Saturday, May 30, 2009

Poe's Ravens

The American gothic movement is often said to have begun with the book Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown, which was published in 1798 and was based in part on an incident in which a New York farmer murdered his wife and children after he was told to by voices. The next two big names to appear on the American scene were Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poe worked mostly in short stories and poetry. Perhaps his most gothic story was “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which he wrote in 1839. His classic gothic poem was, of course, “The Raven,” which saw print in 1845. Hawthorne’s classic gothic novel was The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851.

Poe and Hawthorne represent early extremes in how they expressed the gothic impulse in their writings. Poe reveled in the dark emotional excesses of the field, in grisly murders and wild madness. Hawthorne’s work was more subtle and ironic, with his revenants harnessed toward literary, moral, and political ends. But it was Poe whose influence was felt most strongly in the development of the early twentieth century horror pulps like Terror Tales and Weird Tales, the latter of which took its very title from Poe’s poetry. And it is Poe to whom most modern American horror writers look to as their primary literary ancestor. I certainly think of him that way, and I can hardly see a crow or a raven without being reminded of Poe’s darkness.

I was pleased back in 1995 to have two pieces in Once Upon a Midnight…, a poetry collection honoring “The Raven.” Now, not quite fifteen years later, I’m very happy to be involved with another of Poe’s Ravens. A new print anthology of short stories and poetry inspired directly by Poe’s own work has just been published. It’s called, Return of the Raven. My contribution to the anthology is a story called “A Curse the Dead Must Bear.” The book is published by Horror Bound Online, and if you’re interested you can find out more about it here. It’s kind of nice to see my name listed on the cover rather than lumped in with, “and others.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mouse that Stored

I haven’t worn my boots much lately. And when I slipped them on yesterday my foot discovered what felt like a pile of dirt and pebbles in the right one. Now, I know when you’re camping you always dump your boots out in the morning before putting them on, because sometimes scorpions or rattlers or other unpleasant creatures will have made them a snuggly home during the night. But these boots were sitting in front of our fireplace. I did not expect scorpions or rattlesnakes.

Curious, but unalarmed, I pulled my foot out of the boot, carried it over to the trash can, and upended it. A small hoard of sunflower seeds spilled out. It seems our house mouse had been storing up some food for a rainy day and had chosen my long unused and dusty boot for a larder. We have sunflower seeds in the house because we feed the birds with them, and of course there are always a few spills. No wonder the mouse (mice) has moved in. Imagine how gleeful he or she was to discover the rodent equivalent of King Tut’s Treasure.

Then I began to wonder. Was it truly a mouse or mice? One of my favorite books as a kid was The Borrowers by Mary Norton. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s incredibly charming, about little mouse-sized folks who live in the houses of big people and “borrow” things they need. I always thought it was as good a reason as any for why you lose things in your house all the time, like safety pins, needles, thread, fingernail clippers, etc. Maybe my borrowers like seeds. And socks. Yeah, what’s with all the missing socks? Good bedding perhaps?

At least I haven’t “misplaced” any guns yet. I’m not going to start worrying until the borrowers borrow a pistol.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


“A sunfish, in one spangled moment
Beating with Light the throttling air”
Loren Eiseley

“…man has gotten lost in a desert of terrible freedoms.”
Loren Eiseley.

My cat brought me a gift once. He left a dead sparrow at my doorstep. I understood his act. I even understood why he’d eaten the heart and other tidbits out first. Don’t we humans almost always save the choicest bits for ourselves? How many of us truly offer gifts to others without keeping the heart for our own?

But sometimes I remember my mother, who claimed all through my childhood to love the neck and back of the chicken most. “Those were her favorite pieces,” she said. That’s why she always ate those instead of a breast or a thigh or a drumstick. For years I believed her.

Until I had a child myself.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Readin’ & Writin’ Updates

Well not every one of my posts these days will be experimental stuff. Tonight’s is an update on what I’ve been doing in the reading and writing arena.

Writing, I’m pleased to say, has been going well. Since returning from vacation I’ve averaged three pages a day on Razored Land: The Blackest of Hates. I just hit fifty pages tonight.

Reading? I finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was very good, and almost immediately started book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’m enjoying it, but not liking Harry as much in this one. He seems to have turned into a true teenager. I suppose that’s the point.

I watched two movies this weekend, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Spirit. The Day the Earth Stood Still wasn’t bad. There were some pretty bad plot holes, especially early in the film, and I wanted to personally strangle the kid character, but it generally held my interest and Lana felt much the same way. The Spirit, on the other hand, was just profoundly silly. It’s got to be one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last 10 years, and that’s saying something. Lana only lasted about 20 minutes but I stuck it out. Lord knows why. Perhaps it’s because I really liked Sin City and expected this to be more of the same. I was wrong.

Finally, let me review Mysteries of Von Domarus, a chapbook of gothic tales by Gary William Crawford, which I also just finished reading. Crawford is well known as both an author and editor in the small press. He’s best known for his poetry, but is also a student of gothic literature and the five short tales in this collection evoke the gothic sensibility to the utmost. The best story is the title piece, “Mysteries of Von Domarus.” There are elements of poetry and even the nonfiction essay woven throughout this “story,” but it works on a gut wrenching level. It has been a long time since I’ve been so emotionally touched by a tale. The second best story is the last one in the collection, “The Change in Him.” A subtle ending, but one that’ll stay with me for a long time.

Throughout the collection one feels the stories working on different levels, and the surface level is the least important. It’s the same kind of feeling that comes through in Crawford’s poetry. Especially with “The Change in Him,” I felt I was being told something profoundly important, but every time I tried to focus on just what that importance was my understanding morphed into something else. I only know I won’t ever look at a stranger quite the same way again.

Crawford’s stories are not in any way graphic horror. You won’t find blood or gore here. You will find a sense of disassociation, a sense of loss, and a sense that there truly are mysteries in the world. It definitely “shook up” my perceptions.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Do You, Darkness

The ceremony was brief. Darkness never looked so lovely. She swept down the aisle in her velvet gown with the twinkles of stars sewn into its folds. Her crescent moon smile was radiant. I have to admit, her husband-to-be did not look quite so happy. I imagine he just had a bad case of the nerves. A lot of men are scared of the dark, though they seldom want to admit it.

The vows were simple and elegant. Death presided.

“Do you, Darkness
Take this man
To be your mate
To have and to hold
To carve and to mold
In sickness and despair
Till never do you part”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place when the ceremony was over.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rorschach Scarecrow

The wind purrs through the trees. A crow caws at a distance. A cardinal darts for a feeder in the yard, its wings not quiet silent. On the deck, I hear the clack of the wooden wind chimes, the tink tink of the copper ones. My ears are attuned to this world.

But my eyes are lost in greenery. Not twenty yards away the woods rise. Pines. Oaks. Magnolias. Other trees I cannot name. And blackberry brambles drip with yet unripened fruit. Things are hiding there, though with a little effort I can see them.

Shadows sweep past with wings. Perhaps there are birds high in the air casting them. My mind tells me there are birds. But I do not see the birds; I cannot swear they are there. A moment ago a long silken blackness raced down the bare trunk of a pine. I saw it clearly, an animal shape some three feet long with a sleek head and long tail. It took a while for my mind to say anything about that. It told me I’d seen the shadow of one pine swaying past another in the wind. But I don’t believe it.

I don’t believe it because of the Rorschach scarecrow who conceals himself just below that spot in the bushes. He is painted shades of green and black, and blends so well with his surroundings that the wind blurs his outline. Sometimes I see only his eyes. Sometimes I see the ratty top hat he wears. I’ve never seen his mouth. I don’t know if he smiles. I wonder if he has teeth.

But he is watching me, very very quietly watching me. I suspect the silk-black animal is his familiar.

I wonder if the scarecrow and I can be friends. Should I invite him up on the deck? Would he come? My mind is divided on this subject. One part says the scarecrow cannot leave the woods or he will die in the bright sun. Another part says he’s already here, standing at my shoulder.

I wonder if I should turn my head.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Perception and Creativity

It’s been said that creativity is not about seeing the world; it’s about seeing the world in a way no one else does. I first heard that saying a long time ago but it had been years since I’d given it much thought. Then it came back to me while I was reading The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley.

Eiseley made his writing career out of just such unique perceptions. Listen: “I would never again make a profession of time.” Or, “…every bone that one holds in one’s hands is a fallen kingdom, a veritable ruined world…” Or: “…man has dragged out of the Ice Age with him and older and lower brain that reemerges in the mists of alcohol or which I have seen snarling on the bed of madness. There are claws in it by now fantastically extended.”

I realized that this issue was what I was tiptoeing around in my posts about needing to “shake-up” my own perceptions. Lately I’ve been seeing the world too much like everyone else. And I’m beginning to realize that it has nothing to do with the material I’m putting “into” my head. I’ve got to alter the way I “combine” the elements that go in.

Too that end I’m going to go back to doing something I used to do when I first started writing. That is, just playing more with language, experimenting more with perceptions as I strive to tear my normal thoughts down and rebuild them askew.

In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing some of these with you folks. Aren’t you lucky? ;)


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Vacation Return

We’re backkkk!

As you can see, I caught at least one monster bass! The pictured fish, of course, is the minnow that I used to catch the monster bass, which would not fit in to the frame of the photo.

Actually, I didn’t have much fishing luck. I caught two small ones. The pictured one is by far the biggest of the two. I did, however, have some fishing “fun.” It was enjoyable to slip my way around the lake, fishing from small cove to small cove with hopes high. Lana often accompanied me and I’m sure she’ll show you some of the great photos that she got, including delightful pics of some Canadian goose chicks, and lots of herons and egrets.

It was unfortunately hot during the middle of the days so we tended to nap at those times and get out during the morning and evening hours. We saw lots of interesting plant life and in a night walk I saw many hundreds of fireflies, a sight I haven’t seen since childhood. We also visited the park’s deer research facility where we saw many ear-tagged whitetails.

I didn’t do any writing during the trip, but I read a lot, including The Saga of Swamp Thing by Alan Moore, a Star Trek novel called “Time for Yesterday” by A. C. Crispin, and The Force, a 1987 horror novel by a friend of mine named John Edward Ames. The Swamp thing piece was interesting but I felt it was fairly flawed. I very much enjoyed the Star Trek book, which was a sequel to Crispin’s Yesterday’s Son. That book introduced Spock’s son, who had been born without Spock’s knowledge in the past, after the events of the very last original Trek Episode, “All Our Yesterdays.” I also enjoyed The Force, which took me back to those enjoyable days of 1980s horror.

Another book I started reading was The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley. Eiseley, who is dead now, was my favorite nature writer. He viewed nature with both the eyes of a scientist and a poet, and it was an effective combination. Eiseley was a compulsive writer and note taker but didn’t have his first book published until he was fifty years old. I found that inspirational and it’s renewed my commitment to my own writing. I plan to dedicate this summer to writing and reading, and that may mean somewhat less blogging. But I’m not giving up blogging and will be visiting blogs again starting today. Writing must again become my focus, though.

A final thing I realized is that I’m very lucky to have most of the things I want right here in my house. It’s good to be home.

Now, I'm off to make my blogging rounds. I got a big kick out of the comments on my last post, and I must single Wil out for most creative response to my vacation. I better check there first to make sure he's still alive!

By the way, I just checked Google Reader and found 407 posts. No way I'll be able to catch up with all of those so I'll have to just pick up from today. Sorry about that, but I don't want to die of finger cramps.


Sunday, May 10, 2009


Well, we're leaving on Tuesday for vacation and won't be back until the end of next weekend. Since we'll be in the wilds I won't be doing 'any' blogging, and won't be able to visit everyone's blogs. I'm sure you'll all survive. I probably won't be getting around to blogs tomorrow even, seeing as how I have a lot of things to do before we head out. I'm getting my fishing gear ready in hopes of doing some fishing while I'm gone.

In the meantime, I finished Harry Potter 3: The Prisoner of Azkaban and found it to be very much fun. I think it's my favorite so far in the series. I have the fourth book on order bu tunless it gets here tomorrow I won't be taking Potter along with me. I've got plenty of other books, though, including those on my Kindle 2.

I also read a book entitled: Why Evolution is True, by Jerry Coyne. Excellent book. I wish I could get every creationist to read it, although I'm not sure even this would change their minds.

I'll miss you folks. Take care.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: Teot's War

“Heat beat down on my shoulders, my face cloth. My armor dragged at the riding sores underneath. Little sparkles danced behind my eyelids, and the strains in my joints were cramping to knots in the muscles. It had been a long ride. A grating call made my shoulders twitch. The carrion crows, who glided after us day after day, were waiting.”

Thus begins Teot’s War by Heather Gladney, published in 1987 by Ace Fantasy. It was followed by a sequel, Blood Storm, in 1989, although I understand the two were originally written as a single book and were broken up at the publisher’s behest. The first part, Teot’s War is one of my favorite heroic fantasy novels, and by virtue of its stellar prose owns a rare place on my inspirational shelf. This is the shelf I select from when I want to read some truly fine and fantastic prose as an inspiration to my own attempts to construct beautiful language.

Teot is the last name of the main character of the book, Naga Teot. Naga is a desert warrior, known sometimes as “Dance of Knives.” He carries twin short swords called scaddas and uses them with the grace of ballet.

Teot’s War creates a fully realized world that combines elements of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Glen Cook’s Dread Empire series, the Hyborian World of Robert E. Howard, and the real world of Earth’s Bedouin tribes. It contains a delightful and realistic created language. But the best element is the superb writing--“The blades hung tight a moment, swung free in a spray of red with a gasping sound”--combined with a wonderful attention to the details of the world’s politics and art.

Teot’s War is not only something of a forgotten book, although it has a strong fan base, but Heather Gladney is also a bit of a forgotten writer for many fantasy readers. That’s almost to be expected when you’ve only published two novels, both in the 1980s. For years there have been hints of a third book in the saga. So far nothing has seen print, although I’ve found out from Ms. Gladney’s website that she has actually submitted sequels to big publishers and had them rejected. It sounds to me like she should consider going with a smaller publisher; I would certainly be one person who would buy the book. I know Gladney has produced some short stories but I and many of her other fans would love to see the third book in her series. In my experience, few writers had such an auspicious start to their careers. I’d love to see her ignite a new surge in that career. Whatever it takes.

See Patti Abbott's blog for more Forgotten Book Friday.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Nightmare that Wouldn’t Quit

I’ve mentioned before that I seldom have truly scary dreams. There are a lot of monsters in my dreams, vampires, devils, psychopathic killers, and so on, but it usually turns out that I’m the worst thing in the dream. Not so last night.

I had gone to stay at a bed and breakfast for some relaxation. The place was a very large old house with beautiful grounds and a forest all around. My room was a stunning old den, with dark, mahogany panels. The bed was covered in an old fashioned quilt and the place should have been comfortable. I was immediately uneasy.

There were noises that didn’t sound like mice in the walls. Things seemed to move from where I’d put them and I couldn’t quite convince myself I’d moved them myself. A door slamming behind me stitched cold chills up my spine and I immediately left the room and went to ask for another. They gave me one, with an explanation that, for some people, me included apparently, the room I’d been in was haunted by a young woman. They couldn’t tell me for sure whether something bad had happened in that room to the woman, but that was the legend.

The only problem was I had to go back in that place to get my clothes, which I’d not yet taken out of the suitcase. Once I got back in the room things took a turn for the worse. I closed my suitcase and started for the door and it wasn’t there. Instead there was a corridor, and as I went down that I came to rooms that had not existed before in my original room. And the sounds! Doors slamming. Birds singing strangled songs. Clocks tick tick ticking. Everything loud.

I became very aware of some entity watching me, as if floating just behind my shoulder. I began to panic and run. And I woke up. But that wasn’t the end of it. I don’t mind bad dreams typically so as I got up to go to the bathroom I thought about the dream. And as I lay back down the strangeness began. I fell back to sleep, and was soon in the same dream. I was still trying to get out of the “room,” but I was no longer running. People began to appear in the corridors but they were insubstantial and would simply melt into the walls as I passed them. I began to think I was somehow “out of phase” with the real world. And now I heard babies crying, and hysterical laughter, and a woman’s voice droning on and on in an emotionless but incoherent mumble. I woke up again.

And when I returned to sleep this time the dream came back again, like an uninvited guest who doesn’t know he’s overstayed his welcome. And then it happened after a fourth awakening as well. Now, I’ve had dreams before that returned one time before fading, but I’ve only had one other time in my life when the same dream stayed with me all night. And that one wasn’t a nightmare.

At one point I’d actually escaped the room somehow and was sitting exhaustedly outside the building on a bench before a silver fountain. I saw two workmen pass me and walk into the building. Suddenly, I realized they were going in that room. I leaped to my feet, but before I could yell a warning the door had slammed behind them and the screaming began. I watched, horrified, for what seemed a long time, and then the door opened and a man walked out and came toward me. He wasn’t one of the two workmen but I had the feeling he’d been caught by that room too. He sat on the bench where I’d sat. He was gaunt as a lich, and though I spoke to him repeatedly he said nothing but just sat staring with unblinking eyes. In World War II they used to call that the “thousand yard stare.”

The worst occurred right before my next to last awakening of the night. I had managed to escape the room but the entity was still pursuing me. It had gotten out of the room too and was spreading through the building. I decided that, as I’d been able to do previously in my life in dreams, I would stop the “monster” through the force of will. I was standing at the door to a safe room and I could feel the entity coming down the corridor toward me, like a wave of blistering heat. I held out my left hand; my right hand was on the door ready to slam it. I put all my strength into willing the entity to stop. It paused; I could feel it straining against my strength, boiling like smoke as it sought a way past.

For a moment, I held. Then the door was ripped from its hinges in an explosion of sound. There was no need to run now. The entity was all around me. I’d not escape again. I suppose that’s what it wanted all along. After that the dream stopped recurring and I managed the next sleep cycle in peace. I was rather glad of that.

Monday, May 04, 2009

End of Term Chores

Well, the good news is that I've turned in all my grades, except for 2 students who didn't show up for the final test and who I've been unable to get in touch with. The bad news is we still have graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. At Xavier, all faculty are required to show up in academic regalia to take part in the graduation process. I didn't mind so much the first ten years, but the last 13 have been a little harder to take. Graduation speeches and marches don't change much.

Academic regalia, by the way, means that we have to wear those long black robes and a dainty little square hat with a tassle on it perched on our heads. I look so extinguished (and no that isn't a typo for "distinguised"). For the first few years I always wore a suit and tie, sans jacket, under the robes. Then I started wearing dress slacks and a dress shirt with a tie. Then the tie went. Now I just wear some kind of lightweight slacks and a t-shirt. No one's going to see what's underneath anyway. At least not till I get home to Lana.

The other bad news is end of the semester chores. I finally got around to cleaning out my car today. Stuff has been piling up for a couple of semesters. Next I have to tackle my office. I hate chores. And it's already HOT down here for doing outside chores. I was sweltering.

Maybe I'll have a nap instead!

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Shakeup Has Begun

Well, the first thing I’ve been doing to shake myself up a bit is read things I don’t normally read. To that end, I’ve finished the first two Harry Potter books and will start on the third this evening. I have read Young Adult fiction before, but almost always science fiction or animal stories. This is the first fantasy oriented YA I’ve read in quite a few years. I must say I enjoyed both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets quite a bit. I gave them both 4 stars on Goodreads. They were easy reads, with interesting characters, and though the action scenes were few and far between and were not terribly well written, the stories held my interest anyway. I think I can see why youngsters would love them, and I probably would have loved them more when I was a wee tyke. I was going to order the third book on my Kindle this morning but these aren’t available on Kindle. I guess they are still selling too much in printed form. Lana and I are going out to dinner tonight, though, right next door to Barnes & Noble, so I’ll pick up the third book there. I certainly wouldn’t be going out deliberately to buy the third book if I hadn’t enjoyed the first two, and I feel comfortable recommending them for adults as well as kids.

I also picked up a couple of graphic novels. I’ve read only half a dozen of these in my life, but since I very much enjoyed Watchmen I’ve been eyeing such works with a bit more respect. So far I’ve read The Darkness: Ultimate Collection. Although the artwork was fantastic, I was much less enamored of the writing and the story. This essentially included the first few issues of the comic, and then a second, slightly later set of issues. I really liked the first half, which was another “origin” story. I don’t really know what all the “Pencils,” “Inks,” etc. means as far as people’s involvement with the story, but I’m assuming (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that Garth Ennis, listed as “Story,” is the main writer for the first half of this work. I thought he did a very fine job. Unfortunately, the second half of the “Ultimate Collection” had a different person, called “Writer,” and it seemed to undermine much of the good stuff that had gone before. Carefully nurtured characters had their personalities twisted and were used as plot fodder rather than acting consistently with the setup for them in the first issues. Other characters were spent cheaply when they could have been much more effective alive, and there were plot twists of convenience that mainly served to irritate me. Although the promise of the first part might have persuaded me to spill more money (These things are expensiveeeee), the drop off in the second part has ended my association with The Darkness.

I have another graphic novel, which I’ll probably start today, called The Magdalena. And just to let you know how out of it I am where graphic novels are concerned, I just realized as I was looking through it for this post that this is also an issue of The Darkness. I guess I’m not through with that series, after all. This is part of that universe apparently, but featuring a different main character. It’s also written by a different person from either of the first two I read in the series so all bets are off as to what I’ll get. I’ll let you know.