Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

We’ve all seen, or read, at least one horror story or movie with a child as a main antagonist, or even the protagonist. There are countless works of fiction that fall into one of these categories. Such as: The Shining-Stephen King, IT-Stephen King, The Omen-David Seltzer, (to the more recent works like the 2011 movie Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark) and so many others.

It’s my (loose) belief, that there is a right and wrong way to use children in horror. This is all a matter of personal opinion, and I’m not going to rule out the greatness of a story just because of my beliefs, but let me outline how I use children in horror.

I try to steer away from a child protagonist. It’s just what I like. I think creepy children in horror should be outlawed (not seriously). It could just be that they scare me so much I avoid them in my stories like they have the plague (and in most cases they really look like they have it), but no matter the reason, I choose to mainly use children as antagonists in my stories. The young antagonist reminds us so of what we were afraid of as children, and is that not where all our modern fears are rooted? To me, the creepy kid is a depthless monster. They often have little motivation, or motivation not easily understood by the audience. When you think about what makes children murder, how many possibilities can you come up with? Abused (or murdered) by parents, bullied at school (or murdered by bullies), and the son/daughter of the devil, are just about all I can think of (off the top of my head). There are only so many ways and times that these concepts can be used (but of course there are always going to be spin-offs and twists on these tried and true child protagonist motivations).

To me, the child protagonist unleashes a largely overdone genre of horror, in which the antagonist is disarmed by worry for a child who is actually out to get them. This is useful, for suspense and surprise, but, I feel it’s often not done “right”. (Do any of you know what I mean by this? I hope so.)

I don’t know exactly why child protagonists bother me, it could be that I feel that youth should be care free, fun, and light, not dark, evil, and murderous.

No matter what side of my debate you fall on, the usefulness of children in horror cannot be ignored. Time and time again, I turn to child antagonists to give my stories a youthful naïve tone, and to (hopefully) remind the adults out there of what they were afraid of as children. The Wish, is one such story of mine, where a young boy finds an old brassy urn buried in the sink hole behind his family’s home. He makes a wish, out of anger, and finds that it comes true. This would never work with an adult, because one of the main factors in this story is the main character’s naivety and inability to stop making wishes in hope that they will turn out alright this time. There’s also: The Dark Place, The Property, Potty Training, The Puddle, and one, currently untitled, about a boy with ear infections who goes to a “Free Clinic” for treatment and ends up worse for wear upon leaving. The boy’s oblivious mother continues to take him to the doctor, believing that her boy will be all better soon.

Just as sure as the sun comes up every day, be sure that horror writers across the world (myself included) will continue to utilize children in horror as an invaluable character, unmatched by their adult counterparts.

When making your antagonist a child (let’s say under the age of 16), it’s important to understand children, how their minds work, their thought process, and basic behavior characteristics. (The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D., is a priceless tool in this regard. In it, she outlines basic behavior patterns and characteristics for different age groups, and also contains adult characteristics as well) One thing I do, is watch children (not in a creepy way, I swear!), pay attention to how they interact with each other and adults. I have two younger brothers (both well under the age of 16), and two nieces (one coming up on two yrs and the other will be one). Watching them (especially with each other) gives me ideas for new stories. Be sure to take note in their mannerisms, the words they use, how they seem to see the world, and how they react to the unknown and fear. As always, I stress RESEARCH. Do more and more and more, until you feel like your brain can’t hold any more information, and when you reach that point, research some more still. You can NEVER gather too much information. Of course using all the information you’ve gathered would be a gross overload, but you’ll be able to pick and choose the right characteristics to create the child character that fits just right.

Now, here’s something else I’ve noticed about my using children in horror: I tend to favor boys. I don’t know why. It could be their seemingly constant willingness to prove themselves, or their mindset that they are a “big kid” and can do anything. Girls, I find a little harder to utilize in horror fiction, but that’s not to say I haven’t used a female child antagonist. The Property is a short story I wrote, about a young girl with a fat pet cat who doesn’t come home for his usual breakfast. Worried, the little girl heads out into the marshy swamp her parents own, across the road, in search of her beloved Snuggles. Little does she know, the cat stayed away for a reason. There is something evil lurking in the eighty acres across the road, its following Snuggles deeper and deeper into the swamp, with the little girl in tow. (I need to re-write it because I lost all but one copy of it when I had computer malfunctions back in August and had to do a system recovery.) I also broke my own rule with this one, turning the little girl into a thing of nightmares in the end, however, this is different because she began as the antagonist and fell victim to the evil. In the story, she is a terrifying “thing” for a matter of just a few paragraphs, and it ends on a “what if?” note.

There is no real right or wrong way to use children in horror fiction. Play around with your characters and try something new. Who knows, you may invent a genre of horror of your own.

Do you write about children, or use them in your stories? How does it work for you? Where do you stand on child antagonist vs. child protagonist? Do you have any favorite horror stories with children as the main characters?

Please, feel free to comment. If you don’t get a reply from me, it’s because I feel your comment warrants no reply. If you would like a reply, be sure to ask a question or something that would require an answer or response. I know little to nothing about the etiquette of blogging/comments, and I do have a life of my own and stories to write, so I don’t always take the time to respond. Sorry!

 

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When writing fiction, of course we all aim to create a sense of believability (aka “suspension of disbelief”). We hope that our readers feel their surroundings, smell the scents, see the vibrant (or dark) colors, feel the breeze tickling at their neck, and empathize with our characters. But how can your reader travel into this imaginary land you’ve created unless you’re willing to go there yourself? You can’t simply point to a door and expect your reader to open it. You must go with them, take them by the hand and guide them.

The point here being that how can you expect anyone else to believe your stories if you don’t believe yourself? You can’t. It’s simple as that.

These worlds we create in our writing (real or imagined) are essentially uncharted, and YOU as the author have the responsibility (and express entitlement) to travel to these lands very first and map them out for our readers. Explore, look for weak points, areas undeveloped that need work. Delve deep into these realms and take note of EVERYTHING, the smells, sounds, sights, feelings they instill, the taste of the air, the temperature, and I really do mean everything. You may not (and of course should not)  include every detail in your story, but make sure you have them in case you need them.

When we fail to believe in our own worlds (and characters), it’s notable. The reader can smell uncertainty in a story like a shark can smell blood in the water. No one wants to read a work of fiction that they cannot lose themselves in, being that this is the point of fiction: to provide an escape from the “real world”. How can you expect anyone to get lost in the world you’ve created if you haven’t even been there yourself?

So here’s what you need to do:

Close your eyes and think of the setting for your story. Imagine yourself there, walking around, meeting people (or not if it’s an isolated setting), touching things, smelling things. Notice the color of the sky, the grass, flowers, or the concrete, the buildings, the cars. Make yourself “go there” and make yourself believe. Make your setting as realistic as possible.

Real places have history, whether it’s the building or property itself, or the area in general. Come up with some for yours. Whether you actually use it or not is up to you, but make sure you have it in case the need arises.

Beyond realistic settings, our characters need to be believable too. Now, you can imagine your characters are sitting there with you, telling you all about themselves, or you can simply outline their defining characteristics and create a history for them as well. The “Character Biography”, I call them, and keep track of them, as you will likely need to refer back to them for important details. You will never meet a 30-year-old without a past, nor a two-year-old. Whether their past is detailed or vague, it still must be there. This also goes for your creature. If the beast has lived in the same area forever, there’s likely a legend or two floating around about it in the nearby towns, be sure to include this. Or if your monster is foreign to the area, explain how they came to be there, preferably without revealing the beast in its entirety. Not only does it help to build suspense, but it will also add a depth and reality to your monster.

Also, try your characters in the setting, be sure that they are appropriate. You don’t want a high-class lawyer walking around in the forests of Tennessee with her stilettos on, nor would you want a big foot monster tromping around in a tiny space ship. If you do want out-of-place characters for one reason or another, be sure to explain how and why this character ended up in this unlikely place. Like I said, take the reader’s hand and lead them yourself. Without you, the author and narrator, the reader is lost, irrevocably, and they will move on to another author that doesn’t leave them running blind from a one-dimensional, hardly scary creature.

T.E.D. Klein (a former editor of Twilight Zone Magazine) said it best like this: “Whatever his personal convictions, while writing his horror tale, the author must believe in it…performing the same magic on himself that he hopes to perform upon the reader.” (Quoted from William F. Nolan’s How to Write Horror Fiction, page 29.)

If you don’t see your surroundings, if you can’t smell the flowers you’ve put there, if you can’t hear the anger in your character’s voice, then how on earth can you expect your readers to?

Believe in the unbelievable, and you’ll find your readers are willing to do the same, so long as you show them how.

Any thoughts? Ideas? Opinions? Something to add? Please feel free. Or share how you make any aspect of your stories believable.

I always have a hard time figuring out where my work would best call home. I know, most magazine websites (since I’m talking short stories here) tell writers to buy and read a copy before submitting so that we can get a feel for the style of the magazine. But if I were to do that, I’d be broke (literary magazines usually run $10-$20 bucks a copy depending on circulation, content, and whatnot), and I’d have even more clutter to put up with than I do now. So how do we go about finding a magazine that wants our work?

First off, I find the Writer’s Market invaluable. It separates fiction and non-fiction, as well as consumer magazines, literary magazines, special interest magazines, etc. The problem I have is that there are probably ten horror fiction magazines, and most of them accept work on a seasonal basis. So where do I send my manuscripts? Literary magazines, mostly. When using the Writer’s Market, you have to read carefully. Some magazines won’t accept any horror, or fantasy, or romance, or dysfunctional family stories, or whatever. Many also have limitations on how many fiction manuscripts they can accept as well as the style of writing.

What I’ve done with my 2012 copy of the Writer’s Market (deluxe edition), was that I sat down shortly after getting it and read through all the literary magazines, their requirements and restrictions for fiction. I paid careful attention to those that accept horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, and marked them with little high-lighter tabs. That way I can easily turn back and find a magazine I felt might accept my work. I really cannot stress to you how helpful the Writer’s Market has been for me. Besides listings of agents, novel publishers, magazines, and contests, there’s also LOADS of helpful tips and tricks and priceless advice for the new/young/emerging writer.

Honestly, if it weren’t for that book, I probably wouldn’t have had half the work I’ve sent out read, and I don’t know anywhere else to find all that information, especially in one place.

There are other ways you can go about publishing though. For example, say you live in a small-town area, like I do. Small-town magazines and newspapers generally don’t get a lot of fiction submitted, and most would weigh more heavily towards an acceptance, knowing that you’re a local writer. The local paper here, doesn’t have a section for submitting work on their website, but check yours out, they might. I think the best thing to do if they don’t have any requirements posted would be to follow standard submission guidelines and write standard cover letters/query letters, and then simply send your manuscript in to the paper or magazine’s fiction editor. If they don’t have a fiction editor, then just send it to the general editor.

And my last, and probably least attractive, advice on publishing/placing work, would be that if all else fails, and you’ve got so many rejection letters that you’re wading through them, maybe it’s time to consider self-publication (such as the popular e-book, which I can offer little to no advice on, being that I haven’t even looked into it yet) or posting your work on an online forum. The only problem with blogging your work or posting it on facebook, is that NO publisher or magazine will buy it (on average at least) after you’ve done this. That’s because by posting it online, you’re allowing others to read your work and essentially publishing it yourself on your own forum, and publishers don’t want left over work that’s been read by God knows how many people. They want new, they want something no one has seen before. They want edgy, they want top of the line. This is why any of my work you read on this blog, will not be placed (until maybe I can get a collection of short stories together, and maybe not even then), and has already found its home here, as I’ve mentioned before.

Placing your work can be one of the most frustrating parts of life in the world of writing, but don’t get discouraged. Even hearing about how tough it is to break into this field and how many writers go broke or starve trying to get their work recognized, you can’t let it get you down. Have faith in your ability to create masterpieces with your words, and hang in there.

Don’t mistake my encouragement for belief that we all get our chance, our moment in the spotlight, but it’s impossible to get anywhere if you don’t just try. Taking on writing is a daunting and often lonely task, and sometimes we forget why we’re in it at all, but that’s not reason enough to give up on your dreams and aspirations.

I actually wrote this post because I am trying to place a few of my pieces. I’ve got to go through and see what’s ready to be sent out, then I’ll be on the hunt for a magazine that might want them. Hell, I think I may even try the local paper. At least it might give me some credentials. However the problem with that is some literary magazines take 90% (sometimes more or less) previously unpublished or new writers. If I were to have work published in the local paper, I would no longer fall into the new writer section, and may have a harder time placing my work with certain magazines. (There’s sooooo much to know in publishing, it’s often exhausting.)

Which brings me to one last point. It’s so important to pay close attention to directions for submitting work. One simple mistake can make your work undesirable, especially to the most discerning editors. Make sure you follow all guidelines. Check your font size, margins, spacing (I’ve sent out more manuscripts than I’d like to admit with single spacing rather than double, which is standard, simply because I forgot, and it makes my work less attractive to the editor.), did you number every page, is your name at the top of every page, did you address your cover letter correctly, double-check the magazine’s mailing address, and so much more need your careful scrutiny. Don’t let your work get tossed simply because you didn’t pay attention or forgot to do something.

If anyone has any advice for finding a home for manuscripts, please feel free to comment with any tips and tricks or opinions on the world of publishing. I love to hear back from my readers.

I added a new page to my blog titled “The Dark Thing”. If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you may have read my posts on my inspiration for this story. It turned out quite well, and being that I only had one of my works posted, I figured that for Halloween I’d share it with you all.

If you’re curious about shadow people, check out some of my early posts on them. Though I can’t remember how much info I’d included about lore and stories going around about them. I would love to hear about any experiences any of you may have had with shadows or shadow people, since the idea came partly from my own experiences.

Feel free to comment on the story. I’d like some feedback.

Archetype is defined in the dictionary as: noun- 1- the original pattern or model for which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based, a model or first form, a prototype 2- (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc, universally present in individual psyches. ( from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/archetype?s=t )

Now, archetypes are all around us, and in horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. fiction, it’s important to know archetypes for the genre and know how to avoid turning your individual work into a cookie cutter story.

Don’t get me wrong, archetypes are not bad, and many great stories have come from them. The only problem is with archetypes, your vampire or Big Foot, or werewolf could end up like damn near every other one ever written about. So how do we avoid this?

Basically, the archetype is everything that is typical of a certain kind of story. For example, in a story, there are details included about the house feeling cold, strange noises in the walls, the lights flickering, people getting the sensation that they’re being watched. All these elements can go without a label, because people would know upon reading these details that it is a ghost story. That is because there is an archetype for ghosts, and while we may not want to admit that they really exist, they do exist on a shared imaginary level that is learned, handed down, or inferred through movies, stories, etc. Think of any major monster you’ve heard of, like the vampire. The vampire is the perfect example of an archetype (though its been changed a bit recently by new books and movies). We all know the basic vampire has fangs, pasty or pale skin, they can hypnotize you with their gaze, they’re afraid of garlic, sunlight, and crucifixes, they drink human blood, a steak to the heart will kill one, you can’t see their reflection, etc.

When using an archetype, I feel that it’s very important to set your story apart from others, much as Stephanie Meyer did with her Twilight series. She changed little things here and there on that dusty old archetype, and made it her own, such as the sparkling vampires. It’s up to you whether you want to change the archetype itself or events and circumstances surrounding the archetype. However it’s important that when changing something to explain how and/or why this is. Failing to do so can leave your story to fall flat.

Also, when using an archetype, be sure to research or at least think hard on other stories you know use the same one. Back to the vampire, let’s say you had this wonderous idea to write about a little back woods town that is slowly changed into a town full of vampires. You might want to think twice about that one, since it’s been done before in Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. A good way to implement the idea would be to develop that idea a little farther, go into more detail. Changing your “little back woods town that is slowly changed into a town full of vampires” into “a resort or hotel where everyone is changed into a vampire”. See how little tweaks, little changes, can make a world of difference and make your story your own?

The thing that makes archetypes so easy and so helpful is that they are widely known or widely accepted ideas. This makes it easier for the reader to connect with the story on some level. They’ve heard of your monster before and know a little of what to expect when they pick up your story. Versus writing a story about a monster that didn’t previously exist, even in our collective imaginations.

Creating your own monster is a difficult thing to do. If you don’t include enough detail, the creature won’t stand in its own story. This is why I stress the importance of research. Some people may think that horror, sci-fi, fantasy writers have it easy. Nothing that we write about really exists, right? So we can just make it all up as we go. Wrong. If using an archetype, you must thoroughly research the lore, background, and other stories written about the same thing. A poorly researched archetype makes for a poor story, especially when you forget that most vampires are allergic to garlic, and yours are eating spaghetti. The same is true for our created, individual monsters. They must feel as real as possible, otherwise it’s not believable. Have your monster take on a trait shared by well-known predators, or maybe use traits of known archetypes. You want to include details that your readers can recognize as being from or correlating with the real world.

Any thoughts, or comments on archetypes? Share them, please. How do you use archetypes in your writing?

I absolutely love Halloween. There’s just something magical about all the superstitions and lore surrounding it, as well as the spirit of the season, which quite frankly, is to get your pants scared off.

Just for fun,  I wanted to share with you all my favorite reasons to enjoy the season (Ha! I could be a poet. Kidding.)

  • You get to buy all the candy you want, then act like you won’t eat it all on the couch in front of the TV
  • You get to dress up as whatever you want to be. Super Toilet Man? Sounds like a great costume to me.
  • You get to prank and scare people, and it’s all part of the holiday
  • Carving pumpkins might be slimy, cold work (if you forget to bring them in before carving, like I do), but it’s so much fun, even if you’re over the age of twelve
  • This is the time of year when pumpkin, cinnamon, and all those yummy flavors are popular. Try Pumpkin Bread, it’s delicious.
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to go out on Devil’s Night, toilet paper your jerk neighbor’s house, and blame it on the kids. “Those little buggers. I’m surprised they didn’t get my house too!”
  • Costumes for pet. Now, this I don’t always agree with. I mean, if your dog hates her costume, don’t put it on her. But if your pets are those goofy ones that actually don’t mind sweaters and such, go a head, dress your dog as a spider, or Shreck, or something awesome. Or coordinate theirs with yours.
  • Halloween decorations are among my favorite. It doesn’t matter if they’re cheap dollar store ones, or a life-size moving, talking Jason from Friday the 13th that hacks at the air with his machete. Halloween decor is effin awesome.
  • Watching scary movies, just for an excuse to snuggle your significant other. “I can’t look!” (Bury your face in their shirt.)
  • Girls, now you may not all agree with this, but this time of year is perfect for strutting around in skimpy outfits at the bar. There’s no shame in it, so long as you’re not flashing people too.
  • Check out a haunted house. It might give you a good excuse to punch a terrible friend in the face. “Ooops! I thought you were the Werewolf. Sorry.” (wink-wink)
  • Adult costume parties? They’re just an excuse for us to dress up, act like goons, and recapture a bit of that magical spark we felt around Halloween as kids. Nothing wrong with that!
  • And last but not least, there’s the kids. Not only is it great to see their faces light up when they see a bag full of candy in their possession (not that it’s healthy, I know, but to me tradition is tradition, and that’s how I was raised), but it’s so much fun to sit on a porch where you know kids will be trick-or-treating and watch costumes. You’ll see some pretty inventive ones. One year a friend of mine went as a wedge of cheese, she made the whole thing herself with foam sheeting, hot glue, and spray paint. It was awesome.

Besides all that, near Halloween, I get more ideas than any other time of year. It seems there’s inspiration all around me, in movies, haunted houses, decorations, costumes, ghost stories, etc. A town ready for Halloween, is a horror writer’s wet dream.

Right now, I’ve got four ideas in the works, most of them with story lines already figured, they’re just waiting for me to add detail and breathe life into their characters. One, which is coming along wonderfully by the way, is about a group of friends who go fishing in a canyon-type area in Arizona. One friend lives near by and tells the others that a family of five was found slaughtered and the rumor is that a Big Foot type creature was responsible. Once there, two of them run into the creature, and rather than leave, they decide to stay (at the urging of one friend who is BIG on conspiracy theories) to see if they can capture proof that it does exist. Of course things will go terribly wrong, but I’m not entirely sure how I want it to end. Besides that, there’s a maniacal doctor story, a ghost car, and a coven of witches who suck the life from children. I’ve also had a great idea recently for a novel in which death, life, and age are entities that govern the flow of life on earth. They become disgusted with the ways of humanity and abandon our planet, stopping any deaths, births, or aging. The entire world is thrust into chaos as criminals realize they can be shot, but they cannot die. A hero (I haven’t chosen a character for this part quite yet) must rise amid the chaos, contact the entities and plead with them to return, while keeping their loved ones safe in a world gone mad. So, yea. That’s about all I’ve got in the works for me now. I’ll have to get my butt in gear and get all these ideas to become beautiful stories that can stand on their own.

Also, I wanted to share this picture with you. It’s a bottle of Red Zinfandel I’d picked up at the liquor store in town, it was right next to the Witches Brew. I love anything zombie, so this really tickled me.

Zombie Wine

Sorry, guys. I realized after I’d posted that the pic wasn’t on here. I hope it works this time.

Oh, and by the way, share any thoughts on the Halloween season. Do you like it? Do you love it? Do you loathe it? What are your traditions for the season?

When it comes to characters, we all know they need to be believable, right? Then why on earth would a writer pay so little attention to an extremely important character like the monster? If you are writing horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or any genre where you are essentially creating anything from an entire world to just a creature, you need to understand the importance of making your creature(s) realistic to the reader.

Why?

  • If you fail to fully develop your creature in your mind before you begin writing, the readers will know
  • Say you haven’t thought about your monster entirely, in one passage you’re thinking it looks something like a bear, yet in another you are feeling the sea monster. Make up your mind. Pick a monster and stick with it.
  • Be sure that if you’re writing about a well-known monster, you’ve thoroughly researched lore on the creature. If you include that your creature breaks the mold in some way, thoroughly explain your reasoning and how that is possible.
  • When creating your own monster, be sure to include descriptions that can compare to real animals, so the reader will be more easily able to draw a mental picture of the beast
  • Make sure your creature behaves properly. If this monster can’t speak, then we may doubt his ability to sit down and read the local paper while sipping coffee. If your monster is a stupid hulking beast then make it act like a stupid hulking beast.

What you need to realize about your monsters and creatures, is that they are your characters, and very important ones at that. When your monster falls apart in the mind of the reader, the entire story follows, because what is a scary story without the stinking, fur covered, beast lurking behind the teenager’s car?

How to develop your ideas into a life-like monster:

First off, begin with one element for the creature. I’m thinking scales. So this beast is covered in quarter sized, nearly transparent, blue-ish scales that reflect light, making the beast sparkle in the day-time. On that note, I’m going to include that my beast is nocturnal, due to the flashy quality of his scales. This is where it’s important to understand how real animals adapt to extreme environments. I know that many nocturnal animals have large eyes to allow them to catch traces of light easier, so my creature now has large eyes as well. For color, I’m thinking yellow, just because it’s a bit shocking. Next we want to go into a little more detail. Think about hands, arms, wings, claws, tails, paws, flippers. What kind of extremities do you want your creature to have? To answer that, you may need to think about environment a little before developing your creature further. My scaled beast will call home a large pond in a vastly marshy swamp area, therefore he will need flippers or webbed fingers and toes, and possibly a fish-like tail. This is where you want to start thinking about body size. Are you wanting to create a ghoulish little thing about the size of a large cat, or are you going for a mammoth beast that can knock down a full-grown man with a swipe of its arm? And of course there’s everywhere in between the two. My creature will be about the size of your average man, which will come in handy in the story because I’m thinking some poor unsuspecting woman could mistake the creature for her lost boyfriend and go towards it, only to be stopped dead in her tracks. Now that you have a general body size in mind, consider how you want your creature to move, this will help you decide how long or short the arms and legs or flippers or wings or whatever should be. Say you want your creature to be both biped and quadruped (meaning they can walk on both two legs and four). I would consider making the front arms or legs longer than the back, that way the creature can move similar to how a chimp would. You must also think about the creature’s face, which means thinking about what the monster eats (probably people) and what sort of teeth and mouth would be best suited for this. Generally fangs and long, sharp teeth are what people go for here, but there are other instances in which teeth wouldn’t be necessary. Most importantly, you need to think about how this creature will move and act, this will help you to look at other animals that are similar in ways, so you can incorporate realistic qualities that will make the monster feel real to the reader.

The thing that I cannot stress to you enough about creating a monster is research. You have to do it, and do it some more, and hell, when you feel like you’ve got enough info, keep looking and gather a bit more still. As creator, you need to consider every angle and aspect of this animal’s life, not that you need to include all these details all the time, but when creating something never seen in a story before, it is important to include a lot of back story on the animal. You have to have an understanding of how your creature could theoretically be a living, breathing being, rather than a one-dimensional beast with claws and no motivation.

When I started writing my novel Lashine (which, I’ll admit is still unfinished), I wasn’t even sure I wanted to create a monster, but the more I thought about the circumstances I wanted to create, the more I started seeing that a monster would fit just right. Since the main idea I had was for people in the town of Lashine to never grow old, I had the brilliant idea that the root of this phenomenon would be a parasite. So I researched parasites, but none were as big as I’d wanted and none seemed quite right. So I looked at invertebrates as well, and there I found a bit of inspiration. Yet, I still liked the idea of a creature that climbed inside a person and once they were in there, it would be impossible to get them out. Out of this research came this mental picture: a small creature about the size of a kitten, with a long worm-like segmented body that was bulbous at the head and tapered down into a long tail that ended in barbs, there are no eyes (since living inside a human body they don’t need them) and slits for nostrils, a large fang-filled mouth sits below the slits, and the only extremities this creature has are small t-rex like arms which it uses to pull its body along. This creature has a powerful tail that is able to launch its small body up to six feet in the air. They land on a person’s chest and use their little clawed arms to grab onto the flesh of the face and mouth and pull themselves in through the throat. Once in the stomach, they chew or tear a small hole in the back side of the stomach, closest to the spine, and wriggle their boneless bodies through the small passage and in between the vertebrae. There, comfortably nestled in the spinal cord, the creature goes to work, feasting on the tissue and creating a nest out of its excrement. The nest itself conveys neurological signals as the tissue would have, and the human host goes on living, without aging as the creature slowly eats all the spinal tissue. After forty years or so, the creature runs out of its food source, and cannot keep up on the nest. The structures lose their strength, and crumble, paralyzing the host and killing them within a few short days. The pain for the host is excruciating, and when the host dies, so does the parasite.

Besides all that, I came up with a detailed mating season as well as a back story about where the last plague of these parasites hit. It may be beneficial to the author to include some back story on the monster created as a prelude or prologue, as this may help to set the tone for your novel. Remember that throughout the story, you will need to refer back to certain details about the creature, as well as their back story. A good idea would be to keep notes to easily flip back to. Also, being that my creature was a parasite, I delved deep into the world of parasites to learn everything from what they eat, how they navigate their host’s body, how they navigate outside their host’s body, to reproductive aspects of their life as well. I researched human anatomy as well, and honestly, when I couldn’t get it to fit nicely with my parasites movements throughout the body and their size, I just sort of looked the other way. Not EVERYTHING has to fit perfectly, but it has to be close enough to be believable.

Another thing I found particularly helpful was to draw out how I saw the creature in my mind. If you’re not artistically inclined, this may be a bit difficult for you, but even if it doesn’t turn out looking exactly how you imagined or if it doesn’t look like great art, you will still be able to better “see” at least in your mind, what this monster looks like.

I’d like to remind you all that these are only suggestions and what I do. If you do things differently, share your thoughts as well as your process. Or if you use my tips and tricks in this post, share with me how they worked for you. I hope I covered everything, if not, sorry.

Yay! The moment you’ve all been waiting for; book discussions!

As usual, my warnings for this post/story: SPOILER ALERT. I discuss the entirety of the story, so if you have not read Rosemary’s Baby, I suggest you do so before reading this post. Also, this story contains adult themes and adult situations. It is probably not suitable for children and young readers.

Without further delay:

Overview:

Rosemary and her husband, Guy, had just signed a promissory note on a lease when they learn that there is an open apartment in the Bramford building, where they have been on a waiting list for the apartment since they first got married. After looking at the apartment, the couple decides that it’s perfect and they want it. So they concoct a lie to get out of the lease on the other place, and move in after having the place fixed up a little. A friend of Rosemary’s, a man she calls Hutch, tells the couple of terrible things that have happened in that apartment building, and urges them to find somewhere else, though she won’t have it. Shortly after moving in, Rosemary meets a young woman who is a recovering drug addict. The woman’s name is Terry and she lives with Rosemary and Guy’s neighbors, the Castevets. Rosemary is delighted to have found a friend in Terry, and is shocked to find upon returning home from a night out, that Terry had leapt to her death. Outside of the apartment building, Rosemary talks to the Castevets, trying to comfort them in their loss. They soon become friends, and Rosemary and Guy go to Minnie and Roman Castevet’s apartment for dinner. There the couples discuss religion, and Mr. and Mrs. Castevet make their strong feelings against religion known. Guy takes a liking to Roman and decides to go back to visit him the next day, something Rosemary finds a bit strange, but brushes off. Minnie comes to visit Rosemary and gives her a necklace Terry had shown Rosemary. The necklace has a strong odor, a herb Minnie calls “tannis root”, which is supposed to be good luck. After wearing it for a little while, Rosemary decides she doesn’t like it and stashes the necklace away in tinfoil to keep the smell down. Rosemary begins to see a change in her husband, he becomes more quiet and reserved, and one night he gives Rosemary tickets he got from his vocal coach, Dominik, for a play. She goes with a friend, and upon returning home, finds that Guy is back to himself. One day the phone rings. Guy answers it to find that Donald Bumgart, the man he’s been competing with for a part, has just gone blind (since Guy is an actor), and he now has the part. Rosemary and Guy discuss the future and whether or not they should begin trying to have children, which is what she’s always wanted. They agree and set a night for a romantic dinner. That night Minnie sends over extra chocolate mousse for the young couple. Rosemary doesn’t like the mousse and thinks it’s chalky, but Guy makes her feel bad for not eating it, so she eats a little more, and hides the rest in her napkin. Shortly after, Rosemary begins to feel dizzy. She blames it on the alcohol she’s drank and goes to bed early, only to have a strange and vivid dream where the Castevets and their friends are doing some sort of ritual and she is being raped by some huge leathery beast. Rosemary wakes in the morning to find scratches all over her body. Guy tells her that he had gone along with their plans for the night, even though she was passed out. Rosemary is angered and a bit hurt, she can’t understand why her husband would do such a thing. She leaves for a week and stays in Hutch’s apartment. Shortly after returning home, Rosemary finds that she’s pregnant and is overjoyed. She signs on with Dr. Hill, but is referred to a Dr. Sapirstein by Mr. and Mrs. Castevet, who are good friends of the doctor. The doctor tells her not to read baby books or talk about pregnancy with her friends “because each pregnancy is different” and he doesn’t want her worrying about her pregnancy. He tells her that he doesn’t trust prenatal pills, so he has Minnie make Rosemary a fresh herb shake every day. Rosemary develops a pain in her abdomen. Dr. Sapirstein tells her it’s normal and should cease in a few days. It does not, and Rosemary has to deal with this pain day in and day out. Hutch comes to visit Rosemary and is shocked by her appearance, she seems to have lost weight and he thinks she’s sick until she shares her baby news with him, and assures him that she’s fine. Roman happens to stop by and meets Hutch, who is intrigued by the “tannis root” necklace, as well as the Castevets themselves. He mentions that he will research “tannis root” since he’d never heard of it. He calls Rosemary that night and asks her to meet with him to discuss something he won’t mention over the phone. When Rosemary goes to meet him and Hutch doesn’t show up, she calls around and finds that he’s mysteriously slipped into a coma the previous night. Rosemary is confused and saddened. Her pains continue, and another strange symptom develops; Rosemary’s craving for raw meat, to which her doctor says that she should give in to her cravings. One day, she decides to throw a party for her friends, and doesn’t include the Castevets and their friends. A few of Rosemary’s friends are concerned about her appearance. She tells them about the pain she’s been having and how her doctor doesn’t do anything about it. They urge her to get a second opinion, and after the party Rosemary brings this up to Guy who becomes agitated and doesn’t like the idea. Then suddenly, as they’re arguing, Rosemary’s pain lets up and goes away completely. The baby begins to kick and move, and Rosemary’s pregnancy seems to finally settle into normality. She feels better than she has yet while being pregnant and is overjoyed. Guy performs in the play he’s been working on and receives praise despite the play’s poor quality. Life continues on and Rosemary prepares for the baby. One day she receives the news that Hutch has died. She goes to his funeral and meets the woman who told her on the phone that Hutch had slipped into the coma in the first place. The woman tells Rosemary that Hutch came out of his coma in the end thinking he still had an appointment the next day with Rosemary, he demands a certain book he was reading when he slipped into the coma get to Rosemary, and says it’s of extreme importance, then dies. The woman gives the book to Rosemary and tells her it’s about witch craft. Upon reading the book at home, Rosemary finds that Roman Castevet is the son of a famous Satanist who claimed to have brought the devil to the Bramford and was killed for it. The book also mentions using the blood of an infant for rituals, and Rosemary fears that the Castevets have befriended herself and Guy to get at their baby.  Frightened by this find, and unable to convince Guy, she goes to Dr. Sapirestein with her suspicions. He tells her that Roman is ashamed of his past, and that it won’t matter soon any way because Roman is dying and plans to leave on one last trip around Europe. This relieves Rosemary, and she and Guy bid the Castevets good-bye. Yet, later, Rosemary is certain she’s heard sounds coming from the Castevet’s “empty” apartment. One day, while out and about, Rosemary bumps into Dominik, Guy’s old vocal coach, and she thanks him for the tickets for the play. He says that he never had any tickets to give and that it must be a misunderstanding. Rosemary begins to see correlations between what she read in the witch craft book and some of the strange things that have been going on lately. She begins to believe that Guy has joined the Castevets coven and used their powers to get Donald Bumgart out of his way for the part and plans to give the coven their baby in return. Rosemary ditches the “tannis root” necklace, which she now believes to actually be Devil’s Fungus, and which she’d begun wearing again after her pregnancy pain ceased. She’s so frightened she wants to cry, and is unsure where she should go or what she should do. Rosemary thinks Guy and the coven may be responsible for Hutch’s death as well. She goes to read the witch craft book again, only to find Guy had thrown it away because he thinks it was upsetting her. So she packs a bag and goes to see her doctor. In the waiting room, Rosemary gets talking to the receptionist, who notices the lack of “tannis root” stink around Rosemary. The woman then comments that the doctor occasionally smells like it as well, and Rosemary realizes Dr. Sapirestein is in on it too. She leaves without seeing the doctor and calls Dr. Hill, insisting on meeting with him to discuss what’s been unfolding and why she needs him to deliver her baby. He agrees and meets her at his office. Rosemary tells her the whole story, and Dr. Hill reassure her and tells her not to worry, he will get everything in order at the hospital and that she should rest. Dr. Hill comes back later with Guy and Dr. Sapirestein who take Rosemary back to the Bramford. There, she escapes from them and hurries up to her apartment. They get in and hold her down, ready to give her a sedative when they realize she’s going into labor. The whole coven is there as the baby is being delivered, and Rosemary faints. When she comes to, they tell her she’s lost the baby. A member of the coven sits with her each day, and they give her pills that keep her docile. Rosemary grieves the loss of her baby and pumps the milk she is still producing, and hands the milk over to coven members. Then one day, she hears a baby crying. Rosemary asks a coven member about it, who replies that there is a young couple who just moved in on the next floor up with a baby. Rosemary doesn’t believe this and suspects her baby is still alive. She pretends to continue taking the pills, but hides them away instead, and one day she drugs the coven member watching her, goes to the kitchen to get a knife, and finds her way into the Castevet’s apartment through a hidden doorway in the linen closet. She’s surprised to find Guy in the Castevet’s apartment, as well as Minnie and Roman themselves. Rosemary goes to the bassinet in the room, threatening to kill any one who tried any thing. There she looks upon an adorable chubby face. Then the baby opens his eyes, they’re completely yellow with a long black slit running down the center. Rosemary is startled and screams at the coven, demanding to know what they did to her baby. They tell her they did nothing and that the baby has his father’s eyes. They explain that the father of the baby is satan himself. Guy tells Rosemary that he did it for them, and that in a few years they’d be living in Beverly Hills with a bunch of kids running around; she spits at him. The coven calms Rosemary, and they allow her to rock the baby’s bassinet. She fantasizes about throwing the baby out the window and jumping after herself, but then decides that the baby can’t be all bad, he is, after all, half her. She demands the baby’s name be “Andrew” rather than the already chosen “Adrien”, and the coven allows it. The story closes on Rosemary talking lovingly to the baby as the coven suggests she stick around to mother the child.

 

Overall, I found this story intriguing. It was an easy read as well. However, throughout the story, I can’t help but wonder why Rosemary didn’t connect the dots earlier. I found it apparent that something strange was going on, and in similar circumstances, I think I would have done things differently, though how, I can’t quite say.

The thing that makes this story so powerful, emotionally, is not only the terror and the mounting feeling that something is wrong, it’s also the desire and need that Rosemary feels to have a child, and the fact that it is in jeopardy. I think another reason this story hits home is because Rosemary is betrayed, not only by her friends, but by her husband who is supposed to protect her and help her and love her unconditionally. I wonder, was it just the fame that convinced Guy to do something so terrible to Rosemary, or were there other factors, such as problems in their relationship? What would it take for someone else to endorse betrayal of that level? The worst part about what Guy did, to me at least, is beyond the hurt Rosemary must feel, it’s about trust, and she trusted him throughout most of the story. I wonder, how is it possible to hurt someone you love so much?

The part of the story I found most frightening, was when the baby was growing inside Rosemary, and the side affects were not normal. I kept wondering if that possibly inhuman baby would irreversibly damage her insides, and what would happen during delivery. The part of the whole pregnancy that surprised me the most, was Rosemary’s craving for raw meat, and the fact that she gave in to it. Raw meat plays host to all sorts of parasites and illness, and I’m honestly surprised that Rosemary would expose her child to it. I also cannot understand why Rosemary didn’t object more to Minnie’s shakes and take the pills any way. I mean, this story takes place in the ’60’s, it’s not before the dawn of medical treatment, so why would Rosemary go against the norm?

I think most of my problems with this story all lead back to Rosemary being naive. She seems to take what people tell her to heart, and believe them totally. For example, Dr. Sapirestein makes me leery throughout the story, from the time his name is first introduced untill I was thinking, “I told you so,” when Rosemary found that he occasionally smelled of “tannis root”. I can’t help wondering why a doctor would tell a pregnant woman it’s perfectly fine to eat raw meat, as well as him being leery of the pharmaceutical industry, and I wonder as well, how Rosemary cannot see this. She trusts him enough to go to him with her concerns about Roman, at which point I kept wanting to scream at her, “BAD IDEA!” Rosemary also trusts to go to him when she believes that his friends (I mean, come on, duh!) and her husband are against her, even though she finally realizes she’s made a mistake in who can be trusted.

Overall, I thought this story was interesting enough, but I had a hard time with the characters. I find Rosemary hard to identify with, which is not great considering I’m a young woman wanting to have children as well. Other characters, I felt, were better done, such as Guy, the traitorous husband, and Minnie, the mock-concerned next door neighbor. I wonder, though, if this book had been written recently, would it be easier for me as a reader to connect with the main character. Throughout the book, I sympathized with Rosemary, but I felt that she didn’t react properly to some instances.

However, I’d like to focus on the little things. By this I mean the parts where the reader can tell something that’s not quite right is going on, but Rosemary seems not to notice or easily able to dismiss it as nothing. These are the parts that make the story, the parts that give it the sense of foreboding and make it a somewhat frightening story. I tried to detail as many as I could without being tedious in the overview, but I’m not sure I included enough. Closer to the beginning, there is the whole “Terry” thing, and that Rosemary notices the Castevet’s food doesn’t taste quite right as well as her noticing that there were bare spots on their walls where it looked like there should be pictures hanging. But even before that, when she and Guy are looking at the apartment for the first time, there is a large wardrobe/closet type piece of furniture pushed up against a linen closet, and it is easily dismissed as the previous tenant, an elderly woman, becoming senile, yet the reader senses there’s more to it. These “little things” build up throughout the story, and I’d found that they were peppered in perfectly. When something happens and we know that there has to be more to why, it adds to our unrest and holds us, pushing us to read on, since we all want to know the answers to these little mysteries. We feel this mounting trepidation for Rosemary, even though she seems blind to it herself.

Another factor of the story I thought was done quite well was the questioning of Rosemary’s sanity. There are a few points she brings up that don’t make sense, and when she does, others dismiss it and tell her there’s nothing to worry about. Rosemary never finds any solid proof (until the very end) that what she believes is going on is actually happening, this makes the reader question her sanity, as well as Rosemary herself. Throughout the end when she’s become nearly certain that there is a plot against her, Rosemary has nothing more than a lot of conjecture and some mild circumstantial evidence. As the reader, we wonder if there is really nothing going on, and if she’s imagining it all, or connecting things that are purely coincidence.

It’s funny how the subjects of the two paragraphs above work against each other throughout the novel, creating this delightful push and pull, a back and forth feeling as to where we think the story is heading. It does its job quite well and was able to hold my interest, despite the disconnect I felt regarding the main character. Overall, I think this story easily achieves the “Thriller” category, and only crosses into “Horror” because of the supernatural and sci-fi elements.

Now let’s focus on the supernatural and sci-fi elements. They are few and far between, but the supernatural elements in this story are powerful. One example being that Rosemary learns in the end that she actually had sexual relations with the devil. This packs a strong emotional wallop, and leaves us feeling not only sorry for Rosemary, but mildly disgusted as well. There is also the death of Hutch, which we don’t know for sure is supernatural, but we are pretty damn sure once he’s passed, that it has something to do with witch craft since he died trying to get a book on the subject to Rosemary. When Donald Bumgart suddenly goes blind, we are also left feeling that there was something strange about it, but our suspicions are unconfirmed until Rosemary reaches the realization herself. I love how these supernatural events can easily be dismissed as coincidence or a strange dream, only to be confirmed as truth in the end. It works well to hold our interest and keep us reading. Also, by each of the supernatural events being something terrible, we feel a sense of sympathy, and loss especially in the case of Hutch’s coma and death since he and Rosemary were so close.

Now for the ending. I have to say that I’m not thrilled with the ending. It’s one of those oddly ambiguous endings that leave us feeling that maybe things have been resolved, but maybe they haven’t. The problem I have is that I’m left with so many questions. What happens to Rosemary and Guy’s marriage? Does Rosemary join the coven? Will the child grow up to be evil? Will Rosemary stick around to care for the baby? What about the coven? What happens with their plans, since surely they have a destiny in mind for the baby? Will Rosemary steal her baby from them? Would she leave without the child, never to look back? It doesn’t help that Rosemary is a somewhat unpredictable character, I felt. It seemed to me that throughout the story, I kept thinking, “I know what she’ll do now,” and she didn’t do it. Yet, I understand why the author chose to end the story there. When you pass that point in the story, there are so many questions raised, but when it’s ended there, we know nothing else will be answered, and it is, quite simply, what it is: the end of the story.

Overall I enjoyed the book. Though, knowing what was coming, I found the beginning somewhat slow to build. I’d give the book a three out of five, but I might add another star simply because of easy readability. The language in the book is simple, almost reminiscent of a youth novel geared towards a twelve-year-old’s reading level, though the situations make it an adult book. However, I do enjoy a challenge, as far as vocabulary goes, so I guess I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the reading level.

And I did it again. I rambled on in a ridiculously long post. I’m starting to think I should giveaway a prize for the first person who can post a comment pertaining to the story and discussion points in this post (because as previously mentioned, if you read all of this, you should get a medal), but as of yet, I have no prizes. If I do get that going, I’ll let you all know so that you can have a chance to win—uh, something, I’m not sure what yet.

Have you read this book? Share any thoughts or comments on it, please. Let me know what you thought about the “little things”, the suspense, the supernatural elements, the characters, or the story overall. How did you feel about the ending? What do you think of how Rosemary reacted to finding everyone around her was plotting against her?

Yay! It’s Here

Posted: October 8, 2012 in Discussions, On Books
Tags: , ,

I hope you’re as excited as I am for this week’s book discussion. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby came Saturday. I’m a good third of the way through the book already (yes, it’s very short, 218 pages, think RL Stein’s books length). So far it’s been a pretty easy read, though a little slow in the beginning, and there are what I’m guessing are slang terms from the late sixties that I’m not entirely sure if I know what they mean (like a piece of furniture called a “secretary” which I’m guessing is like a wardrobe, but I really have no clue). However, the story line is intriguing.

For those of you who don’t know the story, or who may need a little push to pick it up and start reading it, here’s what I know about it:

Rosemary and her husband Guy have been on a waiting list to get an apartment in the Bramford building since they’d gotten married. When finally an apartment opens up, they go for it, despite having a larger apartment already lined up. Guy is an actor with some notoriety, having done TV and radio commercials and mostly on stage work, but is hoping to get his big break and get into movies as well. Rosemary was raised in a religious family, and had gone to a Catholic school as a child, however she no longer views religion as her family had. More than anything, Rosemary wants children, and she want to have them soon. Shortly after moving in to the apartment, Rosemary makes friends with a young woman named Terry. Terry is a recovering drug addict who was taken in by Rosemary and Guy’s neighbors, the Castevets. The night after the women meet, Rosemary and Guy return home after a night out to find Terry had leapt to her death. The suicide shocks Rosemary, especially since when she spoke with Terry last she seemed optimistic about her future. Through Terry’s death, the young couple and the Castevets become friends. The occasional odd occurrence, and the Castevet’s behavior point to there being something strange going on, and Rosemary can sense it, though she often seems to look the other way.

I know quite a bit more about the story, actually, but I’d rather not ruin it for someone who wants to read it. The point I’m at in the book, right now, is just as it’s beginning to get interesting, like wildly interesting and kind of crazy. There’s devil worship, and weird old people, and so much more, coming up.

If you haven’t read this book, you’ve got till friday to do so and join this week’s book discussion. I’ll try my hardest to not let that discussion run as long as last weeks. I didn’t even realize there was so much there until I was done.

Any way, keep reading and writing. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Rosemary’s Baby.

As promised, and on time this week, here’s the discussion for Stephen King’s Survivor Type.

Now, this story is a bit more complex than last week’s, so I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into a record length post and take half my day to do.

SPOILER ALERT: I cover the entire story in the overview and discussion, so if you would like to read this story for yourself, do so first, then read my discussion on it.

One more thing, this story is not acceptable for young readers. It has gruesome details and adult situations and subject matter. Please use discretion while reading or for sharing/re-posting.

Overview:

Richard Pine (or Pinzetti, before he changed his name) begins telling his story on January 26th, by saying that he’s been on the island for two days already. He mentions that he has no shortage of matches or heroin, and neither are of any value on the island. Richard then goes into a spiel about his life. He tells us that he grew up in New York’s Little Italy. His life-long is to become a surgeon, something his father doesn’t agree with, and Richard begins playing football to get an athletic scholarship to get him into college until he could get his grades high enough to get a full academic scholarship. After completing college, Richard begins his residency. That is when he gets into illegally selling drugs. It begins simple enough, with Richard selling blank prescription pads as well as copies of actual doctors’ signatures for forgery reference. He mentions that the hospital drug room was poorly monitored, before ending the passage for the day. Richard takes inventory on what he has. Four gallons of water, a sewing kit, a first aid kit, the life boat inspection book he’s writing in, two knives, a spork, matches, and of course $350,000 worth of heroin. He has no food and is becoming increasingly hungry. The next day, Richard spies a sea-gull and throws a stone at it, wounding it, before he rushes over and breaks its neck. In the process, he manages to twist his ankle. He eats the bird raw out of desperation, and refuses to allow his stomach to vomit the only food he’s had for days. Richard then gets back into his back story, and explains how he built his practice on his own, and then began performing operations that weren’t exactly necessary. He tells us that he never did a surgery against a patient’s will, and never once had he had a patient who looked at their prescription and said “I don’t want this.” Then what Richard refers to as “the tax people” got to an associate of his named Lowenthal. The “tax people” threatened Lowenthal with five years and he gave up a dozen names, including Richard Pine. He was then watched, and confronted, at which point Richard threw a few people to the wolves, as he put it. He remarks that it was no one who didn’t deserve it, and mentions his hunger again. Starving, he kills another sea-gull on the island and eats it. He then begins hearing voices, including the man he bought the heroin from, telling him to “take a thnort” (as the man had a lisp). Richard seems to consider this, but then remarks that he’s never done drugs before, not even sleeping pills. He returns to the story of how he ended up on the island by telling us he wanted his surgeon’s license back, and some people he’d talked to said it could be done for a price. Richard had $40,000 in a safe deposit box, and decides to try to double it. He goes to an old friend from his old neighborhood named Ronnie, a loan shark, who sends Richard to Henry Li-Tsu and Solom Ngo. Henry is a drug dealer known to sometimes give people fake drugs, and Solom is a chemist who will test the product for a fee. The next day, on the island, Richard remarks that he has seen an airplane. He ran after it, trying to flag it down, and twisted his ankle in the same hole as last time. Only this time, he fractures his ankle. Richard lost his balance and hit his head, knocking him unconscious. He wakes shortly after dark and finds that he has hurt his ankle, scraped his head, probably had a concussion, and is extremely sun burnt from laying in the sun. The pain in his ankle is excruciating. The next day, he makes a “HELP” sign on the beach out of rocks. He notes that his ankle is extremely swollen and increasingly discolored. It is at this point that Richard mentions that he may have to amputate his foot. The next day he tells us that his ankle seems to only have gotten worse, and details a little of how he plans to amputate, should it become necessary. He has knives, matches for sterilizing, needles and thread for closing the wound, his shirt for a bandage, as well as the heroin for pain medication, and his own surgical skills. On Feb 4th, Richard decides he must amputate his foot. He has had no food for four days and believes that if he doesn’t act soon, he may faint mid-operation and bleed out any way. It is on this note that he tells us that he will finish his story, incase the surgery goes awry. Richard had flown to Saigon as a tourist where he met up with Henry and procured the product which he then took to Solom who tested it and found that it was high-grade. For three weeks, Richard stayed in Saigon, then booked a ride back to San Francisco on a cruise ship called the Callas. Solom had made a deal with customs agents on Richard’s behalf in order to smuggle the drugs on board. From there, the plan was to put the drugs into a waterproof container with a red dye packet attached to a timer, which would be tossed over by someone Richard was looking to pay for the job, shortly before docking. While Richard was trying to find the person for the job when the Callas sunk. During a storm, an explosion began the unfortunate events, rocking the boat from side to side. Chaos broke out, and people began running everywhere. Richard went to his room, got the bags of heroin, and went to a lifeboat. After getting it into the water, he rows, knowing that the suction from the sinking Callas could pull his lifeboat under. He fights the waves, and is eventually lost in the dark of night and the storm. The storm dumped him on the rock covered island with no vegetation. He tells us that this may be his last entry, but he believes that if he survives it, with the help of prosthetics, he could be good as new. The next day, Richard writes that he did the operation. He explains how he used heroin as a painkiller, and half way through he wanted more, but held off for fear of fainting during the surgery, at which point he would bleed out. Richard tells us that because of his skills and use of the drugs, he was able to remove his foot. Then he reminds us that he has had nothing to eat for four days, and tells us that no one will know. He will destroy the book before he leaves the island. Richard has eaten his own foot, but he does not come right out and say it. The next entry tells us that he has pain in his stump, and an extreme itch that is nearly unbearable. Richard fantasizes about ripping his bandages off and digging his fingers into his stump to quell the itch caused by the healing process. He has been “stoned” since doing the amputation and mentions that the heroin staves off his hunger somewhat. Another plane had flown by, but Richard was unable to signal it. He daydreams about food, making himself more hungry. After trying to kill another gull, and it escaping he is left deflated and low on energy. Richard continues to consume the heroin, and notes that when he gets home, he will gladly go to rehab. The next day, he amputates his other foot, due to the lack of food. He tells us that he was drooling throughout the operation, just as he had been while he stalked the sea-gull. Richard eats his foot by telling himself that it is “cold roast beef”. Having broken his watch while chasing the last sea-gull, he begins to lose track of time. It begins raining, and he creates a small shelter out of rocks. He stays inside his shelter, eating the one spider he’s found, and snorting heroin. After two or three days the rain stops and Richard crawls around the island and finds boards from his lifeboat have washed up on shore, along with some seaweed he eats. With luck, he finds a crab and eats it after cooking it over a fire. His “HELP” sign had washed away in the rain, and he spends a day fixing it. A few days later, Richard takes off his right leg at the knee, then cooks it over a fire, dreaming about roasted pork. After a few more days, he removes his left leg from the knee down. He wishes he had stayed in the old neighborhood where he grew up, and tells himself that with prosthetics and therapy, he could be as good as new. Later he finds a dead, rotten, stinky fish and eats it. He reminds himself that he “will survive”. By this time he has lost complete track of his days, and only knows that it is February. Richard contemplates how he will be able to tie off his femoral artery so high up on his thigh. He has already marked where he will cut his leg with his pencil, and cannot stop drooling. One passage is entirely Richard’s ramblings about a Big Mac from Mc Donalds. Later, he tells us that he has looked at the reflection of his face in the water and saw nothing but a skin-covered skull. He contemplates his sanity and writes that he is a freak with nothing left below his groin. Richard tells us that if we are what we eat, he hasn’t changed a bit. After having a nightmare about his father, Richard tells us that there is nothing left of him to cut off. He has already taken off his ear lobes. Richard finishes his journal entries by rambling about his hands, and telling us that they taste like “lady fingers”.

It’s reasonable to assume that Richard had been stranded on the island for over a month. In that time, he reminds the readers that a patient can withstand trauma simply through their will to survive. Richard, apparently has that will. It seems to me that he does things most people wouldn’t ever consider, simply to survive. He is overcome with his desire to survive, to the point where his sanity is absolutely questionable.

Throughout the story, he shows little remorse for what he’s done so far as selling drugs. His only regret seems to be that he has landed on the deserted island as a result. He writes openly and honestly about selling drugs, and I believe this is simply because there is a chance he may not live. The question as to why he got into the illicit business is quite simply put: money. If he never began selling drugs in the first place, it would be reasonable to assume that he would have never end up stranded on the island. For this reason, I find his lack of regret hard to understand.

The first thing Richard eats while on the island is a sea-gull. The last thing we know Richard eats while on the island is his own hand. This shows us the vast change in his circumstances while stranded. Under similar circumstances, how many people would be able to do the same? It takes serious cojones to consume one’s self when faced with starvation, yet, can you say that you would not do something drastic for a chance at survival? I wonder what others would do in the same position.

Richard mentions his poor relationship with his father, and how it impacted his life. It seems he pushed himself harder when his father scoffed him. When Richard mentions his father’s death, it is with no remorse, sadness, or grief. Yet in the end of the story, it seems his father is the only other person he can think about. Richard writes about his father similar to how an angry teenager might. Had his father not died, would they have been able to mend their relationship? I think not. It seems to me that Richard is a self-righteous sort of man, and beyond anything else, he is stubborn. It is this stubbornness that drives him to survive, and I think it stems from his poor relationship with his father. It’s likely that were it not for Richard’s father, the stranded man may not have had the will to survive so long as he did.

In the end, we don’t know that Richard dies on the island, yet it’s reasonable to assume such. We are left feeling shocked and appalled by what this man did to himself in the name of survival, though we feel that he is a stronger man than most simply because of this. At this point in the story, we assume that Richard is so far gone, mentally, and literally that he could not lead a normal life even if he was to be rescued and brought home. He would be crippled and disfigured for the rest of his life, as well as being unable to operate as a surgeon because his hand is gone. But before Richard reaches this point, he tells himself that he could return to his life as it had been, and continue his practice as a surgeon, though he would need the help of prosthetics and therapy. Is he reaching a bit though? It seems to me that between his drug use, the amputations, and his mental state it is unlikely that his life would be what he expects. Is it possible, that perhaps dying on the island is the best thing for Richard?

It’s strange, to me, that Richard pushes himself so much to live. When you think about it, he has nothing to go back to besides the slight possibility that he could get his surgical license back. At this point in his life, Richard’s parents are both dead, he has no siblings, he has no wife or girlfriend, and no children. Besides all that, he had lost his practice and had to save his own skin when it was discovered that he was peddling drugs. So why does he go through all the agony to live? This story, at its most base point is about the human will to survive. It’s about how far one man will go to return to, quite frankly, nothing back at home.

Cannibalism is a taboo subject as it is. Stephen King takes it a step farther by making the subject of cannibalism the main character, and having that main character eat himself. There are real cases of people eating human beings in order to survive, yet none are as appalling as this fictional story about a man who consumes himself when faced with starvation and death. Superstition and abhorrence surround the subject of cannibalism, making it something that is widely unacceptable in most places of the world. Yet, it still happens, in extreme circumstances and even in some tribes that remain largely unchanged by the outside world. I watched an interview with Stephen King once, where he mentioned that this is one of his least popular stories, and I believe he said that he was unable to publish it outside of the collection of short stories it calls home. Is this because of the cannibalism? I think so. As a society, we have come to the decision that it is wrong. Yet I am working on a novel titled “The Hunger” in which after unknowingly consuming human flesh, a man is consumed by the desire to eat more. He slowly changes, becoming a monster in more than one sense of the word. I have yet to figure the ending, and am only in the beginning stages of writing it. So I wonder, will my novel be unpopular due to the cannibalism? However, there is a form of cannibalism that is accepted by the public, it is that of the fictional creature, the zombie. How is that much different from a healthy human being eating another? It is simply because the zombie is known to be a monster, and we can see that it is, whereas the man who secretly eats people in the comfort of his own home is a monster we cannot see, he is the more terrifying of the two. I think this is why fictional stories of cannibalism are unpopular. I will, however, finish my novel (some day) and I’ll let you guys know if it’s hard to sell or not, though I can only assume it will be.

Please share your thoughts on this week’s book discussion. Did you like the story? How did you feel about Richard as a character? Do you think what he did to survive was acceptable? What would you have done differently in the same position?

I hope you all enjoyed this post. I apologize for any mistakes because this post was so long, I really don’t have the time to go back through and reread the whole thing to make sure it sounds alright. If you have any suggestions for next week’s discussion, please comment and share it with me. As of yet, I have no ideas, but if the book I ordered, titled Rosemary’s Baby, by author Ira Levin, comes in the mail soon, I’ll try to get it read so that I can discuss it with you faithful readers of mine, though I’m not sure how long it is, or when exactly it should get here.