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Monday, 28 October 2013

Zombies with a conscience

Christine Verstraete

You never forget those first frights—the creak of the pendulum in the Poe-based film, The Pit and the Pendulum…. the scare from reading Stephen King's Pet Sematary— and the dog decides to make a noise at a crucial moment… staying up all night reading when the house starts making strange noises…

I've filled my mind with enough "gruesome" over the years that it's no surprise it's started to bleed out in my own writing, though I tend to take a "lighter" approach with the blood and gore. Then I got attracted to zombies. Yes, dead things. Dead people walking.

Nothing new, of course. I've long been a fan of old 1930's horror movies like Frankenstein and The Mummy, both with Boris Karloff (and both could be considered the first "living dead"), along with White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. Then I saw George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and was initially creeped out, but later fascinated. Horror, and zombies and monsters, even in all their gruesomeness are like a car accident—you can't stop looking.

What many people, even those who typically don't like horror, find compelling is the humanity. It's the people and what happens to them in the movies or series like The Walking Dead that keeps them coming back. It's the way that the story makes you nearly jump out of your chair, despite the gruesomeness of it.

Romero is credited with starting the flesh-eating zombie, quite different than the voodoo-made zombies in a trance state from Haitian legend and in the early films. But… could it be real? Journalist William Buehler Seabrook is credited with introducing the term "zombi" (without an e) to the public through his 1929 book on Haitian voodoo, The Magic Island, where he describes reportedly seeing actual zombies. Of course, he also had an alcoholism problem and later dabbled in the occult, too. But some sources have pointed to certain toxins, like from the puffer fish, as being able to paralyze a person and turn them into a "zombie". Haitian witch doctors also reportedly have used plant toxins to render persons into semi-conscious "zombies" in addition to casting voodoo spells on them. (See CNN report.)

In fiction, of course, zombies are often the heartless killers, all vestiges of humanity gone and forgotten. Or some authors, including me with my book, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, have created zombie characters that still hang on to some of their humanity and struggle to survive in a different form, with a different reality.

Whichever approach, zombies usually are scary; the real life boogeymen of today. They're the representation of all things evil. They're devourers and symbols of the end.

Thank God they're not real…. right?

Friday, 25 October 2013

An interview with Steve Holak author of a new fantasy trilogy - The Winds of Heaven and Earth

Steve Holak's The Winds of Heaven and Earth launches a new fantasy trilogy, blending epic and contemporary genres, and WWBB wants to get down and personal.

Hi Steve, let's start easy. How many unpublished books/stories do you have lurking under your bed?
I have a “trunk book” that will see the light of day after I finish the Keystone, Lodestone, Clarion series (I say series instead of trilogy because I have this horrible feeling that, as I write book two, ideas are emerging and the third book story is mutating and I’ll have to commit a Robert Jordan and expand the scope. We’ll see.)

How long has it been lurking?
It’s been banging around under there for 15 years.  It needs a complete re-write. The core story idea’s good, but I was too immature as a writer to pull it off: it suffers from the lack of a direct and strong antagonist, and the protagonist doesn’t have the “transformative journey arc” through the tale, things like that. That’s the book I want to be my Magnum Opus; I’m a stronger writer now, and understand the plumbing of fiction much better—and I’ll be even better by the time I’m ready to write it.  Probably 2015.

Anything else?
I have an outline for a space opera, and I’m researching the Roswell saucer-crash myth on the side: I want to give that a kick-ass literary treatment and bring all the Roswell mythology together the way Justine Cronin did for vampires in The Passage. I have enough to keep me busy for the next half-dozen years, at least.

You sound really busy. How do your juggle a writing schedule?
Like a chainsaw juggler. I have a (bill-paying) job that requires 24/7 availability. I’m away from home 13 hours each day—I leave at 5:30 am to drive to the train station, and get home at 6:30 pm. Fortunately, I get about 90 minutes of train time every day, and that’s where I do a good chunk of my work. We have an arrangement at home: I get Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings to write after dinner—so I usually manage an hour or two before I get tired--and a half-day on the weekends. During the summer, I teach scuba a few times a month, which eats up most of that weekend. Let me get up on a soapbox for a minute: Despite my schedule, I still manage 500 to 2,000 words a day, so I have no sympathy for aspiring writers who say they don’t have the time—make the time if writing’s important to you.

Well said! So, what's the best and worst part of being a writer?
It’s the coolest experience watching characters take over the keyboard from you and type their own behaviour and dialog. I spend time detailing and developing my characters on the side so that they each have a unique and recognizable voice. (I think that shows very clearly in WHE.) A side effect of this is that they’re on automatic when I start writing and it’s fun to watch. The worst part? Do I even have to say it? The marketing. The continual, shameless marketing. I’d love to just write and have a machine do that work for me. (Yeah, you know who you are.)

Print Edition
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I’m a digital guy. I do a “Snowflake“ process—write down the one-sentence blurb, expand that to three sentences describing the three-act structure with gating scenes, expand those to paragraphs, write a detailed outline of each, then break down to scene level in Scrivener. Describe each scene: POV, goal, conflict, purpose, outcome. Then write scene by scene. Once that draft is done I shuffle the scenes to their final order then finish up the final drafts in Word.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
Absolutely. Usually 1000-2000 words a day, and about 10,000 words per week. I don’t always hit it, but the important thing is to set the bar and keep reaching for it until the story’s finished.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Zombie sex

Stephen Kozeniewski

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what topic, exactly, to write about in my WWBB guest post.  I actually wrote a post here pseudonymously last year because I was still hiding my shame at being an unpublished author.

What a difference a year makes!

Since then I’ve gotten a new day job, a new cat, a bunch of other blah blah blah new stuff that you don’t really care about, but most importantly and excitingly: I found a small publisher willing to take on my horror/mystery novel BRAINEATER JONES!  I immediately thought of trying to get a spot on Louise’s schedule and when I saw her call for ‘orrible covers for the month of October I knew it was kismet.  (Sorry, other challengers, but you can’t deny it: my cover is the ‘orriblest.)

But that still left me with the quandary of what topic to write about.  Louise writes chick lit…or possible chic lit…or possibly Chiclets, although I’m not sure exactly how one would go about writing on little pieces of gum.  How could I make my little gorefest appealing to her readers?  Then it struck me:


Not only would zombie sex be a great topic for Halloween AND a great topic for this blog, but it would also suddenly make that “long and hard” phrase in my first sentence seem like a deliberate authorial choice.

I’ve actually been noodling this topic a lot lately, which sounds weird, but, come on, I’m a horror writer.  We think about weird stuff for a living.  Last week I went to a midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead at my local hipster theater, which was an awesome choice because, amongst other reasons, I got to re-watch the granddaddy of all modern zombie stories.  And while I was watching it I noticed something I had either never caught before or had deliberately repressed from my memory:


Seriously.  Go back and watch it.  How did I miss/forget about that?  I mean, I knew horror films in the ‘70s were exploitative with, I want to say a seventeen naked breast minimum mandated by the  MPAA.  But how did Romero manage to slip that nudie zombie by in a black and white film in the late ‘60s?  Bad for puritanical society, I guess, but an auspicious start for this blog post.

Of course, no actual zombie sex took place in that picture.  (Nor was the word “zombie” ever used.  Seriously.  Go back and watch it.)  The first contemporary example of actual hot dead-on-dead loving that springs to my mind comes in the classic 1992 New Zealand import Dead Alive.  Haven’t seen it?  Go.  Right now.  Shoo shoo.  I’ll wait.

Back?  Seriously, how awesome was that?  Anyone who says The Lord of the Rings were Peter Jackson’s greatest films simply haven’t seen Dead Alive yet.  What you probably forgot about in light of the whirling lawn mower blade of death that concluded the movie is that early on the zombie priest and the zombie nurse, urm, well, got it on.  (Yes, I said zombie priest and zombie nurse.)

And here’s where we get into an intriguing bit of erotica esoterica.  THEY HAD A BABY BECAUSE OF IT.  That’s right, apparently even zombies need to worry about the consequences of not using proper birth control.  Er, well, I guess they didn’t have to worry about it, per se, since they were zombies, but somebody sure had to take care of that baby.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Horror in literature needn't be about monsters

Horror in literature comes in all guises. You have the old-fashioned monster books to the psychological thrillers that play with your mind.
I prefer to read (and watch) thrillers that force your mind to imagine the worse: the wind outside becomes someone searching for a way into your house, the innocent cat that meows just to go out suddenly becomes an animal escaping something that you, a mere mortal, can't see.

I don't write horrors per se, but in Eden there are some scenes where the character, Jenny, is very much in a psychological horror movie. She’s stranded on a hostile planet and has no way of getting home. She has no communication and no provisions. She is forced to live like her prehistoric ancestors.

Eden focuses on the human's fear of solitude 

A clever writer will dig deep into what a person fears the most, magnify it and then plunge the reader straight into its core. And you needn’t be reading a horror book: 
  • Loss of a loved one - The Lion King
  • Loneliness - Home Alone
  • Rejection - Hitch
  • Death - Schindler's List
  • Pain - Saw
As previously said, I chose ‘loneliness’ for Eden's theme, and asked the question: what happens when you're cut off from civilisation? 

In the books closest related to Eden, the characters didn't act that different:

Tom Hanks playing Chuck in Cast Away went crazy and made best friend called Wilson out of a football. Robinson Crusoe had his legendary friend, Friday, and both resorted to Christianity. The sweet love story of Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins had one another, and later, a baby. They grew up on the island and barely knew any different but they still feared solitude and when the baby ate the poisonous berries they ate them too rather than be left alone.

Happy reading!


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Halloween –A Good Time To Remember Ray Bradbury

Seb Kirby

Halloween in a good opportunity to remember Ray Bradbury. Though he’s been thought of more as a science fiction writer in recent years, right from the start and throughout his writing career, Ray Bradbury was interested in the macabre, the bizarre and the unusual, all seen through the lens of his uplifting poetic imagination.
Ray Bradbury
Attribution: photo by Alan Light

The true story he recounts in the Introduction to Volume 1 of his collected short stories sets the scene. He takes us back to 1932 when, as a twelve year old, he met a remarkable performer who was part of a ‘seedy, two-bit’ carnival that came to town:

‘Mr Electrico sat in his electric chair, being fired with ten billion volts of pure blue sizzling power. Reaching out into the audience, his eyes flaming, his white hair standing on end, sparks leaping between his smiling teeth, he brushed an Excalibur sword over the heads of the children, knighting them with fire. When he came to me, he tapped me on both shoulders and then the tip of my nose. The lightening jumped into me, Mr Electrico cried: “Live forever!”’

Making excuses to go back there the next two nights, the twelve year old got to know the entertainer who told him he was a defrocked Presbyterian minister out of Cairo, Illinois. Then, Mr Electrico came up with the really surprising news. They had met before, he said, on the battlefield of the Ardennes in 1918.  “And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!”

Ray Bradbury concludes that he had been uplifted by not one but two gifts from Mr Electrico – the gift of having lived once before (and of being told about it) …and the gift of trying somehow to live forever.  He continues: ‘A few weeks later I started writing my first short stories about the planet Mars. From that time to this, I have never stopped. God bless Mr Electrico, the catalyst, wherever he is.’

As a young boy myself not much older than Ray Bradbury was then, I began reading his stories. His science fiction stories came later for me; what captured my imagination first was the macabre mystery of the stories in ‘The October Country’, ‘I Sing The Body Electric!’ and the story that turned into a novel, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. In these stories he draws on the surreal imagination set off by that carnival encounter back in 1932, producing quirky, challenging encounters that stretch the imagination. But this is a forgiving horror. As in all of his writing there is an optimism that rises despite the most difficult of odds and cuts through the darkness.

So, have a good Halloween!  Banish those monsters!  Ray Bradbury will be with you every step of the way.

Sadly, Ray Bradbury failed in one thing – he didn’t find a way of living forever as Mr Electrico had demanded. He died last year, aged 91. But he lives on in his wonderful stories, written in that clear, inspirational voice that is a model to so many authors today.

Here he is, talking about his writing and his hope of inspiring others.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

I write horror... am I warped?

Edwin Stark

This is a question that every horror writer must face sooner or later. People will always wonder at someone's fascination towards all that darkness, gore and creepy things that horror movies and horror literature represent... even more so if that someone loves to write about all these odd happenings. It's bad enough when they ask you if you are a writer; it gets worse when they find out that you're a horror writer. People you meet in parties get that strange, shifty look in their eyes as if they're half-expecting you to leap at them, scalpel in hand, yelling: "Blood! Blood! Blood!"

The truth is rather disappointing; the horror writer (including myself, altough 90% of my entire body of work hardly falls in this genre) is just a regular fellow like you and me... (now, that got me wondering about YOU). I like to cook, hike, ride a bike, rake the leaves in the garden, grow my own tomatoes, read the newspapers and, if I were married, I'd be bringing my significant other some flowers I picked on my way home and perhaps tell the kids a story before bedtime.

And then... why write about horror? Aren’t there plenty of nice things to write about? Am I warped or what?

Just another old-time favorite question in parties, mind you.

Edwin Stark

Well, the horror writer, even though he or she is a normal human being, writes about horrible events exactly because he or she is one (a normal human being, I mean). He (or she) conjures normal worlds where something has gone terribly awry all of a sudden, and then he or she releases a few monsters here and there to wreak some additional havoc. He isn’t writing about this because he or she revels in death, mayhem and destruction. The horror writer is writing this because he or she is celebrating life… by showing us how things can go incredibly wrong in a moment’s notice.

Just like real life, isn’t it?

And here is where the really good horror writer excels. A second-rate horror writer is just happy to let the monster loose on a terrifying rampage, leaving behind an awful amount of destruction in its way; a true master of horror knows that he must properly straighten up the playground after he or she had fun by either destroying the monster or finding a way to lock it back into its cage. He or she will learn how to restore the balance.

So, I guess that the answer to the "are you warped?" question is: "Nope, I'm not warped... I guess I'm just a little bent around the edges."

Edwin Stark
Signing Off

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Who Killed William Shakespeare?
Simon Stirling

The Church of St Leonard sits on a hillside, away from the road.  Through the porch and the heavy oak door, you enter a well-kept space with all the usual oddities of an old English church.

To the left of the east-facing chancel, a short flight of concrete steps leads up to a pair of iron gates which open into a side chapel, filled with memorials to members of the Sheldon family.  Carved effigies occupy the space between this chapel and the chancel.

Every five years, two of the steps leading up to the chapel are removed.  More steps, never seen by the public, lead downwards into a small crypt.  Old coffins lie side-by-side in this musty space.  Sometime in the past, these coffins were broken into by thieves who wanted to steal the lead linings surrounding the bodies.

There is a hole in the wall, beyond which lies an ossuary filled with large bones.  The ossuary also contains a bucket-like urn which once held the viscera of Ralph Sheldon.  He died in 1613.
But the skull which rests in the urn is not Ralph Sheldon’s.

The skull is not complete.  The lower jaw and cheek bones are missing, and there are no teeth.  Deep scratches are scored into the right forehead.  The eye sockets are broken, with a sharp burr of bone jutting out at the edge of the left eyebrow.

A new vicar arrived at the Church of St Leonard in 1883.  His name was Rev Charles Jones Langston.  In October 1879, he had published an astonishing story in the “Argosy” magazine.  It was entitled, “How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen”.

Langston’s tale of grave-robbing was filled with incidental detail.  It appeared just as an international debate on whether or not to open up the grave of William Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, was hotting up.  When the Shakespeare expert C.M. Ingleby wrote his “Shakespeare’s Bones: A Proposal to Disinter Them” in 1883, he mentioned Langston’s extraordinary tale.  Rev Langston responded by publishing the second half of his story under the title, “How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found”.

His new account described how the skull had been hidden away in the ossuary beneath the Sheldon chapel in the Church of St Leonard by the very thieves who had broken into the crypt and smashed up the coffins to get at the valuable lead inside them. 

Langston claimed to have discovered the church almost by accident.  He was shown into the crypt by the churchwarden.  There, by the light of a lantern, surrounded by the mouldering remains of generations of the Sheldon family, he had reached into the bone-house, pulled out the funerary urn, and found the missing skull of William Shakespeare.

It took me several years to track down the Rev Langston’s story, and months of trawling through old census records to find out if the people he mentioned in his tale had really existed.  I had been researching William Shakespeare for more than twenty years, and little by little I had come to the conclusion that the world’s most famous writer had been murdered by his greatest rival.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Do all protagonists have to be GOOD guys?

Protagonist…Good or Bad?
Luke Murphy

My very first adult novel was CUJO by Stephen King (what were my parents thinking? LOL). Like I said, I’ve never been a horror fan, but King in a genius. That book scared the bejesus out of me, but it was an exceptional read and it brought me in touch with a side that thrilled me. Being scared or frightened is an emotion that appealed to my inner being and I craved more.

They don’t make good horror movies like they used to, but every now and then I like to watch a horror movie to connect with my youth. I know, weird, eh?

So my real question is: Do all protagonists have to be GOOD guys? We’ve all read books about zombies, ghosts, ghouls and brutal serial killers as antagonists, but what about protagonists? Is the term “bad protagonist” an oxymoron?

One of my favorite shows on TV is Dexter. What would you call him? Is rooting for a serial killer such a bad thing?

That’s what I had in mind when I first sat down to write my début novel, DEAD MAN’S HAND.

Dead Man’s Hands is a crime-thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas. It takes readers inside the head of Calvin Watters, a sadistic 6’5”, 220 pound African-American, Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy. He's not a man to be taken lightly or a book for the faint of heart.

When thinking about creating the main character for my story, I wanted someone “REAL”. Someone readers could relate to. Although it is a work of fiction, my goal was to create a character who readers could make a real connection with.

Physically, keeping in mind Watters’ past as an NCAA football standout and his current occupation as a Vegas leg-breaker, I thought “intimidating”, and put together a mix of characteristics that make Watters appear scary (dreadlocks, patchy facial hair, body covered in tattoos), but also able to blend in with those of the social elite.

His every movement is done with precision and a slowness that dramatizes his actions. As he’s torturing his victims when collecting debts the atmosphere is built up by where the scene takes place. His “workshop” has been created to scare his prey. His methods are brutal, and he has a 100% rate of collection.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

When comedy is the blackest of black

James L Hatch

I recall the chants during limbo dance games, “How low can you go?” In a sense, that’s what it’s like to write gruesome comedy. Yes, black comedy—very black. You get to create your own world of dysfunction where anything goes. I’ve had a great deal of fun doing that in my paranormal comedy series that includes The Substitute; Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana!; The Training Bra and The Trophy Wife. On the other hand, I might have lost a few readers along the way.

Let me explain. I write humor. Not just any humor, but the distorted humor you might hear in a men’s locker room. Flatulence, anorexia, serial killers, fat people, skinny people, dead people, liberals, dismemberment, sewer drowning … even rape—all topics are targets of humor in the right context. I write about hell. It’s not a nice place and the characters that exist there aren’t nice either. Societal norms don’t apply. All I can say is that I try to keep foul language to a minimum and never depict anything sexually explicit.

Still, some readers have difficulty separating what happens in my novels from real life … especially when it comes to rape. To them, I am just a stinking old white man with zero sensitivity. One elderly beta reader even went so far as to call the works “deviant” because some of the events are far outside of the value system of normal society. Well, duh—hell is, well … hell. Those spoil sports are the exceptions; many others like the books. Before I go on, I need to provide an example from The Trophy Wife, just to show a shade of humor in an attempted rape situation. In this ménage à trois, Miss Havana has been kidnapped and chloroformed.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Researching death and the dead...

Valerie Laws

Several of the people in this room are dead. Their heads are shaved, their mouths open. Some have missing teeth, the lip collapsing into the gaping mouth, the chin bristles erect. Drained of blood, the flesh shows its true colours - cream, shell pink, beige, mauve, mushroom, taupe, yellow. A boy is slicing into an old man’s scrotum, his face intent, while a girl scrapes at the abdomen of a woman of ninety, the turned-back skin flap backed with creamy, fat-like, wet sheepskin. 

The cadavers lie on steel tables, with lids opened, like metal sarcophagi, while brightly coloured youngsters cluster round them with their scalpels. The bodies are dignified, massive and beautiful in an austere way, their muscular thighs, solid genitals, jutting chins, unselfconscious as the living now cannot be, as the young medical students gradually reveal the intricate beauty within them.

©Phil Date | Dreamstime Stock Photo

I am Writer in Residence at this anatomy department, and at the attached pathology museum full of human specimens, and at a brain institute, and I’m privileged to be here among the dead and those who learn from their ‘silent teachers’. 

I, and my artist colleague, lead workshops in drawing and writing in the dissection rooms, with the dead as subjects. At the end of the sessions, wearing purple nitrile surgical gloves, we help to put away the bodies and parts of bodies. A pair of thighs lie on a table, the sawn-off ends showing a button of bone, small discs of femur. A head in a steel bowl looks through the parted legs. A disembodied face lies on another table, peeled from its skull, looking more expressive than before: wise and innocent at once. It’s like a deflating balloon, its attached windpipe like the string. 
I’m learning about the science of death. I am funded to learn, to write, to interpret neuroscience and pathology for the public, to understand for myself what death is, as far as I can. 

I am a poet, playwright, but a crime novelist, too, and what I learn enters all of my work. I am given tours round slices of brain, shown the signs of dementia which could be already eroding our own brains long before the outward signs appear if we but knew it. 

I study the floating foetuses in the museum’s big jars, babies with bizarre syndromes, two heads, split spines, Cyclops eye, mermaid tail-blades - beautiful babies who couldn’t live once born. This is an incredible journey for me, and several books result from several years of in-depth research, which itself follow personal experience - being present at the deaths of loved ones. 

Death is the great mystery, even more now than in Victorian times, it’s now shameful, a failure of medicine, hidden away, but inevitable and we are fascinated by it. It might seem gruesome, but being among the real dead, I feel respect, affection, empathy. They are just people, like me, like you. But like you, I wrestle with the meaning of death, and in the crime fiction I read and write, with murder, the ultimate crime. 

There are different kinds of evil. Another side to the respectful students and professors of the anatomy department, and those who gave their bodies so that we can have surgery in order to live, is the suffering of the living, and that is much more gruesome in my view.

I spent months in hospital with multiple fractures, large steel pins like six-inch nails sticking out of my bones, bolted to bars, an arm, a leg, both feet smashed. I’m still disabled decades on from the crash. I know how it feels when thirteen of your bones shatter, I know what being helpless in hospital is like, and how the helplessness of the cared-for can bring out kindness, empathy, in the carers - and how it can also bring out sadism, cruelty, or cold indifference. 

Doctors, surgeons, well-paid, respected: we find ourselves at their mercy when our lives are smashed up or in the balance. Sometimes they hurt us, and don’t seem to care if they do - what if a doctor was a clever sadist, who enjoyed hurting patients with broken bones, able to keep on doing it, be paid for it, be venerated for it? And what happens when someone strikes back at him, and others? 

And so I’ve created the sadistic surgeon in my second crime novel (and twelfth book) THE OPERATOR, followed by a series of murders of surgeons left mutilated to mimic the operations they perform on others. The first book, THE ROTTING SPOT, focused on skull-collecting. I used to collect skulls, hack off dead heads of roadkill or dead beached birds, rot them, boil them in bleach. Some of them are looking at me now - a horse, a deer, a badger... A gruesome hobby some would say, yet to me bones are beautiful, my fascination with anatomy intensified by my own broken bones. And no creatures were harmed... 

Pain is more gruesome than death. We will all die, we will all know pain, we fear loss of autonomy or power over our own lives, so we read (and write) on, attempting to understand, enjoying the ‘safe danger’ of crime or horror fiction.

Friday, 4 October 2013

I Evil

Bryan Cassiday

I, Jefferson Bascomb, the “Chosen One” who reigns over Alcatraz Island in Sanctuary in Steel, do believe that the main character in a work of fiction can be evil. Look at William Shakespeare’s play Othello. The play is named after the character Othello, who is ostensibly good, but the fact of the matter is, Iago steals the show. The most evil character in the play is Iago and he is the one who controls the action with his conniving subterfuges. The play should, in point of fact, be called Iago.

I, Jefferson Bascomb, am a character in Bryan Cassiday’s zombie apocalypse thriller Sanctuary in Steel. The good guy in this creepy book, and I cringe in disgust when I think of his goodness, is Chad Halverson. He wants to be the star of the show, but, in actuality, he is not. I am. I control the action. I control the entire island of Alcatraz and permit him to stay on my island. It turns out that was a mistake, but I did not know he was a troublemaker.

I am not as evil as people might think after they read Sanctuary in Steel. Would an evil man order fair trials to be held for infected zombies? I presided as judge over these trials, and if a zombie who committed crimes, such as murders and robberies, was found guilty, he was sentenced to do time or to pay for his crime with his life. If I’m so evil, why would I believe in equal rights for zombies? 

Of course, I do admit I raped women on the island and tortured and mutilated defendants if they were found guilty of murder. But they deserved it. I also used the residents of the island as bait for the zombies when I tired to implement my escape from the island. Those sacrificed were burned alive in a fire that consumed Alcatraz prison. I had to escape, didn’t I? After all, which is more important? Hundreds of innocent residents or yours truly? That’s a no-brainer.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

How gruesome is too gruesome?

Horror-writing tips
Mary Twomey

In my opinion, if the horror serves a purpose, then it’s the right amount. If you’re just being gross to shock us, let’s get real for a minute. We live in the post-Tarantino era. Most of us just sigh at the tedium of violence for shock value.

How can you tell the difference? Ask yourself the following questions: Does the vicious bloodbath serve a purpose? Is it there to move the plot forward? Does it give us a greater insight into our hero or our villain? If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, then the gore serves a purpose, and therefore, should not be cut. So long as your novel or movie has the appropriate filters attached (i.e. – “contains adult content”), then censoring yourself will do your audience a disservice. There is a big difference between gore implied and horrors witnessed.

It’s important to keep your reader in the moment. That’s why I try to avoid flashbacks and past tenses in my more disturbing scenes. Let them experience the terror as your characters do. The best horror books, in my opinion, spend equal amounts of time describing the blood and guts as they do the emotional reaction to the crime scene. If it’s all action and no heart, eventually we will grow numb to the thrill of the scare. If you plant a visceral response by letting us in on how your characters are negatively affected by every slash, then you’ve got both a visual and an emotional story. In my book, that adds up to a home run.

One of my main characters is a man named Baird. For me, it was important to make Baird unbearably cruel, while placing him in an impossible situation. I don’t want a character everyone hates without question. That’s too easy. I want my Severus Snape – someone the reader feels torn about. Baird is responsible for raising his sister in an incredibly violent and racially tense environment. To keep her safe, he turns her into a serial killer so they can pick off the bad ones before an attack comes upon them. He trades in her childhood so that she has the possibility of living to adulthood. Baird is unmerciful and unkind in every circumstance, but there’s always the lingering thought that he’s doing all of it to keep his sister alive. The death scenes are gory, but to truly hate the monster that Baird is, they must be brutal. The horrific ways he teaches his sister to murder cements his “no apologies” policy. In the end, the battle becomes not to stay alive, but to hold onto the shreds of their humanity as they turn into unflinching killers.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Limits? What Limits? I’m a Horror Writer


Alex Laybourne

When creating anything that is going out into the public domain, there is always that question of, The Line. That imaginary boundary that limits the artist, that keeps them within the borders of the socially acceptable.

Luckily, I’m a horror writer. I truly believe that horror is the last genre to be unhindered by boundaries. There is not one idea or story that could not be successfully written about in a horror novel. There are no taboos when talking about horror. Sure, as a writer we would all have our own personal limits. Certain stories or plot twists that we would not use. That does not make it a boundary through, not in the sense of what is acceptable to the public. Horror should, in varying measures, terrify, sicken and disturb. It should make people shudder and to want to shut the pages, avert their eyes and thing of rainbows and unicorns. That is what makes horror so great. 

We are the final literary adventurers. A dying breed of writers who stand proud and write not only what people want to read, but need to. I will go as far as saying that Horror needs to push the boundaries further and further. Horror cannot have a limit because humanity is the sickest and most terrifying of all characters, and as long as real life keeps creating fresh monsters, so fiction must adapt to keep the terror on the pages alive. 

Realities are there to be stretched, horror, unlike any other genre, should not just be about the words on the page, or the story within the book. True horror should stay with you long after the book closed. Take The Shining from Stephen King or pretty much anything by Clive Barker. Those books are great stories, but even better works of horror, for they leave something behind, clinging to the soul. It is impossible shake. Reading those books changes you, in some small, unnoticeable way. You don’t generate that effect by staying within the limits of the socially acceptable, or by writing mainstream pop culture monsters. You get it by being a visionary, by taking an idea and twisting it into something hideous. Starve it. Poke it with a stick. Then release it out into the world.