As you may remember, Gail Z. Martin - author of The Chronicles of the Necromancer (including The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven and Dark Lady's Chosen and, with Orbit Books, her new title The Sworn) - likes to celebrate Hallowe'en every year with a big ol' tour of blogland, guest-blogging hither and thither and generally getting her internet self out there.
You can go to her official Days of the Dead Tour 2010 webpage to see her progress, including guest blogs, free chapters, giveaways, and podcasts readings. You can also jump on her Twitter account (@GailZMartin), where she's answering questions from readers and throwing up trivia questions every day.
Anyway, we've been gracious enough to let Gail take over our own little soapbox for a few minutes, and are proud to present:
Do we need death to make sense
of the world in truth and fiction?
of the world in truth and fiction?
Gail Z. Martin
OK, I write about a necromancer, so maybe I spend more time thinking about death and its variations than a lot of people. As an American, I know I spend a lot more time thinking about mortality than my fellow countrymen, because “some” is a lot more than “none” and in the States, thinking about death is outsourced to insurance salesmen, morticians and the clergy, so that there is more time for everyone else to shop.
I’ve started to reconsider the wisdom of our national aversion to admitting mortality, because I do believe that a culture that is afraid to think about death becomes neurotic in other ways because of that fear. Of course, a fear of dying also spawns a lucrative side-industry in everything from vitamins to Botox to cosmetic surgery, because we want to believe that dying only happens to old people, and if we never look old we’ll never be old and so the Grim Reaper will leave us alone. (Unfortunately, this has led to an oversupply of people who now look perpetually surprised, but that’s another problem.)
For a nation that believes that death is optional if you just find the right pharmaceutical, we spend an inordinate amount of waking hours indulging in fictional representations of death, while doing everything possible to avoid thinking about the real thing. We also seem to have outsourced death to Hollywood and the entertainment industry. And did I mention a national fascination (and perhaps fetish) for vampires?
Halloween (in the Trick-or-Treat variety) is a huge national holiday, arguably second only to Christmas in its utterly secular and commercialized celebration, and probably larger than Christmas in the consumption of beer. Come October 31, the vast majority of American children between ages 2 and 18 will grab a pillowcase or a plastic pumpkin and go door to door begging for candy, wearing a variety of costumes that range from Disney-cute to Scream-frightful. Bars and nightclubs will host huge Halloween-themed drinking bashes where there will be plenty of costumed participants, most going for a horror-glam look. Haunted house attractions will open the first weekend in October and run through Halloween, drawing around-the-block crowds with movie-quality special effects and an ever upwards-spiraling gore factor. Party stores not only stock up on fake blood and vampire fang prosthetics, but out-do each other with seasonal decorations including mangled body parts, zombie children and full-size animated robotic movie serial killers. Catalogs offer life-size mummies, vampires in coffins, bodies in spider cocoons, and headless horsemen. Pretty much every major city and large urban cemetery boasts at least one guided ghost tour.
I find this all pretty interesting because all the while, “real” death is something that people here shy away from discussing. Extremely high rate of gun-related fatalities? Any discussion is likely to start a fist fight. Higher-than-necessary mortality rates due to uneven access to affordable medical care? Until the recent Health Care Reform Act to correct the problem, not something most people worried about, and now a highly controversial election issue. Teen suicide rates and infant mortality rates (both high for a developed nation)—not on the conversational topic list. Grieving a recently deceased loved one? According to some in the psychology field, you’ve got two weeks to get over it, and then you need to take a Prozac and shut up already. Cemeteries have been replaced with “memorial gardens” with mow-over plaques instead of headstones. The morgue visits the home of the newly departed in an unmarked panel van, so as not to upset the neighbors with a hearse. Viewings and memorial services take place in rented professional locations, such as funeral homes and churches, instead of the front parlor.
Somehow, I think there has to be a happy medium (no pun intended) between Victorian death-obsession and modern America’s death-aversion. I also have this nagging suspicion that the less we talk about real death, the more we seem to need to gorge on depictions of fictionalized and sensationalized mortality. Whatever you try not to think about becomes an obsession.
In fiction, the way a character and his/her society views death tells us a lot about the world in which the story is set. Culture and rituals around life and death underscore a fictional world’s deepest held fears and values, and influence the decisions and behaviors of characters. We see the influence of beliefs about life and death much more clearly in fiction than we can see them in real life because we ultimately stand apart from fiction, where the familiarity of real life and our own culture make it difficult to see what’s really there. One of the things that makes writing about a necromancer and a society where ghosts, the undead and other supernatural manifestations are real intriguing for me is that it gives me an interesting sandbox to explore and think about issues that are all-too-often left undiscussed. And maybe, just maybe, the same thing is what attracts readers to the growing body of paranormal fiction as well.
Thanks for reading this post — it’s part of my week-long Days of the Dead blog tour, so please catch the rest of my posts, contests, giveaways and goodies at ChroniclesOfTheNecromancer.com and my other partner sites. You’ll also find free downloads from my books, as well as freebies from some of my author friends as Trick-or-Treat favors.
Featured treat #1: downloadable excerpt from Corvus by Paul Kearney, plus a preview chapter of my new book, The Sworn.