Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - The Sorcerers - an Avon Satanic Gothic by Dorian Winslow (Daoma Winston)


Titles from Avon's brief Satanic Gothic line from the early '70s are pricey these days. I found an OK copy of this title for a decent price.

Dorian Winslow is a pseudonym of Daoma Winston, who passed away in 2013. Here's the Washington Post obituary detailing her career.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Having a Sip of The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula


Fortunately, BBC 4 radio allows streaming outside the UK. Just in time for Halloween, I gave Hammer Horror's The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula a listen.

Endeavoring to do things right, I closed my eyes and tried to immerse myself in the world, created from a Hammer script by Anthony Hinds for the Christopher Lee Dracula series. It was abandoned in favor of Dracula A.D. 1972

Re-imagined as Unquenchable with Mark Gattis directing, it proved to be an interesting experience, and I think I was successful in maximizing my immersion. I read of the Hammer films in The Monster Times and Famous Monsters of Filmland as a kid, long before I got to see any of them on late-night TV, so I have experience in visualizing the stories.

For the audio, I was quickly back in a Hammer Dracula world as soon as a young British woman named Penny just made it aboard a departing train, on her way in search of a cooler spot in 1934 India. A least that's what she claimed, upon meeting a pair of Indian teens and an Indian businessman.

It's pretty quickly clear Dracula's alive and embedded with an ancient Indian cult who are helping supply him blood as they plan rituals and nefarious activities.

The plot moves pretty fast with Penny and Prem, the young Indian man, working together to unlock Dracula's secrets and of course, survive, and it builds to some rousing moments and an appropriately chilling ending.

There's a bit of an in medias res feel, but then that's not unusual for a 90-minute feature that has to convey back story and character in fast order and get things rolling.

I enjoyed the aural descent into dark caverns and through twisting passages, and I was OK with the portrayal of the Count, though some reviews seem to complain about a lack of development. You mileage may vary, as with much of horror.

Though it's narrated by the great Michael Sheen, that's where my disappointment kicked in, that it was narrated at all.  Some of the voiceover sounds like it's straight from the original screenplay, perhaps a bit of preservation-thinking at work. That sometimes reminds that it's from a screenplay, a little like the Blacklist Table Reads.

It might have been more fun to let everything come to us by way of dialogue and effects, but it wasn't truly a spoiling impact.

Overall, I'm glad I got a chance to drop back into something almost part of the Hammer cannon. Apparently it'll be online another 28 or 29 days. Put it on while you wait for trick-or-treaters.
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Friday, October 27, 2017

Slow Glass, Ash and Me

Christine had said often as our cat Ashley showed signs of age and decline that he might not be with us much longer. I didn't argue, but I compartmentalized the concern and focused on taking care of him and just sharing the world with him.

Ash was not given to reach out with a paw and grab your arm for attention as our other cat, Oliver, is wont to do. He'd sit on your lap quietly in the evenings, facing away. Or he'd call out from the edge of the bathtub in the morning a minute before the alarm went off, hoping to have the tap turned on to a trickle so he could drink fresh, directly from the faucet.

In the days after his passing, I've found myself racking my brain, dredging for memories, specifics, wanting to hold on and realizing so much of life is day-to-day routine, and it's sometimes hard to pull moments from that. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, Ash showed up just after Hurricane Rita sent wind and rain into Northeast Texas in 2005, so he was with us 12 years. At first he was not adopted. At first we ran a newspaper ad seeking his owners. He'd been neutered and cared for at some point but later neglected it seemed. 

While we waited for someone to turn up, he stayed outside, and feeling vulnerable since he was blind in one eye; he'd sequester himself in the woods just on the outside of our wooden fence. If we stepped out the back door, he'd slither under the fence and charge to greet us. 

Those little mad runs are etched in my mind as are other moments, but I guess in grief in the desire to find all of 12 years immediately, I was hit with frustration and a lot of things including Rod McKuen poems resurfaced.

"The mind is such a junkyard," McKuen wrote in one poem, and I can confirm that. Sometimes I can watch a show I saw in the '60s and recite next lines. 

For other things, like a cool autumn evening sitting on a patio in Texas with Ash at my side, the mind's a little harder to access without things to jog it. 

Of leaves and memory

"I remembered today, that among the silly things you saved was a brown-and-yellow leaf. I shook out every book I owned to find it. Still it's lost..." - Another McKuen poem.

I read McKuen as a teen, disregarding teachers who dismissed him and longed for me to read Shelly, Browning or T.S. Eliot. Perhaps the lines were maudlin and purple, but the introvert I was, struggling to wrangle the depths of my feelings and contemplations, found resonance.

And that line came back to me. I've felt like that, doing the same seeking of intangible moments. I had to comb my office for a disk of photos. I had tucked it into my backpack during Hurricane Irma in case we had to evacuate here in Orlando. I took it out again before heading to Vegas, again to keep it safe, but I failed to tuck it back into the CD file box again with useless game disks that no longer work.

Finally I turned it up and fired up an old laptop and looked through snapshots and video clips.

I was reminded of a Marvel comic magazine I read for a while as a kid, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. It adapted Bob Shaw's "The Light of Other Days" then used the concept from that story, slow glass, as a framing device for future issues of the anthology comic.

With slow glass, instead of looking straight through a pane, light passes through slowly. A piece of glass exposed to a brook where deer come to sip and birds flutter, would reveal the scene much later when it emerged. 

Put a glass by a brook, then take it home and weeks later the scene would play again before you.

I pulled up images and video clips, pursing something similar, a return to moments when Ash was young and spry, always in what Christine referred to as His Own Ashley World but ever sweet-natured, affectionate, of course curious.

In Unknown Worlds, a gangster who sought to preserve his wife's memory, used slow glass to capture a day of her on the beach before murdering her in envy then wept when learning the emerging image would last only as long as she was originally exposed to the glass. 

What we have
Photos last a little longer, but I was struck by the sense of futility. Photos last longer, but they are still imperfect in their way.

Yet wonderful. 

I found video of Christine opening a present one Christmas, and Ash came bounding into the periphery, chasing a toy, flicking it under a china cabinet then following it as far under as his size allowed.

A snapshot of Ash sitting on a cat tree, his ever-quizzical expression aimed at me and directly into the camera lens.

Another snap of Ash standing on an afghan, frozen in the midst of a ritualistic stomp he did, mixed with a periodic miaou.

Video Ash in the yard, not doing much.

It was not enough of course. Nothing is enough in the loss of a pet or a loved one, but bittersweet is what we have. 

Nothing fully calls back all the memories you're chasing. As McKuen noted, the mind recalls "candy bars but not the Gettysburg address, Frank Sinatra's middle name but not the day your best friend died..."

But memory helps and images and video do their best to bring back the light of other days even if sometimes things are just a little blurry.












Sunday, October 22, 2017

RIP Ashley


I found an email from 2014 or so. I was letting Christine know our cat Ashley or Ash had been sluggish and was still sleeping on the bed in our second floor guest room. I was planning to take him to the vet to get him checked out.

That had become kind of routine the last few years. Ashley came to us blind in one eye, plagued by ear mites and suffering tooth decay that would later require one of his canine teeth be removed.

Once we had him clean and well fed again, he prospered and quickly graduated from an outside cat we were feeding to full companion animal status.

Chronic health problems developed two or three years ago including kidney disease, often a problem for cats as we learned with our beloved Miss Daisy. Sadly later came thyroid issues.

Friday morning seemed like one of those days. He was a little sluggish, so we decided Christine, who'd taken a day off, would take him to the vet while I taught my class.

The day turned out a little different. The vet said he looked anemic and did blood work. Anemia also goes with the kidney disease territory and I thought we might be buying Procrit, which is expensive, and trying to pump him back up.

But a short while after Christine brought him home, a short while after he'd played a bit with his longtime friend and companion, Oliver, he lay down on his side, limp and unmoving and breathing in quick, shallow breaths.

Home by then, I gave him a little while, thinking he needed to rest from the vet visit. He didn't improve, so I snatched him up and took him back to the vet.

The anemia was worse than expected and not to be corrected with a few shots of Procrit. The vet mentioned ultrasounds and blood transfusions at a specialist's office, and I knew we weren't going to put him through that.

The techs brought him from where he was being treated back into the exam room where Christine and I waited. They had him next to a hot bag of fluids that was acting to warm him, a brown blanket pulled to his shoulder. He lay on the blanket he'd come in on, a green polar fleece that I've warmed for him in the dryer regularly for the last couple of years. Kidney disease means a low threshold to the tolerance of cold as well. Sometimes I'd warm it as a substitute for my lap so that I could get some grading done with my laptop.

We petted him Friday afternoon, spoke to him, I kissed his head, and he blinked and moved his eyes, more of an acknowledgement than we'd been able to elicit at home. The vet had been giving him oxygen to compensate for what his blood couldn't do.

Then we let the vet administer the injections that bring suffering to an end, and in a few seconds he was gone. He lived with us twelve years, sweet natured, ever close, ever loving. Happy with any meal and never demanding of much in the way of flavor except once when we bought him health food.

He'd been starving when he blew up on our patio in Texas and remained fearful of going hungry again it always seemed. Once, when he still stayed outside in those early weeks of this relationship, I looked out the back window to see him in a standoff with a much larger raccoon who'd wanted to sample his dry food.

I'd have gladly refilled it, but he didn't know that.
Ash when he first arrived at our house. 

We knew him first as Gray Kitty and tried
 to find owners who never turned up.

Once we realized he was blind in one eye, he saw a specialist and received pressure-reducing drops to avoid headaches. On that first visit to the kitty eye doctor in Dallas, the physician wanted to show the other doctors the once-damaged and long-healed eye. She picked him up and took him to her colleagues then returned saying: "That is the best cat..." She saw too how sweet and calm he was.

Christine always had a special bond with him, always loved him best, and when we moved into our two-story home in Florida, she loved to watch him come trotting down the stairs from an upstairs nap, his motion fluid, his tail hiked high, his heart open and warm to her greeting.

So the good bye was difficult, and Friday night was sad.

As I mentioned to friends on Facebook, Christine and I went out early Saturday morning and looked up at the stars, checking for what we could see of the Orionid Meteor Shower since we'd waked early.

We didn't see any meteors but with an iPhone app, I located Orion, Tauras, the Twins, then more specifically Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Adhara.

I realized how vast and abiding the heavens and how small we are in comparison.

We seize the moments and the love we can as pass through life.

Ash was a bright, bright spot in our lives and will be a bright, bright spot in our hearts and memories forever.

Early posts on Ash:

Four on the Floor

Ashley's Eyes

Ashley's Eyes II


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Biblioholic's Bookshelf: The Devil's Churchyard


Haven't done a Biblioholic's Bookshelf post in a while. I've never picked up many books from the gothic era, though I've always been intrigued by the covers. Lately I've started acquiring titles that look interesting.

Seems Godfrey Turton, author of The Devil's Churchyard wrote non-fiction and a few novels. This one drew my interest what with the horror overtones. It may have been published in the Doubleday hardcover simply as a romantic thriller with the gothic packaging to come from the Pocket Books edition. I'm not sure.

It's the tale of Kate Evans who stumbles upon a secret stone-ringed altar and a strange vellum-covered book and is soon in the sights of an evil reverend who I suspect has a second congregation.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Things That Happened in Vegas

At the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.
Christine and I are back from a week in Las Vegas.

Here are a few things I did:

Saw Penn & Teller's show

Saw Eddie Griffin

Saw Cirque du Soleil O.

Ate. A LOT.

Shopped.

Hung out.

Walked the Strip.

Gambling not so much.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

So That Happened: Immersive Re-read of Stephen King's It


Took me 2 1/2  months the way I did it, reading it alongside other, slimmer books, but I finished a re-read of It, every word with far more care and contemplation than I probably gave it the first time around when I was a young and busy reporter.

It was great to re-visit those dark, dank sewers and contemplate the characters and the horror and the awe.

It reminded me how much depends on a bike named Silver and a sense of wonder, a bike as grand as that sense of summer in the tennis shoes in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. 

I'm glad to have re-visited and to look at it with fresh, more studious eyes. Above all--and there are some great scares--I'm glad to come to a new appreciation of the structure. Like the book that probably influenced it, John D. MacDonald's The End of the Night we get notice fairly soon up front of the ending, or at least some of the details, but for the whole story of what happened in 1958, we have to go on the concurrent journeys with the characters to learn all the details and how the ultimate defeat occurs.

Thats about all I have to say at the moment. Nothing more profound. Just that it was a great way to spend my reading life this summer.

I'm looking forward to the new film, even though it can't hope to treat the structure in the same way the book and even the miniseries did. The sewers, the house, the clown all look like interesting interpretations of a modern myth. Fun times.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Half A Decade Teaching Horror, Mystery and Suspense!?

The actual and official anniversary of my teaching gig's June 1, though it was in August that I stepped into the classroom for the first time five years ago.  It's hard to believe it's been so long.

It's been an interesting time. In a good way. My former comics editor and friend Roland Mann landed first at Full Sail University teaching in their MFA program for creative writing. Then he called me. I wasn't looking for a teaching job just yet though I'd completed an MFA, but Captain America was on the home page. Full Sail grads had worked on the production. I decided to re-think my timeline a bit. As my friend would put it later, "You're going: `I want to work at the Captain America school."

When I first learned I'd been hired to teach a focus of horror, mystery and suspense in a new creative writing BFA program a few months, I was still working as a corporate communications writer and web content coordinator.

I gave a month's notice and started preparing in my head by keeping Lovecraft stories open in one tab on my computer.

Between completing final tasks and assignments at that day job, I ventured into Antarctica again via At the Mountains of Madness and scoured horror web comics, movie sites and headed to the theater for Cabin in the Woods, The Raven, and The Hunger Games. 

Tom Waits "Walking Spanish" became an earworm, an anthem for short timer's syndrome.

Tomorrow morning there'll be laundry
But he'll be somewhere else to hear the call
Don't say good bye he's just leavin' early
He's walking Spanish down the hall...


When I first settled at my desk in my new gig in Orlando, I realized I had to codify what I'd done instinctively in writing fiction. I poured over things like The Philosophy of Horror by Noel Carroll and revisited Danse Macabre by Stephen King which I'd bought and read when it came out.

I did the same with mystery and thriller fiction and theory reading essays by Dorthy L. Sayers and academic essays on mystery greats. My formative years included Chandler, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald and Hammett as well as Lovecraft, King, Poe, so the course mixture was a good fit for me. My freshman English professor once told me I might someday offer something interesting to the academic world with my specialized knowledge in detective fiction, the focus of most of my papers for his class.

As things cranked up in Orlando, was a grand time those months putting the building blocks together for a course. I had to modify my thinking a bit as I began to meet late teen and early twenties students steeped in gaming an anime. I had to learn to show the influences of Stepehn King on Elfin Lied and Raymond Chandler on Death Note, and break down the tropes in Silent Hill and Left4Dead. But it's been a great ride.

Settling into the job and immersing myself in genre anew opened up a fresh wave of creativity for me also. I've written two new novels now and a host of short stories plus some scripts short and long. I didn't realize how much the corporate world had stifled me.

We had a fun five-year celebration this week just past for all of us who've been on board since 2012, and I got a pin. Full Sail began as a program for sound and music editors, mixers and engineers, so you earn a guitar pick for five and move into other mediums on successive milestones.

It's been a fun half decade. We'll see where things go from here. 
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