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.