Horror Update

Back in december, I said I was planning to read a horror story aimed for a middle grade audience. The book is The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney. Part of the reason it was high priority on my list of things to read is that I wanted to see if he actually pulled it off, that is, if the story was both scary and appropriate for its intended audience.

As I read this book, I was very impressed. I just finished the book a few minutes ago and I think he pulled it off very well. Here’s some of the reasons why:

1) It really was scary without being overly disturbing or gory. In order to be scary in a ghost-story sense, it would be hard to go without some level of disturbing and/or gory. But (my friends can testify) I’m pretty sensitive about disturbing events or scenes in stories and movies. I walked out on at least three popular movies because they bothered me in ways they apparently don’t bother other people. Revenge of the Witch was not like that at all. There was definitely some scary scenes and descriptions, but nothing that came near making me want to put the book down and gag. I wasn’t sure about this when I was hearing about the book before reading it, but now that I’ve read it, I would recommend it to its 9-12 target audience. (note: some of the reviewers on Amazon don’t agree with me here, so I can’t say there’s nothing that anyone would find objectionable. Obviously, different people have different standards.)

2) The ‘good guys’ realy are good. Another thing that bothers me in some other recent movies and books, especially in ‘dark’ stories, is that the good guys aren’t really good. I like to have a heroic main character. I’m not saying they shouldn’t make mistakes. If he didn’t make any mistakes, he wouldn’t be much of a main character. Tom, the main character of this story makes several mistakes, but he was still clearly a good guy. He didn’t just look out for himself or justify means with ends.

3) Alice is a great character. I said I like having a main character who is really good, but it also tends to be good to have another major character who is kind of on the line between good and evil. Alice’s aunt and great-grandmother were the (very evil) witches who were the main villains of the story. Alice herself was sometimes their victim and sometimes their accomplice. Other characters pointed out that she was likely to grow up to be like them, but she also helped the main character against the witches.
A comparable character is Professor Snape. He also kept both the reader and the main characters guessing about whether he would turn out to be more good than bad or vice versa. A big difference here is that Snape knew what side he was on, but Alice hasn’t made her final decision yet, and may never make a final decision. That makes her an even more intriging character in my opinion. As readers, we cheer for Alice to make the right decision.

Overall, I think Joseph Delaney did a great job of writing a horror story for kids -something I think would be difficult to do well. To be honest, the ending didn’t impress me as much as the rest. It was still good, and I can’t put my finger on anything that was actually wrong with it (it still fit the good things I talked about above). I guess it just wasn’t as exciting and climactic as I had hoped. It’s still very impressive, especially considering this is Delaney’s first novel.

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Ghosts and character smack-worthiness

The book I’m reading right now is a ghost story. (It isn’t the MG horror I mentioned before. That’ll probably be next.) It’s not a kids’ book.

It’s a ghost story where the main character is a doctor who doesn’t believe in ghosts, which is fine. It’s probably best to have an MC for a ghost story who starts out not believing in ghosts. But it frustrates me as I’m reading the book (I’m about 4/5 of the way through), how he still won’t even consider the possibility of a ghost even with a lot of evidence and other explanations ruled out. It’s good that he needs to be convinced, but if he insults the victims by questioning their sanity (in the face of other witnesses and evidence) before admitting there might be something supernatural going on makes me want to reach inside the book and whack him upside the head.

In most cases, I don’t think it’s a good idea to make your reader want to smack your main character. I don’t like it here, but it’s excusable partly because it’s late in the book. I don’t think many people will stop reading when they’ve already read this far, though they might not recommend the book to others. And partly because it’s consistent with what the main character is like throughout the book. That much is good.

Have you ever wanted to smack the character in a book you’re reading? Do you think it can be a good thing sometimes?

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Can’t Buy Me Time

So now that I’ve finished NaNoWriMo, I’m preparing for Christmas. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t pay a lot of attention to holidays in general. I get my Christmas shopping done online in less than an hour and don’t give much more thought to it until Christmas eve.
There isn’t a lot of Christmas music I really like, and most of what I do like is the kind of thing I’d listen to any time of year. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a perfect example. The few Christmas songs that I like but don’t listen to any time of year are just enough to listen to on Christmas eve, that one hour I spend Christmas shopping, and maybe one other hour sometime in December.

The past couple years, I looked at my wish list (which I send to anyone likely to get me a gift), and think this isn’t the stuff I really want. Pretty much, all the things I badly want can’t be bought with money. At or near the top of that list would be time. Dear Santa, I want about four more hours in each day without anything additional I’d be obligated to do with that time. Yeah, that’d be nice.

This reminds me of a song:
“I don’t care too much for money. Money can’t buy me love.” -The Beatles

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Oh the horror

I finally got around to updating my NaNoWriMo2011 badge to show that I’m a winner instead of just a participant. You’d think I’d be eager to show it off.

NaNoWriMo gives new meaning to “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. Than again, it’s more like one of those dreams that switches plotlines and settings without much explaination.

At the beginning of November, I was thinking I might get closer to horror in this story than I’ve ever written before. It probably had something to do with the mood I was in as I was beginning my story after midnight on halloween. Well, nothing in my story actually ended up getting anywhere near horror, unless you’re really really scared of platypuses trying to take over the world. (The characters in my story argue about whether the correct plural is platypuses or platypi. I was happy to discover afterwards on the wikipedia page for it, that there is no universally accepted correct plural, but it says that “platypi” is incorrect.) There was a little bit near the beginning of this year’s story which lead me to think it might go near horror/comedy, but it didn’t happen. At least the horror part didn’t. Whatever else I write always comes with some “/comedy” or at least bizarre silliness.

There’s a set of books on my list of books to read that is middle grade horror. Yes, horror stories written for 9-12 year olds. It’s The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. From what it sounds like, this isn’t on the level of goosebumps either. I didn’t know there was a horror genre (beyond the level of goosebumps creepiness) for middle grade readers until I heard of these books. I want to read them, not because I want to write horror, but because I want to see how well he pulls it off. Also, because, if he pulls it off well, there will likely be aspects of that kind of thing which I would be interested in using even though I’ll probably never write horror.
Anticipating reading this, I’m expecting one of three things 1) It’s isn’t really scary, 2) I wouldn’t think it appropriate for its intended audience because of being too violent/gory/disturbing, or 3) He actually pulls it off well. I do think it’s possible to have a true horror story written for middle grade readers and be well done for its audience, and if that’s the case, it would probably be far better (at least in my mind) than most horror for adults. It wouldn’t be easy to write. That’s why I want to read it and possibly take influence if he does do it well.

Do you think it possible to have horror that’s appropriate for a middle grade audience?
I’d also be interested in hearing what anyone who has already read any of Delaney’s books thinks of them.

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a few assorted uncertainties

Often a phrase or a fragment of a song will go through my head, and I am unsure whether it is a song I have heard before or if it is a song that wants me to write it. I fear if it is the latter, that even if I put the words on paper, no one will ever hear it or care to play the music.

Often in a moment of decision, there is a weight of importance. And I wonder is the choice I face really vital or is the weight an illusion?
Either way, I am too often indecisive, and I wish I wasn’t. (My current story I’m writing happens to be about someone who is also indecisive.)

And another little struggle:
I am not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus, but I wonder sometimes how appropriate it is to discuss my faith on this blog. Sometimes it seems hard to express a feeling without being explicit about my faith. At the same time, I don’t think the audience which seeks to hear about God and Jesus is the audience I’m looking for.

On a similar note, I am not entirely clear about who the audience for my blog is or should be. I’ve heard that writers should write their blog to the same audience that their books are written for, that we’re supposed to use a blog to gain readers. I have my doubts that that would be effective for me, mainly because my blog averages 1 view per day according to WordPress. I don’t have much of any audience at the moment.

In any case- hello there, audience (whoever and however few of you there may be). I’m grateful to all of you who visit this site and I’m grateful for any comments you post here. I do hope whoever visits here gets something beneficial out of it.

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Popular things which have no appeal for me (and vice versa)

(I was thinking about posting this as a facebook note since it isn’t all that relevant to my blog, but I haven’t posted here in awhile. Maybe I could still have a chance at that ‘postaweek’ goal. [shrug])

Coffee: All my friends seems to like it. Even those who don’t drink it like the smell. I happen to think it both smells and tastes gross.

Getting drunk: Yeah, puking until you pass out sounds like a lot of fun. Then once you build up a resistance and can get drunk without puking, you do stupid things you don’t even remember afterwards.

Tatoos: A lot of money and pain to have a picture permanently stuck on your body. This one I really don’t understand…

TV: I don’t want to waste my time watching a story and tainting my imagination when I could be reading a story and building up my imagination.

No offense to those who do enjoy these things…
Now a couple things that I really like which aren’t very popular:

Roguelike games: A strain of computer games which tend to date back to the 80s and have ASCII graphics. In case you don’t know, ASCII graphics aren’t really graphics at all. They’re just the characters you can make with any normal keyboard arranged into pictures or symbols.

Christian Heavy Metal: Of course heavy metal has a reputation for being ‘of the devil’, but in the words of Larry Norman, “Why Should the Devil Have all the good Music?” Fortunately, this seems to be gaining popularity these days.

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Why Haven’t I Been Blogging

I had fully intended on blogging at least once a week this year (and after). I had also fully intended on getting one story ready to send & sent to agents, and do a full rewrite of my other story. Since both have been slacking recently, I have decided to not worry about blogging, because actually working on my stories is higher priority. It’ll be easier to revive one thing at a time, so I’ll revive my writing and revising first and come back to blogging later.

I mentioned to a friend the other day that I was thinking I’ll have to choose between not writing as much as I want to or not hanging out with friends as much as I want to. That stinks, but oh well. Recently, I’ve not been writing as much as I want to. I’m going to change that because I want to get published and to do that I need to start sending my work to agents, and to do that I need to get my stories in a condition to show my best writing to the agents I query.

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