Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Available NOW on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited: On the Track of Vengeance


The runaway action never stops in On the Track of Vengeance, the fourth book in An Adventure of the Old West series.
When outlaw gangs sabotage railroads, resulting in the deaths of innocent passengers and crew members, the president of the United States becomes directly involved, appointing Bane Messenger a U.S. marshal answerable to him alone.

Teamed with trustworthy deputies, Bane takes on the desperate men, who care only for vengeance and are willing to do anything to strike back at the railroads and the government they blame for their misfortunes.

But the stakes soar when Bane learns that the outlaws plan to sabotage a train carrying his wife and father. With their lives hanging in the balance and no way to warn them, Bane races to the scene. Can he stop the outlaws in time or will Pamela and Bradford become the latest victims of the cruel men who care for nothing but vengeance?

Talking Pictures: Plotting through Image Analysis and Imaginative Elaboration

Copyright 2020 by Gary L. Pullman

Characters, incidents, settings, processes, and motives are among the persons, places, and things that inspire horror. Pretty much anything can, as long as it is eerie or lends itself to an eerie interpretation.
For moviemakers, images often suggest horror. (They also horror to many writers of other genre fiction as well, of course; C. S. Lewis, the author Christian and children's fantasy and science fiction, for example, said his stories often began with images.)

When examining a picture—never merely look at a picture, whether it's a drawing, a photograph, a painting, or some other visual representation; study it in detail; then, wait a while and study it again—ask yourself, Which question do I first ask myself about the picture: who? what? when? where? how? or why?

The right picture will speak to you. How can you be sure the picture you're studying is the “right picture?” Easy. If it is, it will let you know; it will speak to you.

Not literally, of course. Not out loud. But it will suggest questions, imply ideas, elicit emotions, show relationships between one of its elements—color, perhaps—and others—texture, maybe, or shape. One thought, one intuition, one feeling will lead to another and another.

Before you converse with pictures, it's helpful to know what sort of things to study. Remember, too, that, in the Western world, people are taught to read from left to right and from top to bottom. The most important part of the image will be positioned close to the center of the image.

Here are some basic elements to consider: contrasts, colors, distance, intensity, overlapping of objects, placement, position, shapes, sizes, structural pattern (e. g., horizontal, diagonal, vertical, sectional), text (if any), and textures.

On the figurative level, consider whether the image alludes to anything beyond itself, such as a work of art or an historical period; look for visual metaphors; consider symbolism; and determine whether personification is used. Often, if the picture has symbolic or metaphorical significance and text, the text will act as the key to unlocking the literal meaning suggested by the visual figure of speech.

If figures are included in the image, consider their sex, gender, age, financial status, social class, costume, facial expression, posture, pose, body language, and relationships to other figures, if any, and to the objects, or “props,” if any, and the landscape or interior space shown in the image.

Now, let's try a simple exercise, using this image:

What question first addresses itself to me is, Why is the doll crying? In other words, I am most interested in the question of motive. If I am uncertain, I may hazard a guess, indicating it as such by following the guess with a question mark in parentheses; if, as yet, I have no answer, I will indicate this by using just a question mark.

Now that I've determined my chief interest in the image, I should answer the other, related questions:

Who? = doll
What? = crying
When? and Where = In the darkness
How? = magic (?)
Why? = ?

Next, I will “read” the image from right to left and from top to bottom, making notes concerning questions, ideas, emotions, and relationships between one of its elements of the image:

  • Right eye is half-closed; left eye, open
  • Right eye is dark; right eye, blue
  • A teardrop on the doll's left eye suggests the toy is crying
  • In comparison to the nose and mouth, the doll's eyes are exceptionally large—why?
  • There is no background, just a close-up of the doll's seemingly large, round face
  • The face is cracked and worn

These are my initial observations. I should ask what each is intended to suggest or mean. (In studying an image, especially if it was produced by a professional artist, we should assume that every detail is carefully thought out and is present for a purpose.)

  • The right eye suggests thought, reflection; it seems to look inward. The left eye is open; the doll sees, but it also cries: whatever the doll sees seems to make it sad.
  • There is only a single, large teardrop, which seems to imply that either the doll is no longer crying or has only just begin to cry; either it has cried itself out or it is only now being moved to tears.
  • The relatively large eyes focus the viewer's attention on them, rather than its nose or mouth. Its vision and what it sees is the important thing.
  • The setting is unknown, other than by darkness; the time and place are irrelevant. However, the darkness could symbolize fear, ignorance, or death, since black is often associated with one or all of these emotions or states of existence. The large size of the face also focuses the viewer's attention on the doll's face; its face, the symbol of identity, like the doll's behavior—crying--are the focal points of the image, suggesting that these are the most important features of the image.
  • The crack in the doll's right cheek and the wear on its face could symbolize its suffering; it seems careworn, tired, and slightly injured.

Add any additional observations:

  • The image makes use of personification and symbolism.
  • None of my observations answers my original question: Why is the doll crying? In other words, what is its motive?

At this point, we are beyond the image. We are asking ourselves a question that the image itself does not, and cannot, answer. Therefore, we must use our imaginations, our knowledge of human nature, and our own experiences as human beings to guess why a doll, if it were capable of crying, might weep. In doing so, we should also be true to the questions, ideas, emotions, and the relationships between the focus feature of the image (in this case, the doll) and the image's other, related elements.

We can start by listing facts known about dolls:

  • A doll usually belongs to a girl.
  • A doll may be given to a girl as a gift, perhaps by her parents.
  • A girl often invests her doll with a “personality” (personifies the doll).
  • When a girl is not playing with her doll, the doll is often left by itself, perhaps in a dark place, such as a closet or a toy box.
  • A girl may project her own emotions onto her doll.
  • A girl may assign the role she plays in her present life to her doll.

Based on these thoughts, we might construct a scenario to explain our original question, Why is the doll crying?

Melinda Jackson abandoned her doll, Bessie. Not to a closet or to a toy box this time, but to the alley behind her house, sitting Bessie beside the trash cans to be collected, along with the other trash, by the city's sanitation crew. Melinda was sad to say goodbye to Bessie, who'd been her dearest companion, her confidante, her best friend for most of her life. They'd been through a lot, good times and bad. But Melinda was older now. Too old for Bessie, and, so, Melinda had abandoned her doll. She imagined Bessie alone in the dark alley, frightened and in despair, crying, as Melinda herself was crying. But it was only a tear. She brushed it away. Besides, Bessie was just a doll. She couldn't really cry.

The idea for the story suggests three parts:

  1. Melinda becomes aware that she is “too old” for a doll. (Maybe she has a sleepover and her friends make fun of her for still having a doll.)
  2. Melinda is sad to say goodbye to her doll, but, convinced the time has come to part with Bessie, Melinda places Bessie in the dark alley behind her house to be hauled away by the city's sanitation crew.
  3. Twist ending

We need to surprise the reader with an unexpected outcome to the story. With Melinda's new aware that she is “too old” for a doll (Part I) and Melinda's abandonment of her doll so that Bessie can be hauled away by the city's sanitation crew (Part II), we have set up the expectation, in the reader's mind, that Bessie will be discarded. There are several ways the story could end with a twist:

  1. One of the sanitation crew could take Bessie home for his own daughter to “adopt.”
  2. A dog could carry Bessie home, where another girl could “adopt” Bessie.
  3. Bessie really could be magical, and she could return to Melinda, who decides to keep her, after all.
    Adopt one of these twists or (or another possibility) and use it to write part three of the story's summary:

    III. Recovering from her fright, Bessie walks back
    to Melinda's house, returns to the girl's bedroom, with muddy feet, and takes her customary place of honor on Melinda's bed. Shocked, Melinda decides Bessie is magic and decides to keep her, regardless of her “friends'” taunts.

The fifteen basic needs identified by advertising executive Jib Fowles should also be considered in relation to the image: the need to achieve, the need for aesthetic sensations, the need for affiliation, the need to aggress, the need for attention, the need for autonomy, the need to satisfy curiosity, the need to dominate, the need to escape, the need to feel safe, the need to nurture, the need for sex, the need for prominence, and physiological needs (eat, drink, etc.). For example, in the sample story, Madeline feels the need for affiliation (she has a sleepover), and Madeline feels the need for autonomy (she feels that it is time for her to say goodbye to her doll). By appealing to one or more of these basic needs, a story is likely to allow readers to develop empathy for the narrative's characters—in the case of the sample story, for both Madeline and Bessie.

If you'd care to try this approach for a story of your own, you might use the following (or some other) image:

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Benefits of Alternate Endings: Pick One

Copyright 2020 by Gary L. Pullman

It was fashionable in Hollywood, at one time, to produce movies that have alternate endings. Hollywood executives hoped that, by trying out two or more endings for the same movie on test audiences, they could determine which one viewers enjoyed most, which might translate into more ticket sales (i .e., dollars) at the box office.

For short story writers and novelists, however, there may be other benefits to devising possible alternate endings. In doing so, however, authors should follow Aristotle's dictum (and Edgar Allan Poe's advice) that a story's ending should end in a manner that does not destroy the integrity of the rest of the plot.

Devising possible alternate endings to a story can also assist writers in selecting the most appropriate, effective, and memorable ending possible from an array of alternatives.

In addition, imagining possible alternate endings can, perhaps, improve the story, because a new possibility might round out, explain, or otherwise complete the narrative in a more believable or otherwise satisfying manner than the original ending. (We're speaking, now, of works in progress, rather than published, stories.)

Imagining alternate endings could also produce unexpected or better twist endings than the one a writer originally had in mind.

The Cone” by H. G. Wells

Current ending: Raut, who has cuckolded Horrocks, is doomed when a blast-furnace cone lowers him into the furnace, while Horrocks pelts the adulterer with hot coals.

Alternate ending: Horrocks seizes Raut by the arm, shoving him into the path of an oncoming railway tram. (This incident occurs earlier in the story, but, at this point, Horrocks is terrorizing Raut and, at the last minute, pulls him to safety; revised, the original story would end with this incident, without Horrocks pulling Raut from the tram's path.)

The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce

Current ending: An entry in Morgan's diary reveals that the creature he hunts is invisible because its color is imperceptible to the human eye.

Alternate ending: Both Morgan's friend Harker, who witnessed Morgan's death and Morgan himself are insane, the former because of his fantastic testimony at the coroner's inquest concerning the cause of Morgan's death, the latter because, in writing of the incident in his diary, he described it in a manner that is consistent with Harker's account of the occurrence. On suspicion of having killed, and possible brainwashed Morgan, Harker is arrested and held for trial.

Dracula's Guest” by Bram Stoker

Current ending: Horsemen frighten off the werewolf guarding and keeping an English hotel guest warm in a forest and take him back to the hotel; they were dispatched at the request of a Transylvanian count named Dracula.

Alternate ending: The horsemen arrive to find the Englishman's throat torn out by the werewolf feasting upon his corpse.

Current ending: The narrator learns that a signal-man, seemingly mesmerized by something he saw, was struck and killed by an approaching train after ignoring the engineer's repeated warnings to get off the track.

Alternate ending: The train strikes the signal-man, but investigators cannot find his body; on the anniversary of his supposed death, the signal-man again appears on the track and is struck, but, afterward, investigators cannot find a body.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Secret Motivations

 Copyright 2020 by Gary L. Pullman

Often, in horror stories and films, a secret, past or present, drives and directs protagonists' or antagonists' actions:

Schizophrenia (Norman Bates [Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film adaptation of Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho], Brian De Palma's 1980 film Dressed to Kill, and David Calloway [John Polson's 2005 film Hide and Seek]);

crimes of various kinds (Marion Crane's adultery and theft and Norman Bates's murder in Psycho; Grace Newman's murders in Alejandr AmenĂ¡bar's 2001 film The Others; Freddy Kreuger's murders in Wes Craven's 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street; the teenage friends' murder in Jim Gillespie's 1997 film adaptation of Lois Duncan's 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer; Horrocks's wife's adultery with Raut in H. G. Wells's 1895 short story “The Cone”;

deceit or betrayal (Marion Crane's adultery and her theft of her employer's money in Psycho; the adultery of Horrocks's wife and lover Raut in “The Cone”; the teenage characters' attempt to cover up what they believed to be their killing of a man in I Know What You Did Last Summer);

sexual deviance (voyeurism in Michael Powell's 1960 film Peeping Tom, Victor Zarcoff's 2016 film 13 Cameras, and Psycho; lesbianism in Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel Rebecca and Shirley Jackson's 1959 Gothic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House; transvestism in Hitchcock's Psycho, Brian De Palma's 1980 film Dressed to Kill, Jonathan Deeme's 1991 film adaption of Thomas Harris's 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs; and transgenderism in Robert Hiltzik's 1983 film Sleepaway Camp; and sadism (Robert Harmon's 1986 film The Hitcher);

past psychological trauma (the denial of Angela Baker true sex and gender in Sleepaway Camp and Carrie White's victimization by high school bullies in Stephen King's 1979 novel Carrie and Brian De Palma's 1974 film adaptation of the book);

vengeance (many horror stories and movies, including Edgar Allan Poe's 1846 short story “The Cask of the Amontillado,” “The Cone,” A Nightmare on Elm Street, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and a host of others); and

suggestibility (the narrator-protagonits's runaway imagination in H. G. Wells's 1894 short story “The Red Room” and, possibly, the protagonist of Bram Stoker's 1891 short story “The Judge's House” and his 1914 short story “Dracula's Guest”).

As we can see, the same story or film may contain multiple instances of secret motivators: Hitchcock's Psycho contains two characters, Marion Crane and Norman Bates, who, between them, are driven by no fewer than four types of secrets: schizophrenia, crime (murder), sexual deviance (voyeurism) (Bates) and deceit or betrayal (adultery), and crime (theft) (Crane).

On the surface, such characters appear to be normal and to be motivated by ordinary drives, such as the need to nurture, the pursuit of profit, affiliation, pleasure, leisure, generosity, and kindness. The normal, apparent motivations of these characters seem to “explain” them; in reality, however, they merely disguise their true desires, aims, and purposes; they are red herrings, not clues, to the nature of the characters, fictitious personas that allow the characters to act without arousing suspicion. Marion Crane is a thief, but she poses as a traveler. The protagonist of Peeping Tom and the landlord in 13 Cameras are both voyeurs and murderers, but the former poses as a photographer, the latter as nothing more than a landlord. Horrocks, in “The Cone,” is a vengeful victim of adultery, but he poses as a tour guide of sorts. The schizophrenic in Hide and Seek poses as a nothing more than a psychiatrist who has his daughter Emily's psychological welfare at heart.

The disguise of normality is also disarming. It suggests that dangerous characters are either harmless of beneficial: a motel owner, teenage friends, scientists, a camper, a mother, a doctor. The disguise of normality makes it easier for such characters to stalk and slay their prey. Indeed, such characters can even appear to be the victim, rather than the victimizer, to him- or herself, if not to the public (although they often appear to be the victim to the public as well, at least for a time): David Calloway and Grace Newman are examples.

Stories and films in which a secret is at the heart of one or more characters, whether protagonist or antagonist or both, suggest a threefold division of plot: Part I: Appearance is maintained through the adopted persona; Part II: the character's secret is discovered or revealed; and Part III: reality is exhibited as the character's true identity is perceived.

Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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