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Monster Wrangled!

June 23rd, 2012

Mission accomplished . . . but of course I had expert help from the fourteen talented writers who attended the presentation.

Together, we considered how to effectively present strange creatures in genre fiction. With a nod to Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige, the discussion explored how some of the most effective monster scenes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror basically employ three elements:

1. the sense of anticipation
2. the appearance of something terrible or wondrous (sometimes both)
3. a dramatic payoff (what Priest’s novel refers to as the prestige).

That last step is important. It’s not enough to have the creature appear and chew the scenery. Instead, the most successful monster scenes present something new and unexpected, as do the vampire scenes in Bob Leman’s excellent (albeit relatively obscure) “The Pilgrimage of Clifford M,” which served as one of our examples during the discussion.

We also deconstructed Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven” (in which the monsters never actually appear) and Bob Leman’s “Window” (in which they do). The discussion seemed to go well, and in the end I sense that I learned as much as my students. A great way to spend a Thursday afternoon at Seton Hill!

The next day, with the monsters successfully wrangled, I visited the alumni writers retreat, aka “In Your Write Mind” (which runs concurrently with the university’s graduate writing program) for a survey on Genre Conventions. As I often do at such events, I began by providing each attendee with a 3×5 index card for submitting questions and comments. In this case, I also asked for recommendations of conventions not covered in my presentation.

Here are a few of the comments and recommendations that I received:

“Don’t forget about Killercon! This year it’s September 20-23 in Las Vegas [featuring] Bill Nolan, Kelley Armstrong, Jack Ketchum, Don D’Aurua, and Brian Keene.”

Yes! Thanks for the reminder. I’ve heard good things about Killercom.

SCBWI – Summer & Winter Cons.”

This one’s new to me, but it looks like a must for people interested in children’s books.

Love is Murder (held in Chicago around Valentine’s Day). Cost is approximately $200 – $250. The focus is on mystery/thriller but also includes paranormal, suspense, pulp, near-future thrillers, master classes, and manuscript critiques.”

I must check this one out!

And here are a few of the questions submitted (along with some quick answers):

“How far away is too far [to go to attend a con]?”

With air travel and ticket pricing being what it is these days, distance isn’t really much of an impediment. Indeed, I found that some of my longer trips have actually been far more affordable than the close ones. The ticket prices for my last three trips from Pennsylvania to the west coast (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose) were better than half the price of my upcoming trip to Toronto for World Fantasy. I also find that I can get a lot of work done on planes and in airports, so the time in transit isn’t really lost. In all, I think it comes down to the event itself and not how far away it is. If it looks worthwhile, go for it.

“Is the western genre being absorbed into science fiction? Can science fiction and horror be blended as well?”

I don’t really see sf taking over the western. True, both deal with new frontiers, but – with the exception of western steampunk (The Wild Wild West, for example) – I don’t really see one taking over the other.

The dividing lines between horror and sf tend to be quite permeable, as can be seen in works such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven,” and Bob Leman’s “Window” – all stories that we considered in Monster Wrangling (see above).  For this reason, if you are interested in horror, you might consider checking out WorldCon, where the programming usually contains a few horror-related discussions.

“Many writers are introverts – how do you break out at cons?”

The people you want to meet and work with are almost certainly introverts as well. They probably spend most of their time reading books and sitting in front of their computers. They’re attending the con to meet people like themselves . . . and you are one of them.  I find that keeping that in mind helps. Perhaps it will work for you as well.

Right now, I need to get away from this computer and attend a book signing sponsored by the alumni at SHU. Hope to see some of you there!

As always, feel free to post comments, corrections, or questions below. Don’t be an introvert. I’d love to hear from you.