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Tag Archives: Horror

W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

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Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

The photo below is of an ordinary autumn flower, but the image to the left is that same photo transformed by featuring not its original image but its heat map. Although the original is vibrant, the heat map colors are an eye-grabbing rainbow.

So, too, may bland words gain fire and vigor once the writer takes hold of them.

And sometimes they surprise.

bright flora along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

Monday night’s writers meeting / NaNoWriMo write-in included what has come to be one of this group’s favorite activities: passing around story-starter sheets on which each member adds one element that will then be incorporated into an impromptu short story.

When we have more people than we have story elements, that means each writer will be given a story sheet he or she has never seen. Surprise!

Some of those surprises are unpleasant — second-person POV, for instance, or paranormal romance involving aliens — but the results are usually humorous or delightfully twisty.

Monday night’s session brought me this puzzler and only fifteen minutes to compose a masterpiece:

Character: Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
Genre: Realistic / Magical Realism
Setting: Kansas
POV: 1st
Problem / Conflict: Her mother is ill and Sally must earn money to pay for her medicine
Line of Dialogue: “Oh Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”
Prop: kazoo

My first reaction: “Borrriiiiing!”

My second reaction: “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

My third reaction: “Write a children’s poem.”

The result, however, is –not for children. There are few rhymes (noted by the orange font), and little rhythm, but the ending is darkly humorous.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
travelled from Michigan to Kansas
a job to find and money to earn,
for her mother lay ill,
and Sally was the only child still speaking to her.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
returned to Michigan from Kansas
with medicine and money to spare
for her mother infirm,
but Sally was met by a spurning sigh and a stare.

“Oh, Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
was not daunted by Mother’s despair.
She measured the powder and water,
offered it with a smile,
then Sally played the kazoo all the while Mother choked as Death caught her.

c2015, Keanan Brand

Before the psychiatrist is called or anti-depressants are prescribed, no, I’m not feeling murderous, and the relationship with my mother is healthy, thank you. 😉

The transformation of words is what I intended, but how they transformed and what they became was certainly not my intention.

Surprise!

Neon Blue permutation of the image above (c2015, KB)

Neon Blue of the image above (c2015, KB)

 

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Turned: A Werewolf Love Story

Turned^KM CarrollTurned: A Werewolf Love Story is the first book in The Regency Shifter Series by K.M. Carroll. This fantasy / paranormal novella is a quick read, and is perfect for readers who enjoy stories that incorporate dark fairy tales, romance, werewolves, light horror, or magic mixed with science.

In this tale set in the fictional land of Grayton, scholarly, plump Bernard Preston weds beautiful, proud Charlotte Brighton in an arranged marriage. They’re essentially roommates who meet at mealtimes but who do not understand one another. Charlotte runs the household while Bernard toils in his workshop, partnering with the mages to create a cure for werewolves. He reasons that if those touched by the curse can retain their human minds, perhaps their bodies can be returned to human form, as well.

But what happens when the scientist and his lady are bitten by a werewolf? Will he ever have a chance to complete his research, or will he die by the hands of hunters? And what about his dainty wife, reduced to an animal existence?

Carroll tells an engaging tale, easily read in a single sitting. She does not dwell on the intricacies of politics, society, or how Bernard arrives at his various elixirs, but keeps the story centered on the main couple and how their strained relationship changes and grows into true love over the course of their time in the wild as they work together to survive, and to break the curse over all the werewolves and restore peace to the land.

NOTE: The cover shown here is not the updated cover shown on Amazon.

 

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The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box by Mike Duran is a ghost story, a murder mystery, an urban fantasy, and a love story, but it’s not a romance, and it doesn’t sit still for long.

The protagonist — Reagan Moon, reporter for a publication specializing in the paranormal — is the guardian of a Tau (a cross-like shape based on the Greek letter) left in his care by his girlfriend, Ellie, before she was lost in an explosion. Why is it important?

Why does a famous recluse want Reagan’s help, and why are psychics and mediums being killed?

Framed for the murders and sought by those who want the Tau, Reagan seeks help from Matisse, a former Jesuit priest who is now the keeper of an archive of paranormal arcana. Matisse’s mysterious daughter, Kanya, and a cheeky guardian angel, Bernard, become Reagan’s sidekicks on a mission to take down the forces of evil invading this world and to solve the mystery of his girlfriend’s death.

Along the way, there’s humor, a bit of angst and self-reflection, action, and the introduction of strange goggles that enable Reagan to see into another dimension. (In my mind, they’re clunky steampunk cool.)

The Ghost Box is what might happen if a rookie Librarian ever met the crew at Warehouse 13 and they all chased down Dracula and The Mummy.

Sorta.

But whatever mix of genres or monsters it might be, it’s definitely recommended reading.

 

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Annotated Dracula (part 3)

Annotated Dracula (part 3)

(Below is a revised re-post from February 27, 2010.)

 This is the final entry in my series on an annotated version of Dracula by Bram Stoker. (Read Part 1 or Part 2 for previous comments.)

‘My friends, we are going into a terrible danger, and we need arms of many kinds. Our enemy is not merely spiritual…A stronger man, or a body of men more strong in all than him, can at certain times hold him; but yet they cannot hurt him as we can be hurt by him. We must, therefore, guard ourselves from his touch. Keep this near your heart”—as he spoke he lifted a little silver crucifix… .
(emphasis mine)

“Our enemy is not merely spiritual.” Hmmm. Another strike against the argument that Dracula was just an ethereal emanation called into life by the characters’ fears or desires. But that was a point made in the previous post, so I shall move onward.

In Dracula, the characters learn that the soul of one who has been overtaken by the vampire becomes lost for eternity, therefore lending urgency to the quest to stop Dracula and to save Lucy—who, unfortunately, becomes one of the undead, and must therefore not only be staked but beheaded in order to save her soul. Then Mina becomes the vampire’s next victim, and the race ramps up.

From an e-mail to a friend, written shortly after reacquainting myself with the classic novel:

The whole “damned forever” idea bugs me. So does the notion that a person could become damned without having a choice in the matter, as happens to Lucy in Dracula, or that repeated prayers to God for salvation from such evil / damnation (as are also given in the novel) would not result in Him stepping into the situation and saving anyone who asked Him. After all, He’s not willing that any should perish, and He has provided a way of escape. Our bodies may die, but our souls need not be damned. However, though “the good guys” win in the end, God is not really in the picture as the ultimate good standing in aid of humanity against ultimate evil.

Why, then, does holy water work? Or a crucifix? Or a Communion wafer? In reality, there’s nothing inherently powerful in the objects themselves. They are metal or flour or liquid. Nothing much to fear there. So, the power must come from what or Whom they represent.

However, where’s the power in the objects if the Deity in Whose name they are employed does not answer the prayers of those who call on Him? After all, He lets Lucy be taken, right?

One may argue He doesn’t answer because He doesn’t exist; or, if He does, He’s not intimately involved with the lives of humans. Why, then, the vampires’ reactions to the items employed in the search-and-destroy mission? It’s as if Stoker wanted the story both ways: God was the ultimate good Whom the vampires couldn’t tolerate, and yet humans—frail and prone to failure already in this endeavor—are the ones whose efforts finally succeed.

In the time since writing the message quoted above, I have come to a slightly different conclusion about the story. God is the unacknowledged character throughout, and I am reminded of all the times in real life in which I wanted to be rescued—and there have been many times I have been, some of them miraculously and as a direct result of prayer—but constant rescue would make a person passive, make him think he is entitled, make her think she need not put forth any effort.

We know a new butterfly must struggle to leave its cocoon—the struggle strengthens its wings. Therefore, we can take courage from the realization that, although we may be rescued or helped at various times in our lives, it is the striving that makes us strong. And makes us that much more grateful when help is offered.

Although I still think the novel’s theology is “off” concerning the soul and salvation, I see the real-life parallels to vampires: activities that suck away our time, people that subvert our successes or leech away our energy, attitudes or behaviors that drain us of joy or ambition or strength.

Look around. Where’s the vampire in your life?

 

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Annotated Dracula (part 2)

Dracula, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Dracula, Hollywood Wax Museum, Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

(Below is a revised re-post from February 14, 2010.)

‘…Oh, but I am grateful to you, you so clever woman. Madam’—he said this very solemnly—’if ever Abraham Van Helsing can do anything for you or yours, I trust you will let me know. It will be pleasure and delight if I may serve you as a friend…all I have ever learned, all I can ever do, shall be for you and those you love. There are darknesses in life, and there are lights; you are one of the lights. You will have happy life and good life, and your husband will be blessed in you.’

In the last installment concerning this topic (part 1 can be read here), I expressed my doubts that Bram Stoker was making any sort of point about female sexuality in his classic horror novel.

Of all the commentary presented in the edition of Dracula I read, the material I can most readily accept as being part of Stoker’s intentional vision for the material is the inclusion of possible jabs concerning the tensions between Ireland and England*. As a writer, I have included names or versions of events that are jokes or jabs or homages, and it’s kinda fun when a reader recognizes them, too, and tells me so.

But over-analyzing the work of a long-dead author can lead us in directions he or she never intended. And he or she, being dead, cannot correct our errors.

I find it interesting that no mention was made to the Biblical allusion in the above dialogue from Van Helsing, which also later includes this:

‘Your husband is noble nature, and you are noble too, for you trust, and trust cannot be where there is mean nature.’

The Biblical reference that came to mind when I read this passage is found in Proverbs 31, verses 28 and 29:

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Funny. Among all the other bits of trivia, historical references, suggestions of repressed sexuality, that didn’t make it into Valente’s notes at the back of the book.

Euripides, a Greek playwright from way back, said this: “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” So, I’m questioning.

Valente also asserts that, since Dracula casts no reflection in a mirror, he doesn’t really exist.

The notion of the immortal count being only a projection of one’s inhibitions or subconscious desires doesn’t stand. After all, Stoker writes that Dracula has been around for centuries before the novel’s characters meet him, and he has been served by the gypsies for generations. Sounds pretty corporeal to me.

Valente states in the notes, “The manner of Dracula’s death tends to confirm his status as a psychic emanation rather than an autonomous being.”

Uh, you sure about that? He crumbles into dust. As in “from dust we were made, to dust we shall return.” Again, sounds pretty corporeal to me.

There is also an argument made that blood in the novel can be seen as a metaphor for racism i.e. “bad blood” that is undesirable for mixing with one of pure blood.* That, and the fact that Dracula is proud of his varied and warrior heritage. I can sorta see that idea (refer to my above remark about the conflict between Irish and English, that is referenced subtly in the book), but it has the look of reaching about it; as if, once again, more is being read into Stoker’s words than he may have intended.**

— to be continued —

* The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization by Stephen D. Arata (1990)

** “I Would Be Master Still”: Dracula as the Aftermath of the Wilde Trials and the Irish Land League Policies (2002) by Tanya Olson at thirdspace, a journal of feminist theory and culture. The article suggests Stoker may have been homosexual, and that the character of Jonathan Harker was also homosexual and functioned as Stoker’s stand-in.

Of Further Interest:
Tales of Woe and Wonder by Jeff Chapman, an excellent anthology of nine sideways stories, including “The Princess and the Vampire”, a tale of princess who decides to take a vampire for a lover.

 

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Annotated Dracula (part 1)

(Below is a revised re-post from January 27 and February 7, 2010.)

‘You are early to-night, my friend.’ The man stammered in reply: —

‘The English Herr was in a hurry,’ to which the stranger replied: —

‘That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.’ As he spoke he smiled, the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s ‘Lenore’: —

‘Denn die Todten reiten schnell.’ —
(‘For the dead travel fast.’)

I picked up a copy of Bram Stoker’s classic novel after I finished NaNoWriMo 2009 (during which I worked more on what’s probably my darkest effort to date), and re-acquainted myself with one of the foundational vampire tales. Dracula is far removed from the modern re-imaginings of the mythology — and, strange as this may seem, it was refreshing.

Anybody else tired of hearing about Bella and Edward and whoever else they hang with? Anybody else look with a canted eye at Buffy and Angel?

But the suckers — ahem — critters have populated frightening tales for centuries, and I don’t expect them to leave anytime soon.

On occasion, I participate in the CSFF Blog Tour, which has featured modern vampire novels: Shade by John Olson, and Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson. (My blog posts about each can be found here: Shade 1, 2, 3 and Jackals 1, 2, 3.) Both books are in series, and are different takes on the mythology. Shade presents more of a “psychic vampire” image without the traditional blood-letting, but Jackals is much more graphic and offers a twist on the ability of vampires to shape-shift.

I read those books, sampled some television series (those mentioned above, also Forever Knight and Moonlight), listened to teenagers — and even adults — rave about the Twilight books and films, and experienced the strange sensation of being lost, of being pressed under the weight of all those versions and the various leaps (or chasms) in logic that made me unable to suspend disbelief for long, if at all.

Dracula coverSo I went back to what many might consider source material: Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. He was not the first to cover this ancient ground (other well-known stories include Polidori‘s The Vampyre, and Le Fanu‘s Carmilla), but he is very likely the most well-known and most-referenced author of vampire fiction. The copy I chose is the Simon & Schuster Enriched Classics edition, with notes and commentary by Joseph Valente, a Professor of English.

[Though I enjoy books in which such additional information helps provide historical, social, political, or religious context, or discusses why something may have been important or overlooked by characters in the book, and so on, I sometimes wonder how much of the commentary is really just the commentator’s twisting of the text to fit an opinion, and how much is straight-forward observation of the material.]

Vampires and sex, an age-old coupling. The reasons are obvious: attacks that happen at night, usually on victims who are of the opposite gender to the vampires doing the attacking, and (in Dracula the novel) after the victims are in bed. And there’s the whole neck-biting schtick—which, as we all know, is more than a flirty little nibble.

There’s a lot of writing out there concerning vampirism and Victorian views of sexuality, and there’s a realm of scholarship that sees Dracula the character as freeing women sexually while Van Helsing, et al, try to suppress them. And, though the women seek help from their friends and send up prayers to God, they are drawn to the immortal count because their subconscious supposedly really, really wants him.

While such arguments might be made, there’s not much in the novel itself to support them. Yeah, vampires may work their mojo, but they’re presented as evil, and not all that sexy. Sensual, maybe, but not freeing. They’re rapists—even the females. After all, rape isn’t about sex or mutual expression or love. It’s about power and control.

Dracula controls Lucy. He controls Mina. Neither woman wants what he’s offering, and the men do what they can to stop him. Sure, they make some bonehead mistakes, like leaving Mina alone while they scout the count’s London digs, but I never get the impression they are trying to suppress either woman. In fact, Mina and Jonathan seem quite happy with their marriage. Until Dracula gets involved, of course.

to be continued

UPDATE: Last year, I read John Whalen’s excellent Western twist on vampires, Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto. You can read my review of his well-received novel here.

 

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