While writing and revising my now-finished horror novel, I have looked to other writers to keep me horrified. In that search, I came across Ronald Malfi’s famous horror novel The Floating Staircase.I bought it on my Nook and forgot about it for a couple of months. Then I found it and read it.
Damn if The Floating Staircase isn’t really good. It is creepy. Malfi uses gothic techniques for creating his remotely situated haunted house. He’s a great descriptive writer. His plotting is sometimes a bit unexpected, but overall, he employs classic techniques. I read along trying to gauge them.
Having said that, he did throw me a bit. I have been told, by publishers, that blending genres is taboo. Malfi does it with impunity. The frappé effect didn’t bother me at all. The Floating Staircase is primarily a haunted house book, but it is frequently a mystery and sometimes verges on detective, crime, or just plain old mainstream.
The blended genres are not the main thing I am going to remember about Malfi, although I may surprise myself. I will remember that he gave me a cozy haunted house feeling. I like that on windy nights. I liked his writer protagonist, Travis, who screws up his life and marriage. His writing success is a bit off-putting, but screwing up redeems him. A hugely successful writer protagonist would be difficult to like unless that person had a disease. But I drift from my point.
Ronald Malfi has seduced me with his outlandish metaphors. This wasn’t supposed to work, but I found myself reading for them. I also began texting them to my writer friends, wondering what they would think.
Stephen King writes somewhere that a writer should not describe a man waiting (for a taxi, say) as having the expression of a man waiting for a ham sandwich. Good point. How on earth can we picture that?
How does the expression of someone waiting for a ham sandwich differ from someone waiting for pizza? Or a coke?
Malfi broke the golden rule several times, but since he held me in more ways than one (I am talking about my attention in reading a book) and since his forced metaphors are so memorable, I began to look forward to them.
For instance, I never would have thought of crows perched on wires to resemble a semicolon. Hard as I try, my best shot is conjuring up this image is if one crow has had its tail feathers torn out or burnt off. Maybe that one crow has been struck by lightening and has been burnt right onto the wire while the other crow hasn’t noticed. It is an intriguing thing to think about, especially when life is stressful.
Another interesting metaphor described a character whose laugh sounded like a cold tractor engine starting up on a frosty morning. I am writing this from memory so the words may not be precise. When I came to that metaphor, I began to wonder if I was the wrong audience. Writers are supposed to have a particular audience in mind. Publishers know which audiences will read horror, young adult, and romance. Romance, if you didn’t know it already, is for females. Men are just not keen on romance. Women may think they want men to read romance, but they might not like it if their boyfriends suddenly became hell bent on it.
There’s a thought to ponder all by itself.
I began to wonder if The Floating Staircase was for farmers. I have no idea what a cold tractor engine sounds like starting up, especially if it is old.
Nonetheless, I began to get a feeling of excitement, like a player exploring his geocache map, or a kid looking for Easter eggs. But me, I was collecting Malfi metaphors. I loved the hamburger as thick as a Bible. I loved texting the curious metaphors to my friends. Soon I was composing my own.
I definitely will buy another Malfi book. He is a good writer and he has proven, yet again, that writers can break rules.
And get away with it.