Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Essay: Paranormal Vs. Undead

My prediction for the match: paranormal by technical fall in the first round.

Today I want to talk to you a bit about something that's been aggravating me for some time. I get irritated over little things sometimes, but as an amateur ghost hunter I need to clear some things up.

Yes, what we do is like TAPS, except that we don't go to a commercial break every time someone trips and falls down. I mean, I love the show, but Jebus their editing is predictable. And why is it that I have recorded some 500 hours of audio and gotten two EVP in sixteen years, but those dudes get three or four in every show?

I hear, particularly on Twitter and in authoring blogs, the wrong word attached to zombies, vampires, and other bad guys all the time and it irks me, like that naggling itch right before your big public speaking engagement.

A physical body shambling around without a soul, consuming the flesh or blood of humans is undead. They are not paranormal. While there is a great deal of evidence for paranormal activity in the world, including EVP and some video and stills, there is absolutely zero evidence that vampires exist. Zombies, the jury is still out on, given that they are a major tenet of Vodun, and I have no intention of starting off the Zombie Apocalypse just because I kicked the props out from their religion and pissed off a priestess. I'm way too damn close to New Orleans now to play that game.

While we're on the subject, let me address something else that's been bugging me for a long time. Vampires are not sexy. Dead things rot. Rotting things stink. Vampires and leeches share a common trait: they chew through your skin and parasitically attach themselves to your bloodstream. If there's anything more disgusting than that I don't know what it might be, but I suspect it's in favor of Obama's health care policy.

I don't have a clue why 45-year-old women line up to see movies about 17-year-old vampires. ("Oooh! He's thparklee!") I think if it were a bunch of 45-year-old men lining up to see a 17-year-old girl take her shirt off you'd be calling the police. If Edward was 37 and slept with 17-year-old Bella we'd call it Lolita and probably be disgusted, but 107--and dead-- gets a free pass. I don't get that.

I don't have a clue why Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles are supposed to be so erotic. There's no sex in the books I read at all. There's a lot of murder and bloodspatter, though, which I don't find sexy in any way. Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake books almost got it right: vampires are weird humans subject to the same laws as the rest of us, so if they murder then they need to be executed.

Great idea-- until the books degenerated into a full on whore-o-thon. Plot and character are abandoned in favor of penetration every thirty pages. While I'm not completely against erotica in my vampire fiction, the name of the series is not Anita Blake, Vampire Whore, it's Vampire HUNTER.

I actually have a point here; this isn't just a rant. Books about the paranormal are ghost stories. Stories and writing of that nature are usually accompanied by little blood and guts and less sex. The stories are suspense. Usually there is an accompanying mystery as well. People read them to discover why the ghost is there. Traditionally, ghosts are people who died leaving unfinished business or through great trauma. (Think of the dead in 6th Sense.)

Zombie and most vampire stories are focused on horror. Can there be anything more horrifying than an attack by the legitimate undead? You can't kill them. They don't stop, and they want to either eat you alive or make you dead enough to become one of them. (By the way, the "romantic vampire" is now its own genre, so the "horror"--or as I call them: "real"-- vamps are now called nosferatu tales.)

Part of what makes it so awful is the thought that your mom might actually still be trapped in that rotting body, consumed by a maddening hunger for flesh your flesh anyone's flesh I mustEAT!

As Shaun says, "She's not an evil monster! She's my mum!"

The problem is, horror is what happens when you've seen the decapitated body, or the severed hand flops in your face and you recognize what it is, or the figure turns around and you recognize what it is in a shivering eyeblink that rips your sanity away in one taloned stroke.

From Wikipedia: "Horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced."

These are two entirely different aspects of fear. Dread was wonderfully described in Orson Scott Card's book of short stories Maps in a Mirror. Card said, "Dread is the anticipation of fear. It's knowing what is about to happen and being powerless to stop it. It's the realization that the oncoming headlights are in your lane. It's hearing a sound downstairs when you know you're home alone and the doors are locked."

The funny thing is that dread is a lot sexier than horror. Ladies, remember that first tentative touch under your bra? You felt the fingers stealing slowly up under that shirt, and you dreaded it but at the same time you yearned for it. What if he thought they were too small? What if he thought they were too big, or (shame) thought you were some kind of easy?

Just like I was dreading that you would let me continue and silently pleading for it at the same time. What if it wasn't good? What if I fumbled and embarrassed her or hurt her somehow?

What if her dad walked in and beat the hell out of me?

Dread is sexy. Dread comes from anticipation. Horror is not sexy. Horror comes from revulsion. Vampires and other walking corpses inspire disgust, not enticement.

Stephen King's excellent book, Bag of Bones may be one of the best works he's ever penned. Along with a touching story of love and way too much loss is a twisting ghost story with all the right elements. As a ghost hunter, I can tell you that many of the things we see (or think we see, being a skeptic) are there and gone in an eyeblink with little or no warning. A character in Bones walks into his home late at night, sets his keys on the table and the sudden scream that split the air reverberated through the house!

You soon learn to dread turning the page. You are terrified that the next line will be the one to make you leap up and run to cower with your dogs.

Can you sense the difference in these two aspects of literary bad guys? For one thing, ghosts are not usually bad folk at all. In some cases they serve as the MacGuffin, providing an impetus for the story to move forward. Consider Joseph, the murdered little boy from the George C. Scott movie The Changeling: drowned in a bathtub and replaced with another little boy so his stepfather could manipulate his inheritance. Like any child, Joseph lashed out eventually, but the eeriness of the movie has nothing to do with spraying bodily fluids or severed limbs.

Consider also the surreal terror and dread that was The Others. (Good goddamn but Nicole Kidman is gorgeous!) There is no blood in that movie. No one even dies on screen.

By contrast, vampires don't inspire dread. They inspire revulsion. The brutal attack of a nightwalker in Blade; the fleshrend of teeth on skin in Underworld; the repugnant slaughter of innocents on stage in Interview with a Vampire-- these things don't make me dread them, they make me want to punch them in the teeth whether they sparkle or not.

Vampire books have been done to death. Even if there actually was anything remotely sexy or erotic about them, it's a song that's been sung over and over and over again.

According to psychology, vampires are supposed to be seen as sexual because a) they have power over lesser mortals, including, presumably, members of the opposite gender to the vampire, and b) they exist by exchange and ingestion of bodily fluids.

Here's the challenge for you, folks: write a good ghost story. Vampire love stories, lost in "endless night after erotic, evil night," have been written so many times that it makes my head hurt to contemplate. Try a ghost story where the ghost falls in love with a living person. Try a story where the living person falls in love with a ghost. Try a ghost story that scares people!

Remember, ghosts are para normal. "Para" is a word borrowed from Greek that means "to one side of." The paralegal in your office is an assistant to the lawyer. A para-educator works to one side of the teacher.

Paranormal means something that is just slightly outside the norm. Since no one knows where we go when we die (But it sure as hell isn't Forks, Washington.) ghosts and residual spirit energy are merely unexplored aspects of our known reality. Paranormal lies "outside the realm of what current science can explain." Ghosts and esp are dis-corporal examples of these phenomena.

Before James Randi calls me up to scoff, let me say that 1,500 years ago a modern computer was inconceivable. Who knows what breakthroughs in dimensional science may be made in the next twenty years? Maybe on Tuesday scientists will discover that dead uncle Bob didn't go to heaven, he just went... over there.

Undead are physically dead corporal forms that behave as if alive. You can hit them. They can eat you.

Vampires are undead. They probably smell like something dead, and they eat you to survive. They see you as meat. If you think that's sexy, then... well... I'm a little at a loss.

Perhaps a picture will explain what my thousand words cannot:

Hate me yet?

BTW: This has to be one of the most rambling and disconnected essays I've ever written and I'm sort of embarrassed about the lack of flow and rhythm. I had two really bad things happen to me yesterday: my house was broken into and a laptop with my personal credit information was stolen, and at the same time I discovered that my renter's brother was hit by an IED in Afghanistan that was set by one of those animals we're trying to exterminate. He lost three fingers and both legs are shattered. The legs are expected to recover, but the fingers are gone, obviously.

I hope the person that set that IED and the person that stole the laptop meet in their own circle of Hell... and there's a real fucking vampire around.

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



1 comment:

  1. First, I have to point out that you are deliciously hilarious and I enjoyed your rambling essay thoroughly. Second, I know too little about the paranormal to comment intelligently on this post and yet I find myself wanting applaud anyway. Well said?