Thursday, June 27, 2013

Things You Shouldn't Say To An Author

Being a professional author is a pretty sweet gig and I won't claim otherwise.  Since the publication of my premiere novel, The Last Battleship, I seem to have entered into a hitherto unknown social paradigm wherein poeple, both those I know well and total strangers, fell free to hit me with some of the following statements/questions.  They range from the innocent-but-no-less-insulting to the truly bizarre.  While there are any number of things one can say to an author, they aren't on this list.  If your intent is to insult or anger the author, however, here's where you start.
1)  "I'd like to write a novel but I don't have the time."  This might be the most common statement I hear and it's a double-whammy insult.  First, it implies that anyone can write a novel; second, it also implies the author has nothing better do do with his/her time.  Both statements are equally untrue.  If I sound harsh or condescending, well, I don't mean it that way. 
The fact is writing a full-length novel is not easy.  If it was, everyone would do it.  To paraphrase another author, "You look at a blank computer screen and take the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet and combine them and recombine them tens of thousands of times until they make a coherent and publishable story that people actually want to read."  If that sounds easy you clearly have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. 
The second part of that statement is just as bad.  It makes the author sound like someone who leads a life empty of anything meaningful.  After all, if you check off the hours of the day doing nothing but writing, you must not have anything better to do.  I suppose if I didn't write novels I could work on that cure for cancer but I guess I'm just too lazy.  Hence the writing.
2)  "I have a great idea for a novel.  If I give it to you, can you write it and we'll share the byline?"  No.  The idea itself is no big deal.  It's the easiest part of writing a novel.  And it changes constantly during the writing process.  Of the three novels I've written, only the latest, Dark Annie, kept its original idea intact from start to finish.  Both The Last Battleship and Moon Dust experienced major plot changes during the writing process.  So the idea itself is less important than most people think.  Giving me the idea and then expecting me to do all the work so you can share a byline is not going to happen.  Ever.  With any author.  So don't ask.
3)  "I've written a novel.  Can you read it and critique it for me?"  Again, no.  It's sad to admit but the fact is people today are way too litigious.  Let's say you hand your manuscript to an author and they read it and the plot happens to be close to something they're working on.  When their work is published you think they stole your idea and you go apeshit.  There's a lawsuit, there are cries of plagiarism and outright thievery, the author's name is dragged through the mud in a very public way.  Sure, which author wouldn't want to subject themselves to all that?  Critique your own work or hire somebody to do it for you.  No author in their right mind would agree to do this.
4)  "My life story would make a great book." No, it wouldn't.  Why, because you suffered through some adversity?  Newsflash:  Everyone has gone through adversity in their life.  What makes yours so special?  Unless you lived through some major disaster and came through it in some extraordinary way, no one cares.  If you're a celebrity, someone will publish your memoirs, I suppose.  Professional athletes, war heroes, political leaders, someone will greenlight their books.  Yours?  Not likely.  This probably sounds a bit harsh but it's a fact.  If you don't believe me try to get an agent or publisher interested in your life story and see what happens.
5)  "Can I be a character in your novel?"  Sure.  I stick mostly to the horror genre and I'm always looking for names for the people who get bumped off.  Once you put this forward you'd better be prepared to accept how the author uses your character.  You can be the victim of a serial killer, or a very minor character that gets clipped to show the readers just how dangerous the situation is for the other, more important characters.  You can be painted in a very unfavorable light.  Or you can be the hero of the whole piece and save the day.  This is a very clear cut example of caveat emptor.  Keep that in mind if you ask this question of an author.

There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones that get thrown my way the most often.  I never make it a point to call anyone on their bullshit when they say these things to me.  I know they're not being insulting intentionally.  Or maybe they are and I'm just too dense to realize it.  My usual response to this is to nod politely and smile and resist the urge to strangle them and hide the body. 

Or to write them into the next novel with a brutal death scene. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Unconventional Zombies

I am all about zombie movies.  I have been ever since I saw the original Night of the Living Dead by the brilliant George A. Romero.  Like many fans of the genre I can't quite put my finger on why I love zombies so much.  I acknowledge the idea that they're a metaphor for our culture and attitudes, the us vs. them mentality, the consumerism of modern society, etc.  And I can appreciate them on that level.  But mostly I just love a good zombie flick.  But as more and more movies are made there's a push to make your zombies distinctive from the rest of the bunch and that can lead to some weird variations on the theme.  Hence the zombie movies and books we're gonna look at in this blog.
I thought the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) was okay but it was no match for the original.  My biggest complaint is the introduction of fast zombies.  I hate this idea.  Not just because it treads on Romero's rules but because it also eliminates the one physical advantage the survivors have over the dead.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's a metaphor for how we're losing all our freedoms and quality of life at a (perceived) much faster rate than ever before.  Whatever.  Fast zombies suck and I blame director Zack Snyder for this and for every movie made after DotD that featured fast zombies.
                                                              Wal-Mart's having a sale!
The exception that proves the rule about how fast zombies suck is 28 Days Later (2002).  The zombies in this Danny Boyle flick are not zombies in the traditional sense.  In fact, they're still alive.  An artificial virus escapes a lab and infects the citizens of London.  Don't you hate when that happens?  Cillian Murphy wakes up in a hospital with no knowledge of what's going on.  The deserted London streets are suitably creepy and the "infected" are everywhere.  This is really a very good movie and you should check it out.
                                           The creators of Where's Waldo aren't even trying anymore.
In 2005 Marvel Comics produced a series called Marvel Zombies.  The term "Marvel Zombie" had been around since the 70s and it referred to someone who bought only Marvel comics, regardless of quality.  Marvel turned the title on its ear when they called Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, and asked him to come up with a story wherein all the Marvel heroes become zombies.  Kirkman's story concerns an alien virus that strikes earth's heroes and turns them into canabalistic monsters with a twist:  They still possess their powers and intellect.  They know they're doing wrong but they can't help themselves.  Spider-Man, upon turning, eats his wife and beloved old aunt!  Arthur Suydam took classic Marvel covers of the past and "zombified" them, like this one from Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #1:    
It wasn't a bad story if you threw continuity out the window.  Since this took place in an alternate universe it did not affect the "real" Marvel Universe.  It was something of a What If...?.  It was as good as it was simply because Robert Kirkman knows how to tell great zombie stories and he knows the Marvel characters.
Marvel's chief rival, DC Comics, came up with their own zombie story in 2009, titled Blackest Night.  Spinning out of events in Green Lantern, writer Geoff Johns created the Black Lanterns.  Dead (or formerly dead) heroes and villains returned to life as Black Lanterns.  This concerned nearly every character in DC's universe, since most of their major characters had died at some point in their career and come back to life.  (Death in comics is something of a revolving door.)  The Black Lanterns then went about trying to kill the living heroes and villains, who would in turn become Black Lanterns themselves.  It wasn't a bad story but DC really ran with it and it eventually became too convoluted to follow easily.  Still it was a pretty creepy sight to see undead versions of Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman (among many others) actively trying, and sometimes succeeding, in killing their former collegues. 
                                                              They're behind me, aren't they?

The last one I want to being to your attention is 2004's Shaun of the Dead.  Written by star Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright, this is a super-entertaining movie.  It's a comedy, kinda.  It's a romance, kinda.  It's also a solid zombie flick.  What makes this so great is that Shaun and his crew are just plain funny.  The zombie holocaust that overtakes London is played straight, but the dialogue and actions of Shaun and his best bud/roommate, Ed, are anything but.  Their big plan to escape the zombies is to go to their favorite pub and drink and have a good time until the whole situation blows over.  This movie has several laugh out loud moments, but keep in mind, it's a horror movie and people die.  Some of them, horribly.  Fans of Pegg's TV series Spaced will spot lots of actors from that series, and even a few of the jokes but I can't recommend this movie enough.
                                                            Shaun and Ed, zombie slayers!

This movie is a love letter to George Romero, who loved it so much he invited Pegg and Wright to be zombie extras in his Land of the Dead in 2005.  They're the photo booth zombies, in case you didn't catch them before.
I likes me a good zombie flick, especially anything by Romero.  But I also like the idea of people trying a different approach to the genre.  It doesn't always work (have I mentioned how much fast zombies suck?) but I have to applaud the effort, if not always the end result.  There are plenty more I haven't gotten to.  Like the WTF Return of the Living Dead movies, the they-get-worse-with-each-sequel Resident Evil movies, etc.  Have I missed any that you think should be included here?  Let me know.