A meaty 100-page novella exploring the seemingly supernatural (and spooky) elements of artistic inspiration. I think most writers—particularly those who are successful—feel perplexed by their own abilities. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, maybe it’s demonic possession, but ask “where do you get your ideas” and you’ll likely see a dark shadow fall across their face before receiving a vague response.
Where do ideas come from? Is a writer really the mastermind behind fiction, or are they merely servants transcribing a cosmic signal?
Read more “Alan Judd – The Devil’s Own Work (1991)”
In 1791, while George Washington served his second year as president and politicians were preoccupied with drafting something called the Bill of Rights, readers across the pond devoured Ann Radcliffe’s hotly anticipated new novel The Romance of the Forest. If foreign affairs consumed their mind, these thoughts were easily vanquished to a fictional world of chilling melodrama and gothic romance.
Radcliffe wasn’t yet a household name—she would become one with her next novel, however—but the majority of literate society was familiar with A Sicilian Romance (1790) which was published only months earlier. This new novel, printed over three volumes, was longer, spookier, more atmospheric and more heart-pounding than her last. No surprise that it became an instant bestseller.
I suspect my reaction, 200+ years later, is similar to Radcliffe’s original audience: YES!!!! This story has everything I want and more. Can’t wait to read her next book!
Read more “Ann Radcliffe – The Romance of the Forest (1791)”
Ann Radcliffe was the J.K. Rowling of the late 1700s. She churned out bestsellers so popular they made her the world’s highest paid author for an entire decade. Her atmospheric gothic romances entranced the reading public similar to how Rowling made us obsessed with wizardry and magic.
Critics and fans alike could not get enough of Radcliffe. Once they finished her novels they fantasized about her personal life, imagining it as dramatic as her stories. Wild rumors were spread, including that she wrote while confined to a madhouse. The boring truth is that she was merely a private person who likely never traveled to any of the picturesque settings featured in her novels.
Read more “Ann Radcliffe – A Sicilian Romance (1790)”
This dusty book has a connection to Jeffrey Epstein conspiracies!?!
I found out quite by accident. While browsing eBay for old paperbacks I stumbled upon a few listings for Space Relations at unbelievable prices. Like $300+. The cover seemed familiar–like something I might have picked up at a library sale–so I hunted through my boxes until, sure enough, there it was.
At first I thought Space Relations might be an exceptionally good out-of-print title since people were selling it for such extreme prices, but then I learned the juicy gossip behind it.
Read more “Donald Barr – Space Relations (1973)”
As soon as Chinese New Year got cancelled, I knew this was serious. Then the virus spread just like viruses do in every horror novel. So much so, in fact, that my immediate first thought was not to stock up on bottled water and toilet paper, but that it’s finally time to read The Stand.
Naturally I’m a Stephen King superfan, so it’s strange I hadn’t yet read what is commonly considered his magnum opus. In the back of my mind I knew there would be a right time to read it. I thought it might be after King’s death (rue the day) or after reading everything else by him. As a way to fully compare it to the rest of his oeuvre. Clearly, however, a once-in-a-100-years pandemic was the sign I was looking for. This is it, folks. It’s time.
Read more “Coronavirus Journal: Stephen King – The Stand (1978)”
A collection of 26 eerie vignettes. They were written by Michael Avallone specifically for Boris Karloff to narrate. However, only 13 stories were chosen for Karloff’s “Tales of the Frightened” LP (between volumes 1 and 2). Karloff, along with Vincent Price and Thurl Ravenscroft, is one of the most iconic horror voices in history and his vocal talents add generous depth to what otherwise might be ho-hum flash fiction.
Read more “Michael Avallone – Tales of the Frightened (1963)”
Listening to his narration along with the book, my mind frequently drifted away from plot and became more focused on Karloff’s vocal mastery. He increases speed when tension is high, slows down to brood over mystery, and generally makes everything creepier. The text is meant to have a by-the-fire chatty feel, but he finds numerous opportunity to increase the casual tone through vocal inflection when I might not have read it that way.
Like most ’80s short story collections, this one is a mixed bag. Less mixed than most, however. The majority of stories are quite good, some borderline exceptional. “Miss Mack” by Michael McDowell is the most alluring entry, and this is the only publication where you can find it. Here’s a mini review of each story:
Introduction / “Halloween Night” by Alan Ryan
In lieu of a dull prosaic introduction, Ryan wisely opens this anthology with a short poem that celebrates the mischief and merriment of Halloween—specifically Halloween night when all the heavy hitters come out. Cute!
Read more “Alan Ryan (ed.) – Halloween Horrors (1986)”
Coach rides through thunderstorms, falling chandeliers, inexplicable music in a spooky mansion, multiple love interests—one of whom may be a murderer—what’s not to love? Daniels cooks up a classic mystery recipe and adds carnival atmosphere for extra spice. Exotic animals, attractive acrobats, romantic little people, and other Cirque du Gothic elements are present in nearly every scene. Oh, and clowns. Lots of clowns! Consider, for example, this gem:
My pale pink tights were easy to see in the gloom. There’d be some time before the forest would be jet black and I realized I didn’t have that much time to get away from this clown with a knife.
Read more “Dorothy Daniels – The House on Circus Hill (1972)”
A bizarre, 1970’s marriage melodrama set on a tropical island off the coast of Florida. Delivers a kaleidoscope of emotions, from funny to WTF to sexy to super-serious. In the end I’m left reeling, completely unsure how to react.
The set-up is fairly ordinary. After a brief romance, Isabel finds herself married to a hunky botanist who promptly ships them off to an island where he’s employed to conduct plant experiments. The botanist is a typical man, however, who thinks his wife should tend to the kitchen and not pester him unless it’s time for sex. Naturally she’s not happy with this arrangement. “You’ve never shown that you care for me with anything like the devotion you show your plants!” Isabel finally snaps.
Read more “Mildred Nelson – The Island (1973)”
Gothic romances can be as addictive as crack. Artisans of the genre know what elements appeal to their audience and they deliver them in abundance. You like beautiful people conspiring in spooky mansions? We’ll publish that—times a thousand!!! Some snobs call this selling out, but I think it’s smart business to give fans what they want. A shame that this drug seems to have worn off, but there’s evidence, I hope, of a resurgence. Or, as this book concludes, maybe gothic romances never left. Not really.
While “Gothic Literature” remains well-studied in academia, it’s still Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights that anybody seems to care about. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, maybe. Few are interested in Dark Shadows or the multitudes of mass-market gothic novels published during the Nixon era—but we do exist! And Lori A. Paige leads the charge.
Read more “Lori A. Paige – The Gothic Romance Wave (2018)”