The Struggle

Antique pen and inkwellWriting is a struggle. It is a struggle of fighting and letting go, of allowing yourself to fail and not failing. It is a struggle of faith, that what was lost may be found, and that what is known may be forgotten. It is the struggle of man against time, for things cannot be written forever, and yet the worlds we make are as eternal as the one we inhabit. It is a struggle of your soul, and another soul.

And when you find that you know your creations more intimately than your lover, your imaginings more completely then your child, and when you realize you don’t know the damndest thing about who you are, you will know you have made something worthwhile.

And all that you wrote without those struggles was nothing to write at all. Its purpose was only warmth, as the flame takes it from you.

Flowers of Evil

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne ...

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne Duval par Charles Baudelaire, 1850 Jeanne Duval licence : Publiek domein author: Charles Baudelaire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” – Charles Baudelaire

He was young and wealthy. Only 21 and the inheritor of large fortune, the young man lived in opulence on the Isle St. Louis in France. He was ready to find his place in the world and become a proud member of the elite. And then he met a women.

Her name was Jeanne. He was also young, but not nearly so naive. She’d just arrived from Haiti and had started work as a cabaret girl. In a smoke filled club at the seedy end of the Champs Elysees, she sang a song, risque in nature. In the audience sat young Charles. He was smitten with her.

She was nothing like the kind of woman he was supposed to fall in love with. She was not of a landed family, she did not care for equestrian sports. She possibly did not know the proper order of eating utensils on a table setting. But no matter, she was ravishing. The next day, Charles sat in his carriage and watched the delivery boy give her a bouquet of red roses. This was their beginning.

His friends were horrified. Many pleaded with him for reason, no doubt, but he could find nothing better to invest his fortune in than her happiness. He was prepared to give her anything she could ever want, as any love-struck man would do. And so he began to frequent that dark part of the city where brothels and opium dens lined streets filled with scoundrels and harlots.

He stood out like the proverbial sore thumb – a well-dressed and well-heeled man cavorting with patrons of back-street bars. Instead of trying to elevate his dear love’s state, he preferred to meet her down at her own.

His poetry, already sentimentally dark, began to turn like a decaying flower into something much more striking. And like a flower withers and dies, his poetry remained in its decay, its beauty magnified. His were hymns sang to sorrow and death. He once said, “I can barely conceive of a beauty in which there is no melancholy.” That melancholy, that realization that beauty has a darker nature, helped him to pen Les Fleurs du Mal, widely known as one of the greatest works of poetry ever written.

And of Jeanne? She was his constant companion, his ravenous, biting muse. Illiterate though she was, she would sit and listen as he read his poetry for her, then yawn and raise a foot for him to kiss. He would often position her in the sunlight and draw every curve of her body, his pencil practicing in place of his hands. Below one of his most intricate sketchings of her, he wrote the following inscription, “Quaerens quem devouret.” It translates as: “Seeking whom to devour.”

Jeanne introduced him to opium. They tore their lives down together. They fought. She spent his money with abandon. And yet, he needed her. When his money was gone, she sold every last thing he owned. She began having affairs with his friends, and even sold herself on the street. But Charles couldn’t get out of her spell.

At last she left him, a broken, drug afflicted man. He lived out his life in the shadow of her absence. He even paid her expenses as she lay sick and dying. He never got that first taste of bitter, anguishing, delusional love out of his heart.

Some say she introduced Baudelaire to the animistic and pagan religions of her native Haiti. There are rumors that she was some kind of enchantress, casting a spell on the good looking man in the back row, damning him to a life in her hold. But in the end, whether enchanted by spells or by beauty, the addiction is the same, is it not?

”The man who, from the beginning of his life, has been bathed at length in the soft atmosphere of a woman, in the smell of her hands, of her bosom, of her knees, of her hair, of her supple and floating clothes, … has contracted from this contact a tender skin and a distinct accent, a kind of androgyny without which the harshest and most masculine genius remains, as far as perfection in art is concerned, an incomplete being.”

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French poet, critic. Artificial Paradise, An Opium-eater, VII. Childhood Sorrows (1860). On men who have been raised by women.

The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

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.

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…

Part 7

A Highschool American Football game

A Highschool American Football game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had taken four months for her love to die. Four months of watching him avoid the girl, four months of his absence while he thought about her, four months of her name in their bed. It became his obsession, this girl who he had to avoid at risk of her safety. This girl who he trained to act out on the stage the confidence and determination she lacked in herself. This girl who began to take her place in his thoughts.

He said it was innocent, it was nothing, it wasn’t what they had. And it wasn’t, not in most ways. But it was something, and innocence was a matter of degree and perspective.

Franklin was staying late. Of course, there were the play rehearsals, and those took time. But what wasn’t explained away was his focus on the girl, how he talked about her as if she was a part of their life, how he expressed his concern for her.

She’d come to school once, to surprise him, but mostly to see if he was really working. She was almost to his office when she heard a girl’s voice. She stopped. Finding a place behind the bend in the hall, she peered to the other side and watched this girl in his arms, laughing, and then their lips met.

He’d said that night they were rehearsing lines, but the love was dead by then.

So Berta decided to make everything stop.

She thought it would be the quickest way to end this, even if the girl would have to suffer. It would be a share of the suffering she herself had been feeling. The neglect, and anger, the loneliness. So she found Stephen after football practice. He was wiping the sweat away from his face, looking at her with concentration, as if he could see her eyes behind the sunglasses she wore. Dark, so he wouldn’t see her lie.

“Can I help you?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I didn’t come here for that.”

“What did you come for, then?”

Her lips tightened. “Now listen here, you tell your little slut of a girlfriend to stay the hell away from my husband.”

She could see his smile fade like the haze of an October morning.

“What are you talking about,” he said, his voice cracking.

“I’m Mrs. Ray, and you know damn well what I’m talking about. If I ever find her lipstick on his shirt, or smell her perfume on his crotch again, I’m going to do what you should have done a long time ago.”

The words dying as they hung in the air, she turned and walked away. She didn’t give him time to respond. She knew he’d have no response anyway.

And so she couldn’t see how Stephen ripped his jersey from his chest, then the pads, and then ran inside the school.

Part 1

He lumbered down the street, not noticing the cars speeding by him, not quite feeling the way his feet pressed into the asphalt, soft after a ninety degree morning. He didn’t notice the yellow dashes vanishing between his steps every so often until a mile had passed, then another. He didn’t see the traffic rushing so close to his body, or hear the drivers honking their horns or cursing out windows as they went by. All he saw was his hand, the one that had broken her, and where the ring used to fit on the second knuckle of his little finger. A gift she’d given him, and he’d lost it. Like a damn fool, he’d lost it.

Franklin didn’t think anyone was watching, really. Surprising, if only for the fact that he’d left his clothes scattered on the pavement behind him, leaving a trail that led to a lost soul, someone who didn’t matter anymore.

But they did see him, someone did. The trucker saw him as he looked up from the radio, a figure growing dangerously large between the bottom of his windshield and the crack in the glass about midway up. The driver saw this unknown, naked man as he tried to slow the vehicle, the screeching and tearing of rubber sounding like the combat of animals, until for a moment time stood still, and he was looking at a man with clear eyes, blue fading to green, holding his arms out at his sides. He’d stopped walking and just stood there as the truck collided into him and through him and stopped some distance beyond him. But the driver would always remember the words that mouth had formed right before it disappeared. He never told anyone. How could you have seen that, they’d ask. Be he knew what he saw. Right before the man in the road became a man no more, he’d looked right at him, and his mouth had formed words.

Thank you, he’d said.

Unintended Consequences

English: `Stone circle` in a small open space.

English: `Stone circle` in a small open space. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While doing research for my new novel, I stumbled across something fascinating, and disturbing. One of the primary settings in the book, a church in southern England (which I won’t name because I don’t want to risk spoiling the story) appears at first glance to have a history dating from early in the last millennium. It has classic gothic architecture, with a form and design used in many of the churches that dot the island. But if you take a closer look, you see something doesn’t look quite right. There’s something odd about its foundation.

Around and under the base of the church, in regular intervals, are large, odd shaped rocks that have been incorporated into the structure. A little poking around and you’ll find the answer to what these rocks are. They comprise an ancient stone circle dating from the Bronze Age, used for centuries before the first missionaries reached the English soil by druids and others for worship and burial.

The church is built right on top of a pagan ritual site.

This opens the doors to all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps the early Christians wanted to appropriate this ancient place of worship to convert the people of the area. Maybe they wanted to cover up a religion that wasn’t compatible with their own. Or perhaps, they left the stones on purpose, exposed underneath the base of the church, to proclaim the superiority of their God.

Whatever the reason, the outcome is mysterious. The church was a setting in my new novel before I knew this particularly wicked detail. I’d picked it out from a search of churches in the area due to its appearance, but honestly, I could have chosen a dozen other churches in a dozen other towns. In fact, I’d already had the story plotted, and almost 1/3rd of it written before I discovered the rune stones in a place I’d already featured prominently. I felt as if the story had led me there, as if it had been part of the story all along. I just had to discover it myself.

I have to assume that this isn’t the only church built on pagan ruins. Perhaps it is the way of the world. But I can’t help but think that something remains of those people long ago who prayed to different entities. Call it what you want – spirits, energy, ghosts – but these things remain long after the physical has died. I’ve written about it before, in my post on Sarah Winchester. Here, in this English church, things that are opposed are existing on the same ground.

One of the characters from my new novel, an old woman imprisoned for witchcraft, gave this warning: “Be careful when you mix the gods and the demons. You can’t put them all in one place and expect them to stay happy.”

I can’t wait to see what else I discover about my own story.

What have you discovered while writing? Has something ever snuck up on you, without warning, and made you think that, just maybe, this wasn’t your story after all?

This Beautiful Subject

English: Illustration to a fairy tale "Ki...

English: Illustration to a fairy tale “King_Thrushbeard” Русский: Иллюстрация К.Фогеля (1893) к сказке “Король Дроздобород” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There once was a king who lived alone, as his wife had been dead for many years. He heard rumors of a girl in his kingdom that was so beautiful, whatever man saw her would fall in love with her. The king was lonely, and desired to meet this beautiful subject. He sent his men throughout the kingdom to find her, and at last a report came that the girl lived with her father in a particular village. But the messenger warned him, “My lord, they say that the girl is so beautiful that whoever sees her is blinded by love. I’m afraid there is no one you can trust to bring her here.”

The king thought for a time, and at last decided the only person he could trust was his own son. He called the boy to him, and told him to bring the girl back to the castle. The son bowed, and headed off. Several days passed, but the king’s son did not return. The king was distraught with worry, and wondered if his son had been set upon and harmed. So one night the king set out alone, to the house where the messengers had said the girl lived.

When the king reached the little house, he rushed to the door and begged the owner to come out to meet him. An old man cracked the door just wide enough to peer through, and after a few moments realized he was standing before his king. The old man knelt to the ground, but the king begged him to rise. The king asked, “I sent my son here a week ago, but he has not returned. Did he come to this house?”

The old man answered, “Yes, he did.”

The king’s heart was at once relived and suspicious. “Where then is your daughter?” he asked the old man.

“I don’t know where she is,” he replied. “She is your daughter, now.”

The Beauty of Pain

I often wonder why the writing, films, and music I love best are often the darkest. I stumbled upon this quote from a 19th century essayist. For me, it’s an adequate explanation.

English: Despair

English: Despair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Works of genius have this in common, that even when they vividly capture the nothingness of things, when they clearly show and make us feel the inevitable unhappiness of life, and when they express the most terrible despair, nonetheless to a great soul – though he find himself in a state of extreme duress, disillusion, nothingness, noia, and despair of life, or in the bitterest and deadliest misfortunes (caused by deep feelings of whatever) – these works always console and rekindle enthusiasm; and though they treat or represent only death, they give back to him, at least temporarily, that life which he had lost.”

— Giacomo Liapardi (1798-1837) from his diary called Zibaldone