Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ranylt Richildis publishes story in The Haunted Traveler

I would be remiss not to mention that another member of The Little Workshop of Horrors, my writing workshop, has published a fine piece of short fiction. Ranylt Richildis has published "Flesh Color" in The Haunted Traveler: A Roaming Anthology. We all work-shopped this piece and we all bleedin' loved it. Now you can, too. All you have to do to read the book is click on the cover of the antho. I particularly adore Richildis' use of colours and adept and lush descriptions in this piece, as well as the environs that involves a language war. A huge fist pump and a congrats for Ranylt, who is having a great year of publication thus far. 

Colleague Sean Moreland publishes The Rosy Boa

I would like to congratulate Sean Moreland on his latest publication credit. The dashing Mr. Moreland is a member of my Little Workshop of Horrors workshop. Moreland's work is characteristically dark, with a pervasive atmosphere established by sharp, skillful language. He has been trying to knock down some doors in the world of fiction publishing. Perhaps part of Moreland's dilemma is that some markets aren't ready for how good and particularly subversive his work is.
 
Sean Moreland's story, the creepy and edifying “The Rosy Boa”, part scare-fest and part sexual awakening tale, appears in Pavor Nocturnus Dark Fiction anthology.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jeffrey Veregge reinvents comic book, cinematic and cartoon icons

I know brilliance when I see it. And Jeffrey Veregge's artwork is just that-undeniably simple yet ingenius and immersing. Veregge reinvents iconic super heroes, film characters and other cartoon characters through the lens of a Native sensibility. Drawing from his roots of the  S'Klallam Tribe, he has truly created something inspiring and familiar all at once.
 
But don't my word for it. See Veregge's work for yourself at Jeffrey Veregge's website.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Peter Norman reads from novel Emberton at Ottawa International Writers Festival

Just attended my pal Pete Norman’s reading at Ottawa International Writers Festival the other night. Peter read from his first novel (Congrats, Pete!), Emberton, published by Douglas & McIntyre. I’m very proud of m Pete. I know from our days of swapping short stories and egging each other on to simply produce work, that he had a couple of novels on the go at the same time. But let’s fast forward from this heady, yet struggling time of the early 2000’s in Centretown to 2014.
 
My friend read with two other first-time novelists to a strong audience of at least 75, adeptly hosted by the insightful poet Stephen Brockwell, whom I also know.  As a host, Brockwell has a confident style, asks perceptive questions and knows how to lead the conversation. New York writer Alena Graedon gave the audience a sample of The Word Exchange. Toronto’s Ghalib Islam excerpted Fire in the Unnameable Country. The reading, entitled, Worlds Within Worlds, was held at Knox Presbyterian Church on Elgin St. in Ottawa on April 25, 2014.
 
Peter Norman's Emberton is about a group of people who create dictionaries and an unassuming hero who is tasked with aiding them. Graedon’s The Word Exchange is about trading words as commodities.  Islam’s Fire in the Unnameable Country is, like the other first novels, about a dystopic future. While I haven’t read any of these compelling titles yet, they all also feature protagonists navigating a clash between past and present, technology and human interaction, print form and electronic form, and the memory of language.
 
What struck me most about the reading is that each book is ostensibly sci-fi wearing literature’s clothing. In reality, this was a memorable speculative fiction reading. It is touching and somewhat humorous that Festival organizers did not feel the need to call the event a speculative fiction triple bill. Neither did the authors feel the need to come out as speculative fiction writers. Peter did, though, say his uses traditional gothic tropes in his book, while Brockwell thinks the novel follows a pulp detective narrative arc. While nobody uttered sci-fi, but clearly the titles are all literary sci-fi.

Peter as, always, produced witty asides and self-deprecating humour, his mix of keen insight and neurosis and delivery. His excerpt was part Brazil, part Barton Fink in tone. Ghalib read a little fast, leaving audience members trying to deduce what he was saying. This is shame, really, because his book sounds great. Hell, the novel is about a narrator going through a weird discourse of thought and pop culture absorption. Oh–and they can hear every unspoken utterance of the nation. With a little coaching , Ghalib overcome his tendency to rush through his sentences. His prose deserve to be heard. Graedon’s reading hinted at a disappearance of an important character and a heroine enduing a break up in a technology-tyrannized environs. Graedon gave an assured reading from the opening of her novel featuring a protagonist enduring a recent break-up and contrasting her view of new technologies against vintage clothing and style. The heroine associates the latter with her father.
After the readings, Stephen Brockwell headed the question-and-answer session. What also struck me was Ghalib’s admission of cognitive disconnect. He related his experience of being a hit-and-run victim and how he had to re-create the bulk of the ideas in his book because he could not recall most of them after the accident, which involved head injuries. Ghalib also dropped his audio headset. The resulting loud bang was not terribly surprising, although an audience member's reaction was. Said audience member responded by releasing a bellowing, dramatic cry that echoed throughout the venue. Graedon, meanwhile, like her fellow readers, is a graduate of an Master of Fine Arts Program. The leggy, beguiling North Carolinan confessed to growing up with a non-sentimental and practical use of newspapers and other forms of old-school reading.
 
Being a writer of about the same age as these authors, I struggle with similar problems regarding old-school reading and new-school e-books and texting and other gadgetry.

And there is nothing like hearing authors in a live venue. As they used to say about buying vinyl records - if you want the perfect studio version, listen to the album. If you want to hear art live, hiccups and all, go to the concert. Hearing authors is the same. If there are flaws and glitches in the performance, all the better.

All in all, I found this an astonishing, entertaining, and memorable reading from the Ottawa International Writers Festival.
 
And congratulations again, Pete. Keep at it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Conjuring Review: Call it The Borrowing instead

Finally, I had a chance to watch The Conjuring, a much-lauded horror film, among my peers and critics alike. The peers include fellow members of the (Not The) Masters of Horror film club, Miss Jay and the Maniac of Barbosa. The Maniac actually watched the film two and half times; don’t ask...he’s dubbed a Maniac for a reason. He’ll watch anything, anyhow, any number of times. I respect that. Now, on with the film review.
The Conjuring revisits of a plethora of older 1970’s and 1980’s possession and haunting horror fare. Think horror involving poltergeists, Satan speaking through little girls, and brooding, scary old houses, mixed with a dash of security-camera-footage-disguised-as-regular-film-shots. Think Spielberg blended with Friedkin blended with a tad too much CGI. But is The Conjuring good? In a word—no. At least, not to the discerning horror viewing palette. To the less initiated? Perhaps. This film may seem more ingenious to less critical eyes.
To be fair, director James Wan did conjure one original dash of spice—his blood-cooling depiction of a game of clap-and-play. The seeker susses out a hider who is not what they seem, and the supernatural and living collide, in an exceptional scare standout. Wan also cleverly tricks the undiscerning viewer. In scenes involving an unknown, invisible force stripping bed sheets off of sleeping characters, one thinks they are merely witnessing a haunting. What the viewer is actually seeing are the same kinds of shots that  Paranormal Activity established, except that Paranormal used security camera footage to heighten the reality and visceral impact of haunting. In The Conjuring, Wan applies the same technique with higher production values.
These tricks aside, though, Wan fails to command a story outside of his ability to film in enclosed spaces such as his did in the Saw films and Insidious. This reviewer lost count of how many times the director begged, borrowed and pillaged from other horror films, throwing in stock character types, scenes and plot points. For example, there are the conventional motifs of the unwitting family settling into their new abode and the progressively rundown-looking parents who are helpless to fight supernatural forces beyond their control. It all seems just too familiar. But more on this concept later.
Lily Taylor (as Carolyn Perron), being fabulous, as always.
One cannot blame the cast for the film’s unoriginality. They all do well. The children actors, in particular, give heartrending performances, with believable characterization and reactions to traumatizing events. Ron Livngston puts in a good effort as the father figure, Roger Perron, although not enough effort to avoid his hang-dog stereotype. Lily Taylor is fabulous, as always., this time as Carolyn Perron. Yet she plays a suffering character type that seems to be her stock in trade. At one point, she is tricked into taking a header down wooden stairs into a dark basement and has only a pack of matches to ward off the darkness, and perhaps worse. However, when the paranormal investigators visit, she fails to mention this incredibly relevant injurious event. Thus, the viewer’s suspension of disbelief disintegrates into incredulity.
The investigators in question are Patrick White, playing Ed Warren, and his wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). White is also great in his assertiveness, albeit macho and abrupt in a very 1970’s way, which may be the intention. (Canadian viewers may note his lack of “Please” and “Thank you”.) Farmiga also plays a suffering character in the vein of X-Men character Jean Grey; her psychic ability always exacts a physical and spiritual toll. However, why Ed and Lorraine house all the artifacts from their supernatural cases in a room without a padlocked door—and a mere staircase away from their young daughter—makes little sense. Obviously, Wan wanted to get the little girl in that room again. However, leaving the room available defies all logic.
Unfortunately, I think that film should be titled The Borrowing. And here is what James Wan should return:
       - The stock scene of the safe American family unit arriving at the newly-purchased and brooding home. Any number of films would like this scene back, particularly Poltergeist and Amityville Horror.
       - The family-settling-in-scene-done-via-a-180-degree-shot-of-the-househould-as-seen-through-a-child’s-point-of-view. Stanley Kubrick of The Shining fame, in particular, might want this back, as well as countless scenes other Horror Americana films.
-        The demonic possession of a character. Take your pick, faithful viewers. The Exorcist wants this back, for a start. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead might also want it, too.
-        The beleaguered family, turning from one horror special effect to another. Both the Poltergeist and Amityville want this premise back.
-         The creepy little-girl dolls. The Puppet Master franchise might want them back, creepy little eyes and all. And so many other films involving spooky dolls. (The Chucky franchise is disqualified for not being scary.)
-        The seemingly sentient rocking chair. The Changeling, a stellar piece of Canadian horror featuring George C. Scott, featured a very similar effect with a wheelchair. And don’t forget the much better tribute to animate furniture, the unsettling Session 9, featuring a thoroughly satisfying performance from David Caruso (during his pre-CSI: Miami days).
-        CGI demons. There are so many films that include these that I am unable to articulate any.

As a result of all this familiarity, Conjuring maintains a certain distance between the viewer and the subject matter. That is, when you realize you are seeing a copy of a copy of a copy, your need to care or empathise lessens. By contrast, your need to spot the next pastiche/tribute/theft increases. There’s a thorny question at the heart of this film. When does homage become pastiche and then sour into rip-off and dullness? Why did Wan construct a film longing to be so much like other films? This is a particularly prickly consideration for someone who might enjoy tributes.
Patrick White as Ed Warren and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren.
In full disclosure, this reviewer appreciates many films and T.V. shows that homage other films, particularly the animated series, Samurai Jack. Jack, while not containing bursting originality, has a certain charm and vitality. Another example is Ti West’s The Innkeepers. The Conjuring, by contrast, plods along. Even the very final shot of restorative horror narrative feels common and worn somehow. The film is not quite enough like other such films to give the watcher a visceral experience aside from two or three frights.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My first novel available for pre-ordering

Big news just in about my book. As of today, my first novel, "Town & Train", is available for pre-ordering. The book, forthcoming from Lethe Press, is a literary horror novel featuring a vast array of characters of different ages who live in the small city of Brandon, Ontario, enduring a heat wave summer in 1990.