Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Women in Horror #4: Sarah Connor

For my fourth and final post on Women in Horror, I'm looking at the heroine of the TERMINATOR films. OK, maybe this is more science fiction than horror, but it's a series that deals with horror themes. Machines take sentience and try to destroy the human race. The second film opens with apocalyptic scenes of a nuclear blast, an empty playground, machines crushing piles of human skulls in their wake. And it's the second film I want to focus on, the film in which Sarah Connor becomes a kick-ass heroine.

Sarah Connor

When we meet Sarah in the first TERMINATOR film, she's an ordinary American young woman. She works as a waitress, she goes to college, she laments with her flat mate about not being to find Mr Right. And then her life changes when she learns a cybernetic entity from the future is hunting her down, and will not stop until she's dead. The reason she's being hunted is not for something she's done, but something that will happen in the future. When the machines rise up to destroy humanity they almost succeed, but one man leads a band of human survivors to victory. That man, John Connor, is Sarah's son - the son she hasn't conceived yet.

Aided by the man that her son sent back in time to help save her - a man who turns out to be the father of her son, conceived the one and only time she sleeps with him (yes, let's not dwell on that paradox too much lest our brains explode), Sarah manages to escape from the Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped cyborg, though her rescuer is killed in the process. The end of the film shows her alone and pregnant, driving through Mexico, knowing the Hell of the future that is to come and burdened with the knowledge that the unborn child she carries is the last hope for humanity. That's got to change a person.

It's the second film in which Sarah becomes a lean mean fighting machine. Eleven years have passed. Her son John is a hellion, placed in foster care because Sarah has been sectioned. Caught trying to blow up an electronics factory and ranting about the machines that were going to destroy humanity, she was deemed to be mad and locked up in an institution. In her first scene in T2, she is doing arm lifts on bars in her cell room, bulging biceps clearly on show and wearing the expression of a woman who is completely sane and in control of her faculties. Linda Hamilton took her role as Sarah Connor seriously, engaging in a gruelling workout routine before the second film, to demonstrate the hardcore survivor that Sarah had become in the years since the first film. Eventually breaking out of the mental institution with the help of her son and the Arnold Schwarzenegger cyborg who's now a Good Guy - the cybernetic assassin from the future who's been sent back to kill John Connor as a child is even more devastating and unstoppable than the first one was - Sarah goes after the electronics engineer who will develop the computer chip that will directly lead to computers gaining sentience - the cataclysm that marks the beginning of the end for humanity. On the way we learn just how tough this woman has become. She has all manner of contacts around the country, stashing weapons and supplies with all of them. And her only motive is to do what it takes to survive - long enough to raise her son to adulthood and ensure he grows into the man who will save humanity. Sarah Connor is a self-taught bad ass. Once she came to terms with her fate (can't be easy finding out just when and how the world will end, and that you're going to survive to suffer the aftermath), she set out to learn the skills she would need to survive.

John Connor is presented as the most important human ever to live, because he's the leader of the human survivors and he takes them into victory. But John would not have become the man he does without Sarah - so in one sense, she's the most important human in the world. She's the one that saves humanity, because she turns John into the leader he needs to be.

As far as female role models go, you don't get much better than that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

March Madness

I look forward to this time of year, that transitional season between winter and spring called "March Madness." Of course, if you're not a college basketball fan, the fascination with brackets and rankings may mean nothing.

What does basketball have to do with writing? It might seem incongruous to compare the two, but while the goals are disparate, they are geared toward accomplishing an objective: whether getting the publishing contract or making the three-point shot.

Take drills. In writing, these would be drafts, flash fiction exercises, writing warm-ups, anything to prime the imagination. The adage "Practice makes perfect" applies here, with the assumption that each exercise helps improve a person's writing.

I see critique partners and beta readers as being a writer's team players. Their goal is to help the writer improve his or her story, to make sure the writer turns in the best draft possible. The opposing team? These could be the acquisition editors or agents, those readers who read through the story with a critical eye, giving a "yea" or "nay," depending on their predilection. This is not to say acquisition editors or agents want to say no. But they're going to block poorly written stories from getting contracts. This is a case where a writer needs to make his shot count.

I've compared acquisition editors to the opposing team, but if a story is accepted, then the content editor and line editor take on another role, that of coach. Their job is to help a writer polish his or her story to be the best it can be before it's released to the public.  

Basketball is not a one-person game, and neither is writing.

Here's hoping you're working well with your "team."  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Women in Horror #3: Ripley

It might have been over 30 years ago, but few films measure up to ALIEN.  A masterful blend of suspense, science fiction and horror, this film about a group of space explorers who encounter a terrifying alien predator still measures up to the test of time and has audiences on the edge of their seat. And its main character is another inspiring  female role model.

Rumour has it that Ripley was written as a male character. In 1979, when this film came out, no one really took seriously the idea that a woman could be part of a space crew - even in science fiction. Let alone one as resourceful and enterprising as Ellen Ripley. But someone decided, early on in production, that a man would not go back to rescue the ship's cat, when all the rest of the crew were dead and Ripley, as sole survivor, is trying to get to the escape pod. This was an integral plot point, as the alien gets into the escape pod whilst Ripley is in the ship getting the cat.

Another story goes that all of the characters in ALIEN were deliberately written to be genderless, so that any of them could be equally played by a man or a woman.

Whether or not either of these stories are true, I don't know, but the fact remains that Ripley is a leading lady who does not shag anyone, doesn't cook and doesn't actually do anything different from the men. Except she keeps her head and therefore survives when the rest panic and get killed. In the decidedly misogynist world of Hollywood this is a rarity, even in the 21st century, and at the end of the 1970s it was pretty much unprecedented.

The second film ALIENS goes a step further and explores the concept of Ripley as a woman. Having been in suspended animation following the events of the first film, she awakens to discover that she has been lost in space for decades and that her daughter, left behind on Earth, has grown old and died in her absence. Thus she becomes particularly protective of the young orphan girl, Newt, the only survivor of a colony that has been attacked by the alien. Feeling guilty about not being there to protect her own daughter, Ripley takes on the responsibility of getting Newt out alive. The image attached to this post is one of the best portrayals of Ripley in this context - carrying the girl in one arm, whilst wielding a bad-ass gun in the other. And she has a cracking aim with that gun, even one-handed.

Ripley remains one of the best heroines of both horror and science fiction of all time. It's rare that actresses are offered such a wonderful role, and it is testament to Sigourney Weaver's talent that she was able to bring Ripley to life in such a human way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Women in Horror #2: Alice

My second post in my series about kick-ass horror heroines features a marvellous character from a series of films inspired by a computer game.

If you've been following my blog a while you'll know I have a fondness for 'Resident Evil 4' (and Leon). The video game franchise became a series of films. These have been met with mixed reviews. Those that don't like them say they are lacking plot, lacking character development, lacking logic. I'm not quite sure what people expect from a series based on a game, but I always enjoyed them. OK, so they are not exactly intellectually stimulating, but there are days when a girl wants to switch off her brain and just sit on the sofa with wine and chocolate and enjoy some mindless zombie dismemberment.


For the live action series of films (there are some CGI animated ones as well), a new character was created who apppears in all the films. Her name is Alice, and on screen she's played by Milla Jovovich.

Rumour has it that the character was created to be a kind of reverse version of Alice in Wonderland - an Alice in Dystopia. But she is by far the best thing about the Resident Evil films, and she's a wonderfully kick-ass character. This lady is no damsel in distress. Her weapon of choice is a gun in either hand, fired at the same time. She has incredible aim, she is fast, smart, agile and resourceful. And she pretty much leaves all the men behind.

My favourite scene with Alice comes from "Resident Evil: Afterlife", and also features Claire Redfield, who is a character from the games series. With the world being over-run by mutating zombies, a small band of survivors (led by Claire - in herself a strong character) encounter Alice, and they are trying to get out of an abandoned building over-run by zombies. They escape through the sewers. The boys have all run away, leaving Claire and Alice to it when the big guy with the giant meat tenderiser (a monster from Resident Evil 5) comes after them. But these two ladies can take care of themselves, as you can see from the attached video. If you're wondering what's with all the slow-motion, the films are mimicking the style of the games, because all the cut scenes feature slow-motion action.

Alice is a fabulous action heroine, and a prime example of a female horror icon who gives back as good as she gets. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I definitely want her on my team.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Women in Horror #1: Buffy

February is Women in Horror month, where we officially pay homage to the importance that women play in the horror genre.

This year I am going to be doing a series of posts acknowledging those kick-ass heroines who redefine the role of women in horror.


OK, so let's start at the top. I am a HUGE Buffy fan.There are so many reasons why she is such a great role model. Joss Whedon said that the inspiration for Buffy came from the fact that in the horror films he grew up with, the blonde girl was always the one to creep alone down the corridor and get eaten by the monster. He decided the blonde girl should fight back. So he created his teenage California girl who had superpowers. Who was chosen to kick vampire butt.

There are a thousand reasons why I love Buffy. It's the only show I will make a point of watching reruns of when they are on. The only show where I can start watching a random episode and know within five minutes not only which series it is, but which episode it it. It has irony. It has real, flawed characters who are affected by the world around them and change from series to series. One of the great things I loved from the beginning was the way it handled adolescence with sensitivity and wry humour. Anyone who's been a teenager knows the hell that is High School. Every kid has to fight demons in high school. For most of us, those demons are metaphorical. Buffy's demons just happen to be literal. As well as having to deal with the usual adolescent angst of not being popular, whether she'll have a date for the dance, getting into trouble with her folks for staying out late, bullies, jocks vs geeks and so on, she also has to save the world from demons, vampires and the occasional apocalypse. And she still manages to graduate from high school (well, after she saves everyone from the ancient snake demon posing as the Mayor).

People who don't understand my obsession with Buffy have said: "if you like Buffy, you must like Twilight. They're both about girls in love with a vampire". If you can't get the difference, I can't begin to explain it to you. Just watch this terrific video. Yes, I know I've posted it before, but it so proves a point.

Yes, Buffy loves Angel. But at the end of season 2, when she has to kill Angel to save the world, she does it. Even though she loves him. Because a true heroine has that kind of strength of character. And that's another reason I love Buffy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Waiting For Answer by Can Atacan
"The waiting is the hardest part," Tom Petty sings, and while he's not talking about the response time for submissions, I'm sure fellow authors can relate to waiting for "the call."

After two years, I finally submitted Exterminating Angel to a publisher. It's been about a week and a half since I hit SEND, and I've no idea what to expect. While I hope they'll accept it, the pragmatic part of me has also listed other publishers in case the first one doesn't work out.

So far I'm keeping with my promise to submit at least one story a month. Yesterday, I submitted four stories on spec for a possible collection. I've no idea of the response time, but am glad the publisher is willing to look at them.

And then there's the contest I entered back in December. The results won't be known until around August. (I submitted early, which is recommended with contests.) At this point, I'm debating entering another one, but this time I won't make the "Early Bird" deadline. Have to look at the screenplay and see if it's ready. If I do enter the contest, that will be March's entry, and I'll be on track.

On an unrelated note, "Family Tradition" placed #5 on the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll for Short Horror Story. I hope that helps generate some interest in my dark fiction suspense story.