Invisible Chains: My Debut Novel

Michelle-LaneFor those of you who missed the news, my debut novel, Invisible Chains, will be released into the world July 22, 2019 by Haverhill House Publishing. If you’re as excited about this news as I am, you can pre-order a copy on Amazon, and while you’re there, you can check out my fancy new Amazon Author Page. Even though I’ve had my short fiction published, having my first novel published makes me feel like a bonafide author. See, I even have an author photo.

That’s great, Michelle, but what is your book about?

I’m glad you asked.

Jacqueline is a young Creole slave in antebellum New Orleans.  An unusual stranger who has haunted her dreams since childhood comes to stay as a guest in her master’s house. Soon after his arrival, members of the household die mysteriously, and Jacqueline is suspected of murder.  Despite her fear of the stranger, Jacqueline befriends him and he helps her escape. While running from the slave catchers, they meet conjurers, a loup-garou, and a traveling circus of supernatural freaks.  She relies on ancestral magic to guide her and finds strength to conquer her fears on her journey.

Oh, and here is the beautiful cover art designed by the very talented Errick Nunnally.

InvisibleChains_v2c-cover - 2

As many of you know, writing can be a difficult and solitary pursuit. And, if your goal is to have your work published, the stages of writing, editing, rewriting, editing again, and submitting can feel like a never-ending climb up a hill while pushing a giant rock covered in your own entrails. Plus, if you submit and get nothing but rejections it sometimes seems like a good idea to just give up and find a different way to torture yourself.

84f09108808c48fe2958b8f311d398ac

Can I tell you a secret? I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Believe me, I thought about giving up. I thought about giving up a lot. But this story lived inside me for a long time and it refused to be abandoned. This multi-genre slave narrative began its life as a short story back in the early 2000s and had a very different ending. That short story shared space on a thumb drive, untouched  with other abandoned writing projects, for several years. I mean, I would pull it out from time to time and read it but I never did anything with it until I applied to the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction (WPF) program at Seton Hill University (SHU).

Attending SHU was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. And, one of the scariest. At 40, I was completely dissatisfied with my life. I had a job I was on the verge of burning out on, I was unhappily married, and I was primarily responsible for raising my son who had begun to show signs of behavioral problems at daycare and school. I was the primary bread winner, I took care of the house, paid the bills, maintained social connections with friends and family, and one day I realized I was living my life for other people instead of living it for myself.

I began making a mental inventory of the things that brought me joy, and at the top of that list was writing. Writing was something I had done all my life. And, when I was writing I was happier. I started unearthing some of my unfinished short stories and realized they weren’t terrible. And then, I wondered what would happen if I took myself seriously as a writer. I made the decision to apply to SHU after asking a friend about the program. Jenda had nothing but good things to say about the program, and honestly, I think SHU should consider sending her a check each month for her excellent marketing skills.

My short story, “Freedom is in the Blood,” became Invisible Chains over the course of six years. Three years writing my thesis novel in the low residency MFA program, and three years of rewriting, editing, pitching, and submitting. In the process of writing the novel, my protagonist evolved into a stronger character who stands up to monsters to make a better life for herself.

In many ways, my protagonist evolved with me as I made changes in my own life. Deciding to write this book was the first step towards reshaping my life on my own terms. I’ve encountered my share of set backs, obstacles, and people who behave like monsters, but like Jacqueline, I keep moving forward.

In the process of moving forward, I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and built stronger relationships with the people who cheered me on through the highs and lows of writing this book. They’re good people. And I couldn’t have survived the process without their love and support.

I am very fortunate to be included in such diverse and supportive writing communities like the HWA and as an SHU alumna. And, of course, I wouldn’t be able to brag about getting my book published if I had never met the Editor-in-Chief of Haverhill House Publishing, John M. McIlveen.

I met John last year at StokerCon™ 2018 in Providence, RI. I pitched Invisible Chains to him, a book that took close to five years to write, in about ten minutes. And, much to my surprise, after babbling at him in what I believed to be incoherent nonsense, he said he’d be interested in reading it. That was the first spark of hope, and it has been one pleasant experience after the next working with John and Haverhill House Publishing.

Well, now the book is written and available for pre-order. The hardback edition will be available July 22, 2019. In the meantime, I have a stack of proofs that I would very much like to get into the hands of book reviewers and people who would be willing to blurb the book. If you or someone you know might be a good fit for a book like this, let me know and I’ll reach out to them.

What’s next, you may ask? I don’t know, but I suspect I might have to write another book.

Battling Our Demons: Fighting the Influence of Evil

The other day, while looking through some of my folders of old writing and abandoned projects, I stumbled across an essay I wrote back in May 2015 for my Readings in the Genre: Contemporary Mysteries course at Seton Hill University as part of my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. Of late, I’ve used this blog as a way of kick starting myself into writing on a more regular basis; something I struggle with on an almost pathological level. My friends will tell you that I’m writing all the time. This year, since February I have written a total of 27 blog posts about fictional characters I find sexually appealing, and since around May, I’ve written over 120 haiku poems. I’ve drafted chapters in a novel I’m writing, and I’ve written a few short pieces of fiction here and there. So yeah, I guess I have been writing. But, I don’t feel like I’m writing enough.

And, although I had a short story published in an anthology back in November 2014, I haven’t been able to sell my first novel, Invisible Chains, acquire an agent, or get any other bites on the poetry I’ve been submitting. I currently have poetry out to three publishers and I’ll be submitting three short stories within the next month to different publishers. I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo 2016 in the hopes of completing that second novel I mentioned, A Marriage Made in Hell. I WILL finish the first draft of Marriage by November 30, come Hell of high water.

Anyway, if you’re interested in reading some of my writing that doesn’t involve lewd comments about my favorite fictions characters, read on…

demons

Battling Our Demons: Fighting the Influence of Evil in Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

In his famous study on human behavior, Beyond Good and Evil, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warns us to take care to not be influenced by the intrinsic and often seductive nature of darkness when confronting our demons. He proposes, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you” (Section 146). Sage advice, but is it possible to confront Evil and not be somehow changed by it? Can you keep company with monsters without becoming like them? This is the dilemma faced by both Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark and Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Each character must face her demons. Tempted as they may be, each character still manages to avoid becoming Evil.

Evil can be a very subjective concept. Each of us defines it a little differently based on our own personal experiences, but we can usually agree on the difference between “right” and “wrong.” The mystery genre uses this dichotomy as one of its central themes or plot points, and while an amateur sleuth or police inspector may be driven to solve a crime in order to uphold the law, at the heart of most mysteries is the desire for Good to win out over Evil. “Crime fiction in general, and detective fiction in particular, is about confronting and taming the monstrous. It is a literature of containment, a narrative that ‘makes safe’” (Plain 3). The battle between Good and Evil has been fought in fiction since before written communication. In the oral tradition, people told tales of epic battles between men and monsters – Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh. With the advent of writing, the popularity of monster tales never waned – The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Inferno. Monsters have always been with us. They are creatures of myth and legend, and they often stand in as metaphors for the less palatable human behaviors and emotions. Judith Halberstam suggests in her book, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters that even though our desire for stories about monsters and villains never seems to fade, the appearance of those monsters evolves to meet cultural needs. She says, “The body that scares and appalls changes over time, as do the individual characteristics that add up to monstrosity, as do the preferred interpretations of monstrosity” (8). Monsters change as our society changes, and the monsters of our current fiction, which is especially true in the mystery genre, tend to be humans more so than the beasts of Homer and Dante’s creations.

Like Sookie and Lisbeth, we sometimes find ourselves in less than ideal situations and come face to face with monsters. For some of us, the monsters we must face are people we thought we could trust who later betray us, or worse, cause physical as well as psychological damage in the form of abuse, rape, and ultimately murder. In her essay, “Vivid Villains,” Sandra Scoppettone tells us that “the nature of the villain, and how absorbing a character he or she is, will affect the flavor of the whole rest of the story” (86). The nature of the villain should definitely determine the nature of the protagonist. Whether we’re talking about a serial killer, someone seeking revenge, or jilted lover who commits a crime of passion, as we gain a better understanding of human psychology, we also understand that we are the monsters represented in the fiction we read. Darkness lurks within all of us, but for most people, it will continue to lie dormant until some violent act or traumatic experience awakens the beast within. The real challenge then for any protagonist facing such a worthy opponent, as Nietzsche warns, is to avoid becoming a monster. Sookie and Lisbeth are sexualized others who both fall victim to violence at the hands of human monsters.

rapacerevenge

“Forty-six percent of women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man” (Larsson 139). In his novel The Girl with Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson wishes to make it very clear to his reader that violence against women is a cultural reality in Sweden, and to most Swedish women, much like his protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, the threat of violence, sexual or otherwise, is an expectation if not an inevitability. Lisbeth is a ward of the state and becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a man assigned to her case. She is an adult, but due to her designation based on a history of aberrant behavior as a youth, she is treated like a child, mentally deficient, and then taken advantage of due to her abuser’s belief that she is somehow stupid. While Lisbeth has experienced quite a bit of emotional and psychological trauma, some of which is not revealed to us, she is far from stupid, and definitely not mentally ill. In fact, she is uncannily smart and more than capable of looking out for herself, except at the hands of the sadistic monster Advokat Nils Bjurman. Over the course of several meetings, Bjurman makes it very clear to Salander that she is at his mercy if she would like access to her bank accounts. Each encounter with Bjurman becomes more and more inappropriate until he forces Salander to perform oral sex on him in his office. Larsson reinforces his point about the violent nature of Swedish society by making Salander another statistic. “In her world, this was the natural order of things. As a girl she was legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status” (249). Later, when Salander seeks revenge for this assault, Bjurman restrains and rapes her at his apartment. It is this second act of violence that pushes her to her limits and flips a switch that begins her own transformation. She falls prey to the desire to do monstrous things herself. “Bjurman felt cold terror piercing his chest and lost his composure. He tugged at his handcuffs…He could do nothing to resist when Salander bent over and placed the anal plug between his buttocks” (282). Salander reverses the tables on Bjurman. She assaults and humiliates him much like he did to her. She attempts to restore balance through an act of revenge, pushing her closer to the edge of the abyss. Lisbeth unleashes her darkness to reclaim her power and walks a fine line that could easily transform her into a monster worse than Bjurman. She threatens Bjurman with blackmail and bodily harm to prevent him from hurting her again—an act of self-preservation. By marking him, she hopes to save other women from becoming his victims. Justice is served.

On the surface, Sookie Stackhouse and Lisbeth Salander couldn’t be more different as protagonists go, but when you take a closer look at these two strong female characters, you’ll begin to notice some commonalities. First, they are both amateur sleuths with unique abilities that allow them to have access to information others aren’t privy to in the narrative. Salander’s abilities are half-heartedly explained through the eyes of Salander’s lover, Mikael Blomkvist, who assumes that the young hacker has a form of Asperger’s. Since Sookie’s world has paranormal elements, she has the benefit of being able to hear other people’s thoughts. Calling this ability a benefit is debatable, as Sookie herself sees it as a handicap.

Second, both women often find themselves at the mercy of men who threaten them with violence. Or, at the very least, objectify them sexually. Although they come from very different cultural backgrounds, they both have “zero social status” (249) in the economy of sexuality and gender equality. In Dead Until Dark, a serial killer targets young women who seek out vampires as sexual partners. Sookie not only shares this in common with the victims, but she also fits the profile with her high school education and minimum wage job.

sookiebill

Monsters exist in Sookie’s world – vampires, weres, and shifters – all of which can be quite dangerous. In fact, her boyfriend is a vampire. Despite the fact that there is trend in fiction romanticizing relationships between vampires and humans, vampires are still monsters. Even if they don’t kill you outright, there is always the chance that things might get out of hand, and a moment of passion may end with the human’s funeral. Even if the vampire poses no direct threat to his partner, the secret lives of vampires seem to be violent by nature – ancient enemies, unresolved love affairs, power struggles with other supernatural beings. All of this adds up to danger for any human who meddles in the affairs of monsters, much less falls in love with them.

Sookie could literally become a monster if she continues to drink vampire blood. Bill Compton gives Sookie his blood several times to speed up the healing process. But when Sookie is recovering in the hospital after her encounter with the serial killer, she refuses to accept Bill’s blood for fear of losing her human qualities. “‘I’ll heal you,’ he offered. ‘Let me give you some blood.’ I remembered the way my hair had lightened, remembered that I was almost twice as strong as I’d ever been. I shook my head” (Harris 310). Sookie resists the urge to become monstrous by refusing to act like one. Sookie reclaims her power by maintaining her humanness.

Sookie and Lisbeth are victims of violent crimes. Both women fight back to protect themselves. They are survivors and each play an important role in vanquishing the monster, or at the very least, identifying the villain. They both realize there are too many villains in the world to fight. Even though they have temporarily restored the balance in their worlds, they know the fight between Good and Evil will continue. Not only externally, but internally as well. Each time you gaze into the abyss, the abyss changes you. So, to answer my earlier question, is it possible to associate with monsters and not become Evil? Yes, but only if you remain vigilant to protect your humanity, and in Salander’s case, the humanity of others.

Works Cited

Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. Print.

Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark. New York: Ace Books, 2009. Print

Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1989. Print.

Plain, Gill. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body. New York: Routledge, 2014. Kindle.

Scoppetone, Sandra. “Vivid Villains.” Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America. Ed. Sue Grafton. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2002. 86-90. Print.

Save

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Will Graham

I’ve mentioned several times before in this series that I have a special place in my heart for the insane – or, at least, the people society deems insane. Some people I have cared deeply about throughout my life suffered or continue to suffer with mental illness and the stigma that comes along with these often-misunderstood medical conditions.

My father made a living as a mental health professional. He cared a lot about his clients, and sometimes developed strong attachments to them. I’m aware that there are ethical issues associated with client/therapist relationships that cross the boundaries established by the profession. Despite his role as therapist and healer, he was only human and felt deep sorrow when one of his clients relapsed and hurt themselves or someone else. More than once, my dad received phone calls about the death of a client at his/her own hands. I remember one client’s suicide very well, because my dad cried when he hung up the phone and slipped into a deep depression that lasted months. He felt responsible for that man’s death. He believed that he had somehow failed. My dad was really good at what he did, but he felt too much to be able to distance himself from the very real struggles his clients faced. He cared too much.

Caring too much sounds absurd to people who don’t understand what that can be like. When you feel things so strongly that you can’t seem to separate yourself from the grief experienced by others around you, people you’ve never met, people who died long before you were born, any form of suffering that you can empathize with creates a sense of the suffering inside you. When therapists who have a strong sense of empathy cross boundaries with their clients, sometimes inappropriate or even dangerous things happen, placing both client and therapist in jeopardy.

An excellent fictional example of this kind of situation is the relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Bryan Fuller’s television adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, “Hannibal”. Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist and Will is a profiler for the FBI. Both work under Jack Crawford, the director of the BAU, who investigates serial murders. Will has a unique set of mental quirks (illness) that gives him a nearly supernatural level of empathy, which enables him to place himself in the minds of serial killers and recreate their actions and thoughts while examining grisly crime scenes. Will solves serial murders and puts serial killers behind bars…unless they end up dead. Which happens quite a bit on “Hannibal”. If Will doesn’t kill them, Dr. Lecter will, or they end up killing themselves. Although Jack has asked Dr. Lecter to observe Will to keep track of his fragile mental state as he investigates one horrific murder after another, he never officially becomes Will’s psychiatrist. In fact, they become friends. Well, they become connected by a series of unfortunate events that blur the boundaries and behaviors between them, and a bond of sorts is formed. Friends? Colleagues? Murder husbands? You decide.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does: Will Graham

unstable

However you choose to define the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, it is a cluster fuck of lies, deceit, manipulation, murder-spree fantasies, and some occasional inappropriate touching. From where I’m sitting, I see a lot of sexual tension between two men who are intellectually turned on by each other in a submissive/dominant dance of morally questionable professional encounters that ultimately lead to serious injury – mentally and physically.

lecter-deceit

I think I made it abundantly clear how I feel about Dr. Lecter in an earlier post, but now it’s Will’s turn. Thomas Harris wrote him as an exceptionally strong character that rivals the serial-killing monsters in Red Dragon, and Hugh Dancy has taken this character to whole new level of psychosis.

psychoanalyze

There is beauty and pain in his gift of empathy, he is gloriously crazy, and his insight and intellect, as well as his extreme awkwardness make him very appealing to this long-time nerd fetishist.

crazy-will

I often make passes at men who wear glasses.

I don’t know about you, but the smarter a man is, the hotter he becomes in my opinion. Will is a successful criminal profiler, but due to his delicate psychological make-up, it is safer for him to share his wisdom and experience in a classroom rather than in the field.

hot-prof-2

Intellectual hotness.

But, Jack Crawford convinces him (against Will’s better judgement and Alana Bloom’s recommendations) to leave the safety of the classroom and return to the field where his expertise can have a positive outcome in solving crimes and catching serial murderers.

antlers

I have a collection of bloody antlers just like this at home.

Will Graham is an incredibly fuckable fictional character, despite the fact that his friend and colleague, Alana Bloom, thinks a relationship with him is too risky. Initially, when Will shows an interest in becoming more than friends with Alana and she turns him down, I was angry. I mean, if I worked with someone as intellectually creepy and hot as Will Graham, I’d probably be making not-so-subtle hints about my interest in him.

alanawill-1

Seriously. What the hell is she waiting for?

But, in retrospect, I realize that I have more in common with Alana than I’d readily like to admit. Alana spends a lot of time inside her own head. I do too. She tends to overthink things. Ditto. In fact, she thinks herself right out of potentially pleasurable and possibly ideal situations, like entering a romantic relationship with Will Graham. Sure, he’s cute and sweet, but he’s also kind of unstable and may require a lot of care giving in the long run. So, she rejects him. He doesn’t take it well, but respects her decision and doesn’t continue to push the issue. He occasionally makes snide comments, but then acts like an adult and treats their relationship as strictly professional.

too-unstable

We’ve all made the mistake of choosing the wrong guy before.

Seeking refuge from the pain of unrequited love, Will dives back into his work. Because Will enters the minds of the killers he profiles, the field work begins to take its toll. With each episode, Will gets a little stranger, his bond with Dr. Lecter grows tighter, and heads in a weird direction.

wills-design

In Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, Lecter is behind bars and the relationship between him and Will is mostly speculative. We know that Will worked with Lecter to solve a crime, and later discovered that Lecter himself was a serial killer. Will nearly loses his life at the hands of Lecter, but ultimately is the one who puts him behind bars. In “Hannibal,” we see Bryan Fuller’s vision of their relationship prior to Lecter getting caught. Fuller’s artistic vision creates not only some of the most beautiful murder tableau, food porn, and uncomfortable interpersonal interactions, but also adds a level of competition between Will and Hannibal that slowly becomes a homoerotic murder fantasy man crush. (It’s totally a thing.)

colleagues

Before.

end-season-2

After.

And don’t get me started about the visual references to David Lynch’s body of work (that’s a different conversation for another day).

ear

Yep. That’s a human ear alright.

While watching the first season, I questioned not only my theories about Fuller’s references to David Lynch’s work, but also the homoerotic nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship.

smell-me

Yeah, I’m just imaging…wait.

ladder-porn

I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one in the Hannibal fandom (Fannibals) who saw what I was seeing. The sexual nature of their relationship became clearer with each episode. Social media (Tumblr, Deviant Art, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook) provided an outlet for fans who wanted to explore the possibilities of that relationship even further, and coined the term Hannigram. “Hannibal” has some of the most creative, twisted and hilarious fans. If you ever find yourself bored and want to entertain yourself, just Google Hannigram and let the good times roll.

boner-alert

I know, right?

relationship

Disturbing, yet somehow hilarious.

innuendos

This is the humorous side, but there is a darker and more sexually-charged side of the fandom as well.

bit-me

As far as fan art goes, the Hannigram inspired work found on social media may cause you to blush or shift in your seat a bit. Given the nature of the fiction it is drawing its inspiration from, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neither should it surprise you just how closely violence, eating, and sex are related. But, what might disturb you about that connection is how titillating it can be when presented to us in a gloriously perverse artistic expression through such mediums as film or literature.

hot

But it is. And so is this.

dont-lie

And, especially this.

the-end

I mean, that’s like a total effing Romeo & Juliet ending! I know I’m not imaging that. But ironically, it takes Will the longest to catch on to that aspect of his relationship with Hannibal.

yes

I mean, even the tabloids alluded to the weird and kinky nature of their relationship.

murder-husbands

Any way you look at it, Will Graham is clearly Hannibal’s object of desire. The lines between his murder fantasies and his contracted work with the FBI to observe Will’s behavior blur while the empathetic profiler spirals deeper into mental illness. And while we feel sympathy for Will, the bizarre elements of the fiction lend themselves to even more disturbing humor. Let’s face it, Fannibals are sick, twisted, clever perverts. And I love them dearly.

platonic

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Dimitri Belikov

Last night I finished reading the first book in the Vampire Academy series. Truth be told, I had been meaning to read this YA Paranormal Romance series for quite some time but completely forgot about it until I watched the film adaptation on Netflix a few months ago. The movie was silly and entertaining, but there were also some really good romantic elements that caught me by surprise. And, hey, more importantly? VAMPIRES!

tumblr_static_vampire-academy_header__index

I loved the protagonist, Rose Hathaway, a seventeen-year-old dhampir who is training to become a guardian to protect her best friend Lissa, a member of the Moroi royalty. She’s funny, street smart, a wise ass, rebellious, constantly questions authority, sex positive, and knows how to look after herself and the people she cares about. If Rose had been one of my classmates in high school, I think we would have been friends. At least until we got into an argument over a guy, because she and I have similar taste in men.

Heroes Can Be Hotter Than Villains: Dimitri Belikov

BioPic

If you’ve read my blog series before, you know that I have a thing for monsters. I mean, duh! My blog is called Girl Meets Monster. I like monsters. No. REALLY like monsters. But sometimes, the people who hunt them can be just as hot and heartbreaking.

For some reason that I’m not entirely in touch with (I’m working through this with my therapist) I am psychologically predisposed to lust after villains and other fictional characters with questionable motives for the things they do. But, every once in a while I fall madly in love with a fictional character with a strong moral compass. It helps if that character is a badass-fighting machine, stunningly gorgeous with an accent, and played by sexy as Hell actors. Dimitri Belikov is definitely one of these characters.

OMG

Like I said, I enjoyed the movie and found it a little silly, but the relationship between Rose and Dimitri is an interesting one. As a former teenaged girl who constantly had the hots for her older teachers and mentors, I have nothing but sympathy for this pair who have a lot of obstacles to overcome beyond their seven year age difference. At 24, Dimitri is a full-fledged adult with a life-threatening job that requires him to not only be in peak physical condition, but also mentally focused on his responsibilities as a guardian committed to protecting the Moroi royalty in their three-tiered society of vampires. His job is really important and he takes it very seriously.

Swearing

Rose on the other hand, is a seventeen-year-old fledgling who is learning how to be a guardian. She understands how important her role will be, but she’s still trying to enjoy her youth. When she begins to respect Dimitri (and desire him) she wants nothing more than to become the best guardian she can be. Yes, she is motivated to do so in order to protect Lissa, but she is also seeking the approval of her mentor.

I found Dimitri relatively attractive when I watched the movie, but I completely fell for him while reading the book. He became hotter and hotter each time I turned a page. He’s emotionally stable even though his life hasn’t been a picnic. He’s killed people. He was raised without a full-time father figure due to the weird circumstances of biology and social norms in their world. He watched his mother be abused and sexualized by his mostly absent biological father, until one day he’d had enough and beat the crap out of the Moroi asshat who took advantage of his mother for years. He grieves the loss of someone he was supposed to be protecting. And, he develops an inappropriate infatuation with one of his students. An infatuation he continually denies, because he knows that it’s wrong. I don’t know about you, but a chaste male character who remains chaste because he is unable to have the object of his affection due to the fact that he believes it to be morally objectionable really turns me on.

No, seriously. That is hot. Especially if that character reads books and does lots of push-ups to distract himself from fucking the brains out of an under-aged girl who is practically begging for it.

Combat is hot

Today’s lesson: Hand to hand combat with sexy Russian men is super fucking hot.

It doesn’t help that they are constantly in situations where they have to either touch each other or fight for their lives. Rose understands the consequences of being attracted to her mentor, and although she wants him to reciprocate her feelings, she also doesn’t want him to lose his job for inappropriate behavior. But, neither of them is able to deny their feelings for each other forever. They try to keep their feelings a secret, which they manage to do until someone notices their attraction to each other and uses their emotional connection against them through magic.

Magic Spell

Dimitri: “I love your dress…let’s burn it.”

Even under the influence of magic, Dimitri is able to momentarily come to his senses and recognize that while his desires are being met, he still knows that his actions are wrong. Yes, the teen-aged girl he fantasizes about did show up in his room while he was in bed and throw herself at him, but he respects her enough and takes his position too seriously to allow either of them to make a mistake that could ruin their lives. Or, complicate their situation further.

I don’t know what the future holds for Dimitri Belikov and Rose Hathaway, but I’m dying to find out (and not so secretly hoping they get naked with each other). I’m going to pick up a copy of Frostbite from the library ASAP. And, the first chance I get, I’m rewatching Vampire Academy. Something tells me now that I know more about his personality and dark past, Dimitri will be three times hotter and my inner teen queen…hell, my middle-aged woman hormones will be raging out of control. As a teen I probably would have been a little too timid to really enjoy his company. Now? I’d make Dimitri beg for mercy.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Mr. Darcy

Yesterday a friend read my post about The Goblin King and accused me of choosing that character because even if there were no Goblin King, I’d still be hot for David Bowie. True, but he also argued that since the Goblin King never appeared anywhere else before the film was made, that he didn’t really count as a fictional character. He said I just wanted to fuck “David Bowie with Tina Turner hair.” While David Bowie does in fact have Tina Turner hair in Labyrinth and I still think he’s totally fucakble in that role, Jareth the Goblin King is a fictional character. A character with David Bowie’s face, voice, moves, crotch and charisma, but last I checked, David Bowie was never reported to steal babies and turn them into goblins, nor was he a wizard, nor did he own a labyrinth. I can’t speak to his desires to hang out with Muppets or date teen-aged girls, but Labyrinth has a screenplay and Jareth is fictional.

But, this questioning of where Jareth begins and David Bowie ends sparked an interesting discussion. It has occurred to me several times while choosing fictional characters for these posts that the reason I love a particular character so much is because of the actor who is portraying him or her. In many cases, the characters we’ve grown to love in fiction, either from books, comic books, cartoons, etc., become almost impossible to separate from the actors who have brought those characters to life on screen. For many die-hard fiction readers it is often disappointing when the wrong actor is cast in the role of one of our favorite characters. The first two who spring to my mind are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview with the Vampire. I love Anne Rice, but I’ll never forgive her for allowing that to happen. Stuart Townsend was a better choice in Queen of the Damned, but still not right. In fact most of the casting choices for both of those films left me confused and irate.

So today I thought I’d tackle a character created by Jane Austen and published in her novel, Pride and Prejudice, in 1813. This particular character has become an archetype for romantic heroes, especially those who are either difficult to attain, or at first glance appear to be complete pricks, and he is widely accepted as a literary hottie. I’m choosing him not only because he first appeared in print, but because he is studied in classrooms, appears in many film and television adaptations of Austen’s novel, and most importantly, he has been portrayed by several different actors. Each actor lends an aspect of his own personality to the character. Unlike David Bowie as Jareth, we can think of him as completely fictional without attaching him to one particular actor.

February 19: Mr. Darcy

Fitzwilliam Darcy (there’s an old joke somewhere in that name) is most often referred to in the novel and elsewhere as Mr. Darcy, or Darcy. He is the primary love interest of the main character, Elizabeth Bennet. However, when they first encounter each other at a ball he is incredibly rude and refuses to dance with her. Elizabeth overhears him telling his friend, Mr. Bingley, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” For most readers and viewers the automatic reaction to his behavior is to think “what a prick.” And, depending on which actor is portraying him, you might be inclined to think “what a handsome prick he is.”

For the purposes of this post I have chosen three of the hottest Darcy’s to date: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, and Sam Riley. All three are completely fuckable versions of Mr. Darcy, and each for their own separate reasons. Colin Firth is an interesting Mr. Darcy, because not only did he portray Jane Austen’s character for the BBC in 1995, but also his portrayal inspired Helen Fielding to write Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Colin Firth was cast as Mark Darcy in both films. So, apparently to some viewers, he’s the Über Darcy. If you want to see Colin Firth at his sexiest (in my opinion), watch Kingsman: The Secret Service. He gives James Bond a run for his money.

Colin-Firth

Colin Firth: Über Darcy

Colin Firth is a very sexy man, but he isn’t my favorite Darcy. Until last weekend, my favorite Darcy was Matthew Macfayden. The first time I encountered him was in the BBC television show Spooks, in which he played MI5 Intelligence Officer Tom Quinn. When I found out he’d be playing Darcy I nearly had a heart attack. And now, I love him as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid on Ripper Street. He’s so effing dreamy, and he has a knack for eliciting not only an emotional response from me, but his on-screen kisses are to die for. But, this past weekend, I encountered the Darcy of my darkest dreams.

Mrdarcy

Matthew Macfayden: Dreamy Darcy

Sam Riley is by far the hottest Darcy I’ve ever seen. Young, fit, handsome, and don’t get me started about his voice. But here’s the thing. I think the main reason I love him so much is because of how he had to adapt Darcy to meet the satirical background of Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Make no mistake, he is a genuine Darcy, but he’s also a kick-ass zombie hunter. In a long, black leather coat. In fact, he is dressed all in black, and I couldn’t help thinking he would make a wonderful vampire some day. Fingers crossed.

Sam-Riley-as-Mr-Darcy-in-Pride-and-Prejudice-and-Zombies

Sam Riley: Darkest Darcy

He takes Darcy’s prickishness to a level I’ve never witnessed and it is glorious. One of the best scenes in the film (and book) is when he first proposes to Elizabeth. She not only turns him down, but they have a knockdown, drag-out martial arts-inspired fight that is one of the sexiest scenes ever. It reminded me of Buffy and Spike kicking each other’s asses right before they started boinking each other. H. O. T.

JM8_6472.NEF

Get naked already!

Since the story is primarily told through Elizabeth’s narration, she doesn’t always have all the details she needs (nor do we) to make a fair judgment of Mr. Darcy or the other characters connected to him. Elizabeth and Darcy remain in contact with each other throughout the novel due to circumstances and people who connect them. Elizabeth’s sister Jane has a romantic relationship with Mr. Bingley, but Darcy believes she is only interested in his money, and persuades Bingley not to pursue an engagement. While he unfairly judges Jane, he is looking out for his friend’s best interests, and proves himself to be a loyal friend.

Sam Riley;Douglas Booth

I love period costumes. They give you more time to imagine what’s going on under all that fabric. So many buttons!

Around the same time Elizabeth becomes aware of Mr. Darcy, she becomes acquainted with Mr. Wickham, a man who has known Darcy most of his life. He tells her a story filled with half-truths about how Darcy has mistreated him. Later, we discover that Wickham is a liar and he runs off with one of Elizabeth’s younger sisters, Lydia.

pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies-liz-and-wickham

Lie to me, Wickham!

Through her initial impression, knowledge of his influence in Bingley calling off his engagement to Jane, and the misinformation given by Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth develops a strong dislike of Mr. Darcy. Like us, she thinks he’s a prick.

tumblr_o2nj7qoDSp1rwahceo1_500

What a handsome prick.

To be fair, he does seem to think an awful lot of himself. He is very wealthy, with an income around £10,000 a year, and a large estate in Derbyshire. So, that alone makes him a good catch. But he’s also intelligent, likes to read, and even by Jane Austen’s accounts, he’s easy on the eyes. Aside from his rudeness when he first encounters Elizabeth, he’s actually a gentleman and adheres to the practices of polite society. We already know that he finds friendship important and we learn that he is very protective of his younger sister, Georgiana.

tumblr_o0xkyeqpCR1qb15ujo1_500

He really hates sharing his feelings.

Throughout the novel, Darcy has many opportunities to witness Elizabeth’s accomplishments and gets insight into her character. The more he sees, the more he likes, and eventually falls in love with her. He struggles with this fact since he intellectually cannot ignore the difference in their backgrounds. Eventually he declares his love for Elizabeth, but his delivery, combined with Elizabeth’s perception of him doesn’t end well. Like an idiot, while proposing marriage to the woman he loves, he reminds her of the gap in their social status. Basically, he says she’s beneath him. And it comes as no surprise to the reader/viewer that she tells him off and declines his proposal. In fact, this surprises no one but Darcy. He is embarrassed and hurt, and goes away angry.

tumblr_inline_n5jhcg0If01rh3k1r

You almost feel sorry for this Darcy. And, you desperately want to rip those wet clothes off.

Darcy is angered by Elizabeth’s animated refusal and harsh criticism of his character, but he is also shocked to discover how others perceive him, and he sets out to correct these misconceptions about himself.

4b077f00-5a6b-0132-0b75-0eae5eefacd9

I have a few thoughts on how to make him less uptight.

First he writes a letter to Elizabeth explaining why he interfered with Bingley and Jane’s relationship, and defends his wounded honor, as well as setting her straight about Wickham. We learn that Wickham tried to elope with Darcy’s sister the previous summer, and when Darcy discovers Wickham has run off with Lydia, he insists on their marriage to save the Bennet family any further embarrassment.

wk-pride0205-12

Leather-clad Darcy.

He turns out to be a pretty decent guy once the truth comes out, and he gives his blessing to Bingley to continue his courtship of Jane. When Elizabeth has the whole picture she realizes that she is also in love with Darcy. So, when he returns to Longbourn with Bingley and asks Elizabeth once again to marry him, she finally says yes.

pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies-mr-darcy-600x400

Marry this guy, already!

So, in general, Austen’s Mr. Darcy is a well-written character that has provided us with more than 200 years of entertainment. And each actor’s portrayal keeps him fresh and alive. I think that would make Jane happy to know that her creation has remained part of the literary and entertainment discussions for this long. I wonder who her favorite Darcy would be. There is some speculation that there was a real person she knew who inspired the character, and literary nerds have been trying to figure out who that person was for years. I don’t really care who inspired the character, but I do appreciate how the character has inspired actors to bring their A-Game to the screen.

Interview: Tim Waggoner, The Way of All Flesh

Tim-WaggonerAccording to Tim Waggoner’s online bio, he “wrote his first story at the age of five, when he created a comic book version of King Kong vs. Godzilla on a stenographer’s pad. It took him a few more years until he began selling professionally, though.”

Tim has published more than thirty novels for adults and young readers, including two tie-in novels with the Supernatural franchise and three short story collections. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and Writers’ Journal, and he teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program.

His future plans are to “continue writing and teaching until he keels over dead, after which he wants to be stuffed and mounted, and then placed in front of his computer terminal.”

Last week I reviewed Tim’s 2014 surreal existential horror novel, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH, which takes a very philosophical approach to the zombie genre. If you haven’t read it, you should. This week, I talk with him about the book and explore the idea that horror fiction is the fiction of social change.

ML: I couldn’t help noticing while I read the novel that there were lots of references to Jesus’s experiences before and after resurrection. Was I imagining that, or was that intentional? If it was intentional, why a zombie messiah?

TW: I honestly don’t remember putting in specific references to Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t. The idea of a zombie messiah was definitely a conscious one on my part, so perhaps allusions to Jesus crept in as I was writing, whether I was aware of them or not. (I should say that OF COURSE the Jesus stuff was deliberate; that way I’d sound smarter!) The zombie messiah seemed like such a natural idea to me, and it was out there in popular culture before I wrote my novel. I remember watching a bit from the comedian Sam Kinison on TV years ago. Kinison was talking about how normal people would view Christ’s resurrection, and he acted out a witness’ screaming reaction to seeing Christ leaving his tomb: “The dead walk! The dead walk!” And one of the characters on Futurama, Professor Farnsworth, once exclaimed “Sweet Zombie Jesus!” The idea of transcending death is of course appealing to mortal beings such as ourselves, but it’s also a terrifying notion, a deeply profound violation of the natural order.

ML: The book deals with a lot of uncomfortable social issues that most people don’t want to talk about. You address racism, sexism, homophobia, and gun control with an ease that makes me wonder if horror fiction might be a good vehicle for opening up discussion about these topics. Have you found this to be the case in other horror novels? Is horror fiction the fiction of social change?

TW: I think it can be. Horror fiction allows us to look at some of the darkest elements of life safely, the same way we look at an eclipse indirectly in order to view it without damaging our eyes. The nightmarish distortion of horror creates a buffer that allows readers to comfortably confront all sorts of unpleasant and even repellent ideas. This includes the darker aspects of human nature and society. And since horror fiction is also entertaining, people don’t feel like they’re being lectured at when social issues are part of the story. “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe Lansdale is a prime example of how effectively horror can deal with social issues.

ML: I loved the relationship that develops between Kate and Marie. Why did you choose to include a same-sex relationship in the novel? An interracial one at that. Were you hoping to appeal to a wider audience, or simply include characters that typically don’t appear in popular fiction?

TW: I don’t worry about appealing to a wider audience. If I did, I’d write something other than surreal existential horror! When I write, I try to reflect the world I live in. Women make up slightly over half the human race, so I tend to alternate the gender of my main characters from one project to the next. I’m 51, and I’ve witnessed decades of increasing diversity in America, and I want to reflect that richness as well.

ML: Horror fiction has a long history of being most closely related to literary fiction among all the genres, and seems to be going through a phase in which more thought-provoking works of fiction are being written by horror writers. When you sat down to write THE WAY OF ALL FLESH, what message did you have in mind?

TW: My first goal was simply to have fun riffing on the zombie apocalypse trope. I usually don’t have a message or theme in mind when I start writing, although eventually themes do start to emerge. I often write about duality, and zombies lend themselves to that nicely. The Dead vs. the Living, the world before and after the apocalypse, etc. I decided the defining characteristic of the modern-day zombie isn’t the fact that it’s dead. The “zombies” in 28 Days Later and its sequel aren’t dead; they’re living humans infected by an artificial virus that turns them into homicidal maniacs. The defining characteristic of zombies and zombie-like beings is hunger for human flesh, so I decided to use hunger – and desire – as a central metaphor for the story. In Buddhism, desire is the root of all evil, right? As for a specific message, I’d rather leave that for readers to find on their own. Explaining art is like explaining a joke. If you have to explain it, it didn’t work.

ML: I don’t want to give the ending away, because I’d really like for people to pick up a copy of the novel and read it. So, no spoilers, but I was pleasantly reminded of Gary Braunbeck’s short story, WE NOW PAUSE FOR STATION IDENTIFICATION. Has Braunbeck’s work influenced you? Which authors have inspired your fiction the most? Where else do you draw inspiration for your stories?

TW: Gary’s been a good friend of mine for years, and as much as his fiction has influenced me, he’s influenced me so much more as a human being. There are so many writers who’ve influenced my work: Shirley Jackson, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, Caitlyn R. Kiernan, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Piers Anthony, Steve Gerber, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, Kafka, Poe, Lovecraft . . . I could go on and on. I draw inspiration from being an imaginative person living in the real world. Anything I see, hear, or read can spark an idea in me that could become a story or novel. For example, a while ago I saw – within the space of several days – two different men walking backwards. One was walking backwards up a hill, and the other was walking backwards around a parking lot. I have no idea what these men were doing. Maybe it was some kind of exercise I’m not aware of. But those two backward-walking men struck me as so strange that I quickly jotted down the experience, and I’ll probably use it in my fiction someday. Writers – especially horror writers – need to develop their own special “weirdness filter” and view the world through it. That way, they’ll write the stories that only they can tell.

Book Review: The Way of All Flesh, by Tim Waggoner

WAY-OF-FLESH“Dear Christ, was the thought of eating children actually making him hungry, too? What kind of monster had he become?” (Waggoner 129)

What kind of monster indeed. Tim Waggoner’s apocalyptic horror novel, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH (2014), is a multiple POV tale that puts the reader inside the minds of some very disturbed and disturbing characters. One of which is a zombie. This is not the first novel featuring a zombie protagonist, but these stories are still few and far between, especially when you’re talking about a zombie in the midst of an existential crisis who may or may not be mankind’s next messiah.

Calling David Croft a zombie is a bit too simplistic. This complex monster has a lot more on his mind than consuming human flesh. He hungers for answers to what went wrong in his world to transform the familiar comforts of modern urban life into an unrecognizable dystopian nightmare. Demons hunt him, buildings are in ruin and have taken on the unmistakable appearance of human innards, and his fellow humans have developed a taste for flesh that rivals Hannibal Lecter’s.

David is on a quest to find his family and reestablish some normalcy in his world. Wait, isn’t that what zombie apocalypse survivors usually do? Waggoner subverts the genre and asks us to put ourselves in the place of the zombies. Technically, aren’t they survivors too? An altered humanity that had no say in what happened to them after being infected by Blacktide.

The novel opens with David waking up, or regaining consciousness without any solid memory of how he got there. He finds himself in a reality so distorted and terrifying that you might initially think he’s landed in an alien landscape far from Earth. Time, space, and perception are at odds with his fleeting memories of the recent past. We gain a keen sense of David’s confusion and repulsion as he sleepwalks through an Ohio city in the grips of urban decay synonymous with Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings of Hell. Waggoner’s full-sensory descriptions of life after near-human extinction inspire much facial cringing and utterances of “eww.”

Here’s a small taste of the horror buffet Waggoner paints with words:

Black liquid coated large chunks of something that David couldn’t identify. At first he thought they might be pieces of his body, that he had literally puked his guts out. And that black shit! What the hell was that? Some kind of poison? Maybe cancer? Is that what he’d done, thrown up a bunch of tumors? Was something like that even possible? (72)

David’s brain isn’t functioning properly. It could be a side effect of the disease that has made him undead, but we don’t really know. The brain does deteriorate as we approach death, with areas slowly shutting down and sometimes causing hallucinations. How would zombies see the world?

We don’t realize how badly David’s perception is altered until we meet some of the other characters in the novel. Kate, Nicolas, Marie and their fellow human survivors seem to have a better grasp of reality and provide at least a temporary sense of grounding for the reader since we can more easily identify with humans trying to survive a zombie apocalypse than we can with the undead. Right? If you survived a world-altering event that meant mass extinction for the human race, you’d probably be hell-bent on surviving by any means necessary. Killing zombies would be your raison d’etre if you managed to avoid being claimed by Blacktide. Isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from most zombie fiction? Humans vs. zombies.

But what if Blacktide doesn’t equal extinction for humans? What if it is transformation? Evolution? What if becoming a zombie is just the next logical phase for humans? An evolutionary inevitability.

Waggoner’s zombie tale calls into question our understanding of consciousness, perception, and reality in terms of who really survives or has the right to survival after the apocalypse. Should humanity take a backseat and allow the monsters to flourish and rule the world? Is there a way for zombies and humans to live harmoniously without the need for violence?

This novel doesn’t skimp on violence. There’s plenty of gun-toting, head-bashing, and vagina-munching good times. Gore, ichor, and a whole lot more. Make no mistake, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH is a horror novel. But it’s a horror novel that asks the reader to think a little deeper about the concepts that define humanity and life itself. Waggoner’s novel packs a philosophical punch and provides a read you can really sink your teeth into.

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

Dragon-Tattoo-jpgI was skeptical about reading The Girl with Dragon Tattoo. I don’t usually allow book reviews to guide my choices in reading materials, but this particular book received a lot of attention from the press, both good and bad, and the sheer volume of copies sold must be some indication that I should at least put it on my to-be-read list. But, I kept putting it off. Then, last year I read a scathing review of the book that not only made me think deeply about how I will publicly discuss the work of other writers, but also that this book needed to be bumped up the list, because I needed to see for myself why it was generating such outcries of love and hate. Prior to reading the first novel, I saw the American film version of the text starring Daniel Craig. I enjoyed this film adaptation, but it in no way did justice to the depth and breadth of Larsson’s literary mystery chock-full of Scandinavian history (real and imagined), commentary on contemporary Swedish society and its inherent evils, and meta-fictional references to the mystery genre and works by other mystery writers. I fully intend to watch the Scandinavian films, but not before I read the rest of the novels. I’m hooked. Lisbeth Salander quickly became one of my favorite fictional characters, and I can’t wait to see what adventures and self-discovery awaits her in the next two books.

Stieg Larsson created some very interesting villains in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but are they really some of the most evil in literature? And, more importantly, do they receive the punishment they deserve in the end? Before I begin discussing how satisfying I found Larsson’s villains, and also how happy I was with their punishments, I think it is important to identify who these villains are and what makes them uniquely evil. I’m going to talk about the villains in order of what I consider the most heinous and despicable/terrifying acts committed in the novel. I count a total of six villains (possibly more if I dig a little deeper in to human behavior and psychology) in the novel, both literal and metaphorical.

Since they are such low-hanging fruit, I’ll begin with the Vanger family – a lineage of inappropriate and malicious people who spend their lives in denial about the horrors they participate in and witness. If they weren’t so rich and deeply entrenched in the lies they tell themselves and the public at large, I might almost be inclined to feel sorry for some of them, but I don’t.

  1. Martin Vanger has the most kills under his belt. He has a long history, roughly 40 years, of not only killing, but also fantasizing about, stalking, planning, abducting, and torturing his female victims. By all outward appearances, he seems to be the biggest evil in the novel. He fits the role of serial killer, but as he explains to Mikael Blomkvist after luring him to his dungeon of horrors, he sees himself as a serial rapist. Murder is simply a by-product of his evil compulsion to cover up the abduction, torture, and rape. To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to. Serial killer or serial rapist, if you kill each of your victims after brutally torturing, raping, and reducing them to psychological jellyfish, what difference does it make what you call yourself? Ah, semantics.
  2. Gottfried Vanger was not only a Nazi (it’s hard to get much more evil than that), but also a serial rapist/murderer and child molester. I waffled between putting him at the top of the list given the fact that his unique perspective on parenting created Martin Vanger. While I read, I kept thinking about how disgusting it would be to keep company with a man like Gottfried, but I also asked myself if Larsson went a bit overboard in depicting this villain. Is Gottfried Vanger too monstrous to be believable even as a fictional character? A drunken Nazi who molests both of his children, forces them to have sex with each other, and considers serial murder a family outing. Too far? Some readers might think so, but the list of atrocities committed by actual serial murderers and rapists would give Gottfried a run for his money.
  3. Nils Bjurman uses his position of power to take advantage of Lisbeth Salander, and possibly other young women who have been at his mercy as wards of the state. While Bjurman’s taste in bondage and domination and other sexual practices will be enough to put many readers off, it is the non-consensual aspect of his practices that turn my stomach. Creating a character who is into fetishes such as these is a clichéd and lazy way of depicting a villain. Not all bondage is evil, but if all of the participants aren’t on board with what is happening, there’s a problem. Bjurman is a sadist. He uses his authority to humiliate and sexually abuse Lisbeth, and although she is unable to find any other victims in his spotless career record, that doesn’t mean other women like her haven’t slipped through the cracks due to fear and intimidation.
  4. Hans-Erik Wennerström doesn’t seem all that monstrous at first glance when you compare him to the other villains in the novel. In fact, aside from being a cut-throat entrepreneur and rumors of his corporate misconduct (I mean, isn’t that how most people become successful in the business world – at least the old world system that made his success possible), we get very little indication that he is otherwise evil until the end of the novel when Salander reveals her detailed findings about his criminal activities obtained through high-tech spyware to Blomkvist. The one act that connects him to the other villains – his brutal treatment of a woman – still pales in comparison to the lifetime achievements of Martin and Gottfriend Vanger. Wennerström sends his minions out to threaten an ex-girlfriend to have an abortion by holding her head under water in a bathtub. Classic torture. He doesn’t even bother to get his own hands dirty. He sends his employees to handle inconveniences like pregnant girlfriends. He is essentially a gangster as Salander describes him, a business mogul with a history of corrupt dealings, ties to the Russian mob, and intimidation of anyone who threatens his way of life and authority, including Blomkvist and his ex-girlfriend. He’s a bully, and a coward in my book.
  5. Isabella Vanger is a lesser villain, but her lack of action, and therefore compliance in the molestation of both her children at the hands of her husband makes her a monster. One of the worst kinds of monsters in my opinion. Someone who denies the mistreatment of others to maintain their own well being and position of power. Many people will tell you that the horrors experienced by the Vanger children happened in a different age, a magical golden era where people could freely use and abuse each other for personal gain, and epic historical evils took root for decades, sometimes centuries – imperialism, slavery, the Holocaust, and the institutionalized oppression and domination of women and children – yep, the good old days. And, by placing these atrocities most of us would like to forget in a past, we somehow make these horrors and the people who committed them less threatening and…real. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a work of fiction. However, it examines a very real past where people joined the Nazi party and turned in their neighbors because they happened to be Jewish or somehow not Aryan enough. You know, real evil.
  6. Contemporary (or Modern) Swedish Society is the setting of the novel even though we spend a lot of time examining the past. Larsson uses the society as an over-arching theme that pulls all of the characters and plot lines together as he shines a light on the reality that violence against women is not only commonplace, but for many women in Swedish culture, an expected inevitability.

So, those are the six most prominent villains I took note of in the novel. I’m curious to see what others have to say on the subject. Back to the questions posed at the beginning. Did I find the villains in this novel especially evil? Hm. Not particularly. Why? Mainly because they are mirror images of real people hiding in plain sight every day – our relatives, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Scary? Yes. Unsettling? Yes. But evil? I’m not sure where I fall on the spectrum of Good vs. Evil exactly, but if enough people commit similar acts of violence again and again throughout history, maybe we should just call that what it is: human behavior. Labeling those behaviors evil won’t make them go away. Meting out punishment for those behaviors may cull a few evildoers from the herd, but it won’t completely erase the compulsion to hurt others from the human psyche.

The second question deals with whether or not I found Larsson’s punishments befitting of the crimes. In terms of genre fiction, no, the punishments of the worst villains seemed more like escapes to me. Death isn’t an ideal escape, but it beats having your crimes brought to the attention of public scrutiny. In both cases, the worst villains in the novel die suddenly and never come to justice. But, the reality is that in most cases, people who commit these kinds of atrocities often go unpunished for years, and some of their crimes aren’t discovered until after their deaths. In fact, most of the villains in the novel are essentially set free by dying. Harriet Vanger drowns her father, which I suppose is a punishment of sorts, but the punishment doesn’t fit his crimes and the act of killing her father ends up causing further torment for the abused girl. Martin dies in a car crash. Talk about never having to take responsibility for your actions. In fact, aside from paying reparations to the families of his victims and donating a substantial amount of money to charity, the Vanger family swept the whole we-have-two-serial-killers-in-the-family thing under the rug. So, in that case, the incorporation of reality in this work of fiction is satisfying to me.

The only punishment that did satisfy me was the revenge Salander took after she was humiliated and brutally raped by Bjurman. After the first sexual assault in his office, we get a glimpse of Larsson’s take on Swedish society through the eyes of Salander. “In her world, this was the natural order of things. As a girl she was legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status.” (249) We learn that Salander sees herself as a marginalized member of society that no one will take seriously if she reports the rape. “There was no point whimpering about it.” (249) But we also quickly learn she is not someone to take lightly. “On the other hand, there was no question of Advokat Bjurman going unpunished. Salander never forgot an injustice, and by nature she was anything but forgiving.” (249) Although her initial attempt at punishing Bjurman goes horribly wrong, eventually she takes the upper hand and exerts her power over him. She humiliates him, tortures him, and limits his options for seeking more victims. Go, Salander!

Interview: Craig DiLouie, Suffer the Children

Craig-DiLouieSome critics of horror fiction have speculated that the zombie sub-genre has reached its saturation point with an almost infestation-like abundance of zombie novels, movies, and TV shows paying homage to the flesh-eating undead. But, in a recent interview with George Romero for Quora.com, Bradley Voytek, Zombie neuroscience expert (it’s totally a thing) and Zombie Research Society advisor, examines data that suggests that the popularity of zombie fiction is actually on the rise. He attributes some of its success to the fact that the genre is “more or less a blank slate upon which a writer can cast any number of big, unfathomable societal and psychological fears or concerns.” This week I talk to apocalyptic horror writer Craig DiLouie about his 2014 Stoker-nominated novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN to find out why writing about zombies really matters.

ML: Many people consider Horror the redheaded stepchild of speculative fiction. Why do you write Horror fiction? Why not another genre?

CD: I came to horror through an interest in apocalyptic fiction. The end of the world has fascinated humanity throughout recorded history; in fact, some of the world’s oldest literature, from the tale of Gilgamesh to Genesis, contains apocalyptic elements.

As a young man, I found wish fulfillment in these stories. As an older man with a family, I face my worst fears and survive them.

There are so many storytelling possibilities with such scenarios, all involving ordinary people dealing with crisis. Some rise to the occasion, some fail, the ethical choices are often horrible, but the struggle to survive is heroic, particularly when people fight not only to live but to preserve what makes them human.

Several of my books deal with a zombie apocalypse and allowed me to explore these themes and more wrapped in an action-packed thriller. My first major foray into real horror was SUFFER THE CHILDREN, a story in which the world’s children become vampires who need blood to survive, the parents are compelled to feed them out of love, and once the blood supply starts to run out, the parents begin to prey on each other. Many parents will admit they’d put their arm in a shredder for their kids, but would they put somebody else’s arm in a shredder? Two people’s arms? Five? Would they kill an innocent person? Good horror holds up a fractured mirror to that which is dark in us, and it makes us uncomfortable. The question in SUFFER THE CHILDREN is, how far would you go?

ML: Why zombies? Why not other monsters? What broader meaning do they have for you as part of your creative process?

CD: I like zombies because they’re us, which multiplies the sense of tragedy. I’m not the kind of zombie author who says, These people are zombies, shoot them without conscience. The zombies may be monsters, but they wear the faces of people we love. I also like apocalyptic stories where the protagonists must work together against a common monster enemy. I think that makes the story more unpredictable, the struggle to survive more heroic, the stakes more dire. The trick is to make the reader believe that these monsters are real.

For me as an author, anyway. Zombie novels may be considered either akin to AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD or Syfy’s Z NATION. THE WALKING DEAD takes its subject matter seriously. Everything is fairly realistic and has consequences. The people suffer. The stakes are higher. This is really happening. It’s a visceral experience for the reader. Z NATION is more like a comic book. The characters are likeable people fighting their way through difficult situations involving zombies, there are no mind-bending ethics or people dying or wondering what they’re surviving for. It’s just plain fun, and it doesn’t pretend to strive for pathos.

My favorite zombie novels, and the ones I like to write, are of THE WALKING DEAD flavor, but they’re harder to pull off. They tend to be loved, but frankly, I think the Z NATION-type books have broader appeal.

ML: While I was reading SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I couldn’t help making parallels between your book and Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND. Like Matheson’s monsters, your undead aren’t clearly defined as being zombies or vampires. They’re somewhere in between. Did Matheson’s work inspire you? Who are your Horror heroes?

CD: I love I AM LEGEND. It’s one of my favorite apocalyptic stories. It didn’t directly inspire SUFFER THE CHILDREN, however. The story came from my worst fear, which is if something bad happened to my children. The question of how far a parent would go to protect his or her child. In that, I guess influences might include “The Monkey’s Paw” and PET SEMATARY. Whether doing the right thing based on the purest love in the world could end up being an instrument of evil.

The result is a different kind of vampire story, though the children are hardly vampires in the traditional sense. The children aren’t monsters. The real monsters in the book are the parents. They become monsters one little decision at a time, and they do it out of love. It’s a dark, horrible book—the most authentic and disturbing thing I’ve ever written.

Otherwise, I admire different horror authors for different things. Jeff Long for his imagination and original ideas. Stephen King for his empathy with ordinary people and slow builds. John Skipp for channeling the inner hilarity that is part of horror. Jack Ketchum for his lack of inhibition. Peter Clines for his easy voice. Joe McKinney and Jonathan Maberry for their productivity, with each book better than the last they wrote. David Moody for the realism he builds into characters in crisis. Stephanie Wytovich for being able to boil fear and loathing into a simple poem. The list goes on.

ML: H. P. Lovecraft has been quoted as saying, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” By the end of your novel, we still don’t really know what caused the epidemic. You play on multiple fears for your readers. Which of your own fears did you delve into to create this sense of dread?

CD: I went through an emotional journey with each of the characters as they each dealt with the unending crisis differently. Nobody becomes a monster as a sudden thing. It happens as a matter of one little decision leading to the next. Some of the characters try to resist the madness, others are swept along, others embrace it and go all the way. I really came to love the characters over the course of the book, making the writing a harrowing experience. It was painful to watch them go through what they did.

ML: Talk a little bit about your writing process. When you sit down to write an apocalypse novel, zombie or otherwise, what inspires you? Where do your ideas come from? How do your keep your genre fresh (there’s a zombie joke in there somewhere)?

CD: Writing a novel is like climbing Everest. You look up and you say, No way am I doing that. But then you take a step, and then another, and then another, and you look back and you’re suddenly halfway up. That first step is the hardest. To take that step, you need inspiration. For me, it’s an idea that needs to be written. Something fresh and powerful.

I’m a commercial writer by trade; I write about an industry, and I write as work. A novel is different. If I were a commercial fiction writer, I’d take a familiar idea, add a little twist, and write it in accordance with the bestseller formula to have the broadest appeal to the greatest number of people. But I’m not a commercial fiction writer. I’d never take that first step in the climb because I really wouldn’t care about the idea or the story. So for me, the idea is everything. Something compelling that hasn’t been done before, or a familiar idea that in my view hasn’t been done right. Everything inspires me. I immerse myself in the genre and find tiny bits of inspiration in little things. The little things add up to big ideas.

ML: What advice would you give to new Horror fiction writers? What do you wish you had known as a beginning professional writer?

CD: It’s a great time to be a horror writer. Digital media has democratized publishing and created new paths to publication, each of which has its pros and cons. Whether somebody else publishes you or you publish yourself, be prepared to treat your writing as a business and take an entrepreneurial approach, particularly with marketing your work.

Typing is not writing. There are many approaches to writing a novel, but one I use is to think an idea through for a few months and then start typing after that. Writing isn’t just typing, it’s also thinking, taking notes, planning and researching. If you like this approach, keep a small notebook in your back pocket and a pen in your front pocket at all times. Think about your book in the still moments during the day and write down snatches of character, plot and dialog. When you reach a critical mass, start typing.

One approach is not better than another, though one will be better for you. Some writers like to crank out a horrible rough draft, get notes from beta readers, and then do a polished rewrite. Others like to write a close-to-finished draft from the get-go, editing the whole way. Do what feels good to you, while being open to innovation and new ideas.

It pays to know where you’re going. The idea should start with a killer point A (the hook) and point B (the climax and perhaps a denouement that leaves the reader thinking). After that, do a general outline of the plot so you continually ramp up tension (increasing stakes punctuated by critical change) without long empty stretches where you have no idea how to fill the page. A great book on plot structure is STORY ENGINEERING. I highly recommend it.

You’ve asked a big question where the answer could go on quite a while, so I’ll end it there. For more advice on how to write a horror novel, here are links to a series I wrote about that subject on my blog:

Fright for Your Write, Part 1: Why Do We Read/Write Horror

Fright for Your Write, Part 2: The Horror Element

Fright for Your Write, Part 3: Plot

Fright for Your Write, Part 4: Character

Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog, Michelle! I enjoyed it.