Well, we’re in holidays. Are you looking forward to eating some fabulous holiday food as much as me? I’ve already lost ten pounds so I can gain it all back—and more. Yeah, the holidays.
Currently, I am doing rewrites on Book Two in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series per notes from my editor. I hope to send the manuscript to the copyeditor by Thanksgiving. I had planned on having the book out by Christmas, but I think January is more likely.
In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of the cover for House of the Shrieking Woman. Let me know what you think.
The book signing in Burbank went pretty well. I am in the middle of trying to schedule future ones, and I am now expanding to Vroman’s Bookstore. Be sure to check out my Facebook page for news on future events.
Recommended Reading and Viewing
If you’re looking for something creepy that isn’t exactly a ghost story, be sure to check out The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It’s a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to. You can read my review here.
And if, like me, you are a fan of J-horror, check out the Ringu collection on Blu-ray, available now at Amazon. I’ve been waiting for these movies to be available again, and now they are. Each is presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Prepare to be terrified.
I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch since forever. What I love most about his movies is, he doesn’t waste time and money. His stories are lean, character-driven pieces that get to the point quickly. Films like ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ ‘Down by Law,’ and ‘Broken Flowers.’ No boring backstory, no big government conspiracy. Just people dealing with everyday shit they have no control over.
Not Every Zombie Story Has to Be the Apocalypse
‘The Dead Don’t Die’ is the director’s latest film, and it’s a hoot. We’ve got Bill Murray as the police chief of a small town who, by his own admission, should’ve retired two years ago. Adam Driver as an officer, who seems to be the only person in Centerville that seems to know they are all in a Jim Jarmusch movie. And other wonderful actors like Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, and Selena Gomez.
The script is smart and low key. Lines are repeated by different characters, giving the film an almost Sartre vibe where everyone is caught up in an existential nightmare that won’t end. Here’s an example, which each character varies a little:
What the heck was it, a wild animal? Several wild animals?
Oh, and there’s the dead. Yeah, they’re coming out of the ground like in the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ with at least one of them reeking of cheap chardonnay.
When the Dead Start Rising, That’s When You Know Who Your Friends Are
As things go from bad to worse, people act out in different ways. Hermit Bob keeps an eye on the proceedings from a distance, making comments like this gem:
Cliff and little Ronnie. Warriors. Among the dead. Zombies. Remnants of the materialist people.
Officer Mindy continues to freak out with each new horror. Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby have banded together to try and save the hardware store—and themselves. And good ol’ Farmer Frank goes it alone with his gun and deep-seated prejudices as he discovers all his cows and chickens have vanished. Tilda Swinton, who is always mesmerizing, is perhaps the only one who confronts the danger head-on, using a razor-sharp Katana to behead the invaders.
And some are just clueless, like the three out-of-town hipsters staying at the local motel. For some reason, Cliff and Ronnie have decided they are from Cleveland.
If You’re Going to Die, You Might as Well Have a Good Theme Song
Just so you know, everyone—and I mean everyone—in this thing dies at the end. I think Officer Ronnie said it best:
If you ask me, this whole thing is going to end badly.
Well, okay, maybe not Hermit Bob. I mean, someone has to survive to tell the story, right? But here’s the thing. If you’re going to make a movie about zombies taking over a small, peaceful town and ripping everyone to pieces, then you’d better have a good theme song.
And this movie does. The song “The Dead Don’t Die,” written and performed by Sturgill Simpson, is perfect. In fact, for those who might be squeamish about seeing so much blood and guts, you might want to purchase the tune so you can at least feel you were a part of the experience.
Fun fact: According to the credits, someone got hired as a zombie movement consultant. What a country.
The Greatest Zombie Cast Ever Disassembled
The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language
Well, Halloween is almost here. Whew! Hard to believe the year is almost over. I genuinely hope you’ve had a happy and productive year so far. Here’s what happening with me…
I published The Girl in the Mirror on June 1st, and it has been selected as a quarter finalist in the Booklife Prize competition. This is the first book in a new supernatural suspense series called Sarah Greene Mysteries. If you’re a horror fan who likes ghost stories, you might want to check it out. You can read a free sample here.
Speaking of which, I just turned in my draft for Book Two in the series, House of the Shrieking Woman. It should be out in the next few months—I’ll keep you posted.
I’m doing another book signing at Barnes & Noble in Burbank CA on Sunday, October 20th from 2—4 pm. The address is 731 N San Fernando Blvd, Burbank, CA 91502. So, if you happen to be in the area, please stop by and pick up a free zombie button. And yes, there will be candy. Sign up on Facebook here.
Recommended Reading and Viewing
I love reading, and I also love recommending books, movies, and TV shows. If you enjoy police procedurals with ghosts, pick up a copy of Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz. It’s a story you won’t soon forget. You can read my review here.
And if you like horror with witches, check out ‘Marianne’ on Netflix. It is seriously scary and perfect for Halloween. Not suitable for kids, though.
When I started writing fiction seriously, I pretty much began the process by staring down the blank page and typing words. I didn’t produce a complex outline or write detailed backstories about my principle characters. I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pantser. I knew this when I used to write screenplays. I was always taught to create the outline, define the characters—and only then, begin with FADE IN. I tried this once, and I got so frustrated, I gave up and banged out the damn thing. Take THAT, mother!
Defining the Terms For those of you who might be new to the discussion, let’s first explain the terms. I am quoting the from a post I found over at “The Write Practice.” For my money, these comments work pretty well as definitions.
Plotters, having planned out their novel ahead of time, know what’s going to happen before they write it. This makes it easier to bust writer’s block. It’s harder to get stuck when you know what’s going to happen next. Plotters also tend to get their novels written faster, or at least more smoothly.
Pantsers have the freedom to take their novel in any direction they want. They have flexibility. They’re not stuck following an outline, so if they don’t like a character, they can simply kill him. If they don’t like the way their plot is going, they can change it.
I will say that if you read the article, you’ll notice the author is biased in favor of plotters. And I say, bully for her. Because, in the end, whether you are a plotter or a panster—if you’re a good writer—it doesn’t matter. Let me give you an example.
At the risk of bringing up Woody Allen, I would like to talk about that beautiful and funny opening scene in his 1980 film Stardust Memories. The whole thing was heavily influenced by the opening to Fellini’s 8-1/2, by the way. Even some of the shots are nearly identical. Never mind.
In this scene, the main character, Sandy Bates, finds himself on a train. He is surrounded by humorless passengers who look like they’re on their way to a mortician’s convention. He happens to look out the window and sees another train across the way, filled with well-dressed passengers drinking champagne and laughing gaily as they show each other their trophies. One woman blows him a kiss. Realizing he must be on the wrong train, he tries to get off, but it’s no use. At the end of the scene, Sandy’s train has arrived at a landfill. But so has the other train.
Now, I’m not saying plotters are humorless, and pantsers are happy-go-lucky folks who like to socialize with a drink in their hand (wink wink). It’s just that if you are a professional writer, you’re getting to your destination despite the How. By the way, that girl blowing the kiss? Sharon Stone.
The Problem with Labeling I don’t like being labeled. No one does. So, whoever came up with these labels for writers must own a labeling machine company. My main problem is that calling someone a pantser vs. a plotter seems to imply that pantsers don’t care about the plot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We do care, but we just haven’t figured it out yet. With each new book, we are on a road of discovery. And trying to lay it all out in advance isn’t much fun. It’s like eating your vegetables. We want dessert!
Another problem with labeling is that it encourages people to take sides, which is never a good thing. Need proof? How about the HUAC hearings in the late 1940s which led to the Hollywood blacklist. Yeah, that went really well; it practically tore the country apart. Fun times, people.
Finally, what if you’re a writer who is somewhere in the middle? I’ve adjusted my writing process to accommodate a short synopsis and a timeline, so I don’t trip myself up by getting dates wrong and such. I still don’t consider myself a plotter, because I don’t follow an outline. So, what does that make me, a hybrid? Sounds kind of SciFi-ish, don’t you think? Folks, to deal with the hybrid problem, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ban these nutjobs from ever using Amazon KDP again.
Okay, so here it is. When I sit down to write a new novel or short story, I have a general idea of where I am going, and I let my characters tell me where they need to go next. If that sounds a little new-agey, I get it. But it’s true. I can’t tell you how many times a character has surprised me by disobeying me. Come on—I’M the writer! And guess what—the story was better for it. I’m not sure those kinds of discoveries would happen if I forced myself to outline. And as far as plot, I can assure you, there is one.
Wrap-Up So, whether you like to write copious outlines with detailed scene descriptions—or you’d rather put on your shoes, go outside, and see where the road takes you—I applaud you. Over the years, I’ve read many wonderful books by plotters and panters. And to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference in terms of quality. They were both excellent. Why? Because the authors did the hard work.
Look, the point of writing is not to feel bad about yourself. Writers do that enough already. We should celebrate who we are and be professional writers. I don’t know, maybe out there somewhere there’s a plotter who wishes she were a pantser. Sure. And maybe unicorns are real.
‘The Rite’ is a wonderfully produced movie from 2011 starring Anthony Hopkins, perhaps the only actor alive today who could drop you simply by leveling his trademarked death-stare. I saw the film a few years ago, then recently read the nonfiction book that has to do with real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas. In that work, the journalist Matt Baglio faithfully records what happens to the Northern California priest as he attends a series of exorcisms in Italy as part of his training. If you are interested in what happens during these rituals, I suggest you take a look at that book.
But I’m here to talk about the movie, which was suggested by the book. After watching it again, three things struck me that I’d like to share.
There’s Plenty of Evil in the World When the main character, Michael Kovak, first meets Father Lucas, the exorcist he is to observe, he encounters a young woman who has been suffering from demonic possession for a long time. It turns out her predicament is not her fault. She was raped by her father and is now carrying his child.
We read about stuff like this all the time, and what it demonstrates is, as humans, we don’t need demons making us do bad things; we are perfectly capable of being evil all by ourselves. Nevertheless, when a tragedy like this occurs, it can open the door to something even worse. As proof, you can check out the scene where the poor girl coughs up black oxide nails.
Demons Are Real—and They Have Names In 1973, ‘The Exorcist’ showed us that demonic possession is real and that the entities doing the possessing have names. Apparently, they also have ranks. Now, as a reminder, these creatures are pure spirit; that is, they never walked the earth, and they are as old as time itself. They’re also smart, so good luck engaging in wordplay with them.
As a matter of fact, this is precisely what the young seminarian does against the priest’s orders—he tries parrying with the demon possessing the girl. Big mistake. As a result, the beast begins toying with him, getting under the young man’s skin.
Without Faith, You Are Lost Here’s something interesting that was hinted at in the movie but is prominent in the book: many Catholic priests do not believe in the devil which, when you stop to think about it, is messed up. Have these people not read the New Testament? Anyway, just because these are modern times, that doesn’t mean the old truths don’t apply.
What’s interesting about Michael is, on the surface, it’s not so much about his lack of faith in God as it is about his refusal to believe in evil during these exorcisms. It’s almost as if it’s the demon’s mission is to prove to Michael that he exists. And of course, once the seminarian can accept that, he can then be confident in the belief that God exists.
Wrap-Up I am a huge fan of this movie. I’ve said often that my all-time favorite horror movie is ‘The Exorcist.’ But this film is a close second. It’s intelligently written and beautifully acted and directed. And it doesn’t hurt that it was shot in Italy. If you enjoy horror that makes you think, watch ‘The Rite.’
Movie Details American seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donaghue) travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.
Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Michael Petroni, Matt Baglio (book)
Stars: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds
I hope it will be different from anything you have seen. In particular the use of light.
I ran across an interesting film project and wanted to share it with you. Mark MacNicol is a novelist and playwright. Currently, he is raising money for a film with paranormal themes called Dreaded Light. Take a look at this interview excerpt, and be sure to watch the video. Good luck, Mark!
With two novels under his belt and several stage plays, Mark MacNicol is lending his talents to film, producing, writing and directing avant-garde feature, Dreaded Light, which he is funding through ‘crowdinvestment.’
Mark spoke with The Fountain about the project, extending this experience to young offenders and how crowdinvesting is different to crowdfunding.
TF: A new film project, Dreaded Light, how exciting, what can we expect?
I hope it will be different from anything you have seen. In particular the use of light (one of the characters has a phobia of daylight). I also hope you will struggle to put it in a particular box/genre.
As the Producer Writer and Director it means I can take chances that I wouldn’t be able to or allowed to under normal circumstances. Also authenticity of subject matter (we’ve done a massive amount of research into Spiritualism).
TF: And you are providing young people with social exclusions an opportunity to work on this feature, how noble?
One of my stage plays, Kamikaze, toured high schools and young offenders units. That was a humbling experience and I got to meet a lot of very special staff and young people. While that play was touring I knew at some point in the future (if I was able to) I would reach out to them and get them involved somehow.
To see the rest of this interview, please visit The Fountain.
I finally got a chance to catch ‘100 Bloody Acres,’ a hilarious horror movie from Australia that was released in 2012. As of this writing, it’s free for Amazon Prime members. If, like me, you are a fan of ‘Motel Hell’ and ‘Delicatessen,’ then you might enjoy this madcap take on the hitchhiker horror trope that features three millennials headed to a music festival and two sketchy brothers who manufacture a special blend, organic fertilizer. Pardon the reference, but here’s some food for thought.
Never Accept a Ride When the Back of the Truck Smells Funny This is a given. Yet, three hapless travelers, whose car has broken down, decide to accept a ride from Reg Morgan, who is “making a delivery.” That’s right, air quotes. As in most horror movies, Sophie, James, and Wes ignore all the signs and merrily plod on. Usually, this is a hallmark of a plot-driven story. On the other hand, if they didn’t just go with it, the movie would have ended right after the opening credits, and we’d miss all the fun.
Nevertheless, know this: if you should find yourself on a lonely, backwoods road, and a guy offers you a ride in his truck that happens to have a dead animal (and possibly something else) in the back, take a pass. No good ever comes from roadkill. And for crying out loud, if you do decide to brave it out, do not for the love of all that is good and holy take acid to enhance the experience.
Knocking the Bad Guy Out Never Works One of the oldest movie tropes—and this doesn’t just go for horror—features the hero knocking out the bad guy with a gun or a club, then gleefully running away. Repeat after me: this never works. If you don’t have the stomach to finish off the villain, then at least tie him up so he can’t wake up and come after you again.
And as long as you’re being thorough, take his weapon away. The characters who do not follow this advice once again betray a plot-driven movie, but in this case, the story is so comical, I didn’t mind. I suppose you could argue that when in a situation like this, you’re not thinking straight. Well, of course, you aren’t—you just took acid, you moron!
Surprise! Love Conquers All To add to the hilarity, ‘100 Bloody Acres’ features a love triangle between Sophie, James, and Wes. Apparently, the girl is searching for something more in a relationship and, though she is technically “with” James, she’s been carrying on with Wes on the sly. But even that dalliance isn’t enough for her.
I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say that love—or lust—really does conquer all. And speaking of endings, the interplay between all the characters sets this movie apart. Now, go watch. Hey, does anybody notice a weird smell in here?
Logline Reg and Lindsay run an organic fertiliser business. They need a fresh supply of their “secret ingredient” to process through the meat grinder. Reg comes across two guys and a girl with a broken-down vehicle on their way to a music festival.
By the time I reached my twenties, I had seen a number of Mexican films, many of them produced during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. My favorites were those directed by the incomparable Spanish director Luis Buñuel—titles such as ‘Subida al cielo,’ ‘Ensayo de un crimen,’ and ‘Nazarín.’ Recently, I saw ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuarón, the talented director of ‘Y Tu Mamá También,’ ‘Children of Men,’ and ‘Gravity.’ And, like those great films of the golden age, I was thrilled to see Cuarón had decided to tell his story in black-and-white. Here is the film’s logline:
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Doesn’t sound all that compelling when you put it that way, right? Well, this film has depth, my friend. And tragedy, suffering, and love. But it is also a celebration of the everyday lives of women who must go on, no matter the obstacles. For me, three things stood out.
A Woman’s Plight Is Universal When we first meet the maid Cleo, we see her washing down the enclosed patio of the family’s home in the city. The director starts and ends the movie with water. Water washes, it breaks—signaling birth—and it almost kills in the form of an angry ocean.
Cleo is sweet and beloved by the family. As she goes about her daily duties, her mistress Sra. Sofía is coming apart as her marriage crumbles before her eyes, her husband having decided to leave the children and her for another woman. Then, after repeated sex with her boyfriend Fermín, Cleo finds herself pregnant. When she informs him, his churlish response is, “What’s it to me?”
Unlike the heartless men in this story, the women band together. Upon learning of her condition, Sra. Sofía doesn’t hesitate to assure Cleo that everything will be fine and that she must remain with the family. As time goes on, she even sends Cleo and Sra. Sofía’s mother to the furniture store to purchase a crib.
There’s really nothing new in the situations these women find themselves in. But it’s their response to misfortune and their determination to carry on that’s so moving. Toward the end of the film, Sra. Sofía tells Cleo, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”
Violence Is Easy, Love Is Hard ‘Roma’ takes place in the early 1970s against a backdrop of violence. Protesting students are shot dead in the streets by the police. The Tlatelolco massacre, during which nearly fifty civilians were killed at the hands of the police and the army, had actually occurred in 1968. I’m curious to know whether the violence continued into the 1970s as the film suggests. What struck me most about those chaotic scenes was, one minute the cops are sitting around smoking, and the next they are firing into the crowd.
Speaking of violence, Fermín’s answer to his miserable upbringing is to better himself through martial arts. Though he has the talent and the discipline for it, he has none of the maturity. He’s still as angry as ever and, after hearing he is a father, he threatens to beat up Cleo—and her unborn child. Then later at the furniture store, he joins in the street violence, shooting the innocent.
Family Is Everything Overall, aside from the doctor who attends Cleo at the hospital, men don’t come out looking too good in this thing. They are, for the most part, corrupt, self-centered, and brutish. In the final scenes, it’s the women and the children who are left behind to get on with their lives.
Cleo loves the family so much that, when two of the children are carried off in the waves of a turbulent sea, she goes in to rescue them, even though she cannot swim. In the end, she doesn’t have Fermín, and she doesn’t have her child. But she has the family.
So, what happens when you go with these kinds of attention-grabbing headlines? In my opinion, you create wrong expectations in the viewer’s mind. You know about expectations, right? Like when you sit down with your kids to watch the new Pixar movie, ‘Coco,’ at the local cinema and are greeted with a nearly thirty-minute short about some stupid buck-tooth snowman named Olaf. Yeah. Well, the press was bad. I think I heard there were riots in Mexico.
If by now you’re thinking of giving the show a try, let me offer a piece of advice. Switch the dialogue to German and add the English subtitles. I know, I know. Most people hate subtitles. But you will be in for a treat. Hearing the actors’ real voices as they navigate through this hell-on-earth is worth it and adds wonderfully to the tension. Trust me on this. Also, pay attention to the music. It’s spot-on.
I’ve found over the years that European storytelling is different from that of America. Europeans like to take their time letting things unfold. They’re more philosophical. They don’t shout, but rather speak in low, measured tones that convey an intensity that acts as a window into a person’s darkest secrets. And they like to minimalize the backstory, so you end up having to work hard to get to the bottom of a character rather than listening to some rube monologuing about what made them the way they are. Or worse, smarmy narration that attempts to put a bow on it all.
I will admit ‘Dark’ is not for everyone. But if you want to explore something different, give it a try. Why, you may even be tempted to get a taste of Nordic Noir a la ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ And don’t get me wrong. I loved ‘Stranger Things’—well, the first season, anyway. All I’m saying is, ‘Dark’ truly stands on its own. It doesn’t need help from some other successful American series.
‘Arrival’ (2016) Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.
I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.
The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.
Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.
In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.
You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.