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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cemetery Dance, The First 10 Chapters and the Epilogue: A Study of Technique

By Gary L. Pullman
The use of situational irony; the introduction of new or recurring characters; the planting of clues; the descriptions of violent encounters which could be injurious or fatal to sympathetic characters; the teasing of readers by the raising of questions, large or small (especially those which concern motive or cause), which are then answered incorrectly or partially, either immediately or in the future; the creation of ambiguous situations which themselves give rise to questions in readers’ minds which are also then answered incorrectly or partially, either immediately or in the future; the inclusion of unusual or bizarre incidents, characters, settings, or objects; the piecemeal revelation of character; and the allusion to bizarre beliefs and rituals, especially with the suggestion that they may be true and real, are all ways by which to generate the suspense by which readers’ interest in a story is created or maintained.

These elements are often about significant incidents, but even small matters can, and do, sustain suspense (at least for a short time) and, therefore, readers’ interest in the story. Those which are more significant than others might be mentioned more than once, often in dialogue between different characters.

Short, tightly written chapters, comprised of only one or two scenes, in which composed, if not serene, action alternates with fast-paced, sometimes violent, action (and usually a change of setting and characters), also keeps readers reading. Most of the chapters of Cemetery Dance are five or six pages long, but there are 85 chapters and an epilogue, or 435 pages, total.

Writers and readers alike complain about the difficulty of bringing a narrative to an appropriate and satisfying end--one which doesn’t make readers feel as though the writer has cheated them with a convenient, tacked-on, but emotionally unsatisfying and philosophically unrealistic, conclusion. Cemetery Dance’s epilogue shows an effective way of concluding a story of combined genres, which might be called the horror-mystery-thriller.

Note: Bold black font indicates incidents which create or maintain suspense; bold red font explains how these incidents accomplish this purpose.

Chapter 1 (pages 1-7)

Who: Bill Smithback, his wife Nora Kelly, and Colin Fearing
What: Fearing kills Smithback after Nora leaves on an errand; Fearing also attempts to attack Nora
When: Smithback’s and Nora’s first anniversary
Where: Smithback’s and Nora’s apartment in New York City
How: Knife
Why: Unknown at this time
Twist: None

Contrast is used to effect situational irony [readers’ expectations are overturned] as New York Times reporter Bill Smithback, a character who has appeared in several previous novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, anticipates, on his first anniversary, an intimate evening with his wife, Nora an archaeologist with New York City Museum of Natural History who has just received the news that her expedition to the “Southwest” to analyze “the spread of the Kachina Cult” has been approved [is this cult somehow important to the story, and, if so, how and why?]; instead of the intimacy that Smithback anticipates, he is brutally killed by a knife-wielding assassin identified by eyewitnesses and surveillance video as his neighbor, “out-of-work British actor” Colin Fearing. In addition, Smithback’s fight for his life [will he survive?] helps to maintain readers’ interest, as does Fearing’s attempted attack upon Nora [will she be injured or killed?] as she returns home from having run an errand. The motive for the murder, which is not known [what is the motive?] at this time, also maintains readers’ interest in the story, as does Smithback’s reminder to Nora to be careful as she embarks upon her errand, especially since they have been receiving “weird little packages” [what is in the packages, who has been sending them, and why?].

Chapter 2 (pages 8-13)

Who: Detective Vincent D’Agosta and Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast
What: D’Agosta and Pendergast investigate the crime scene
When: Morning of Smithback’s murder
Where: Smithback’s and Nora’s apartment in New York City
How: Knife used in murder; crime-scene analysis performed; Pendergast performs own tests
Why: Murder is thought to have followed an attempted rape gone wrong
Twist: Pendergast eliminates suspect

The introduction of two other recurring characters, Detective Vincent D’Agosta and Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast [for new readers, who are they; for regular readers, what are they up to this time around?], maintains readers’ interest in the story, as does the discovery of clues at the crime scene [which, if any, are important to the case, and why?], the identification of the suspected motive for the crime [is this the true motive?], hints that the murder is not “open and shut,” [why not?], as D’Agosta believes it to be, the disclosure that “a star witness” awaits interrogation [what will the interview disclose about the case?], and the situational irony that results from the twist ending to the chapter, wherein Pendergast informs D’Agosta that the suspect is dead [readers’ expectations are overturned].

Chapter 3 (pages 14-18)

Who: Detective D’Agosta, Special Agent Pendergast, “star witness” Enrico Mosquea (doorman), and Pendergast’s driver, Proctor
What: With D’Agosta present, Pendergast interviews Mosquea
When: The morning following Smithback’s murder
Where: The lobby of Smithback’s and Nora’s apartment building; the interior of Pendergast’s 1959 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith
How: Interview; surveillance tape
Why: Pendergast questions a witness and views a surveillance tape for clues
Twist: Pendergast observes that it is curious that Fearing, just after he has committed a murder, would look into a camera he knows to be present

With D’Agosta present, Pendergast interviews Mosquea [what will the interview disclose about the case?], who swears, most adamantly, that the killer is Fearing, maintaining his belief even after Pendergast tells the doorman that Fearing has been dead for 10 days; in Pendergast’s car, D’Agosta and Pendergast review the surveillance tape [what will the tape disclose about the case?], showing Fearing entering and exiting Smithback’s apartment building, bloody upon egress, and Pendergast thinks it curious that Fearing, just after he has committed a murder, would look into a camera that he knows to be in the lobby [why does Fearing do so?]. The authors provide three possible explanations for the killer’s resemblance to the dead actor [which, if any, is correct?]: Fearing has a twin, there are two men named Colin Fearing in New York City, or the medical examiner’s office has “made a terrible mistake” in misidentifying Fearing as the dead man.

Chapter 4 (pages 19-23)

Who: Caitlyn Kidd, obituary writer Larry Bassington, “a bald, heavyset man” and Heidi, the latter two of whom were Smithback’s neighbors
What: Caitlyn responds to a police scanner’s report concerning Smithback’s murder
When: Morning following Smithback’s murder
Where: Interior of Caitlyn’s car, as she eats breakfast and monitors her police scanner; exterior of Smithback’s apartment building
How: Monitoring of police scanner; driving of personal automobile
Why: Caitlyn seeks her next news scoop
Twist: None

The introduction of another recurring character, West Sider reporter Caitlyn Kidd [for new readers, who are they; for regular readers, what are they up to this time around?], maintains readers’ interest in the story, as does Caitlyn’s scanning of the police monitor in her car [will she hear an important lead?], and her interviewing of witnesses outside Smithback’s apartment building [will she learn anything significant about the murder?]. A minor incident--the possibility of her getting a ticket for illegal parking (next to a fire extinguisher) also maintains readers’ interest (she does get a ticket).

Chapter 5 (pages 24-27)

Who: Nora, a bloody man, three nurses
What: Nora dreams that a bloody man is attacking her
When: The night after Smithback’s murder
Where: Nora’s hospital room
How: Dream
Why: Dream, perhaps resulting from trauma
Twist: None

Nora awakens from a drug-induced sleep, alone in her hospital room, the privacy curtain drawn around her bed, but, when she hears moans from the bed beside her own and sees a “silhouette” through the curtain, she assumes another patient has been admitted who needs help [is this person another patient; Smithback, who has somehow survived; the killer, come to murder her; or someone else who is sinister?]; then, the other person seems bent upon attacking her [is she actually being attacked or does she only believe she is being attacked and, if she is being attached, why?], and she jabs the call button. A trio of nurses arrive, one giving her an injection, another righting the intravenous stand Nora has knocked over, and all of them helping her back into bed, assuring her that she has had a nightmare [are they telling her the truth, are they mistaken, or are they part of a conspiracy?], which is not uncommon “after a concussion” and showing her that the other bed in the room is not only empty but well made [was the while thing a dream or was it real, and if it truly happened, why is the adjacent bed still made?].

Chapter 6 (pages 28-32)

Who: Detective D’Agosta, Nora Kelly
What: D’Agosta interviews Nora about Fearing’s murder of Smithback
When: The morning after Smithback’s murder
Where: Nora’s hospital room
How: Interview
Why: To elicit information that can help to find and convict Fearing
Twist: None

During D’Agosta’s interview, Nora supplies a list of suspects [will one or more of them turn out to have been Smithback’s killer?] in her husband’s death by telling the detective of several enemies who may have wanted to kill Smithback, including Lucas Kline, who “runs a software development company” and was exposed by her husband as someone who sexually harasses his female employees; Kline (and others) sent Smithback “threatening letters”; she also tells D’Agosta about the “strange packages” she and Smithback received, filled with dolls, animal bones, moss, and sequins” [who sent the packages, why, and why do they contain such bizarre objects?]. She asks why Fearing would have armed himself with only a knife, rather than with a gun [D‘Agosta admits that this is a “good question,” as readers are likewise apt to do], asks why Fearing neither disguised himself nor avoided witnesses and the lobby’s surveillance camera [this echoes Pendergast’s comment about Fearing’s looking into the camera, again implying that the killer’s doing so was intentional and making readers wonder what the killer’s motive for doing so might be], and asks whether she can return to her apartment after her release later in the afternoon (she can).

Chapter 7 (pages 33-35)

Who: Special Agent Pendergast, Miss Kyoko Ishimura (Pendergast’s deaf mute housekeeper)
What: A tea party inside Pendergast’s apartment teahouse
When: Unidentified, except as after Smithback’s death
Where: Pendergast’s apartment
How: N/A
Why: Pendergast bids farewell to Smithback
Twist: None

Pendergast enters the furthest extension of his Dakota’s apartment on West 72nd and Central Part West Streets, where he has a teahouse beyond a garden; therein, he drinks tea, remembering the times he’s had with Smithback and the deeds they’ve accomplished together, bidding farewell to the murdered reporter, using a foreign tongue (waga tomo yusurakani) to do so. [This chapter’s interest for readers is in the curious nature of Pendergast’s abode and his unusual behavior in drinking tea in memory of his deceased friend. It is also a lull, as it were, before the dramatic storm to come. This chapter also suggests that Smithback really is dead; Pendergast is too good a detective to be fooled into supposing Smithback dead when he is not.]

Chapter 8 (pages 36-42)

Who: Detective D’Agosta, Special Agent Pendergast, security guard, secretary, Dr. Wayne Heffler (assistant medical examiner)
What: D’Agosta and Pendergast interview the assistant medical examiner, who autopsied Fearing
When: Noon (of the day following Smithback’s death?)
Where: New York City’s medical examiner’s office
How: Interview
Why: To request that an autopsy on Smithback’s body and DNA tests be expedited
Twist: None

With Pendergast in tow, D’Agosta interviews Dr. Heffler, the assistant medical examiner who autopsied Fearing; they learn that Fearing’s sister, Carmela Fearing, identified the body, Fearing having committed suicide (his body was discovered in the Harlem River). They learn that Fearing’s identity was also collaborated by his birth mark, which was described on his birth certificate, and the tattoo parlor that had tattooed Fearing lately, but Pendergast’s questions disclose the facts that there is no record of Carmela’s proof of her identity, that no one witnessed Fearing’s suicide, and that no “forensic examination” of the suicide note was performed “to ascertain” that the note “was indeed in Colin Fearing’s handwriting.” When Heffler denies D’Agosta’s requests to expedite the autopsy on Smithback’s body and tests on the DNA in the blood obtained from the crime scene and Smithback’s hair samples and on the blood of Fearing’s mother “for comparison,” Pendergast threatens the assistant medical examiner by threatening to expose the legal, but disturbing, practice of his office’s selling of organs harvested from the city’s indigent dead to support its work. There remains only one matter to which to attend: collecting the DNA of Fearing’s mother, which could take months to do using lawful procedures. To this end, Pendergast informs D’Agosta, they will “be paying a visit to one Gladys Fearing,” who, although she is institutionalized as mentally incompetent, Pendergast believes will “prove surprisingly eloquent.” [This chapter’s interest to readers lies in its setting up the possibility that Fearing is not dead, after all, and in the revelation that Pendergast is both innovative and unwilling to be bound by petty bureaucratic procedures or by petty bureaucrats. Pendergast’s reference to a future visit with Fearing’s mother also foreshadows this event, thereby creating suspense as to the visit’s nature and outcome.]

Chapter 9 (pages 43-46)

Who: Nora Kelly, anthropology curator Primus Hornsby
What: Hornsby, implying that Smithback may have been killed by a zombie, explains how Nora should bury her husband’s body, lest Smithback now be one of the living dead himself
When: 2:00 PM, two days after Smithback’s murder
Where: Nora’s office in the New York City Museum of Natural History
How: Dialogue concerning special chemicals and rituals by which to bury the dead
Why: To prevent the return of the dead as a zombie
Twist: None

Having gone straight from the hospital to work, instead of home, Nora takes refuge in her laboratory from her well-meaning colleagues. She logs onto her computer and catalogues specimens of potsherds, trying to forget her memory of the stark nightmare she’d had of the attacker in her hospital room. Primus Hornsby, the anthropology curator, visits her, showing her the latest West Sider headline: “TIMES REPORTER KILLED BY ZOMBIE?” Hornsby, implying that Smithback may have been killed by a zombie, explains how she should bury him, in case Smithback, too, is now one of the living dead: embalmed with Formalazen, mixed with rat poison, instead of formaldehyde, with his mouth sewn shut, and facedown, with a “long knife in one hand,” as they do in Dessalines, Haiti, where Hornsby did his fieldwork. [This chapter’s reference to bizarre beliefs and rituals and its implication that Smithback may be a zombie who was himself killed by another zombie intrigues readers.]

Chapter 10 (pages 47-52)

Who: Detective D’Agosta and Special Agent Pendergast, Mrs. Gladys Fearing, Jo-Ann (desk clerk at Willoughby Manor Extended Care Facility)
What: The detective and the FBI agent obtain a DNA sample from Fearing’s mentally incompetent mother
When: Shortly (perhaps two days) after Smithback’s murder
Where: Willoughby Manor Extended Care Facility, Kerhonkson, New York
How: Pendergast’s automobile; interview
Why: To obtain a DNA sample
Twist: None

After interviewing the desk clerk, Jo-Ann, about how often Gladys Fearing’s son (Colin) and daughter (Carmela) visit their mentally incompetent mother at Kerhonkson, New York’s Willoughby Manor Extended Care Facility (Colin seldom, and most recently eight months ago; Carmela, never) and extracting from Jo-Ann a promise to notify him if anyone visits the patient, Pendergast, asking Gladys about her first teddy bear, gets her to cry and to blow her nose into a tissue that he offers her, thereby obtaining her DNA (in the mucus). [This chapter shows, once again, how unconventional and resourceful Pendergast is and how adept he is at manipulating others, and advances the plot by overcoming an obstacle that would set the narrative back by weeks or months. Readers enjoy seeing character traits revealed and may wonder whether Pendergast’s encouragement of Jo-Ann to stay in touch with him may result in future revelations which are helpful to the case and, if so, what and why.]

Epilogue (pages 433-435)

Who: Nora Kelly
What: Nora disposes of her cremated husband’s ashes
When: a “day in early April”
Where: Lake Powell, Arizona
How: Powerboat
Why: Nora bids adieu to her late husband
Twist: None

To explore the offer of becoming the curator of the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute in New Mexico, Nora stays with her brother Skip, revisiting places she’d been with Smithback during their first encounter with one another, including a channel of water near a waterfall beyond Lake Powell, Arizona’s Serpentine Canyon, where she’d begun to fall in love with Smithback. Here, she shakes the ashes of her cremated husband into the water, wishing him “good-bye.” [The epilogue brings an appropriate closure both to the story and to Nora’s grief, bringing about a sense of completion to the narrative. For readers, it is also a way to allow them to bid farewell to a friend, as it were, whom they have either gotten to know for the first time in reading this novel or have known and liked for many years as returning readers of the Pendergast series.]

If, in reading how Preston and Child advance the plot of Cemetery Dance and create and maintain their readers’ interest in continuing to read their novel, you would like to know the outcome of the action, these writers have done a good job in generating and continuing your suspense.

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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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