Snowed in and Snowed under

Snapshot_20140802_2by Chantal Boudreau

This year, the weather has brought me ample fodder for story concepts. Be it imagined scenarios of the aftermath of a bus crash during an April snowstorm or co-workers sharing ideas of snow monsters taking over the world when winter never goes away (not someone who writes stories herself,) the massive snowfalls we have endured here in late winter/early spring seemed to have inspired some unpleasant icy fantasies.

But that’s the thing about fiction – genre fiction in particular. The stories are found in the unusual, not in the norm. You’ll rarely see a “day in the life of…” kind of tale when exploring the speculative unless it’s presented in such a way to highlight the differences between our mundane existence and the strange alien planet, or the magical fantasy realm or the dystopian future society. Everyday life doesn’t tend to make for an exceptionally interesting story unless there is something exceptionally interesting about the protagonist(s)’s everyday life. Even in literary fiction, characters tend to have their eccentricities and are moving toward some point of self-discovery or self-destruction not just adhering to the status quo.

The entertainment value of a fictional story comes from events that wouldn’t typically happen. They might be used by the author for some sort of social commentary or moral point, something not likely to happen as the result of a protagonist sitting there twiddling his or her thumbs. Whether a character’s involvement is proactive or reactive, the story results from challenges, accidents, ambitions or extremes – something beyond the average.

I’ve been subject to the extraordinary for years, accused of being a weirdness magnet and of knowing everybody everywhere on more than one occasion (because I always seem to bump into acquaintances in the strangest of places.) I think that’s why, unlike some writers, I don’t cringe when people ask “where do your ideas come from?” I’ll gladly tell them. My life has always run so far outside of the norm, even when I’m trying to be just your average old boring accountant/mom, that I can’t escape new story ideas. I see them in my family, my friends, my co-workers, my environment, my goals, my fears and my trials and tribulations. Sometimes they even show up in the floors, doors or walls. With all this plot material building up in my head, if I didn’t write the occasional story, it might just explode.

So despite my unhappy mutterings about the record-breaking snowfall we’ve had this year, it’s really not all that bad. It’s just another one of those unusual experiences I can file away to break out when I need fictional inspiration – as the urge strikes me.

Something to keep me busy the next time I end up snowed in or snowed under.

Fantasy? Horror? You Tell Me.

Hard to believe, but it’s October already. School is well under way, football season has begun, baseball is headed toward its end for the year and hockey…well, I’m Canadian, so let’s not talk about hockey these days, it just makes me angry.

Of course, the other significant feature of October is Hallowe’en, the time of pumpkins and ghosts and, if you ask my daughter…candy, candy, candy. In putting together the schedule for this round of posts, I simply suggested everyone write about whatever they wanted (which some still might), but Chantal was pretty insistent that we have more of a Hallowe’en theme. After seeing how grumpy she can get in her last post, I figured I better do what she wanted.

I began searching for exactly what to write about. What books have scared me? Horror that I’ve written? Favourite horror authors? These and a host of other topics came to mind when I decided to have a look at the elements of horror that pop up in fantasy.

Edward Cullen in a few years

Although horror is often categorized as its own genre, it really fits under the umbrella of speculative fiction (or spec fic as the cool kids call it) right alongside fantasy and science fiction. While sci-fi tends to stand alone, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and horror. What is it that makes one vampire novel a horror (Dracula, for example) and another fantasy (Twilight)? A vampire is a vampire after all, isn’t he? Perhaps Dracula vs. Twilight isn’t a great comparison as one is distinctly more adult than the other (and Vlad would kick Edward’s ass with one fang tied behind his back), but I’m sure you catch my drift. Is it the graphic nature? The all out scares? What separates the two?

My own vampire story, “Darkness Stalks the Night”, meets a lot of the criteria of horror. It has a vampire, another creature, innocent people graphically killed in a forest, blood, gore, etc., yet I chose to categorize it as urban fantasy. Why? No other reason than it seems like vampires have defected, with werewolves climbing the fence right behind them. (You can read the story for free on Smashwords and let me know what you think). Thank God zombies have become so popular and decided to stay at home, otherwise serial killers might have had the place to themselves.

My Icarus Fell series is categorized as dark fantasy, the handy little sub-genre that hangs over the brief chasm between fantasy and horror like the precarious rope bridge in an Indiana Jones movie. My books contain angels–which is my justification for the fantasy tag–but also demons and devils, trips to Hell, murder (including a serial killer), violence, blood and, hopefully, a few shocks along the way. Certainly, I could have gone either way with the categorization (in fact, on Kindle, the dark fantasy sub-genre falls under the horror heading, not fantasy. It leaves me wondering where I’d be in a book store) but if we bumped into each other on the street and got talking, and in the course of our conversation you found out I was a writer and asked me (as everyone does) what I write, my answer is always fantasy.

So again…what’s the difference? I think the answer is in the author’s intent. You could easily say that Stephen King’s It was a coming-of-age story, but I think his intent was for Pennywise the clown to scare the bejesus out of us (well played, Mr. King). My first intent in the Icarus novels is not to scare the reader, therefore I brave the rope bridge. Sometimes I go back (“Yardwork“), sometimes I make it across (Blood of the King), but most of the time I call the bridge home.

How do you differentiate between fantasy and horror? How about sci-fi and horror? Here are a few examples from film and literature to make you think.

Alien: sci-fi or horror?

The Stand: horror or dystopian sci-fi?

Twilight, Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, Interview With the Vampire and a host of other vampires: horror or fantasy?

The Underworld movies: horror or fantasy?

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening: horror or just plain horrible?

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it?


Bruce Blake is the author of the Icarus Fell dark fantasy series, On Unfaithful Wings and All Who Wander Are Lost, as well as the epic fantasy Blood of the King, the first book in the two-part Khirro’s Journey.