The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best!

My claim to expertise has been compromised!   

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How dare I claim to be an expert on haunted house literature when I have only just recently read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill!  I am sooo late to the game – very late! I apologize for my tardiness.

(Readers be like:  MadEmojiUseMadEmojiUse2MadEmojiUseMadEmojiUse2 )

This is a major faux pas, since what we have here is a modern “classic”, in every sense of the word.   The Woman in Black is a novella of high quality. It serves as the definitive model for the various adaptions that premiered across various mediums including two films (Made for British TV movie of 1989  and Made for the Big Screen in 2012) and one TheWomanInBlackplay (In London 1987 ). It relays a standard and reminds of the “shoulds” of a ghost story; it should be descriptive, mysterious, suspenseful, and of course scary.  In addition – Susan writes with a nineteenth century style, giving the story a welcoming Gothic flavor . All of this is a testament to its greatness; a greatness that I should not have ignored for so long.

The story is simple. Who needs a lot of complexity when “simple” gets the job done, right? Anyway, retired lawyer Arthur Kipps refuses to join with his wife and stepchildren in the frivolity of telling ghost stories, for he takes the matter seriously. His real experience with ghosts rivals all of their silly yarns. His true tale is disturbing and deadly; his family wouldn’t understand.

As a young London lawyer, Arthur is sent to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford to attend to the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow. He must attend her funeral and then retrieve all of the significant legal documents that are scattered about at her former place of residence – Eel Marsh House (gotta love that name!) At her funeral, he sees a mysterious, sickly woman dressed in black. When Arthur mentions her to another funeral attendee, the other freaks out and won’t admit to seeing her. Likewise, no one in the village wants to discuss the late Mrs. Drablow. They want nothing to do with her house, which exists a few miles outside the village. It is surrounded my marshes. It is impossible to get there at high tide. Arthur heeds not the warnings of the people, for he has a job to do. He stays all alone at Eel Marsh House. In the end he will experience something so horrific that he will not be able to share the story with his stepchildren many years later.

As I read this novella and prepared for this review, I could not help but notice parallels between several aspects of this story and certain themes that I have written about here at this blog. First, it pays homage to the “Christmas Ghost Story”, a topic I have written about extensively (For starters, there’s this:  Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses ). The ghost story sessions mentioned at the beginning of this novella occur on Christmas Eve. One of Arthur’s stepchildren correctly points out that such a pastime is part of the English Christmas tradition; at least it was in the days of yore. I am reminded a bit about the Christmas haunted house story by the name of Smee. (See  Review of Smee – A Christmas Ghost Story by A.M. Burrage. To date, this post receives the most traffic). Like Arthur Kipps, the narrator of the ghost story in Smee is reluctant to take part in certain holiday festivities on account of a past terrifying experience. In Smee, the activity that frightens him is a hide-and-seek type game. In The Woman in Black, it is the telling of the ghost story that is unsettling. In both cases, readers learn of the backstory that causes these protagonists to fret on Christmas Eve. In both scenarios, its is this backstory that will turn into the main story.

TheWomanInBlack2Second, the haunted house of this novella is surrounded by terrain that is descriptively creepy. Ghostly grounds are a nice compliment to the haunted house that stands on its domain. I wrote about this here: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature. While eerie events take place inside the house (inside the locked nursery!), most of the terror takes place outside the walls of Eel Marsh House. There is a nearby cemetery where Arthur once again sees the woman in black. Even more creepier are the marshes. Only by a Causeway can a traveler make safe passage to the house. However, the frequent sea frets often obscure the safe passages. It is here out on these foggy marshes that Arthur hears what I deem to be the most terrifying element of the story. In a good ghost story, things that are not seen are more frightening then then the stuff spoiled by sight. Had I read The Woman in Black before writing the “Ghostly Grounds…” article, I certainly would have made reference to Susan Hill’s story.

Finally, Susan Hill strives for the style of the traditional English ghost story. In my opinion she succeeds at this feat. I have written about the traditional English ghost story, in articles such as J.S. LeFanu and Haunted Houses and Everything I Know About Haunted Houses I Learned from British Literature . First of all, though published in 1983, the book is written in the Gothic style that permeates these ghostly tales of yore. For instance, The Woman in Black is told in the first person and is a story within a story, which was a common plot device back then. The sentences are long and they often give way to passive voice. Susan Hill will write “my spirits rose” instead of “I began to feel better” or “you look unwell” instead of “you look sick.” Furthermore, the story is saturated with descriptions, often about the sky, the grounds and the weather.

What does this style do for the story? A lot! In establishes tone and wraps readers in a certain kind of chilling mood; a mood that modern ghost stories just aren’t able to invoke. And yet, with all its mimicry of the old style, there is something “modern” hidden within that I cannot explain. Somehow this work stands apart from Hill’s literary predecessors. Perhaps it’s the absence of archaic terminology that I often stumble upon when reading the ghosts stories of yesteryears. Maybe she benefits by learning from the old stories in a way that the authors of the traditional stories could not since they were but fledglings of their time. I’m just guessing here. But this “something” that I’m so desperately trying to convey testifies to the overall mystery that surrounds this novel. Heck, even the time period of the story is somewhat enigmatic. Like most gothic tales, this is a period piece. But Hill never explicitly states the year. Cars appear in the book, but so do traps and horses. A man on the train “takes out his watch”, he doesn’t look at his wrist. Telephones are mentioned, but so is the telegraph. Often communication is left to old fashion letters and telegrams.

I have heard good things about the 2012 film version of the book starring Daniel Radcliffe – Good ol’ Harry Potter! I am looking forward to seeing and reviewing that film. But the book is a tough act to follow, so we’ll just have to see. But I’m optimistic.  I’m sure I will enjoy it, but probably not as much as the novella.

 

Halloween Is Over (Or is it???)

All Hallow’s Eve has passed. All of the free roaming spirits have returned to their graves. Or have they?

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They might have “clocked out” for the season, but a bunch of them are still haunting this blog! PLEASE, help me get rid of them!

This is a Ghost Hunt Contest! Find Ghosts – win a book!!

 

Help me find these ghosts. In turn, I will reward you with points. When all is said and done, the person with the most points will win an autographed copy of Matt Power’s book, “Ghosts of Manor House”

Some ghosts are worth more points than others. The chart below shows the point value for each ghost:

Some ghosts are worth more points than others. The chart below shows the point value for each ghost:

Red Ghost: 1 point

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         RED GHOST FOUND!

Yellow ghost: 5 pointsyellowghost2

Blue Ghost: 10 points

blueghost2

Green ghost: 25 points

greenghost2

Orange ghost: 50 pointsoramgeghost3

Purple Ghost: 75 points

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White ghost: 100 points

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Find one, find two, or find them all! Once you find a ghost, post the identity (color) and location of the ghost in the comment section below and then I shall remove the ghost from the blog and distribute to you the earned points. For instance, you might say in the comment: “In the Cat and the Canary article, inside the paragraph that begins ‘the movie is a remake of the 1927 film’, I found a blue ghost.

Or you can email me the identity and location at dwcheely@yahoo.com

The person with the most points wins a free autographed copied of Matt’s book – Ghosts of Manor House

 

ManorHouse

Review of The Witches of Ravencrest (The Ravencrest Saga Book 2)

WitchesRavencrestOnce upon a time, I absorbed the “Ghosts of Ravencrest.” Then I needed a break. I had to let these ghosts settle into my consciousness and give them time to digest into my subconscious before moving on. And move on I did,  carrying these ghosts with me, for they were stored in my memory banks. But alas, many of these banks were locked; their contents – irretrievable?  I had hoped not, for any understanding of the book that is under review depended on unobstructed access to these ghosts. Were “The Witches of Ravencrest” able to set them free?   Short answer – yes!

For those have absolutely no clue about what I was babbling about in the preceding paragraph, I refer you to this review: The Ghosts of Ravencrest  The Ghosts of Ravencrest is the first book in the Ravencrest saga. The subject of this review is The Witches of Ravencrest, the second book of the series. I finished the first book back in February. When I started the second book in the late summer, I was a bit worried. It had been a while since I visited with the occupants of Ravencrest Manor – the haunted house of the Ravencrest series. These occupants are members of the Manning household; would I remember them?

As far as family goes, the task was easy. The only living family members are Eric Manning and his two children. Check, check, annnnnd check!  But this household includes more than just this trio of living relations – so much more.  First there is the household staff. There is Belinda Moorland, the governess for the Manning children and the aspiring love interest of Eric Manning. Since she is the central protagonist, I had an easy time recalling her as well. Being the newest member of the household, it is through her eyes that readers of the first book come to meet the rest of the staff; a collection of  odd individuals whose idiosyncrasies  range from the charmingly eccentric to the dangerously disturbed.  Then there are those other “entities” that lurk about in the house; abhorrent creatures living in the walls and mysterious spirits that haunt an entire wing of the mansion. Going on memory, it seemed that each household member, living or dead, had a role to play in this somewhat complicated  and continuously unfolding plot. Oh Lordy! How was I ever going to reacquaint myself with all these characters and remap this plot?  Turns out, the task was not that difficult.

With familiar ease, I rediscovered Grant Phister the butler and his husband Riley the gardener. Grant is the eyes and ears of Ravencrest and he seems to be the one tasked with managing the overall affairs of the household. This is no easy feat since part of his job, unofficial though it may be, is to keep the supernatural carnage at a minimum. His ease of character and witty humor make him memorable.   Officially, the untrustworthy Cordelia Heller is the household manager. She is bound to the estate by matters of wills and legality.  It took me very little time to refamiliarize myself with her wicked ways.  For she is an ancient witch that has worn different clothing’s of flesh over her many years. She has it in for Belinda, who is learning, little by little, that she has her own magical abilities that, when fully realized, may rival the skills of Cordelia.  But for now, Cordelia’s power is great! In The Ghosts of Ravencrest, she transformed a man into a crawling abomination that lives inside the walls. This thing, known as The Harlequin, is back in this second novel. He passed out of my conscience for a time, but he crawled back into my brain with the same ease for which he crawls about in the ventilation system.  Cordelia is in charge of the maids who she regularly disciplines down in the dungeon, thereby adding some BDSM flavor to this novel. Ah yes, how could I have forgotten the spicy Dominique, the Latina maid whose obsession with Jesus Christ is taken to an erotic level! Oh and I had forgotten all about Walter Hardwicke, the chauffer, always doing the bidding of Cordelia.  He is also a serial killer. Once reintroduced, I “remembered him fondly” (not really, I just wanted to use that phrase!)

Of all the ghosts that haunt Ravencrest, the three nuns stand out the most. I never forgot them and they are back again, gliding in unison in the haunted wing, forcing anyone they encounter to “Eat, eat, eat!” the cursed persimmons that they have in their possession.  But perhaps of more prominence are the ghosts of Mannings long since dead. To what extent these men and women haunted Ravencrest in the first book I could not remember. But they shine with meaning and revelation in The Witches of Ravencrest.

 The first book introduces us to all these characters and lets us readers know that GhostsRavencrestRavencrest is haunted not only with spirits but also by a strange history of familial drama wrapped in murder and treachery. This second book goes beyond the supernatural manifestations and explores the agents of such phenomena; the summoners of spirits, the casters of spells. In short, we move on from “The Ghosts of Ravencrest” to “The Witches of Ravencrest”.  In the first book we learn what we are dealing with. In the second book, we learn more about the whys and wherefores of the “whats”. We learn of the complex roles of the characters and begin to understand how they fit into the larger story.

For better or worse, The Ravencrest Saga has the makings of a literary soap opera. There is love and eroticism, murder and betrayal, a subplot here, a trail of story over there, here a conflict, there a conflict, everywhere a con-flict – Eric Manning had a house – E-I-E-I-GHOST! Some may not like this style, especially those horror fans that are not into romance sagas. While I am not a follower of such a genre, I did enjoy this book. What I missed, however, were the trips back in time that were prevalent in the first book. There are places in The Ghosts of Ravencrest where the story creeps back to the distant past. The writing style of these sections reflects the style of the period. We go back a century or two and learn about the Manning family of yore. We see how ghosts and witches were a part of the makeup of the family even back then. In The Witches Of Ravencrest, while the ghosts of the old times visit the present, we as readers are rarely allowed back into the past. I miss the old world of the story. Oh well, time marches forward I guess.

So to wrap it all up, The Ravencrest Saga offers interesting characters and a compelling story. It mixes erotica with the gothic. Sometimes this mixture works well. At other times it…I don’t know, it just “works” these other times, minus any supporting adjective. The soap opera style can be daunting, especially if one is not attuned to this style of storytelling, but in the end it pays off with its creativity of content.

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Matt Powers – Author of “Ghosts of Manor House” – Part 2

GhostsManor2Welcome to the second part of my interview with Matt Powers, author of the book Ghosts of Manor House .  By now, I hope that all of you have gotten word that you can win an autographed copy of the book. But just in case this news has not yet reached your noggin,’  here goes: I am featuring a Ghost Hunt contest – Find the ghosts that are hiding across my blog and earn points. Whoever earns the most points wins the book!  Click on the link below for more details:

Ghost Hunt Contest – Win a book!

In the first part of the interview, we explored Matt’s influences and learned that he prefers a haunted house that exists as “a being with needs and desires.”  For Matt, a haunted house should have a “mysterious power to it”.  We tested his criteria against the house of his own creation – Manor House. I concluded that Manor House does, in fact, conform to Matt’s criteria and effectively so.  It was an intriguing conversation to say the least!  If you have not yet read the first part of the interview, I recommend that you do so! Click on the link and read, read, read!

An Interview with Matt Powers – Author of “Ghosts of Manor House” – Part 1

In this second half of the interview, I ask Matt questions regarding the book-building process. How does an indie-writer with limited resources tackle issues such as marketing and editing? Also we learn about what Matt does when he is not writing books. He has an interesting profession outside the world of literature.

(The following information was gathered mostly on Sept 25, 26, 27 2017 )

Daniel:  I’m curious about your marketing in general. This is your first published book. It seems you have promoted it quite well. Fifteen people have reviewed it on Amazon, most giving it five out of five stars. 21 ratings, 18 reviews on Goodreads, mostly all positive. How did you generate so much interest?

Matt: I’m glad it appears my marketing is going well, I’ve been working hard at it.

I’ve taken a number of approaches. First off, after finishing the book I started just promoting it to people I know.  I would call it a “soft” launch – the goal being really to get as many reviews as possible.  I gave the book away to people I knew who said they would read it.  Then I pestered them to read it and write a review.

It should be noted – even with friends and family, you need to have a good book to start with. But I think one is more likely to get positive reviews from people you know.

I spent a couple months working on this “soft” launch. Then I had the “real” launch, which wasn’t that different except I actually told the world (via Facebook and Goodreads) that the book was now available. People who then looked at it saw it had positive reviews in the wings.

I truly believe people are more likely to purchase something if they see positive reviews. No one wants to be the first to try something unknown. I did a Goodreads giveaway in August leading up to this launch as well. Then for September I also sent query letters to cool websites like yours –  blogs that I thought would appreciate my book, asking them to read and provide feedback. Also, I created accounts at Instagram, Twitter, and Wattpad

The gearing up continues; I’m always trying to build interest and get people to read (and then write reviews).

In summary, it has been a lot of hard work. Honestly, I was hoping I would have more reviews by now.  But I realize that people are busy and not everyone reads as much as I do.  For the 40 people that  might have my book, I got around 12-15 reviews.  About 30%?  Probably good odds really.  Again it is important to stress that this all starts with a good book in the first place.

Daniel:  I do notice that a lot of people don’t leave reviews.  Still your book has a lot more reviews than any of my books. Of course I never did a “soft launch.”  Next time I’ll do that!

But you are right that it is important to have a good book in order to get good reviews. And Ghosts of Manor House is a good book. Not only is it a great story, but the writing is very good as well. In most self-published books (mine included), I find grammar mistakes or sections or awkward writing. But in your book, I couldn’t find any such things. Did you have an editor?

Matt: To get my book as good as possible I went through many stages.  While I wrote GoMH I had a couple people who would read my writings and give input and check grammar and mechanics.  I went to writing groups where I read chapters and received input.  When I had a good portion of the story done I asked a member of the writing group to read it, do some editting, and provide feedback.  I then took this input and made the changes that I agreed with and then I continued on the story.  I did this twice before I finished GoMH.

When I thought I was pretty much done I had two more people read and edit. I again made some changes and finally thought I was done. Then I sent out query letters to find a small publisher who might be interested.  I sent a lot of letters and I found a publisher.  Together we edited it again –  more changes were made.  I parted ways with the publisher as I found they really didn’t have time to do the pre-marketing type activities I wanted to do.  We parted amicably and I finally had my finished story.

But I look at it now and I see mistakes – mistakes in grammar, mechanics. I see paragraphs that I should have spent more time on.  No matter what, I think we always feel our work could be better.  But at some point we need to call it done and see what the readers think.

Daniel: I didn’t realize that you had a publisher at one time. But in the end you published w/out them. Still in the meantime, they helped you with professional editing.

Without a publisher, editing is difficult. Editors are expensive and many indie-writers, like myself, can’t afford them. What advice do you have for struggling authors that need to have their work edited? I know that the publisher wasn’t your only source for editing, you mentioned writing groups. Are there any other ways for writers to have their work edited? And can you tell me more about writing groups, where to find them and how members help each other?

Matt: I recommend joining a writing club near you.  Then join any and all writing groups the club has nearby.  I didn’t do this but check “MeetUp.com” and there are tons of writing groups.  If you don’t have a writing group try and start one.  I started one at work with co-workers to get more people to read and give input.

Then have friends and family give their imput, which is pretty challenging to do sometimes. I am lucky to have a couple of family members and  friends who are into writing. They gave me a lot of good input.

I did pay for a lot of my editing. A couple  places where you can find people to edit and give feedback are:

Fiver.com : inexpensive but the quality is sketchy

craigslist.com : can find editors here. I didn’t do this because it costs more and I didn’t know the people.

I did use some local editors and writing coaches that I found through people in the writing group. Since I had recommendations and could meet them in person, I felt comfortable spending money on them.

But the number one free way to get input on your writing is to join writing groups; groups where people bring chapters, read, and then critique each other.  You learn a lot about your writing by having it critiqued but also you can learn a lot by reviewing other people’s writing.


 

The next part of the interview will focus on some aspects of Matt’s personal life  MattPowers

Writers come from all walks of life. They are gardeners, meat-packers, homemakers, etc. etc. Matt Powers (pictured on the right) is employed as a game developer at Zynga Inc.

Daniel:  What is you job like? Are there any similarities between what you do as a game developer and what goes into your writing process?

Matt:  I have been a video game producer for a long time.  I started as a game programmer, creating Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games.  Then I became a producer.  As a producer I manage teams and projects.  I make sure things get done on time, within budget, and at a high level of quality. I have a lot of daily meetings.  I think about the project a lot.  I need to make sure what we are doing now goes smoothly AND try to plan ahead to avoid problems and ensure we continue to go the right direction.  Producers are traffic cops, mentors, organizers, babysitters, tradesman, and planners.

Making video games is fun and very challenging. We are working on technology, trying to push the limits of tech, and we are creating entertainment.  Combining technology and “fun” is tricky.  We have a very creative team and a very technical team working together to make the fun, the art, and the technology all play well together.

Being in a creative business but not being the creative person, I think, keeps my creative juices flowing but without a big outlet.  Writing, I found, is a great way to express my creativity and it is different enough from developing games where I don’t feel like I am working, even though writing is work in its own right.

Daniel: So in the beginning you wrote computer code.

Matt:   Correct. I started programming when I was 10 years old.  My dad worked for Atari and taught me how to program.  I went to college and majored in Computer Science.  I actually got started with writing by blogging for Gamasutra.com.  It is a video game site. 

Daniel:   I took a six-month computer programming class at a community college. Nothing came from it, but on the admissions test, there was one question that I can still remember to this day. “What would you most like to do?” It was a multiple choice question and two of the possible answers were a) Learn a foreign language b) Write a book. I chose “write a book” and that was a “wrong” answer. They wanted to see “learn a language” as the choice.

But you are proof that one can be both a programmer and writer.

Matt:  To be fair, I’m an ex-programmer. : )

Daniel: True.

Matt:  When I made the decision to write a book, I approached it sort of like a programmer and producer. I examined how writing is done, read books about how to write, studied authors (like Stephen King), looked into writing groups, etc.  I wanted to understand the “process” of writing something good.   Then I had to practice, a lot.  I wrote a lot of stuff before finally getting to GoMH.

It helps that I really enjoy reading and I love movies. Understanding other forms of entertainment helped me find my “voice” in writing.

Daniel: Are there any other genres besides horror that interest you?

Matt:  Probably my favorite genre of books would be Cyberpunk – Neal Stephenson my favorite but also Gibson for example.  I also read Fantasy and Science fiction.  I like to mix it up between genres and try different things.  Last night I just finished a fantasy book.  Before that I was reading science fiction.  The next book I read will be horror.

Daniel: What is Cyberpunk exactly? Or better yet, what does Cyberpunk mean to you?

Matt: The proper definition of Cyberpunk is:  a genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology

But to me it means more than that. It is the use of emerging(bleeding edge) technology into realistic, probable fiction. It is about taking science fiction and bringing into a realistic, modern age.  That is part of it.  Then there is the actual style of writing I associate with Cyberpunk.  When I think of CP I think of being thrown into a story where I am immediately catching up.  The world is assumed, not described immediately.  You are thrown into the deep end of the story.

GoMH is sorta like this – I wanted to create a realistic story that could be true. Then put the reader right into it, figure it out as you go.  And who’s to say Ghosts of Manor House isn’t a true story?  I met Lucas, made a deal, and wrote the story I was told. 


 

And that about wraps it up! If you wish to  read Matt’s articles on the video game site, go to: 

https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/951858/

To buy Matt’s book Ghosts of Manor House, go to:

Ghosts of Manor House

And of course don’t forget to participate in the Ghost Hunt contest for a chance to win a free autographed copy of Ghosts of Manor House

Ghost Hunt

 

 

 

Ghost Hunt Contest! Win a book!

Remember in my last post when I wrote that I would soon have the details on how you can win an autographed copy of Matt Power’s book “Ghosts of Manor House”?   Well How Soon is NOW!!

GhostContestMatt

Several ghosts are hiding in this blog. Find them. Earn points. The Ghostbuster with the most points wins the book!

For further details, click anywhere around those cute pictures that are posted above! You will be directed to the contest page!

Or, you can go to the Special Features section of this blog! Click on the menu and this contest appears as the first item!

An Interview with Matt Powers – Author of “Ghosts of Manor House” – Part 1

GhostsManor2Several weeks back, I posted a review of Matt Power’s Ghosts of Manor House.  It was, is, and continues to be an excellent haunted house story. I am hoping that many of you buy it.  Want some buy links?  Here!  Here! and Here!

I really want to share the brilliance of this piece. With Matt’s permission, I will be giving away a free, signed copy of the paperback book.   That means it’s contest time again!  I will be posting the details of the contest soon. But the important thing to know right now is that I will mail the book to the winner when the contest is over.

Here’s a brief synopsis. In the wake of a family tragedy, Edmund takes his wife and daughter to Manor House for a retreat.  He hopes their time spent at this house will provide the healing they need.  Manor House comes equipped with a staff of servants…and much, much more!  There is more to Manor House than meets the eye, as Edmund will find out.

Manor House has its ghosts, as the book’s title suggests. But what makes this book so appealing to me is that Manor House is more than just the sum of its ghosts. Manor House is an entity unto itself – it’s my kind of haunted house!  In addition, a tall, creepy tree stands over the house.  Like the house, the tree has a consciousness; a will.  It influences the events of the story. It even has a name – Mr. Travels.

Let us dive into a deeper analysis of these entities that Matt has created. What is their nature? How did his imagination conjure such things?   I don’t know the answers to these questions, but perhaps Matt does.  Let’s find out!  I interviewed Matt Powers and I have posted a summary of the first part of our interview.  I hope you will find it enlightening.

Matt’s influences and the nature of Manor House and Mr. Travels

Before reading a novel, I always say that one can get an idea about its content by knowing the stories that influence it. Matt shared with me several of his influences.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

The Club Dumas by Artura Perez-Reverte

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Woman In Black by Susan Hill

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

The Shining by Stephen King

Hell House by Richard Matheson

The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman

Matt went on to single out three of these books.

I had/have a tough time finding good haunted house books. After reading Hill House and The Shining and Hell House I had trouble finding other haunted house stories that were the kind I liked.  Which is one reason I wanted to write GoMH.

I asked Matt his opinion on why these three books are so good.

To me a haunted house is an entity, a being with needs and desires. A haunted house has a history and a certain mysterious power to it (which he then said summarizes the houses in those three stories)

I asked Matt if he thinks Ghosts of Manor House meets his own criteria.

I think I succeeded in writing a haunted house book the way I like haunted house books. It has all the elements I would expect. Of course, in the end, it is my readers that will decide.

As one of his readers, I decide that he has succeeded. Matt went on to say:

I wanted my house to be a part of the story about the people and the ghosts.

As far as the story itself, I always like twists – things that make the reader wonder guess, and think.  When the book is over I hope readers of GoMH think about the people and what motivated them.  Is Manor House a good entity or evil or misguided or none of the above?  The fact that people may think about that means that the house must have registered some thought and needs and personality to them.

So far this discourse has been all about Manor House itself. But we can’t forget about Mr. Travels – the scary tree! In the back-story, the tree’s branches were used to hang people, a long time before the events of the story.  I asked Matt is there was a specific inspiration for Mr. Travels.

Mr. Travels came to me after thinking about other entities that could be affected by death – how they may have changed and came to be what they are.

I thought that Manor House needed a buddy, someone to offset him a bit. And I always imagined this big creepy tree in the yard and then starting thinking about all the death this tree probably has seen.  Through the ages of hangings and such.  Then I figured, the tree probably drew those deaths to it and that is what makes Manor House and Mr. Travels similar. But they are also different. Mr. Travels has a need to kill and take the souls of the living. Manor House wants the souls to have company and not be lonely.


 

So that wraps up our exploration into Matt’s influences and the nature of Manor House/Mr. Travels. In Part 2 of my interview with Matt Powers, (Coming soon!) we will explore the publishing process of an indie author. How much work is involved? (Short answer: A LOT!) What does an indie author have to do get his work noticed?  (He has good ideas.)  Also, we discover what Matt does when he is not writing books.  You will be surprised!

So stay tuned – more details on how you can win an autographed copy of Ghosts of Manor House are up ahead!

Tag – You’re IT – My Next Haunted House Movie Review.

ITLogoDoneDoneI lied. IT is not a haunted house movie. Rather, IT is a horror movie that has a haunted house. There is a difference.  What’s “haunted” in IT is the town of Derry.  What haunts it?  IT haunts it!  (I’m not going to go into an Abbott and Costello routine). IT lives inside the complex sewage system underneath the town.  IT ascends via the drains, sewers  and other surface pathways. What is IT? That remains to be seen, but IT often appears as a clown that goes by the name Pennywise.  Pennywise is a bad, bad clown. He frightens the children! Not only does he frighten them, but he also pulls them down into the sewers and kills them. IT also appears as the object of nightmares, which varies from kid to kid.  Little Stanley sees an abstract face painting come to life. Eddie is chased by a leper. Mike sees burnt and rotting arms. These “hauntings” occur throughout the town in various places; in basements and bathrooms, in alleyways, out in the barrens.  Oh, and inside Derry’s “haunted house.”

In small town Americana legend, there is always a house that kids think to be haunted – one that’s abandoned and rundown.  Heck, even Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry has such a house. As it turns out, its only spirits were the one’s brewed by Otis’s bootlegging. Well unfortunately for Derry, its old and abandoned house has much worse things than a red-nosed, happy-go-lucky drunk. The Derry house has a red-nosed, homicidal clown. And many other things!

IT has a strong presence inside the house. This is because of the well in the basement that drops down into the sewer system. Thus, the house serves as sort of a gateway to hell; a portal to where all things terrible lie.  Have we seen this theme played out before anywhere on this blog.  Yes we have!  How about here:

HP Lovecraft – Houses as Portals to Alternate Dimensions:

And here:

The Sentinel

and there are others, on and off this blog. This is a popular theme in haunted house lore. Storywriters love to hide portals to dark dimensions inside houses.

In your average haunted house movie, the house is the primary haunt. Most of the events of the film take place inside its walls. This is not the case in IT.  I would guess the house in IT occupies less than 10% of the total screen time. Now what of the book? Does this house serve the same function in the book? Gosh I don’t know!

I read IT almost 20 years ago. I wasn’t an avid reader in those days. I liked horror but only as much as the next guy. What did I like and do back then? I don’t remember! Anyway I had only read maybe one Steven King novel, one novella, and one short story, and all those  I had read 15 years before then.  I wanted to know more about “Da King” , so I went right for one of his most lengthy works. I don’t remember how long it took to read but read, read, and read  I did until I was alllllll done!  Good boy! I loved the book and to this day I consider it one of my favorites. Maybe top-ten worthy, if not it would definitely be in the teens of my preferential list. However, I can’t remember every little detail. Oh hell, I’ll come clean – I can’t remember many medium-sized details.  The haunted house, for instance. I remember it being in the book. I remember that there was an abandoned, run down house but I can’t remember how much or how little importance it was to the story. And as much as I love the book, I’m not about to reread it.  I’m getting old  and I don’t know if I even have the strength to hold that tome in my hands!

Before I go further, I guess I better do some “reviewing”. After all, I am including this article in my review section, am I not?  So…let me get the “review” over with.

IT is great! Best horror movie I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. It’s been a long time since there was a film based on a book from horror master Stephen King that didn’t suck, and I’m including King-based television movies and series as well. It’s scary through and through! It doesn’t try to rival the book or “be” the book; it doesn’t try to cram 1090 pages of story into two hours of film. It knows its medium’s restraints.  The child actors are remarkable and there performances are memorable. Did I mention that IT is a great film?

There, the review is done. Now back to the haunted house! A group of friends known collectively as The Losers’ Club brave the house in an attempt to stop the deadly IT once and for all. And for us haunted house lovers, its so much fun when they do!  The objects of their fears come after them!  They separate. Doors lock. Mysterious doors suddenly appear! Horror is everywhere! What are those things underneath all those sheets?  Watch out behind you! What’s that?  Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun!

Okay so IT isn’t a haunted house movie per se. The sphere that receives the haunting is the town of Derry, which of course includes the house. Later it will be the sewage system that is the primary epicenter of haunt (wait and see, kiddos!) . But golly gee willikers, the haunted house scenes in this film are fabulous! It is fun to watch and apparently it is fun to recreate  because this film has spawned haunted attractions that mimick this movie’s house. Take a look!

 

As interesting as this attraction appears, it is not on my bucket list. If I just happened to be in Hollywood and happened to be on the street of this attraction then maybe I would enter. But I’m willing to bet that whatever scare experience it has to offer, it will not match the thrill I had sitting in the theater and touring the on-screen house through the eyes of the camera. What a thrill that was! It will thrill you too! See IT!

Review of Ghosts of Manor House

ManorHouseIf you have been a regular reader of my reviews, it should be no secret that I crave certain things from the haunted houses of literature. I have a criteria by which I base my story preferences. That being said, there are many decent  haunted house stories that fail to abide by this criteria.  I may enjoy these stories, but chances are, for me to knight a book with greatness, it has to live up to my standards.  Mind you, these standards are subjective. But hey, much of this entire blog is devoted to my points of view – so let me continue on subjecting you to my subjective opinions!

In my article Social Theory and the Haunted House, I have delineated between two types of haunted houses. They are either:

A)    A place for a bunch of ghosts to hang out.

Or

B) A place that is greater than the sum of its ghosts

I prefer B) I want the houses to do more than just serve as a backdrop for exhibitionistic ghosts.  I want the house to be as much of a contributor to a haunting as the spirits that occupy it.  A good haunted house has consciousness. Maybe the house itself is a spirit. Or maybe it is alive.  The house should be able to exert its will on its inhabitants, with or without ghosts. The house should have a rich history; it should have stories from the past that speak to its present nature.  A good haunted house has a memory. Moreover, I love a house that exerts the power of symbolism. It should stand not only as a structure of brick or stone, but as a representation of an enduing entity. A kingdom perhaps, or a lineage or family. Maybe it stands for existence itself; for endurance incarnate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Manor House. This house meets most of my criteria. Its ghosts respect and honor their home. So let’s give it up for Ghosts of Manor House, an excellent novel by Matt Powers.

Here are some words from the author himself:

When writing a book, people tell you to develop your characters and soon they write themselves. This became true for me, but the characters that spoke to me the most were Manor House and its partner, Mr. Travels. These two entities drew me into their world. The others are satellites, flies caught in the web of old spirits. Like the characters in this story, Manor House drew me in and captured me.

This paragraph is taken from the beginning of the book in a section called Note From the Author. And I have to say, these two “characters” spoke to me too.  I got to know Manor House in its many carnations. From a courthouse in its early years to a bed and breakfast in a more modern age.  From a revered building where harsh judgments were cast upon doomed  detainees to an inviting retreat center that loves its guests so much that it just doesn’t want to let them go!  While a regular old, aging  house collects dust, Manor’s House gathers up ghosts.  I just love Power’s description of a  “web of old spirits.”  It suits Manor House to a tee!  And now, from a tee to a tree!  The tree is Mr. Travels. Its sinewy branches cast shadows across the grounds of Manor House.  It too has seen its share of history.  Many people perished on its low hanging branches. The stuff of legend has given it a most unique origin. It is connected to Manor House in a most mysterious way. Perhaps it serves as the pulse of the house?  It wouldn’t be surprising. While the author was giving me a tour of the house via the story, I could swear I felt the house’s heart beat. Was this in the basement? I can’t recall.  Maybe its best that I don’t remember.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid 1970s and revolves around Edmund and his family. The family has suffered through a tragedy, so Edmund arranges for a getaway to help ease their suffering souls. He reserves Manor House for his wife Mary and his children. It comes equipped with a full staff; a butler, a maid and a gardener.  Now get this – in chapter entitled “One Week Later -Escape from Manor House”, Edmund is fleeing the house while some of the staff are trying to convince him to return.  In the following chapter, “Welcome Back to Manor House,”  Edmund is alone, getting set up in his new place that is Manor House. He is supposed to meet his family there and….where are they? THAT is the question that pulls readers to the end of the book.  Yes readers, TGhost of Manor House is a suspenseful novel.   To keep the suspense alive, Powers’ reveals just enough information – here and there, chapter by chapter. It’s all about healthy, measured spoonfuls of clues. Never too much – there are no mass information dumps. You will not get literary indigestion.

At 133 pages, Ghosts of Manor House is what I would consider a short novel. It is short, but it is complete. Within this novel of limited length, there is a tome of possibility. I’m looking for sequels and prequels. Of course that is up to the author.  Or maybe it isn’t! Maybe it’s Manor House itself that is on control. Matt Powers brought it to life and maybe the house will exert its living influence back on the author and entangle him in its “web of spirits,”  forcing him to write his way out!  With no sadistic intentions, I hope this happens.

Visit Matt’s Blog at https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/  or just click on the picture below an teleport yourself over there!

ManorHouse2a

Review of V/H/S

VHSShould this be the review where I delve into the found footage phenomena and provide insightful analysis on its effectiveness at establishing horror? Uh..nah!  Maybe instead, I can go into what works and what doesn’t work when using the found footage style of filmmaking to make a haunted house film?  Nah to that as well.  Truth be told, I am no expert on these things. Moreover, a lot that depends on personal preference.  Quite often it boils down to a) You like found-footage films. b) you do not like found footage films.

For me it’s hit or miss. V/H/S, the film under review, is a found footage film.  For the most part, it is a miss.

Since some of you might be unfamiliar with the found footage subgenre, an explanation is in order. I was about to do some explaining but then I thought, “to hell with that”, why not find a description and then quote it? I think, therefore I do.  So here is a definition/description from Wikipedia:

Found footage is a subgenre in films in which all or a substantial part of a fictional film is presented as if it were discovered film or video recordings. The events on screen are typically seen through the camera of one or more of the characters involved, often accompanied by their real-time off-camera commentary. For added realism, the cinematography may be done by the actors themselves as they perform, and shaky camera work and naturalistic acting are routinely employed. The footage may be presented as if it were “raw” and complete, or as if it had been edited into a narrative by those who “found” it.

The most common use of the technique is in horror films (e.g., Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, [REC], Cloverfield), where the footage is purported to be the only surviving record of the events, with the participants now missing or dead.

Fun House was the first horror movie I saw in the theater. I saw it was with my dad. In the film the characters are murdered, one by one.  Only one person, a girl, is left at the film’s end. After the movie, my  dad had told me that he knew she would live because someone has to survive to tell the story. He was correct. But with found-footage films, a sole survivor is no longer necessary. The camera is left behind to detail the events. If part of the story is “missing”, that supposedly only adds to the overall mystery.

Found-footage films are supposed to look “real”. That is, they are made with an intentional amateurish quality so that they appear to be made in real time and not according to a script.  Therefore when something horrific happens, the intended illusion is that it is happening “for real”.  I get all that. But to me, V/H/S is largely unwatchable. Too much shaking, too many haphazard shots, too much , too much too much. And besides, what’s with the letter –forward slash – letter –forward slash title. Can’t a simple “VHS” do? I guess not.

I am writing this review on account of the two haunted house films that appear in this anthology.   There are six films in all, with one being the film that ties the rest together.

The “tie-together” film is Tape 56/frame narrative. A group of petty thugs break into a house in an attempt to steal a VHS tape for which someone is willing to pay a lot of money. The man who lives there is a tape hoarder. But the intruders find him dead in his chair, in front of a TV, in a room with hundreds of tapes. The intruders started playing some tapes. The tapes they play make up the rest of the stories in this film. So what we have here is five found footage films inside one found footage film.  How….arty?  Mmmm…mmeh.

Anyway, let’s get to the relevant films. “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” directed by Joe Swanburg, is about a woman who lives in a haunted apartment. The whole story plays out on video chat. Emily occupies the big square of the chat and we see chat partner James in the smaller square.  James (along with us the viewers) bears witness to the haunting when he sees the video images of young ghostly girls creeping around behind Emily.  This is an okay film story wise. The typical annoyances that are built into  found footage films are kept to a minimal. Still, viewers have to put up with straying camera angles now and then. We have to watch the main chat screen succumb to the pixilation errors. I hate when this happens when I am on a video chat so I certainly don’t want to watch it happen in a film I am paying to watch.

10/31/98 is the better of the two haunted house films. Directed by a group collectively known as Radio Silence (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez & Chad Villella), the film is about a trio of young men who arrive at a huge, multi room/multi floor house for a Halloween party. All the rooms are lit up, but where are the guests? They decide to explore the confines. They make it to the topmost part of the house and they stumble on something very disturbing. After this they make a run for it. This is when the house itself freaks out.  Through the shaky, mobile camera, we see arms reaching out from the walls. We see dishes rise off the table. In every hall, every room, as they run, run  run, we see something creepy and unnatural. It’s almost like a Halloween haunted house attraction, only this place has some real magic going on.  I love it all– except for the shaky camera. If only for a camera that was held still and directed properly, then maybe I can better see those lovely haunting antics. But no, can’t have that. After all, this is a found-footage film.

My favorite of all the stories is not a haunted house film. It is Amateur Night, directed byVHS2 Bruckner. Three guys go bar hopping and bring home two women. One of them happens to be a succubus. Once they learn of her demonic tendencies, the rest of the night doesn’t go so well.  Loved the film but once again, the shaky camera ruins the whole thing.

Perhaps some people feel that the shaky camera work enhances the horrific realism. I am not one of those people. However, there are some found footage films that I really like. One film really pays off with this technique. While some don’t consider it a haunted house film, I do. If memory serves me correctly, the shakiness is kept to a minimum, if it’s even there at all. I’ve been meaning to review this film for some time. I will do so. Soon. And then and only then will its title be revealed.