Making More Progress on the Top 100 Horror Novels (Audrey’s Door)

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

I’ve been reading ferociously lately, trying to get through more of the list and inspire my own writing. And then the real horror hit me–how behind I was in posting my progress and reviews. Oh, no!

Next up is Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan.

If I may be blunt? Fucking finally. It’s current. It’s written by a woman. And it’s scary.

For me, “scary” has been missing from a lot of the books on this list. Some I doubt  are even properly classified as  horror. But I blunder onward, always reading.

Classic haunted house story, but with so many interesting and diverting twists. The main character is mentally ill–that journey, alone, could have made an entire book. The romantic piece of the story could also have stood alone. But twine them together with an eerie old building that defies nature, and  you’ve got a cracking story that won’t let you go.

Some could, uncharitably, point out that I am never in favor of having a monster that is never actually seen in a book. Well, yeah, unless it’s done superbly. In this story, what lurks on the other side is never really fully seen, but I was so wrapped up in the story (and probably my security  blanket, two cats, a flashlight and a baseball bat) that I didn’t care.

One of the facets that riveted me to my chair was Audrey’s mental illness, and her history with it. How she thought about it. How she lived with it on a daily basis. How she perceived it. I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding and unfounded assumptions about people who are mentally ill not being aware of their illness. This book lays waste to that theory. Audrey knows exactly what her problems are, and while she may not know how to fix them, she knows how to cope with them and work around them.

When I read this book, I could feel the influence of Rosemary’s Baby, and perhaps a hint of Lovecraft.

Yes, this is a haunted house novel. But it is so much more. It’s become one of my favorites from this list, and I can’t wait to read her other novels.  Although, of course, after I finish this list. THIS DAMN LIST. Wait, maybe I died and this is a form of purgatory? Well, that’s a story for me to write.

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Please Dress Appropriately

Does that even mean anything anymore?

Someone recently posited that if a person wore a neon pink micro mini skirt and leopard prints blouse while sporting a beard, then naturally other people were going to look  at them. And, furthermore, that person wanted to be looked at, or they wouldn’t dress in a manner bound to attract attention.

Um, maybe?

But can’t I just get dressed and go out of the house without worrying if somebody is going to make assumptions about my genitals, my religion, my politics based on what I’m wearing? Isn’t that an awful heavy load to expect one pair of plaid shorts to carry?

I am mad for plaid. Does that mean I’m preppy? A closet Scot? Does it suggest I have a thing for burly lumberjacks or mopey grunge musicians? I mean, I just like plaid and I don’t care if it makes my ass look wider than it absolutely has to.

When I get dressed for the day, I’m already thinking about the weather, what I’m going to do, if I’m going to work or not, if I’m expecting hot flashes, do I need pockets, have I shaved my legs recently or do I need to wear a long skirt and the hair on my legs is so blonde why do I even care? (I rarely have occasion to ask strangers to touch my legs, so the whole issue is moot.) Will I be presenting myself in a professional capacity, or can I wear yoga pants? Stuff like that.

But if I want to wear something shiny and blue, does it mean I feel theatrical and want everyone to look at me? Or does it mean the shiny blue thing has an elastic waistband and is clean and was on the top of the pile? Maybe it belonged to my grandmother, the world champion pole dancer, and I wear it every year on her birthday in her honor. Maybe I was so depressed when I woke up that putting on something shiny and blue was the only way I could stand to get out of bed and out of the house without self-medicating myself with vodka and Ho-Hos.

Are there any hard and fast rules any longer? I, personally, do not want to see your underwear. Not your bra straps, not your boxers, not the whale tail of your thong. I don’t want to see your vajayjay or your twig and berries. I do not want to see you in your pajamas at the grocery store.

I’d avoid wearing white to somebody else’s wedding unless specifically asked to do so. At a job interview, your clothes should be clean and without holes, and so should your shoes.

Other than that, ARE there any rules? Do we even need them? Do you need to know someone’s gender identity before you can admire their shoes (and perhaps ask, very politely, where they got them?)

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Top 100 Horror Books: IT

Ready for another installment?

Along with fearless friends DeAnna Knippling and Shannon Lawrence, I am making my way through “Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books.”

Because I caught the made-for-TV movie, I decided the time had come to re-read IT by Stephen King.

My, what a time commitment that book is. I’d forgotten how long it takes to read those 1,138 pages. I think, this time, it took me longer than a month. Because I’m already so familiar with it, there’s no thrill of discovery, no wondering what will happen next. Sadly, this may mark the last time I’ll read this particular book.

What it made me wonder was: would this book get published, in all its glory, in today’s market? Would it be deemed too long? Would the back and forth chapters, hopping roughly 30 years in time, be considered too difficult for today’s audience?

It’s still a wonderfully written scary story. In fact, I’ve referenced Pennywise, the clown, in one of my own novels. It’s freaking iconic, is what it is.

The ground this book treads is familiar. It’s the children in the town of Derry who can see the evil that is stalking them. The adults have lost the ability to see the types of things that require a leap of faith to believe in. And every 20-some years, this evil force rears up and feeds on the children again, until it sinks into a sated hibernation far beneath the storm drains and the sewers.

Children are often the only ones who can see the horror. Or the magic. Maybe they’re opposite sides of the same coin. And monsters and magicians are inevitably drawn to the children and the child-like, the innocent (and not-so-innocent) young.

Maybe children are easier to scare because children are quicker to believe what is right in front of their eyes instead of trying to rationalize it away? They’re willing to say “I saw a ghost” instead of first working through if it was a trash bag blowing in the wind, a trick of the light, a sheet on a clothesline, the product of too many intoxicants.

On reading this now, there was only one scene for me that didn’t ring true. And that’s the sex scene set in 1957, when the kids are in the tunnels trying to find their way out. I don’t think it was the only thing Bev could do to bring them all back together and save them. Although each kid had flashes of adult insight throughout that summer, the ideas and thoughts running through her head as she made this decision didn’t feel true to her age, her character or the book. WTF, Stephen King. W. T. F? As if ripping out Georgie’s arm wasn’t squicky enough, you had to throw in a prepubescent sex scene? Because that’s the only power a female could possibly have or use?

Regardless of this one quibble, this is one of the books I firmly agree belongs on the Top 100 list.

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I’m Not Normal

So you look at the image and the quote above, and you probably think, “That’s nice.”

But I have an overactive imagination.

If doors can open into heaven, they can also open into hell.

And this seems to imply that we don’t have any control over those doors, or when they open, or what comes through. Whoever or whatever is on the other side is calling all the shots and invading our dreams at will.

The dreams I have? Not always comforting. Not always a casual wave and a chat with Dad or Grandma. No, I get shifting, hungry monsters, things with strangely glowing eyes, things that chase me because they want to sink their very sharp teeth into the back of my neck.

I would much rather believe that my dreams are where my overactive imagination and my subconscious duke it out, trying to figure out the stuff my conscious brain is too distracted to work on.

I don’t want to believe there’s a doorway somewhere, and these awful, shape-changing creatures are yukking it up on the other side, tossing 13-sided dice to see who gets to visit me that night. Or that there’s some kind of hell dimension competition going on, to see which bogeyman can scare me enough to wake me up, heart pounding, gasping for air, desperately blinking and squinting to bring reality back into focus.

This is the down side of being a vivid dreamer. Everything is high-def, Technicolor and in my face. Good or bad, it’s like a night spent watching the world’s most bizarre cable network, only I don’t get to choose the channels.

Last night? Not only were the dreams bad, but they daisy-chained themselves together. Waking and falling back asleep brought no respite, just a slightly altered version of the Big Bad, which writhed and twisted out of my control.

So yeah. Linking doors and dreams right now? Not a comfort. Not today.

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“Forsaken” by Kelley Armstrong

I see this is #13.5 in the series, and rating it as less than a full book seems about right.

The writing is spot on, and the action progresses at a terrific pace. The tension about her children had me on the edge of my chair. But it feels a bit rushed. As though the story was only being told to get to the revelation at the end.

But all in all, it was a small book. There was just the one storyline, so it’s not as nuanced as the previous Otherworld books that I’ve loved. Also, there was one “trick” the enemy used that I saw through pages and pages and pages BEFORE Elena and her pack did. Which made me think slightly less of the character.

All that being said, I would happily read Otherworld books until the end of time.

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“Targeting” Fear

What the heck just happened with the world, in respect to Target?

I’m reading about the (non)issue, and I just don’t get it.

In the TOY section, Target is going to stop labeling their products as either BOY toys or GIRL toys.

I didn’t read that Target is going to gut the toy department, remove every single item that looks like it might be fun, and replace them with gender-neutral toys. They just aren’t going to LABEL the toys. They aren’t going to send the message to little girls that they shouldn’t want race car sets or Ninja Turtles or whatever is supposed to be a masculine toy. Similarly, they aren’t telling little boys it’s wrong to want an EZ Bake Oven or a Barbie or whatever else is deemed a feminine toy.

When I was younger, I was told I shouldn’t read “boy comics.” My response was the 1973 equivalent of “Bugger off.” I didn’t stop reading them. Because Sgt. Rock was blowing shit up and rescuing people, while Betty and Veronica were arguing about clothes and boys. (Again, talking 1973, not today. I haven’t kept up with comics like I should have.)

And the bedding. For crying out loud, Target wants to stop dictating that girls must have frilly pink bedding and boys should have masculine navy blue bedding. They’re removing the signs. They’re not getting rid of all the colorful, Disney-inspired character sheets and replacing them with only beige sheets.

The people who ask how will they know what to buy their child?

Here’s a radical idea. Ask them.

Why is it important to close off avenues of creativity and expression in the name of being “gender specific?” Is there something inherently dangerous in a little boy wanting a sparkly pink lava lamp? Or in a little girl wanting boxing gloves instead of a Barbie? Or in what color towels they use to dry behind the ears they didn’t wash?

Are these same people angry at Starbucks because the drinks aren’t clearly delineated as being designed for men or for women? I would ask if they’re offended by bookstores not selling Men’s Books and Women’s Books, except I don’t think the people who are up in arms spend too much of their time in bookstores.

The way I see it, by removing the labels, Target is trying to give people more freedom of choice, not take anything away.

When did that become a bad thing?

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Head vs. Heart

If you tell someone you have a headache, they might offer you a pain reliever, a glass of water or some quiet time.

Tell someone you have a heartache, and they want to know why.

You can’t say, “I don’t feel like going to the county fair today; I have a  heartache.” You can’t bow out of social engagements, leave work early, get a cool cloth and a dark room, or any of the other benevolence that’s bestowed on the sufferer of a headache.

If you say you have a headache, people will nod and leave you alone. Maybe offer you a decongestant if it’s allergy season.

But the heart. If you say your heart is hurting, people want to know why. They want to unearth every permutation of sadness that resides within you, pull it out like a mutated earthworm and examine it as it wriggles and writhes under the light of day. People want you to vomit out your inner turmoil so they can poke a stick in it and see what it tells them about you, like a demented shaman poking a gnarled finger into the guts of an eviscerated chicken.

There are times when your heart just aches, and there’s not a thing anyone can do about it. You just have to ride it out. The trigger isn’t a specific incident, you’re just fucking sad. Like a cold, you have to let the sadness run its course, because there’s no inoculation against it, no old-timey home remedies for it.

Believe it or not, there are some people who don’t want your sympathy, because they don’t have any idea what to do with it. Explaining the cause of their grief is a task so enormous and complex–full of short turns, sharp stops, complete reversals and apparent contradictions–that they don’t have a starting place to make it easily digestible for the people outside of their head.

Other people don’t want your sympathy because it smells and feels and sounds and tastes like condescension. They’d rather cut off their hand than be viewed as someone in need.

Or maybe they just don’t want to hear your armchair diagnosis of depression. As if being sad isn’t acceptable, isn’t serious enough to meet your standards, and their lack of response must have a clinical and treatable cause.

I am not depressed.

I do not have a headache.

I am sad.

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