The Agony of Rain

raindropA single drop fell from the sky

To rest upon a listing sill

To look at me, and I thus watched

My life flickering in its trespass

 

A single drop of water whence

Did the earth spring forth its glory then

And floods came down to drown it so

As it glistened in a wooden crevasse

 

All of time and all of me

Suspended in that crystal globe

That burst and ran forth in decay

And then the downpour came to pass

The Worst Thing About Christmas

Small Red Tree

Small Red Tree (Photo credit: Velvet Elevator (Pandy Farmer))

I didn’t think there could be a “worst” thing about this wonderful time of year. But leave it to the Spanish – the same folks that brought us the Inquisition – to once again tarnish the national religion. His name – the Caganer.

I found this tradition hard to believe, after discovering it here. I’ll let you read the link if you are brave enough to encounter a tradition that – if there is anything good and holy in the universe – will never spread to our county.

I feel sick now, and have the urge to wash my hands.

The Witch Who Isn’t There

Imperial War Museum

Bethlem Hospital, London (Photo credit: Secret Pilgrim)

I’m almost 2/3rds of the way into my new project, a dark mystery set in Victorian England – both London and St Mary’s Church in Chesham. I wanted to touch many themes, not the least being the puzzle of insanity in an age where such things were attributed to the length of ones nose. It’s the story of a man thought to be mad, his doctor, a kidnapped South American boy, and four dead young girls.

What surprised me most about writing this story was the voice my brain, my energy, my muse, chose to speak in. From the beginning it told me what kind of story this would be. How?

By giving me a poem.

It is a children’s poem, recited as a sort of talisman to ward off evil by those who feared they might be next.  It appears on Page 2 of the novel.

A man with long black hair once came

To fill the clergy’s cup with shame.

He took the girls to ring the bell

And sent them on their way to hell.

Jonny Thatch ate out their eyes,

A Florin each to leave them by.

St. Mary’s calls for those who dare,

Behold the witch who isn’t there.

I Must Know

English: A view of Bethlehem Royal Hospital, L...

English: A view of Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, from Lambeth Road, published before 1896. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lately I’ve been reading about readers “preferences” when it comes to a particular genre. For example, mystery readers prefer the Victorian era, and horror readers prefer things to be set in modern times. I’m not sure if I agree… but my opinion in this doesn’t really matter.

I write horror, not because I am a dark, brooding person obsessed with death, but because that seems to be what comes out most of the time. I have to admit, though, so far I haven’t written anything in a present setting. My stories occur in the 1800’s. One novel involves pioneer settlers in a lonely mountain outpost, and the other regarding a man held in Bethlem Hospital in London.

So here’s my question – according to the “reliable sources” I’ve  encountered, no one will want to read these stories, because they’re most likely going to fall into the Horror category, and neither are set in a year 2000-something. Are they right?

Headless

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane. ...

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane. oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!–but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!”
                     – Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Happy Halloween…

Prophetic Animals

Version of the flag of Animalism, in Animal Fa...

Version of the flag of Animalism, in Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The flag of Animal Farm consists of a green field with a hoof and a horn. According to the book, the green represents the fields of England, while the hoof and horn represents the Republic of the Animals. This version is based on the hammer and sickle and the red flag of the Soviet Union, probable reference of the green flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We do well to remember there were those who came before us, and that there is nothing new under the sun. What is fiction today, has been reality in times past, and can be again.

“They had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.”
―     George Orwell, Animal Farm

The Dark Room

Opening of the cave of Debliške Livade in Koče...

Opening of the cave of Debliške Livade in Kočevski Rog (Slovenia) at the site of mass murder of Slovenian domobrans, Ustasha and Chetniks by Jugoslav partisans after WWII (May and June 1945). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope you didn’t look here to see a post about photography. I’m not sure if dark rooms even exist anymore. For developing film, anyway.

But they do exist.

Writers often hear the mantra: “Write your passion!” More often, it’s compressed into a more digestible idea: “Write what you know.”  Now let me ask you, how could any horror writer possibly adhere to that concept? I can think of no horror writers who are personally experts in mass murder, or becoming werewolves. And more than that, who could be passionate about psycho killers, and possessed children? Certainly not me.

And yet, my first frightening, and disturbing, novel is complete, and my second is well underway.

I sometimes feel like the accidental horror writer. In life, I’m a regular guy (well, almost). I like puppies, sit-coms, french fries and Disney movies. But when I sit down to write, I often find myself writing things that leave me unable to sleep.

I would suggest a different manta for writers. “Write what comes out.” Sure, there are several very successful authors that write what I would call “format novels.” Commercial fiction – Thriller, Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance – all of it adheres to certain themes and structure accepted in the genre. I love them all, but sometimes people think that to write it well, you have to follow a predictable plot outline. Some people have made that work, but the really good ones do more.

I think what is inside you is what will come out on the page, if you let it. That doesn’t mean that a romance writer has to be a virgin with a thorough knowledge of the Marquis de Sade, nor does it mean a horror writer has to be a serial killer. But there are things that come from somewhere deep inside, from a dark room, that give meaning to your words that is greater than the activities on the page, if you let them.

Horror for me seems to be a way to confront those things that are too terrible to confront in life – suffering, pain, death. I’ve known them all, up close and personal. If I told you how it really happened, you might not want to hear me. But when I re-read my stories, I see my experiences disguised in every character, in every conflict, and in every nightmare. And I sure didn’t plan on writing about those personal things, not ever. It just has a way of coming out, and sneaking on to the page.

Every story has the potential to be that way. But if a writer misinterprets “writing what you know” as “write what you know about,” nothing that matters will come out on the page. You have to write what you know, deep inside you, in places you don’t realize are there. You have to write who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what you love, what you fear, and what it all means to you. And you have to do that while telling a story of child wizards, or dragons, or a zombie with a hatchet.

To write what you know, you really have to get out of the way and let your voice come out. Some people call it a muse, others call it instinct, and still others call it your subconscious mind. I don’t call it anything, except whatever is down there in that dark room. You just write for that “whatever it is,” and it will take care of the rest.

A Requiem of Dreams

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor...

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer’s disease. Notable is the “shrink” that has occurred in Alzheimer’s disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us dream while we sleep. For some, it’s reason to speculate on the possibility of spiritual communication, a type of assisted second sight. Others interpret dreams like tea leaves, hoping to divine the future. Some consider dreaming a process where our brains exercise, while others suppose it’s a cleaning of memories.

For not a few people, dreams can become haunting, troubling, and even terrifying. We’ve all probably witnessed friends, spouses and children twitch and turn, kick and jerk, and occasionally scream out in their sleep. We wonder what they could be seeing, and who – or what – might be visiting them in the night. Perhaps we’ve woken in panic ourselves, screaming as we open our eyes.

Dreams remain a mystery, nightmares the most mysterious. But some think nightmares are no mystery at all.

In research published in 2010 in the Journal of Neurology, nightmares were, in many cases, found to be warning signs. In many ways they are premonitions. The researchers asserted that violent dreams were often a precursor to dementia.

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s don’t necessarily sneak up on a person, but can begin decades before the most obvious symptoms appear. The scientists are convinced that violent nightmares are sometimes the beginnings of brain disorders.

This may itself be an exercise in speculation, but many doctors and researchers have associated dreams with medical conditions.

If this research holds true, some of us are carrying a little future insanity around inside.