Friday, June 24, 2016

Check out my new Listverse article!

Check out my new Listverse article: http://listverse.com/2016/06/16/10-intriguing-dollhouses-that-arent-for-play/

Check out my new Listverse article

Check out my new Listverse article http://listverse.com/2016/06/18/top-10-fascinating-insect-impostors/

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Check out my new article on Listverse: http://listverse.com/fact-fiction/misconceptions/


Thursday, June 2, 2016

10 Gruesome Short Stories About Body Parts

Copyright 2016 by Gary L. Pullman

For the most part, we take our bodies for granted. Unless there's a pain or some other indication that there's a problem, we are usually pretty much unaware of our flesh and blood and bone. However, in short stories written by the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and other masters of horror and fantasy, characters not only pay attention to, but often become obsessed with, the body—or, more specifically, with parts of the body.

In such stories, body parts often have lives of their own. They inspire evil deeds. They suggest madness, guilt, or hubris. They involve characters—and readers—in a spiritual realm beyond the material universe we often, perhaps mistakenly, regard as the only real world.

These stories about body parts may make us think differently the next time we look at ourselves in the mirror.

(Caution: Spoilers ahead.)

10 Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart”: A Story About a Human Eye

Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was published in the January 1843 issue of James Russell Lowell's The Pioneer.

In the story, the first-person narrator recounts the motive for the crime he committed, his commission of the crime itself, and his confession of the crime to the police. (LINK 1)

Although the narrator insists he is not mad, his own account of his crime suggests otherwise. He kills his victim because he saw the old man's eye as a hideous, filmed-over, “vulture-like” orb. However, he says he loved the old man himself. Except for his horror at the sight of the old man's eye, there's no explanation for the murder he commits. His motive is emotional, not rational. Because his victim's eye appalls him, the narrator decides to kill him. (LINK 2)

Obsessed with disposing of the eye, the narrator spends a week rehearsing the murder. Each night his will falters, but his determination is revived again by the sight of the old man's eye, even when it is closed in sleep. However, with the eye closed, the narrator is unable to commit the deed. “I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.” (LINK 3)

On the eighth night, the narrator finds his victim's eye open and is outraged, terrified, and obsessed at the offending orb. (LINK 4)

In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” an innocent victim's eye prompts a madman to murder him.

9 Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart”: A Story About a Human Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart” is also a story about a human heart. Even before the mad narrator kills his innocent victim, he begins to hear—or fancies he hears—the old man's heart beating wildly with terror. Having heard the narrator's thumb slip upon the lantern's “tin fastening,” the old man suspects someone is lying in wait to do him harm. The sadistic narrator waits, allowing his victim's terror to mount. His heartbeat accelerates even more, until it sounds as though his “heart must burst.” Concerned a neighbor might also hear the old man's heart, the narrator acts. Overturning his bed upon his victim, the narrator either crushes or smothers him. (LINK 5)

Although he places his hand on the old man's heart to ensure he is dead and feels “no pulsation,” the heart again beats wildly after the narrator disposes of it. Dismembering the body, he conceals its pieces beneath the floorboards of the old man's bedroom. Now, he becomes as obsessed with the sound of the wildly beating heart as he had been, before the murder, with the old man's “vulture” eye. When he can bear to hear it no longer, he confesses to the police who, tipped off about a scream in the night, come to investigate the incident. (LINK 6)

8 H. G. Wells' “Pollock and the Porroh Man”: A Story About a Human Head

Herbert George (H. G.) Wells' short story “Pollock and the Porroh Man” was published in the anthology The Plattner Story and Others in 1897.

After the protagonist of the story kills the Porroh man's woman, the Porroh man (a fakir, or “witch-doctor”) seeks revenge. He attempts to kill Pollock, by gunfire and by dispatching snakes. To protect himself, Pollock hires a man to kill his adversary. Soon after, the assassin brings him the Porroh man's decapitated head. Perera, a trader with whom Pollock temporarily stays while in Sulyma, suggests the Porroh man may have put a spell on Pollock before he was killed. Pollock buries the Porroh man's head, but a dog digs it up and leaves it in Pollock's hammock, where he is shocked to see it the next morning. (LINK 7)

Next, Pollock casts the head into the river, but it washes ashore. Its finder, who tries to sell it to Pollock, leaves it behind, in Pollock's shed, frightened by Pollock's obvious fear of it. Finding the head, Pollock attempts to burn it on a bonfire. The captain of the steamer taking him to Bathurst finds it “smoked” on the beach. He takes it aboard his ship, telling Pollock about his discovery. Pollock continues to have nightmares about the head, which somehow manages to follow him wherever he travels. LINK 8)

A physician recommends Pollock try a “miracle cure.” When Pollock, who is not religious, declines, the doctor suggests he “go in search of stimulating air,” to “Scotland, Norway, [or] the Alps.” Pollock takes the doctor's advice, but, wherever he goes and whatever he does, he continues to see the Porroh man's head and to have nightmares about it. Finally, on Christmas morning, recalling his “vicious,” selfish life and the grotesque, gruesome head that haunts him, Pollock takes his own life. (LINK 9)

7 H. P. Lovecraft's “Herbert West—Reanimator”: A Story About a Human Head

Howard Phillips (H. P.) Lovecraft's short story “Herbert West—Reanimator” was published, in six installments, in the February through July, 1922, issues of George Julian Houtain's magazine Home Brew. (LINK 10)

West, believes the human body is a machine that can be restarted, should it expire. He has developed a reagent he believes will reanimate it. To prove his hypothesis, West needs corpses. He obtains them in various ways. He pays men to rob graves. He steals the corpse of a recently deceased accident victim. He helps himself to the bodies of typhoid victims. He steals a boxer's cadaver. He acquires the body of a salesman who died from a heart attack. He claims the corpses of dead World War I soldiers while serving as a medic. (LINK 11)

Several years later, West concentrates on reanimating body parts, rather than entire bodies. When his commanding officer, a fellow medic, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, dies, West has the chance to try another experiment. He discards the major's body. It is unusable, because of injuries from the airplane crash in which Clapman-Lee died. Keeping only the dead man's head, he puts it in a vat and injects it with his experimental serum. The reanimated head shouts at the body to “jump.” West's lab is destroyed in a bomb attack, and he assumes the headless body and the severed head were lost in the blast. (LINK 12)

After the war ends, West rents a house joined to catacombs. He reads a newspaper account of a band of strange-looking men led by a man with a wax head. As he reads, he is confronted by the same men. They are an army of zombies, led by Clapman-Lee's body, which is fitted with a wax head. (Clapman-Lee's actual head, it is implied, is in the box one of the zombies carries and speaks for its body, in the manner of a ventriloquist.) West orders the box burned. As it does, the zombies enter his home, through the catacombs, and disembowel Wells. Clapman-Lee's corpse then decapitates the reanimator, before retreating with his army. (LINK 13)

6 Edgar Allan Poe's “Berenice”: A Story About Human Teeth

Poe's short story “Berenice” was published in the March 1835 issue of The Southern Literary Messenger, a magazine edited by Poe himself.

In the story, the narrator, a young man named Egaeus, plans to marry his cousin Berenice, with whom he has grown up in his father's mansion. Both characters suffer from an illness, one mental, the other physical. He describes his own condition as one in which he may “muse for long unwearied hours,” until he loses “all sense of motion or physical existence.” He describes Berenice's affliction as “a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself—trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution.” From this “trance,” her recovery, Egaeus adds, “was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt.” (LINK 14) In contemporary psychological terms, Egaeus has monomania, fixating on objects, while Berenice suffers from a mysterious disease, a symptom of which is catalepsy.

As the date of their marriage approaches and Egaeus is in the library, Berenice, in one of her “trances,” appears before Egaeus. She displays all the appearances of death. Due to his monomania, he becomes obsessed with her teeth. Egaeus' obsession torments him to the point of madness. He believes that only by possessing her teeth can he restore his reason. (LINK 15)

Some time after Berenice leaves the library, a servant tells Egaeus she has died and must be buried. Later, awakening in a confused state, he finds his clothing bloodstained. During a state of catalepsy, she was mistaken for dead. Egaeus has opened Berenice's grave and extracted his beloved's teeth—while she was yet alive. (LINK 16)

5 Ray Bradbury's “Skeleton”: A Story About a Human Skeleton

Ray Bradbury's short story “Skeleton” was published in the September, 1945, issue of Weird Tales.

The story opens as the protagonist, Mr. Harris, visits his physician, Dr. Burleigh, for the tenth time “this year.” He is concerned about his aching bones. Dissatisfied with his doctor's diagnosis, hypochondria, Mr. Harris next consults M. Munigan, who advertises himself as a “bone specialist,” although he has no medical degree. Receiving no satisfaction from Munigan, Mr. Harris returns home. Still fixated on his skeleton, he examines his bones. Although his wife Clarisse assures him his skeleton is fine, he continues to “brood” over it. Whether at work or at home, he obsesses over the fact there's a skeleton inside him. He even begins to imagine his bones are imprisoning his organs, clamping and “squeezing” his brain and his heart. (LINK 17)

It dawns on Mr. Harris that his skeleton is as much under his control as he is under its. When his bones attack him, causing him to lose weight, he strikes back by denying his skeleton the calcium it needs. However, he fears he may be down to skin and bones in no time. He decides to take a business trip, as Munigan had earlier suggested. However, he runs his car off the road and returns home, “psychologically” prepared, at last, for Munigan's help. Munigan debones him, leaving him a gelatin-like mass of unsupported flesh calling his wife's name. (LINK 18)

4 F. Marion Crawford's “The Screaming Skull”: A Story About a Skull

F. Marion Crawford's short story “The Screaming Skull” was published in the 1911 issue of Wandering Ghosts.

Captain Charles Braddock, the story's protagonist-narrator, inherits property from his cousin Pratt. Pratt's body was found with its throat torn out, lying on a beach next to a box containing a skull. The skull was returned to the house, where both Braddock and his servants often hear it scream. Perhaps the screams have something to do with Pratt's having murdered his wife. He'd spooned molten lead into her ear after Braddock told him how another man had used this means to kill his own spouse. Braddock fears the murdered woman may have avenged herself upon Pratt. He also fears she may intend to kill him because he'd suggested to Pratt the means to kill her. (LINK 19)

Although he tries to rid himself of the skull, it makes its way back to the house. A skeptic, Braddock refuses to believe in the supernatural, even though he suspects the ghost of Pratt's wife may be trying to kill him. He imprisons the skull in its box, seals the lid shut with wax, and stores it inside a locked cupboard in the bedroom Pratt and his wife shared. (LINK 20)

The story ends with a newspaper account of Braddock's “strange death.” He is found with his throat torn out. The teeth marks identify his killer as a human, presumed to be “an escaped maniac.” The killer, the coroner's report adds, is thought, because of the size of the jaws, to be a woman. (LINK 21)

In a note at the end of the story, Crawford informs his readers that his tale is based on “legends about a skull which is still preserved in the farmhouse called Bettiscombe Manor, situated. . . on the Dorsetshire Coast.” (LINK 22)

3 Stephen King's “The Moving Finger”: A Story About a Human Finger

Stephen King's short story “The Moving Finger” was published in the December, 1990, issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was also published in King's 1993 collection of short stories Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

When Howard Mitla is confronted with a mysterious finger poking out of his bathroom drain, he fears the monstrous digit may attack him. Determined to get rid of the intruder, he uses a drain cleaner. When this tactic fails, he tries to chop it off with electric hedge trimmers. (LINK 23)

Although Mitla is finally successful in disposing of the finger, King's story ends with the observation that “there are more fingers than one on a hand.” (LINK 24)

2 Clive Barker's “The Body Politic”: A Story About Human Hands

The Body Politic” is the first short story in Volume Four of Clive Barker's series of collected tales of horror, The Books of Blood, which were published by Sphere Books in 1984 and 1985.

In this satirical story, human hands are conscious. They resent being controlled by the bodies to which they are attached, as possessions rather than as independent and self-governing beings in their own right. The outraged hands of a factory worker named Charlie start a revolution—after strangling Charlie's wife, Ellen. (LINK 25)

However, Charlie's hands have strong personalities and do not see eye to eye. Left exercises caution. Right, on the other hand, is something of a firebrand. The differences in their personalities leads Right to sever his relations—literally—with Left, and he chops off his unfortunate brother. Left then organizes other hands, and a revolution against the rest of the bodies gets underway. (LINK 26)

1 W. W. Jacobs' “The Monkey's Paw”: A Story About a Monkey's Paw

William Wymark (W. W.) Jacobs' short story “The Monkey's Paw” was published in 1902, in both Harper's Magazine and in a collection of his stories called Our Lady of the Barge.

During a rainstorm, Mr. and Mrs. White and their son Herbert are visited by Sergeant-Major Morris. He shows tells them a mummified monkey's paw—a magic charm he obtained from an Indian fakir. To prove people's lives are “ruled” by fate, the fakir “put a spell on” the paw. It allows three wishes to be granted to three of its successive owners. As he considers his own experience with the paw, Morris throws it into the Whites' fire. “Better let it burn,” he warns his hosts, but Mr. White retrieves it from the flames. He uses it to wish for 200 pounds. (LINK 27)

The next day, Herbert is killed in an accident at his factory. His parents are awarded 200 pounds. A week after Herbert's mutilated body is buried, Mrs. White remembers the monkey's paw, She has her husband use it to wish their son alive again. Some time later, a knock sounds at their door. Mrs. White rushes downstairs to admit their son. However, Mr. White, aware that wishes linked to the monkey's paw always seem to go wrong, is horrified at the thought of “the thing” pounding on his door. He scrambles to retrieve the monkey's paw as his wife climbs onto a chair to reach the bolt locking the door. Just as she draws the bolt, he finds the monkey's paw and makes his last wish. No one is at the door. His wife's “wail of disappointment and misery” emboldens Mr. White. He runs to the front gate, where he sees “the street light flickering . . . on a quiet and deserted road.” (LINK 28)

Links











LINK 11: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft

LINK 12: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft

LINK 13: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft














LINK 27: http://americanliterature.com/author/w-w-jacobs/short-story/the-monkeys-paw

LINK 28: http://americanliterature.com/author/w-w-jacobs/short-story/the-monkeys-paw


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Check out my literary analyses on my new Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GaryLeePullman/.

Hopefully, you will also want a copy of my urban fantasy novel, A Whole World Full of Hurt, coming soon from The Wild Rose Press.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Exciting News!

In 2016, my urban fantasy novel A Whole World Full of Hurt will be published by The Wild Rose Press. Of course, I will keep you posted.

Friday, January 8, 2016

How Buffy Was Written

Copyright 2016 by Gary Pullman

In Dusted: The Unauthorized Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy writer Jane Espenson explains how the series' team of writers wrote the show's weekly scripts.

First, Espenson says, they'd start with the emotion upon which a particular episode would be built.

Then, they would create a metaphor expressive of this emotion.

Using “The New Man,” an episode that she wrote, Espenson says the team decided that Rupert Giles feels alienated from Buffy and her friends, who are now enrolled at the University of California, Sunnydale, pursuing lives and interests of their own. He feels left out, almost as if he is estranged from them, because, during high school, as the school librarian, he saw them frequently and was more central to their lives. To prepare for this emotional experience, Espenson observes, previous episodes of the series had marginalized Giles.

The writers decided that Giles' transformation into a demon would be the metaphor expressive of his feeling alienated.

After deciding upon the emotion and the metaphor, the show's creator, Joss Whedon, and the writing team determine the “emotional high point,” or cliffhanger, that is to occur at the end, or “break,” of each act, Espenson says. In “The New man,” these incidents occur during the episode's four act breaks:

Act I: Sorcerer Ethan Rayne appears. (It is he who casts the spell that transforms Giles into a demon.)

Act II: Giles is a demon.

Act II: Buffy, believing that demon-Giles has murdered Giles, threatens to slay him.

Act IV: Despite his demonic appearance, Buffy recognizes Giles as she is about to slay him.

Prior to Act I, a brief “teaser” captures viewers' interest in the story to come.

After the emotion, the metaphor, and the act breaks are identified, the writers, working “scene by scene, from the general to the specific,” Espenson explains, break each scene of the episode into beats. (Espenson defines a “beat” as the smallest dramatic moment, which expresses an emotion or presents an action, and, according to her colleague, writer Tracy Forbes, each scene contains from seven to nine beats.)

Then, an outline is constructed.

Finally, with feedback from Whedon, between each draft, the writer responsible for writing the week's episode's script—Espenson, in the case of “A New Man”—writes one or two preliminary drafts, depending upon the time available, before writing the final draft of the script.

Forbes points out that every Buffy episode is built upon three elements: “emotional arc,” “metaphor,” and “monster.”

To sum up, Buffy episodes were written according to this process:

  1. The emotion upon which a particular episode would be built was determined.
  2. A metaphor expressive of this emotion was created.
  3. The “emotional high point,” or cliffhanger, that is to occur at the end, or “break,” of each act was identified.
  4. Working “scene by scene, from the general to the specific,” from seven to nine beats are created for each scene.
  5. An outline is developed.
  6. One or two preliminary drafts are written, with revisions involving feedback from Whedon.
  7. A final draft is written.





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.

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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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