Monday, June 22, 2009

Two Dozen Essentials for Aspiring Writers

Found on the web:

1. All publishers are thieves, con-artists, and power-freaks until proven otherwise.
2. It’s illegal to shoot a publisher’s lawyer, one of the many inequities of our legal system.
3. Professional critics are parasites.
4. Amateur critics are pests on the same level as cockroaches or those gnats who buzz around at your favorite fishing spot.
5. Readers don’t care about your tortured inner life, if any.
6. Similarly, do not write about the experience of writing, unless you’re like me and have nothing else to do just now.
7. Story ideas are a dime a dozen. An acquaintance who is wild to share a great idea, if you will only do the writing, is someone who doesn’t have a clue how writing works.
8. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and many other literary geniuses were alcoholics. This does not mean you can become a literary genius simply by staying drunk.
9. Same for dope. There was only one Hunter Thompson and he killed himself.
10. Unless proven otherwise, academic literary types are either communists or status-crazed dilettantes.
11. Literature professors have one thing in common with semi-literate knuckle-draggers: they don’t think anyone can, or should, make money at writing.
12. “Little” magazines are simply a way to pretend you’re rich enough to write without getting paid for it.
13. Ditto, only worse, for your local “arts and culture” gimme paper.
14. Hanging out with the local arts and culture crowd will turn your brain to tofu, your blood to ethanol, and your writing to gibberish.
15. Being published really will impress girls, but not so much as borrowing a baby and wheeling it around the mall.
16. Don’t date other writers unless you’re gay.
17. Don’t marry another writer unless you’re stupid.
18. Don’t drop the names of famous writers you supposedly know. Most of the people you’re talking to have never heard of them and the rest think you’re lying (which you probably are).
19. Most female writers will assume that any man they meet is either married or a stalker/serial killer. They are often right.
20. Many people will assume that male writers are gay, even if they write blood and guts shoot-em-ups.
21. And just why shouldn’t sex and violence be marketable? It’s not like they never happen in real life (unless you’re a local art/cult droid).
22. Don’t boast about your publications unless you have copies with you.
23. Writing science fiction does not mean that I go to Star Trek cons or can’t find a girlfriend.
24. It’s a job. If you want to get paid, you have to work at it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Necronomicon Files (Revised and Expanded)

To go into the history of the Necronomicon would take up more space than I care to use. Besides, the authors of The Necronomicon Files, Daniel Harms and John Gonce, have done a far better job than I could ever dream. Suffice it to say that the Necronomicon was a book of ancient magick which the writer HP Lovecraft used as a theme in many of his horror stories which he wrote in the 1920's and 30's. Although it never existed in material form, Lovecraft referred to it often enough that many people believed it to be a real book. And in 1979, Avon Books came out with a paperback edition.
I remember seeing the paperback edition because all I could think of was "WTF!?!". I did manage to buy the book, but later got rid of it, having no interest in ceremonial magick. I also considered the book a cheap fraud and a poor way to make money. A number of other people have also bought it. Enough to keep this edition of the Necronomicon in print.
NF is divided into a series of essays concerning this forbidden text. It consists of three parts: Literature, Occultism, and Entertainment. The literary section is authored by Harms. Gonce manages the occult and entrainment ones. Harms lists himself as a Lovecraft scholar, whereas Gonce is a practice occultist. The sections do reflect the interests of the authors.
The first section discusses the Necronomicon's place in literature. Naturally, this is mostly about the Cuthulu Mythos stories which Lovecraft wrote for Weird Tales and other magazines of the pulp era. Harms is mostly interested in the tales of lost grimories and other books which may have influenced Lovecraft on his creation. There's also a lot of biographical information on Lovecraft in this part.
Part two places the Necronomicon as part of the western occult tradition. Gonce has little time for people who want to believe in the actual, physical presence of a historical Necronomicon. He takes great pains to show how the likelihood of such a book existing is low. He also rips into the 1979 "Simon" Necronomicon, the one which Avon published and still publishes. This book he finds to be a bastardization of Sumerian religious beliefs. Gonce has more sympathy for writer Kenneth Grant's concept of an "astral" Necronomicon which would exist in a spiritual void.
The final section, on entrainment, is a lengthy discussion of all the places the Necronomicon has appeared in TV and film. This section would make a book in itself. Gonce has seen plenty of Lovecraftian film adaptations.
So where did this "Simon" Necronimicon originate? The authors feel it was money-making scheme cooked up by several people associated with a New York occult store. Known as The Magical Childe, this place was owned and run by Herman Slater until his death in the 1990's. The authors theorize that several people decided to take the whole Necronomicon idea of a lost book with infinite power and run with it. I wish the authors had spent more time following the clues here. Too much of their theory on the origin of the book is based on secondary sources or speculation. No smoking guns or wands.
Still, a very extensive book and worth reading.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr

#6 on the 13 Best Non-Supernatural Horror Novels list by KEW is The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr. And here is what the departed Master has to say:

"Sometimes Carr actually did use the supernatural in his detective novels, sometimes he only seemed to do so. The Crooked Hinge does not turn out to be a ghost story, but that won't spare your nerves."

(And by the way, can anyone get me a copy of the Twilight Zone Magazine from where KEW published the second set of his essential lists? I know there are copies out there. Heck, I'd be happy with a photocopy of these few pages.)
The novel begins with a typical English countryside setting. A lawyer, Nathaniel Burrows, has been called in to represent a member of the local gentry, one Sir John Farnleigh. Farnleigh has called Burrows to represent him because Farnleigh's claim to the title of the ancestral lands is in question. Someone else has appeared on the scene claiming to be the real John Farnleigh. Farnleigh had been a passenger on the Titanic and managed to escape the sinking of the ship. However, he spent the rest of his life in the United States with relatives because of an estrangement with his family. Once the head of the family, Sir Dudley Farnleigh had passed on, the younger Farnleigh returned to Britain and claimed his inheritance.
Assembling at the Farnleigh manor to hear the charges of the claimant are:
  • Sir John Farnleigh. But is he?
  • Lady Molly Farnleigh, who has a vested interested in the outcome.
  • The lawyer Nathaniel Burrows.
  • Brian Page, Burrows' friend and a local scholar
  • Patrick Gore, the claimant.
  • Mr. Welkyn, Gore's lawyer.
  • Kennet Murray, Sir John's traveling companion before the Titanic incident.
Murray will attempt to analyze the handwriting samples of both Gore and Farnleigh to determine who is the real Sir John. We also get a brief history lesson about the uses of fingerprinting for identification. When the Titanic sailed, there had been a vogue for fingerprinting, but it's uses in criminal investigation had yet to be established. The Crooked Hinge was published in 1938 when finger prints were routinely used to identify someone.
Since the author was the master of the locked room mystery, there is a murder at the beginning of the book. Needless to say, this tosses a wrench in the whole investigative process. Soon, the reader is introduced to a locked book closet which contains volumes of magickal and erotic texts. The books do figure into the murder, although only a few of the titles are mentioned.
But my favourite introduction is an automata, i.e., a mechanical puppet designed to amaze an audience with it's musical properties. This one dates from the 18th century, appears to be a young woman in finery, and was purchased by an ancestor of Sir John. However, no one has ever figured out how the thing works and has been locked in the before mentioned book closet. It's also in disrepair and is referred to throughout the book as "the hag".
Finally, the Great Detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, is introduced. Dr. Fell was the protagonist of several of Carr's mysteries. He is supposedly patterned from the real life mystery write G. K Chesterton. Dr. Fell doesn't do a whole lot other than wonder around mumbling and making observations. But he provides the analysis which cracks the mystery wide open.
The supernatural elements of this novel are always in the background. There are rumors of some "witch-cult" operating in the nearby village. Sir John had an interest in the occult before he was sent away. His lawyer is famous for representing all kinds of mystics in Britain. A woman who was found dead previous to the events was found with a book on satanic lore.
The Crooked Hinge can be a bit difficult to follow with it's extensive list of suspects. But the book is a fine example of British mystery fiction