by Elise Abram
He wears neither cape nor cowl, but Zulu is a superhero, nevertheless.
Raised from the dead as a revenant more than a hundred years ago, Zulu possesses Spiderman’s stealth, Superman’s speed, and Batman’s keen intellect. His only companion is Morgan the Seer, an old man cursed with longevity and the ability to see the future in his dreams. Zulu has spent the last century training with Morgan in order to save the people in his nightmares from certain and violent death. Branded a vigilante by the Media, Zulu must live his life in the shadows, travelling by night or in the city’s underground unless his quest demands otherwise.
Kat is an empath, someone who sees emotions as colourful auras. Relentlessly bullied by her peers, and believing her life amounts to nothing but a huge cosmic mistake, she finds purpose in her abilities when she is recruited to help Zulu and Morgan complete their missions.
Malchus is Morgan’s long dead twin brother. A powerful necromancer, Malchus manages to find a way to return to the living, and he has a score to settle with Morgan. Believing Morgan responsible for his death and out to seek revenge, Malchus begins to raise an army of undead minions and use them to hunt Morgan down. As Malchus closes in on Morgan and his charges, the trio soon realizes the people most in need of saving are themselves.
He was relaxed and breathing slowly when he heard a growl and then a squeak. He opened his eyes to see Barb on her knees with her back to him. She was holding something near her face. Malchus imagined all sorts of things that could be the matter. At the top of the list was that, given the damp and the cold this time of year, his earlier pat on the back was premature; she was beginning to decompose. Like Red, it would only be a short matter of time before she would die for good and he would be forced to find another pet. How could he be expected to build an army of minions to help him fulfil his destiny— whatever that proved to be—at this rate?
“Barb?” he said quietly. “Are you okay?”
Barb grunted a low grunt.
Malchus heard something that sounded like cracking bone. He stood and walked slowly around to face Barb. She was working to frantically shove the remnants of whatever she had in her hands into her mouth. Blood covered the lower half of her face and her hands and dripped down her forearms, off her elbows, and had begun to pool on the floor. The sleeves of her sweater, rolled up her arms and above her elbows, were saturated.
Having pushed the last of whatever it was she had been eating into her mouth, Barb set to licking the blood off her fingers and then from her forearms. She rolled down her sleeves until they covered her hands, and then placed the material into her mouth and sucked the blood from them as well.
“Barb!” Malchus said, sickened in spite of himself.
Barb looked up at him, eyes wide with fear, the cuff of one of her sleeves still between her lips.
“What are you eating?” he said, sounding calmer than the thump of Hal’s heart would indicate.
“Rat.” The sweater cuff fell from her mouth when she spoke. She licked her lips, and as if realizing there was still blood to be had on her face, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, looked at it, then pressed it against her mouth and sucked.
Afraid she might eat her own hand next, Malchus said, “Why?”
“Hungry.” Her answer was garbled as she said it with her lips still against the back of her hand.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH ELISE
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I've always written fiction for as long as I knew how. I think the first time I remember trying to write a novel was after reading a chapter book about a brother and sister who find a treasure map in their tree house and go about looking for the treasure. I remember plotting out my own book with a similar idea and structure and writing a few chapters as well.
-What draws you to horror and the supernatural?
I like a good scare. I've always liked horror movies, but more of the thriller kind than of the slasher variety, like "Psycho", "An American Werewolf in London" or "Videodrome". There is some good horror television out there now, like "Supernatural" and "Sleepy Hollow" to name a few. I think what I like best is that most supernatural characters are bound by a set of rules that people can discover and exploit. For example, when a vampire attacks you in your home all you have to do is rescind his invitation and you are safe. Also, vampires usually react to garlic and are afraid of the cross and they can't go out during the day or walk on hallowed ground. It's fun to see how people play with those rules, recombine them or omit them, to shake things up.
-What’s a fun or interesting fact you learned researching this book?
The most interesting fact I learned researching this book is about the whole idea of revenants. The word is usually used to describe someone who has returned after a long absence. There are very old stories of people claiming to see the deceased after they had been buried. When the stories persisted, some of the graves were exhumed. Villagers were surprised to see the skin tone had reddened and the bodies had bloated. Knowing nothing about the decomposition process, they thought this meant the corpse had risen from the grave and fed. Similar stories were told revolving around vampire sightings. The remedy for this situation was to cut off the heads of the corpses so they couldn't rise again. The difference between historic vampires and historic revenants is that revenants were believed to have died violently and return to terrorize still-living friends and family and/or to complete unfinished business.
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?
I might like to grab a coffee with Zulu to pick his brain about what it was like to live in historic Toronto. I graduated from university with a degree in cultural anthropology and began working as an archaeologist on sites in the Greater Toronto Area. I think I picked historic Toronto as the birthplace of Zulu, Morgan and Malchus in The Revenant because I studied so much about that time period. I'd like to know if Zulu remembered anything about the sites I worked on and if we were right about the assumptions we made about the sites based on the archaeological record.
-For aspiring writers, any tips?
The most important thing you can do is to silence your inner critic. That's the voice in your head telling you that your writing is no good and any negative comments you receive about your writing must be true. The more you write, the better you'll get, but you'll never get better if you don't write. The hardest thing you'll do when you come out as a writer will be to develop a thick skin. Listen to the people who offer you constructive criticism when you seek it, and ignore everyone else. Write the story you want to read. Read about what others have to say about writing, and then just write.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
Fantasy is probably the one genre I could never write. Though I love both reading and writing science fiction and the two are closely related, I tend to shy away from fantasy. The science fiction that interests me most is that which takes place in a world similar to ours, where one small thing is changed in the way people live their lives and the story is about them trying to cope with the world around them. My favourite examples from television are "Revolution" (no electricity), "Extant" (a woman returns from 13 months' isolation in space to learn she's pregnant), and "Defiance" (humans must survive alongside a variety of aliens). In literature it's The Talisman (boy discovers he can travel to an alternate version of earth) by Stephen King or Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels (vampires, werewolves and witches are real). I would rather examine human conflict and cultural and societal mores in the context of a near future earth than on a distant planet with different species masking the human condition.
A GUEST POST
Do Writers Really Write with Themes?
We've all experienced it, sitting in English class, listening to the teacher drone on about all of the intricate ins and outs of a work of literature, feeling the frustration because we saw none of it as we read.
I felt this most keenly in first year University English as the professor lectured about James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The lecture was on religious symbolism and I learned virtually everything Joyce worked into that book, from a girl's white hands to the protagonist's bed-wetting episode, was mired in Catholic symbolism and religious themes. No wonder it went over my head, I remember thinking. I'm not Catholic. The trouble was, looking at my classmates was like looking into a mirror reflecting a sea of perplexed faces, and many of them were raised in the Catholic faith from birth.
It was then I questioned: how much of what the prof was saying was Joyce's doing and how much was the prof imposing his own Catholic beliefs onto the material?
Flash forward some years, and I find myself having written a novel on the precipice of publication, reading an article about how a study guide might help sales by enticing teachers and book clubs to read it. I think this an amazing idea and sit to write it, hitting a roadblock when it comes time to discuss the themes in the novel. The problem is, as a devout disliker of books written exclusively to bring a social theme to the forefront, I had allowed them to take a back seat. My primary goal in writing The Revenant was to pen a good story, and not to awaken social consciousness in my readers.
It was then I understood what I'd always suspected to be true. Unless authors are writing in a vacuum, unless they've been separated from the rest of the society since birth, they can't help but incorporate thematic ideas into their writing. The words we write tell a story taking place in a specific moment in time. Because the characters we create must experience society at that time in history, authors can't help but make commentary about social issues.
The Revenant is case in point.
Kat, the empath and lead female character, is bullied by her peers for being different. She learns from Zulu, the revenant in the story, that what others think doesn't matter as long as you are comfortable in your own skin. I'd say that's a theme, a hidden message to my readers which makes a comment about the human condition.
A young girl, despondent because her father is an alcoholic and beats her mother, is prevented from committing suicide by Kat and Zulu who take her to Father Paul for help. This hopes to teach teens that suicide is not a coping mechanism, and help is always a stone's throw away.
The role of the media and whether or not instant news worldwide is necessarily a good thing is another theme in The Revenant. The Seer frequently muses over the evils and benefits of the lightning speed with which information is shared. There is also discussion of the reality of reality television, the Seer's favourite genre of programming.
All told I counted eight themes that might generate important discussion in a classroom or book club.
I still haven't answered the question of whether or not I consciously write with themes. I think the answer is, sort of. As I said earlier, I concentrate primarily on telling a good story. But whenever the opportunity presents, I run with it, adding character and narrative commentary to draw attention to the point I want to make. For me, incorporating theme (and symbolism) is more organic than planned. In the end, I don't want to beat my readers over the head with a wet thematic statement. Instead, because I want them to enjoy the story first, I drop thematic crumbs for them to follow while reading in order to generate critical discussion afterward.
Teacher of English and Computer Studies by day, wife and mother by night and author whenever she can steal some time, Elise Abram is the proud author of Phase Shift, The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, and Throwaway Child, available on Amazon and KoboBooks. She pens a blog about literature, popular culture and the human condition whenever the muse moves her. Elise's fourth book, a young adult paranormal thriller entitled The Revenant is now available wherever books are sold.
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