Monthly Archives: September 2013

Tenant of the Grave

The Premature Burial  by Edgar Allen Poe  (1844)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    September  24, 2013

How do you feel about being buried alive? Who best could write about this horror than the Mr. Edgar Allan Poe with his magnetic prose and his unparalleled aptness of the pen.

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Since next week begins October, the official Halloween month, and since I am planning on featuring a “Women in Horror Month” for Tales of Terror, I wanted to be sure to get a Poe short story to you to kick off the scariest month of the year. Halloween month wouldn’t be fulfilling without a Poe story. So, prepare yourself for a dark tale today.

Merciful God, being buried alive! Of all the human horrors to endure, is there a greater fear? Living in the 1800s, this fear was far more common than today with all our medical devices to declare the dead as truly dead.

From the opening lines …There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction … So we are plunged into the nonfiction, or so we think. We are introduced to several case histories (there are over one hundred well-authenticated cases) of people who were buried alive.  We learn of a Baltimore woman who although buried in the family vault, broke out of her coffin.  And then there is the young and beautiful Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, buried in the village graveyard. Unbelievably, she is dug up and saved by her lover.

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Our narrator, a nervous sort, is obsessed with tombs, cemeteries, and worms. Nightmares plague him of being buried alive in a locked coffin. Why? He has a peculiar disorder called catalepsy, an affliction that causes a human to enter a deathlike trance—possibly for days or weeks. Hence, being declared dead in error and buried alive in a locked coffin remains a living terror for him. What can he do to prevent this destiny?

Come into the realm of the nethermost Hell with our narrator. He will tell you that the boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague.

Read the text at Classic Lit

http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/eapoe/bl-eapoe-premature.htm

Watch the internet film of The Premature Burial directed by Ric White, Willing Heart Productions (40 minutes). The performances are not exactly stellar (I’m being kind here) and the script is literally a screaming melodrama, but still this is a decent adaptation of Poe’s masterpiece.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBMSZozsY54

If you are a Netflix member, you can get the film starring Ray Milland, directed by Roger Corman (1962). Here’s the 4-minute preview trailer. This film is perfect for Halloween night.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9E7PZllXjI

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Images are from The Black Box Club:

http://theblackboxclub.blogspot.com

 Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

GoodReads     WattPad   The Story Reading Ape Blog

Interesting Literature      Bibliophilopolis.wordpress.com

  Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror

Monster Librarian   Tales to Terrify     Rob Around Books  

 Books on the Nightstand

TheInsatiableBookSlut   For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed

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Filed under dark fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe, fiction, graveyards, horror, quiet horror, short stories, tales of terror

Mysteries of a Crystal Egg

The Crystal Egg by H.G. Wells  (1897)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror, September 17, 2013

This week is H.G. Wells anniversary birth date (September 21), so featuring one of this grandmaster’s  science fiction short stories is a must for Tales of Terror.

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In The Crystal Egg, we meet a gentleman known as Mr. Cave. He owns a grimy dark little shop full of antiquities in town. Among the animal skulls, boxes of eyes, elephant tusks, and stuffed monkeys is a crystal egg. Mr. Cave acquired the egg from another dealer and as curiosity prevails—who doesn’t find crystals eye-catching?—he couldn’t resist the gleaming oval object and displayed it in his shop window.

Mr. Cave is a little old man, with pale face and peculiar watery blue eyes; his hair was a dirty grey, and he wore a shabby blue frock-coat, an ancient silk hat, and carpet slippers very much down at heel.

Sounds cute, huh? Cute if you keep in mind we are in the late 1890s. Mr. Cave is actually a charming character who endears you immediately. His wife, the corpulent Mrs. Cave, however, can reduce the poor man to quivering emotions and muddle his thoughts. And she does so when two men stroll into the shop and offer to buy the crystal egg. Mrs. Cave is quite anxious to sell the object, but Mr. Cave has some trouble parting with the crystal.

The fascinating thing about crystals is their mysterious refractions of light.  Sometimes you can see into them quite clearly and other times the view is a distorted image. Even colors change with every new angle. If you hold a rounded crystal in a ray of light, what do you think you’ll see?

Eggtales_of_tomorrow_9_the_crystal_egg_000720Mr. Cave does more than just look at the colors and angles of light. He sees a vivid vision within the crystal egg. No dreaming here, no illusions, no hallucinations. This is a definite impression of reality. What does he see exactly? I have a better question. What happens to Mr. Cave when he observes this vivid vision? Do you think the vision will look back and observe poor Mr. Cave?

This amazing little short story raises more questions than resolutions, especially if you believe in … well, I won’t say exactly.

HGWellsCrystalimages

Read it at ReadBook Online http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/9395/

Listen to the narration by LibriVox Recording (46 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=840JrGZJMhg

Watch the 1951 vintage film by Tales of Tomorrow starring Thomas Mitchell  (23 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6rPm5siOwk

TalesOfTomorrow,OpeningTitle

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

GoodReads

WattPad

The Story Reading Ape Blog

Interesting Literature

Bibliophilopolis.wordpress.com

Horror Novel Reviews

Hell Horror

Monster Librarian

Tales to Terrify

Rob Around Books  

Books on the Nightstand

TheInsatiableBookSlut

For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed

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Filed under classic horror stories, fiction, horror, quiet horror, Reading Fiction, short stories, tales of terror

Quiet Horror, Still the Darling of the Horror Genre

There is a power in quiet horror novels.

September 15 is the anniversary of the death of author Charles L. Grant, who most will agree was the best-selling modern-day master of quiet horror novels. A rigorous talent, a legend to many of us, Grant had hundreds of books, novels, short stories and anthologies published and won three World Fantasy Awards and two Nebula Awards. Grant wholeheartedly believed in the atmospheric quiet horror story as a serious fiction form.  Descriptions of Grant’s riveting prose and pace are phrases like lulls you into the dark,  subtle thrillsliterary prowess,  creates a luring suspense.  Well-crafted, horror fiction is an art. Read a Grant story and you’ll see why.

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Because we remember the loss of this treasured author (and because I admire the craft of quiet horror novels, love to read them and write them), it seems appropriate to revisit this enduring genre for September.

Horror is defined as painful and intense fear, something that horrifies. So when you think of reading a horror novel or story, what do you desire? Horror that is raw, explicit, and loud like pulp slasher shock? That would be the assault of splatterpunk. How about all-powerful monsters? Super-intelligent aliens? Sexy vampires that no one can resist? Are you curious about a shuttered gray house with a man skulking on the front porch, eyes searching every child who walks by? What a shudder that story might bring. Or maybe you love the Lovecraftian style with demigods from ages past like Cthulhu, written in deep prose and pessimistic themes. Psychological horror is a grabber, especially if you’re battling demonic possession, the ultimate evil challenge.

Stephen King is well known for saying that horror arouses our “phobic pressure points.” And maybe it’s true that triggering these fears becomes very personal for horror fans, provoking a response from the physical to the emotional to the psychological.

When did society decide that reading tales of the supernatural and terror would be entertaining? Maybe it’s the fight or flight response we still crave. Maybe reading horror is a catharsis. One of the very first horror novels was The Castle of Otranto written by Horace Walpole in 1764. Then we quickly move into the Gothic horror era with Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Poe, Hawthorne, Henry James and you know the rest of them, all the way to Grant, King, Koontz, and Rice.

But let’s get back to the  power in quiet horror. What is it exactly?  Quiet horror stories do not feed you blunt visceral violence: no gore-is-more philosophy; no bloody slasher meisters, no cheap thrills. Quiet horror hits a high key when it stimulates the intellect (sometimes even to the point of being a tad cerebral). It evokes  dark emotions and conjures imagery, artistically hitting your fear buttons, teasing you with clues, and employing the suggestive-then-cut-away Hitchcockian style of suspense. Delicious!

And often, this quiet darkness will hold a message that is not only cleverly hidden but  also symbolic. That “Ah-ha” moment is one we all love to experience.

Look at the success of John Harwood’s chilling The Séance;  Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black;  Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s enduring short story The Yellow Wallpaper. If you’ve ever read W.W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw, you can experience this understated but powerful dark message of  regret.

Charles Grant said in an interview that the most powerful books are the ones who force the reader to use the imagination. He saw the reader’s imagination as a highly effective tool. If we look to Lovecraft about horror, he advised writers never to state a specific horror element when it can be suggested. So, are writers who spell out every bloody and violent detail cheating readers from creating their own pleasurable visualizations?

In Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator says that he worked hastily and in silence to cut off the head, arms and legs of his victim. He uses the word “blood” only once …

There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all!

Any reader with half an imagination can see the blood inside that tub and imagine the dismembered parts with a ghastly effect. Maybe Strunk & White are right when they said, “It is seldom advisable to tell all.”

When you read horror, do the words on the page manipulate your thinking or stimulate your imagination? How deep is your well?

A search on Amazon.com for quiet horror novels offers four of Grant’s novels:
The Sound of Midnight
The Bloodwind
The Last Call of Mourning
The Grave

Search Barnes & Noble and you’ll find more traditional titles like Northanger Abby by Jane Austin, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Amazon lists these as their top FIVE selling quiet horror novels:
In the Night Room, Peter Straub
The Fall of Never, Ronald Damien Malfi
The Snowman’s Children, Glen Hirshberg
Nightmare House, Douglas Clegg
Atmosphere, Michael Laimo

Of course there’s lots more quiet horror out there, but it’s not so easy to identify these novels. Right now on the New York Times best sellers list, two novels that fit quiet horror are Night Film by Marisha Pessi (pitched as occult horror, literary thriller, and mystery thriller) and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Sometimes these authors are known as dark fantasy authors. Writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert, Arthur Machen, Elizabeth Massie.

My favorite authors of quiet horror are the classic masters: Nathaniel Hawthorne, M.R. James, Poe, Henry James and too many more to list here. I loved The Dead Zone by Stephen King. What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, The Grave by Charles L. Grant, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper, Seduction by M.J. Rose.

So, what horror stories spark your imagination? Is there a horror novel that has awakened your heart and soul?

I leave you with one last thought …

“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” Arthur Conan Doyle

Whether you are a reader, author, publishing pro, or literary hound, I invite you to post your thoughts here. Are you a fan of Charles  Grant?  Do you prefer splatterpunk or bizarro and tell us why. What is your favorite horror novel? I see this post as a running commentary about horror—quiet or loud, gothic, splatterpunk, dark fantasy, supernatural, ghosts, mystery, fabulist, Lovecraftian, satanic, or bizarro.

If you are new to this blog, I am a novelist and short story writer, living in New York, posting classic Tales of Terror every week, most of which are quiet horror, supernatural, and lots of ghost stories because … I am a haunted writer. Not only do I believe in ghosts, but I’ve got one sitting next to me right now.  He’s a writer, of course, about ghosts and witches—and he is my mentor. The number seven has particular significance to his greatest known work. If you know this house in Salem, Massachusetts pictured below, you know this author.

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You can view my novels, Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural and The Dazzling Darkness in the above tabs on this site, but I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically suggest you experience the novels of Charles L. Grant and the other fine authors mentioned here if you really want to walk on the dark side with the best of  literary artists.

Here are a few worthy web sites in your search for horror and the supernatural.

CharlesLGrantWebSite

Horror Novel Reviews

Too Much Horror Fiction Blogspot

Hell Notes

Spooky Reads 

Monster Librarian

Horror World

HellHorror

Horror-Web

Horror Palace

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Filed under dark fantasy, Hawthorne, horror, horror blogs, Night Sea Journey, quiet horror, soft horror, tales of terror, The Dazzling Darkness

Dreaming a Lesbian Vampire

Carmilla  by J. Sheridan LeFanu  (1872)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   September 10, 2013

Carmilla Bram Stoker was an inspired writer but LeFenu’s Carmilla, the first female lesbian vampire in literature, was Stoker’s inspiration to write Dracula. You’ll find Lucy and Carmilla strikingly similar.

Our narrator, Laura, is a dreamy and lonely young woman, living with her father in a castle in the thick forests of Styria, Austria, complete with drawbridge, swans, water lilies, and a Gothic chapel. Laura’s mother, a Styrian lady, dies during Laura’s infancy, leaving Laura longing for female companionship. As a child, Laura dreams of a beautiful woman appearing at her bedside. Comforted by this lady, Laura drifts into sleep again, only to waken to the sensation of two needles piercing her chest.

The dream haunts Laura for twelve years. Until one day, she meets a woman named Carmilla, whom she recognizes as the beautiful woman in her dream. Immediately, they bond a friendship.

Laura dreams again but this time the beautiful woman is a sooty-black animal that resembles a monstrous cat at her bedside. Terrified, poor Laura cannot even cry out. Until the stinging pain of two sharp needles thrust deep into her breast.

This is no dream. Reality sets in. Laura becomes obsessed with the enigmatic Carmilla. How can Laura resist Carmilla’s languid and burning eyes, or her whispers, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.”

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Quite the sinister seduction! Fear, desire, and vampire-hunting bring this story to a thrilling conclusion, which is more quiet horror than our modern-day lust-for-blood-splatter vampire story endings.

Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this unusual story.

Read the short story at Gutenberg.org  (The short story is divided into sixteen short chapters).  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10007/10007-h/10007-h.htm

Or, if you prefer a film adaptation, Nightmare Classics has a 1989 American pre-Civil War version (Southern plantation-style) with Meg Tilly, Ione Skye, and Roddy McDowell in four parts (total time 55 minutes).

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The film contains dreamy atmospherics with a fairytale tone. Part Three has a sensual scene in the night forest where Carmilla is sucking at her lover’s neck, while floating through the misted air—which I thought was artfully done. But this is still a B-grade movie and I doubt LeFanu would be pleased with the adaptation.

Part One  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTgkwp3ivv4

Part Two  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqSu9hslWgQ

Part Three  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhCDF6EhwA

Part Four  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27Hfl3kHlC8

Listen to Carmilla, an narrated adaptation by Night Fall (30 minutes)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpBuw4widK0

Listen to Carmilla, a dramatization by BBC (45 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hjRGYAGlIE

And here’s a web site specifically for vampire stories: DragonBytes.com

If you are a GoodReads member, check out Werner Lind’s fascinating review and discussion of Carmilla:  http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/18368275

Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

GoodReads

WattPad

The Story Reading Ape Blog

Interesting Literature

Horror Novel Reviews

Hell Horror

Monster Librarian

Tales to Terrify

Books on the Nightstand

Rob Around Books

TheInsatiableBookSlut

For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed

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Filed under classic horror stories, horror, literature, occult, quiet horror, Reading Fiction, short stories, tales of terror

Imps and Devils

The Furnished Room  by O. Henry  (1906)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    September 3, 2013

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Enter the redbrick house. Foul and tainted air pervade. Go up the darkened staircase. At each turn are vacant niches.

It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished pit below.

Imps and devil may not be the only residents of this boarding house in old New York at the turn of the century. Possibly a few vagrant ghosts preside? If there is such a thing as a ghostly fragrance, you’ll smell it here at Mrs. Purdy’s house with rooms to let to the fashionably bohemian stage people.

A weary young man rents the back room on the third floor. He is in a ceaseless pursuit, searching New York for his love, an actress, a singer, a fair beauty with reddish gold hair: Missing … Miss Eloise Vashner.

He sees that hundreds of lodgers have come and gone from this tiny room, leaving their ghostly remnants: fingerprints on the walls, a medicine bottle, the name “Marie” scrawled on the window glass, hairpins, scarf, buttons. Who has lived in this room? the young man wants to know.

Mrs. Purdy has her answer ready.

If you like wordplay, inverted sentences, similes and metaphors, and a clever twist ending, O. Henry is your guy. Who else but Henry could describe such keen visual imagery of a fireplace mantel’s outline  … veiled behind some pert drapery drawn rakishly askew like the sashes of the Amazonian ballet. Amazonian ballet!

Henry rarely wrote about the supernatural and that’s what makes this short story so extra special and one that absolutely belongs in my Tales of Terror.

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Read it here at East of the Web

Listen to the narration at LibriVox Recording on YouTube (16 minutes)

 

Other “Reading Fiction” Web Sites to Visit

GoodReads

WattPad

The Story Reading Ape Blog

Interesting Literature

Horror Novel Reviews

Hell Horror

Monster Librarian

Books on the Nightstand

TheInsatiableBookSlut

For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed

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Filed under fiction, ghost stories, Hauntings, horror, literature, mysteries, O. Henry, quiet horror, Reading Fiction, short stories, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror