About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

My Corner of the Catacombs Has Moved to WordPress

Hi, everyone.

It's been a while since I've posted, I know, but I've been swamped lately and felt I needed a bit of a break.

I have, however, started a new website on WordPress and will continue My Corner of the Catacombs there.

It's been a pleasure writing here on Blogger, but I've felt for a while that this page is feeling crowded with various widgets from archives to the bio to the Twitter feed, and I believe WordPress will allow me the flexibility to include all these features without giving a claustrophobic impression.

Thanks, everyone, for reading, and I'll catch you on the flip side.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What Will Horror Be Like in 100 Years?

It's unfortunate that a lot of early horror films are considered lost.  A number of Lon Chaney films were lost, I've heard, because Universal Studios intentionally destroyed the reels in order to recover the silver used in their manufacturing.  But like fossils and artifacts, the films that remain tell us a lot about the industry and the horror genre of the time.  The earliest horror film I can think of is 1922's Nosferatu, which itself is lucky to have survived after legal disputes with Bram Stoker's estate resulted in a court order that the film be destroyed.

The cinema of the time was very imaginative, exploiting black and white to great effect with shadows.  If you look at The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a lot of the sets are clearly drawn and painted.  The fiction of the time was just as evocative.  There's a story by Lord Dunsany called Thirteen at Table.  It's about a fox hunter who stays the night at a mansion.  He goes to dinner.  At the table are him, his host, and the host's daughter, along with thirteen seemingly empty seats.  These, says the host, are inhabited by the ghosts of people he's wronged.  The hunter entertains everyone with wonderful stories, but eventually begins worrying that he is offending the ghosts, and slips into madness.  In reading it, I imagined The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, particularly the ballroom.

As I see it, horror has evolved over the last hundred years to up the shock value.  The limitation of horror is that it frightens you on the first exposure, but you're desensitized to it over time.  Unless, of course, it's something you've got a genuine phobia of.  For example, I still can't watch Arachnophobia because I have a fear of spiders - large spiders, in particular - and there's a shot in the climax where you see Jeff Daniels reflected off the many eyes of the spider queen, and I just can't deal with that.

I think it used to be that shock was used merely as a tool in the genre.  When The Walking Dead started off, Frank Darabont said the zombies were just the icing on the cake, and that the real story was about the fragility of human society and nature.  I've noticed a number of writers and filmmakers who intentionally try to shock and disgust the audience, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  What worries me about that is that as more people become used to it and steel themselves in preparation for the next gore-fest, horror in a hundred years' time is going to become more graphic, and maybe even border on the snuff film.  If it serves a larger purpose in the story, wonderful.  But if it's there just for the sake of being there, then I think it means there's a psychological problem in the audience that needs to be addressed.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Biggest Problems in Horror

I don't just write horror.  I'm a fan of the genre, and I get this delightful chill down my spine when it's done right.  However, horror films exist with a certain stigma about them.  Along with science fiction, it gets many nods for technical achievement at the Oscars, but little respect when it comes to the big prize of Best Picture.  That tends to be reserved for heavy, inspiring, social problem-solving films.  The Exorcist is still the only real horror film ever nominated for best picture, though there's some debate about whether The Silence of the Lambs qualifies as horror or thriller (it's both, actually).

Genre bias aside - really, the Oscars nowadays exist only to give actors and directors a pay raise anyway - critics often dismiss horror films as mere popcorn flicks.  This is unfair, but with so many horror films released of late, there's an increase in movies of poor quality.

Here are some of the biggest problems.

Too much torture porn

Torture porn is a subgenre of horror heavily reliant on gore to shock the audience.  This is when you've got a deluge of violence and mutilation, which has it's value in horror but only if it advances the story (as every other element ought to).  A film like Braindead does have use for excessive gore because it's used in a comedic fashion.

Not enough originality

I'm not talking about only the remakes here.  A lot of times, I see a horror film that follows the same old formula: filling the first half with most of the big scares and addressing and resolving the crisis in the second half.  That's fine.  In fact, that's the plot structure horror films are expected to use.  But I often see films that merely fit the mold without trying anything new with the material.  It Follows was a nicely original film in that the entity pursuing the characters was one I'd never seen before, and Inner Demons was a great departure from other tales of demonic possession by having drug use be the girl's method of keeping the monster at bay.

Not enough evocative atmosphere

I think most people forget that monsters aren't enough, and they don't realize that until they're presented with a situation where they're overwhelmed by the visual of a creature.  A lot of times, horror can be even more effective with proper lighting, shadow, and sound (or silence).  Anyone questions that ought to take a look at the Eric Bana film Deliver Us From Evil, which is about a cop investigating a string of demonic possessions in New York City.  It does have the monsters, but also makes great use of songs from The Doors, especially during a very atmospheric scene in which Bana pursues a possessed man through the basement of an apartment building and the demon keeps playing People Are Strange in his head.

Seeing only one side of the coin

John Carpenter said that horror goes back to tribesmen gathered around the campfire explaining to each other where evil came from.  One explanation is that evil is beyond the fire, outside of the safety of the tribe.  In the modern sense, this is the serial killer stalking the alleys, the zombies lumbering out of the woods, the vampire arriving from his castle.  The other explanation is that evil is something found within everyone's heart.  We have this protective boundary, but the monster is already inside that fence among us.  This is the monster who beats his wife and kids, the monster who steals her grandmother's medication because she's a drug addict, the monster who says she loves her boyfriend but then constantly cheats and berates him.  While we have plenty of external monsters in horror, the internal ones often get overlooked, and the cream of the crop in the genre are those films that feature both.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Reboots & Reimagining

Entertainment Weekly recently released a image of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa in the upcoming Power Rangers reboot.  Some people like it.  Some hate it.  I think I'm one of the few people who said good job for not giving her the Madonna cone bra.

I don't know how the Power Rangers reboot will do, but I do know it's among the latest in a long string of reboots pumped out by Hollywood.  The reboot of Ghostbusters is just around the corner.  Godzilla and RoboCop were just done.  And yes, folks, Hanna-Barbera is about to compete with the Marvel and DC universes with their own shared universe starting with S.C.O.O.B. in 2018 (guess who that's about?).

I'm not saying any of this is necessarily bad.  Worst-case scenario is that you've got a crappy movie that helped pay rent for a very hardworking crew.  However, it's so easy to pick a piece of intellectual property for production rather than original material that I think we need to take a step back and understand what the point is of a reboot or reimagining.

A reboot takes the source material and starts from scratch, treating it as a brand new concept.  For example, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy shows us Bruce Wayne building himself from the ground up in a world where Adam West is probably around but did something else during the 60s.  Maybe he and Burt Ward were in a army sitcom called Major Danger.  A nice little side note, by the way, is that the animated series of the 90s had a wonderful homage to the 60s series by having West voice the Grey Ghost, an old TV crime fighter that Bruce Wayne idolized as a child.

A reimagining is a different kind of reboot, taking the source material and then seeing how it could develop in different ways.  The JJ Abrams Star Trek films takes what we know about the original series - Kirk, Spock, tribbles, the Kobayashi Maru test, KHAAAAAN - essentially, the same ingredients, and makes a new recipe out of it.

So why reboot a film at all, especially now?

To answer the second part of that question, I think a good story goes through cycles of roughly thirty years.  Dracula is a great example of this.  The novel came out just before 1900 and then you saw Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Gary Oldman play the character in the 1930s, 60s, and 90s respectively.  Luke Evans's 2014 portrayal of Dracula may not have been a straight adaptation of the book, but the character is still someone audiences are drawn to.

I think Dracula's cycles began with cost-effectiveness.  The Lugosi film as actually adapted from the 1927 Broadway production written by playwright Hamilton Deane (starring Lugosi, in fact).  The Broadway Dracula was considerably different from the decrepit creature in Stoker's novel, more gentlemanly, less violent, and already more in line with the taste of audiences at the time.  When Hammer Films started doing Dracula with Lee in 1958, moviegoers were okay with more blood and sex.  Yes, I'm talking to you, Melissa Stribling's nightgown!  That trend continued with Oldman's Dracula.

As of now, I have heard nothing about a Dracula film for 2020, the next of that thirty-year mark, but I won't be surprised if it happens.  The concern I have is that it would be more action-oriented in the wake of Evans's Dracula Untold, which is intended to be part of Universal's - you guessed it - planned cinematic universe of their classic monster films.

Speaking for myself, I'm just waiting for Rob Zombie to do a remake of The Blob.  I know he's reportedly turned his back on that project, but I can still have my precious nightmares.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What Will Fantasy Be Like in 100 Years?

In 1915, Edgar Rice Burroughs published a novel called Pellucidar, which was about a fictional realm beneath Earth's surface.  Tarzan ended up visiting it, I think.  But fantasy fiction existed long before then.  We tend to think of the genre in Tolkien-esque terms since The Lord of the Rings was so influential.  Hans Christian Anderson wrote fairy tales.  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected folklore in their native Germany.  Shakespeare's The Midsummer Night's Dream features the fairies Oberon, Titania, and a number of servants.

Today, I see a lot of adaptation in fantasy.  The 2007 novel Beastly, for example, is merely a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I don't even know where to begin with Tim Burton's monstrosity of an Alice in Wonderland series.  But there are original works out there.  George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire might be in the medieval European style of Tolkien, but has a degree of realism that even Tolkien didn't reach.  J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was extraordinary in taking a fantasy world and weaving it into the present day.  Even Vin Diesel's latest film The Last Witch Hunter, while never Oscar-worthy from the start, at least had the balls to try doing something that hadn't been done before in putting witches in the modern world.

We live in a world of science, logic, and rational thought (at least, until you bring out the crazies during election season).  The world is smaller.  We've got satellites mapping everything on and off Earth.  We can design our children, build computers with increasingly complicated lines of thought, and use atoms as calculators.  Magic seems to have no place anymore.

This juxtaposition of science and magic is where I think the future of the genre lies.  I think we're going to see even more fantasy fiction mixing the ancient and the modern.  For one thing, it makes it a world more identifiable to the audience.  We might not understand everything about orc culture, but we can understand Thrall, CEO of Orgrimmar, Inc., because we have mega-rich corporate executives in the real world

I think this will ultimate be a wonderfully unpredictable path for fantasy fiction because of how unpredictable and crazy science has advanced.  You can expect certain things to happen in what I like to call archaic fantasy - the medieval kind - because we have history serving as a reference.  Nobody had heard of ISIS five years ago.  In another five years, will the Kingdom of Faolith rise from an elven insurgency?  Maybe.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Where Should I Publish?

Recently, a friend of mine completed a new story.  Big ups to her.  But now she's got the matter of finding places to submit her work, and she asked me for an opinion on places that would be a good fit.

Short answer: send it anywhere and everywhere.

But considering how many markets there are, large and small, that's a crap answer, so let me elaborate.

Duotrope is the first place I turn to, and while some might not like the idea of shelling out $50 annually for the subscription, it's totally worth it.  And, really, that comes out to just over $4 a month, so the fee isn't grumble-worthy.  It's got a fantastic database of markets that you can narrow down by type of work (fiction vs. poetry, for example), length, genre, and subgenre.  It also has a handy submission tracker to keep tabs on what's out and when you can expect a response.  I have my own submission tracker already, but that redundancy helps ensure I'm not overlooking anything.

Be advised, there are a other submission databases and trackers such as Submission Grinder and The Writer's Database.  I have not used either of these, so I can't endorse them.  They could be good, bad, or virtually the same as Duotrope, and now that I think about it, I might set aside some time to check them out and report back.

Writer's Market is another great resource.  It's non-digital, so perhaps a little more time-intensive flipping through it than an online search, even with the convenient table of contents.  I mostly refer to Writer's Market for the articles at the front end of the book.  The selection is also still a bit limited since it's a printed document.  There are only so many names you can list before it stops being a book and starts being a something you club a seal with.

Also, don't wait to look around for markets until you've got something to submit.  I try spending a little time each week seeking out various presses to include in a mental rolodex.  For example, Kelsye Nelson, founder of Avasta Press, recently followed me on Twitter.  I hadn't heard of her or Avasta before then (sorry, Kelsye, but it's true).  Would I disregard Avasta right off the bat?  No.  I would look into their catalog of books, get a hold of and read a few that caught my attention, and see if I've got anything down the road that might interest them.

This goes for any publisher you have a chance encounter with.  I came back from AWP with a stack of business cards so thick it turned my wallet into a boulder, and a stack of books from each of them so large and heavy that I've got back pain.

I do this personalized approach for a few reasons.  First, I like meeting new people.  Second, I like fostering relations with editors and publishers because it makes me stand out to them as a writer, and just as important, it makes them stand out in my mind when I have material.  Third, those relationships help me get a better understanding of the overall publishing process so that, when I approach other markets for the first time, I'm not going into the situation cocky and ignorant.

When you're ready to submit, remember that markets, editors, and publishers are not the destination.  Getting your words into print for the masses it the destination.  Look at editors and publishers as potential partners towards that goal.

And if you never write something they'd consider publishing, who cares?  It costs nothing to be nice.  Being an asshole requires effort.

Monday, April 18, 2016

No Better Place for Aspiring Writers

I recently saw a tweet from Writer's Digest saying, "There's no better place for an aspiring author than New York City."

It was promotion for an annual conference and not intended to be interpreted as, "This is law according to us ivory tower gnomes," but there was something about the tweet that really bugged me.

It used to be you had to be in a certain geographical location to have any chance of success in certain artistic fields.  Wanted to be a filmmaker?  Go to Los Angeles.  Wanted to be a country musician?  Get your ass to Nashville.  And if you wanted to be a writer, you had to make at least one journey to New York.  That's where the publishers were, the agents, the editors.  Hell, even that xenophobe HP Lovecraft worked up enough courage to make the move.

The major publishers - names the likes of Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster - will still be around for a long time.  They will still be working primarily in New York City just as Warner Brothers, Disney, and Paramount primarily work in LA.  But there's no denying the power and presence of the small press.  At the AWP conference last month, I saw no publisher considered a household name.

Then there's the impact of technology and the ability to self-publish, which has a new recognition today than ten or even five years ago.  Companies like Lulu have partnerships with online distributors Amazon and Barnes and Noble that allow self-published works to be printed on demand and reach a wide audience.

So no, a pilgrimage to New York is not required for a literary career.