Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Unwinding the Tension in Red Dragon

Red Dragon is intense. It's the type of book that reaches out with gloved hands and a hanky doused in chloroform to kidnap readers from all other genres. There were things about it that I didn't enjoy, such as the shifting from past tense to present tense at times, but they were minor quibbles, and I assume probably completely personal issues. For the most part, Red Dragon is a shining example of why I need to put down my dark fantasy books for a while and appreciate other forms of fiction.

This was my first experience reading a Hannibal book, and that's mostly due to the fact that serial killers with motivations, Hannibal included, do not usually scare me. I've also seen the movies, which I enjoyed, but they didn't drive me out to read the books. Despite my tardiness in reading any of this collection, I have to say, the story builds and handles tension terrifically, making Red Dragon a fine example to analyze for developing such skills. The majority of the tension wasn't created with horror or gore, either; the tension came from character interactions, and mainly from Hannibal, Graham, and Dolarhyde/the Dragon.

Hannibal and Graham are my favorites, so they'll be first. Graham considers himself, along with most of the world, to be psychotic. He's faced traumatic events, which have injured his perception of life, and he is now able to get into the minds of serial killers. So, he's a good guy, bordering on the darkness. Hannibal mirrors his darkness, and through the book you see Graham struggle with the darkness and the light inside himself, which is represented by his family. Hannibal loves Graham for the similarities they share. He is in awe of Graham for catching him; however, Hannibal also hates Graham for catching him. There's also tension between the two due to the coincidental events that led Graham to reveal Hannibal as a murderer: Graham did not outsmart Hannibal, only got lucky by connecting a few clues.

Hannibal and the Tooth Fairy interacted very little, but their correlation should be mentioned. I call the Dragon by the name Tooth Fairy here because when he communicated with Hannibal, he was known by that name. And since little was known about him at that time, the reader is left unsure which persona wrote the toilet-paper letter--the Dragon or Dolarhyde. Anyway, Hannibal appreciates the Tooth Fairy's accolades, but I also got the feeling he held himself higher than the Tooth Fairy, considers the Tooth Fairy to be lesser of a person and a killer. Tension is also created as their very interaction was prohibited, written on toilet paper and then via personal ads. To top it off, when the police found out about the communication, a second level of tension was added because the police covered up the fact they knew of the correspondence. They then played on it in an attempt to catch the Tooth Fairy, who then proclaims himself to be the Dragon.

The Dragon and Dolarhyde are essentially the same character for Graham. He's hunting one killer and that killer bites back. When the killer strikes back, essentially both the Dragon and Dolarhyde are releasing their anger of the world on Graham because they both hate him. When Freddy Lounds is tortured and set ablaze, the Dragon and Dolarhyde do so to taunt Graham. In the end, their goal becomes Graham and his family. In this book, these two characters become the two kings on the chess board, playing games to trap eachother. The tension for the rest of the tale spirals from their interactions.

Dolarhyde and the Dragon are important to distinguish because their goals do not always align. The Dragon wants to kill, and Dolarhyde wants to become the Dragon. Dolarhyde tries to control the Dragon by ingesting the artwork of the beast and does so because his goal becomes living a normal life with Reba McClane. When this dream collapses, his goals shift to those of the Dragon; in other words, Dolarhyde fails to achieve his goal and becomes the Dragon. Since the differentiation of their goals is whether Reba McClane lives or dies, the tension between these two characters is the greatest for me as the stakes are the most real, brought the most to life, in the story--the fate of McClane’s life depended on how Dolarhyde and the Dragon interacted.

So, those are the main characters of Hannibal and how they interact with each other to cram this book full of tension. They, of course, interact with secondary characters to build a three-dimensional story, but it is still the interactions between Hannibal, Graham, and Dolarhyde/the Dragon who make this story so exciting and fascinating.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Terrible Tuesdays: And It Turned Out Fine

Vincent_AF / Free Photos

Today, as part of an introduction and example of memoir writing, I told my class an intense but ultimately positive story about myself. Today was my first day of class, and I've been in a optimistic mood, so today's Terrible Tuesday theme is worst case scenarios that turn out fine.

The story I shared took place in Japan. My parents, my ex-wife, and I were in Hiroshima, and wanted to visit a floating shrine. We were running late because of extra time we took at the A-Bomb Dome and surrounding museums, so we faced missing the last ferry to the shrine of interest. We weren't fluent, and it wasn't to surprising when we boarded the wrong train. We wanted the express but wound up on a ride that would detour, getting us to the ferry after closing. We disembarked and paid the extra for the thirty-minute cab ride to the dock.

A ferry pulled away right as we arrived, but we learned there was still one more for the evening. We were in luck! At least until my ex realized she lost her brand-new camera. So, we ventured to a police box to file a missing camera report while my mom stayed to head on the the shrine, and my dad waited at the dock.

After filling out the report with the police we waited with my dad at the dock. Time passed. A boat pulled up, let people off, and pulled away. When the dock lights shut off, we realized my mom probably wasn't coming back.

We pounded on the ticket window, and the frightened salesman informed us, after a drawn-out translating conversation, that no more ferries would be coming. My mom was stuck on the island.

A taxi driver approached us and tried to get a hold of a sea taxi to pick my mother up, which would have been costly, but we couldn't just leave her on the island alone all night. Plus, our flight left for Sapporo early the next morning. However, the sea taxi guy never answered.

We had no more options.

After standing around for an hour, cops showed up--the same ones we reported the missing camera to. They asked for my ex, then took us back to the police box where they had my mother on the phone. Apparently, when she missed the return ferry, she broke down crying and security took her to a hotel where someone spoke English.

She was fine and stayed the night on the island. In the morning, she woke up, took a return ferry, and caught the express train back to our original hotel just in time to get in a cab with us heading for the airport.

A few weeks later, after my parents had returned to the states, a report of a camera turned up. A taxi cab driver found the camera, turned it in, and upon getting a hold of us, the company mailed it from Hiroshima to Sapporo in a COD package.

So, it was a rough night. We could have lost a several-hundred-dollar camera, could have paid hundreds for a sea taxi, or could have missed our flight the net morning and needed to buy four new tickets. Or my mom could have been abandoned and forever traumatized by an overnight in a creepy, deteriorated boat house. Things were bleak. I'm not sure it was a Tuesday, but it was terrible, but everything turned out fine. I even got a cheery little yarn to tell.

So, what are your yarns that turn out fine. Anything push the breaking point just in time for things to take a turn for the best? I look forward to those stories.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Terrifying Tuesdays: Death Cars

Albert Edwin Roberts / Free Photos

In an attempt to make this blog a little more interesting, and since I am a horror writer, I've decided to start a new weekly post: Terrifying Tuesdays. Each Tuesday, I will post a blog concerning something spooky on my mind. Please comment on and discuss the topic because I want to hear your scary stories, too. To start, I've decided to write a post on cars.

In our culture, cars are extensions of their drivers. We care for them as we would our homes, and like houses, cars can become twisted and spooky. From Stephen King's story Christine to the infamous Truckasaurus Rex, cars easily become monsters. So, I want to hold a discussion on some personal terrifying cars that have haunted me.

I drive a Toyota Highlander and have received mail suggesting I could experience sudden acceleration. Though I'm prepared for such an occasion, I've never experienced it. The scariest driving experience I've ridden through took place one brisk October night years ago while I was driving my ex-wife's Pontiac Grand Prix. It was around 9 pm. Dark clouds filled the sky, and I was cruising at 60 miles per hour, heading north on Nebraska Highway 10 toward Kearney. I was supposed to be meeting up for a Halloween party. The stereo blared and the heater blasted, but when I hit the rear defroster to take care of some fogging, the the Grand Prix shut off.

Speeding along at 60 MPH, I was left in the dark. No traffic, no street light, just total darkness. The power steering abandoned me. I beat at the dash until I hit the emergency blinkers--they turned on giving me a strobing light to guide the car by. I pulled onto the shoulder and let the car slow to a stop.

The car started up fine after that, and it never gave any other problems. Still, I never forgave it for trying to kill me. I also didn't feel too nostalgic when some idiot turned in front of my ex-wife and totaled that Grand Prix--of course, my ex came away without a scratch.

It's my understanding that had I panicked, overcorrected, and wrecked, this problem would likely never be replicated, and I'd be left saying, "The car! The car did this!" So yeah, that car scared me.

I need to give an honorable mentioned to a hearse I saw one night in Pennsylvania. I had been picking up some groceries at Wegmans around eleven and came out to find a decked-out hearse parked next to me. The thing glimmered with a new coat and pristine hubcaps. Purple neon lights illuminated the undercarriage and interior. Decorative skull(I hope decorative, at least) dangled from the rearview mirror. If I'd seen the thing in broad day light, I'd probably shrug it off as some goth teen trying too hard, but being next to my car in an empty lot in the middle of the night got my skin tingling.

So, there's my car stories. What experiences have you had in cars that you'd like to terrify us with? What cars have you seen that gave you the willies?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Everyone Has Problems

Church of Dead Girls was a struggle to get through. The majority of the book could be used as an example for what new writers are taught not to do: the majority of the book is telling, head hopping occurs on numerous occasions, and an overload of names muddles characters up, creating shallow outlines of what they could be. Dobyns can write, and when he gets going, he can suck readers into the story, but then he breaks up the narrative with more bland telling.

Dobyns is a talented writer and tried to achieve something very difficult (illuminating the mentality of an entire town under tragic hardship) in this work; however, in this ambitious attempt, the book suffers.

I read this book as an examination of psychopaths in fiction for class, so when analyzing it, a suitable question I asked was "who is the psychopath?" The initial response would be the murderer (I won't give any spoilers as to whom he or she is), but upon further contemplation, Dobyns wasn't writing a book about a psychopathic serial killer; he was writing a book about how communities respond under stressful situations in psychopathic ways. Under stress, tensions build and eventually explode. Neighbors turn on neighbors as everyone looks to segregate those with differences, such as looks, religion, or philosophy. In doing so, some characters become parasitic, manipulative, superficial, egocentric, and even criminal.

This book could be compared to Lord of the Flies. Consider the monster in Lord of the Flies, how fear creates stress on the tribe of boys, eats away at the society they brought with them to the island. The boys disintegrate and begin murdering each other. Society is a structure humans create to sustain order, but stress is the downfall of that structure. When it collapses, psychopathic tendencies grasp all of us. And I think Church of Dead Girls does a great job of illustrating how everyone harbors some psychopathic characteristics that wait to surface. The narrator is untrustworthy and hints that he might even be the killer when he discusses some of his morbid and voyeuristic fascinations. The narrator hears a lot of gossip, too, which further illustrates how everyone in town has similar tendencies and the need to live vicariously. No one should be trusted, and even if a neighbor isn't a killer, he or she might be just as guilty of having problems.

I loved the ending scene as the murderer is chased through a park and into the woods. By this point, many people in town have purchased guns, and they all run around shooting at anything that moves. This is a climatic demonstration of what humans become when they're terrified. I think it's also a bold statement on gun control: maybe guns serve to protect, but if everyone owns one, the very fear guns are created to protect against is the stress that will wound or even kill innocent people. This book suggests our society is not sane enough to responsibly bear arms. Imagine what would have happened on the island in Lord of the Flies had there been guns amongst the boys.

So, Dobyns attempted to write about the psychoses of a whole town, but in doing so, he resorted to overwhelming readers with characters and telling the majority of the details and backstory, which may have achieved his goal but did so in a way that made this book difficult to get through.