Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Horror Blog Fest: Half a Booksmuggler Tells tales of Horror

I had heard about these two crazy girls called Ana and Thea doing all kinds of wild reviews online at a blog called The Book Smugglers from a mutual friend, Kaz Mahoney. Now Kaz, to be honest, is a bit of a mediator. She brings bookpeople together and deserves a huge bouquet of flowers and free blackberry or something. (grins) So, through Kaz I got to know The Book Smugglers and also got to meet Ana, in person recently on a trip to London from Cambridge. I had approached the girls during the time they were running their Zombie Week to take part in the Horror Blog Fest and Thea, the OTHER half of the Booksmugglers replied (she lives in Los Angeles) that she would be keen to do so as she is a horror-nut. And here is Thea, spouting forth about horror.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you and your writing career.
Howdy, my name is Thea James, and I co-run The Book Smugglers – a website dedicated to book reviews. I’m 24 years old, I live in Los Angeles, and I like moonlight strolls, barefoot, on the beach. Ok not really the moonlight strolls part. Really, I love horror movies, basketball, and the Sci Fi channel. And books. Lots and lots of books.

I’m not a writer (though I do secretly aspire to writing the Next Great Horror Novel or comic someday), but I am an avid reader and have been reviewing works of speculative fiction for over a year now.

What is your most recent novel about – or what are you currently reading?

If I had a recent novel, it would totally be a ‘cabin in the woods’ kind of story. I’ve always wanted to write one of those...

The novel I’m reading at the moment is Hunger by Michael Grant. It’s a young adult horror novel, book 2 in a series, about a small, nuclear plant powered seaside town in California. One day, all of a sudden, everyone 14 and older disappears, leaving the children of the town to fend for themselves. The town itself is sealed in by a bubble-like force field, so no one can get in or out. The kids start, of course, going all Lord of the Flies on each other and two camps emerge. Oh, and some of the kids start to develop superpowers – as do animals (they are mutating; coyotes can talk and grow wolf-like in size, snakes can fly, etc). To spice things up, the instant they turn 14, the kids disappear just like their parents before them. Oh, and there’s a “monster” too. Like I said, very William Golding, with a good measure of Stephen King thrown in. I’m really enjoying it.

What do you think makes the horror genre so fascinating to readers and writers?

It’s in human nature to crave feeling – whether it is love, happiness, sadness, or terror. What fascinates about horror is that it gives us a different kind of emotion, outside of that standard range. It’s not something we usually feel on a day to day basis, so it’s even more exhilarating. In books and film, it’s like the equivalent of a roller coaster – we really shouldn’t be getting into machines that hurl us through the sky at insane speeds, but the thrill is unparalleled. The same applies to the horror genre – true fear is an experience. I’m always looking for my next good fix.

As a horror writer / fan, what sells a story / concept to you?

In the books I read, the first thing that catches my attention is the writing. Horror, unfortunately, is not as popular or respected a genre as fantasy or mystery/thrillers, and more often these books are lumped in the general fiction section, or in a dusty corner under the speculative fiction umbrella. As such, a lot of the new horror I read is published by smaller presses, up-and-coming authors, internet-only books, etc. And, unfortunately, this sometimes means books are rougher – namely, they are in need of serious editing, or the authorial voice just isn’t up to par. So, for me, a horror novel that is well written will gain a big upper-hand.

The other things that sell a horror novel to me are strong characters and originality. One of the paradoxical pitfalls of the genre is a desire to write something terrifying, so much time and effort is spent on atmosphere and detailed descriptions. What makes a book terrifying (for me) is putting characters I care about or can relate to in horrifying situations – the emotional investment makes it all the more real. (Unless you’re H.P. Lovecraft you can’t really get away with extensive atmosphere/monster stories)

And then there’s originality. The idea itself doesn’t have to be original (although that will immediately grab my attention). Go ahead and have vampires terrorizing a small town or zombies shambling up to a farmhouse or whatever – what matters to me is what you DO with these older ideas and plot lines. How can you add something different to make it entirely your own? What makes you different from the rest of the aspiring writers out there? That spin is what will sell a story to me, as a reader.

What movies / books influenced your development as a genre writer? Similarly, what books, movies, comics, get you excited as a fan?

Oho. How much time do I have? Heh. Ok, broad strokes:

One of the first books my dad read to me at night was this gorgeous, illustrated version of Edgar Allen Poe’s poems and a few short stories. The first poem I memorized was his “El Dorado.” As such, Poe has always been a big part of my growing up – including the old Vincent Price films (The Raven, The Black Cat, Morella, The Masque of the Red Death). My family on my dad’s side are huge into horror, and my family had no scruples about showing me some scary shit when I was a kid. As a child of the ‘80s, I got all the goodie old slashers – Chucky, Freddy, Jason, Michael, and my dad’s favourite, Pinhead. But there were also the B-movies and oldies that played a huge role (Carnival of Souls, Basket Case), the obligatory classics (The Omen, The Exorcist, Evil Dead/II/Army of Darkness, Romero’s then-trilogy), and my obsession with shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt and The X-Files. And, of course, Stephen King. I read It when I was twelve and I have never looked back. Other formative books: the Scary Stories books from Alvin Schwartz, anything by Clive Barker, and my first author love Christopher Pike.

I still have all of my Christopher Pike books. Unlike that weaksauce, juvenile R.L. Stine, Pike wrote stories. He wrote about characters, heartbreak, and true horror. I really do wish he’d keep writing – his adult books were wonderful as well.

As for what gets me excited now? Anything new, basically. I like The Walking Dead comics, though the series is kinda dragging in these later instalments. I like the new adaptations of Stephen King’s The Stand and Peter David’s continuation of Roland’s younger years following Wizard and Glass in his The Dark Tower arcs. I like the ongoing Marvel Zombies specials, even though they don’t quite have the same humor and sparkle as the first couple of arcs did. As for books, I am loving the new wave of young adult horror: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Life as We Knew it and the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Gone and Hunger by Michael Grant, The Devouring by Simon Holt, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness...my favourite horror novels in the past year or so have all come from the young adult field.

And, of course, I’m always excited by the prospect of a new King book. I’m stoked for Dome.

Who do you go all fan-boy about when it comes to the horror genre? Have you ever met anyone more famous than yourself and how did you react?

Stephen King. Haha. Couldn’t you guess? Yes, I know his books are over-long, his endings tend to be weak, his recent books have been less than stellar...but he’s my favourite author. I love the stories he tells, and I am an unabashed fangirl. I think I’d shit myself if I ever had the chance to meet him.

As for meeting anyone famous...not really! Certainly no one from the horror field anyways. Unfortunately.

If you had a chance to invite any horror legend, be it actor, writer, director, author (living / dead / undead) over for some tea, who would you choose and why?

I’d invite Vincent Price over. We wouldn’t do anything except sit across from each other and have an epic stare-off.

Lights on or off when watching horror flicks?

Off, baby. You know I like it like that.

Which do you prefer: Romero originals or remakes?

Originals. Although I do like the remakes, original recipe is the best beyond a doubt.

What is the best advice you ever received from someone about horror writing?

Stephen King told me (ok, he told everyone in his book On Writing) that in order to be a horror writer, you really do have to get out there and read. And I think this holds true for authors of any genre – a love for reading is a cornerstone.

Sam Raimi

The horror genre has seen many incarnations over the past few years – what do you think the future holds for the genre?

Remakes are still going strong, and I’m tentatively excited for Rob Zombie’s H2 at the end of summer. But, what I’m hoping for is a resurgence of original horror films, in the mainstream. Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell is a good start, and hopefully other major studios will follow suit (as opposed to putting out that Molly Hartley crap or yet another shitty knockoff of J-Horror/Asian Tartan Extreme).

Books seem to be focusing more on the apocalypse theme, which has me happy as a clam. I’ve read a good number of apocalypse/post-apocalypse new releases this year, and am altogether pleased with the new direction. In both young adult and adult horror novels, vampires are being phased out (fingers crossed) and zombies are taking their place...hopefully this trend sticks, too.

Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan – apart from going to hide in the Winchester, that is! – and will you be able to implement it?

Oh, you best believe I do. Seriously, I do. In a nutshell:

Thea’s Zombie Escape Plan

(Assuming the Apocalypse occurs and I am in my apartment)

I’m lucky enough to live on the top floor of my apartment building, and my unit can only be accessed via a single flight of stairs ending at my doorstep. So, it’s Z-Day. First thing I do once I notice some shambling brain-munchers outside is immediately take my handy power drill (it’s always charged) and unscrew the iron siding of my staircase in an attempt to disconnect the stairs from my front door. Once that’s accomplished (or even if it is a fruitless task), I lock the front door (which, by the way is incredibly sturdy, I know from experience having been locked out recently) and barricade it and my front hallway with my dresser and other assorted furniture. Next, I fill both bathtubs and my sink with water (in case of a longer siege and considering how fragile our infrastructure is, I’ll need all the water I can get), also trying to bottle and save as much liquid as I can get. I get my handy baseball bat and any other melee weapons (table legs, lamp stands, golf clubs) and keep them handy…and I settle in for as long as I can–at least until the initial chaos ends. I keep the battery powered boombox handy, and I wait for further instructions. After the initial chaos runs its course, I evaluate my options (and how busy the street is with corpsicles). I am one block away from a local high school (you might recognize it from Buffy and other movies), and two blocks away from a national guard and army training facility. Using my handy ladder, my exit route is through the bedroom window, down three stories to the ground (in a pinch, I could probably chance a jump) then running, baseball bat in hand, for the car in the gated garage…or if worse comes to worst, running the streets to get to the army facility. If it’s abandoned, or a zombie haven, or if the facility is full of d-bags as in almost all zombie films and literature, I double back to the school (which is gated, mind you) and hole up or gather supplies depending on how dire the situation is….and then, it’s back to the waiting game. Eventually I might make a stab for the Getty (elevated position, great art, possibility of growing stuff off the land, etc) should things stay hairy.

The Getty Center
At least, that’s the plan. For now.
You asked.

Are there any “how to” books on your bookshelf you would recommend to aspiring authors?

Stephen King’s On Writing. Again, huge fan here.


Karen Mahoney said...

This is just AWESOME!!! Great interview Liz, and thanks for such entertaining (and interesting) answers, Thea. :)

Very nice to hear more from our US Book Smuggling buddy. Absolutely loved your zombie apocalypse survival plan. LOL.

Karen Mahoney said...

p.s. Liz, yes... a free Blackberry should just about do it. ;)

Janicu said...

I'm loving how detailed Thea's zombie escape plan is. I have such a plan for hurricanes/floods, but not zombies. :P HEE. Amused. But now I have to think of a zombie escape plan myself.. may be similar to my hurricane plan with modifications.

Thea said...

Hehe thanks Karen :) I'm eternally jealous that Ana gets to hang out with you and Liz and everyone while I'm here by my lonesome in LA. *sniffles* *violin music*

Janicu - Oh yes. I take zombie survival very seriously. LOL. I'm one of those people with emergency supplies up the wazoo. Just in case, y'know :p

Thea said...

Oh, and a HUGE thanks again to Liz for having me over!!! It was a blast!

I feel famous! :p