Welcome back to the graveyard. Since this year, we end our Halloween Edition on Halloween, it’s only fitting we conclude with a horror classic in both film and literature. Grab your crucifixes, practice your crab walk, and get ready for a pea soup barrage, as we examine the basis for the most frightening film of all time- William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.
The elderly priest Father Merrin, a veteran of past exorcisms, uncovers evidence in Iraq that a new confrontation with evil awaits him. Simultaneously in Washington D.C., Chris McNeil is filming a movie when strange occurrences began to surround her daughter Regan. Regan’s bed literally begins to shake, odd noises are heard in the house, and Regan herself begins to change, becoming angry and withdrawn, and using previously unheard of profanity. Chris believes the changes are due to her divorce, but as Regan fails to respond to conventional medicine, and the changes start becoming horrifyingly physical, Chris believes that her daughter is possessed.
Father Karras, a priest/counselor is sought out by Chris. Karras is undergoing his own crisis of faith, and at first will only see Regan as a therapist. But his sessions also convince him of possession, and he implores the local bishop for permission to perform an exorcism. However, the bishop assigns Merrin, who is more experienced, but allows Karras to assist. They begin a lengthy and draining exorcism, which eventually kills the older Merrin. Karras then forces the demon into his own body and throws himself out the window, killing himself. His last moments are as he responds to a fellow priest giving the last rites.
What Writers Can Learn: Build Up, Use of Imagery
Widely regarded as one of the staples of horror, The Exorcist is not only powerful because of its frights, but it is also prime examples of two powerful writing tools. The first is its excellent use of build up. The possession is set up beautifully throughout the novel. Father’s Merrin’s early excursions are hinted at and we get our first sense that a greater evil is coming. But the character of Regan is where the buildup truly takes place. We are introduced to a child that is happy, loved, and by all examples, an innocent. Then the changes start. We see the innocence fade away, replaced sullenness and distance. As the possession grows, we see this happy child letting out profanities that would terrify a Navy sailor. Regan is jerked around by the horrific physical possession, from her room being tossed around, to the infamous crabwalk down the stairs. As she grows sicker, her body and face becoming twisted and horrible, we are revolted by the transformation. But no matter how much we see, how much we may think that we’ve seen the worst, there is always something around the corner to horrify us further.
That leads into our second point- the use of imagery. Obviously, the film makes tremendous use of imagery. Regan is whipped around her bed, and we see her face become yellow and scarred, her body become emaciated. We hear her voice become dark and terrifying. But while the film will also work beautifully as a visual medium, the descriptions in the book are equally terrifying.
The book describes in detail certain Satanic practices, including the vilification of holy items. These are often described as sexual in nature, and it is no wonder the book caused controversy. The idea of holy implements being misused is disturbing for anyone with religious beliefs to envision, and perhaps even to those without. But there is a particular scene in the book that is impossible to forget. While I cannot fully describe it here, it involves the possessed Regan and the use of a crucifix. The scene is horrifying on several levels. It indicates the level on control the demon has over Regan, and how much she has changed. It shows the disregard and misuse of holy artifacts, and makes us wonder just how much power that evil really has. And most of all, when we imagine a child be misused and changed to this extent, one thought that comes across our mind is ‘why.’ But here, there is no why, no answer. It is a reminder of the randomness of evil and that no one, not even the innocent, are safe from its impact. It is a scene that resonates on so many levels, and while it may be difficult to imagine, it was included in the film. Because sometimes, the images that disturb us, are the ones that affect us the most.
Obviously, the film version is well worth a watch, but its sequels are hit and miss. Its immediate sequel, The Heretic is considered one of the worst films ever made, but the third film, directed by author William Peter Blatty, is a much more competent supernatural crime story. There are also two prequels focusing on Father Merrin, but they are not worth examining. There is also The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby which also focus on demonic children. Blatty himself has several other novels, including Legion and Elsewhere, for more supernatural chills.
And with that, we close up the graveyard for another year. But we’ll be back again… won’t we? Happy Halloween!
Welcome back to the graveyard. But today, we’re venturing past the cemetery gates into someplace new. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of a mind. A world between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his imagination. Today, we examine the television classic that is Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.
Rod Serling grew up as a fan of pulp magazines. But as an adult, he was fascinated by stories about heavier topics- society, racism, government, and human nature itself. Prior to the creation of Zone, Serling was already a major television name, having written several dramas, but also criticizing the limitations TV forced upon him (such as not being to discuss current events in his political drama The Arena). Eventually, Serling was able to produce a special called The Time Element, which dealt with a man’s dreams of time travel becoming real. The special was well received, and Serling was able to work out a deal with CBS to create an anthology series. Serling himself hosted each episode, and wrote or adapted most of the stories, which in general were science fiction, but usually functioned on commentary on humanity and the issues of the day. Fueled by tales from sci-fi writers like Ray Bradbury, George Mattheson, and Charles Beaumont, the original series ran for five seasons, producing 156 episodes, two reboot series, and a film.
What Writers Can Learn- Short Story Writing, Commentary
One of the reasons Twilight Zone has lasted for so long is that it is an endless generator of stories. Being an anthology, each episode brought in new characters, new plots and new devolpments. While this obviously made the writers constantly seek out new material, it also meant they weren’t bound by any rules concerning continuity, and could do what they wanted each week. Not only did this allow for them to bring various authors to contribute, it also let them take different scenarios and topics, all while staying under the umbrella of the Zone. So for writers interested in short stories, this is of one of TV’s best examples of different stories that can function as a whole- the basis of all great short story collections.
However, the stories themselves are what gives Twilight Zone its staying power. As mentioned before, Serling had an interest in stories with consequences, and his show proved that even the best sci-fi and horror could still have a point for readers. There are countless examples of Serling’s messages, but for the sake of brevity, we will list a few classics.
- The Monsters are on Maple Street- a neighborhood block is cut off from the town, and as the power blinks on and off, neighbors accuse and turn on each other. But it is all a plot by aliens, to show how easily humans panic and how simple it will be to divide and conquer.
- It’s a Good Life- a town is terrorized by a monster- a freckle faced eight year old boy, with the power to read minds and force unspeakable horrors onto anyone he chooses.
- One For The Angels- a less then stellar salesman manages to outwit Death, but when another is chosen to take his place, he has to make the sale of a lifetime to take his spot back.
- Death’s Head Revisited- a former SS officer returns to Dachau to recall his ‘glory days.’ But he is tormented and killed by the ghosts of the inmates.
- Four O’Clock- a paranoid man claims to have built a device that will shrink the evil of the world to nothing. But at the chime of the hour, only the man vanishes.
- The Changing of the Guard- an elderly English professor is forced into retirement, and feeling his life had no meaning, decides to kill himself. But he is visited by the spirits of former students, who assure him that his lessons made them into better men.
- He’s Alive- the leader of a small neo-Nazi group is visited by a shadow that shows him how to enthrall a crowd. The leader thinks himself invincible, but he is shot by the police after committing murder- and the familiar, mustached shadow leaves to find another candidate.
There are several more episodes of the original Twilight Zone to look through for inspiration, running the full range of moral science fiction. Those interested in more modern tellings would do well to examine the show’s underrated 1980’s revival (though the late 2000’s revival is generally inferior for fans). Serling’s work can also be seen on the similar minded Night Gallery which focused on horror and fantasy with Serling again acting as host and script contributor. So enter into the Zone but remember the graveyard will still be here next week for one last tale.
Welcome to the graveyard once again. This year was a sad one for horror fans, as we lost one of the genre’s great creative minds- Wes Craven. While he created many diverse films like The Last House on the Left, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, and Shocker, Craven will be remembered most for his horror satire Scream, and his crowning achievement, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the birth film of slasher icon and dream killer, Freddy Krueger. Therefore, today’s entry will pay tribute to one of Craven’s more unique films, which took some chances with his most iconic creation- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
Heather Langenkamp, the actress famous as the heroine of the Elm Street series, is dealing with a stalker calling and pretending to be Freddy. But then more and more strange and terrible incidents plague the actress- her husband is killed on the set of a film revealed as a new Elm Street entry, her son begins to act strangely, and say that Freddy is coming after him in is dreams (despite never seeing the films), and earthquakes rock Los Angeles. Eventually, Heather begins to dream of a larger, more terrifying Freddy, and goes to Wes Craven himself. Craven explains that he believes Freddy is a type of demon, which can be captured by storytellers. But ‘Freddy’ has escaped, due to the story being watered down, and is coming after Heather because she portrayed the one person that could stop Freddy. Craven even reveals that his new script, drawn from his dreams, has paralleled the events of the film word for word, and that the only chance to destroy the demon, and save her son, is for Heather to resume her role and defeat ‘Freddy’ one last time.
What Writers Can Learn: Reality vs. Fantasy, ‘Meta’
New Nightmare is regarded by many as a prelude to the Scream series, as both deal with horror films ‘invading’ the real world. However, New Nightmare has many other elements that make it more revenant to fans of Freddy Kreuger. For example, the demon Freddy is supposedly released when the story of Elm St. is watered down or told too many times. Craven himself has often said he dislikes how the series turned Freddy into a more jokey killer and less of a cold blooded killer, so it is easy to view the film as Craven’s small stab at studio interference. Even Freddy’s scarier design is more in line with Craven’s original vision. But on a more serious note, Heather Langenkamp experienced a stalker in real life (ironically, from her sitcom Just the Ten of Us) and actually left the country to escape said stalker. There are also moments that combine elements of both themes- Heather on a talk show being overshadowed (and somewhat exasperated) by the appearance of the jokey Freddy. It gives the film a true ‘meta’ appeal- that it appeals to more then one level of viewer, which makes more enjoyable by those in the know.
However, another great strength of the film is its blending of reality and fantasy. While the films had previously concerned dreams overlapping reality, this one concerns film overlapping reality. As it progresses, we see more elements come into play from the films- there are ‘kills’ that ape deaths from the films, Heather’s hair develops a white streak from the fear in her dreams as her character did, and even lines from the movie begin creeping into Heather’s speech. However, the climatic moment occurs when ‘Freddy’ begins clawing his way up from under the bed. Outside, Heather is arguing over the events with John Saxon, who played her father in the films. As they argue, Heather realizes that Saxon has become his character, and that their surroundings have morphed into the film set. As Saxon quotes his lines to her, ‘Freddy’ pauses in his escape and looks on, as if he is waiting for something. Heather takes a deep breath, and says her lines from the film, which allows ‘Freddy’ to emerge. It is symbolic of both Heather accepting her role, and her gateway into the fantasy realm. It is a trick that writers interested in multiple worlds and in writing good heroes, should take note of. It not only serves to establish a hero, it also firmly establishes the different worlds and makes it clear when we have moved from one to the other. It also serves as the gateway to the final fight, where the hero, having suffered and learned along the way, is finally ready to face down her adversary.
The films mentioned above would serve those interested in Craven’s work, as well as the Scream series. For fans interested in Freddy, Nightmare on Elm St encompasses six films of varying quality (1 and 3 are favorites, while the others are regarded as hit and miss), and a remake which tries to expand on Freddy’s origins, but just rehashes the murder scenes again and again. But try to get some sleep before next week- we still have more graves to dig up.
Welcome back to the graveyard, as today, we continue Halloween Month by entering one of the most famous haunted houses in literature. From the mind of Shirley Jackson, come a landmark in horror literature and film- The Haunting of Hill House.
Dr. John Montague rents out Hill House, a crumbling mansion with a dark history, in the hopes of uncovering scientific evidence of the supernatural. He brings with him three guests- Theodora, a young artist, Luke Sanderson, the heir to the mansion, and Eleanor, a recluse just emerging from years of caring for her mother. Both Theodora and Eleanor have had supernatural incidents in their past, and it is hoped their presence will spark something within the house. And indeed strange events do soon follow- noises are heard throughout the night, writing appears on the wall, and Eleanor begins to act stranger and stranger, saying she finds a kinship with the house (though it is implied she is becoming mentally unstable). After she endangers herself, Dr. Montague feels that Eleanor must leave for her own safety. While unwilling at first, Eleanor eventually starts to drive away from Hill House, but then her car slams into a tree, killing her. The reader is left to wonder if her actions were suicidal, or if Hill House truly did leave it’s dark touch upon her.
What Writers Can Learn- Perception, Subtlety,
Hill House stands as one of horror literature’s greatest works, and for good reason. In many ways, it flips the greatest rule of the writing trade- ‘show, don’t tell.’ The reader is told many things- the deaths and suicides associated with Hill House, Eleanor’s history of reclusion and paranormal experience, and even hints at lesbianism in the character of Theodora. However, what all of this means is left up to the reader, and because of that, the story can read many different ways. For example, Eleanor is clearly shown as a timid, sheltered woman, first controlled by her mother and then her sister. Coming to Hill House is her first real independent act, a fact she muses on constantly. Therefore, it is easy to see why she would form a bond with the house and its inhabitants- she sees them as signs of her own freedom. It also could explain why she is so reluctant to leave and return to her old life.
However, there is also a more unnatural possibility to Eleanor’s attitude. Dr. Montague’s profile of her states that there was an incident in her childhood where stones fell from the sky onto a disliked neighbor’s home. Readers of novels like Carrie would recognize this as a classic example of telekinetic abilities. Therefore, it is possible that Eleanor may be causing the disturbances herself, using unknown telekinetic powers. Therefore, her death is a kind of supernatural suicide. As for the incidents themselves, they themselves could be Eleanor’s attempt to prove both to herself and Dr. Montague (whom she admires), that Hill House is haunted and their adventure has not been for nothing.
But that could be a final possibility- that Hill House simply lives up to its reputation. The house has a long history of death- the founder’s wife died on the way to it, his second wife died from a fall, his daughter lived in the house until death, and the final inhabitant hung herself. This is a house with a long history of death to it’s name, and the gothic nature of the story never rules that possibility out, despite everything else that can be held accountable. Therefore, Hill House stands as a novel that is different for everyone who reads it- but chilling for everyone. For aspiring horror writers, this is the best kind of fear- one that is individual for every reader, and therefore more terrifying.
Hill House has been adapted for the screen in two instances, both titled The Haunting. The 1960’s version is highly recommended, but the remake adds several changes and lessens the insanity angle for CGI scares. House on Haunted Hill and Richard Matheson’s Hell House novel also explore similar ground. But no matter what house you choose to look through, the graveyard will be right outside for next week.
Happy October, loyal readers! Welcome to Lightrider’s annual Halloween Month, where we spend our time looking at the contributions of horror to the writing toolbox. And to begin this year, we’ll be looking an author whose work has already been profiled on this site, the creator of the Old Ones, H.P. Lovecraft.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890. He was described as a child prodigy, writing poems as early as six. He also took an interest in chemistry and astronomy (though he struggled with the math needed to be an astronomer). His early life also provided much of the influence for his later work- Lovecraft suffered from night terrors and vivid nightmares, and his father reportedly went into a mental asylum when his son was three. Lovecraft also learned Gothic horror stories from his grandfather, whose death forced the family into financial difficulties (another constant theme of Lovecraft’s life).
Lovecraft largely supported himself through his work, which was generally sold to pulp magazines. While at the time given little major fanfare (much like Edgar Allan Poe), much of this pulp is regarded as classic horror, with stories like ‘The Outsider,’ ‘The Thing on the Doorstop,’ and his most famous work, ‘The Call of Cthulu,’ which began Lovecraft’s most enduring creations, the god like aliens known as the Old Ones. Still, these works gained Lovecraft little financial support, and he largely subsided on the support of his wife, Sonia Green. Unfortunately, Green also suffered financial problems, and Lovecraft was forced to reside in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, which proved a hardship due to its immigrant population (Lovecraft held those of English descent in high regard and this sadly shows in much of his work). Eventually, Lovecraft did return to Providence, where he continued to write with increasingly small returns, until his death from cancer of the small intestine in 1937.
What Writers Can Learn: Theme, Suspense, Mystery, World-Building
There are many constants in the works of Lovecraft. He is largely considered a father of the modern horror story due to his consistent theme of man’s great insignificance in the universe. Perhaps owing to his family history and his love of astronomy, Lovecraft’s tales often involve men stumbling onto great secrets that literally drive them mad (many of his stories are recorded as the last testaments of men in the throws of madness). Tales such as ‘Arthur Jerym,’ deal with the secrets of inherited guilt, while stories like ‘Dagon’ and ‘The Colour out of Space’ show the great horrors of the universe, both from above the heavens, and the remnants left on Earth. Each of these stories show the creeping effects of madness, horrible transformations of mind and body, and that despite man’s knowledge, he is but a grain of sand in the vast and terrible beach that is the universe. For a writer looking to tell a mounting tale of suspense, or simply to keep their reader enthralled, they need look no further then Lovecraft.
And for those that look to creating worlds, Lovecraft is also a guide. His most enduring creations, The Old Ones, arguably stand as embodiments of all his themes- otherworldly beings that dwarf man, cause fear that creates madness, and will one day return and undo all of humanity’s work. But they are also an influential mythology onto themselves. ‘The Call of Cthulu’ describes an archeological expedition that uncovers the writings and remnants of Cthulu, including the cult that still worships him, the location his ancient, underwater city, and sets the basis for the creation of the other Old Ones. With this, and other Old Ones tales, like ‘Dagon’ and ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,’ Lovecraft created not only a pantheon, but a sense of an ancient world and it’s people, and a horror that will continue to dog man forever. He creates a past and present, and then links the two together forever, some of the finest world building and one authors should strive to look to.
The list of Lovecraft’s stories and the works inspired by them is numerous. However, those looking for the complete history should purchase The Necronomicon, a thorough collection of all Lovecraft’s works (smaller collections are also available). From those stories, ‘Herbert West; Reanimator,’ ‘At the Mountains of Madness,’ ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ ‘Cthulu,’ and ‘The Colour Out of Space,’ are all recommended. Many film adaptations also exist, such as Reanimator, From Beyond, The Haunted Palace (though this is mistakenly thought to be based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem) and the anthology Necronomicon. Many films have also been inspired by Lovecraft- the Evil Dead series contains its own Necronomicon, and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness is heavily inspired by Lovecraft’s work. So go find your own way in, but don’t stay too long. We have more to dig up next week.
Greetings one and all. I have to apologize for taking so much time between posts, but I have a good reason. I started a new job and have spent my learning new things and adjusting to a new schedule. But writing is still my main passions, which led to me to consider the dilemma that many writers and creative people face- how to be financially successful while also feeding our creative impulses.
First and foremost, I want to make it clear that writers and artists should not abandon their impulses strictly for money. But following those impulses means a difficult path. Finding a writing job alone is hard, as there is not the kind of demand that jobs in other fields have. You are not going to go into a job fair and find hundreds of newspapers or writing forums begging to hire you. You have to find those jobs yourself. And even then, many of them are selective and will require you to prove yourself. That is a process that takes time, and will not necessarily feed or clothe you as you do it.
With such odds, it’s not surprising that many creative people have other jobs. There’s no shame in this, and it does have benefits. Obviously, pay and insurance come into play at a job, and with those factors in play, creative people have less to worry about and can focus on their craft. But even that is not a perfect set up, since a job will demand one thing above all else- your time. While you may be able to provide for yourself and spend time writing or sculpting or whatever all day, you may feel that you now don’t have enough time to do these things, or are exhausted by the job.
These are factors that I can sympathize with, but there is a simple truth- that is the price you have to pay. Living off creativity is hard and there is no guarantee it will happen. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does mean rolling up our sleeves and slogging in the real world until we can make our dreams real. So for those of us that need to do both, I say this- plan. Plan your time so you can do what you love. Plan your paycheck so you support yourself and feed your passion. As hard as it might be, that is the only way to one day be able to live off what you put down on the page.
And as proof things can pay off, I was recently selected as the Indie Author of the Month by bookishjessp’s blog. Check it out here and keep working on your job and your dream.
Greetings once again. Today, I’d like to discuss a concept that has been defined by television, but applies to any creative writing outlet. That is the infamous term ‘jumping the shark,’ a phrase that TV watchers and critics know mean a show is doomed. But what is this concept, and how does it apply to writers?
To start, jumping the shark began with the classic sitcom Happy Days, taken from a Hawaiian vacation episode in which lead character Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while on water skis. Prior to this, the show had focused on relatable stories of young men and women growing up in the 1950’s. However, this episode was seen as pushing the show into ridiculous territory, damaging Fonzie’s character (as he had previously been injured in a motorcycle stunt and had learned from the experience), and showing the writers as desperate. The show did continue, but the focus shifted to Fonzie’s near superhuman charisma, as previous story concepts were shelved. As a result, the show’s appeal dropped over the reminder of its run, and ‘jumping the shark’ became the go-to term for a story that had lost focus, or showed desperation to keep viewers interested.
However, despite the term becoming popular, many other examples of shark-jumping have been documented over the years. While there are far too many to list, these are a few examples.
- ER’s Helicopter- Dr. Robert Romano loses his arm to a helicopter blade, and is then killed when a burning chopper falls out of the sky, in this doctor-based drama.
- Brady Bunch’s Cousin Oliver- a young cousin is introduced to bring a fresh perspective but fails to mesh with the cast (and creates ‘Cousin Oliver Syndrome’ for TV viewers everywhere)
- Roseanne- The show’s final season depicted the blue collar family winning the lottery, only to reveal at the end that the entire story was a fantasy concocted by Roseanne to cope with the loss of her (TV) husband.
- Heroes, Season 2- a superhero show with a clear leader starts its second season with said leader depowered and amnesiac, while the others scramble to find a purpose.
- ‘Nuking the Fridge’- a new variant on the shark jump, taken from the final Indiana Jones film (in which the protagonist survives a nuclear blast by hiding inside a lead lined refrigerator), this term refers to the point when a franchise has been creatively exhausted by sequels.
But why does TV and movie mistakes mean anything to writers? Because all storytelling comes from writers, and we can be just as prone to lose focus as anyone else. So to avoid making these same, desperate mistakes, writers need to keep a few things in mind.
- If you add a new character, do it because the story needs it, not because it will seem fresh.
- Always keep your character’s journeys in your mind. What they do in the future is shaped by what they do in the past.
- Keep your tone consistent- if something seems out of place or even foolish, you’re likely close to a shark jump.
- And most important of all- know when it’s over. Almost all ‘shark-jumping’ can be attributed to a story that went on beyond the writers’ ability to keep it fresh and vibrant. If you have nothing left to say, it may very well be because you’ve said all there is to say. And ending your story on a satisfying note is far better then sending your serial killer lead to Oregon to start life as a lumberjack.
Greetings once again. Today I return to the blog to re-examine a topic I have touched on before- writing a good female character. Previously, I’ve stated how I learned to write a female character by focusing on them as characters, and not placing much emphasis on them being female. What brings me back to the topic is some recent criticism published about the current Wonder Woman comic. These critics accused the writers of making the Amazons into xenophobic killers, incapable of leading themselves, and how Wonder Woman has been changed into a character hating her current roles as a hero, the Amazon Queen, and the new God of War. The reviewer, Grant Raycroft, goes even further, saying that DC has mishandled Wonder Woman in the last four years, and calls the current book “one the comic book reader doesn’t deserve.”
These are harsh criticisms, but they do highlight something I noticed in reviews of another series I’ve discussed here, Legend of Korra. While I still have mixed feelings on the series itself, one aspect that I did applaud it for was centering it around a young female hero in Korra. However, I found Korra’s flaws outweighed her positive traits- she was headstrong, resolved too many problems with her fists, looked to others for approval, and just seemed ill-suited to the responsibilities of being her world’s hero. Now, while I found many fans online that agreed with me, the critical reviews largely praised Korra, and did not mention the flaws I saw. Obviously, difference of opinion is always a factor. But I found it strange at the time and more so now, as many reviewers have shared Raycroft’s feelings concerning the current Wonder Woman creative team and their direction.
So why does this matter? To begin with, Wonder Woman is an icon, one that has largely been used as symbol for women’s rights. Her portrayal is taken more seriously and has more impact as a whole. Therefore, when she is not portrayed well, the response is voiced quickly and loudly. Wonder Woman is a landmark in an often male-dominated medium, and despite bumps along the way, has kept that status. But what is it that lets Korra escape many of these criticisms, despite having many flaws of her own?
Simply put, because the world of entertainment tends to be male-dominated. Just looking at the superhero genre, there have been few superhero films that feature women. Even after making it to the screen, Black Widow has been a supporting character in both of her film appearances. And many times, female-led comics are done in such a way to simply attract the male readers through sex appeal, or make them seem less then some male counterpart. Obviously, there are exceptions, such as the new Ms. Marvel, but it tends to make the idea of a positive female lead seem somewhat revolutionary. So when a show like Korra comes along, many want to support it, and show they do want to see a female lead.
But that is the problem as well. Because of that lack of publicity, it can be hard to say you dislike these new female leads. Others can easily accuse a critic of hating women, or refusing to change with the times. So there is something of a need to publicly support these female leads, even when they don’t live up to the ideals they champion. But that makes these women seem inferior, like they can’t be judged to the same basic character standards we apply to male leads. So what do we do about it?
For writers, I will reiterate my stance on women as characters rather then gender examples. And I will add that if you think writing a female lead is all you need to grab attention, you’re wrong. A female lead needs all the good character traits we expect- imperfections, goals, and far more depth then ‘toughness’ or ‘evil’. If you want to show them as equal to men, then write the story that way. Balance strength with sensitivity in everyone. Let the men save the women AND the women save the men. And for critics, when writers fail to do these things, don’t be afraid to tell them. Women can take anything men can.
Greetings once again. This week, I found a surprise announcement- that Disney is planning a relaunch of a beloved program of my childhood, Ducktales. While I was glad to hear that a new generation could enjoy a favorite of my childhood, I also found myself thinking about why Ducktales, along with so many other of my childhood favorites, found the strength to return in recent years. So today, I want to explore an aspect of writing that is both simple and impossible to achieve- timelessness.
To start, no writer can ever say if their work will be considered timeless. A large part of what makes a story timeless is the strength of the tale, and therefore the ability of the writer. The tales of Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers endures because the stories themselves are strong, with characters and themes that have survived the ages, despite the fact they are set in an era some two hundred years removed from modern times. A more recent example is the film They Live, which John Carpenter made in response to the greed and corruption of the 1980s. But obviously, greed and corruption are notions that live on, which is a large part of why the film still resonates with people today. The satire and message of the film, (in which an alien invasion is sublimely wiping out mankind), still works, especially in today’s post-Recession world.
So having a universal theme that people of any time can relate to, is a strong part of timelessness. But time itself can also be a role. Getting back to Ducktales, I originally watched the show as a part of the Disney Afternoon, a syndicated block of television owned by Disney. For many of my generation, the block is a hallmark, with it’s programs remembered fondly as intelligent, well-written, and genuinely well done children’s programming. In large part, this was because these shows each existed in their own worlds, and made no attempt to alter them to fit the era. Even the shows that existed in ‘modern times’ made their setting general, so that viewers would focus on the story. In fact, the Nostalgia Critic pointed out in his review of the block, that things began to go downhill when Disney attempted to make Disney Afternoon more ‘current’ and to fit the interests of children in that era. Some copied animation style (Schnookums and Meat), while other followed popular trends and movies (Goof Troop, Mighty Ducks, Aladdin). This resulted in a lessening of quality and shows that either pandered or imitated, until the Disney Afternoon finally ended.
But the original shows, as well as some highlights of the later years, are still spoken of high regard, simply because their concepts were not tied to the early 90’s, but could be retold again and again for any generation. Even many of today’s ‘reboots’ such as Transformers or Ninja Turtles have succeeded by taking a solid core concept and applying it without pandering to the current audience (though some healthy nods are given to older fans). So for any author looking for a timeless story, work hard but remember, have a strong core concept, and keep the focus off events of today, so that readers can enjoy them tomorrow.
And as a last reminder, this upcoming Saturday, March 7th, I will be appearing at the Big Apple Comic Con in New York’s Penn Pavilion. It’s a short walk from Penn Station so if you can make, be there!
Welcome back to the blog. This week, I’d like to reach out to follow authors working to put their books out into the world. As I’m currently preparing for my first major convention appearance, I thought about all the preparations that go into getting ready for any kind of appearance for an author. So today, I’d like to present a check-list for any author making their first major appearance, from a local signing to a full con appearance.
- Books- let’s start with the most obvious part of a con- the actual product. You need to make sure you’ve got a good amount of books. The worst feeling of an appearance is to run short early and miss potential opportunity. However, you also don’t want to over-order, and be left with a huge number of books. The best thing to do is to plan for your appearance and decide how much to bring based on just where you’re going and how many people will likely be there.
- Money-Box- besides books, the most important thing you need at an appearance is money. You need to have loose cash to give change to people that pay in cash. You may also want to invest in a credit card reader, which are often small enough to work with a smart phone and will make it easier for people to pay. Regardless, you must always have a cash-box, a small, lockable container that holds your change and your profit. This is one of the two most important things to bring to any appearance.
- Props- another important part of any event. You always want to appear professional and to attract attention. Some simple props can easily accomplish this; a poster of your book or even of yourself can help steer people in your direction and get the first initial interest. As with the book number, this should be adjusted for your appearance. You don’t want to overcrowd a library or undersell a crowded convention.
- The Right Attitude- no one wants to go to a signing for a grumpy author. Be prepared for the event you’re going to- if it requires you to speak, be polite, informative, and most of all, approachable about your work and as a person. If you’re going to be in a group, be inviting, but without seeming like a carnival pitchman for your book. Above all, be prepared to be in one location for a long time, friendly to the people that approach, and above all, grateful for people that purchase your book.
- Preparations- this seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Whatever event you are going to, know the details. Know when you need to get there, make sure your give yourself time to set up, know the setup, and make sure all your materials are ready.
- Help- something many authors don’t think of. Appearances are built around the author, but they can require more then one person. Don’t be unafraid to ask for help in setting up appearances, especially at cons. The larger the event, the more pressure is on to get customers, so don’t be afraid to have someone else there to help you out.
- Research- we end with the most important step of appearances, finding one. While your publisher may aid you in finding events, you will likely need to do some work on your own. Some events are easier to schedule- local signings, events at libraries, are usually happy to host you. Events like cons however, will take more work and require your efforts to find them. So get on your computer and find them, it’s the only way to be able to get your book out there.
Hopefully, this checklist will make it easier for new authors to navigate the difficult waters of their first major event. And don’t forget about my appearance at the Big Apple Con in a few weeks, on Mar. 7th, at NYC’s Penn Pavilion from 10-6 pm.