Penny Lover

Also over the course of the weekend, as I was desperate to find an excuse to neither clean nor write, we watched a horror film on Prime called Don’t Hang Up.

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To be honest, I doubt that we would ever have watched this film had I not been scrolling through the listings of horror films on Prime. I actually had started House on Sorority Row because Eileen Davidson and Harley Jane Kozack were in it, but lost interest really quickly. When I saw this listing, and saw that it starred Gregg Sulkin and Garrett Clayton, my first thought was I’ve never heard of this and my second was well, they’re cute boys at the very least.

(Sulkin was the romantic lead on an MTV series I watched called Fakin’ It, and of course, Clayton played underage gay porn star Brent Corrigan in King Cobra.)

It was actually kind of good, although the premise–a group of four male high school friends prank call people, filming the entire thing for Youtube–seemed a little shaky to me; I was all do people still prank call people? Is that still a thing? But things take a turn for the dark side when they prank call the wrong person; a psycho who wants to get revenge on them, and then the movie becomes classic horror movie, a la Scream and Halloween, etc. As far as the genre goes, it’s actually well done, and the two boys do a credible job of acting. There are also some surprise twists, and the end was absolutely perfect. Well done, folks!

We also started watching AMC’s The Terror.

The Terror is based on a novel by Dan Simmons and in the episodes we’ve seen so far, it’s very well done, well acted, well written with high production values. I do have some questions–the show begins with the two ships trying to get through the Arctic Ocean to map the northwest passage; a northern route around North America to the Orient. The ships get frozen into the ‘block’ when the sea freezes over…and then it jumps ahead eight months.

The Terror is based on the true story of  the Franklin Expedition–which vanished; the wrecks of the ships were found recently. I have to say, as I often do, that I love fictional stories that are based in real history. Fiction can often, for me, provide a jumping off place to start reading history or about a region; Steve Hamilton’s Misery Bay got me fascinated in the history of the Great Lakes, and Lake Superior in particular; which led to me reading a lot about shipwrecks in that largest of the Great Lakes, and the Edmund Fitzgerald in particular. Watching The Terror will probably lead to me reading up about the search for the Northwest Passage more, and perhaps some Canadian history as well.

But I particularly want to compliment the cast of The Terror, which is quite excellent in their roles; Ciaran Hinds is always terrific, as is Jared Harris. There is also a quite extraordinary Inuk actress, Nive Nielsen, who is giving an Emmy worthy performance. Tobias Menzies is also delivering; and I have a bit of a crush on him, and have ever since he played Brutus in the long-lamented two-season only series Rome, which I loved. I’m not sure what it is about Mr. Menzies that I find so appealing; he’s not classically handsome, but there is just something about his unusual jawline that I think is interesting.

I am quite looking forward to watching a few more episodes. I am also looking forward to the BBC America series Killing Eve, which is also available on the AMC app.

And Adam Rippon is killing it on Dancing with the Stars.

And now, back to the spice mines. I almost am finished with Chapter 13, and need to get some headway on Chapter 14.

Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win?)

I first read Mary Leader’s novel Triad when I was either eleven or twelve. I was creepy, and I really enjoyed it; but I had trouble pronouncing one of the character names: Rhiannon. It was a Welsh name, of course, and I’d never heard it before, so I was pronouncing it RYE-uh-none. I actually thought it was an ugly name. Flash forward a few years, and I heard a song unlike any other I’d ever heard before on the radio–KCMO AM out of Kansas City, I think it was–and after it was finished playing, the deejay said it was “Ree-ANN-un” by Fleetwood Mac (a band I’d never heard of). The next time I was at a record store, I looked for it in the 45’s rack, and there it was: RHIANNON (Will You Ever Win” by Fleetwood Mac.

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Oh, THAT’S how you say it, I thought to myself, and bought it. I eventually bought the entire album–one of the first albums I’d ever owned that I could listen to from beginning to end–and have been a Fleetwood Mac fan ever since.

A few years ago, I either read an interview with her, or saw her talking about the song on television somewhere, and Stevie Nicks said she’d read a book where she came across the name, and the book actually inspired the song. It was one of those moments where you feel a connection with an artist you love (“Oh my God, I read that book too!”)

Recently, and I don’t remember where or how or why; it may have been my October blogging, but as I said, I don’t remember how, but I remembered the book again. I hadn’t read it in over forty years, and I remembered that the author had written another book I’d enjoyed–Salem’s Children–and so I went on-line and ordered copies of both.

And I reread Triad this past week.

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It didn’t start all of a sudden. As I think back now, there were so many little unexplained incidents that I shoved aside and forgot about until later. There began to be those gaps in my life, little ones at first, but then longer and longer as time went on. I would wonder if my memory was failing me and I worried about the headaches to which I’d become prone, but my doctor told me that it was probably shock due to the baby’s death.

That has been so unexpected. I put him to bed one night, all rosy and dimpled with health. He looked at me with those big bright eyes, as he lay fingering the handle of his rattle, then drowsiness drew down his lids and he flipped over on his stomach as he always did and went to sleep with his fist curled around the rattle. The next morning I awakened to the sound of children on their way to school and the disposal truck grinding garbage under our apartment window. Alan was away on one of his projects, so I must have slept right through breakfast. I started to stretch lazily in those moments of waking when one lies between forgetting and remembering, and then sat up with a jerk. Timmy has missed his four o’clock feeding! Had he called and I hadn’t heard him? That wasn’t possible. I always woke at the slightest sound he made. I hurried to the crib and there he was, just as I had left him, but his little body was cold.

“Unexplained crib death” was what the doctor wrote on the death certificate after the autopsy, which meant that Timmy went to sleep a normal child and just stopped breathing for no apparent reason.

Branwen is our young point of view heroine, and the sudden, unexpected death of her child has obviously had a terrible effect on her; I cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose a child, let alone a baby. In an effort to get her over the tragedy, she and her husband, Alan–a civil engineer who is thus away for work most of the time–leave their Chicago apartment behind and buy a beautiful old Victorian house in a small town north of the city on the lake shore.

And then the weird things start happening.

Branwen has guarded a secret most of her life, you see. When she was a little girl she had an older cousin, Rhiannon–their parents were two sets of identical twins–who was jealous and cruel to her, and as such, Branwen hated her. After Rhiannon killed a kitten of Branwen’s–and made it look like it was Branwen’s fault–during a game of hide-and-seek, Rhiannon was inside an old freezer, and Branwen closed the lid on her.

Unfortunately, the handle broke and she wasn’t able to get her out. She went for help, but by the time she was able to get help, Rhiannon was dead.

And now, in the big empty house, with its speaking tubes and old-fashioned stylings, she can hear Rhiannon whispering to her…and strange things start happening.

Has Rhiannon come back? Is the house haunted? Has the loss of her child driven her mad? Is she being possessed?

The atmosphere of the book is terrifying and creepy–those speaking tubes! One of the things I remembered before the reread, over forty years later, was the speaking tubes and the hollow voices coming out of them.

In tone and voice and atmosphere, it’s very similar to Thomas Tryon’s The Other as well as something Shirley Jackson might have written.

Long out of print, it’s a shame. The book is a gem of a read, and short–less than 200 pages–and it’s also a shame Leader only wrote two books.

And as you read it, you can see echoes of the Stevie Nicks song in its pages, and you can see how it inspired her to write the song.

It’s a haunting book–like I said, I’ve never forgotten it–and I’m glad I got the chance to reread it.

Me and You and a Dog Named Boo

As I continue to muddle my way through this manuscript–honestly, I don’t know sometimes why it’s like pulling teeth and other times it’s just comes right out–I am constantly amazed at how many other ideas I get when I am working on something; ideas that are infinitely more interesting and sound like more fun to write than whatever it is I am actually working on. AND IT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE TIME. And once I am finished, the creativity and urge to work on something else goes right away.

Surely I can’t be the only writer who experiences this?

AUGH.

Madness.

But as I think about these short stories, I remember probably the two finest collections of short stories ever–Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier and Night Shift by Stephen King. I recently bought another copy of Night Shift on ebay, as my copy is in a box somewhere. Both du Maurier and King were short story masters; in fact, when I was a kid I loathed short stories and loathed reading them; this was primarily because I had to read things like “The Minister’s Black Veil” ad nauseum in English classes. I wasn’t lucky enough to be exposed to the truly great stories, like Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Jackson’s “The Lottery” until I got to college; but even by then the damage was done; that, along with the assigned short stories in writing courses (if I ever have to write an essay on Irwin Shaw’s “The Girls in the Their Summer Dresses” again I cannot be held responsible for what I do) had conspired to create a mentality that I loathed short stories. My experience writing short stories in writing courses in various colleges and universities had also taught me that I wasn’t a good short story writer; any good short stories I might write for a class were good purely by accident because I did not know what I was doing. That still stands true for today; I would rather write a novel than a short story.

But I am digressing, as is my wont.

Reading the du Maurier and King short story collections made me aware of what was possible for a truly gifted author to do with a short story; just as Jackson did with “The Lottery” and Faulkner with “A Rose for Emily.” My own difficulties with writing short stories comes from not, I realize now, having an actual system; I get an idea–usually both a title and a first line; maybe a character–and then I just kind of write with no idea of what’s to come, or what the story is about. This is the issue I had with “The Weeping Nun”; I wanted to write a story to submit to an anthology about Halloween stories, and I had this great title with an amorphous idea for a story, a point of view character, and an opening line: Satan had a great six pack. The problem, as I started writing the story, was realizing that as it came to me it had nothing to do with a weeping nun; but I was determined to somehow force that into the story so I could use the title.

On reflection, it seems perfectly insane and ludicrous now; but I am nothing if not obtuse and I am incredibly stubborn in stupid ways. I liked that title, and damn it, this story was going to fit that title if it fucking killed me.

The end result was the story was never finished, I missed the deadline for submission, and there was just frustration left in the wake of yet another short story failure.

And of course, this week as I struggled with writing the novel, it came to me in a flash: the story I was writing had nothing to do with the story of the weeping nun; I should have simply retitled the story and followed it to its logical conclusion and saved the story of the weeping nun for another time.

Idiocy, really. So simple, but I just couldn’t see it at the time.

And now I want to finish writing the damned story, which I now see as being about the gates of Guinee on Halloween night in the French Quarter.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk to cheer you up, Constant Reader:

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The Night Chicago Died

One of the most enjoyable developments of the last ten years or so (maybe longer) has been the resurgence of horror television. I am not knowledgeable enough about the television history–I don’t really pay nearly as much attention to the entertainment industry as I used to; and I often find shows long after everyone else does. My memory, which used to be sharp as a razor, is quite a bit duller than it used to be. The embrace of horror themes and stories by television networks is something I endorse (crime has long been a mainstay of the networks); I am greatly enjoying The Exorcist, gave up on both Scream and Scream Queens during their first seasons, never finished watching Damien (which was cancelled after season one)…and then there’s American Horror Story.

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To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with the show.

Paul and I are both huge fans of Jessica Lange, so we were tempted to watch for that reason; we both enjoy horror (Paul was the one who got me to watch not only the Halloween movies but the Scream ones as well). But we rarely watch television when it airs; our schedules don’t permit us to watch things regularly week by week. For years we simply waited for them to come on to Netflix and then would binge-watch; it was before Season 2, Asylum, began airing that I got a DVR so we could record the shows–back in the days of VCR’s we used to record shows all the time. So, as Asylum aired, we were also watching Murder House from Netflix on disc at the same time.

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The acting was fantastic; Jessica Lange was, as always, amazing. But my biggest fear about the show–Ryan Murphy as show-runner–too often proved to be true. It has been my experience that Murphy is a great ideas guy, but those ideas don’t often pan out into a long-term running show; Glee being the classic example. But I thought the anthology nature of this show–each season being a self-contained story, and using an ensemble cast–might work. Murder House was terrific, and of all the seasons, the most cohesive in terms of story-telling. Asylum was all over the place; after an amazing beginning in which Adam Levine died in a most horrible fashion, the show seemed more concerned with cramming in as many horror tropes as possible within the season: Aliens! Serial killers! Nazis! Biological experiments creating bizarre things! Demonic possession! And on and on and on. Paul and I soon lost track of the story and were just watching for the acting. We never did watch the season finale. But it did give us the wonder that was Jessica Lange singing “The Name Game”; Lily Rabe’s brilliance as the possessed nun; and Sarah Paulsen, after playing a small part in season one, getting a chance to truly exercise her acting ability as Lana, the reporter who winds up involuntarily committed.

My favorite season, though, is Coven.

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It was set in New Orleans, for one thing, and beautifully shot; it was almost a New Orleans travelogue. Kathy Bates was added to the cast, as was Angela Bassett; it was about witchcraft and a school for witches…and one of the girls was obsessed with Stevie Nicks, who even made two guest appearances on the show, but her music threaded through the entire season.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks - Episode 310 (Airs Wednesday, January 8, 10:00 PM e/p) --Pictured: (L-R) Lily Rabe as Misty Day, Stevie Nicks as herself -- CR. Michele K. Short/FX

Miss Robicheaux’ School for Girls was even in my neighborhood.

But again, the writing was incredibly uneven and often times the story didn’t make any sense. The acting was terrific, though, and the visuals absolutely stunning. I even wrote a piece about how watching Coven for the Criminal Element website about how the show reminded me of why I fell in love with this crazy city in the first place.

The <i>Freak Show</i> season was again unevenly written, and this time the acting–the way the characters were written and so forth, wasn’t strong enough to really carry the show. It was also filmed here, with New Orleans standing in for Jupiter, Florida; the Mott mansion, for example, was Longue Vue. And Hotel was such a mess that we didn’t ever watch the season finale, like Asylum. We are watching the new season, Roanoke, and were very close to stopping watching until the big twist in episode 6–Murphy had hinted in interviews the show would flip, and so we decided to stick it out until then. But after the big flip–which was incredibly clever–it seems like the writing is going off the tracks again.

There have been amazing moments on the show, though.

I am curious to see where this season goes.

And now back to the spice mines.

Get Dancin’

The book is proceeding apace, but I do think this may be my last venture into writing any kind of erotica. I love the story I am writing, and I love the characters, but I am so tired of writing sex scenes. I don’t even want to think about how many sex scenes I’ve written. I never say never, of course–I may write another fratboy book; who knows? But right now I am enjoying writing the story but am having to force myself to put the sex scenes in. I wrote a really nasty poolside one today–it’s not that I can’t write them; like I said, the one I wrote today is hot and nasty; I just don’t find them as much fun to write as I used to.

Speaking of sex scenes and nudity (see what I did there?), a few entries back I mentioned how I described the HBO show True Blood as “Dark Shadows with sex, nudity and a lot more blood.” I stand by that description; the show was a serial, just like Dark Shadows, there were a lot of supernatural elements, just like Dark Shadows, and the primary story was a romance between a male vampire and a human woman, and the vampire was originally from the same area where the story was set. Like Maggie Evans, the object of Barnabas Collins’ dark desires, Sookie Stackhouse, our plucky heroine, was also a waitress at a local bar and grill.

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Whether True Blood was horror or not, I cannot say. As I said when I embarked on talking about my favorite horror this month, I pointed out that I am not well-read enough in the genre, or know enough about it’s history, to discuss actual aspects of the genre and what qualifies as horror or not. I think, like with ‘mystery,’ ‘horror’ has become a generic umbrella term for vast swatches of work that sometimes have as little in common as a tomato with a watermelon. Is a ghost story like Ammie Come Home horror? The book scared the crap out of me, but it was marketed, really, as romantic suspense with a touch of the paranormal. Are all paranormal novels horror? I am really not qualified to answer that question.

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I guess the best description of the show would be to call it a ‘paranormal soap.’ It had moments of suspense and terror, of course–and gore, and humor, and nudity, and sex. The story was interesting every season (the season about the maenad, not so much; Paul and I both got kind of bored with that season) to me. People often, on social media, talked about not liking the show or liking the show; but I’m not ashamed to say that I pretty much enjoyed it during its entire run. The problem, of course, was that they had to keep upping the stakes (no pun intended).

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It also had a diverse cast. Many of the characters, in fact, I found a lot more interesting that Sookie the mixed blood fairy and Bill the vampire; and there were some wonderful comedy moments as well–one of my favorites being when Tara is in a moody funk after her boyfriend Eggs turned out to be a serial killer and was killed himself, and Arlene, played brilliantly by Carrie Preston, snaps in exasperation, “So you fell in love with a serial killer? Who here hasn’t?”

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If there was any problem with the show’s writing, it seemed like they couldn’t make up their minds what Sookie was; sometimes she was this whiny, passive heroine things happened to; other times she was a badass with a smart mouth who took no shit from anyone.

And of course, my absolute favorite, Pam, never got enough story or scene.

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Even the annoying characters at the beginning eventually were developed into likable characters over the course of the show. Jason Stackhouse went from a self-absorbed young stud who loved and left every women he met, who was estranged from his sister, into a pretty decent guy who tried to do the right thing but just made bad choices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Ryan Kwanten, who played him, was gorgeous.

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The first moment I saw him on screen I thought, “That’s who should play Scotty if that series ever is filmed.”

I’ve not read the enormously popular novels the show was based on–not from any sense that I wouldn’t like them; but again, one of those I just don’t have time to read them things. I’ve gone back and forth on that–Charlaine Harris is a terrific writer, and an absolutely lovely person–but maybe if I take another trip to a beach, like the Acapulco trip or Hawaii, I’ll take them with me to go and binge read.

The show was also filmed beautifully; it was filmed in Louisiana, and sometimes they were here in New Orleans filming, and Bon Temps was, like Collinsport in Dark Shadows, a kind of magnet for paranormal creatures and activity. I myself have always wanted to do this type of a series–I came up with an idea a million years ago–and even named my town, Bayou Shadows. My short story “Rougarou” actually took place in Bayou Shadows, Louisiana, and I’d intended for Need to eventually tie into that at some point.

Ah, well.

There was also a lot of homoeroticism in the show, and gay/lesbian/bisexual characters. I loved Lafayette, the gender bending short order cook/drug dealer/hustler who was also a medium.

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The show was also exceptionally clever, as I am sure the books were as well, about dipping into social issues.

And now back to the spice mines.

Have You Never Been Mellow?

My parents were from the country, and as a kid, despite living in Chicago and its suburbs until I was fourteen, I spent a lot of time in rural regions in the summer. We moved to rural Kansas the summer I turned fifteen, to a small town with a population of less than a thousand, a post office and no home mail delivery, and a blinking red light at the cross roads in the center of town. There has always been a sense in this country that the simpler life, i.e. living in the country, is somehow more pure, more American, than living in the cities; I’ve never really understood this, frankly. I’m not disparaging rural life, or people who chose that lifestyle; it’s simply not my preference.

But there’s nothing like the countryside for setting a horror novel, is there? Isn’t it interesting how some of my absolute favorite horror is set either in the countryside or in a small town? Hmmmm…I wonder what to make of that.

 

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My favorite novel from former actor turned author Thomas Tryon is The Other; which is certainly Gothic and creepy, but I am not including it in my list of Halloween horror novels because I don’t really think of it as a horror novel; maybe other people think so–but other people aren’t making this list, now are they?

I awakened that morning to birdsong. It was only the little yellow bird who lives in the locust tree outside our bedroom window, but I could have wrung his neck, for it was not yet six and I had a hangover. That was in late summer, before Harvest Home, before the bird left its nest for the winter. Now it is spring again, alas, and as predicted the yellow bird has returned. The Eternal Return, as they call it here. Thinking back from this day to that one nine monthe ago, I now imagine the bird to have been sounding a warning. But that is nonsense, of course, for who could have thought it was a bird of ill omen, that little creature?

During the first long summer, its cheerful notes seemed to stand both as a mark of fulfillment and as a promise of profound happiness, signifying the achievement of our heart’s desire. Happiness, fulfillment–if promised, they came only in the strangest measure.

The house, though new to us when we purchased it in the spring, was almost three hundred years old, an uninhabited wreck we had chanced upon, bought, and spent the summer restoring. In late August, with the greater part of the work behind us, I was enjoying the satisfaction of realizing one’s fondest wish. A house in the country. The great back-to-the-land movement. City mouse into country mouse. Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Constantine and daughter, landed gentry, late of New York City, permanently residing at 11 Penrose Lane, in the ancient New England village of Cornwall Coombe. We had lived there less than four months.

Despite some things that wouldn’t play today–there’s a rape scene, for example, which isn’t really dealt with or intended to lose sympathy in the reader for the rapist, for one, and Mrs. Theodore Constantine, really? Yet those were signs of the times–Harvest Home still holds up for the most part today. It’s hard to imagine, though, in this day and age, a rural hamlet that would be so remote and a community so insular and wrapped up in itself that its secrets would never escape; the Internet and smart phones have pretty much connected everywhere (or so I think, in my smug urban-dweller experience). But it’s a chilling book, really, even if there are no supernatural influences going on in the book. Ned and Beth, with their asthmatic daughter Kate, move to the country so Ned can work on his dream of being a serious painter rather than an advertising executive. (For those who were not around in the late 1960’s/1970’s, there was a big movement, or desire/fantasy, for city dwellers to give up the rat race and chase their dreams by moving back to the simpler, country lifestyle, and interestingly enough–here’s a dissertation topic for someone: there was also a literature of the time in which this desire/fantasy, upon achievement, turned into a hideous nightmare; just asThe Stepford Wives showed that moving to a suburb to escape the horrors of city life was into the fire from the frying pan–and there’s the title! From the Frying Pain. I expect to be in the acknowledgements, whoever does this.)

Harvest Home is more of a mystery novel, I suppose, than a horror novel; Tryon’s novels really defied description or categorization, blending elements of different genres together into a dark whole. The book really kicks off when Ned discovers the grave of Gracie Everdeen outside the hallowed ground of the town cemetery, and starts looking into her story and why she was buried out there. Pulling one thread unravels and unspools many others,and the town’s secrets–and strange rituals–slowly come to be revealed to Ned, and to his horror…his discoveries not only put himself at risk but his wife and daughter as well.

And at the center of everything is the aged Widow Fortune–is she a force for good, or a force for evil? In either case, she is one of the most compelling and interesting characters in the novel. (The book was made into a Made-for-TV movie, with Bette Davis in the role.)

It’s a very creepy novel, and the tension/suspense builds and builds. The ending is satisfying–if not the ending the reader may be hoping for, of course.

I always have entertained the notion of writing a biography of Thomas Tryon. He was gay, he was a movie star, and he was rather a good writer, who has sadly been mostly forgotten (although The Other has been brought back into print by New York Review of Books Classics). He also had a long term relationship with Casey Donovan, one of the more famous gay porn stars of the 1970’s.

Because of course I have so much time.

And now back to the spice mines.

 

Rhinestone Cowboy

I do love witches. What would Halloween be without them? Of course, the caricature of witches that we see at Halloween–green skin, pointed hat, riding a broom, warts, huge crooked nose–was popularized into modern culture by The Wizard of Oz (if not, the Wicked Witch in that film was the personification of the popular culture’s conception of a witch); but, alas, my knowledge on the history of the perception of witches is not that terrific. I know that the concept of witchcraft has been around for a long time–witches are mentioned in the Bible–and have been around in the popular culture for quite some time; I watched Bewitched as a child; there’s Bell, Book, and Candle, and so much fiction about witches…and of course, I’ve read up on the Salem witch trials–and hasn’t everyone been forced to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in high school? I am hoping that Lisa Morton, who has already co-authored a graphic novel with the late lamented Rocky Wood and illustrated by Greg Chapman called The Burning Times as well as definitive histories/non-fictions studies on both Halloween and ghosts, will also tackle witches.

But today, I am going to talk about Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.

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The doctor woke up afraid. He had been dreaming of the old house in New Orleans again. He had seen the woman in the rocker. He’d seen the man with the brown eyes.

And even now in this quiet hotel room above New York City, he felt the old alarming disorientation. He’d been talking again with the brown-eyes man. Yes, help her.  No, this is just a dream. I want to get out of it.

The doctor sat up in bed. No sound but the faint roar of the air conditioner. Why was he thinking about it tonight in a hotel room in the Parker Meridien? For a moment he couldn’t shake the feeling of the old house. He saw the woman again–her bent head, her vacant stare. He could almost hear the hum of the insects against the screens of the old porch. And the brown-eyed man was speaking without moving his lips. A waxen dummy infused with life–

No, stop it.

He got out of bed and padded silently across the carpeted floor until he stood in front of the sheer white curtains, peering out at black sooty rooftops and dim neon signs flickering against brick walls. The early morning light showed behind the clouds above the dull concrete facade opposite. No debilitating heat here. No drowsing scent of roses, of gardenias.

Gradually, his head cleared.

I had read Interview with the Vampire when it first came out, back in the 1970’s, and honestly didn’t care for it. I had just read ‘salem’s Lot, and the concept of the vampire as hero didn’t appeal to me; it was just too foreign for me to wrap my head around (which is ironic, given my love for Dark Shadows, but I didn’t make the connection then between Louis and Barnabas). I picked it up again in the mid-1980’s, and felt the same way about it. I didn’t read anything else Mrs. Rice published, either, simply because I didn’t care for  Interview; then a friend who was a fan had me read The Mummy, which I greatly enjoyed. I had a hardcover copy of The Witching Hour–I don’t know why, to be honest–but after reading The Mummy I wanted to read something else by Mrs. Rice and remembered that I had a copy of this other one…

And could not put it down.

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The Witching Hour ostensibly tells the story of Rowan Mayfair and Michael Curry. Rowan is the latest in a long line of witches going back to the seventeenth century (but doesn’t know it), and she saves Michael from drowning, bringing him back to life. He comes back to life with a strange power–the ability to see things when he touches them; he starts wearing gloves. He also had a vision while he was dead that is somehow connected to Rowan–so he tracks her down and they begin a relationship that eventually leads them back to New Orleans and the Mayfair house, a decayed, ancient mansion in the Garden District when her mother, Dierdre, dies. Dierdre has been in a vegetative state for years; every day she was placed on a side porch of the mansion with the great Mayfair jewel around her neck that always belongs to The Mayfair; the woman who, in each generation, has the power. The brown-eyed man the doctor sees in the opening is Lasher, a spirit whose relationship to The Mayfair is sometimes in question; is he the source of their power, or is he playing some other type of game that The Mayfair is unaware of? The narrative flashes back and forth in time, telling the history of the Mayfair witches along with the romance of Michael and Rowan as they, with the help of the secret order of the Talamasca, try to determine what the truth about the Mayfair witches–and Lasher–is.

I loved this book so much; I always recommend it to people who want to read books about New Orleans, and always include it on lists of the best books set in New Orleans. It was this book that made me want to come back to New Orleans again; and you can imagine the thrill I got when a friend who lived here drove me to the corner of First and Chestnut and showed me the Mayfair house, which was actually where Mrs. Rice and her family lived. And it was exactly as she described it in the book; Dierdre’s porch was even there.

I’ve read every Anne Rice novel since then, and she also became one of the authors I always buy in hardcover. She is one of those writers you either love or you hate; those who love her work can be very rabid. It was when I was reviewing one of her later Vampire Chronicles (Blood and Gold) that I realized–it’s different when you read for review than when you read for pleasure–that so many reviewers/critics actually got what she does in her books wrong. Mrs. Rice writes about supernatural creatures–vampires, witches, werewolves, etc.–but she isn’t writing horror; she is writing romances in the classic sense of the word. In modern literature romance has come to mean something greatly different than what it meant classically; a romance novel was not a love story, per se, but a big sweeping epic tackling huge themes like life and death, war, peace, humanity, faith, spirituality; what Mrs. Rice was doing was using supernatural characters to expand and explore those themes, and she was writing in the style of the great romance writers of the nineteenth century, like Dumas and Hugo.

I’ve always meant to go back and reread all of her work with this in mind–which is how I’ve read her novels since that realization–but again, time. I am actually several novels behind on her work now–I’ve not read The Wolves of Winter or Prince Lestat, and she has another coming out this year as well.

I will never catch up.

And now, back to the spice mines.