Review Essay: Recent Books on Vampire Films

Review of:

Gelder, Ken. New Vampire Cinema. London: Palgrave MacMillan/British Film Institute, 2012. ix + 155 pages.

Gelder cover

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Weinstock, Jeffrey. The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. New York: Wallflower Books/Columbia University Press, 2012. 144 pages.

Weinstock Cover

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Despite their apparent differences in scope – Gelder’s book covers only the last twenty years of vampire cinema, whereas Weinstock discusses a more general history of vampire movies – Ken Gelder’s New Vampire Cinema and Jeffrey Weinstock’s The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema offer remarkably complementary readings of the vampire in film. In particular, both Gelder and Weinstock deal with the ways in which vampire films “endlessly and in so many ways talk about vampires and vampire movies” (1) in order to build “narratives around the vampire’s capacity not just to create a disturbance but to endure it and survive” (vi). Ultimately, these two books deserve to be read together as they work together to illustrate the importance and cultural value of vampire cinema.

Weinstock’s book is part of the Short Cuts: Introductions to Film Studies series and in many ways reads as a primer for vampire cinema. He begins with an introduction that riffs on Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s 1996 “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” in Monster Theory: Reading Culture (ed. Jeffrey Cohen, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). and sets up seven principles, complete with corollaries, that guide the rest of the book:

Principle 1: The cinematic vampire is always about sex
Corollary 1.1: Cinematic vampires are marked by performances of hyperbolic gender
Corollary 1.2: Cinematic vampires are inevitably queer
Principle 2: The vampire is always more interesting than those who pursue it
Principle 3: The vampire always returns
Corollary 3.1: Vampirism begins at home
Corollary 3.2: The vampire always appears to come from someplace else
Corollary 3.3: The vampire is always in motion
Principle 4: The cinematic vampire is an overdetermined body condensing what a culture considers ‘other’
Principle 5: The cinematic vampire is always about technology.
Corollary 5.1: Vampire films are always about dfining the vampire, which is a necessary preliminary to destroying the vampire.
Corollary 5.2: Vampires are always cyborgs
Corollary 5.3: Vampire films are always about the cinema itself.
Principle 6: The vampire film genre does not exist
Corollary 6.1: The vampire film tradition is defined by generic hybridity
Corollary 6.2: Vampire films are inevitably intertextual
Principle 7: We are all vampire textual nomads

Weinstock’s discussion of these principles and their corollaries takes up three chapters and ranges over an astonishing number of films for such a slim volume. His discussion of vampire films from A Fool There Was (1915) to 30 Days of Night (2007) serves to support not only these principles, but also his claim that “The vampire . . . is a sort of ready-made metaphoric vehicle waiting for its tenor. Its potency, however, derives from its intrinsic connections to sex, science, and social constructions of difference. . . . the vampire film is always about sex, always about technology and always about cultural ‘otherness’” (19).

Gelder’s book similarly claims that his volume’s “aim is simply to try to make some sense of what these film do and why they seem to do it over and over” (v) and that

The films in this book all bring their vampires into the modern world, building their narratives around the vampire’s capacity not just to create a disturbance but to endure it and survive. . . . over the last twenty years or so the question of the vampire’s capacity to make this journey and live through it is now paramount. Vampire films stage an encounter between something old and something new, something ancient and something modern; the arrival of the vampire (which is invariably from somewhere else) brings with it both excitement, and catastrophe. (vi)

The five chapters cover what Gelder calls “Inauthentic Vampires,” “Our Vampires, Our Neighbors,” “Citational Vampires,” “Vampires in the Americas,” and “Diminishing Vampires,” coming to the conclusion that

There is something parasitical about vampire films . . . exhausting/regenerating them simultaneously, giving them just that extra bit of life, or half-life. The original vampire and the ‘last vampire’ bleed into each other; sequel and original soon become difficult to distinguish, just as parasite and host, vampire and victim, the remote and the proximate, periphery and centre, likewise converge and fold together. (107)

Perhaps inevitably, both authors discuss, at least briefly, the novel Dracula, highlighting its position as the ur-text of vampire movies. Gelder writes that

Even though they mark out their various distinctions and differences, vampire films always speak to other vampire films, and of course, to that urtext of Stoker’s which still, remarkably, seems to exert some sort of pressure on them, holding them in its grasp or perhaps letting them slip through its fingers. (v)

Weinstock notes that “At the centre of the vampire cinema solar system is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire Ur-text that exerts a powerful gravitational attraction around which all vampire texts – literary, cinematic and otherwise – necessarily orbit” (17).

The similarities between these two books become most apparent when Weinstock and Gelder discuss the same movies, as happens often. For example, both authors analyze the cinematograph scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), in which Dracula speaks to Mina Harker in front of a screen showing clips of various films. Weinstock claims that it “shows us . . . the vampire present at the birth of modern cinema and the correspondence between the two – each creating legions of the undead” (77). Similarly, Gelder writes that “the scene self-reflexively puts Stoker, Dracula, theatre, the origins of cinema and Coppola’s film into a sort of mutually citational loop” (4).

Even when their analyses of films differ, they often seem to overlap, as, for example, in their discussions of the use of technology in the Blade films. For Gelder, Blade’s reliance upon technology is an example of his claim that vampire films often highlight the anxiety surrounding encounters of the new and the ancient – in this case, Blade and his technology (equated, perhaps, by the half-vampire’s name) are the “new” coming up against the “ancient” vampire regime. For Weinstock, the reliance upon technology in these films illustrates that “the silver-screen vampire, itself a product of cinema technology, is inevitably defined in relation to various technologies of representation, definition, detection, and destruction” (57).

Both authors also highlight the importance of what Gelder calls the “moment of recognition” in vampire films. Weinstock writes that

Vampire movies, like monster movies in general, are always about definition. . . . What the protagonists conclude about the nature of the vampire . . . has important ramifications not only for deciding how to combat the vampire but for understanding how the represented cinematic world works.

Gelder notes that “Every vampire film has its key moment of recognition. To recognise a vampire ‘for what it is’ turns out to be crucial to a character’s wellbeing or otherwise; it is also simply a way of saying, this is a vampire film” (vi). Weinstock’s claim that “vampire movies always define themselves in relation to previous cinematic representations of vampires and are often quite explicit about the revisions to the mythology that they are making” (127) could have just as easily appeared in Gelder’s discussion of what he calls the “citational” nature of vampire films. Ultimately, Gelder’s interest is in examining this citational nature of vampire films, Weinstock’s in discussing the principles guiding those films, but both offer investigations of the form and function of vampire cinema, and that similarity makes these two books particularly interesting and useful when read together.

Despite their many similarities, however, the ways in which the two works diverge means that one cannot simply stand in for the other. Weinstock’s conclusion that “what makes the vampire so potent is that it is a concatenation of sexual, racial and technological anxieties and longings – a sort of Rorschach ink blot of culturally specific dread and desire” (13) tied to the fact that “a fundamental characteristic of the vampire film tradition has been its tendency to morph and colonise other genres” so that, “like the vampire itself, the vampire cinema continually transforms itself and seeks out new victims to vamp” (17) reads as dramatically different from Gelder’s claim that

Vampires may be immortal for the time being, but they also carry with them a heightened sense of change, death and loss. This is the direction vampire films routinely take, in fact: offering the possibility of immortality and then cruelly snatching it away, or turning it into something that vampires cannot bear. (106)

The two authors’ takes on the mobility of vampires differs, as well. For Gelder, “vampires in the modern world in new vampire cinema – far from being able to move about freely and so on – are in fact condemned to a particular form of living that is precisely about registering the loss of one’s freedom” (94). For Weinstock, on the other hand,

Mobility and crossing of not only geographical but social and psychic borders is central to the vampire narrative. Either the vampire arrives from elsewhere to interrupt the day-to-day existence of his or her new locale or the protagonist arrives at a place marked by some fundamental social difference – the superstitiousness of backwater villagers, the lawlessness of Mexico or Santa Carla, California, etc. (96-97).

Weinstock’s book suffers a bit from lax proofreading, with problems on pages 49 (“Her’s”) and 109 (“Frost . . . becomes inhabiting” by La Magra”); Gelder’s book sometimes seems to sometimes lose focus (as, for example, in an inexplicable concentration on filming locations for the Twilight series that neither adds to the discussion of the films nor corresponds with any other film’s discussion in the book). Despite these minor problems, however, The Vampire Film and New Vampire Cinema together provide compelling discussions of over 150 vampire movies, offering insight into not only the vampire films themselves, but our continuing fascination with those films.

*Originally published in Monsters and the Monstrous: http://monstersjournal.net/

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Waking Up Dead Sneak Peek and Giveaway

Be sure to enter the giveaway for a free copy of the eBook and a $10 Amazon gift card:

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Waking Up Dead

When Dallas resident Callie Taylor died young, she expected to go to Heaven, or maybe Hell. Instead, she met her fate early thanks to a creep with a knife and a mommy complex. Now she’s witnessed another murder, and she’s not about to let this one go. She’s determined to help solve it before an innocent man goes to prison. And to answer the biggest question of all: why the hell did she wake up in Alabama?

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Excerpt

As Molly straightened up, the man slipped the wire over her head and twisted it around her neck. She struggled, but he pulled the garrote tighter and tighter.

I was screaming at the top of my ghostly voice, for all the good it did me. I moved up behind the man and beat at his back with closed fists–fists that slipped in and out of his back without ever making real contact. He shuddered a little–clearly he was one of the very slightly sensitive ones–but he didn’t loosen his hands.

I reached up and tried to grab the wire, tried to pull against the pressure he was exerting on the wire and it did loosen for an instant. But only for an instant. The living have more control over solid objects than the dead do. I never resented that fact more than at that moment.

But I kept trying. I kept trying as Molly’s face turned purple, then blue, then black, kept trying even as she drooped in the man’s grip.

Then he loosened the wire and it was too late. I watched that wispy, light-on-fog life force slip out of Molly and move on to wherever it is that other people go when they die. I was glad she didn’t show up next to me as a full-blown ghost. At that moment, I wouldn’t have wished my impotent half-existence on anyone.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d been alive, I might have been able to save her.

If I could have cried real tears, I would have. As it was, I was sobbing hoarsely and calling the man every dirty name I could think of.

I was still cursing as I followed him around the kitchen. First he opened the pantry and pulled out a box of Hefty garbage bags. Then he grabbed a knife out of the block on the counter. And finally, he picked up Molly’s body and carried it to the bathroom.

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About the Author

Margo Bond Collins lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, several spoiled cats, and a ridiculous turtle. She teaches college-level English courses online, though writing fiction is her first love. She enjoys reading urban fantasy and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about vampires, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and other monsters. Waking Up Dead is her first published novel. Her second novel, Legally Undead, is an urban fantasy, forthcoming in 2014 from World Weaver Press.

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Connect with Margo

Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com
Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin @MargoBondCollin
Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins
Facebook Novel Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Waking-Up-Dead/502076076537575
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Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

Be sure to add Waking Up Dead to your Goodreads bookshelves: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18428064-waking-up-dead

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Waking Up Dead – Pre-Release Blog Tour Kickoff and Giveaway!

Hello, and welcome to the first stop on my pre-release teaser tour for the paranormal mystery Waking Up Dead, due out from Solstice Publishing and available via Amazon on October 8! Be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of four copies of Waking Up Dead or a $10 Amazon card–and follow the tour or come back here once a day for even more chances to win!

Enter to Win

Waking Up Dead

When Dallas resident Callie Taylor died young, she expected to go to Heaven, or maybe Hell. Instead, she met her fate early thanks to a creep with a knife and a mommy complex. Now she’s witnessed another murder, and she’s not about to let this one go. She’s determined to help solve it before an innocent man goes to prison. And to answer the biggest question of all: why the hell did she wake up in Alabama?

Be sure to add Waking Up Dead to your Goodreads bookshelves!
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Excerpt

When I died, I expected to go to heaven.

Okay. Maybe hell. It’s not like I was perfect or anything. But I was sort of hoping for heaven.

Instead, I went to Alabama.

Yeah. I know. It’s weird.

I died in Dallas, my hometown. I was killed, actually. Murdered. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. I don’t like to remember them myself. Some jerk with a knife–and probably a Bad-Mommy complex. Believe me, if I knew where he was, I’d go haunt his ass.

At any rate, by the time death came, I was ready for it–ready to stop hurting, ready to let go. I didn’t even fight it.

And then I woke up dead in Alabama. Talk about pissed off.

You know, even reincarnation would have been fine with me–I could have started over, clean slate and all that. Human, cow, bug. Whatever. But no. I ended up haunting someplace I’d never even been.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, right? Ghosts are supposed to be the tortured spirits of those who cannot let go of their earthly existence. If they could be convinced to follow the light, they’d leave behind said earthly existence and quit scaring the bejesus out of the poor folks who run across them. That’s what all those “ghost hunter” shows on television tell us.

Let me tell you something. The living don’t know jack about the dead.

Not this dead chick, anyway.

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About the Author

MargoBondCollins

Margo Bond Collins lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, several spoiled cats, and a ridiculous turtle. She teaches college-level English courses online, though writing fiction is her first love. She enjoys reading urban fantasy and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about vampires, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, and other monsters. Waking Up Dead is her first published novel. Her second novel, Legally Undead, is an urban fantasy, forthcoming in 2014 from World Weaver Press.

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Connect with Margo

Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com
Website
Twitter: @MargoBondCollin
Google+
Goodreads Author Page
Facebook Author Page
Facebook Novel Page
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Pinterest

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Spotlight On: DJ Swykert, Author of The Pool Boy’s Beatitude

Welcome to today’s guest author, DJ Swykert. Be sure to check out the excerpt from The Pool Boy’s Beatitude, below!

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Like my character, Jack, I have always been attracted to the great mysteries of life. While Quantum Mechanics continues to search for a Theory of Everything, so have I. And I can write with authority about addiction, rehabilitation and jail. If you add the desire for a real and loving relationship into the equation you come up with the story of The Pool Boy’s Beatitude. Though it is fiction, it’s perhaps the most cathartic piece of writing I have ever produced. Not only does Jack discover anomalies to the large physical world we exist in, but also poignant truths about his own personal little universe.

In his search for the God particle Jack Joseph has lost control of the most important particle of existence, himself. Jack’s intellect may have expanded at the speed of light, but his emotional development is mired in the darkness of addiction. Without change Jack is accelerating towards a personal collision that would render his interest in the cosmic one irrelevant.

Jack is a drop-out physicist cleaning swimming pools to support a lifestyle of addiction and detachment. He has a wife divorcing him, a wealthy woman seducing him and the justice system convicting him. Jack’s personal cosmos is spiraling out of control. When he met Sarah his universe further expanded. The Gravitational Constant he studied at university lacked the velocity with which their galaxies rushed toward one another. It was a life-changing Big Bang. A new and brighter Jack was created and he found his supreme happiness. But there was a lot of space junk in the form of addiction and legal consequences standing in the way of his pool-boy quest toward bliss.

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Pool Boy

Excerpt

I believe God thinks in numbers. Most of what I know best can be described with an equation, numbers predicting an outcome, relating the position, velocity, acceleration and various forces acting on a body of mass, and state this relationship as a function of time. And isn’t that what we are, what everything is: accelerated particles in space time.

And this velocity of motion is what creates gravity and holds everything together. But what creates the motion? I think about this shit all the time. Until I feel like I only know one thing: nothing.

I sat out on the grass and opened a bottle of Mad Dog 20-20. Drank it to the bottom, sucked it in like a black hole swallowing light. Alcohol goes through the brain in stages, first the cerebral cortex, the thinking brain. A friendlier, more daring person emerges, and becomes ever more creative, imaginative, as the drug continues deeper into the brain. Last to go is the limbic brain. That’s when you go numb.

I got ultimate this night, left the past, present, and flew into my future. It was brilliant, until in the morning, when I stared into the eyes of a cop. I realized I had evolved, I was homeless. Passed out on the lawn I had merged my present into my future and lost the past. I had become what I refused to change. There are no corners in a round expanding infinite universe. But I had turned one.

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The Pool Boy’s Beatitude can be ordered at bookstores or purchased directly from:
http://rebelepublishers.com/
http://www.amazon.com/
http://www.magicmasterminds.com

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About the Author

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DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Alpha Wolves, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington and The Death of Anyone. You can find him at: http://www.magicmasterminds.com. He is a wolf expert.

Guest Author: Marie Lavender

Are Your Characters Fleshy?

This may come as a shocker, but a lot of beginning writers don’t know how to make good characters. And I’m sure some tenured authors make the same mistake occasionally. It’s not enough to say, “Hey, Mr. Character, you have dark hair and blue eyes. Now start talking.” Dialogue is one aspect of a character. So is appearance. But, what is inside is what counts. What is inside of a character is what makes us keep reading.

Take the time to fill out the finer details of a character. For example, what do they like to eat for breakfast? Maybe they don’t eat breakfast. Some people don’t. What is their religious affiliation? Where did they go to school? What kind of home life did that person have? Notice I said “person”.

People are complicated. We are complicated. If we were all pretty typical, would life be any fun? Probably not. Not everyone is easy to get along with, but sometimes getting into the heart of a person and learning more about them is rewarding. So do the same with your characters.

Most likely, if you’re any kind of fiction writer, you will have a plan for your story or book. You’ll have the plot mapped out. That is great! But, have you mapped out your character? Characters are not just plastic dolls. They should be so real you can practically touch them. Do you sketch? Sketch them if you have to. But, make notes of who that character is. What really makes them tick? Most importantly, what does he want out of life? And how does he plan to get it? What “secrets” do you know about your character that the reader may or may not know on the page? Trust me. All of these things will help you understand your character better.

In the writing of the sequel to my current release, I was arrogant. Okay, not arrogant. I was under the impression that I knew everything I could about the hero and heroine because I wrote a bunch of scenes. But, then, I thought, “Hold on. Why does so-and-so act that way? What makes her who she is?” So, I unearthed this worksheet full of character questions to help me identity not only the aspects of the heroine I already knew, but the stuff that I hadn’t thought of as well. Well, did that end up helping? Did it “flesh” her out? You bet. I finally knew why she had carried out certain actions. She made sense to me as a character. I wouldn’t have known she wasn’t three dimensional unless I had done that.

I also did the same for the hero, and I found out some interesting quirks. I also discovered he was completely human, not otherworldly like we want heroes to be. I think that makes a good character.

So, do what you can to find out everything you can about your characters. Make them flesh and bone, not plastic. Make them as real as possible with eccentricities and flaws and “secrets”, just like normal people. Make them…well, human. As human as you possibly can. You will look at that finished product and believe in it so much more.

~Marie Lavender

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About the Author
Marie Lavender’s most recent release is Upon Your Return.

UponYourReturn_E-bookCover

She lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands.

At the tender age of nine, she began writing stories. Her imagination fueled a lot of her early child’s play. Even growing up, she entered writing contests and received a certificate for achieving the second round in one. She majored in Creative Writing in college because that was all she ever wanted – to be a writer. While there, she published two works in a university publication, and was a copy editor on the staff of an online student journal. After graduating from college, she sought out her dream to publish a book.

Since then, Marie has published sixteen books. Marie Lavender’s real love is writing romances, but she has also written mysteries, literary fiction and dabbled a little in paranormal stories. Most of her works have a romantic element involved in them. Upon Your Return is her first historical romance novel. Feel free to visit her website at http://marielavender.webs.com/ for further information about her books and her life. Marie is also on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

A list of her books and pen names includes:
Marie Lavender: Upon Your Return
Erica Sutherhome: Hard to Get; Memories; A Hint of Scandal; Without You; Strange Heat; Terror in the Night; Haunted; Pursuit; Perfect Game; A Touch of Dawn; Ransom
Kathryn Layne: A Misplaced Life
Heather Crouse: Express Café and Other Ramblings; Ramblings, Musings and Other Things; Soulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things

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http://www.marielavender.webs.com/
http://marielavenderbooks.blogspot.com/
http://marielavender.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MarieAnnLavender
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Upon-Your-Return/221212331354873
https://twitter.com/marielavender1
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938764.Marie_Lavender
http://www.amazon.com/Marie-Lavender/e/B00C10Q94I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
http://store.solsticepublishing.com/upon-your-return/
https://www.createspace.com/4284739

Just Write: My Writing Process

My Writing Process

Recently, a friend in an email group asked this question:

For those of you who do a lot of writing, how do you do it? Do you have a set time that you write? When and for how long? Do you edit as you go or do you try to get as much as you can on the page in the first pass? How do you deal with writer’s block? What kind of physical environment do you create for yourself?

Here’s my response:

I don’t have a set time that I write, but I try to write every day. My writing process generally depends on what I’m writing. Academic articles and fiction are a little different.

For academic writing–which lately has been mostly about pop culture, especially television–I re-watch or re-read whatever it is that I’m going to be discussing and I take notes. My notes tend to be quotes from the work and any ideas I have about my topic. For example, I’m currently writing an article on the character of Carol in The Walking Dead (the television version, not the comics, though I love those, too). To prepare to put this article together, I started by finding transcriptions online and copying every scene with lines from Carol. Then I went back through all of the episodes and watched the scenes, making notes about what I saw and wanted to see—I put the quotes and my notes about the scenes all into one file.

I’ve also been reading articles and books about The Walking Dead and taking notes from those. My third step was to collate all of those notes (again, quotes and my thoughts) into a file. I generally keep my primary source notes and my secondary source notes in separate Word files. Then I started a third file with the draft of the essay. I generally don’t do anything like a formal outline, but I will sometimes sketch out the sections I want to include. Then I write until I get to a place where I need some of the material I’ve got in the other files. I cut and paste that information in, then discuss it. If I get stuck, I will sometimes go to the primary or secondary files and rearrange them to fit into my discussion; sometimes I copy and paste information into the article file as placeholders. Whenever I need to go back and fill something in, I use brackets so I can run searches to find the spots later; in this week’s article, I have a note that says [explain Carol’s prayer], for example. Sometimes I also do that when I have a lot of ideas coming quickly so that I can get all the basic ideas down on paper, so I’ll have a string of bracketed comments that I need to go back and flesh out.

At that point, finishing the first draft is a matter of filling in the information I want to include. I do some editing as I go, simply because the English teacher in me won’t allow me to leave grammar or punctuation mistakes or typos if I see them. Sometimes I rewrite a sentence several times; other times, I will simply bracket a problematic sentence and come back to it.

Once I’ve filled in all the bracketed material, I proofread the essay twice—once on my computer and once on a printout. I’ve recently started sending documents to my Kindle app on my phone, too; I can generally catch some issues that way, too. My husband often proofreads for me, too. And by then, I’m often sick of the essay and just send it off, hoping my editors won’t let me sound ridiculous!

Some of these elements are similar for fiction writing. I still use brackets to help me remember (and be able to easily find) sections that need explaining. I still proofread the same way. And I still do some editing as I write. And just as I tend to think in “sections” of academic writing, I tend to think in “scenes” in fiction writing. Thinking in scenes means that I often write scenes out of order. When that happens, I use a separate file from the primary one and shuffle the scenes around as necessary.

The primary difference, though, is that I don’t always know where my fiction is going. With academic essays, I have a thesis that I’m working to prove. Although I might tweak the thesis as I write, I rarely change it completely. In fiction, though, my characters will sometimes do something that I had not planned for. I usually have a general idea of the trajectory of the plot. But in Waking Up Dead, for example, I had no idea why the killer had committed murder until I was more than halfway finished with the first draft. I know the basics of my next novel, but I’m not sure where the heroine will end up; this is not an uncommon position for me, and part of the joy of writing fiction is finding out what her full story might be.

I have an office that I use for all my work: academic writing, fiction writing, editing, and online teaching. My desk is against a window so I can see outside. I’m surrounded by books and papers. I write directly on my laptop, but when I get stuck, I sometimes switch to handwriting; this seems to shift my brain onto a different track and helps me get over writer’s block. I write something every day, whether it’s academic writing, fiction, or my blog.

But the single biggest thing that I do to write? It’s narrating. I have an internal monologue—and sometimes dialogue—going on all the time. I think in words; when I have a mental picture, I practice translating it into words in my mind. I tell myself stories and I work out plot lines and I figure out arguments to make about literature. I think about the words to use to explain writing to my classes and I practice describing my surroundings. I think in my characters’ voices and in my own voice. When I get blocked, I go for a walk and let my characters take over for a while until I have another scene.

What I’ve learned in all my years of teaching writing is that writing is a deeply personal process; everyone has different writing rituals, and those rituals can change over time. I used to have to have a clean space in which to write. Now I just need a place to put my laptop (having a three-year-old child might have influenced that change). I used to have to set rules for myself: writing two hours a day, not going out to the pool in the summer until I had written three pages, and so on. I still use those when I’m stuck or resenting the need to write, but these days, the only rule I have for myself is this: Just write.

~Margo Bond Collins
Author of Waking Up Dead and Legally Undead

Words, Words, Words

Blog Posts: Words, Words, Words

I’ve always been especially fond of the moment in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Polonius asks Hamlet what he’s reading and Hamlet replies “Words, words, words” (II.ii.192). The line comes while Polonius is trying to discover the cause of Hamlet’s possibly-feigned madness and it can be played in a number of ways. In Kenneth Branagh’s rendition, the line serves to show Hamlet’s disdain for Polonius:

David Tennant uses the scene to emphasize Hamlet’s potential insanity:

Lawrence Olivier’s version is matter-of-fact, and Derek Jacobi flips through the pages as if checking to make sure there is nothing more in the book:

But I’ve always been particularly fond of Mel Gibson’s rendition (available at the end of the clip above), because it inevitably makes me laugh.

With so many version of “words, words, words,” it’s perhaps unsurprising that I would choose the line as the title of my blog. I’ve been in love with words for as long as I can remember. As a child, then a college English major, a technical writer, a graduate student, a college English professor, an academic writer, and now a soon-to-be published fiction writer (Waking Up Dead, forthcoming from Solstice Publishing, and Legally Undead, forthcoming in 2014 from World Weaver Press), I have always loved the malleability of words—how they feel, sound, taste, smell.

This blog is designed to examine words in all their manifestations. I will write about writing, post academic essays, host other authors, review books, share fiction excerpts. My hope is that, like the many versions of Hamlet’s line, this blog will careen wildly from matter-of-fact, to serious, to unexpectedly funny.

Welcome to Words, Words, Words. Enjoy!

~Margo Bond Collins