Swan River Press has been around for a while, but I just recently discovered them. I ordered a back issue of The Green Book (Issue 6, 2015) because it contains a previously forgotten ghost story by Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. The Bram Stoker story is only the beginning. The entire book is chock-full of writings on Irish Gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. I highly recommend it!
Bill Ectric’s Place is celebrating Christmas with this website called Hypnogoria and the history of Christmas ghost stories:
There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And carolling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
of Christmases long, long ago…
So sang Andy Williams back in 1963 in his festive favourite It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. And the lyric quoted above has caused much scratching of heads over the years, as not every one is aware of the old tradition of telling spooky tales upon a Christmas night. Indeed some have wondered whether the lines above are merely referring solely, in a hap-hazard fashion, to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
But of course there’s more spectres abroad at Yuletide other than just Mr Marley and his crew. To begin with some of the finest ghost stories ever written were produced by M. R. James who notes in the preface to his first collection of tales, Ghost Stories of An Antiquary (1904) –
“I wrote these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the seasons of Christmas…”
Another fun website that reviews and analyzes genre films is Braineater, created and maintained by Will Laughlin. In this installment he reviews the French film La Chambre ardente (1962), “a movie that sits somewhere between an art film and a Gothic thriller,” directed by Julien Duvivier, based on a classic novel by the American author John Dickson Carr.
Here’s an excerpt from Laughlin’s review:
Carr, after a slow start in the late 1920’s, came into his own in the early 1930’s. He was soon recognized as one of the finest mystery writers of the so-called Golden Age. In 1937, he published what many consider his greatest novel, The Burning Court. However, his work — while always professional — was sometimes uneven; and after the Second World War, his career began to falter. A new generation had come to maturity, and they considered Carr and the writers of the Golden Age too old fashioned, too academic… a remnant of the old order that had been destroyed by the war. Nevertheless, Carr continued to write Golden Age-style detective stories well into the late 60’s and early 70’s. Though there have been periodic revivals of his work, and though he has always had supporters in fellow writers like Kingsley Amis and Anthony Boucher, Carr has never recaptured the recognition his admirers consider he deserves. If you think about it, there’s an obvious reason Duvivier chose to turn The Burning Court into La Chambre ardente…
If you’ve read the About page of Bill Ectric’s Place, you know I’m interested in academic pursuits, and if you’ve read more than a couple of my blog entries, you know my interests include the mysterious, the esoteric, and the Gothic. Imagine my delight at finding this article by Danel Griffin on his Film as Art website.
“This thesis proposal initially found its roots in an afterthought, a few years after I read a set of books by one Radu Florescu titled In Search of Dracula and its follow-up In Search of Frankenstein, two fascinating travel books speculating on the actual historical personalities who probably inspired Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to write their Gothic masterpieces.
Allow me a brief set-up, and then we’ll get to the afterthought that planted the seed: Stoker is widely known (although few people probably know that it was Florescu who first suggested the connection—Clerici, 3) to have based his bloodthirsty Count on the sixteenth-century Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes “the Impaler,” dubbed “Dracula” (meaning “Dragon,” or “Devil”) by his enemies . . . Less widely known but equally fascinating is Florescu’s research on the historical Dr. Frankenstein, one Johann Konrad Dippel, an eighteenth-century alchemist born in Castle Frankenstein whose diabolical experiments included grave-robbing, and grinding up bones and human flesh for life-lengthening potions (Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein, 65-94) (which were never successful). Both of these men were quite notorious in their own times . . .”
Mitzi Szereto is an author and anthology editor of multi-genre fiction and non-fiction, has a blog called Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog, and is creator/presenter of the Web TV channel Mitzi TV, which covers “quirky” London.
Her books include Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance; Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts; In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales; Getting Even: Revenge Stories; Dying for It: Tales of Sex and Death; the M. S. Valentine erotic novels; and the upcoming release Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire (Sept. 2012).
Mitzi has pioneered erotic writing workshops in the UK and Europe, teaching them from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands. She’s also lectured in creative writing at several British universities. She’s been featured in publications such as the Sunday Telegraph, Independent, Times, Observer, Toronto Star, Guardian, The London Paper, Company Magazine, Dare Magazine, Family Circle, and Writing Magazine, and on BBC Radio, Bravo UK Television, Telecinco TV 5 (Spain), Newstalk Ireland, Talk Radio Europe, and FM4 ORF (Austria).
Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Bill Ectric: What’s the best part and worst part of publishing an anthology?
Mitzi Szereto: The best part is when it all finally comes together and just jells, and you know you’ve got something really good. This takes a long time, I should add, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hair pulling. Then there’s this massive sigh of relief when it’s over and you can get on with your life until it starts all over again!
The worst part of doing an anthology is when you get in a ton of completely inappropriate submissions that just won’t work, editing or no editing. You start panicking and wondering if you’ll ever pull the book together. Out of fairness to the authors, I should clarify that some stories are rejected because they just don’t tick the right boxes – and this can be for any number of reasons. However, there are also a lot of writers out there who don’t seem to read or comprehend the detailed specs I disseminate and insist on sending material that incorporates everything I don’t want. I can only shake my head in astonishment and wonder if perhaps I’ve accidentally written my submission specs in Sumerian. With the anthology I just finished (Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire), I became so annoyed over this issue that I wrote a rant about it at my blog . Alas, I’m sure the word to the wise has not been sufficient!
Bill: I like the Woody Allen quote at the beginning of your sex and death anthology, Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death. He says, “The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you.” Alfred Hitchcock often used humor in conjunction with murder and sex. Do you think there is some magic formula there?
Mitzi: I think there is, yes. Death is an uncomfortable and unpleasant subject. We’re all going to die, and we’ve all been affected by death. Incorporating an element of dark humor into the subject matter is a survival technique of sorts, especially when death is ratcheted up several notches to murder. We’re helpless in the face of death, so why not try to find a bit of humor in it? When it comes to sex and death, the danger buttons get pushed even harder. Some of the stories in Dying For It do have black humor in them. I’m a sucker for dark humor, always have been, even as a child. I wonder what that says about me?
Bill: I know you were living in England, then I saw some pictures on Facebook of you in Savannah, Georgia. Where DO you lives?
Mitzi: I’ve been living in England for the past decade and am a British citizen (God save the Queen!). I will, however, be spending more time in the USA, which seems to have made my American fans happy! It’s always a bit weird for me being in the States – no one gets my references. I was in Savannah recently and ran into some people from the UK and it was such a relief to be able to mention Del Boy and actually have someone know what in hell I’m on about! Oh, leave it out, Rodney!
Bill: Where were you born?
Mitzi: I was born in the United States, but emigrated to the United Kingdom about 11 years ago. I’ve pretty much lived all over the USA, so I don’t really consider myself a native of any particular area or beholden to one place. Well, other than Britain, that is.
Bill: As you may have noticed, I’m a bit of an Anglophile, myself, but I’ve only been to London one time, years ago when I was in the Navy. I want to go back. Why did you move to England? And you say that you became a British citizen? Interesting! Would you consider yourself an expat?
Mitzi: Yes, I do consider myself an expat, and probably always will, even if I remained permanently in America. Mind you, I might then need to be called a British expat as well as an American expat! I must’ve been British in a previous life, because I always felt British even as a child growing up in America. I think it was my destiny to move there, and I finally decided to put things into place to make it happen, essentially going over on my own, with no relatives or friends to fall back on. Being a resourceful individual, I made it work. I was given a lot of opportunities that I truly do not believe would have happened had I remained in America, such as becoming a university lecturer in creative writing and also pioneering erotic writing workshops, teaching them at literature festivals and on residential courses in places such as the Greek islands. I should add that I’ve gained a far wider international public profile living in Britain, finding myself in demand by the European and Irish media as well as the UK media, including television. As for my citizenship, I have fond memories of my swearing-in ceremony; Essex County Council (where it took place) did a lovely job and made it very special occasion. I had my naturalization certificate presented to me by Lord Peter dressed in his regal best!
Bill: In your introduction to Red Velvet and Absinthe, you say you’ve enjoyed Gothic novels since childhood. Do you remember the first novel you read that could be considered Gothic? What are some of the Gothic novels that stand out in your mind?
Mitzi: That’s a tough one. I used to consume these novels as some people consume sweets, so I can’t remember which novel was my introduction to the genre. I would read whatever came out that looked good, generally novels by contemporary authors writing along the lines of say, Jane Eyre – novels featuring handsome brooding gentlemen living in isolated houses filled with secrets and ghosts. Is it any wonder why I like the moors so much?
Bill: Your books have such great covers. You choose the covers yourself? Where do you get them?
Mitzi: I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the art, but I’ve generally been pleased with the final product. I think it’s a good sign that when a new book comes out and I love the cover and think this is it, it can’t possibly get any better, the next book surprises me with an even more amazing cover. My last three titles were like that, first with In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales, then Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (with the demure lass featured on the cover), and finally Red Velvet and Absinthe with its harlequin-masked woman. Now I’ve just seen the cover of my new anthology Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire – and bang, it’s brilliant! It evokes the sexy epic-fantasy feel of the book in a way that is immediate and dramatic. I should mention that I come from a fine art background, so it’s a real treat to actually be happy with what the designers have come up with for me.
Bill: When you went to Savannah, did you see where they filmed Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, or go on the Ghost Tour?
Mitzi: I recall they shot a lot of scenes for the film at Forsyth Square, which is a lovely area surrounded by some beautiful old homes, so yes, I was definitely there as well as pretty much everywhere in the historical district. As for the ghosts, funny you should mention it, but I did go on a ghost tour. I should add that there are plenty of ghost tours in Savannah, and I opted for the lazy one on the trolley. Just about every local you meet in Savannah lays claim to a ghost story of some sort. I admit I’m a skeptic, but I have to tell you about something very peculiar that happened in two different locations, one of which was the Moon River Brewing Company (reported to be haunted). You remember in The Omen whenever a photo was taken of someone who’d later die by some horrible means something weird always showed up in the image? Well, several photos we took in the pub had these weird squiggly lines in them. We were also down on River Street one evening when it was still light and my friend was taking photos of me with my famous bear Teddy Tedaloo and a Savannah police officer, and some of the shots came out with this ghostly fading thing happening by our heads. I should tell you there’s nothing wrong with the cameras that were used, and there wasn’t any bizarre lighting issues going on either. I actually set my paranormal short story “The Blood Moon Kiss” in my Red Velvet and Absinthe anthology in Savannah. I’m thinking this Southern Gothic thing might be a literary avenue for me to pay a return visit to.
Bill: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me, Mitzi. I’ll end the interview with a list of links where people can learn more about you and your ambitious work:
For as long as J.K. Rowling’s novels have been on best-seller lists and up for literary awards, reviewers, critics, and scholars have been attacking the novels and especially the adults who freely acknowledge their love of these “children’s books”. In a New York Times article published in 2000, William Safire clearly states his opinion on Harry Potter: “These are not, however, books for adults.” Safire argues, “the Potter series is not written on two levels” and therefore is not worthy of consideration as literary or even proper reading for adults. The well-respected scholar Harold Bloom claims, “one can reasonably doubt that ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ is going to prove a classic of children’s literature.” After reading comments like these, I wonder if either of these Harry Potter skeptics have actually taken the time to read through the books or examine some of the scholarly essays that have been published about the series in a number of books, journals, and websites. Their dismissal of the Harry Potter books is reminiscent of the initial reactions scholars have had to other books that we now consider classics and are being taught in many university classrooms.
The Midnight People
1968, Popular Library Edition,
Published by arrangement with Leslie Frewin Publishers Limited
Edited by Peter Haining
I bought this book, brand new off the shelf for 75 cents, in 1968 or 1969, when I was a teenager. While The Midnight People is ostensibly a vampire anthology, Editor Peter Haining chose to include a couple of stories in which the vampire tag is debatable. The book is stronger for those choices, however.
The cover features a painting by Hieronymus Bosch called Death and the Usurer, also known as Death of the Miser.
The Midnight People is an almost perfect example of the kind of books I loved to pore over when I was a kind, reading not only the stories, the introductions and front material, which usually included a list of when and where the stories first appeared (usually magazines), with copyright information and so on. The only reason this is not the perfect example of my collection is that it does not include the list of sources. Of course, that’s no problem, now that we have the internet.
After the Introduction, the collection begins with an article by Montague Summers (1880 – 1948) about real-life German serial killer Fritz Haarmann (1879 – 1925), who was known as “The Hanover Vampire” because he actually murdered his victims by biting into their throats.
Montague Summers was a strange character himself. He studied theology at Oxford, became a Deacon in the Church of England, then converted to Catholicism, and gave himself the title of Reverend, although historians have found no evidence that the Catholic Church ever officially ordained him as a priest. Summers had peculiar interests, ranging from occult (vampires, werewolves, and witches) to deviant sexual practices (the Marquis de Sade and the Greek chronicles of Antinous and Hadrian). In 1928, Summers published the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer’s 1486 treatise on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches).
M. R. James’ An Episode of Cathedral History is one of my favorite supernatural stories, combining, as it does, James’ vague but chilling depiction of an undead thing escaping from a tomb under a church, with a storyline that literally defines the gothic horror genre. “It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic revival smote the Cathedral of Southminster,” says the old church caretaker, Mr. Worby, referring to the 19th Century fashion trend of restoring authentic gothic structures and by building new structures in a mock Gothic style. Worby explains that a church official, intent on having a Gothic style cathedral, ordered carpenters to remove most of the sanctuary’s beautiful handcrafted woodwork, including the podium, under which was discovered a stone slab that sealed the mysterious tomb.
Most people know the story of how John Polidori wrote The Vampyre as the result of a challenge by Lord Byron to a small circle of friends, which included Mary and Percy Shelley, to each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley eventually wrote Frankenstein (1818) as a result of that challenge, and Polidori wrote The Vampyre (1819). This was not the first vampire story ever written, but it was probably the first one written in English, and it set the now-familiar image of the vampire as aristocrat – a cloaked lord or nobleman, Byronic, decadent, and darkly romantic.
Editor Peter Haining tells us that Bat’s Belfry is one of August Derleth’s first horror stories, containing “certain elementary mistakes which can be expected from any young writer.” This is a whopping understatement. It’s a silly hodge-podge of supernatural motifs. I should add that I greatly admire Mr. Derleth for his industrious achievment, along with Donald Wandrei, of establishing Arkham House Publishers, a classic small press success story. I simply don’t know why Haining chose to include this story, unless it was for Derleth’s name recognition among the H. P. Lovecraft fans.
I’m as exciting about ebooks and their possibilities as most other modern publishers and readers, but sometimes it is still fun to consider the print book as art and artifact. I hope to make “Bill’s Bookshelf” a regular feature here at Bill Ectric’s Place.