Thursday, July 23, 2009

It Could Have Been A Zombie Story!

It's true - my initial submission to the MIDNIGHT WALK anthology was a zombie musketeer story. Yeah, even I have to smile when I think about it, but that's the honest truth. "All For One & Dead For All" wasn't quite ready for primetime and was rejected.

As an unofficial "zombie guy", it was almost a relief to not have another undead story published. I can write other things within the world of horror, honest.

Not one to take an ass whippin' lightly, I dug through the files and settled on a second effort, which turned out to be the "Late Check-in" ghost story. It was received with open arms, and actually sparked my decision to remain within the realm of fearful spirits with my upcoming bloody haunted house novel, THE BUTCHER BRIDE.

And good thing "Late Check-in" was accepted. My next best option was a zombie porno piece.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

But what is it REALLY about?

Somewhere in between the time I first get a notion for a story - be it an image, a dream, a fragment in something I've read - and when I actually sit down to write, I ask myself the single most important question in the writing process:

What is this story really about?

Take, for example, "Diana and the Goong-si", my story from MIDNIGHT WALK. It would have been easy to dismissively say, "It's about the fact that I love Hong Kong's hopping vampire movies, and thought it would totally rule to set a hopping vampire tale in the time of Dracula." Perhaps that wouldn't be a bad story; in somebody else's hands, it might even be better. Who knows.

But for me it wasn't enough. The story needed to be about something, be it a strong emotional hook or even a sociopolitical subtext. Because I knew this would be a long piece, I decided to go for both (and it was interesting how they ended up meshing). For the emotional pull, I made my protagonist a strong woman who is filling a traditional male role - that of an adventurer in search of a lost love. I realized I could play with that notion in a number of ways, exploiting not just Diana's yearning and grief, but I could also let her be slightly transgressive by putting her in (necessary) drag at one point. Some time after I'd finished the story, I would occasionally find myself thinking, What would Diana do in this situation? The character has lived on past the story for me, always a good sign.

But beyond Diana was something else that began pricking at my consciousness, something about the 19th century setting and a voyage that encompassed numerous British ports, and that was the notion of colonialism (or imperialism). When I was a kid, I'd see movies where some WASP-y protagonist would laughingly teach some native assistant English, and I'd think, That's such bullshit - why isn't Mr. Englishman learning the native's language? In the 18th and 19th century, the British went far beyond mere whimsy in their domination of foreign cultures; read a few historical accounts of massacres, slave labor and enforced drug trade in India and China, and quaint notions of wise and benevolent empire fall by the wayside pretty quickly.

Was it sheer coincidence that I was also pondering America's role as an empire over the last 10 years? Well...

So I had Diana's character and a commentary on imperialism suddenly burrowing into this story, and - as I mentioned above - it wasn't long before they began to intertwine, as Diana discovered her own unease with her country's ruthlessness, adding even more to her emotional turmoil.

With those elements in place, the story virtually wrote itself for me (thank you, story!).

And yes, this philosophy serves me well on other work as well. I was, for example, recently invited into a new zombie anthology, and told that the parameters of the story had to include the traditional Romero zombie tropes: Flesheating corpses that must be shot in the head, etc. etc. I could probably have thrown together a fairly typical zombie action shoot-'em-up pretty quickly, but I wanted something else. I thought about what I'd be like in a post-zombie apocalypse world - alone, scared, barely surviving - and I realized I'd also be very lonely. So my story, "Joe and Abel in the Field of Rest", became a story about loneliness and some of the many forms of love. The story will be out later this year in the book THE DEAD THAT WALK, edited by Stephen Jones.

I hope some of you will tell me what you think these stories are really about. Your answer might be very different from mine, and that will make me very happy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So How Did I Get Here Anyway?

I feel compelled to answer my own version of R. B. Payne's question from his earlier post on June 27, 2009: "Why horror?" For me, though, it wasn't other people asking me this; rather it was a question I asked myself.

While my friend R. B. was busy with his science fiction, I had my nose deep into crime fiction. The darker, more hard-boiled it was, the better. Even true crime caught my attention frequently enough. But never once did I think I would be writing within the realm of horror. In fact the very first novel I wrote was a crime novel. Come to think of it, the whole thing was a crime in and of itself, something I filed away deep into a box somewhere hoping never to see it again, yet unable to completely cast away the noble effort it took for me to write it.

It actually wasn't until my early adulthood that I was introduced to horror in any and all media. But when I started reading tales of the supernatural, dark fantasy, speculative fiction, non-gore horror, I found a world that I absolutely loved. To me, there was nothing more mysterious, not even a crime or mystery novel, than these sub-genres of "what-if" horror.

Funny thing is, my husband was the one whom we always expected to be published on the horror front. Yet he chose to set his horrors within the framework of a crime novel (An Occasional Dream) and was fortunate to be published by the wonderful gents, Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender, at UglyTown, a crime fiction publisher who has since, unfortunately, closed its doors.

So, the horror writer all of a sudden became a crime writer (though not for long as horror will always circulate through his veins), and the crime writer all of a sudden became a horror writer (where she will most likely stay).

And they lived happily ever after.