Writers Who Read: Tracy Manaster

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Tracy Manaster. IMG_1100-0.JPG

Who are you?
Tracy Manaster, author of the just-released YOU COULD BE HOME BY NOW.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Is it cheating too terribly much to list a series? Maude Hart Lovelace’s BETSY-TACY books are among my all-time favorites. Betsy in particular is so fully-realized, ambitious but very, very fallible–a little vain, a little melodramatic, and not always the best at balancing her desire to be a writer with her rich social world. I suspect it’s obvious why I identify so strongly with her, though of the two of us Betsy is by far the better dressed.

When I was in the fourth grade, I practically memorized D’AUALARIES’ BOOK OF GREEK MYTHS, with its rich, gorgeously-illustrated collection of gods behaving badly. Then, when I was an Archaeology major in college, I found I could easily stay on top of my Classic courses thanks in no small part to D’Aualaries, provided I dialed the PG rating up to NC-17.

Tracy's work at age 6

Tracy’s work at age 6

And in the spirit of honesty (and despite the fact that my love for, say, LITTLE WOMEN would sound far more impressive) I’ll admit to at one point being hopelessly addicted to THE BABYSITTERS’ CLUB’s entrepreneurial spirit and general sense of can do.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I feel like I’m chief proselytizer for the cult of Brian Hall. Looking over my own early stabs at fiction, I can readily pinpoint whether a story was pre- or post- my first reading of Hall’s THE SASKIAD; very little pre-Saskiad is salvageable but just about everything post has at least a phrase or an idea that’s worthwhile. With The Saskiad, I really began to understand all the crazy, graceful things that could be done with point of view and to start attempting them myself.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
I’m often drawn to what I’ll call “Westerns that aren’t Westerns.” Part of the appeal is the landscape–it’s what I grew up with and also happens to be stunning, moody, and dramatic. And so much of the usual Western is driven by trope and by type that it’s incredibly satisfying to see works that look beyond that and (even better) blow it apart. Sherman Alexie comes to mind here of course, as do Judith Freeman (read RED WATER. Read it. Now.), Larry Watson, and Molly Gloss.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Ideally? In bed, all day, with zillions of blankets and a big mug of coffee nearby. But my life is busy and very full, so that’s not something that happens often.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
That’s a hard one. As I massage a first draft into a second (and every draft thereafter, but first to second is where they seem to congregate) I try to be ruthless in changing or cutting lines or phrases that call to mind other writers. In my actual approach to writing, I think I owe a huge debt to Mildred Walker (another bossy parenthetical: go read WINTER WHEAT. I suspect that had she been Milton and not Mildred we’d all have been assigned it in high school), who would go into a work with a simple, moving (to her) fact in mind (a certain strain of wheat was a hybrid of Russia and US grains, for instance) and constantly write toward it. Often, I’ll write with an image or bit of scientific trivia I picked up who knows where that I know I want to include toward the end. The initial draft becomes an exercise in getting the narrative there.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Badly, in that I don’t have enough time for either. If I have a block of at least an hour, I’ll error on the side of writing. Reading is something I fit in where I can. Audiobooks help; with two kids I spend a lot of time in the car. And I always carry a book or two on me. If I’m meeting friends somewhere I will try to get there early enough to read a page or so.

Of course, there are some books that are so compelling they devour my writing time (and all my free time) until I finish them. I used to beat myself up about that, calling myself lazy or not a real writer. But writers learn through reading and books that hook me that thoroughly are fairly rare and a wonderful pleasure, so I’ve learned to relax a little.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Another hard one. Audiobooks as so convenient and hearing a text aloud I can pick up on language level ticks and tricks I wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’m a better reader with ebooks, less apt to succumb to the temptation of peeking at the end and more likely to actually look up words with which I’m unfamiliar. But despite that, there is nothing like a physical book. Maybe if ebooks came with that paper and binding smell…

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
There are so many books I want to read and re-read that I think I would paralyze myself if I attempted a rational and strategic approach. I do keep a running list of books to recommend and give to other people. I won’t be citing it here as we’re closing in on the Christmukkah giving season, but it is lengthy and quite detailed.

What are you reading now?
I had ambitions this year of reading DON QUIXOTE in Spanish (I’m about halfway through) and with less than two months before 2015 rolls in, my answer should be “I’m reading DON QUIXOTE in Spanish, per my New Year’s resolution.” But Ernie Wood, who I’ll be doing a reading with in Austin this January, just published his ONE RED THREAD. And Mary Doria Russell’s EPITAPH will be out soon, which means I’m re-reading DOC (which means I’ll probably wind up re-reading THE SPARROW and CHILDREN OF GOD; I can get obsessive). A friend just gave me Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s BITTERSWEET and everyone keeps publishing their best books of the year lists. Quixote has been around since 1605. I suspect I can get away with waiting one more year.

Cover-YCBHBN

 

I’m Tracy Manaster Alifanz on FB, @tracymanaster on Twitter, and non-existent on Pinterest as I have neither the time nor the headspace. My debut novel, YOU COULD BE HOME BY NOW, is (per Kirkus) “a scintillating drama that’s touching, funny and impossible to put down” and (per my five-year-old twin daughters) “exciting because it has a little blue truck on the cover.” It’s available on Amazon and at your favorite bookstore.

Writers Who Read: Kassandra Lamb

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with mystery author Kassandra Lamb. I’ve had the pleasure of beta-reading Kassandra’s Kate Huntington mystery series, and have especially enjoyed the long-term romance between the main couple in the series.

Image00005Who are you?
I am a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. Some of my favorite things are dark chocolate, the color blue (peach is a close second), and my grandsons (these are not in order of importance). I drink a ton of iced tea every day–after all, I live in Florida. This may explain why I am often still writing or reading at two o’clock in the morning.

I write the Kate Huntington mystery series, the Kate on Vacation cozy mysteries and the occasional stand-alone story or novel. I also blog about psychology and other random topics on the misterio press website.


What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
1933-LittleHouseOnThePrairie
I had a huge girl crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was long before Little House on the Prairie was on TV. I even wrote her a fan letter one time. I got a very nice note back from one of her grown children telling me that she had passed away, the year before I was born. Guess I should have done a little research first, but hey, I was only ten.

Anne of Green Gables was another childhood favorite of mine. In general, I loved historical stories that showed how children lived in earlier times.

And then along came Nancy Drew, and I’ve been reading mysteries ever since.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell. This book moved me more than any other I have ever read. It is the saga of the residents of a small Southern town during the tumultuous times from the 1950’s through the prime years of the Civil Rights movement.

The author, a black woman of my generation, has a remarkable ability to get inside the heads of every single character, from the white redneck alcoholic to the black teenaged boy who makes the mistake of talking to a white woman in a pool hall one evening. And she manages to portray every one of them with at least some degree of sympathy, even the bigots!

Of course, the fact that I grew up during the era she is describing, and in a family that was involved in the Civil Rights movement, probably explains some of why I love this book.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Strong, realistic female characters who also have a soft side (whether they like it or not.) When characters stay with me for days afterwards and I find myself wondering what they are doing at the moment, that’s when I know I’ve read a truly good book!

What is your ideal time and place to read?
On my screened-in porch on a Sunday afternoon, weather permitting, and in bed at night.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Stephen King’s On Writing is my favorite craft book. I love the way he wove a memoir-style story around writing advice.

Mystery writers who have had a strong influence are (in order of importance) JA Jance, JD Robb (yes, I know she’s Nora Roberts in disguise, but I really only like her mysteries), Janet Evanovich, Dick Francis, Faye Kellerman, Laurie R. King… I could go on all day; there are so many great mystery writers out there.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Balance? We’re supposed to find balance? Nobody told me that.

Seriously, I don’t do a good job of this at all. I need to make book dates with myself or something.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I never thought I would say this since I tend to curse technology on a regular basis, but I love e- books! It is so convenient to be able to carry a whole library around on my kindle in my purse. And I can convert every book to a large print edition–so much easier on my tired old eyes.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I do have a TBR list but I don’t plan other than that. I’m thinking I should do this. I’m making it one of my 2015 New Year’s resolutions to read at least two books a month. I used to read one to two a week, before I started writing. Now all too often the time I used to spend on reading stories is spent on producing them.

What are you reading now?
I just finished a book by one of my favorite indie mystery writers, Teresa Trent. She writes a cozy mystery series set in the fictional town of Pecan Bayou, Texas. I like to read a cozy now and again when I want a lighter read, and her characters have more depth than one normally finds in cozies. Now I have to decide what to read next… Maybe I’ll re-read Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine.

When Kassandra isn’t reading or writing, she’s most likely hanging out on Facebook, or she’s online buying toys and clothes for her grandsons that they really don’t need. For more about her books, check out her website at http://kassandralamb.com.

Her newest Kate Huntington mystery was just released yesterday. Check it out!Fatal48 Ebook FINAL

FATAL FORTY-EIGHT, A Kate Huntington Mystery

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. While she locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, misunderstandings abound back at headquarters.

But they can ill afford these distractions. Sally’s time is about to expire.

Apple ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo

Jane the Virgin & Writing with Confidence

photo (9)As I mentioned when I blogged about Orphan Black, I believe great Tv shows can teach us about great writing–whether on-screen or off. I have a huge crush on Jane the Virgin right now, and a lot of it is because it’s a show that shows great confidence in its writing.

I discovered Jane the Virgin, the new CW show about a virgin who finds herself pregnant after an OBGYN mishap, this weekend. Already I love it so much that I’ve made it my reward for revising chapters in the muddy middle of my novel. (For those of you knee-deep in revising, you know this is no small thing.)

I love the show for its supremely likable lead (Gina Rodriguez as Jane), its quirky humor, its warm depiction of family, and its two swoon-worthy male leads. But, above all, I love the show because of its confidence–something I’d be wise to emulate in my own writing.

Jane the Virgin, based on a telenovela, isn’t your typical primetime show. It’s narrated by a smooth male voice, for instance, telling us Jane’s story. When new characters are introduced, their often hilarious titles pop up on the screen. Though telenovelas are different than soap operas, it also features what comes to mind when we think of soaps: an ensemble cast, dramatic secrets, complicated family and romantic relationships, stunning revelations–even murder.

In the wrong hands, these soap elements, narration, and clever captions could come off as strange or cheesy. But the writers behind Jane the Virgin know what they’re doing. They’re writing a telenovela, and they’ve kick it up to eleven. They celebrate its soap elements, they parody them. They fully commit to its shocking reveals, its romance, its humor. The writers aren’t just penning a script; they are writing it in neon pink.

This is confidence, and it’s something writers, myself included, sometimes struggle with. It’s hard to be bold in writing anything, because often being bold means you’ll alienate readers as much as you’ll gain them. But to not be bold in your writing means to write a thriller without fear, a literary fiction with mousy sentences, a romance without swoon.

So when I’m writing this week, I’m thinking of Jane the Virgin and trying to bring that boldness to my own words. Because if something deserves to be written, it deserves to be written in neon pink.

Reading: To Plan or Not to Plan?

I tried to read Ulysses two summers ago. I failed. I heard it has sex, though, so maybe I'll skim it someday.

I’ve long planned my reading–kept a TBR list, led two book clubs, read books in thematic clusters–and I thought other readers did, too. But one of the things that has surprised me about the Writers Who Read series is how many of the writers interviewed, most of them big readers, don’t consciously plan their reading.

I think spontaneous, unplanned reading is probably more healthy, and I wish I could do it more. Because sometimes I get a bit crazy with planned reading, and it starts to feel like work. Six years ago, I started a local book club for moms, and we’re still meeting most months. A little over three years ago, wondering why I hadn’t read more classic lit, I started an online classics book club, and a handful of us are still reading–although we now alternate with contemporary books.

So, in most months, I’ve got two books I “have to” read–and therein lies the rub. Many of these books I’ve personally suggested to the groups, and really want to read, but once they’re on my schedule they sometimes feel mandatory, like shoulds insead of wants. Add in the other books and authors I’d like to read–East of Eden, which has been on my TBR for ages, or the newest romance that’s creating a buzz–and I’ve got a lot of non-required reading I feel pressure to consume.

Then I start feeling pressure to read a certain number of books a month, or in a year, or in certain percentages, and…do you see where this is going? Something I love, reading, becomes something that feels mandatory, less about pleasure than quotas and charts and averages.

I struggle to walk that line between planning my reading–which I find impossible to completely disregard, given that there are books and authors that I do want to read–and not going overboard. I’m thinking of this more and more as the year draws to a close and I consider my reading in 2015. How do I allow room for recommended books, authors, or genres I’d like to explore, while still allowing for the spontaneous pleasure of finding a book off the schedule and reading it at my leisure?

Can any of you other anal-retentive readers out there relate?

Writers Who Read: Susan Rich

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with poet Susan Rich.

LaughingWho are you?
I am a word addict. I’m into confetti and aquamarine; I love double-barreled words like “doorknob” and “backstabber,” “watermelon” and “windowpane” where I can grab two images for the price of one. Mostly, I answer to “poet” with a new book, CLOUD PHARMACY, still fresh from White Pine Press and “literary activist” because I’ve co-founded several organizations including Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Writing Retreat for Women.

If you’d like to know more about me there are a 101 links at my website and a “Top 10 Things to Consider When Sending Your Work to a Contest or Residency” at my blog.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Half Magic by Edward Eager concerning a mysterious coin that can take you back in time.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster where we enter a new world with a dog named Tock for company and try not to get trapped forever in the land of Doldrums.

Wet Magic by Edith Nesbit (everything by E. Nesbit) where a gaggle of children find an underwater city where I so wanted to live that I read this book multiple times.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr, is a novel based on Doerr’s time living in Northern Mexico with her husband. As a young couple, the two leave California to revive her husband’s family’s copper mine and thereby revive the small town. It’s Doerr’s first book and it won the American Book Award. But that’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that she wrote Stones For Ibarra when she was 73. I read this novel when I was 27, recently returned from the Peace Corps, and feeling like an alien in my own country. This book saved my life.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
I’m happiest with a novel that exists in another country and in another time, but is not a historical novel. Examples of what I mean include Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Helen Humphries, Afterimage. These novels focus on the lyrical lives of the characters; and they do not spend pages describing period tablecloths.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Long train rides on Sundays. In my writing studio in the late afternoon. In bed anytime.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 10.38.43 AM
Elizabeth Bishop, Collected Poems.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Collected Sonnets.
Carolyn Forche, The Country Between Us.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Balance? I often read to get “in the mood” to write. I read on trains and planes; I read at writing retreats. I don’t read enough anymore…

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical books — I need to touch paper pages and write with blue pen in the margins.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I read without structure. The exception to my meandering reading style happens when I work on historical poems such as the sequence in Cloud Pharmacy inspired by the 19th century photographer Hannah Maynard. In this case I read everything I could find on Maynard, the proto-surrealist outsider artist as well as books on early photography. Recently, the poet Rick Barot mentioned that he keeps a list of all the books he reads. This is something I did as a young person when I first began to read. Each book was listed by title, author, number of pages read (!) and my own five star system. It seems I’m going to start this up again!

What are you reading now?
For Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (having just finished his new, fantastic book, All the Light We Cannot See).
Life? Or Theater? by Charlotte Salome
My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner
Chagall: Love and Exile by Jackie Wullschlager

You can find out more about Susan on her website or Twitter.

Writing a Subverted Gothic Romance

shutterstock_63847642My short story “Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish” has been accepted into Wyrd Romance’s I Heart Geeks anthology, which will be coming in early 2015.

I’m thrilled to be part of this collection of short stories on nerd love, and had such a blast writing my own story. “Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish” is set in a haunted house around Halloween, and has romance, zombie jokes, plastic vampire teeth…What’s not to love about writing a story like that? But one of my favorite aspects of the work is how I played with genre. “Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish” is a romantic comedy, but I often refer to as a “goth rom-com” because it takes elements from gothics–but twists them.

We all remember gothics: dark, shadowy tales of mystery and often romance, frequently featuring women roaming the halls at midnight wearing long white nightgowns and holding candles while handsome, brooding men hid away secrets. I’ve enjoyed how gothics continue to this day in new lines like Harlequin Shivers that keep with the tradition of dark, secretive heroes and sensible heroines “beguiled by male magnetism and allure against all better judgment.”

“Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish,” though, does something different. Instead of the hero being dark and mysterious, I made the heroine, Nora, the one who’s potentially mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Nora is a haunted house worker, dressing as various creatures of the night to scare guests like horror geek Brendan–and hiding a dark secret of her own. On the flip side, the hero Brendan is the innocent one, drawn to Nora perhaps against his better judgment, and with a personality type known to those of us in romancelandia as a beta. He’s a nice guy, a nerd, and a virgin. (Though he doesn’t wear any white nightgowns.)

It’s a gothic, but subverted. Why do the guys get to keep all the secrets?

If you’d like to read an excerpt from “Crazy, Sexy, Ghoulish,” sign up for my mailing list, where I’ll be sending one out soon!

To learn more about I Heart Geeks, you can also follow Wyrd Romance on Twitter.

Constantine Cocktail: The Steamed Demon

I’m so excited for Friday night’s premiere of Constantine that I’ve taken to drink. It’s not like I’m counting down the days or have watched the preview over three times, really, it’s just that, you know, some shows demand a cocktail creation.

IMG_1031My Steamed Demon here is similar to a whiskey sour, except it’s with red cranberry juice and the addition of a little pop and heat– just like hell. Plus there’s a demonic garnish. (Pro tip: cut the garnish before consuming any cocktail.)

Ingredients for 1 Steamed Demon:
2 oz. bourbon
2 oz. club soda
4 oz. cranberry juice

1 tsp. lemon juice
1 T. sugar
1 red apple

Into your cocktail glass, pour the bourbon and soda and swish together.

Cut one side of the apple. Out of this, cut out two thick triangular wedges. Press these down perpendicular to your glass till they are speared on. Like horns. You may have to try a few times and lose a few apple slices, but sometimes you’ve got to suffer for your art. IMG_1026

If you’re handy with a knife, peel off a strip of the remaining apple skin and slice it into a thin strip, then cut a small triangle out of one end to make a forked tail. Smear a drip of honey on one side of your glass, and affix yIMG_1035our demon tail to it. Sure, it’ll fall off at some point, but you’ll be too drunk to notice.

Heat the cranberry juice on low-medium heat till hot but not boiling. Add in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and let it set one minute. It might be dangerous to put a heated liquid into glass, but then again, so is demon hunting.

Pour the heated mixture into a glass with the bourbon and soda. The glass should steam, hence the name. Serve warm, while it’s still heated and you’ve still got your soul.

Click here to read more in the Halloween 2014 series. Spiders and Sherlock and slut-shaming, oh my!


Writers Who Read: Amy Kathleen Ryan

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with YA author Amy Kathleen Ryan.

Who are you?amykathleenryan
I am Amy Kathleen Ryan, author of the young adult Sky Chasers series, which has been published in over a dozen languages, and also the contemporary YA novels Vibes and Zen and Xander Undone.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, a fascinating science fiction story about the power of love. This is the first children’s book I read that didn’t seem to be talking down to me as a reader. It is full of brilliant, fascinating ideas, and challenging language.

The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graham, a completely heartwarming tale of friendship. It deserves to be a classic.

The Little Engine that Could, a story retold by many authors, based on the sermon by Charles S. Wing. I obsessed about this story as a very young child, and I believe it contributed to my perseverance, which has allowed me to be a professional writer.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Lately I’ve been pushing Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood on people. It’s a really great science fiction novel about an insane plot to restore the natural order to the planet by killing every human. The world that is left is so riddled with genetically modified animals that the future looks very monstrous indeed.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? (Example: I have a strange weakness for books with British characters, bawdy writing, and stories involving high school reunions.)
That’s funny, I love books set in England too! Books that I tend to love have a few things in common: Great characters who are realistically flawed, absorbing setting but not so much description that I feel bogged down, and a story that doesn’t make me want to ask the question, “So what?”

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Quiet house, dogs on my chair with me, cup of Earl Grey with milk and sugar, snowing outside, nothing to do all day long. Been a long time since I’ve had that perfect alchemy. The last time was when I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clark, about nine years ago, in our dingy little apartment in Brooklyn. (There were about nine colors of blue paint in that place, but it worked for me. I like blue.) Since then I’ve moved to Colorado and had three kids! Very little time to read now.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I think because of Madeleine L’Engle’s depictions of family life, I would have to point to her as the reason why I write for young adults. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, like almost everyone I think, and I coped by losing myself in books that showed stable parents and a loving family setting. This isn’t to say I wasn’t loved. I was, but my parents were overwhelmed, and had a hard time responding to my emotional needs, something I understand better now that I’m a parent! Madeleine L’Engle was balm to my soul. I want to offer the same comfort to my readers.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?amykathleenryanbook
Balance? Could you define the term? I am unfamiliar. The truth is that since I had kids, I am out of balance most of the time. (Since I started writing the answers for this interview, I’ve broken up two fights and provided a hasty morning snack.) While my kids are very young I feel that they must be my first priority. I owe that to them. So for a few years I have no balance, and finding the energy, time, and head-space to write is a constant struggle. I can only hope it will get easier when they are older.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, preferably from the library. I like worn-in books that have been read by a lot of people. It makes me feel like I’m part of a community.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I would love to be part of a book club for the social aspect, but I think I would never actually read the books. I’d just show up for the wine! The truth is I need to be able to flit from book to book at will, and read only what I am in the mood for. My reading time is so very limited I don’t want to spend time on books that someone else chooses.

What are you reading now?
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, about a boy who survives a terrorist attack in a museum and becomes the accidental custodian of one of the great works of art. It’s really a wonderful novel and I think she deserves the Pulitzer for it.

You can learn more about Amy and her books at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

The Method in the Monster

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Today I welcome a guest post by Kieran Lyne discussing Sherlock Holmes and the longevity of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ as part of the Halloween 2014 series

Some words possess a quality, a magic spark which instantly conjures certain images to our minds. If I were to say ‘Halloween’ for example, what would come to mind? Personally I instantly think of a headless horseman as I can recall a particularly unpleasant image of one on TV as a child, whereas that could well be the last thing on someone else’s mind.

There is something out there that scares the “bejesus” out of all of us: whether it’s Chandler Bing and his dancing Irishman, spiders, heights, responsibility, death, work, exercise, failure… Dale Winton. But what is it that makes some stories scarier than others? Not every book has us on edge, jumping at the slightest of sounds. And why is it that some stand the test of time, while others have been allowed to drift off into that bleakest of wildernesses, obscurity?

Though there are many titles which fill this criteria I have chosen one in particular from that miserable bunch we call the Victorians, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’

Like Halloween the title is engrained in our culture and psyche. It has that magic and even if it doesn’t conjure up images to everyone it certainly evokes a sense of foreboding. ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is the most iconic title relating to one of literature’s most iconic characters, Sherlock Holmes. Considering the popularity of criminal fiction it might seem a bit surprising that the great detective’s most famous case revolves around a spectral hound, but for many this is the Sherlock Holmes story, and I think I know why.

It is the masterful conflict between the pure logic of Holmes pitted against the horror of the hound.

To most, this will sound obvious. But what Conan Doyle expertly does is draws us deep within the horror of the story by convincing us that it might actually be true. We are introduced to the problem via a trustworthy source whose evidence we are not likely to dismiss as fanciful. By having Holmes and Watson dissect the character and therefore reliability of Dr. Mortimer before his arrival, we are already prepared to accept the validity of his testimony, which makes his revelation so chilling and memorable:

‘Mr. Holmes they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!’

This sets us on course, but after laying out this sinister and intriguing plot, Conan Doyle then separates Holmes from Watson and with it our sense of security, which is only heightened by a rare display of affection by Holmes toward his companion:

‘I give you my word that I shall be very glad to have you back safe in Baker Street once more.’

Watson is sent into the heart of this darkest of mysteries alone, which allows for a much greater sense of trepidation to build. The foreboding image of Baskerville Hall, a woman sobbing quietly in the night-time, and then the first sound of the dreaded hound sweeping across the moor, all combine to create a truly gripping atmosphere.

The hound is slowly building from myth into reality. There is undeniable proof of its existence: it leaves prints, howls across the moor, and even murders a man in cold blood; but it is through Holmes that our own fear is heightened:

‘ “Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul.’

And this is what elevates ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ and why it could only ever work to such a degree as a Sherlock Holmes story.

As most will know Holmes is not a usual detective: though he is the foremost champion of the law, he does not necessarily base his actions accordingly; he is the final court of appeal, and champions a higher power, logic. He is constantly searching for that tangible thread which will bring instant, rational clarity to what are often exceedingly complex or mysterious situations.

‘When you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.’

The story is no longer simply about criminal vs detective: it is about the plausibility of myth, superstition, and horror triumphing over the purest form of rational thinking. It is tradition against modernity, belief over reason. It is unsurprising that this famous line was saved for the ‘Hounds of Baskerville’ episode in the BBC’s Sherlock, as in this instance the writers have flipped its reasoning: no longer is it an argument for rationale, but to question just what is possible and highlight how deeply shaken Sherlock has become. In no other genre could Holmes suffer this raw sense of conflict.

Fans of pure horror who like to escape into the realm of monsters and evil will perhaps not enjoy it because of this. But for those of us who find fright within the depths of plausibility and reality, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is still one of the best.

 

Kieran Lyne is a Suffolk-based author and writer of tongue-in-cheek reviews on Film, Literature and F1. His debut novel, The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes, was released in September 2014 and he is the youngest writer to be endorsed by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. He is currently penning a set of Holmes short stories which he hopes to release in 2015, and also plans on writing another Holmes novel, as well as his own original material.

You can find out more about Kieran at his website or on Twitter.image

About The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes:

In the dawn of 1891 Sherlock Holmes is locked in a deadly game of wits with the sinister Professor James Moriarty; but events will soon transpire which will question the very outcome of Reichenbach. With Holmes presumed dead, the streets of London are panic-stricken, as a resurrected terror takes hold of the city; whilst in the upper-echelons of Government, a singular, undetectable force can once again be felt manipulating the criminal underworld.

The ever reliable Dr. Watson has deceived us all, as he finally reveals the far more shocking events which led to both the return of Sherlock Holmes and his involvement in the suppression of London’s most notorious criminal.

Where Have the Horror HEAs Gone?

I’ve loved horror movies since I was a kid, but it’s different now. Horror has changed.

I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, with its implication that there are worlds and creatures unknown and unseen in our daily lives. And within the fantasy realm I’m especially drawn to dark paranormal stories, in the same way my toddler is drawn to the color green: I don’t know the reason, but when I see it I want to pick it up.

And so, back in my ’80s childhood, I picked up The Monster Squad and Poltergiest, Ghostbusters and Fright Night (Chris Sarandon’s demon face leering at me from the cover of the VHS at my video store).

My favorite movies back then intrigued me, startled me, and freaked me out. But, at the very end, they did something else too: they gave me hope. The poltergeist was vanquished, if at least temporarily. The vampire next door who bit your girlfriend met an explosive death in the sunlight. Evil had come out to play, but it didn’t have the last word.

Horror movies have lost their happy endings. When I venture to a scary movie nowadays, I’m often impressed as well as scared by the improved effects, psychological twists, and genre-pushing thrills. But when it’s near the end and I’m ready for my reprieve, a sense that everything will somehow be okay, it gets worse, oh so much worse. The murderer isn’t killed, the ghost lives on. And it kills your mother and your sister and your sanity. Instead of hope, there’s a knife twist.

Maybe this is a genre expectation now, or what hardcore horror fans like. Maybe we want our fear with a side of fear, and then topped off with a thick dripping slice of terror for dessert. Maybe conquering monsters at the end means they weren’t such baddies after all, nothing to be afraid of–and so something we shouldn’t see in a scary movie.

I don’t know. But I miss the stories where the monsters turn to dust when the day breaks.

This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series, featuring my posts and guest posts on all things spooky, from Sherlock to spiders to the scariest stories ever read.

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