an open mind, but the documentary style isn't interesting to me either. I know this is all a matter of taste, and I am probably in the minority. I've never been one to follow the crowd, so I'm not about to jump on the zombie bandwagon just because everybody else has. In World War Z, though, the zombies weren't the only monsters. Humans do monstrous things as well, when cornered.

Zombies bore me. That is the simplest way to sum up my dislike for them. This boils down to what I've mentioned in past essays--I like my monsters to have a bit of intellect. Zombies, not even a flicker. You can't even say they have pure animal instinct. Animals are more intelligent by leagues! I didn't like Rawhead, but I'd take him over a zombie any day. The slow moving and human flesh eating doesn't do it for me, and that's really all any zombie is. In World War Z, Brooks made them strong, made it possible for them to walk along the bottom of oceans and survive, but those additional differences weren't enough--they were still the same old zombies, in my mind.

World War Z is more about the human condition, the reactions people have to the zombies. The book is a series of interviews from the survivors of the Zombie War. Although this style didn't appeal to me, I did find some of the interviews interesting. I also noticed that some of the interviewees or the things that happened to them could be considered monstrous. Breckinridge "Breck" Scott is the first interviewee who had monster written all over his face. He developed a vaccine for the zombie epidemic. It was a rabies vaccine, and the zombie disease was labeled African rabies. Of course, he knew full well this vaccine wouldn't protect against a zombie bite. "All I did was what any of us are supposed to do. I chased my dream, and I got my slice....Shit, you wanna blame someone, why not start with all the sheep who forked over their greenbacks without bothering to do a little responsible research. I never held a gun to their heads" (58). Not one bit of remorse or guilt--only pure greed. No wonder this guy was hiding out in Antarctica.

Sometimes monsters force others to become monsters. In Russia, the government was determined to hide what was going on with the zombies and they wanted to keep a stranglehold on their military, which led to the Decimation. "We would be the ones to decide who would be punished. Broken up into groups of ten, we would have to vote on which one of us was going to be executed. And then we...the soldiers, we would be the ones to personally murder our friends" (82). To save their own lives, the soldiers abided, followed orders. "Conventional executions might have reinforced discipline, might have restored order from the top down, but by making us all accomplices, they held us together not just by fear, but by guilt as well" (82-83).

There is one interview in the book, with Jesika Hendricks, that implies cannibalism. Many of the people in the states headed north into Canada, where winter comes sooner, since zombies would freeze and give the humans a reprieve (until they thawed in spring, of course). Even though winter took away the zombie threat, they were fighting for basic survival. Jesika was only a child at the time, and she was sick. "There was this smell coming from the neighbor's RV. They were cooking something, meat, it smelled really good. Mom and Dad were outside arguing. Mom said 'it' was the only way....He came back ten minutes later, without the radio but with a big bucket of this steaming hot stew. It was so good!...Dad still had that look. The look I had myself in a few months, when Mom and Dad both got sick and I had to feed them" (128-129). It was a choice thrust upon her family--live or die, and I felt the looks that Jesika and her father had were the disgust at the monstrous act of cannibalism they were forced into simply to survive.

The survival of not only individuals, but of the human race as a whole was paramount in many nations. Everywhere, the zombies were winning, dwindling human numbers and adding more to their own army in the process. Paul Redeker developed a plan for South Africa. First, a safe zone needed to be established, but that isn't what made the plan monstrous. It was the second part of the plan that required the sacrifice of other human beings. "In his mind, only a small fraction of the civilian population could be evacuated to the safe zone....Those who were left behind were to be herded into special isolated zones. They were to be 'human bait,' distracting the undead from following the retreating army to their safe zone" (109). The interview this is from was one I liked. You find out at the end of it that the interviewee, Xolelwa Azania, is really Paul Redeker, who mentally cracked after developing the plan--he distanced himself from it by believing he was another person entirely. So, even though Redeker and many nations stretched themselves to that monstrous line, it had a large mental impact, the guilt taking its toll.

It was a little interesting to see the thoughts, in World War Z, on what actions humans might be willing to take simply to survive. The monsters inside of us can come out when we are fighting for survival, whether we want them to or not. This novel also reminded me how much I dislike zombies, and if anything I like them even less now--my opinion only, as always.

Works Cited

Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Crown Publishing, 2006.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Frustrated Demon - "The Yattering and Jack"

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read "The Yattering and Jack" there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Yattering, in "The Yattering and Jack," is a fun monster, and I liked it more than the monster in "Rawhead Rex". It's making me consider reading other works by Clive Barker, unlike the last story. The only thing I am still having trouble with is Barker's frequent use of head-hopping.

A poor lesser demon, that's all the Yattering is, instructed to do his job whether he wants to or not--a lot of people can relate to that situation. He's supposed to make Jack Polo go insane to pay a debt owed by his mother (see, they owned her soul, but she snuck out of the deal). The problem is, Polo seems imperturbable. Anything the Yattering does is brushed off. We feel the demon's frustration at failure after failure. "The Yattering wept. The Yattering screamed. In a fit of uncontrollable anguish, it boiled the water in the aquarium, poaching the guppies. Polo heard nothing. Saw nothing" (46). Throughout some of his failed pranks, I could just see him shaking his little fists in the air in my mind.

We are solidly in the Yattering's point of view at the beginning. I had no problem with this, and I actually enjoyed it. There would have been no other way to hook the reader with the demon's feelings of being trapped--Polo's house is his prison until he completes his job. Eight pages into the story, though, after the Yattering had killed three cats (one went into the fire, another was drowned, and the third exploded into little bits), there is an abrupt shift from the demon's point of view to Jack Polo's. Since I was a third of the way into the story, the shift pulled me right out of the tale. I had to reread that transition, and several subsequent passages with point of view hops, over a couple of times to get a handle on what was happening. At first I thought it would have been better to have the entire story in the Yattering's head, but then we wouldn't have seen how manipulative Polo actually was--he was wise to the demon's goal, and determined not to let him win. So, Polo's viewpoint was necessary, but the way Barker has the shifts was unsettling, and it didn't help me stay deep in the story.

Polo's two daughters come home for the holidays, and this is when the Yattering ramps up his tricks. Instead of succeeding, though, he grows impatient, and breaks two cardinal rules in the end--he leaves the house and he touches Polo. Now he has to suffer as Polo's servant for the rest of his existence. It was a nice twist at the end, but there was one thing that left me wondering. Polo and his daughter Gina pretty much escape the encounter unscathed, but Amanda does not. "Then he met the vacant look in her eyes and the truth dawned. She'd broken, her sanity had taken refuge where the fantastique couldn't get at it" (59). This was the very thing the Yattering had been aiming for with Jack. Now, we don't see if she ever comes out of it at the end. I wondered, if the demons wanted Jack's soul via the route of insanity in place of his mother's, wouldn't a granddaughter's soul be just as good as a son's? Does the Yattering actually succeed at his job by breaking Amanda's mind? It seems silly if the higher demons would only think of Jack's soul as a good enough replacement. I'm not saying it's a flaw of the story or anything, simply that it was something I considered after it all soaked in.

Overall, this was a fun read, and I loved the quirky monster. The Yattering's personality was great, and he was a well-rounded character. Do I read more Clive Barker now? We'll see.

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. "The Yattering and Jack." Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998. 43-64.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mood and Monster - Cycle of the Werewolf

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Cycle of the Werewolf there are spoilers in this essay.

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Mood--this is what pulled me into Stephen King's Cycle of the Werewolf and kept me turning the pages. He has a way of setting up each chapter, each attack of the werewolf, with just the right description and tone for an ominous mood each time. Every chapter is like a story in and of itself. Unfortunately, since we don't discover who the werewolf is until the third to last chapter, we don't get into the monster's head quickly enough to make him more real and rounded. At least that was the case for me.

Every chapter is a new month, the full moon, when the werewolf attacks. The chapters are vignettes, a peek into the lives of the town of Tarker's Mills--and the first couple lives we visit are ended abruptly at the close of these chapters. I loved February, the Valentine's Day full moon, and Stella Randolph's death. King sets up this scene so beautifully. "The moonlight has been blocked out by a dark shape--amorphous but clearly masculine, and she thinks: I am dreaming...and in my dreams, I will let him come...in my dreams I will let myself come. They use the word dirty, but the word is clean, the word is right; love would be like coming" (21). And the punch at the end doesn't disappoint: "'Lover,' she whispers, and closes her eyes. It falls upon her. Love is like dying" (24).

It isn't until chapter six, June, where we discover that the werewolf is someone in Tarker's Mills that everyone may know, and then it's not until chapter ten, October, that we finally learn the werewolf is Reverend Lowe from the Grace Baptist Church. Once I found out who it was, I actually wanted to go back and re-read chapter five, May, since that chapter was in Reverend Lowe's viewpoint. The discovery puts that chapter into better perspective, but I think it did a disservice to his character to have such a gap.

The werewolf wasn't truly real to me until we end up back in Reverend Lowe's point of view in November, chapter eleven. This is where we find out he finally knows that he's the monster that's been slaughtering the townsfolk. Before this chapter, the werewolf was a two-dimensional figure, but when we see into Reverend Lowe's head and how he views his own transformations and subsequent murders, that's when the monster became three-dimensional to me. It's the human flaws that hook me into this monster, and I wish King would have instilled that humanity much sooner.

The thing is, Reverend Lowe isn't ashamed of what he does. Instead, he tries to rationalize and justify his transformations into a werewolf. "I am a man of God and I will not kill myself. I do good here, and if I sometimes do evil, why, men have done evil before me; evil also serves the will of God, or so the Book of Job teaches us; if I have been cursed from Outside, then God will bring me down in His time. All things serve the will of God..." (111). This was a great way to make the monster in this novel more human, in my opinion. True, you can't really empathize with him, but most people can't say they don't relate to this in some way. There is at least once in all of our lives where we justify our actions, where we feel the need to give reasons for what we did or are about to do. And it only makes sense that someone with strong roots in religion would use that religion to explain and justify why this is happening to him--it is God's will that he is afflicted with becoming a werewolf. Reverend Lowe's justifications are only backed up in his eyes when his next victim is a man who beats his wife. "He was not a good man. All things serve the Lord" (113).

Although I like how King humanized the monster, brought some depth to the werewolf, I felt that it came too late in the story. It was simply the mood and description that pulled me along chapter to chapter, not the monster itself. I guess this just reminds me that I like my monsters to be a little bit human for me to be drawn to them, and in Cycle of the Werewolf that humanity came too late for me.

Works Cited

King, Stephen. Cycle of the Werewolf. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Primal Beast - "Rawhead Rex"

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read "Rawhead Rex" there are spoilers in this essay.

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"Rawhead Rex" by Clive Barker is the tale of a monster that is the epitome of an ancient, primal, and animalistic archetype. Since I prefer my monsters more human than animal, most of this story didn't appeal to me, but I can see where it would draw many horror readers in, especially those who enjoy monsters from long-forgotten times brought into modern day.

We are in Rawhead's mind for part of this story, and even though his thoughts seem more human than animal, he even admits to himself: "He'd never been a great thinker. Too much appetite: it overwhelmed his reason. He lived in the eternal present of his hunger and his strength, feeling only the crude territorial instinct that would sooner or later blossom into carnage" (372). This can be seen in his actions throughout the tale. His hunger drives him, snatching children to feed upon. The animal instinct in him is demonstrated through the defiling of a man's genitals and marking his territory, in this case a worshiper. Even at the end of the story, the animal in him is his downfall. He can only think of destruction, and using the gasoline he discovered burns so well, he sets the town ablaze, heedless of the damage it does to his own body.

Because Rawhead feels he owns the land that the humans now inhabit, he raises himself to the status of a god. "And when he was ready he'd throw those pretenders off his throne, he'd cremate them in their houses, he'd slaughter their children and wear their infants' bowels as necklaces. This place was his" (371). This god status doesn't just exist in his mind, though. Declan, the Verger for the local church, worships the beast as a god as well. "Had he known all along that if the beast were to come sniffing for him he'd kneel in front of it, call it Lord (before Christ, before Civilization, he'd said), let it discharge its bladder onto him, and smile? Yes. Oh yes" (385). Even Reverend Coot struggles against Rawhead's lure--it takes all of his focus to not kneel down and allow Rawhead to baptize him as he had Declan.

There is always of course the other side of the coin. Gods can be vicious, but are his acts more those of a demon? Ron Milton watches Rawhead kill his son, Ian. From that point on, he makes it his mission to destroy Rawhead. He's never been religious, but circumstances beyond his control make him rethink things, consult the near-dead Reverend for advice, and seek out the one thing in the Church that Rawhead may fear. To Milton, Rawhead is no god. "But he was prepared to be openminded, and now that he'd seen the opposition, or one of its troops, he was ready to reform his opinions. He'd believe anything, anything at all, if it gave him a weapon against the Devil" (399).

So yes, Rawhead is a monster from ancient times, long before Christianity was established, a horror that brings its wrath down on the town's ancestors. Who doesn't fear a loathsome creature from the dawn of time? It was a well-written story, but in the future, I hope to avoid monsters like Rawhead--child and baby eaters just aren't my cup of tea.

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. "Rawhead Rex." Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998. 362-407.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Believability in Breeding Ground

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Breeding Ground there are spoilers in this essay.

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Breeding Ground, by Sarah Pinborough, didn't work for me. Most of the issues I had with this novel were with believability. Even in a piece of fiction, I feel the reasons for certain occurrences should be believable enough to make the reader think the events could actually happen. This suspension of disbelief is harder to attain when you are working with a story or novel that actually takes place in our world--Pinborough didn't reach that level, in my opinion.

At the beginning of the novel, we discover that the women are putting on weight rapidly for some inexplicable reason. Not one woman here and there, but nearly all of them. Matt, our main character, takes his girlfriend to the doctor because she's pregnant and he's worried about her health. The doctor shoos them out of his office saying everything is fine. When Matt runs into the doctor a short time later, he finally discovers everything is not fine. "We're all just going to have to wait and see. That's all we can do. Wait and see" (52). This is what the doctor tells Matt, and this is the first instance where my suspension of disbelief is shattered. True, some things can't be explained, and not every sickness can be treated, but only waiting to see what happens is a bit of a stretch for me. This is happening world-wide. Doctors know, the government must know. No thoughts of a quarantine or taking certain precautions? Nope, the doctors and the government just plan to wait and see what happens, and not by actually observing the afflicted women in a secure environment, but by allowing them to go on with their lives so they eventually give birth to the monstrous widows within their own homes. I can't easily accept this. No thought of any possible damage control had me baffled.

I patiently waited for an explanation as to how these widows came about--I understand not revealing it right away, and I was hoping the novel would redeem itself with a good solid explanation that made sense. Unfortunately, all I found was more disappointment. "Genetically modified food. That's where the smart money is. They, or I suppose I should say we, let it get out of control" (219). The words of a geneticist. He goes into a lengthy explanation, of course, but it's still not enough to make me believe that this is the true cause. If it was genetically modified food, how is it that this happened to most of the women around the world at the same time? This reason would have made more sense to me if the creatures spawned in a more scattered pattern. Everyone consumes different foods, different proportions of those foods, and because of that, I would think people would birth these monsters at innumerable varying rates. And why did it effect only women at first? The mates of the widows do not start spawning from the men until the end of the novel. I was hoping the genetically modified food was a guess and that we would find out the real reason further in, but that never happened.

Near the end, they discover that a certain kind of blood is like acid to the widows, killing them effectively. It just so happens that this blood is from a deaf woman and a deaf dog. "It seemed that the simple genetic defect that had probably been a curse to them throughout their lives up to this point was now what made them the envy of every other survivor on the planet" (318). At this point, my faith in Pinborough's ability to back up anything with a solid explanation was shaken, so the whole blood-of-the-disabled-is-poison caused a sigh. What exactly is so different with this deaf woman and dog that it effects the widows? The closest connection is that the widows are telepathic, but that's a fraying thread. Not to mention, deafness is caused by an array of things, not only genetics.

Perhaps Breeding Ground isn't my type of monster novel. I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief, unlike with I Am Legend. This caused the monsters to be less effective for me, in the end. I'm sure others feel differently, but I couldn't bring myself to accept this post-apocalyptic world Pinborough created.

Works Cited

Pinborough, Sarah. Breeding Ground. New York: Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., 2006.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Short Story Conventions in "The Funeral"

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read "The Funeral" there are spoilers in this essay.

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Since "The Funeral" was written in the 1950s, it's interesting to compare the conventions used in short stories at that time. Many of the things we're taught to avoid in writing today, like overuse of adjectives, speech tags, and point of view slips, are prevalent in this story by Richard Matheson. Once you get past those changes in style, though, the core of the story is a fun and quirky romp.

The beginning of this short is bogged down with heavy adjective use--things like "placid clasp", "leisured pace", and "flaccid-fingered hand" (254). Those are just a few from the first page. To me, who has learned an overuse of adjectives bog down prose, it was overwhelming. It slowed the start of the story for me, making it hard to slip into right away.

Because the adjective usage is so prevalent, and I had to read the beginning through more slowly than usual, I also noticed a couple other style quirks that writers are warned against today. When you are writing a close third-person story, you're supposed to stay in your narrator's head and not pop out of it. This usually means it's difficult to describe the narrator if they aren't looking at themselves. Matheson doesn't follow this convention, especially in the phrase, "blinking meditation from his liver-colored eyes" (254). The other style quirk I noticed in the first page is a speech tag--the use of which made me flinch when I read it: "'Ah, good evening, sir,' he dulceted" (254).

What this shows is that conventions and tastes change throughout the years. Back in the 1950s, it seems that more of an omniscient approach was favored, over a close, inside-the-character's-head third person. The writing was more flowery and dense, chock full of adjectives. Who knows what will be standard in another fifty years? Perhaps in the future, second-person, adverb-heavy prose will be the big thing--no one can predict.

Although the first couple pages tripped me up initially, once the hook of the story presented itself, it was an enjoyable read. Three pages in, we finally find out that Morton Silkline's customer, Asper, intends to have a funeral for himself because he didn't have a proper one the first time. This was great, and it pulled me in. I wish it wouldn't have taken that many pages to hook me, though. I suppose that's another convention of the times. In today's day and age, a short story needs to pull the reader in on page one, even the first paragraph or sentence. If you have to wait for the hook until page three, there is a great possibility an editor won't even read that far. This could be a reflection of the instant gratification much of society seeks nowadays.

Once at the heart of the story, with the funeral event in full swing and a hodgepodge of monsters all in one room, I ate it up. The characters come alive. Matheson uses his technique as he does in I Am Legend to not reveal too much to the reader, so we can figure some things out for ourselves. Not one monster is labeled, the descriptions and actions the characters take providing enough hints so we can guess which archetypal monsters are at the funeral.

So, in the end, even though some of the devices used are ones I am used to avoiding, "The Funeral" was a fun read. I'll admit it--I wasn't able to figure out all of the monsters. Perhaps I will on a second read-through and a bit of research.

Works Cited

Matheson, Richard. "The Funeral." I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1995. 254-263.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Suspense in I Am Legend

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read I Am Legend (which is nothing like the movie, in my opinion) there are spoilers in this essay.

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Richard Matheson builds suspense throughout I Am Legend with a slow release of information and a pattern of ups and downs. He drops clues along the way like pieces of bait--they tempted me toward the hook, encouraged me to continue reading. I loved it, and the pay off in the end was worth it.

Robert Neville talks about the monsters, but he doesn't name them as vampires until page 16. Matheson wants the reader to figure it out for themselves, to guess what it is Neville is up against. The first sentence is the first clue: "On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came . . ." (1). Then we see the cracked mirror he put up, the stakes he makes, and the garlic. "Garlic always worked" (2). I found myself quickly dragged into Neville's world, wondering when he would finally name the monsters he faced.

Matheson doesn't stop there with his slow dissemination of information, though. Another piece of bait is dangled when we find out the body of Neville's wife is sealed away in a coffin. I wanted to know what happened to her, what happened to the daughter he mentions. How exactly did the vampires come about and what tore his family apart? This curiosity and need to find the answers ramps up the suspense, and to keep that suspense going, Matheson deliberately feeds us information bit by bit. Our first major backstory chunk isn't seen until page 39, finally revealing that his wife caught the disease that turned people into vampires.

There was one place in the story where the holding back of information didn't quite work for me. The first flashback concerns his wife getting sick, and his daughter has yet to show any signs of the sickness. On page 57 we finally reach the second flashback, his wife dies. Reading a couple pages into this flashback, though, he talks of giving his daughter's body over to the fire to be burned, which is why he refuses to do the same with his wife. I had to re-read the passage about his daughter several times because the point the information is revealed detracts from the suspense he built up. Instead, I was confused. Matheson jumps around in the timeline too much in this instance, and it interrupts the nice flow of information he developed. I was stopped in my tracks while reading because of the confusion brought about by this slip.

Moving on from how Matheson utilizes the release of information, there is another strong pattern he uses to keep the suspense going. I Am Legend is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, of hope and having that hope crushed. It begins with Neville's search for the answers about how people were turned into vampires. He wants to find a scientific reason, instead of a superstitious one. Right when he thinks he has the answer, he's stripped of it, realizing that it doesn't explain the fear of crosses and their own reflection. Then he has the hope of the dog. This dog is the first living thing he's come across that doesn't seem sick. A companion for Neville's loneliness. Again, his hope shatters when the dog grows sick and dies. Finally, the pinnacle of all hopes, a woman walking in the daylight--someone else that survived. Or so he thinks. These ups and downs, the playing Matheson does with Neville's emotions, makes for an engaging and suspenseful story.

Every story needs suspense, and I Am Legend is infused with it. If you've seen the movie, forget about that drivel and read the book--it's a more compelling and believable story.

Works Cited

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1995.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Move Your Pen to the Music

I have finally added a Writing Prompt to my website, and I figured it would be a good idea to post it on my blog as well. Just follow the link to find any Tips & Prompts I've written up in the past (only one past Tip at this time and the new Prompt).

I have a general update on what's going on with me below the Prompt. ;)

Writing Prompt #1 - Move Your Pen to the Music

Music effects people in different ways--it can be an emotional experience for some. For me, music has always been connected to my writing. Certain songs inspire images that come alive in my mind. A kernel of a story can blossom from a melody or lyrics. For short stories, I usually play a song or two on repeat that I feel has the mood of what I'm writing. Novels, I create an entire soundtrack.

I know, not everyone uses music in their writing, but I still suggest trying the following exercise. If anything, it will get you in touch with the emotion you need to infuse in your writing.

Pick two songs. One should be slow, without words--a classical song would likely be a good choice. The other should have more of an edge to it, can have words, be more fast paced--an alternative rock song, for example. If you do not own any of these styles of music, there are many options for radio stations on the internet.

First, listen to the classical song, and write. It doesn't matter what you write about. There doesn't need to be a plot or even a character. Let the sound of the music wash over you and write something that reflects how you currently feel. Keep going until the end of the song. Next, listen to the alternative rock song, and do the same thing. Allow the music to worm its way into your bones and release those emotions out onto the page.

Now, you have two starts (or maybe middles or ends) of something. Take a close look and compare the two. Did you have a different emotional reaction to each song? Your words should represent the mood you felt when listening to those songs.

If you can see a difference, then you've discovered a way to get yourself into a certain frame of mind depending on what you're writing. Even if you can't write to music, you can always listen to it right before you dive into that novel or short story to get your emotions percolating.

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I hope some people find the Prompt helpful. =)

So, I've been sick since last Friday. This has delayed many things on my scary To Do list. I haven't worked on Dead As Dreams since last Wednesday! Here's hoping I feel well enough this weekend to churn some more words out. My goal is to finish the current chapter I'm working on. After that, I have a first draft of a short story that needs writing. I am going to try my hand at writing a story to submit to the Speakeasy anthology. I've done some research already and have a basic idea of my main character, so we'll see how it goes. =D

I've also started the readings for my class. This term I am taking Horror Readings: Monsters. It will be a fun jaunt, looking at the reading list. I am currently reading I Am Legend. This likely means that after this post, my blog will be taken over by class essays. It's a good thing, though. This means tons of content and all about writing--well, at least discussing published novels and short stories (a couple movies too)!

So, if you only see essays and no status updates until December, don't be surprised. You can always watch my Twitter feed as far as my writing progress goes, and perhaps I'll tweet more often about other things going on.

Oh, I updated my website, if you didn't figure that out from the Writing Prompt post. I hope to keep the "What I'm Reading" on the Home page updated consistently, since I'll be reading a lot!

Happy writing, all! =)

Friday, July 30, 2010

So Ends July - August, Here I Come!

I apologize for not updating the word (and page) count on the left of my blog...or writing a blog update before now. If you have been watching my Twitter feed (also still on the left side), I've at least been keeping up with that. Sometimes, I just need to focus on one way of updating or I will spend more time updating than doing everything else that needs to get done - including writing. =P

Anyway, on with the blogging!

How did everybody do for Writing Quest - July? Close to goal, exactly at goal, surpassed the goal? If you had a setback and weren't able to reach your intended goal, don't feel guilty. Life happens, and we have a new month about to start with new goals right on the horizon. The key is to not give up. Keep plugging away (or keep torturing yourself, however you'd like to perceive it). It's what all writers have to do.

Speaking of writers and undergoing the torturous journey, I highly recommend you read the following blog post by Scott A. Johnson - The Writing Life: The Ugly Truth. Even non-writers should read it (perhaps especially non-writers, so you all know what us writers go through). It IS the ugly truth, and I think every writer has a bit of a masochist in them, since they subject themselves to these things on purpose.

Back on topic. Writing Quest - July. I managed to write about 23 pages - over 5,800 words. I am QUITE happy I wrote more than I did in June. The slow climb into productivity feels good. I wrote 9 of 31 days. Yes, there is still today and tomorrow. We'll see about today, but tomorrow I will be camping and the laptop is not coming with. 31 pages was goal, but that's all right, I was much closer to my goal than I have been in the past when making scary, crazy goals. I also discovered for the first time that I need to edit my graph in my word count spreadsheet...when it passed 50% it started to go back down. =/ We'll see if I have the patience to figure out what is wrong with the thing. It depends on how much I feel I need to see that lovely pie chart showing my progress.

I've also been keeping up with critiques this month. I didn't get a chance to revise "Love Fades" which I need to do so I can send it out.

The only thing I worry will cut back on my writing progress is my first class toward my F starts at the end of the month. Lots of reading, lots of essay writing - I'll be swamped! Fortunately, it actually bodes well as far as blogging goes because I will be posting all of my essays here. When was the last time I blogged at least once a week? ;)

July is coming to a close, though. On to August. New month, new goals! If you didn't join in last month with the Writing Quest, you're welcome to join in any month at any time. Either post your goals here, on the Facebook event wall, or Twitter about it using the tag #writingquest

I am stepping up my writing goal for Writing Quest - August. Let's see if I can get 11,500 words, or about 46 pages, written! I am going to try to write every day again, and I hope to get writing in on more than 10 days this time.

Oh, I did finally finish reading A Storm of Swords and have started in on A Feast for Crows (which will be interrupted by class). I do still enjoy some of the characters in George R. R. Martin's books, but I was kind of hoping Sansa would have met her demise by now - she grates on me to no end.

That about wraps things up for this post. Here's hoping I find time to update again mid-month (if anyone cares - ha). =) Happy writing, all!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Support Fantasist Enterprises and Fantastical Visions V Anthology!

Fantasist Enterprises needs your help! It's a great small press that strives to pay professional rates to its authors. My story "Kindled Morphogenesis" appears in Modern Magic: Tales of Fantasy and Horror, an anthology published by Fantasist.

Right now, Fantasist needs support to publish the Fantastical Visions V anthology. For more information, please click on the widget below, which will take you to their Kickstarter page. Make sure to watch the video! You can pledge as little as a dollar to help Fantasist Enterprises reach their goal.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Your Write Mind Retreat and Writing Quest July!

Hold onto your pens, this is going to be a long blog entry! The first half I will cover some things from my writing retreat and in the second half I will go into Writing Quest, previously known as the Monthly Writing Challenge.

I can summarize the retreat in one sentence: It was awesome! Yes, not descriptive, but true nonetheless. The guests included Janet Reid, Jim McCarthy, Annette Rogers, and Tina Trevaskis. Aside from getting valuable information from all of them, the dynamics of the group when they were together on a panel was priceless. I will attempt to describe some of the modules, but please forgive me if I linger on some more than others.

Janet Reid is an agent from FinePrint Literary Management and is best known as the Query Shark. If you want a chance to have your query properly torn up so you can improve it, I recommend visiting the Query Shark website on how to submit it for critique. Right before I read my query out loud in the module run by Janet Reid, I realized how flimsy and vague it was. Let's just say I have re-written my query for Mind three times in the last five days, with much help from my critique partners. The process was painful, but I think I'm a better writer for it - it also made me realize that yes, sometimes it's better for someone else to write your hook and couple paragraph summary because you are too close to your own writing and think everything is important!

Jim McCarthy is from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Jim did a wonderful job of detailing social networking for writers. Website, blog, Facebook, Twitter - all of it was covered and it's amazing how important it is in today's day and age for any writer to gain exposure and find networking opportunities. I think I am going to have to take more advantage of my Twitter account from now on and start following all those agents and editors out there (who all have great advice most times).

Annette Rogers is from Poisoned Pen Press. This press publishes mysteries (and I am trying to nudge a friend to submit - heh). Annette explored what draws readers into fiction - it was a fun and relaxed module. Even though I don't write mysteries, I thought she did a great job explaining what she looks for when she's choosing fiction to be published.

Tina Trevaskis is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Samhain Publishing. Her module covered the current trends in e-book publishing. I have always been quite leery of non-traditional publishing, but hearing what she had to say changed my mind about it drastically. I loved how she said that e-books were just another format for publishing, kind of like audio books. If only the bigger publishers would approach it that way! Some people prefer to read hardbound/paperback books, but others prefer e-books, so to gain as many readers as possible, having books in both formats would be an advantage.

I also managed to have a "pitch" session with Tina. I use the quotes since she can't actively acquire for Samhain, since she deals with the marketing side of things. It was a wonderful conversation about what I'm currently working on as well as how I intend to market myself. I guess I need to start upping my blog posts! She also told me I needed to finish Dead As Dreams. ;)

Of course the guests weren't the only amazing thing about the retreat. I was more than thrilled to reconnect with many of my writer friends, the modules run by alumni were also engaging, fun, and useful. And that fire I needed to get me going has been lit under me. The last couple days I have been busy revising my query, submitting a couple short stories, critiquing a bit (of course), and submitting a query and chapters to Samhain! Wish me luck. I think it's a publisher that would be a perfect fit for Mind, since I do have a strong romance subplot.

This leads me into wrapping up June and starting July. I only pushed out 3,500 words during the June Writing Challenge. Not my goal, but it was still 3,500 more words added to Dreams than I had written in the previous five months.

One of my writer friends suggested I do such a challenge every month. So, after talking it over with others, I decided, why the hell not! The challenge is now called Writing Quest, and will be held monthly. It will be flexible for everyone - as long as the goal is associated with writing (word count, revising, researching, etc.), come join me and others to work towards our goals. Sometimes all you need to know is that someone else is trudging alongside you to get those fingers moving. If you're on Facebook, you can find the Event for July here: Writing Quest - July. If you're not on Facebook, post your goal in the comments of my blog. =) And if you Twitter about the Writing Quest, please use #writingquest as a tag!

I know you're going to ask it. What's my goal? This month is a Butt In Chair goal for me. I am going to try to write at least one page, approximately 250 words, EVERY DAY. I need to get into the habit of writing every day, and this may be small to start with, but if I keep it up, I will have 31 pages added to Dreams by the end of the month. As a side goal, I would also like to revise "Love Fades" and send it off to a slush pile. I received several wonderful critiques, from my critique partners and people on Critters, for that short.

Oy, that was a long post. Who's still with me? Watch for a new blog post either Friday or Saturday - it will be shorter, I promise. I will be blogging about Fantasist Enterprises because they need some help to raise money to keep things going.

Until later, happy writing!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Quick Update - June Writing Challenge

Since I have slacked and did not update my word count meter until today, I figured I'd write up a quick blog post.

Yes, my word count is only at 1811 words. BUT I have not given up, and there is still plenty of the month left. Life has been a roadblock, as usual. I'm hoping I'll be able to do some catching up this weekend.

Oh, and does anyone know any good resources for glass blowing/shaping? (Don't ask - just a corner I wrote myself into and now need to write myself out of...it will likely be write now, research and fix it later - heh).

Hm, this could be my shortest blog post ever! How are YOU doing with the June Writing Challenge?

Happy writing! =D

Monday, May 31, 2010

I Have Proof!

Yesterday, I tweeted that my study was finally clean. Since today is the day before the June Writing Challenge starts, I figured it would be a good time to blog. What better way to start things out than to show proof of my efforts? After all, the study cleaning has been on my To Do List for months! I have added three pictures to this post. OK, I DID cheat a little - all the papers I needed to deal with went back into boxes, which are currently sitting out in the hall. Those boxes will be moved back into my study today, but it will not impede any writing efforts for June. =)

I also finished the first draft of "Love Fades" and have already received a couple of great critiques from my crit partners. The story has also been sent to Critters to gather a few more critiques.

I did two critiques for Critters last week, and I plan to finish another today - I wanted to be a bit ahead so I don't have a lot of pressure to critique in June.

So, as far as the writing goals on my last list, I'm doing well! Don't ask about the dishes and the rest of this messy house.... "Ode to Buses and Libraries" will also have to wait a little longer to be revised.

All I really need to do writing-wise (aside from finishing that one critique) is re-read what I have written for Dead As Dreams, which I will likely do tonight - something nice and relaxing.

I likely won't be blogging everyday during the June Writing Challenge, but I will be keeping everyone updated in various ways. I will tweet my progress each day (or multiple times a day if I have more than one writing session) - those still appear on the left side of my blog, as well as on my Facebook author page. Every few days, I will also make sure the word count goal bar (under the tweets) is updated on my blog. Perhaps I'll do a blog post every now and then, but it depends on how much time I have and how behind I get on the challenge. Wait, was that some pessimism that just sneaked in? I will not get behind on the challenge! There, that's better.

Anyway, I have some cleaning to get done, so I don't have to worry about it for the rest of the week when I'm trying to write. Happy writing all, and good luck to those challenging themselves along with me!. =D

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

June Writing Challenge

*pops in*

Yea, I'm overdue for a post again. Life does that. =)

So, what have I been up to? Aside from the normal daily tasks (chasing after the little one, destroying evil ferns in my backyard, getting angry at the PS3 for freezing a PS2 game at a certain spot so I can't play it on the PS3 anymore, etc.), I have at least done some writing related things.

Let's see. I'm critiquing about one story a week for Critters, I am signed up for the WPF Writers' Retreat and have my train tickets purchased, all short stories are in slush piles, and I sent out three more queries - the last of the agent queries for Mind (time to start in on the publishers next, but not until after the pitch session at the retreat).

I know, it doesn't sound like a lot, but it's better than nothing. My study is still a disaster and I haven't written a new word (fiction at least) yet this month. =/ All in due time, I know. Good thing is, I now have a box of Raisinets to bribe myself. =D

Anyway, I had this CRAZY idea this week. I long for the push and drive NaNoWriMo gives me to write. I NEED it, but November is too far off. Most of the TV Shows I watch with my husband are reaching their season (or series) finales, so soon there will be a bit more time in the evenings. So, there's no better time than June to start a writing challenge! Anyone want to join me in the craziness?

I was thinking, if people join me, we could all just set our own goals for writing or revising, yet try to aim for a little more than we would normally do in a month's time (or a lot more if you are crazy like me). I really need to get the rough draft of Dead As Dreams finished, so I am going to set my goal scarily high and say 39,000 words. Not quite NaNo proportions, but still pretty darn daunting. I will Twitter tag it #Junewritingchallenge for those of you who are on Twitter. =)

With that idea brewing in my head, that means I have a lot to get done before May ends, just so I don't have as much to worry about. So my goals to be done before June 1 are as follows:

- Oh study, oh study, why can't you clean yourself? - Yup, needs to get done so I can shut myself in and my husband can watch the little one when I write.
- "Love Fades" - That last scene wants to be written. Caradeci is tugging at my neurons to the point of insanity; I just need to find some time this week to get it out.
- "Ode to Buses and Libraries" revision - This one is a maybe, as it will depend on other factors and time constraints.
- Continue critiquing once a week (this week is done already - yay).
- Reread what I have written for Dead As Dreams so I know where I'm at before I delve into the crazy challenge.
- Attempt to get the house in order, so I have less to worry about in June (oh dishes, oh dishes why won't you clean yourselves (and stop piling up)?).
- Finish other non-writing projects that have been lingering on my list for ages - this will mean less worry and stress for June.
- Continue reading Storm of Swords (I've made some progress - just wait until I have a million books to read for my online course, though - ha).

That should do it. Not many days left in the month, and one day this weekend will be tied up taking my little one to the Zoo since it was too cold on Mother's Day, but I can't cut out everything fun!

So, who's with me? Anyone want to challenge themselves in June?

*pops out*

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Facebook Page

Yes, I wanted to update mid-month. So, I'm only 7 days late, right?

I now have a Facebook author page! Please click HERE to visit it - I would love it if people who Like/Fan the page would start up some discussions, as I'm always up for a good chat about writing. I now have things set up where if I post on the Facebook page, it will automatically post to Twitter as well, which is nice!

I also managed to finish the critique of the Monster Manuscript. After doing so, I found myself with nothing to critique. So, what did I do? Yea, I re-joined Critters. ONLY for short stories, though. My lovely critique partners churn out the novels, and I am quite happy to critique them, but they don't dabble with short stories, so I figured I should keep my mind honed when it comes to those as well, since I do write some occasionally. Even though I'll be sending shorts to Critters for critique, my crit partners better not think they won't see them as well! =D

No, this doesn't mean I've finished the rough draft of "Love Fades" or revised "Ode" - the former will hopefully happen this weekend.

My website has also been updated - that was a long afternoon project. Fixed some errors and the like. If anyone has any suggestions (aside from adding to the Tips & Prompts or Chronicles - I know I need to do that) for things to add or subtract from my website, please let me know!

As far as pursuing my MFA goes, I am supposedly registered for one online class that starts in Fall. I say supposedly, only because I had to do it via e-mail since I never received registration info...and I still haven't received the other things I was told I would. I'm not sure what's going on, but if I don't hear anything within the next week, I'll likely be sending another e-mail.

I think that's about all today. I feel a bit pressured for time - the little one is napping, and I have about 100 other things on my To Do List. =/ Makes me less chatty - heh.

Happy writing, all!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm Posting! April Fools! Oh, That's Tomorrow?

Yea, been almost two months. Guess I can't play the April Fools' Day I'm posting but really not joke - huh? *mutters* I should have waited until tomorrow! ;)

Anyhow, things have been slow going, per the norm as of late. I was sick for a week, and that also included my little one (she's 2-years-old now, as of last Friday - where did the time go!?) and my husband. There were also a couple weeks of extremely stressful, not sure what's going on, brain doesn't want to turn on until the issue is resolved time. I won't go into the details because I'd likely get upset all over again, and that's no good for me and my productivity. Needless to say, that situation has been resolved, and I am a little more at ease. Another weekend was spent up north at my in-laws, as my father-in-law was in the hospital. It hasn't been a good two months for crossing off things on the evil To Do List.

So, you likely guessed it - I haven't managed to get anything written. I did read through the old critiques of "Ode to Buses and Libraries" as well as re-read the story. I pretty much know what I need to do to revise, I just haven't been able to get around to it. I also have been chugging through a long critique. As of yesterday, I only have 75 pages left!

I did finally write up my Scholar's Discount essay and send that in, along with my acceptance. Things are still up in the air, though, since I haven't received confirmation yet if I can take the one online class at a time the next two terms and still receive the discount. My fingers are crossed because there is no way in hell I'll have time to eat, sleep, or breathe if I have to take 3 online courses and a writing term all at once.

Unless I am pretty much forced into starting my first residency this June, I intend to go to the WPF Retreat this year. It's been two years since I've gone! The retreat is open to non-graduates of the Writing Popular Fiction program as well, so I made sure to put the link in if anyone else might be interested in attending. As always, there are pitch sessions, which are always good, whether they make me nervous or not.

Forgive me for a moment, for I am about to put my usual pessimism aside. Today is a gorgeous day here. The sun is shining, I have a lot of the windows open in the house, and it's the first day of the year where the temperature has reached 70 degrees (it's 75 here according to weather.com!). Yesterday I saw a robin hopping around in the back yard - that's always been my sure sign that spring is finally here. I'm in a decent mood, and I intend to take my daughter to the park after I post this blog entry. I'm hoping, nay I'm determined, that this mood will follow me for the rest of the year.

Will I get any writing done today? No, but that's all right - a new month starts tomorrow, and I intend to make the most of it. I will scratch things off of that To Do List (actually both lists, the one for writing and the one for other things...).

With that determination and optimism (yes, so unlike me), here are my Writing Goals for April:

- Clean the cursed study so I can use it! And while I'm at it, try to figure out which herb decided to hop around all the other pots and take over everything....
- Finish critiquing Cheryl's monster manuscript. ;)
- Finish the rough draft of "Love Fades".
- Write at least one more chapter for Dead as Dreams - I am under-shooting this time, so if I get more written, I'll feel good about myself - lol.
- Revise "Ode to Buses and Libraries".
- Update my Website, and perhaps create a Facebook page (would anyone Fan me?).
- Get those stories back into slush piles! Before I knew it, all the ones I sent out are back and waiting to go out into the world again (to be stomped on most likely - sorry, can't scrub out all of my pessimism).
- 3 Agent Queries for Mind, if I can find 3 more agents to query - I have nearly exhausted that list.
- Blog mid-month! =)
- Continue reading Storm of Swords - I'm slowly plodding through.

Small steps for me in April. I need to get back into a groove, and the spring weather should help me with that!

I intend to encourage my little one's love of books consistently as well. I'm just hoping she'll sit quietly for the story time at the public library. She's fine at home, but she also insists on turning the pages herself, or she gets upset. =P

Well, I think it's time to wrap this post up and go out to soak up a bit of that sunshine. Happy writing, all!