Archive for October 30, 2012

Halloween Readings

Looking for something freaky to read for Halloween? My short story “The Fate of Dr. Fincher” and the prologue to my novel Burning the Middle Ground are now available on this website’s fiction page! Please encourage anyone with an interest in the macabre to have a look at

The two pieces now available are what I read on Saturday, October 27. For “The Fate of Dr. Fincher,” I read alongside BlackWyrm authors Michael Williams and William Levy at A Reader’s Corner.

William Levy, Michael Williams, and L. Andrew Cooper

Left to right: William Levy, Michael Williams, and L. Andrew Cooper (the latter with beginnings of the long-promised Beard that Heralds the First Novel)

The crowd was small but enthusiastic. Later, we rocked the mic at The Bard’s Town–more readers, more listeners, more wine and beer. Listeners gasped audibly when I reached the climax of Burning the Middle Ground‘s prologue. Afterward, people told me I have a sick mind. That’s a good thing, right?

SPECIAL EVENTS: Readings on October 27

This Saturday, October 27, I’ll read my fiction alongside other BlackWyrm Publishing authors at two different events:

What’s in store? At A Reader’s Corner, I’ll read a new version of my short story “The Fate of Dr. Fincher.” It’s the story that started it all, where “it all” is a cascade of horrors in my brain, horrors manifested so far in the form of several unpublished short stories and my forthcoming novel Burning the Middle Ground. While Burning the Middle Ground makes sense on its own, “The Fate of Dr. Fincher” reveals the first step in the wicked doctor’s world-changing scheme. The first step takes place in the early 20th century, when a young man named Louis Jardin finds Dr. Fincher’s dead body. This step marks the trail that leads inexorably to Burning the Middle Ground.

At The Bard’s Town, I’ll read the prologue from Burning the Middle Ground. Set in the present–a century after “The Fate of Dr. Fincher”–Burning the Middle Ground is the first in the series of novels that will reveal what the wicked doctor has been planning.

At A Reader’s Corner, I’ll appear alongside Michael Williams and William Levy, and Teddi Robinson will join Michael, William, and me at The Bard’s Town. As if my first public fiction reading in a decade weren’t nerve-wracking enough, I know Michael is a magnificent reader, and I suspect William and Teddi are as well.


If you’re in the Louisville area, I hope we see you at one or both events!

10 Ways Presidential Debates are (like) Horror Movies

1. Oh, the suspense!

I spent much of yesterday trying not to think about the debates, which are microcosms of the terror generally associated with elections. As Alfred Hitchcock understood when he created the pre-Psycho buzz, a movie’s scariness begins with the advertising, long before you take your seat in the theater. I don’t recall feeling so anxious about a media event since the countdown to the release of Prometheus, which, like the first debate, was disappointing. If you think I’m a freak for being so obsessed, you might consider that the folks at ABC hadn’t even heard of me when they created their 2012 Presidential Elections Fantasy Game.

2.A lot can happen in 90 minutes.

The average running time of a horror film is very close to the (supposed) length of a presidential debate. In that short sliver of time, the lives of millions can change, even end.

3. The bad guys are monsters.

I usually approach the horror genre in the spirit of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft–it’s a powerful political tool that can agitate for liberation by showing the horrors of oppression. However, this image makes me feel ashamed:

This image forces me to admit that vilifying members of historically disenfranchised groups through exaggerated, racialized images of otherness is, alas, one of the horror genre’s most common refrains. Oh, and smart people are scary–fear brains! Of course, evil aristocrats are just as common as evil ethnic minorities in the horror genre, and Obama is certainly trying to paint Romney as an evil aristocrat. But then again, after what the Koch brothers and other billionaires have done, good-guy 1%-ers like Bruce Wayne seem more like a fantasy than ever. Or, as the Weekly World News reports:

4. Violence is graphic.

As Obama and Romney circled around each other on the “town hall” stage, I was waiting for one of them to visit the grossest of gross fatalities on the other. So the violence of their differences did indeed get some visual representation. Alas, Obama did not rip off Romney’s head and swing around his spinal cord like a lasso.

5.Shouting at the screen is encouraged.

Much as we are inclined to shout at the hapless onscreen victims, “Don’t go in there!” or “Turn on the lights, stupid!,” during the first debate, I wanted to shout at Obama to get it together. During last night’s debate, I was much more inclined to shout at Romney, “Oh no you didn’t!” Whatever that means.

6. Historically, the first one is usually more important than the sequels and remakes.

I read several articles proclaiming that, although Obama won last night, it didn’t really matter–the first debate is the only one likely to make a difference at the polls. Similarly, I like the remake of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) more than the 1977 original, but the original is the one I put on a syllabus a few years back. Then again, I did teach the 2007 sequel to the remake because it’s clearly about American engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, so maybe there’s hope.

7. The acting is often bad.

In my opinion, Obama has done a heckuva good job with the economy despite some of the worst possible circumstances. Nevertheless, that’s not what the American people want to hear, so he had to present–unconvincingly–a rosier picture. Similarly, Romney is obviously lying when he says his platform doesn’t favor the rich, but much like people don’t typically go to horror movies to see Oscar-worthy performances, nobody seems to care.

8. The narratives are often full of holes.

This one is a corollary to the last one. In my classes this week, we discussed how the movie The Fog (1980) involves a lot of creepy goings-on that don’t make a lot of sense. Similarly, Obama and Romney tell stories about their records and about each other that are a little too simplistic to pass rigorous analysis. Then again, brains are evil. See number 3, above.

9. The fate of the world could depend on the outcome.

If you pay attention to stupid religious fanatics as well as a number of anti-Obama billboards I recently saw in Ohio, Obama’s positions on gay marriage and abortion are pretty much going to bring about the end of days. Similarly, if Romney’s economic polices are put in place, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen, and next thing you know, your kids are playing the Hunger Games. Sadly, I couldn’t load the page that yielded this image on a Google search, but I like the idea of Obama as the Mockingjay:

10. The good guys don’t always win.

According to Time, zombies are “the official monster of the recession.” While many of us in horror studies are really rather tired of zombies by now, they remain instructive, as their stories have always been political allegories in which the flesh-eating bad guys usually win. The potential for the bad guys to win often sets horror movies apart from their genre counterparts: while horror viewers do sometimes like a happy ending, we recognize that not all the stories we follow will end well. And so with the debates, and so with elections. I do hope for the best, though, Please use your brains; don’t fear that people who have them are out to eat yours, too. Vote.

Fairest of the Fair 2012: Andy Van Schyndle’s Warm Surrealism

My partner and I have a longstanding theory about the relationship between certain towns and the Powers Controlling Weather. The towns make bargains–trade safety against blizzards, fires, tornadoes, and the like–to guarantee one weekend’s weather per year will have soulsucking beauty of a sort that inspires immediate relocations. Harvard and the city of Cambridge, MA team up for atmospheric perfection during the April Pre-Frosh visit, when students sought by the best schools in the country get their first of many experiences being wooed by the already-privileged. Pasadena, CA ensures that the New Year’s Rose Bowl Parade will show its world of visitors that yes indeed, southern California is the only place worth being in the dead of winter. And Louisville, KY is in hock to somebody for having just had another utterly gorgeous weekend, well-timed rain included, for the St. James Art Fair, Oct. 5 -7, 2012. The event happened mere steps from both my front and back doors. I survived the weekend eating cinnamon-sugary nuts and glistening “butterfly” fries (basically homemade potato chips… last reference to potatoes for awhile, I promise).

Other than calories, the spoils include the five six-foot rugs now lining our apartment’s hallway, which would be long enough to merit a reference to House of Leaves if I had actually read it. The rugs are made out of men’s old socks. There’s something to be said about the fibers beneath my feet having tales to tell, tales of toes, of calluses, and  of the unspeakable corners of far-traveling shoes.

There’s even more to be said about the prints we’ve picked up from Andy Van Schyndle, a.k.a. Wagalabagala. Mr. Van Schyndle has earned my closest attention and highest praise for both of the two years we’ve attended St. James. He also has the honor of being the St. James Fair artist on whom we’ve spent the most money, with a total of eight Van Schyndle prints now in our collection. Because his website reminds me of some but not all the works’ titles, I can tell you that from last year, we have “Forest Encounter II,” “Forest Encounter III,” “Where the Cows Go,” and the one with all the barnyard animals getting together to watch a movie that evokes Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957–an allusion Van Schyndle says was not deliberate). As soon as I get frames, four more will join the wall collection: “Light My Way Home Little Acorn Lantern,” “Gateway,” “In the Gorge of the Giants,” and Van Schyndle’s latest, “PuppetTree.”

“Forest Encounter III” got me first. At center, a boy and girl sit with old-fashioned joysticks, transfixed by the glowing space invaders on the tiny screen before them. Surrounding them, trees and blackness loom, concealing myriad eyes watching the children, who are themselves invaders in this dark, secret locale.I’ve already described the one whose title I don’t know, but I neglected to mention that robots and animals seem to enjoy the sci-fi B-movie equally as they perch among the drive-in’s automobiles. Whether it’s a puppet show staged in a tree (“PuppetTree”) or a telescope poised to plumb night’s depths (“Gateway”), each of these paintings situates technological media and performance in a fantastic setting. “Forest Encounter III” made me realize that alone, in the night, in the woods is the best way to experience classic Atari games. It’s a condition of childhood wonder. Instead of media squashing the imagination, as the pundits would have us believe, the imagination absorbs the media, folding them into a dreamscape made richer and truer to our lives by the inclusion of the tools we use, artistic and otherwise, to extend our experiences.

If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to look at Van Schyndle’s site.

When I look at the majority of those paintings, I see several feats that border on the miraculous. First is the use of color, particularly primaries. In “In the Gorge of the Giants,” it’s the red-orange sunset in the background, dazzling night coming to the already-cloaked, animistic Japanese village. In “PuppetTree,” perhaps most spectacularly, it’s the glowing purple, red, and yellow-green lanterns that make the bark-framed puppet show visible to the child and animal onlookers. In “Light My Way Home Little Acorn Lantern,” the narrow shafts of blue and red light on a windmill look like an omnipotent future at the outskirts of a tree-city’s omniscient past. At first glance, any of these paintings might look like a nightmare, with animals and small children dwarfed by strange creatures and living landscapes that could swallow them. But these flashes of amazing color carry the compositions to cozier pleasures, offering light and warmth, the brighter and warmer for their availability in darkness.

Second is what this light and warmth do for efforts to compare Van Schyndle’s style to others’. For me, the most obvious comparison is Salvador Dali, who distorts figures with a similarly colorful sensibility. But while Dali’s subjects are angst-ridden ants and genes and clocks and elephants and eggs, Van Schyndle’s are unpretentious dogs and cows and frogs that seem happy in their surreal worlds. Van Schyndle’s creatures are humble, and they are middle America. I overheard another visitor at the Wagalabagala tent calling the work “too Tim Burton-y.” I see the comparison, carnivalesque intensity, gothic foundations, but Burton is mad where Van Schyndle is serene; Burton is shrill where Van Schyndle is harmonious. Van Schyndle lacks the overt religious and philosophical contemplation that marks Dali’s most critically-hallowed works, and he lacks the droll gloom captured so well when Burton works with Johnny Depp. Instead, Van Schyndle offers a vision of reconciling the tools of our modern imaginations with imaginations that refuse to acknowledge time. His tools could make us feel right at home in the dark woods, a little less dark for the glow of our TV screens.

Lost Souls Swimming in a Fish Bowl

I spent much of this weekend (Sept. 29 – 30, 2012) at ScareFest in Lexington, KY. It’s a convention for horror fans and ghost hunters. I’ve written about the latter, particularly in Gothic Realities, and being one of the former has shaped my entire career.ScareFest seems like my natural environment, yet I more often attend other gatherings, similarly devoted to exploring the pleasures of cultural production, that have never felt nearly as comfortable.

I like being a scholar, so unless a conspiracy of events forces me to change callings, the not-quite-comfy academic conferences will continue to spur most of my non-family travels.At these conferences, academics spend enormous sums of energy trying to prove they share their colleagues’ ample measures of cleverness; generally, this effort involves applying fashionable ideas to reliable texts. Despite my misleadingly loveless description of this smarty-pants ritual, I often enjoy it. I like listening to and talking about what others think about cultural objects. Inevitably, though, I sneak off to my hotel room or some other secluded place for virtually every meal, thinking I really ought to be more social but not really knowing how. I’ll have french fries and read one of those horror novels that many scholars consider beneath them.

At ScareFest, I felt no profound need for sequestration with fried potatoes. I was surrounded by stars and other evocations of the films that inspired my peculiar fascination with the macabre, and I felt ready to chat with everybody. Although the two most prominent headliners at this year’s ScareFest had to cancel, for me, the real stars turned out to be the other fans.

In the interest of full disclosure, and also to set the scene, I’ll admit that despite ScareFest being a fairly natural habitat for me, I had an ulterior motive, a design to see if one or more people might take an interest in my books (if you’re here because you picked up one of my flyers, you rock!). I’ve been to many a fan-devoted convention, but my first ScareFest was also my first time on the other side of a vendor’s table:

Standing at one of those tables, behind stacks of books waiting like puppies for someone to bring them home, was kind of like being in a fish bowl. To be clear, my metaphor is not (yet) mixed–it was the kind of fish bowl set up in pet stores behind displays of puppies. I don’t know if the other tables’ actually-famous folk (OMFG, Tony Todd was just down the aisle!) also feel like fish… nor do I know whether fish enjoy looking out at the people who look in at them… but before this unmixed metaphor stretches beyond the breaking point, which will occur after T-minus four paragraphs, let me get to the payoff.

Which is that the moments I spent chatting with the people who stopped by to glance at books and enter the drawing for free stuff–most of them didn’t buy anything, and that was okay–were, on average, more enjoyable than the celebrity Q&As I’ve waited hours to see. Instead of making me stand in line for hours, these chat-worthy people just filed by, some in glorious costumes, some just their glorious selves, as if they were the ones on display. I met self-proclaimed mediums, fellow film experts, and some of the creepiest-looking clowns I’ve ever seen. And whoever thought of being nice to fish? Well, apparently these people did. Aside from some obligatory Twilight-bashing, which is as formative for the fans of “real” horror as the Mormon vampire saga is for the twi-hards now coming of age, conversation dwelt solely on the good. “I love the old Universal horror movies!” “Vampires are kind of my thing.” “You guys are awesome!”

That last comment came from an adolescent (or nigh-adolescent) girl who stayed interested in my stuff even after she saw the prices and knew they were college-level reading, but she was, quite rightly, more interested in the compelling tales sold by my fellow BlackWyrm novelists Georgia L. Jones and Christopher Kokoski.Georgia, Christopher, and I have very different world views and day jobs, but since we all scribble about monsters and struggles for survival that occasionally offer insights in addition to bloody spectacles, our bowl positively bubbled with interaction. We heartily agreed that the girl who spoke of awesomeness was pretty darned brilliant herself.

Fish bowls are highly predictable. Seaweed or other life-like contrivances sway with the currents created by filters and other mechanical stimuli. Plastic characters may or may not swim around. Castles and other settings provide different paths to explore. At the bottom, there’s not much more than colorful rocks. Sometimes they’re even red.

Horror movies, horror stories, and the communities that form around them are a motley bunch, demons and fairies and slashers and ghostbusters and women in black and lots of people in jeans and t-shirts that advertise favorite films, bands, or witticisms. e.g. “Dead girls do anal.” The diverse carnival of freaks (of whom I am one) comes together not as different but to be about difference, to be radically different in a way that makes us all the same (“one of us!”). So goes the horror movie, and so goes the horror fan, each a site delighting in the predictability of connecting with others via the things that might otherwise push us apart. The fish bowl’s sides cordon off bulging-eyed gawkers. We wonder whether the strange creatures on the other side of the glass might be more free than we are.

BOOM! No more fish bowl. Maybe Mr. Myers had the right idea: