Friday, April 26, 2013

World War Z and Zombie Poultry. The Real Life Story of Mike, the Headless Chicken

Zombies have been on top of the wave of public interest for quite some time now; some may say that for too long. Truth is the genre is fascinating but you can only spin the end of the world by the hands of mindless eating machines so many times. It's getting repetitive and boring. There will always be the hard-core fans, but to the general public, the wave is approaching the beach. Or is it, really? When one of the most popular actors of these times--Hello there, Brad Pitt!--stars in the movie adaptation of one of the most iconic zombie books of recent times, one might be inclined to think the fun has just begun.

But not me. I do think this wave is about to reach the beach, and in true wave fashion, it'll go with a huge splash. World War Z, the movie--which, may I say, looks AWESOME!--will cause the biggest splash, filling theaters with over-excited fans--like me. We'll surely get a few other, smaller splashes and then the genre will fade out for a few years. Hopefully. Not another Romero remake in at least a decade, let's cross our fingers...

But will zombies be forgotten? I don't think so. The zombie figure is a predominant one in our unconscious mind, and then there are all the strange occurrences; like the guy in Miami who ate another man on a busy highway in the middle of the day. Turns out he was under the influence of some kind of drug--what a shocker. Still, for a moment there I feared I might had postponed my bunker buying for a little too long. And there have been more similar incidences. But if that wasn't giving you nightmares, then the CDC decides to post an official memo on Zombie Preparedness... Nop, I think the fear of the dead is quite alive.

Mind you, I haven't bought that bunker just yet. Mostly because I'm penniless. And my neighborhood doomsday prepper is not that friendly.

Come to think of it, I may know just the story to inject the genre with a bit of liveness. A 'real life story' is always welcome in Hollywood, isn't it? So I give you the story of Mike, the Headless Chicken.

It happened in 1945 in a Colorado farm, when one fine morning Lloyd Olsen went out to his yard to kill a chicken for dinner. Now, Olson must have followed the same procedure a hundred times, yet he did a lousy job on this one. Turns out, his machete had missed the jugular vein and left most of the chicken's brain stem intact. So what is the sensible thing to do under such strenuous circumstances? Why, you name your chicken and take it to the carnival! As part of the sideshow.

Mike, the Headless Chicken had almost all of his basic functions, like walking, breathing, and having a pulse. He even attempted to crow, which must've been fun... not. Since he couldn't eat himself--having no beak can do that to you--he was fed via eyedropper. He lived 18 whole months like that, and now there is a yearly festival in his hometown to commemorate this hard-to-kill rooster.

How is this story any scary? Well, granted, Mike wouldn't be able to eat us--being headless and all--but it is freaky. And then it got me thinking... What if the next avian flu does to us what the skillful Olsen did to Mike? Albeit without the actual cutting. What if a new virus just kills enough of our brain that we can actually walk and eat without conscious thought left? Even if we didn't feed on each other, it would mean the end of our race. And that's scary...

So what do you say? Who wants to write the script?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Burned. What to Do When Even Your Teachers Laugh at You

A few weeks ago I was visiting the blogs that I follow, which I don't do as often as I should. One of the posts was about a crit class where this girl felt cheated because the praise she was receiving wasn't deserved... or so she thought. We banded together claiming we rather hear a blunt truth with a nice "I know you can do better", than an undeserved compliment.

Well, I got my wish, alright.

For the past seven weeks I've attended my first ever Creative Writing class at my local college. The first class was kind of odd because everyone writes more literary stuff and there I was, just spilling blood and guts everywhere... Right. Not the warm reception I was expecting, but alright. With every week I learned to tone down the horror and they learned more of my style. I really enjoy the class and it is challenging me to explore different areas of my creativity.

Now, because I know my style isn't really their thing but keep getting rave comments anyway, I suspected they would always find something nice to say, no matter how bad I sucked. Which was kind of disappointing, but I get it. This is a class targeted to weekend writers, not to people actively pursuing a life as a full time writer. As such, the teacher is more lenient and doesn't try to squeeze out of us a master piece by the end of the course. The one positive is that it gives you the sense of a 'safe environment' to try and experiment in other literary forms or genres.

So, I did just that. I presented a 'poem' to the class. Did I tell you I know nothing of poetry? Yeah, and I mean NOTHING. I didn't study English in school because in Mexico they teach Latin-American Literature. Aside from rhythm and rime, there is nothing in common between Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Frost, which I should have taken as the first warning against trying it. But I'm an idiot, and what's worse, I was ignorant. And that is a bad combination.

I knew my 'poem' wasn't good but I thought I'd take the chance to learn something new, and learn I did. First I learned that that silence can be very loud. I also learned that my teacher is very much capable of annihilate your piece, burn your soul, and eat your heart without so much as a blink.

The first thing that happened after the silence was my teacher thoughtfully commenting on how the piece was not a poem, but prose with a few words that rhymed. It needed to be chopped and trimmed a whole lot. Which was true and, though it hurt, I understood. Then she laughed at my 'naiveté'. The pseudo-poem was about my kids and how much I hoped they remembered me forever. It seems that sentiment is cute but unrealistic, and worthy of a space in a shelf next to Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.

Yeah, she laughed. OUCH

After the shock, the group took my side. Clearly unhappy with her way of putting down my feelings, the group opted to say nice things like they got the feeling behind it, or that they thought it was good for a first try. Another girl went so far as to say she would try my way to write a first poem, going from wordy to trimmer by editing. The teacher tried to coax me to rhyme right there and then, which I simply couldn't do. Not only was I too embarrassed and feeling inadequate, but there's also the fact that I knew nothing of Iambic Pentameters, or whatever the hell she was saying. So the class went on to read another person's work and the teacher told me she expected a re-write of my poem by mail in the course of the week.

I got home, kinda told something to my hubby, and shed a couple of tears. Then I started reading about meters, rhyming, rhythm, and what the fuck was an Iambic Pentameter. I'm way far from knowing everything there is about poetry, but sure as hell I learned more today than I did while I wrote that thing. I don't condone the laughter but I totally understand that I have to study more before attempting a style. I'm hell-bent on getting the best out of the situation, and though I won't be reading the new version to the class, I'll send it to my teacher and I'll try to squeeze whatever knowledge I can of her in the small amount of time I have left.

So, my message is this: Blunt criticism is very hard to take and the fact that you think you're ready for it, doesn't make it any easier. It is, however, one of the best opportunities you'll have to grow. Take it, learn from your mistakes, and don't loose faith in yourself. You may suck at 'x' now, but with every time you try, with every question you ask, with every burn you take, you know more. One day you will be just as good as the one who burned you.

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nature vs Nurture.

Hope everyone got a great long weekend to enjoy, celebrate (Easter, Passover, or simply the joy to be alive), and get a head start on your spring cleaning... which I did not. Clean, I mean. I mostly enjoyed the family and talked to friends. It was a breath of fresh air.

For my awesome friends at IWSG, it's April's time for a meeting and I hope you find yourselves welcoming a yet cold but still here spring. This time I'm taking a different approach to the meeting and instead of focusing on my insecurities, I want to share with you something a friend asked me over the past weekend.

She recently read my book, PERPETUAL NIGHT, and asked me about the protagonist, Lilibeth Royster. She wanted to know why I chose Lilibeth to be a teenager and if the story was really at its core about the age-old debate of Nature vs Nurture. Since this isn't the first time that a reader makes the conclusion that the story pitches in on the argument, I thought it'd be an interesting post to share.

Childhood is the period of time when our parents teach us everything we must know. When the building blocks are cemented in a firm foundation that'll carry our future. If we grow good or bad, at this point, depends on them. And here is where the Nurture vs Nature debate starts. 

I don't believe that one person is born evil or bad, in that sense I'm with the nurture side of the argument, but it is impossible to deny that there are genetics involved in most every psychological aspect of our personality. The depressive personality, the overachiever, the shy, the sociopath... genetics can't be set aside. But not every psychopath grows to be a killer. Not every shy person will be insecure. Where does the difference reside between your manipulating ex-boyfriend and Ted Bundy? Our environment, I think, makes a huge difference in what we do with the cards we were dealt.

For me, the trickiest part of growing up is surviving our adolescence. I made Lilibeth a teenager because that's the period of time when we become responsible of our own lives. Even with the best foundations and the best materials, a building can fail if badly built. In PERPETUAL NIGHT, Lilibeth is confronted with a world that treats her like a child, that is condescending and unforgiven. Gone are the years of fairies that'll give her money for her teeth. Santa is not real and Lilibeth, like every other teen, must accept that real life sucks and then move on.

Teens are neither kids nor adults, they feel isolated because they are. They don't know where the self begins and the parent ends.They are searching for themselves. They lash at a society that has no place for them. They oppose their parents because they need to assert themselves as individuals. 

I tell you, being a teen sucks. Then, at the risk of looking like a cruel god, what if the teen is put under extraneous circumstances? Can they be trusted to make the best decision? That's a question over which every parents looses sleep and that's where I put Lilibeth. I surrounded her with night terrors, visions, and the shadow of mental disease in the family. And a bad breakup, of course, since 90% of the worst decisions I ever took were made under the influence of a bad breakup.

So there you go, in my mind PERPETUAL NIGHT isn't a story about Nature vs Nurture. Lilibeth's neither a sociopath nor a psychopath. It is an analysis of ourselves, the 'normal' people. We all have within us a dash of egocentrism, a sense of entitlement, and can experience genuine moral conflict. And still none of us are free of making bad decisions that'll change the course of our lives. We are just lucky that our worst didn't impact our future. We are lucky to have survived our teens.

Share with me, were your teen years too hard? And where do you stand, nature, or nurture?

For more info on the book or to read an excerpt, go to Perpetual Night, ebook and don't forget to 'Look Inside'.