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Friday, September 30, 2011

Readers Will Eat It Up

Readers Will Eat It Up

   I’m running a little late with this post. I’ve been busy finishing a few things after my great Killer Con weekend in Vegas. Sent off a couple of proposals to agents and publishers I met. Today, I want to talk about food. I’m a retired chef, so I love food. If you saw me, you would say I love it too much and you would be right. Everyone has their favorite comfort food, a dish that brings back fond memories. Mine is meatloaf, mash potatoes and brown gravy. What is it that enhances those memories – the taste, the smell?

  Our sense of smell is probably the strongest sense we have. It is part of our sense of taste. As a chef, I learned that first, you smell food, then you see it, and then you taste it. In Italian restaurants, I would carry a sauté pan full of freshly cooked garlic around the dining room before we sat out first table to whet people’s appetites. You would be surprised how many people took a deep whiff and ordered something with garlic in it.

  As a writer, I use food often in my stories. Restaurants, picnics, dinner tables, bars – all provide a good location for relaxed conversation. No action, no threats (Unless it is overindulging), no long, boring Shakespearean soliloquies. I often use foods particular to the country or city in which the story is set. A character’s choice of food can tell a lot about them, as does the way they eat it, the way they dawdle over it, or the way they play with their food. If a food can evoke memory, a good description of it might evoke a reader’s memory; enfold them more deeply in the characters and storyline.  

  Food and drink can be weapons – poison, or provide comic relief – food fights, spilling a plate, etc. Food can distinguish class and upbringing more poignantly than dress; Peasant or simple food as opposed to lavish meals, eating with the fingers as opposed to using a knife and fork, eating to satisfy or devouring to excess, eating food or consuming human flesh (For you zombie lovers).

  Matched closely with food is drink. Whether a character prefers water, tea, wine, beer, ale, or liquor can tell a lot about them, as does drinking to excess or sipping slowly. Characters like Rooster Cogburn in the movie True Grit would not have been the same as a teetotaler. Certainly, a sober Pap Finn would have sent The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin spinning off in a different direction. A besotted Otis, the town drunk, in Andy Griffin or Falstaff in Henry IV provided comic relief; whereas, Nicholas cage in Leaving Las Vegas was just the opposite, a determined drunk set on self extinction.

  Try whipping up a little repast in your writing and see if it adds depth to your story or character.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Killer Con III

Killer Con III

Killer Con II is coming up Sept. 22-25 at the Stratosphere in glitzy Las Vegas, NV. As someone who has attended the two prior Killer Cons, I suggest you make it if at all possible. The list of Guests of Honor is a Who’s Who of horror – Jonathan Maberry, Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Edward Lee, Jeff Mariotte and Monica S. Kuebler. Just being in the presence of these greats will make you a better writer.

All the slots for the Mort Castle Writer’s Workshop are filled, but those lucky enough to be included in this golden opportunity will come away better prepared for the task of writing the next new best seller. The list of panels and speakers is awesome, including a blood spatter demonstration by a forensics expert. I’m not sure where the blood is coming from but I wouldn’t volunteer. After all, these are horror writers and blood is their medium.

Readings galore by some of today’s top writers and pitch sessions with editors, agents and publishers provided an excellent chance to pitch your latest work. A panel seminar on the proper way to pitch before the sessions allow the pitchers to hone their skills for the pitchees. My advice – be yourself, be prepared and be ready to make the most of the opportunity.

Everyone should visit Vegas at least once in their lifetime. At night, the kilowatts of neon lights is enough to attract zombies from three states and moths from other worlds. It is Mothra’s favorite haunt, second only to Tokyo. Nearby Lake Mead is worth the visit and driving across the new arch bridge at Hoover Dam provides a damn good view (Sorry for the pun) of the Colorado River, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

I attended the World Horror Convention in Austin, TX this year. Killer Con is smaller and allows the attendee a more relaxed setting for meeting old friends, making new ones and rubbing elbows with idols. The legendary parties loosen everyone up. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone and start a conversation. Just don’t start pitching your novel. Make friends. Ask advice.

If you show up at Killer Con, look me up. If I haven’t lost all my money, I’ll buy you a beer.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Coloring Outside the Lines

Coloring Outside the Lines
I admit I’m lousy with colors. A touch of blue-green and red-brown blindness, poor night vision – I would never be able to tell the arrival of dawn the old Middle Eastern nomad way by seeing the difference between a white and a gray goat hair. Yet colors play an important part in our everyday life. Red lights, green lights, yellow caution cones, black armbands for mourning. Colors play a key role in our writing as well.

In horror especially, black, red and their varying hues are significant colors for setting and foreshadowing. Crimson blood, fiery red eyes, ebony shadows, charcoal dusk each evoke a specific memory, allowing the reader to better visualize the scene and mood. Other colors elicit similar responses, such as the pure innocence of white, the coolness of blue or aqua, the serene pastoral quality of green and the earthiness of brown.
I also colored outside the lines as a child. I wasn’t spastic. I saw lines as a challenge to my imagination, too confining. By moving outside the lines, I could change the drawn shapes presented in the coloring book, make them different; make them my own. Writers can do that as well.    

In some cultures, white is the color of mourning, not black. In Korea, a white wedding would raise eyebrows and maybe a few ancestral spirits. Most people see the devil as red, yet the Pope and Cardinals wear red robes. I’m sure it has something to do with the blood of Christ or a tribute to radishes or something but it still looks scary to me. (My apologies to Catholics.)
Green Slime, the Hulk, the Green Goblin vs. the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern. Same color, different visuals, good and bad. Most ghosts (They say) appear white. I’m not sure why unless ectoplasm is made of tapioca. Why not a black ghost? It sure would be difficult to spot at night. Add a splash of royal purple to a peasant character to hint that he might have visions of grandeur. Build new worlds – brown skies, blue grass, and yellow seas. Remove the usual, expected crutches colors provide the reader and force them to create new ones, to pay closer attention to details. In one of my novels, Oracle of Delphi, there are three suns, each a different color. The interplay of shadows and lighting was difficult to keep straight, but it provides a striking background.

In Moby Dick, the titular whale was white, the color of purity but in this case, was the whale evil or was Ahab. Certainly, it was no ghost whale. The gold coin Ahab nailed to the weathered mast would have gleamed in the sun like a jewel, beckoning the crew and riveting their minds, tempting them from their original goal of harvesting oil. The crew was a mixture of stalwart New England Christians and heathens, yet in the end, it was difficult to tell the difference among all the bloodlust. Killing whales was seen as God’s work, providing oil for lamps, but Ahab abandoned God in his desire for revenge. In the end, God abandoned him.
Be bold. Experiment with color. Subtle shading can create new settings or foreshadow events. Try coloring outside the lines.