Saturday, May 2, 2015

How much detail do you need?

I developed a hobby in the last few months, one that I never had interest in, until I was curious about something for a short story.

I started to make my own yogurt.

It started innocently enough, I had an idea for a scene in my head and it involved making yogurt. So I researched how to do it. I realized as I was reading about it, that it was pretty simple. So I decided to try it. I didn't have to make the yogurt just for research. But doing it myself made it easier to write about it. I keep doing it because it's the type of yogurt I like, that is hard to find in the stores (full fat). Also it has led to making farmer's cheese, which my husband loves.

Did this mean that that scene became a recipe for how to make yogurt? No. Because that would be boring. But it was tempting.

We like to show off what we know. I don't think it's a pride issue. I think it's because we want to share knowledge with other people. But if you are writing a story, that is not the place to give a chapter lecture on theoretical physics. Even if you are writing hard science fiction. The reason, you will lose a lot of the audience.

It's happened to me as a reader. I remember a really interesting story about this man that could flip between parallel universes. The author must of been a fan or studied Eastern marital arts. Because when ever the hero got into a fight, every blow was named. Every fighting style was described in such detail, that I forgot I was reading an adventure story and thought I was reading a fighting manual. The story was slowed down with such detail, to the point I stopped reading.

How much to put in?

Enough to drive the story.

If you want to test yourself to see if you have put too much detail in. Read the story and skip that part. Better yet, get another to read it. If the story still makes sense without all that detail; CUT IT.

There are a lot of things I do as a hobby, that would be great to put in a story. And show off how much I know. But really, does a reader need to know that grandma screw up her gift sweater because she used the wrong cast on stitch while knitting.

If the detail is needed, add it. Maybe it becomes a plot point that you need to know every step in the tanning process, to figure out how the murder happened. Even then, just give the reader enough. Especially if you are describing the pre 20th century tanning process, you don't want your reader getting nauseous.  Skip to about 3:20 in the video if you want to know why.

by Mari Miniatt

Friday, April 3, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows

Another movie review...

Have you seen What We Do in the Shadows?

One of the funniest films I have seen. And one of the few vampire films that deal with their everyday business of being vampires. I have heard it called the "Spinal Tap" of vampire movies, and that is the best description.

Seriously, you need to see this film.

There are so many things to like about it.

  • Who knew New Zealand had a large vampire population?
  • Vampires as room mates (flatmates). Interesting concept.
  • Werewolves are more like a support group.
  • Stu.*

Although not a true horror. Shawn of the Dead was still a zombie movie with more laughter. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil turned the "kids hunted by rednecks" upside down, but still had some good horror bits (played for laughs more than scares). What We Do in the Shadows plays down the horror, turning much of the vampire tropes on their heads. The ending does includes a violent scene with the werewolves, but the way it is shot, it comes across as bad footage.

Instead the film deals with the nightly problems vampires have. Such as, how do you know you look good if you can't use a mirror? Or how to get into a club, if you have to be invited in? How embarrassing, but necessary, having a familiar can be.

We see the stereotypes of vampires played with. Vlad "the Poker" is a parody of Dracula. Viago is your dandy, gentleman, vampire. Petyr the Nosferatu that lives in the basement. Deacon is the rude, peasant stock. And finally Nick is the modern twist, who has the hardest adjusting. Thank goodness for his mate Stu.

There are some great sub plots. Such as "The Beast" and Viago's unrequited love for a woman that he followed to New Zealand. But what keeps you watching is how real it seems.

For a vampire film, this one feels the most realistic. It actually has the looks of a real camera crew finding a group of vampires and following them around. Some of the special effects are so well done that you don't realize it was a special effect. The bat fight is a great example. The different vampires and other creatures you meet in the film, feel as though you could accidently stumble upon them.

Speaking of other creatures, a small bit, but one I enjoy, is the zombie that talks about the problems zombies have and speaks in a well articulated voice. The closest to that portrayal, is Reg from Discworld.

In America, right now, this film is hard to find. In June the DVD should be released. If you come across it, watch it.

* Stu is played by Stu Rutherford, who is actually an IT guy. And now he can call himself an actor as well.  IT Guy Turns Accidental Film Star
by Mari Miniatt

Thursday, March 12, 2015

You might have a legendary creature in your house, and not know it.

**Sorry for the lateness. My artist had technical difficulties.

There is an assumption that most folkloric creatures are rural based. While that it is true that the woods and farmland have more than their fair share of mythological creatures lurking. It doesn't mean that the cities didn't have any.

The urban creature that might come to mind is of course the vampire. The second, might be the zombie. Both creatures are not defined on where they are active. You can find them anywhere. But let's not talk about them. There are far more interesting ones.

House spirits are the largest group of these. They are small human like creatures that live in your home and will help you out, if you are nice to them. Or make your life a living hell if you are nasty. Some will even start to look like you. Which could be embarassing.

Dobby from the Harry Potter series is a great example of one of these creatures. The name Dobby is also a name given to Brownies, on which the house-elfs were based on.

Brownie by Matt Miniatt 2015
Brownie by Matt Miniatt 2015

Brownies are from Scotland and Northern England. They are small. They do not like to be seen. They will live in unused parts of the home, like the attic. And if you want them to help you around the house; leave out some food, especially honey. And if you want to be really nice to them; leave a little place in the kitchen for them. In the past, it was a small seat next to the fire. Now-a-day's I suppose you could leave a seat by the oven.

Similar to Brownies but from the Slavic lands is the Domovoi. These are hairy, bearded little people, that will take on the appearance of the owner of the house after a long time. Or sometimes they will look like a cat or dog that likes to hang around the home. They are a bit noisier than Brownies. They will help out the owners of the house if treated well. But like to pound and knock things around while doing so.

Domovoi by Matt Miniatt 2015
Domovoi by Matt Miniatt 2015

Domovois, if treated correctly, could also warn people of dangers. If a woman was in danger, he would pull her hair. He would moan or howl if trouble was coming. And like a Banshee would cry and scream if death was coming to the house.

One you do not want attached to your house is the Boggart. They make things disapper. They cause pets to become injured. And if they really don't like you, they will try to injure you.

Boggart by Matt Miniatt 2015
Boggart by Matt Miniatt 2015

Unlike the others; Boggarts are real jerks. If you think leaving your house will solve the problem. Think again. THEY WILL FOLLOW YOU!

Luckily, it is easy to get rid of them. Hang a horseshoe on your door or spread salt on the threshold. The way the winter has been in Central New York, there is more than enough salt out to keep them away.

by Mari Miniatt

Art by Matt Miniatt

Monday, March 2, 2015

History Makes You Uncomfortable? Too Bad, Those are the Best Bits.

I try to stay away from politics in my blog. But I have to have this rant. In Oklahoma, they are planning to do away with AP history classes. For all the reasons stated, the one that gets me riled is; because some parts of history are too "uncomfortable."

For me, those are the best part history.

History should not just be about the best part of history. It should not be about the victories and the glorifying the good parts. And what do you consider uncomfortable?
Is uncomfortable, learning about the bloodiest battle in the Revolutionary War*? Or one of the worst man made disasters in the US, prior to 9/11?  Or a race riot so horrible, that there was an attempt to delete the history of it**?

Am I the weird one? Because I find the gore and disasters and horrible events the best parts of history. NO. Author Terry Deary made his career by telling kids about history using the awful bits. Horrible Histories would have be devoured by me if I had been lucky enough to have them when I was a kid. Yes, they are told with humor, but why is that wrong? History shouldn't be dry. It was interesting when it was happening, so it should be interesting for us.

Also has many articles about history that talk about the stupid, the strange, the unbelieveable, the badassardy of people in the past. Seriously, I think they made Simo Hayha's name known outside of Finland (HERE). Unless you were a WWII buff, you might have never heard of him.

I guess I got sidetracked... All of history is uncomfortable. But that doesn't you shouldn't learn about it. It what makes history so interesting.  Those strange, gory, or just plain weird facts about the people and places in history are far more memorable than just the dates.

And to end this, a video from Horrible Histories, at least until the BBC blocks it in America.

* I have and will be volunteering at Fort Stanwix National Monument. The Battle of Oriskany is tied to the fort's history. I recommend stopping by the fort and seeing the battlefield which is a few minutes away by car.
**Also happened in Oklahoma, so this is not the first time they have tried to alter the history.

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Create a Fictional Town

How to Create a Fictional Town


Mini world building.

Write about what you know. That is why it is the easiest to set a story in a real place. Especially, if it is a place that you are familiar with. But there are issues with that. Someone might call you out because you didn't put a building in the right place. Or the real place, doens't quite fit the mood of your story.

For me, it's easier to create a new place. My recent work in progress takes place in a village. And coming up with the basics of the village, took a few hours work.

Here is how I did it:

1st. Think about how much the setting will effect the story. Is it going to have it's own character? Is it just a place? How recognizable do you want it to be?

2. How big? In my Coiree series I came up with Deerbow. A large city somewhere in the midwest. My latest WIP, the little village where everyone thinks they know everyone else. I needed Deerbow to be a large city, so it could hide my characters better. The small village, because how tiny, yet remote it is.

3. Basic layout: There are two ways I have done this.
Deerbow: I hung a piece of blank paper on the wall. I drew some of the major features in, ie: the rivers and where some of neighborhoods were. I didn't have names, but concepts of the what type of neighborhoods they were. As I wrote, I would add details.
The village: I cheated. I found a map of a small town. I didn't copy it exactly. I took the main roads, then filled in my own features. Since the village was named after the falls, the river was the main feature I added. Like Deerbow, the map is hanging on my wall.

Glory in my wonderful map making skills. And the potato I use for a camera.

4. Give the place a personality. Blue-collar? Sports fanatic town? College town? A lot of retired people? A place that has seen better days? A town that only has a population boom in the summer? It's personality should fit with the mood of your story.

As you can see, you don't have to come up with the layout of everybuilsing with a complete history on each one. Make notes as you write. The church you mention in the beginning of the story, might become the scene of a major plot point later. I find it's best, not to spend too much time in the basic planning of the setting.

If a place becomes important. You may need to map out that out and fill it with the imformation you need to write the story.

Also remember, this information is for your benefit, to help set the stage for your characters. If you start to tell the readers the history of every small cafe. Something you might have created for background information, but if the characters don't need to know it. Don't bore your reader with it.

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Only Lovers Left Alive is now my favorite vampire film.

Only Lovers Left Alive A movie by Jim Jarmusch.  After watching the film once, it has now taken place as my favorite vampire film. Sorry Near Dark, but you couldn't compete with Tom Hiddleston.

Yes, the appeal of having Tom Hiddleston playing a vampire was the reason I wanted to see the film. Plus, Jim Jarmusch's movies appeal to me, no matter what genre.

A few moments into the film, it became clear, this was not going to be a typical vampire film. When people ask me about the film, I say it's a slice of life type and the main characters happen to be a married vampire couple that don't live together. If you took the word vampire out of that sentence, it would be boring.

The film sets the atmosphere quickly. You are still in the real world, but you are taken into the vampire's perspective of it. What helps with the atmosphere is the ruins of Detroit. But in the film, the urban decay takes on a beauty of its own. Many of the scenes are the couple driving through Detroit looking over ruins of an former industrial giant. Again, that sounds boring, but in this film those become some of the most endearing scenes.

So many vampire films deal with the moral dilemma of being a vampire.  ie. should they kill and does that make them monsters? The film side steps that for a long time. Humans have polluted their own blood. They cannot just take anyone for a meal. Most of their blood is collected for them by medical staff. But that doesn't mean they have stopped being vampires.

A younger, annoying vampire, shows up and disrupts their quiet life together.  And she does kill someone. But their response is more of two people that are tired of her drama, and too tired to make a scene about it.

And there is the music. The soundtrack is enough to keep you watching.

I did like the new twist on the vampires. Humans that were around them, had no clue, unless the vampire had told them, what they were. The vampires struck you as slightly odd, but not menacing. They are the quiet people that sit in the back of the bar, watching everyone, and quietly talking to themselves.

The humor is dry. The observations the main characters make about us "zombies" could be heavy handed, but they are not. Overall a nice refreshing film.

Do I still like my monstrous vampires? Yes, but it is nice to see how they would be when they are not thinking about only hunting humans."

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 9, 2015

What is Folk Horror

One of my favorite documentary, or in this case a series, about horror movies is A History of Horror. It was written and presented by Mark Gatiss. He presents the history of horror cinema from a fan's perspective. But he really loves what he is talking about. His awe in seeing Lon Chaney's make up case in not the only time you can see the love of the genre.

One sub-genre of horror he touches upon is folk horror. His examples are very British, of course. Wicker Man (you know, the good one with Christopher Lee) is the shining example of what he means by folk horror. It draws upon folklore and paganism to fill the story. In the British examples; someone comes to a rural area. The locals are weird, maybe a little sinister. The outsider experiences the horror. Not because of the strange locals, but because the outsider is not in the norm of the locals.

In America we also have our version of this type of horror. But the main difference is the horror happens to the outsider because the locals are crazy. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great example of the American twist on the folk horror. There is barely any folklore, paganism might not even play a part of it. Basically it is the "locals are psychopaths"

Not that there hasn't been attempts to set folk horror in America. And some have been very good.
Two recent movies; Jug Face and We Are What We Are*, are great examples of folk horror done right.


In Jug Face; you meet a small group of people that follow some odd traditions with supernatural origins. In this case, there is no outsider. There is a young woman that tries to change her fate and in the process  causes the horror to touch everyone around her. In We Are What We Are; one family has a horrifying tradition that is force upon the eldest when their mother dies suddenly.

Supernatural may not be the motivation (in Jug Face, it is an influence), but each of the movies present a strong folklore tie. The people involved are influence by the folklore, even if they are not familiar with the folklore.

For me, that is what folk horror is about. It is easy to make up a person or family that is "crazy" and have them be agents of the horror. But it is far more interesting to me to make the people that normally would be cast as the "backwood nut jobs" with more depth. You have no outsiders in Jug Face. The family in We Are What We Are could be considered the outsiders, but they are part of the community. The odd part. Yet, until the events of the movie, no one thinks they are frightening.

Part of me has always been offended a bit by the horror that shows the rural people as crazy with no motivation except they are crazy. The backwards hill billy type with a chainsaw. The civilized person (usually a college student... Why? That could be a whole other blog post) ends up in the rural horror. The fear of the chaos taking over order. That can be terrifying. But it is not folk horror.

Unless there is a supernatural, folk lore, or pre-Christian tie in to the story, you cannot call it folk horror.  Those influences, if used correctly, can change the whole feel of a story. I like the slower reveal of folk horror. When the country side is not used to hide the strangeness, but is part of it, the atmosphere is far more terrifying than the isolated house full of crazies.

*We Are What We Are is a remake of a Mexican horror film; Somos lo que hay, which I have not seen. So I cannot compare the two.

by Mari Miniatt

Monday, February 2, 2015

Still around.

Yes I am still around.
But why haven't I posted? In THREE YEARS
Because real life took center stage. I had to put my writing on slow (not really hold, but my output was lowered)

Basically, this is what happened;

  • I switched jobs.
  • Worked mainly overnight which screwed up my health.
  • That job was stressful, but worked at it for almost 2 years. Let go.
  • Got another job. Daylight hours, but broke my foot.
  • That job stopped when the location closed.
  • Moved.
  • New job, new career. Decided this time to find a job where it would be easier to write.
  • So far working out.
I moved from retail to becoming a baker. That's been a great move.

And my writing?
Finally getting back on track.
I did need to find a new editor. But now I have Surgeon (the last of the Coiree Guardians novel), a fantasy novel, two other novels related to the Coiree Guardians, and a rural horror novel all waiting in line to be edited. So I haven't been lazy. I didn't have the time in the last three years to stay on top of all of it.

Will I be back?
Hopefully, sooner than later.

by Mari Miniatt