Friday, October 28, 2011

How Much Does It Cost to be a Ghostbuster? (A LOT!)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

You’ve probably seen these ghost hunter shows on television. (Supposedly, they’re “reality shows.”) The hosts and hostesses enter houses, abandoned or occupied (if the latter, always with the permission of the residents, many of whom hire the ghost hunters as not only hunters of ghosts but as Ghostbusters as well) to seek out and sometimes evict ghosts and ghostesses. Perhaps, after viewing one of these shows, you’ve decided that busting ghosts and ghostesses might be a fun way--or a relatively fun way--to make a living (notice, I didn’t say “earn” a living). And you could be right: different strokes for different folks, and all that, but you should know this first: If you want to be a first-rate Ghostbuster, you’d better be willing to fork over the Big Buck$--$11,830.42, to be exact!

I know, I know, that sounds a bit on the steep side, especially considering the state of the economy, but there’s no room for compromise: people are depending on you; lives could be at stake. Besides, you do get quite a big bang for the buck:
  • EMF/Temperature Gauge ($239.00) (“EMF” stands for “electromagnetic field”; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • IR Thermal Imagining Camera ($62.95) (“IR” stands for infrared”; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • Thermal Camera with Video ($3,995.95) (and a steal at that!)
  • Four-Pack Camera DVR Package ($399.95) (“DVR” stands for “digital video recorder; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • Beginner Ghost-Hunting Kit ($149.99)
  • Deluxe EMF Meter with On/Off Switch Sound Alert ($65.00) (You might be wondering why you need this device when you already have an EMF/Temperature Gauge, but these devices are not the same; this one doesn’t have a temperature gauge and the one with the temperature gauge doesn’t have a sound alert. Besides, you ever heard of backup? Ghostbusters need to make sure their equipment is redundant.)
  • EMF/Temperature Gauge with RED Backlight and Flashlight ($93.00) (Again, it is not the same: this one has a flashlight)
  • Learner Ghost-Hunting Kit ($89.99) (This kit is not the same as the Beginner Ghost-Hunting Kit; it’s cheaper--and, yes, you need both--see the comment about equipment redundancy--and the one about not wanting to compromise.)
  • Compact Night-Vision Camera ($59.95)
  • IR Light for Video and Cameras ($59.95) (Maybe the video recorders and the cameras should come with these lights, but they don’t; get over it!)
  • Spirit Box RT-EVP2, EVP-RT-EVP ($289) (“EVP” stands for electronic voice phenomena; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster. I don‘t know what a Spirit Box is or does,* but the name of the device itself, “Spirit Box,” tells you that you have to have it; besides, it’s a measly $289 bucks!)
  • Ghost Meter ($27.95) (How can you be a self-respecting Ghostbuster without a Ghost Meter?)
  • Full-Spectrum Digital camera ($299.95) (It sounds expensive, but, hey, it’s “Full-Spectrum.”)
  • Spirit Box B-PSB7 ($89.95) (If you don’t buy this one, you’ll regret it if your other model malfunctions.)
  • EVP Recorder with USB and LIVE Listening ($79.95) (“USB” stands for “universal serial bus”; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • Deluxe EMF Meter with On/Off Switch ($59.90) (Sure, you already have two other of these devices, but this one is the Deluxe model. Geesh!)
  • Full-Spectrum HD Camcorder ($299.95) (“HD” stands for “high-definition”; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • FLIR i7 Compact IR Thermal Imagery Camera ($1,595.00) (“FLIR” stands for “Forward-Looking Infrared”; make sure that you know your acronyms if you want to succeed as a Ghostbuster.)
  • Laser Grid Scope ($28.00)
  • Laser Grid GS1 ($89.95)
  • Full Spectrum HD Camcorder ($193.00)
*If you want more information about any of this equipment, including its physical appearance--there are plenty of pictures--here’s one source: http//, where, for example (I took pity on you), “Spirit Box” is defined as:
compact tool for attempting communication with paranormal entities. It uses radio frequency sweeps to generate white noise which theories suggest give some entities the energy they need to be heard. When this occurs you will sometimes here voices or sounds coming through the static in an attempt to communicate.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Horror Fiction: In Search of a Transfusion of New Blood

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

It would seem that horror fiction, based as it is upon the appearance and elimination or neutralization--or the attempted elimination or neutralization--of various threats, would be a permanent fixture of literature, that its place among narrative and dramatic works would be secure, that its life, as it were, would be as eternal as some of its paranormal or supernatural antagonists’ existences. Oddly, such may not be the case. Fans of horror fiction may, someday, have to find their chills and thrills elsewhere than in pages or on film footage that is devoted to the horror genre.

It’s not that the world itself is any less dangerous a place today than it was in times past; if anything, the world is, in some ways, more dangerous than it has ever been before. (In other ways, of course, it is far safer.) Plenty of various threats remain. The problem seems to be that the authors of short stories, novels, and screenplays continue to write about the same old monsters: beasts, demons and devils, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, and the like, or, when they do, rarely, experiment with something new, as M. Night Shyamalan did in The Happening, the experiment is frequently less than chilling and thrilling and is likely, in fact, to be a dud, as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening certainly is.

For a while, Stephen King, almost single-handedly, revitalized the horror genre by bringing ancient (and sometimes contemporary) horrors to modern, small-town America. Indeed, the townspeople of Castle Rock, Derry, Jerusalem’s Lot, and Chester’s Mill are themselves shown to be, in their own ways, as monstrous and threatening as any of the paranormal and supernatural threats that appear in King’s fiction. However, even innovation, vigorously applied, soon breeds clich├ęs (and, in King’s particular case, tends to produce quite a bit of smug, condescending, and self-indulgent diatribes against Republicans, conservatives, and fundamentalists, to name a few of the author’s favorite targets, among the corpses that typically litter his literature).

Out with the old threats and in with the new seems to offer a solution to the tried and trite, but this solution poses a problem of its own: from whence are horror fiction’s new nightmares to come? There are but two general sources for threats: internal and external. Internal, or psychological, threats are apt to be derived from either reason gone wrong, which is to say madness, or from emotion gone awry, or hysteria. The wellsprings of external threats seem, at first glance, to be both more plentiful and more diverse, but, in fact, they are limited as well, being either social or natural (unless one includes the supernatural realm as a dimension of reality). With only two types of threat, the internal and the external, at their disposal, horror writers seem limited, indeed, as to the sources for things that go bump in the night. Monsters, after all, cannot (yet) be ordered from mail-order catalogues or bought from fiendish supply warehouses.

What horror writers can (and should) do is what writers of other genres of fiction do: expand their concerns to beyond that of simply the introduction of monsters or monstrous threats and include areas of concern to human beings as human beings, which is to say, to matters that pertain to ethics, aesthetics, ontology, epistemology, metaphysics, theology, history, science, politics, art, athletics, economics, and so forth. Instead of the monster’s being the story’s be-all and end-all, he, she, or it should be subordinate to the story’s human characters, who, too often, exist (but seldom live) as only the antagonists’ targets and victims. Although horror fiction authors treat of such matters in a superficial way at times, few of them make human concerns the primary consideration of their short stories, novels, and screenplays. Writers who do treat such concerns with the depth and complexity that these matters deserve may well find themselves among the celebrated few whose works are among the best narratives and dramas of any genre, horror or otherwise, including William Shakespeare s’ Hamlet or Macbeth, Dante’s Inferno, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Charles Dickens’ “The Signal-man,” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and The Jolly Corner, Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque, William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds. Moreover, and more importantly, horror fiction will be a much better genre and one that is well worth reading (or watching).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Clayton (“Blaze”) Blaisdell, Jr.: A Study in Characterization

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

According to the flyleaf to Richard Bachman’s* novel Blaze (2007), the protagonist is “one of the most sympathetic criminals in all . . . literature.” This estimation may be equal parts hyperbole and objective assessment, but few would argue, it seems, that Blaze is, in fact, a compelling character. What makes him so? The novel is a study in characterization. Much of the effect is achieved by Bachman’s demonstration of Blaze’s perceptions of other characters and of situations. Mildly retarded and altogether psychotic (he hears voices that no one else hears), Blaze frequently accepts everyone and everything at face value, seldom analyzing, evaluating, or passing judgment on anyone or anything. His matter-of-factness, which is surely as much an effect of his retardation as it is of his pureness of heart, nevertheless creates an image of him as being, despite his criminality, one who is--or seems to be--unaffected, if not always altogether guileless. Nevertheless, he is a criminal. As such, Blaze is, on one hand, a sympathetic soul, while, on the other hand, despite his pathetic thoughts, hopes, fears, and dreams, he is also revolting. To have created such a character is an accomplishment suggestive more of a Stephen King than of a Richard Bachman.

The first chapter opens with “George was somewhere in the dark. Blaze couldn’t see him, but the voice came in loud and clear, rough and a little hoarse. George always sounded as if he had a cold. He’d had an accident when he was a kid. He never said what, but there was a dilly of a scar on his adam’s apple.”  Although George is unseen, we are led to believe that he exists as more than a voice: “George was somewhere in the dark,” we are told. Moreover, the use of such adjectives as “loud” and “clear,” “rough” and “hoarse,” to modify the sound of George’s voice helps to establish the thought that the character is as real as the young man, Blaze, who hears him speaking. Finally, the reference to George’s past accident provides a speck of back story that helps to present George as a real person, like Blaze.

George also reacts to Blaze’s actions. When Blaze seeks the wrong automobile--to steal, as it turns out--George corrects him: “Not that one, dummy, its got bumper stickers all over it. Get a Chevy or a Ford. Dark blue or green. Two years old, No ore, no less. Nobody remembers them. And no stickers.” Again, the details also help to sustain the notion that George is more than merely a memory and that his voice is more than simply a hallucination. The voice advises George about specific details concerning the automobile: it should not have bumper stickers on it, it should be either “a Chevy or a Ford,” it should be no older than two years, .and it should be “dark blue or green.” George even calls Blaze a name, “dummy,” which is, although insulting, characteristic of Blaze’s condition and not one that he is likely to have applied to himself, for retarded people seldom know of their own accord, without being told so by others, that they are retarded. These techniques make George seem as real a character as Blaze. As George continues to direct, counsel, and insult Blaze, the illusion that he is real continues: “That’s your left. . . . Your right, dummy. The hand you pick your nose with.” George keeps Blaze on track when Glaze’s thought begin to stray and even tells Blaze how to hotwire the car.

It comes as something of a shock, then, when the cat is let out of the bag, and we learn that “George is dead.”

Blaze remembers, for a time, that his former partner in crime is deceased, but, “the next morning,” George is back--in Blaze’s head, at least--reminding Blaze to tuck in both of his shirttails and telling him to wipe out the tire tracks in the snow outside the shed in which Blaze has hidden the stolen car. One minute, Blaze remembers that George is dead (“George had been dead since that crap game in the warehouse”), but the next minute he seems to forget, thinking that George is alive (“George was inside drinking coffee by the stove”). By his alternating between these conflicting ideas, Blaze indicates his own confusion, indicating to us his madness, and this strange disoriented state of mind is compelling: we are intrigued at what it is like to perceive as Blaze perceives, to think as Blaze thinks, and to experience the world as Blaze experiences it, partly real and partly illusory at the same time or in quick, alternating sequences. Although Blaze has committed a crime, stealing the automobile--and, we suspect, will almost certainly commit far worse ones, if he has not already done so, before we met him, as it were--we are both repelled by his behavior and sympathetic toward his plight. In short, Blaze is a fascinating character.

Bachman presents his world as it seems to be to Blaze, and, in doing so, allows us, from the safety of our homes, sane and sound of mind ourselves, to see--or, at least imagine--what it would be like to be out of our minds. Who could resist such a character as Blaze? Bachman is counting on our not being able to do so. (The movie Ed Gein [2000], starring Steve Railsback, offers a good motion picture example of the same technique.)

*Yes, I know that Stephen King is Richard Bachman (unless Bachman is King). The question is whether King (or Bachman) knows this. Maybe King’s own schizophrenia, in supposing himself to be two people (even if he knew and knows he really is only one) helped him to create the psychotic and somewhat schizophrenic Clayton (“Blaze”) Blaisdell, Jr. Ever think of that?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Roald Dahl's "Somone Like You" and "The Landlady": A Pair of Edgar Award Winners

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl won two Edgar Awards, one in 1954 for “Someone Like You” and the other in 1960 for “The Landlady.”

In the first story, two war veterans, both of whom flew fighters, bombing enemy cities, discuss how they killed more people than would die were the bartender of the public house in which they buy one another drinks were to poison his customers’ drinks. They decide to leave the establishment and go somewhere else, where there is either but the two of them and a bartender or to “a place with a hundred thousand people in it.” Apparently, the former warriors can be comfortable in only these two locales, among killers of their own kind, who have shared combat experience and the horrors of killing other human beings on a massive scale, or in a place that is large and populous enough for them to lose themselves in the anonymity of the crowds. However, neither man, it appears, is likely to be comfortable for long in either set of circumstances, for each is haunted by his past deeds.

In the second story, a seventeen-year-old man takes a room in a rooming house in which two other young men, before him, had lived for a time. The landlady seems a bit scatterbrained. She has trouble remembering the names of her former tenants and asks her current renter to sign her guestbook, so she can look up his name if she should happen to forget it. Then, despite his having declined her offer to serve him a snack, she insists that he have a cup of tea and “a ginger biscuit” before he retires for the night. Her mention of the previous tenants arouses the young man’s curiosity, for he seems to remember having seen their names, linked in a newspaper account of the disappearance of two young men in the vicinity of his landlady’s rooming house. A few clues alert the reader to the possibility that the landlady is not as innocent and harmless as she seems and is, in fact, likely to be extremely dangerous and, rather than merely scatterbrained, insane: she stuffs parrots and other animals; the last names to have been entered in her guestbook are three years old, and it was three years ago that the young men who’d been traveling through the area were reported missing; and, even though she is confused about her former tenants’ names and speaks of them in the past tense, she tells her latest renter that neither of the young men have left her house. On the contrary, she insists, “They’re on the third floor, both of them together”--together, the reader is led to believe, and dead. Moreover, like the parrot, they have probably been stuffed. The current tenant himself seems likely to meet the same fate.

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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