Monday, January 27, 2014

Pulp Fiction Is Driven By Plot. Literary Fiction is Driven By Verisimilitude.

A couple of times in the last year I've had conversations about verisimilitude in fiction. During one conversation, in my critique group, a friend talked about a theory of fiction that he'd found,  wherein the author stated that characters should have an easily identifiable problem that should be solved by the end of the book. This had been mentioned to me as well by a colleague who gave me an excellent critique of my novel Rock of Aeons and pointed out that she didn't feel Ozzie had a clear through-line.  

Later that week, one of my many readerly friends who rarely reads fiction mentioned that he didn't think neat story lines and tidy character goals were very realistic, because life doesn't happen like that. 

Both times I described a personal theory of fiction, which is the line between what I see as the two major forms - pulp and literature. Pulp fiction is largely driven by plot - things happen, characters resolve them. Many times pulp characters are Mary Sues. Mary Sues are unreasonably exceptional individuals, of one sort or another, characters with extraordinary talents and few substantial weaknesses, just moral failings that are usually vices.  

Literary fiction is driven by verisimilitude. Characters observe situations and react to them, being changed in the process. 

The rule that a character should have an easily identifiable problem is necessary for pulp, but irrelevant for literature, where verisimilitude is important. Now, although much of genre fiction is pulp, genre and literature are not exclusive. Noire fiction is almost certainly literature2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is a great example of literary science fiction, driven by character interactions, with plot entirely secondary. And lets admit that literature is another genre - a taste. 

When I think about the kind of characters I like, the ones I go back to again and again, I think of larger than life figures that have an element of verisimilitude, a problem that is not easily resolved, intractable problems that run off the edges of their story. An easily fixed emotional problem is not something I identify with.  I love John Constantine,  Dream of the Endless, Zinzi from Zoo City , and every self mutilating character in a Tim Powers novel. 

I like tragic characterwho cant seem to do anything without accidentally (or sometimes on purpose: can’t make an omelets without breaking a few eggs) fucking over their friends. Those kind of pulp characters seem like an operatic metaphor for middle management, frankly. 

I like pulp and I like literature. I like the novels of Kim Stanley Robinson and Bonnie Jo Campbell because they write character driven stories, with characters whose concerns are deeply personal and small scale and present themselves gradually. I like pulp fiction because I want those characters to kick ass. Frankenstein’s monster? Grievously wounded by his father, but somehow loving him just the same? Eight feet tall with the grace of a chimp? That’s a literary character that can kick some ass. 

It was the monsters remorse that enabled me to project a character going forward, to bring him into a modern narrative. An eight foot tall man, built with a process that regenerates dead flesh. Perpetually. A passionate character who would learn from his mistakes, and after two hundred and fifty years would be sure of himself and world-weary and kind and horribly, horribly pragmatic. And could kick serious ass. A character who needed a first name, and took it from the title of the book Mary Shelley made from sea captain’s letters. That's the direction I took to my monster, Detective Prometheus Frankenstein. Theo for short. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Frankenstein Vs. The Titans, a two color, gonzo-urban-fantasy-buddy-cop novel, is live TODAY!

Frankenstein Vs. The Titans, a two color, gonzo-urban-fantasy-buddy-cop novel, is live TODAY!

Theo Frankenstein's father refused to give him a name. So Theo made one out of his accidental biographer's most famous work. Audrey Sefton had no clue that his new posting as a detective in special services would mean policing monsters. And he's not sure that he likes keeping it classified. Westhoeven is a small Midwestern city, and a reservation where the U.S. government has secretly located all manner of supernatural entities. Today, something has started killing wizards, threatening to ignite a war between wizards and monsters. Today, Theo must break in his new mortal partner, find out what his monstrous girlfriend is hiding from him, and solve the mystery for his backers in The Agency. Or Westhoeven may get stomped flat.

The beautiful cover is by Joe Haemmerle. Joe Haemmerle is a Graphic Artist living in Austin, TX who works part-time as a graphic designer for an apparel company and also as a freelance artist designing book covers, album covers, and also creating web comics. To see his personal site go to: To check out his comic work go to:

Buy it for Kindle, here.

Buy it for other e-readers here.

Buy a hard copy here.

Soon to be released on: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, PageFoundry, and the Diesel eBook Store.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Monster Is Not A Warning About What Science Could Do Wrong.

The pop movie figure of Frankenstein's monster, the creature made of disparate parts, has been with me since I was a monster-movie loving child. When fishing around in my head for an urban fantasy idea, he often popped up. I like the Urban Fantasy genre in the same overly literal way I like Frankenstein’s monster. As an anthro major and keen player of several home brew fantasy role playing game campaigns, I like the idea of an entire world inhabited by monsters. Of entire cultures formed by monsters. We played games in which monsters lived side by side with human beings: Gatecrasher, in humnad lived alongside elves and angels in a half magic solar systeymand d20 Modern, which was Dungeons and Dragons' answer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And pop culture has always flirted with a world in which monsters lived alongside humans: Dark Shadows and Wild, Wild West 

But when Urban Fantasy took off for the masses, became a household phenomenon with vampire, werewolf, and eventually zombie, demon and faerie people punching a clock next to homo sapiens peoples, Frankenstein's monster was no-where to be found. This is partially because the monster is a character, not a specie or culture. You can have lots of vampire clans or werewolf tribes duking out with each other. But the monster is pretty much a guest star. 

My Grandmother gave me a copy of Frankenstein for my birthday, one year. I had asked for it. But I couldn't actually read it. Like the Lord of the Rings, it was to dry for my adolescent brain. I still loved the idea of the monster, the Karlofiann creature with bolts in its neck and thick sutures holding it together. I loved the idea of artificial mankind. Of manufactured mankind. 

When I was thinking about doing a pulp pastoral about weird monsters, I wanted to use the monster. So I finally read Frankenstein, to get the background. 

And the monster is a great character. The book itself is difficult to read. It's driven largely by a monolog-ing Victor, who is whiny and irritating, alternately self-aggrandizing and self-flagellating. It moves fitfully, with too much backstory on the front end, takes forever to get to the conflict between monster and creator. It’s definitelnot one of my favorite reads. But I became really charmed by the character of the monster. 

First of all, he is not dumb, nor clumsy, as he is in the common media depiction of him. There is a scene where he first speaks to his father in the mountains, and he is described as moving with the grace of an ape, almost swinging over the crags and precipices like an ape brachiates, swinging from tree to tree. And he's fucking brilliant. He teaches himself language, and to read, by listening to a young girl reading to her blind grandfather. He speaks as eloquently as any Shakespearian character, and with less fumbling and mumble mouthed vacillation than his father.  
Frankenstein is often read as a warning against misusing science. We must sepulchrally intone "beware what man was not meant to know." Maybe that was even the intent. I am not a Shelley scholar. I don't really care. See how blithe I can be when misusing literature for my personal artistic gain? But frankly, I found the scientific themes entirely secondary to a modern reading. 

The monster is not a warning about what science could do wrong. The monster's worst characteristic throughout the novel is that he is ugly. Victor made this magnificent, brilliant, capable creature and abandoned him because he was ugly. Would any modern human being give life and then pass it up because it wasn't aesthetic enough? Not pretty? 

Some might say that the monster is monstrous because of the violence he perpetrates. I will be accused of being a fuzzy thinking liberal here, but he is a product of his environment and his time in that his murders are the result of his profound emotion at being unique and rejected, and his attempts to make his peace with that through negotiating with the only human being who can alleviate his suffering, his absentee father. He did not live in an age when cognitive behavioral therapy, Buddhist mindfulness, and omnipresent social connections allow us to deal with our harsh emotions in a civil fashion. 

I think rightfully, a modern reader will see the monster is a warning against what happens when you abandon your children and your responsibilities to them. He kills Victor's brother by accident and frames the nanny for the crime out of fear that he will be punished, and then murders Victor's friend and fiancĂ© in revenge for his father's refusal to create a mate. None of the murders are excusable by civilized standards, but none are baseless, and all of them are motivated by a desire for justice. It's reasonable to think that if Victor had shown the monster even as much care as his 1940's film doppelganger does, or as much as  Gene Wilder's Frankensteen does his own monster, with the abby normal brain and all, that none of the mayhem that followed the monster's awakening to consciousness would have occurred. 

The end of Frankenstein sealed my love for the monster, showing him a nuanced creation, a tragic hero in the mold that I enjoy characters: at his father's death, he expresses remorse and regret. 

"But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept, and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. "

Monday, January 06, 2014

Frankenstein's Monster Is the Greatest Character in Western Literature.

Let's start with cheerful hyperbole: I think Frankenstein's monster might be one of the greatest characters in western literature.

Not Doctor FrankensteinVictor Frankenstein is shallow and weak and self-involved, a fickle  narcissist who wallows in regret after he gets his friends and family killed. 

The monster holds everyone's attention.  

Admittedly, this is not because Frankenstein is well loved as a novel. The cultural love affair with the monster is shallow one, focused largely on his image in the moviesBut also, the idea of the monster is fascinating, the conceit that organic life is interoperable. That a scientist can take a bunch of spare human - parts and make a person as easily as you can make a starship by fitting Legos together. 

At its root, the idea that life can be manipulated satisfies insecurities about mortality and senescence. In this the novel Frankenstein was prescient: It is a goal of science to transplant or manufacture human organs in order to extend lifespan. 

But there is a strong element of neato/keen embodied in the monster as well. What would you do if you could effortlessly Lego-ize your body? If you could stitch on cool new replacement parts? Would you give yourself wings?  A wolf head? It is a heady power fantasy, but also artistic in its own merits. The religious art of the ancients often featured baroque chimera, gods with animal heads on human bodiesand the lego human-animal daughters of the Greek TitansSnake bodied Echidna, the winged lion Sphinx, the human/bird Harpies. The idea of lego-people has often been mined in pulp fiction, from the surgically created animal humans of The Island of Doctor Moreux to the horrific but humorous absurdism of Herbert West: Reanimator, wherein body parts get stuck together in bizarre combinations. Stories about the genetic combination of humans and animals fill the same niche, from Jurassic Park to Splice.  

This is why I loved the idea of the monster, tooMgrandmother gave me a copy of Frankenstein for my birthday, one yearI had asked for it. But I couldn't actually read it. Like the Lord of the Rings, it was too dry for my adolescent brain. I still loved the idea of the monster, the Karlofiann creature with bolts in its neck and thick sutures holding it together. I loved the idea of artificial mankind. Of manufactured mankind. 

But that's not the monster that made it into Frankenstein vs. the Titans.