Category Archives: Journals and articles

Getting in the zone – don’t wait for the zone to come to you

How to write by awesome and award winning author Angela Slatter

Last night during Masterchef I kept an eye on my Twitter feeds for #phdchat, started by the Thesis Whisperer. Although I’m not a PhD student, it is important to not only learn about the community I want to join and the people around it, but also the issues that come up when writing a massive thesis and being a researcher and academic.

So the conversation yesterday revolved around keeping in the writing mood and getting it done. There was a lot of mention of chocolate and treats!

I started out writing fiction from when I was around twelve. I’ve got a shelf of books dedicated to writing characters, plots, action scenes, and a few around writing articles or specific genres (of course, mostly fantasy). Right now I’m not in the fiction writing sphere, but if I learned anything from fiction writers it’s this: everyone is different! You may plan every step of the way, or free-write the first draft. You might focus on quantity, you might focus on quality. The below suggestions are ideas to help you figure out what your style of writing is. An absolute blank wordprocessor may be what works for you, where I at least need a selection of fonts (I write in pretty fonts, and then strip the format when I’m done to make it appropriate font-ed). One of the things you can’t rely on is only writing when you feel like it. You HAVE to write. You don’t have a choice at uni or in a research course about ‘aww, I don’t feel like it today’. Another thing, that was also mentioned on the hashchat, accept that whatever you do will need editing. It’s very rare the creature that writes one draft and that’s it. That’s partly why publishing books takes so long, it’s revising the editing between the editor (freelance or in-house) and the author.

Here’s my notes from last night:

  • The Pomodoro Technique: Setting short time goals and rewarding yourself with breaks. Join a group for Shut Up and Write
  • Set word based goals – 1000 words a day, 500 words a day – even if it’s a crap 500 or 1000 words, it’s still writing!
  • Use Wordle to analyse even a sample of your writing to see the words you are using too much unconciously, or use the Writer’s Diet Test
  • Edit finished text in a new file
  • Write the PhD question on the header of every page to keep it in mind and help stay on track
  • Use mind maps or concept maps to plan
  • Put research/paper in progress/additional info on DropBox so you can access it anywhere
  • Utilise verb lists. Try the Academic Phrasebank.
  • Plan your writing a day or even week before your writing session
  • End each writing session with a bullet point list of what comes next.
  • Outline sections to help focus writing
  • Write like Leonard, Edit like Sheldon
  • Disconnect yourself from the internet. Use paper and pen, or if you need to be online, use something like Chrome Nanny to lock yourself out of social media.
  • Blog, get some writing buddies or a group together – responsibility to share with others as a motivator for writing. Set yourself deadlines.
  • Attend writing workshops or go on a writing retreat.
  • Don’t write linearly – put in titles and develop ideas in sections, then review and revise between sections
  • Take a break! Go for a run or to the gym, or go take a shower or bath
  • Good to write conference papers and articles during PhD
  • Read about writing as well as content and research processes
  • Writing is something you learn as you go along, you won’t know it all upfront.

Suggested Programs:

Also check out:

Writing Hacks for Starters

Creating a research space

NaNoWriMo – Rather than writing a novel during the month, write a thesis!

Writing an outline

How to create a science blog
Developing Effective Research Proposals by Keith F Punch

Qualitative Research Design by Joseph Maxwell

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But mum, he’s just undead!

“The next step in evolution of this highly specially subgenre will likely literalise the metaphor, presenting narratives in which the zombies tell their own stories, acting as true protagainsts and even heroes”

~ Kyle William Bishop, American Zombie Gothic

Why can’t we love the undead? So many friends push aside the idea of a zombie lover completely (you guys can’t judge me! You read about vampire sex!)

As discussed before, zombie romance is more romance. Sex never enters the equation. It’s about a relationship of souls (personalities), a coming together of two people.

But still zombies aren’t good enough! The rotting is either done away with completely or can be avoided with medication. The eating of people or brains is the same. So where is the problem? They are undead humans, as are vampires.

With rational thought, being capable of emotions, moral agency and free will, why are the undead any less suitable as mates? They can’t procreate and have different lifespans, and perhaps different nutritional needs, but so can human lovers. (Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy  Should Vampires be held Accountable for their Bloodthirsty Behaviour – John Draeger) Some undead choose to vegetarian and will not eat humans, just as some humans choice to not eat meat or meat byproducts.  (Z,V & P – The Blood connection between Vampires and Vegetarians by Wayne Yuen)

So, they might have a disease, parasite, genetic mutation or be cursed by magic. Why do we accept a Trill then (a humanoid that is capable of hosting an inner snakey-alien that shares its lives)? Or a Bajoran’s nose? They are different from humans physically too. (Can you tell I just rewatched Deep Space Nine?)

The lovely Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Frankly, people stereotype zombies. And if you think its too far from cultural zombie lore, look at Day of the Dead. Bub could recognise death and exhibited signs of sorrow. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead looked after his zombie community. There was even a cute couple holding hands, strolling about the apocalyptic scene, who were zombies.

 

As far back as forever there are stories of love between humans and the unknown, gods , fairies, monsters etc. This evolution of the zombie is no lesser than those stories. At a time, werewolves might never have appealed or vampires not been sexy (but Alexander Skarsgard is always sexy!), it is time and literary evolution and imagination that allow us to perceive injustice to these creatures.

 

Don’t prejudice your daughter’s next boyfriend just because he’s a zombie. He’ll treat her right!

 

~

Recommended Reading
Non-Fiction
American Zombie Gothic by Kyle William Bishop
Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, edited by Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad
Fiction
Including love with zombies, zombie like beings or humans infected with zombie plague
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
Warm Bodies by Issaac Marion
Generation Dead (series) by Daniel Waters
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (series) by Carrie Ryan
Die for Me by Amy Plum
I Kissed a Zombie and I liked by by Adam Selzer
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (series) by Seth Graeme-Smith and Steve Hockensmith and Jane Austen (first book is Jane Austen’s with Seth’s additions, the prequel and sequel are by Steve)

Literary history of the undead

It’s been mentioned in a few articles I’ve read lately, but zombies are special in that they weren’t established in literature before heading to the silver screen. They aren’t European or Gothic monsters. Although undead have been around forever in various myths and stories, academics (e.g Kyle William Bishop) agree that zombies really came into Western thought through Haiti. There are European and Gothic undead, or works which seem to be related to the modern zombie (e.g Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher or Masque of the Red Death – a personal fave), and you can see reflections of the vampire in modern zombie myth as well (particularly with the influence of I am Legend by Richard Matheson on Romero. Some mistake I am Legend for a zombie story).

~

The earliest texts that mention zombies are actually non-fiction, such as William Seabrook’s The Magic Island. Zora Neale Hurston wrote Tell my horse about her experiences through Haiti and Jamaica and voodoo, including a zombie incident in Haiti. Black Baghdad and Cannibal Cousins by John H Craige tell of Voodoo rituals and cannibalism.

As discussed in the first podcast of Zombies – The Living Dead in Literature (by the University of Alabama), zombies came around the time of the beginnings of cinema, and while there were plays and dramas of these zombies, the cinematic zombies could essentially rip off the earlier versions by claiming they are all based on non-fiction texts, bypassing copyright and ownership law. This is the case with the first movie White Zombie. The producer of the 1929 stage play ‘Zombie’ attempted to sue those in charge of White Zombie for similarities and failed.

~

For fiction, there are quite a few short stories which did include the Haitian voodoo zonbi (there’s a lot of different spellings to indicate the original Haitian zonbi, nzambi, etc to it’s modern myth counterpart, the zombie)  include Salt is not for Slaves by G W Hutter (salt will cause the zombi to become concious of their state) , The House in the Magnolias by August Derleth (A woman from Haiti is run out of the country for enslaving zombis, only to go to America and continue her black magic there), Song of the Slaves by Manly Wade Wellman (with an American as the bad guy rather than a Haitian or African). A lot of essays mention H P Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Re-animator series in the 1920’s (Movie version: Jeffrey Combs, for the freaking win!), but this story is more about science than voodoo, and doesn’t use the term zombie. Lovecraft wrote in letters that it was intended as a parody of Frankenstein.

The novels (which are damned hard to find) came a little later, more around the time of the zombie movies, such as The Whistling Ancestors by Richard Goddard (a story of evil racist megalomaniacs), You Can’t Hang the Dead by Leslie Carroll (I can’t find a copy of this at all or enough information to share, except that it’s a zombie story) and A Grave Must Be Deep by Theodore Roscoe (a voodoo mystery!). Voodoo was particularly popular with crime writers at the time.

Which story first uses the word zombie is contested. Most essays agree that it’s William Seabrook’s travelogue (1929), but some other essays say that it’s from ‘The Country of the Comers-Back’ by Lacfcadio Hearn (1889), and yet another essay says that the term actually was first published in French with Le Zombi du Grand Perou, ou la comtesse de Cocagne by Pierre-Corneille Bloessebois.

~

It’s fascinating to read about ‘original’ voodoo zombies, compared to the modern. The old are a mix of racism and post-colonial literature, most having been published after the Haitian Revolution and the burst of literature of zombies and voodoo is through the years of the US occupation of Haiti. Zombies, either possessed corpses or the living who were poisoned with a concoction to mimic death and then enslaved, are products of sorcery and magic. I can only think of a few modern examples of this use of magic (beware Native American burial grounds!).

~

Recommended Reading:

White Zombie by Kieran M Murphy in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, VOl 15, no 1

The Zombie Media Monster and its Evolution as a Sign and Historical Allegory by Ryan Lizardi, Masters Thesis

The Story of Zombi in Haiti by Louis P Mars in Man, vol 45

The Modern Zombie: Living Death in the Technological Age by Sarah Juliet Lauro, PHD thesis

Zombies Before Romero by Tony Chestor, article for the UK World Horror Convention in 2010 (found here)

The future for humanity

Much like the Doomsday Clock, fiction is indicator of the future. Think of all the inventions that were created or are currently being developed after being shown on Star Trek, or the Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter.

But a lot of modern fiction doesn’t show the utopia that Star Trek did, much more like Battlestar Galactica (and Caprica, which was killed too soon!). Two non-zombie books are particularly prominent for me, The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine and The End Specialist by Drew Magary.

A million lifetimes at your disposal: what would you do with them?  

What good is an eternal life if everyone you care about is dead?

The End Specialist shows a world where a cure is created that has the side effect of pausing the ageing process. While you can still die from a gun shot or cancer, you will never die of old age. Think of what that means where nature has been tamed. More people will live on. In a world already overpopulated, what does it mean when death becomes rare?

From bestselling Australian author and environmental scientist Ian Irvine comes a chillingly realistic thriller that will have you asking:
Is there life after global warming?

The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine (The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene, The Life Lottery) is a story that is much closer to home. There is no magical scientific discovery, but it shows a cruel, twisted world that has developed from what we have now. Global warming, the drying up of natural resources, over-population, and still humanity is in denial of how royally screwed up the world is.

~

Both books deal with issues that you see often in zombie texts. Humans consuming, not producing. Human greed. Human comfort above all else. Humans in vast amounts of denial. There are more than just these two books, but these I have and really enjoy. They show a truly screwed up world.

What will happen when over-population goes too far? Will politicians let it go, or institute some sort of one-child policy or eugenics? Or will the earth/spiritual blob create an ice age, plague or meteor to thin us out?

What will happen when everyone wants to be a lawyer and no one wants to be a farmer? There’s already a shortage of production jobs, and waves of rural students who go to the city.

What about when our technology outstrips us and goes all Terminator/Cylon/Robopocalyse (Daniel H Wilson) on us and our creations become our doom?

What does love and marriage mean when your life is forever at risk, or what does ‘until death do us part’ mean when you are expected to live for centuries?

What point is there in school and education when you will either live millennia or barely decades? When death is staved off, or always around the corner.

Why live when life is so limited that you can’t make a difference? Or why make a difference now when life is eternal?

~

Recommended Reading

  • I Shopped with a Zombie by Philip Horne in Critical Quarterly vol 24, no 4
  • The Idle Proletariat: Dawn of the Dead, Consumer Ideology an the Loss of Production Labor by Kyle William Bishop in the Journal of Popular Culture, vol 43, no 2 2010
  • Eating Dawn in the Dark: Zombie desire and commodified identity in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead  by A Loudermilk in Journal of Consumer Culture vol 3 (1)