Film adaptation/book review for Under the Skin.
1. New wordpress theme installed. This was necessary after the old one partially crashed after an update. [Note: this header photo was taken by me in Bean Station, Tennessee.]
2. Removed several stories from this website, from other free venues, and from amazon.com. The two left up are Pale Hunter and Hot Toddies Aren’t Enough.
3. The plan has been to transition from strictly ebook to print format as an additional option, and for them to be available not only online, but also at brick and mortar booksellers. However, I sympathize with the struggles of indie bookstores versus Amazon.com, so decided a while ago to step back from the Createspace option and start looking into others. With working full time, it might be a while. If you’d like a heads up when something new comes out, check back to this blog or grab the RSS feed. I’ll post the news here. Cheers! C.J.
The hero of this story, a fearsome-looking aging heavy-metal rockstar self-named Judas “Jude” Coyne, has a few pastimes that fill his days nearing retirement, in addition to managing his band’s music legacy. He’s got his dogs, he fixes old cars, he’s always got one or another Goth girlfriend in tow, and he collects weird, rare objects. The title, Heart-shaped Box, refers to a large chocolate box that a “dead man’s suit” arrived in, bought on the Internet, because it allegedly has a ghost attached to it. So, at the start of the tale, our brave but idle hero has purchased a ghost in good faith because: awesome. The person who sold it to him didn’t quite give him the whole story about the ghost, however, and Jude soon finds himself, and everyone he cares for, in mortal danger because along with that heart-shaped box, he got much more trouble than he bargained for. These are no sweets for the sweet. Jude is not a nice man, but he’s not a bad one, either. Getting himself and his present girlfriend, Georgia, out of this heap of trouble, takes them on a journey to find closure about several things that I won’t spoil here. But, in the end, he’ll either have evolved, finally, and become a better man who finds the stones to overcome this terrible trial, or he’ll fail not just himself but everyone who depends upon him, and they’ll all be dead and “riding the night road” to nowhere.
I liked this story a lot, and I don’t know why I was surprised. It was exciting, drew me in from the start, had all the right pieces in all the right places and it played out in a rather traditional horror story formula without being too predictable. It was like a story with the heart of Stephen King but the pacing of Dean Koontz. I want to say it might be better than Stephen King’s best, and given that Joe Hill is King’s son, that’s not a guarantee of awesomeness. Sometimes a relationship like that can mean an advantage, but more often not. You don’t inherit great writing talent like your dad’s blue eyes or black hair. You may get a leg up, but you’ll still have to work for it and make your own success happen. Have to say I was impressed by how good this story actually turned out to be. I’d put off reading it, don’t ask me why. Glad I gave it a go. And if you’re a fan of the horror genre, I’ll bet you will be, too. It’s one of the best, no joke. Read it and tell me if I’m wrong.
HOT TODDIES AREN’T ENOUGH — Available for $2.99
Great Sex, Good Times… It’s all fun and games until someone dies.
Sold in ebook format at:
A sample from Hot Toddies Aren’t Enough:
…He’d thrown this party together hastily and told his buddies to tell their girlfriends to bring friends. If they were from out-of-town, so much the better. Simon’s reputation would not precede him.
Connie had showed up to the party rather early, before Simon had a chance to hook up with any of the young girls. It was fine. Connie was a good stand-by. She had no illusions about his willingness to commit. She’d lured him into the sauna, which he had just added the finishing touches to by sanding the wood bench and walls smooth, then installing them in place. The sauna heater was new out of the box, though had sat around for years, while the sauna was incomplete.
Connie stripped their clothes off until they were totally nude, then clicked on the heater. They had sex in the hot, dark box. A small window let in light from the hallway. Some drunk neighbor barged in at some point, thinking it was the bathroom and got a flash of Connie bouncing up and down on Simon’s lap. He said, “Whoa, yeah, baby,” and did not leave, but beckoned a pal to come watch the show. Simon barked at them to fuck off and they closed the door.
“Stairway to Heaven” resounded now off the hillside as Jenny made her way up the hill staircase, light as an angel feather. No one saw her approach. She came up the back steps to the porch and stopped at the top step. The sounds of Simon and Connie’s lovemaking were audible through the newly boarded-up window where he’d placed the sauna, alongside the back door. She tested the doorknob. It was open…
PALE HUNTER — Set in 1666, a pair of European traders make first contact
with something unexpected.
Terrified, they attempt to flee back to the forts of New France.
Even if they make it, will they be safe there?
Can anyone protect them from the wrath of the manitou?
Sold in ebook format at:
A sample from Pale Hunter:
…I didn’t know what a witiko was and Wild Song was only too happy to describe it, as it was a means to scare me further, in case I still had any residual notion of stealing one of their precious snow fox.
He said that while things were in balance, the great manitou had lived in peace and harmony with the indigenous and with all creatures. That changed around the time that white people had arrived. The Europeans’ mercenary ways shocked and lured it to them. He came in the bodily form of a witiko to terrorize them and eat their fear. Voracious now, the witiko/manitou ate evil thoughts and preyed on those who did the most cruel deeds, sometimes by possessing evil humans and stirring up discord. Subsequently, they would kill one another off in warfare. It especially loved to prey on those who preyed on their own blood kin.
When Wild Song had made his pact with the fox, they became family. So if he preyed on the snow fox or the snow fox preyed on him, it would be cannibalism. But even if they just killed the snow fox for its pelt or the snow fox killed an Elk Lake Clan’s infant, this would be as much a murder as if a human had slaughtered his blood kin.
When others were allowed into their camp or if they traveled together, they were viewed as temporary kin. They must abide by the rules of the clan or also face the wrath of the witiko.
I asked what this witiko looked like so I’d know it if I saw it. Wild Song scoffed and the others laughed, nervously.
“You would know it if you saw it. You’d know it by the shit in your pants,” he said with a perfectly straight face. “If you must know, it looks exactly like the manitou I described but it’s entirely white instead of black: it has a body like a caribou except for its human torso, clawed hands, and five tails. There is no mistaking it for anything else. It has no face to describe. Where its face should be are only hot embers for eyes, through which the great, dark manitou is always watching the world — always.”
Wild Song closed the gathering with that warning, and all walked solemnly to their tepees to sleep.
Instead of going with Bernard to bunk with one of the males, I was ushered to an empty tepee to sleep alone. I was actually glad for it because emotionally, between the strange feelings I had, warning me of danger, and getting the cold shoulder, and on top of it, this scary story about a vengeful witiko, I was a wreck and needed a good cry. Of course, I wouldn’t want anyone to see that. Afterward, it took no time at all to nod off. I was exhausted, and the floor of the padded tepee was much softer than what Bernard and I were used to when sojourning in the wilderness using our canvas tent. It wasn’t as nice as a proper bed, but I fell asleep pining for the most civilized place I’d been to: Port Royal, Acadia. In Port Royal, both men and women wore linen, lace, ribbons, and silk — not skins. Skins were only used for mens’ oversized jackets and boots. Port Royal had an inn that served delicious French food. They had chamberpots — you weren’t expected to go in the woods. Ah, and the music…
During the night I was awoken by Five Tails sliding naked under the blanket beside me. I lept back from him, aghast.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing? Back off…
Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon isn’t top tier, but if you’re a fan of horror films, it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to satisfy a morbid curiosity to see actors Rose Leslie (aka Ygritte in Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Dr. Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful) play sickeningly sweet newlyweds in a contemporary French-Canadian woods setting. Quell horreur!
With a few wise editing changes, it would have been a much better film. But, hey, it’s Janiak’s first time out in a director role. Next up, she directs the remake of The Craft.
The film starts out with young newlyweds, Paul and Bea, recording a video that characterizes the details of the wedding and reception they’d concocted together, which was filled with meaningful symbolism related to how they met and fell in love. They depart for their honeymoon in traditional fashion, with tin cans trailing after their car and set out to honeymoon at Bea’s family’s remote lake cottage, located somewhere in French Canada (although it was actually filmed in Hendersonville, North Carolina) where it’s probably too deep in the woods for cell phones or social media distractions. Once settled in, the first night they have the sort of fun you’d expect. The next morning: pancakes and debate over if they should have a baby (they decide not to think about it on their honeymoon.) They take the family boat out on the lake, but, as it’s not quite summer, the water’s still too cold to swim, and they’re disappointed, but still have fun in spite of it. Returning home, they make love in the shower.
What I thought of Honeymoon (no spoilers):
This is a thoughtfully-crafted film, but there are flaws in the crafting, such as around the seven-minute mark. And I think they overworked the foreshadowing, symbolism, and circular storytelling. Only in retrospect, however, is it fully apparent that every piece of information in the film is there for a reason, when something you saw earlier is reiterated but with a different implication. Even the framing of seemingly innocuous situations may actually symbolize some darker, hidden truth (such as this shot of Bea ringing her hair out in the tub, at right). “Honeymoon” as the film title immediately clues you the context before you know anything else about it, and in my opinion, that’s already too direct. While a honeymoon vacation works as an effective setting for a horror tale because of the obvious expectations for how a honeymoon should play out, I wonder if it doesn’t invoke a preconception of Shakespearean tragedy (nobody’s happy, everyone dies) foreshadowed by the title, since you already know it’s a horror film, obviously, their honeymoon’s gonna suck, big time. Then, it’s a little depressing when domestic tragedy is exactly what happens. It’s like watching a slow train-wreck from Paul’s point of view: his perception of Bea’s changed behavior as their devolving rapport undermines the couple’s happy vacation plans. And then it goes from kinda sucky to full-on horror, but that’s all I’ll say. Having read some of the opinions given about it after the fact, I’m certain that the less spoilers given away about the later developments in this film, the better it will be for the viewer. My final conclusion is that it has its good points, such as the acting which elevates it above B-film, but there were the aforementioned negatives — yet, nothing so bad that it completely ruined the film for me the first time through.
DOG SOLDIERS — I agree with this review by George Daniel Lea over at Ginger Nuts of Horror for the most part, though I think it was a mistake to make the monsters so visible in the backlight. But that wasn’t a deal-breaker. It’s one of those films that seemed to me like a B horror indie film that was bound to suck, then it was surprisingly good. After he followed Dog Soldier with The Descent, I’ve added Dog Soldiers’ director, writer, editor Neil Marshall to my list of directors to watch for.
Bastard Out of Carolina is a semi-autobiographical literary novel written by Dorothy Allison, published in 1992 by Plume books. Its themes intersect complex moral, economic, and social problems affecting “Bone” Boatwright’s life as a girl growing up in Greenville County, South Carolina during the 1950’s and 60’s. Bone comes into the world (no bigger than a knuckle-bone) in the midst of a traffic accident, born to a teen mother named Anney Boatwright. Anney’s still in a coma during Bone’s birth and never comes to in time to lie and say she was married to the father, as she’d intended to. And, since the father was chased off by Anney’s family for messing with their underage daughter, he can’t be in the picture, even if he wanted to. So, the infant is officially labeled a bastard by South Carolina, and the birth certificate states this fact clearly, stamped in red. This doesn’t sit right with young Anney Boatwright, whose name (boat + right) should clue the reader in to her motivation. The Boatwright clan has already suffered plenty of ignominy for their tendency to get up to drinking and fighting, so they’ve collectively been pigeon-holed as “trash” by many in the community, and now this. Anney is determined that her daughter won’t go through life with the added shame of that stamp on her birth certificate. The longer struggle that Anney faces is in trying to get her life back on course, despite being a teen single mother. She manages this for a while, but things that were right (getting a job waiting tables, and marrying a loving man) take an unexpected wrong turn (he dies in a crash), and in her efforts to do the right thing, she is often led astray: too often absent when she should be present, or too compassionate when she should be firm. She means well, but she’s the blind leading the blind, and her daughter, Bone bears the consequences for Anney’s poor choices, the worst of which come after Anney meets and falls for husband #2, Glen Waddell.
Everything I tell you in this review should not spoil reading this book, for you’ll get the gist within the first few chapters when things are already going off the tracks for Bone and her family. Why should you read a story about domestic horror? Because it’s as close to true as fiction can get. And as Dorothy Allison, herself, says in an interview, so you’ll understand. Family is supposed to be a safe, loving environment in which to share the passing of years and raise children. Yet, cringe-inducing things happen within a family in this book — things that if you knew they were happening to some real child you knew of, even if you didn’t know them personally or well, you may be so appalled that you’d be tempted to maim or kill the perpetrator, either to punish or to ensure it never happens again. Bone fantasizes about a savior as she’s forced to endure abuse from Daddy Glen. But he’s too big and strong, and the damage has been done. And after the shock and indignation wears off, her mother loves him in spite of his temper and abuse. This is the worst betrayal of all! Even one episode of extreme violence or molestation in a child’s life will alter its course forever, because the child will know from then out certain things a child should never imagine so clearly until they’re a mature adult. And that knowledge separates these children from their peers. It turns them toward skepticism and realism. It makes them resentful. It’s a secret that turns them hard like bone.
Although in style this story falls into the literary genre with some noteworthy southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, I was most struck by the suspenseful, ever-present fear and inescapable sense of entrapment, due to Bone’s instinct to be silent in order to protect herself and her family. Things go awry right from the start of the book and get worse, amidst poverty, employment misfires, and unstable residence. And there’s decent, oblivious people in the story, too. As the reader’s waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering who’s going to figure out what’s going on with who, or what else could go wrong, or who’s going to get hurt next, it’s all made infinitely more complex by the unsolvable problem of love itself, when that love is for someone who is doing poorly, and the ensuing desperation culminates toward a terrible wrong. Love is a problem when it leads someone to choose one loved one over another, or choose individual emotional needs over justice and common decency. Love keeps people in your life that you should be running from. Unlike many stories that fall more squarely into the horror genre, the monstrous acts in this horror tale actually happen, which makes it it worse. Once you get sucked into Bone’s world, the whole slow catastrophe is riveting. In between the episodes of violence and depravity, is a life and an extended family that are well-fleshed-out, believable people, perhaps because some or all are based upon real people. If you could never imagine how good people could get sucked into horrible situations and be unable to do the right thing, this novel will show clearly, how real and deep the quagmire gets. And in the end, the unthinkable happens, but I won’t spoil it. Read this book for its journey and its soul. You won’t forget Bone. You’ll cry for her and you’ll hate Daddy Glen. And so, everything that author, Dorothy Allison must have endured as a child won’t have been for nothing. You and me, we’re her revenge.
Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night, published in 1991 by Bantam Books — I elected to review this first because it made a strong impression me, as a writer. Yet it’s one of those books that seems to incur either admiration or abject dismissal. If you haven’t read it or the sequels, when determining which camp you fall into, spare yourself the comparison of this with other horror novels that feature a group of boys in the sixties battling a great evil (King, McCammon, etc.), for there is probably where any similarity ends. The actual inspiration for that plot and character configuration probably had more to do with the fact that Simmons taught in the gifted and talented for Illinois 6th graders (ages 11-12) for years before settling into writing full-time.
Also regarding pre-conceived notions: those with a bias against prologues, obviously, have yet to read this book. The prologue introduction to the interior of Old Central School in Elm Haven is one of the most effective examples of scene and tone-setting in the horror genre that I have encountered.
In the “cons” category, Simmons’ style of horror is not for an impatient reader. If you’re the sort to skip to the action, you’ll miss most of the book and probably the point. Setting-as-character is where Simmons excels, to the point where it might warrant a sub-genre of horror unto itself.
Although Simmons’ first horror novel, Song of Kali, won a World Fantasy Award for creepiness, I found this one to be less of an irritant. It resonates with the simple truths in human experience — moreso than Song of Kali’s comparatively xenophobic foray into a foreign culture that was virtually a character assassination of Calcutta.
Some would call a semi-autobiographical novel with child protagonists a touch sentimental or even cliché. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with that, since it’s intelligently written for adults. I’ve read that Simmons was inspired by his own childhood in Wakefield, Illinois — a formerly thriving town on an obsolete railway corridor that suffered subsequent flight and depreciation. I didn’t find the tone or child characters unduly sentimental and thought they were well-written and believable. Their “bike patrol” is a good, pre-existing motive for why they’d take on a conspiracy among adults they already detested. The construction of an us vs. them real world problem in these children’s minds makes perfect sense. It just so happens that they’re also correct. And the more they find out to prove their hunch was correct, the more the tension builds and the nearer the danger and evil comes to find them. I won’t spoil it, but I will tell you, I love this story. It sucks you in and won’t let go.
The major theme I detected was a fear of urban decay and obsolescence. And as that’s a fear that’s of perpetual concern to Americans, in light of a major job shift from America to Asia, the message still plays in 2015. I’d add that on his home turf, while expressing a real source of anxiety from his home community, Simmons treats his subject fairly and eloquently. The result is a solid addition to the genre of Gothic American Horror.
I’ve had this book in my library for about a decade. I’m happy to report that the delight I felt the first time I read it has not been diluted by a subsequent reading. In fact, perhaps as I’ve gotten older, I can enjoy it more, as I have more tolerance for children and nostalgia. But, before you get to the children, you’ll see the place that’s been in a dormant state for so many years. On line one, Simmons has already established a major antagonist of the book: “Old Central School still stood upright, holding its secrets and silences firmly within.” The second paragraph weaves in the presence of an Other, indicated by footsteps at odds with the shadows — that Other would be the teachers and school children who are introduced in a vague manner, as if they were the unnatural element. By the third paragraph, we’re still seeing the world from the perspective of the school. It’s not until the start of chapter one that actual people are introduced into the story, and from a dispassionate distance — the many generations of children’s’ lives that come and go through its doors are summarized in one brutal paragraph that evokes the impression of not only Old Central as hostile ground, but that it resides within a hostile universe. A recursive finality is implied when Old Central’s introduction leitmotifs on the line the prologue began with. Simmons’ careful assemblage of menacing clues of Old Central’s creeping malevolence clearly establishes the boundary of an evil territory and a teetering imbalance that’s about to spill over and disrupt the private world of a group of 12-year-olds who should be happily enjoying the sanctity of their summer vacation. At this point, without any overt antagonism, and before any particular individuals are brought to the fore, humans and life itself already seem the discordant note. By the end of chapter one, there evolves a clear sense in the reader that although the children traipsing through its corridors may have been tolerated until now, after the doors are closed for good on this obsolete icon of Victorian era education, the “spinster” as Simmons calls Old Central — she will not go gently unto to her goodnight.
In Chapter Two, we’re introduced to one of the gang of heroic children: Dale Stewart, a 6th-grader, bored out of his mind, waiting to get his report card and for the last day of school to finally end and summer vacation to officially commence. Just before he escapes the clutches of Old Central and its doors are closed eternally, a scream arises from the basement. His teacher and principle try to play it off as someone fixing something in the basement. But one of the kids never came out of the school that day, and his sister, Cordie, is convinced the adults are all in cahoots, trying to cover something up. This event starts the Bike Patrol into motion, digging into mysteries they’d be better off avoiding. In fact, now might be a good time to leave the country or planet Earth… But of course they won’t. They can’t. This is their home and since no adults will believe them that something’s terribly wrong, it’s up to them to fix. But beyond that, there’s a worse problem. The evil in Old Central knows who they are and what they’re up to. And she’s coming for them.
As school’s out for the year, and many people are adjusting to their children being home for the summer, this seemed like the perfect summer vacation read. If you can’t remember what it was like to be a child and feel extremes of joy or terror, this book will draw you in and remind you like no other.
Tidal Wave by Husky —
I’m reminded of Robert Frost with this:
“I climbed aboard a tidal wave
Bearing down upon the city from the ocean
They said it would come any day
Like a monster of perpetual devotion
I was surfing it clear
I was crashing through the city streets
Where we once went looking for love”