A Penny For Your Thoughts

I will be the first one to tell you that I do not like Hollywood remakes of the classics. Don’t try and fix what isn’t broken. Stop it! Just stop it! I won’t get into any particular ones because that’s not really what this post is about. Suffice to say, with MILLIONS of amazing Indie authors out there, there’s plenty of material Hollywood could get a hold of to create something original.

It was with this extreme prejudice in mind that I sat myself down a few weeks back and started to watch Penny Dreadful on Netflix. (Yes, I know I’m woefully behind on a lot of things – Netflix is one of them.) Right off the bat I’m greeted with Mina Murray, one of the main female leads in the classic novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Immediately after, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster and Dorian Gray come waltzing into the story and I’m like, “Oh for Christ’s sake… seriously? Is that what this is about? How many frikken ways can these characters be ripped off and distorted in the feeblest way possible?”

Guess what, I’m almost to the end of Season 2 and LOVING IT! Nobody is more surprised than I am, believe you me. The writers of this program have really done an amazing job at breathing new life into these old classic characters. For me, it’s because they aren’t retelling the old tales, but making new plots, scenarios, and relationships between them that fit so well with the existing concept of the characters in question. The monsters suddenly aren’t really monsters. They are people with feelings and struggles and you want them to come out on top – well – more or less. A repugnant and powerful evil lurks at every corner, but the face of that darkness changes. You might think someone is all goodness and light in the beginning, but that could change when you find out exactly who and what they are behind the mask each and every one of them wears.

The atmosphere and settings are both seedy and sumptuous, beautiful and horrific. The acting is spot on. There is enough blood and gore to please those into splatter films and a generous helping of eroticism for those who like some of that with their Horror.

Enjoying this series and glad I pushed my way through the initial urge to shut it off and find something else as soon as I realized what I was getting myself into. I was wrong.

Penny Dreadful is a well-made original take on the classic Horror movie characters I grew up loving.

Well done, Netflix.

My Writer’s Book Bag

It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of May already. Spring has been desperately trying to spring here in the Northeast. Here’s hoping our recent bought of warm and sunny weather is going to stick this time! April proved to bring us a plethora of rain. May has certainly blessed us with flowers. One of my four lilac bushes is literally drooping to the ground under the weight of its own flowers. The small murder of crows I’ve been trying to lure in with peanuts and cat kibble are slowly making a comeback by perching in the trees outback and cawing at me. Our back yard is mostly set up and ready to go for a summer’s worth of friends, family, evening fires, fair weather, and food. In between all of that, along with writing and submitting a couple novels and a bit of dark poetry to some publishers – one of which has already been accepted – I’ve managed to get in some reading time.

In last month’s Book Bag, I’d just started Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress by Robert Miles. I’m happy to report, I’ve emerged victorious from this adventure into some serious literary analysis, yes, Sigmund Freud even showed up! It reminded me way too much of all those English classes where the instructor insists that the color of the chairs is symbolic of the four Cardinal directions as specified in some mystic’s dream book from the early 15th century. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t use a lot of symbolism when I write and the one time I tried to be clever that way, I got so bogged down in trying to remember what represented what that I completely lost track of where I wanted to go with the plot. I tend to believe the chair was blue, red, yellow, or green because the writer liked that particular color and thought it would be nice, but maybe that’s just me. That aside, I learned the difference between ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ as it was defined back in the late 1700s and that Romances weren’t considered Novels. An interesting and educational read despite the academic dryness.

While slogging my way through that, I managed to get in some good old short stories from Israel Finn’s collection, Dreaming At The Top Of My Lungs. I’ve been eyeballing this book for a good long while and finally decided it was time to give it a read. As with any collection or anthology, you’re going to find some you really enjoy, some that leave you confused, or some that just don’t hit the spot. Happily, most of Finn’s stories were very enjoyable and better still, memorable! My biggest complaint on this one is that it was way, way too short! I’m hoping to add more of Israel’s work to the TBR pile in the future.

I recently dove back into the dark and murky depths of another Hunter Shea cryptid book. This time it’s poor old Nessie that he’s picking on. Hot on Shea’s aquatic tail (see what I did there?) is a Lyle Blackburn book that takes us beyond the realm of Boggy Creek to look at other cryptids of the ‘Squatchier kind found deep in the American South, but we’ll save any further details on those for next month.

2017 Bookshelf-To-Date

January
Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

February
Maledicus by Charles F. French

March
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe,
The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn

April
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Sinister Entity by Hunter Shea

May
Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress by Robert Miles
Dreaming At The Top Of My Lungs by Israel Finn
Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea

My Writer’s Book Bag

Blathering on about my own writing may get a bit monotonous for folks at times. For a change of pace, I’m going to blather on about what I’m reading instead.

I’d never given a lot of thought to keeping track of what I’m reading until joining Goodreads.  Now, I seem rather obsessed with not only keeping track of the titles, but where I am in the book by updating my progress on a nearly daily basis and meeting an annual goal of so many books read. I set my goal at twelve for 2017. One book a month seems pretty reasonable.

What other authors, especially horror writers, read interests me, too.  If they liked it, maybe I’d like it as well. Other than two books about Ann Radcliffe and a third bought on a whim, the bulk of my TBR pile is based purely on what my writer friends have recommended in their blogs or Tweets. On the downside of that, I don’t read eBooks so I fear I’m missing out on a lot of great stories out there. Sorry about that all you people who only have work in an eBook form. It’s just too difficult a format for me to focus on and enjoy beyond the occasional short story.

For the latter part of 2015 and into the summer of 2016, I nearly choked to death on Stephen King in an attempt to get somewhat caught up on his work. I fear I shall never get caught up as I spent far too many years away. However, I now have the entire Dark Tower series under my belt along with Doctor Sleep, which is the sequel to The Shining.

It took me six months to make my way through The Mysteries of Udolpho that began the whole Ann Radcliffe tangent. Last weekend I started Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress I can already tell it’s going to be a tough, very academic, read. I’d much rather be reading other things, but as someone interested in genealogy, I believe learning about where and from whom we have sprung is important. As Radcliffe is considered to be one of, if not THE, mother of Gothic Horror\Romance, I consider her an ancestor in the Horror writer sense of the word. Who knows, maybe I’ll become obsessed with writing a more traditional gothic horror and/or romance one of these days!

Currently, I’m plowing my way slowly but surely through Hunter Shea’s collection of cryptid mayhem and paranormal horrors. I just finished Sinister Entity a couple nights ago. It’s one of his older books, from 2013. The first Shea novel I read was Island of the Forbidden. I’ve been Hooked-On-Hunter ever since. Not only is he a great writer, but from our various online chats and email exchanges, I know for a fact he’s an all-around awesome guy and a bit of a mentor, too. I hope he doesn’t mind my saying that.

So, there you have it, what I’m reading here in the middle of April. I’d like to believe I have the discipline to make this a monthly feature, but pft. Who am I kidding?

Until next time, kiddies – READ ON!

Year To Date:

January 

Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

February 

Maledicus by Charles F. French

March    

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe,

The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn

April

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Sinister Entity by Hunter Shea

 

Featured Image: A Good Book by Paul Gustav Fisher

Book Review – The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

As a female horror author, I decided last fall it was high time I read what is considered to be one of the first Gothic novels written by a woman, “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe.

My first encounter with Gothic literature came at around the age of twelve. I’ve always been big into vampires, and as luck would have it, my best friend’s brother had a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that he was willing to let me have it. 19th Century novels are hard enough for most adults, but I was a determined reader and pushed my way through. I went on to read it at least ten more times over the years, each time understanding a little bit more.

From Stoker, I moved on to Poe, Dickens, and Hawthorne all on a voluntary basis, plus whatever reading of that period that was required of us for English classes such as Mark Twain. After high school, I discovered the likes of Willkie Collins, Emily Bronte, and Oscar Wilde. As a Civil War reenactor for nearly ten years, I wanted to learn more about the period based on the diaries which led me to the likes of Sarah Morgan, Rose Greenhow, and Mary Chestnut.

All this being the long-winded way of saying I am familiar with the ins and outs of 18th-19th century writing. Speaking of long-winded, let’s talk about the novel in question.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794, takes us on what is now considered a typical Gothic adventure. A life of peace and happiness is shattered when young Emily is left a poor orphan and placed in the cruel hands of her nearest relative. In this case, an aunt. During Emily’s happier days she meets and falls in love with a handsome cavalier named Valencourt. But, alas, this love struck couple will not find it so easy to be married and live happily ever after. First, Emily must be torn from her native land of France to reside in Italy with her heartless aunt and uncle who want to marry her off to a wealthy friend who’s old enough to be Emily’s father. But, Emily’s heart has sworn allegiance to Valencourt and she’ll have no business with her elderly suitor. Next, she is removed to the isolated fortress of Castle Udolpho where, after the death of her aunt, it seems as if Emily is destined to suffer the same fate at the hands of her greedy uncle.

Getting to this point, unfortunately, took half the book and with a total of over 600 pages, that’s a long and somewhat tedious amount of reading. And yet, much like slogging my way through Dracula as a twelve-year-old, I persisted and emerged victorious. But, did Emily? Will she ever escape her treacherous uncle and the prison Castle Udolpho has become? Who is the mysterious male figure she keeps seeing at night moving about on the battlements? What of the female ghost-like apparition being reported by the servants and seen by Emily herself? Will she and Valencourt ever set eyes on each other again? I’m not telling!

Dark, brooding, and suspenseful, it’s easy to see how The Mysteries of Udolpho set the stage for so many other Gothic novels that would follow and why it was so popular with the ladies of its hay day. A tough read at times, but well worth the effort and satisfaction I got when I was finally able to close the covers knowing at long last, the eluded to mysteries of Udolpho.

Due to it taking half the novel to get to the good stuff, I’m giving it –

3 out of 5 Ravens

The First Ladies of Gothic Literature

I had no idea that February was Women In Horror Month when I first started researching the following article back in September 2016. I was hoping to use it for a blog post in October, but life being what it is, just never found the time to wrap it up. Therefore, instead of holding off on it, I thought it was quite topical for February instead!

As a female horror writer and a long time reader of 19th century literature, mostly along the lines of Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allen Poe, I recently decided it was time to learn more about those ladies who have come before me in the genre. The best place to start was at the beginning, or as near to the beginning as I could find out there. That search led me back to 1778.

Before Anne Rice’s vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac told us all about Lestat in that famous Interview With A Vampire; before Daphne du Maurier introduced us to the cruel and promiscuous Rebecca; and even before the creation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in 1816, there was Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe. Reeve’s novel The Old English Baron was published in 1778. Radcliffe followed suit in 1794 with The Mysteries of Udolpho.

What passed for horror then is a far cry from what we know today, but the basic elements remain the same. 18th and 19th Century horror was more of the emotional variety. It was a mental state of being linked to unfortunate and seemingly inescapable circumstances. A sense of claustrophobia was key to these novels, be that in a physical sense as in bodily imprisonment or in a mental sense with feelings of madness and mental illness. Today’s version puts the characters in some sort of insane kidnapper’s isolated torture chamber or house of madness trying to escape as one by one as they are bumped off in the bloodiest, most gruesome ways possible. Not quite so with the works of Cleeve and Radcliffe.

Classic Gothic literature is considered to have started in 1764 with the writing of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Within it contains elements of realistic fiction and romance with overtones of the paranormal. The setting included the now almost cliché isolated castle with secret passages, trap doors, clanging chains, and pictures with eyes that shifted and watched passers-by and set a standard for many, many future Gothic novels. The term Gothic stems from the setting, specifically Gothic-style Architecture that was popular during the high and late medieval period, roughly from the 12th-16th centuries. The most common use for this type of architecture was churches and castles, though hundreds of stately homes and colleges also employed the style.

ClaraReeveClara Reeve was born in 1729 to Reverend William Reeve, M.A., rector of Freston and of Kreson in Suffolk, England and his wife, whose family were jewelers to King George I. Clara did not begin to write seriously until after the death of her father. Originally titled The Champion of Virtue, a Gothic Story, The Old English Baron was written in direct response, and perhaps even as a form of literary rivalry to Walpole’s 1764 novel. Very little is known about Clara’s personal life.

Ann_RadcliffeAnn (Ward) Radcliffe was born in London in 1764 to William and Ann (Oates) Ward. At twenty-three she married William Radcliffe who was a journalist and Oxford University graduate. As he often worked late and the couple was without children, Ann took up writing to help pass the many hours she spent alone. As with Reeve, Radcliffe left behind scant information about her private life outside her accomplishments as an author.

More times than not, the main character is a seemingly hapless and helpless woman destined for a life of misery should things continue as they are. More times than not she is also an orphan. This loss of parents or any sort of close, positive and loving family member to protect and guide her is only the beginning of her troublesome fate. Emotions are the biggest foe as well as the greatest ally to the Gothic Horror heroine. Time and time again she will be brought down, dragged through the emotional mud, her mind and spirit and sometimes her body taken to the very brink of doom and despair. She is ruled over by an iron fist in the form of an older man or woman who wants to control everything she says and does for their own personal gain. Usually, that gain is monetary and comes with an increased level of status. These guardians are actually more like cruel, heartless prison guards. This is where the monsters we’ve come to associate with horror novels and movies today were spawned.

Straberry-Hill-Walpoles1798

As powerful and omnipotent as these very human monsters appear to be, they have their weaknesses and their secrets. Finding that weakness and unravelling the secrets is the only way the damsel in distress is going to be set free. Most assuredly there is a knight in shining armor out there, because romance is what makes a Gothic Horror, Gothic and not just Horror, but she can’t rely on him to rescue her. And this where those emotions that have so far worked against her, become her greatest weapon.  She cannot hope to overpower them physically, but at some point in her upbringing, before she was orphaned and life went to hell in a handbasket, someone taught her some powerful psychological and emotional lessons. She may be poor and she may be destitute, but she’s far from stupid. She must use her wits and beat her captors at their own game. How she does that is what drives the plot forward.

Have you noticed that not once have I mentioned anything supernatural actually going on?

The earliest Gothic novels contained very little in the way of the paranormal. And even if there was a ghost, strict limits were often placed on its behavior. The ghost of Lord Lovel in The Old English Baron for instance, is a silent apparition. He is detectable only by sight, never heard or sensed in any other way and is never brought forward into daylight so we can have a really good look at him. There is no confirmed ghost at all in The Mysteries of Udolpho, but we do catch sight of what may be a corpse wearing a black veil.

For obvious reasons, these sorts of novels were tremendously popular with female readers and were very often targeted towards that audience by first appearing as serials in the leading women’s magazines of the day. Within the confines of the story they could see themselves portrayed as the ‘weaker sex’ and taken advantage of by men, and sometimes other women, of wealth and power.  And yet, despite the hardship, there was always hope that the main character would triumph because of her quick thinking. She may be physically weaker, but to see another woman win because of her smarts must have been a wonderful ego boost and given feelings of empowerment to the women reading. If the poor and pitiful Emily of The Mysteries of Udolpho can survive all that she was put through, surely, I, the reader, can overcome my troubles. Feminism was taking root even back then.

From Reeve to Radcliffe, Shelley to du Maurier, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters up to our current female women in horror, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Anne Rivers Siddons, Caitlín R. Kiernan and even myself, we have all strived to present horror in a way that not only frightens but may also empower our readers. Without consciously trying to target a female audience with my own work, I’ve noticed that the majority of my main characters are very strong-minded women. They face the most bizarre of situations and yet they keep fighting for what is right. They discover their inner strengths as they battle the real or imagined paranormal madness that surrounds them. In that way, I feel I am giving a very respectful nod of recognition to the female horror writers who have come before me and am proud of what I have been able to offer the genre in the past and what I hope to present to it in the future.

If you liked this post, you might find my The Horror of Women blog post of interest, too.

Movie Review – The Woman In Black (2012)

Rated PG-13. Directed by James Watkins. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Misha Handley, Jessica Raine, and Alisa Khazanova.

London-based lawyer and widower, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to a small, isolated village in the English countryside to orchestrate the sale of Eel Marsh House and go through the papers of its deceased owner Alice Drablow. Arthurs’ job is on the line. If he fails to complete this job, he will be sacked. Kipps leaves behind his four-year-old son, Joseph, (Misha Handley) with the nanny (Jessica Raine) and they plan to meet at Eel Marsh House three days later. Kipps’ arrival is anything but welcoming. Numerous people beg, warn, and even threaten him about going to the property, but the lawyer is determined. He’s barely in town a day when the deaths begin. The locals blame The Woman In Black, believed to be the now dead Alice Drablow, who somehow enthralls the children into self-destructive behavior. The people of the village take great lengths to protect their children, but their efforts are repeatedly thwarted.

While going through the papers, Arthur begins to unravel the story behind The Woman In Black and the revenge she’s sworn to extract for all time and why. Arthur comes to believe he has found the answer to stopping the hauntings and the horrific deaths. With his son on the way, Kipps frantically employs the help of wealthy land owner, Samuel Daily (Ciaran Hinds), and together they put Arthur’s theory into practice. Will it work or will Alice’s hatred and the curse remain intact forever?

Based on the 1983 Susan Hill novel of the same name, The Woman In Black was produced, in part, by Hammer Films, the same company that brought you Christopher Lee as Dracula back in the last 1960s and early 1970s. If you’re familiar with Hammer Films, as I am, you’ll definitely see the similarities in colors, filming angles, and textures. It’s very atmospheric, but not quite as dark as I’d hoped. There are plenty of creepy moments, sudden startles, along with a slow build-up of tension as Kipps gets closer and closer to the truth and the pure, insatiable evil that is The Woman In Black. The ending was amazing and I didn’t see that coming at all. Well done! What a twist.

Although I really enjoyed the film and do recommend it, for me it wasn’t quite as creepy and mysterious as I would have liked it to be. Perhaps more scenes done at night, or having Kipps wander the house and grounds a bit more, seeking out the woman would have helped. The suspense and psychological tension could have been more deeply done were the film rated for an older audience. The PG-13 rating toned down what could have an even more awesome adaption of the novel.

All in all, though, well done and an excellent film for budding horror film neophytes. Had I seen this as a teenager, I probably would have ranted and raved a whole lot more about it. Well worth the watch if you’re of a certain age.

Jaded old woman that I may be, I still give The Woman In Black 4 out of 5 stars.