Archive for June, 2019

I’m taking a slight departure from last week’s blog on Horror (which I plan to continue, but want to finish the non-fiction book I am currently reading and want to use as the basis of that blog) and approach a different subject.

Horses.

Horses and nightmares aren’t exactly two completely different things (night-“mare” anyone) but that’s not what this post is about.

Along with joining many others in Holly Lisle’s Summer of Fiction Writing, I am continuing to work on her How to Write a Novel course (yeah, I know, I already wrote a novel but there’s plenty more to learn. AND: Disclaimer: if you purchase it through that link, I will be compensated as I am an affiliate). The subject of that novel happens to be a character I’d already established (and one of my favorites), Ennid the Havoc. If you haven’t met him, you can do so via Amazon or Smashwords. He’s a mash-up kind of character in a mash-up kind of world: a fantasy version of MMA fighting, horses, angels-versus-demons-on-human-world-battlegrounds, pirates. Ennid’s got an uneasy alliance with his world, his past, but enjoys the simple things like good food and the company of his not-so-simple horse, K’zirra.

For this novel, I decided to dive into his near-past and gave him a scene in which he finds himself washed ashore, after he gets swept off of the deck of a seagoing vessel, stranded on the proverbial deserted island*. My original plan had him discovering the remains of a settlement and something very unsettling they left behind.

Then the horse showed up.

Galloping (literaturelly?) onto the shore, this magnificent golden stallion shows up and starts tossing his mane and his attitude right at Ennid. So it got me to wondering — this idea of the horse seemed so left field. Where did it come from?

Once I thought about it, not so left field. Apparently, somewhere in the back of my brain, a memory bloomed in full color after I’d had all of my words on the page. The Black Stallion. (Movie, not the book, although I did read that later in my childhood.) So that scene and the thought of a guy and a horse on a distant shore with no one but each other for company and possibly survival. There are, however, plenty of differences; Ennid isn’t a teen, the horse isn’t black (truth be told, the golden stallion’s not even a –but, wait, that would be a SPOILER) and there’s a whole different threat going on than just having to survive on the island.

Now, for you “horse purists” out there, I will warn you that you won’t find an “accurate” portrayal of a real horse in the stories, so you can save yourself the keystrokes and the electrons of sending hate mail. Sometimes my horses behave horse-like, but other times not at all like the normal equine creatures. This is completely intentional. My inspiration for K’zirra, and subsequently the golden stallion that has no name as yet, came from my love for the Ranyhyn of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. There are “normal” horses in the world, but the Ranyhyn are very special. Aside from being tied to the Earthpower of The Land in those stories, these horses possess a kind of prescience that allows them to know when their chosen rider will call them, and they respond long before the call and show up exactly when their rider calls them, even if they were hundreds of miles away. If anyone has played The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, you will understand when I say that I think Roach is a Ranyhyn, hehehe.

I hadn’t ever planned for there to be a horse in this story about Ennid, other than for a brief mention for other-story-foreshadowing purposes, but this stallion was demanding I do something with him. And he was right.

Hey you writers: have you ever had something come up while you were in that writing zone that seemed so disconnected from what was already on your page or in your plan that turned out to be better than expected?

 

*Which is actually a DESERTED island, as there was something there at one time, as opposed to the “deserted” island in which no living thing had been and established anything in order to desert it. And also as opposed to a desert island, since there’s plenty of foliage and swamp-age and all kinds of things that are pretty opposite from the concept of what a ‘desert’ is.

In preparation for a project I have been wanting to write, I have delved into good articles and books on the subject of Horror. As in, “what makes horror ‘horror’?” Obviously, there’s a lot of debate on the subject, and elements that some say are absolutely integral to some aren’t even mentioned by others. But horror isn’t all subjective.

What I found was 1) on a personal level, it’s easy to find something horrifying but difficult to quantify why, and 2) we all have different fears so that fear we tap into for our writing may not be shared by another (think “public speaking”).

The only way I was going to write anything meaningful on the subject would be to relate it to myself. What do I fear and how can I make that palpable? These are aspects, not one defining element of Horror, but when taken as a whole comprise a terrifying situation. I’ll be going over a few different aspects over several posts, so welcome, and enjoy the ride.

Utter helplessness.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that we’ve all experienced utter helplessness at some point in our lives, either over our own selves or for others. You hear it all the time from parents when their children are sick or dying, “I felt so helpless.” There are people whose entire lives are there to help others: think first responders, military, doctors, etc. When faced with a situation where none of the skills or tools that they can employ will do a damn thing… that kind of dread of utter helplessness. In horror when you set the “monster” up as being impervious to the tools and weapons we have, give it a desire to keep going, to not stop, to churn up everything in its path and nothing has any effect on it… Horror. Yup.

Normalcy Eroded.

Every one of us has an expectation of normalcy in our lives, be it a routine, the people we encounter. But what would happen if that gentle little old man passed you with a smile, and that grin was filled with shiny black pointed teeth. Or the attractive soccer mom who leans closer to you and whispers, “Privileged one, the prince of darkness will fill your womb.” You might question your own sanity – did you see what you really thought you saw? Hear what you thought heard? And when you ask the soccer mom what she said she denies she said anything at all? Those moments of unsettling encounters, very brief, almost dismissible by you and rationalization by some third party you trust over what you REALLY saw or heard… until it’s too late, of course, and instead of little hints of it here and there, a full-blown invasion of the supernatural and normalcy-killers spilling over into our world.

Smallness.

This ties in somewhat with the utter helplessness as above, as it describes that sense of the “what can one person do?” mentality. H. P. Lovecraft’s works sometimes hit on the idea that man senses his miniscule existence in the vastness of space, which crushes him into death or insanity.

Unknown-Unknowable.

Another realm belonging to Lovecraftian fiction, the fear of the unknown, and encounters with the unknowable result in much the same – insanity and/or death. Brushes with alien, supernatural, looking into forbidden books of knowledge. This is really what makes a horror story that much better, when the entity causing all the chaos remains an unknown quantity. When you give it a face, it tends to go to the side of unintentional humor (Freddy Krueger and Chucky come to mind. I never thought they were all that scary to begin with, and over the decades they look more and more ridiculous. I did have a lot of fun watching them at sleepovers and laughing my head off). Keep something totally in the dark all the time, and you keep it in the realm of the psychological. Not so easy to walk away from that horror.

Lovecraft Horror

Oh, there’s so much more to go on this, and I will continue next week. Until then, is there anything you have discovered to be an essential element of horror?

I got this question from a friend: Do Authors (and Artists) have competition?

My answer: They don’t.

Anyone could argue that the author is competing for the customer’s dollar. I’ve been in that position, where I only had so much to spend on a book I wanted, instead of one of everything. However, that didn’t mean I gave up on it altogether – it just went on my list for later. (I still have a long reading list, but my book collection is by no means tiny. In fact, I’m trying to find new homes for some of them, and slowly adding more to the site. Go here if you are interested.)

However, something else is regulating what those who have money to spend on books/art: taste.

Functional goods make it to magazines with comparison charts and categories like “best value” and “most efficient” and numerous other item-specific trait evaluations.

Novels and artwork can’t be classified this way. It can be marketed as “Horror” or “Fantasy” or “Romance” or “Sculpture” or “Pastels” or “Lithograph” and it can be evaluated for how well it was crafted, but, let’s face it, not every bestseller is going to appeal to every reader. Why? Taste. Aesthetics. Preferences. You either like it, or you don’t.

So, no, I don’t think we have competition. In fact, I think we have a sort of symbiosis: “If you like X, you’ll like Y.” And in general, readers don’t ditch an old favorite author because a new one is on the scene, but add it to an ever-growing list of beloved authors.

 

And something marginally-related to this post, based on the discussion with the friend:

Word of warning: seems to be people preying on new/wannabe authors, charging them a fortune for the writer to pitch their story at these writer symposia.

Also, if you give someone a manuscript to read, don’t format it so it looks like the novel before you hand/e-mail it to someone and then expect them to take you seriously. No, no, no.