Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Bleak Fiction

The British Fantasy Society recently posted David Brzeski's review of The Hoard, which was positive excepting the two caveats that it was a bit too revolting and too bleak for the reviewer's taste. My guess is that he phrased it as an issue of taste because while no one ever says, "The characters in that book were so thin and unbelievable. I loved it!" but someone might say, "That book was so bleak. I loved it!" Knowing that a lot of horror fans enjoy violence and a dark tone, my joking announcement on Facebook was, "To summarize: good, but maybe a bit too revolting and bleak. I'll take it!"

*Between the writing and posting of this post, The Ginger Nuts of Horror also described The Hoard as a "seriously bleak book."*

But it did get me thinking. I realized that I've never written a novel that started with the characters in a happy place. Writing something bleak throughout really isn't a point of pride with me. I'd just never considered it, and I think of myself as a writer who puts a lot of consideration into his writing. So what's up with this?

Like I said, it's not a point of pride. I really enjoy a good tale of existential woe, say a Russian misery-fest from Dostoevsky. But I also enjoy lighter work. And yet, as far as my long fiction goes, everyone's pretty much miserable throughout. This doesn't mean everyone is straight-faced and dour. I think the humor is an important aspect of relaying the richness of the human experience, and most of my characters display at least gallows humor. But the details of their lives are always depressing.

To paraphrase the last episode of Flight of the Conchords, "Our story is the story of two guys who start at the bottom, with a lot of hard work continue along the bottom and finally end up at the bottom."

"Well, that sounds cheery. A real rags-to-rags story."

So if it's not a conscious choice, then the next logical possibility is that it's the unconscious expression of my worldview. But I swear I'm a positive person! I like to say I'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist but a realist, but that's bull shit. I am an optimist. I'm the rare anxiety-ridden person who doesn't worry. I just always assume things will work out. And so far it has, so maybe I am a realist.

I can't even say it's a manifestation of my subconscious beliefs of the requirements of the horror genre, because I've written two non-horror novels and they were both rags-to-rags stories, too.

So, while I feel like I'm pretty self-actualized and good at analyzing myself, I'm really quite stumped. Even the two novels and two novellas I have in the works are bleak from the get-go. I think they're good. I'm neither pro- nor anti-bleak. But it does point at least to something I haven't explored with my fiction.

Now that I'm all fat and sleek and satisfied with myself like an over-fed house cat, maybe it's time to tell some stories where the characters have it all before it gets snatched away. I could build them up so they have farther to fall when I knock them down. Mr. Brzeski said that he prefers for the characters to have "little light in the darkness for the heroes to strive for." He has a point. In The Hoard, I specifically point out that the only way the protagonist is able to make it in the world is by keeping his head down and plodding ahead. If Peter were to think too hard about his situation, he might decide to just lay down and die.

I think it could be fun to play God with Job, take someone who has a good life and make a bet with the Devil that this man won't break, but without the certainty of omniscience. In horror, it's okay to break your protagonist.

Now I just need to remember all this when it comes time to start a new project. It's easy to fall into old habits, especially one that's apparently so ingrained that I didn't even see it, the same way I don't see the air and a fish doesn't see water. I like to try something new with every piece of fiction. It's odd that starting from a happy place and going all Thomas Hardy on someone's ass will be new.

Seriously, what does that say about me?

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Should Act Surprised...

...that I'm the Next Big Thing, but you all know me, so I won't bother with the pretenses.

Much thanks to James Everington for nominating me for this prestigious award. I feel that each member of the Abominable Gentlemen is potentially the Next Big Thing, though that might be a bit too tame a description for the horrors we plan to unleash upon an unsuspecting world. Maybe the Next Originator of an Extinction Level Event Proceeding Not Only Into the Future but Also Into the Past Reducing the Entire Fourth Dimension to a Single Point of Eternal Pain... Award.

What's the working title of your next book?
The Giant's Dolls

Where did the idea for the book come from?
It was inspired by the combination of a prompt and a theory. The prompt I found in the job ads years ago. The ad was for a hair stylist to work at an American Girl store. If you don't know, American Girl sell very upscale dolls, and the idea is for little girls to be able to make a doll that looks and dresses just like themselves. I guess a part of that is giving the doll the little girl's hairstyle. I just thought of how weird that would be, to go to school to cut people's hair, and then to end up cutting doll hair for rich children.

I mashed that up with a theory that I have that serial killers are the least interesting villains (yes, it goes beyond opinion to theory because I am able to talk for a long time about it). I think that evil is acting with a lack of empathy. By that definition, serial killers are pure evil, as they are sociopaths incapable of feeling empathy. Boring. What's interesting is a normal person pushed to act without empathy. Road rage. Reaction to a family member getting hurt. Racism or any other sort of prejudice that leads to the creation of an other who can be viewed as less than human and thus hurt guiltlessly. Normal people committing evil acts and what drives them to those acts, that's interesting. Understanding how you could be driven to the same extreme point and thus finding the evil inside yourself, the primate only capable of naturally empathizing with a pack of a hundred, but forced to interact with that many new people every day. That's interesting.

Serial killers? Boooooooring. There's no way to connect on an emotional level. ("Oh, but he's got a really cool theme. He cuts off their pinky toes and sews them into--" "SHUT UP!")

So I wanted to tell a serial killer story where the serial killer was not only the least interesting but least important part, and the people on the periphery are made central to the story, and their fascinating stories draw the reader in.

What genre does the book fall under?

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The doll stylist would be played by Ellen Page,

the day nurse by Catherine Keener,

the night nurse by Ben Foster,

the giant is a tough one, because there aren't a lot of guys with both the size and the chops to play the role. Though Tyler Mane isn't quite bulky enough, his costume could be padded, and he's just the right height, and he's a talented actor. His portrayal of Michael Myers in the mental institution in the Rob Zombie reboot is pretty close to what I'm thinking. Imagine Michael Myers creating dolls instead of paper mache masks.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
This novella should end up being published by DarkFuse, unless they don't like it. My deadline is coming up soon, but I'm trying to get a second novella written so that they can have their choice.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About a month. Basically October 2012.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I can't compare it to anything within the horror genre because I've never read a horror novel-in-stories. The book has four perspective characters, but they aren't cycled around. Each character has one section. Except for the first, they can't stand on their own, and there is a story arc, which is why I would describe it as a novella-in-stories rather than a collection of connected stories. Trailerpark by Russell Banks would be a good comparison.

My initial literary inspiration was Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, especially given that one of the perspective characters is mentally disabled. However, I chose not to go with first person but a close third, so it's not nearly as challenging a read.

Before long I realized I was telling a story a lot like the movie The Dead Girl (not the zombie movie, but the amazing Brittany Murphy movie). I think the writer/director Karen Moncrieff must feel the same way about serial killers that I do.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Well, besides the inspirations listed above, there's the fact that I get the feeling that Shane Staley and Greg Gifune at DarkFuse enjoy my literary leanings, so I wanted to give them something a little less mainstream than The Hoard. I feel like The Hoard succeeds on both the level of a thriller and a character-driven book, but I wanted to give them something really different. Then, being a neurotic, I worried that The Giant's Dolls is TOO different, so I'm writing as fast as I can (which is the exact same pace of 1000-2000 words a day I always write) on a back-up novella.

What else about this book might pique people's interest?
I'm 99% sure it will be printed on legal tender.

Who's the Next Big Thing?
I think everyone knows it's the hardest working man in poebiz, Barry Napier.

Here's a review of The Hoard from the fine people at Turning the Pages: "I was so engrossed in reading this book that I was able to finish reading it in one night."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Hoard Happenings

So, as the nieces say, things have been a bit “cray-cray” recently (to be fair, I did teach them that phrase). The Hoard is out, and it’s been doing very well. Despite its competition having just had Halloween sales, it invaded the Amazon horror top 100 for a couple of days. Though it hadn’t been out for a full week, it was DarkFuse’s #1 seller for the week of 10/29-11/4 (though I don't expect to be able The Hoard to hang there like some of these other books have). And so far, the reviews have been very positive. I recently read it myself, and I loved it!

If you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff, DarkFuse posted an article I wrote about what inspired The Hoard, and HorrorNews.net posted an interview concerning The Hoard and my writing in general. And if you haven’t gotten enough of my loud-mouthed views concerning the horror genre here at Pulling Teeth, you can check out this guest post at Fresh Fiction, where I explain why horror should be read every month of the year, not just October.

Oh, you haven’t purchased The Hoard yet? Well here are some links: Amazon, Amazon UK, B&N. Currently, the e-version is only available through Amazon.

Check out these tempting typewriter / usb keyboards.   From the site:

USB Typewriter offers a line of antique typewriters that also work as computer keyboards. I also offer a kit so you can convert your own typewriter to USB. The kits are categorized by brand, but if you don't see your brand of typewriter, just ask.

Fantastic! I actually learned how to type on a typewriter. I was probably in one of the last classes at my high school to do so. Granted, they were electric typewriters, but I practiced at home on a mechanical typewriter. I remember there being a certain feeling of momentum. I’m tempted to get one of the easy-install kits.

Have you heard of the DarkFuse Kindle club? It kicks massive ass (wut?). I purchased it a few months back. It’s really fun to receive a notice that there’s a new horror novel or novella available for download to my Kindle. It's a nice change from the continuous deluge of spam that I can't bring myself to take the time to unsubscribe from. Besides the 12 featured novels and 12 featured novellas, they regularly send out free books unexpectedly, so it’s like 70 bucks for 40 books over the course of a year. ANYWAY, they’ve got a gift deal going on where you buy someone a subscription, and you get 5 free books yourself. Get the horror-fan in your life a Christmas present and get something for yourself in the process. Ahhh, the true spirit of Winter Gift Holiday.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

October Reads

Falconer by John Cheever
Another off the 100 Best Modern  list. A very enjoyable and quick read.

Trinity by Kristin Dearborn
A good debut, and fun take on aliens.

My Fake War by Andersen Prunty

The Fleshless Man by Norman Prentiss

I Want it Now! A Memoir of Life on the Set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Julie Dawn Cole
Very charming. The pacing is a bit odd, as Julie covers her Wonka experience in great detail but her post-Wonka life very quickly.

Run by Blake Crouch

Gardens of Night by Greg Gifune
Entertaining and moving.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
As good as I remember.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
No, I'd never read this before. I'm just now getting into sci-fi. Except for Dune, which I've read like 6 times.

Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K. Dick
Terminal-Computingpunk. I use the term to mock the inaccurate suffixing of -punk onto non-punk genres, but the effect here is cool.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The definition of new maximalism, and yet there was so much good in it that I loved it anyway.

Alien Sea by John Rackham
A very fun, quick read. Big on ideas, lacking in execution, but I enjoyed it.

Unhallowed Ground by Daniel Mills
Pitch-perfect period piece.

Apartment Seven by Greg Gifune
A good horror read for the coming Christmas season.

Stripping Down by Sheila Hageman
This contains almost every memoir cliche, but for the most part, its earnestness manages to counteract the problems. The only cliche it can't overcome is its complete humorlessness, which makes it read like the literary version of My So Called Life or Party of Five, in which no one ever smiles or cracks a joke, making it impossible for the author to portray the richness of life.