Category Archives: The Book

About “The Book,” a.k.a. “Finer Points,” the existence and development of which I started this thing to chronicle.

New Book Review. I Know, It’s Been Awhile.

So I have a new book review up over at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. It should have been up a month ago, at least, but I’ve had some personal stuff going on. Without getting too personal, my dad’s had some pretty serious health issues, and I can deal with stress pretty well unless it affects family. When that happens, I’m useless, so everything but, like, bills had to go on the back burner for a while.

He’s doing better though, so happy days are here again. Plus I got some writing done to ease the stress, so revising that should prove amusing. It’s weird how writing really can serve as a balm for the soul. If I didn’t have an imagination full of monsters and gratuitous violence, I probably would’ve spent the last month chain-smoking. It’s cliched, I know, “writing as emotional salve.” But those cliches become powerful when you experience firsthand their literal truth.

 

– The Awful Writer

Leave a comment

Filed under The Book

Pages

I’ve been trying to commit to a self-imposed standard of productivity lately. Since last week I’ve hammered out two full short stories and finished a third that I’ve been agonizing over since July. The effort left me with the emotional equivalent of the exhaustion you feel following a workout that doesn’t kill you but still leaves you shaky.

 

I’ve been looking over my completed short stories lately. At present I have close to a thousand pages of material, a volume which impressed me, considering the hair-pulling doubt that goes into each one. Could I have possibly survived that much stress? Maybe smoking really is as good for you as “Thank You for Smoking” sarcastically made it out to be…

 

My roommate wants to put about two hundred of so pages worth of it into a self-published book. I’ve been shitty and have been putting it off, due mostly to whiny bouts of self-doubt, and some peculiar possessiveness over what I consider to be my soul in typeface. Anyway, I suppose by agreeing I do owe it to her to finish revising the stories I’ve decided were good enough to share.

To that end, I’ve started a separate blog, a project called “Placid Madness” which I will link to soon. Placid Madness will feature samples of the selected stories, or occasionally whole works altogether, in an effort to build some kind of literary resume. I have my doubts as to how effective it could be, but I’m plunging ahead with it anyway. Once it’s up and running, hopefully by the end of this week, I’ll try to add onto it regularly. Links to come, provided I’m not too much of a lazy fuck.

Hopefully I’ll remember to post a story here tomorrow. I’ll leave it up for about twenty-four hours, so read it while you can. Remember, no copy-pasting unless you don’t think you’ll be able to read or finish it before I take it down. Share with friends if you want, but please observe applicable copyright. Link to your heart’s content, but credit me where it’s due. All original fiction posted here is my personal intellectual property.

Anyway, I’m off. I’ve got letters to type out, inquiries to make on apartments, and a a few complaintive phone calls to make. So, you know, an average life to sort out, is how I guess I could have put that.

 

– The Awful Writer

Leave a comment

Filed under The Book

I’m Writin’ Book Reviews, Folks

books

I’m as shocked as the rest of you over my ability to read, but it’s true. I’m up to my third amateur book review for the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. The latest book I covered was a nasty splatterpunk masterpiece called “Crucifax,” but I’ve also reviewed a hard sci-fi novel called “Crash”  and a nifty horror-western pulp tale called “The Good, the Bad, and the Infernal.” Check ’em all out, if you feel like boosting my ego any.

Peace!

– The Awful Writer

Leave a comment

Filed under The Book

Twitter Serials and Other Stuff

The latest Twitter serial, #TheFigureInTheField, went pretty well, I thought, though midway through it I switched from present tense to past tense. Whatever. I never said I was perfect, I just intoned it heavily. Click the link here to check the serial if you’re interested. Hopefully I’ll have a new one dreamed up in a weekend or two. The account, @TweetTheHorror, seems to be gaining some traction, so pressure is mounting, albeit minutely, to make sure whatever I tweet is as legitimately entertaining as I can manage. So, clearly, this is doomed to explosive failure. But I’ll try anyway. Click here to follow me as I make a gigantic ass of myself.

I’m also going to be writing reviews for The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, so long as my idiocy doesn’t get too far in the way. I’ve been having a devil of a time managing my Kindle app lately; I don’t know if it’s a technical issue or if my southern upbringing is starting to show. American southerners aren’t exactly known for their, uh…intellectual prowess, after all.

Buuut I will plow ahead anyway. Got more reading to do tonight, then I’ll have to decompress from the day with a few monster flicks. I had an issue with my car earlier this morning, and it was on one of the few days when I don’t have coupons for a zillion discounts crammed into my wallet. Son of a bitch. Pluuus I had to dispute a bogus charge on the receipt, and that drained me a bit too. Normally I’m not terribly averse to that sort of thing, but I deal with chronic anxiety, and it rears its head at the damndest of times. Today was one of those times, and it took its toll on me. Whatever. It’ll all work out.

As of now, I have a novel to revise, some stories to finish, some reading and reviewing to do, and a future class schedule to sort out. But that’s all long term…by my definition, anyway. Tonight, however, I got a couple new movies to watch and help me come down from my shitty day.

One: “Gorgo.” A classic. Almost warms my heart when Mama Gorgo raids London to rescue Baby Gorgo. Wait, no, it DOES warm my heart. Hooray for motherly, monstrous love! It’s just a shame the big lizards never threw down with Konga, England’s homegrown King Kong. Would’ve been something to see Britannia nurture it’s own Toho-style monster movie series.

Movie two is yet ANOTHER British flick, “The Giant Behemoth.” Kind of a redundant title, I know, but I’ll defend its dramatic intoning to the grave. Apparently it was originally going to involve giant radioactive blobs rampaging through England, but those in power insisted on capitalizing on the popularity of Harryhausen’s landmark “Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” Knowing that, you can actually tell when the screenplay shifted from mutant blobs to giant dinosaur, but I remember the movie being entertaining when I was younger. It also holds a special nostalgic place in my father’s heart; apparently the monster’s habit of burning people alive with its radioactivity scared the living shit out of him, back when he was a snaggle-toothed young’un  in the old days of black & white monsterfests. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with this somewhat obscure little flick.

Anyway, I’m off. Got a lot of brooding and self-pity to catch up on tonight. Hopefully I’ll be less of a pissy man-child by morning. Hopefully.

Who knows, maybe I can use my pouty mood to convince my hot roommate I’m sensitive.

Verily!

– The Awful Writer

Leave a comment

Filed under The Book

Tough Chicks: Why I Can’t Get Enough of “Strange Days”

Poster 2

I’ve always had a thing for tough chicks. And I love strong female characters in fiction. Not just emotionally strong characters, mind you, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with that archetype. I mean physically strong female characters, characters that defy the sociological constraints that demand women conform themselves to society’s expectations of them as frail and fragile creatures.

The disgustingly misquoted research “proving” female physical inferiority has long been known to be flawed, as it only provided a general measure of general male strength versus general female strength at a singular point in time, failing to factor in the psychological and sociological factors that play directly into our physical ability to generate outputs of strength. More and more, society is catching up on information sociological and biological research is already aware of: that, fundamentally, there is no biological difference in physical potential, in terms of power, between men and women. Women’s muscles may not bulge as much as men’s do, but the same potential for mass and power is there, despite the unimportant difference in volume.

I bring the above up because, in portraying physically strong female characters, there’s a particular type of strong character I’m usually focused on: women who are naturally strong. Sure, superhuman women like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Bionic Woman are intriguing, but I’m more interested in women who made themselves powerful through training and determination.

It’s tough to find characters who fit this description, as American cinema almost always demands that, no matter how strong, competent, and effective a female character is presented as being, there is almost always a moment in which she must have a male character rescue her. I thoroughly enjoyed Predators until the unbelievably badass Israeli chick needed Adrian Brody to swoop in and save her from the nefarious clutches of Eric Mother-Fucking-Pencil-Necked Foreman from “That 70s Show.”

NO. No I do not accept that! Don’t get me wrong, I like me some Topher Grace, but NO. He is NOT a credible threat, Robert Rodriguez, so fuck your attempt to recoup later when the Israeli lady, a sniper, helps Brody kill the last Predator. Sure, he would have died without her, but the whole fight was essentially Big Strong Man vs. Scary Monster, so that he could Save The Woman. God…Goddamn it.

And while it can be argued that the horror genre endorses physically powerful women, the evidence doesn’t really support the hypothesis. While Wes Craven certainly provides an exception in portraying female protagonists as resourceful and cunning (Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street), most female survivors in horror often endure the film simply by a stroke of luck, typically after finding a convenient weapon to use at the last minute against the bad guy when his guard is down. Even tough, thinking-on-her-feet Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween was reduced to a sobbing, shambling wreck in the sequel (though to be fair, the character was drugged in Halloween II).

The frustration I often feel in the above scenarios plays directly into why I love Strange Days so much (aside from the amazingly puppy-eyed presence of Ralph Fiennes and the have-my-babies beauty of Angela Bassett, I mean). Strange Days, as well as being an unflinching commentary on the nature of race relations, the abuse of power by authority figures, and the corrosive effect of public apathy, has a female character who’s a stone-cold ass-kicker, and a believable one at that.

Yes Please

Yes please.

Spoilers follow, so if you’re that pretentious person no one likes to invite to the movies, you might not wanna read further.

Strange Days revolves around the awesomely-named, drug-dealing former cop Lenny Nero and his best friend, professional bodyguard Lornette “Mace” Mason. Lenny deals in devices called Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices, or SQUIDs, which can record memories and play them back into the minds of others. The technology is illegal, and the experience it provides can be addictive to users. Lenny is also slowly wasting away from use of his own product retreating into a fantasy world to alleviate the pain of rejection he feels from a former lover, Faith. As the film progresses, Lenny and Mace are caught up in a conspiracy to cover up the murder of a highly influential rap artist by two officers in the LAPD, and find their lives are put at risk by forces greater than what the two of them, even with their combined skills, may be able to fend off.

Besides being a solid and intelligent sci-fi film, Strange Days is refreshingly blunt regarding racial tension in America, and how police corruption and social apathy play equal parts in the breakdown of societal standards. But despite the film’s fearless commentary and precise intelligence, it was the film’s blurring of traditional gender roles that drew me in.

Lenny Nero is a former cop, a detective specifically, but though he’s not a complete pushover, he is far from hyper-masculine. Lenny is slender, non-confrontational, and vain about his wardrobe and appearance. He frequently whines when inconvenienced, and often grovels when put in danger. He knows how to wield a gun because of his former profession, and he can handle himself if he is prepared for a fight, but it isn’t difficult for many characters to overpower him. Lenny is shown to pine ceaselessly for Faith (Juliette Lewis), who clearly no longer returns his affections. And at one point, when a character shoots at him, it seems as though Lenny falls from a gunshot injury, though it is subsequently revealed, to humorous effect, that Lenny simply fainted out of fear. At several points in the film, Lenny is driven to tears over the stress placed on him by the story’s events.

As manly as Lenny gets.

As manly as Lenny gets.

His best friend, Mace, is clearly the more physically and emotionally dominant of the two. It is established early on that Mace is in love with Lenny, who is either oblivious to her feelings, or doesn’t acknowledge them. However, Mace does not let her feelings overtake her judgment, and if Lenny’s behavior goes over the line, she is not opposed to letting him to stew in his own mess, provided his life isn’t put in danger as a result. When Lenny is (frequently) overpowered by adversaries, it is Mace who comes to his rescue, utilizing her strength, speed, and apparent martial arts training to subdue sometimes multiple opponents at a time. During a chase sequence halfway through the film, as Lenny panics in the passenger seat, Mace remains cool-headed even as the car bursts into flame, and she is forced to drive into a river to put it out and save their lives. As opposed to the peacocking Lenny, Mace is shown to dress in a simple, almost pragmatic fashion, though she does wiggle into a tiny skirt for the climax of the film, which occurs during a New Year’s Eve party.

Mace

If I could point to one tough female character that was done right, it’d be Mace. She is physically powerful, socially liberated, competent in her actions, and emotionally independent. Though she carries romantic feelings for Lenny, and is protective of him as a result, her disapproval of his feelings for Faith is not based in petty jealousy, but out of genuine concern for his well-being. Mace makes it clear that, if it ever becomes obvious that Lenny no longer has any hope of moving on with his life, she will not let his inability at personally growth interfere with her own path in life. Mace has a child from a previous marriage, a lifestyle to maintain, and bills to pay in an economically ravaged city. Making eyes at her best friend will take a back seat to those priorities when necessary.

Mace Loves Lenny

There are lots of little points to enjoy about how the two main characters are structured. The female character is celebrated as a strong, competent black woman, with a strong sense of ethics, morality, and justice. The film dared to present the white hero as weaker, generally non-heroic, and driven through the film’s plot mostly by petty desires, as opposed to the desire for justice that eventually motivated Mace. Keep in mind that this film opened during a period in American filmmaking when Independence Day almost didn’t get made, because the studio insisted a white guy play the role Will Smith ultimately carried to extreme popular acclaim. And that was despite knowing how insanely popular Smith was at the time (and has been forever since). Writer James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) and director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) really did their best to blur the traditional gender and racial roles in film, and they did so in a manner that seemed virtually invisible until later reflection.

Mace and Lenny

To be sure, there are some parts I could do without: you can pretty much see Juliette Lewis DO ACTING, and varying the tone of her voice did not seem like it came off as much of a high priority for her in this movie. And I feel like her evil record producer boss/boyfriend could’ve switched places with the bad guy from The Crow without anyone really noticing. But nearly every movie has parts of it that someone in the audience will bitch about. The movie’s uniqueness and intelligence shines through whatever petty complaints I could throw at it.

Plus, kudos for refusing to have the white former girlfriend spontaneously realize her mistake and end up with the hero, thanks to the tireless sacrifice of the reliable black friend. That happens a lot in movies, or at least it seems like it does to me, and it was nice to see the more emotionally relatable (and, frankly, better-looking) female character celebrated, even more so in this case for playing against the normal arch of minority characters in nineties movies. (Although when Mace and Lenny finally kiss as the credits roll, Ralph Fiennes kind of looks like he’s trying to eat Angela Bassett’s face. Though, considering it was Angela Bassett he was kissing, I suppose I can’t blame him for being eager.)

kiss

I don’t pretend to be that “enlightened white guy” who embarrasses himself and others at bars. I recognize that there are numerous aspects of minority relations that I will never be able to fully understand, as a result of winning the current era’s socio-genetic lottery (i.e., being born a white American man). But refusing to be aware of the issues, or, even worse, pretending they don’t exist, would limit me as a human being. It would limit me spiritually, intellectually, artistically, and socially, and understanding that, I appreciated the effort on the part of Strange Days to resist these limits, and doing so with a brash and uncompromising attitude.

Also, Angela Bassett. Mmm, that’s a woman. But then again, I’ve always had a thing for tough chicks.

–          The Awful Writer

3 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous, The Book

Science and Horror

SCIENCE!

“There are things in this world your science can never hope to explain!”

I cringe at lines like that. I get the purpose behind it – horror and science fiction frequently cover themes of incomprehensibility. But I can’t shake the feeling that lines like that speak to, well…lazy writing, frankly.

I don’t mind it at all when a story utilizes the plot point of something being beyond our abilities to understand. That was, after all, the driving theme in most of Lovecraft’s work (which he pokes fun at himself early on in “The Unnameable”). And power beyond reason doesn’t diminish my love for “Dragon Ball Z” or “Yu Yu Hakusho.” No, what irks me is the mindset that the opening phrase above evokes.

Namely, that science is an institution, something arbitrarily applied to counteract some unquantifiable “truth.”

It’s rubbish, that mindset. Science is this, and only this: a method. Hence the phrase “scientific method.” It is SOLELY a process in which variables are isolated, observed, and processes are refined so that said observations can be repeated by anyone who wishes to do so.

Oh, you disagree? You think science is trying to sterilize a chaotic, supernatural world? Well, fella, I hate to break it to ya, but science doesn’t give a shit about your sense of mysticism. It’s not an institution, some kind of exclusive club, or some “mentality.” It’s completely, totally, and only an observational process.

Still don’t agree? Open any grade-school science book. The instructions for scientific research are right there.

True, there are scientists who insist on antagonizing anything they see as superstitious or immaterial. Thing is, these scientists are assholes. They don’t “represent” science. They’re people with chips on their shoulders and a need to be acknowledged. And believe me when I say: other scientists think they’re assholes too.

This subject is something of a hot point for me, I guess. I’ve gone on more than a few tangents where I drive my roommate to roll her eyes and probably think to herself Yeah, I know, YOU’VE SAID THIS ALREADY. I’m currently pursuing graduate education in psychology, a field which, due to its non-physical nature, has to adhere to the scientific method particularly fiercely. This insistence on proper methodology is drilled into your head in every class you will ever take on the subject. And while the grinding aspect of methodology can understandably annoy a lot of students, I was fascinated by how pure and essentially simplistic the process was.

So, science isn’t this oppositional force attempting to reshape people’s belief system. You could say that it is simply examining and presenting the factors that cause those belief systems to function. I favor the philosophies of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, where one has to wonder how science can do anything but increase people’s wonder for the universe.

People love to say “Science has never disproved God!” They always forget to mention that science has never tried. Science kills God, you say? Sagan believed atheism was as unscientific as religious faith, since both relied on absolute belief without evidence. What’s that, no more arguments? Yeah, thought so.

I like to tell people that I’m pursuing an artistic career, but a scientific education. I don’t think these are incompatible goals; Lovecraft was famously skeptical of the supernatural, and would actively dismiss any “evidence” in support of it with ruthless logic. Even in stories of his that deal with supernatural themes, he would often describe such phenomena as belonging to scientific schools human beings simply could not perceive or understand. The Phantasm films use a similar theme, explaining the Tall Man’s amazing abilities and machinery as science which adheres to the physical laws of other universes.

But there’s a greater problem in how people apply their understanding of science in fiction. Beyond the inherent misunderstanding of what science is, there’s a growing buzz-philosophy on the role of science in the world based solely on that misunderstanding. And that misunderstanding grows exponentially, fed on expansive armchair philosophy. You have writers and artists, sometimes famous, influential figures, expounding on science in ways that, compared to their level of knowledge in other areas, are almost tragic for their level of ignorance. (Clive Barker, I’m looking at you. You’re beautiful in your work and your person, but please don’t wax scientific anymore. It breaks my heart when you do. It’s like learning your favorite uncle never knew how to read. It’s embarrassing.)

Even sci-fi writers are guilty of this. Harlan Ellison showcases how hilariously old he is every time he criticizes people for writing on computers, like there’s something inherently scary about saving work as an electronic file.

Douglas Adams wrote on computers, was in fact an early adopter of word processing technology. Terry Brooks was the same way. Neil Gaiman, a personal friend of Ellison’s, tweets like a mother fucker. Amazing gonzo horror novelist Jason Pargin began John Dies at the End entirely online. Science and technology didn’t magically “kill” their art. It just…happened, and they exploited the usefulness of it, as all people have done, since human beings first learned how handy fingers were.

Does Mr. Ellison use a phone? I’d bet my ass that he does. But, y’know, that technology already existed when he was a kid, so it’s arbitrarily labeled OK in his book. Clearly technology was supposed to randomly cease advancing at that point in its application.

This amazing blog post explains how important science is to understanding phenomena we perceive as paranormal. Michael Crichton believed strongly that there exists phenomena that is too rashly brushed off as superstition by over-eager and unprofessionally biased researchers. Science has a place in both horror literature and real-world mysticism. We just need to exercise our minds a little to realize this.

Here’s a fact nobody considers: science doesn’t explain anything. It isolates singular pieces of data. Patiently and painstakingly. Science presents data; it doesn’t provide answers. That chore is left for human interpolation. And, yes, there’s room for error in that part of it, but that’s alright. The universe is never the same as it was an instant before. Data changes. Answers change. Error can be exposed, discovered and corrected. The point isn’t to know everything. It’s to make as honest, i.e. accurate, of an effort at it as you can.

After all this, you might remain tempted to say: “But ghosts/magic/God is an inherently unscientific subject!” Well, here’s the rub to that argument: there are no truly unscientific subjects. There are only unscientific processes. That creepy lady in white who disappears into walls? Valid subject for scientific research. Diseases disappear from loved ones every time you pray? Let’s get to isolatin’ some variables, folks, there’s some shit need’s evaluatin’!

But the actual scientific process is boring for a lot of people. That’s why you don’t see any television shows for legitimate parapsychologists, but a shit-ton of programming blocks for people with night vision cameras stumbling around in the dark. Seeing a vaguely human-shaped shadow is far more thrilling for most of us than watching a single experiment testing a variance of electromagnetic energy, thousands of times, in the exact same way every time, then being repeated by hundreds of people in the EXACT SAME WAY IT WAS BEFORE, then being proceeded with a new experiment in which only one extremely slight change has been made, and so on, et cetera. Never mind how exciting the discoveries that blossom from said grind might prove to be. Many of us just can’t stomach keeping up with that long, agonizing process.

And for a lot of us, that vaguely human-shaped shadow is all the proof we need, even if it can be explained away eighty different ways to Sunday. We feel a deep-down certainty over what we saw, and it’s more comfortable for us to believe that instinctive gut feeling than to be told we’re wrong, and have it explained to us in a way that, no matter how kindly the words are formed, can accidentally end up making us feel silly and shamefully ignorant.

There’s something to be said for that gut-assumption – those assumptions kept us alive when cats with steak knives for teeth ran our asses down – but even in our caveman days, we had a capacity for reason, and it’s a betrayal of our humanity to completely sublimate our innate curiosity, our need to understand. It’s a drive in us that is every bit as instinctive as our tendency towards assumption.

“But you can’t apply your worldly principles to phenomena from beyond this world?”

Sure we can. Scientific methodology can be applied to everything. Can’t see how that can be? Me neither, most of the time. But that’s okay. Someone else will see, and they’ll do their part to help us clear away the cobwebs. The scientific community is huge for a reason.

So, if science can be appropriately applied to paranormal subjects, there’s no reason it can’t be applied equally appropriately to horror. I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul of how people approach scientific subjects in fiction – I have a feeling that would ruin a lot of great, but currently unwritten, tales – but let’s try to see someone aim for slightly more accuracy in the presentation of scientific principles in fiction.

Let’s stop confusing psychiatrists for psychologists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, psychologists are therapists and researchers. There’s ripe thematic material in the practices of both professions. Let’s isolate and explore them.

And Christ, let’s STOP MENTIONING FREUD. NO ONE FOLLOWS FREUD ANYMORE. NO ONE. AT ALL. He served an important purpose in pushing psychological research into mainstream scientific acceptance, but pretty much all of his hypotheses have been discredited. His brand of psychoanalysis is virtually dead in practice. Much more effective therapy is accomplished nowadays in just the span of a few weeks. And the id, ego, and superego are not considered legitimate anymore. The same goes for “fixations,” oral, anal, whatever. The field moved on, decades ago. Let’s investigate behavioral and humanistic psychology instead, shall we? Let’s move beyond Jung, even. Let’s look at Skinner and Horney, Rogers and Maslow (but let’s avoid misinterpreting Maslow the way John Green did). Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s blend philosophies. No ethical psychologist thinks humans are simplistic beings. Let’s respect that complexity.

Let’s stop using science as a means to create something horrible. Let’s have science be the means for saving the day. Asimov wrote his landmark robot stories because it didn’t make sense to him for robots to cause wanton destruction. If scientific work fails, let’s ensure it’s the human element that fails.

Let’s avoid “punishment for playing God” scenarios. It seems more savory to punish characters for lacking vision, not for possessing it.

Let’s stop having science “go wrong.” Let’s see scientific methodology be applied to radically supernatural subjects, even.

And let’s let horror feed on the untapped strength that scientific principles and knowledge can grant the genre.

Let’s sink our teeth into the challenge, and watch it bleed.

SCIENCE...ALSO!

***

– Special thanks to Voodoo Darling for permission to link to her blog. Click here to read the rest of it. It’s all pretty awesome.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ramblings on Horror, The Book

Nerds!

My friends, sister and I are starting a creative project at sister blog nerdageddon. So far it involves cats from the future, and Confederate soldiers riding dinosaurs.

I call it “Novel Tag!” My ex calls it “Jesus, grow up and get a job already!”

I like my title more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellaneous, The Book