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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don’t go in the Cellar—Why do Characters take Foolish Risks?

We’ve all read the passage--the heroine is home alone when she hears a strange noise coming from the depths of the house.  What could it be?  The reader holds a breath silently praying, don’t go down there.  So what does our heroine do?  Call 911?  No.  Get help? No.  She heads right for the cellar stairs and goes down, often calling out in a loud and frightened voice, “Is anyone there?”
Does the heroine expect a serial killer/burglar/monster to reply “Just me?”  What would she do if there was an answer from below?
Here are examples of some hare-brained decisions that characters often make in books and movies:
***Go down the cellar steps, or into the basement or out into an empty yard after hearing an ominous noise.
***Walking in the direction from which they just heard a suspicious gunshot.
***Keep on walking after hearing footsteps behind them, dogging their path, when they could easily get to safety.
***Take a bath after receiving a threatening phone call. 
***Find an opportunity to make love while on the run with vampires/ the police/a serial killer in close proximity.
***Keep searching for a serial killer after discovering a fresh corpse or a suspicious-looking bag of bones in a house, park, or other secluded place.
***Enter a cave or other dark place unarmed and alone when there are rumors a killer, monster or vampire is present.
In certain genres, such as suspense, gothic romance, and horror, a little foolish risk-taking is expected.  In my above example, how else is the author going to get the heroine in jeopardy? If she doesn’t go down into the cellar, if she calls the police instead, the story is dead in the water.
When faced with this dilemma, authors should try to make the protagonist’s decision as rational as possible so that a potentially dangerous situation doesn’t leave the reader in stitches.

If the writer can make the reader understand the whys of it, they will be more likely to forgive a character for making an impulsive decision. How can a writer accomplish this?  Maybe the protagonist doesn’t trust the police, maybe their fearlessness is a character flaw that often gets them into trouble. While protagonists must often venture into dark and dangerous places, their actions should be justifiable and make as much sense to the reader as possible.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Low Gore Halloween Movies

Low Gore Halloween Movies for the Squeamish from Ghost Stories to Teen Thrillers

Slasher movies and zombie flicks aren't for everyone. Many films can be found that keep the spirit of Halloween which are high in atmosphere and low in gore.

For those of us who can't handle high gore films such as Saw, Hostel, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these ever popular movies have plenty of thrills while keeping the gore at a minimum.

Alfred Hitchcock Movies

Movies that have a gothic atmosphere are a good pick. The 1963 version of the Hitchcock thriller The Birds, based on a work by Daphne du Maurier, is about a California seacoast town experiencing a sudden, unexplained attack of birds of all kinds. The black and white setting creates a stark mood and air of tension. Some other Alfred Hitchcock movies to consider are:

•The Lodger
•Strangers on a Train

Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are usually high on atmosphere and low on gore. One good film to check out is the 2001 release, The Others, which stars Nicole Kidman. The film takes place just after World War 11, where a mother lives with her two young children in an isolated country house, The children suffer from a rare disease in which they are unable to be exposed to sunlight. This film has a very spooky mood and gives the watcher a sense of mounting suspense as they begin to see strange people in the house.

•The Sixth Sense
•House on Haunted Hill
•Ghost Story
•The Haunting
•The Changeling

Stephen King Thrillers

The 2007 film titled 1408, based on a Stephen King short story, refers to the number of a haunted room in a hotel. No one is allowed to stay in room 1408. However Michael Enslin, an author of books about haunted locations, decides to spend the night. A number of frightening occurrences ensue that toy with his perception of reality and unreality, and threaten to break his mind before the night is through.

Other Stephen King Favorites:

•Salem’s Lot
•The Shining
•Silver Bullet
•Secret Window

Teen Thrillers

There are many teen thrillers that aren’t too high on the gore scale. Two remakes of Japanese films, The Ring and The Grudge, rely mostly on atmosphere for their thrills and chills. The 2002 film The Ring centers around a cursed videotape which causes the viewer to die seven days after watching it. In a similar vein, The Grudge and its sequels are about a curse that is born when a person dies in the throes of a powerful rage.

Other teen thrillers that are light on gore are:

•Jeepers Creepers
•When a Stranger Calls

These teen thrillers contain some gory scenes, but are still not as gory as slasher films.

•Scream (1,2, and 3)
•I Know What you did Last Summer

Good films with a Halloween atmosphere can be found regardless of tolerance for blood and gore.

For a similar teen read try Three to Die. THREE TO DIE only $3.99

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A visit with Jean Henry Mead about the Logan and Cafferty Mystery Series

Writing about two 60-year old women amateur sleuths has been fun, but I always attempt to involve them in social issues. Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow,  inhabited my brain for a couple of years before they were given birth on my computer. Living in my home state of California at the time, I placed them in the San Joaquin Valley in the central area of the state, where dense Tule fog, agricultural sprays and bay area pollution have become health hazards. It’s also a place where a serial killer can hide and kill at his leisure.
I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and envisioned a killer disappearing into the fog after taking someone’s life. In fact, it actually happened half a mile from where I lived in a rural area, when a young woman was strangled in her ranch house. It could have been me.

In A Village Shattered, the first book in the series, I placed my aging sleuths in a retirement village  where their Sew and So club members are mysteriously dropping dead alphabetically. When Dana and Sarah realize what is happening, they suspect that their own names are on the killer’s list. The newly-elected sheriff—whose only previous experience was training police dogs—is bungling the case, so Logan & Cafferty decide to put their crime solving knowledge to work in order to not only save their remaining friends’ lives, but their own. Meanwhile, Dana’s journalist daughter shows up on her doorstep, complicating matters.

I placed the widows in a motorhome in Diary of Murder, second book in the series, after they sold their homes in the retirement village. While vacationing in Colorado, they encounter a Rocky Mountain blizzard after learning that Dana’s sister, a mystery writer, has died. Her husband claims it was suicide but Dana knows better. When they arrive in Wyoming, they go through the sister’s possessions and find her diary, which details her husband’s infidelities as well as her unhappiness at having married him. Dana then learns that her former brother-in-law is involved in a vicious drug gang, and she and Sarah are nearly killed themselves when they investigate.

The murdered sister willed her mansion to Dana and the two women take up residence in Wyoming. During a picture-taking trip to Gray Wolf Mountain, their Escalade is shot at, resulting in a rollover. An old man comes to their rescue in his decrepit pickup truck and they learn that he travels the mountain to find wounded wolves to nurse back to health. Someone has been deliberately shooting them and has recently begun shooting people. Logan & Cafferty decide to help the old man, once again placing their own lives in danger.

In Murder on the Interstate, the two women are traveling in northern Arizona, where they discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. Her killer shoots out their motorhome tires and a trucker who calls herself “Big Ruby” McCurdy comes to their rescue. The three women follow the killer during torrential rain in Ruby’s 18-wheeler, and discover that the killer is involved in a homegrown terrorist group who plan to overthrow the government. While attempting to discover how the murder victim is connected to the group leads them into a flash flood and capture by the group.

In the fifth novel, Murder in RV Paradise, Dana and Sarah decide to vacation in an exclusive resort in northern Texas, where they find the body of a beautiful woman who has entraps wealthy men to blackmail them. There are more than a thousand residents of the resort so anyone could have killed her. Interviewing the right ones seems an insurmountable task and the amateur sleuths became suspects, themselves, in the murder. Sarah finds love with a retired rancher and Dana’s quest to maintain her friendship status with long-time pursuer, Sheriff Walter Campbell, is in serious jeopardy. When the sheriff is seriously wounded, Dana rushes to his side and is persuaded to marry him. But will she?

Bio: Novelist and award-winning photojournalist Jean Henry Mead has published 20 books, among them the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as the Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, Wyoming historicals and nonfiction books. She first served as a news reporter and news, magazine and small press editor while contributing the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad.