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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 (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


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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Martin Livings

Over the month I’ll be looking 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, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

Delving into the dark is Martin Livings – and further below, a free short offered by the man himself called Ewwsday!

Why do zombies make good bad guys?

I think its their relentlessness, and their near silence, it’s just unnerving. I’m a firm believer in the old-fashioned zombie, in general; the shamblers of “Night of the Living Dead”, not the sprinters of “Resident Evil”. I love the fact that one zombie is barely a menace, even two or three aren’t so bad, but its when they come at you en masse, there’s simply no way to stop them. I remember watching the footage of the Japanese tsunami last year, and having that same awful sinking feeling, seeing that wave of black water and burning debris moving across the landscape with a deceptive slowness, swallowing everything in its wake. Zombies have their true power in numbers, overwhelming everything in their path. And, of course, the fact that they’re US, each one of us they kill becomes one of them. It’s genuinely the enemy within.

What are the limits of zombies?

I’m a bit of a traditionalist, as I said before, but that’s just a personal preference, and not a solid one either. I still dig things like “28 Days Later” (yes yes, they’re not actually zombies, I know!) and the “Resident Evil” movies, even though their zombies disobey all the old-fashioned “rules”. Personally I feel that zombies can vary quite wildly in their abilities, depending on how they died and how they were treated after death. For example, if you could keep oxygen getting to the brain, I think a zombie could retain its cognitive abilities. In fact, that’s something I’m counting on in a book I’m working on as we speak!

What is your favourite/most influential zombie text?

It’s weird that there is no real seminal zombie novel for us to work off, really. Zombies essentially have their roots in cinema, because it’s such a visual trope; it’s hard to evoke the same feeling of dread describing a zombie horde coming at you as you can by simply showing it. The movies that influenced me the most were the original Romero trilogy, “Night”, “Dawn” and “Day”, which I still go back to and watch on a regular basis. They hold up really well even today, and have influenced everyone creating in this field ever since. On the page, though, Felicity Dowker’s short story “Bread and Circuses” from Ticonderoga Books’ _Scary Kisses_ still sticks in my brain, an excellent and visceral examination of love and death and undead love.

Tell us about your horror stories.

My first collection, _Living With the Dead_, will be out later this year, a twenty year retrospective. Bloody hell, have I really been doing this for twenty years??? Sadly, despite the title and the cover, there are no zombie stories in it. I’ve really only written one zombie story, and that was just for fun, called “Eeeewsday!”. It appears in my free eBook, _Ten Minutes to Dumbsday_, available from Smashwords (, and also at the end of this interview! Bonus!

I am working on a series of zombie novels at the moment, though, which was sparked by the very silly idea of a zombie James Bond. Immediately I pictured the cover and title of the book (Nys: Posted above!), but quickly realised that (a) just doing a straight pastiche would be lazy and dull, and (b) the estate of Ian Fleming and the Broccolis would sue the pants off me if I ever tried it, so it’s become very much its own creature now, retitled _Sleeper Awake_ (listen to the Sarah Blasko song of the same name if you want to hear the title music of the movie in my head!) but that basic core still remains. The same way Mira Grant’s novels _Feed_ and _Deadline_ are zombie political thrillers, my book and the ones that follow it will hopefully still be a big action spy thriller with glamourous international locations, beautiful and deadly women, and many, many explosions. And zombies. Many, many zombies.

What is your plan for the zombie apocalypse?

Develop a brain oxygenator, then kill myself with it attached. Might as well be on the winning side!


Check out his website here.


(c) Martin Livings

I knew I shouldn’t have dropped acid last night. It was all trippy and good, sure, but it hasn’t really left my system yet. The walls of the train aren’t quite melting, as it rocks and sways from station to station, but there’s a rainbow tinge to everything. My eyes hurt. And my back.

What did I get up to last night? I don’t remember much beyond putting the little square of brightly coloured paper on my tongue. Did I go clubbing? I don’t know. It must have been something, I’m so sore. I feel like death.

Jesus, what day is it? I have to think hard to recall. Yesterday was Monday, Funday, Annie get your Gunday, so today is… of course. I’m on a train.


Everyone’s staring at me. I must look a sight. I didn’t really pay much attention to getting dressed this morning, just threw on whatever I could find, the least rumpled business skirt and blouse on the floor, and ran a brush through my unruly hair. If my eyes are as red as they feel, I probably look like a vampire bat. A vampire bat who went out clubbing last night.

Some guy’s listening to a portable radio with an earpiece opposite me. I almost laugh, but i know that’d hurt too damn much. Who carries those anymore? Ipods, sure, but old transistor radios? That’s so twentieth century. He looks worried. Bad news? Or maybe it’s an Avril Lavigne song. Same effect, really.

What did I DO last night?

I guess I had some options. Clubbing would have been the most likely one. I’m not much into pubs at the best of times, and on acid they’re just beer-soaked dens of weirdness. I’d have to have made a choice.

Chooseday. Yeah, that sounds right.

I think I remember dancing. Stumbling out of the rear exit of some warehouse in the early hours of the morning. Then… what? Dancing some more? That sounds almost right, but not quite. No music to dance to.

No tunesday.

My stomach rumbles. I skipped breakfast this morning, didn’t really feel like it, but here, on this packed train full of sweaty people ignoring one another, I’m finally finding my appetite. Weird. Must be the acid. Or maybe I smoked some dope last night as well, and having a delayed attack of the munchies. I don’t know.

The guy listening to his radio is looking more worried by the second. His eyes dart around the train, frantic. Then they land on me, and stay there. They widen.

I smile back at him, even though it hurts. It doesn’t seem to comfort him. Man, what have I done to my back? I reach over my shoulder and massage the aching spot. I wish I was somewhere else. Maybe on a ship, drifting from tropical island to tropical island, picking up cheap jewelry and cheap men as I go.


The guy shrinks against his seat, away from me. The earpiece comes out of his radio, allowing the inbuilt speaker to start buzzing in its tinny voice.

“…the brain. I repeat, this is not a hoax. The recently deceased are returning to life and attacking the living. The only way to stop them is to remove the head or destroy the brain. They are very dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs. If you encounter one of these creatures…”

I stop massaging my shoulder, bring my hand back in front of me. It’s covered in blood. Old blood, tacky and brown, and clear liquid as well. It smells bad, but somehow it doesn’t affect my growing appetite.

I remember now. I left the club through the rear exit, and was jumped by some homeless guy. He grabbed me like he was close dancing with me. We circled the alleyway a bit, kicked over some trash cans. And he bit my shoulder before I broke free and ran home.

Laughing all the way, off my face. Yahoosday.

I look at my hands, past the blood, at the pallid, greyish skin of my palms. Some of it is peeling away. Is that bone?

I look up, at the man opposite me, at the other commuters. They all look terrified. I don’t care. I’m hungry. I smile again.


Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Gary Kemble

Over the month I’ll be looking 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, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

Opening up his brain for us now is Gary Kemble!

Why do zombies make good bad guys?

I’m a fan of the zombie apocalypse scenario so I think strength in numbers. A zombie by itself isn’t such a threat but they usually travel in hordes which makes them more of a challenge.

I also like the fact that you can almost feel sorry for them. There’s that classic scene in the original Dawn of the Dead where the nun zombie has her wimple stuck in one of the doors, until Francine opens the door a crack and lets her lurch free.

But the funny thing about zombies is while you can empathise with them, you feel no compunction at all about seeing them blown away with shotguns, beheaded with machetes etc etc etc.


What do zombies mean to you?

The science behind zombies is important to me so I like to see zombies obey rules that kinda make sense. I think if someone has just been zombified it’s fine for them to run, but a zombie that’s been dead a while shouldn’t get much over a fast lurch.

Similarly, I feel it’s ‘unrealistic’ for zombies to not rot over time.

Having said all that, playing Left 4 Dead is a blast even though the special infected (and the whole respawning thing when you die) make no sense at all.


What is your favourite/most influential text on zombies?

I really enjoyed World War Z by Max Brooks. I loved the broad scale and getting to see how people from all over the world dealt with the zombie apocalypse.

In terms of movies, you can’t go past George Romero’s original Dead trilogy and I also enjoyed the 2004 Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead.


Tell us about your latest/favourite of your own stories and what you do to the zombie mythology.

‘Dead Air’ (first published in Robert N Stephenson’s Zombies, reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2008) was a lot of fun to write. It’s about a zombie outbreak onboard a 747 en route from LA to Brisbane.

Strictly speaking, they’re more like the infected in 28 Days Later than Romero’s zombies, but let’s not quibble over details. 🙂

I threw in as many zombie references I could think of — I wanted it to be a homage to the sub-genre.

There is a sequel — ‘Deadweight’ — set on a ship in the Pacific. I’m hoping this will claw its way out of the grave some time over the next few months.


What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?

I’ve got a friend with some land out west of Brisbane. I think we could fortify it pretty well, grow some crops. I recommend bladed weapons over firearms, because you don’t have to worry about running out of ammo. 😉


Check out his website here.