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Happy “Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary” and “Deathday” to a LOT of people! Second most had birthday! Fall break!

41. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson – Judy Oppenheimer

The “private demons” of the title turned out to be more along the lines of “communal” demons to me. I related quite heavily to a lot of what’s presented in a pretty novelesque fashion in this biography. And that’s both good and bad. Referring to oneself as “gratuitously difficult” is definitely something I understand wholeheartedly. I also understand trying to save or fix yourself through writing; dating someone who legitimately believes in you but also can’t stop trying to be the center of attention; moving to a new place and having some people make it a point to make sure you never forget you’re not one of them (Outlander! I’m only from one effing state away.); and collecting objects other people find morbid. Bones! Usually not human! I don’t think any of the ones I have are human! Many are fake! Anyway, I’ve always seen myself and what I could become reflected in Shirley Jackson’s work – particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s Merricat (if I was left completely alone it would probably take about a week for me to start ritualizing, just replace Jonah the cat with my pigs, I do not keep sugar on hand though, just for reference).

It really shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d relate to her. I guess I just didn’t expect her to be so utterly relatable. After all, she actually had a career that involved writing as her main occupation, and she had children, and I hadn’t realized that I totally have depression when I first read this. I have not been able to get near the level of writing career I want (not unlike most writers), and I also have yet to become addicted to barbiturates. I am pretty into Lemonheads though. Not making light of addiction, just relating to the fact that Shirley Jackson was also heavily into candy. So, for me, this was essential reading because it’s yet another example of how I’m not entirely delusional about who I’ve always thought I am and how hard I keep trying to do the work that means something to me. Some people aren’t easy and don’t have it easy, it’s a thing; it’s not just me – or you, or anyone who doesn’t give up just because someone else wants them to be nicer.

Apparently there’s a newer Shirley Jackson biography. Swell. We’ll see if I still find myself in that one, it supposedly has a lot of information gleaned from previously unpublished sources and maybe won’t be quite as novely as Private Demons. I hope I do.

Murderface and Pickles. Ladies of ritual and discerning taste I also admire.

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“It’s just a shame that your guinea pig had to be a homicidal maniac like Jack Frost, who I now have to put back… in a test tube.”

32. Slay Bells – Jo Gibson

If there is anything that the 1989 Dan Haggerty Christmas classic Elves has taught us, it’s that working in the mall on Christmas will lead to a Nazi plot coming to fruition through terrible puppetry. Take that, underemployed seasonal humans!

Slay Bells follows a similar line except that one must replace “terrible puppetry” with “really stupid reasons for killing people.” You under-priced a pie! Death is your Christmas gift! I get that he wasn’t happy about the mall being built on the farm he was supposed to inherit, but I’m not so sure the homicidally insane are going to be successful farmers anyway. It takes a different set of instincts, although being really committed to the land is definitely important.

Guinea pigs have many different sets of instincts. Mortemer’s told him he should re-design Murderface’s ear for Christmas. Not what she had in mind.

Mixtape:

1. “sat” – Kauan
2. “The Pagans Had It Right” – Devil in a Woodpile
3. “Winter Is Coming” – Ramin Djawadi
4. “Christmas Is A-Coming” – Leadbelly
5. “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” – Elvis Presley
6. “Christmas” – Gallon Drunk
7. “A Gun for Christmas” – The Vandals
8. “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – The Darkness
9. “The List” – Ha Ha Tonka
10. “Gremlins” – The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
11. “White Christmas” – Ron Gallo
12. “Don’t Think I’m Santa Claus” – Lil McClintock
13. “Blue Snowfall” – Kelly Hogan
14. “O Holy Night” – Murder By Death
15. “I’m Drunk Again This Christmas” – Zach Schmidt
16. “Will Hell Be Your Santa Claus?” – Rev. J.M. Gates
17. “Happy New Year Blues” – Mary Harris

 

Present the last – It’s better than butter.

Finny and Black Phillip’s cousin Mose living my dream. The most delicious of all presents.

 

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He’s most dangerous when he’s being pleasant.

29. 13 More Tales of Horror – A. Finnis, ed.

And so we shall commence the unholy terror that is the “Christmas in July” theme month. For the rest of this month, the YA horror will be set at Christmas and the mixtapes will be somewhat lackluster because I’m not really a fan of Christmas music. I tried. I really did. And I filled in some large gaps with Kauna’s deeply gloomy metal opus treatment of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Holiday spirit!

There are also sort of presents. Sort of in that they do not become presents unless you buy them and they are only available online. I am way more like Krampus than Santa, I do like hooves and horns and subversion. And if you want “presents” from me in person this year, come to SUPERCON July 12-15 in Fort Lauderdale and Geekcraft Expo St. Louis July 28&29. I won’t have my horns on, my hooves will be hidden, and I probably won’t bring my switch, so it’s painless every way but monetarily.

Present Number One – A very specific sale! Smashwords is having their 2018 Summer/Winter Sale (Hemispheres) and I have discounted the entire Squirrelpocalypse Trilogy by 25% !!! !!! !!! So, if you have been tempted to read my ridiculous trilogy of lab experiments, gore, and friendship, now would be a good time to get it. Take advantage until July 31!

covers-touching.jpg

I mean, just imagine this on your virtual bookshelf for a total of $8.97. …$8.97? What have I done? Get It Here

We begin with a non-Christmas themed book, the second of the Point Horror short story collections, 13 More Tales of Horror, and the mixtape just includes one Christmasy thing – a song/sermon from the Reverend A.W. Nix from the “Death May Be Your Gift” Christmas compilation. Cheery!

“The Cat-Dogs” – Susan Price – So the font that they used for the title pages for each story is straight out of Scooby Doo. Thankfully many of the stories are a bit less predictable than the average Scooby episode. “The Cat-Dogs” is one way to learn the lesson of not bringing home any stray animals you find – especially not if you find them in a bag in the forest. Bringing them home just gives them a better chance to eat you and all your relatives. There was a particularly nice scene in the forest at night in this one. Disorienting.

“The Piano” – Diane Hoh – This is one seriously manipulative haunted piano.

“The Devil’s Footprints” – Malcolm Rose – This story was very weird and refreshing for me as an allergic asthmatic who has had many people say “I don’t smell anything” and “It’s fine” when my canary senses are firing on all cylinders telling me to run from the bad air. A Halloween party, a devil, a house computer named Brian that keeps warning the occupants only they don’t listen…it’s another metaphor for climate change that some people don’t want to listen to because they aren’t personally effected by it. Yet. I’m excited to see the hoof prints leading away from their house someday.

Murderface and Pickles would’ve listened to Brian the house computer.

“Softies” – Stan Nicholls – An interesting concept, but a bit smashed into the short story format. I could easily see this expanded with one of those “stuffed animal with a bloody knife” horror paperback covers. Would’ve been cool. As it is, it didn’t invoke my consistent childhood nightmare that my toys would get mad at me. Thanks a lot, Child’s Play TV trailer, they were all I had.

“The House That Jack Built” – Garry Kilworth – It is really hard to know what to do when you’re stuck by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. If you’re in the wrong place, you’ll end up as an evil talking house’s manservant.

“The Station With No Name” – Colin Greenland – One thing I haven’t mentioned is that this collection is very UK-specific. I’m used to my Point Horror being very U.S.-oriented because the U.S. is a major source for teenager-based horror in fiction and real life. But I did get my MA in England and London happens to be my favorite city on earth, so it wasn’t too hard for me to get into these. This story involved the UK version of tagging and a station that hadn’t been open since WWII…because it’s super haunted. “The bombers got the line.”

Murderface wonders about these children who can’t stop spray painting their own first name onto things. If it was her name or Pickles’ name she’d get it because those are cool names.

“Something to Read” – Phillip Pullman – True hell is not being able to turn the pages because you’re non-corporeal.

“Killing Time” – Jill Bennett – Don’t move that alarm clock, or you’ll have to answer to that creepy dude on the hill who keeps telling you the earth needs blood. Really, the old gods need to get some new tricks – like the ones that did the Christmas crafting on Supernatural. Wreaths and pipes for everyone followed by brutal tooth pulling and other assorted bleeding!

“J.R.E. Ponsford” – Graham Masterton – I always expect a level of vulgarity from Graham Masterton and frankly, this was downright sentimental. I was extremely perplexed when the characters died in a way that was borderline off-page for Masterton. What the hell, Graham? Vulgarity is totally for teens.

“The worst part was when he mentioned an ear turning to ‘red gristle.'” Pickles summarizes the grossest part of “J.R.E. Ponsford” for Murderface so she doesn’t have to be disappointed by Masterton for teens.

“The Buyers” – David Belbin – This was not a horror story, it was a kidnapping story that definitely needed more zazz. Now, I know that in the Library of Congress classification system kidnapping and murder are close together, but that’s not all you need for horror.

“Closeness” – Chris Westwood – Guarantees of “FOREVER” are not for the faint of heart. It’s almost always better when they turn out to be unintended lies in a relationship too.

“The Ring” – Margaret Bingley – I would say this was a case of “Be careful what you wish for,” but when Kate wanted that ring, she didn’t want it because she thought it would allow her to hear all the horrible things her family and friends were thinking about her on her birthday. She wanted it because it was pretty.

“Bone Meal” – John Gordon – Texas Chainsaw Massacre-light for the UK includes way more dusters. Dusters.

Murderface and Pickles never answered the door. So they never had to murder anyone just for showing up.

Mixtape:

1. “Skogens Hamnd” – Finntroll
2. “Under My Chin” – The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
3. “Cellophane” – METZ
4. “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” – Grinderman
5. “Moths” – Wolfmen of Mars
6. “Patterns of Evil” – Electric Wizard
7. “16 Psyche” – Chelsea Wolfe
8. “Someone’s in the Wolf” – Queens of the Stone Age
9. “King of Bones” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
10. “Evil” – Grinderman
11. “Scratch at Your Skin” – Ice Dragon
12. “Begin a New Life on Christmas Day, Pt. 1” – Rev. A.W. Nix

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“Show me your teeth” – Lady Gaga

34. Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

Although I do feel that Gillian Flynn is contributing something very important with her unlikeable heroines, when I read Sharp Objects I started repeating the phrase “beautiful, but damaged” in my head. I felt like the main character could easily be reduced to just that phrase and I was very annoyed with that.

Sharp Objects is Flynn’s debut and perhaps the irritation I felt is a result of an overzealous editor reducing what she wanted to do to tropes, but, maybe not. Maybe she was just being cliché with her narrator in her first novel, it’s impossible to tell. And I have to say that she utilized the trope of returning to one’s hometown in a better way in Gone Girl, where she threw the out of place feelings onto the sociopathic outsider and bullshit hometown-heroed the townie husband.

Murderface is beautiful, but sleepy.

 

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Damn it, Gary.

6. Monster Planet – David Wellington

In the end, basically nobody wins. That’s the main theme of many, many, many zombie stories. But not all of those zombie stories are technically detailed with interesting characters who don’t solely talk about survival all the time. The “Monster” series is a little wacky in scope, but it can also be slyly funny, it has a Druid…, and it has way better female characters than several other zombie-oriented books I’ve read (and that includes some famous comics that had their female characters improved exponentially when it was made into a TV show airing Sunday nights on AMC). The female characters are especially important in Monster Planet, Sarah and Ayaan are serious, resourceful, and basically act like real ladies would for the most part. This series is definitely one of my favorites and I like it better than Wellington’s vampire novels, even when it gets a little wacky.

Murderface and Duncan, also staunch and resourceful, ladypigs.

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Krautmeyer

19. The Girls – Emma Cline

Suburban girl goes wild…still basically gets out of everything…and it’s kind of a slow stroll to get there. This was fine. It reads fine, it’s got some nice, hazy Southern California imagery, and easily invokes the Manson family and Cline does pay attention to a lot of the senses. Her writing easily allows the reader to be in the scene smell-wise – rotting lettuce, mildewy clothes, musty outbuildings, that very specific smell that screams “mice have been here” (shudder).

But, not unlike many coddled lives and other stories where a privileged person takes a walk on the other side but doesn’t stay, it’s not that interesting. Too safe. Her life almost gets fucked up by being associated with this version of the Manson family, but then it really doesn’t. She has her bad memories and a stigma that hurts her when she runs into people even more privileged than she is, and that’s realistic but I guess I don’t care about Evie the narrator because Evie doesn’t care about Evie either.

That’s right, my girls Murderface and Pickles, nothing much to read here.

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Fitter. Happier. Whatever.

16. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

A common problem amongst depressed persons and persons with depressive tendencies is isolation. Some people are truly isolated and some are just mentally isolating themselves, both have valid situations, but this conceptually is one of the reasons that Reasons to Stay Alive was not particularly useful for me. When I was finished reading this I wanted to read a memoir of depression that didn’t end with the person happily married. Why is that the end? It doesn’t seem like it should really be the end, based on my recent experience listening to several married persons talking about how much they hate being around other people. I didn’t want to be insulting, but I did feel the urge to remind them that a quick way to get rid of all those people they know is to get divorced and move alone to a place they’ve never been. It’s entirely possible to get to a location where no one knows you and then you won’t have to worry about anyone asking how you are or being interested in your existence.

I have yet to find any books related to depression that don’t emphasize connection with other people as a “way out” and yet I’ve noticed that consistently finding connection in person is one of the things that is dwindling as technology addiction continues to manipulate peoples’ ability to communicate and muddles the line between the figurative desire for isolation (“Ugh, I hate being invited to do things.”/”Why isn’t anyone liking my latest instagram!?”) and what it really means. I’m glad that Matt Haig was able to maintain a meaningful connection throughout the episodes that he relates in Reasons to Stay Alive and that he found his reasons. And I know that in some cases, it doesn’t matter that someone has connections or support, they’re still not going to cope; but I still want to see the other side of that explored in print. I think that this era of technological disassociation and nutball governance requires new kinds of reasoning for hope. For the most part, mine’s finding the absurdity in small things. Mostly words and cavies.

 

Mortemer and Murderface in their dotage, napping. They are unable to like any of my posts to this very day.

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This time, it’s corporate intrigue.

4. Symbiont – Mira Grant

Problematically, in the second book of this trilogy, Sal does not magically become more interesting. Damn it. Grant also gives Sal a blank-as-hell brother character and a Harley Quinn-type that pops up to be confused, crazy, beloved by the other characters, and cause some trouble. I am honestly quite annoyed at how closely Tansy of the Parasitology trilogy, a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse… resembles Foxy of the Newsflesh trilogy, a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse. It just makes it seem like not enough time was taken in between writing these trilogies. Parasitology should not be Newsflesh take two, now with less incest and corporate instead of political intrigue. Barely anything happens in Symbiont, it feels like 499 pages of stalling when we could be on our way to a breakneck finish of someone helping Sal learn something while not driving too fast.

Grant’s books are very easy to read and involve some pop science and that’s how I will probably end up reading the last of the trilogy. I’ll be hoping for some of the characters to become realistic or fully fleshed out – three four hundred plus page books are enough space to flesh out characters, right? Right? This is probably another losing battle for me. Why do I expect fully fleshed out characters when I’m 1009 pages into a trilogy? WHY?

Murderface, displaying her level of plot-twist vigilance.

Murderface, displaying her level of plot-twist vigilance.

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Full disclosure: I have described some of the metal drumming I like as sounding like hooves, or horsies, or a herd of wild ponies running free across the plains…but never in a story, that would be embarrassing.

24. The Five – Robert McCammon

Writing about music is hard. It just is. It’s hard to describe, sometimes when you describe it using feelings you end up sounding like a tool, or just a bit too sentimental, or you’re Cameron Crowe and despite all pedigree and reputation you really do sound like a bit of a sentimental tool when your music-feels come out of your character’s mouths. I have been to many shows that had a clear overall communal feeling of some level of joy; I’ve also been to my share of “off” shows and more than a couple where I knew members of the band and I cringed about the banter (Stop talking! You’re too drunk and many of us would like to respect you again at some point! You only played two songs and the ten minutes feels like fifty! – I cannot say what show I was thinking and cringing this at. It’s still too hard going through the secondhand embarrassment and I really liked several members of the band. Oh dear Jeebus.)

Sometimes in The Five, Robert McCammon gets a little Cameron Crowe-y and I know it’s probably just me being all “I know some stuff about music and I have opinions and discerning tastes” and my main problem with such Crowe-yness is that it’s too broad. Not every musician, or musician character archetype, it going to worship the same stuff. We can’t all like the same things. Being too genre-specific is a total pit too, though, so, whatever, Roky Erikson-reference and then shove in a Buckethead fan… Anyway, what I’m getting at is that in titular band, there’s a dude who seems like a metal dude but says some phrases that I wouldn’t expect to come out of a metal dude’s mouth – and he’s wearing Chuck Taylors instead of boots, so he’s almost like a metal-indie hybrid, there’s a hippie chick, Peaches if she was an obstinate drummer, the throwback keyboard guy, and the rough and tumble bass player with a past – Murderface, he is not, although they are both imaginary bass players. It’s like several archetypes of musicians formed a band – and they get along. For me that seems like a total fantasy, but that’s okay because McCammon clearly loves what he’s talking about, to the point where he did mention too much gear, and it’s a road trip thriller. I do love some driving stories. Journey stories are a total thing for me; and I’ve never been on tour, just heard a lot about it. The lead singer of The Five totally reminds me of a friend of mine, so he was pretty easy to picture, especially all the anger-based comments. So, if you can look past a few of the cheesier descriptions of songage, and enjoy Robert McCammon’s weirdo version of reality where the supernatural edge of things creeps up on you, The Five is ridiculously enjoyable.

Finny's full name is Finntroll. Ozma is named after the princess and later queen from the Oz books and also the Melvins album. In this picture I'd call them The Two.

Finny’s full name is Finntroll. Ozma is named after the princess and later queen from the Oz books and also the Melvins album. In this picture I’d call them The Two. They were on tour underneath my coffee table.

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*69 would’ve helped

29. In the Middle of the Night – Robert Cormier

The scenario that drives the tension for the protagonist of this book is barely possible today. Sure, there are many people with land lines, also businesses, but if someone’s father made a terrible decision that cost the lives of many disadvantaged children, they’d just be haunted on the internet instead of via repetitive phone calls. A Google-haunting has a very different kind of tension than repeated phone calls to a landline in the middle of the night (Ha.). It’s a little harder to utilize online threats and harassment to drive a novel’s plot forward. I’ve read a few novels that used texts and snippets of online postings and for the most part I find that timely but sterile and I guess at some point it’s all going to seem dated anyway… Datedness aside, Robert Cormier is very good with dark topics and slowly revealing important details and this book is a good example of his talents. To be fair, a time when it was only possible to get a hold of someone when they were actually near a landline feels like a dark topic in and of itself to some- but I definitely miss it on occasion.

Don't even think about waking Murderface up from her nap with threatening phone calls - or anything else.

Don’t even think about waking Murderface up from her nap with threatening phone calls – or anything else.

Mixtape:

1. Christian Woman – Type O Negative
2. Under the Spell – Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
3. Dirty Black Summer – Danzig
4. Crux – Electric Citizen
5. Need Some Air – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
6. Teen Age Riot – Sonic Youth
7. Wake Me Up – The Raveonettes
8. Lost Boys and Girls Club – Dum Dum Girls
9. Want Remover – Protomartyr
10. Charmer – Kings of Leon
11. Under My Chin – Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
12. Tension – Zebras
13. Evil! – Grinderman
14. Older No Wiser – Red Desert
15. Guilt – Those Poor Bastards
16. Motherfucker – Faith No More

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