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It’s 1986 and I am curled up on a big chair in a darkened theater. On the screen is a movie that my parents won’t allow me to see… but my Uncle will. ‘Aliens’ is, at first, scary and exciting and I am totally into it. Though, right about the time that the creatures attack and Vasquez goes all batshit shooting the place up, my 11 year old brain asks, “What kind of movie is this?” Is it Sci/Fi? Horror? A War movie? An advanced pilot for ‘Mad About You?’
The answer, of course, is YES! (Especially the last part – unknown fact: Helen Hunt played the Queen). ‘Aliens’ is all of these things and so much more.
This was my first mashup.
Even before I knew that what that word was (and before someone thought it would be fun to put Green Day and Aerosmith together into one song), I discovered a particular liking for two genres like horror and science fiction being shoved together into something new. The first movie, ‘Alien’, definitely did that, delivering something that movie viewers hadn’t seen before. Same with ‘Ghostbusters,’ mixing comedy and science fiction elements together to create a whole new beast (much like Rick Moranis). Some of my favorite 80s and 90s films and books mixed in other genre strands until the old genre tropes seemed fresh (just think of that gem ‘The Last Starfighter!’).
Flash forward many years later and now I’m a writer (got my official ID card and everything!) and my writing style leans heavily toward the mashup. I take my love of science fiction, horror, adventure, epic journeys, romance, comedy, and, occasionally, interpretive dance and mix them into my stories. I like to think of my novels as stew: full of chunks of vegetables and meat. Oh, and even tastier when reheated the next day.
What mashups do for a writer completely outweigh the difficult response to the inevitable, “What kind of book is this?” (My usual answer is: “Take Julia Child, add a dash of The Avengers, a dollop of X-Files, and simmer for 500 pages”) Beyond the fact that mashups give the writer the freedom to follow crazy ideas, it also gives them verisimilitude (fancy big word, huh?) and structure.
Verisimilitude means the likeness of truth. Or believability. If ‘Aliens’ was a straight forward sci/fi/adventure, the writer/filmmaker/producer/
Mashups also give writers a sense of structure when constructing thier tale. And structure can really help when a writer is beginning something as intangible as a novel. Take Cherrie Priest’s ‘Dreadnought’ for example. ‘Dreadnought’ is a brilliant story of a Civil War nurse trekking across the United States to see her sick father. What do you think: a journey story? ACivil War novel? What if I told you it’s science fiction and horror too? This version of the American Civil War includes giant airships, mechanized-walkers, and zombies. However, by weaving in the Civil War elements, the fact that she’s a nurse, and that she’s going to travel across the continental United States, Priest automatically starts giving her story structure. She has to begin her story in one place and end it somewhere else. She has to research being a nurse (especially in the Civil War) and deliver believable nursing experiences. And she has to research and create modes of transportation that fit the Civil War or, at least, the technology of the time. Writing a mashup gives a writer structure right away, helping steer them in solid directions and take away a bit of the floundering that writers do at the start of each project.
Thus ends today’s lesson on mashups.
Your homework is to go to http://www.cheriepriest.com/ and check out her Clockwork Century novels.
Second, watch ‘Aliens.’ It doesn’t look like it’s streaming anywhere but I bet you know someone who has the Quadrology.
Lastly, tell me your favorite mashups.