Monday, January 30, 2012

Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard

The old saying goes, Dying is easy, comedy is hard. That is one hundred percent true, which you may not realize until you actually try and be funny.. While I think that the supernatural and humor are a natural pair, it can be trickier to balance than you might imagine going in.

For one thing, almost nothing is more personal than humor. What you find funny and what I find funny varies wildly, and you need to look no further than the television to confirm this. Many people enjoy the top rated comedies, or whatever sitcom you can find on your TV at this moment, and odds are if you turn it on right this second you'll be greeted by a sitcom in syndication (or an infomercial, which is its own kind of comedy). A lot of people find Modern Family or Family Guy hysterical, and yet there are almost as many who would rather poke hot needles in their eyes than suffer through an episode. It's not only content it's style and taste (or lack thereof), timing, a dozen different things. Where you might dislike certain kinds of horror, there's less variation within that dislike. It usually just comes down to genre with horror you might dislike gorn (also known as torture porn) but like slasher films, or vice versa, or maybe you like it all, but hate CGI. As personal as scares are, there's something about humor that makes it much more unique and revealing.

If that's where the problems ended, you could color me a happy writer. But of course it's not as simple as that. Beyond the problem of humor being highly subjective, there's the problem of balance. There has to be a happy medium between the humor and the horror. For instance, if the horror is too violent or, well, horrible, you throw the reader right out of the scene, and there's just no way to laugh. One way to handle that is through being vague about the violence, or approaching it as slapstick, but that's easier to do on film. I'll point you to the fabulous hand fight scene of Evil Dead II. Almost impossible to capture on the page, but hilarious on screen. At the same time, if you make everything a joke, there's no stakes, and therefore no horror. You've made a children's story with bad words.

Since I'm writing a comedy horror series, I find myself thinking about these things a lot. Horror and certainly the paranormal offshoot of it is a natural for comedy. And yet juggling all these things the amount of violence, the type of humor, how you frame a scene can feel a little overwhelming. Am I hitting the target, or am I missing it entirely? Is it funny, or is it just kind of weird? Is my editor going to kill me? Okay, to be honest, no matter what genre I'm writing in, I assume my editor's going to kill me. I give them so much work to do, I should praise them all here and now for being wonderful, patient people. (I do appreciate you, I hope you know that, and I'm not going out of my way to give you work. It just seems that way.)

I wanted to end this little bit of meandering by giving you tips, but truth be told, I would like to hear from you. What do you, as a reader, feel about horror comedy? Do you like it? Hate it? Is it too tricky to pull off? If you're a writer, have you dabbled in the genre? Even if you haven't written in horror/comedy, I'd just love to hear from the comedy writers.

Just to end this little rant with something beyond questions, I'm going to name three of my favorite horror comedies, in no particular order: Evil Dead II, Shaun of the Dead, and Dead/Alive (also known as Braindead). (All, you may note, with a paranormal bent.) If you've seen any of these films, what do you think works? Is there something in particular that didn't work for you? Or do you think horror and comedy should stay in their respective corners? I have to admit, I'm dying of curiosity.

-Andrea Speed

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Horror Snuck Up On Me When I Wasn’t Looking

Okay, up front I will fully admit to being a chicken shit when it comes to the things that go bump in the night.  I was the kid that could not watch horror movies at slumber parties or else I ended up crawling into my parents’ room in the middle of the night to sleep on the floor.  Of course that might have something to do with being scratched by a cat during a critical scene in Nightmare on Elm Street.   I swear I never had a normal night’s sleep again until we moved out of state and I managed to convince myself that Freddy Kruegar was still looking for me in Ohio.  I told myself that as long as I never watched another Elm Street movie I would be safe in Maryland. 
"Dagon" Todd Shearer

As much as horror scared me, I have to admit that I was drawn to it, fascinated by it.  I kept going back for the thrill of fear.  I even watched The Children of the Corn in a barn surrounded by cornfields.  When we lived in that little rental for a month with no TV, my sisters and I re-enacted out horror movies to keep ourselves entertained.  When my mom would demand that we be quiet because she worked nights, I would tell them romance stories with their favorite leading men.  Looking back now, I think I was predisposed to a mix of romance and horror at a very young age even though I loved to read fantasy books the most.  Weird right?  Most of the stories I wrote then had a both a love interest and some strange demonic entity.
Then I became friends with my future husband who introduced me to role-playing and the absolute freaky horror of Call of Cthulhu.  It’s a game based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft who has influenced many horror aficionados over the years.  It’s a game that really doesn’t have a happy ending.  In my experience you can count on your character ending up one of three ways by the end of a campaign: (1) dead; (2) insane then dead; or (3) just insane. 
Every time he brought out the Cthulhu books we would all shiver before the games even started.  And I’ll never forget the smile he had on his face whenever he asked us to make a sanity roll.  He smiled like that often.  And every time you failed a sanity roll, your character lost a few more marbles.  I loved the way that he could set the mood.  It seemed effortless to me.  I loved watching the characters’ descent into madness, struggling to hold onto any normality that they could as they fought to survive.  And I loved knowing that it was a hopeless fight for my characters.  (The characters at least had the comfort of believing they had a fighting chance.  The players knew better by the 2nd damn game and that was part of the thrill.)

"Hounds of Tindalos" James Wolf Strehle

Which brings me back to what really scares me.  I can handle serial killer movies like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer or When a Stranger Calls.  Those movies never kept me up at night, because the killer could be defeated.  The characters at least had a fighting chance that eventually the bad guy would be overcome and there would be a few survivors.  It’s the Grudge or The Exorcist that really scared the hell out of me.  Situations where no matter what you do, you’re screwed.
If you had asked me when I was younger if I’d ever write stories with elements of horror in them I would’ve said hell no, not realizing that I already was.  I like taking perfectly normal characters living normal lives and thrusting them in unnatural situations to see how they cope, like Jacob in my vampire trilogy.  In my latest story that I’m currently editing, Dean is on his way home when he is murdered and now his ghost has to help his lover Andrei find the killer.  I wanted to write a story that not only included paranormal elements, but the personal horror of having all your dreams shattered with one bullet.  I wanted to see how Dean and Andrei would overcome their demons and move on.  Here’s a little excerpt:
“Dean, you can’t stay.”  Andrei closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively.  “Please, I know it doesn’t make sense.  And maybe one day I’ll have the chance to explain it to you, but you’ve got to leave me behind.” Andrei gathered what reserves he had left and slowly straightened and turned in his chair.
Dean stood behind him, his warm hazel eyes grave as they stared at each other.  He looked so vital and solid.  So goddamned fucking real.  He could be selfish and let Dean stay, and god, at first it would be wonderful, until it became obvious that Dean was like an old time LP caught in the same skipping loop over and over again.
Andrei blinked rapidly.  “Why are you here?  Is it to be with me?  Is it to help you find your killer?”
Inexplicably, Andrei heard the sound of a bird singing; a songbird of some kind, cheery and bright with the promise of sun filled days.  Then far off in the distance a baby began to cry, the sound rising and falling, melding with the bird into strange kind of melody.
Andrei opened his mouth to ask a question, but the fierce look of concentration on Dean’s face stopped him.  A picture appeared in the middle of the air, fluttering to the floor.  Frowning, Andrei scooped it up and saw a little girl with dark hair and smiling eyes.  “Is this one of the kids that Justin was talking about?”
Dean shook his head slightly and a line appeared between his brows.  A dozen more pictures fell, all of different little girls with dark hair, all about the same age.  “What else can you tell me?” Andrei asked.
More pictures began to litter the floor, pictures of babies, of robins, pictures of slim white men in trucker hats, ads of camper trucks.  More and more pictures fell, striking Andrei’s face and the back of his head; crying babies, laughing babies, until Andrei thought it would never end.
“For godssake Dean, stop it!”
The pictures vanished and when Andrei looked up, Dean was gone too.

Who else has a love/hate relationship with horror?  Tell me why you like or don’t like it as a genre.  And if you have a favorite movie or story share that too. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Death and Storytellers

The Grim Reaper has this dark stigma surrounding him. He’s this guy who sneaks around just to steal away your soul away whether you like it or not. The whole reaping of souls thing is bound to hit the creep factor. Charon the ferryman, the Angel of Death, the Plague Hag, Yama and many more are all depicted as dark and grim creatures that are waiting to take ones soul to some unknown place.

Humans are great storytellers, which is why we get all these interesting forms of Death in mythology. It has to be one of our most interesting abilities. Our ability to take the unknown and give it a face or attempt to explain the dark and frightening has got to be in our genes somewhere. The ability to explain seems to make things less scary, not just when it comes to death, but with everything. Lightening, for example, is like billions of volts of electricity buzzing through the sky, but hey we know what it is, so it’s not as scary.

When it comes to death the Plague Hag, Pesta carried a rake and a broom, one meant you’d survived the black plague and the other meant you were toast. Charon, the ferryman, expected payment for the task of delivering your soul to the underworld, or you’d be trapped by the river for 100 years. But hey, we know what they are and that they’re just doing their jobs, so it’s not as scary.

I have a huge affection for the unknown. My curiosity is almost as big as my imagination, which is probably true of most writers. I’m not above taking the unknown and twisting it to my advantage. Taking myths like those surrounding death and asking questions is what I do best. What if there really was a Grim Reaper? What if he didn’t like his job? What if he had been reaping soul for so long, he’d become lost and lonely? Hell, the questions could go on and on, and they often do.

This is how I end up with a story. This is how humans have always made up stories, by asking questions. Whether it’s Death, or other fantastic question that created a myth, we writers use the foundation of those wonderfully dark stories and make them our own. And who can resist, really? With all those spooky myths and interesting creatures to choose from, there might just be a grain of truth in those tales. And maybe, just maybe, one of us got it right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wor(l)d Weaving

Why do you read so much?

This is a question that I have been asked so many times that I have lost count. Growing up I spent almost all my free time with my nose stuck in a book. When my mom wanted to punish me, she would take away the book I was reading. I got yelled at while reading at a baseball game when I was 14 years old. And even today, now that I have moved on to writing as well, I will spend weekends glued to my computer reading whole series of books in one sitting.

So, back to the question at hand (as some would phrase it), Why waste your time with stuff that’s just fiction?

To that I would reply, there is no such thing as just fiction, just a story. Stories, myth, fairy tales, these all illuminate deeper truths, deeper realities. They open worlds of truth beyond what we experience in our everyday lives. Author G.K. Chesterson once said, "Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."

In my day job, I work with families who have recently experienced loss; I work with patients who have just been given difficult or fatal diagnoses; I work with doctors and nurses who have just lost a patient. I come home at the end of the day and I know the dragon exists. I have been helping to clean up the dragon’s mess all day long. It is then that I need most to be reminded that the dragon can be defeated. Not that death and pain can be beaten or avoided but rather that despair and hopelessness are not the only answers.

It is then that I settle into my couch with a modern day fairy tale and my cats and I allow the words on the page to weave a world into being, a world in which the little guy can defeat the big bad, the ugly duckling can find true love, the cast off can become the beloved prince. Because, as Jon Foreman wrote, “Words have incredible power. Words create worlds. The words we use define ourselves and the world around us. They shape our reality. Our words determine our ideologies.

The worlds created on the page are worlds full of magic, dark evil, mythical creatures and true love overcoming all that bears no resemblance to the “real” world. And yet, it is the same. Stories, myths and fairy tales can point out to us truths that go beyond fact. They are symbols of the deep well that is in us which is just out of our perception. They are the truth which casts the shadow on back of our caves.

So I must ask myself, would I be the same person I am today if I hadn’t grown up reading about King Arthur and Merlin, Harry Potter, Harry Dresden and many others, if I didn’t still read stories beyond counting about wizards, vampires, shapeshifters, and any creature a writer could imagine? I like to think not.

When I write my stories, whether they are in contemporary settings or in a paranormal setting, I try to create a world that, if not in it’s physical realities, at least in it’s symbolic realities, is a world I want to help create. My stories are almost always filled with broken, wounded or just dreary people who somehow manage to find hope despite whatever the world might throw at them.

What kind of worlds do you want to weave?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Apocalypse? Wow.

Zombies. Destruction. Mayhem. Anarchy. All left in the wake of the apocalypse. (Okay, maybe not zombies all the time)

Whether caused by chemical fallout, natural disasters, or wayward comets, we love post-apocalyptic stories. What is it that drives us to them, though? Why do we love to watch the aftermath of such destruction?

I think it’s because these stories are the ultimate in do-overs. Imagine: you get to keep all your knowledge, all your skills, but none of the baggage of your past. You are no longer tied to your job, your bills, your expectations.

When the world ends, and you’re left to survive or die, you find a way to go on. The past no longer matters. The future is sketchy at best. All you have is the now. The isolation, desolation, and destruction are side effects, tools that drive our leading characters to become heroes.

The zombie chasing you, the one that was created when a virus was inadvertently let loose on society, doesn’t care how much information you have packed into your brain. It only cares about how tasty it is going to be.

The comets falling from the sky don’t care how populated a city is. It’s just heeding to gravitational laws. There is nothing that will direct its course. (except for possibly giant brain bugs living on another planet, but that’s probably another post)

The water crashing down the street taking out everything in its path doesn’t care if your car has a high-priced status symbol logo or your car rolled off the economy line of a domestic brand. It’s coming, and there’s nothing either car can do about it.

So you ride the tide, swim to shore, and begin again when the waters recede. There’s not a lot else you can do.  Sure, you can help prevent becoming a number. Stay indoors during the night. Don’t crack open the long-forgotten military waste canister. Grab a life vest. But in the end, it’s what you’re doing right now that matters.

We watch Night of the Comet, or I Am Legend, The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 (*checks calendar….uh-oh….*), and while they have horror elements, underneath it all, they’re stories of hope. Stories of the human spirit, triumphing over elements so far outside their control, they seem hopeless. But the human spirit takes over. It overrides our natural programming, leaving us a binary choice: fight or flight.

Just like Mad Max and Alice, we flee until it’s no longer feasible to fly. Then, we fight. And we will fight tooth and nail to survive. We’ll gather food, hunt for proteins, rebuild our infrastructures. We’ll cloister together, patchworking our way to a new society. We’ll have to, for our own sakes. For our own species.

So, who’s ready for a do-over? Let’s stop waiting for the zombie infestation or the alien invasion to give us permission to take charge.  Your do-over is waiting for you to take it.

Think about how you will react when the world falls apart, and you’re the only thing left to keep it together.

Now, go do it.

**Super powers not necessary


Friday, January 13, 2012

The Curses

Well, look at that! Today’s Friday the 13th. Be scared, everyone. Some people may think Friday the 13th is the most dreadful day of their life while some will think it’s the best day. For me, it normally has been a good day. There are so many different curses and I will just list a few. The information was discovered at

Breaking a mirror is probably a well known curse. I have known about it since I was little kid. My sister once broke the mirror by accident and she immediately freaked out. I remember her screaming “I’m going to have a bad luck for the next seven years!” She even wept a little. At first, I thought it was dumb to believe in something like that. Ten minutes or so later, she tripped over something and hurt her knee badly. If I remember it correctly, she kept tripping over things for the next couple days. Eventually, it stopped so…do I believe the luck will last seven years? Probably not. According to Squidoo, “Our ancestors [Romans] began this superstition, because they thought the image in a mirror, contained our actual soul. Thus, a broken mirror represented the soul being pulled from your body and being trapped in all the shattered pieces.”

To think about it, it actually does make sense to the reason why this curse exists. Want to know the reason why the bad luck lasted seven years? Well, “Romans believed after seven years, the body was physically renewed and the soul could once again return whole.”

What about the cure? Is there any way to prevent bad luck from happening? Apparently, there is one—if you accidently broke a mirror, you’ll need to wait for seven hours before you start picking the pieces up then bury them outside in the moonlight.

What does this have to do with paranormal, you wonder? I like to read things like that and start making plots inside my head. Squidoo’s website about the mirror curse only has one hundred and five words, but it was enough for me to think of a plot.

Plot Idea: A murderer follows his victim until they are inside the victim’s house. The murderer waits until a victim faces a mirror for seven minutes then the murderer grabs victim’s head and slams it against the mirror. The pieces from the mirror splatter all over the floor then murderer chants a spell. The soul that is trapped in the mirror pieces becomes bright white and floats into the air. The murderer inhales the soul through his mouth and nose. The victim lies on the floor all helpless. Without a soul, the victim is nothing but a mindless body.

The next curse is the number thirteen. Like most people, I immediately think of the movie Friday the 13th, which was a horror film. There is more to that, though. Here are some examples from Squidoo of how the number 13 got its unlucky reputation:
-          At Valhalla, the home of Gods, if you had twelve guests at a feast, and a thirteenth, turned up uninvited, he was to be “The God of Deceit”.
-          Many Christians believed it started with witches’ covens having 12 members,  making 13 only when the devil appeared at satanic ceremonies (although, prior to Christianity, 13 was considered a sacred number, representing the 13 moons of the year.)
-          For Christians, 13 was also the number at the Last Supper, when Judas betrayed Jesus.
-          It is claimed that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden on Friday, Noah’s flood started on Friday and Christ was crucified on Friday, so, it is likely these days and numbers combined were given the signal of the bad luck.
-          There is the belief that stems from the order given by King Phillip IV, on Friday, October 13, 1307, to round up the Knights Templar and kill or torture them.

I’ve also learned two new vocabulary words from 13th curse section. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday 13th.

How does that fit in paranormal, you ask again? Like I said earlier, Friday the 13th immediately reminded me of the horror film franchise by the same name. Jason Voorhees died as a child by drowning in the lake because the staff at the camp wasn’t paying attention to the children. All the other children thought Jason was a freak. His mother was beheaded then a curse brought his soul back to exact revenge.

People can be as creative as their imaginations allow with this kind of curse. I believe there are plenty of ways to write a story about the number thirteen as a curse involving magic or spirits.

Walking under a ladder is a curse I still avoid. I experienced it firsthand and it wasn’t fun. I fell and wound up with a sprained ankle. Since then, I make sure I didn’t walk under the ladder no matter what. I’ve often wonder why was it a curse until I found an information on Squidoo.

-          If you walk under a ladder you supposedly break a spiritual triangle (the Holy Trinity) that will leave you vulnerable to the devil.
-          In the days before the gallows, criminals were hung from the top rung of a ladder and their spirits were believed to linger underneath. Thus, to walk beneath an open ladder, was to pass through the triangle of evil ghosts and spirits.

This kind curse leads to many potentials of good paranormal story. It can be involved either devils or ghosts. For instance, a person walked under a ladder just to prove his friend that nothing would happen but all of a sudden, he disappeared. It was as if he walked into a wormhole. He fell onto the ground and found himself surrounded by fire. It was when he realized he wasn’t on Earth anymore but in hell. He had to fight his way out before a devil catches him and tortures him for the rest of his life.

I hope you learned a thing or two from this three kind of curses I like the most. The key, in my opinion, to write a paranormal story is to expand you outside the box and think of a curse that can easily lead to something supernatural. Perhaps, include a spell that makes things happen? Inviting a creature to make people scared of the curses? Be creative and you’ll be surprised.

Zach Sweets

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Angelics

I was asked to participate in a pole the other day. Which would I rather date – a vampire, an angel or a fallen angel. It got me to thinking. Angels get a pretty raw deal in the world of man. So what are they?

Angel – from the Greek ἄγγελος (angelos) –  messenger/announcer. Messenger of what, sent by whom? Do we include the Town Crier and the UPS guy? Are all angels the same? That’s like asking if all radios are the same, or all TV’s. 

Archangel, fallen angel, guardian angel, just plain ole angel… can a person be an angel or do they have to be disembodied? Are they sent by God/gods/goddess/et al or freelancing? Where do they live, how do they interact with humans – if they can at all? And…if an angel is fallen, where did he/she fall from? What about gender, do they have one or are they androgynous?  

I’ve read tons of information, (mostly for work *sigh) much of it contradictive. The beauty of fiction, as opposed to my day job of having to argue points of reference to back up conclusions, is that we (the writer) can make up the rules and as long as we’re consistent, we get away with it – yay. But is it still important to have some basis in the familiar concepts our readers associate with angels? 

I think it helps. It makes me smile when you see a reviewer make the comment ‘requires you to suspend belief to follow the plotline’ – um, you’re reading about paranormal creatures, suspension of belief is a given on some level. At the same time, it’s a valid point. We can only push the boundaries of our world so much before we cross the line and ask too much of the reader by carving out such a complex system or world that it becomes the story, overwhelming the characters. 

I also find that when it comes to most paradudes people are happy to chalk up myths and folklore to overexcited morphemes and phonemes or an explosion of phosphene geometries in a well poked eye. But angels…for some reason they touch people on a deeper level. Maybe you’ve had an angelic experience yourself or know someone that has.
 Mind you, for fifty quid, I can attend a workshop down the road that will teach me to talk to angels directly, and for a hundred they’ll throw in a tour of one of the lower heaven realms and a certificate of authenticity to prove to everyone else I’ve been. That's okay, as long as I get to go with this guy <<<<<<< You don’t get that with vampires or werewolves – not in my part of the world anyway.

In my next post, I’ll have a look at some of the angels from religion, mythology and fiction but for now, I’d like to hear about yours. How do you like your angels? Sexy for sure, but are they winged, bodied, ethereal, naughty, pure, tricksters? And what do they do – or do you prefer finding that out to be part of the story?

One of my current WIP’s has an MC, Reeve, whose role it is to guide human souls through the death threshold and into the next world.  Is he an angelic? Some would say yes, but he isn’t a messenger and he doesn’t announce anything. In Gnosticism, he is paralemptor (Greek) – receiver of souls. Have a look at this excerpt – what label would you give Reeve? 

They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before you. To this, I can attest.  What they don’t tell you is how, and maybe, more importantly why.
Years... some have less than others, some only moments, yet in a split second every one of them presents in startling clarity, existent outside of time, hanging beyond space. Magnificent.
That’s my job. I throw the mental switch that allows it to happen at just the right moment. Too soon and you risk insanity, too late and the moment is lost forever.
A review is only powerful when seen through the mind’s eye of the personality that lived it. There have been experiments to try to understand this; to understand why we can’t begin after consciousness passes the generally recognised point of no return. When the ties of the body drop so does the impact of events. In other words, it no longer hurts like a bitch or brings those sweet tears of joy.
Of course, some do return. That’s my job too, allowing the return trip. Are there rules? Of course. Do I follow them? Absolutely… apart from when I don’t.

‘Reeve, what in the blazes are you doing?’
‘Sorry sir, I didn’t see you there.’
‘You’re not supposed to. How can I check up on you if you know I’m here?’
‘For goodness sake don’t stare at me. Put the man out of his misery.’
‘Eh? Oh…’ I flick the yellow globe hanging in the space before me and see Marcus Denby Jr go limp. It’s a shame. I liked Marcus. His review was damned good entertainment. Damning for sure – the guy had truly lived. It was like scenes from an action movie the people watch.
‘I want you in my office at the end of your shift.’
‘Yes sir, sorry sir.’
Harim wafts from the room, shaking his head. He despairs of me I know, but what can I do? I have a soft spot for these little ones in pain, the remorse that bites into their souls when they witness the hurt they’ve inflicted, often without realising. Nobody tells them that at the end they will feel every emotion they’ve elicited in another through that person’s eyes. Marcus Denby Jr has inflicted a lot of pain, a lot of anguish and a lot of downright pleasure. If only he’d known at the time maybe…
Sod it. I’m letting him go back. I want to see what he’ll do with his new insight into humanity. I look at Marcus, the empty body slumped in the chair, wrists and ankles bloody from the ropes. The song of his soul sings to me from the holding pen around the dead flesh – he’s still hurting. His review has kicked into stage two. Some people call it the Bardo – a state in between where one chooses what comes next. I only have a few more seconds before he’s seen too much to return, maybe he already has.
Steadfast. Just do it.
I flick the red globe and the body of Marcus Denby Jr gasps, drawing deep, burning breaths into his broken body. This won’t do. I reach for the blue globe and squeeze just a little. His captors, already pressed back against the walls of the iron cell at the impossibility of the dead man breathing before them, bolt for the door as a gentle blue mist caresses and heals.
‘It’s time to live again Marcus,’ I whispered. ‘This time maybe you’ll do it wisely.’
My mouth falls open as he looks right at me, his head pressing against what should be an invisible hand – my invisible hand that’s holding his face.
‘Will I though, Reeve?’ he said, choking back his tears. ‘Do I know how?’
Casey K. Cox ~ The Review

Now I couldn’t help but include this little titbit of information direct from Wikipedia. 

In the US, a 2008 survey by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, published by TIME Magazine which polled 1,700 respondents, found that 55 percent of Americans, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life. An August 2007 Pew poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe that "angels and demons are active in the world" and according to four different polls conducted in 2009, a greater percentage of Americans believe in angels (55%) than those who believe in global warming (36%).
Wiki goes on to say ‘Teen Belief in the Supernatural poll in 1994, 76% of 508 teenagers (aged 13–17) believe in angels, a greater percentage than those who believe in astrology, ESP, ghosts, witchcraft, clairvoyance, Bigfoot, and vampires’. Those figures may well have changed since the latest vampire/shifter craze took off. Has the interest in the paranormal taken off across the board or just in these currently popular sub-genres? Maybe as writers, our job is to mix it up a bit and bring the whole host of supernatural and preternatural creatures to bear on an unsuspecting world. 

Oh, the power… rarrrr ;)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Vampires Are Delicious

If ever I made a list of personal weaknesses in books, vampires would make the top five. As often as I have professed to hate them/be sick of them, I love me some bloodsuckers and have more vampire books to my name than I am willing to admit.

So why do they appeal so damn much? There are numerous theories discussed, and they're interesting discussions to be sure, but when it comes right down to it, I like vampires because it's really hard not to admire something that overcame death and came back stronger than ever. They aren't zombies, who lost more than a little bit in the transition. It probably doesn't hurt that "stronger than ever" also means "hotter than ever and apparently in need of lots of sex".

Whether you go with Dracula, Lord Ruthven, Carmilla, Varney, or any of the other numerous options, they are not the sorts of creatures one wants to piss off. They're as fascinating as they are bad, that red button that says "do not push" that we all push while cackling gleefully.

These days, it's the "classier" vampire that is prevalent, creatures who are ancient, powerful, but educated and usually crazy good looking (occasionally sparkly, it's impossible anymore not to mention the sparkles). They didn't start out that way, and while they were certainly more terrifying back in the days when they were beasts that people feared enough they actually made vampire hunting kits, they certainly got a lot more fun once stories like Dracula came along.

Vampires as nobles, as educated pretty boys (and women, because Carmilla could hold her own with the pretty boys) are the more popular versions today, and have been since books like The Vampyre. We still like them scary and deadly, but vampires as hideous monsters is just never as popular as vampires with a touch of pretty, a dash of angst, and the potential that they're just misunderstand bad boys rather than out and out evil.

It's also rare to have a vampire book that does not have a powerful sexual element to the hunting/feeding. This has been a trend almost since the inception of pretty vampires, and it's rare not to find it even in small measure. But that's half the fun, if not all the fun—the feeding itself is an intimate act; it's hard not to be affected in some way when you are drinking the blood of a person, whether you intend to kill them in doing so or not. Vampires aren't just predators looking for a kill. They're attached to their prey in a wholly unique way. A little bit tricky to feed on what you used to be, what you sometimes still wish to be, depending on the angst level of the vampire involved. Bad enough to need to feed, but throw in sexy times, and you've got even more complications, and everybody loves complications.

So why do vampires rock? They overcame death to come back better than ever, they're hot, hungry, horny hunters with a unique relationship to their prey that leaves them vulnerable even as they remain predator. There's a million ways to spin the concept of a vampire and no dearth of authors willing to do so, which makes this particular addict very happy indeed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Guest Post - Gods and Heroes by Dany Sirene

I first came across a book of Greek mythology when I was seven. Thankfully, it was a “kids” version, but nonetheless, I was fascinated. Zeus, his long-suffering wife Hera, his myriad conquests and small army of illegitimate children did not resemble the kind of religion I was introduced to in Sunday school. There was Io, whom Hera, in a jealous rage, turned into a cow, Leda and the proverbial swan, Danae, who was visited by Zeus in the guise of “golden rain” (my seven-year-old self could only guess at how that worked). Not to mention all those envious and vain goddesses who punished humans who displeased them and started a war over a golden apple—not exactly what you’d call god-like behaviour.
In  a lot of ancient mythologies, like Greek, Roman and Norse, gods have their separate “domains”, the sun god, the sea god, the father of all gods, and smaller deities with narrower specializations: medicine, the arts, childbirth, dawn, and so on. Unlike monotheistic gods, they interact with humans-- often and with pleasure, if you know what I mean. That usually results in large numbers of demigod children who grow up to be heroes with unusual abilities. Not only do the gods interfere with human affairs, they have their own internal politics that put any royal court to shame. One of my favourite mythological characters of all time, Loki, did some pretty horrible stuff to his fellow Aesir, not to mention that he sired the nightmarish goddess Hel, a giant wolf and a serpent (yes, he got around). All that until the day he crossed the line, and was punished by being tied up in a cave with a snake above him dripping venom on his head.
In Asian mythology, it gets even more interesting. Try Googling, just for fun, what those pretty Chinese dragons got up to in their spare time (hint: it did not involve consent). Also, in many Hindu and Chinese myths, gender is a fluid concept, and there are all kinds of bisexual loving going on, amongst gods and humans and any combination thereof. You have your bi-gendered gods, androgynous spirits and even a god whose domain is homosexual love, Tu Er Shen. His backstory is rather tragic: he fell in unrequited love with an imperial inspector, who, when he found out, sentenced him to be beaten to death. But, since his crime was that of love, after his death Tu Er Shen was delegated as the god of homosexual affections. 
In Fire Play, I imagined my own pantheon with its own rules, even though I drew my inspiration from ancient myths and legends. Demiurges exist in a separate realm, but they can take on human form and live among us. Some are good, others... not so good, some are tricksters, none are infallible. They have flaws and screw up and face the consequences. They play with humans and sometimes fall madly in love with them. And when that happens, passions rage and entire lives are at stake. After all, who can resist the affections of a god?
You can find excerpts and other fun stuff on my blog:
I’m also on Facebook:
And on Goodreads:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Weres! Oh MY!

Shapeshifters. Were creatures. They’re everywhere. They turn up in contemporary crime stories, in sweet coming of age books, even the old west and medieval Briton. But what makes a great shifter? And who writes the best ones? (correct answer: Why you do, of course, Xara) </shameless heavy ego petting>  And why do we love them so much?

Trying to figure that out would be an exercise in futility. Everyone has their own idea of what a shifter should look like, how they should behave, and what kind of emotions they should let show. One comment I see often is “That’s not how my shifters would behave.” So, in the end, all I can talk about is what I think they represent.

Most of the shapeshifters you’ll run across are predators. And most often, a mammal. We can’t seem to get enough of the big, bad wolf. He represents that piece of ourselves that we like to keep buried, hidden from polite society. On the surface, we’re all human, with our own feelings, reactions, and preconceptions. We know how we’re supposed to behave, and what face we’re supposed to give the world. Usually we do a pretty good job of keeping up pretenses.

But deep down, under all the “pleases” and “thank yous”, under the “you’re rights” and “yes, sirs”, there’s an animal. Snarling, snapping, wishing to get out. That’s where werecreatures come in. We all have that base desire to buck the trend, to let our hair down (or the fur fly, as the case may warrant) and howl at the moon. The freedom to run through the woods barefoot, and to snap at things that hurt us. Reading about characters who literally transform into their inner animal. We live vicariously through those creatures, relishing their exploits, and wishing we could use that excuse just once. “It wasn’t me; it was my second nature.”

The shifters that stand out most to me are the ones that never let me forget that even though they look human, and mostly act human, they are completely aware and connected to their animal. Their human habits and nervous tics belie their human facades. The big, burly man pacing the room, taking note of his surroundings, just as a wolf does in the forest. The lithe, sinuous man constantly licking his lips to taste the air, just like the snake he transforms into. The huge blonde who rubs his face against his mate, leaving his scent behind, so everyone knows which lion he belongs to.

Man and his animal. Two forms, merged into one being. All the danger lurking just below the calmly presented surface. The power to shift between the two. We all have it. It’s in there, just waiting to be unleashed. The animal instincts we repress on a day-to-day basis, never letting out lest we be labeled as something less than human.

Most of you know what I am. What's inside you, waiting to be let loose at a moment's notice? What's your animal?

Let me know in the comments. I'll give three winners a swag pack. Contest closes Sunday, 8 January 2012, at 3:00 p.m. CST.