Tag Archives: fiction

When the Ghouls Come Out to Play: How Plague Victims Became Vampires

Between Halloween rapidly approaching and recently burying my grandmother’s ashes, death and what lies beyond has been on my mind. Are some of those who’ve passed away still around? Are all those we bury truly dead?

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Throughout history there have been stories about the dead coming back to life or the spirits of the dead haunting the living. One of the most notorious myths of the undead is the vampire. In modern society, the vampire is seen as a romantic, gothic figure, whether you’re examining Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Louis, or Stephenie Meyer’s Edward Cullen. Each of these vampires is tortured in some way, while being irresistible to mortals.

However, vampires weren’t always seen as beautiful, tormented creatures that have a soft spot for particular humans. Vampire lore originated from superstition and misunderstandings about post-mortem decay in the middle ages.

Between 1300 and 1700, plagues swept through Europe at an alarming rate. At the time, people didn’t understand how disease spread or how decomposition worked. They believed that dark, evil forces caused plagues, namely vampires.

Sometimes mass graves would be reopened to add more bodies and gravediggers would stumble across corpses that were “bloated by gas, with hair still growing, and blood seeping from their mouths.” These gravediggers would think these corpses were still alive. The corpse had been possessed and had become one of the undead, a “shroud-eater,” whose purpose was to spread disease throughout all the corpses, until the vampire had gained enough power to rise from the ground.

The only way to prevent a vampire from rising was to exorcise it. When a person died, a shroud would be laid over his face. The person would be buried with the shroud, and as bacteria ate away at the shroud, it would appear like the corpse had eaten through the shroud, hence the name “shroud-eater.” This shroud would be removed from the corpse’s mouth and a brick would be jammed between the corpse’s teeth. This would prevent the corpse from being able to spread disease to more corpses and gain enough strength to rise from the ground and spread plague to more people.

While today we know how disease and decomposition work, it’s fascinating to discover how people explained horrific events before they were scientifically understood. And while vampires and other supernatural creatures are considered hot in modern literature and film, it’s beneficial to know how supernatural myths came about. In writing, even if you’re writing about sparkling, vegetarian vampires, knowing what humans would have considered vampires as a hundred(s) years ago is vital to understanding that vampire’s character.

Expanding beyond vampires, knowing a character’s history is important to comprehending that character’s personality. Knowing where a character comes from and what that character’s been through before page one of a novel or short story allows you to understand what that character wants and why that person behaves the way he does. If you don’t appreciate a character’s background, that character’s personality will shift unnaturally and readers won’t make connections with why that person makes the decisions he does.

Have a wonderful final week before Halloween, and, remember, if you’re going to a midnight graveyard reading, watch where you step. You never know one-hundred percent what’s laying beneath the ground.

(Photo courtesy of Otto Magus.)

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3 Ways to Become a More Successful Writer

 

9025740361_f15c82d2f1_oA common misconception is that to be a successful writer you only need to learn how to write well. While improving your writing skills is important to becoming a better writer, only learning to write well does not guarantee that you’ll be a successful writer.

When I was in graduate school, several of my professors believed that you had to write everyday, even when you didn’t feel like it. If you weren’t writing everyday, then you weren’t successful.

However, I was at a party a few weeks ago, and a young writer expressed how her teachers had told her the same thing, and how she was worried because she hadn’t been able to write anything for several weeks. I told her that, that was fine. Some people are able to write everyday. Others aren’t.

I’m someone who needs breaks from writing. I’ve tried to force myself to write, when I’m not in the mood. Often, I ended up frustrated and feeling like I was a really crappy writer. For me, I need to take time to refill my creative reserves. If that means not writing for a week or two, then I’m going to do it. I know that my creativity will come back, and then I’ll be in a writing frenzy.

Those times that I’m not writing, I’m working on ways to replenish my creativity. Here are three of those ways; I hope they help you as they’ve helped me:

  1. Continue Educating Yourself

The most successful people are those who never stop learning.

People usually assume that I majored in English as an undergraduate. I didn’t. I minored in it, but my major was in Clinical Psychology. At the same time, people who only know that I work in pediatric research are shocked to learn that I have a MA in writing. They assumed that I was working toward getting my MD or PhD in biology, immunology, or some other medical-science field.

But I’m interested in a wide range of topics. Being knowledgeable in various fields builds my confidence, helps me discover and fine-tune other skills, stimulates my creativity, and helps generate creative solutions.

I’m continuously taking courses, listening to seminars, and attending conferences. Most of my courses are online. Some I pay for, while others are free. Take a look at Linda.com or edx.org , or see what types of training may be offered through your work.

  1. Read, Read, Read

Successful people study how other people became successful.

I’m constantly reading. I challenge myself to read a certain number of books each year. I keep track of the books I read, and when others look at my book lists, they’re often surprised at the diversity. I read both non-fiction and fiction, from And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II to Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1) to The Old Man and the Sea .

When someone tells me that they absolutely refuse to read any fiction books, I internally cringe. I’m a writer, and though I don’t write non-fiction, I still read it. Though I don’t write contemporary, I read it. Each successful book, whether literary or not, can teach us about how to become successful writers.

Look at Fifty Shades of Grey . It is not a literary book, and most people would agree that the writing is amateur and formulaic. However, the series has sold over 65 million copies, and the first book has been made into a movie, which makes the series a success. Many factors contributed to its success, including hitting the market at the right time, the main characters being modeled after Twilight’s main characters, and the age-old concept that sex sells.

I read the book because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I saw the movie for the same reason. Regardless of my personal opinions, I contributed to the success of both the book series and the movie, just like millions of others did.

Mixing genres, teaches us about different aspects of writing, and by studying successfully creative people, we can be inspired.

Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Books have the power to change our lives. Read, and discover how they’ll change yours.

  1. Hang Out with Inspiring People

People produce their best work when they are inspired by or working with others. You may be writing a novel by yourself, but it’s usually harder to be creative, when you’re not interacting with anyone else.

According to Goins, Writer, the “solitary genius” concept of writing, where creative people are isolated from the general population because they spontaneously produce creative concepts, is a myth. Goins, along with Keith Sawyer, a leading scientific expert on creativity, discussed why it takes a group to be creative. A group allows people to connect, and creates a safe place to exhibit the pressures involved with producing innovate work, as well as a way to vent our frustrations.

Hanging out with intelligent people, who challenge you, stimulates your creativity, and helps you build connections. Who knows, maybe one of those people will be your key to success.

How do you generate creativity?

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Hirsch.)

How to Start a Piece of Fiction

Where do stories come from? Are they born from birds with eagles’ beaks and tails of fire? Do they originate from springs with waters so crisp and clear you’d stop aging if you drank from them? Can you reach up into the sky and pluck stories from clouds?

That would be cool. But where do stories come from?

Everywhere.

They can come from an experience you or someone else had. Or they can start with something you heard. What you heard set off a spark. It inspired you.

Perhaps a story began with a character. Or a complication. The exploration of an idea. Maybe the story came from the question “what if.” Toni Morrison got the idea for her novel, Beloved, from an old newspaper clipping of a mother murdering her baby, just before she was dragged back into slavery. Morrison was interested in why the mother killed her child. What would drive a mother to murder her infant?

Twilight came from a dream Stephenie Meyer had.

A story can even begin with a sentence. Whatever causes that first spark, that bit which makes you want to examine an idea. Makes you need to explore it. Obsess over it.

A few tips on starting a novel:

  • Get it down. Whether the idea or words are good or not, write it. Put it on paper. Any negative emotions that come up (“This is stupid,” “No one thinks I’m a real writer,” “This is such a waste of time,” “I suck at writing.”) shouldn’t stop you because emotions change. Something you hate now, you may love later. The opposite also applies.

There’s a quote a professor I once had said. One of his former students said it to him. I’ll say it to you guys.

“It’s amazing what you can do as a writer, when you don’t care about what others think of you as a writer.”

  • Write what you know and don’t worry about what you don’t know. Many novels are written piece by piece, and then put together. Write the parts of the story you can picture clearly. You’ll figure out what you can’t see down the road, if you need to.
  • If you hit a roadblock, jump over it. There’s really nothing in fiction you can’t get away with. You make up the rules, the laws. If everyone is blue and can fly, then so be it. And if you get stuck, skip over it and come back. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing (Unless you feel like your head’s about to explode, then take a short break. Go for a hike. Watch something that makes you laugh).

In the end, you can get an idea for a story anywhere and start a story with anything. The key is to persist and not get overwhelmed. Don’t talk yourself out of completing a story, or even starting it. Get an idea, write it down. Flesh it out. Mold it. Sculpt it. And when you do get another idea, jot that one down too, so when you’re finished with the one you’re working on, you have another idea to build with.

Where do you get your ideas?

New Adult Fiction: Filling in the Gap

There are children’s books, young adult novels, and adult books. Now, there’s a new genre on the rise: New Adult.

Though new adult fiction has been around for a number of years, it’s only recently that it’s becoming a more common term.

New adult fiction is aimed at readers who are typically between the ages of 18 and 30. It’s a genre for those who enjoy young adult but are looking for more mature topics, without jumping into characters nearing middle age.

These books bridge the gap between young adult and adult populations. They reach to both older teenagers and adults, and tend to focus on the transition from innocence into complicated adult issues. These issues could be living on one’s own for the first time, losing one’s virginity, the trials of one’s first professional job, preparing for a wedding, etc.

In young adult books, sexual interactions and more gruesome or socially unacceptable acts of violence tend to be alluded to instead of shown in any sort of detail. New adult books include more graphic scenes, both violent and romantic.

However, there has been some hesitation about new adult fiction. Books falling into this genre find themselves in the in-between territory. Stuck between adult and children’s literature (children’s and young adult), there is some difficulty finding the genre its own bookshelf.

Here’s a short breakdown of genres to help with differentiating new adult from already established genres:

Young Adult

  • Age appropriate for 13 to 18 year olds (the high school age or those about to attend)
  • Coming of age, but not in a hugely graphic manner and usually without losing all of one’s innocence
  • Easy to comprehend tone (aka fast reads)

Young adult books are stories with language that is easy to read and to the point. They are the PG-13 rating of movies.

Sample Books: Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lightning Thief, Delirium, A Great and Terrible Beauty, The Golden Compass

New Adult

  • Age appropriate for 17 and older (undergraduate, graduate school age)
  • Main character typically 18-25 years old (instead of 13-17, like in YA)
  • Contains both straightforward writing and adult situations
  • Deals with life between the end of high school and full-fledged adulthood (i.e.- you’re legally an adult but you’re not quite ready to be completely on your own)

New Adult books contain some of the same aspects that young adult books do, but with adult situations added in (i.e.- steamier physical interactions) or situations that are harder for younger teens to relate to (i.e.- getting engaged, first professional job, college, having a baby, etc.)

Sample books: Easy, Losing It, Beautiful Disaster, Slammed

Adult Fiction

  • Adult audience, so technically ages 18 and up. However, many adult books include main characters and situations that teenagers won’t relate to and that 18-25 year olds may have difficulty relating to.
  • Can have either straightforward or more complex writing that takes longer to digest
  • Typically includes sexual scenes, sometimes cursing
  • Erotica is considered adult

Sample books: A Game of Thrones, Fifty Shades of Grey, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Da Vinci Code, Jane Eyre, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Notebook

The new adult genre is in the midst of development. This can make it difficult for them to find homes among traditional agents and editors. Therefore, some new adult books have been self-published instead of going the traditional route. For example, Beautiful Disaster was self-published in June 2011 by Jamie McGuire. It was picked up by Atria Books and published through them in August 2012.

Literary agents and publishers are starting to pick up on the new adult genre as a potential moneymaking category (it certainly has a large enough audience). However, this genre is still budding and isn’t seen in traditional bookstores.

Without support it will not grow to the likes of young adult and adult.

What do you think about new adult as an emerging genre?