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.
Greetings once again. Today is the first step of the promotion for Equites, as I announce my first Goodreads giveaway! It’s simple- all you have to do is enter at the link below, and you’ll be entered to win one of ten copies of Equites. The only thing better then an epic fantasy is a FREE epic fantasy, so don’t delay. The giveaway is open until March 2nd, so hurry over and enter!
Greetings once again. While I’m currently enjoying the newness of my new book, a part of my mind also knows how much closer I am to completing my trilogy. At the same time, Marvel Comics made a big announcement that it will bringing the current Marvel Universe to an ‘end’ (but given comics, this could mean many other things). Regardless, these events both led to write today’s blog on one of the hardest things for any writer to create- the end. The ending has been described as the best and the worst part of a story for any writer, since it means both the end of a project and the start of a new one. But before anything can be started, an ending has to be done with proper skill.
The Good Ending
Ideally, an ending will accomplish certain goals. It will bring the story to an end in a satisfying way, so that readers feel a sense of completion. It also has to feel like the end of a journey. Characters that began an arc must complete it, to mark the end of the journey they have over come. They can do this by gaining confidence, overcoming an enemy, or accomplishing a goal despite hardships and setback. Oftentimes, this progression is the end by itself. However, goals can also be outside the character- saving the world, destroying evil, etc. Regardless of the method, the end must always come in a way that feels true. An ending such as a dues ex machina (or the ‘magic ending’ where everything is solved by luck or a sudden plot device) fails in this because it negates any progress the characters have made, or any real depth the story’s progress has made.
The Bad Ending
A good ending may seem like a basic, easy thing for a writer to want to accomplish, but it is not always so. Many obstacles can block the way, such as the dues ex machina. However, writers can also be challenged by other factors. One of the most common is simply not knowing when to end. Many of us can think of a series that started well, but suffered because it went on long after its premise was exhausted. In fact, one of the most famous TV ‘rules’ is the Fawlty Towers rule, named after the classic British series, which only lasted twelve episodes to avoid creative burnout. Other series, like Discworld, avoid this problem by focusing on a universe rather then characters, which allows for much more varied stories.
Getting back to comics, there is also the fear of ending prematurely, or a reboot. DC Comics’s New 52 relaunch, in which a new continuity was established, angered many fans who didn’t want to see an end to the current incarnations of their favorite stories and characters. Worse still, the new continuity altered many classic characters and origins while exemplifying the worst kind of reboot- one done without complete planning behind it, which eventually cost DC the sales it gained over Marvel. And finally, there is one last type of bad ending to mention- the fanservice ending, which is designed largely to please a division of the fanbase over telling a complete ending. For this, I point to the recent Legend of Korra finale, which ended in an ambiguous suggestion of two characters having a homosexual relationship (a popular fan belief) instead of having an ending with greater meaning to the show’s overall message. This also can be constructed as the writers trying to add last minute depth to underdeveloped character relationships and hoping for a controversial ending to make the show seem more important then it was.
In simplicity, a good ending has to satisfy, bring characters and goals to an end, and feel final. Writers of all types need to recognize the need to bring their stories to a satisfying conclusion, and when it needs to happen. For one final example, J.R.R. Tolkien did actually consider a sequel to Lord of the Rings. However, after writing only one chapter, Tolkien stopped, realizing that there was simply nothing left to say. That, is an impulse that all writers need to recognize, because even the deepest well can run dry.
Greetings to all. Today, I have great news, as my second novel, Equites, has been sent to the printers, and is finally live and available for purchase! Currently, it can be purchased on the iUniverse website (link below) in hardcover, paperback, and e-book, and will soon be available on mainstream book sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com.
This marks the beginning of a busy year, as I will be doing even more promotion for the Lightrider series. This will include giveaways, a national Book Exhibit, and my first venture into conventions, at the Big Apple Con on Mar 7th in NYC, and the Garden State Comic Fest in Morristown NJ over the summer. More details will be released as time goes on, so please, keep checking back for info and my usual writing entires. Here’s to a successful New Year.