Writing Update and Research Problems: Losing the thread of the story in weeds and thickets

Writing problems have been with us since time immemorial. But there are new resources that make some aspects easier.I wrote twelve pages yesterday on the new Haxan novel. I think I am finally in a safe place as far as the novel goes. There is still a lot of research to do. I am planning a trip to Fort Griffin this weekend. I’m looking forward to that.

As a writer I want to get the details right. I have never been so particular that I had to know the exact number of steps between flights of stairs in an historic hotel or something like that. I once heard Frederick Forsyth interviewed on radio years ago and he actually said that. He said he wanted to know the number of steps from street level to a particular building and I thought to myself “What the hell for?” Unless the number of steps play an integral part in the storyline it’s not important. I also see this a lot in some science fiction where the writer gets lost in the weeds of facts and detail and loses the thread of the story.

I remember when I was in Santa Fe at La Fonda and you could see the Governor”s Palace from that point across the plaza. I would not have known that if I hadn’t gone to Santa Fe and I used it in a novel. Of course, Google Earth and its street view capability also adds a new dimension of research, along with Wikipedia and YouTube and other outlets.

But my point here is I used it because it was important. Marwood was leaning out the window of La Fonda and he saw the Goveronor’s Palace, a place he had to visit later on. But I sure didn’t give a damn how many actual cobblestones lay between La Fonda and the Governor’s Palace. That’s my point. You start dwelling on minute detail like that and the story will get away from you very, very fast.

Today I am going to use Starry Night Pro to see what the night sky looked like at a particular time in 1869. I have no intention of noting the actual right ascension and declination of any particular astronomical object, but I want to know this because at this point in the book the night sky plays an integral part in advancement of plot and character growth.

When you come down to it, nothing beats actually being present to see the sights and sounds for yourself, though. There are lots of good resources online which we didn’t have when I first started writing professionally. I just wish writers would be less wedded to unimportant detail and concentrate more on delivering a believable and memorable story.

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Why the Zombie Genre needs to be Re-animated from Splatter-Chomp to Mysticism

I mentioned this earlier and want to examine it in more detail. As good as it was, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has done more to limit the zombie genre than any other movie or book I can think of.

Here’s why that’s not a good thing.

Prior to this zombies were never about eating people. And they sure as heck were never about eating brains.  But here’s the problem with Romero’s film. It took what was once a genre filled with mystique and made it into splatter-chomp. And now that it’s splatter-chomp there was nowhere else for it go go except over-hyped splatter-chomp cum Apocalypse. Served with brains on the side. And it wasn’t long before the genre slid into slapstick and parody. Now we have zombies no one can take seriously a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

That’s what faces us today.

It’s too bad, really, because zombies had so much going for them prior to Romero’s film. Take Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie which I reviewed. That was an awesome film. So was Val Lewton’s uber-supreme I Walked with a Zombie which uses Jane Eyre as source material.


Val Lewton’s take on Jane Eyre…with zombies, voodoo, pathos, and Gothic imagery

These movies and others like them portrayed zombies for what they were supposed to be: living people (and sometimes dead, you couldn’t always tell) transformed into the unliving. Usually to serve as slaves or to make them pay for some horrible crime. But there was always something poignant about the zombie and its plight in these movies. There’s nothing poignant about the modern flesh eating zombie. He’s one-dimensional.

Yes, yes, I’m a zombie snob. That’s already been established.

Now, zombies didn’t start off that way. I concede that. Romero’s film was both horrifying and artistic with a steady dose of nihilism. He was making a deep statement about the world he saw and he just happened to use zombies to get his artistic point across. But lesser filmmakers, and writers, only saw the cannibalism and ran with that single idea.

Now we’re left with zombies eating brains and there’s nowhere else for them to go. It’s a literary cul-de-sac in my opinion.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But isn’t it also cool to examine the deep mystery, the Gothic imagery combined with Caribbean mysticism of zombiedom, rather than turning zombies into simple-minded fast food consumers?

Zombies as they are now portrayed are no longer frightening or horrific. They’re gross. But they’re not scary.

So in my opinion the zombie genre is in bad straits. I hope someone comes along and reboots it with an eye toward reviving its mystical past. If they can reboot Star Trek and Spider-Man they should be able to reboot this. Anyway, I hope so, ‘cuz I kinda like zombies. The old time zombies. The mystical zombies. The scary zombies.

So. Until this happens, where can you go to read good, memorable zombie stories that are old school? Look no further than Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie. This was a black and white comic published in the Seventies and it still rocks. It’s what zombies used to be about. It’s sexy and violent and Simon Garth, the zombie in question, is definitely old school. The only carp I have is it’s written in second person, a forced literary affectation I have always despised because it calls too much attention to itself. But the stunning artwork and layered characterization overcomes that limitation.

If, like me, you like the old time zombies, then please check out this collection. I think you’ll like it a lot.

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