Tomorrow’s my birthday. One of those big landmark/milestone birthdays. Which seems impossible because I don’t feel a day over 200 most of the time.

Anyway… to celebrate my final day as a young man, a couple of us are going to go see the new Godzilla movie tonight (I’ll be watching it at midnight when I become old), and that got me thinking about monsters. 
Monster stories are one of those sub-genres of horror I think get glossed over a lot. I’ve mentioned them in passing before, but it’s worth taking a closer look. Just because I have a monster in my story doesn’t automatically make it a monster story. And it’s my birthday so screw you all, we’re going to talk about monsters.

Horror is, simply put, the scary genre, so it’s not shocking to say that monster stories almost always involve some element of fear. It’s worth noting this fear should involve the characters and the audience. If only the audience is scared, this is more of a suspense situation.  If only the characters are scared… well, that could mean a lot of things.

The big thing that sets monster stories apart, I think, making them their own little sub-niche-genre, is that they’re about unstoppable things.  Go back to Frankenstein.  No matter what happens, the creature always breaks free, always survives. I’d tie this all the way back to the original novel, where even in the end the monster can’t be defeated—he just wanders away on his own terms to die. Except even in Shelly’s original book, we don’t know he dies. Even she left this window of “maybe he’s still out there.” Heck, go all the way back to Greek myths—we can cut off Medusa’s head and she’s still the most dangerous thing in a ten mile radius.

Because of this, a major element in pretty much every monster story is “getting the hell away from it.” Maybe it’s just the two of us running through the forest, trying to catch up with that bastard Wakko who left us behind (he’ll get his, don’t worry…). It might be a full scale evacuation of a city. There may be other elements, maybe even more dominant ones, but trying to get away is pretty much always going to be a big part of a monster story.

Another thing most good monster stories involve is a degree of self-reflection and sympathy. We’re scared by the monster but we also tend to feel a bit of pity for it. Every version of Frankenstein (well, okay, every good version) recognizes that the monster is horribly lonely, desperate to find any sort of companionship. The original Rodan has a complete gut-punch of an ending (I rewatched it recently and holy crap I did not register so much of it when I was a kid). Yeah, the monster in Super 8 is killing people, but it’s also been imprisoned and tortured by humans for the past twenty years or so.

This ties back to a common character trait I’ve mentioned one or ten times—relatability. We feel sympathy for monsters—even if it’s just for a few moments—because they reflect some basic truth about us, or humanity in general.  We all know what it’s like to be lonely. We’ve all lashed out. We’ve all growled at people and waved our arms and retreated up to the old windmill to fight off the villagers.


That leads to another point. Monsters tend to be characters in their own right. They aren’t nameless, unknown, unseen threats. They have personalities and motivations. They often have names. Like, actual, personal names, not just vague titles or pronouns. We all understand the difference between it and It, right…?

And one last thing. This one’s less of an absolute, but I think you’d find it to be a very common element. Comedy. Most of the best monster stories have some kind of comedy element. At the very least, they’re not dry and humorless. Partly because comedy is just unavoidable, and it naturally comes out at the most bizarre times.  But also because it lets us hang a lantern on the inherent absurdity of a lot of monster stories. Yeah, come on.  Be honest. I mean, seriously—how does a 350 foot tall lizard go unnoticed for so long? He’s five times bigger than a blue whale. Think how much it’d need to eat.
I mention all this because monsters are cool.  And because knowing my genre is important. All genres come with expectations, and the more often my genre story deviates from those expectations, the better the chances are it’s going to fall flat with my chosen audience.  If an anthology editor is looking for monster stories and I send in a piece of torture porn… that’s not going to work out well for me.  If I’ve led my agent to expect a monster story and instead I give him a fantasy romp with dragons, he’s probably going to start over from square one in a lot of ways. And if every movie in a franchise has been a slasher film and I suddenly decide to make a sci-fi monster movie…

Well, I’ve just made Jason X. Which isn’t a bad movie at all (I kinda love it), but it went against a lot of people’s expectations and stumbled hard because of that. It’s a monster movie in the middle of a slasher series.

Anyway, there’s some thoughts on monsters. Ponder them while you cheer on your favorite kaiju this weekend.

Speaking of this weekend—even though it’s my birthday, I’m helping out Jonathan Maberry by taking over the San Diego Writers Coffeehouse on Sunday.  So swing by Mysterious Galaxy between noon and three as we talk about writing, publishing, and all that.

And next time, maybe we’ll talk about worldbuilding a bit.

Until then… go write.

December 28, 2013 / 2 Comments

That What Got Done, 2013 Edition

            Well, here we are yet again.  Another year gone by.  Time to look back and see how well we stuck to our resolutions.
            If you bother to stop in here and read these little rants, I’m guessing you’ve thought about being a writer.  Not a weekend dabbler, not an incorruptible artiste, but someone who wants to make some sales and write for a living.  And the only way to do that is to write.  Not to plan, not to research, but to sit down at the keyboard and start typing out my story one word at a time.  There’s no other way to get something done and no other way to get something sold.  If I’m not writing… it’s just not going to happen.
            So, all that being said… what did you get done this year?
            Me?  I started 2013 already waist-deep in Ex-Purgatory, which was due at the end of April.  Of course, before I could finish that my editor at Broadway had some notes for me on Ex-CommunicationReally good notes, for the record.  There were only one or two things we argued over, and even on those we found a solid middle ground that made us both happy.
            But before I did those, I had to go over the copyeditor’s notes on Ex-Patriots.  They were doing a quick run through it before the re-release in April.  So I spent a day or three on that.
            At least, I would’ve, but first I had to go over the new layout proof for Ex-Heroes.  It was coming out in February, after all.  So that got priority.  Then Ex-Patriots, then Ex-Communicationnotes, and then back to working on Ex-Purgatory.
            Of course, by that point, I now had copyedits on Ex-Communication.  And a layout proof for Ex-Patriots.  And even some very last minute input on the Ex-Heroescover.  And after all that, I could get back to Ex-Purgatory.
            Until… well, I’m sure you can see the pattern at this point.
            Despite all this, I still managed to get Ex-Purgatory done on time.  It went long, and then I cut it way back, and then my editor suggested a few other cuts and some other additions.  We did a bunch of work on it, and in the end it went from a book I was kind of worried about to one that I’m almost proud of.  And it’ll be in stores in less than three weeks.
            That was the first eight months of 2013.
            Somewhere in there, between rewrites and layouts for Ex-Communication, I started a new book.  Something kind of urban-fantasy-ish, but a lot darker.  I was about 15,000 words into it when I went to Comic Con.  Alas, after talking with my agent and my editor, it’s going on the back burner for a little bit.  Hopefully it won’t end up being my new Dead Moon
            There was also another idea I worked with for a while.  I pitched this one to my editor as “Neil Gaiman’s Neverwherecrossed with Cannonball Run.”  Which, if nothing else, caught his attention.  For the double-handful of you who were at Booktopia this summer, it’s the story I mentioned about the Model T Ford. I was about 19,000 words in when new deals were finalized with Broadway.  This one’s still going to happen, but it’s been pushed a bit further down the line.
            I wrote a handful of short stories, too.  “Flesh Trade,” alas, didn’t make it into Clive Barker’s upcoming Midian Unbound anthology (I only cried a little bit at that).  But the guys at Kaiju Unbound really liked “Banner of the Bent Cross” and the folks at Evil Girlfriend Media said yes to another story (which I can’t talk about quite yet).  I also polished up an old tale, “Contraption,” for an upcoming collection of short stories from Permuted Press.
            And since then I’ve been working on my current book, The Albuquerque Door.  Well, there’s been some concern about the title, but I’m hanging onto it as long as possible.  I’m about 25,000 words into it so far. 
            Plus there were also thirty-eight posts here (to be honest, one of my worst years since I started the ranty blog).  And another thirty posts on other pages I keep.  Plus a dozen or so promo articles for different books (including a handful of titles from Broadway’s new Doctor Who line).
            Thing is… I feel like I slacked off a lot this year.  There were a few times when I was waiting to hear back on deals or between drafts or just feeling burned out by that glut of work at the start of the year… and I took a day off.  In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with it, and I didn’t miss any deadlines, but the truth is I took off a couple of days I really had no business taking off.  Days I should’ve been writing.  I look back at this past year and I think that I really should be further along in that urban fantasy story.  The Model T story should have a lot more to it, too.  I look at this list and think I didn’t write enough this year.
            How about you? How much did you write…?
            Next time—next year, really—I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about what I talk about here.  A mission statement, if you will.
            Until then… Happy New Year.
            And go write.