The Quick 10: 10 Unexpected Horror Writers

winston-221x300The Quick 10: 10 Unexpected Horror Writers.  Here is an interesting article  I ran across at Mentalfloss.com.   I would never have suspected most of these of ever having even an interest in horror.  Stacey Conradt wrote the article in 2009.

H. H. Holmes’s Castle–Stop 3 on Slattery’s Tour of Horror Locales

Herman Webster Mudgett a.k.a. H.H. Holmes. From Wikipedia.
Herman Webster Mudgett a.k.a. H.H. Holmes. From Wikipedia.

I am having troubling sleeping tonight and thought I would continue with our tour of the world’s horror locales.  [I am not having nightmares about H.H. Holmes, if that is what you are thinking or even about any other horror topic.]

One of America’s first and most prolific serial killers was Herman Webster Mudgett, who went by his now better known alias of H.H. Holmes (1861-1896).  Although his life has been recently documented in a few films and books, Holmes is still perhaps one of America’s lesser known serial killers.  Most of the following information is taken from the Wikipedia article on Holmes, which supports my previous readings on Holmes in several sources.   Please go to Wikipedia for more details than my brief synopsis provides.  It is a well-written article and I rely on it here, only because I wish to provide a brief introduction to Holmes to support the photos and visual record I am providing.

Holmes started his criminal career while attending the University of Michigan Medical School, where he would steal cadavers from the laboratory, disfigure them, and then try to collect on insurance policies he had taken out on them after claiming they had been killed in accidents.  After graduation, Mudgett moved to Chicago to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals, but also began conducting many shady business deals while being a bigamist and philanderer in his private life.

After moving to Chicago in 1886, Holmes took a job at Dr. Elizabeth Holton’s drugstore.  After her husband’s death, Holmes

Holmes's Castle from Wikipedia
Holmes’s Castle
from Wikipedia

bought the business and the lot across the street at 601-603 West 63rd Street. [I had not noticed this before, but if one takes the first digit in each number of the address and combines them, the result is 666.]  In the lot he built what would become known as his murder castle.

Wikipedia provides a nice synopsis of what happened there:

“Holmes purchased a lot across from the drugstore where he built his three-story, block-long “castle” as it was dubbed by those in the neighborhood. The address of the Castle was 601-603 W. 63rd St.[16] It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a maze of over 100 windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly-angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions. Holmes repeatedly changed builders during the construction of the Castle, so only he fully understood the design of the house.[3]

A diagram of Holmes's Castle from weirdchicago.com (originally from the Chicago Tribune)
A diagram of Holmes’s Castle from weirdchicago.com (originally from the Chicago Tribune)

“During the period of building construction in 1889, Holmes met Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter with a past of lawbreaking, whom Holmes exploited as a stooge for his criminal schemes. A district attorney later described Pitezel as Holmes’ “tool… his creature.”[17]

“After the completion of the hotel, Holmes selected mostly female victims from among his employees (many of whom were required as a condition of employment to take out life insurance policies, for which Holmes would pay the premiums but was also the beneficiary), as well as his lovers and hotel guests, whom he would later kill.[14] Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Other victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office, where they were left to suffocate.[8] The victims’ bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement,[3] where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits for destruction. Holmes had two giant furnaces as well as pits of acid, bottles of various poisons, and even a stretching rack.[3] Through the connections he had gained in medical school, he sold skeletons and organs with little difficulty.”

After the World’s Columbian Exposition ended, Holmes moved out of Chicago to evade creditors and continued pursuing his

Plans of Floors 2 and 3 from steampunkchicago.com
Plans of Floors 2 and 3 from steampunkchicago.com

various nefarious trades throughout the country.   Eventually, he was arrested by the Pinkertons for an insurance scam.  While Holmes was in prison awaiting trial, authorities interviewed the former janitor at Holmes’s castle and found out that he had never been allowed entry to the upper floors.  Upon further investigation, the real purpose behind Holmes’s castle was discovered.

Estimates of the number of Holmes’s victims range from 20-200, with 27 being the only number verified by any means.  Most of his victims were women, though a few were men and children.  Holmes confessed to murdering thirty people in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Toronto, though some of the people he claimed to have killed were later found to still be alive.

Holmes was put on trial for the murder of his partner-in-crime, Benjamin Pitezel, in October, 1895.  He was hanged in Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896, for Pitezel’s murder.   Holmes’s castle was mysteriously gutted by fire in August, 1895, two months before his trial began.  The building was finally razed in 1938.

Holmes being executed.  From jesslb6.blogspot,com
Holmes being executed.
From jesslb6.blogspot,com

The site is now the location of the US Post Office’s Englewood Branch.

I have included a few photos of the castle and the Englewood Post Office for your viewing pleasure.

By coincidence, while gathering photos for this article, I found a statement on Cragin Spring’s Flickr page that a movie on Holmes called “Devil in the White City” was due out in 2013 and was to star Leonardo DiCaprio.    A Wikipedia article on it states that it is based on a 2003 book by Erik Larson and Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights in 2010.  Imdb states only that it is in development.

The Englewood post office now at the site of Holmes's Castle, November 5, 2011. Photo by Malcolm Logan from myamericanodyssey.com
The Englewood post office now at the site of Holmes’s Castle, November 5, 2011. Photo by Malcolm Logan from myamericanodyssey.com

Thoughts?  Comments?

Recommendation: “Best New Horror 25” edited by Stephen Jones

Please respect any copyrights pertaining to this cover.
Please respect any copyrights pertaining to this cover.

One of the best gifts I received this Christmas was Best New Horror 25 (for the year 2013) edited by Stephen Jones.   I consider this book a must-have for any serious horror aficionado.

In addition to having 21 stories by such icons as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and Neil Gaiman (among others),  Mr. Jones provides a ninety page synopsis of horror in 2013, a “necrology” (list of those having died) in 2013, and a list of useful addresses for the horrorphile of small press publishers, websites, organizations, and magazines.

I had not heard of Mr. Jones before receiving this book, but the biography the book provides shows him to a well-respected editor of horror in many genres and a recipient of many awards, some a few times over, including the Bram Stoker Award,  Horror Guild awards, British Fantasy awards, and other.  For those desiring more background on  Mr. Jones, please visit his website at http://www.stephenjoneseditor.com.

Of course, I have not had the time in the past two days to start reading this volume in any depth, but I have skimmed through it and found it to be very informative.  As you who follow my blog can guess, I love the ninety-page intro, because it gives a thorough overview of what happened in 2013 from something of a historian’s viewpoint.

The only downside I have found, so far, is that the Necrology includes several non-horror entertainers and figures, which are superfluous to the work’s theme.  For example, Mr. Jones mentions the death of Annette Funicello, who, so far as I know, was never in a horror film.  If anyone knows of a horror film she was in, please let me know so that I can post an apology to Mr. Jones.

This 592-page volume is a welcome addition to my horror library and I look forward to exploring it in great depth as it will help me catch up on the current state of affairs in horror (which some of you no doubt know that I seriously need as I tend to focus on classic horror of the 20th and 19th centuries).   I recommend this book to anyone else who has a serious desire to survey the current state of the art.

For a detailed review of the book, visit either the Amazon.com article or visit http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2014/09/stefan-dzaimianowicz-reviews-stephen-jones-best-new-horror-25/.

Thoughts?  Comments?

A Few Quick Thoughts on Situations

The blogger on Padre Island, January, 2011.
The blogger on Padre Island, January, 2011.

Perhaps this is patently obvious to everyone except me, but it seems to me that one of the keys of showing a character’s inner workings is by placing him/her in difficult situation and showing how they either solve the problem or extricate themselves from it.  After all, this is one of the critical ways we learn about a person’s true nature in real life.   The classic example of this of probably all English literature is Hamlet.  A more recent example is that of Captain Kirk n the Kobayashi Maru scenario at Starfleet Academy (the simulation was programmed as a no-win scenario to test a cadet’s character, but the night before his test Kirk secretly re-programmed the simulation so that he could win).  When I have tried writing this type, I have found it much more difficult than simply getting the character out of a sticky situation by a stroke or luck or something deus ex machina.  It becomes a test of my own genius and my own character,  because I find I can often much more easily land a character in an impossible situation than I can extricate him from it.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thoughts on Voice

The blogger on Padre Island, January, 2011.
The blogger on Padre Island, January, 2011.

I just want to post a few quick thoughts for the night on the topic of voice in narration versus narration in dialogue.   The opinions I state here may change with time as I learn more of the art of writing, but these are my feelings for now.

Unless there is a specific reason to give the narrator an accent or flaws in his speech, the narrator’s grammar and speaking should be perfect.  To my mind, this establishes a baseline against which the characters’ voices can be heard.  It also establishes the author’s expertise and shows that the author knows what he/she is doing with regards to the language.   If the narrator’s speech is perfect, then any accents or flaws or flourishes in the characters’ speech can be seen more distinctly.  I believe the narrator’s voice (unless there is a specific reason for otherwise) should be simple, clear, and free from anything that might draw away the reader’s attention from the storyline.  When I read, I am very focused on understanding the interaction of the characters, their solutions to problems and situations in the story, how the plot is developing and so forth.  If the narration is overly ornate or full of irregularities or intricate devices and I have to resort to a dictionary to understand what is happening, my reading is interrupted, my concentration is broken, and my enjoyment of the story is diminished.

On the other hand, once the narrative baseline has been established, I can play with the character’s speaking styles in any number of ways and they will (hopefully) be more obvious because they stand in contrast to the narration.  Again, unless a specific reason exists for doing otherwise, their voices should be clear and easy to understand.  An example of this might  be the case of a scientist, whose complex mind is shown by his use of scientific jargon and overly complex sentences.   An example at the other end of the spectrum might be an illiterate bumpkin, who uses very simple words, bad grammar, and frequent vulgarities.   Of course, you might also show that there is a hidden side to the character by their speech patterns.  Suppose that the bumpkin mentioned above every now and then showed that there was more to him than met the eye by using scientific jargon or by having exceptional command of English.

I also like to toy with being able to distinguish characters by speech patterns and jargon.  A sailor might use a lot of nautical terminology and Navy slang, but the reader might also be able to identify him through repeated use of a certain term.  I used to have a friend that used the word “Whatever!” very frequently.  His speech would be very easy to pick out in a dialogue of several people, even if the narrator did not state specifically who was speaking.

Thoughts?  Comments?

Thunder in Writing

Illustration of Space Travel from youpict.com
Illustration of Space Travel from youpict.com

About 2:00 a.m. on December 6, on the drive home after visiting my sister and her husband, I was contemplating where I want to go with my current work-in-progress.  I am loathe to give away the plot, so suffice it to say that it involves a scientist that travels to another planet and tours it with a  fellow scientist from that planet.  I have come to realize over the last few days that the original plot concept is boring, although in terms of literature it would be fairly intriguing, because of the internal struggles the main character would face and some social issues it would raise.

It occurred to me is that the critical question was not where to take the plot of the story, but where do I want the book to go in terms of its impact on the society/world.  I am not so naïve as to think that it would have a earth-shattering impact like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or be controversial like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or even break out like Stephen King’s Carrie, but no matter how it is received publically or critically, it will make an impact, even if it is negligible one.  The best I reason that I can do, is to try to make as big a splash as possible on its release and hope that it brings me some measure of success or at least puts me on the road to success.  But what can I do to create that splash?  What have been the characteristics of other initial successes?

I don’t know how the analogy suddenly popped into my mind, but I realized that what the story needs is thunder. Perhaps it was that a light rain had fallen sporadically over the last few days and the land was still wet with shallow puddles still lingering on the road in spots on this near-freezing night.  Somehow this struck a chord in my subconscious that stirred echoes of similar post-thunderstorm summer nights.  As I look back on that moment, though I wasn’t even thinking of those novels, it occurs to me now that they each have an element I would describe as “thunder”, something that resounds across the land striking a nerve in the public consciousness.

For some novels, like The Da Vinci Code,  the thunder is an aspect that touches on a sensitive nerve within a large number of the public.    In The Da Vinci Code‘s instance, this was deeply ingrained religious beliefs that, like the foundation of a house, if disturbed, shake the entire house.

For novels like The Tropic of Cancer, the thunder is something that disturbs the public’s sense of decency, which could be argued to be the image of itself that the public wishes to project.

Brave New World did not make as great an impact on its initial reception as it did later, when many of the technologies and issues it describes actually started to come into being.   Then it thundered greatly.

Carrie did not rock the literary or moral or religious foundations of society, but it was a great personal thunder for Stephen King and brought him suddenly into the public view.

There are undoubtedly other forms of thunder, but these are the ones that spring into mind initially.

Once I recognized that my goal as a writer is to thunder, the next question became what type of thunder do I want to have?

For me, I want to ask a profound question (or questions) that demand answers.   As stated, I don’t want to give away the plot of the novel(la), so I will unfortunately have to leave you in suspense for now, but check back with my blog periodically and let’s see if I can achieve this.  Wish me luck.

Thoughts?  Comments?

 

Notes on “The Hellbound Heart” Part 2 of 2

Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich
Clive Barker, Seattle, 2007 by Steven Friederich

I finished reading The Hellbound Heart several weeks ago.  As noted previously, it is a truly terrific read.    I suggest reading it after seeing the movie (if you have somehow repeatedly missed your chances of seeing “Hellraiser” over the last twenty or so years).   Reading it beforehand will just spoil the movie, whereas reading it afterwards may enlighten parts of the movie.

I don’t have much to add to what I have previously stated, except that, if you are a student of storytelling, the book warrants a detailed examination for narrative technique as it exhibits some basic techniques of storytelling that Mr. Barker carries out very well.   I could go through the book page by page and expound on each ad nauseam, but instead I will focus now on one that sticks in my mind.

I do not recall if this is in the movie, but toward the end where Kirsty is trapped in the “damp room” by Frank, she slips on a bit of preserved ginger lying on the floor enabling Frank to catch her.  The method by which Barker establishes why that ginger is on the floor fascinates me.

Although I have one or two dictionaries of literary terms, I do not recall the name for this technique and I think of it as simply setting the stage for a future scene.  It shows the foresight, planning, and attention to detail that must go into any good story.

Earlier in the story, after Julia has released Frank from the Cenobite hell and he has regained enough flesh that he can once again eat, he asks Julia for a few of his favorite victuals, including preserved ginger.   At the moment I read this, I thought it was simply a natural but insignificant detail.  Of course, I could not know then that that bit of ginger would  skyrocket the dramatic tension later on in one of the novel’s most important scenes.

Anyway, that’s my post for the day.

I have been very negligent in posting anything over the last months,  my daytime job and personal matters consuming much more of my time than usual.  I have recently come to find out though, that many more people in my home town of Frankfort, KY, were enjoying my postings than I had known or even believed possible and sorely missed it during this hiatus.  For them and all the others who silently enjoy my works, I shall endeavor to pick up the thread.

I have not lost my desire to write fiction, however, and I am currently trying to finish a sci-fi/horror novella that I started sometime back.  The work is going well, but I am having to change some of my original concept to make it more exciting.  I would like to make it as gripping as some have found my “Murder by Plastic” (published at www.everydayfiction.com), but that will be quite difficult for something as long as a novella.  The part I find most challenging is to coordinate the details much as Barker did in the example I give above.  I would expound on the subject, but I do not want to give away the plot or run the risk of some unscrupulous cur stealing my idea and publishing it before I do–particularly as I am so close to finishing it.  After this I have another three or four unfinished works to bring to a close.  I could probably write eight hours a day like Thomas Mann and still not be finished by spring.

Thoughts?  Comments?