Monthly Archives: February 2015

March Reading List

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Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “The Tears of Squonk”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter” by Glen David Gold

Card picked: Three of Clubs

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts:

“The Tears of Squonk” is the sad tale of the Nash Family Circus. Under the utterly honest leadership of Ridley Nash (he inwardly winces when referred to as “Colonel” Nash since he never served in the military), the ragtag circus had traveled the US for 23 years before ending up in Olson, Tennessee in March of 1916. Olson is a quiet railroad town. Gold assures us “it was not at all a place for murder.”

Squonk is Joseph Bales, a European-educated clown and the trainer of Mary the Elephant. Mary and Squonk are the circus’s main draw, though Bales has always warned that Mary hates horses. Horses will send her into a frenzy. And this is exactly what happens when Mary spots Timothy Phelps atop his horse as the circus parades through Olson. Mary attacks and kills Phelps rather gruesomely. The town wants justice and Bales has a suggestion: hang Mary using the railroad yard’s derrick.

Nash knows his circus is pretty much sunk without Mary. In fact, he still owes $6500 on his purchase of Squonk and Mary’s contract. He also knows that this is the only thing he can possibly do to make things right with the town. They hang Mary the Elephant and Bales disappears.

The Nash Circus continues to limp along, but Ridley Nash is a changed man. He’s subtly less honest–he doesn’t even protest when the seal trainer, his newest act, insists that his charges are college educated. Nash heads to California alone to scout out new acts and is approached by an ex-railway detective. Mary and Bales may not have been who they seemed to be. Was Mary an insane elephant? Or was she just the tool of an evil man?

This story is based on a bizarre true event. Mary was an elephant who attacked and killed an inexperienced trainer during a parade through Kingsport, TN in 1916. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, decided that public execution was the solution and Mary was hung in the Clinchfield Railroad yard. This might only be considered folklore if not for a photograph of the event. (via Wikipedia)

Previously: Carter Beats the Devil was one of my top reads a couple years back and a story by Glen David Gold was definitely a reason this anthology caught my eye. Gold seems to have a talent for setting historical fiction slightly askew to reality, which I really envy.

Review ~ The Writing Dead

This book was provided to me by University Press of Mississippi via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Writing Dead: Talking Terror with TV’s Top Horror Writers by Thomas Fahy

Cover via Goodreads

The Writing Dead features interviews with the writers of today’s most frightening and fascinating shows. They include some of television’s biggest names—Carlton Cuse (Lost and Bates Motel), Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies), David Greenwalt (Angel and Grimm), Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, The Terminator series, Aliens, and The Abyss), Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica), Brian McGreevy (Hemlock Grove), Alexander Woo (True Blood), James Wong (The X-Files, Millennium, American Horror Story, and Final Destination), Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files and Millennium), Richard Hatem (Supernatural, The Dead Zone, and The Mothman Prophecies), Scott Buck (Dexter), Anna Fricke (Being Human), and Jim Dunn (Haven).

The Writing Dead features thought-provoking, never-before-published interviews with these top writers and gives the creators an opportunity to delve more deeply into television horror than anything found online. In addition to revealing behind-the-scene glimpses, these writers discuss favorite characters and story lines and talk about what they find most frightening. They offer insights into the writing process reflecting on the scary works that influenced their careers. And they reveal their own personal fascinations with the genre.  (via Goodreads)

This book of interviews has a great pedigree. If you’ve watched any “horror” television in the last 15 years, you’ve seen these writers at work. Unfortunately, the last 10 years has been hard on some of the periodicals, like Starlog and Fangoria, that often provided fans with this sort of longer form interviews. Thomas Fahy works from a certain set of questions (such as “What do you think are some of the biggest pitfalls in horror writing?” and “What is the best criticism that you’ve received as a writer?”) as well as asking more project- and writer-specific questions.

A few observations:

Many of these writers had very little “genre” experience before working on their horror show. Most rely on really good characters to carry them through. One of the exceptions is Brian Fuller (executive producer/writer of Hannibal and creator of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me). Fuller’s interview was  the primary reason I requested this ARC. Fuller gives a lot of props to the horror literature and movie canon that has gone before him, something I was surprised to find lacking in many of the other interviews.

(Personally, I think Fuller is doing some of the best work in horror TV at the moment. I was also sad that his Mockingbird Lane didn’t get a mention.)

One thing that many of these TV projects have in common is that they are based on previously existing sources (examples Hannibal, True Blood, Dexter, Bates Motel). One of the great things Fahy asks each of these writers is how they deal with, as  Carlton Cuse puts it, “the long shadow” of the earlier work. Cuse, for example points out that Bates Motel removes itself from Psycho by setting what is technically a prequel in a modern setting, which is chronologically after the movie and its sequels.

I was amused by how many writers dodged the question of the best criticism they’ve gotten in their careers.

Publishing info, my copy: University Press of Mississippi, ARC, PDF copy. The Kindle version of this document contained wonky formatting. This book will be released on March 3, 2015.
Acquired: NetGalley
Genre: Non-fiction, television & film

Magic Monday ~ The Sphinx, February 1905

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

William Ellsworth RobinsonThe English Notes column by Harry Whitley in the February 1905 edition of The Sphinx covered one of the seminal wizard wars of the 20th century: the squabble between Ching Ling Foo and Chung Ling Soo. Ching Ling Foo, a magician actually from China, wanted to expose Chung Ling Soo (William Robinson) to be a fraud. The press was less interested in that story and more interested in a head-to-head talent battle between the “Oriental” magicians. Though Ching Ling Foo had previously suggested such a contest, he failed to appear for the showdown.

Two notes:

I’m not the only one to often scramble these names. The event is retold twice in this issue of The Sphinx, but the first time the feud is between Ching Ling Foo and Chung Ling Loo though all the other details are the same. I don’t find any info on Chung Ling Loo, though Englishman Stanley Collins does take the performing name of Loo Sing in 1905.

Second, Wikipedia notes that Ching Ling Foo’s engagement at the Empire Theater lasts only four weeks and Chung Ling Soo remains at the Hippodrome for three months [1]. The implication that the stunt hurt Ching Ling Foo. Whitley notes:

The great Chinaman, Ching Ling Foo, also opened at the Empire, but his show contains nothing new or original, and his company of artists have a better reception than he has. [2]

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chung_Ling_Soo
  2. Whitley, Harry. “English Notes.” The Sphinx, Vol. 3 No. 12, February 1905, pg. 154

SmallAce

What Am I Reading?

I did a silly thing last week and picked up Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I probably wouldn’t have if she wouldn’t have started it in Pound Hall. I lived in Pound Hall! I’ve also promised Eric that I’d read PHYSICa this week. Dead Wake is on the back burner.

What Am I Writing?

I didn’t get to my Writerly Writing update yesterday. Last week went well-ish. I wrote 3600 words. Didn’t do any rewrites, and started about half dozen scenes. I suppose I’ll have to finish one or two of those this week. The current plan is still going well. Starting in March, I might add a monthly goal in addition to my daily and weekly goals (300 words & 3000 words).

On the Blog

  • Review of The Writing Dead
  • Review-a-thon? Maybe.

So, what are you reading? Any magic to share?

Deal Me In, Week 8 ~ “The Man of the Crowd”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Man of the Crowd” by Edgar Allan Poe

Card picked: Two of Hearts – Would you believe that? A wild card for the second week in a row. The third in six weeks! I decided again on an Obscure Literary Monster.

From: The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore’s website

Thoughts:

This little gem begins, as many of Poe’s stories do, with an epigraph, a quote by Jean de La Bruyère: “Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul” or, “This great misfortune, of not being able to be alone.”

Our unnamed narrator is on the mend after being sick for a while (“merely to breathe was enjoyment,” he comments) and is observing the crowd from the window of a London coffee house. Poe treats us to feats of deductive reasoning as the narrator infers the professions and positions of many of the passers-by. Toward dark, though, he is especially intrigued by one old man who seems to defy other description.

…there arose confusedly and paradoxically within my mind, the ideas of vast mental power, of caution, of penuriousness, of avarice, of coolness, of malice, of blood-thirstiness, of triumph, of merriment, of excessive terror, of intense — of supreme despair. I felt singularly aroused, startled, fascinated. “How wild a history,” I said to myself, “is written within that bosom!

Despite his fragile health and changing weather, our narrator decides to follow this man. He’s led all around London, from street to tavern to docks, never stopping anywhere for more than a second or two and always led by the ever-present people of London. In fact, this old man only seems invigorated by the crowd; the bigger, the better. The narrator decides that this strange being is forever restless and unexplainable. He simply exists everywhere there are people. This man has the great misfortune of not being able to be alone.

As Obscure Literary Monsters go, this one is at least disquieting, if not truly monstrous. Still, how often have I clicked from Facebook to Twitter to Reddit to my RSS feed reader and back to Facebook again. The Man may still exist even if the Crowd is different.

Is This Your Card?

Review ~ “The Old Nurse’s Story”

“The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cover via Goodreads
I’m *fairly* sure that I hadn’t read “The Old Nurse’s Story” before, but it seemed very, very familiar. Have I seen an adaptation of it somewhere? Maaaybe? Or is it one of the quintessential gothic short stories and I’ve run into its tropes all over the place? It’s hard to tell.

Gaskell begins the tale with a sort of tangled recitation of heredity. Even rereading it, it’s kind of hard to figure out just who the old nurse means when she talks of the children’s grandmother. I think the only thing I’ve read that had a more tangled family tree, from a reader’s point of view, is Wuthering Heights. Happily, this background is quickly left behind for the meat of the story.

An orphan and her nurse are sent to live in an old manor house with a distant relative of the orphan. The description of the house and the moors are definitely worth the read. Of my reading this year, thus far, only Doyle paints a better picture of desolate countryside. Some issue weighs upon Miss Furnivall, the mistress of Furivall Manor, and indeed it pervades the house as well. There is a mysterious broken organ, portraits that are not hung on the walls, and an entire wing of the house that is shut to everyone. Hester, the old nurse of the title, is okay with these things. She’s even okay with the creepy organ music that is heard during storms. What she’s not okay with is the ghostly little girl who wants to lure her charge outside on cold winter nights.

A trend I’m seeing in my gothic reading: disenfranchised characters. In Castle Otranto, Isabella’s status seems to be downgraded to “ward,” after the death of her fiance because her father isn’t immediately in evidence. Power differential drive plot points. If Miss Rosamond wasn’t an orphan, she and her nurse couldn’t be so easily sent to live at Furivall Manor. We also spend quite some time in Otranto getting information from Bianca, the maid. Here, in “The Old Nurse’s Story,” our narrator is the nurse and she spends her time among the servants, of course. Servants know things. They span generations. They are the least powerful in terms of social standing, but probably the most powerful in terms of narrative. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Mr. & Mrs. Barrymore, servants at Baskerville Hall, are key to one of the subplots.

Hester outside following Rosamond’s footprints around the closed up wing of Furivall Manor also reminded me of many of the great gothic elements in K.J. Kabza’s “The Soul in the Bell Jar.”

Publishing info, my copy: From Curious, If True: Strange Tales, Kindle ebook version
Acquired: Amazon
Genre: Gothic horror
Previously: As a 19th century writer of gothic and weird fiction, I’ve been meaning to read Gaskell and have acquired a few of her books.

Gothic_Ken Russell

Magic Monday ~ Sponge Bunnies!

MagicMonday

I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature.  I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

Sponge bunnies are a magic prop similar to classic red sponge balls. They’re handy for palming (ha, ha), but with the added fun of bunny-ness. A perfunctory search didn’t turn up much in the way of the history of sponge bunnies, but they’ve been used since at least the late 60s, early 70s. The advantage of bunnies versus balls is that they can easily be anthropomorphized. Sponge bunnies can “help” in other tricks (for example, “if the card selected does not end in the desired position, you can ‘walk’ the sponge bunny over the cards so he can ‘smell’ the correct card”1) or be used to ramp up into something more spectacular like a live rabbit production.

My favorite sponge bunny routine is the one done by the magic dragon:

1 de Pazos, Luciano, “Luciano’s Flip Out,” M-U-M, August 1975, Vol. 65, pg. 25

SmallAce

What Am I Reading?

Didn’t get much reading done last week. I’m still working on Dead Wake by Erik Larson. This week I’ll also be reading:

  • “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell (with a review of it on Thursday)
  • The February 1905 issue of The Sphinx (for next Monday)
  • “The Man of the Crowd” by Edgar Allan Poe for Deal Me In (on Saturday/Sunday)