Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Get you kinda lonely...

...thinkin you were the only one?"

~Hallorann (The Shining)/ 1977/ by Stephen King

I recently read the story "The Shining" by Stephen King. A 505 page novel (the page count was daunting) that gripped me and kept me reading long past midnight. Again, as with most of these novels, I'd not seen the film so I had no preconceptions of what was supposed to happen. I'd seen snippets of the movie with Jack Nicholson, but had never viewed the whole thing.

As I finished the book, I reflected on what kept me reading. The story was gripping. I think tales that include a 'childhood innocence', threatened by the reality of abuse, are compelling for many adult readers. Many of us, particularly at the time this novel was written, were subjected to corporal punishment that border-lined, if not included, abuse in the family. Alcohol, divorce, troubles with maintaining a job, overcoming anger issues...these were (and still are) real and visceral topics that Stephen King brings to play in the pages of his novel. These are things that many adults, and children of my era, can relate to because we've experienced them in one form or another. As I read, I not only sympathized with the young protagonist, Danny, a boy 5 years old, but I empathized with him as I remembered my own childhood. The family conflicts, undergoing parental divorce and the abuses that were not quite so physical as Danny's but (in my mind) were just as profound.

Couple Danny's experiences with that of being a parent (in this case a mother) and my desire to protect the child, and to care for him emerged and I not only felt for the boy, but I felt for the mother who wanted only the best things in life for her son. While Jack, the father, was less of a figure I could relate to, still his addiction to alcohol, and his uncontrollable temper, were things I'd seen, things I understood, from my own young life.

It was Stephen Kings web of reality and the supernatural that gripped me in this novel, and kept me reading. Because I could relate to his characters, because they were so real to me, I felt involved in their adventure. But it was not just the relational aspects that kept me turning pages. It was, of course, the conflicts each character experienced on their stressful journey.  I enjoyed the multiple POV's, being able to see inside Danny's head, Wendy's head, and into Jack's tumultuous brain. I enjoyed hearing Hallorann's thoughts in certain parts of the story, and found myself hoping he would come to the rescue.

Take those very real things, and combine them with the underlying threat of evil that abides in a hotel, an evil that I believe exists in dark places of the world, and the story becomes one that caught me in a proverbial bear trap. IT wouldn't let me go. It was an enjoyable, terrifying and introspective read I would recommend to anyone who loves a good tale.

On the critical side, there were some annoying passages I found at the beginning of the novel that diminished its appeal. Rudimentary things that we, as budding novelists, are taught not to do. The first few chapters contained a slew of adverbs, the dreaded 'ly' words, that detract from the descriptions and make the prose almost unprofessional. But, oddly, as the story progressed, the verbiage improved, or if there were just as many 'ly' words... I didn't notice them.

(I may come back to this blog post and include more thoughts in the future, but these are my immediate muses having just finished the book.)

I feel I am far behind in understanding the Horror genre that I've chosen to study, let alone taking the plunge into writing. Yet, as I read the pages of "The Shining" I understood that my late childhood nights absorbing the complete works of Poe (usually under my covers, a flashlight in hand, well past my bedtime), and dwelling on all things paranormal and scary, have primed me for just such a venture. I've taken alternate routes in my previous education, all of which have led me, inexorably, HERE. This place, this moment, the path that I've chosen. And in the back of my mind, though I might curse it, or possibly regret it, I've always known it would happen. A 'shine' of sorts. Except that I can't see how it all ends. And maybe it doesn't matter. What matters is that its finally begun.


Into the Haunted by *a-mac088  (

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"You're walking around this house like... open nerve."
~Hell House (1971)/ Richard Matheson

I'd never seen the film. I didn't even know there was a movie made from the story until I heard fellow students talking about it at SHU. In retrospect, I'm glad I read the book first. It was nice to live in 'suspense' and not know what happened at the end, although most every horror lover knows that the faithful outcome of horror means "almost everyone (if not everyone) dies" in the end.

I took to reading this novel before the 'scheduled' time to read it because my fall season is going to be unbearably busy. I wanted to devote time to enjoying the various stories on my reading list instead of plowing through them at breakneck speed (in addition to writing and rewriting my novel, and critiquing my partner's work).

Hell House starts out with a protagonist, Dr Lionel Barrett. Dr Barrett is described as a man in his middle fifties, and he is dead set on proving that phenomena (believed to be ghosts) have a physical/scientific explanation. I liked how Matheson set up the beginning of the story with Barrett being funded for his research by a wealthy man (Rolf Rudolf Deutsch) who is in search of the answer to the question, "Is there life after death?" Deutsch puts together what I consider a protagonist "group" (whose main protagonist is a man named Benjamin Franklin Fisher) with the purpose of achieving this goal. Each individual on the team possesses an expertise Deutsch feels is essential to discovering the workings within Hell House. Ben Fisher, a lone "sane" survivor of a previous excursion to Hell House (he was there in his teens), is requested to return once more (by the wealthy financial backer) because of his knowledge of the house and his extraordinary abilities as a physical medium.

Multiple POV lovers will enjoy this novel. I did. As I read, I studied how Matheson wrote from each character's head, yet linked them all with their common goal of staying in the house and discovering its secrets. In addition, the house and its possessing entity, Emeric Belasco, became the perfect horror antagonist. Belasco thwarts the paranormal team at every turn, out thinks them and preys on each of their fantasies and fears. The twists and turns in the novel are both predictable and surprising at various points, but allow for a fast paced and enjoyable read.

There were vile and suggestive themes in this novel, which in 1971 would have been quite shocking to older generations and probably very entertaining to the younger generations of the 60's and 70's.  What I really enjoyed was how Matheson broke barriers with this book. In this novel he takes readers to places that many people of that time-period would be hesitant to go, and with a 'possessive' language he persuades them to keep on reading.

The blending of paranormal with science, religious with sacrilegious, sane with the insane and demure with scandalous sexuality... was thought provoking and darkly satisfying. I found myself analyzing passages the author had written, and looking at his word choices to discover "why" a certain word in a particular description was selected.

One thing that continually bothered me in the book was the frequent use of the word "hiss." People hissed with pain, hissed with cold, hissed with fear...there was an awful lot of hissing... and Matheson (and his editors) would have benefited from Microsoft Word and a word search of how many times "hiss" was used in the novel. I think a different bit of prose would have been selected if they'd had that option.

What (I believe) was convincing in this story was the detail concerning parapsychology. Matheson must have committed himself to some strong research in the subject of parapsychology, and the study of the paranormal, before completing this novel. Studies in this area were extremely popular in the 1970's, and many universities were dedicated to research in near death experiences and parapsychology at that time. There was even a Parapsychology Association (formed in 1957), which became a branch of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1969.  Matheson's descriptions are believable because of his details, and he draws the reader in with what seems to be 'factual' information, in a setting that (particularly at the time) readers could relate to.

I say that readers could relate to the setting, because in my youth (I was born in 1962), I was exposed to abandoned houses which my friends and I (as pre-teens/teens) found in the backwoods of rural Virginia. We would walk through the houses, and discover old items (shoes, trunks filled with clothes, furniture, pots, ceramic bowls, axes and other tools) and scare ourselves half to death with tales of murder, ghosts and demonic reasons why belongings of former residents were left behind in the empty buildings. In some areas in Palmyra Virginia, a person could walk through the forest and find an entire ghost town grown over completely by wilderness (and still can). Why was the town abandoned? Who were the residents planted in the nearby graveyard...a scary place untended, overgrown, and decorated with broken headstones jutting haphazardly out of the ground? Such settings are perfect for fiction, and if one stays there long enough, perhaps for reality.

Sleep well.

(Haunted House by Ashasylum @

"But are not the dreams of poets and the tales of travellers...

...notoriously false?"
H. P. Lovecraft

   This morning I woke and snuggled under warm covers, my mind desperately trying to slip back into an unconscious nebula and grip a fabulous dream before it drizzled away from my mind. It was filled with gravestone gray walls, and burnt charcoal colored bricks, long winding corridors and stairs traveling up to the sky.  Wurtles, stripped tabby animals with long but hairy pointy ears, can disappear in water (they actually "become" like water), and can let out a stench that rivals that of a skunk. Their bellies turn bright pink just before they let their farts rip, and their famous noxious gasses are used (in concentrate) to poison and kill.

   I love my dreams. They give me the BEST ideas for writing. The problem is that they fizzle away so quickly from my brain. Even when I try to write them down as soon as I wake, they disappear faster than my fingers can type and frustration sets in as I realize that concepts, ideas and fabulous worlds lurk just on the other side of my conscious realm. I feel the need to re-find the Dark Side of the Moon, but I can't fathom how to return there.

   The hardest thing about writing is not writing. Today, I will travel with family to Santa Barbara to attend a "Greek Festival", and while it is sure to be fun, what will be nagging me in the back of my head is the thought "I should be writing."  Today is a day that I FEEL creative. The dreams which were upon me in the wee hours of the morning are pummeling at my gray matter, begging to be written. But it is a day I've committed to being with family, to sharing time. It is such a difficult thing, to find that balance, particularly when the Muse (funny little snit that she is) is unpredictable in her appearance, and keeps no schedule.

   Despite all of that, I will carry my note-pad and pen with me on my travels, and I will create as I need, write as the fingers itch, and hopefully when I return home I'll have the presence of mind to sit down and create...or possibly destroy. Whichever seems most pleasant at the time.

(Picture by Nonnetta: Victim of a Dream @

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"I never paint dreams or nightmares...

I paint my own reality."
~Frida Kahlo

Some early mornings, just before the day begins, I have dreams novels are made of. The other night, that was just my experience. But my failing? I didn't have a pen and paper, or my computer, right at the bedside. Regardless of that blunder, I raced downstairs and grabbed my computer and went outside,  pulled up a lounge chair and started writing. Much of what I wrote, I did with my eyes closed in order to keep the images in my head.

The result was an outline of a fantasy story I've titled for now, "Grumble Gate Main." It's a story that takes place on a different planet orbiting around an eerie red sun. The planet is oblong and doesn't 'rotate' like normal planets to do, but instead rolls randomly around its orbital path. Night and day are never the same, and can last for hours, or weeks.

I dreamed of a world where teachers were heros, and  the world's best athletes chose sports for the glory but only got paid minimum wage. 

In this world only the BEST of the BEST are allowed to teach, but the path to Teacherdom is fraught with trials and tribulations.  It's also a world where Twister Trees live (trees that move like whirling tornados) and where little angry fairies attack in the dead forests like vicious mosquitoes. They bite the skin and give inhabitants a variety of nasty diseases.  There's more in my jumbled notes, but needless to say the dream fostered a story with a lot of potential. These notes now go inside the cyber folder "possible stories", because both "Dr Stench" and "Sapien Farm" are still waiting for me to finish them and I can only have so many incomplete stories at a time.

Or can I?

Artwork by kevcrossley @

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Writing is painful...

...Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worse kind of suffering.
~Paul Coelho

I've just finished reading the book "Hell House" by Richard Matheson. For those who haven't read it, it is an intriguing 1970's story about a group of researchers who are commissioned to go to a house that has a reputation for killing people, in order to determine if there is really 'life after death'. The lead character, Dr Lionel Barret, is a non-believer in ghosts and holds a conviction that all phenomena are a result of purely physical means. He is accompanied by his wife (Edith), a spiritual medium (Reverend Florence Tanner, and a physical medium (Benjamin Franklin Fischer) who is also a survivor of a previous visit to Hell House. The antagonist (aside from the house itself) is an entity named Emeric Belasco, who had a reputation for converting innocent people into their own worst nightmares.

The novel is fairly well done, with a few exceptions that I would change. Matheson tends to overuse the word "hiss, or hissing" to describe an individual's reaction to cold or pain. It would have been better to find alternate descriptors, because its use became distracting. Another thing Matheson did in the book, particularly at the beginning was to frequently change POV in the middle of pages, or paragraphs.  Its something that we are taught as writers not to do, but as I read the story,  I didn't find that it took me away from the story. It was actually OK, and I think that sometimes we, as writers, harp too much on the 'head hopping' issue. I think that sometimes we need to read, and realize when its OK.

I started reading the text, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. The first chapter was both enlightening and validating. There was so much in it that I've previously thought, but hadn't seen from anyone else on the written word. Phrases like "write what you know" were contradicted in Burroway's text, which aligned with my own thought process. It's not always what you know, but what you imagine, and what you are willing to research, what you 'feel' and what you experience or have heard others experience. The phrase "write what you know" can be misleading to a new writer, and can cause she or he to fall into a trap of sticking to the very limitations that should be avoided when writing fiction.

Burroway talks about the need to make writing a habit. The importance of sitting down, and just writing. She states, "Any discipline or indulgence that actually helps nudge you into position facing the page is acceptable and productive" (p. 3). She also describes the importance of journal keeping, which is a way of 'giving yourself permission to fail' and gives the writer a 'source of originality, ideas, experimentation and growth'.

I, personally, enjoy the blog for this. It is more public than private, but it is a medium that I find useful. People can choose to read it or not. Most likely folks won't read it these days, because modern life is so busy and each person is committed to having others pay attention to their lives. Facebook, Twitter, and other social means say "look at me and what I'm doing" and few people take time to see what other people are doing. Maybe that gives me a false sense of security, but my life isn't extraordinary, and unless I have a best seller on the list, it will be considered commonplace and uninteresting at best. At worst, it would be boring and disposable.

So, here's to sitting down and writing a little every day. Whether on my novel, or on a blog, or on a paper napkin (which is disposable). Here's to being commonplace and uninteresting, and finding in those words or existence the things that are mentionable and memorable.

After sitting and writing a few lines today, I've made a pact with myself to go surfing. Despite the fact that I've pulled a muscle in my back, and probably shouldn't. I rested the muscle enough yesterday, and the day before, and am ready for some sun and some frigid Pacific ocean. The waves won't be high, but the day is clear and it's a long weekend. The opportunity is here today, and I will take it. Today I will write, I will read, and I will surf. Then maybe, just maybe, I will write some more...and if I pull a brain muscle I'll just push through. Eventually it will heal.