Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Bloghop and Road Trip Wednesday

As I looked around at some of my favorite blogs today I couldn't help but notice the plethora of Halloween posts . . . which reminded me that I had been remiss in my own Halloween related posts this October. So I thought I’d rectify this problem by participating (last minute) in TWO bloghops.

The first is YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. It’s been a while since I've participated, but when I saw the topic for this week’s post, I couldn't resist: What's your favorite scary book or movie?

I must admit that I’m somewhat of a wimp when it comes to scary movies; I’m the one hiding under a blanket when the creepy parts happen. However, I do have fond memories of watching The Poltergeist with my parents when I was in 8th grade. We watched it around Halloween time and it terrified me to no end. To this day I’m a little nervous around old-fashioned TVs and I can’t shake the fear that I’ll be suck into one.

Despite my anxiety when it comes to horror films, I’m a big fan of the classics thrillers – specifically Alfred Hitchcock’s. Movies like The Birds and Psycho keep me on the edge of my seat, eyes glued on the screen the entire time. He’s a real master of suspense and I love his creepy classics.

As for scary books, I’m going old-school Stephen King with this one. Probably the scariest book I’ve ever read it the 1977 classic The Shining. I watched the movie when I was in middle school and then decided, since I guess I just hadn’t quite terrified myself enough, that I’d read the book. And boy was I ever not able to sleep for a month. And this may sound crazy, but the book’s warning about room 217 terrified me so much that I have since made a solemn oath to never stay in room 217 (or 237 – thanks to the movie) at any hotel. Ever.

Some call me a wuss – I prefer to think of myself as appropriately wary of the supernatural . . .

The second bloghop is the aptly named Halloween Bloghop hosted by the amazing Jeremy Bates. If, like me, you’re only just stumbling upon this, check out the details here.

As I mentioned the other day, I’m a fan of the monster genre – therefore I have a quite extensive list of favorite monster books and movies to choose from. However, if I’m only able to pick one of each, then I think I have to go with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Technically I’m cheating a bit with Buffy, since I’m actually referring to both the movie and the TV show created by Joss Whedon, but I figure it’s a day for tricks (and treats), so it’s okay. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my absolute favorite show in middle school, and remains at the top of my list to this day. I love that she fights all manner of monsters and demons as well as vampires, and that she saves the world time and time again with the help of her “Scooby Gang”.

As for Frankenstein, I was greatly affected by it when I first read it in 9th grade. Shelley’s masterpiece manages to be both darkly terrifying and somehow poignant at the same time. I can’t help but feel pity for Frankenstein’s monster, even as he commits atrocious acts of violence. I truly believe that it’s one of the best novels ever written.

Last but certainly not least, Halloween costumes! Though I usually do my own thing in terms of costumes, but this year my friends and I decided that we’d all go as superheroes together. I, of course, lobbied that we all go as Marvel characters, but we wound up with an unfortunate mixture of DC heroes as well. Still, we looked pretty awesome in our costumes and had a great time fighting crime . . . uh, celebrating the holiday at the Natural Science Museum’s epic party. It's always fun at the museum since people there are pertty serious when it comes to Halloween. The guest list reached nearly 4,000, all of whom were trying to top each other's costumes, so you can imagine how amazing some of them were. Definitely a night to remember. 


Monday, October 29, 2012

Tales of the Gothic: The Castle of Otranto

Unlike Robert Louis Stevenson or Oscar Wilde, Horace Walpole is not a name readily recognized. However, he goes down in history for his significant contribution to the literary field. His attempt to combined elements of ancient Romanticism and modern realism into a new writing style were very effective; his most famous novel – The Castle of Otranto – is considered the very first Gothic novel.

Written in 1764, The Castle of Otranto sets the standards for the Gothic fiction. Components of the novel would later define the genre, including:

Gothic architecture
Lines of succession
The decline and fall of an ancient bloodline
Psychological terror
Questions of incest
Fantastical horror and supernatural events
Tyrannical patriarchal power
Threatened female
Ancient prophecy
Dark omens

With these elements Walpole skillfully sets the stage for generations of Gothic fiction to come. And yet we can see how the foundations of the genre pull from older literary works. For example, I think one of the most interesting things about The Castle of Otranto is its Shakespeare overtones. Walpole draws heavily on Shakespeare’s works – specifically Hamlet and Macbeth. From characters inspired by King Claudius and Malcolm, the son of a slain king, to ancient prophecies and ghostly appearances, Otranto echoes many of the dark mysteries in Shakespeare’s work.  

I personally deem The Castle of Otranto one of the most fascinating ghost stories I've ever read. It’s mysterious and Gothic, full of ghosts and villains – not to mention a tragically beautiful love story. If you've never read it before, I’d highly recommend it. Especially during this darkest time of year . . .

Monstrous Monday Blogfest

Today is all about monsters. Hosted by Timothy Brannan from The Other Side, this bloghop is a chance to post about monsters you love, hate, or are featuring in your latest novel. So sign up for Monstrous Monday if you already haven’t and join the monster-madness.

When it comes to monsters I have to say, it’s hard to pick just one – so I decided I wouldn’t try. Instead I’m going to post about two very different monsters that provoke two very different reactions. The first is a creature I became familiar with in my early childhood thanks to a little movie called The Princess Bride . . .

The R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size):

R.O.U.S.s are large, rat-like creatures that are known to be incredibly vicious. They live in Fire Swamps and frequently attack human beings brave enough to venture into their lair. As a child these R.O.U.S.s terrified me – because who wouldn’t be terrified with a giant rat that eats people? Still, I always liked to pretend that I was in the Fire Swamp, battling an army of these strange creatures beside my hero Westley. If I ever come across an R.O.U.S., I’ll grab a sword and start swinging.

The second monster I want to discuss is a creature which absolutely petrifies me. The very idea of it makes me skin break out in goosebumps  . . .

The Mothman:

While R.O.U.S.s are make-believe creatures from a beloved childhood novel and film (at least, I hope William Goldman made them up), the Mothman is an ominious creature with a number of sightings. The most well-known incident occurred in 1966 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Police recorded several sightings of a seven-foot creature with long wings and glowing red eyes. These reports continued up until the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge, which killed forty-six people. Though some claim to have seen the Mothman standing on the bridge the day of the collapse, following the disaster the creature was never seen in Point Pleasant again.

The Mothman is a dark omen, bringing death in its wake. And while I think R.O.U.S.s are amusing, and feel confident that I could handle myself against most monsters (my wealth of Buffy knowledge would aid me such an event), the idea of facing a Mothman is not high on my list of fun activities. 

Beware . . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tales of the Gothic: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Next up on the list of Gothic novels is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I think it only fitting that it should follow The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, as the two share a notable theme – mankind’s dual nature and the torment of a soul divided.

As I previously discussed, the pieces of a man’s soul in Stevenson’s masterpiece are quite literally split into two different personas – Jekyll and Hyde. In Wilde’s novel on the other hand, we see the soul divided between a man, Dorian Gray, and his portrait. Upon seeing the youth and beauty eternally captured within the painting, Dorian longs for it, rather than his own features, to alter with time, offering up his own soul as payment. Unfortunately, he gets his wish. With his conscience stripped away, Dorian is able to indulge in pleasure and debauchery without suffering the consequences of his actions, for it is his portrait rather than his physical form that bears the manifestations of his sins. However, he cannot escape his guilt entirely. The fissures in his psyche become more and more pronounced with each visit to the painting. As he obsessively watches the “most magical of mirrors” to his soul become increasingly grotesque, it becomes clear that he remains tethered to his guilt by the portrait’s constant presence.

Apart from its Gothic tone, I think the most interesting thing about Dorian Gray is the question of reality within the text – namely, the reality of the altered portrait. Does the painting really change, or is it a figment of Dorian’s imagination? Apart from Dorian himself, no one ever sees the alleged changes; his account of the portrait’s increasingly mutilated features is never corroborated. It’s not until his death that anyone other than Dorian lays eyes on the painting, only to find it in the exact same condition as the day it was completed. Which begs the question, did it ever really change at all? Is it possible the Dorian maintained a fa├žade of purity and youth in public, thus giving the appearance that he’d frozen in time, only to drop it in the presence of the painting? Like the mysterious “damned spot” on Lady Macbeth’s hands, perhaps the changes he sees in the painting are simply projections of the guilt he’s buried within.

Whether you believe in Dorian’s eternal youth or think him mad, the fact remains that The Picture of Dorian Gray is a Gothic classic. Its delightful darkness and wicked repercussions warns us that a man’s soul is a precious thing so easily forfeit. And it reminds us of the age-old adage, be careful what you wish for . . . 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Did I Notice Your Book Blogfest

Today I’m participating in the Did I Notice Your Book Blogfest hosted by Ciara Knight and Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you’re interested in participating, here are the guidelines:

You can choose a book that you’ve read, something you saw on a blog or social media site, Goodreads, or a sales website. Anything that caught your eye because of a great cover, blurb or reviews, but DON’T tell the author that their book has been noticed. Instead, shout out on social media sites, and encourage others to do the same, until the author finds his/her book. Leave a blog comment with Alex or Ciara when the author finds their book. 

Only two rules: 
1) You can’t post about your own book. 
2) The book shouldn’t be on the New York Times or USA Today bestseller list. This is your chance to shout out about a book that might not have been noticed by others.

Sounds fun, right? And what book have I chosen for this contest?

Villain School: Good Curses Evil by Stephanie S. Sanders.

Rune Drexler, Big Bad Wolf Jr., and Countess Jezebel Dracula are students at Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains. It's like military school for the children of famous villains; it's where you learn to be bad. But Rune is failing at his villainous studies, so when he lands himself in detention (again), Master Dreadthorn assigns him a Plot. In one week, Rune and his friends must find a henchman, steal a baby, kidnap a princess, and overthrow a kingdom. There's only one problem: Rune's not very evil. In fact, his behavior seems suspiciously heroic . . .

I read this book a few months ago and thought it was a hilariously clever idea. And not just because I wish I could attend a school for Master Dreadthorn's School myself. But what could be more fun than reading about a young boy who’s trying desperately to squelch his inner heroism and become – like his father before him – a villain.

So if you haven’t read it before, check it out! And don’t forget to blog, tweet, or shout out about Villain School: Good Curses Evil. If you'd like to know more about author Stephanie S. Sanders, check out her blog here

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tales of the Gothic: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

To kick-start my series on the Gothic novel, I thought I’d begin with one many people are familiar with – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Recognized as one of the most significant tales of the 19th century, Jekyll and Hyde is a fascinating representation of the inner struggle of man’s dual nature during the moral climate of the Victorian era.

Let me begin with a little background information about the piece. Published in 1886, Stevenson wrote Jekyll and Hyde during the height of Victorianism (which lasted from the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign over England in 1837 until her death in 1901). Founded on repression, Victorian society was predicated on the suppression of passion and sexuality, and a strict adherence to a social code of conduct and outward display of respectability.   

This was challenging, however, because of the existence of mankind’s dual nature – the moral half, and the sinful. Like different sides of the same coin, these two pieces are the basis of the human soul. And yet, in order to exist within the era’s concept of morality, one had to bury their immoral thoughts and project only their virtuous side to the outside world. Little empathy was shown for mankind’s struggle between these twin personality halves.

It’s in this very struggle that Stevenson’s ominous tale takes shape. Dr. Jekyll’s attempt to separate the two halves into distinct entities demonstrates the desperate lengths humanity will go in order to ease the torment of denying the darker – yet equally real – half of our nature. As Dr. Jekyll states, “If each could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable.”

Unfortunately, the experiment does not go as planned. On the one hand, he succeeds in creating a new persona for his evil side – Mr. Hyde. Hyde represents this moral freedom, able to follow his every whim without a hint of remorse. However, his other half – Dr. Jekyll – is wholly the same, unable to rid himself of his sinister urges and yet forced to abide by Victorian edicts.

Still, under the mantle of Mr. Hyde, Jekyll is able to embrace a life of sin and freedom. It is this very freedom that he longs for, even as he tries to suppress it. At first he secretly enjoys this ability to pursue his dark desires as Mr. Hyde while walking through society under the mantel of Dr. Jekyll’s respectability. With his two halves separated into different men, he can exercise his demons without violating the Victorian code of conduct. However, it’s not long before his double life starts to collapse in upon him.

This sense of the soul’s impending doom inherent in the novella firmly roots in in the Gothic tradition. Furthermore, there’s a clear warning in Stevenson’s tale – one assuring us that no matter how well we suppress our wicked nature, it will always find its way to the surface in the end. Stevenson suggests that the more we attempt the separate our two halves, the worse the consequence will be. The only way to avoid becoming the darkest versions of ourselves is to accept the darkness within us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group

Soon I will put up the first post in my Thirteen Tales of the Gothic series, but first it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Hosted by the amazing Alex J. Cavanaugh, this is a group where we share our writing woes and support one another through this challenging (and often demoralizing) process.

This October I thought I’d do something a little different and talk about the support I received after my gut-wrenching rejection last month (the subject of my last IWSG post). All of my friends, blogging buddies and critique partners immediately came to my aid with words of encouragement and offers of comfort (or in some cases, blueberry pancakes, my favorite comfort food). But one person in particular stands out as the most helpful during that depressing time – my Uncle John.

He sent me an email that said:
- Walt Disney's 1st animation company went bankrupt.
- Vicent Van Gogh sold just one painting in his lifetime - and that was to a friend.
- John Grisham's first book, A Time To Kill, took 3 years to write and was rejected 28 times. 
- Steven Spielberg was denied two times to the prestigious University of Southern California film school. Instead he attended Cal. Tech.
- Stephen King's 1st book Carrie was rejected 30 times and he threw the book in the trash. His wife retrieved it and the rest is history.

Rejection is painful, and something every writer dreads. But if everyone who’d ever been rejected quit, there’d be no Lion King or Little Mermaid, no E.T. or iconically bloody proms. Not to mention Harry Potter, which was rejected by twelve different publishing houses before it finally found a home at Bloomsberry.

So for anyone who – like Disney, Van Gogh, Grisham, Spielberg, King, Rowling, or myself – has faced rejection, follow my uncle’s advice and keep fighting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tales of the Gothic: An Introduction

Let me start off by apologizing for my recent absence from the blog-o-sphere. September was a busy, high stress month for me, and my blogging paid the price. But it’s finally October and the beginning of what I like to call the “spooktacular season”, that magical time of year when the pumpkins come out and my inner child goes wild. And though I will undoubtedly write a few posts narrating my epic battle with jack-o-lantern carving, costume construction, and many other Halloween related festivities, this year I wanted to dedicate the month of October to a discussion of my favorite genre of classical literature – the Gothic novel.

Since my time as an English Lit major in college, I’ve always found this particular area of the literary canon most fascinating. Characterized by mystery, supernatural horror, epic castles and dark romance, Gothic novels act as reaction to the extreme rationalism of the Augustan literary era and stand out as the unique offspring of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They’re ghost stories and accounts of the living dead, paranormal affairs and tales of the macabre. And above all, they're an investigation into the inner workings of the human psyche. Gothic novels are a perfect fit for the Halloween season, and I could think of no way to honor them more than a blog series devoted to the authors who so splendidly captured the soul of genre.

So check back and stay tuned for Tales of the Gothic . . .