Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
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Friday, November 09, 2012Guest post: Paula Stiles
I’ve always been an advocate of the camp ‘write what you know’. Usually this applies to locations, details and characters. For example, I’ve had characters with the same jobs as I’ve had, with coworkers and bosses based on people from that time in my life. Hell, if any of my characters have to go abroad, it’s probably to somewhere I’ve been.
Sometimes, you get a reader that pokes at one of your details and tries to call you out on it. Is this REALLY how business would be conducted in a law firm? (office chair Buckaroo? Yes.) Is this REALLY how an employer would react under these circumstances? (Sleep with his secretary? Yes.) Can a teacher REALLY think that about one of his students? (planning murder? Definitely.). Fiction aside, yes that’s REALLY how it can go down. I’ve felt it, seen it…smelled it.
But people vary. How you might react to one thing might be different to what I would do. Just look at my partner and I with spiders. With me, it’s just a spider. With her, it’s THE END OF THE WORLD.
I’m very happy to have over on the blog today new Dark Continents author Paula Stiles, who joins our happy family with the release of her latest novel, The Might Quinn.
Paula, as a writer with a wealth of experience in extreme situations, might have a vastly dissimilar reaction to you during the plights that occur in a horror novel. Is this a realistic approach, or different strokes for different folks? Take it away, Paula…
Like a lot of writers, I write what I know. What I know happens to include things like managing a spooked half-blind mare inside a dark stall, trying not to drown under a motorcycle on a West African dirt road, driving ambulances at night in freezing rain, and dealing with unmedicated psychotics in domestic disputes. Unsurprisingly, then, my protagonists (like Quinn Bolcan, in my urban fantasy novel, “The Mighty Quinn [http://www.amazon.com/The-Mighty-Quinn-ebook/dp/B009IB98C8/]”) frequently end up in dangerous situations and find themselves at risk. What they don't do (unlike far too many characters in horror fiction) is act like hysterical idiots when it happens. Unless, of course, they're about to die horribly. Because acting like the kind of bloody moron you normally encounter in slasher flicks is an excellent way to get killed in a risky situation.
Hysterical and overemotional behavior, of course, is quite realistic for certain people in hazardous situations, a classic one being the panicky swimmer that lifeguards in training are always warned about. This is why you never grab a conscious swimmer who is drowning, but give him/her the float and get away. Someone who is actively in the process of drowning will crawl all over you in a panic and drown you first, before sinking after you.
One thing I learned the hard way while still a teenager, courtesy of working on rescue squads, is that civilians (unlike pigs named 'Babe') are definitely stupid. And that it's very easy for a rescuer to become a civilian-slash-victim if you're not paying attention. One of our EMT instructors used to call it “Don't make two patients.” That is to say, you should always scope out the hazards in a situation before rushing in to help a patient. You're not going to help anyone if you fall victim to the same thing the patient did.
This was somewhat of a revelation to me, since my previous experience with panicky creatures had been 1200-pound horses. We were expected to be the calm ones around the crazy, dumb equines (speaking of things that can kill you). It had never occurred to me up to that point that humans could be just as stupid. And dangerous.
The mindset of a horror protag who is going to survive longer than a single kill scene has to be...well..different. Someone who is competent at surviving is not having big, overblown feelings about anything, including conscious fear. That person is simply reacting and a truly accurate portrayal of such a scene will include little or no emotional reaction at the time, just physical and mental action, reaction and (if the POV character has time) planning an escape route or counterattack.
I have been accused of having unemotional POV characters during scenes of high risk, but that's been my personal experience with those situations. The emotional reaction is always delayed—be it by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or even years or decades. It is not in sync with what is happening. A lot of people die unknowingly, absurdly, killed before they even realize they are at risk. And the biggest problem for someone who is at risk is that your mind tends to wander. It's as if your subconscious wants to put your conscious mind anywhere but right there in front of the monster. You can go off on some really absurd mental tangents, even if you are trained to respond to emergency situations. And that's while you still could do something to save yourself, like run.
This kind of absurdity has some very odd side effects. I've never been able to figure out whether I had had a few too many close calls within a short time, or if it was a proof of reincarnation, when I once found myself about to be run down by an out-of-control logging truck while on my motorcycle in Africa, with nowhere to go. My only thought? A thoroughly exasperated “Oh, no. Not again.”
Bio: Possessing a quixotic fondness for difficult careers, Paula Stiles has driven ambulances, taught fish farming for the Peace Corps in West Africa and earned a Scottish PhD in medieval history, studying Templars and non-Christians in Spain. She is the author of horror novel, "The Mighty Quinn,[http://www.amazon.com/The-Mighty-Quinn-ebook/dp/B009IB98C8/]" co-written supernatural mystery novels, "Fraterfamilias [http://www.amazon.com/Fraterfamilias-ebook/dp/B004FV501Y/]" and the upcoming “Confraternitas,” and non-fiction medieval history book, "Templar Convivencia: Templars and Their Associates in 12th and 13th Century Iberia [http://www.amazon.com/Templar-Convivencia-Templars-Associates-ebook/dp/B008CXB038/]." She is Editor in Chief of the Lovecraft/Mythos 'zine/micropress Innsmouth Free Press [www.innsmouthfreepress.com]. You can find her at: http://thesnowleopard.net.