WriterDrome is a monthly ongoing discussion concerning the mechanics and logistics of writing Horror, Speculative, Dark Fantastic, and Noir Fiction. The aim here is to discuss the many dynamics necessary to write, edit and publish these genres in a continuously changing landscape. Remember, opinions mentioned here are just that, opinions. I’m no expert, but I’ve been writing for a long time, and I feel there is a lot I can pass on to my fellow writers. Lively discussion is highly encouraged.
My Ninja Vampire Concession Stand Worker Can So Beat Up Your Nazi Zombie Dentist
Weird monster mashups are not a new thing. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is often cited as one of the earliest examples of Horror/Comedy. Starting in the 1920’s, Hollywood started mishmashes to draw people to the theaters, providing them with laughs and chills all in one sitting. 1948 gave us Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and that was it, a new genre was firmly cemented into the hearts and minds of movie fans the world over. Today, we all sit in waiting for Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to get off their fat butts and finish the Ghostbusters 3 script and just make the damn movie already. Bookstores all over the world stock recent bestsellers like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (both by Seth Grahame Smith) and I have to stop and wonder what happened to making up stuff out of thin air, and why do we need to mix it up with something so unlikely? Now I’ve heard the Vampire Hunter book is actually fairly decent, and I’m certainly not going to attack the author for tapping into an obvious unconquered market. No, he gets my upmost respect. Unfortunately, now the bookstores will be ramsacked with copycats trying to cash in on this “new, but not really” genre.
Is it all necessary? When does it stop? How ridiculous will it get before the readers suddenly stop buying the books in droves?
Well, it’s not likely to end anytime soon. It is our job as writers to make our characters different, and to do that, sometimes we need to get a little inventive. I love casting characters “against type”. The country preacher seeking murderous vengeance, the little old lady who runs a brothel, the ten year old girl who runs drugs for her daddy. These characters are different and not what readers expect when they make their first impressions of them. And even though readers don’t expect these multifaceted characters we’ve created, they do expect us to challenge their expectations or they wouldn’t have bought our book in the first place. As authors, we must meet that challenge, even if that means taking timeless characters mined from the massive amount of fiction now in Public Domain and mixing them with fantastic situations and terrifying creatures.
Ramsey Campbell wrote a great article years ago called “Avoiding What’s Been Done To Death”. Campbell was actually hitting upon avoiding overused cliches in this article, but I think the general concept can apply here as well, which is basically to forge your own path. If you want to mine characters and stories from the Public Domain, then by all means do your homework. The thing that makes the Vampire Hunter story work is that the author uses real people and real historical events and twists them into a vampire story, a very well written vampire story.
Imaginative Historical Fiction.
Remember that outrageous doesn’t always mean better. If your outrageous mishmash of character types is well written and properly executed, it CAN become something that is better, and perhaps something a ballsy editor or agent wouldn’t mind taking on. The key elements here are Well-Written and Properly Executed. As ridiculous as mixing up Ninja Vampire Concession Stand Workers with Nazi Zombie Dentists sounds, if it’s written with heart and soul, readers will forgive the outrageousness of the mishmash.
It’s not the mishmash they care about, but the story, above and beyond anything else. So if you want to write a story about The Three Musketeers and Werewolves, then by all means make damn sure your Musketeers do Alexandre Dumas justice, and that your werewolves are the scariest anyone has ever seen.