Monday, December 12, 2011
"Janes can write—and this package is not [just] a zombie book. Sure, it has the odd ghoul, but also a few choice ghosts and other dead things. BOROUGHS contains 10 tales of Gothic, Penny Dreadful-esque dread and classic terror, some set in contemporary times, some in the haunted past, all taking place in different neighborhoods in New York City. Like the best of the pulps, the narratives are creepy, darkly comical and elegantly composed, with lovingly detailed descriptions of place and an ample whiff of lurid decay." - Chris Alexander, Fangoria
"[These] stories end entirely differently than what the reader expects. And that is the brilliance of Andrea Janes’ work: she doesn’t play by the rules. She teases you with one idea and then twists the knife, sometimes literally, into an entirely different direction. There is nothing sub-standard in Boroughs of the Dead. Each story is unique and exciting, and her writing style is absorbing." - Jeani Rector, The Horror Zine
Friday, December 09, 2011
From the article:
"Historians are now speculating that the well-preserved cottage could have belonged to one of the Pendle witches.
The building contained a sealed room, with the bones of a cat bricked into the wall.
It is believed the cat was buried alive to protect the cottage's inhabitants from evil spirits."
Horrid! And wonderful!
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Here is a description of the tour:
New York's Ghosts of Christmas Past
December 17th, 1 pm; December 18th, 1:00pm & 3:30 pm
Join us for a festive holiday walking tour of New York's Ghosts of Christmas Past! Follow us through the East Village as we discover New York City's special connection to Christmas and its vital role in many holiday traditions, from Santa Claus to Christmas trees. We'll show you where Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol on his 1865 American tour, invoke the ghosts of the old Dutch Colony, and tell tales from when the East Village was Kleine Deutschland. Along the way we'll treat you to shiver-inducing stories of East Village Ghosts, from Washington Irving to Gertrude Tredwell, then finish at Tompkins Square Park's Greenmarket where you can warm up with a hot apple cider, or at a local pub where you can warm up with a hot toddy.* A festive variation on our classic East Village Tour, Peter Stuyvesant and His Ghostly Friends of the East Village.
* The 1pm tour on Sunday ends at the Greemarket and are suitable for all ages; all others end at pubs and are for guests 21 and olderPlease visit Ghosts of New York to book your tickets!
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Sunday, December 04, 2011
My aim now is nothing less than to single-handedly revive the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve! I'm also going to post lots of general fun, fact-y, Christmasy tidbits as well as ghost stories, so there ought to be something for everyone! And, because I am always scheming, there is an extra, added, as-yet secret bonus to top it all off. So stay tuned....
And Happy Holidays to All!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Today marks the 176th birthday of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Twain lived in various locales throughout New York City for much of his adult life, from the West Village to Wave Hill in the Bronx. He often claimed his favorite residence was 14 West 10th Street, located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, on one of the Village's most picturesque blocks. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that he still haunts it now.
Twain lived at this address from 1900 – 1901 and if you visit it you will see a small bronze plaque in his honor. The beautiful 1830s townhome already had a reputation for being haunted at the time he moved in. Twain, though, was an inveterate skeptic who mocked the idea of ghosts and refused to believe in the unexplained. He even expressed his disbelief in a short story appropriately called "A Ghost Story" in which a ghost haunted his own fake corpse. Even the sight of a truly unexplained phenomena couldn't shake Twain's skepticism. One night he saw a piece of kindling wood moving by itself near the fireplace; he grabbed a pistol and shot at it. The kindling fell to the floor, where Twain saw a few drops of blood. No intruders, human or animal, were ever found to explain the event, though Twain sniffed he was sure it was a rat and still refused to believe that what he had seen sprung from supernatural sources.
These days, Twain's ghost is said to appear to current residents of 14 West 10th Street on the first floor and at the lower level landing of the staircase. Some say the house is haunted by no fewer than twenty-two spirits, the ghosts of people who formerly lived and died in the house. Perhaps Twain does take his place among this cavalcade of shades, or perhaps it is merely wishful thinking on the part of those who spot the spirit – after all, who doesn't love a good celebrity ghost?
One former resident who attested to Twain's presence at the townhouse was Jan Bryant Bartell. Bartell was an actress and writer who discovered she had a touch of the second sight when she moved into the neighborhood. She began to see and experience different psychic phenomena when she moved in to the house next door (16 West 10th Street), hearing noises, seeing visions, and generally feeling oppressed by dread and foreboding. She ended up moving next door (to number 14) but still felt the presence of ghosts, including a very strong feeling that Twain was still there. One day she inquired of the superintendent if he had ever noticed anything strange in the building.
"The super before me, he had some stories to tell," the super replied.
"What kind of stories?" asked Jan.
"About that fella Clemens."
"Has he been seen here?"
"Yes ma'am, twice that I know, and by two different folks," the superintendent continued. "On the ground floor, back in the 1930s. A mother and daughter, a young widow woman, were sharing the apartment. The mother, she comes into the living room one evening before the lamps are lit, and she sees a man with white hair, wild-like. He's sitting in a chair looking out the window and she says, 'Who are you and what are you doing here?' and he says, 'My name is Clemens and I got problems here I gotta settle.'"
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
My name’s Andy Sydor, and I’ve been a New York City tour guide for over thirteen years. I used to take tourists to the top of the Twin Towers. I have taken them to all five boroughs. And throughout my career, I’ve fought the attempts of irresponsible companies to replace live guides with tapes. I remember back in 2000, I even saw test buses trying out tape systems rolling right past us on our own buses. Some said it was inevitable, that there was nothing we could do to stop it. But we are not helpless. So we alerted city officials, and their pressure and inquiries compelled the company to not use those tape systems.
Again, after 9/11, that same company tried to use that catastrophe as an excuse to eliminate their professional guides. But we are not helpless. We used protests and professionalism to keep our jobs, and we succeeded. In 2005, the threat of tapes raised its head again, and again, things looked grim. But we are not helpless. We drafted a bill to reinforce already-existing Department of Consumer Affairs regulation to ensure that visitors to New York would have the opportunity to have a live, licensed guide give their tour. To block that bill, the companies running the double-deckers swore to never replace their guides with tapes, so we were safe again.
But never doesn’t last forever, not in this town. Now, the industry is taking advantage of a new mandate by the city to ensure that the customers use headphones to allow them to replace human beings with tapes. We tried to add language to ensure that these customers could continue to have licensed, tested guides on their tours, but those efforts were blocked by the claim that the City could not do such a thing.
But the City is not helpless. The City has the right, and the obligation, to regulate its tourism industry, and to guarantee that our visitors get to experience guaranteed quality. That’s why we guides are licensed. That’s why we guides are tested. That’s why we need to know ALL the boroughs , and ALL the neighborhoods. That’s why, even though I’ve never driven a bus, I have to know how to advise any bus driver where he can go, and what he can do on the streets of this City. These are all consequences of City legislation.
There are things that the City can’t force by law. They can’t force me to love this City as much as I do, and to show that love to our visitors. They can’t force me to obsessively study and re-study everything about this place, and to share that with the world. That’s just part of the fringe benefit of having a licensed, living guide. And that’s a benefit that can never be replaced by a machine. There is no app for that. But the City can use its powers and its laws to guarantee that visitors to the greatest City in the World can be guided by the greatest guides on the planet.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Although it contains a supernatural element, the crime-novel aspect of it was as gripping as anything by Denise Mina. Though, since I love witches, I was pleased to find them pop up in the midst of all the gritty realism. That realism, incidentally, is what really endeared the book to me. The novel's heroine, Becca, who is trapped in a well, is a swimmer (which scored points with me) with a will -- and lungs -- of iron. This stands her in good stead, but not before she has to endure countless horrors. Most of all I loved the fact that, a few hours after she falls in the well, she realizes something very important: I have to go to the bathroom. I mean, come on, isn't that always the first thing you worry about in any entrapment scenario? Finding a pee corner? So score extra points for that.
Also score extra points for ingenious uses of iPod and condoms (just read it to find that one out). Finally, one more point for the sheer horror of one little girl's fate that involves an, um, medical scenario so icky I almost fainted. The female regions are always a fertile (ahem) locus of horror, and they are used to great effect here. Actually, there's a strong sexuality/birth subtext in this book that's pretty god damn resonant. To wit: Becca is about to lose her virginity when she falls down the well. Becca's mom is off on a fuck-holiday with her new husband while this happens. There's a pedophile on the loose. Girls are violated on more than one occasion and mourn their loss of innocence. And the theme of children and birthing runs throughout. Water in many contexts symbolizes sexuality, along with dreams, visions, femininity and intuition. Like water, The Well is symbolically rich and psychologically complex.
But mostly it's the excellent plot handling and nuanced characters that got me. You'll breeze through this book in no time, alternately loving and loathing every cast member in this drama. The slightly downbeat ending will stay with you, too, I imagine. Nothing is simple when you're trapped in The Well.
So -- how do I write a book like that, you may be wondering? Read on as Peter Labrow shares insights into his process, the adventures of self-publishing, and his favorite kind of pie.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you initially want to go with a traditional publisher?
It wasn’t an ideological decision, it was a practical one. I could either pound the streets of London for months (or more likely years) looking for an agent or publisher, or I could publish it myself. I decided that doing the latter didn’t stop me doing the former – and it enabled me to build up an audience and prove my commercial worth. I’m glad I did it, at least now I have affirmation that people mostly like it – not only via sales, but also via direct feedback too.
Did you query agents? And if so, what were their notes?
Not with the manuscript for The Well but I had for a previous manuscript. It was helpful in most respects. It made me realise that a book has to sell itself quickly in order to be bought, for the first page to be read, the reader has to be hooked and really want to carry on reading. On the downside, it made me realise that a lot of agents aren’t looking for something new – they want something that rides the current wave. I guess that’s OK, but it’s not how I wanted to write. I also learned that they are very busy people and you’re not likely to get their attention very easily. Again, self-publishing should prove commercial worth.
The pacing of your book is indeed gripping. What was your process/method for accomplishing this?
I have several answers to this. The first was to be aware of the reader and of the need for pace – at least in this book, or a book of its kind. Careful plotting is important, so that the story is always moving forward and the characters always on their own particular journeys. Things shouldn’t stand still for long. Also, I wanted the way that life really works to influence the narrative – in real life, unexpected things happen. In Greek theatre, that would be referred to as a ‘thunderbolt from the gods’ – something out of the blue. That keeps the reader guessing and the stakes high. But also, normal things need to happen. Some genres frustrate me, in that they suspend reality a little too much. What I mean by this is that every book, TV series or film lives within its own set of rules – usually at least one step away from reality, or the ‘what if’ couldn’t happen. But they go too far. If my house was surrounded by flesh-eating zombies, I’d still want to go to the toilet at some point or have a cup of coffee. I wanted The Well to be supernatural, but really grounded too – so the stakes were genuine.
Do you have experience in another medium (I'm thinking screenwriting, based on your ability to handle pacing)?
I do a lot of copywriting for a living and have for many years. This seems unconnected, but actually a copywriter does have to think about language, pace, plot (really) and so on. Not to the same degree, of course – most of the copy I write is just a few hundred or perhaps a couple of thousand words, but it still needs a tight structure. It has to sell, to persuade. So does a novel. The structure of The Well is very intentionally that of a television drama – in three or four parts. This was mainly because applying that structure allowed me to think clearly about the changes taking place within the book at various points, more than anything else. I also think visually (I’m a designer by training) so I like to think about how each scene looks, how it’s bookended and so on.
What inspired the story of The Well? Where did the idea come from?
The truth is that I’d previously tried to write a novel and, after getting halfway, felt overwhelmed. I had too many characters doing too many things. It was plotted out, but it still felt a challenge too far. I decided to write something with one character, in one situation. I’d rather liked the way that Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game starts with a couple, her chained to a bed in a remote cottage and him in his underwear, playing sex games. He dies straight away and you wonder how the idea can be sustained through an entire book. The same was true of this, originally it was to be just Becca’s story, trapped down the well. Nothing other than her point of view. Once I’d plotted this, I realised that not only wasn’t this enough for a novel, the stakes could be far higher if we looked at how those around her were affected by the simple fact of her disappearance. From that, I decided to weave in two terrors, one supernatural and one horribly everyday. Of course, what happened was that the second book took on the same form that the first had – multiple storylines and characters woven together.
One interesting thing about your book was that the heroes and villains were not cut and dried. Abby and Helen definitely did some dubious things, and Sarah could be selfish; meanwhile Tom Randle, while evil, actually served a purpose in his own way. I liked that complexity. Who was your favorite character in The Well? Who did you find despicable? Or were you continuously on the fence due to their moral ambiguities?
I feel very strongly that all people have some ambiguity about them. Even Hitler was an accomplished watercolour artist, though perhaps that was his only positive trait. For me, Superman is dull, because he’s just too darned nice. Batman is interesting because of his ambiguity – are his actions for revenge or justice? In many ways, his actions are very close to those of the villains he pursues. Good people can do bad things when pushed into a corner, or have particular personality traits (which would have otherwise remained hidden or manageable) vastly amplified. I hope this is what makes the characters real. People can do very unpredictable things in extreme circumstances. Tom Randle is the closest to being a black and white character, but that was mainly because I felt it wouldn’t be acceptable for someone of his nature to be sympathetic. My favourite characters would actually be Abby and Helen – I adored writing them, it was wonderful to write about two people so in love, so in touch, and so connected to each other.
Patricia Highsmith once said she liked to take naps when she was experiencing story problems and when she woke up she would know what to do next. How do you work through tough story problems?
I seldom find that you solve such issues sat in front of the screen. I had some revelations when waking, daydreaming or in the shower, while conversely some seemingly trivial plot points took several solid days of thinking to resolve. When in doubt, I walk away. Also, it’s not always right to solve a story problem for your own convenience, otherwise it can be too contrived. Sometimes creating a problem in the story is good for it – it forces change that can enrich the narrative. Let’s face it, that’s what happens in real life. Inconvenient things happen and have to be dealt with – from that point on, everything’s changed. I also have a good friend, Emma, with whom I discuss such things – she’s a massive help, and, although I don’t always agree with her, I always benefit from her input.
Which authors/books most inspire you to write?
Stephen King. Oh, I know, it’s a trite answer. But he has a gift for writing words that evaporate as you read them, so reading the book is like watching a film. That’s a gift. I adore the language of writers such as John Irving, but I get distracted by the beauty of the language itself. I don’t aspire to be a worthy writer, with intellectuals dissecting my books on late-night television or radio. I just want to entertain. Yes, I want what I write to have themes, but they’re an optional pleasure.
Do you have any future books in the works?
Yes, I’m at work on my next book. It’s second in a currently planned series of six, all set in the same general location but definitely not a single story. They will each be very different, though interrelated tales where some characters reappear. But it’s not like Harry Potter – with a single clear hero, pursuing a single clear villain. Like many writers at the start of the curve, I still have to juggle my day job, which this year has been so demanding that I’ve not had much time to write, sadly.
What is your favorite kind of pie?
Almost any. Pie is excellent. Although I’m not a fan of rhubarb and I dislike crumble.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Written by The Gentle Author, the blog is devoted to the minutiae of one London neighborhood, from historical tidbits to contemporary personalities.
The Gentle Author has certainly set him (or her) self a formidable task:
"Over the coming days, weeks, months and years, I am going to write every single day and tell you about life here in Spitalfields at the heart of London. How can I ever describe the exuberant richness and multiplicity of culture in this place to you? This is both my task and my delight.
Let me disclose to you the hare-brained ambition I am pursuing, which is to write at least ten thousand stories about Spitalfields life. At the rate of one a day, this will take approximately twenty-seven years and four months. Who knows what kind of life we shall be living in 2037 when I write my ten thousandth post?"
Who knows indeeed? Will we be zipping around in Zeppelins? Will movies be in 4-D? It boggles the mind!
Until then, be sure to check back periodically for such delightful posts as Jack Sheppard, Thief, Highwayman & Escapologist and The Stepney Witch Bottle, and the gape-worthy, jealousy-inducing Transformation on Princelet St.
Friday, November 04, 2011
And for those who prefer their theory in bite-sized morsels, here's an old post of mine in which I share many of M.R. James' personal theories and demonstrate the Usefulness and Importance of Dots.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Poor Elaine Mercado, then. Grave's End is her story about a "true" haunting that occurred in her house from 1982 to 1995. Mercado felt a sensation of being watched as soon as she moved into the place. Her daughters also reported strange "suffocating" dreams and unexplained phenomena (water being thrown on them, hair clips being hurled at them, etc.) and saw eerie mists and flickering balls of glowing light bouncing around the ceiling. Mercado's then-husband remained tight-lipped about the whole thing, but after he moved out admitted to having had a few of those dreams himself.
Mercado comes across as a kind and reasonable if not-very-bright person. I don't mean to imply she lacks intelligence. She's a nurse, so she is capable and not stupid. But she comes across, in the book, as astonishingly slow-witted or perhaps obstinate, I can't quite decide. Either she really cannot make the connections between these strange happenings and a capital-h Haunting, or she is incredibly stubborn. For years the house shows clear and definite signs of being Very Haunted Indeed and she refuses not only to believe but even to understand what's happening to her. She takes a course on parapsychology at Kingsborough Community College and, because she cannot find anything in her textbook that exactly matches what is happening in her home, comes to the bizarre conclusion that she is not experiencing anything truly paranormal:
"I was glad to have read about other people in similar circumstances but in each story I found so much that was not related to what we were experiencing. We had such a "mix" of things in the house, such a jumble of seemingly disconnected phenomena. My studies in the paranormal left me with the feeling that there might be no way to resolve the problem plaguing my house."
Her strange incapacity for any kind of lateral thinking at all makes for a decidedly frustrating reading experience. It's really shocking it took her thirteen years to figure this shit out. It's also really shocking the way they discover things, like crawl spaces and "dirt rooms" in the cellar that they didn't even know existed. I'm like, "How did you not check out these things before you bought the house?!" They hadn't even looked in the basement when they bought the place! They hadn't even seen the furnace! Granted, there was an old couple living in the basement when they went to look at the place who were quite hostile and essentially blocked them from looking at these things, but still! They hadn't seen the furnace!
The other issue I have with the book is that she's no storyteller. I don't mind her straightforward, plain-spoken prose (even if I suspect she doesn't know the difference between tortuous and torturous). She's a layperson, not a professional writer. And indeed, her plain-speaking and, yes, skepticism, do add to the overall sense of horror in the book. But her pacing is completely off; the book is front-loaded with extraneous detail and then quite rushed at the end. Thirteen years of build-up is summarily undercut by a single chapter that takes place over the course of a single nine-hour period in which Hans Holzer and a fellow medium "cleanse" the house. After all that, the ghosts are banished in an afternoon.
I suppose this would be my major beef with the book. Well, that, and the fact that she fails to really get into any of the history of the neighborhood. I was looking forward to some investigative facts that would lend new insight into Gravesend. She does talk about some 19th century Dutch "settlers" who were trapped in a mine but fails to expand on any factual/historical details (also I'm not sure you'd use the term "settlers" for people living in Brooklyn in the 19th century). Also, I wish she hadn't dropped certain storylines, such as the embittered elderly couple who had to leave the house when she and her husband bought it. I was sure they'd come back.
Since it's generally a pretty breezy read, though, I have to forgive it many of its faults. Also, it's a great little slice of NYC history, in its own way. Most importantly, the book does deliver the chills. One scene in particular stays with me. Elaine and her daughters give a house party (for Halloween, no less) and one of her co-workers who is sensitive to all things psychic is basically stopped in her proverbial tracks as soon as she enters the house. "There's a tiny woman in a wedding dress under your stairs," she says. "She's crying." The week before, Elaine had found an old, yellowed size-four wedding dress in the crawl space beneath the stairs. For some reason, that image really got me.
And hell, something -- a plastic bag, I think -- rustled in my closet just now and I fucking froze in my seat. So that's hubris for ya: just when you think you're so clever, it happens to you. And then everything's different, isn't it? Suddenly you're no so smart anymore. I think that's the real lesson I'm going to take away from Grave's End. Be humble, and check your crawl space.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Happy Halloween everyone!
May you eat lots of candy, drink lots of beer, watch lots of Treehouse of Horror reruns, and, if the mood strikes you, whip up some Skittlebrau.
Also, if you have a Kindle, might I suggest buying Boroughs of the Dead to celebrate this spookiest of holidays? It's only $2.99 and the stories in it are terrific (in the old, medieval sense of the word), as this review will attest. What? You know I don't go in for false modesty. Spinster Aunts tell it like it is.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Monday, October 24, 2011
Trailers from Hell covers that wonderful witchy romp Bell, Book and Candle.
Slant covers the 25 Best Horror Films of the Aughts.
And Cracked gives us more Creepy Urban Legends.
And my book giveaway is still going strong! So enter now!
Friday, October 21, 2011
Now! Speaking of books.... I am going to give away one free copy of Boroughs of the Dead between now and Halloween. Contest rules are simple: tell me what you think is the scariest thing about New York City and why. It can be anything at all, from the jokey/mundane (Broadway musicals) to the I-really-do-find-it-very-frightening (Willowbrook). The best answer will be selected on Halloween. You can submit answers here in the comments section, or to @SpinsterAunt on Twitter.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
There are, to begin with, the trailers for Hugo and Woman in Black (Woman in Black trailer via Daily Dead).
My new favorite podcast, devoted to M.R. James: A Podcast to the Curious.
Tor makes suggestions for Halloween reading with their All Hallows Read.
And I, why today I shall spend my time putting together my Gallus Mag costume and working on a soon to be announced top-secret project!
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Now to get back to what I'm best at! Strolling through autumn leaves and letting my mind wander! For the rest of the month I think I'll just savor the lead-up to Halloween, reading and watching as many spooky things as I can, traipsing through Green-Wood, giving ghost tours, and generally enjoying life instead of clickety-click-clicking relentlessly on my sales figures. And you will benefit, dear reader, by not being bored to death hearing me drone on and on about my bloody book!
I'm off to the movies now! Can't wait to share things with you soon.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Hello friends and readers!
I am pleased to announce that my collection of short stories is now available in trade paperback on Amazon.com.
I am working on getting it listed on Amazon.ca as well (for you Canucks out there) and in e-reader editions. It is already available for Kindle, with a slightly different cover.
Thanks for all your support!
Monday, October 03, 2011
The Horror Zine
Bards & Sages Quarterly
SNM Horror Magazine
Her story in The Horror Zine made Editor's Pick this month -- whose editor Jeani Rector called it "original and awesome" -- and placed third in SNM's October Opiates issue. Third! Ha! She'll never be number one. She'll have to kill me first.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
In other news, my Kickstarter campaign has launched! Please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/724877501/boroughs-of-the-dead for more info or to make a donation.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
By contrast, confining the ghost to Yoshimi's POV in the J-horror version calls her mental stability into question in a much more effective way than Salles/Connelly's dull, repetitive neurotic shriekings at, say, an unfinished load of laundry. The audience has far more empathy for poor Yoshimi, who is seeing horrifying visions, than it does for Dahlia, who merely comes off as alternately whiny and strident for most of the film because essentially the only thing that's really bothering her is a drip in her ceiling. Oh, yes, and her flashbacks to her childhood.
Finally, one last little gripe I have with the writing in this film is that it is riddled with missed opportunities. The writers let things be far too easy for Dahlia. For example, when she is late to pick up Ceci from school because of a job interview, there are absolutely no consequences. She shows up late and kindergarten teacher Camryn Manheim cheerfully says, "Oh no worries, we put her in the after-school program." Little Ceci is happily reading a story with her fellow future latchkey kids. Phew! Good thing that scene ended comfortably! I'd hate for there to be any conflict in this story. In Nakata's version, the child's father ends up taking her home from school, and a bitter parental fight subsequently ensues.
Everything just comes so easily to Dahila. In her job interview she is hired on the spot. Yoshimi runs out of the interview to pick up her child and doesn't find out until later that she actually got it anyway. Oh, and a little reality-based nit-pick? Dahila is a former copy-editor who gets a job as a lab assistant at a radiology clinic. With absolutely no medial training. "I've always been interested in medicine." "You're hired!" Sure, why not? I mean, maybe in the heady pre-recession days of 2005 you could just waltz into a doctor's office and demand a job, I don't know. Seems to sound a bit of a false note to me. Anyway. Minor gripe. But it does relate to the writers' total inability to allow Dahlia to feel anything really serious at all for basically the first hour of the film.
Which brings me back to the concept of POV, and withholding information.
Why do Salles et al not allow Dahlia to get into anything honestly frightening for such a very long time?
I think perhaps they were trying too hard to create atmosphere and maintain suspense, all at the expense of storytelling.
As a writer, I find I am very often afraid to give too much away lest I undercut the Mystery of It All. The writers of Salles' Dark Water seemed to suffer from this same insecurity. Certainly withholding some information is necessary for suspenseful storytelling, to an extent, but so then is revelation. Let them see the bomb under the table for goodness sake. By withholding so very much in the first hour of the film, the American version just ended up boring the pants off me.
Extended scenes of Dahlia and Ceci on the Roosevelt Island tram, at the lawyer's office, at school, in the apartment, etc. began to wear me down. The scene where they view their potential new apartment seemed to be filmed in real time. Without an ounce of exaggeration, I've seen actual New York City apartments in less time than it took John C. Reilly to show us the one in Dark Water (his best lines in this scene: "There's the stove. There's the dishwasher."). As a result, the pacing in this film suffered terribly. Which is a shame, because the last 45 minutes of the movie actually weren't bad. It's amazing how easily I can see this in someone else's story and yet I commit this same error constantly while writing my own. Scene after scene of exposition and atmosphere-establishing clog the beginnings of my stories despite the fact that I must have been told to start in medias res about a thousand times.
Suddenly it became clear to me how POV and info withholding (and by extension, pacing) are intimately entwined. If you deny your main character access to the world of the story by overly restricting his/her point of view, you'll end up excessively withholding information, and a delayed story-start will be the inevitable consequence. Yes, you can certainly give secondary characters information and integrate them into the storyline but you've got to remember who your main character is and not lose sight of that.
Again, I think the temptation with writing horror is to withhold excessively out of fear of losing suspense or coming off as unsophisticated. But the alternative -- a boring 60 minutes of watching Jennifer Connelly on the phone with her landlord -- is much, much worse.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
I just finished reading Rebecca Stead's thrilling YA novel, When You Reach Me. It's a bit of a genre-bender, starting out as a mystery and becoming more science fiction-y by the end of it, with plenty of the best kind of YA coming-of-age tenderness and poignancy all mashed up in there. I have kind of a pet peeve with really maudlin coming-of-age stories (I'm looking at you, Bridge to Terabithia) so I doubly appreciate a book that makes me cry while never stooping to manipulation. When You Reach Me walks that fine line ably, with such spare, unsentimental prose that the emotional effects of it cut that much more deeply. I kept having to stop whilst reading it on the subway and pretend to look up at something verrrry interesting and invisible on the ceiling.
With finely woven mystery elements, exquisite attention to detail, and some superb characterization, even in the minor characters (like Alice Evans, the shy-bladder girl at school), When You Reach Me doesn't drop a single stitch. Stead's obvious geek-girl fandom of Madeleine L'Engle is endearing, too, since it puts the reader in the place of sharing some collective memory -- what girl aged ten-to-twelve was not enraptured by L'Engle trilogy? -- and creates a kind of instant intimacy with Miranda, the protagonist. A vintage NYC setting only helped matters in my mind, as did the wonderful character of Miranda's mother, a frustrated, artsy type forced to toil humiliatingly in a law office. Next time I go to work I may wear purple and black striped stockings.
P.S. I found the image here.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
So, voila: The Fairy who Bestowed the Gift of Beauty
A young girl, just freshly turned sixteen, was walking home from Vespers one evening when she spied a beautiful woman all dressed in white. The beautiful woman watched her silently as she passed. This happened every day for three days and the young girl became curious. Who was this strange creature? On the fourth day the woman said, "Girl, wouldn't you love to become as lovely as I am?" And of course the girl replied, "Yes."
The woman told her to go home and cover all the mirrors in the house with white cloth and wait until midnight, when she would be visited by three beautiful ladies who would bestow their beauty upon her. "Do not be afraid, do not call upon the Virgin Mary," the woman said.
The young girl went home and did exactly as she was told, but in her excitement, she forgot to cover one mirror. The three women showed up at the stroke of midnight, dazzlingly radiant. But in the one small mirror she forgot to cover, the young girl saw the reflection of their backs: hideous, hairy and malformed, like "those of an animal."
The girl screamed and ran out of the house. On the street, she smacked right into the beautiful temptress who had conned her into this in the first place.
"Fool!" cried the woman, for she knew exactly what the girl had done.
She advanced toward the girl, who backed away. As she cowered she saw that the beautiful woman had the hairy cloven hooves of a goat peeking out from beneath her robe.
"Mother Mary, save me!" screamed the girl.
A bright white flashed from the sky, and when it had vanished, the evil fairy was gone.
The moral of this one? Don't trust a beautiful woman with ugly feet.
I'd love to do an imaginary ghostly travelogue again some time. If you're reading this, you must have a ghost story or two from your home town. Why don't you share it with me? Or, maybe you can suggest another town I can do a series on. Haunted Cincinnati? Haunted Krakow? Haunted Panama City? Do tell, won't you?
Monday, May 23, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
The tour begins at the gothic church Santi Giovanni e Paolo and wends its way over to the campo de Gheto Novo. At the Gothic church, author Alberto Toso Fei entertains us with the story of the Bell Ringer's Skeleton. In this 19th century tale, a curiously tall bellringer is approached by a medical doctor who, marveling over his strange proportions and giant hands, convinces him to sell his body to science. The bellringer accepts, as the doctor pays up front. Now I bet you think you know where this is going, right? But no, no body-snatchers here. The bellringer merely assumes he'll outlive the aged doctor, and happily takes the money to the tavern every night thereafter, where he drinks and drinks to his heart's content. Unfortunately, the bellringer, who's never had so much money all at once before, goes a tad overboard and ends up drinking himself to death. Whoops! Guess who's body's on display at the Museum of Natural History right now? Sucker! Watch the booze kids: that's the moral of this story. Ghost quotient: medium. The spectral skeleton apparently climbs up the tower to ring the bell at midnight, then stumbles down to the street to beg the passersby for enough money to buy himself back. Might've been scarier if the premise wasn't so wryly amusing. [Disclaimer: "ghost quotient" is an entirely meaningless criterion I just invented now to make this sound more fancy.]
Along we walk, and, strangely the author skirts the tour past the Island of the Dead, possibly because he disdains the obvious... although he does tell the perfect story to imagine whilst staring out over the water: The Cosmographer who stole Lucifer's Dreams. Fra Mauro, a monk living on San Michele in the mid-1400s, was an amazing cartographer who left a treasure trove of maps when he died. The only strange thing about him: he never once left Venice to visit any of the places he drew. This is how he did it: he saw the images in dream -- not his own, mind you, but the dreams of the devil, which he (get this) projected onto the cloudy skies above Venice. Art! Hubris! Proto-cinema! I love it. But, as all things the devil wrought, these dreams sometimes slipped out of his grasp and moved through the skies freely, terrifying townspeople and directing witches on their way to the sabbath. Some say they can still be seen up there on cloudy nights, when a storm rages... Weird quotient: high. This story is pure awesome.
We keep toddling along on our imagination tour just until the fondamenta dei Mori, where we stop at number 3399. There, we learn the story of Tintoretto -- yes, the painter -- and how his daughter was nearly tricked by a witch. Apparently a beautiful, mysterious woman told the little girl that she could become a nun if she hid her communion wafers instead of eating them in church, and instead took them home and hid them. Once she had ten, she'd become a nun. The girl obeyed the woman but halfway through the plan, freaked out and spilled it to her pops. Tintoretto was wise in the ways of the witch and knew the old crone would recruit the girl to the craft once she got the ten wafers. He told his daughter wait five more days, then invite the woman into the house to get the wafers. Of course, once the witch crossed the threshold, the artist "rushed her with a knobby stick" until she screeched, changed herself into a cat and flew out the window. Witch factor: medium to high. I like the idea of the witch recruiting a youngster through deceit, like a drug pusher.
Finally, at the Gheto Novo, we learn of the Plague of the Children, a twist on the Pied Piper tale, where the sins of parents are thrust upon their sons and daughters. In the summer of 1576 there was a Plague in Venice and many people died. But in the Jewish Ghetto, a strange thing happened: only children died. One after the other all the children perished, but not a single parent died. They begged the rabbi to find a solution and he pored over esoteric books like Buffy the Vampire Slayer for days and days to no avail. Finally one night he had a dream: in his dream he saw little children playing and dancing in the graveyard. He tore the shroud off one of the children, whose ghost returned the next night to beg for it back. "I cannot return without my shroud," the ghost child said. The rabbi refused unless the child could tell him the cause of the Plague of the Children, and the child told him it happened because a woman had killed her newborn. Well, they brought that crazy bitch to justice and, sure enough, no child died in the Ghetto again... for the rest of the summer. Little lamb* quotient: High. I love the idea of a ghost child wailing, "Give me my shrouuuuud!"
There are far, far many more stories than these; I've merely selected my favorites. No doubt any ghost aficionado will find their own favorites if the buy the book, and no doubt the tour will be even more impressive if walked while glimpsing the macabre floating island of death and such things. But for now, I am content with my virtual tour, and happy to let myself imagine what the ghosts themselves might look like something even someone present at the scene might be forced to do (ghosts have a strange habit of being uncooperative with tour groups and often failing to appear on demand).
One last little bit of business: nowhere in the book does the author mention how long it would take to walk this route, though I doubt it very much matters since time has no meaning in the land of the dead....
Join me next week for part two, where for wizards and mermaids and sainted mothers.
* Little lambs mark the graves of dead children in Green-Wood Cemetery.
Monday, May 09, 2011
Venetian Cemetery Photo courtesy of Lisa Manetti
Saturday, May 07, 2011
I'm currently reading two books about ghosts and Venice: Susan Hill's The Man in the Picture, and Alberto Toso Fei's Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories, which jumped off my friend's bookshelf and thrust itself into my hands back in February, and so I obligingly took it home. The chapter titles alone fire the imagination: The Flight of the Witch, The Sigh of the Severed Head, The Sad Song of the Mermaid. Perhaps, as I move through the book next week and through the rest of the month, I shall post updates, imaginary travelogues, that take you and I through the very hauntedest haunts of the city watery graves! And, of course, a review of The Man in the Picture is forthcoming as well!