"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The (horror) tales we tell to children

Fairy tales - the original horror stories. Much like mythology, they are supposed to show us archetypes, reveal truths, and teach morality. The only real difference is that we pretend these are children's stories. We don't normally teach little ones about Zeus and his wandering Johnson, but we do drag out The Three Little Pigs - to teach how far a wolf is willing to go for a little bacon.

Does it bother no one that the wolf is trying to eat the pigs, and the pigs end up trapping the wolf in a boiling cauldron, where they cook him, alive, and eat him? (Yes, I know there are versions where they just chase him away, but seriously, who doesn't think he'll be back? Sooner or later, someone is going to die.)

I still have a book of fairy tales my grandmother gave me.

"To Gayle Sue from Grandma Wetherholt, March 11, 62


Let's take a look at some of these children's stories.

Little Red Riding Hood - the wolf has a nice conversation with our naïve Little Red, tries to eat her grandmother (in some versions, he succeeds), nearly eats Red, but her dad arrives at the last minute to chop the wolf's head off (in the alternate version, Grandma jumps out of the decapitated wolf, none the worse for wear).

Niiiice.

Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella - all pleasant young girls who are targeted by evil women and have to hang around, useless and sometimes comatose, until some guy shows up to rescue them.

What does this teach our kids? To trust grownups, or to be proactive?

The worst stories in this book are Babes in the Wood, and The Goose Girl.

In the first, two little tots are orphaned and left with an aunt and uncle who want their inheritance. The uncle sends them off with henchmen to be murdered. One henchguy has a change of heart, kills the other one, then leaves the kids in the woods and says he'll be right back.

That's right. He never returns and the children die. They freakin' die! The uncle and aunt keep the riches, evil is not vanquished, good does not triumph.

There's a lesson for you, Kids.

In The Goose Girl, a princess is sent to be married but her maid forces her to switch positions. The awful part of this story is the princess has a talking horse, Falada. When they arrive at the new kingdom, the maid (now masquerading as the princess) instructs the knacker to kill the horse. The real princess talks the guy into hanging the horse's head over the town gate - where it still talks.

Couldn't she have talked the knacker into not killing the horse?

Of course, the whole story is found out and the maid is not just executed, she's tortured - put naked in a barrel stuck with nails and dragged behind two white horses down all the streets in town until she's dead.

That's what horse killers get in these parts.

I was 8 years old when I read these, and while they horrified me, I wouldn't say they scarred me for life. But would I have encouraged my 8-year-old son to read them? Yeah... no.

If none of those made your hair curl, maybe this little scene of Beauty and the Beast (Fairy Tale Theater) can give you some goosebumps.



Did you read fairy tales as a child? Did they scare the pants off you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pardon me while I do some productive procrastination

I'm trying to get the next Peri novel finished. If I can meet my schedule, I should be done with the first draft by the beginning of December. Two thousand words a day can be hard, especially when you get to the middle and you're pretty sick of the story and you want to get to the exciting conclusion, but you can't yet and you have to still make every page worthy of turning.

Still, if you are that person who writes "Author" in every space that asks for your profession, you set a schedule and work your hours and write your two thousand words without complaint.

But I digress...

I'm trying to write, and I'm approaching nose-grinding Middle Territory. Every once in a while, I sneak a peek at Facebook and notice August McLaughlin's status. Lucky girl, she got to meet Oprah Winfrey and get inspired to be even more than she is, and she's already plenty. Here is what I read:

"I was up before dawn doing my homework from Oprah. Want to join? Envision your dream life then write it down with specifics." - August McLaughlin

Being one of those people who believe in positive thinking, daily affirmations, etc, this sounded exciting to me. Envision my dream life? Write it down? Use specifics? Count me in, especially if it delays me in getting back to the writing. 

What would my dream life look like? Well, I'd live in a different house. It used to be a large house on a cliff overlooking an ocean, with a wraparound porch and lots of windows. After visiting Scotland, I replaced that one with a simple stone cottage in the Highlands.

Less to clean, you know, although it has to come with good internet access.

But then I thought, what about my friends and family? I couldn't stand to be that far away from my son, or to not get together with my pals. My gal pal Tameri lives in Carlsbad, which is about 90 minutes from my house - we practically have to stand on our heads to schedule a play date. Getting her to Scotland would be even harder.

And my horses - what about them? I can't envision a life without my horses, and as long as I have Snoopy, I need Niki to be my trainer. I can't imagine any trainer who would love Snoopy the way she does. Plus she's a fun friend - I feel a definite connection. She and I both had not planned to have any children, only to change our minds later in life. She's a little younger than me when I had Marcus, but she's still on the edge of being the "older mom." I now have someone to impart my little pieces of wisdom from my days raising an only son.

So maybe my dream life would not include a move to the Highlands, unless I could convince my friends and family to move with me. I suppose I could envision living in a cozy home on a large horse property here in southern California. Niki could train horses there, unless she envisions her own place.

I'd ride in the morning, then write in the afternoon. In the evenings, Dale and I would go to the local bar/café and have drinks and appetizers and watch some sporting event. Then we'd go home and I'd do a little reading before bed.

The thing is, this is the life I'd envision today, but what about tomorrow? Maybe I need to envision my dream life in terms of what I want to be doing, not where I want to be doing it.

Do you have a dream life? Is it about a place, or people, or who you want to be?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scary beyond all reason

Dracula.

Bram Stoker's novel, archaic as it is in language, is the scariest thing I ever read. And folks, I've read quite a few Stephen King novels. I would describe them as gruesome, but not as frightening as the tale of that Transylvanian count. Perhaps it's the brooding nature of the writing - it is Gothic horror. At any rate, I remember reading this book at my desk on my lunch break and having someone sneak up behind me.

I won the gold medal in the high jump that day.

The story of how it was written is kind of fascinating. I'd tell it all here, but if you pop over to the Wikipedia article, it's a nice summation with a lot of references for you to waste your day chasing. By the way, did you know that Dracula translates to "the dragon" - or in contemporary times, "the devil"?

The story is told in letters and journals from the main participants: Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Mina Harker, and of course, Dr. Van Helsing. Van Helsing's entries are interesting because apparently English is his second language and his writing is stilted to show his difficulties with the process ("Now to the historical, for as Madam Mina write not in her stenography, I must, in my cumbrous old fashion, that so each day of us may not go unrecorded.").

For a writer, this can be a great risk, but Stoker makes it work. If you're a writer, you might want to study this and see how he did it.

It opens with Jonathan's journal, detailing a trip to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania. We aren't told why he's going, and the trip is creepy with a capital OHMYGOD-GET-ME-OUTTA-HERE. Dracula is described here as a "tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to toe."

Not like this guy:



Or this one:



Or:




Never mind.

Dracula becomes intent on spreading his Un-Deadheads beyond his small village and taking over England. Interestingly, he relies on turning young women into vampires and having them do his work. Kind of like Charlie's Angels, except not. Despite his rather dull description, the Count seems to have a certain erotic charm. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Seward's diary, detailing Mina Harker's story to her friends:

* * *

With a mocking smile, he placed one hand upon my shoulder and, holding me tight, bared my throat with the other, saying as he did so, "First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions. You may as well be quiet; it is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst!" I was bewildered, and, strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the horrible curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim. And oh, my God, my God, pity me! He placed his reeking lips upon my throat!

* * *

Yeah, the editors didn't mind all the exclamation points back in the day. I encourage you to read it, especially since tis the season for ghosts and goblins and all things scary. And if you see someone reading it, feel free to sneak up behind them and see how high you can make them jump.

What's the scariest book you've ever read?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Weekend fun takes stamina

This weekend is nothing but fun, fun, fun, till I collapse in a heap on Monday. Where to start?

First, let's make this about you: Because this weekend celebrates Placentia Heritage Day, Placentia being my hometown and the setting of all my Peri Minneopa Mysteries, I'm offering my three Peri books at some delightful savings. Check them out:

FREEZER BURN - Friday thru Sunday - FREE!
http://www.amazon.com/Freezer-Burn-Peri-Minneopa-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B007ZHVDN4/

HIT OR MISSUS - Saturday and Sunday - ONLY 99 CENTS!
http://www.amazon.com/Missus-Peri-Minneopa-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00537SP5M/

THE HOT MESS - Saturday and Sunday - ONLY $1.99!
http://www.amazon.com/Mess-Peri-Minneopa-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00AD94TDW/

Get them while they're hot.

What will I be doing in the meantime?

Saturday: I will be riding in the PHD Parade. This year, I think I'll wear my sparkly cowgirl hat instead of the tiara, but I'll still be waving like a crazy woman. Let me just add, waving is exhausting. Ever try holding your arm out, elbow bent, swinging it side to side in slo-mo, for two-and-a-half miles?



After the parade, I take my spot at my booth (look for the yellow EZ-Up) and hopefully sell a few books. More important, I hope a lot of people stop by to say hello!

In the evening, hubby and I are taking our son Marcus out to dinner, to celebrate his birthday. He's not officially 22 until Sunday, but Saturday works best for all of us.




Sunday: Our Orange County chapter of Sisters-in-Crime is meeting at Mystery Ink Bookstore in Huntington Beach to hear T. Jefferson Parker speak (or as we call him, "Jeff"). It should be a lot of fun.

If I'm not too-too exhausted yet, I plan to drive down to La Jolla in the evening to go to Noir at the Bar. Lisa Brackmann organizes these things once a month and I keep wanting to go and something else keeps getting in my way. It's not that far away... an hour and a half isn't that far, is it?

Hope you have a fabulous weekend, and if you're anywhere in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When things don't match


Have you ever watched any of the movies made from Robert Louis Stevenson's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE? By the time I was 15, I had seen two movies and a made-for-TV movie based on the book. I actually read the book when I was in my early 20s. Guess what I found out?

They were all lies.

I did a little research - apparently there have been over 123 adaptations of the book, and none of them have been faithful to RLS's story.

First of all, the "book" is all of 100 pages in length, making it a very slim volume. Quite frankly, it could have been edited further, although you have to allow for the time period in which it is written (1886).

Second, it is not told from the point of view of either Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. It is told from the point of view of Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, and Mr. Enfield, Mr. Utterson's "distant kinsman." In the first scene, Mr. Enfield describes meeting Mr. Hyde after witnessing Hyde run over a small child in the street (the child was frightened but unharmed).

* * *

"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man so disliked, and yet I scarcely know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir, I can make no hand of it; I can't describe him. And it's not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment."

* * *

Mr. Hyde is described consistently like this. Detestable, although no one can name why.

Third, there are no women in the story at all. In most movies, Dr. Jekyll is engaged to be married, putting his fiancée at risk. Mr. Hyde partakes of all manner of lusty behavior, including taking a barmaid to be his own lover/pet/whipping post.




Fourth, there is only one death in the story, a man of Mr. Utterson's acquaintance. Hyde does beat him to death in a savage manner, and it is witnessed, from an upper window, by a young woman. But that's it for the violence.

Fifth, and what must send old Bob spinning in his grave, the fact that Mr. Hyde is the alter-evil-ego of Dr. Jekyll is not revealed until the end. It's supposed to be the twist at the end of the story. I mean, spoiler alert, people! Practically every movie shows us the transformation. We know who he is.




The book ends with a letter from Jekyll to Utterson, explaining the potion and all that has happened. Once again, folks, man doing things because he can, not because he should. Consequences... just saying. Jekyll's take on Hyde is interesting, especially here:

* * *

"Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered."

* * *

In the end, although I loved the movies, particularly the one with Spencer Tracy, I wish someone had been brave enough to film something closer to the book. I would especially like someone to dig deeper into the idea of splitting your evil side away and sending it out to take the rap for what your better side would like to do.

Would you take the potion?

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