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Now on Netflix, so I watched it. Interestingly, it too was directed by Gavin O'Connor (who directed The Accountant, and is best known otherwise for his MMA championship movie Warrior, in which Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy play brothers competing for the title). It's probably best known as a former Black List screenplay that later became the project that Lynn Ramsey got bounced off of within the first two weeks, Milcho Manchevski-on-Ravenous style, which meant that once again a female filmmaker had been shut out of doing a "big" Hollywood film, essentially for "being difficult"; a particular piss-off in context, given that star Natalie Portman had fought so hard to midwife it as a producer.

The film continued to have its share of birth-pangs--male lead Joel Edgerton was originally supposed to play the main villain, Bishop, but switched to playing "hero" Dan Frost instead (if you can even call him that, given he's at least as morally compromised as Jane and her husband Hammond); the Bishop role then went through at least four considerably higher-profile actors, all of whom quit because of scheduling conflicts, before Ewan MacGregor was finally cast. I'm interested to note that the one characteristic all of these actors share is a certain brand of movie-star good looks--neither of the men who fall in love with Jane is "handsome," per se; Hammond is a mainly good-intentioned but violent hulk, Dan a bit of a rumpled non-dude even in his better days, perfect for a character actor like Edgerton. This fits with the story note that Jane's own beauty is a minus in her life, not a plus; it's what causes men to fixate on and pursue her, to remember her even after seven years, to resent her loss as a commodity, while Bishop's own fatal glamour is a tool/weapon he uses expressly to put people off their guard, especially ones he's planning to tie to a bed and sell tickets for.

A little research soon reveals that O'Connor might have always made for a surprisingly good replacement for Ramsey, since I'd totally forgotten he's also the director of Tumbleweeds (1999), a female-centric indie road movie starring Janet McTeer I reviewed when I was still at eye Weekly. Plus he's an actor as well as a director, so he probably handled Portman fairly well in terms of what she wanted out of things. Similarly, Edgerton was eventually tapped to rewrite the script, something he's well-qualified to do, as demonstrated by queasily effective 2015 thriller The Gift. (Sidebar: Edgerton's always been an interesting presence as an actor, to me; often tarred with the same Yet Another Boring Fucking White Guy brush as Sam Worthington, he actually reminds me strikingly of Russell Crowe with his facial hair all grown out--and Dan is definitely an early Crowe role, one which Edgerton handles with the same no-nonsense strength Portman brings to Jane.)

First reaction: like a lot of the things critics shit on en masse, Jane Got a Gun actually a perfectly fine example of its chosen genre; like I told Steve, all I can think is that people might have been generally unhappy with a genre narrative in which the central character is a multiple rape survivor, because otherwise, it's got everything you could possibly want in a classic siege Western: tough-mindedness, grit, stark New Mexico landscapes, the overhanging post-Civil War lure and trauma of the past, the difficulty of retaining a capacity for empathy, love and forgiveness in an essentially lawless, violent world.

When we first meet Jane Hammond, she appears to be the prototypical frontiers wife: doing for herself and her daughter ably out in the literal middle of nowhere, occupying what we later learn is the local homestead built furthest away from "civilization," and deliberately so. Then her current husband Ham (Noah Emmerich) finally comes home, slumped low over the bridle of his horse; he's run into trouble in town, been recognized as a wanted fugitive pursued by a posse of equally bad men, four of whom he shot before being perforated by bullets in his turn. Jane's reaction to this news immediately tells us she's not exactly the stereotypical innocent that we were initially led to believe--she wrangles Ham into the house, undeterred by him being roughly twice her size, and immediate starts the process of removing as much of the lead in him as she can, then packing the wounds with gunpowder and setting them on fire.

Much like her husband, we eventually realize, Jane has a past: she rides first to her neighbor's to drop off her child, then straight to the house of her former fiance Dan Frost, war hero turned drunk, with whom she shares painful history--he's the metaphorical gun she first tries to recruit before being rebuffed and riding off to nearby Lullabye instead, where she invests her savings in the real thing plus as much ammunition as she can carry. We've already seen her side-eye the cathouse as she stalks by, collar buttoned high and her hair twisted tight underneath a neat little hat; moments later, she's pulled into an alley and threatened with rape by one of Lullabye's town drunks, Fitchum (Rodrigo Santoro), who gleefully reminds her how much the Bishop Boys will pay to repossess her, as well as the bounty on former gang member Hammond's head. As she lies there in the dust, stunned into traumatized silence, Dan--now as cleaned up as he's ever likely to get--comes up from behind, drawing on Fitchum; they argue for a minute over Jane's fate like she's just some sort of prize, a victim we expect Dan to "rescue." Seconds later, however, it's still-prone Jane who hauls out her gun and puts Fitchum in the dirt, holding it two-handed to shoot him straight up through the belly; not something she's done before, necessarily, but she doesn't hesitate a second after her initial frozen moment of doubt and fear...and she never will again.

Both revisionist and respectful, Jane Got a Gun never falls squarely into the category of mere payback for sexual assault past, though it does check some of the boxes--and in hindsight, it's more than possible that this was one of the things which alienated audiences and critics alike, back during the film's theatrical run. As eventually demonstrated, Jane has already survived being prostituted against her will by Bishop and his gang, who promised her safe passage to San Francisco only to take her straight to a tiny room and an endless line of customers instead; having embarked on this journey because she though Dan had died in the War, she was travelling with their daughter, who she now believes is dead.

Hammond, then part of the Boys, was attracted enough to her to want to marry her even after rescuing her from Bishop's rape factory, and she's repaid his kindness the only way she knew how: married him, had his child, made a life for them both. When Dan turned up later on, it ensues, she refused to apologize or explain, waiting for him to want to hear her side of the story himself; like everything else about her, the way in which Jane chooses to process her pain is entirely practical, possibly something else that puts people off her as a "worthy" protagonist--she isn't fragile enough, let alone forgiving enough, having settled into the idea that life is now "not a thing to be lived, but a thing to be endured." Is she a bad woman for not breaking, or for daring to take what comfort she can from her marriage, her child, her routine? Or is she a bad woman for not hesitating when given the opportunity to finally avenge herself, if only to permanently remove Bishop's lingering, poisonous influence from her life, Hammond's, that of her second child...and Dan's, too?

We see Jane before Bishop's betrayal and we see her after, and in both slices of time she's a woman who'd always rather act than not, rather make her own mistakes and pay for them later, rather stand than run, let alone crawl; what she can't fix she'll endure, right up until she's given the opportunity to do something a bit more effective. "They come to my house, whatever happens, I got to set my face to it," she explains to Dan, who she never does chide for all the time he's already spent hating Hammond, let alone the fact that he can't set that hate aside even now his rival's wounded and probably about to die. It's almost like she trusts that the Dan she once knew will eventually find his way to a place where he can ask for her story, after which he'll understand why that attitude is pretty amazingly selfish and put it aside, so they can get back to the important reddish work at hand.

But maybe audiences didn't like that part, either--not the fact that Dan rises to her expectations, or the fact that Jane doesn't rise the theirs, when given the chance to do the expect "heroic" thing and NOT plug Bishop full of holes.

Much like everything else about her, however, Jane's moral code always matches itself neatly to the job at hand, be that bread-making, amateur doctoring or stuffing paraffin-filled mason jars full of broken glass and nails, in pursuit of the definitive removal of threats to those she loves. When Bishop tries to cheat death by telling her her first-born daughter is still alive, she doesn't negotiate for the girl's whereabouts--she demands the information, backing those demands up with lead. Then she loads this loathsome pimp gunslinger's dead body onto a wagon along with those of the rest of his gang, drives them into town and collects the bounty for each corpse, so her reunited family can start over.

TL; DR: Natalie Portman is so ridiculously beautiful that we sometimes forget what she's capable of, a plot point Jane Got a Gun makes liberal use of, to fine effect. And again, when she and Ewan MacGregor finally get down to it, she doesn't flinch; the result is really sort of beautiful itself, in its own stark, hard-ass way.
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Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant has been called a prospective superhero franchise for neuroatypical people, which isn't completely inaccurate; the main character, played by Ben Affleck with great attention to body language and affective detail, is a man who currently calls himself Christian Wolff. Like the title suggests, he's a mathematical prodigy who specializes in forensic accounting, balancing the books and tracking money leaks for a great many criminal organizations, some of whom try to get rid of him afterwards (or, on occasion, halfway through). That's when the specialized training his PsyOps Colonel father gave him and his younger brother Braxton tends to click in, especially since Chris has always had a thing about "finishing."

Halfway through, I came to the conclusion that Colonel Dad actually had been a pretty "good" father in his own hard-ass way, since he definitely managed to give the adult version of Chris enough coping skills to negotiate his way successfully through a life many neurotypicals would find impossible to survive. Nevertheless, watching young Chris get the crap beaten out of him all around the world by various martial arts experts is at least as painful as watching adult Chris "relax" at the end of every day by blasting death metal and watching a flickering light for exactly one hour one minute while tenderizing his own calf muscles with a hardwood stick and allowing traumatic memories to wash over him in perfect emotional detail. It reminded me of how I had to train myself not to "feel" my own past mistakes anymore in order to simply move forward, not get caught in an endless loop of shame and rage--and wow, so I hope Cal doesn't process things the same way, though it's naturally impossible for me to tell if he does or doesn't.

The actual plot of The Accountant is a pleasantly odd mishmash of classic age Vertigo comic-book whackadoodliness. Chris end up in jail after he and his Dad foolishly decide to attend the funeral of his mother, who left them when Chris was in his early teens, and get into a funeral home brawl with her second family which leaves the Colonel dead. Chris gets thrown into a military prison, then transferred to a "normal" facility after the Army loan him out to the Treasury Department to check the numbers on a Mafia money laundering scheme, which is where he meets the old Mob accountant who'll be his mentor in the ways of cleaning dirty money (Jeffrey Tambor), as well as the first person to quiz him about facial expressions and vocal emphasis. ("Frustrated. You're frustrated." "You got it, son.") After this man is released without protection and murdered, Chris escapes, kills the Mob family who killed him, then sets about what's been his task ever since: analyzing his clients' ways of doing business from the inside, before turning them over to the Treasury Department via an agent he could have killed but didn't (J.K. Simmons, brilliant as usual).

Naturally, there are even more twists coming--Chris falls in what's probably a form of love with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the junior accountant who notices something wrong with the books at a robotics firm, after he's brought in the quantify exactly what she might have tripped across. The moment I knew I was on board with this particular version of the Magical Autistic Person trope--though really, Chris and his mostly unseen partner aren't really all that magical, in context--was when she told him her Dad thought Dogs Playing Poker was the height of art, to which Chris replies: "I like Dogs Playing Poker because dogs would never make bets on anything, so it's incongruous." I paused the DVD, went over and knocked on the bathroom door so I could tell Steve: "The Accountant is a real-life Drax the Destroyer." And then there's the other freelance assassin/security expert played by Jon Bernthal who we keep seeing in the movie's background, the guy brought in to deal with Dana and Chris after they get too deep into the mystery of where the money's coming from, rather than going to...

Anyhow. I'm annoyed to discover most critics slagged this one, though happy to note it has an audience rating of A at Rotten Tomatoes, as well as having made almost $150 million domestically. It deserves both.

Gotham, OTOH, starts like a cross between a Ring Lardner anecdote and a Twilight Zone episode. It's archaically pulpy, so much so that it's a big surprise when we see P.I. Eddie Mallard (Tommy Lee Jones) working on a Rubik's cube alone in his office ("I can't afford more modern toys," he tells his intemperate landlord, when pressed for the missing rent cheque). Still, this only makes sense, considering it was written and directed by Lloyd Fonvielle, who turns out to have also written the screen story for The Mummy (1999), the screenplays for The Bride (1985) and The Lords of Discipline (1983), and the idea for Good Morning Babylon (1987), in which two Italian stoneworkers end up coming to America and designing the sets for a section of D.W. Griffiths's Intolerance, constructing the Babylon whose ruins can still be found in the California desert outside of what used to be Hollywoodland.

So we begin with rich asshole Charlie Brand sitting alone in a bar, killing a bottle of scotch and explaining to the bartender how he manipulated Eddie into taking on a fairly insane case: find Charlie's ex-wife Rachel Carlyle Rand (Virginia Madsen), who Charlie says has been pursuing him around New York, and tell her to leave him alone. Problem is, as even Charlie admits, Rachel's been dead for the last ten years--drowned in a boating accident on her birthday and buried naked wearing only the jewels she'd extorted out of Charlie over the years in exchange for her sexual favors, at least until Charlie had her quietly dug up and said jewels repossessed. Now she's back, possibly pissed off by his cheapness or just jealous he's still alive, a malignly gorgeous vision in black, white and blonde--Madsen at the youngest I've ever seen her, skin perfect and with eyes like slightly protuberant blue jewels, her often-naked body flawlessly, juicily palpable.

At first, Eddie simply assumes this is some weird rich people game Charlie and Rachel are playing with each other, especially when he's first introduced to her directly: full daylight, with Charlie right across the street and Rachel coolly flirtatious, holding Eddie up for a drink "somewhere expensive" before she'll even deny she knows his client. "There's nothing fair about me, Eddie," she warns him. "I start the game off owning Boardwalk and Park Place, and everybody pays." Soon enough, however, she's approaching him through a sheet of street-steam at twilight to apologize for pretending to be hard-boiled, walking him home arm in arm; they pause to listen to a homeless man sing "Oh Danny Boy" over a trashcan fire and the camera simply plants itself over Madsen's face, watching her remember that's a song narrated by another dead woman, but one who at least died knowing she was loved.

Rachel Carlyle: If we stop right here, we'll have all the best of it straight. It will never get mixed up with anything else, and we'll just have the best of each other.
Eddie Mallard: You'll have to tell me your whole name, so I can say it to myself when I'm walking around.
Rachel Carlyle: Rachel Carlyle. Rachel Carlyle. I live at 330 Central Park West. Ah, no, no. See, it's already getting dumb and practical and stupid. You don't want my phone number. You just want to look at me. Look at your beautiful ghost, and see the way she's looking at you, and then you want to close your eyes, while she walks out of your life, and if she never comes back again, you won't care, because it's not about that. It's about what you saw when she looked at you, and the feel of her lips for the first time, and the scent of her and the way her hair felt, and the way she cried at that silly song. And you had the best of her, all the best of her.

Rachel is a humdinger of a ghost in all particulars--a Peter Straub spectre just as likely to put her arms through your window on a rainy night, Cathy from Wuthering Heights style, as she is to suddenly apparate you both up onto a too-high rooftop and dance a samba barefoot towards the edge, closer and closer, until she finally appears to go over. She's a pornographic vision lying naked in moonlight on the dusty floor of her former Park Avenue apartment, or a cold, drowned corpse suddenly discovered inside a walk-in fridge. And for all she's funny and likeable in sunlight, for all she obviously has her reasons, she's still a dead person, a fragment, something well aware of the polluting awfulness she trails behind her. "The dead can't lie, that's what I heard," Eddie asks a friendly Russian Orthodox priest he meets while wandering soul-sick in Central Park. "Is that true?" "Son," the father replies, "ghosts are ghosts. All they DO is lie."

Rachel Carlyle: Whatever they tell you about me is true. I'm worse than you can imagine. But don't ever say you didn't know.
Eddie Mallard: I don't know anything any more. I don't know what I'm doing.
Rachel Carlyle: You chose me. And you'll go on choosing me, as awful as it gets.
Eddie Mallard: Why will I do that?
Rachel Carlyle: Because you love me. Because YOU love ME.

Of the two things which particularly reminded me of sovay while watching Gotham, the first was a fairly amazing scene in which Eddie is suddenly woken in the middle of the night by an apparition of his dead grandfather, who tells him he's brought him that pirate sword Eddie always wanted. "Didn't anyone ever get it for you after I died?" the grandfather asks, to which Eddie replies: "I didn't want it from them, I wanted it from you. You told me you used to be a pirate." "Ah," the ghost replies, with great regret. "That...might not have been true. But here it is, Eddie, I brought it. Do you still want it?" "Yes," Eddie admits, weeping. "Don't take it," his grandfather warns him. The sword makes a reappearance later on, after Rachel really has her hooks in Eddie, at which point he tries to cut his own throat with it.

But the second is the loose OT3 relationship between Eddie, his friend-who's-a-girl Debbie (Denise Stephenson), who'd like to be more but knows she isn't likely to be, and their mutual friend Tim (Kevin Jarre), a reporter for the Post who seems to live his life as much out of time as Eddie does. Both of them are there to support Eddie throughout his ordeal, to harass him about his choice yet back him up in the clinch, and they're the people he ends up with when he's finally cut his way out of the double-cross Charlie and Rachel are trying to trap him in. "This works just as well as a noir as it does as a ghost story," I told Steve, wonderingly; like Sam Spade or Marlowe, Eddie always manages to keep enough of his self-preservation and hustler's instinct about him to realize when he's being maneuvred into a trap, sexual vampirism from beyond the grave or not. He'll emerge with scars, but he WILL emerge, leaving Rachel and Charlie behind, still doomed to have to deal with each other.
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So...I finally saw The Blackcoat's Daughter, otherwise known as February, aka Oz Perkins's first film--a possession story told backwards and sidelong, in hindsight, from the outside in. I had to do it online, streaming it from a site, which annoys me; I'd like to vote with my wallet as much as I can in these matters, and the fact that TBD has been caught up in some sort of release date hell ever since it did the festival circuit is hardly Perkins's fault--it's entirely possible it isn't actually anybody's fault, because sometimes that's just the way it goes. Yes, we CALL corporations "individuals" under the law; that doesn't mean all of them are sociopaths, necessarily. Here endeth the I Used To Be In This Industry (Sort Of) lesson.

At any rate. The real reason I'd have loved to see TBD by slightly less nefarious means is that my laptop screen is comparatively tiny and the film's chiaroscuro colour-scheme renders extraordinarily badly when reduced to a rectangle. Which actually counts, for once...I get that Perkins made the choice to render his main character's world mostly in shades of black, broken up with the very occasional contrast of dirty grey or bonemeal off-white (the snows of February, usually static, polluted, a mucky trod-through mess) versus a sudden here-and-there splash of red. And even in those cases, the red's also presented as submerged in shadow, clotted and indistinct, like he's riffing off of Thomas Harris (Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.). This might be his way of trying to get across just how completely his protagonist's world-view has been altered, as though there's a filter always set across her eyes, rendering the familiar sinister. It's possible that's the way she wants to see things, at least, even if she doesn't.

Much like I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, (which I also have to talk about, I know, I get that), TBD is told out of temporal sequence and with a remarkably slippy-slidey approach to who the most important person onscreen is at any given time. Eventually, we figure out that we may be watching the same person at two distinct points in her life, under two different names. In the first section of the film she is an obstacle, a pariah, a difficulty for those around her, a recent transfer student to a religiously-oriented boarding school in the middle of nowhere, mainly ignored unless she's doing things which slowly begin to turn her into a potential danger.

The heroine of that section thus becomes someone else entirely--Rose (Lucy Boynton), a well-established fellow student, older and glamorous, who spends most of her time thinking that she's allowed herself to get pregnant by her townie boyfriend. She stays behind deliberately over the February break, hoping to fix this situation, and ends up having to room with pale, odd Kat (Kiernan Shipka), whose parents promise to pick her up and simply don't. All Rose knows about Kat is that she plays the piano, performing a song obviously written by Elvis Perkins at the school's talent showcase the same day everybody else leaves; all she puts herself out to tell Kat is a spooky rumour that the two nun-like sisters left behind to look after them both were once discovered down in the furnace room, worshipping Satan. It's possible that this might give Kat ideas, but considering she already seems to have received a precognitive dream about her parents fate in the form of a tall, black-coated man showing her a wrecked car parked in the school's lot, maybe not. Maybe it's more something she takes as a sign, a clue that what she believes might be happening really is.

Like Kat, Joan (Emma Roberts) is first discovered wandering through a cold, unwelcoming world. Recently released from a mental hospital, she seems to own little more than an equally dark coat, a small bag and a bottle of pills she never takes. She is making her way back towards the school, very slowly, first on foot and then with the help of a couple who pick her up en route, travelling the same path towards the same anniversary, albeit for different reasons. Because it's the 21st century, we are at first cued to expect that affable, apparently devout Bill (James Remar) and his wife Linda (Lauren Holly), who barely speaks or acknowledges Joan's presence, are a prospective serial killer/sex abuser and his enabler. But this soon turns out not to be true--this girl he's decided to do good deeds for because she reminds him of a lost daughter is, quite possibly, the single worst person he could have chosen for that particular role. But neither of them are going to get what they want out of their interaction, anyhow.

In both the past and the present, a palpable sense of danger builds steadily throughout, resonating in Rose's dreams and visions, in Kat's weird behaviours, in Joan's driving hunger to reunite with something forcibly long-separated from her. What's that old line: Madness is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? It quickly becomes clear that Joan wants to believe she can recapture what she's lost by retracing her own steps and visiting the same stations on her pilgrimage, making the same obeisances and performing the same sacrifices...but she can't. She never will. She is cast out, "saved" and damned at the same time, and the yearned-for reunion will never--can never--occur. "I can't even SEE you," she mourns, weeping in the snow, then turns away forever from the shadow of what she once shared, the bone-deep warmth and baffling freedom of no longer having to make choices, of acting only on another's whim, of having something lodged so deep inside you it's like you're the exact same person.

This, Perkins implies, is on possible version of what happens when a lonely enough person takes the Devil as their imaginary friend. And this is also what might happen after the priests have gone home, especially in an over-medicated, secular society: the exorcised person has to live the rest of their life with the result, apparently rating no post-traumatic therapy whatsoever, not even in terms of simply confirming that what she thinks happened actually happened.

It's a singularly pitiless vision, and Perkins pulls it off with full marks. I mean, Regan MacNeill at least got a kiss and a medal, along with what one can only assume was a merciful case of very specific amnesia (unless you keep with The Exorcist the TV series's version of events, that is, in which we realize she was always just pretending not to remember for the sake of everyone else around her). Kat/Rose, on the other hand, gets nothing, not even a lousy THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT t-shirt. While we, the audience, are left alone with her in the dark, the chill, with blood frozen stiff on our frost-bitten hands.


Jan. 3rd, 2017 01:22 am
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2016's off with a bang, around my place. Yesterday I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which was amazing up to a point, then left off in what I'd have to call an unsatisfying place; it didn't help that I know enough about history that when Emil Hirsch starts saying: "Hey, maybe she has a reduced waist because of corsetry...wait, what about Salem?" I immediately go: "People in Salem didn't WEAR corsets, just front-boards and stays at most--you're thinking about the 1890s, not the 1670s. So not, that's not it." The basic problem is that after a certain point, all we're sure about is that Jane Doe's body is an awful object leaking horror radiation and if it shows up on your table you should run, hide, burn the building down if you can; Steve called it "the Dionaea Corpse," which fits.

Tonight, OTOH, was Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow, which turns out to be just as great as everyone said it was--a tale of djinns and madness set during the Iran-Iraq war in which the political turns personal early on, focusing on living under religious fascism as being like a state of constant walking PTSD cut with fever, depression and wild hallucinations. The main character, Shideh, once wanted to be a doctor but her pre-Revolution dabblings in student activism have forever disqualified her from finishing her degree; she now spends her time at home in downtown Tehran, looking after her daughter and hiding from increasing aerial bombardment, and as things get worse she keeps forgetting basic stuff like hiding her VCR (with its entirely illegal Jane Fonda's Workout tape from tradespeople, or stopping to put on a head-scarf before she runs out into the street. Well worth the money I paid out to iTunes, at any rate.

So otherwise, I also found out something amazing the other day. Apparently no one knows what Ivar the Boneless died of, but when he died, he asked that his body be entombed on the edge of the land the Great Heathen Army had conquered, so that he could make it hard for anybody who wanted to invade the part of England he considered his. And two hundred plus years later, when William the Conqueror (or "Guillaume Bastard," as he was known at the time) crossed over from Normandy with his army, one of the first things he encountered was a mound he realized might be Ivar's tomb. So he had it broken open and found Ivar's body in there, still oddly undecayed, and then he made sure he burned that body before they went any further.

I was thinking about this within context of the TV show Vikings, because (spoiler alert) Ragnar Lothbrok finally died last week, turned over by his "friend" King Ecbert of Wessex to King Aelle, who promptly made him walk a gauntlet and then threw him in a pit full of snakes. As played out by Travis Fimmel, this is the last big show Ragnar can put on for posterity, his attempt to snatch posthumous victory from the jaws of defeat and re-seize control of his wyrd by dying in such a way as to inspire his sons to take revenge for him. On the show, Ragnar has been persona non grata since failing to re-take Paris because his brother Rollo turned on him, became Duke of Normandy and married Princess Gisla, with whom he's already had three kids (one of whom will obviously grow up to be William the Conqueror's great-great-great-grandfather, or whatever); he re-emerged from self-exile at the beginning of this season, and was naturally unable to inspire any of his sons to come to England with him except Ivar the Boneless, who will now become the keeper of Ragnar's legacy.

It's been interesting watching Ragnar tough-love Ivar into realizing that all his apparent weaknesses are strengths, especially since I still remember when Ragnar almost abandoned Ivar to die under a tree right after he was born, when it became obvious his deformity and infirmity might be the result of his mother's prophecy that if Ragnar had sex with her when she didn't want to, their next child would be a monster. That mother--Queen Aslaug, chilly and beautiful daughter of Brynhild and Sigurd, a powerful volva who could never quite forgive Ragnar for still being in love with his first wife Lagertha--has since died, leaving Ivar orphaned twice over; she was actually murdered by Lagertha, which means Ivar will have to put immediate revenge aside for long-range revenge if he wants to take advantage of Lagertha's personal army as he starts building up his forces. I guess we'll see how that turns out this week.

Ragnar: People will always underestimate you, and you must use that. Yet I say to you that the whole world will one day come to fear Ivar, the Boneless. Be ruthless.
Ivar: I wish I was not always so angry.
Ragnar: Why? Your anger will guide you.
Ivar: But I might have been happy.
Ragnar: Happiness is nothing, idiot.
Ivar: I know. I was only joking, idiot.

I was thinking about what I like most about Fimmel's consistently sidelong, teasing portrayal of Ragnar, a man literally out of myth, and I think it boils down to the fact that much like Odin--who he overtly identifies himself with, often citing the rumour that Odin was one of his line's ancestors--Ragnar is both a warrior and a Machiavel, coolly manipulating the people around him to get not so much what he immediately wants as what he perceives to be best for everybody in the long run. He sees the future and it fascinates him, even though he seems well aware he won't see any of the changes he may have caused come to fruition. He's a farmer who makes himself into an explorer, an Earl, a king, but a king in an age when "king" really still means "Very Big War Chief." He's a man of fate, and the people around him remark on it, but his guiding principle is an utter inability to be satisfied, even with the things and people he loves most; he's "loved by the gods," but he doesn't really believe the gods even exist. It makes total sense that his best friend is a semi-madman who thinks he's descended from Loki, or that his other best friend was a Christian monk he kidnapped from Lindisfarne who taught him Anglo-Saxon and enough about the Bible to fake his way through baptism so he could pretend to be dead and smuggle himself into Paris after sheer brute attacking strength failed. He literally lay there like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral, listening to Floki, Lagertha and Rollo pour out their love and hatred for him, then popped up out of the sarcophagus and stabbed a bishop to death. Nothing is ever enough.

The two quotes I'll always remember him for are: "Odin gave his eye for knowledge, but I would give much more," and this weirdly fatalistic but practical speech to his oldest son Bjorn: “I know it is hard for you to accept, but unhappiness is more common than happiness. Who told you you should be happy? You have come to an age where you must grow up and be responsible about such things. When I was your age, I had many friends. All are dead. Their happiness is neither here nor there.” Both clearly delineate the ways in which Vikings, for all its overt historicity, rings true to me as a version of the world I recognize from the Sagas--that latter speech in particular really is pure "There is no need to look, for it is just as you think; the leg is off." People on Vikings constantly act against their own self-interests in ways that are completely understandable, forgiving each other only as long as they think they need to, nursing grudges that flower into murder after years of apparent dormancy--they celebrate everything in blood. I'll miss Fimmel, but I think we'll probably see him a few times in the future, reaching out to Ivar through visions. Meanwhile, if the whole series doesn't end with the story I told at the start of this post being acted out, I'll be extremely disappointed.

(They should definitely re-cast Fimmel as William, too, once he's had a few years away to recuperate.)
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Next to last day of 2016 (thank God), and it snowed overnight, which may well be why my head feels like it's trying to kill me. I got maybe three hours of sleep, then woke up with this crunching, pounding sinus headache that still hasn't gone away; we don't have any more Tylenol Sinus, and Steve's going in to work today so I guess I'm going to have to ask him to get me some on his way. Cal's still asleep though, which is good--yesterday Steve Snr. came over and set his nook up again, giving him his Christmas present, a mixer through which everything can be run. So now he can play a video on his iPad, sing along using the microphone from an old karaoke machine, play accompaniment on his keyboard or his drum kit. All we have to do now is get him a mic stand and he'll really be off to the races.

The deadline I'm currently supposedly courting is fast approaching, but I feel like I can't do a goddamn thing with it--I feel blocked, stuck, fucked up beyond repair. The main slant of my work over the last little while, therefore, has lain in finally transferring my old fic from my equally old site (Segregation) to the AO3. Their template is wonderfully easy to use, which is good, because the stuff I'm on right now is the really, really old stuff--paragraph breaks in the middle of every fucking sentence, double slashes or asterisks used to imply italics, etc. It's truly painful to look at, and I'm definitely having to re-editing and -format as I go along just to make myself not look like a total moron. Soon enough I'll be into Oz, baby's first fandom, and that'll be fun fun FUN. Just thinking about trying to make "My Wife and My Dead Wife" look like anything other than a bunch of posts to a long-defunct email list sets my head hurting even more than it already does.

And what else, and what else: well, not much, I guess. Saw some movies, read some books. Watched my Facebook friends savage each other over ridiculous crap like whether or not people "should" mourn celebrities, or whether or not they're owed silence on subjects they aren't interested in. (Most recently, it's become "Why the fuck is everybody talking about Star Wars? An I the only person who doesn't care about Star Wars?" Why yes, you ARE; you're so special! Everybody thinks so, we're all just too hipsterish to admit it.) Every time I stumble across this sort of shit in the wild, the only thing I can ever hear in the back my head is Lily Tomlin bellowing: "WILL YOU PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT CAAAAAAAKE?!?!" People like shit you don't, news at eleven; in other news, scrolling exists. Thank you, fuck on through.

Okay, back to it.
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I started off 2016 already on deadline, but overall, it hasn't been the largest of writing years for me. Part of that was definitely about Experimental Film's success--winning the Shirley Jackson and Sunburst Awards, doing due diligence in terms of interviews and other promotion, then having to think hard about What Comes Next (Nightcrawling, hopefully, along with other stuff); part of it was about travelling to Tasmania over January to see my Dad; part of it was sickness, and other stuff. Part of it, eventually, was Trump. Still is, really.

I'm trying to cultivate hope, though, because living like I'm under vague sentence of death isn't useful for me or anybody around me. And I'm trying to get the fuck back on track, not least because I owe somebody something by New Year's.

The stats, therefore:

"Little Ease," 11,630 words, for Children of Lovecraft (Ellen Datlow, ed.)
"Caligarism," 5,889 words, for The Madness of Dr. Caligari (Joe Pulver Snr., ed.)
"Sleep Hygiene," 6,500 words, for Nightmare's Realm (S.T. Joshi, ed.)
"Coffle," 16,422 words, for Dim Shores (Sam Cowan, ed.)
Pitch outline for Poison's Ghost
Pitch outline plus 30,000 words for Nightcrawling

Not nothing, then. Just not a lot.

Okay, back to it.
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A Stone In My Mouth

It feels death-like, long before it is. Silence in every pore;
the lungs, frozen solid; the breath, stopped.
Words dried up at the root—the sentence
hovers, unpronounced. A prophecy foretold.

So write your name down, fast, before you forget.
Carve it deep.
Let the dust fall where it will, gritty on the tongue,
before the river washes it away.
These letters, this sense—this cold grey tide
eddying away to nowhere.

You cannot speak of this, it whispers.
These are sacred matters, set in silence.
Better to fold it all away
like a napkin, a cerement. Pull the sheet up
over your head and knot the string,
a seed-pod awaiting burial, flowering, harvest.

Oh, you unlovely thing. You doll of mud.
You cast-off shell, skin stuffed with bones.
This is what we all come to, eventually—
God's promise, broken by disobedience.

We each carry a corpse with us, back-straddled.
We each owe one death, no more.
No less.

Pick out a rock, nothing soft or singular;
inscribe it, letter by letter, then fold
the whole into your tongue's centre-crease,
edge down, so speaking draws blood.
Each word will be a wound,
an invocation. A sacrifice, yourself to yourself:
nine days and nights on the tree,
twigs scattered beneath your high-hung heels,
an alphabet of dirt, of magic lies.

You make the grave your bed, pull
cold earth over. Wait for the bell to ring—
morning, and the call to rise.

You may not know your own name when you hear it
again, after all this time.
Spit out the stone, and check.
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...to October, and I still haven't done all that much in terms of content generation. Maybe this is because most people start mainlining horror movies during this month, as opposed to (say) what I do every goddamn day--I don't think it's overstating the case to claim I probably watch more horror than anything else, whether onscreen, on BluRay/DVD, On Demand or on Netflix. The other day I found a YouTube copy of the recent Turkish horror movie Baskin, watched it long enough to figure out it had no subtitles at all, shrugged, and kept on watching. (Later I ordered a copy because it has genuine power, though I'm fairly certain I didn't miss much in terms of dialogue.)

So yeah, I already watch a lot of horror, probably "too much," by most people's standards. I watch so much horror I often forget I've seen things at all, even if I sort of enjoyed them when I was inside of them; that's where the "Keep Watching?" Netflix queue comes in handy. And that's not even getting into all the horror I read, or the horror I research, pursue, ruminate on. Right now, I'm walking around with a compilation of historical exorcism accounts in my backpack that my father-in-law found in a church sale and bought because it reminded him of me. It's called Exorcism Through The Ages, edited and by an introduction by St. Elmo Nauman Jnr. Thus far, my favourite section is "Demonic Encounters, by Caesar of Heisterbach," a collection of really short, open-ended, oddly provoking Mediaeval German exorcism cases. They all have titles like "The Obstinate Girl to Whom the Devi Offered a Goose" or "Henry of Soest, the Farmer Caught up by a Devil in the Form of a Woman and Set Down in a Field," and though they're curt, they're surprisingly bloody; one case involves a demon spitting stinking, burning mucus on a nun, while others talk about how the Devil beat one woman until "[a]ll her limbs looked like human entrails," while another dragged a soldier along the pavement until "his face was in four pieces." Or then there's the convert who ate meat in a cellar, until a demon, "with God's permission, ...unable to do otherwise, seized the glutton and spread him out like a garment on the roof of the bell-tower."

The particularly weird part about all this is that these fragmentary and unsatisfying sketches remind me of nothing so much as Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil, my all-time favourite "nonfiction" book about possession. In Martin's stories, demons sort sidle up to you unannounced and start whispering to you--they present themselves as chance encounters, as friends ("Just...friends," the Gemini Killer might put it, in William Peter Blatty's criminally underrated Exorcist III: Legion). And this, in turn, is the way that the new TV series based on The Exorcist seems to be playing it as well, which intrigues and creeps me out. I mean, I WANT to be creeped out by it; I want it to be straight-up Blatty-esque, not some borderline Renny Harlin shit that's more interested in spectacle than the proverbial cold finger up the soul-spine. Thus far, I've mainly gotten my wish.

Anyhow. More to say about that, but I'm not feeling so great, so here I break. Feel free to ask me for details.
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Fifteen hours of sleep over Friday night/Saturday morning vs. no hours of sleep on Saturday night, and that's how things have gone ever since, basically. Spent the latter part of the weekend fighting off (hopefully) the same cold that laid Steve low, so badly he actually didn't go to work yesterday. We literally spent most of the day in bed, which was really nice at the time. Still not able to even think about sleep until 3:00 AM generally, though; that needs to change.

Things actually got bad enough at one part that I subscribed to The Insomnia Project, a podcast literally designed to bore people to sleep, and lay there next to Steve while piping it directly into my ears. It involves two people with hilariously soothing voices discussing "mundane subjects" in as detail-oriented a way as possible; recent episode subjects include yoga, pickling, quilting and the clarinet. The main problem is that the conversations which result are both occasionally interesting--causing a little bit of cognitive whiplash, in context--and increasingly funny, in a Saturday Night Live sketch sort of way.

My favourite so far is #61, which is mainly about reviewing various types of staplers. It begins with both hosts describing everything they keep on their desks, in excruciating detail, before moving on to trying to hammer out whether or not a Swingline stapler is the absolute best option, when it comes to sticking pieces of paper together. Later, they note with surprise that they've apparently been nominated for a Canadian comedy award, "which is sort of disappointing." Maybe it was my overall state of sleep-drunkenness, but that was the point at which I started to laugh and couldn't stop.

So, yeah: not much going on that's very useful, these last few days. I did watch the pilot episode of The Exorcist: The TV Series and was happy to find it suitably Blatty-esque, especially in philosophical terms. It probably bears further explanation, but I'm suddenly too tired to manage that; back to it.

Amended to add: Last night I ended up looking through my file of recently completed stories, because I have various anthologies coming out soon and wanted to reacquaint myself with what's coming down the pipe. One of them, "Sleep Hygiene," turned out to be good but utterly unfamiliar to me--I can barely remember writing it. Amusingly enough, it's about insomnia.
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Part of what I'm looking at with Nightcrawling is the fact that I've known at least two people who I once considered friends who disappeared inside a sudden onslaught of mental illness. In both cases, I eventually felt I had to detach myself from them, an action I felt like a blow--it seemed cowardly and cruel, which it probably was. It seemed like an unforgiveable betrayal, which it probably was as well.

In one case, the cause was schizophrenia, which the person in question had always feared, given he'd already watched his mother succumb to it at close range; I remember going to his house and finding her always sitting there in the dark, face swollen to the point of deformity from whatever drugs she was taking, chain-smoking endlessly. He was a a good-looking kid, delicate enough that I mistook him for a girl until I introduced him to somebody using the female variant of his name, and he quickly corrected me. Another friend later told me he'd shot through puberty and straight into the thick of his disease, becoming tall, hairy and grossly fat. I never had to see that, though, because I'd already cut myself away from him using sharp words, unkind observations. I made it so he wouldn't want to be with me anymore, so I could be elsewhere.

Bits of my other friend's illness have made it into various stories, particularly those starring Carraclough Devize. I'd known her since grade school--she and I actually met at Deer Park, sharing those horrible years before separating when I escaped into the alternative school system, then meeting again at City School. We drifted apart again when we got into different universities, and by the time I next saw her she'd begun to wrestle with manic depression, which first presented during her graduate studies and led to a full-blown episode while she was working south of the border, ending in her being committed to an American hospital, where she racked up enormous debt and was treated with drugs that damaged her heart. She's the person I once went to visit in the Clarke Institute for Mental Health, signing her out for a three-hour jaunt during which we couldn't see a movie because she had to get back early (she was under suicide watch). Once released, she settled into a routine: change prescriptions, adjust to the cocktail, feel better, stop taking it, have an episode, go back on until the meds stopped working, change prescriptions again, etc. Then she threw herself off a bridge, ending up in a wheelchair, and I stopped taking her calls.

The pain was a lot worse with my second friend. What hurt the most was that throughout the process, she kept claiming I was her best or only friend, hearkening back to Deer Park, to the impression I'd made on her. She thought I was brave, self-confident, honest--like Lawrence of Arabia; she'd tell the same anecdotes over and over, reminding me of when I'd blown up at her abusive, belittling mother on her behalf, screaming at her in her own kitchen, or when I'd confronted her stepfather for essentially saying she was functionally retarded just because she wanted to study physical education rather than a more academic subject. But the more she praised me, the more I knew I couldn't possibly be any of those things, most especially so because of how uncomfortable she was making me feel. So I cut her loose and I moved on, not looking back.

I understand now that that was self-protection in action, "self-care," an instinct which came directly out of my own issues, and I accept the consequences, even though I still consider scuttling both friendships one of the worst things I've ever done, the worst sins I've ever committed. God knows I've cut other friends loose since then, for similar reasons, and been far less divided about it; maybe it's because I knew exactly what I was doing, those times. Maybe it's because I had what I considered genuinely practical reasons for doing so, beyond a vague sense of "I just can't stand to be around you anymore, because you remind me how weak and context-dependent my own grasp on sanity can be."

One way or the other, however, I understand all too well what it is to feel so guilty you consider yourself forever stained, a social leper whose marks only become visible if you admit to them. And I know how it is to be listening to a story someone's telling about someone else while thinking: "But this is you, right? You're describing yourself. And I can't say anything about it, because you don't even get that yet. You wouldn't believe me, if I did."

So this is where things will start: with one person telling another about the awful thing they did when they were younger, how they loved someone who went insane and felt it like a betrayal, then betrayed them in turn--but seen through the eyes of the second person, the one increasingly unsure of how reliable a narrator the first person is. Thinking, more and more: This is YOUR story you're telling me, whether you know it or not. There's something wrong with you, and I want to help, but I don't know if I can. I don't know if that's even possible.

Back to it.
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So...Experimental Film just won the 2016 Sunburst Award for Best Adult Novel. Link here (http://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/09/gemma-files-wins-2016-sunburst-awardl.html).

Seriously, this has just been a really, really good year.
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Wwwwoooowwww. From April to September, in one fell swoop. What's been happening?

Basically, I got caught up in work, summer, taking care of Cal...all that. You may have heard that Experimental Film won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel. You might remember I was fuck-a-struggling to complete "Coffle," the novella I owed Dim Shores; that's finally done, at least. Then, in the last days of August, I attended a fundraising gala at ChiZine's ChiSeries Reading Series, for which I was supposed to bring in and read a sample of my juvenilia--I chose my first official horror story ("Gore in the Woods," written when I was eleven) and what was probably my first-ever film review (Star Wars, written when I was nine, with truly execrable accompanying illustrations), both of which went over pretty well. Going through the stack, however, I tripped across the remnants of a novel I'd tried to write while in high school, and suddenly I had a new project.

Like Experimental Film, Nightcrawling is firmly rooted in personal history/trauma. Specifically, it deals with a time in my life I truly tried my best to forget entirely, my tenure at a particular house on St. Clair East near Mount Pleasant, during which I attended Deer Park School. Granted, I hadn't exactly been well-adjusted or socially accepted before getting to Deer Park, but that place marks the absolute nadir of my public school experience: social pariah-dom, coordinated bullying by fellow students and teachers alike, violence practiced on and by me. It's also marked by an enduring fascination with that part of Toronto's ravine system which runs under the St. Clair bridge. Naturally enough, all of this is going in the book, and the process of making notes on it is already fascinating and sort of awful in equal portions.

Yesterday, for example, I found myself thinking about how not to approach the bullying, which (even now) I can only see at a very steady remove, framed by my adult understanding of a situation that absolutely baffled me while I was moving through it. As Sandra Kasturi observes, the sort of bullying girls inflict on other girls is cruel in a way that's somewhat unique; boys will hurt you but then get bored and move on, while girls will devote what seems like amazing amounts of effort on finding out your vulnerabilities, then using them to destroy what you love most--"rip out your heart and shit on it," is Sandra's evocative phrase.

In hindsight, I can completely recognize the matrix this behaviour comes from: there's such a narrow, narrow range of allowable femininity, and popular girls are just as shaky inside that foundation as the rest of us, which is why they feel driven to make sure that anyone who falls outside that rubric is properly punished, made an example of: they can't leave us alone, because our very existence challenges the idea that there can be no exceptions to the unwritten rules of what girls are "supposed" to do, to like, to be. Within those standards, I was too tall, too developed, too smart, too unable to control myself; I have no doubt they were afraid of me sometimes, because I remember doing my level best to make them afraid of me, in hopes of being left alone. If I met me then, I'd probably be afraid of me too.

(This doesn't make me want to forgive anybody involved, so much, as it simply allows me to deal with the fallout. But the emotions that the act of merely thinking about these things summon up are still so raw that they amaze me. It definitely reminds me of the fact that all scars can be un-knitted, whether by scurvy or just by a situation which triggers "old tapes," making you flinch from threats that no longer exist. Nothing is ever "over.")

Anyhow: that's the seed. The framework itself is similar but different. Supernatural events may or may not be involved. I split myself into two equally unreliable narrators, and see where that takes me. The whole thing scares me, which is probably only fitting.

So yeah, those are the haps, partially. Cal is back at school and into his new schedule, which contains roughly twice as much music lessons as usual. The exciting development over the summer is that he's suddenly spurted ahead in terms of confirming music as his "language," his vocation--the last time we got to the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music, he sat down at the piano in the front room and immediately started to sing "See the Light" from Tangled, working out the chords as he went along. Then he immediately did it again, so I could catch it on my iPhone. A day earlier, I'd watched Mom tear up while watching him harmonize with himself, playing back a video of the same song that he'd recorded earlier--again, he immediately repeated the performance so she could get it for Facebook. All of which gives me tentative hope that we may actually be able to get him a placement in a Catholic high school with both an arts program and a good multiple exceptionalities stream to support him on the academic crap as he moves towards age eighteen. He's a great guy, but the future's coming in fast, and he doesn't know enough yet to worry about it the way I do.

(I can't even think about him having his own Deer Park-style memories in future--I won't let myself, period fucking full stop. At least he has a diagnosis, and a support system; my mother loved me, but she had her own problems, and she was alone. Still, she did manage to violently reject one psychiatrist's suggestion I might be potentially schizophrenic, so that's good. I owe her a lot, and strive to hold no grudges.)

Okay, back to it.
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...in case anyone's interested:

April 29, 2016, 10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
May Contain Graphic Violence - Richmond A

April 30, 2016, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Chizine Authors Reading - Oakridge

April 30, 2016, 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Northern Frights! - Aurora

April 30, 2016, 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
The Disappearance of the Beginning Middle and End - Markham B

This is at the same time as the Echo Women's Choir's Spring session dress rehearsal (Saturday, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm) and performance (Sunday, 3:00 pm), so I'm going to be constantly in transit and probably pretty fucked up, which means that if we have an encounter and I seem spacey, that's why. See ya!
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I feel like I've been running a really long, useless race, wrecking myself and producing very little of value. As you may have noticed, for instance, I haven't done shit for my Patreon project except write ideas down in a notebook--being sick for a solid week will do that, I guess, especially while simultaneously dealing with Cal being sick for a solid week. I've also gotten progressively less and less sleep, culminating in yesterday's Viva! Youth Choir gala fundraiser marathon, for which I had stupidly volunteered my help in terms of silent auction bid sheet/display sheet formatting and event set-up.

The first part--formatting--Iid already gotten done with Steve's invaluable help (never dealt with Numbers/Excel before in my life, thank you) over two equally late nights. I then started the day itself by waking up to the news that I had to be at the venue by noon, at which point I checked my phone and realized it was already 11:58. Rushed to get dressed and out, got there by 12:45, spent the rest of the day setting up display items, then met Steve on site and attended the event itself, a sort of "date night." Which was great but still exhausting/energizing, which may explain why I stayed up 'til 4:00 AM doing chores and trying to wind down.

Still on the plate: two stories, one due for May 5. In between I have Ad Astra, and the Echo Women's Choir spring session performance, and the Bellefire Club, and all sorts of other shit. Mom is in Barcelona, having a good time; I took a side-job helping a friend with his Air B-and-B properties, which means I also have to be on call running backa nd forth doing laundry and giving people keys and crap. Etc., etc., etc

I think I just need to make a fucking pact with myself that no matter when I go to sleep, I'll get up at the same time every day. I basically am anyhow, if just to throw Cal out the door. And then my clock will simply be forced to readjust itself, and everything can go back to "normal."

Meanwhile, as payback for having to read the above bullshit whiny screed about how my life is just so HARD, mmmkay, have a wonderful article about British folk horror that calls England "a green and deeply unpleasant land" (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane?CMP=share_btn_tw), plus this promising teaser trailer for Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven (http://bgr.com/2016/04/20/2016-the-magnificent-seven-trailer/). I like its diversity, though I can't help but note it suffers from the usual Smurfette Syndrome.

Back to it.
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So okay, I did it: my Patreon campaign page is officially up, here (https://www.patreon.com/user?u=763086&ty=h&alert=1). OTOH, it's not like I'm not going to do this project even if no one signs up, but OTotherH, it would just make my life a whole lot easier, especially in terms of giving me a deadline I literally can't afford to screw my way out of. So if you guys could see your way to chipping somethiong in, that'd be amazing.;)

Otherwise, still working on a roster of short stories, a screenplay outline that's currently kicking my ass (but what doesn't?), and dealing with a typical lack of sleep. Cal will be home soon, after which comes choir, after which comes a talk with someone about the Viva Youth Choir fundraiser. And on and on and on.
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The third cold, constantly rainy day in a row, and I find myself watching Nicholas McCarthy's At The Devil's Door yet again--a female Antichrist narrative with the same sort of feel as Ti West's House of the Devil, but far more modernized (obviously, given House is a period piece both in front of and behind the camera). Part of At The Devil's Door definitely takes place in the 1980s, or appears to; there's a diagetic song used as part of the action that has a serious New Wave vibe, "Break Under Pressure" by Jerry's Diner, though it seems to have been composed directly for the soundtrack. But with his non-linear story-chunking and frames inside of frames, McCarthy appears to be going for something larger than West is, something almost...operatic, or at least comic book-like. The not-quite-God's-eye POV of a being operating from outside space and time, perhaps.

Before we go much further, I'm going to punch the thematic elephant in the room right in the face: this is a story conceived and executed by a male writer/director that revolves around female loss of agency, specifically of the sort that comes from rape and forced pregnancy run through a supernatural filter. On the one hand, this is the sort of narrative we see all the time, culturally--women reduced to their parts, their childbearing potential. But the reason these things keep getting name-checked in horror is that they're frankly pretty horrifying, and I say that as someone who consented to carrying a parasitical creature inside myself for nine months. There's a caesarian section sequence which looks very familiar to me, but then again, I also lived through the era of Jack Chick and his proselytizing tracts, the post-Rosemary's Baby/Omen/Amityville Horror movies era in which the Devil was a constant presence, a serious possibility. So there are other sequences which ring just as "true," even though they're not things I've ever experienced directly: the shifts, the skews, the loops and impossibilities. Those nightmare moments when Hannah, our initial protagonist, becomes alienated from her own body and feels something else slip inside.

We begin with Hannah (raccoon-eyed, Joan Jett shag-cut Ashley Rickards), young and in love, whose California vacation boyfriend suggests she can make an easy $500 by playing out his crazy uncle's favourite urban legend scenario: sell your soul, or pretend to; go down to "where the roads meet" and say your name, "so he'll known who to call for when he comes." One cut later, she's back at home admiring the bright red high-tops she just bought when a voice does indeed seem to speak to her, and her life starts unravelling overnight.

Then we pop forward into the future, where the current economic downturn is driving workaholic Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) to become the best junior realtor possible. She's approached to sell a house that turns out the be the same one Hannah used to live in, and on her first appraisal visit, she sees Hannah herself standing in the living room in an equally bright red slicker, dripping rain. Hannah runs off, and Leigh simply assumes she must be the family's missing daughter, mentioned during their initial interview.

Leigh's little sister Vera (Naya Rivera) is a defiantly solitary, loft-dwelling artist--"kind of dark," as Leigh proclaims, her tone both proud and slightly sad. Leigh can't have children and knows it, but hopes Vera eventually will, though the likelihood seems low; their parents are dead, and Leigh's slight accent vs. Vera's complete lack of same tells a subtextual story about immigration, Americanization, orphans who became everything to each other, only to be riven apart when one was forced to take on the parental role. Leigh admires but judges Vera, whiles Vera resents yet loves Leigh, and their bond is palpable, even in their smallest interactions.

When Leigh returns to the house, however, she finds Hannah there again--wet, silent, apparently traumatized. She makes small talk, telling Hannah about Vera, then calls the couple she believes to be Hannah's parents...who tell her they've already found their daughter. Looking through the property file, she finds an article dated at least fifteen years previous talking about Hannah's suicide and follows her through the house, demanding an explanation. Instead, Hannah lets her head first loll, then begin to separate from her body; Leigh, horrified, falls to the ground, has a heart attack and dies right there, her last fading sight the vision of Hannah splitting in two and falling away to disclose a gigantic shadow-figure, its head crowned with a curling rack of horns.

It falls to Vera to investigate both Leigh's death and, as an adjunct, Hannah's, which leads her to Hannah's former best friend, now a suburban homemaker aware that "there are bad things in the world." According to the friend, Hannah became convinced she was stalked and occasionally inhabited by the creature her boyfriend's uncle said would come to her, a being that "wanted to be all of someone." Her parents thought she killed herself because she was pregnant, as a used test found in the house confirmed, but Hannah was a virgin--a vessel, a "work-around for the Left-hand path," as the uncle once claimed. She killed herself so that this thing inside her would be trapped, at which point it took on her form, haunting the house it was trapped in. But now, knowing Vera's name, it sees a way out.

And so it goes. The denouement is fairly predictable, in the same primal way most fairytales are: Vera fights but is overcome, thrown headlong through a window only to wake up eight months later, pregnant as hell. After glimpsing her tormentor's face on the ultrasound, she demands the hospital perform an immediate c-section and gives the child up, closes out Leigh's home, packs her car, drives off. But six years later, she can't quite help herself: she contacts the child's single mother, asks to visit. She wants to confront the demon within, demand answers, take revenge...but who can kill a child, even one so overtly wrong? Unlike Damien Thorn, Vera's nameless daughter doesn't even pretend to be human, simply giving Vera every opportunity to choose for herself--exercise free will. She gambles that Vera will choose like a person, not an angel or a God, and her trust pays out; evil wins.

Or, maybe, individuality.

The film fascinates, at least for me. Technically, it's gorgeous, sustaining a penetrating mood of dread throughout, and the foregone conclusion doesn't disappoint. There's a sort of beauty to it. Which is why I upgraded my score to five today, from four: At The Devil's Door is exactly what it sets out to be, in every way. I can't fault it for that.
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From famine to feast: the Gemma Files story. Considering where I was last time "we" talked, it's hilarious to realize I'm beginning to think I've finally tipped past the point of busyness where keeping up with the churn of my own thoughts becomes impossible, at least in terms of regular posting. At the moment, I'm literally working on five things at once: a specifically-targeted short story, a novella due by June, a screenplay outline that should have been done two weeks ago, a short story I brainstormed yesterday while watching the pilot episode of A&E's new Damien TV show and a potential Patreon campaign.

Yeah, that's right--I too am going to be joining the throng, looking for patronage to keep things fluid while I produce content for a very specific project; luckily, it's the sort of content I find pretty easy to produce on a regular basis, even when nobody's paying me for it. And all that's without even talking about the next novel, which is definitely still in the planning stages...five more options, at the very least. Five more stories to husband through their various developmental stages.

It seems churlish to worry about having too much on my plate, too many things to take advantage of, because when you're used to not having a lot of options, you get to believe that turning anything down is a straight-up asshole move. So when ideas come to me, these days, I write them the hell down; I'd rather have too much than too little. I'd rather have people talking about me and expecting things from me than not, no matter how exhausting that can sometimes be.

So yeah, that's what I'm doing. In and out, up and down. It's better than the block, any day.

March First

Mar. 1st, 2016 04:30 pm
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...and keep on marching, damnit. I went down to New York and read at KGB, staying overnight in an Air B&B whose building had a faulty front door lock and whose floors were so slanted as to seem non-Euclidean; I kept slipping around in my stocking feet and wondering what was making me queasy, 'til I finally realized that if I'd had a marble I could have set it down on one side of the room and watch it roll to the other without even giving it a flick. The next week was the novella night panel, which went pretty well, and my Mom is still in the Azores. I finished and sold that most recent story. Etc.

And still, the numbness persists. This general feeling I'm slamming my head against a rock every time I sit down in front of the computer. It's all very fast, and I'm tired, and my head hurts constantly; every line I write seems like the first sentence from a new story, but none of the stories seem to have second sentences. All that.

I have to make some hard choices, and stick to them. Have to schedule that second plumber's visit, then set up a tax appointment, get that done. Have to figure out a way to start enjoying myself again.
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So yeah, I had the Plane Bug too. Oh boy, did I! Things got worse and worse throughout the week, so much so that by mid-Thursday I was bent over groaning, achey all over, hot sweat and chills, and by very early Friday I was literally vomiting my guts out while sitting on the toilet. I woke up on Friday morning riding the tail end of everything inside me being disgustingly liquid, but otherwise cramp- and nausea-free; by eleven I was in bed, however, so exhausted I slept through a business call I'd set up while in Tasmania. Thankfully, they were understanding and I was able to reschedule quickly.

Saturday I was okay enough to run actual errands, including finally having that welcome home dinner Mom wanted, before falling asleep by 6:00 PM and pretty much staying there, aside from waking up for an hour or so around 3:00 AM. I'm still not rock-solid, but at least my brain seems to be working again, albeit in short spurts--enough so to start worrying about how utterly, shamefully behind I am on every fucking thing in the world.

Today's the 7th. By next Wednesday, the 17th, I need to be in New York, reading at KGB Bar's Fantastic Fiction evening. I'm already wondering how little time I can get away with spending there, but an overnight at an Air B & B seems like the easiest way to go. Then I've got a panel on novellas the week after, and this afternoon I have a very impromptu appearance on Mike Davis's Lovecraft eZine talkshow, in reference to Women in Horror Month. Then there's the stuff I haven't mailed yet, that short story, that novella, other things. A two-sheet screenplay pitch for a producer. Etc.

Anyhow, more on all that later, and other things. This is just to explain where the hell I've been, doing what. And now I must go.
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In case any of you wonder, I've been in Australia for about a week now. It's fun but somewhat gruelling. Every day is a wild ride of "let's go here, let's go there, let's do this and that," etc. I'm appreciating being here as an adult, but I need to get myself back in the swing of things; I'm still working on a short story that's kicking my ass, for example. And now I have to go.
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