‘Dark’ is Delicious

I know a TV show is exceptional (or at least exceptionally complicated) when I start rewatching from the beginning because I know I missed things. With Netflix’s German-language time-travel series, Dark, there is a lot to miss. But unlike some mind-bending shows—I love Twin Peaks, but yeah—this one rewards deep detective work. For this reason alone, it’s worth exploring its labyrinthine caves and complicated family trees.

I discovered Dark a few months ago when a few enthusiastic videos recommending the series randomly appeared in my YouTube stream. After the trauma of Games of Thrones, I was looking for a new show, so I checked it out. By the second episode, I was hooked.

The drama plays out across multiple generations, time periods, and even worlds (as the cliffhanger at the end of Season Two suggests) and yet never loses its laser-sharp focus. The show not only has beautiful acting, stunning cinematography, and a score that haunts one’s dreams, but also poses philosophical questions—Bookstrap Paradox anyone? Esoteric symbols show up on the cover of an 80s Heavy Metal album, in a hospital hallway, and tattooed on the back of a creepy (and sexy) priest named Noah. Latin quotes, Biblical and mythological allusions lend intellectual vigor to outlandish concepts, and yet it all works together in a neat, believable puzzle. This slow burn is worth the investment.

Am I gushing enough yet?

The show has been compared to Stranger Things. I can only judge by the first season—I stopped watching ST after that—but other than some of Dark taking place in the 1980s, it’s an entirely different show. The German ’80s has a more dour feel than the American one, perfectly exemplified by the nuclear power plant steaming on the horizon in many of the shots or just offscreen. This feels more like the 1980s in the nuclear disaster faux-doc Threads. There are 80’s pop songs in this show too, but they don’t exactly evoke nostalgia. A Flock of Seagulls never sounded so sinister.

A lot of the drama in Dark is centered around the personal relationships of the town’s inhabitants. There is a sense they are isolated, as well as miserable. Perhaps the looming apocalypse has already happened, and the incestuous citizens of the fictional Winden are the last to know. Each character suffers his or her own private drama, sometimes over multiple time periods. Wouldn’t we all love to go back in time to fix our worst mistakes? But in doing so, would we set into motion the very mechanism that allowed those events to occur?

Dark is filled with these types of questions. You’ll find yourself thinking about it long after the credit sequence when you must force yourself from watching just one more episode after a three-hour binge.

Aside from the German language (I recommend subtitles over the English dubbing), Dark may turn off some viewers because it’s impossible to do something else when you watch (like fold laundry or check your phone) without missing something crucial. Some have claimed it takes a higher intellect to get it. I would argue it just takes a certain level of attention. Like a masterfully layered game of logic, deep dives into the maze will yield satisfying eureka moments.

There’s a sense—and I pray the third season doesn’t prove me wrong—that the show is leading the viewer toward a tighter and more complex knot that will untie as long as we pull the right string. Searching for it is half the fun.

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New Book Release

I’ve been horribly neglectful of my blog. There’s a reason for that. Since I began my YouTube channel last summer, all of my energy not spent on life and writing (and trying to maintain a crappy herb garden) goes into making two to three BookTube/AuthorTube videos a week. I’m having tons of fun doing it, but my weekly blog post has suffered.

So, while I’ve been not writing my blog (I will hopefully get it going again), I’ve been busy finishing my new novel, FASHION VICTIMS, which is coming out at the end of September. You may pre-order it now if you’d like (click the book cover below).

Fashion Victims is a psychological thriller about a New York fashion designer on the brink of a nervous breakdown who is about to launch the most important collection of his career . While he searches for his lost muse in the dungeons of an uptown sex club, a Seventh Avenue serial killer is terrorizing the fashion industry. Will the killer get too close to Len St. Michel before he can release his greatest creation?

We Write Horror, and We’re Nice to Each Other.

With a fresh box of buttered popcorn in my lap, I watch the seemingly endless loop of Twitterati YA scandals unfold, laughing at the absurdity while nursing a paranoid thought about when they will come for me. As a horror writer, I’m guilty of many of these Twitter mob’s narrowly defined transgressions. Just recently, I learned that my use of gay male protagonists in not one but two of my horror novels is not me embracing my own vision of the characters I created, but fetishizing gay men. I wonder what they would say about my victim with Down syndrome being tortured in the basement of my short story, Traci. And I’m certain the two-faced (literally) hermaphroditic killer in my story, Janus, is some reprehensible affront to inclusion.

Just recently the mob turned on one of its own. The author, a gay black man, was initially praised for his #ownvoices narrative until someone posted a bold-typed “review” pointing out that his novel’s setting during the Kosovo War was insensitive to the people who actually suffered during those events, that the author’s views on it were too western and privileged. Apparently, expatriate narratives are no longer allowed in this ever-moving target of acceptability. Frantic attempts at damage control by the author begging “friends” to up-vote his book to temper the storm was met with further shunning by the YA “community” until the author (ironically one of the major stone-throwers during the Blood Heir scandal) decided to “pull” his book from publication, and issue a prostrate apology with the usual promise to “do better.” You’ll hear this mantra a lot whenever one of these scandals erupt, and there is something eerily sinister about it, more frightening than a Richard Laymon panty fetish.

While members of the YA book “community” are donning their red pointy hats in preparation for the next auto-da-fé, we horror authors are high-fiving each other for writing that flesh-flaying scene in exquisitely gruesome detail. We may swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh, but you’ll never meet a nicer bunch of folks. In my one year on BookTube, I’ve had fellow horror writers give shout-outs about my channel and my work, publish my stories in their anthologies and zines, and send me personal emails offering support, reading suggestions, or just a friendly hello.

I have found most horror writers (myself included) to be shy introverts, with a few nightmares of their own they’re trying to keep at bay with their fantastical visions. For whatever reason, we found balm of Gilead in horror. Barker’s Cenobites soothe us; real life generally does not.

If you care to traverse the rabbit hole of the latest YA controversy, Jesse Singal’s exposés are a good place to start. He was called a Nazi (he’s Jewish) by a YA writer on Twitter for even covering this topic. Scary times indeed.

If you are an aspiring author and all this is making you wary about your own writing endeavors, consider coming over to the dark side. Our stories may bite, but we don’t.

Fostering Creativity – Part 6

Ex Libris Regina

Setting Boundaries

Something my husband and I have often discussed is how hard it was to have personal boundaries when growing up in a household with a lot of kids (he is one of twelve so he should know). As one of four kids I may not have had it so bad, but I still struggled with trying to establish an independent identity within a tight, at times dysfunctional, but mostly loving family dynamic.

When I was a little kid I was (like most American children at the time) a huge fan of the Monkees. I only got to experience the tail end of the Beatles just when they were breaking up—I went to see “Let it Be” in the movie theater when I was too little to really dig it. The older kids may have had who’s your favorite Beatle? , but we had a similar who’s your favorite…

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They’re Not Your Friends

Jealous Bitchery in the YA “Book Community”

Like many of us this past weekend, I watched the shitstorm go down when new YA author Amélie Wen Zhao decided to pull her debut novel Blood Heir from publication, the first in a three-part series for which she received a six figure deal from Delacorte, after being accused on Twitter for her book’s “problematic” content. The alleged offending material depicted in her novel’s fantasy universe included the concept that oppression can be colorblind, a scene of a slave auction in which a “tawny skinned” character dies in order to advance the plot, a line lifted from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, and getting a few Russian names messed up. To read in detail how it all went down, it’s best to start HERE.

Blood Heir was slated to be released this June, but after advanced reader copies were scrutinized for “problematic” content by a bunch of literary Carrie Nations looking for anything challenging their very narrow scope of what’s appropriate, the tempest in a teapot started brewing. What’s shocking about the allegations (and they were nasty, one tweet referring to Wen Zhao as “a racist-ass writer”) is that these came from other YA writers. That’s right, her own competitors. What started as a “whisper campaign” exploded when the author wrote a classy statement explaining her decision to pull her book from publication due to the outrage.

Once the story reached the mainstream press with the Guardian and the New York Times writing stories, the Twitter boards blew up, and a very toxic “community” was exposed. This isn’t the first time a few loudmouths shouted down an author whose work didn’t measure up to their standards of acceptability, a moving target of mostly minority and LGTBQ fairness issues. Perhaps the author, a Chinese immigrant picked from a publishers’ call seeking “own voices” narratives, tried to get too creative with her retelling of the Russian Anatasia story. By coloring outside the lines, she offended the YA content police, the loudest of whom just happen to be YA authors themselves. Of course they claim they are protecting the children from hurtful narratives. Isn’t that their parents’ jobs? Sounds like the only thing they were protecting were their own self-interests.

Regarding social media, Wen Zhao advised to “Set out with good intentions. Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.”

That was her first mistakes. Writing is a solo act. It’s rare to find a truly supportive community, and one certainly isn’t going to find it on Twitter, especially in this YA cesspool of paranoia and neuroses. One tweeter offered “hugs” to Wen Zhao as a compensation for the loss of her six figure publishing deal. Others assured outraged free-thinkers entering the fray that once Wen Zhao vowed to “do better” and “to learn” she would be back and they would all cheer her on. Sounds like classic deprogramming to me. The think-speak is so convoluted one of the original accusers (formerly accused herself for a previous transgression) called Wen Zhao tone-deaf then apologized in case any hearing impaired people were offended by her tweet. She didn’t want to be seen as “ableist”, another charged leveled at the author for having only one character using a cane. You can’t make this shit up.

For a much needed voice of reason in all of this, check out BookTuber, Francina Simone’s response.

I’m hoping that Wen Zhao has an ace up her sleeve, that this is all some awesome publicity stunt. Since the story went down a few days ago, people have been fighting it out on Twitter while the original accusers’ pages have gone dark so they can presumably do some self-care in the wake of the Twitter storm now being turned toward them.

The stories and characters may change (or not, what’s with all these retellings anyway?), but jealous bitchery is one trope that always rings true.


Famous Literary Scandals

Last night, while scrolling through Jezebel on my phone, I came across a story hot off the digital presses that immediately sparked my interest: a young poet named Ailey O’Toole, nominated for a Pushcart award (never heard of it, but it’s apparently quite an honor in small press poetry circles), was discovered to have plagiarized a good section of her work from several other poets, including an understandably pissed-off poet named Rachel McKibbens. Not only had O’Toole lifted lines nearly word-for-word from her work, she had the audacity to have one of those lines tattooed on her arm for a cool Instagrammable moment. Whoa! This takes it to a whole new level. It’s worth reading McKibbens’ Twitter response about the entire fiasco. O’Toole’s own Twitter page, alas, went poof overnight along with her other social media. Once the scandal broke, the one-star reviews and general vitriolic “reviews” of her work on GoodReads came down hard and swift. She lost her award nomination and the small press pulled her book.

Me! Me! Me! 

This incident caused me to reflect on other great literary scandals. Let’s take a look, shall we?

 Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts

UPDATE: Looks like it’s a big week for lit scandals. A few days ago Tomi Adeyemi made a impulsive tweet that I’m sure she is regretting now (since deleted). In it, she accuses veteran bestselling romance writer, Nora Roberts, of stealing her title and cover art for Children of Blood and Bone. Nora Roberts’ dignified response to the accusation is worth reading.

JT LeRoy

Triangle of deception.

JT LeRoy, was invented by a woman named Laura Albert, an artsy San Francisco housewife who couldn’t get a break. Albert was a talented writer, and a bit of a grifter. Between gigs as a sex chat phone operator, Laura wrote stories under her pseudonym and alter ego, JT LeRoy, a pretty blond teenage boy who was turned out by his truck stop prostitute mother and was now barely surviving on the streets of SF. Agents and critics were intrigued by his backstory as well as his gritty and sexually raw prose (a thing in the 90’s). LeRoy got a publishing deal and a legion of celebrity fans with whom Albert, using her sex chat skills, chatted regularly on the phone. She also recorded the conversations. To use as potential blackmail when the shit hit the fan? Albert kept the balls in the air for years by employing her sister-in-law to act as JT’s avatar, and even helped produce a film of the work, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. You ain’t kidding. Not even star and director of the film, Asia Argento (with whom the fake JT allegedly had an affair) knew the truth. This scandal comprises an enormous rabbit hole that rewards the deep dive.

James frey

How wonderful to have your book included in Oprah’s book club and get featured on her show! How horrifying to have it exposed as a work of plagiarism, then having to appear along with your pissed-off publisher on the same show for a public flogging. Thus was the fate of James Frey, whose 2003 “memoir” A Thousand Little Pieces about the author’s drug addiction, criminal past, and triumphant recovery, earned Frey the Oprah seal of approval. The glory was brief, however, when it was revealed that he exaggerated some of his “real life experiences.”  He returned to the Oprah show with his publisher to offer an apology. The host and her mostly female audience fell on him like the Bacchae on Pentheus, tearing him to shreds.  The beating was so severe that Frey ended up garnering some sympathy. Eventually he bounced back into literary obscurity. He still writes and probably continues to earn a decent living. One wonders if the scars have healed.

#Cockygate

Romance novelist  Faleena Hopkins was doing so well with her Cocky guy book series that she apparently bought the copyright to the word “cocky” and tried to sue other writers who picked up on the trend because Alpha sells. The entire thing blew up in Ms. Hopkins face and she was forced to retract her lawsuits and offer a sorry not sorry apology. I would post one of her many shirtless buff guy covers, but I’m afraid she sue me. Use your imagination.

Which reminds me…

I’ve been meaning to watch Can You Ever Forgive Me starring Melissa McCarthy about a literary forger. Girls gotta make a living.


The gal in the latest poetry scandal looks pretty young (dare I say millennial?). Hopefully she’ll take some time off, draft a few groveling apologies, find a good tattoo remover, and quietly work on her craft (or find something else to do) until it all blows over. Perhaps in her recovery journal she’ll write (in quotes!) the famous words of Stanislavski: Love art in yourself, and not yourself in art.

Happy Halloween

October 31st is horror fans’ official holiday. This year I’m celebrating by dressing up as my favorite screen character, Baby Jane Hudson. I guess I’ve entered my Grande Dame Guignol years. I embrace it. I look forward to scaring the children on my doorstep this year.

Below are a few of my favorite Grand Dame’s, proving that they still got it past their prime (youth).

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson

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According to B.D. Hyman’s exposé My Mother’s Keeper, Davis showed up at the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane still wearing her make-up from the previous day’s shoot and just added more. Davis’ willingness to take her performances to the extreme without any regard for her vanity is impressive. But her famous counterpart held onto her glamour with her manicured nails for dear life. For that reason and others, she’s my personal favorite.

Joan Crawford in Strait Jacket & Berserk

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Wearing a fright wig reminiscent of her Oscar winning role in Mildred Pierce, Crawford’s post Baby Jane turn as a hatchet wielding harridan in Strait Jacket is a grande dame guignol classic. Unfortunately it’s not a very good film. Still, it’s fun to watch at least once, and I have to admire Joan’s dedication to maintaining her girlish figure at 60. Even more impressive is how glamorous she looks in the 1967 British camp classic Berserk. With her perfect make-up and hairstyles, Joan plays a sixty-something carnival barker who not only still looks good in fishnet tights she sets the carnival hunks’ hearts (and other anatomy) ablaze.

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Still setting hearts ablaze.

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Nice gams!

 

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

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Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic may be the start of of Grande Dame Guignol cinema. These were the days when the mere thought of a fifty-year-old woman (and Swanson looks incredibly good) making it with a handsome young guy in his thirties was enough to generate horror. For the record, I’ve always found Norma Desmond much more desirable than the young and perky Betty Schaefe, and fortunately my husband agrees. I think there are plenty of men today who would “take the Vicuna.”

And finally, we can thank the ABC Movies of the Week from the 1970’s for some other great examples of Grande Dame Guignol, where older movie stars found work in television. Below are some fine examples. If you appreciate camp (and some damn good stories), you’ll find much to enjoy here. Many of these are available in low res on YouTube.

Enjoy your Halloween!

Barbara Stanwyck in A Taste of Evil (1971)

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Olivia De Havilland in The Screaming Woman (1972)

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Shelley Winters in Revenge (1971)

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Eleanor Parker in Home for the Holidays (1972)

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Autumn Reads

The other night my heart thrilled at the sight of an enormous harvest moon making wavy gold streaks on the river’s surface. I smelled the crisp scent of burning leaves in the suddenly chilly air and knew my favorite season had returned at last. In Pennsylvania we get the weather extremes, and as much as I love the hot summer nights, fall is my favorite and it’s here at last. To celebrate the season of the witch, I’ve put together a reading list to hit the sweet spots of Halloween haunts, #Victober (a cool BookTube trend of reading Victorian era books during the October month), some true crime thrown in to keep me up at night, Gothic romance because I’ll find any excuse to read those, and a crusty 80’s era horror paperback from a recent thrift shop haul.

October TBR

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I have about 200 pages to go. This is a re-read. Halfway through this nearly 1000 page tome while I was reading all about the Mayfair Witches history in the Talamasca file that goes on forever and ever, I kept thinking why? Why did I do this to myself? This book is such a commitment, but yet I couldn’t abandon it. It slowly seduces as much as Lasher and the city of New Orleans does. Yes, I will reread the subsequent books in the series, Lasher and Taltos. And yes, I’ll ask myself why the entire time. Can someone please make a TV series of this already so I don’t have to read it again when I feel the itch?

Small Sacrifices by Anne Rule. Again, why do I do this to myself? I must have read this book three times since it came out in the late 80’s. Some video about Diane Downs came up in my YouTube feed the other day and the next thing I knew I was loading up the book in my kindle and for the past few days I could barely pull myself away. There is something about the way Anne Rule writes that elevates hers from other true crime books. She not only reports the facts, she finds the drama and digs in deep.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This Gothic romantic classic was written in the Victorian era so I suppose it counts for a #Victober read. This is another reread, but it’s been a while. Also, I just got myself a beautiful Easton Press leather-bound copy: perfect for cozy reading by the fire (or space heater) with a cup of tea.

For a less literary Gothic romance choice, I plan to read Volume Two in the Dark Shadows book series. They’re super short and I can knock one out in a day.

For my 80’s horror paperback pick, I’m reading Soul-Eater by Dana Brookins. I have no idea if this is any good, but the cover is fantastic. Let’s hope the story lives up to it.

And finally. I plan to finally finish Mr. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood that have been withering in my kindle for months. I just completed volume five and the stories contained within were my favorite so far. Now onto volume six. I can do this.

So, here are my best laid reading plans that will probably so awry, but what fun are plans if you can’t break them? Happy reading.

 

 

My Favorite Virgos Part II

Sexy Earthy Women

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It took me a long time to accept my Virgo birth sign. I remember wishing if only my mother had scheduled that C-section a few days earlier and I could have an outgoing Leo personality instead of this shy, bookish Virgo one. But then I happened upon this photo of Sophia Loren and I felt instantly better about being an earth woman.

Let’s take a look at some truly sexy women, who just so happen to be Virgos. Continue reading “My Favorite Virgos Part II”

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