Monthly Archives: August 2020

Notes, 8/30/20

From Around the Internet

Dinosaur Dracula’s 2020 Halloween Countdown – I spent a bit of time this week preparing for what I want to do in September and October, but it’s nothing compared to what Matt does over at Dinosaur Dracula.

Honestly, most of my time online this past week has been spent reveling in the coming autumn season. I have diversions planned.

I also changed my blog template to something that better handles the features of the Workpress block editor. I’m mostly pleased with it.

Currently Reading

The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker – My Classics Club spin book. I was hoping to finish it by Tuesday to start fresh with my RIP/FrightFall reading, but I’m only about 50% done. It’s slow, but not uncompelling. And it’s perilous and frightful enough to be seasonally appropriate.

Deal Me In

K♣️: “With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole” by Harlan Ellison
On one level, a story about the envy/hatred one artist can have for a superior artist in their own field. On another level, a level reached via an H. G. Wells stepping stone, a tale about colonialism and bring “art” to the “savages.”

About The Weather

Record: 50 days of 110+ temperatures in the Phoenix metro. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that’s the last of 110+.


Fall Blogging Events 2020

Fall Blogging Events
Read more – If you dare!

Notes, 8/23/20

From Around the Internet

Mabel Lee and Louise Pound: The Commemoration and the Rivalry – I didn’t know that Mabel Lee Hall on the UNL campus was demolished a while back. I maybe had a class or two there, so it’s not a deep loss to me aside from adding to the ever-sifting nature of the campus. In contrast, I lived in Pound Hall, demo-ed in 2017, for nearly my entire college career. What I didn’t know until now was that both women for whom the halls were named were influential in women’s sports on campus.

Literary canons exclude works no matter how selective canon makers are – Been thinking a lot about canon and “classics,” about what we gain from those things and what we are in danger of missing out on if we slavishly adhere to only canon. This is an older articles coincidentally from the Daily Nebraskan.

Tales of the Dead – Multo is at it again, blowing up my TBR list with a post on the book that inspired the ghostly storytelling session at a certain Swiss villa in 1816.

Deal Me In

Caught up on reading Deal Me In stories.

Week 33: 6❤️
“La Lune T’Attend” by Peter S. Beagle – A werewolf tale. I found the end solution to this story to be kind of abrupt. The “rules” of the mythology get put aside rather lightly.

Week 34: 3❤️
“The Children of the Shark God” also by Peter S. Beagle – You know in Greek/Roman mythology how the gods come down and father children with mortal women? This is a story of two children that don’t end up like Hercules.

About The Weather

We finally got a monsoon storm on Thursday night! After a crazy amount of record-setting heat, I got to turn the AC off until mid-Friday morning. We might get more weather tonight (Sunday), but we’re back to 110+ for another week. Regardless, it’s time for me to start planning my September/October/Halloween reading/movie watching activities. Maybe that will lead to me spending slightly less time in Tamriel

Draft No. 4

Draft No. 4

I added this book to my TBR list a couple months back when Deb @ Readerbuzz was reading it. I’ve been looking for books on writing nonfiction, but most of what I’ve found have been about writing memoirs, which isn’t quite what I’m after. I didn’t realize at the time that I’m slightly familiar with John McPhee. I’d read his A Sense of Where You Are years ago.

I looked up Draft No. 4 at the local online libraries and found that the Phoenix library had it — except they didn’t have it. I put in a hold, but then realized I was on a wait list for 0 copies. I suspect this happens when an online library had the license for a book, but it expired and the book wasn’t an automatic rebuy (if such a thing exists) due to lack of interest. I’ve also had it happen with a little known book about a 1910s serial killer. So I went to Amazon. The ebook was $10; the paperback was $12.75. I tossed the paperback into my cart and waited until we needed to round out an order. I still have a hangup about buying ebooks for a near premium price. In the meantime I checked out McPhee’s Levels of the Game.

A word about the paperback. It’s white. And it has this texture to it. Arizona is quite dusty. My white book has gotten dusty and resists cleaning because of the texture. I do no recommend reading it while eating Doritos.

Draft No. 4 is a fairly slim book. It’s earned a spot on my desk with my other writing books to be sure, though (like most of my favorite writing books) the practical advice is buried amid career anecdotes.

The first two chapters cover, roughly, the things that were of most interest to me: what’s a worthwhile idea to write long-form nonfiction about and what do you do with it once you have it. Turns out in McPhee’s experience, a good idea for a piece of nonfiction is a thing that the writer can commit time and effort to. What form will it take? Where will it end up? These are variable things. McPhee’s advice seems to be: keep an open mind and go with the flow. To me, that’s fairly comforting.

Of course, there is McPhee’s progression of drafts which is the second thing of particular non-entertainment-only interest to me. The first draft is simply getting things down, the philosophy of you can’t fix what doesn’t exist. In McPhee’s second draft, he tinkers with shape. The third draft is smoothing out the rough spots after giving it a verbal read-through. And the fourth draft? In the fourth draft, he calls into question weak wording and cuts about 10%. This cutting comes from writing for a magazine like Time where space is a premium. Ideas need to be cut, trimmed, distilled in order for there to be the proper number of lines for the piece when published in a print magazine. Even when not under those constraints, McPhee has found that this practice tightens up writing. (I have found this to be the case myself in the past.)

John McPhee is an entertaining writer and an entertaining teacher too. Draft No. 4 has a lot of stories from McPhee’s long career and some writing advice as well. Suitable even for those who aren’t crazy enough to write a book on a topic no one cares about. Yet.

Notes, 8/17/20

From Around the Internet

The 1918 Flu Faded in Our Collective Memory: We Might ‘Forget’ the Coronavirus, Too – I really didn’t know much about the 1918 epidemic before I started reading about its place in the late 1910’s resurgence of spiritualism.

The American Influenza Epidemic 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia – But if you *do* want to know more about the epidemic from primary sources, this looks like a great reference. (via Theodore Wheeler)

Good Thing: #AuGHOST – Artists around the internet are creating a ghost-a-day in August. Click through to check out the hashtag.

Good Thing: David Tennant Does A Podcast With… is back! Actor David Tennant is a delightful interviewer.

About The Weather

It’s been a crazy hot summer in the Phoenix Metro. As of this morning we’ve had:

  • 40 days 110+F
  • 9 days 115+F
  • 23 days of low temperatures of 90+F

And not much rain in the city. A big contributor to our heat is the amount of blacktop. The metro is replacing some roads and parking lots with “cooler” surfaces, which should help in years to come.

Between the heat and the increased sunlight, I don’t generally do well in the summer. This year has been especially tough considering that it hasn’t been cool enough to turn off the AC at night.

Outside: hot, bright, pandemic.
Inside: mildly cool, dim, sameness.

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow: And Other Stories

Like many people, I hadn’t really heard of The King in Yellow before the first season of True Detective which originally aired back in 2014. I was intrigued enough to add the Robert W. Chambers to my TBR list, but not enough to actually read the collection until six years later… Since The King in Yellow is considered a foundational text of genre literature, I included it on my Classics Club list, but was finally spurred to read it by the lectures of Michael Moir, whose Weird Lit class is available through YouTube.

Funnily enough, Chambers’ stories only have peripheral connection to True Detectives‘ narrative, and the King in Yellow, the play and personality, only have peripheral connection to the stories in this anthology.

The King in Yellow refers to a fictional play referenced in the first four stories of this collection. Reading the play is said to drive individual mad. The King in Yellow was published in 1895. Artifacts of forbidden knowledge were not unknown at this time to readers of M. R. James, Ambrose Bierce, and other authors of weird tales who preceded and inspired Chambers. The brain-break of insight will later become the bread and butter of writers such as H. P. Lovecraft.

As I mentioned, the first four stories of this collection directly mention the the King in Yellow, the Yellow Sign, the Masked Stranger, and the strange other world of Carcosa; all things from the fictional play which we are never given to read. The first story “The Repairer of Reputations” is possibly science fiction. Its setting is New York City in 1920. The United States has been at war with Germany and emerged from the conflict as a world power. Hildred, the narrator of our tale, assures us that he is totally, utterly fine, despite the head injury he recently sustained. His stay in an asylum was instead due to reading “The King in Yellow.” Because of his now keen insights, Hildred becomes a believer in the conspiracy theories of Mr. Wilde (whose death is cause by Wilde’s unhinged pet cat). Considering the unreliability of Hildred, the futuristic setting is probably just a delusion of the narrator. None of the other stories seem to involve the future.

I enjoyed the second story most of all. Many of the stories in this collection involve artists, but “The Mask” contains one of my personal favorite sub-genres of horror, though I’m not sure if I have a succinct name for it. It’s the type of horror in which the creation of art is the byproduct of something horrorible. Something like Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood in which a struggling artist stumbles upon a method of creating great sculptures…by covering the subject in plaster. Or the (possible) use of human intestines for violin strings in “The Ensouled Violin” by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. In “The Mask,” weird science innovated by reading the “The King in Yellow,” of course, inspires a sculptor to use a liquid-nitrogen-like substance to preserve living things. The effects are not permanent which leads to a strangely not unhappy ending for such a tale.

“In the Court of the Dragon” and “The Yellow Sign” have more connection to the forbidden manuscript and are more straight forward horror stories, but are maybe less interesting for it. In both, the narrators are harried by uncanny physical supernatural forces after reading “The King in Yellow.” Unfortunately, much of what these narrators experience is beyond description.

The lecture on these four stories mentioned two Ambrose Bierce tales that served as some direct inspiration to Chambers. In “Haïta the Shepherd,” Bierce names the god of shepherds Hastur. Hastur becomes a mentioned character in the forbidden play. Bierce’s story is pretty much a fable. Haïta is visited by a beautiful maiden, who leaves him when he tries to question or possess her. The maiden is, of course, named Happiness.

Carcosa plays a bigger part in Chamber’s works and is fairly close in nature to Ambrose Bierce vision in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa.” Carcosa is a limbo of sorts, or maybe the world as a spirit experiences it. The last line of Bierce’s story implies that the preceding was told by a spirit through a medium. Carcosa isn’t the comfortable Summerland that most spiritualist of the time touted.

Actually, the allusions to The King in Yellow don’t end after “The Yellow Sign.” Hastur is mentioned in “The Demoiselle d’Ys” and Chamber’s story actually bears a resemblance to “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” as the narrator travels through a strange dream-like landscape. The Wikipedia entry states that “The Demoiselle d’Ys” anticipates H. G. Wells’ “The Door in the Wall.” While I can see some similarities, it really very different. (I’ll be reading the entire The Door in the Wall collection in the near future and provide more thoughts on it then.)

I don’t believe “The Prophets’ Paradise” mentions “The King in Yellow,” but it’s not the most comprehensible work for a Chambers neophyte to read. It is a few pages of prose/poem fragments. “The Street of the Four Winds” was much more engaging and creepy; the best of these stories to read on a stormy Halloween night.

After this, according to Wikipedia, the stories shift to a more romantic philosophy. There are many bohemian artists, living in Paris. I skimmed my way through most of “The Street of the First Shell,” but then really lost interest in the anthology. Chambers is not an elegant or straight-forward writer. I think it’s in the ambiguities and gaps that his weird stories are interesting to most readers. Like many of that genre, I have a hard time investing in horrors that are too terrible to be named.

My Classics Club list

Dewey’s 24-Hour “Reverse” Readathon 2020

Decorative pic for the 24-hour Readathon.

Friday & Saturday, Aug. 7th-8th, is the second annual “Reverse” 24-hour Readathon. What’s reverse about it? Instead of starting (in the US) Saturday morning, it starts Friday evening. So, for me in Arizona, it will start at 5pm on Friday instead of 5am Saturday.

Will I end up reading more than I usually do during a 24-hour readathon? Probably not. I do like my sleep…

Hour 19 – 20

Finished House of M. Yeah, I know. I’m slow.

And my Deal Me In, Week 32 story: “Some Cupids Kill With Arrows” by Tansy Rayner Roberts. This story was a delight and a great pick-me-up after the heartbreak of House of M.

Hour 17 – 18

Still reading Draft No. 4. All those short stories yesterday made me feel like a speedy reader! Peanuts for a snack.

I have to put Draft No. 4 away for a while. There’s some heavy stuff to think about. And I’ve been sitting in the front room with the laptop and I think it’s finally gotten too hot for that. Time to adjourn to the office…

Finishing House of M and snaking more than expected. This time it’s a Nature Valley dark chocolate, peanut & almond granola bar.

Hour 15 – 16

Picking up Draft No. 4 by John McPhee at Ch. 4. Coffee and donuts (a powdered sugar and a plain Softee) for breakfast!

Hour 14.5

Mid-Event-ish Survey:

  1. What are you reading right now? Just woke up; coffee’s brewing.
  2. How many books have you read so far? Finished 5 short stories & 2 comic collections.
  3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I still have Destroyer in my queue and finishing Draft No. 4 this morning.
  4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? No major interruptions aside from sleep.
  5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I feel like I’ve already read more than usual, even though I’ve not going to log as many hours as a regular readathon.
Continue reading