Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mr Sardonicus By Ray Russell

The title of this post is a tad misleading. You see, our small local mall holds a bi-annual book fair to which I take a box. Hardbacks are a buck and soft-covers, well they aren't pricey either. So. Going through the labyrinth of tattered, musty spines and sifting through the hordes of Danielle Steele (omg, who are you people living in my town?) I often stumble upon an award-winner or classic I haven't yet read and swoop in before the big guy with an even bigger box than mine spies my gold. But sometimes there is a book or two if I'm really lucky that simply seems intriguing and I chance the fifty-cents. For me it is Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural selected by Marvin Kaye.

Admittingly I do not have as many short fiction anthologies as I should, but I have a few and often the stories selected are more miss than hit for me (with the exception of Best American Short Stories - the edition with Good Old Neon by David Foster Wallace tucked in the back). This anthology of terror and the supernatural is right up my ally. I love me some black and white horror/gothic movies real bad. There has been gem after gem of short stories in here by some famous and not-so-famous authors, including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelly, Isaac Asimov and even Walt Whitman. So far two short stories have made such an impression on me that I've got to share them with you.

The first is Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu (please note that Carmilla is available free through the link as long as you have downloaded the free kindle app or the like). Published in 1872, pre-dating Stoker's Dracula by 25 years, this feminine vampire tale is filled with atmosphere and telling. Set in a forested, remote castle in Syria, the young female protagonist, Laura, develops a friendship with a mysterious girl after a carriage accident leaves the girl at their doorstep, the mother and strange carriage men vowing to return in three months time and warning them the girl will say nothing of who they are or where they come from. Soon  neighbours start dying slow deaths. I'm not sure how I would feel watching the movie after reading such an expertly crafted story, but it has been adapted for the cinema a number of times so I might do some research and seek out a recommended adaptation.

The second, and title-sake piece, is Mr Sardonicus by Ray Russell that was first published in Playboy (1961). It tells of a young doctor who accepts an invitation to the remote skull castle of Mr Sardonicus and his lovely wife, whom the doctor harbours romantic feelings. When the doctor meets Sardonicus he is affronted by the peeled back lips and teeth which are affixed in a wide grimace, only ever found in cadavers. Thus begins the most original, haunting, atmospheric tale I've read. This story too has been adapted for the screen by Russell and was directed by William Castle. I can't wait to watch it.

It must be noted I read these short tales when the night is black and my bed covers warm. It's the only way to read such transporting, image rich tales.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thank you, Canada Council!

Spring is nearly here. The hyacinths and tulips are peeping through the soil in my garden. Snow piles are lone bergs among the dead leaves of fall past. And my horse is shedding his woolly coat with each love-pat he receives. It's been a long winter, especially long for us. We're ready for warmer nights and the clean smell that rolls over the barren hills. So what lingers ahead?

The lovely Canada Council has awarded me a Creative Writing grant for 2011! I got the good news just the other day. On my way to an appointment I stopped and withdrew the large white envelope in my mailbox. When I opened it I didn't realize the good news until I'd read the letter three times. For some reason I took for granted my proposal had been rejected and I was shuffling through the papers looking for 'something good'. When I read the successful bit I said, 'Oh my God.' My husband thought it must've been another large bill we had to pay. Needless to say he was ecstatic for me. No more distraction and worry over finances, I'm going to kill this novel and send it to the patient publishes kind enough to express interest in it.

This could not have come at a more needed time. Despite a recent Canadian blogger's sentiments, being a writer can be a difficult, isolating, often unrewarding career. Financial restraints often impede creativity and stifle production, luring writers into other professions that offer more stability. I understand those people. I almost became one of those people this year, after spending the last six years toiling away in isolation I was ready to get out of the house and make some money, reinstating a sense of general purpose. Alas, this is the other reason the grant is so vital to emerging writers especially. It gives us the confidence to endure the tougher times, that our peers have faith we'll produce work beneficial to our country. This is just as important as the financial reward the emerging writer  grant gifts to writers.

Now off to bed. There is lots to do in the days ahead and dreaming is a good way to start.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Cremation Of Sam McGee

Remember being in grade school and the teacher would read to you? Sitting crossed-legged on the carpet, your elbow on your knee and your chin resting in your palm, listening to your teacher read the words and the sound the pages made when she flipped them over. I miss those days, don't you?

For me there was one book in particular that cast its spell over my eight-year-old imagination, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Originally written in 1907 by Robert Service, the poem was paired with the exquisite illustrations of Ted Harrison and published in 1986.  The artwork, as much as the tale, inspired a sense of national Canadian pride and thus began my period of drawing like (or so I wished) Ted Harrison, albeit in crayon. I became proficient enough that my third grade teacher entered one of my drawings in the town fair and I won $2. At that point I thought I hit the ceiling on my talent and never tried replicating Harrison's style again.

It wasn't until this summer while I was visiting a museum in Banff that I saw the familiar artwork. There it was - the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Cremation of Sam McGee. I bought it on the spot and hugged it to my chest for the better part of that day and strolled the tourist-lined streets with a goofy grin.

The story is about a pact two prospectors make while in the Yukon. Near death Sam McGee from Tennessee wants to be cremated, to finally feel the warmth of home and escape the clutch of north cold. The lyrical poetry in this book pushes past the grim reality of the words and evokes such beauty. While some might find the book morbid, there is so much of life and mystery you can't help but read on.

If you haven't read it do yourself a favor and race to your nearest bookstore. The poem will haunt you and the artwork might inspire you to win a couple bucks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sorry for the absence...

but I'm reading. And it's hard work, not to be interrupted by posts. Next book to be reviewed will be Doestoevsky's The Possessed. Who would've thought human nature doesn't ever change.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

So True...

From Quill And Quire:

“Kafka wrote a perfectly fine beginning to The Castle, then threw it out for a better one.  So can you. Revise.” – Leon Rooke

Commonwealth Writer's Prize 2010

In 2007 I had the privilege of attending Varuna's Masterclass Residency, where I met four other wonderful writers. We were selected out of close to four hundred other novelists across Australia. So for us four it was  a crapshoot as to who we'd meet, and furthermore who we'd nurture on-going relationships with. For me all the writers were amazing people; they were talented, friendly, and lovely to spend the evenings with.

One of those writers has turned out to be a dear friend of mine, Kirsten Reed of Brisbane. Maybe it was a bond formed by our North American upbringings and our shift to Australia. Who knows. We decided to exchange work here and there over email, after all I was in Melbourne and she was in Brisbane. Through our correspondence I was privileged to read her novel The Ice Age. Over the course of a late night, I read the manuscript in one large gulp. It's a slip of a thing, not as long as a more 'conventional novel' but it pacts an emotional tale of a young girl hitching her way across America with an older man she loves and fantasizes about him being a vampire. It read like creative non-fiction because of the protagonist's utterly believability.

It was soon after that Text Publishing recognized the novel's beauty and published it. Now I'm proud to announce that Ms K Reed made the short-list for First Book in the South Pacific Region of the 2010 Commonwealth Writer's Prize! A hearty congratulations.

For a complete Commonwealth Writer's Prize short-list go here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Because of Winn Dixie

Second book in my 52 Books A Year was Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie. I was having trouble sleeping and thought it was the prefect time to indulge in something a little sweet. Admitingly today wasn't a great day. I was feeling lonely. So I thought a little pick-me-up was in order.

Unlike DiCamillo's previous book for children The Tale Of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie is a realistic tale of ten year old India Opal and her stray-turned-best-friend dog she names Winn Dixie after the local shop. Both are new to town that summer and with Winn Dixie's smile and Opal's friendliness they quickly shuffle around town striking up friendships and filling the hole where Opal's abandoning mother should be.

First they meet ex-convict Otis who works at the local pet store. He's no criminal but a gentle soul with a gift for guitar. Then they meet the librarian Miss Franny Block who tells them the story of her great grandfather who fought in the American Civil War,and the story of how he came home to find his family dead (yes, all of them kaput) and how he walked to Flordia to fill the world with sweetness; the result was a hard candy with the secret ingredient of sadness. Which is sad! So sad. In fact, at this point I'm thinking DeCamillo went out of her way here to make this story melancholy. Then she meets a girl whose brother drowned the year before, whose face is always 'pinched'. They also meet the local witch, who isn't a witch at all but an old woman going blind. Opal fills up the hole her mother left in her heart with all her new friends, but the lines of sorrow still mark the breaks.

The writing is as simple and succinct as always. There's beautiful relationships formed and passages about the ghosts that haunt us and the horribleness of life are are a little sentimental but also tender. The story does redeem itself so that a semi-happy ending is given to the reader like a Littmus Lozenge, sweet yet sad.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poetry Find: Chris Gilpin

So after the Olympics ceremony, and perhaps one too many wines, I came home, slept an hour or so and then woke up in back pain. What's a gal to do? Look up all literary freebies on the web. And by geez, the folks over at Geist have published a keeper. It's a poem called Dear Sasquatch by Chris Gipin. I thought you might like to head over and read it for yourselves.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book 2 In 52 Books In A Year

Just a heads up. Book two in my 52 books for the year is (drum roll, please) is Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

My Favourite #1: Dlyan Moran From Black Books On Rejection

Ever wondered what would happen if Bernard Black wrote a book? Watch and find out. It makes me smile every time.

Youtube clip here