Facing Monsters

This week, many of us will be visited by an assortment of monsters coming to our doors to politely ask for treats. It’s likely we’ll see zombies, vampires, assorted creations of Dr. Frankenstein, and perhaps even some scary clowns. Many of us will also watch scary movies featuring these same monsters, or settle into a comfy chair to read a spooky book.

So, why exactly do these monsters hold sufficient power over us that we still devote an unofficial holiday to them? I think it’s safe to say most of us don’t believe we’re hiding from evil spirits by dressing up. Most of us have access to food and housing and despite the fears many politicians would like to instill in us with help from the media, we are, on the whole, pretty safe.

I came across a fascinating article at PBS.org that addresses the question of why we fear monsters by Leo Braudy. If you want to read it, you can find it at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/column-well-always-obsess-fear-monsters

In the article, Braudy suggests that societal changes over the last couple of centuries have given rise to five monstrous archetypes. I’ve had some fun thinking about how the monsters from my novels might fit into these groups. The titles are links and you can click on them to learn more about the books.

The monster from nature represents forces humans think they’ve harnessed but haven’t. The monster I’ve written that fits that best would be “He Who Kills With His Eyes” from The Astronomer’s Crypt. He’s an ancient Native American elemental spirit released from his prison on the story’s hapless observatory and is very much kin to monsters like Godzilla or the shark from Jaws.

The created monster represents our own creations turning against us. The super soldier vampires of Vampires of the Scarlet Order represent this danger. Scientists use nanites to create these monsters who represent a danger not only to humanity but to parallel worlds.

The monster from the past represents a creature from our pagan past who challenges our Judeo-Christian beliefs. Braudy suggests Dracula is an example of this. My Scarlet Order vampires from Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order do have elements of this in that they have great strength and immortality without recourse to a deity. The ghosts in The Astronomer’s Crypt might be better examples of this in that they haven’t moved on to heaven or hell and they gain strength from the release of dark forces.

The monster from within represents our own repressed, dark psychology. The duality of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic example, but I think my Scarlet Order vampires are good examples of this as well, especially in Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order where Alexandra and Draco must face the monsters they’ve become in becoming vampires.

The monster hoard which is the mindless, intractable collection of monsters such as zombies. For this, I’m actually going to turn to my steampunk works. The hive mind Legion and those humans Legion controls and connects in Owl Dance have certain zombie-like properties. At the very least, they represent giving oneself over to the collective like the Star Trek’s Borg.

So, what’s your favorite monster? Which of these archetypes does it fall into, or does it defy classification?

Hope you have a happy and safe Halloween and the only monsters you face are fictional ones.

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Visiting a Creative Writing Class

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit my daughter’s high school creative writing class. The teacher had the students read my short story “The Zombie Shortage” from the anthology Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie. I followed that by coming into the class and talking about my process for writing short stories and how I put that into practice with “The Zombie Shortage”. As I pointed out to the class, there are exceptions to all of these ideas, but these are things that have worked for me.

Edgar Allan Poe

Write the story in a single sitting. Back in high school, I was introduced to Edgar Allan Poe’s statement that a short story is a story that can be read in a single sitting. A few years later, I came to realize that if I expect a reader to read a story in a single sitting, I should endeavor to write a story in a single sitting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I write a finished, polished story all at once, but at least I do my best to get a draft down in one sitting. Indeed, my most successful stories—meaning the ones that have sold for the most money or I’ve received the most positive feedback on—have all been written this way.

Focus on one coherent theme and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. Again, the source of this idea is Edgar Allan Poe. The part about focusing on one theme is probably the part most people might question, but again, I’ve found my most satisfying stories do that. The problem of the story is laid out in the first paragraph and a satisfying conclusion is reached by the end. Now, a satisfying conclusion doesn’t necessarily mean a “happy ending.” It just means wrap things up so your reader feels like they’ve read a complete story and not a chapter in a longer work.

Ray Bradbury

Visualize your story. There are various techniques for this. When I met Ray Bradbury, shown here in a photo by Alan Light, he talked about visualizing as he wrote—following the characters and seeing what they did and where they went. Some people today talk about this as writing “by the seat of your pants.” For me that’s not the most effective way to work. I find I like to visualize a story before I begin. I like to get to know it well and think of the characters as real people in a real situation before I sit down to write. I like to see the setting and I write based on things I know.

Practice. When I first heard Ray Bradbury talk thirty years ago, he likened writing to shooting baskets. You have to do it a lot to get good at it. You shoot and miss a lot. Eventually swish you get the ball in the basket. The more you do it, the more that happens. For me, the most successful stories have indeed felt much the same as a ball going through a basket. I haven’t really had doubt they were successful stories. Nevertheless, the lesson here is to practice and keep practicing until you get there.

Finally, while I have “The Zombie Shortage” on my mind, I just learned that the collection Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie is now out in paperback! Here’s the link for it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Zombiefied-Anthology-All-Things-Zombie/dp/0615910270/