I’ve always considered myself a shitty saleswoman, so imagine my surprise when I did something right by just writing a personal letter to one of my favorite book tubers Peter Loves Books. After watching his videos and getting to know him as a cyber “friend”, I had an inkling he might enjoy Unmasked, my campy throw-back horror novel. He hasn’t finished it yet, but so far so good. In an age when it’s so easy to just write an email or a fly off a tweet, it’s nice to know a personal letter is still appreciated. I just may buy some new stationery and make it a regular habit. Thanks, Peter!
Mommy Dead and Dearest
HBO scores again with Mommy Dead and Dearest, a documentary about a wheelchair-bound, cancer-ridden, mentally retarded adolescent (in reality much older and completely healthy) who plotted to murder her mother. Her on-the-spectrum, sexually perverse, internet boyfriend did the actual deed in a stabbing frenzy while the daughter cowered in the bathroom. Before the lovebirds fled into the night, Gypsy Rose (that she’s named after the famous stripper only adds another layer of weird to this already twisted Southern Gothic tale) wrote on the Facebook page she shared with her mom: “That bitch is dead.” She might as well have written “ding dong the witch is dead” because former cotillion queen, Dee Dee Blanchard, on the surface a caring mother who spent her time raising funds to treat her ailing daughter, was beneath the mask a wicked witch of mythical proportions: the Lady Macbeth of a stunning Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy drama.
It’s all about Dee Dee
Like other Munchausen cases, it’s all about attention for mom. But Dee Dee’s machinations were also about money, and she conned a lot of cash out of good-hearted folks who thought they were helping out a very sick young girl. Despite fourteen years confined to a wheelchair with a feeding tube attached, through which her mother administered a pharmacy’s worth of unnecessary and potentially lethal medication, Gypsy could walk and digest just fine; her hair grows out thick and glossy after a bit of prison time, and despite having only a second-grade education, she appears quite intelligent and articulate in interviews. And yet..
She did a bad, bad thing. Read more
“Caw! Caw!” Esmeralda screeched in a whoosh of flapping rainbow feathers, retreating to a dark corner of the embattled shuttle.
“If that damn bird doesn’t can it I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” Lester shot a lethal glance across the bridge at Cabe.
Cabe wrenched the throttle out of a near spin. The altitude indicator flashed with red alarm.
“She’s only responding with good sense like any normal person would.”
“She’s not a person,” Cabe steadied the nose and cruised for a few peaceful seconds till they hit an air pocket and dropped 5000 meters, nearly taking Lester’s lunch with it.
“You know a better way?”
“Jesus mate!” The parrot squawked, landing on Lester’s shoulder.
Cabe pulled the nose up to cruising altitude. The shuttle floated gently in a darkening sky. Star showers twinkled in the distance, and below them the planet Nazar simmered in a hostile glow of red vapors. Read more
Ira Levin’s Twisted Male Villains
Soon after they are settled in Stepford, the novel’s protagonist, young mother Joanna Eberhart, awakes to her husband Walter masturbating in the bed next to her. He had just been initiated into the town’s “men’s association” and something he learned there that night excited him greatly–something he doesn’t share with his wife until she demands he include her, which he does reluctantly. It’s implied that his fantasy is much more titillating than his living, breathing wife who has her own needs. In the movie version, she finds him drinking in the den–shaken by the intelligence, on the verge of confiding with her, but something holds him back–the loyalty of men to themselves and to each other, a bond on which the very foundation of our world is based, not to mention armies and lucrative sports franchises. Not a bad thing, per se, but in Ira levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives, it forms the basis of a deliciously diabolical plot, and plots are what Levin does best–Stephen King described him as “the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels”, and every fiction writer should study him closely for not only his flawless structures, but for his clues about character, and archetypal truths. The masturbation scene was changed in the movie version for obvious reasons, but it keenly illustrates the key to Levin’s male villains: narcissists who selfishly and relentlessly pursue their own agendas as their clueless female victims suffer the consequences.
A Kiss Before Dying
Levin’s stunning debut novel, released when he was just twenty-four, introduces us to Bud Corliss, a handsome, charming college student who seduces not one, not two (as in the film versions), but three naive daughters of wealthy industrialist Leo Kingship. He seems more excited by the Kingship cooper mines than the beautiful young women who instantly fall under his spell, mere pawns in his endgame: to marry into a rich family and have a lucrative career–a psychopathic twist on An American Tragedy. We follow Bud early in the story when in WWII he guts a Japanese soldier with his bayonet and enjoys the surge of power he feels when the man pisses himself. That comes full circle later. Villains must pay, although in Levin’s world they mostly get away with it.
SPOILERS AHEAD: Rich girl Dorothy Kingship is “in trouble” (fifties parlance for pregnant). Bud, the seducer, blames her “passive neediness” for the mishap. Now the college kids have to get married outside her rich father’s blessings. Naive “Dotty “doesn’t mind if they live in a trailer park, but poor-boy Bud certainly does. When the abortion by pills doesn’t work, he breaks into the college chemistry lab and gives her more pills–this time filled with arsenic. In a rare display of disobedience, she doesn’t take them. The girl knows what she wants–Bud and baby–Daddy’s money be damned! Undeterred, he comes up with plan C, which leads to the famous toss off the roof scene that leaves the reader (and film viewer) on pins and needles even when you know it’s coming.
That’s a declarative, not an imperative sentence. At some point when I reached, ehem, maturity, I made a conscious decision to become a good listener. I’m not that much of a talker to begin with (well, maybe after a few glasses of wine…) and some people can certainly rattle on and on which can be extremely vexing as you try to ease them into a soft landing and make your escape, but I’ve found that being a good listener has had incredible benefits for me as a writer.
Everyone has a story.
In the current novel I’m writing, one of my main characters talks a lot. He talks a lot of bullshit in fact being something of a prevaricator, but he also reveals a lot: about the characters, about the overarching story, and in the midst of all the b.s. the clues to solving the mystery. Agatha Christie often buried the solutions to her puzzles in the dialogue of her chattiest (and silliest) characters, and woe to the reader who skipped over those parts. Read more
Chuck Wendig and I share a history of sorts: we both grew up in the same picturesque, rural (at least back then) paradise known as Buckingham Mountain, Pennsylvania. It’s known for its history, ghost legends, a hermit, and a setting for one of the most grisly unsolved murders in the history of Bucks County. The Wendigs are one of the original farm families in the area. My parents were good friends with the farmer and his wife and their children who lived in houses spreading across the mountain where they raised their own kids–Chuck being one of them. He is younger than me (I may have babysat him once or twice) and somewhere in the annals of my family’s super 8 home movies, his parents and mine are partying in a groovy 70’s rec room and vacationing together with a bunch of other neighbors at Long Beach Island, NJ (one of the settings in the book).
But I digress. To the book. Read more
Beware the Slenderman
Last night I finally got around to watching Beware the Slenderman, an HBO documentary about the shocking case of two 12-year-old girls who lured their “best friend” into the woods and stabbed her multiple times (she survived thanks to a random cyclist who spotted her crawling along a dirt road). The bespectacled baby perps, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, claimed they did it to appease the internet urban legend Slenderman. They were walking along a highway heading for Slender’s magic mansion located deep within the forest when they were picked up by police after the incident.
The shocking nature of any crime committed by children especially bodes the question why? What could cause two kids from seemingly stable middle-class homes to do something so heinous? Struggling for answers, Morgan’s mom (sad, and somewhat in denial) gives an example of her daughter’s early lack of empathy relating how she failed to cry watching Bambi; when Bambi’s mother is shot most kids cry, but little Morgan cheered: “Run, Bambi Run! Save yourself!” (I admit I giggled at this absurd revelation) Anissa Weier is equally disturbed. Routinely bullied at school (her bad haircut and unflattering glasses probably didn’t help) Anissa is filled with just enough unconscious rage and self-loathing to want to kill the person (victim Peyton “Bella” Leutner, mostly absent from the doc) coming between her and her BFF, Morgan–apparently her only friend. “I was surprised, but also excited” she drones flatly when asked by police what she felt about their murderous plan. Read more
Sent to me for an advanced review by a fellow horror author Jordon Greene on Goodreads, Anywhere But Here (more novella than short story) explores the intriguing (and certainly ripe for horror exploitation) concept of sleep paralysis. Having experienced this myself a few times, the author does a fine job in describing the graying of the room’s edges, the shadowy figures circling the bed, and (worse) the sufferer’s inability to move or speak, yet remain fully present to experience any agony that might ensue from whatever motivates these nocturnal visitations. Read more
Creative constraints can be a good thing. Here’s my first Twitter poem (I use that term liberally here). I had one character left over. Wee!
Unfollowing you, I let you go To live your life Outside my know. I’m lighter now without your seeds Of doubt and dour, incessant needs.
by R. Saint Claire
In our Sunday coats we stay. A sunny day! When colored Eggs and sweets we crave: A visit to the family grave. Up the thorny path we're taken To the hill where marble crypts And busts of men (their ranks forsaken) Rest in shades of obelisks. An actor who revered the Bard’s Now dust beneath a stately stone. He held his art in high regard. For all his lust, his name’s unknown. Frozen ‘neath a sheet of glass, A child’s grave, and on display: A bear, a boat, a horn of brass. All wait forlornly by an urn Through light and dark for his return. White tulips on a verdant mound Strewn with weathered, withered wreaths, Push their buds through rain-soaked ground Past tokens of a former grief. Each year their pretty promise ends For Death’s vain hope to rise again.
I’ve had many careers (is it okay to use that word if you’ve made zero money at any of them?) Perhaps avocation is a more accurate description. In any event, I’ve done a lot of artsy stuff from acting, directing, and costume design in theatre to many levels of filmmaking and, most recently, to novel writing. I’m hoping that before I die I will dabble in abstract expressionist painting in my old age–that’s assuming I can still hold up a brush, but then I’ve always been an optimist. One constant in my life is creativity. I suppose I could say it’s my drug (drugs can kill, I’ve learned to temper my addiction). Over the years I’ve made some personal observations on the nature of creativity and what the best ways to foster it are. I’m happy to share them here…
A Walk in the Woods
Nothing cures my internet overload more than a quiet walk in nature. This isn’t news, but it helps to be reminded of how important it is to unplug, turn off the noise, and connect to a higher power. Like many Romantics before me, I find that in nature. Although walking with a friend is fun and that certainly has its place (nothing like the therapeutic walk n’ talk), for fostering creativity the daily perambulation in quiet contemplation is essential and is best a solo endeavor. For those with limited mobility, even meditating outdoors for twenty minutes is invaluable. Try not to check your phone, or better yet leave it at home.
Of course, Stephen King’s daily walk got him nearly killed by a van, so do be careful. That being expressed, my favorite walks are the rambling, aimless ones.
Two roads diverged?
Here are a few highlights from my mid-day walk yesterday (yes, I brought my phone because I took a break from work and I had to time my return). I found this lovely little path. The weather was perfect. I turned off the noise in my brain and checked in to the happy sounds of chirping birds and branches swaying in the gentle breeze. After a long, wet winter, the sun felt so good on my skin I was instantly filled with quiet gladness. I felt a Buddha smile forming in the corners of my lips which remained throughout the day. My spiritual battery was charged. The following morning I still feel it.
She: A Horror Novel by David Kummer
Thanks to the lovely website Goodreads, I connected with fellow horror writer, David Kummer, for a book swap. Writers, if you haven’t done this yet, I highly recommend it for not only helping to spread the word about your own book (always a goal) but to see what other indies are doing. I’m so glad I did because She is quite enjoyable. I didn’t learn until after I bought the book that the author is still in his teens, which made me worry about the corrupting influence of my own book: Unmasked, which can get rather (ahem) steamy at times; hopefully young David survived it. But onto the review… Read more
The Storm by R. Saint Claire Sheets of ocean pierced by Titans Channeled on Leviathan's back, Swells and lolls, crests and heightens, Mounting Sky’s sulphuric crack. In black, the mad widow divining From the shore, among the wrack, A golden sphere from her hand is shining, Sparkling remnants of the heart she gave. Tonight--at last her stars aligning-- She’ll lie within his watery grave.
by R. Saint Claire
When Dudley Frank (Dud to everyone), a man thrice her age and the first friend she made when she moved to the city, offered Yvonne the keys to his summer home with a sympathetic pat on her hand, she accepted. They both agreed she needed a rest after what happened. Although she tried to keep it light when she told him over dinner that her broken engagement with Brent Harrington was a mutual decision (a bold-faced lie), she could tell by the way Dud’s eyes narrowed at the news that he was concerned, but also disappointed. He had come to regard them as a couple and was looking forward to helping Yvonne (parentless and without many friends) plan her wedding. As he signaled the waiter for the check, Dud reflected on how this remarkable creature sitting before him let slip through her manicured fingers the best catch in the city. He didn’t voice it, but the older man suspected he knew why. For all her stunning blond beauty, classic style, and good manners, there was something about the girl that was just off. Read more
…and hanging out with James Patterson
Okay, I’m not really hanging out with James Patterson, but after re-watching his Masterclass series, I feel like I am. Of his seventy-plus bestsellers, I’ve only read one. It didn’t exactly make me rush to my library or bookstore to devour the rest of the series the way my introduction to Lawrence Sanders’ McNally books did (still my favorite series; not sure why) but I want to like them because, as previously stated, I really like James Patterson. I’ll even go so far as to admit (again) that I have a bit of a crush on him. His positive attitude and advice is really helping me stay on track as I write my second novel (the first) . Or is it?
Whether it’s called writers block or resistance, or distraction, anything that takes away my focus is an impediment to me getting the job done, including watching Patterson’s videos when I should be writing. In our ADD world of simultaneous digital platform surfing, it seems like the ability to truly focus is reserved for the Zen masters. With so many delicious distractions surrounding me, I’ve had to develop some simple strategies. Read more
Do you share my madness?
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.
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 like 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
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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 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.
Within a dream the voice is real A shrill, struggling song. A door in the floor, I open it Unafraid and follow the sound. A secret tunnel spirals underground; A black lake turns me round. I touch it, and fly towards the peal, And a cavern of sky upside down.
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
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!
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).
From Remembering the Dead, a new book of poems by R. Saint Claire 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.
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.
New poetry from Remembering the Dead
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
I won Nanowrimo and all I got was this free book cover…
But seriously, I love my free book cover from bzebra. It definitely captures the essence of my story, and having it on my desktop is giving me some motivation to take it beyond the first draft.
As a first-timer, I enjoyed the experience and would absolutely consider doing it again next year. Here’s my takeaway. Read more
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.
The King of Cats
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
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
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.
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
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
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.