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Guilty Pleasures

Not specifically on undead, but relative to the romance side of paranormal/zom romance!

I’ve read a few comments and reviews on this doco and it’s been mostly negative. That the direction of the documentary shows those into romance books to be pathetic, sad sacks of loneliness or desperate for romantic attention, and ignores the range of romance readers. There’s one at Dear Author, and one at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

It’s available online at SMH.tv (maybe only for Australian viewers? If you are international, it might not work for you)

Despite or maybe because of the negative images around it, I decided to watch it. I’m still new to admitting I read romance (mostly historical outside paranormals and zombies), but a lot of my friends are romance – particularly paranormal – readers and I do wonder about the difference between the stereotyped Mills and Boon readers and the real readers I know. What is it about the books we like?

So I’ve jotted down some quotes and comments onthings that happened in the doco.

Note: Words not exact because the video was being evil for me and I couldn’t go back to get the words right :S

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Women make male or neutral pseudonym for sci fi (and other genres) – men make female pseudonyms for romance books

“It’s okay for her [my wife] to read these novels to compensate what I can’t give her” – a reader’s husband

Men must be alphas, have to look imposing, got to present a good physical appearance, got to be fit, never fat. The kind of man every woman would fancy – Romance writer

Mills and Boon readers are usually past the bloom of youth, intelligent, and have steamy determination – Romance writer

Sometimes are accused by ardent feminists of being anti-feminist, of  promising women things that they will never have, which I think is ludicrous. Readers know they are reading a work of fiction, they don’t expect it in real life. – Romance writer

A reader takes up ballroom dancing inspired by the novels she reads. She admits to dressing up specially for her private tutor, but not so for her husband.

‘It gets hotter and hotter’, ‘Why can’t we expect that in real life?’ – a reader and her friend

‘There was a lot missing in my life and that’s why I enjoyed reading the books. I think it’s escapism. You just indulge yourself in them and think ‘wow, I wish that was me’ – A reader

Romance reader who likes ballroom also watches competitions and seems to admire other men who are tall and Harlequin-heroesque, pointing out features of men not her husband that she likes.

Writer takes notebook to cafes and restaurants and will note down snippets of discussion or movements. That’s what readers like, little things rather than big things, little words, little looks.

Of course she likes reading. It’s a harmless past time. – Reader’s husband

You used to get a sex scene that faded into dots … but now it’s very different – Writer

The idea that any fool can write a Mills and Boon is a mistake – Writer

The sex scene must always be in the context of a loving relationship. – Writer

This is all fantasy, it’s not the real world. It’s a nicer world and we want to maintain that image – Writer

That’s why you read the books. You want all that romance … At the end of the day, you live in the real world and everyone has their downfalls.  – Reader

A Mills and Boon book is not just happy and straightforward –  they have to work through trials to get to a happy conclusion – Writer

Why do men find it so hard to say ‘I love you’? Maybe because it’s so trite, everyone says I love you. There’s almost an in-built fear of commitment, they don’t really want to say something that will tie them down. – Writer

She’s an extremist [about reading Mills and Boon]. Militant, feminist. – a reader’s separated husband

The dancing reader is not happy. Her husband has joined her in dancing so she can go in competitions, but she envies those couples where the husband/male teaches the female. The husband is nervous, but excited to be working with her.

Women are more interested in relationships and talking about relationships than men. Women like to be told things over and over again. – Writer

We’re all yearning for love … I think a fraction of 1% get to meet their true love. It’s so powerful it’s unstoppable. You have to believe in that.  – Model

In every book I write there is a development in the character. The person at the end of the book is not the same as at the beginning, they’ve both learned something about themselves. – Writer

Mills and Boons create an excitement in my life … but it’s not something I’m setting my heart on, because real life is about different things. It’s about romance in your self, that will save you. Relationships will come and go … but it’s the relationship with yourself and how you develop that – Reader

If you think it is getting a bit stale, you have to throw something in there – Reader’s husband

We celebrate, in every Mills and Boon book, the emotion of love which is in everyone’s lifes – Writer

Real life begins where the Mills and Boon ends – Reader

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After thoughts:

So a lot of this was about true life love and relationships and not just the romances. It feels a bit awkward to have watched someone else’s unfulfilled relationship.

I’m not so sure that reading the romances gave the women an unachievable relationship to desire as the film seemed to suggest. They wanted to be respected, to have some fun in the times they spent together and to enjoy each other’s company and work with their passions.

I didn’t think there was enough breadth in the film – there was no happily married/together couple of which one reads romance, there had to be something lacking or different in the relationship. The people were set up to be seen as trying to live in their own fantasy world, but I didn’t feel that’s what was really going on. Also, the restriction of only connecting with Mills and Boon romance – there are soooo many other imprints and publishers and types out there.

And none of them seemed to read or write or model for paranormal romance. Mores the pity, because I think it brings a new dimension in. I particularly love when the female is the special paranormal, and the male is lesser aware of the paranormal because all too often, it’s men as alpha weres/head vamps and women as the humans. Where once a woman had to be a lady to marry a lord – and there’s more than enough stories about lower class women and higher class men – it’s about changing an entire life-state, not just being able to pick nice clothes and not insult a royal guest. Could argue that romance is the same all around, it’s just paranormal types  ramp up the problems that can be had in any normal relationship. Still, I think it’s a missed opportunity to show only one kind.

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The original zombie romance?

There’s almost always a part in zombie stories where someone is bit or infected and one of their loved ones has to face a choice: to watch them turn and become dangerous to the rest of the survivors, or shoot them while still human. This is never an easy task. Maybe this happened off screen, and you see the survivor shaken and not quite sane, shocked by what this war with the undead has made them do, and they question themselves and if live is worth living after what they have done.

There are some short stories I’ve read lately which deal with the bond of lovers or family after death. You might question if they are zombies because they might not be precisely called zombies; maybe just undead, reanimated corpses. This is not romance WITH zombies but love for the human-that-is-now-zombie (although one story by Williamson isn’t on this specific theme of love in the time it’s set).

I do think that we can’t be so direct about what a zombie is or isn’t, because authors are bloody inventive creatures and they will force these creatures we once knew to evolve. There’s been quite a few changes in the short 100ish years of the Americanised fictional zombie, and that’s a damned quick evolution from zombiing individuals to mobs (Vampires used to be hidden singular vamps or in small groups, and now are a whole known race in literature with great numbers).

Anywhoos, here’s the stories (I haven’t finished the whole compendium yet, so might add more later):

Was it a dream? by Guy de Maupassant (1910)

The Cairnwell Horror by Chet Williamson (1990)

Later by Michael Marshall Smith (1993)

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Narrelle Harris

Over April I looked at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. While Aussie Author Month is over for this year, it is now Zombie Awareness Month! Start getting prepared today!

Lady of the dark beings and mysterious shadows, Narrelle Harris, is deep within the realms of the undead, and comes from the coffin today:

Why do zombies make good bad guys?
The threat of zombies is an en masse kind of threat, and one of the real horrors I think is not that you’ll be eaten alive, although that’s a very horrible concept, but that you’ll lose yourself and become part of the mass. You become part of the virus or the machine and then maybe harm those you love because you don’t know who you are any more. So as a bad guy, they kind of metaphorically stand for all those things in the world that can reduce us like that – not just disease, but mob mentality, the pressures of consumer society, even sometimes the willingness humans can have to willingly give up their autonomy for others to make choices for them.

Really, zombies are as rich in metaphor as vampires, but in the opposite direction. Becoming a vampire sets you apart; becoming a zombie absorbs your individuality in to the unthinking mass. They’re different ways of exploring humanity, but they’re both effective.
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What are the limits of a zombie before it becomes something not a zombie?
Like vampires, the concepts of what makes a zombie vary a lot, and have departed hugely from their origins. There’s a lot of scope for playing with the idea, too. Romero zombies are hugely removed from John Lindqvist’s tragic zombies in Handling the Undead.

I suppose for me, for a zombie to be a zombie they have to lose rational thought and be part of the mass hunger. That doesn’t mean they have to be mindless, or forget how to love. In fact, I think it’s an interesting story idea to explore how a zombie might reclaim their lost selves. It is, after all, something of the story of all of us, trying not to just be part of the consumption machine, or the societal machine. It’s so telling that at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead it takes people ages to realise the zombie apocalypse is upon them, because so many people are kind of spiritually or mentally zombified already, just by their lives.
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What is your favourite/most influential zombie text and why?
Felicity Dowker’s Bread and Circuses really opened my eyes up to the potential for zombie stories. I found it very moving. I love the first season of The Walking Dead too, because it really made you feel compassion for the (un)dead. It also is a great example of my theory that vampire stories reflect our aspirations outward, onto the vampire, while zombie stories are more like mirrors that make us reflect on our own humanity and who we, the survivors, are and want to be.
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Tell us about ‘The Truth About Brains’ and how you manipulate the zombie.
I decided to go back to the original idea of zombies being raised by magic, so it’s not a zombie apocalypse, it’s one dumb kid’s stupid choice to raise the dead with an incantation.  I thought, too, that what magic can do, magic can undo, because I wanted hope that Dylan could be saved, if only his sister Amy could find out how. Really she just wants to fix Dylan before their mum finds out, because she’s going to be in SO much trouble, otherwise, for letting her baby brother get zombified.

I’ve always got ulterior motives for the paranormal tropes I use, though. This time I wanted to explore a family dynamic in an unusual way. I was inspired originally by the mental image of an exasperated teenage girl being followed to the shops by her zombie brother. I have four brothers, two of them younger than me, and that image resonated with me. 😀 Don’t tell my brothers I said so.
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What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?
My plans are to hide out in my fifth floor apartment in the CBD, maybe pooling resources with the others on my floor, to ride it out. My expectations are that I’ll either a) be overrun and eaten b) starve to death and my cat will have to eat me to survive or c) leap to my death from the window. None of those scenarios see me surviving. I’ve seen the zombie apocalypse films. I know my chances. Practically nil.

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Narrelle has a number of books, vampires, witches, zombies and all the things we love (with some crime and non-fiction and more sprinkled in!)  and you can keep up with her at her website.

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!

 

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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)