Category: genre fiction

Blogging is rough work (or I think it would be if I did it more often)

agents, conventions, genre fiction, Habeas Corpse, idols, KillerCon, marketing, Mistresses of the Macabre, publishing, release, World Horror September 30, 2013

Hey there intrepid readers!

Seriously? Have I been so remiss about posting that I haven’t actually written a blog entry since February??

*puts self in blogger time-out*

I’m equally bad about tweeting. Twitter is overwhelming to me, so I generally don’t use it. I do like Facebook, so if you like my blog, come like my FB author page, too (just click the link there). I am a little better about posting to my FB page than I am here.

So anyway… things have been busy since I last posted. Lots of writing, plenty of editing, a motorcycle accident that left me with a broken elbow and some awesome bruises, a couple of conferences, a retreat, the loss of a dear friend. I’ll spare you an epic post and just write about one thing at a time. You can come back for more later.

In June I went to New Orleans for World Horror. This was my third HWA convention, and I always have a blast. I did not, however, enjoy New Orleans. The whole trip started off wrong when my flight down was canceled (this has never happened to me… like, a complete cancellation) due to poor crew scheduling. How does that happen? Anyway, the flight was canceled, which meant two whole different flights, and I got in almost six hours later than I was supposed to. I think I got to the hotel around 1AM, and I was feeling pretty pissy because I’d actually gotten up at 3AM to make the flight that was canceled before the airline (*cough* United) even contacted us. It was hot (like REALLY hot… New Orleans in June…) and the smell in the French Quarter was… was… Let’s just say every time I left the Hotel Monteleone I said to anyone standing within earshot “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SMELL??” My best guess is it had something to do with the fact that the French Quarter is below sea level, so nothing drains, there’s trash out 24/7, human *substances* in the street and it’s all mingling and baking that incredible heat. I have what might be called an acute sense of smell, perhaps to make up for my terrible hearing, and it was torment.

That said, the Hotel Monteleone was gorgeous. The beignets were oh so yum. The company was second to none. I had the opportunity to speak with some of my writing heroes and they knocked my socks off. The panels were great, particularly the women in horror panel. I spoke with an agent who’s interested in seeing some of my work, and I’m hoping to have good news on that front in a few months. I was asked to sign a few copies of Mistresses of the Macabre at the mass book signing, which was an awful lot of fun, and I finally got to meet Lori Michelle, my editor for Mistresses. Here are some pictures from World Horror Con 2013:

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Panel on writing dialogue with some of my peeps.

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Panel on working with an editor with my own fab editor, RJ Cavender.

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And a panel on women in the horror genre with Lucy Snyder.

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The Walgreens in New Orleans carries alligator heads.

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Sign on Bourbon Street.

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Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Bar. Really just a bar. It was built between 1722 and 1732 and is believed to be the oldest building in the US used as a bar. No electric lights. Questionable odor and the guy in the banana hammock out front really added pizzazz.

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Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo.

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The Hotel Monteleone has no 13th floor. Where is it?!?!

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Random view of Bourbon Street.

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Cafe Beignet, just a block away from the Hotel Monteleone.

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My husband and mentor/brother-from-another-mother waiting for beignets and coffee.

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BEIGNETS!! I tried my first one and proclaimed, “It’s a funnel cake!!” (I was raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country). Scott promptly gave me the smackdown and said,”NO! It’s a BEIGNET. If you call it a funnel cake, it’s a SNACK. If you call it a beignet, it’s BREAKFAST!”

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I tried to keep my nose buried in a cup of coffee most of the time so I didn’t have to smell the air.

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My new friend.

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How can a writer NOT like a place called THE BACK SPACE BAR?

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Here we were waiting to take a vampire tour, which I was convinced would be full of delicious cheesiness and perhaps people jumping out and yelling boo, but ended being the highlight of the trip.

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See why I thought the vampire tour would be cheese-a-licious? Nope, he was very knowledgeable about NOLA history and gave a fantastic tour.

World Horror Con is always super awesome, and besides the odor of New Orleans, this year didn’t disappoint.

I’ll write a post on the SHU In Your Write Mind later and also one about KillerCon, which I’m just recovering from.

I do have some excellent news on the publication front… we have a release date for Habeas Corpse! On November 2, 2013, the world will meet Theo. Write it on your calendar and buy a copy! Buy three! Buy one for your mom! I’m really excited, and even more so since I met Marc Ciccarone and Joe Spagnola of Blood Bound Books at KillerCon. They’ve been great to work with and are genuinely fun guys. I’m glad to be working with them.

So NOVEMBER 2!!

Till next time!

Working with an editor, part 1

angst, editors, genre fiction, Habeas Corpses, marketing, writing life February 14, 2013

Last spring I pitched my book, Habeas Corpses, to the editor of a large(r) house that will remain unnamed. I met with this editor in person at a convention, pitched HC, and Said Editor (SE) expressed interest. A week or so later, I sent the manuscript to SE.

I have yet to hear back from SE. No acceptance or rejection.

To be fair, I should have contacted SE and ascertained that SE received my manuscript, but I didn’t. That’s my fault, and I take responsibility for it.

In the meantime, another large house contacted me about Habeas Corpses after reading an excerpt (I think it was the first chapter) on a website they run. That’s right… contacted me. I may have mentioned this before. This Other Editor (OT) requested the first hundred pages, and naturally I sent them. It didn’t take long for OT to send an email outlining some changes I’d have to make in order for my manuscript to be acceptable. These changes basically consisted of removing all traces of gore and graphic material from my novel because OT felt the gore would turn off readers.

Mind you, this manuscript is a zombie novel. Zombie fans turned off by gore? Has anyone at Large Publishing House bothered watching The Walking Dead? Rant over.

I pitched it again to another small(er) publishing house and was told they liked the characters, but the novel didn’t fit their line. Fair enough, and it was a pleasant pitch and rejection.

Yeah, so anyway, at this point I was completely convinced I was marketing this monster the wrong way. But since I was so close to the story, I wasn’t sure I could objectively call it one thing or another. I tried marketing it as urban fantasy, as horror, as a mystery. I had one really awful critique from a contest (more on contests and why I’ll never enter another one in a different post) that claimed it was utter shit and not worth the paper it was printed on. I entered it as an urban fantasy, and I really think that was part of the problem. I needed some help.

A few of my writing colleagues mentioned talking to a professional editor. I know a few editors from my days at SHU, but no one in the horror genre, so it was clear I was going to have to step outside my inner circle.

I started doing some research and one name popped up in a couple of different places from trusted friends. After some procrastinating on my part (because no one could know my novel as well I do, right?) I contacted The Editorial Department for someone to take a look at it and tell me where Habeas Corpses fit in which genre.

My novel was assigned to RJ Cavender. Fast forward by a couple of months and I’d received RJ’s critique of Habeas Corpses. A few weeks later, my mentor and colleague Scott talked me out from under my bed where I was sobbing and dribbling. He smacked some sense into me and I reread RJ’s critique, after which I signed on to work further with RJ.

RJ’s critique was honest (something which I value very much, but always take some time to digest, hence the sobbing and dribbling) and easily the most helpful assessment of a manuscript I’ve ever had. My first read-through of any critique only allows me to read the negatives, so I missed all the complimentary things he had to say until I came back out from under the bed. He accurately pinpointed my strengths (dialogue) and weaknesses (plot holes), and gave solid advice on how to fix the weaknesses.

He also told me my novel should be marketed as horror. And then he helped me market it.

…to be continued

 

Brains and entrails and spoons, oh my…

genre fiction, research, zombies November 28, 2012

Zombies. Shamblers, moaners, walkers, undead, the risen, biters, crawlers, uglies. Mindless masses of once living humans craving human flesh.

Whatever you want to call them, they’re terrifying. Death by zombie isn’t pretty, what with the gnawing and the gnashing of teeth. Having one’s brains scooped from his or her skull and chowed upon doesn’t sound like the most peaceful way to slip into the hereafter.

No one wants to become a zombie, either. The idea of wandering the planet restlessly searching for my next meal isn’t exactly appealing. Depending on the type of zombie and the writer’s preferences, there is a question of whether or not the zombie is aware of their predicament. Is the soul of the person still behind the decaying face, unable to control his or her movements and base desires?

These are the questions we are faced with when the walkers come knocking. Nothing about zombies is pleasant, including their actions and the manner in which they feed. Is it fair to downplay the violence associated with zombies? When we, as readers, are confronted with something as horrifying as the walking dead, is the writer somehow obligated to domesticate the monsters? Or do readers of zombie fiction prefer the full experience, the visceral terror and grotesque details of the legend?

My novel, Habeas Corpse, is the story of a zombie who is trying to reintegrate into a post-apocalyptic society. Theo Walker discovers he can relive the last moments of a dead person’s life when he consumes their gray matter. Eating human flesh is the only way the zombies in my novel can feel emotions or experience chemical sensations, like sexual pleasure or anxiety.

If you look at the classic zombie movie, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the violence is understated. The audience was very different then. These were people accustomed to I Love Lucy, Gomer Pyle, and Gunsmoke. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got movies like Zombieland, The Dead, and the upcoming film adaptation of World War Z. Even movies meant to be comedic like Shaun of the Dead, and YA novels like Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series incorporate more violence and gore than ever before. The modern zombie connoisseur cuts his teeth on The Walking Dead, and if you’ve been watching that over the last few episodes, you know what gore is all about.

Does the modern zombie reader want to return to the homogenized, nonviolent zombie of Romero’s time? I don’t think so. Today’s zombies fans want realism. They don’t want the story sugarcoated or dumbed down. In fact, most zombie fans expect a healthy dose of gore and complain if they don’t get it. Fans of the TV version of The Walking Dead did just that after a season of what they saw as too little action and too much sitting around the farm. This season reflects the fans desire for more zombie killing, blood, death, and the struggle for survival, not just avoiding the walkers.

In Habeas Corpse, Theo depends on ingesting human flesh in order to feel emotion and experience stimulation. Eating the flesh is more than opening his mouth and inserting the food for Theo; the act of eating heightens his senses and brings him closer to the state of humanity he’s lost since dying. It’s a “whole” experience for him. The sensual nature of savoring the entire experience is essential to understand his motivation. The story would not be as effective without the graphic descriptions of the consumption of human flesh.

Leave me a comment. Do zombie fans expect or even want gore? Or should zombie stories be homogenized to fit a larger audience?

Guest blog: The importance of choice in creating readers

genre fiction, guest blog, reading, writing life, writing parent August 29, 2012

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series so much is that it provides choice for young male readers. In a bookstore filled with female protagonists, Maberry offers a cast of strong male protagonists alongside the strong females. Benny is so identifiable and Tom is a great role model.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Sara Kajder. Sara has worked in both university settings and in grade schools, but has loved working with middle school learners. She has a background in English literature and received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Also important to this blog series, she’s the mom of two boys. As an educator and a parent, she understands the unique challenges in fostering interest in reading among the boys. In this guest blog she tackles the gender gap in literacy. As she points out, examining the choices that our kids are making in reading material is key to fostering their interest. Maberry’s books have been a great choice for us.

“I teach eighth grade English in a curriculum that is chock-full of the standard-faire… Grammar.  Vocabulary.  Etymology.  Writing.  And, oh yeah – reading.  Lots and lots of reading.  For some reason, this seems to be the area in which I receive the most “Bless your heart” comments when catching up with old friends or describing my work when meeting new ones.  This is followed by a nod of a head, a sigh, and the lament that “Those boys just don’t read…”

Looking across my summer reading list last night, some bits of that did look to be true.  In a randomly chosen class of 18 (with 12 boys and 6 girls), the female students out-read the boys by 3 books to 1.  According to their initial reflective writing, 3 of my 12 boys were gregarious readers with the other 9 quick to embrace the title of “non-reader.”  Their entries describing their reading were notably brief, as was their list of favorite authors, books re-read, and time, on average, spent reading each day.

Here’s the thing… None of this surprised me.  And, bigger – I, and loads of reading scholars and researchers, believe that a real literacy gap doesn’t exist.  Yes, some boys can take longer to learn how to read.  And, yes, significantly more boys than girls, especially adolescents, will label themselves non-readers.  However, given the opportunity to self-select titles from lists which understand their interests, my male students will rise – and quickly.  ALL readers become better readers by reading more, whether they are girls or boys.  I work hard as an English teacher to build reading communities in my classroom, so boys have the opportunity to recommend books to one another (as we all know that peer to peer connections are infinitely powerful).  My role is to support, to facilitate, to know students (and books) well enough to know what might ignite a particular fire in a reader, and to constantly seek out model readers with whom male students (and female ones, too) can see, question, hear, and emulate.

Readers who are skillful, passionate, habitual and critical grow from powerful interactions with texts that actually act on them.  My boys don’t usually get that from the now abundant female-protagonist, post-apocalyptic YAL that line the shelves of our local bookstore.  Their choices do fall into some of the patterns/myths that you’d expect – nonfiction abounds alongside graphic novels, science fiction, and the growing list of series about sports and adolescent athletes.   Independent (read: not on the school-approved list) choices this summer ranged from Conan-Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville to Meyers’ Fallen Angels to Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  They weren’t drawn to Sarah Dessden’s approach to writing about relationships, but they did connect with Walter Dean Myer’s work that does explore relationships between men across contexts ranging from scenes of combat to competition the soccer field.

We discussed their choices in class today, and the predominant message was one that centered on the power of choice.  Building life-long readers is about helping students to make smart choices about their reading.  Adult readers revel in our idiosyncrasies and expect the freedom of choice.  The boys in my classes need to do the same.  Students talked about making reading easy and inviting, which often means backing off of our expectation that all texts be “literature” and making room for alternative modes and media.  Even bigger, my students talked about time.  We live in a time that is marked by speed and an odd push to make sure that we schedule every second of our children’s time.  Malcolm Gladwell talks in Outliers about expertise as something that can only happen once we spend at least ten thousand hours engaged in a particular practice.  From school, most of my students head to at least two athletic practices (or a game) per evening, not counting the time needed for homework and other commitments like music and rehearsals.  Reading stamina is important. You can only get it by reading regularly and building the “muscle memory” that helps students identify what makes good writing work.   Summer seemed to provide the single space for the majority of my boys to slow, to pick up a book, and to get lost in story.

All readers deserve the opportunity to become better readers.  Choice, time, and stamina… I’ve written all three into a heading for my planning book for the term, and, just as importantly, I  have them saved as a prompt to remind me as a mother of two boys to foster growth in my own sons.  It’s amazing what we can learn from kids when we listen to their practices, their choices, and what they have to say.”

Many thanks to Dr. Kajder for taking the time to talk with us!

Book review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathon Maberry

book review, genre fiction, guest blog, writing parent August 8, 2012

I have a love-hate relationship with post-apocalyptic novels. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road nearly left me undone. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One showed us the best and worst of people, but left me feeling rather hopeless. The basic struggles of humanity during or after a catastrophic event are heart-wrenching, telling, and can sometimes give a sense of hope in this strange world we occupy.

I love sharing books with my kids. Obviously, there are certain books that would be inappropriate to share, like the above mentioned examples, but I try to read the books they’re interested in so we can discuss them. My older son, Jacob, is twelve. We both read the Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy then went to the movie together to compare it to the book. Like any preteen boy, he likes strong protagonists, a good struggle, some suspense, and if the author can throw in a little violence and monsters, even better.

My son’s biggest gripe with The Hunger Games, and most young adult dystopian fiction, is the lack of a strong male protagonist. The Hunger Games is told from the perspective of Katniss, a girl, and while he enjoyed the story immensely, Jacob wished he’d been able to experience if from a male perspective as well. I guess it has something to do with the whole “girls have cooties” at this age thing.

Imagine my glee to see Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, with a teenaged boy protagonist. I love Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, beginning with Patient Zero, but they’re not yet appropriate to share with Jacob. Zombies occupy a special place in my heart, and therefore also in the hearts of my kids. How many families discuss their theoretical zombie apocalypse plans over dinner? THIS ONE.

So when I saw the first book in Mr. Maberry’s series, Rot and Ruin, I grabbed it and the second, Dust and Decay, as well. I read both books before I let my son tackle them.

Before I read the book I wondered if it would be too graphic or violent for a twelve year old boy. Nope. I appreciate the restraint Mr. Maberry used with the violence and graphic descriptions, and also with the language. While there is a love interest, something most kids this age are acutely aware of, but may or may not actually be experiencing, there is no sex. Jacob commented after we watched The Hunger Games movie, “At least they left the sex out.” Mr. Maberry obviously understands what a young teen boy wants and does not want to read. I appreciate this.

I considered writing my own reviews of these fantastic books, saying things like the post-zombie-apocalyptic world in which main character Benny Imura experiences adolescence is believable and wonderful. The book starts out with a bang, describing the world in which the teens are struggling to grow and the new, different responsibilities and expectations. Maberry does his usual wonderful job of “showing, not telling” in many ways, including Benny’s job search. At age fifteen the kids are expected to find a job, work, contribute, not just exist any longer. This plot point both showed Rot and Ruin’s society and segued into a great discussion with Jacob about how easy his life is and how his main responsibility is his education. We discussed what he might do if he were in Benny’s shoes.

I would also say something like Benny’s character is so relatable and flawed as to allow an adolescent boy to identify and grow with him. I might also mention that Benny’s brother, Tom, is not just a fluff side character, but a strong male role model for boys who stands up to bullies and encourages Benny to understand the whys and hows of this new world and to not just survive but thrive and make a difference. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Benny’s band of friends, Nix, Morgie, and Chong, and how their close bond allows them to experience a normal adolescence in an abnormal world. I might also be tempted to say that the way the group treats the outcast Lilah is a good lesson in inclusion and understanding others. The lessons taught in this book are invaluable, and they are all couched in an exciting, relatable story that appeals to boys, who generally have been left out of the YA dystopian craze.

But instead of saying all those things, I decided to let the target demographic speak for me. Here, in the words of the young reader, is my guest review:

Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Rot and Ruin so that there can be a teenagers view on the book.

Rot and Ruin is about a world of post-apocalyptic zombie breakout where people are struggling to survive. Rot and Ruin follows the story of a fifteen-year-old boy named Benny who is trying to find a job. He finds nothing interesting enough so he goes to work with his older brother Tom. Tom is working as a zombie killer. Benny expects the job to be boring. All he thinks his brother is doing is killing zombies ruthlessly for money. What he finds out is something very different.

My favorite character in the novel is Benny. In the beginning he thinks that when he starts as a zombie killer it’s going to be dull. The first time they go out to kill a zombie he sees that Tom is doing things nicely which is a new perspective for him. One group they see is just playing around killing them. Benny doesn’t seem to like it. When he sees what Tom does he finally understands and realizes there is more to his brother and to the world. So Benny as a character is interesting.

I liked Rot and Ruin because of its suspense. It’s basically like “Ohh, is he a zombie?” or “Ohh, is he dead?” at some points and nothing is ever safe. I like how it incorporated some adrenaline as well. All of those parts wanted to make me read the next page. Its emotion also really got me. There were definitely sad parts and definitely happy parts. Examples are when Benny first hears what Tom does. Another example is when Benny finds Tom alive and unbitten after a giant zombie attack.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend that likes a little mystery and suspense. Also I would recommend it because it is just a good book. I think most of my friends would like this book.

Thank you for your time and consideration to this review. Thanks for everything, Mr. Maberry.

Hazard Yet Forward

genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, reading with a purpose, SHU WPF, Writing About Popular Fiction, writing life August 7, 2012

It’s here! Today’s the release day for Hazard Yet Forward, the anthology written and compiled by fellow Seton Hill alum, students, and friends. The proceeds from this amazing 700+ page tome will benefit my friend Donna Munro in her fight with breast cancer.

This huge volume covers all genres and everything in between. Follow this link to get your copy today! Help us make this book #1 on Amazon’s list!
If you don’t have a Kindle, never fear, there’s an app for that! Get it here.

Book Review: Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie

book review, genre fiction, paranormal October 5, 2011

Abby Cooper is a psychic intuitive living in the suburbs of Detroit. She “reads” for people for a living. When one of her clients ends up dead, she ends up on the run from a killer.

Victoria Laurie is, herself, a professional clarivoyant. As stated in her author blurb, she drew upon her own experiences to create the character of Abby Cooper. Abby is a likable character, flawed, but positive and intelligent. She is drawn into the police investigation of her client’s death quite by accident– she winds up on a blind date when too many margaritas loosen her tongue and she tells her date that she is a psychic intuitive. Her date is a cop.  Whoops.

The storyline was entertaining, the characters were likable and the setting very realistic. Just a few issues I noted…

I found myself with a ballpoint pen, circling all the adverbs. And there were a lot of them. Laurie has a clear penchant for the words “suddenly” and “finally.” I did feel like she used adverbs at the expense of telling instead of showing.

We didn’t see the main plot until page 101. The protag is confronted with a murder in the beginning, that the reader is led to believe will begin the plot, but the first murder actually has nothing to do with the plot. That felt like a betrayal.

There were several points in the book when I wanted to see something. For example, at one point the protag says “…and for the hundredth time that week I felt myself looking around anxiously. This had been happening to me since Monday.” There are a lot of details, mundane details, in this novel, and I could not figure out why, when we moved through that time with the character we weren’t given any inkling that she was looking about anxiously. If the author wanted the anxiety included, she could have gone back through the novel and inserted a few moments. Anxiety and a feeling of being followed strikes me as important to the reading experience and setting up the sense of urgency.

**WARNING SLIGHT SPOILER**

My other major problem with the story is that the killer was not introduced in the beginning, or at least before s/he’s unveiled as the killer. There is no possible way for the reader to follow along and guess who the killer may have been. The reader can insinuate certain circumstances, but we find out about the victim’s past late in the novel, and it comes as a complete surprise. I wanted the killer to be someone I could have identified. We don’t know this killer until s/he’s attacking our protag. This was the ultimate betrayal for the mystery reader who likes to “play along.”

Despite these issues, I very much enjoyed the details about how her gift of clairvoyance worked and the details in setting. Abby Cooper is a likable character that I enjoyed reading about, and I’ll probably pick up the other books in the series.

Book Review: Colson Whitehead’s Zone One

book review, genre fiction, literary fiction September 28, 2011

My degree is in writing popular fiction, which lands me squarely in the genre field of writers, mingling with those folks eating cheese puffs and drinking beer, rather than with the literary novelists noshing on canapes and wine. Rarely do the camps socialize, preferring instead to turn their noses up at one another and pretend like we’re not all actually doing the same thing… writing to an audience with the intent to evoke emotion, to get the mind-wheels spinning, to create a moment of illumination or escape.

But! <here’s me with my aha finger in the air>

But sometimes a novelist will straddle the space between the writing forms and take the best of both worlds. Colson Whitehead accomplishes this feat in Zone One, his literary zombie novel.

A literary zombie novel? What? Yeah, I said the same thing when I was asked if I’d like to read this book for review.

“I thought you might be interested in reviewing Colson Whitehead’s new literary novel of the undead, Zone One,” read the email. I scratched my head and thought, okay, hey, let’s do this.

I’m incredibly glad I did.

My regular readers know that I try hard not to use spoilers in my reviews. I will do the same here.

Zone One immersed me immediately in the beautiful, urban atmosphere of New York City from the point of view of a child version of Mark Spitz, our protagonist. The Big Apple is a character in the book, the setting itself so intrinsically tied into Mark Spitz’ perception of the world that the story cannot extricate itself from the skyscrapers, the subways, or the tenements. The city comes alive, even as it dies.

Mark Spitz is a sweeper in Omega team, one of several civilian teams tasked with “sweeping” an assigned area of New York City– Zone One– clean of stragglers and the occasional skel. During a three-day sweep, the reader learns the background behind Mark Spitz’ integration into Reconstruction and the events that lead to the apocalypse. Mark Spitz is extraordinary in his mediocrity, lending a wry vision of life both before and after the events that unfold in the novel. He’s a solid B-average kind of guy, still living in his childhood home, eking out an existence, but not really living, when the world ends. He fumbles his way through the new order, in and out of other characters homes and lives, and into the Reconstruction effort, incredible only the sense that he’s alive. In the Zone, survivors deal with PASD, Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the rigors of cleansing and recreating sections of New York. Whitehead’s protagonist is relatable, easy for the reader to identify with, but he is observant and thoughtful. His coping skills, including finding something familiar and holding on, are in every reader’s personal arsenal and bring his struggles closer to home.

Whitehead alternates scenes of action with narrative passages, comparing and contrasting life before “Last Night,” life in the Wasteland, and Mark Spitz’ present circumstance in Zone One. The action sequences, what I consider the “genre” aspect of the book, abound with elements that appealed to the horror writer and fan in me– Whitehead is not squeamish– and Mark Spitz’ bland acceptance of the ruin around him led my inner genre reader down the path of acceptance as well. Whitehead uses many familiar details to keep the reader grounded– indeed, the juxtaposition of the familiar onto the alien is one way Mark Spitz copes with his own horror and the clues that something is changing for the worse. His wry, matter-of-fact view of the world brings the fantastic elements into sharp clarity.

The narrative passages show us another side of the zombie apocalypse– the imagery evocative of both the horror of human ruin and the devastating beauty of a city falling apart. When we learn how Mark Spitz rationalizes dispatching skels or stragglers, the break in the action does not distract from the story, but rather serves to illustrate the need to maintain humanity in the face of anguish. This narrative, Whitehead’s literary side, adds depth to Spitz’ journey, it pauses the story to reflect on the human meaning of the zombie trope.

I noted very few mechanical issues with the book; a POV shift here or there, but they were tough catches. My only other pet peeve type problem involved an enthusiastic use of the word “leak” and it’s variations. Corpses did an awful lot of leaking in Zone One. I did appreciate the fact that this book forced me to my dictionary more than a few times, and I love an author that can use words like a gunslinger.

I love it when a book needs tabs.

Literary or not, I found myself completely drawn into the journeys of Mark Spitz. His is a story of the most basic of human trials– survival in the face of desolation and loneliness. The action in the story satisfied the genre reader in me, while the literary side of the story forced me to consider the social issues at hand. Could I survive the violence Mark Spitz is subjected to and still believe in the value of humanity?

Highly recommended reading for both my genre peers and my literary friends. My copy is now studded with tags and post-its and the margins are busy with my comments.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead is due for release on October 18, 2011.

Book Review: Religion in Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment

book review, genre fiction August 24, 2011

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I read across genre. I enjoy almost all genre fiction, and particularly enjoy writers who bring issues onto the table with their work. Since I’m part of a minority religion here in the US, I love fiction that plays with religion.

I read Monstrous Regiment for a class I took a few years ago and loved Mr. Pratchett’s ability to play with religion. Here are my thoughts:

Despite having taken it’s name from an anti-Catholic tract, and mocking the establishment of organized religion, Monstrous Regiment seems to me to be pro-religion.

We have lots of satirization, mostly in the form of the Abominations of Nuggan. Chocolate, cats, and the color blue are all Abominations unto this “tetchy” god. At several points in the novel, someone mentions that the Abominations are mostly ignored anymore, especially by devout Nugganites. It can be interpreted that the Abominations are ignored because they make life too difficult or might put a crimp in the followers’ style, so to speak.

Modern religion, specifically Christianity, seems to follow the same path. If a piece of scripture doesn’t fit the modern lifestyle, excuses are made for not abiding by it or it’s simply ignored. Pratchett mocks this tendency with Nuggan and his Abominations. He paints a clear picture of the typical religious follower with Polly– skeptical unless it suits her, a so-called “religion-lite” kind of person.

These assertions and satirizations might lead the reader to believe that Pratchett is anti-religion. However, in Monstrous Regiment, Wazzer Goom is clearly a prophet of the Duchess Annagovia. She is from an abused background, the kind of person who might develop a mental disorder as a result of the abuse. She’s endured many things that might lead a person to turn their back on faith in disgust, or it might cause some others to grasp onto religion with an iron-hold, in a desperate attempt to make sense of their horrible surroundings. We see that today in people that commit horrendous crimes, the “God told me to” affliction. Rarely (if ever) are these people shown to be true prophets.

Although the others are uncomfortable around her, they humor her rather than trying to correct her. In the history of religion, prophets are mocked. “Wazzer was nice . . . well, sort of nice, in a slightly scary sort of way– but talking to her was like picking at a scab; you knew what was likely to be under the crust, but you picked anyway” (p.155). And Polly wonders on page 211 “what she should read more: Maladict turning into a ravening monster, or Wazzer reaching the end of whatever mental journey she was taking.” Wazzer is clearly not taken seriously throughout the book.

But Pratchett is setting Wazzer up as the genuine thing.

In the end, her visions and the voices prove to be true– she really does speak with the Duchess and is used as a vessel. On page 298 we see Wazzer take control of a long-dead army. Beginning on page 348, the Duchess asserts herself through Wazzer to promote Sergeant Jackrum and give orders to end the war. She is a true prophet.

Her reward was a job on the general’s staff and her own room (p. 381). This is the reward for prophecy?

Is Pratchett truly satirizing religion, or merely it’s followers? Is he asserting that followers shouldn’t be so skeptical; that they should look to the visionaries and listen rather than scorn? If the reader only considers Pratchett’s invention of Nuggan, it’s most definitely a satire of organized religion. But look deeper to see more.

Locked in?

angst, genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, writing life August 9, 2011

Okay, so I’m not actually locked in to anything. Sometimes I wish someone would give me a time-out in a locked room, but I’ve had no luck with that one yet.

Someone? Anyone? Can I have a time-out?

No?

Anyway, I have a question today for the writers that might be reading, particularly those that have published in more than one genre.

If you publish in one genre, are you locked into that genre?

For example, my thesis novel is a cozy mystery. I know the cozy market is bleeding from its eyes and the chances of me publishing my thesis without some sort of revision (I’m thinking of adding paranormal elements) is slim, but if, by some miracle, I do get it published, how locked into the subgenre is my name?

I know an easy fix to this problem is a pseudonym, but let’s just say I don’t want to use one. How much slack are readers will to give a writer who writes across genre or blends genres? The zombie story I’m working on now is a mystery, in a way, but with horror elements. Would it be in my best interests to use a pseudonym for one or the other?

What’s your experience?