Thursday, June 11, 2009

Work the Lock (or, the role of God in Horror Ficition)

My wife/business manager tells me I should probably post again since I've been getting so many hits lately. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and taking a look.

First a little bit of housekeeping. I don't really want to do the "hilarious google searches that found me" blog entry, but if you're the guy who was looking for "wipeout bob costas" I wonder what you were thinking. Otherwise if you're looking for "Jim Gavin" chances are you're looking for American Hero James "Jumpin'

Thomas MagnumImage via Wikipedia

Jim" Gavin, hero of World War II with a wikipedia entry I deeply envy. I do not have my own wikipedia entry yet as I figured I'd wait until I got famous enough for someone to post something defamatory and then go in and fix it.

Anyway, the rest of you probably meant to get here so thanks again. I've added an RSS feed and I'm supposed to be "tweeting" now on Twitter and I'm also on Facebook, thanks to the wife. I really do not understand that whole thing but this is what you're supposed to do, I'm told. At this point I figure if it works I'll do it. Twitter I'm even less enthusiastic about since I don't see myself as the kind of person who "twitters" or "tweets", in puts me in mind of someone who says inane things, chirping away without a thought in their head. No offense to anyone who does use it, which apparently is EVERYBODY EXCEPT ME. Usually I like it that way but the wife says I gotta have it to promote myself and she's usually right.

What would I do without her? Actually, I know the answer to that and I don't like it.

The RSS feed thing was a really good idea I could get behind, though. I love the new blog aggregators out there. I know I'm using a Google service but I prefer Netvibes, if only because Google presented me with a default page that featured the online blogs of such notable intellectuals as Keith Olbermann. Real subtle, Google. You're fast becoming a "rope seller". Well, I do like the interface better, too.

Anyway, enough about that. I mostly wanted to talk about how people READ MY GODDAMN CHAPBOOK! YES! When I got my first email about it I was pretty down. I'd had a rough day at work, as usual, and was having a little post-con depression, I guess. The Black Dog was scratching at the door to my study. But then I read that email and it inspired me to continue. I won't post any of his personal info on here but thanks, buddy. I needed that. I always said that if even one person liked my book, it was worth it, and even though that was kind of a lie, since what I really meant was, "If 50 million people liked my book and it was translated into Hebrew and I got my own NetJet and could hire Thomas Magnum to be head of security for my estate, it would be worth it", it was still awesome.

So far I've gotten two responses to it out of six chapbooks. Not bad so far, I figure people wil trickle in as they finish it, that's what I would d0 - wait until I finished it to respond. Which reminds me, I need to put up my review of Brotherhood of Dwarves. Well, that'll be a long entry so I think it'll have to wait until the weekend. All this self-marketing stuff sure takes a lot of time out of writing. I really only have two or three hours a day during the week to do this so balancing is tough. I'm trying to devote the balance of my time to writing, but it's not easy.

One of the fellas that picked up my book commented on the religious themes. So I wanted to write a little about that.

First, it kind of pains me to say this, but that's the way things are - I'm not a Christian, or an evangelical Christian. While I'd love to have my book be a best-seller sitting in a Christian bookstore, I'd hate if people automatically didn't touch my book because they didn't want to get the Jesus good and hard. Honestly I think people are a little too close-minded about this type of thing, but I understand. A lot of Christian writing is bad writing, a lot of Christian art is bad art. It seems to survive mainly because it's a small pond (even though the market is huge in terms of dollars).

However, I am a man who believes in God. I'm not going to talk so much about my own beliefs as about what I want to get through in at least some of my writing, and this is a big theme I put into HBVK. See, one of the things that's always bugged me about horror fiction, movies, whatever, is the nihilism. It basically allows for every evil thing under the sun ever thought of, both supernatural and just plain human evil, but then says, sometimes explicitly, "there's no God". I've never been a big fan of horror as a genre because I never liked reading stories where the characters were all horribly doomed; my attitude was always, what's the point. If they're all doomed, they're all doomed. Your character's arc is exactly zero, if you ask me, despite whatever emotional travails they go through. If the house always wins then you have to write a pretty good goddamn book to make that story interesting. One notable example from the opposite side is the Bible. Yes, the Bible. Read it and learn, motherfuckers. It's a cornerstone of Western Civilization. And even though you know Jesus comes back and separates the goats from the sheep at the end, it's still the Greatest Story Ever Told (except for "the begats").

Again, I don't mean to put anyone's personal tastes down or whatever, the point is I'm trying to say why that's not for me and why I come at this the way I do. The way I figure it, if something like a vampire can exist, then logically there must be a God, just no way around it. Does that automatically mean that my stories all have to be about Fred Phelps smiting evil? No. Even something as admittedly lame as "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" played with this idea though in a very disguised and comedic way.

That, and to me denying God in my stories would be like denying myself. When I write, I create a world on the page. I populate it, set its boundaries, make its laws. To then turn around and in the story deny that God exists is therefore to nullify myself as author. I never took a class in literary theory but I'm pretty sure this is the kind of stuff guys like Marcel Duchamp were on about and I reject that shit.

I also think that without that duality of good and evil, a story can't be anything but despair and emptiness, like a Jim Thompson novel. And hey, he's good. But he's not one of my favorite authors for that reason. Again, to me, if a character is doomed from the beginning and meets their fate at the end, that's not a story, that's just a statement of fact, or more like a tautology, and it has to be super entertaining to really grab me as a story. It's more interesting when I think the main character can win, and I root for them because I like them - Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia comes to mind. That's a good story with a sad ending where you realize that ulimately the main character was doomed. But part of me kept thinking maybe Benny could win after all. That to me is good writing in the face of despair, and it's something I strive for. My characters may not always win the day, but dammit I want the reader to feel like they had a real chance.

Finally I think that the human spirit craves the idea of a God. To me, to not satisfy this need is inevitably going to turn readers off, I think. I have this pet theory that a lot of the horror fiction that seems to deny God really just says that He exists and doesn't care. That's a whole 'nother thing entirely and also a good theme. That's why, I think, so much horror fiction that at first seems to be what I started out saying I was against is really more about God than its author might care to think, at least if he's the type who thinks most people who believe in God are snake-handling hilbillies that can't think for themselves. I do think most - no, all, I'm just going to say ALL good writers are more open-minded than that.

I think Alan Watts put it best. I can't quote it directly, because I heard it years ago, but the basic idea was this: If you genuinely believed that there was a God, and that that he'd sent his Son to save all of humanity, and that the ONLY WAY for people to be saved from eternal torment was to recognize this truth, wouldn't you try to convince people? This is why I've always tried, sometimes better than other times, to respect Christians, because I know that they do what they do out of love for their fellow Man. And that is a good impulse that must be respected.

I'm no apologist so I know this may not be the most hung-together essay I've ever written. It's all just my way of answering the question of why I put stuff about God in a vampire book. It comes from a real place and I think people will ultimately respect that even if they're the black-tee-shirt, Richard Dawkins-fan type. Well, as long as they still have a functioning brain. It's like I've always said: If you wanna be militant, you only get to pick one army, so choose wisely. If you really think there's a right vs. wrong in the world, I don't care what side you pick, but you better choose the right battle.

I have to give a big hat-tip (little blogger lingo there) to Maurice Broaddus, who wrote a great blog entry about being a Christian horror writer. I have to admit even I was like, "seriously, how can you be both?" And I think he defended himself admirably.

I can't stop without trying to shine a little more light. The most recent season of "Supernatural", I thought was the best ever. I was a little jealous but still pleased that they'd broached this subject in a smart, funny way that I hope turned people's heads a little bit. It wasn't quite like, say, The Prophecy in that I think they did more with the idea of God than the movie did. They really played around with the concepts and ideas and didn't make it just angels vs. demons as two warring factions of supernatural beings. To me that's not that different than, say, Underworld, which doesn't really deal with any issues at all other than the issue of how Kate Beckinsale can be so hot and yet still shoot werewolves.

Bottom line is this. I want all people who are not total assholes to read my books and enjoy them. I think that's most of the world, really. And I think that means I can break the mold a bit without being branded as a "Christian writer" without having to defend myself too stridently from what sadly seems to be a heinous charge against someone these days. I really just wanted to fulfill my mission as a writer with Something to Say that sets him apart from everyone else out there. If I end up being ghettoized so be it. I think the work stands for itself.

As a final note I am trying out this thing called Zemanta to see if it makes my blogging more awesome. So far my reaction is mixed but I think it's not a bad idea. I added the picture of Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. because I think it makes this blog entry that much more awesome and also because one of my things is, if Hollywood is going to just do remakes from now on, we need a Magnum, P.I. the Movie and I would like to write the screeenplay for that. That's a whole 'nother entry, though.

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