Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and podcasts.
The Route of Ice & Salt by José Luis Zárate presents a loose retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, told from the point of view of the ship captain, who carries the crates of soil from Transylvania to England. Along the way, some deadly misfortune begins to befall the crew.
Told through the captain’s journals, the novella is beautiful written, vibrantly erotic, and deeply unsettling. The captain is gay, harboring secret desires for the men of his crew. But he keeps these desires locked down inside himself in order to maintain his position and safety in the world. He’s a fascinating character, with many layers of depths and his own secret courage. It’s a powerful story. Continue reading “Culture Consumption: April 2020”
Junji Ito is a master of horror storytelling. His beautifully illustrated comics offer deeply disturbing, strange tales, exploring cosmic and body horror. Fantastic though these stories generally are — in my experience — they tend not to focus on character development, as much as they reveal the bizarre ways the world can be twisted into utterly horrifying experiences.
In this way, No Longer Human is somewhat of a departure from his previous work. While it contains the same level of gorgeous artwork combined with incredibly unsettling horrors, it’s more grounded, focusing on the life and experiences of Yozo Oba.
Creativity is a strange, nebulous thing — shifting between vast emptiness and the glorious noctilucence of starlight.
I’m currently in a state of vibrance, and Neil Gaiman’s quote about writing novels has never felt more appropriate. The world at large is facing massive challenges (to put it lightly) on a number of fronts, struggles that should be acknowledged and addressed — but, hey, I’m also in a state of vibrant creativity, so as far as my brain goes, it’s not all bad.
Here’s a few of the news and projects that have me in a state of joy right now:
• My chapbook, Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale(forthcoming from Interstellar Flight Press) has been up on NetGalley for a few weeks now — and the responses coming in have been mostly positive, such as this lovely review.
• For a long time, I’ve wanted to have my own places to write about horror movies, TV shows, video games, and dark lore. Although I’ve written about some of those things here, I’m finding it a bit too cluttered and I would like this blog to be dedicated to books and writing. Thus, I’ve finally created Once Upon the Weird, a place for all things unsettling and strange. A website is in the works, but in the meantime I’ve launched a newsletter (first issue to go out tomorrow). I’m honored by the early response. Thank you to everyone who has already subscribed.
• I’ve returned to working on my YA apocalyptic horror novel (which I started in November), progressing into the third act. A part of me feels like this should be the final section of the book, another part wonders if I need to explore the characters more before I wrap up. But the important bit is that the work is progressing and I’m feeling good about where it’s going.
• I’m starting work on a new horror movie script idea that swooped in and smacked me upside the head. Last week, I cleared my bedroom story board so that I could start putting up characters, scenes ideas, and other notes in order to begin preliminary work on the script. Movie scripts are such a different and interesting beast from any other kind of writing, and I’m fascinated by the unique challenge.
• Another new horror novel idea also came to me in the form of a Stephen King-esque nightmare, in which a girl with psychic powers takes up residence in a small town, where there’s a haunted apartment block. The idea is in the early, early stages, but I’ve started taking notes and have even dropped down a few loose scenes. This may be what I work on after I finish my current novel.
And that’s just to name a few ideas and projects that are in progress right now.
Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.
As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.
“I would rather wonder than know,” said May Rueffle in a recent Tin House interview. “…I think wondering is a way of inhabiting and lingering. There seems to be more dwelling. To dwell, inhabit, and linger. I’m interested in those things. And you can do that when you don’t know.”
Following years after the events of The Shining, a now-grown Danny Torrance struggles to deal with the traumas he endured as a child by suppressing his powers through alcohol. At the same time he starts to face and deal with his alcoholism, Abra Stone (a young girl becoming aware of her own powers) initiates a long distance friendship with Dan through the shining. When a cult of immortals who prey on children with powers becomes aware of Abra’s existence, Dan has to find a way to protect her.
Doctor Sleep is a fascinating challenge for any screenwriter and/or filmmaker. On the one hand, it’s an adaptation of Stephen Kings book. On the other, it also exists as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall — an adaptation that King is notably not a fan of, but who’s influence has entered pop culture to such an extent that it’s impossible to ignore.
I can’t speak to how well the movie adapts the book, as I have not read it yet. In comparison to Kubrick’s The Shinning, however, which can easily be listed among the scariest movies ever made, it seems inevitable that Doctor Sleep would pale in comparison. In other words, it’s really not that scary (with the exception of a particularly harrowing scene in the middle).
The filmmakers do a lot of work to call back to the 1980 film, designing the imagery and sound design so as to echo the original — both of which I enjoyed. However, Doctor Sleep doesn’t deliver on the ever present menace of The Shining. There are a number of reasons for this. The movie has to jump between multiple characters and locations across the U.S., eliminating the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped alone in a hotel through the winter. Doctor Sleep also is imbued with a greater amount of exposition and tends to be more on the nose with its horror, with the ghosts in full view — compared to The Shining in which much of the tension comes from the eerie uncertainty of what’s happening within the hotel.
It’s the portrayals of the Torrance family from the ‘80s that I found the most . . . upsetting? Disturbing? There’s an inherent challenge of trying to recreate the iconic portrayals of Jack (Nicholson), Wendy (Duvall), and Danny (Danny Lloyd) from the original movie. Other filmmakers have managed to pull of convincing computer generated recreations of past characters (Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, for example). For Doctor Sleep, however, the filmmakers (likely do to cost considerations) elected to cast actors who look eerily similar to their 1980s counterparts. The result represents a strange uncanny valley — they are similar enough to be recognizable, but dissimilar enough to be unsettling — which pulled me out of the movie just as much as bad CGI would have.
All of that said, I actually enjoyed the experience of Doctor Sleep. I particularly like the portrayal of Rose the Hat, who is an interesting blend of charming, cruel, compassionate to those in her group, and terrifying to those who are her victims. She’s was instantly a character I found fascinating — and one that I’d consider cosplaying or dressing up as for Halloween in the future.
As a completely separate experience from The Shining, and subsequently separate from my expectations for horror, Doctor Sleep works for me. I delighted in the movie as an ethereal dark fantasy, which offers up the dangerous underbelly to a world in which supernatural powers exist. There are parts of this that are visually beautiful, and parts of this that are graphically disturbing. Having watching the movie, I’m now wanting to go read the novel in order to dive more deeply into these characters and their backstories.
Description:“It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.
As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.
Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.”
My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing about The Rust Maidens for a while now, the book continually recommended by others in my social media feed as a stunning work of horror. Having now read it myself, I can whole heartedly agree with each and every one of these observations.
The story takes on body horror with young women at the center. This seems a natural progression, since, as the book illustrates, young women’s bodies are already not their own. One of the aspects of this book is how the mother’s rule the block, meeting out rules, structures, and punishments for their girls. When one of the girls gets pregnant, it’s the mother’s who decide what to do with her and her baby, regardless of what the girl wants (the boy is also irrelevant in this). So, when the young women’s bodies begin to change, taking on the oily, glass-strewn decay of the city, it goes from seeming to be a strange disease at first to seeming like an act of defiance. All the wrongs quickly become cast onto the shoulders of these girls, who dare to be anything other than the kinds of girls people expect them to be.
Maybe that’s why Phoebe remains untouched by this metamorphosis — she’s already something other than the kind of girl she’s expected to be. We see the story from her point of view — both during the events and long after. All at once, she is both horrified by the changes she sees in her cousin and the other girls, and awed by them, finding a strange beauty in their transformations. She holds so many levels of loss and guilt, feeling she’s made all the wrong choices along the way. I love her as a character, not because she’s perfect — she’s far from that — but because she comes off as so human, housing anger, sorrow, and compassion for the people and community around her.
This story is so touchingly beautiful on so many levels, providing a blend of deep, unsettling horror with human love and hope. I particularly love the way the relationships between these girls changes and evolves over the course of this story. It’s just so, so good. As soon as I read the last page, I clutched the book to my chest and just held it. I’ll be looking for all the things by Kiste in the future.
If you want to get some more insight into Kiste’s process writing The Rust Maidens and her love of horror, the Darkness Dwells podcast has a great interview.