A Very Good Day

Today was the sort of awesome day that makes me a little wary of going up and down the stairs, because it seems so out of balance that I am undoubtedly bucking for a broken leg or something. I finished the art for Fairybreath (oh god yay!) hit another mental landmark in Bread Wizard (yay!) and unexpectedly got a royalty statement for Batbreath and Wurstbreath (double yay!) informing me that Batbreath had earned out. (Double-triple-quadruple uber-screamy YAY!)

Batbreath having come out in March, and the end of the sales period being in July, that means that it earned out in the first four months, which is fabulous. As of the end of July, we’ve moved about 35K copies of Batbreath and 46K Wurstbreath, which is pretty darn awesome. (Not including foreign/Scholastic book fair sales–I won’t see numbers on those for awhile.) Both had a jump in unit returns, most likely owing to the end of Borders, but that should smooth out long-term, and hey, that’s why there’s the reserve against returns, after all.

For non-authors out there, who are scratching their heads—“earning out” means that the book has sold enough copies that your share of the sales has exceeded the sum they paid you as an advance. I.E, if they give you ten thousand dollars and you get a dollar a book, your book has earned out when you have sold ten thousand copies. Everything after that is pretty much gravy—they sell another 3000 books, you get another 3000 dollars. Theoretically.

In actual fact the math is horrifyingly complicated and they send you a lot of sheets of paper—since a lot of my books sell through “discount” sellers (i.e. Wal-Mart and Amazon) where both the publisher and I get less cash, that’s on a different sheet than straightforward full-price sales through brick-and-mortar stores, and there’s always a page that has one single book sold on it that is somehow different and required another sheet of paper for some reason, but fortunately you get a nice little summary sheet in there somewhere that says “This is how many units you sold last time, this is how many you sold this time.” There is also a chunk of money called the “reserve against return” which is a chunk of cash they hang onto for a few years on the assumption that stores are going to send back X number of books. (There was a time I got grumpy about that, but now I’m kinda glad they take it out up front—that way it’s not real money in my head.)

It must be said that Batbreath only just earned out—it probably would have broken about even, except for aforementioned Scholastic and foreign rights, which tipped it over into an actual sum of money. This is also complicated, but the Cliff Notes version is that they give the publisher an advance, and depending on the sort of rights they buy, the publisher passes between 50 and 75% of that advance on to you. (Before anybody starts to rail at this, let me point out that they are buying the text from you, but the cover/layouts/design/etc from the publisher, rather than get their own art director to redo the whole kerfluffle. As my art director earns her paycheck every day she has to deal with me, and I get a correspondingly higher advance on the books to begin with for also being the illustrator, I begrudge them nothing.)

So, yeah, it’s complicated. The first time I got a royalty statement, I had to call Deb and go “And what does this mean? And what’s this number? Really? How about this number? No kiddin’…”  Nevertheless, as I occasionally like to point out—say what you will about the death of traditional publishing, they can casually move nearly eighty thousand copies (in this case) for an author on the high end of kid’s mid-list without me lifting a finger, a success I couldn’t hope to duplicate with Kickstarter and enthusiasm. (And while this counts as “doing great” in the field, I am myself far eclipsed by things like Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries.)

So today has been fantastic. And I am going to be very very careful going to down the stairs tonight, just in case.

NaNoFiMo Redux

Well, squids and squidlets, it’s nearly November, and that means another Nanowrimo is upon us.

As y’all may recall from past years, I am a fan of Nanowrimo. There are plenty of people who will tell you that what it produces is a bunch of terrible dreadful awful manuscripts hacked together by non-writers who think that because they can type with two fingers, they can produce the Great American Novel, to which I say “Yeah, and how is that different from the OTHER eleven months of the year?”

Bad writing is with us always, we will not escape it in our lifetimes, we must learn not to fear it. Yes, much of Nanowrimo output is crap, but so is much of everything else, and some very good books are writ that might otherwise languish in somebody’s brain forever. So that’s a good thing.

I, however, am too damn busy to start another novel come November, particularly when I have some lovely manuscripts languishing on back burners (The thing with the moths…the evil Little House of the Prairie thing…the thing with the goblins…that Snow White thing…) and when I have books that people have already bought and paid for that they would probably like delivered by deadlines. So once again, this year I am doing NaNoFiMo…National Novel Finishing Month.

My two projects to finish are the Bread Wizard (which is close! So close! I can smell how close it is!) and the script for Dragonbreath 8, working title Dreambreath. If I can get those done, I’ll try to knock down some words on one of the other projects, but those are my two goals for the month. Since art for Fairybreath should be done next week, I will hopefully have at least a month clear for some serious writing. (And who knows, maybe even a little art…)

Never

I am honestly not interested enough in the whole story to sustain a retelling of any length, but here’s a short…thingy…..since…well…on my mind, obviously. And if you leave me alone with a story long enough, I start to wonder what everybody eats.

It doesn’t end in a satisfactory fashion, but this sort of thing wouldn’t.


“Pudding,” said Stunky, licking his lips. “Blood pudding, with the greasy crunchy bits around the edges.”

Myrtle groaned. After a minute, she said, “Cheese.”

“Cheese?” asked Stunky. “Just cheese?”

“Just cheese nuthin’,” hissed Myrtle. “All melty over a slice of bread, or on a cracker, or—or—anything. How long has it been since you had cheese?”

Stunky didn’t answer. There was no cheese in Neverland, as there were no cows. There was plenty of blood, but nobody ever thought to make pudding out of it. Possibly no one knew how.

It was all very well to go away in the night with an elfin boy with laughing eyes who taught you how to fly, and promised that you’d never have to grown up, but it turned out that grown-ups had a great deal to do with meals arriving regularly and on time. To get food, you had to beg it off the Indians or steal it from the pirates, and as a result, nearly everyone was hungry all the time, except perhaps Pan.

It almost hadn’t been that way. A farm boy named Albert had come with Pan one night, a stolid presence who’d come along only because his little sister had been intent on going off with the wild boy. He had borrowed seed from the Indians and begun a garden, silently hoeing with a broken sword blade tied to a broomstick and bringing buckets of water up from the spring.

And when the plants were knee high and the tomatoes were throwing out round green balls and every Lost Boy was drooling at the thought of a real meal, something other than fish (oh god, they were so sick of fish) Pan had one of his wild moods and set the whole thing on fire.

“Vegetables!” he cried, hovering over the plants, which didn’t burn well but which stomped and flattened beautifully. “We don’t eat vegetables! Yuck! That’s grown-up stuff!”

Albert, still stolid and wordless, picked up his makeshift hoe and went for Pan’s throat.

Stunky could have told him how it would end. Pan was wicked fast and even if he hadn’t been, he had the fairies. The little brutes had put Albert’s eyes out with their knitting-needle swords before he’d gotten five feet. Pan had stabbed him a few times, mostly as an afterthought, and then thrown the body off a cliff, and that was the end of organized agriculture in Neverland.

They lived mostly on bird’s eggs and nestlings when they could get them. And fish. Always fish. One of the Indians had showed Stunky how to salt a fish with the rough, impure salt that dried on the rocks. You had to scrape it off with a knife and it didn’t work very well, but it was better than nothing.  The fish took longer to rot, anyhow.

“I’d kill for a bit of cheese,” said Myrtle, and sighed.

“Sure,” said Stunky, stirring the pot of boiling water than contained the evening’s fish and a couple of hunks of coconut, “but who would you kill?”

Myrtle lifted her head and looked across the room, if you could call the ruined cargo hold of a wrecked ship a “room.”

Pan was lounging on a makeshift throne of old nets and packing crates, regaling some of the younger Lost Boys with tales of wild battles against the pirates. Two fairies squatted on either shoulder, casting their rotting swamp-gas light across his cheekbones, and a third crouched on the back of the throne. It scanned the room ceaselessly, wings twitching like the ears of a sleeping dog.

Stunky elbowed her. “Stop looking!” he hissed, and Myrtle dropped her head obediently. “You want ‘em to think you’re watching ‘em?”

“Doesn’t matter,” muttered Myrtle, poking at the fire. “Can’t imagine it’ll be much longer for me anyway.”

Stunky gulped. It was hard to tell how old anyone was in Neverland. There were no birthdays, since Pan refused to acknowledge that anybody was getting older. Still, Myrtle thought she was about sixteen, and Stunky was only a year or two younger.

If you were a boy, you could sometimes hold out a little longer if you shaved in private. If you were a girl, though, there wasn’t anything anybody could do. Starvation kept most of them alive into their late teens, but sooner or later…well, as soon as Pan smelled blood on a girl, it was over.

You didn’t grow up in Neverland. You didn’t get a chance.

“You c’d go to the Indians,” said Stunky, keeping his voice so low that Myrtle had to lean in to hear him. His breath stirred the greasy strings of her hair. (Soap was another grown-up thing that Pan wanted no truck with. The Lost Boys did their best with plain water and sand, those few that worried about it at all.) “If’n you stay out of his sight long enough, he forgets you.”

Myrtle twitched a shoulder. She could feel the fairy’s eyes moving over her, like the touch of insect feet scuttling over her skin. The Indians were decent people, and they’d hide a Lost Boy if they could, but there was only so much they could do against Pan. Albert had said they called him the Young Wendigo, but Albert was dead and none of the remaining Lost Boys were quite sure what that meant.

Besides, there’d been that…incident…with the chief’s daughter. The pirates had tried to get to her in time, but…well…

Now, the pirates would take you if you could get to the ship, but the fairies watched the beaches all the time. And Benji, who wasn’t quite right in the head, swore up and down that Pan had changed in front of him once, into a great lord of crocodiles, a monster twenty feet long with teeth like an ivory bear trap.

“Just tore his skin right off and fell into the water,” Benji had wailed, curled up into a ball under a tree root and worrying at his scalp with his nails.  “Just right off! And his mouth was open and those little fairies were walking in and out of his mouth and pickin’ at his teeth, I swear, I swear…”

Well. Everybody knew Benji was crazy. Pan had the fairies poke and pinch at him, sometimes, until he started to scream and threw one of his wobblers and bit his own fingers bloody.  You couldn’t trust Benji.

But it was true that there was a crocodile that prowled the waters of the cove, and sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t.

It was also true that Pan himself never looked hungry. But you tried not to think about that.

You tried not to think about a lot of things.

Myrtle knew it wouldn’t be long. Even on the wretched diet they’d scraped together, things had been happening. Her face looked different, when she stared at it in the tidepools, and her ragged clothes gaped open in places where they used to lace shut.

She had to do something, but she didn’t know what to do. Her body kept getting older. But she kept waiting.

She thought perhaps she was hoping that something would happen, in this terrible timeless place where nothing was ever allowed to happen.

She kept hoping she’d find a way home.

Sometimes when she was nearly asleep, she used to pray or dream—maybe a little of both—that there would be a tap on the hold of the ruined ship, right by her ear, and a boy would come for her, as a boy had once before.

In her prayer, he looked a lot like her dead brother Albert. There was nothing fey or wild about him.  His hands were broad and callused and his shoulders were stooped from the weight of responsibility.

He didn’t promise her anything. When she looked into his eyes, the only thing she was sure of was that he knew she existed. And alive or dead, he would remember her.

He didn’t fly. In the dream, he left heavy footprints in the sand. He just reached out and took her hand and pulled her up, out of this nightmare, into adulthood.

Refusing to Clap for Tinkerbell

It’s the 100th anniversary of the publication of Peter Pan, or something like it, and I spent an hour this morning listening to panelists on NPR sing its praises.

I would like to take a moment now to say that I hated Peter Pan as a child.

Still am not a big fan, honestly. I have mellowed and can appreciate it as a piece of literature of the era, can admire some of the more elegant bits and the narrative voice and all, but while children of all ages might have loved this book for a century, I can vouch for at least one particular child of about nine or ten who detested it in both book and movie incarnations.

It wasn’t the obvious reasons. It wasn’t that Peter is basically a freaky child-stealing weirdo lurking outside the house eavesdropping, who displays absolutely no concern for the well-being of those he steals—those are grown-up reasons, and did not enter into my consideration. Most kids don’t care about their parents being worried at home. It is not in their nature.  (Nor did I particularly notice the line that Brom pointed out in the intro to his book The Child Thief—it says that when there were too many Lost Boys, or they began to grow up, Peter “thinned them out.” As a child I accepted this without thought. It’s only as a grown-up that I realized that Neverland is gettin’ seriously Logan’s Run right there. Yeesh.)

And it wasn’t the violence. Various commenters on the radio expressed mild dismay at how violent it all was. Pfff. I was all for violence as a kid, and I would pack ten times as much into Dragonbreath if my editors let me get away with it, because I remember that quite well.  Unfortunately adults buy books for kids, and so you have to cater to the rather more prudish sensibilities of adults to write kid’s books, but them’s the breaks. The violence was fine.

Nope. What annoyed me the most was that Peter didn’t want to grow up.

Five years ago I would have started this next paragraph with “I may have been a strange child…” but I don’t think like that anymore—I suspect that my experience was, if not universal, at least fairly common, particularly among the bright and geeky among us.

I wanted to grow up.

Childhood, far as I was concerned, was for the birds. You were smaller and weaker and had no money and no power and no agency and you were stuck in school with people who were not very interesting, but whom you were expected to get along with because…err…you were the same age or something. (My mother, to her eternal credit, did not try to convince me that school was a glorious and wonderful experience and the best years of my life–she simply nodded glumly and said “Yep. College will be a lot better, I promise. Until then, just hang on as best you can.”)  I wanted no truck with childhood. As far as glorious Victorian ideals of innocence and wonder go, I felt that you could stuff it, although I was a very polite and shy child and would never have said anything of the sort.

Thought it a lot, though.

The notion that someone would not want to grow up struck me as the sort of idiocy that only adults would come up with. Bear in mind that most of my reading material at the time was Star Trek novels and Robin McKinley and Pern and The Hobbit. These were grown-ups, or close to, and they had problems like plagues and dragons and warfare and exploding dilithium crystals. I wanted to do THAT. Give me a sword or a tricorder or a dragon (preferably bronze, thank you very much) or at least a fire lizard, and you could keep your not-growing-up crap.

I also, during the course of the Disney movie flatly refused to clap for Tinkerbell, despite my grandmother nudging me. It was a movie. How dumb did they think I was? If it had been playing in an empty room with nobody watching, Tinkerbell would still magically get better. There was not an alternate nobody-clapped ending where Tinkerbell dies and Captain Hook has Pan keelhauled.* And bugger if I was going to clap just because the adults around me thought it would be an adorable expression of childhood belief. We’d fought that battle with Santa already, I was not losing the ground I’d won at so much cost.

Make that a polite and shy and cynical and grumpy child who would rather have been kicked than patronized…

(I have forgotten more about being a kid than I have probably ever managed to learn about being a grown-up, but one of the things I was resentfully aware of at the time was that a lot of grown-ups had this image of how kids were supposed to act and feel that had no resemblance whatsoever to the actual life of children. The company of other children is often more Lord of the Flies than it is the Bobbsey Twins, and there is a large contingent of adults who will get dewy eyed about the sweet little children playing so nice together and carefully ignore Piggy’s corpse lying off to one side. Small wonder so many of us wanted off the island as soon as possible… )

Captain Hook was the only character I respected. It is probably not a coincidence that he was the only significant grown-up.

The other really creepy thing about Peter Pan, as far as small, grumpy Ursula was concerned, was Pan’s memory.  That final chapter when it’s revealed that he’s forgetting everything, forgotten Tinkerbell, etc etc, was scary. Imagine losing track of your memory and your dearest friends and who you were and what you’d done. I saw myself wandering the tree houses and ruined ships of Neverland, writing thousands of notes and tacking them to every available surface—your name is Peter, you live here, you can fly, fairy dust is important, you killed a pirate, you had friends once and here are their names…

Peter, being a dumbass, did not even go mad and memoryless in what I considered the correct fashion. I would have written notes. And nobody was nearly concerned enough about Tinkerbell.

Feh.

 

 

 

 

*I would have been quite interested to see this ending. Hmm, actually I still would…

Could Be Worse

There are phrases you don’t like to hear from your plumber. Among them is “You ain’t gonna tell me he put a pipe THERE?”

Despite this momentary alarm, however, a very nice man named Moses the Plumber (and god, does the marketing not write itself? “Moses will part the waters for you!” Give me five minutes alone with the man’s business cards…) has assured us that it’s a bad toilet flange, which is easily fixed by pulling the toilet off and putting a different (bigger?) flange on. Due some…eccentricities…of plumbing, for some reason the toilet drain comes out of the side of the house and into the porch roof, which is…um…different, but in this case, it at least meant that the porch was getting the leakage instead of the hall closet, so that’s a good thing, even if we all stood around for a bit and scratched our heads.*

And it was caught quite early, and so the wood is not rotten and there is no mold and it is about as straightforward and simple (and above all cheap!) a fix as one can hope for. So all is well with the universe.

 

*The house is generally solid, but there are some weird quirks that apparently are uniform across all the builder’s homes. He did not believe the underside of the sink needed to be closed off from the other cupboards, and the attic door, despite being a completely normal door in all regards, is six inches off the floor for no reason that anyone can determine, and don’t get me started on the eight-inch-wide flower bed in the backyard.

*grumble*

I’m tired and the porch has sprung a leak that appears to be connected to the master bathroom shower and we don’t know any local handymen and I have one week to finish all the art for Fairybreath and they would probably like the cover done too. And the beagle got the wrong food from the vet and is having an itch-tastic morning and one of the cats had a lengthy hork-fest in the small hours of the night that rendered sleep problematic as there is nothing like a “URRRKA-URRRKA-URK-URK-URK-URK-hwaaaaagghgh!” repeated at two minute intervals to bring one to the cold light of consciousness.

And I am grumpy. I realize that into every life a little rain must fall, but generally one prefers rain from the sky and not grey water from the porch. Sigh.

That Didn’t Quite Go As Planned

So in D&D this evening, we walked into the blue dragon’s lair and were promptly captured by its minions.

Let’s not dwell on that. The details are somewhat embarrassing.

In order to escape from the cell, we first broke down the door, then everybody who was able to hide/turn invisible/turn into a swarm of mice did so. That left, depressingly visible, yours truly—Rooster the Paladin, champion of the Order of the Silver Weasel, whose goal was to produce a diversion until everybody managed to sneak out of range. (After all, if they throw him in a different cell, now the rest of the party can come break him out.)*

Rooster strolled up to the hill giant guarding the hallway, slapped him on the shoulder, told him he was doing a great job and asked if he wanted anything from the kitchen.

HILL GIANT: Shiny man want wrestle?

PALADIN:  Errr, no. No wrestle. Maybe after dinner?

HILL GIANT: Want wrestle now!

PALADIN: We’ll get in trouble if we wrestle.

HILL GIANT: Not if wrestling prisoner…

PALADIN: I’m not a prisoner! I’m a recruit! I filled out paperwork and everything! It’s on file in the office!**

HILL GIANT: But armor have little ferret on it. Not dragon. Recruit armor have dragon.

PALADIN: …it’s a ferret-dragon?

This is where the GM made his fatal mistake. He had set up for a wrestling match, and instead, he stayed in character. Staying in character with our party is death. Always. He always makes them too sympathetic. It’s a real problem.

HILL GIANT: Me want ferret-dragon…

PALADIN: Errr….I’ll get you one?

HILL GIANT: Me will love it and hug it and call it George!

PALADIN: (now horrified but intrigued) What if it’s a girl?

HILL GIANT: George!

PALADIN: Quite right, lovely name for a girl. Good man. I’ll just…err…go get you one…

Following the swarm of mice that is nominally our druid, the paladin sauntered away, follow the mice to a good spot to hide, and while the party debated what to do next, we had to listen to the follow-up, as Kevin really got into the spirit of things:

HILL GIANT 2: Where prisoner?

HILL GIANT 1: He getting ferret-dragon!

HILL GIANT 2: There no such thing as ferret-dragon.

HILL GIANT 1: Is too! Shiny man said!

HILL GIANT 2: What you name it?

HILL GIANT 1: George. Me will love it and hug it and..

HILL GIANT 2: What if it girl…?

HILL GIANT 1: George good name for girl.

At this point, to forestall the now-desperate paladin from actually leaving the lair, walking to town, commissioning a stuffed ferret-dragon and bringing it back in an agony of guilt, our artificer used her animal messenger spell to send a bat to the local adventurer’s co-op with Rooster’s membership number and have a stuffed ferret-dragon (or close equivalent) delivered to Hill Giant Guard, c/o Blue Dragon’s Lair, wrapped in a bow with “Love, Shiny Man” on the tag.

Somewhat belatedly it occurred to us that the spell might have been better used in calling for backup, but the paladin would never have been able to live with himself.

 

 

*Our first escape plan involved a sudden magic elephant to the groin. It would have totally worked, but possibly would have attracted undue attention.

**Sadly, this is all true.

It’s not just you…

I have been thinking a lot lately about things that are, if not universal, at least pretty widespread, but which don’t come up a lot in conversation. Part of this was response to blog posts, part of it was a painting or two I’ve done (The Boar God’s Gift is the one I’m thinking of) where a whole bunch of people wrote in to say “Whoa, I do that all the time.”

Mostly this is stuff inside our respective heads. We are often not good at describing the insides of our heads. (For all I know, this is a failure of English and there are elegant words in French and/or German that sum up these feelings perfectly, but there you are.) Sometimes it’s things like dreams that we don’t talk about much for fear of boring the ever-loving crap out of our loved ones. This is a fair concern.

Many of these are bad or unpleasant or anxiety-inducing. Them’s the breaks. It is astonishing how many of us, while we would deny strongly that we are special snowflakes of mind-boggling uniqueness, are nevertheless willing to believe that our gloomy mental ploddings are not shared by anyone else and that we are alone in our miserable freakhood.

I don’t think that’s the case. My experience is not terribly vast, lord knows, but the longer I live, the more we all seem to be in this together. We may each of us live in our own private hells, but the Devil gets a bulk deal on wallpaper.

I’m not going to say “most” or “all of us” because the minute you say “all” an exception will pop up in the comments, and even “most” implies a statistical majority of which I have little or no proof. So let’s go with “many” and “lots.” Some of these will probably make you go “Well, duh, everybody does THAT!” because they seem obvious. I have gotten e-mails over the years that make me think many of these are not quite so obvious as we think.

Mostly I just felt like talking about it.

So.

Many of us have that dream where your teeth fall out and you can’t find a dentist anywhere.

Many of us also have that dream where there are animals starving to death and it’s all your fault. There are variations on this particular theme—sometimes they’re in cages dying horribly and you can’t find anything to feed them, sometimes you forgot they were there, sometimes it’s fish in aquariums that haven’t been cleaned in a hundred years and goodness, aren’t you a monster?

Many of us have that dream where things are chasing you that won’t die, no matter how many times you chop them apart or drop boulders on them. Plenty of us also have the corollary where you cannot actually fight back and your attempts to hit the monster seem to be going through molasses.

Lots of us have arguments in our heads with people, some of whom have Done Us Wrong, some of whom only might at some point maybe Do Wrong, and it’s good to be prepared. You’d think that since this is entirely in our heads and we get to control the script, we would inevitably win these arguments. You would be wrong.

Lots of us tell ourselves stories of past traumas in long rambling repetitive monologues when depressed.

Many of us have a near-constant “Hey, remember that time in 1985 when you said that incredibly stupid thing and everybody looked at you?” drone in the back of our heads. Memories of past faux pas are on auto-stream. Arguments that nobody else on earth remembers said stupid thing do not make much impact on the drone. (I have attempted to expiate this by assigning a charitable donation to every embarrassment, so that when I start thinking about that really stupid thing I did sophomore year, I can go “No, I gave a chunk of change to Bat Conservation International for that, damnit, I can stop worrying about it.” Sort of an anxiety equivalent of a swear-jar. It would work better if I had a bigger budget and if my subconscious weren’t convinced that every moment of stupidity should cost about a hundred thousand dollars or so. It would also work better if my supply of past stupidities did not so nearly approach the infinite.)

Lots of us lay awake at night contemplating what will happen if we get Nameless Horrible Disease, our spouses/kids/pets/whatever die horribly, what we will do, how sad we will be, how miserable it all is, etc. I have gotten better at going “This is not productive” and working through book plot-lines, but I still catch myself doing it.

Lots of us are scared to look out windows at night, for fear there’s something looking back. Mirrors are also iffy, because what if there’s something moving in there that isn’t you?

I will also confess that despite having written “Irrational Fears” I still occasionally go in fear of the monster under the bed. I am thirty-four. I would be very surprised if I was alone in that.

 

Anyway. That’s probably a short list, but it’s what I can think of off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own (within reason!) We are, after all, all in this together.

The Haunting of Nothing Much

So following a review on-line a few months back, I finally sat down and read The Haunting of Hill House.

Given the number of jacket quotes assuring me that this was one of the scariest ghost stories ever written, I took the precaution of removing my pants to make clean-up easier in the event of mishap, settled in, and watched my desire to punch the heroine in the head grow with each passing hour.  I am sorry to say that as terrifying ghost stories go, this one may have passed the sell-by date.

There were some scary bits, but it felt a bit like a Blair Witch Project of a book–“I am willing to be terrified. Okay, that’s scary. Okay, that’s…bullshit, actually. Okay, I want every person in this to die…and now it’s over. Hmm. I wonder if I can get my money back?”

The writing was good, don’t get me wrong, it was moody and at times even elegant, the first and last paragraph are lovely. But that didn’t get me over the fact that I came to loathe the heroine very quickly. I was sympathetic for the first couple of chapters and I respect everybody’s right to be horribly damaged and all, but my whiny/clingy/self-centered-o-meter rapidly buried the needle. I will give Shirley Jackson abundant credit for expressing so well the kind of fragile wide-eyed crazy that makes the air around someone vibrate and makes you move without a forwarding address to stop them from showing up on your doorstep at 3 AM, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to care if a haunted house eats said crazy person’s soul. If anything, I will hope for it to happen faster, just to get it over with. And even having apparently been eaten by a haunted house, the heroine was still marvelously ineffective and useless and prone to irrational conversation.

The conversation was also aggravating. How to explain? It doesn’t matter how well you write dialog if the dialog is nonsensical. These people have long conversations, which are sometimes witty and delightful but often baffling and useless. Perhaps there is some deep overarching meaning that I am not picking up on, but many of the arguments come wildly out of left-field, and people get very angry over nothing that I can really determine. They say things that I cannot imagine saying under the circumstances, that do not seem to follow logically from anything said before and their emotions seem to have no bearing on what is going on.

It is possible that this was an expression of The House Getting To Them, but what it came across for me was “My goodness, what horrible, stupid, and catty people. If I met people like you in real life, I would never want to hang out with them.” (Theodora did come close to saying something along the lines of “My, what an insipid little shit you are,” which I applauded, but even her emotional responses were still weird and didn’t seem to follow logically from anything.)

Now, this may again go back to the Blair Witch problem, which is that people are acting irrationally and occasionally stupidly, and nothing is guaranteed to make me want to kill you more than being stupid. It’s a recurring problem of ghost stories, sad to say–people act dumb.

So the house wants to keep shutting doors and you can’t prop them open. Don’t try ONCE, and then find them unpropped and say “Well, it must be the housekeeper,” and never try again. This sort of behavior does not endear you to the reader. It makes the reader jump and down and yell and eventually put on their pants in rage.

(Tangentially, a movie that did some bits exactly right was Poltergeist. Specifically the scene where the chairs in the kitchen are behaving strangely, and the mother starts moving them around trying to see what will happen. That I understood. I would absolutely have done that, too. Other bits of the movie veer between terrifying and corny, but if the house is ever haunted, you will come over and find me stacking chairs with exactly that expression of alarmed curiosity.)

So…yeah, no. Didn’t work for me at all. The Red Tree, which I picked up on the strength of the same review, was wonderful and terrifying and I loved it, and it had a very damaged heroine too, but not one that I wanted to drop-kick out a plate glass window. So it can definitely be done. And I didn’t mind the lack of detailed explanation for Why The House Was Bad–honestly, I was fine with what I got there. I’d say it was a great set-up that ended too soon, except that if I had to spend another five minutes in Eleanor’s head, I would have given up to go play Minecraft, so going longer would not have fixed matters.

So…yeah. I have no idea why this one went down in the canon of great horror stories. If somebody’s got an explanation, feel free (and I will accept “You are too dense to appreciate the fine nuance of Eleanor’s suffering” as a valid explanation!) Why does this scare people? Why did it ever scare people? Was our threshold of terror really that much lower in the Sixties? What gives?

Papercut Theatre: The Rat and the Moon

This mid-nineteeth century example of a cut-paper scene dates from the early days of the rise of cut-paper playbills, posters, and artwork. While most scholars agree that it is an illustration of a bit of Victorian doggerel:

It’s true, they say, you can catch the moon
With a slug and a rat and a silver spoon
But what they don’t say (and they ought)
Is what to do with it once it’s caught.

there is an alternate view, advanced by the historian Vincent Westfarthing, that it is in fact an advertisement for an extremely obscure play entitled “The Rat and the Moon: A Theatrical Exploration Of The Dangers of Body-Piercing,” which reportedly closed the first night, due to mass audience walkout.

10 x 18 digital. 53 layers in Photoshop. My brain may never recover.

…so, yeah. Been playing “Alice: Madness Returns” and really admired the use of the cut paper 2-D effects in the cut scenes. Not the first to do it, but they did it very elegantly, and it made me want to fool around with the aesthetic myself.

I don’t know how well it works, but…it’s a thing, anyway.

The frame took approximately fifty times as long as the drawings, being assembled out of bits and chunks. Having figured out some of the issues involved, I’d like to try again with a more complex scene, but it will take awhile before my eyes uncross long enough to do a bigger frame.

Prints available, as always!