Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blasco and Remarque: Selling The Great War.

Vicente Blasco Ibañez
Erich Maria Remarque

Our current century was born in war, and every month we hear of new armed conflicts erupting around the globe. And yet, when it comes to bestselling novels, warfare is the least favorite subject.  It was not always the case. After the Great War, novels dealing with the conflict flooded the market all over Europe and United States. Two European writers would become the darlings of bestseller lists precisely for their pacifist views of the conflict. Today they are almost unknown, but in their day, Erich Maria Remarque and Vicente Blasco Ibañez were celebrated not only to readers but by moviegoers as well.

Born in 1867, in Valencia, Spain, Vicente Blasco Ibañez was a protean personality. Although he studied law, he never practiced it. He was a journalist, a politician, a novelist and a writer. A liberal and a mason, he opposed the monarchy, was imprisoned and exiled himself several times. Nowadays, he is known in Spain for his regional novels set in his native Valencia, but Blasco wrote adventure stories and historical fiction as well as psychological novels crammed with social criticism. He was a very dynamic character who traveled extensively, and he lived for a while in Argentina. That would provide him with the background for the novel that would make him famous throughout the world: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypses.

The outbreak of The Great War found him in Paris. Blasco became a war correspondent visiting the battlefield and embracing the Allied cause. In one occasion, the French President, Raymond Poincare advised him to write a war novel. In 1916, Blasco published Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis in Spanish. Two yeas later, the novel was followed by Mare Nostrum, a spy story about a Spanish captain who seeks revenge after his ship is torpedoed by the Germans.
Poster of the 1948 Spanish version of "Mare Nostrum"

In the years following its publication, Four Horsemen would be translated to several languages and became a bestseller. According to Publishers Weekly it was the most read novel in United States in 1919. The story begins in Argentina. Madariaga, aka “The Centaur,” a wealthy landowner has hired two foreigners to help him with his ranch: the German Trott and Marcel Desnoyer, a Frenchman. They become Madariaga´ sons –in- law. Eventually, Trott and his family move back to Germany, and the Desnoyers stay behind. It is  Madariaga’s wish that his favorite grandson Julio Desnoyer  inherits his land.

Spoiled by his grandfather, Julio grows into a charming young man, a womanizer and a lover of good things. After Madariaga´s death, the Desnoyers move to France. They enjoy the Parisian high life and eventually purchase a chateau. Even the outbreak of the war, doesn´t stop Julio´s philandering and hedonistic ways of life. He is involved with Marguerite, a married woman. But when her husband, blind and injured, returns from the trenches, Marguerite has a change of heart and leaves Julio. Moved by her sacrifice, Julio joins the French Army. In a battle near his family´s castle, he is mortally wounded. Before dying he has a vision of the Four Horsemen of the Book of Revelation riding over the land.

Due to the novel’s popularity, in 1921 Hollywood commissioned director Rex Ingram to make a film version. To play Julio, Ingram casted a young unknown Italian named Rudolfo Valentino. At an early scene, Julio dances tango at an Argentine tavern. Displaying the nimbleness acquired over years of being a dance master, Rudy exuded sensuality. For the first time audiences were exposed to The Latin Lover in the flesh. The movie was a mega success, Valentino, now known as Rudolph, became the screen’s first  sex symbol, and the rest is history.

However, this was not the end of Hollywood´s love affair with Blasco Ibañez. The following year, Fred Niblo directed Valentino in Blood and Sand, an adaptation of Blasco´s novel about the world of bullfighting. This is the story of humble Juan Gallardo who reaches fame as a matador, but letting success go to his head, forgets friends and values with dire results. Nita Naldi played temptress Doña Sol who lures Juan away from his true love. So inspiring was this character that the French brought to the market a perfume named after her. Blood and Sand had an equally successful remake in 1941 with Tyrone Power as Gallardo and Rita Hayworth as Doña Sol.

In 1926, Greta Garbo made her Hollywood debut in “The Torrent” where she played Leonora, an opera singer, in this adaptation of Entre Naranjos (Among the Orange Trees), one of Blasco´s Valentian novels. That same year, Garbo co-starred with Antonio Moreno in “The Temptress” based on Blasco’s La tierra es de todos. She played Elena, a high class Parisian courtesan who follows naïve Rafael back to his Argentinean estancia in the pampas just to wreck havoc among the gauchos.

Antonio Moreno went to star as Captain Ulises Farragut in the first version of Mare Nostrum opposite Alice Terry (who had played Marguerite in The Four Horsemen) as Freya, the German spy. His Hollywood sojourn provided Blasco with an international fame no other Spanish author had enjoyed before or after. He moved to Fontanarossa, his villa in France and continued writing until his death in 1928.
Alice Terry and Antonio Moreno in Mare Nostrum (1926)

Unlike Vicente Blasco Ibañez , Erich Maria Remarque, was not a famed writer  when he published the novel that would make his name known all over the world. Born in 1898, into a Lower Saxony humble family, Remarque began to scribble his first novel at age sixteen. His literary efforts were cut short by the war. Conscripted while still a teenager, he  fought in the Western Front. In 1917, he was severely wounded and spent the rest of the conflict at an army hospital.

After the war, Remarque tried to earn his living as an editor, journalist and teacher. He finished his novel that was published in 1920, under the title The Dream Rom. He followed it eight years later with The Horizon Station. None of those books met with great success. In 1927, he began to write about his battlefield experiences. In a couple of months, he had finished his masterpiece, but it took him two years to find a publisher. All Quiet on the Western Front finally hit the market in 1929.

In the first eighteen months  2.5 million books had been sold and the novel had been translated to twenty-five languages. The story of Paul Baumer, a high school student that together with his classmates, joins up with dreams of glory just to face the horror of warfare, became an instant classic, and many have named it the best novel of The Great War. In his book, Remarque denounced nationalism and war in general. That pacifist message suited the anti-war mod that would permeate United States throughout the Twenties and Thirties.

Hollywood bought the rights to the novel and turned it into the hit film of 1930.  It won two Oscars, and it is considered a milestone in war film history. Steven Spielberg has acknowledged it as an inspiration for “Saving Private Ryan”. But not everybody was happy with the film. Angry at the pacifist message, the Nazis tried to boycott  the German premiere by letting mice loose among he audience. After  Hitler’s rise to power, the film was banned in Germany. It was also banned in Italy, Austria and France. That didn’t stop the story from continuing to inspire filmmakers. In 1979, there was a TV-movie based on the same novel, and later this year Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe is expected to star in the third film version of Remarque´s immortal story.

After publishing The Road Back (that would also be turned into a Hollywood film), Remarque and his wife  moved to Switzerland. They were at their Locarno Villa when the Nazis rose to power. That same year, Remarque´s celebrated novels were publicly burned in Germany and the new regime banned his works. From then on, Remarque knew it would be impossible for him to live and write in Germany. 
It was in Switzerland that Remarque wrote his next novel, Three Comrades, a poignant story of love and friendship in the Germany of the Twenties. After Good Housekeeping serialized the English translation of Three Comrades, Hollywood bought the rights and put none other than Scott Fitzgerald to adapt it to the screen. “Three Comrades” was well received in its theatrical debut in 1938.

As the Nazi threat loomed over Europe, Remarque moved first to France, and in 1939 crossed the Atlantic to settle in United States. In 1941, he wrote Flotsam which also became a film called “So Ends Our Night,” starring Fredric March and Glenn Ford. Although virtually forgotten now, it´s the moving story of a bunch of refugees gallivanting over Europe to escape the German advance. (If anyone is interested you may watch the complete film in YouTube.)

The end of the Second World War coincided with the publication of Arc de Triomphe, another Remarque bestseller. The plot focuses on a small community of stateless refugees struggling to survive in Paris on the eve of World War II. One of them is Dr. Ravic, a man that bears physical and emotional memories of his encounters with the Nazis. While struggling to avoid deportation, Ravic runs into Haake, the Gestapo agent that tortured him and killed his lover. Ravic then embarks on a revenge plan that is almost interrupted by a domed affair with a mysterious courtesan. Sadly, this successful novel was turned into a fiasco of a movie in 1948. I recommend the 1985 made-for-TV adaptation starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Lesley Anne Down.
Remarque and Paulette Goddard in Switzerland

After the war, Remarque became an American citizen. He divorced his first wife and married actress Paulette Goddard. The couple moved to Switzerland in the Fifties, there Remarque reassumed his writing. In 1954, Hollywood again remembered him. Thanks to its director Douglas Sirk, and Remarque´s hand in the script, A Time to Love, A Time to Die’ s adaptation looks like an  European film, despite its rich usage of Technicolor and other Hollywood’ special  effects. It’s one of the first attempts in American film to show the human face of the German people during the Second World War. The central love story reminds a little of Vincent Minelli’s “The Clock,” except that the action takes place not in twenty-four hours like in the Judy Garland film, but throughout  three weeks.

 Private Ernst Graeber (John Gavin) arrives to Berlin from the Eastern Front, in his first furlough in yeas, to find his house bombed and his family vanished. In search of his parents, he runs into Elizabeth (Lilo Pulver), the daughter of a former teacher of his. Elizabeth´s father has been arrested for expressing anti-Hitler sentiments and now languishes in a concentration camp. During his furlough, Ernst romances and, despite Nazi bureaucracy and other obstacles, marries Elizabeth. Together they meet ordinary and extraordinary people, from mass killers to members of a burgeoning German Resistance including Professor Pohlman played by Remarque himself. Eventually, Ernst returns to the Russian Front and is killed the same day he gets a letter from Elizabeth telling him she is pregnant.

Until his death in 1970, Erich Maria Remarque continued writing novels dealing with Nazi Germany. One exception was a romance between a car racer and a terminally ill woman. Under the name “Bobby Deerfield” it was turned into an Al Pacino vehicle. Hollywood producers remained loyal to a writer that provided them with plenty of material for box office hits.

Prior to this post have you ever heard of Blasco or Remarque? Have you eve read any of their works? Do you think their novels are obsolete or do the plots still bear relevance in this day and age?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Novel 2.0

Jonathan Franzen is afraid: should you be, too?
“When I read a book, I'm handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that's reassuring." This is author Jonathan Franzen, speaking on the evils of the ebook earlier this year. Like many über-literary types, Franzen is not a technophile. He would like the publishing industry to stay the way it is, which is to say, aggressively static. "Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough ... Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change ... Will there still be readers fifty years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable?” Franzen's fear of change extends to a dislike of people who disagree with him: if you, dear reader, are a consumer of ebooks, you are not a "serious reader." Not according to Franzen, who might just possibly still be reading books in cuneiform chiseled onto clay tablets.

I hate to break it to Franzen and his fellow Luddites, but the ebook is not going away. As papyrus was superseded by parchment, and the quill was superseded by the printing press, the Kindle will almost certainly be superseded, eventually, by some new bit of technology. The point is that in spite of Franzen’s obvious desire to freeze the world in place, things do change. Gutenberg's technology didn’t bring the end of civilization (in fact, it might have helped it along), and I think it’s fairly safe to assume that neither will the inexorable march of the ebook herald the apocalypse.

Old harbinger of doom
New harbinger of doom

First, it’s worth pointing out that the static-book concept is something of an illusion. Books can change from their original; we call those changes “editions.” Orson Scott Card, for example, had the chance to change some things about his bestselling novel Ender’s Game, originally published in 1985, but with an “author’s definitive edition” released in 1991. Other books have been changed against their author’s wills: Huckleberry Finn suffered a more ignominious rewriting when the n-word was recently expurgated by well-meaning but clueless censors. D.H. Lawrence and other authors ahead of their times have had their words changed: the fact that their books were printed in ink, on paper, did not make them immutable. Actually, D.H. Lawrence benefited from the passage of time: unlike Twain, his original words were released in later editions, as reader sensibilities liberalized.

Not "permanent and unalterable"
So, Mr. Franzen, even before the ebook, novels were not always "permanent and unalterable." But they are about to become quite a bit more dynamic, and as writers we have to prepare ourselves for this change.

In 2007, ebooks accounted for one-half of 1 percent of the trade book market, according to an annual survey conducted by the Association of American Publishers. Just a few months later, the Kindle was introduced, followed by the Nook in 2009. Ebooks went from a trickle to a tsunami at that point: their sales and markets have doubled every year since then. In 2011, ebook sales were up 117 percent, representing nearly 20 percent of all book-publishing revenues. 

It’s not simply that books are moving from paper to digital format, though. The book itself is changing, as indicated by Franzen’s fretting over “permanence.” Authors can now get immediate feedback on their work from readers, before the book has even been officially published. Authors may begin releasing their books bit by bit, with readers giving feedback nearly in real-time on plot development and character. This means the book becomes something like a collaboration between writer and reader.

Dominque Raccah, CEO and publisher of Sourcebooks, calls this the “agile publishing” model. “You really are publishing into a community already," Raccah says in this NPR interview. "So what you are going to be doing is developing that book in front of that community, having the community interact with the author to develop the book [and] provide feedback."
The writer and her readers, collaborating

I find this concept rather mind-boggling: exciting, a little bit scary, and full of possibility. We may even need to rename the book itself, replacing it with a "word that will describe the digital, transmutable, readable, platform-agnostic, weightless, immersive, elastic creation, hitherto known as a book."

I’m not an especially adept technophile — I always feel I’m limping along after trends, trying to keep up, and missing a variety of revolutionary boats. But I am not afraid of the future, for the most part, and I think some of the changes in the publishing world could go our way, as writers. If e-publishing is a tsunami, we writers have a choice to run screaming from it, or to grab our surfboards and ride this sucker.

What do you see as the pitfalls and possibilities of this frontier in publishing?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Plays, Screenplays, and Novels: How to Format, Submit, and Control Your Material

Ironically, on Oscar weekend, of all weekends, I attended a local conference on screenwriting and playwriting. Since I've spent the majority of my writing career writing novels, I decided I liked the idea of branching out. In the past I've written a play and I'm currently working on a musical, and of course, who doesn't like the possible idea of turning their novel into a screenplay? It was a one day conference and I walked away having learned a thing or two about the writing world and how each medium has its own hangups and rules when it comes to getting your work published. So, if you're not planning on attending a screenwriting/playwriting conference any time soon, then allow me to share some of my insight.


    Aristotle's Poetics
  • Formatting Your Manuscript -- Probably the one medium with the fewest rules when it comes to writing. Yes, you need to follow the three part structure with a beginning, middle, and end, but when it comes to putting your dialogue on paper, ignore those formatting sections you find in playwriting books. And keep in mind that once your play is written, get it copyrighted. Unlike when it comes to novels, plays should have a copyright put on them as soon as you've finished them. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to think spatially during the writing process. You're limited to a stage and not just one type of stage. Keep in mind that plays are produced on the lowest of scales with little stage structure, to outdoors productions, to the big Broadway productions.
  • Submission -- When it comes to getting your play published, you're going to have to make sure your work has been produced at least once for the stage. Once your play goes to be printed, it will be condensed into a format that makes it impossible for a director and actors to work with, so keep in mind that you might want a restructured format when it comes to submitting it for the stage. Playwriting agents are few and far between and most won't take on a new client until he/she has proven that he/she can produce something successful for the stage. A few of the major play publishers are Samuel French, Inc., Dramatist Play Service, Inc., and Brooklyn Publishers.
  • Audience -- When it comes to plays, keep in mind that you're writing mainly for schools and the local playhouses and perhaps local universities and college venues. If you want to get your foot in the door, get involved in your local theaters and especially try to be there when a theater makes play choices. You might be surprised and yours just might get picked!
  • Controlling Your Rights -- Playwriting not only has the fewest rules, but it also gives the writer the most control over his/her manuscript. When you submit a contract with your work, make sure to add the Dramatist Guild of America Authors Bill of Rights. In this, it not only states that you retain your rights to your play, but that any changes made to your work by anyone producing it also become your intellectual property. Pretty nice deal, if you ask me.
A Playwright's Resources:  Poetics by Aristotle, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Georges Polti, Playwriting in Process by Michael Wright, Practical Playwriting by Leroy Clark, Art & Craft of Playwriting by Jeffrey Hatcher, Teach Yourself Writing a Play by Lesley Brown and Ann Gawthorpe, Playwriting for Dummies by Angelo Para.


The Screenwriter's Bible
by David Trottier
  • Formatting Your Manuscript -- Probably the strictest medium when it comes to rules and formatting. As a newbie, you will be able to get away with nil to none when it comes to breaking the rules. If you've never written for the screen before, get yourself a comprehensive guide on following the precise structure and formatting techniques being used in the film world today. Otherwise, your work won't see the light of day, and that's a fact. Again, get your manuscript copyrighted as soon as you've put the final period on the last bit of dialogue. It's not necessarily true that plagiarism abounds in the screenwriting world, but there are plenty of people out there who get sue-happy when it comes to a successful film. Everyone starts believing their idea was stolen!
  • Submission -- The film industry is one of the hardest industries in which a writer can get an agent. With the economy tanking a few years ago, Hollywood has reined in on the amount of money being spent on movies, as well as the number of movies getting produced. Because of this, agents have reined in as well when it comes to new screenwriting voices. What they're really looking for is a writer who is tried and true. But there are a few back doors newbies can try and use. First, if you've never heard of, then I suggest you check it out. If you purchase the pro version of imdb, you'll have all kinds of access to actor's, director's, and producer's profiles, including the agenting information. Popping off a query to an actor's agent, a producer, or a producer's lawyer could be a possibility of getting your foot in the Hollywood door.
  • Audience -- Naturally, this would be any human on the planet willing to shell out $10 to go see your film. But there are ways to check out what's hot and what's not on the silver screen. Getting a subscription to the Daily Variety will provide information on what's showing, what films are making each week at the box office, what's selling to Hollywood, conferences going on around the country, and basically just anything that's going on when it comes to the movies. As a first time screenwriter, start out small, either for television or a lower budget movie idea. You have to prove yourself to be worthy of a big tentpole film before any studio will take on your idea. And keep in mind, in order to make writing for the screen a true career you'll have to eventually live half your life in California.
  • Controlling Your Rights -- When your script is polished and ready to go, it's time to send it out. Your next step is to copyright it at The Writer's Guild and then send it along to Hollywood readers who will do a Coverage for it. This basically lets anyone who's interested know what your screenplay is about and if it's worth spending money on to produce. If a studio, producer, or whoever is interested then they will Option your screenplay for the next year. A set amount of money changes hands and he who optioned your work has the next year to try and get the project going. If nothing happens, then the rights to the screenplay return to the writer who can then re-option the screenplay until something either happens or all roads are exhausted. Once your screenplay is sold you no longer retain the rights to it. That screenplay can have the heck rewritten out of it, but the writer has no say (unless he/she is still along for the rewriting ride) in what happens to the story. In the writing world, the writer ends up with the fewest retained rights when it comes to screenplays.

A Screenwriter's Resources:  Websites --, The Writer's Guild, Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, Daily Variety, Hollywood Script Express, Books --  Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, The Screenwriter's Bible by Dave Trottier, Screenwriting for Dummies by Laura Schellhardt, Essentials of Screenwriting:  The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing by Richard Walter, and The Writers Journey:  Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher E. Vogler.

Jeff Herman's Guide
  • Formatting Your Manuscript -- Yes, there are rules to formatting your manuscript, but I'll tell you, they aren't near as strict as when it comes to a screenplay. If you follow the basics -- 1 in. margins, Times New Roman font, double-spaced paragraphs and an overall clean-looking manuscript with few grammatical errors -- then you should be in good shape. Agents basically want to see that the author knows how to follow the simplest of rules and this can be done when it comes to submitting your work for representation.
  • Submission -- I know it might not seem like it at times, but all you novelists out there have the easy road to take when it comes to landing an agent. Where plays have to at least have been performed for an agent to show the slightest interest, and more or less all Hollywood agents are closed to new screenwriters, novelists have the advantage. There are books and websites with lists of agents to pick and choose from. I think a novelist would be hard pressed not to find an agent who represents that novelist's chosen genre. Just make sure your query is one page in length, has a couple of paragraphs describing the gist of your story, a short paragraph on the author with any other writing experience listed, and somewhere along the line indicate the genre, word count, and overall target audience. Above all, avoid grammatical mistakes on your query. This is the first impression an agent will get when it comes to your writing, so make it count!
  • Audience -- Anyone who reads a book, right? Well, it's not that easy. Know your genre and make sure it's something you want to write. If you force a story on the page in which you take little interest, then it will show. Take time to work on your writing voice, so that when you land that publishing contract your readers will know instantly what your style is all about and will want to continue buying your books. Every genre has a different audience, so above all know the rules to your chosen genre and learn how to write it well.
  • Controlling Your Rights -- When it comes to a novel, you will not get it copyrighted before sending queries off to agents. Copyrighting comes later once your book gets published. Copyrighting an unpublished novel is the mark of an amateur and agents and publishers want to work with those who've taken their time to learn the industry and how it works. You do retain the published rights to your work, but keep in mind that once it gets optioned for a screenplay it's a whole different story. 
A Novelist's Resources:  Websites --, Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, Books -- Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publisher's, Editors, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman, Writer's Market by Robert Lee Brewer, The Writers Journey:  Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher E. Vogler, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, and this list could go on and on. The trick is to find what works for you!

Although this is the condensed version of what I learned at the conference, my hope is that in some small way it may help with your journey to getting published, getting your work on the stage, or seeing it flicker on the big screen!

Are you struggling to get your work into any of these markets? If so, do you have any tips, knowledge, or resources you wish to share?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Appeal of the Supernatural

Since the beginning of times, humans have been fascinated with the supernatural. What may have started as a possible explanation for natural phenomena before the birth of science has remained a subject of interest in both fiction and non-fiction. Storytelling has always provided a great vehicle to explore that which we cannot see or explain, and writers’ imaginations have run wild with possibilities. But what may have once been a niche in the wide world of literature seems to be rapidly becoming mainstream. Just take a look at all the books, movies and TV shows that deal with supernatural elements in a variety of genres and subgenres: horror, science fiction, psychological suspense, fantasy, time travel, magical realism, children’s fiction and more recently, comedy and romance. It’s apparent that in the last decade, supernatural fiction has soared. (Though technically there is not one specific genre called “supernatural fiction,” I will use this term to differentiate any fiction with make-believe elements from fiction based on the real world.)

The most common, and most recent, examples of the incredible rise and success of supernatural fiction are Harry Potter and Twilight. The latter alone has sold 116 million copies and the movies have allegedly cashed two billion dollars. No wonder so many writers, publishers and producers are paying serious attention to the metaphysical! 

But as we all know, supernatural fiction was born way before Harry Potter and Edward Cullen came into the picture (or in this case, into the paper.) If we look at the history of storytelling, we’ll find legends and fairy tales in every culture; all dealing with magical creatures, talking animals, witches or mythological gods who interact with humans or by themselves. Even the Bible is filled with supernatural phenomena!

Most modern fantasy/horror tales stem from three iconic figures. In the early 19th century, an 18-year-old girl came up with the idea of a man formed by an amalgam of body parts from dead people and brought back to life. The girl was Mary Shelley and the novel was Frankenstein. From a short story contest and a dream that inspired this young writer, the horror and science fiction genres were born. But the sad tale of Victor Frankenstein’s monster is not limited to horror fiction. It has also been rendered in comedies and cartoons.

Fred Gywne portrayed a jolly Frankenstein-like character in the 60’s sitcom The Munsters.

From folkloric tales and legends came shapeshifters such as the werewolf to capture the popular imagination. This moon-devoted creature has been rendered in a variety of ways, from the tragic tales of The Werewolf of Paris and An American Werewolf in London, to the 80’s comedy Teen Wolf and the romantic Jacob Black in the Twilight Saga. It’s interesting to see how this classical archetype has been repeatedly portrayed as the vampire’s nemesis. 

In the comedy-horror film, An American Werewolf in London (1981), David Naughton is an innocent American tourist who gets bitten by a werewolf in England. Like most lycanthropes in fiction, he goes through a painful transformation and acquires an insatiable appetite for human flesh that dooms him to a tragic ending.

David Naughton shocked by his werewolf transformation.

Third, but not least, is the infamous vampire. Initially borrowed from oral mythology and archaic superstitions, this archetypical figure has never been more popular. It is alleged that the inspiration for Count Dracula came from a real person, Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian prince from the 15th century who cruelly killed thousands of his own people. In 2005, author Elizabeth Kostova brought us The Historian, a novel that explores the possibility that this historical character may in fact have been the feared Dracula and may still be alive. The range of vampires in literatures is so wide that it can satisfy any taste. If you crave the Gothic antihero dwelling in dark dungeons and coffins, you can turn to Bram Stocker’s Dracula. If you enjoy the flamboyance and decadence of a more sensual vampire, you might be pleased with Anne Rice’s Lestat de Lioncourt. But if you’re weakness is the “lost soul” tormented by his own nature, you will most likely find this archetype in the most recent vampire renditions. The birth of the repressed and introspective vampire can probably be attributed to another one of Rice’s creations, the melancholic Louis de Pointe du Lac from The Vampire Chronicles. Many claim that the virginal vegetarian vampire, Edward Cullen, is a direct descendant from Louis.

Two  different depictions of a vampire. Tom Cruise as the self-indulgent and narcissistic Lestat, and Brad Pritt as Louis, the paternal vampire with a conscience.

Recurring themes revolving these three iconic characters are power, strength, repressed sexuality, sensuality, forbidden love, suicide, sacrifice and possession (sexual or by killing/eating/drinking the victim’s blood.) This last theme is a major element of children’s literature. How many wolves and witches haven’t set out to feed of children’s tender flesh? Likewise, aliens and zombies throughout the history of literature have gained strength from us tasty humans.

Another appeal of the supernatural is the ability to build alternative/parallel worlds that may or may not represent utopian societies for the writer and his/her audience. In these worlds, cataclysmic contests between good and evil prevail (whereas the real world has several shades of gray and it’s harder to “take a side.”) So am I right in thinking that in this way, fantasy/science fiction is simpler than real life?

In this epic battle of good vs. evil, it’s not difficult to pick sides.

From what I’ve observed, supernatural fiction can be divided in three large categories (correct me if I’m wrong):
  1. A human in a fantastic world.
  2. A fantastic character in the real world.
  3. Fantastic creatures in fantastic worlds.
To me, it’s easier to identify with number two.

In Ghost (1990), a man gets killed in front of his fiancée but stays on earth as a ghost to protect his beloved. The film, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, is considered one of the most romantic stories of all times.

Which type of supernatural fiction do you prefer?

I know people who flat-out refuse to read or watch any fiction that isn’t rooted in the real world. It’s not my preferred kind of fiction, either, but I have on occasion enjoyed reading or watching these types of stories. Still, the popularity of the supernatural puzzles me. Do writers/directors have a legitimate interest in these subjects, or are they following a trend? Do writers believe in the things they write about? If the young adult market has become so large, what are adults reading? And here’s the last question for those immersed in this kind of fiction: are people reading supernatural fiction because it’s available everywhere, have they developed a taste for it because of its popularity, or have they always had a genuine interest in the esoteric world?