A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Horror Movie Edition

Here are a few horror movies that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

movie poster for ready or not
Ready or Not (2019) missed me when it came out, but it’s a delightful, thrilling, winking part of the “the real horror is the rich” micro-trend, with a supernatural side order.
dvd cover of 2014 the grudge
Had never heard of obscure indie flick The Grudge from 2004, so thought I’d check it out. Not bad!
poster for doctor sleep
I wasn’t eager to see this or read the book it was based on. Living up to the legacy of a classic horror novel, and a classic adaptation that’s a genuinely great film that the book’s author never liked… seemed a difficult proposition at best. Turns out, what do I know? Doctor Sleep is the real deal.
movie poster for angel heart
Angel Heart was a fun, strange watch for me. Many people love it, and it is good, but lacking any sort of nostalgia for it? I thought it was an 80s supernatural thriller, with Robert De Niro mustering big Alec-Guinness-does-Star Wars energy.
I really enjoyed Hold the Dark. Lots to like, and I’m still thinking about it a month later, including the performances and dialogue, but this is one flawed film. Weird editing, lots of things way out of proportion, story-wise. If you like brooding, atmospheric A24 biz, check it out. (Maybe look around online for the opinions about how well Yup’ik language and culture are or aren’t represented here. Apparently the answer is complicated.)
the green knight poster
I’m grouping The Green Knight here because it’s A24 and vibes thoroughly with a lot of other A24 stuff. It has the darkness that underlies many, many fantasies and is a sumptuous watch. We saw it in the theater, and it was a sight to behold.
film poster for rebecca 2020
Apparently every die-hard Rebecca or du Maurier fan hated the 2020 version of Rebecca? Whatever! It’s great, and they’re all wrong. Check it out. (And if you don’t think it’s horror… watch it again.)

Open-Source How To Write Gooders

man on motorcycle
Turn left at Amazon, stop at Goodreads, go three sites north…

Mostly, I try not to dwell on writing process or business in detail anymore. I did it a lot in the ol’ LiveJournal days, back when I was just starting to find community and do the things that newly serious writers do. LJ waned, platforms changed, and so on. After I passed through some invisible but tangible doorway, long conversations about writing became less interesting. I had chewed over most of the big writing questions, at least the ones appropriate for me for the moment.

Things change. I’m currently enmeshed in the transition from one novel draft to the next. I’m working harder than I ever have to improve my scene transitions. It is literally exhausting, working on it at the intensity I currently am, from the analysis to the rewriting. This is new territory for me, which is nice. It’s encouraging to see that I have room to grow, can tell that, and can see a path forward.

Anyway, these days I mostly spend my social media time on Twitter (@smythsewn), which never lacks for writing-related drama. The perennial to-MFA-or-not-to-MFA debate popped up again last week, courtesy of an article about overpriced programs. Many hot takes resulted, but also some cool ones. I particularly liked Faylita Hix’s open-source MFA/professionalization thread, and Lincoln Michel’s post on everything he’s learned about “professional” writing.

A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Comics Edition

Here are a few comics that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

I picked this up on a whim, and I really enjoyed it. Futures past are their own strange form of fantasy, and Blade Runner 2019 is particularly so. It emerges from the soup of the various different Blade Runners out there, along with the whole architecture of cyberpunk, once cutting edge and now increasingly conservative. Even given all that, this volume managed to weave a clever story around ability and disability, which I hadn’t expected going in.
B.P.R.D.‘s long arcs cover all sorts of highways and byways of the Mignolaverse. Though I really like individual stories in this volume or that, this collection is my favorite thus far, and it brings the long arc of the Frogs to a satisfying end.
After years of reading this or that story, I set out a while back to read all of Hellboy. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m still trying. I like the big arcs, and I like the small stories even more. The quiet and mysterious ones most of all. I like to see a mystery or two remain unexplained. The Crooked Man and Others is full of all of that.
Cover of graphic novel about the Green River killer
Hard reading, but good. These killings were a significant part of my childhood experience, as I grew up in that place around that time, and they were always in the news. I recognized businesses and vistas in here, and this comic’s creators got the feel right, 100%.

A Few of My Favorite (Pandemic) Things: Literary Edition

Here are a few books that really floated my boat over the last 16+ months…

Cover of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Finally read this in April 2020, and it was as delightful as you might expect, given its author and its awards.
Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. An outstanding 2020 first novel that I still find myself thinking about, for its politics, humor, and most of all its characters.
Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians has been nominated for and won a bunch of awards. And well it should! This book did new things. Scary things.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is an award-winning novel that I couldn’t put down. It draws from all sorts of topics she’s researched at length. This book felt to me like the definition of a book that springs from an author’s interests & perspective in such a way that no other author could have done the same book justice.
A couple years ago, I picked up a psychological thriller called The Kind Worth Killing, by a guy I’d never heard of: Peter Swanson. It was compelling! I’ve since gone on to read most of his books and enjoyed every one. Eight Perfect Murders was no different: a mystery about mysteries, and thoroughly Hitchcock.
Though I’ve probably read more by Stephen King than any other living author, I never got around to Doctor Sleep until recently. I’m glad I did! While it’s billed as a sequel of sorts to The Shining, it’s simply a different book, and very good.
I tore through Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. Ware specializes in modern turns on Golden-Age tropes and techniques, revitalizing them for the 21st century. If you liked Knives Out, but you just can’t plug in to Christie, Sayers, March, and kin, try this. I’m making my way through the rest of her books, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway is also prime reading.

Whenworldscollide: Special Edition

One of the categories on this here blog that consistently gets attention, even after individual posts have fallen off most people’s radars, is “whenworldscollide.” That’s where I stick the stuff that lives in the Venn diagram of creative writing, scholarship, librarianship, and academic stuff. 2021’s been busy with that kind of stuff.

Early next year, my essay “Olympia, Wilderness, and Consumption in Laird Barron’s Old Leech Cycle” will be published in Fantastic Cities: American Urban Spaces in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Likely not the rubric most people use for thinking about Old Leech, but it worked for me because I kept thinking about how very well Laird Barron does both Olympia and Washington, and also how little academics have yet written about either Barron or fiction set in Olympia. I probably wouldn’t have tried to write this piece back when I was first a librarian, trying to wall off different parts of my life and never really thinking about literary scholarship, but here we are.

Last week I moderated a lively discussion about the future of speculative fiction for James River Writers, the Central Virginia writing org on whose Board of Directors I served some years ago. Our conversation roamed over many topics, but I wound up juggling my writing hat and my library hat a bit, in particular on the question of genre labels and taxonomies. A tough issue that continues to get tougher as readers’ tastes solidify and specify. Many U.S. readers have no nearby bookstore they can happily browse, and many factors (not least the pandemic) have continued to drive book buyers to online sellers. In that environment, what a book is classified as can at times matter far more than it used to… to the reader, writer, publisher, OR library.

Finally, back in May I had the distinct (and new for me!) pleasure of serving as a keynote speaker at a symposium hosted by the University of Calgary, “Integrating Library, Archives and Special Collections into Creative Writing Pedagogy: An Experiential Symposium.” It was an honor and super-invigorating to present and help plan with the organizers and my fellow keynoter, David Pavelich. This event was some years in the making and had to be shifted online due to the pandemic, which put a damper on some facets and allowed for new ones, including broader attendance. None of it could have happened without the indefatigable efforts of my Canadian colleagues, Melanie Boyd, Aritha van Herk, and Jason Nisenson. Lots of great “whenworldscollide” moments here, but I have to say that it was a particular delight to talk about the research practices of various folks in horror and weird fiction.