October 31, 2014

Undead Obsessed!

Today we have the lovely, amazing, and talented Jessica Robinson, aka Pembroke Sinclair, talking about her book Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies, which is out today! An ideal Halloween read, and you can get it at Amazon (kindle or paperback), Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere. All the cool zombies are doing it!

What is Undead Obsessed about?

Undead Obsessed is about my desire to find meaning in zombies. I’ve always wanted to write about them and figure out their deeper meaning, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. After watching World War Z, it all became clear. Horror films are not nice to science and scientists, and this is evident in zombie films, so that was where my focus took me. If you want the blurb from the book, here it is:
Jessica Robinson’s obsession with zombie films started when she was in junior high. Horror films are a great lens to examine concerns society has about modern science. Let’s face it, when it comes to horror movies, science has a bad reputation. Blind ambition, experimental serums, and genetic experiments are often blamed for the giant monster terrorizing the city or the reason aliens are taking human prisoners or the cause of the dead rising from the grave to consume living flesh.
Using film, literature, and interviews with experts, Robinson examines how zombies portray real-world fears such as epidemics, mind control, what may or may not exist in space, the repercussions of playing God, and the science behind the fears. Robinson’s goal is to explore how zombies become a metaphor for our fears of science and what could happen if science gets out of hand.

Why Zombies?

Why not zombies? I have been fascinated with them since I first saw Night of the Living Dead, which was when I was in junior high. At the moment, they are the demon du jour. But it’s more than that. One of the things I find so fascinating is that they attempt to answer the question: what makes us human? And let me tell you, according to zombie films, the answer isn’t pretty.

What is your first scary memory?

Oh, man. That’s a tough one. One of the most vivid memories I have is centered on Gremlins. My sister and I used to share a room, and we had trundle beds. They used to be set up in an L shape, with my bed really low to the ground, and there was a space under my sister’s that was pitch black. I always imagined Gremlins would come out of there in the middle of the night and eat me.

You and I have talked a bit about your fears. How does your experience of the world differ from others, do you think?

Ha! Tamara always likes to joke that she doesn’t understand how I function in the world because of my fears (or neurosis, however you want to classify it).

I’m what you could classify as a nervous person—some people might say cynical. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, my mind instantly goes to the worst-case scenario. For example, when my family and I first moved into our new house, I was distressed that my kids’ bedrooms were at the front of the house. I had visions of cars losing control on icy streets and slamming into their bedrooms and killing them in their sleep. I always hang onto the rails when I go downstairs for fear I will trip and die. When I’m in a high place (doesn’t matter where, building, nature, wherever), I have visions that something will give way and I will plummet to my death—even if there are windows in front of me.

But I come by these thoughts honestly. My mom tells stories of how my grandmother would call randomly to tell her things like: make sure the girls don’t twirl their hair around their fingers because she just heard somewhere that a girl had done that and her finger fell off.

What is the single best book or movie about zombies and why?

I wish there was ONE book or movie about zombies that was the best, but there’s no way to narrow it down. There have been so many different people that have influenced and shaped the genre. I have some of my own favorites, which I will happily share.

First and foremost is Night of the Living Dead. This film changed how the zombie was portrayed (before they were created by Vodou magic) and gave us the shambling creatures most of us know and love today.

I’m also a huge fan of Day of the Dead (third film in the Romero triology), which gave us Bub, the zombie who remembered pieces of his humanity and used a gun to get revenge. This film is also a fantastic social commentary.

Then there’s 28 Days Later, which introduced the world to the fast zombie and allowed the creatures to evolve.

Book wise, I would say The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks took zombies out of the realm of fiction and turned it into a real threat. It also gave us practical ways to combat them.

I like zombies, so I can always find something to like about zombies.

Thank you so much for having me and asking these fun questions! I’m always down for chatting about the undead.

Thank you, Jessica. You rock! People: Pick up your copy today!

October 30, 2014

The Myth of Creative Perfection

Designed and made by Jolyon Yates for ODE Chair

An amazing meditation on creative perfection by Michael Cunningham in The Snow Queen.

There is, Tyler believes, a myth missing from the pantheon.

It concerns a man who produces something. Say, he’s a carpenter, a good carpenter; good enough. His work is solid and substantial, the wood well cured, the edges smooth, the joints all plumb and true. His chairs recognize the body; his tables never wobble.

The carpenter, however, finds, over time (time is always the punch line, isn’t it?), that he wants to make something finer than a perfectly level table or a comfortable welcoming chair. He wants to make something . . . marvelous, something miraculous; a table or chair that matters (he himself isn’t sure what he means by that); a table that’s not so exalted as to apologize for its modest object-life of load-bearing, a chair that doesn’t criticize those who sit upon it, but, at the same time, a table and chair that rise up, revolutionize, because they . . . what? (What?)

Because . . .

. . . they shape-shift, and appear in different forms to everyone who uses them. (Look, it’s the table from my grandmother’s farm! My god, it’s the chair my son was building for my wife’s birthday when he had the accident, it’s finished, it’s here, how is that possible?)

Because . . .

. . . the table is the reincarnation of the father you lost—patient and powerful, abiding—and the chair—gracious, consoling, undeluded—is the long-awaited mother, who never arrived at all.

The carpenter can’t, of course, make furniture like that, but he can imagine it, and as time goes by he lives with growing unease in the region between what he can create and what he can envision.

The story would end . . . who knows how?

It would end when a ragged old peddler, selling worn-out oddments nobody wants, to whom the carpenter has been kind, grants him the power. But this way it ends badly, doesn’t it? The wish goes wrong. The people who sit in the chairs, who rest their forearms on the tabletops, are horrified by their own conjured memories, or furious at these manifestations of their perfected parents, because they’re so forcefully reminded of the parents actually given them.

Or, once the carpenter’s wish has been granted, he finds himself imagining furniture imbued with still more powerful magic.  Couldn’t it heal maladies, mightn’t it inspire profound and lasting love?  He spends the rest of his days searching for the old peddler, hoping for a second spell that will render those table and chairs not just comforting, but altering, transfiguring . . .

There is, it seems, some law of myth-physics that requires tragic outcomes of granted wishes.

Or it could end with the carpenter unenchanted.  There’s no peddler in this version, no bestowing of a wish.  Increasingly aware of the limits of the possible, but lost to his old satisfactions, the carpenter finds limits to his joy in sanding and measuring, because a table or chair devoid of supernatural qualities will not, cannot, satisfy him any longer; because he has too vividly imagined that which he can imagine, but can’t generate. It would end with the carpenter bitter and impoverished, cursing the empty wine bottle.

Or (hey) it could end with the carpenter transformed into a tree (by the peddler, or a witch or a god), waiting for a new, younger carpenter to cut him down, wondering if he’ll be present, some essence of him, in the tables and chairs yet to be made.

Tyler can’t seem to come up with an ending that satisfies him.

October 29, 2014

Ducks to Water

My kids love to read ~ which of course warms this book lover’s heart.

It wasn’t always so. What I mean is: they didn’t begin reading at 3 years old.  Isn’t it funny how our memories of our reading as children don’t match up with what probably actually happened.

I remember always loving to read. I had an hour bus ride to and from school, and I always read the whole way.  I loved it. But if I think back, I didn’t know how to read when I went to kindergarten.  I remember learning my letters from some big blow-up monster letter characters. The T was particularly wonderful. I remember continuing to learn to read in the first grade, and it wasn’t till the third or fourth grade that my reading took off.

Which is exactly where my kids are.

But the myth. Oh the myth.  We love it so, we falsely remember having always read.  And we forget what a struggle it was at first.  The single biggest contributor to my reading, I think now, is that fact that I had all that time on the bus that I had nothing else to do.  I still would have loved reading, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

What did it for my kids was Harry Potter. We’ve always read before going to bed, and they love that, but it was more of a social thing.  This summer, however, was the Summer of Harry Potter. We read a couple of chapters every night, and they lived for it. Over the course of the summer, we got all the way up to and almost through book 5.  I think ~ and hope ~ that it’ll be one of those things they’ll remember fondly their whole lives. 

But since then, they’ve dived in. They read all the time on their own. The first series that really caught my daughter was the Boxcar Children.  The first that really caught by son was Percy Jackson. And off they go.

I get a warm fuzzy glow when I think about all the lovely reading they have ahead of them!

October 28, 2014

Life’s Small Indignities


Ah, the vicissitudes of the writing life!

A fancy-schmancy way of saying: I have to believe that all people go through the same thing I do every day.  It’s one of the writerly assumptions ~ that my experience is felt by people the world across.  Almost every day I go from the heights of happiness to the depths of despair.  Or sometimes I’m in the depths of despair for long periods.  Rarely do I get the manic happiness for long periods. 

But we all feel that way? Don’t we? 

Every day is a heroic battle in which we front skirmishes large and small.  We’re faced with an ever-mounting pile of decisions and dissatisfactions and inconveniences.  If we could just make one big decision, it would be so easy.  We could just say, “This is it! I’m changing my life.” But it’s not like that. We’re beaten down daily with compromises and indignities.

This, I imagine, is why people go postal or do something drastic.  It’s much harder to handle the confusion and chipping away at your foundations than it would be to take on some grand enemy.  And so sometimes people decide to make a grand enemy and get it over with once and for all.

And I imagine this is why a lot of people read fiction ~ either to feel other people’s confusion and to have things said that they can’t articulate (in the case of literary fiction) or to have forward motion in a well-defined battle (in the case of genre). 

And one of the things I choose to believe is that writing brings us together in a way nothing else can.  It’s the only technology that allows you inside another person, and therefore it’s the technology of love and acceptance.

Write on!