On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Kelly Link’s, The Specialist’s Hat, a work that earned Link the World Fantasy Award in 1999. It is a literary mash-up of horror, fantasy and fairy-tale. Disturbing, strange and brilliant, The Specialist’s Hat is almost as fun to discuss as it is to read-and it calls to be read over and over and…
On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk, I discuss one of Shirley Jackson’s lesser-known works, The Summer People. This story is classic Jackson, complete with angry villagers, outsiders and a house that just may be a couple’s undoing.
Of course, it’s impossible discuss Shirley Jackson’s work without talking about the author herself. Her relationship with her mother, her troubled marriage, her insecurities and addictions, her internal conflict over her dual roles as both homemaker and dark fiction writer-she channeled these struggles into the characters and themes that drive her narratives.
Jackson wrote in a style that, on the surface, is rather simple; her prose is clear and concise, yet at times disarmingly poetic. Until recently she was underrated as a writer in part because much of her work was classified as horror, a less esteemed genre than literary fiction. Jackson’s brilliance, however, is most evident in her ability to shed light on the darkness and frailty that lie within us all. Her protagonists are as disturbed as her angry villagers. Her settings are far less haunted than the people who inhabit them. Her characters behave in alarming and, at times, wicked ways, and yet you can’t help but hope they will be okay in the end…and usually they are not. In fact, in Jackson’s world, nothing is okay. It is a hostile place that is inhabited by lonely people who stand on the precipice of madness or death. She holds a mirror to her readers, reflecting our fears about ourselves and the communities in which we live. Despite this, her work is immensely entertaining to read. Jackson has fun placing her characters in peril, and you can be sure it gave her great pleasure to shake up her readers and make us uncomfortable. I would argue that if you don’t feel unsettled after reading Jackson, you haven’t enjoyed the full experience.
Tonight on Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Henry James’s exquisite short story, The Altar of the Dead. This beautiful and haunting tale is not only a meditation on death, betrayal, forgiveness and unconditional love, it is also a reflection of what haunted James himself at the time he wrote it. The Altar of the Dead demands careful reading, not because it is unnecessarily complex but because James was so generous in his crafting of the tale that you do not want to miss all he offers.
*Please note that James’s 1904 masterpiece was The Golden Bowl, not The Glass Bowl. Unfortunately by the time “glass” stumbled out of my mouth, it was too late to turn back.
It’s Devil’s Night, Mischief Night, Halloween Eve, the perfect time to discuss one of the greatest scary, short stories ever written-Marghanita Laski’s THE TOWER! I do not understand why this story is not included in the short literary fiction canon along with Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY and Flannery O’Connor’s A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND. Please check out the latest episode of STRANGE & SCARY STORY TALK, my YouTube channel where I discuss dark and twisted short fiction, and share your thoughts. Is this story as great as I think it is? Also, if you like what you see, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.
I have a new project to announce-Strange & Scary Story Talk, my YouTube show where I discuss dark and strange works of fiction, both classic and contemporary, and, at the end of each episode, leave the viewer with a question (or three) to ponder.
During each episode I offer short and insightful commentary on not only a literary work but also its creator. I must say that the writers are as interesting as the tales they imagine!
So far I have discussed Shirley Jackson’s THE POSSIBILITY OF EVIL, Joyce Carol Oates’ WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?, Edith Wharton’s POMEGRANATE SEED and Daphne du Maurier’s THE DOLL.
Please be sure to check out Strange & Scary Story Talk on YouTube, and, if you like what you see, don’t forget to hit subscribe! Also, share your insights about the stories in the comments section so that we can continue the conversation!
Can’t wait to talk strange and scary stories with you!
Some say they read literature to build empathy and develop a deeper understanding of lives different from their own. It sounds so selfless, so noble. But, if I am to be honest, I am neither as selfless nor as noble as that. Sure, one of the benefits of reading is that it invites us to reach beyond ourselves and our limited knowledge of the worlds outside ours, but, for me, what I like most about literature is that within it I can find myself and in doing so feel less alone in my own small world, for my world, as all worlds are, is a lonely place. We are solitary creatures-no matter how many people surround us, no matter how many friends and relationships we forge, we are alone with our thoughts, our memories, our secrets.
Sometimes readers and writers remain strangers, walking side by side, appreciating the company, but, in the end, they develop no greater understanding of the other than in the beginning. But there are other times, when somewhere in the forest of thought and words, there is a flicker of light, and under that light the writer fully sees the reader and reveals to her what before was unspoken, hidden, buried.
Sometimes a writer looks at you and tells you who you are. Or tells you that you are not alone, for she is the same as you, at least in that moment, in that thought, in that action. This, for me, is the greatest gift the writer bestows upon the reader.
I do not possess the ability to retain and perfectly recall hundreds of lines I have read in books from years past. There are only a handful which I carry with me, but these have been my companions, assuring me that someone else, some writer at some moment in time, felt the same way I did, and we met once when I wandered into her world of mystery and words, and in a flicker of light she saw me, and I understood that I was not alone.
Here are a few of those lines:
“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!” Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
“I’m inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to secret griefs of wild, unknown men.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
” ‘You will have only one story,’ she had said. ‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.’ ” Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton
“What if my whole life has been wrong?” Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
What lines do you carry with you? When has an author echoed or articulated your thoughts, secrets, fears? What has an author said to reassure you that you are not alone?
Hello friends. Over the past year I have been busy working on my book, “The Cat in the Wall and Other Dark & Twisted Tales of Women in Strange Situations,” which I recently published on Amazon. In this small collection of six short stories, I explore the spaces between sanity and madness & reality and fantasy. Each story includes a different female protagonist at a different life stage-from an eleven-year-old girl grappling with a sinister family secret, to a mother struggling with how to best cope with a child afflicted by a mysterious malady, to a woman whose grasp of reality becomes increasingly tenuous with age. All six characters must navigate a world where the line between what is real and what is fantastic is blurred.
Now that my book is in the world, I hope to be more present here, this lovely place where I have learned so much about the craft of writing.
If you would like to read “The Cat in the Wall,” you can go to Amazon here or click on the link on the right of this page. You can purchase it in either ebook and paperback format, and the first story is available to read for free.