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 Creeping Dread that Nests in the Young

Horror fiction is dead, they say. Horror writers! You’re wasting your time, boys and girls. Folks are full of Zombies and Vampires, nobody gives a fuck anymore, it has all been done to death, yadayadayada.

Well, smarty pants business human majority, I put it to you that you’re full of shit. I’ve looked into my bowl full of quail bones and I’ve seen the future. I’ve read the twitters, I’ve scanned the bloggeral, and I’ve done the sums on the amazons.

HORROR IS FOR THE YOUNG

Why is that so many of us cut our teeth writing spooky stories? Why does nothing scratch an itch like a good horror flick? Why do I look for Candyman in my toilet even though he comes out of a mirror?

My extensive, thorough, double blind anecdotal research has led to an interesting conclusion. I put it to you that new writers of fiction LOVE writing horror. I argue from atop this pedestal that Horror is the perennial genre fiction flavor, that it’s about to undergo a huge resurgence and that the backlash against nicey nice mainstream fiction is already bubbling under.

The reason? Young people, duh. You remember being a kid? What exactly is it about being a kid that you remember so vividly. Is it the ice creams? Sure, you remember it being fun and all but you’ll be fucked if you go for detail. Is it the cuddles, the parties? Vague snapshot flashes blurred through years of binge drinking and over sleeping.

No, the things you remember with the most precision, the most clarity, are the things that terrified you. The time that dog growled at you for no good reason. Being left alone on your first day of school. A bigger kid starting rumours that he was going to beat the shit out of you. Nightmares that you’re still not sure were not real events, the UFOs you thought you saw. These things, real and imagined, are burned into your visual memory and neural networks, canals and valleys cut through flabby grey matter like the remains of lava flow.

WE WRITE TO EVOKE TERROR BECAUSE TERROR WAS EVOKED WITHIN US

I’ve just described some standard things that almost everybody can relate to, but the reason that some of us are pushed so far as to write horror is that the memories are only a part of it. Being a kid is all about not understanding stuff-and to go further-not believing stuff. When you’re all growed up into a big person, the stuff you don’t believe becomes the nonsensical, the fantastical. When you’re a kid the stuff you don’t believe is the stuff that’s right there in front of you. Why do you think toddlers ask why all the time? Why do you think I’m asking that? Why am I stuck in a loop of Whys? Because horror writing is the essence of that feeling, distilled.

The need to disbelieve is stoked by tales of the speculative and supernatural. Scary stories cut out that bullshit and speak to something deep within us, the all perceiving animal brain that operates on a binary basis of ‘FUCK THAT’ and ‘COOL SHIT, YO’. It’s already fully developed when we drop out of the womb, and friends and relatives and their creepy tales make it go ‘Mmm, yum yum. More Jungian tasty reactions for me, please’.

Kids like being scared. They want to think there is a monster under the bed, a big fucked up clown in the closet waiting to eat them. We spend most of our younger days being treated like fucking idiots, mainly because we are, but also because nobody wants anything to hurt us. They tell us scary stories as morality tales, with an incredibly simple moral- Be careful, otherwise things such as these may happen to you.

Our kid brain imaginations are the safe place to exercise this stuff, and it animates in irrational fears of stabby things and toothy bat folk.

When I was 9 or 10, I didn’t want to read young adult or kid’s books. Fuck no. I had this uncle, he was amazing. He’d sit me down, turn off the TV and tell me about the ghosts he’d seen. Straight up, serious, finger pointing stories about things that had followed him, things that had woken him up. He had fucking witnesses. I think I must have heard the same three or four stories thousands of times, but I loved it. I loved the sincerity in his voice. I loved the lingering fear in his eyes, the fact that his experiences of being a decade or so older than me had stayed with him to that day. Even as youngster I thought about how thrilling it would be to do the same thing with my kids, further down the line, and hoped to god I’d see a ghost or something to inspire the stories. If not I’d steal his, which is exactly what I have done for much of my better fiction. When I think of my childhood, this is what comes to mind immediately.

HORROR IS SUPERFOOD FOR DEVELOPING BRAINS

When it came to fiction, I picked up the stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I read Salem’s Lot at about the same time. It spoke to me, man. It knew me. It knew the town I grew up in, even though it was an Atlantic ocean and two decades in distance. It knew the adults in my life, it knew other people’s parents. It had me in the future, walking me in the present through a deadly and dangerous situation fraught with religion, betrayal, adultery and evil. It showed me the world of adults in the way that adults wouldn’t want me to see, and I fucking loved it. I finished that book on a boat, in the middle of the Carribean sea, moored up outside an old creepy whaling island that had a huge whale jaw bone erected at the port. I was terrified and enthralled. It was a mystical experience.

Whenever people ask me why I don’t try and write nice things, why I don’t like to focus replicating the reality of the world I grew up in, I point to that moment and the stories of my uncle. It’s who I was, and who I was is the primary reason behind who I am now. That, my friends, is the lingering presence of horror on the brain. It’s good for you.

STORIES ARE ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT CONNECT, CHARACTERS CONNECT THROUGH PITY AND FEAR

Go read a writing advice blog. Look for the character posts.They will invite you to create believable characters who make an emotional connection with the reader. Often they’ll tell you do to this by having the character make bad decisions. They’ll say a character’s arc is about escalation of tension, and that a story won’t work unless you’re invested in the outcome of that character’s decisions.

Why is this? I refer you to the god of writing, James Joyce. Joyce once wrote that the only genuine reactions you can invoke in a reader are pity and fear. Loving characters? Bullshit. You pity their circumstances and fear for them in times of peril. Guess what genre gives you free reign to do whatever the fuck you like? Horror, that’s what genre.
HORROR IS THE ZOMBIE THAT REFUSES TO DIE, BECAUSE HORROR IS THE TRUTH

Why am I so certain that Horror is due a resurgence? There are a few reasons.
First, people like me. Kids who grew up in the aftermath of the horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s, who picked up dusty books on their parent’s shelves and read in secret. Who stumbled upon their cousins playing Atmosphere and freaking out at the cloaked dude on the VHS. People who have lived through the fifth or sixth extinction of popular supernatural fiction, and have grown to be adults in a world that has changed so rapidly and unexpectedly. A world where there are no more towns like Salem’s Lot, where nothing can be forgotten because everything is permanent and immutable and traceable.

It is oft’ claimed that you can’t do anything new in horror, and that is why it is dead. I say No! Wrongess! Horror is truth. There will always be new truths. Truths that lurk behind the things we’re not supposed to talk about with decent folk in public. The smoke behind the fire, the spark behind the rumours. New technology, new relationships, new taboos. New truths in all of them, about who we are, what we are for and what is to be done about it.

There is too much new in the world. People are changing, man. We’re becoming isolated and connected all at once. We know so much more about other people than we ever have done, what with the facebooking and the smartphones and the tinder. You know what? All that knowledge just raises more questions about each other. The validity, the quality of the truth. That’s just going to make people like me disbelieve all the more.

What do we do to express that disbelief? We invent spooky stories to freak the fuck out of the next generation, passing our brain scars down the line.