Ghostly Influences

King_Jackson_Tremblay

Writing for Nightmare Magazine, John Langan discusses the influence of Shirley Jackson on horror writers like Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, and others. Here are some excerpts from Langan’s essay:

One novel does not a profound and lasting influence prove. However, there are others. Stephen King, for instance, has returned to Jackson’s work throughout his long career. In Carrie, there is a description of the young Carrie White having experienced a rain of stones very much like the one that precipitated upon the young Eleanor Vance. (And the novel’s portrait of the relationship between Carrie White and her mother probably owes something to the maternal conflict hinted at in The Haunting of Hill House) . . . As (King) acknowledges in Danse Macabre, The Shining engages Jackson’s The Sundial in its plot of a family confined to a large, old building while a storm rages outside. King’s script for Rose Red, in which a group of researchers gathers to investigate an infamous haunted house, began as a deliberate response to The Haunting of Hill House. Among recent works by other writers, Sarah Langan’s Audrey’s Door incorporates a rewriting of the opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House into a late chapter to signal its conversation with the novel, particularly at the nexus of mental illness, maternal anxiety, and uncanny dwelling places. Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts mirrors the sibling relationship at the heart of We Have Always Lived in the Castle to add resonance to his story of a family under pressure from forces from without and within.

Read More

 

 

Advertisements

A Sci-Fi Screenplay Written by Artificial Intelligence

Here’s an intriguing article about a screenplay written by a computer. I found this at ARS Technica.

Knowing that an AI wrote Sunspring makes the movie more fun to watch, especially once you know how the cast and crew put it together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival that includes the 48-Hour Film Challenge, where contestants are given a set of prompts (mostly props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next two days.

“As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight,” Sharp told Ars. The actors interpreted the lines as they read, adding tone and body language, and the results are what you see in the movie. Somehow, a slightly garbled series of sentences became a tale of romance and murder, set in a dark future world. 

Benjamin is an LSTM recurrent neural network, a type of AI that is often used for text recognition. To train Benjamin, Goodwin fed the AI with a corpus of dozens of sci-fi screenplays he found online—mostly movies from the 1980s and 90s. Benjamin dissected them down to the letter, learning to predict which letters tended to follow each other and from there which words and phrases tended to occur together. The advantage of an LSTM algorithm over a Markov chain is that it can sample much longer strings of letters, so it’s better at predicting whole paragraphs rather than just a few words. It’s also good at generating original sentences rather than cutting and pasting sentences together from its corpus. Over time, Benjamin learned to imitate the structure of a screenplay, producing stage directions and well-formatted character lines.

Read More

Psycho-geographic Impressionism

Tim Gilmore

Tim Gilmore

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” – from Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geograhy, 1955

From Burrow Press, an interview with Tim Gilmore by Hurley Winkler:

Hurley Winkler

Hurley Winkler

Before I ever met TIM GILMORE, I met his writing. I was a teenager, eager to explore the dozens of overgrown abandoned sites strewn throughout my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. I was still cautious, though, and did what any millennial would do before entering a sketchy building—I Googled it. That’s how I found Jax Psycho Geo, a blog Tim keeps to document his exploration of mysterious places in Jacksonville. Tim’s website not only gave me courage to explore, but introduced me to some of my favorite pieces of creative nonfiction.

Hurley Winkler: I want to ask you about your blog, Jax Psycho Geo, since that’s where I first started reading your work. What let you to start writing a blog?

Tim Gilmore: To begin with, I wanted to write this huge, sprawling postmodern novel. I wanted to represent the entire city as a novel somehow. And if you did that, you’d have to just sample everything you could sample, whether that was something hugely and historically significant, like Axe Handle Saturday, or if it was a woman falling asleep at her piano in Queens Harbor.

So I did that, and then realized that it was just huge and unwieldy. I wanted to expand so many of the smaller stories into bigger stories. I started the website, and originally, the first stories were all parts of what I thought was going to be this novel about Jacksonville. Instead, I put them all up [on the website] in a couple of days. That was five years ago.

HW: And you just kept going.

TG: I’m pretty obsessive, as you know.

HW: You use the word “sample.” What do you mean by that?

TG: Like sampling in music. You can’t represent the entirety of anything, because that wouldn’t be a representation. Anytime you try to represent something, you misrepresent it automatically because it is a representation. It’s not the thing, and it can never be the thing. It seemed to me that the way to picture an entirety of something was to show glimpses—almost impressionistically—of what might be happening all over town at the same time. That’s the most you could ever see of the whole picture.

Read More at Burrow Press

Robert A. Heinlein and Philip K. Dick: Contrast and Compare

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick

 

This essay by Gary Westfahl first appeared on Locus Online March 1, 2005.

Here are some excerpts:

Of course, one can readily epitomize the ways in which these authors are significantly different . . .  the characters that most interest them stand at opposite ends of the social spectrum . . . As Karl Marx would sum things up, Heinlein identifies with the aristocracy, Simak with the bourgeoisie, and Dick with the proletariat. More prosaically, the Heinlein Hero owns the office building; the Simak Hero runs a nice little shop on its ground level; and the Dick Hero sweeps his floors every night.

and

. . . it is not surprising that the polarizing changes in America during the 1960s moved Heinlein and Dick to opposite ends of the political spectrum. Heinlein, horrified by the counterculture and everything it represented, hardened into a bitter reactionary, eventually endorsing (in To Sail Beyond the Sunset) a longed-for President Patton’s policy of shooting drug dealers on sight. Dick embraced the counterculture, freely experimented with drugs, and announced a fervent admiration for young Americans and their liberal, liberating philosophies. For that reason, when commentators discuss the time when Heinlein happily purchased a new typewriter for a temporarily down-and-out Dick, this is presented as evidence of Heinlein’s amazingly generous spirit, his willingness to help individuals in need even if they were people he otherwise had reason to abhor.

I respectfully disagree. I think that Heinlein gave Dick a typewriter because he could recognize a soul brother when he saw one. And I would argue that, when one considers the qualities that made those writers great, the qualities that distinguish the wondrous novels and stories written in the first two decades of their careers, one must conclude that they are, in fundamental ways, exactly the same sort of writer.

Read More

Will Self Writes in the Morning

Author Will Self, photographed by Karen Robinson for The Guardian

Author Will Self, photographed by Karen Robinson for The Guardian

Again, someone who recommends writing in the morning. I’ve only written in the morning twice. Both times were to record lucid dreams before I forgot them. I keep saying I’m going to try it for my fiction writing. Maybe tomorrow.

From The Guardian:

When I’m working on a novel I type the initial draft first thing in the morning. Really: first thing. For preference, I have a cigarette ready-rolled and a coffee percolator loaded the night before; then I simply roll out of bed, fuel up and set to it. I believe the dreaming and imagining faculties are closely related, such that wreathed in night-time visions I find it possible to suspend disbelief in the very act of making stuff up, which, in the cold light of day would seem utterly preposterous. I’ve always been a morning writer, and frankly I believe 99% of the difficulties novices experience are as a result of their unwillingness to do the same. Narrative structure, mise en scene, characterisation − you can’t get to grips with these problems unless you’ve put the words on the page.

Read More

Contemporary Reviews of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula first edition

(First Edition – Archibald Constable and Company, 1897)

I’ve been perusing and enjoying The Bela Lugosi Blog all afternoon. I just discovered it today and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Bela Lugosi, Dracula, horror films, or film and television in general. 

Here are some reviews written about Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, when it was first published in the UK in 1897 and in the US in 1899. Fun reading, and interesting.

The Daily Mail, June 1, 1897

Review

It is said of Mrs. Radcliffe that when writing her now almost forgotten romances she shut herself up in absolute seclusion, and fed upon raw beef, in order to give her work the desired atmosphere of gloom, tragedy and terror. If one had no assurance to the contrary one might well suppose that a similar method and regimen had been adopted by Mr. Bram Stoker while writing his new novel “Dracula.” In seeking for a parallel to this weird, powerful, and horrorful story our mind reverts to such tales as “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” “Frankenstein,” “Wuthering Heights,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Marjery of Quether.” But “Dracula” is even more appalling in its gloomy fascination than any one of these.

We started reading it early in the evening, and followed Jonathan Harker on his mission to the Carpathians with no definite conjecture as to what waited us in the castle of Dracula. When we came to the night journey over the mountain road and were chased by the wolves, which the driver, with apparently miraculous power, repelled by a mere gesture, we began to scent mystery, but we were not perturbed. The first thrill of horrible sensation came with the discovery that the driver and the Count Dracula were one and the same person, that the count was the only human inhabitant of the castle, and that the rats, the bats, the ghosts, and the howling wolves were his familiars.

Read More

 

Hettie Jones: Prisons & Poets

Hettie Jones on Prisons and Poets

This article originally appeared on Literary Kicks, May 1, 2008

 In New York’s Greenwich Village, from 1957 to 1963, poets Hettie Jones and her then-husband LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka) published a magazine called Yugen, showcasing poetry and writings by Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen, and others. Hettie also started Totem Press, which published poets such as Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Frank O’Hara, and Edward Dorn. Jones is currently involved with PEN American Center’s Prison Writing Committee and teaches writing at the New School in New York. She also runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women at Bedford Hills. The Bedford Hills workshop has published two books of poetry, More In Than Out and Aliens At the Border. I purchased a copy of Aliens at the Border and I agree with Bibi Wein of the PEN American Center when she says, “Each of these women has a unique voice, and the writing is luminous, surprisingly lyrical, tender, and hopeful as a candle in the dark.”

You can enter Shelby’s Coffee House from the Laura street, or through the new Downtown Public Library in Jacksonville, Florida. I arrived early, hoping I could meet Hettie Jones in person before she took the podium. It paid off. Hettie arrived an hour before the event was scheduled to begin, accompanied by a guide from the city. I introduced myself and she invited me to sit at her table while library staff rearranged the chairs and tables to face the microphone.

“This is a beautiful library,” she said. “With a great children’s section.”

When I gave her a brief summary of the revitalization projects of downtown Jacksonville, Hettie’s first question was, “Has anyone been displaced by all the new construction?” I told her I didn’t think so, but didn’t know for sure.

I said I was interested in her prison writing classes, and wanted to if she would be talking about that aspect of her work. Jones said she wasn’t really supposed to talk about anything but the Beats.

“That’s what they brought me here for,” she said.

“Will you take questions from the audience later?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said.

“Well, then, if I raise my hand and ask about Bedford Correctional, they can’t blame you for talking about it.”

“True!” she said.

I apologized for being a pest, but I wanted to talk some more, in case we ran out of time later. Hettie is as cool as anyone I’ve ever met.

“No, it’s quite all right,” she said. “I like talking about the prison workshop. It’s important to me. The thing about teaching in a correctional facility is, you accept people for what they want to become, not what they have done in the past. I got my start in 1988 when I got paid $50.00 to teach a prose workshop in Sing Sing. It went well, but the funding ran out. Soon after that, I got the chance to teach at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, and I did that for about a dozen years.”

“Is that through PEN?” I asked.

“No, PEN is different. I was elected to PEN in 1984, and because of my involvement with prisons, PEN insisted that I join their Prison Writing committee.”

Aliens at the Border, Edited by Hettie Jones   Doing 70 by Hettie Jones

  By now, most of the chairs were filled and it was time for Hettie Jones to speak to the audience. She gave a brief introduction to the Beats, and spoke about several key players individually, reading a sample of each writer’s work.

“I first met Allen Ginsberg,” said Hettie, “When I was 24 years old. Allen needed to hear the Jewish prayer called the Kaddish, to help with the poem he was writing. He had never learned it. LeRoi brought me over to Allen’s place because I knew the Kaddish. And here you have a good picture of how the Beat movement mixed people from different backgrounds together. Here I was, a Jewish girl disowned by my parents for marrying a black man (LeRoi Jones), chanting the Kaddish to a homosexual poet who would later become a Buddhist!”

Speaking of Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, Hettie explained that Jack didn’t say that writers shouldn’t rewrite or keep journals. The best thought may be the best thought, and you write that thought in a journal, but you still must “Edit, edit, edit. And that is a hard lesson to learn.”

Asked about LeRoi Jones’ relation to the other Beats, Hettie said, “The fact that he was a black man was less important than the fact that he and I were publishing people.”

Someone wanted to know about William S. Burroughs. Hettie said that Burroughs was a loner, didn’t hang out at parties, and was hard to know. “Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, although gay, still had female friends to whom they showed love. Burroughs seemed to have no use for women at all.”

I raised my hand and asked if there were any paid positions for teachers in prisons.

“Nobody wants to pay you to do it,” said Hettie. “You have to raise your own funding. That’s what I did. Prisons are like little fiefdoms. It’s hard to get in the door. Most prisons have an Office of Volunteer Services, and that would be the place to start. If you teach at a university, it’s a good antidote to go teach at a prison for a while. The poetry is as good, sometimes better, than poetry written elsewhere. It’s rewarding. You go in with the attitude of accepting people for what they want to become, not what they have done.”

How I Became Hettie Jones    Hettie Jones detail from book cover

The last questioner asked if their were any writers today that Hettie would compare to the Beats.

“We have one running for President,” she said, to a smattering of applause, referring to Barack Obama.

“We have many good poets today,” Hettie continued, “And a lot of them are not coming from universities. In New York, we have the Bowery Poetry club run by Bob Holman, a dear friend of mine. We have the Internet. We have Hip Hop. We have Def Poetry on television.”

After the event, I had one more question. A friend of mine wanted to know if there was ever a rivalry between Hettie Jones and Diane De Prima. This was a sensitive subject because both women had been involved romantically with LeRoi Jones during the fifties. I got up the nerve to ask.

“You should just tell your friend to read my book, How I Became Hettie Jones,” she said. “I tell all about it in the book.”