Frankenstein

Do you share my madness?

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The spark that lit the imagination of an eighteen-year-old girl during a bleak summer on Lake Geneva gave life to the Gothic novel. The Castle of Otranto may have started it, but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is without doubt the genre’s seminal work. Scanning (with amusement) some of the one or even zero star reviews on Goodreads from readers seething with rage over expecting a horror book and instead finding a (God forbid) melodrama, I wonder if it should not be reclassified as as romance; although that might result in a shirtless Fabio as the creature with a fainting Elizabeth in his arms, and there is already enough confusion about a brilliant story eclipsed by monster B-movies, comic books, and a brilliant comedy called Young Frankenstein. All of these have, of course, little to do with the actual novel, which is perhaps why the outrage. But if readers can possibly clear their minds of prejudice, they will find one of the finest novels in the English language. Its themes are deep, its symbolism vast, and that a young woman was able to conceive all of this and write it down in elegant prose and moves the reader’s eye effortlessly along the page to its devastating conclusion is a wonder as profound as Victor Frankenstein’s creation.

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For Entertainment Purposes Only

It was my desire to escape the clinging neuroses of the dour Ms. Tyler that made me reach for a purgative in the form of a trashy 80’s horror novel I found at my local used book store. Enter The Dragon by William Schoell. Aside from the fact that the image appears more lithedragonke an iguana than a creature whose rage burned hotter than the fires of Hell, but I do appreciate the scaly texture of the embossed 80’s era cover.  The Dragon tells an enormous  story that begins with a pre-historic prologue in New Mexico where a dragon monster, Ka Kuna, lives within the belly of an enormous desert mesa, El Lobo. Ka Kuna is no ordinary dragon, but a living-flesh computer that (feeds) off the energies of the human brain. Human sacrifice is part of the milieu–Cool!

Fast forward ten thousand plus years to where Eddie Drake, professional photographer and grieving widow, is convinced to join an old school chum, archeologist Lawrence Foster, on an excavation of….cue drum roll…the El Lobo mesa. Eager to put behind him the horror of his wife’s murder, Eddie takes the job despite his reservations about his egotistical friend who includes on the excavation team his bitter wife and his young mistress. The rest of the team is rounded out by a few cliché characters including the homely girl, the old man, and the black guy. As a reminder that 1989 was a more innocent time before the corrupting influence of political correctness (sarcasm intentional) racist and sexist language abounds (the characters not the author) . I must admit it took this reader back a bit; although nothing can offend a true horror fan. Read more

Indie Horror Fiction Review #2

A Sinister Six by Steve Boseley

A few months back I sent out a random tweet announcing I was looking for indie horror books to review and Steve Boseley (a nice English gent) sent me his collection of A Sinister Six: A Collection of Six Darkly Disturbing Stories. It took me awhile to get through them (not due to the quality of the stories, just the fact that I tend to read too many books at once ), but it allowed me to savor each one; some more than others, but that should be expected with an anthology.

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Mr. Boseley’s collection is definitely in the realm of quiet horror, which I always find more satisfyingly frightening than the genre’s riotous little brother splatterpunk. The word sinister with its snaky sibilance is a good title for what transpires within these tales. The stories, like the author’s mostly milquetoast male protagonists, creep up on you slowly, lulling the reader into a comfortable world of banal middle-class normality and mundane complaints of everyday life until–with the deft flick of a pen–sad little flats and row homes transform into blood-soaked charnel houses. Cool!

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Why I Write (horror)

I’ve never been good at tooting my own horn; in fact, I suck at it. But I have to share how pleased I am to see positive reviews for my horror novel Unmasked. The development of this book has had a long history. Inspired by my youth spent reading trashy horror novels and watching TV Movies of the Weeks which were frequently occult themed, I decided to write a screenplay using a summer camp setting. I put a twist on the usual teenage slasher set-up by casting middle-aged characters with a gay protagonist at the helm. And speaking of twists, my novel has quite a few, and the fact that they’ve worked (so far) on my readers brings me (a sick) joy. I play with a lot of classic horror tropes: a Gothic mansion, a mad scientist, a whodunit, a glamorous villain, and spatters of sex and gore. To me, successful horror is the thrill of the Cyclone at Coney Island. I know what’s coming, but I want to ride it again and again.

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Reading Day

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Ah! There’s nothing like a cold day to lie in bed and read….If you’re a bibliophile like me, you probably have a stack of books or spread out in every room of the house at varying degrees of delved into-ness. Last night I finished the Heart autobiography: Kicking and Dreaming. Not bad as far as rock bios go. I do love those girls, and it was a quick read.

Next, I really need to finish the entire Prydain series before I get too far into the first Game of Thrones book. I must admit I’m late in the game (pun intentional) but I’ve finally started watching the series and I’m bingeing my way through the second season this weekend. I supposed I’ve been sidetracked off my Gothic reading course by a bit of fantasy, what what better genre to be distracted by?

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Today’s Twisted Short Story

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JANUS 

by R. Saint Claire

I’m not what anyone would call a sensitive guy as the many girls who’ve slapped my face have told me (in so many words); But if I had known when I woke up this morning that by the end of the day I’d be fleeing for my life through a blizzard I’d have broken down and cried like I’m doing right now. At nineteen I’m too young to die. I have a life to live, many women to conquer, and I’d like to graduate and tell my Dad that I’m sorry my senior year in high school was such a shit-show. I know he’s still really pissed about that.

The flakes are huge, but I can still make out that farmhouse with the green siding up ahead. I hope the snow will cover up what I’m leaving behind me: deep footprints with a trail of blood between each one.

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Ode to Spring

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ODE TO SPRING
by R. Saint Claire

Wings span across the sky in flight
Green, snaking slivers stretch and lift.
From murky mounds to peaks of light
The falcon’s golden iris shifts.

From sea to seedlings turning under
Deep earth wherein the giant lolls,
Waking buds from winter slumber
Burst to life on verdant knolls.

The naked maiden in the river,
From the mud the clearing tides;
Golden goddess, faithful giver,
Gathers up the blooms that rise.

I wrote a novel. Now what?

It’s finished! It’s done! It’s on Amazon! Hurrah! Open the champagne! Does all that red wine I drank while I was writing it count?

There is no celebration. I don’t throw a party, and no one surprises me with one. Cue violins…

After much, much work, the damn thing is done. I finally hold the printed copy in my hand. There is a feeling of accomplishment, but also terror. I open it to a random page and notice that one sentence is missing a the. Even though I’ve been over it with a fine-tooth comb about twenty times, I’m sure there are more embarrassing errors. But then I’ve found similar ones in every Donna Tartt novel I’ve read. That thought comforts me, a little.

I send a copy to my mother. I warn her about the explicit content. She says she’s curious to see what’s really going on inside my mind. A few days later she says it’s a good idea I used a pen name. I shyly drop a copy off at my local bookstore. I meet a writer who tells me all about her book. I listen politely and forget all about mine. I run into a neighbor who tells me another neighbor has also written a book. It seems I’m surrounded by writers. You need to push yourself my husband tells me as we walk away. I’m quiet for the rest of the stroll, thinking about this friend of a friend who sent me a copy of his book to read and how I ended up blocking him because he became so aggressively persistent. Nothing is more annoying than the ABC (Always Be Closing) personality. To me, anyway. Perhaps that’s part of my resistance. Read more

Pitstop in Prydain

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Original cover design by Evaline Ness

While working my way through my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge, I was replacing a book on my library shelf when my hand came to rest on a group of books I had pilfered a few years ago from a local library sale: the Chronicles of Prydain children’s books by Lloyd Alexander. Beloved by kids from my generation and beyond, the story of Taran and friends has always held a special place in my heart. The series consists of five books and if you don’t know them, I highly recommend them for kids and adults. Read more

Love Sonnet #2

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ONE HEART
By R. Saint Claire

Loving center and corporeal home,
A fused join at two chambers meeting,
Sacred symbol of the love I own,
And emblem of my life’s completing.

The battlefield of daily strife
Can’t compromise the greater will,
That you’re my husband, I’m your wife.
What wars are lost! What blood we spill!

Silly to think it my decision,
But I’ve been tempered by the years.
In true love there is no division;
A cauterizing brand--my heart is seared.

Revered, loving heart--one blood, one breath!
To honor and cherish till my death.

Love Sonnet

 

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LOVE SONNET
by R. Saint Claire

Bright twinkle of stars and warmth of the sun,
Flotillas of clouds in Heaven’s fresh air,
Dark battles through which the brave hero becomes,
To all things amazed my lover compares.

The moon’s pale mystery, the change in the tides,
And sands in the hourglass’ turns in a day,
That cause shallow men from Love’s duty to hide,
Shall never convince my bold lover to stray.

Sweetest dwelling never leased, but owned,
His key in the lock of my chamber remains.
A palace or hovel--his love is my home.
My heart’s true passion’s my lover’s domain.

These things I swear ‘bout my love and I do:
As Heaven above him, my lover is true.

 

Rosemary’s Baby

rosemarysbaby
Satan’s coming!

Beware the chalky undertaste…

Continuing  with my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge (no particular order) I reread Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, chowing it down in a few days. I enjoyed my Franklin Press leather bound edition (trying to collect all of the Gothic volumes). Good lit deserves quality bindings.

This is one of those books I wish I could go back in time and read cold, although it’s a testament to Levin’s great skill that a story I know every nuance of can still keep me turning pages till dawn.

In his 1981 book on horror, Danse Macabre, Stephen King praises Levin as a one of the great plotters. He is the Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.  And it’s true. Every revelation is supported by the hidden, and often overt, character motivations. Guy, an inspiring actor played to sleazy brilliance by John Cassavetes in the film, admits he’s a great bullshit artist and liar (brags about it in fact) on the first few pages of the book as the newlyweds try to get out of their lease so they can move into the Bramford, a fictitious Gothic apartment house along Central Park. Can’t say he didn’t warn you. Minnie Castevet, the nosy neighbor, says as much about herself when she declares I’m selfish as the day is long. She ain’t lying. You can’t trust anyone of these damn witches. Poor, naive Rosemary, carrying a time bomb in her belly during the hottest summer in New York history (a metaphor for Hell I assume) realizes this all too late. Read more

Flash Fiction #1

A desperate friend shows up one night in search of an ancient Mexican mask. Today’s short horror fiction is based on a true story.

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The Mask of Mercado

Last weekend my old college roommate stopped by for a visit. He had aged considerably (grayer, balder, fatter, noticeably thicker glasses), but after thirty years, who hadn’t? My wife, Betty, and I had just finished dinner and were settling in to watch the one weekly TV show she is passionate about, when he arrived completely out of the blue. The set was turned off and I sent Betty into the kitchen to reheat the leftovers. From the look she gave me I knew there’d be Hell to pay later, but I never have any friends over, and George (that’s his name) was one of my oldest.

While Betty reheated the meatloaf, George and I sat in the living room by the fire. I opened a bottle of wine and watched him drink nearly all of it. He wasn’t too keen on conversation, nor did the touch the plate of food Betty set before him, but instead spent most of his time pacing around the living room. He seemed particularly interested in our floor to ceiling bookshelves displaying the books and bric-a-brac we had collected during our travels; mine especially, when I was young. Read more

The Red Tower

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In the Red Tower
The planes mature
To a dance that beats
Red sausage links and iron ore.

In the Red Tower
Flames shoot from the stack, 
Fire white hot at the top, 
Black in the cracks.

In the Red Tower
A dragon wails
A song so sad, such simple pain that none
(Maybe just the sea urchins) Understand.

The madder-heart,
With each bump it bleeds,
Runs into the ancient stones, and
Dies in agony, slowly and alone. 
Forked tongued forgiveness 
Wanting only for a friend,
A pat, a snuggle,
An “I understand.”

The black smoke bleeds
From the Red Tower—
Recession’s sandwich, but
Only for the gods, and easement,
Momentary easement leaning to the left, 
As crows swarm on the edge then dive 
Into the black.

What time to make the stones and legends dance!

Ode to Melancholy

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ODE TO MELANCHOLY

Saturnal turnings to woeful wooings,
Unrequited in a heart that aches,
Infernal dreams of despair imbuing,
Hopelessly tethered to past mistakes.

Romantic passions the depth of Venus,
Bacchantic thrashings; they both espouse
Byronic madness—a proof of genius!
Flawlessly shuttered in one dark house.

Melancholy, to thee I sing,
For all the gifts your heartaches bring.

The Castle of Otranto

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Faint of heart…

Continuing with my Gothic Literature Reading Challenge 2017, I head for the granddaddy of Gothic literature The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (try to say it fast).  After reading some of the Goodreads reviews, I expected this to be a real chore, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this (gratefully) brief, at times silly tale. It helped that I found this beautiful Easton Press leather bound copy in my personal library. The moiré endpaper, satin book mark, color plates, and gold embossed leather cover enhanced my reading experience of this classic. Read more

Dracula Sonnet

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Peasants fear the mention of his name,
Grown men tremble at the setting sun,
O’er the Carpathian mountain range
Along the forest where wild wolves run.
An elegant Count who charms everyone,
Whose soul’s as foul as dirt where he lays,
Garlic and mirrored reflections he shuns,
Symbols of Christ, the sun’s golden rays.
For centuries past he’s spent his dark days
Inside a casket, a hideous tomb.  
Pitiful lady, in blood she will pay.
There at the window! Now inside her room!
The Beast is within. He comes to her bed.
Behold the Dragon! ‘Tis he, the Undead!

 

 

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Victorian Brain Fever

As part of my personal Gothic literature reading challenge, I start with Dracula by Bram Stoker. Here’s a book that I pretended to read in the past (I’d started it several times) but in truth I’d only seen the movies from Murnau’s silent Nosferatu to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula , which I re-watched last night and highly recommend as a companion piece to the reading challenge (if you care to join me). The film, which I’ve seen a few times, is visually stunning, and is faithful to the book with one major difference. The central theme of the film is the relationship between the Count and Mina Hawker, a woman for whom he crossed centuries of time. Alas, there is no such romance in the book unless you read between the lines (Mina does swallow his blood). The novel’s Mina character is the model for unstained Victorian womanhood (yawn) and cheating on poor Jonathan Hawker with the Count just won’t cut it. One reason I think I struggled with the book , versus reading Frankenstein which is my favorite novel, is that it’s episodic without being very insightful. There are certainly moments that chilled me to the bone–one that comes to mind is Lucy coming back as undead and smuggling a child back to her crypt; another is the dead captain tied to the wheel of the ship that brings the count to London along with his boxes filled with the profane, foul-smelling earth in which he must sleep each day.

There are also comical touches (like Lucy dropping that kid) that both the book and Coppola’s film explore, particularly in Van Hesling’s character (Anthony Hopkins is a hoot) as he casually mentions cutting off dear Lucy’s head and stuffing her mouth with garlic. The novel is told in an epistolary format using letters, diary entries, ship’s logs, clippings, and recordings from early cylinder phonographs. Written in 1897, the book explores these modern inventions of bustling London juxtaposing it with the old world superstitions and dangerous landscape of Transylvania. There is a lot of information about the source material for the novel. Whether Vlad the Impaler was Stoker’s inspiration is up for debate (but I’d like to think so).

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New Poem

From Remembering the Dead, a new book of poems by R. Saint Claire

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The Old Thundercloud
Comes like black dread
Chasing angels into other worlds.
Where? They never said.
Its lightning companion does his dance,
The crackled dance.
A sad display really.
The old clown a show-off-
Oh! Bring the angels back—
Scattering all, even the brave,
A black anvil and light show dance.
Till the young ones, plagued and bent
Say “No, No!"
Throw their sticky bodies on the ground
And weep stern, boisterous
Showers of amethysts.

 

Horror Haiku

I found this on Twitter #horrohaikuesday and I’ve been having fun participating (not sure if haiku allows for punctuation, but oh well.) Here’s this week’s. I know, I’m sick.

Beautiful child
Asleep in my bed, sweet and
Pure. Alas, quite dead.

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The Dead

New poetry from Remembering the Dead

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The Dead

From the mist, black wagons
Crest the hill. Advance
Their cargos full of love,
But not all;
Some walk alone.

At the cemetery
A soft rain falls
And we are glad
For the warmth in the hand, later
Food, the drink, the band,
And sleeping in back of cabs.

We look good in black.
We’re happy, then we’re sad.
And finger grandma’s pearls
They’re real, I’m told,
And shiver in the cold.

At night warm
In my bed, but
You in the mound.
The wind rages,
It’s cold there,
The ice coats the ground.

The Dead close their eyes.
I am dead.
No, just asleep,
A warm embrace,
And love.
For now, at peace.

The Kingdom of Shadows

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Eyes Wide Shut and the Ninth Gate

Much has been written about the esoteric messages in Stanley Kubrick’s swan song Eyes Wide Shut, some silly, some quite illuminating. That some of us are still watching and analyzing it seventeen years later (and probably many more to come) illustrates that the great director knew what he was doing despite the horrendous reviews it received on its release. I remember seeing it in a mall cineplex with my sister in law as a break from a weekend centered around our father-in-law’s funeral. Let’s just say I wasn’t at that moment ready to receive the arcane messages in the film, but then who is on the first go-around. The film in itself is a puzzle requiring multiple viewings (if you are committed to wasting that much time) and perhaps a bit of online reading. There is much dross on that front, but whether you believe in the Illuminati or not, many of us, especially those drawn to the occult, enjoy a good puzzle. I am no expert on the former, but definitely an explorer.

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The Dreaded Line Edit

I have been over my first (yet unpublished) novel Unmasked many, many, many times. This is after completing the screenplay, first and second drafting of the novelized version, proofreading on screen and on paper, then shoving it in a drawer for a few weeks while I Nanowrimo’d. After all that, I was ready to revisit it and be magically, happily surprised at how wonderfully seasoned my 72,000 words had become during their sojourn inside their oak cask, improved like fine wine.

Nope. The same old mistakes are waiting for me with raspberries–na-na-na-na-na-na–the clunky transitions, the inconsistencies, the silly comparisons. At least my previous revisions obliterated (hopefully) those embarrassing spelling errors, the character name that kept changing, the general wtf was I thinkings. Now it’s time to look at each sentence, and believe me, it’s painful. My eyes are flying through a few passages with some satisfaction, but the self-doubt, although not paralyzing, is at times demoralizing.

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A Christmas Poem

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The holidays evoke ambivalent emotions for many people. I tried to capture some of that in this poem I wrote for a Christmas poetry challenge. There’s more baring of my soul on my poetry page .

Blue Christmas

Mall’s Mélange of Yule yodeling tunes,
Thick with fossilized marzipan.
Deflated Santa, dead balloons,
Fruitcake in the mousetrap, and
Howls, horrid howls of homeless Ghosts
Clanking their chains up the alley ways, and
To my front door, banked with snow.

That withered, wretched Elf
(Shivering in the cold)
Gives me a wink-
A look I dread.
Cork sealed with red wax pops!
Libations pour.
This bitter drink
Might take me back.

I’m on my sled
Whooshing down a hill of blue ice,
Black trees fly past
My fresh, red face—Fast! Fast! Fast!
Blue moonlight shows my way.
A farmhouse in the woods (cliché but true)
Its Yellow windows--topaz carved in blue
Fogged with warmth, forever in my 
Memory stays.

New Poetry

Here is an excerpt from a new book of poems I am currently writing titled Remembering the Dead.

I’ll be adding more to my Poetry page soon.

Remembering the Dead,
Clouds reflecting stones.
Mirrored memory wonderland
Spinning withered moments when
Up and up fly off and out,
Rainbow tents bend into sky,
And smile with a weakened, weathered jaw.
A red balloon says goodbye.

Ice cubes cracking
On the brain's
Neglected kindling
Spark, and dread
Sweetheart full of memory's ink.
Stars, squeaking stars,
Forever overhead.
I'm forever lost in stars,
And clouds. Happy colored stripes that
Move and whip, and change the light.

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For Love of Bookstores

I was thrilled to see one of my favorite bookstores, Farley’s located in my home town of New Hope, PA  featured in The Guardian. It’s one of the jewels of the town, and thankfully a steady stream of tourist foot traffic keeps them in business. There is nothing quite like the pleasure of lost time browsing in a bookstore, and Farley’s embodies that experience completely.

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Shadowland by Peter Straub

The King of Cats

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In the first chapter of Shadowland is the retelling of a scary little English folk tale (one that M.G. Lewis, author of the classic Gothic novel, The Monk, once terrified Percy Shelley with). It creeped me out too.

A traveler, in other words my friend, was journeying on foot to the house of a companion — not me — where he was going to spend the night.  He had been walking all day, and even though it was already late and night was coming on, he was tired enough to rest his feet when he came to a ruined abbey.  He sat down, took off his boots, leaned against an iron fence, and began to rub his feet.  An odd series of noises made him turn around and peer through the bars of the fence. Down below him, on the grassy floor of the old abbey, he saw a procession of cats.  They were formed into two long equal lines, and were marching forward very slowly.  Now, of course he had never seen anything like that before, and he bent forward to look more closely.  It was then that he saw that the cats at the head of the procession were carrying a little coffin on their backs, and were making for, were slowly approaching, a small open grave.  When my friend had seen the grave, he looked horrified back at the coffin borne by the lead cats, and noticed that on it sat a crown.  As he watched, the lead cats began to lower the coffin into the grave. After that he was so frightened that he could not stay in that place a moment longer, and he thrust his feet into his boots and rushed on to the house of his friend.  During dinner, he found that he could not keep from telling his friend what he had witnessed. He had scarcely finished when his friend’s cat, which had been dozing in front of the fire, leaped up and cried, ‘Then I am the King of the Cats!’ and disappeared in a flash up the chimney.  It happened, my friends — yes, it happened, my charming little birds. Read more

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A House Without Love is Not a Home

My introduction to Shirley Jackson is memorable in that it marks my first exposure to a particular kind of horror. Not the kind I experienced from watching my first monster picture at age five (Tarantula—and it was love at first sight), but the difficult to articulate kind of horror, the silent dread that feeds your paranoia, and makes you feel that the world is a lonelier place than you ever realized, and much, much colder. My fifth-grade class (seems a bit young for this, but whatever) read The Lottery then watched the film, shown to us on a reel-to-reel projector inside the classroom with the shades down, which is how it was done back in the day. Here’s the exact film that traumatized my young mind so. Watching it again now on YouTube it appears quite tame, but I remember how that streak of blood on poor Tessie’s face horrified me. I suppose the reason I was sensitive about townspeople piling up rocks to beat to death one of their community members is I had witnessed and fought with children who routinely bullied (and threw at stones for real) my mentally ill brother. Kids can be real shits, and so can their parents, as the real-life horror of the current election process proves. Perhaps another reason the story hit me so hard is that I was raised in a rural community that somewhat resembled the one depicted in the story. Among the comforting scents of apples rotting on the ground and distant manure-laden fields (country folks understand) there was an air of ignorance passing off as tradition that could chill you to the bone. Every community must have its scapegoat (sacrifice), and one just hopes it’s not her turn…this year. Read more

Violets Are Blue by James Patterson

My first time with James…

About six months ago I signed up for the James Patterson Master Class on how to write a bestseller (I confess to not doing all of the homework assignments). I had just decided to write a novel based on one of my screenplays (65,000 words into the third draft, I’m still plugging away at it), and Patterson’s class seemed like a fun way to keep me inspired and to give me videos to watch when I felt blocked or just wanted to procrastinate.

I enjoyed the class. Mostly though, I enjoyed James Patterson, and after watching and re-watching many of the lessons, I came to regard him as a coach, and even–dare I say–a friend. I like his befuddled sense of humor, his positivity and message that you, yes, even YOU can write a bestseller and become rich like me. He’s cute! And nice! And he has a great laugh. I’d love to have drinks with him at the Algonquin sometime and really cut-up.

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The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Lord of Illusions

My unabashed crush on Clive Barker has run the gamut from fantasizing about wanting to talk dirty with him over tea to spawning his demon child. Yes, it goes that deep. How can I resist a handsome, Renaissance man who is an accomplished visual artist, a wordsmith extraordinaire, and a visionary film director who has a sexy English accent to boot!

Does he also play guitar? Sigh… Read more

Faggots by Larry Kramer

Hell-bent for Leather

I’ve been anticipating reading Faggots for a long time, and I really, really wanted to like it, but alas…

I shouldn’t even put that ellipse there, only because Mr. Kramer uses them, along with a lot of other creative punctuation, throughout the novel, causing much distraction and frustration (for this reader anyway.) Set in the milieu of the late 1970’s New York gay party scene and written in a stream of consciousness style that is frequently funny, but at times maddening, the story follows many characters (too many) in the mostly nocturnal world of gyms, discos, parties, bath houses, and Fire Island getaways. Knowing that the AIDS epidemic is looming on the horizon adds definite shadings to a contemporary reading. The sex scenes are beyond graphic, and it appears that Kramer is passing some judgment on the excess. As documented in his play The Normal Heart, Kramer became the voice of sexual responsibility during the early AIDS epidemic, much to the consternation of some gay community members. Reading Faggots in this context helped me to center a story that is frankly all over the damn place. Read more

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

The Neon Demon

I remember reading a story (in Rolling Stone I believe) about a high school party where a kid got so wasted he passed out, hit his head, and died (brain fluid pouring from his nose) while his friends continued to party. No one bothered to get him help or even think it was their responsibility to do so.

That is not a party I ever wish to attend or want to believe even exists, so it is with some trepidation that I revisit Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. I remember my younger sister, who is the same age as Ellis, brought it home with her during Christmas vacation from college (ironically), although our family’s social/economic circumstances were far removed from the author’s/protagonist’s. I read it in one day, and I recall it made me severely depressed. I was only a few years older, stuck in the nowhere land between Boomers and Gen-X, but I just couldn’t relate to these overprivileged zombies and Ellis’s “first voice of a generation” point of view. If this was the new generation I was scared.

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Ghost Story by Peter Straub

The morning after I finished reading Ghost Story, I found myself strolling along the misty riverbank of my own small town, whispering this Edward Gorey limerick:

Each night father fills me with dread/When he sits on the foot of my bed;/I’d not mind that he speaks/In gibbers and squeaks,/But for seventeen years he’s been dead.

This novel sent a ghostly chill up my spine that lingered for days. It starts with a challenge:

“What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

The reader asks him or herself that question, perhaps unconsciously for the answer is buried deep. It varies from person to person, from casual lies and gossip that have brought others harm to horrendous acts, such as murder. Its abeyance is the cause for a lot of denial (and drinking) for many of us, and the novel addresses that. But when we’re asleep and open to the dark truths we hope to keep buried, our sins/our ghosts seep in like foul-smelling green mist, shape-shifting but always there, pursuing us, cornering us, and ultimately scaring us to death. Read more

Primal Screams: Carrie by Stephen King

After the blood comes the boys.

Primal themes abound in the annals of horror and trash lit, but nowhere as dramatically as in Carrie by Stephen King. Part One of the novel, Blood Sport, begins with the infamous shower scene where chubby, pimply, colorless-haired, white trash Carrie White gets her period for the first time, releasing her latent telekinetic powers. It’s quite a set-up. In King’s excellent On Writing, he describes the eureka moment:

…I started seeing the opening scene of a story: girls showering in a locker room…And this one girl starts to have her period. Only she doesn’t know what it is, and the other girls—grossed out, horrified, amused—start pelting her with sanitary napkins…The girls begin to scream. All that blood! She thinks she’s dying, that the other girls are making fun of her even while she’s bleeding to death…she reacts…fights back…but how?  Read more

My Return to Peyton Place

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
I discovered Peyton Place where I imagine most kids growing up in the 1960’s did: under my parents’ bed, where along with those soft focus Oui magazines, I discovered many a tasty morsel that would whet my appetite for my lifelong love of good trash lit!

Thanks, Mom and Dad!

On the back dust jacket cover was author Grace Metalious, “this Pandora in blue jeans” looking very young in her oversized dungarees and flannel shirt, feet up, staring intently at her typewriter, hard at work. This image was a stark contrast to the standard lady author’s portrait, and a realistic portrayal of a writer’s daily grind. Both the image and the tagline “the extraordinary new novel that lifts the lid off a small New England town” promised a peek into forbidden truths. Read more