Monthly Archives: October 2014

For Halloween: The First Draft of a Horror Story

Predator

The Predator had to hunt and kill today.  Its need was overwhelming it.  It just had to find someone to assuage its desires, but the right sort of prey was always difficult to find.  Still, if you looked the part and was patient, the right one would usually turn up.

***

Little Paula looked so scared and lost. Sure, it was the second week of school, and she had been shown which bus to catch last week – but that was last week.  Over the weekend, she had forgotten; after all, she was only in first grade.

So, feeling small and cold in her pretty pink dress and lacy white cardigan, she tried to understand what she should do next.

Her mummy had always told her that when you are worried, you should look for a teacher or a policeman. It was good advice, except Paula couldn’t see anyone who looked like that.  All the adults she could see looked harassed or grumpy, not cool and calm like a teacher should.  Nor was anyone wearing a police uniform.  And, as an obedient and serious little girl, she was careful not to speak to strangers.

She could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes. The other children were cheerfully climbing onto their various buses, or trailing off to walk home.  Soon, she would be left all alone.

What should she do? Should she go back into the school, and try to find someone to help?  Maybe there would be someone still left in the office, and she could ask them for assistance.

But what if everyone goes home when the bell went?  While her school was fun when it was full of chattering students, it looked kind of spooky and deserted when they had all left for the day.  The shadows were big and gloomy, and the hallways echoed.  It just seemed too big and too imposing and way too frightening for a little girl not yet six years old.

Still, maybe if she hurried, the shadows wouldn’t catch her.

Just then, a warm hand clasped her shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Paula turned her pale, tense face to this new threat. Smiling down at her was a big man, wearing smart navy blue and white clothes, and a crisp hat.  He didn’t look exactly like a policeman, but he did look very official in his own way.

“I can’t remember my bus. I think I’ve missed it,” whispered Paula.

“Well, then, we’d best see how we can get you home. Do you know where you live?  Do you know your address?”

Paula brightened up considerably at the word ‘home’. The threat of tears subsided to a shiny gloss on her eyes.  “Oh, I have my address.  It’s written down on the inside of all my books.”

The kind man looked pleased. “That’s excellent.  Here, give us a look then.”

Paula handed him one of the books from her Power Puff Girls knapsack, her handwriting book. In the front cover was her name and address and phone number.

“Well, Paula,” said the man, “My name is Ronnie. I live just a few blocks from your house.  How about I give you a lift home?”

The little girl looked hopeful. The man knew her name, so he couldn’t be a stranger; he must be a friend of her parents that she just couldn’t place.  And he wanted to get her home, to her Mummy.

“Yes, please,” she said politely.

***

The predator couldn’t believe its luck.  It had located a potential victim who seemed just perfect.  If it played its cards right, and didn’t seem too eager, the little fish should be well and truly hooked.

***

Ronnie led Paula over to his vehicle, and made sure she was secure in her seatbelt before pulling out from the curbing.  The little girl was too small to see out of the car window, and so couldn’t see where they were headed.  Still, it didn’t really matter, as Paula was not familiar with the streets surrounding the school to know any different.

So, she didn’t really know that they were headed away from her home address.

***

The predator’s luck was holding.  No one had noticed it and the victim getting into the car.  Even if anyone had looked in their direction, they would have seen a happy little girl getting tucked in by her attentive Daddy.  It would be too late before anyone noticed Paula missing.

***

Ronnie’s car was a big, butch four-wheel-drive.  A criminal psychologist would have had a field day with such a car.  It had all the equipment for a hunting trip, even though any permitted seasonal hunting was well and truly over.  The macho vehicle helped compensate for his feelings of inadequacy.

The only time that Ronnie felt strong and in charge was when he was raping a minor.  He was too much of a coward to attack a full-grown woman.  He needed to completely dominate his target.

Paula was beginning to get restless in his backseat.  It was beginning to dawn on her that the trip was taking much too long.

“Are you lost, Mister Ronnie?”

“No, sweetheart.  We are nearly there,” he lied.

A couple of minutes later, Paula started to cry.  Ronnie hadn’t really done anything to give himself away, so he was a little confused.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“You aren’t taking me home.  You are one of those bad men that steal little girls.”

Ronnie was surprised that she had figured it out so soon.  Usually, the children were quite happy and cooperative right up until he started to hurt them.  Most kids, even when constantly warned about ‘Stranger Danger’, still couldn’t really believe that anyone would be mean to them on purpose.

In a way, he was doing them a favour; he was teaching them what went on in the real world.

The little girl continued to cry.  It gave Ronnie a bit of a rush; this girl was exactly the type of victim he was looking for, weak and passive.  Another girl might have started screaming, or trying to struggle out of her seat restraint.

They reached the abandoned store that Ronnie had sussed out previously.  The shop had been untenanted for months, and no one ever bothered to check it out once in a while.  It had been the work of moments to break in, and over the last week Ronnie had set it up for his power games.

He quickly bundled Paula inside.

Paula looked around at her surroundings.  The place was dusty and grimy, with cockroach droppings dotting the floor.  Against one wall was an unrolled sleeping bag, and it was here that she had been dumped.  The place seemed completely deserted, with no chance of anyone hearing screams for help.

Ronnie was pulling down his jeans.  He was feeling just great.  In a few minutes, he would be getting his rocks off.  He was large and in charge.

Except, the girl child had stopped crying.  In fact, she had stood up and was smiling, a creepy smile that held no real humour.

“Well, it’s time for little girls to get what they deserve.  Take your knickers off, Paula.”

“You are a bad man, a really bad man,” stated the little girl.  She just stood there, staring at him.

Paula didn’t seem to be frightened anymore.  She wasn’t following Ronnie’s mental script.  By now, she was supposed by be crying or begging to go home.

“Look, it you shut up and do what your told, it won’t hurt so much,” snarled Ronnie.  He had his pants around his ankles, and he hopped over to the child.  Grabbing her roughly, he tried to get her to lie down.

Paula seemed to ripple.  Her mouth was suddenly larger, her teeth looked sharper, and her fingers curled into claws.  “I like bad men.  No one misses them when they are gone.”

***

The predator ate well that day.

 black_dog_art

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Graphical Guide to Cemetery Symbolism

This relates very nicely to my post on Steampunk Settings.

Airship Flamel

The purported grave of Mother Goose, Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.  Source: Wikipedia user Swampyank. The purported grave of Mother Goose, Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Source: Wikipedia user Swampyank.

From Altas Obscura, a guide to the symbolism found in graveyards–apropos for Halloween.

Growing up near Boston, I sometimes wandered the burying grounds in Boston where the stones date back to the founding of Boston.  Many of the colonial era graves have intricate carvings which are still crisp and sharp.  Death, the winged skull, the winged hourglass (Tempus Fugit!) and the draped urn are all symbols of death that can be seen there.

And this was all before the excess decoration of the Victorian Era.

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“Bicycle Face” and the Suffrage Movement

Bicycle Face … because getting a healthy workout and enjoying some personal freedom is so painful, your face will change!

Airship Flamel

Bicyclist wearing practical bloomers. (Still looks like she's wearing a corset though.) Bicyclist wearing practical bloomers. (Still looks like she’s wearing a corset though.)

Below is a link to an interesting article about how the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s became interwoven with the women’s suffrage movement.  While high-wheeled “penny farthing” bicycles were ridden mainly by men, the adoption of the safety bicycle in the late 1880s popularized bicycling by women.  Suddenly, the bicycle enabled women to leave the home, and get exercise in the outdoors. 

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Humour and the Steampunk Genre

Grim men with rocking horse.

Horsing Around

For some unknown reason, we tend to look back at the Victorians and consider them rather grim. I put this attitude down to the black & white photographs from the era. Even the brightest colours are reduced to dreary shades of dust and charcoal in B&W photography, and the unsmiling expressions were an artefact of the length of exposure time to obtain a clear photo. As an example, study the image above. The uniforms of the men could be scarlet for all we know, and the presence of the ‘smoking’ hobbyhorse, balancing baby doll, and toy cannon suggests this image was taken in jest. I would love to know the full story behind this image; I suspect this might be a bachelor party.

Logical progression from 'headless' photographsPhotoshop in the Victorian era

Most humour is ephemeral. But there are several strong suggestions that the Victorians enjoyed a good laugh: the success of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Gilbert & Sullivan; the enormous number of humorous photos and postcards; the popularity of Punch magazine; the lyrics of music hall songs; and the fact that even the most serious novels usually had some humorous scenes. So much for the stiff upper lip …

Girls dressed as gnomes 1902

So, what does this mean for your Steampunk narrative? Some authors add humour to their work as a matter of course, like Michael Pryor, while Ged Maybury writes with the intent of creating a humorous novel. The definition of what is humour changes from person to person. If you want to throw a tragedy into sharp focus, you contrast it to humour – the premise of nearly every modern horror movie.

The best humour isn’t forced. When in doubt, take it out. There is no such thing as half funny.

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Adapting Victorian Settings to the Steampunk Genre.

Victorian-era Burial Vaults.

Victorian-era Burial Vaults.

Not every Steampunk adventure needs to be set upon an airship or in a laboratory. In fact, I would encourage using a range of settings to give added texture to the storytelling. The Vicwardian era had a lot of places that don’t have an equivalent in today’s society. As shown in the picture above … when was the last time you visited a burial vault? Or even seen an example of a proper Victorian drawing room?

Balloon Reading Chair

Balloon Reading Chair

Hall Chair

Hall Chair

Victorian Lovers Seat ... reupholstered in modern material.

Victorian Lovers Seat … reupholstered in modern material.

Even the furniture was different. The Victorian believed that there should be a tool for every job. This meant they made special furniture for everything. A chair just wasn’t a chair. There were reading chairs for libraries, armchairs, sofas, chaise longues, day beds, piano stools, a special chair used for carving a roast, desk chairs, lovers seats, grandfather chairs and grandmother chairs, commodes, dining chairs, nursing chairs, slipper chairs, bedroom chairs, hall chairs, high chairs and the list goes on and on. So, when you are describing a ‘standard’ room in a ‘standard’ house, there will be unfamiliar items in the décor. You can’t take it for granted that a Steampunk bedroom – even without taking any gadgets into account – looks like a modern bedroom.

Everything will seem overdecorated to modern eyes. And garishly coloured. This was an era when wallpaper hit the bigtime. This was the era of the curiosity cabinet and the whatnot. You think your Great Aunty Edna’s house is cluttered? You should have seen her grandma’s house!

Ipswich Open House visit 2014 101Ipswich Open House visit 2014 187

The Steampunk literary genre isn’t a modern story with cogs glued on. A correctly constructed setting will give your characters the perfect frame for their adventures. Think of your setting as another character in your scene, and give the setting its own ‘dialogue’.

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The Highs and Lows of Editing in the Steampunk Genre

Nivatima Dimentia, Steampunk at its finest.

Nivatima Dimentia, Steampunk at its finest.

Steampunk is:

  • A subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world. (Dictionary.com)

  • A subgenre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. (Wikipedia)

  • a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology. (Oxford Dictionary)

I am currently in the middle of edits and rewrites for my current Work-in-Progress (WiP). I am concentrating on the genre markers and subtexts at the moment, strengthening the scaffold of my story, and filling in holes. I’m making sure the characters stay true to the natures I have provided them. If something tries to twist away on a tangent, I make a note of it but abandon working on it for too long or too hard. I want to leave that for the third edit.

This is how my process goes:

1/ First draft – written just to get the story down. Full of gaps and bad writing.

2/ First edit – getting an overall feel for the story. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. Getting the story into a good enough shape that I can show this to someone else.

3/ Second draft – Where I am now! Building up the characters, themes, settings, and fixing the plot holes.

4/  Polishing – A repeat of the first edit and second draft.

5/ Beta-reading stage, where the final tweaking occurs and the line edit occurs. Where I have to draw a line in the sand and call it a day.

So, I am halfway through the second draft. This is the longest stage for me. This is probably due to my constantly fiddling with the story. I always want to add more of everything. I don’t know when to stop researching, because I am always finding out new details that will enrich my narrative.

I am not an over-writer, like Stephen King, who writes more words he needs and then prunes his block of words into the sculptural intricacies of a plot. I am an embroiderer, starting off with a fairly plain cloth and then building up layers of colour to create my patterns. By the end of this second draft, I will have a huge file of false starts and deleted scenes. But I will also have some great stuff that would never have occurred to me without having the bulk of the first draft in place.

Some people forget the journey should be as much of an experience as the destination. The journey of my WiP gives me a great deal of satisfaction. If you are interesting in seeing some of my research, I have a page on Facebook you can investigate: https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday

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My Radio Interview on Steampunk

About a year ago, I did an interview on the National ABC radio network on Steampunk. Here is the link to the podcast.

http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2013/09/what-is-steampunk.html?site=southqld&program=612_weekends_with_warren

Steampunk Ghosterbusters

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