Fascinating lists!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fever Dream’s Opening Paragraphs (Chapters 14 through 16)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


The fourteenth chapter of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Fever Dream is the shortest so far. Its purpose is purely utilitarian: to involve someone (protagonist Pendergast, as it turns out) in conversation. The chapter’s tagline informs the reader that the scene is “Penumbra Plantation,” which is Pendergast’s home:

“Would you care for another cup of tea, sir?” (74)
Although the speaker is as-yet unidentified, the one line of dialogue, a question, posed in media res, one might suspect that he is Pendergast’s factotum, Maurice, as, indeed, it proves to be.

The opening paragraph for Chapter 15 is longer. Preceded by a tagline that identifies the setting as “Rockland, Maine,” we are in a tavern with D’Agosta, a place that appears to be much like the lieutenant himself, in three particulars, at least. There is no reason to assume that the detective is “cheap,” but, otherwise, he is much like the tavern: “honest, unassuming, working class.” However, his state of mind prevents him from identifying much with the place, and he is in no mood to share a few rounds with the tavern’s local patrons:

Under ordinary circumstances, The Salty Dog Tavern would have been just the kind of bar Vincent D’Agosta liked: honest, unassuming, working class, and cheap. But these were not ordinary conditions. He had flown or driven among four cities in as many days; he missed Laura Hayward; and he was tired, bone-tired. Maine in February was not exactly charming. The last thing he felt like doing at the moment was hoisting beers with a bunch of fishermen (77).
Of course, if “the last thing he felt like doing at the moment was hoisting beers with a bunch of fishermen ,” why, the reader must wonder, is the detective in a tavern with such patrons? This simple, seemingly throw-away comment on the omniscient narrator’s part whets the reader’s curiosity. To find the answer to this implied question, the reader will have to continue to read. Preston and Child have, once more, demonstrated their skill in manipulating the reader so well and smoothly that the reader is not likely to realize that he or she has been manipulated into continuing to read the novel.

We all enjoy time to ourselves, especially after a busy day at work, so we can easily sympathize (in “New Orleans,” as the chapter’s tagline indicates) with Desmond Tipton’s desire to enjoy his own solitude after “the visitors [have] gone and he is alone, once more, in the museum in which he works:

Desmond Tipton liked this time of day more than any other, when the doors were shut and barred, the visitors gone, and every little thing in its place. It was the quiet period, from five to eight, before the drink [sic] tourists descended on the French Quarter like the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan, infesting the bars and jazz joints, swilling Sazeracs to oblivion. He could hear them outside every night, their boozy voices, and infantile caterwauling only partly muffled by the ancient walls of the Audubon Cottage (84).
Again, the authors’ description of a place also serves to typify a character. Tipton, a museum worker (possibly the curator) is more at home among things than he is among people; in the Audubon Cottage, things are safe (“the doors are shut and barred”), “quiet,” and orderly (“every little thing [is] in its place”). The Cottage is charming, because of its serenity and peace, but it is also charming because of its art, its culture, and even its age. At home in the museum, the metaphors upon which Tipton’s thoughts are constructed tend toward the ancient, the artistic, and the cultural. He sees the revelers of the French Quarter as invading barbarians, as “the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan.” Tipton is obviously an educated and cultured man and a man who, as such, fears the “hordes” of drunken “tourists” who disturb his own peace as they swarm “the bars and jazz joints,” drinking cocktails “to oblivion,” but not before disturbing the general peace with their “boozy voices, whoops, and infantile caterwauling,” which not even the wonders of Audubon’s Cottage can keep at bay for long; the din is “only partly muffled by the ancient walls of Audubon Cottage” (84). It will be interesting to see with whom Tipton interacts--the drunken “tourists” who behave “like the Mongolian hordes of Genghis Khan,” a low-life who lives in the vicinity, or someone of a more sophisticated and cultured air, such as Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Horror Writer's Muse: A Cautionary Tale

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


Shadows crawl across my wall,
Dark remnants of Eden’s fall,
Due to Adam’s sin; again,
My brain reels in garish pain;
I rise, eyes fixed on nothing,
Put pen to paper to sing,
In poetry, my memory
Of primordial, eerie
Things, which, both fanged and clawed,
Squirm and writhe upon my wall. . . .

Our ancestors, daughters of men
And sons of angels fallen,
Produce monsters such as Grendel,
Brute minions, all, of deepest hell;
Some beauteous of face and form,
Others of aspect like the worm,
And others still of shadowy
Appearance, but strange and eerie,
Whose task is mine to give full voice,
Not that vile Satan may rejoice,
But that all the sons and daughters
Of ancient Cain who do yet stir
May be heard--and thus evaded--
By the living who are not dead
To the antediluvian
Origins of death and sin,
Mystery of iniquity
That, like a spider on a wall,
Crawls across us, one and all,
Leaving, in its wake, gossamer
Threads of desire, dark and deep,
Our hearts and souls to keep.

“Out, out, damned spot!” the Lady said,
Unaware that she was dead;
Shadow, spider, and spot alike
Are but mute brutes whose terrors strike
From within, their banshee’s voice
An echo of an ancient choice
As much our own as our heartbeat,
From which there is no retreat
But to return, a prodigal
Son, who once was hell’s spawn and thrall,
A shadow writhing on a wall,
As are, or once were, each and all.

(The next time you see a shadow,
Ask not, as Plato did, to see
Its form, for that which slithers forth
from Below had an evil birth,
taking shape from iniquity!)

A Sidebar Approach to Writing

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a "sidebar" is "a short news story or graphic accompanying and presenting sidelights of a major story" or "something incidental," such as a "sidelight (a sidebar to the essay's central theme)."

Many book-length commentaries and analyses of popular entertainment products offer, more or less as fillers, occasional sidebars that provide behind-the-scenes information, summaries, or little-known facts about the various topics that the commentaries routinely cover in their murder to dissect. Dusted: The Unauthorized Guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no exception, offering, as it does, 22 such sidebars, among them speculations concerning “Spike’s Nature,” an account of “The Unaired Pilot,” and “Vampire History.”

From a writer’s perspective, perhaps some of the more interesting (and potentially valuable) sidebars are those that deal with characters’ back stories, histories regarding settings, and proposed plotlines. These items present a handy, dandy way of enriching one’s own narratives: pretend that you are a fan of your own work and that, as such, you buy a book (or a magazine) about the narrative of which you are an aficionado. Imagine, also, that you are the writer 9or one of the writers) of the commentary and develop sidebars of the sort that you think fans of the narrative you’re writing your book about might enjoy, particularly ones associated with characters’ back stories, histories regarding settings, and proposed plotlines. Write them about your story, and, presto, you’ve developed some ideas for future chapters of your novel in progress or (should you be so lucky) your ongoing series of novels.


For example, let’s assume that your story takes place in ancient Rome and that you want to create a sense of horror mingled with terror. Perhaps you decide to have a present-day visitor to the catacombs get stranded in the underground burial chambers overnight. This situation (and setting) cries out for a sidebar treatment in which you summarize the history of the local catacombs and given a succinct, but ghastly, description of the place.

If your character is (or knows) a famous person of the period, a sidebar concerning the famous man or woman--perhaps he is an emperor of a visiting queen--will help keep your fictitious portrait of him or her both accurate and intriguing, provided that the sidebar contains not only pertinent facts but also a spicy anecdote or two concerning the historical figure.

An artifact could also deserve sidebar treatment. Again, the facts and anecdotes you include in your sidebar will help you to keep on track and be interesting as you describe and explain the significance of the relic or objet d’art.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fever Dream’s Opening Paragraphs (Chapters 11 through 13)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


The eleventh chapter of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Fever Dream introduces the reader to the “Wisley ‘farmstead,’” somewhere in remotest Zambia. The protagonist, the FBI’s Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, and his investigative partner, homicide lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, are traveling, via ramshackle Land Rover, to their destination, somewhere “northwest of Victoria Falls”:

Everyone, it seemed, knew where the Wisley “farmstead” was. It lay at the end of a well-maintained dirt track on a gently sloping hill in the forests northwest of Victoria Falls. In fact--as Pendergast paused the decrepit vehicle just before the final bend in the road--D’Agosta thought he could hear the falls: a low, distant roar that was more sensation than sound (53).
The fact that the “dirt track,” despite its location, “in the forests northwest of Victoria Falls,” in deepest Zambia, is “well-maintained” suggests that the “farmstead” that it serves belongs to a man of means, for it would be difficult, indeed, to maintain even a simple “dirt track” far in the interior of the African continent, among forests as thick as those which surround Victoria Falls. Such a “dirt track,” obviously connects the “farmstead” to such greater civilization as Zambia is able to offer, suggesting that its owner has been or expects to be in residence on his “farmstead” for some time. One wonders, of course, what Wisley might be doing in such a place. The paragraph concludes with a phrase that will communicate well to anyone who has ever been in the vicinity of a powerful waterfall, which, indeed, seems, as Preston and Child observe, to be “more sensation than sound” and helps to create a sense of immediacy for the reader, placing him or her on the scene, as it were, able both to see, to hear, and to feel the environment that the authors’ omniscient narrator describes.

The opening paragraph of Chapter 12 places us back in the United States, in “Savannah, Georgia,” as the chapter’s tagline indicates. The civilized charm of the deep South contrasts sharply with the wild beauty of the African forests, a connection with which the narrator establishes with the paragraph’s last sentence:

Whitfield Square dozed placidly in the failing light of a Monday evening. Streetlights came up, throwing the palmettos and the Spanish moss hanging from gnarled oak limbs into gauzy relief. After the cauldron-like heat of Central Africa, D’Agosta found the humid Georgia air almost a relief (62).
It’s unclear as to why D’Agosta finds the cooler air “almost a relief” rather than an actual relief, but the setting’s serene, seemingly indolent tone contrasts with the “forests” and the “falls” of “Central Africa” as clearly as Georgia’s “humid” air contrasts with Zambia’s “cauldron-like heat.” Of course, the “palmettos and the Spanish moss hanging from gnarled oak limbs” also contrasts starkly with “the forests northwest of Victoria Falls” and the “distant roar” of the falls “that was more sensation than sound.” The contrast between the wilderness of Africa, in which Pendergast’s wife, Helen, was killed in a lion’s attack, and the urban environment of the postbellum South in which her murder is under investigation is as stark as villainy and goodness. This paragraph, masterfully written, contrasts not only two continents and two ways of life, but also two extremes of the moral continuum.

Chapter 13’s opening paragraph is more utilitarian, changing the scene from Savannah, Georgia to “New Orleans” as Pendergast drives into a Louisiana parking lot:

Pendergast turned the Rolls-Royce into the private parking lot on Dauphine Street, harshly lit with sodium lamps. The attendant, a man with thick ears and heavy pouches below his eyes, lowered the gate behind them and handed Prendergast a ticket, which the agent tucked in the visor (69).
The authors’ description of the parking lot attendant keeps the paragraph interesting, individualizing a character that could easily have been bypassed or written off, so to speak, as merely “the attendant.” The references to his “thick ears” and to the “heavy pouches below his eyes” humanizes him. Such tags may also characterize Pendergast as someone who is trained to make note of the distinguishing features of not only criminal suspects but of everyone. As a well-trained and experienced FBI agent, little that goes on around him is lost to Pendergast; his mind seems to have assumed the efficiency of a surveillance camera in recording the details associated with any and all particular persons, places, and things, including even a parking lot attendant whom Pendergast is unlikely to see again for a long time to come, if ever.

The opening paragraphs to chapters 11 through 13, like those which have come before, show how adroitly and purposefully accomplished writers of the likes of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child make use of descriptive, introductory text. These authors’ style and technique are certainly worthy of study by anyone who writes or wishes to write thrillers, horror stories, or fiction of any other genre.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Learning from the Masters: M. Night Shyamalan

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


One hates to beat a dead horse, but M. Night Shyamalan isn’t dead--not yet, not quite: people with more money than they know what to do with continue to fund his “films.” Usually, Chillers and Thrillers’ “Learning From the Masters” series analyzes successful stories, whether in print or on film, but one can learn from artistic failures, too, of course--it’s generally just less pleasurable.

I saw Sixth Sense, which I think is a good thriller, and Signs, which I wasn’t as enthused about, whether it is regarded as a science fiction film, a horror film, or a monstrous hybrid spawned by both. Then, I watched the last film by this alleged filmmaker that I ever plan to see, whether on the screen or courtesy of a DVD: The Happening, in which, despite its title, nothing happens--at least nothing believable or meaningful.

What’s wrong with Shyamalan’s films? They are predictable (there will always be a more-or-less unbelievable “twist” to the plot at the end of the story, a supposedly surprise ending that most moviegoers see coming from the beginning, especially now that they’ve learned, as it were, to expect the unexpected: the child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (in The Sixth Sense) is a ghost; security guard David Dunn (Unbreakable) is a superhero; water hurts aliens (Signs); the village (in The Village) is the laboratory, as it were, for a modern-day experiment; the lady trapped in the swimming pool returns to the Blue World (The Lady in Water); plants become serial--or is that cereal--killers (The Happening).

The films are superficial. There’s nothing to them. Their themes are sophomoric--or maybe just moronic.

The characters, like the plots and themes, also lack depth. They’re cardboard cutouts mouthing annoyingly unrealistic and, at times, exceedingly tedious dialogue--and dialogue about either inconsequential matters or incredible ones. Some of them are even Shyamalan himself, poorly disguised.

Character’s motivations are sometimes unconvincing. In The Happening, the protagonist regards his wife as virtually unfaithful to him because she had lunch with one of her male coworkers once. That was it. That was all. Lunch. Only in a Shyamalan film does a shared meal equal adultery. However, it is this shameful incident--lunch with a colleague of the opposite sex--that has caused a bit of a rift between the main character and his better half and it is the overcoming of this rift in reunited love (if such a relationship can involve true love) is part of the thematic glue that bonds--or is supposed to bond--these two characters (who receive a child by way of informal adoption, after the child’s parents are killed) together so that, having recovered their respect and affection for one another after living through a hellish encounter with America’s flora, they can become, once again, a family. The sentimentality level sinks to new lows, even for Shyamalan.

Although Shyamalan bills himself as an auteur, he is really an amateur. Unfortunately, his first couple of movies were lucky forays into the world of mass entertainment, and he gathered, from them, a fan base of young bloods who are, well, too easily entertained. For them, the trite themes, the stilted and tiresome dialogue, the feckless characters, the false dilemmas, and the inevitable plot twists are enough--and more than enough--as long as the master’s movies contain some cool special effects and a wink and a nod to the moviegoers’ geekiness.

Shyamalan makes films for himself. If he were a good filmmaker, that would be fine. The problem is that, in modern America, there are too many like him or too many who are likeminded. As long as there are chills and thrills, the rest of the movie doesn’t have to amount to much in the way of art. The filmmaker’s box office receipts have proven that dreck, like sex, sells, and if there’s one thing Shyamalan has in abundance it’s dreck.

So, what lessons can be gleaned from Shyamalan’s failures?

Unless you’re Dean Koontz, be clear as to your genre.

Make sure something actually happens during your story’s action--and something important, not trivial.

Unless you’re O. Henry, resist the desire to employ a “twist” or “surprise” ending. (Brush up on Edgar Allan Poe’s masterpiece, “The Philosophy of Composition” to learn how to write a successful ending to a story.)

Develop satisfying, significant, or even multivalent themes.

Create sympathetic and compelling characters.

Provide credible motivations for characters’ conflicts.

Write credible, if not sparkling, dialogue.

Do not insult your audience! Respect their intelligence and their commitment to the art of fiction, filmed or printed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fever Dream’s Opening Paragraphs (Chapters 7 through 10)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


The seventh chapter of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Fever Dream places the reader (alongside D’Agosta and Pendergast) in New York City, as the FBI agent’s “Rolls-Royce” tears “up Park Avenue.” The homicide detective and the FBI agent are seated in the back of the vehicle, with D’Agosta “feeling awkward” because of Pendergast’s uncharacteristically emotional openness:

The Rolls-Royce tore up Park Avenue. Late-cruising cabs flashing by in blurs of yellow. D’Agosta sat in the back with Pendergast, feeling awkward, trying no to turn a curious eye toward the FBI agent. This Pendergast was impatient, unkempt, and--most remarkable--openly emotional (37).
Like most of the other of the novel’s opening paragraphs, this one sets the scene, accomplishing its purpose with economy. At the same time, the paragraph characterizes both the scene and the main character. As if employing deft strokes of an artist’s brush, the authors use phrases to paint the picture: “Rolls-Royce” and “Park Avenue” suggest wealth and luxury; “cabs flashing by in blurs of yellow” provides an image that the reader can not only visualize in his or her mind but also nearly hear; and the adjectives that appear at the end of the paragraph characterize the protagonist with the same decisive economy: “impatient, unkempt, and. . . emotional.”

Chapter 8 introduces another of the series’ recurring characters (or, for first-time readers, debuts her): Captain Laura Hayward, although she is not seen or even heard; she is introduced merely by the omniscient narrator’s mention of her: “D’Agosta stood, a little uncertainly, in the hallway of the tidy, two-bedroom he shared with Laura Hayward.” The reader learns that the couple has only just become a couple again, after an apparent earlier breakup, and that D’Agosta fears that his partnering with Pendergast may cost him his newly repaired relationship with the police captain:

D’Agosta stood, a little uncertainly, in the hallway of the tidy, two-bedroom he shared with Laura Hayward. It was technically her apartment, but recently he’d finally begun splitting the rent with her. Just getting her to concede to that had taken months. Now he fervently hoped this sudden turn of events wouldn’t undo all the hard work he’d put into repairing their relationship (42).
There is conflict here--or potential conflict: Hayward may break up with D’Agosta again. There is also the implication that Hayward was hard to win over; it was difficult for D’Agosta to gain her trust and her heart, for it “had taken months” for him to get her to “concede” to his offer to split the apartment’s rent with her--in other words, to accept him as a roommate and not just a visitor. Moreover, there is the suggestion that D’Agosta finds Hayward worth the effort that it has taken for him to win her over again: he has put a lot of “hard work into repairing their relationship.” Finally, there is also an allusion to a past event or series of events that had somehow fractured their relationship; otherwise, no “repairing” would be necessary. Once again, the authors set the scene with their chapter’s opening paragraph, and, once again, at the same time, they accomplish more--in this case, creating suspense (for new readers, at least) concerning what has happened to damage the relationship between D’Agosta and Hayward in the past and (for readers old and new) the question as to whether D’Agosta’s partnering with Pendergast will have a disastrous effect upon their present relationship, undoing “all the hard work” that D’Agosta has “put into repairing their relationship.”

Again, using carefully worded phrases to paint a picture of the New York Harbor, as Pendergast and D’Agosta, driven by the FBI agent’s chauffeur, Proctor, the authors set the scene, suggest the narrative’s progress, and introduce a “detour”:

The Rolls, Proctor again at the wheel, hummed along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway south of the Brooklyn Bridge. D’Agosta watched a pair of tugboats pushing a giant barge heaped with cubed cars up the East River, leaving a frothy wake behind. It had all happened so fast, he still wasn’t quite able to wrap his head around it--they would have to make a brief, but necessary, detour (44).
Where will the detour take the characters, the reader wonders, and why? We, along for the ride, are apt to be as curious as D’Agosta, eager to learn of our destination and its purpose. With economy, Preston and Child, as usual, suggest action (we are riding along with D’Agosta and Pendergast, “along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway south of the Brooklyn Bridge,” tugboats on view outside the window of the Rolls-Royce), and create suspense (concerning the nature and the reason for the “detour”) that D’Agosta and Pendergast must take--quite a feat for a paragraph of only sixty-six words!

The opening paragraph of the next chapter returns the reader to Africa, or, more specifically, as the chapter’s tagline makes clear, “Zambia.” D’Agosta (with Pendergast at the wheel, the reader learns, in the next paragraph), travels inside a rickety and ramshackle vehicle along a rutted road. We are not sure what we are doing in Zambia, when, last we knew, D’Agosta and Pendergast were in New York, about to catch the airplane that, presumably, has brought them here, to Africa, but, it seems clear, we will soon find out. Once again, the authors maintain the reader’s interest by shifting scenes:

Zambia

The smiling, gap-toothed man at the dirt airstrip had called the vehicle a Land Rover. That description, D’Agosta thought as he hung on for dear life, was more than charitable. Whatever it might have been, now it barely deserved to be called an automobile. It had no windows, no roof, no radio, and no seat belts. The hood was fixed to the grille by a tangle of baling wire. He could see the dirt road through giant rust holes in the chassis (48).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Suspenseful Conundrums

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


In reading Fever Dream, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s latest Pendergast novel, I knew that the protagonist, Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, would not kill his wife’s murderer, despite his vow to do so, for, were he to have done such a heinous act, he would have become irredeemably unsympathetic to the reader. As an FBI agent, Pendergast, like Superman, represents “truth, justice, and the American way,” and vigilante justice, being no justice at all, has never been a part of “the American way.” That’s why, in the all-American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has Colonel Sherburn face down the mob that has come to lynch him for shooting a drunken assailant. However, my suspicion that the protagonist would not kill his wife’s killer didn’t eliminate suspense; on the contrary, I was eager to see how the authors would avoid the agent’s fulfillment of his promise, wondering whether his doing so would be believable and satisfying. I’d say that it was, on both counts. Moreover, the resolution of this particular conflict is a study in how to maintain a character’s integrity while satisfying the need for justice that a cold-blooded murder deserves.

The authors also have gotten themselves into a bit of a pickle with regard to Pendergast’s legal ward, Constance Greene. Under arrest for allegedly tossing her infant son overboard during her crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, because the child, like his father, is “evil,” she tells a psychologist that she was born in the 1870’s. How will her apparent infanticide and her absurd claim to be nearly 150 years old be resolved? Alas, in Fever Dream, neither issue is resolved. Both are left hanging, as it were, for resolution in the next (or some other future) installment in the series. The same conundrum applies to Constance as applies to Pendergast. A likeable, if eccentric, character to this point in the series, she would lose the reader’s sympathy if either the murder of her own child or the telling of an outrageous, seemingly pointless lie is left to stand. Therefore, the same challenge to the writers exists as did with regard to Pendergast’s vow to kill his wife’s killer. There must be a resolution to Constance’s apparent infanticide and to her gross lie that is both credible (that is, logical within the context of the story) and emotionally satisfying to the reader. One suspects that Preston and Child will accomplish both requirements--they usually do--but the fun, from the reader’s point of view--lies in seeing just how they pull off the feat.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Learning from the Masters: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman


In Chapter 47 of their latest novel, Fever Dream, authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child shed light upon their technique for creating mysterious and engaging thrillers.

To NYPD’s Captain Laura Hayward, a stand-in, at this point in the story, for the reader, who may be as mystified as to the protagonist’s actions as Hayward herself, the investigation that her boyfriend, homicide detective Lieutenant Vincent (“Vinnie”) D’Agosta, and his friend, the FBI’s Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, are conducting concerning the murder, twelve years ago, of Pendergast’s wife, Helen, seems to be “a typical Pendergast investigation, all hunches and blind alleys and conflicting evidence, strung together by highly questionable police work” (235).

However, from the author’s perspective (and from Hayward’s as well, once Pendergast explains his and D’Agosta’s findings to date), “the bizarre story” has “an internal logic,” for Preston and Child, of course, have plotted the story in full, in advance of their writing a single word of it. However, because they withhold relevant information from the reader, supplying key material in a piecemeal fashion, the authors deny both D’Agosta, Pendergast, and the reader the very context that the writers have had from the beginning. As a result, “the bizarre story” they tell, through Pendergast, has “an internal logic” to them, but not to the reader (or, initially, to the investigators or to Hayward, before she is clued in).

Of course, eventually, Preston and Child must allow their protagonist, with the help of D’Agosta, to figure out at least something of what is going on--in other words, to causally connect the pieces of evidence and the clues that the investigators discover--and, to gain Hayward’s confidence when he needs her to take over D’Agosta’s role as his assistant, following the lieutenant’s being gravely wounded, Pendergast shares his theory concerning the significance of the evidence:

. . . Pendergast explained his late wife’s obsession with Audubon; how they had traced her interest in the Carolina Parakeet, the Black Frame, the lost parrot, and the strange fate of the Doane family. He read her passages from the Doane girl’s diary: a chilling descent into madness. He described their encounter with Blast, another seeker of the Black Frame, himself recently murdered--as had been Helen Pendergast’s former employer at Doctors With Wings, Morris Blackletter. And finally, he explained the series of deductions and discoveries that led to the unearthing of the Black Frame itself (235).
In Fever Dream, the authors also suggest an analogy (not an especially original one, but one which is, nevertheless, illuminating) concerning their narrative technique. Due to his association with Pendergast, D’Agosta has learned, “long ago. . . to never get caught without two things: a gun and a flashlight” (138). As if the investigators were in a darkened room throughout their investigation, most of the contents of the room (the facts and clues of the investigation) are unseen (unknown, overlooked, or not understood). Therefore, facts, clues, and other pertinent information are brought to light (discovered or recognized as relevant) only a little at a time, as the flashlight’s beam (perception, comprehension, analysis, and evaluation) exposes them--and, when it does expose them, these pieces of evidence are usually not in any apparent logical or systematic order. As a result, both to the investigators and the reader at the moment that the evidence is gleaned), it may well seem that the investigators are, indeed, pursuing “hunches,” following “blind alleys,” and collecting “conflicting evidence” blindly and haphazardly. It is only after they have gathered the evidence, determined its significance, and interpreted its meaning that D’Agosta and Prendergast (mostly Pendergast) can develop a theory that fully illuminates their findings so that their work (or their “bizarre story”) begins to have “an internal logic.”

In his discussion with Hayward at his estate, following D’Agosta’s grave injury, Pendergast, in fact, models his method, deducing the meaning (and thereby providing the explanation for) “the central mystery of the case, the birds,” linking Audubon’s illness (the cause of his genius as a painter) to Helen’s discovery of the same link between Audubon’s genius and his sickness:

“And all she wanted with the painting was confirmation for this theory?” [Hayward asks Pendergast].

Pendergast nodded. “That painting is the link between Audubon’s early, indifferent work and his later brilliance. It’s proof of the transition he underwent. But that doesn’t quite get to the central mystery in this case: the birds.”

Hayward frowned. “The birds?”

“The Carolina Parakeets. The Doane parrot.”

Hayward herself had been puzzling over the connection to Audubon’s illness, to no avail. “And?”

Pendergast sipped his coffee. “I believe we’re dealing with a strain of avian flu.”

“Avian flu? You mean, bird flu?”

“That, I believe, is the disease that laid Audubon low, that nearly killed him, and that was responsible for his creative flowering. His symptoms--high fever, headache, delirium, cough--are all consistent with flu. A flu he no doubt caught dissecting a Carolina Parakeet” (236).
Nor is Pendergast through with demonstrating his powers of deduction, for he next links the birds to the Doane family’s artistic brilliance and the madness to which they later succumbed, citing significant “similarities” between the family’s behavior and Audubon’s own conduct:

“But all that still doesn’t explain how those parakeets [the Carolina Parakeet specimens Helen stole from the Audubon collection] are linked to the Doane family” [Hayward declares to Pendergast].

“It’s quite simple” [Pendergast explains]. The Doanes were sickened by the same disease that struck Audubon.”

“What makes you say that?”

“There are simply too many similarities, Captain, for anything else to make sense. The sudden flowering of creative brilliance. Followed by mental dissolution. Too many similarities--and Helen knew it. That’s why she went to get the bird from them [the Doanes]” (237).
He is also certain that Helen had known the same cause-and-effect relationship between the birds and the flowering genius (and madness) of both Audubon and the Doane family, which is why she visited the museum housing specimens of birds personally preserved by Audubon and why she visited the Doane family, stealing both museum specimens and the parrot that the Doane family had found and adopted as a pet. Helen had meant, Pendergast contends, to “extract from them [the birds] a live sample” of the avian virus, both to “keep it from spreading” and “to test it. . . to confirm her suspicions” that the virus was what had caused the artist’s and family members’ artistic genius and subsequent madness. Helen’s knowledge is attested to, Pendergast says, by the precautions she had taken to avoid infecting herself with the virus:

“. . . She wore leather gloves, and she stuffed the bird and its cage into a garbage bag. Why? Initially, I assumed the bag was simply for concealment. But it was to keep herself and her car from contamination” [Pendergast tells Hayward].

“And the leather gloves?’

“Worn no doubt to conceal a pair of medical gloves beneath. Helen was trying to remove a viral vector from the human population. No doubt the bird, cage, and bag were all incinerated--after she’d taken the necessary samples, of course” (237-38).
Preston and Child do not merely have characters discuss past investigative findings. The authors also use dialogue between their characters to present rhetorical questions pertaining to as-yet-undiscovered aspects and implications of the investigation, as in this exchange between Pendergast and Hayward, wherein the reader is advised, as it were, of three other, related questions implicit in the case:

“Isn’t there another question you’re forgetting?” Hayward asked.

Pendergast looked at her.

“You say Helen stole the parrots Audubon studied--the ones that supposedly sickened him. Helen also visited the Doane family and stole their parrot--because, as you also say, she knew it was infected. By inference, Helen is the common thread that binds the two events. So aren’t you curious what role she might have had in the sequencing and inoculation?” (238)
Masters of their craft, Preston and Child show how, in skilled hands, authors can provide data without context, piece together a theory that, using deductive and inductive reasoning to analyze causes and effects and to infer implications concerning the significance and meaning of such evidence, explains criminal undertakings and their perpetrators’ motives and goals while, at the same time, keeping unresolved questions that are important to the developing case before the reader’s mind. Whether an aspiring author writes horror fiction or thrillers, he or she can learn a good deal from the example of such masterful storytellers.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fever Dream’s Opening Paragraphs (Chapters 4 through 6)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

The fourth chapter of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Fever Dream does not begin with a tagline that identifies the action’s location, for the action continues in the setting that was identified in the previous chapter’s tagline, that of “The Fever Trees.” The chapter’s opening paragraph opens in media res, or in the middle of things, with the protagonist’s regaining consciousness:

The world came back into focus. Pendergast was in one of the rondevaals. The distant throb of a chopper sounded through the thatch roof, rapidly increasing in volume (22).
The authors again prove their adroitness at marrying action to emotion and, indeed, action to a specific character’s own current dilemma or perceptions. The helicopter’s “throb” mirrors the throbbing that, readers might suspect, Pendergast himself feels after having just been mauled by a huge and vicious lion. In addition, the fact that the sound of the aircraft’s engine “rapidly” increases “in volume” suggests that it is arriving, not departing, and again makes readers share the protagonist’s perspective: Pendergast hears the approaching “chopper,” as do the novel’s readers. It is as if the aircraft is coming for them as much as for him.

The scene shifts in Chapter 5, as its tagline informs readers, from Africa to “St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.” The paragraph’s allusion to luxury automobiles, to a palatial “plantation house,” and to the estate’s being listed “on the National Register of Historic Places” indicates that whoever is traveling in such an automobile to such a destination probably him- or herself (himself, as it turns out, for the next paragraph makes the character’s identity--protagonist “A. X. L. Pendergast”--clear)a man or woman of means and status:

The Rolls-Royce Grey Ghost crept around the circular drive, the crisp crunch of gravel under the tires muffled in places by patches of crabgrass. The motorcar was followed by a late-model Mercedes, in silver. Both vehicles came to a stop before a Greek revival plantation house, framed by ancient black oaks draped in fingers of Spanish moss. A small bronze plaque screwed into the façade announced that the mansion was known as Penumbra; that it had been built in 1821 by the Pendergast family; and that it was on the National Register of Historic Places (24).
Chapter 6 transports the reader, its tagline declares, to “New York City,” introducing a recurring character, Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, who is busy investigating a murder scene. For readers for whom Fever Dream is the first of the Pendergast series of novels, D’Agosta will appear to be a new character; those who have read other novels in the series will recognize him as a friend and sometimes-ally of Pendergast. The paragraph is matter-of-fact in style, depicting the crime scene with the dispassionate and objective manner of a motion picture camera. Employing, as the rest of the novel does, an omniscient narrator, the paragraph’s impartial reporting of the scene indicates D’Agosta’s own professionally detached observation of the scene. Here, readers will think, is a man who is used to investigating murders.

Four AM, Saturday, Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta pushed through the crowd, ducked under a crime-scene tape, and walked over to where the body lay sprawled across the sidewalk outside one of the countless identical Indian restaurants on East 6th Street. A large pool of blood had collected beneath it, reflecting the red and purple neon light in the restaurant’s grimy window with surreal splendor (32).
(Readers may--or may not--learn more about this seemingly casually referenced death; the authors sometimes include a future incident that bears upon or is in some way related to such a seemingly random event as this murder of an as-yet anonymous individual; other times, such an incident as the one described in this opening paragraph is a stand-alone occurrence, unrelated to future narrative events. By sometimes connecting such an incident to another, future event and sometimes not making such an association, Preston and Child keep their readers guessing.) In either case, the investigation of a murder scene is an interesting way to introduce a character and a good way to suggest his expertise as an investigator.

Once again, the authors show their substantial talent for making a single paragraph perform several functions--in the cases of the three cited in this post, identifying readers’ perspective with that of the novel’s protagonist and characterizing characters by associating them each with a particular type of setting.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Fever Dream": Opening Paragraphs (Chapters 1 through 3)

Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s latest novel, Fever Dream, like most of their books, changes scenes with regularity. This time, the action moves among locations in Africa, Louisiana, New York, Georgia, Maine, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, and Mississippi. Eve when the action does manage to settle down for a moment, in one state, the story tends to move among lesser locations, such as towns, swamps, and plantations.

Because the action shifts among a variety of scenes, the opening paragraphs of the book’s chapters are largely devoted to the task of setting the scenes. Douglas and Preston accomplish this goal with economy, making each chapter interesting in itself, despite its similar mission with most of its brethren, by employing a variety of rhetorical and poetic devices.

The chapters in which a new or recurring scene occurs begins with a tagline, announcing the location, which is followed by the opening chapter. The first chapter is labeled “Musalangu, Zambia,” which is followed with this description of the place:

The setting sun blazed through the African bush like a forest fire, hot yellow in the sweltering evening that gathered over the bush camp. The hills along the upper Makwele Stream rose in the east like blunt green teeth, framed against the sky (1).
The authors employ two similes, “sun. . . like a forest fire” and “hills. . . like teeth,” which add interest to what might have been an otherwise rather mundane description, and the second figure of speech suggests danger and, more specifically, a bestial danger, which the beginning of the story soon delivers in the death of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast’s wife Helen, who is killed and devoured by a rogue lion.

Chapter 2 begins with the tagline, “Kingazu Camp, Luangwa River,” and involves the readers in the story’s action, as Pendergast and Helen drive to the camp mentioned in the chapter’s tagline. The writers’ description puts their readers inside the vehicle in which the characters make their way to their destination; the readers can all but feel every bump and jolt of the rough ride:

The Land Rover banged and lurched along the Banta Road, a bad track in a country legendary for them. Pendergast turned the wheel violently left and right to avoid the yawning potholes, some almost as deep as the bashed-up Rover. The windows were wide open--the air-conditioner was broken--and the interior of the car was awash in dust blown in by the occasional vehicle passing in the other direction (6).
Involving the readers in the action creates a sense of immediacy, a sense of you-are-here, which gives them a stake in the characters’ mission. Thanks to Preston and Child’s use of this technique, their readers are literally along for the ride. This opening chapter also employs a personification; the potholes in the road are “yawning,” which may recall the simile, in the previous chapter’s opening paragraph, in which “hills” were likened to “blunt green teeth.” The authors seem, again, to remind their readers, albeit rather subtly, that there is a dangerous predator not far ahead--a “yawning” mouth full of “blunt green teeth,” the “green” of which could symbolize the African veldt--or a denizen therein.,

The opening paragraph to chapter 3 (which is labeled “The Fever Trees”) sets up a stark contrast between nature, as represented by the African veldt, and civilization, as represented by Kingazu Camp. The jungle is quiet, seemingly “subdued,” and its stillness contrasts with the busyness of the camp’s residents as they go about their daily business. The relative quiet of the seemingly somnolent jungle, however, appears deceiving, somewhat like the calm that precedes a storm, because the authors include the phrase “false dawn,” suggesting that the daybreak which illuminates the dark continent is somehow deceitful or fraudulent. In short, it would be a mistake, perhaps, to let down one’s guard. Even when the jungle appears to be at rest, it is a dangerous place:

The night had been silent. Even the local prides that often tattooed the darkness with their roars were lying low, and the usual chatter of night animals seemed subdued. The sound of the river was a faint gurgle and shush that belied the massive flow, perfuming the air with the smell of water. Only with the false dawn came the first noises of what passed for civilization: hot water being poured into shower-drums in preparation for morning ablutions (13).
The suggestion of deceitfulness or fraud that the phrase “false dawn” creates is echoed, and reinforced, by other phrases. “The river was a faint. . . shush,” readers are told--and they are likely to think the noun “shush” strange in this context; normally, one does not think of a river as making a “shushing” sound such as librarians sometimes make to quiet noisy young patrons. Moreover, like the “subdued” jungle animals, the river seems to be in a conspiracy with the dawn to suppress some secret; the sounds that it makes--”a faint gurgle and shush”--themselves are deceitful, as it were, for they are “belied” by the river’s “massive flow.”

Finally, the opening paragraph to this chapter suggests that nature, as represented by the jungle, which is full of mighty forces--”lions, “night animals,” and a “river” of “massive flow”--is characterized as powerful, perhaps predatory, whereas civilization is portrayed as paltry and weak. One of the few improvement that the camp has been able to the offerings of nature is meager, indeed: The water from the river has been heated so that “hot water” may be “poured into shower-drums in preparation for morning ablutions.” Humans, who often fancy themselves to be the masters of nature, are here characterized as being something more like its parasites--or potential prey.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Google Books and Me

Some of my novels appear (most of them do, that is) on Google Books.  I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or not, despite their links to Amazon.com, where they can be bought for birthdays, Halloween, or Christmas.  Why buy them when you can read them (or most of them) for free?  On the other hand, some believe that allowing readers a generous sample increases purchases.  From my standpoint, it's still a bit too early to tell.

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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