The Writer Review: THEY THIRST

MORNING CHAPS AND CHAPPETTES

I’m in the middle of writing stuff. Big stuff. It has a title and characters and a beginning now. Writing is all about reading, too. The stuff you put into your brain has an effect on the stuff that comes out. Think of it like playdough being pushed through a funny shaped hole or something.

I thought you may be interested in finding out about what I’ve been reading, ‘cos my taste is fucking ace (read, I’m good at parsing recommendations from the internets).

I have a few of these lined up, but I’m not going to be reviewing from the perspective of a reader. I’m going to talk about how these books have been written, what the dude or dudette writing must’ve been thinking as they went along. See this shit isn’t as much about symbolism and haughty prose and dilletante taste as you might think. Most of it is hitchin’ your way from A to B.

To start, recently I went back to my first love. Horror Novels are brilliant. They’re really the tippity-top of cheap thrills, and as covered elsewhere on this blog nothing affects your mood like a really fucked up horror novel.

VAMPIRES, YO

In a shocking turn of events, THEY THIRST is about vampires. So many books are about vampires. There’s like, dozens of them. Only a tiny white-rhino sized population are worth reading though. There are a few people to blame. First of all, as we all know Bram Stoker went to America, heard a fucked up story about gravedigging shenanigans and then wrote Dracula. Hollywood piggybacked it, ‘cos whilst Dracula is epistolary he was in fact a playwright by day, and it’s very likely that the whole thing was written with drama in mind in the first place.

After Dracula and hollywood, people got sick to fuck of vampires because really they’re just fucking everywhere. It wasn’t until Stephen Motherfuckin’ King came back with Salem’s Lot that they came back into vogue. Salem’s Lot, other than being a truly bad-ass piece of fiction in every sense of the word, was also yet another doorway into cinematic legend- Danny Glick at the window. I bet you haven’t even seen the terrible TV movie, but I bet you have seen this long toothed, bad pajama’d motherfucker right here.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GOOGLE SHIT LIKE ‘BEST HORROR WRITERS FOR HORROR WRITERS’

Robert McCammon is more famous than I have any right to understand, given that I lived in blissful ignorance of his entire existence until about a year ago. Even then, it took plenty of glowing testimonials from ardent fans-turned-writers before I took the dive with him. RM quite famously gave up on writing for a while. Pigeonholed as a horror writer, he tried to break free and write, err, horror by other means. The man wouldn’t let him, so he fucked off and took his ball with him. He’s back now and I have it on good authority that his new stuff (most recently THE FIVE) is actually pretty fucking cool indeed.

If you google about for info on legendary horror, RM’s name pops up all the time. His most acclaimed novel is Boy’s Life, which is sort of his version of ‘IT’. Bzzzt, we’re not interested in that shit today. Oh no. We want the grimy early novels, the ones written in a fugue of potential, the ones where we can still parse the thought processes behind the words.

THEY THIRST IS ABOUT PAR AS A NOVEL

Should you read THEY THIRST? I don’t fucking care dude, there’s too many books. It’s like, okay. But at the same time it’s really cool. Cool in a way that it wouldn’t be allowed to be these days. There’s very little of anything pretentious here. Occasionally RM tries to make literary allusions to Sumerian myth. He writes about Hungary the same way the Victorians did about the fucking Congo. He also commits that god-awful sin of cross referencing characters and themes from an even shittier, earlier book, as if anybody but him gives half a damn about them. KILL YOUR DARLINGS, word nerds.

In THEY THIRST, Vampires take over LA. Led by some Hungarian Poindexter undead Prince, they fuck up everything- the barros, Hollywood, Cemeteries, the po-po. I’d like to think that RM was thinking of some kind of awesome high-level satire, taking aim at how many vampire books there were out there by setting one in a city of uppity-billion people. However I think the dude just got dem vibes from the city for reals. Like, he sees LA as a nice place and all (or so he’ll say to interviewers) but you can smell the dislike for LA and it’s walking-deadness, even at a distance of 30+ years.

Written like a Stephen King novel, RM drags some fun characters forwards with no plan and only a few tentpoles. Getting Prince Vulcan (yeah, he’s called that alright) to the Kronsteen Castle. The sandstorm that fucks everyone up. The Hungarian cop being fired because he’s the only one who realises hundreds of thousands of Vampires are fucking everything else up. There’s a reporter who is just trying to be the best goddamn reporter she can. There’s an Albino motor-cycle gang of one, operating on Terminator levels of ultra-violence for no reason other than ‘well that’s pretty fucking cool, in hindsight’.

My favourite vamp novel innovation from RM was the Coffin tycoon, who was sadly discarded soon after the novel opens. Horror geeks, write me a novel about a Coffin tycoon and I’ll buy it. Or read the sample on smashwords, or something. Maybe.

RM writes with a sense of urgency over any ornament or style. He’s trying to finish this fucking book and it shows. He’s hitting dem tentpoles, and dragging you with him. That’s always an obvious effect of a ‘page turner’. A good writer keeps the reader with him as he tries to smash out that wordcount, a bad writer fills you with nonsense and doesn’t want to finish it him or herself anyway. About every other sentence in THEY THIRST starts with ‘In an instant’ or ‘In the next moment’ or ‘Immediately’. This book is a great exercise in learning how to move forward at pace. The whole thing is just one big rush to the finish line, even given it’s relative size (550+ pages or something).

The prose itself is workman like. RM would later go on to do great things, such as the aforementioned Boys Life and the post apocalyptic SWAN SONG, and it’s only recently that his earliest 3 novels have been made available again. THEY THIRST is probably the strongest of the three early attempts, and RM has said publicly that he was lucky that he could ‘learn how to write in public’. It is probable that THEY THIRST could’ve been something really cool where it to percolate for a few years more.

HEY, AT LEAST THE VAMPIRES ARE NOT TOTAL PUSSIES

As it stands, it’s a pretty standard Vampire novel that does not entertain one moment of fuckery with emotions and feelings. RM’s Vampires are bad-ass, except for when they’re being poindexters complaining about NOT BEING A CHILD, or being called things like Prince Vulcan or Kobra. In retrospect this whole book is dripping with late 70s musty bullshit, but there’s a fucking charm to that. Like a racist uncle telling war stories, or a tramp necking a bottle of cider. It’s wrong and it’s not clever but shit, you’re consuming it ain’t cha? The gruffness and attempted machismo kind of works, especially if you grew up in the aftermath of VHS 80’s crapathons.

ALSO THE GERMAN COVER. GODDAMN.

What is wrong with Germany man?

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The Chrysalis

IDEAS ARE NOT STORIES

Writers are like fucked up magpies. We’re strange people, we ask strangers strange questions and we’re constantly on the look out for interesting shit to think about, then write about. A huge part of this gig is being active and aware. Everyone thinks they have at least one story in them, right? I’d be surprised to find somebody who hasn’t at least thought of one thing that they want to write into a novel or tv show or film.

These ideas are usually high concept. A perfect example; at a recent writer’s meet-up I attended, an old dude was talking about having started writing four years ago. He has an idea, a word he seeded with mystical intonation. Problem is he can’t get past the first chapter. Why? His idea is a conspiracy. The conspiracy began 14,000 years ago. He has too much backstory to wade through, or so he says.

The real problem? He doesn’t have an idea for a story. He’s got a sequence of events in his head that he thinks sound pretty cool. Hey, that’s where it starts for most of us. We think of something that we want to read, and we stick it in the cranial slow cooker for untold time until one day it all makes perfect sense.

Problem is, it never just happens to make perfect sense. When my old beginner-writer colleague sits down to write, he has no idea where to go, because he’s never thought of how the idea translates to a story.

IDEAS ARE THE FIRST DOMINO

So, you’ve been outside for the first time in months. The apartment is beginning to creep you out, it smells like dog and you do not have a dog, the kettle has begun to shout at you and the internet has switched off in the dead of night. You decide to go for a walk, and at some point you begin to people watch. You notice something about what they’re doing, you overhear a conversation and BOOM. Your brain has handed you a little present. That’s a cool idea, brain. I wonder what I can do with it, can it stretch out into 90,000 words of a novel?

No, it can’t. Chances are somebody has already thought of that shit, too. So what should you do? Should you just pack it up and park it in the corner of your memory, to be revisited hazily at moments when you regret your entire life and the unfulfilled potential you once had?

Fuck that. Write your shit down. Doesn’t matter what depth you do it to. Make a note that makes sense to you about the important aspects of your idea. Dwell on that shit. Let it percolate for a day, a week at most. Next, we’re going to turn that idea into something useful.

MIND MAP THAT MOTHERFUCKER

Get yourself an app to make mind maps on your phone. Take that note you made earlier then start bouncing around, extrapolating from it. What’s the history of it? Why are you interested? What are the problems and positives of writing an idea from that premise?

Mind maps are not just for schooldays revision, or wanky meetings at work about synergy and low hanging fruit. No, mind maps are mana from heaven for a writer. They show you how you think. They visualise the process of peeling back the layers of a concept, showing you the web of connections that has convinced your brain that this is something you’d be interested in hearing about.

When mind mapping, there are things you need to think about, and ask yourself.

-What are the themes here? Is it a morality tale?
-Where is this taking place?
-What would happen if I took this in a completely different direction?
-What does it remind me of? Is it Nightmare on Elm Street meets the Tellytubbies? Rambo in space? Smashing familiar concepts together at an early stage can help you solidify a direction to take this thing

Once you’re three layers deep into the mind map, and you’ve covered a half dozen items or so, let it rest. It needs to cool down a little.

THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS. ORIGINAL STORIES COME FROM CHARACTERS.

We have a cool idea. It now has a little context. We’ve created a mini universe centred on one concept that our mind can quarry. This is often the stage where people get stuck. How do you take it further?

Don’t start plotting out a sequence of events. This is the time to think of some characters. Give them names, personalities. Make them want something. Make them different enough so that if they’d ever meet, they would be suspicious of each other. Starting from your idea, think about what lives they might lead that would be changed the most by coming into contact with Freddy Tubby or Space Rambo. Now send them to work. Send them to their mom’s at christmas. Send them to church. Send them to a sex party. Now your idea is a chrysalis. It’s changing into something else, energised by the context and the people.

START AN OUTLINE

Now we’re going to take that idea, the context and those people and we’re going to make them do things. We’re going to put them in trouble, of their own making. Then it’s going to get worse. Then they’re going to change too, because of how their wants and needs relate to the idea from the very beginning. They’re going to fight over it, or it’s going to cause them to fall in love, or whatever. This is, at a very basic level, how you take something from an idea and make it into something that other people may want to read.