Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monster Lit

Sharon Wildwind

Is it my imagination, or is the world getting weirder?

What brought on this particular weirdness fit was the discovery that, later this year, there will be a movie in production called Pride and Predator. In it, the characters from Jane Austen’s book—including that British regiment who so conveniently camp on the front lawn—must deal with an alien invasion.

Welcome to the new sub-genre (or is it cross-genre) of monster lit. It’s all the rage in England and is rapidly slouching its way to Hollywood, waiting to be born.

What’s already in the monster lit pipeline besides tea and terror?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a novel by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith. [Jane Austin plus, well, zombies]

Shades of Milk and Honey, Jane Austin and Mary Robinette Kowal [Jane Austin plus magic]

Jane Bites Back, Jane Austin and Michael Thomas Ford [Jane Austin plus vampires. A natural. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?]

A paranormal series featuring Mr. and Mrs Darcy, [Jane Austin and Carrie Bebris]

A Wuthering Heights sequel in which Catherine returns as a ghost.

Mill on the Floss combined with human sacrifice.

Here’s the formula for monster-lit:
1. Hijack a classic.
2. Add a quirky.
3. Hook, mix, twist, and blurb.

Monster Lit aside, I first encountered the idea of hook, mix, twist, and blurb, as a serious writing technique, from a wonderful on-line workshop I took from the romance writer, Suzanne McMinn. If you ever get a chance to take one of her classes about hooking, mixing, and twisting, by all means do so. She has a terrific list of 70 classic hooks.

The basic idea is that you mix two disparate ideas, twist them together—rather like pulling salt water taffy—until you come up with a new story line, then write a 100-word blurb. The only limitation is that the blurb should be exactly 100 words, not 99, not 102. 100. It’s an exercise in discipline, okay?

This is a good exercise if you want to warm up your creative juices. It’s also a fun way to answer the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

If you have access to Suzanne’s list of hooks, use it. Or make up a list of your own, using a goodly number (at least 50) story hooks. Write the numbers for each item on slips of paper and draw two at random. Or if you’re using it in a workshop or a question-and-answer session, have participants give you two numbers at random.

27 + 34 = (according to Suzanne’s list) Fish out of water + lies (by commission or omission)

Hook, mix, twist, and blurb for You Goat Girl—the eternal triangle of a girl, a boy, and a goat:

Sibyl Freeman didn’t mean to get the job. Using her sister’s resume was a lark. Now Cold Farm Quarterly has an assistant editor who can’t tell a rooster from a roto-tiller. So far her in-your-face attitude and frantic Internet searches have kept her afloat. Jonas Barkley, the magazine’s editor, has promised to be her slave forever, if she can help him prove to his family that he’s not the lack-a-daisy dreamer they consider him. Can a city girl, a goat, and a country boy find love, meet their deadlines, and keep the office livestock alive?

And, the next time you’re sitting around with a bunch of other mystery writers and/or readers, see if you can capture a place in the monster/mystery lit fusion market. Here’s your challenge:

1. Hijack a classic mystery.
2. Add a quirky: alien invasions, vampires and werewolves, magic, paranormal psychology, fairies and elves, genetic manipulation, virtual reality รก la The Matrix, super-heroes, etc.
3. Hook, mix, and twist.
4. Write a 100-word blurb.

When my husband heard about this idea, he took it and ran with it. Here’s his blurb:

The Maltese Raven
In this pastiche of the Maltese Falcon, a detective escapes criminal intrigues by uncovering a nightmarish threat: the crooks want to possess a Maltese Raven statue, but the black bird is a living, intelligent trickster that beguiles all who hear it speak.

San Francisco’s 1930 streets hold no terror greater than this game of survival, with unwritten rules and ever-shifting alliances. The black bird is both prize and most dangerous player, as its whispers unmask each person’s fears and desires, bending them to its own, unknown ends.

“This is the stuff dreams are made of,” quothe the Raven.
Writing quote for the week:

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
~Jack London, novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist


Darlene Ryan said...

I'd read The Maltese Raven, Sharon. Are you going to write it? :)

Sheila Connolly said...

Oh, lovely, lovely. We need more humor!

I wish I could respond in kind, but I am funny-challenged (or when I think I'm being funny, I get a lot of blank looks). The best I can offer is a movie that my college buddies and I came up with years ago: "The Chipmunk That Ate Toledo."

Sandra Parshall said...

Jokes aside, this sort of mixed-and-twisted book appears to be exactly what publishers are looking for right now. Seems like half the mystery reviews I read are of mysteries featuring vampires and werewolves, magic, paranormal psychology, genetic manipulation, virtual reality or super-heroes. No alien invasions or fairies yet, but can they be far behind?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Darlene. The rule in our house is, you write the blurb, you write the novel. That one belongs to my husband.

Sheila, you might have a winner with your chipmunk story.

Sandra, wasn't there a novel or a set of short stories that mixed noir detective and fairies? I seem to remember that all of the detective's clients were paranormal or fantasy creatures.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sharon, if there is a novel or collection of short stories mixing noir and fairies, all I can say is that I am grateful to have missed it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Anne of Green Dungeons
A little orphan girl arrives on a bleak Canadian island expecting to be adopted, but instead, is imprisoned in a dank cellar where she is chained next to creatures whom she befriends in desperation: a hungry young witch named Diana who has compulsively eaten her gingerbread house, along with Anne's friends Hansel and Gretel from her former orphanage on the mainland, and a cheerful though somewhat competitive faun named Gilbert...and 30 words to go. This is fun!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I can't comment..it's too hard to type and howl with laughter at the same time..

Gollum with the Wind? (The search for the elusive..wedding ring?)

Anonymous said...

Rolling on the Floor Laughing!