I watched the movie, Ink, yesterday, which is kind of the holy grail of independent movies in that you always want to hear about one that is weirder than could get made by a regular studio and yet still really emotionally affecting, and that movie is it.

As it ended and I sat there with tears running down my face, I thought, “Now I know what it’s like to be a shitty dad.”

Now I just have to find some time this week to watch Frame.

Lovecraft Country

It’s been a long time since I read a book I was enjoying as slowly as I read Lovecraft Country, but I didn’t want it to end.But then the ending! Oh, man, the ending was perfect. What is a Lovecraftian Horror in the face of an American Horror?

I’m especially going to be thinking about Ruby for a long time. I found the resolution to her character deeply troubling and I’m not sure what to make of it, which, obviously, is what the story intends.

But I really appreciated the humor of it, the horror of it, and the arguments about family and community that it makes.

Mr. Splitfoot

I read Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot last night. It was pretty amazing. I finished it and I was just like “wow.”

But man, did I really feel like every review or promotional material I read about the book beforehand really kind of missed the mark. I mean, I picked up the book because so many people had said it was great.

But it’s not a story about a woman who talks to the dead. Or at least, not how it was presented in the promotional material. It’s a book about mothers and sisters and aunts. It’s about losing things and trying to find them again. It’s about the kinds of love that aren’t romantic.

It’s really lovely. It’s just not really what I thought I’d been told it was going to be.

For Exposure

I finally finished Jason Sizemore’s For Exposure:The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, which I have been trying to read for the past three weeks. But I’ve literally gotten no reading done in my effort to my writing and my afghan done.

Anyway, the book is a really good overview of what it takes to run a small press and I say that as someone who works at a small press in an entirely different context. Especially relevant, I thought, was the discussion about how your successes can jam you up just as much as your failures. The best part about the book is that, as Sizemore’s telling his stories, the people involved in the story are given room for rebuttal. Sometimes it’s just a snarky footnote, but often they get a chance to tell the story you just read from their perspective.

Which means I got to not only read about Sara Harvey being a literal angel, I then got to read her more modest but also funny take on the same story.

Anyway, good times.


It was surprisingly good. You can’t think about it too much or the thought of turning everyone into “gentlemen” when the gentlemen are behaving so atrociously is disturbing and a group of white guys (and girls) taking down the black dude and the woman with prosthetic legs is a troubling dynamic.

But I had to laugh, because, within my lifetime, butt sex has gone from something you did not talk about and, if that’s the kind of porn you watched, you were considered some kind of hardcore pervert, to something that’s cheeky fun for spies.

A Head Full of Ghosts

[Mild spoilers] As I mentioned on Twitter last night, rather than writing, I spent my evening eating the rest of the brussel sprouts and reading Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s pretty brilliant. In some ways, it’s like Cabin in the Woods, in that it really, really knows its genre and the tropes in it and it knows as many or more than you do, so, even when you think you’ve guessed the trope–I, for instance, became convinced at some point that there was a little The Sixth Sense thing going on and it was going to turn out that Ken was a ghost, but no, he interacts with people–it’s usually something else. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but, also, I felt pretty sure we were riffing off one Shirley Jackson novel when, at the end, it became quite clear we were riffing off another.

But the nice thing about all the references to all the stuff that’s come before it is that sometimes, say, for instance, a name gets thrown in, like there’s a Doctor Navidson, which is obviously a reference to House of Leaves, but nothing major directly ties the story to House of Leaves. In other words, the name is an Easter Egg, not a clue. But then, when the end happens, it’s like, oh, duh, the girl’s name is Merry. It was right there in front of us the whole time. That was a clue not just a homage.

The other thing Tremblay does really well–and it pisses me off because he basically has a character explain to you exactly what he’s doing and he still does it and it still works–is to utterly misdirect your attention. He sits you in the head of his point-of-view character and points your attention out at the people she interacts with. The story asks a series of questions–the main one being whether the girl at the center of the book is mentally ill or possessed–and you read along and you form your theories and you regard how well he manages the ambiguity and leaves enough clues for it to go either way. And then you get to the end and you realize you’ve been encouraged to ponder the wrong questions, to scrutinize the wrong girl, to even envision the wrong person at the center of the book.

It’s so well done.

The other really brilliant thing he does is to sense at which points his readers are going to be “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” and has his narrator say “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” or the like. And he then uses the similarity/homage to add to the sense of “well, is it like The Exorcist because it’s real or because it’s fake?”

Anyway, I really liked it and I about died of jealousy, because, damn, I want to write something that smart and unsettling.

I Watched a Lot of Movies

I felt pretty sick to my stomach yesterday so I basically sat on the couch and made octagons and watched movies.

First up was Bessie, which was on HBO. I really want to see it on the big screen or sitting closer to the screen. It was so beautiful and the costumes were amazing. I heard some complaints about the pacing but I didn’t notice. I really felt like I was watching something amazing. I really liked, especially, the way the movie got at how performing and being a performer is a give and take with the audience, something you do together, for and with each other.

Then we watched Sunset, though I sat outside and thought about “Ashland” for the first part. It was good, but we more enjoyed it for the “Oh, hey, it’s that guy!” aspects.

Then the Butcher fell asleep and I rewatched Lake Mungo, which might have also fallen under “thinking about Ashland.” This time I was really struck by how I still thought it was really good, but how much faster things seemed to happen, and how less dreamlike it felt. I also want to take to heart how, again, simple it is. I think that, in order for a haunted house story to work, it’s probably best to not convolute the plot.

And last, I watched As Above, So Below, which was… I don’t know… really stupid and not scary and somehow much, much better than it had any right to be.

I feel like I’m on the verge of figuring out what’s not working for me about the little bit of “Ashland” I have done.

I really want to see copies of the paperback of The Wolf’s Bane, but I’m trying not to be all nutty and pushing about it.


I’m just about finished with Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told. It is just as fantastic as you’ve been told. I only wish I’d read the bad reviews on Goodreads before I’d read the book, because it would have provided me with some levity in a book where there’s very little. (One of the reviewers seems to think that Baptist is black and doing his part of make white people feel bad. A few seemed to think that Baptist’s book had nothing to do with the economics of slavery–even though the whole last half of the book is how Southern speculators managed to tank the American economy in the 1830s and the fall-out from that for the next thirty–and more–years.)

I really highly recommend it. Baptist’s an academic, but his writing is accessible. It’s lengthy and I had to take substantial mental-health breaks between chapters. But I also felt like he walked a really masterful line of showing all the kinds of terrible thing that happened without fixating on a few bad actors, so as to let everyone else off the hook.

I also appreciated how he wrestled with the language we use to talk about slavery to try to really get at what was going on. He calls “plantations” “labor camps,” which is really evocative. But I also ended up feeling like “enslaver” is not entirely satisfactory. On the one hand, it gets at the fact that it was an ongoing, continuous process. You couldn’t just make a person a slave. You had to do things that constantly reinforced to the people you held in captivity that they were slaves. But it also has the effect, to me, of seeming like there was a specific social role or job of “enslaver.” And maybe you could argue that, yes, this is the social role of slave owners. But I kept having to stop and figure out whether we were talking about all slave owners or some subset.

But I don’t think that’s a drawback to the book. I think one of the arguments he’s making is that we’re so familiarized with a certain story about slavery and we have to do things–talk about things we don’t normally talk about, look at things we don’t normally look at, use words we wouldn’t normally use–to jar ourselves out of thinking about slavery in the usual way. That they’re not always going to be satisfactory is to be expected.

Ghost Graduation

Trying to find a good spooky movie on Netflix is always something of a challenge. So, when we saw that a movie stupidly titled “Ghost Graduation” had over four stars, we were unconvinced. (The best horror movies on Netflix usually have a rating just under three stars, for some reason.)

But we watched it.

And it was fantastic! It was like, kind of, if Beetlejuice and The Breakfast Club had an affair and left their baby in Spain to be raised by rabid Bonnie Tyler fans.

I would love to know why Spain churns out such satisfying ghost stories. I thought The Orphanage was tremendous, intensely satisfying, and utterly horrible.

There are so many ghost stories I love–The Orphanage, The Haunting of Hill House, The Red Tree, Lake Mungo, The Devil’s Backbone–that I keep thinking I would like to try my hands at one. Not that I don’t already write ghost stories, but something spooky and sad and lovely.

Wolf in White Van

I read it. I didn’t like it. I think it’s really well-written and well-executed, but I just didn’t like it.

I hate books like that–where you feel like you should be able to enjoy it, because look at how objectively good it is, but you just can’t ever settle into it as enjoyable.

Though, honestly, I don’t know. I feel a little numb myself still, in ways that continue to surprise me. The other night, the Butcher just opened the door and let the dog out without hooking him up, because it was raining and he was convinced the dog would come right back in. And when I went over to check on him, of course, he was gone.

And I turned to the Butcher and said, “that was a dick move.” And then I sat back down. That struck me as odd–that I could recognize that the dog was missing, but I couldn’t give a shit (and believe me, this whole discussion becomes funnier, in context, as the month goes on).

And there’s been lots of good news, too, that I just can’t give a shit about. I mean, I care, just, not that much.

I know I will come back to myself eventually, but it’s taking a while.

An Evening of Movies

First, I watched Thale, which is short and sweet and amazing. Maybe it’s because I’m emotional and I have all kinds of feelings about my parents coming down and being genuinely helpful and tender, but I cried at the end. I guess this is supposed to kind of be a creepy movie, but it’s more like a beautiful fairytale. Yet again, well done, Scandinavia. (Though, fair warning, one of the main characters is named Elvis, which, I suspect, in Norway isn’t funny, but it kind of colored how I saw the character.)

Then I watched The Punk Singer, which is a documentary about Kathleen Hanna. It’s really, really good. I was too isolated to have been plugged into the whole Riot Grrrl thing as it was happening and I kind of thought that I knew nothing about Kathleen Hanna, so I was really pleasantly surprised to discover how many of her songs I knew and to see how influential her–and her peers–had been on me, three or four or a million ripples removed from the actual impact. I don’t really have a huge punk rock influence, but I do believe that this world sucks and that the only way to survive it in any meaningful way is to band together with like-minded people and to make and do things that matter to you. Art, to me, is the court jester’s fuck you to the human condition.

So, yeah, I really liked it. Though it’s impossible to watch and to not wonder what the fuck is wrong with Courtney Love (though she’s mentioned very, very briefly) which I guess is why Netflix then recommends Hit So Hard, the documentary about Hole’s drummer, Patty Schemel. It’s also really good, but it’s heavy and I can’t quite shake the feeling the documentary gave me. It’s weird to finish a movie about a band you love and end up feeling like you wish almost every one in it’s lives could have gone better.

The Day the Whistles Cried

This afternoon, I read Betsy Thorpe’s The Day the Whistles Cried, which is about the Dutchman’s Curve accident, which was the worst train accident in history. It’s a quick read and really interesting. It’s arranged kind of like an episode of Law & Order. The first half is all about figuring out what happened and the second half is a courtroom drama about who’s to blame.

I’m thinking a lot about how to write about history in a way that’s interesting for people who aren’t scholars, so I was paying special attention to how Thorpe handled it. She takes a narrative approach, where she’s telling you the best story she can based on the facts she knows. And she seems to have run down just about every fact a person can still get his or her hands on this many years after the fact. I cried. I found it really moving and effective.

I think she also does a really good job of bringing up a lot of issues that you need to know if you want to do more research into the accident without overwhelming you if you don’t care to know more than she shares with you. I mean, you come away with a pretty thorough understanding of how trains in the South were set up to be death traps for black people and how black people in Nashville were taking huge risks to get that changed. So, if you want to know more, you know there’s meat on that particular bone and can go look.

I want to say that Thorpe’s book is an excellent place to start, but I’m afraid it sounds like an insult and I really mean it as a compliment. I think her volume is the place you should start if you want to learn about it. For some folks, this book will definitely be enough–it’s very thorough–and for others, Thorpe’s laid out clear paths to other interesting topics.

Lake Mungo

So, they have it on HBO right now and the description calls it a mockumentary, which meant that I spent the first twenty minutes waiting for it to be funny. Happily, it was weird and creepy, so even though it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I kept watching. And wow. I don’t say this lightly. I think this is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen/read. At least among the most satisfying. It’s not a typical horror movie. There’s no brutal murders (on-screen or off). There’s no inexplicable malevolent forces of evil. There’s not even anything that jumps out at you. It’s just a whole movie’s worth of dread and horror.

It is filmed like a documentary, which means that there’s a lot of reminiscing about what happened, and a lot of pretending like these events would have been so well-known to you, but here’s the real story. This leads to this wonderful moment about a third of the way into the film, when a handful of really creep things have happened and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay, because they’ve–in real life–just done it with mirrors and trick camera work, when they “reveal” in the movie that they’ve just done it with mirrors and trick camera work. I can’t tell you how delicious this moment is, when you feel like you’ve drifted off into a “not real, but close to real” realm so there’s some distance, some ability to sit back and just enjoy, and the film makers reground you hard in the real world.

I was telling the Butcher, too, that it’s a little like watching a Penn & Teller act as a horror movie. They show you how they did everything. I still found the last frame of the film to be fucking terrifying.

I don’t know how this didn’t make a bigger splash when it was released. I mean, yes, it’s a low-budget Australian ghost story, but it’s so well-done. I was really hoping I could talk the Butcher into rewatching it last night, but he didn’t seem that game. But he eventually conceded I had been right about Trollhunters, so I think I can get him on-board with this eventually.

Edited to add: I ran across this, by the guy responsible for making it look the way it does. It makes me want to watch it again.

All Them Witches

I told the Butcher that this is what happens when a kid raised on Black Sabbath and Zeppelin goes back through time and discovers The Doors. He said, “Is that supposed to make me want to listen to it?” I said, “No, I’m just trying to explain to you why I love them.” Seriously. If you don’t hear it in the way they “Ooos” go, then this is just not going to be for you. But, if you do hear it, this is going to be the best thing you hear all day.

I don’t know who Charles William is, but I’m secretly hoping it’s the Inkling Charles Williams.

Ender’s Game: The Movie

Allowing for the fact that I never read the book and I never was a boy–what the fuck was that hot mess? Let’s just start with the fact that, on a planet with seven billion people, why did they keep being all “The aliens killed tens of millions of people.” We have seven billion people on a huge planet. And I’m supposed to believe that the whole world came together because an intergalactic force wiped out Southern California? We couldn’t all come together to stop Stalin and at the scale of space, he lived in the same house with us, sat on the same couch, put the moves on whoever had the middle cushion, even if we were dating them. Couldn’t the aliens have killed a billion people?

But the main problem with the movie, frankly, is that it tried to hew too close to the book. Ender’s family could have been way parred down because all that shit about being a third matters in the book (I assume) but means nothing in the movie. We needed less time with the whole “Ender beats up bullies” and more time with “Ender is having something weird with this game.”

But the Butcher and the Red-Headed Kid looooved it. Loved. So, you know, to each their own.

More on Sound of Noise

Okay, so here are some other things I loved about it. There’s a man and a woman at the core of it. They might even be said to have a very tiny thing. But it doesn’t go anywhere! And that’s not a tragedy. It was really fun to listen to. In that way, it kind of reminded me of The Innkeepers. (Just in that way, though. South of Noise is not at all, even in the slightest, a horror movie.) And, for a movie about music and making music, there are a lot of really delicious silences.

It makes me wonder just how outlandish a central premise you could come up with and still frame it with “real”ness.

I feel like many of my stories are obviously not quite here, like we have all moved over together into unreal Nashville (or wherever). But this movie was very “real” except for the central two things. And I kind of like thinking about that, moving one or two strange things from “unreal” into real.

Like everything is the same as it is here, but you can use butterflies as a heat source. Like, how little a change could you make?

I don’t know. I’m thinking about it anyway.

Men in Black III

The Butcher, the Red-Headed Kid, and I watched it. We all really liked it. I’m not sure we would have liked it if we hadn’t heard it sucked, but, because our expectations were so low, we were pleasantly surprised at every turn.

We did laugh long and hard when Josh Brolin’s character said he was 29.

It’s too bad he’s such a douche in real life, because I have had a huge crush on him since that Pony Express show.

Same Story, Different Books

Things went a little strange here this weekend, thus freeing me up a lot of time to read while waiting for people to arrive and leave and arrive again. So, I read Sarah Water’s Affinity and John Searles’ Help for the Haunted.

In order to talk about what I want to talk about–that these are the same story in different books–spoilers abound.

So, to be clear, I’m not making any kind of accusation of plagiarism. It’s not the same writing. I don’t think Searles ripped off Waters. The plots are really different. But both books are about what happens when people pretending to have supernatural powers come into contact with women who aren’t allowed to be lesbians and what goes wrong because of that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I guessed that Rose in Help for the Haunted was gay precisely because of Affinity.

Anyway, I really enjoyed them both. I think Affinity is slightly better. But it’s so terrible. I would say, about 2/3 of the way through, I figured out what was going on–though not exactly the particulars–and I spent the last half of the book really hoping I was wrong or that, at the least, Margaret would have some kind of happy ending. But no!

Help for the Haunted has some things it’s probably best to not think too hard about–like why a troubled girl is made the guardian of her younger sister instead of dumping the sister into the foster system, or why the younger sister would be able to kill a person without any kind of real fall-out. But it was still entertaining.

Just weird that two books, kind of picket at random, just for the Spiritualism tie in, would be so similar in other ways.

The United States of Paranoia

This weekend I read Jesse Walker’s The United States of Paranoia. And it contains a brief discussion of The Mystic Clan! Which is not the only reason to read it, but it’s a good one. Anyway, I feel like, if you were just going to read two books on where we are as a nation at this moment, you could do no better than this and Balko’s book. Somewhere, in the space between them, there’s just a lot of good truth about where we are and why.

Walker does some things very nicely. I think he does a great job of showing how paranoia is built into the fabric of our country, that it’s been there pretty much from the moment the English met the Indians and worried they were conspiring with the French or other Indians to do them in. And he’s appropriately sympathetic to the truth in that old bumper sticker that just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you. (Pause for an appreciation of Nirvana’s ability to turn a bumper sticker into a song lyric). There are actually conspiracies, just not always the ones we think.

I also liked that he got into how we talk about belief in conspiracies as if it’s just the provenance of wacko lefties or nutty right-wingers, but they’re actually interwoven throughout races, classes, genders, and political beliefs.

He organizes types of conspiracies we believe in into four main ones–the enemy outside (The Indians are plotting against us!), the enemy inside (Your wife is secretly a witch!), the enemy below (the slaves are plotting against us!), and the enemy above (a secret society headed by Andy Jackson really rules the country and they’re the ones agitating the Indians, witches, and slaves against you!)–and then talks about how these motifs reoccur and morph into each other.

One of the most interesting things he talks about is how our brains are so determined to find these kinds of patterns that you can end up with a situation where, say, 10 college history professors get together and decide to play a game where they will “prove” using historical documents that every U.S. president is or has been a vampire, and they can find “evidence” of this secret vampire cabal pretty easily and even, weirdly enough, considering they know they made it up, find themselves forgetting that this isn’t true.

In other words, if you put a compelling enough narrative order to random facts, your brain will begin to accept the truth of that narrative order even if it’s just arbitrary and made up. And he talks a little about the trap where even the absence of evidence can be evidence. So, if you couldn’t find anything that suggested that FDR was a vampire, it wouldn’t necessarily prove that he wasn’t. He could, after all, just be the best at keeping it secret.

It’s interesting to think how this thing that is normally a force for good in our lives–learning to recognize patterns and developing understanding from those patterns–can easily also work against a person.

But it’s also kind of the driving force behind Project X–Sam Houston was really a werewolf! Adelicia Acklen collected weird canines! That cute girl at the brothel was really the Devil! So, I’m convinced it’s a good book for writers to read, just for understanding on how to build plots that contain sinister plots.

The Family Fang

1. I feel like this is the story of the emotional truth of my upbringing, just enlarged.

2. Whew. I’m glad to have read this.

Not My Thing

In the past couple of weeks, I read I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro and North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. They’re both short-story collections. They’re both exquisitely written. I mean, god damn, each story is like some perfectly crafted jewel.

Some perfectly crafted jewel that just leaves me feeling like blech. What is this thing I have just read and why did I just read it?

I want to think some more about what I didn’t like about them. Like I said, it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the writing. These are folks who have brought their A-games. Possibly not just their A-games. But there’s a kind of heaviness to their writing that I don’t like. I finished both of them and felt like “Great, now I can’t breathe.”


Holy shit! We watched this movie, Woochi, this morning and it was fantastic. I just couldn’t believe it. It starts out strange and beautiful and then just remains so. And I don’t know if it’s the fact that, since there’s already a lot of wirework, I, as a viewer, was willing to accept a level of corniness or if they just did a great job with the CGI, but a lot of the plot hinges on there being a scary rat and rabbit and, by god, they are scary.

I kept asking the Butcher how he learned about this movie, but he said it was just a crapshoot that he picked it.

Dr. Parnassus blah blah blah

We watched that Dr. Parnassus movie which started out so intriguingly and then kind of petered out into nonsense. Beautiful nonsense, but still nonsense. I was trying to decide if it would have been better had Ledger lived, but the truth is that it called for such a weird change of Tony’s character from scamp to evil-doer that I don’t think so. How could anyone make that work?

Still, I can’t stop thinking about it. It was so beautiful and just the right kind of strange.

Valerie June

It’s everything I hoped it would be. Except that I somehow have it on my iPod twice, so it plays each song like an echo when it’s over. Which is not ideal when trying to think about it as a whole.

But it makes me feel like when you are floating in a lake and it’s wonderful and then the fish start nibbling on your leg hair.

Not that that’s ever happened to me.

I’m just saying, I heard the fish in Percy Priest might do that.