Archive of ‘the written word’ category

Hag Couture

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Earlier this year I had the fantastic opportunity to contribute a cheeky piece to Witch Women, “….an exploration of the many facets of the relationship between femininity and the occult… original art and essays ranging from the esoteric to the light-hearted.” Witch Women is published by Tenebrous Kate over at Heretical Sexts, a micro-publisher of niche, print material focused on the dark and the bizarre, and contains a treasure trove of outré art, eccentric essays and salacious stories from some phenomenally talented artists and writers.

I don’t think I am being too forward by suggesting that it is relative to many of your interests! I mean, I’d venture to say that we’re all Witch Women here, of some sort.

See below for an excerpt from my contribution, Hag Couture (in film & cinema) ….if you dig it and want to read more, go buy a copy of Witch Women!  And do yourself a favor, peek around at the other titles while you’re there…you are sure to find something unique to delight and titillate! (I’m looking at you, Erotic Rites of the Nazgûl). Enjoy!

HAG COUTURE (excerpt)

Witches stirring cauldrons, stabbing voodoo dolls, ripping off their own faces – truly, depictions of witchy women getting down to business make for visually fantastic cinema fodder. Whether these celluloid incarnations take form as glamorous queens, amusing fairytale buffoons, or seemingly ordinary small-town housewives, there is something fantastically compelling about watching a film focusing on witches in the midst of ritual. Even more fabulous still, when one narrows that focus to examine their attire and costumery as it related to  those ritualistic actions and behaviors. From gilded enchantresses haunting one’s dreams to gothed-out teens experimenting with the occult , Hag Couture can encompass a wide range of aesthetics, but you must pay mind to what rites and ceremonies you pair with which styles for maximum results and wow-factor! Check out these witches most powerful and fashionable moments, plus tips for conjuring their wicked style.

You don’t always have to be dressed to the nines to draw down the moon!  Here we have Mater Lacrimarium (Mother of Tears, Dario Agento, 2007) draped in a simple black cloak. When you consider her feats of violence, carnage and tearing an entire city apart, you truly appreciate the power in the idea that less is most definitely more.  For a high-end, luxe approach, think the Yves Saint Laurent, Spring Summer capes of 2013 (you can ditch the rest of the ensemble for a sky-clad silhouette underneath.) For budget beauties, a king-size black cotton sheet set from Wal-Mart will do the trick. Bonus points if you get your partner tricked out in some avant-garde, deconstructed Junya Watanabe or Comme des Garcons. Complete this look with a spritz of Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan.

In The Craft, a favorite for many who came into their magics in the 1990s,  we see a coven of young women experimenting with witchcraft and reveling in their newfound powers. The look and feel of the film – Lace, leather, boots, crocheted sweaters, long dresses, gothic jewelry, and dark nails and lips – is so gloriously goth/grunge nineties, but the wardrobe could use a bit of an update for today’s aspiring acolytes. Young witches in for an evening of glamours and games of “light as a feather, stiff as a board” or out for an afternoon picnic with Manon should stock up on unique pieces from dark indie designers such as Ovate, Noctex, or Morph Knitwear, festoon themselves in supernatural jewels and psychic armor from Bloodmilk or mystical talismans from Burialground and scent their persons with a bit of Snake Oil fragrance oil from Black Alchemy Lab.

Make sure you pick up a copy of Witch Women to read the rest of the piece, in which you will find 8 more of my favorite examples of Hag Couture in film and cinema…and several other fascinating essays/articles, as well as some really stunning art from the likes of  Tom BluntHeather DrainJack W. ShearDana GloverBecky Munich, and Carisa Swenson and  Tenebrous Kate herself!

Four poets

The other night I had a rare moment to myself.  Not “by myself”; I am by myself, alone, all day long, working remotely from home, connecting to an office hundreds of miles away. But rather “to myself”; no obligations or responsibilities or demands on my time, just an hour or two, to do with as I please.  I didn’t have much time, so I wanted to be certain that the minutes I did have allotted to me actually counted for something.

I feel a bit the same about poetry.  It’s an opportunity for a writer to take a few words and a small space and spark an enormous, raging fire in a reader’s heart. Its dearth of strict rules delights me – for someone as meek and timid as I can be, I resent guidelines and rules, they often annoy me and I do love to see them twisted and broken. And poetry is a vital, relevant language – at turns mystical, raw, terrifying, full of rage and longing, tender, and absurd- leaving one hollow, spent, and breathless….and I will confess to loving it all, even the bad poetry.

I dabble a bit with writing my own poems, though not as much as I did when I was younger.  And I’ve no delusions that I was ever any good or that I have improved much over the years, but it’s something I quite enjoy (to the extent that I used to participate in open mike nights, believe it or not! Even I have a hard time believing this.)

At any rate, on this particular evening, I cozied up on the sofa with a stack of books that I’d been meaning to get around to; all relatively recent offerings from some new-to-me poets, along with some old favorites.  It was an hour very well spent.

I’ve copied below a few excerpts for your enjoyment, as well.

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A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us, by Caleb Curtiss, is a heartbreaking chronicle of grief, stalked by sister ghosts. Radiant, revelatory elegies.

Sparrow {excerpt}

My sister
is not a woman, a girl, or even

a real someone or something.
Not anymore.

In her place I find a bird
nearly frozen, lying

in a field, its body
broken in some way,

and it is utterly flightless
and possibly a sparrow —

 

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The Sex Lives of Monsters by Helen Marshall weaves together, ancient myths and familiar tales in a painful, poignant, and sometimes oddly pitiful exploration of what it means to be monstrous.

As my heart forever breaks for poor, doomed Eurydice, this excerpt from The Stairwell gave my heartstrings a particularly violent tug.

The Stairwell {excerpt}

We cannot be other than we are.
You must mount the staircase,
face toward the dawn.
and I in your shadow,
forever certain
of your turning head.

 

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Because I love a burning thing
I made my heart a field of fire
{excerpt from The Art of Loss is a Lost Art}

The Truth Is We Are Perfect by Janaka Stucky, is poetry of sacrifice and miracles and destruction and love is superbly and succinctly summed up by Pam Grossman over at phantasmaphile as “…Incantatory and incendiary”.  Actually, I don’t know if I can do it any further justice.  Just read her review.  Also, here is a link to a Spotify playlist that Janaka Stucky put together for this collection of poetry and a description of the playlist, in his own words, over at largeheartedboy.

 

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O’Nights by Cecily Parks presents a luminous, lyrical vision of the natural world through an urbane, modern woman’s eyes – pale nightscapes, violent springs, wounds and lusts, captures and release.

I Have Set Fire To The Forest {excerpt}

I put on a dress to walk
in the seeping rain, believing
that if the willows are suddenly green

I might have something sudden happen
to me. I saunter impatiently

 

Postpastoral {excerpt}

I borrowed an axe
so heavy I had to drag it 
through the woods.

Branches couldn’t catch
the geese or the sliding sun
and the mud-streaked axe blade

and my mud-streaked dress
took on a violet sheen.
I would build a house

to be lonely in.

 

That’s progress, sugar

Recently one of my sisters and I, along with our significant others, embarked on a road trip that involved a lot of car time. This was of course much different than the journeys of our youth where we relied on coloring books and sticker albums for entertainment; no, in present day we instead spent most of the time staring at our phones and ignoring each other.  My sister, however, rediscovered a website she had found ages ago, Cliquey Pizza  –  a blog focused on 80’s YA books series & pop culture – and we took turns scrolling through the blog, getting more and more excited as we unearthed beloved gems from when we were younger.

My reading was never censored as a child; I was encouraged to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. By 5th and 6th grade I was reading Stephen King and Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein and Richard Matheson. In retrospect…did I understand the nuances of the stories I was reading? Was I able to digest the philosophies or relate to the characters?  Probably not fully, but I certainly related to these stories more closely than I did to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield from the Sweet Valley High books that most other girls my age were reading, that’s for sure.

Despite the fact that I could roam where ever I wished within the library, I often found my way back to the young adult section when I was that age – and I am glad that I did.  I was born in 1976 and the mid-80’s was rife with really phenomenal young adult writers – Ellen Conford, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume – these ladies knew how to tell a story … and they didn’t need a werewolf or a vampire to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my blood-thirsty supernatural creatures, but if I had discovered them in the “Paranormal Romance” section of Barnes and Noble, I might have an entirely different relationship with the creatures of the night than I do now.

 

Ellen Conford wrote YA in just a twisted enough way that you felt like more of an adult while reading it. The writing is sharp and sophisticated, and you really wanted to be friends with her heroines -they always had such a clever wit and a sly sense of humor.  The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations is a prime example of Ellen Conford at the height of her hilarity. I remember reading some passages and not being able to breathe because I laughing so hard.  If you’ve ever used Zoroaster’s birthday as an excuse to get out of gym class or penned shitty poetry just so you can get published in the school paper, then I really think you will appreciate the main character, Julie, who is just trying to muddle through her freshman year of high school.  I suppose it’s a little dated – I don’t think teenagers had crushes on Robert Redford even when I was reading it – but I don’t think those details really detract from the story.  To be honest, I am fairly certain teens are facing entirely different problems today than Julie did at AGGMH – but the story is so much fun that this is easily overlooked.  I am pretty sure that I don’t even want to know what teenagers have to deal with today. I doubt hilarity often ensues.

I don’t quite recall the other books I’ve read by Conford other than And This Is Laura, which was also pretty great, but I don’t think anything can ever top The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations. I was very sorry to read just today that Ellen Conford passed away last month.

The title of this post is taken from a poem written by one of the characters, and I can’t find it now because I no longer have my copy of the book, otherwise I would post it in its entirety. It’s awful and pretty batshit left-wing teen angsty, and the last line is “…that’s progress sugar.”

For all the Stephen King on my young person’s shelf, no  author gave me such intense shivers as Lois Duncan. Twenty five years later, I still try to pinpoint precisely why that is. Perhaps while King’s characters were often older teenagers or adults dealing with jobs and children (along with rabid dogs and killer cars) Duncan’s heroines were young women closer to my age and who shared my concerns.

In Down A Dark Hall, Kit is a young woman who is shipped off to a sinister boarding school while her mother and stepfather are away on their honeymoon.  That’s already a significant change for a young adult to process, in addition to the internal changes she is experiencing as well.  Adding to the mix a strange, new environment and eerie goings-on that literally made my hair stand on end as I read it – this became a book I would read again and again because I could picture myself so well as Kit with her myriad, mundane problems in the midst of a growing supernatural mystery.

It’s strange to admit, that other than Stranger With My Face, I’ve not read anything else by Lois Duncan, which is crazy when you consider that she is the lady who wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer!  I think I am going to make this upcoming June/July The Summer of Lois Duncan, wherein I read everything she’s ever written.

There are so many more of these books that I treasure for their humor and insight and wonderfully creepy suspense sans gore, and some of them which really gutted me on an emotional level as well… but Ellen Conford’s Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations and Lois Duncan’s Down A Dark Hall are without a doubt, my forever favorites.

Tell me of the books and stories that you loved as a young adult. Are they stories that still resonate with you? Would you still feel that frisson of excitement flipping through those pages? Are those books still on your shelves?

I wonder if I have read them, too, and remember them just as fondly.

in a voice rusty and ragged

Inspired by Laird Barron’s short story “The Carrion Gods in Their Heavens” in the collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

Tracklist:
Strange Moon Rising, Smoke Fairies | Locksång På Orgel, Daniel Olsén |   Nocturnal, Orion Rigel Dommisse | A Retinue Of Moons/ The Infidel Is Me, Rasputina | Feral Love, CHELSEA WOLFE | Heavenly Creatures, Wolf Alice | Well Of Tuhala, Fursaxa | The Heart Full Of Eyes I Am, Current 93 | No Dog, Esben And The Witch | Black Eyed Dog, Swans | How The Gods, Kill Owl Service | I Am The Wolf, Mark Lanegan | Umingmak, Tanya Tagaq | Werewolf The Path Ost, | White Fanged Foreverness, Mariee Sioux |

Currently…

Currently…

…Digging into Tenebrous Kate’s Forever Doomed ‘zine, a “tongue-in-cheek but loving look at the theme of doom” and which includes new essays and comics such as “Erotic Rites of the Nazgûl” and ‘Adventures at Maryland Deathfest” (both of which I am very keen to read!) If you enjoy Kate’s blog, which touches on all things dark, fantastical and forbidden, you’d do well to pick up a copy for yourself while they last.

 

…Sniffing my way through Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s 2014 Yule offerings. I really wanted to love Practical Occultism (“A Victorian occultist’s incense, invoking the Four Archangels: precious wildcrafted Indian frankincense with myrrh, cassia, sandarac, palmarosa, white sage, red sandalwood, elemi, and drops of star anise bound with grains of kyphi.”) But I think my favorite thus far is Chionophobia (“Fear of Snow: A suffocating, oppressive white shroud: a fragrance heavy with ice, strangled by damp oakmoss, artemisia, and muguet.”).  It’s a lightly mossy, white musk that reminds me of being 15 years old and waiting at 6AM on a cold, damp morning for my ride to school.  That’s not exactly a pleasant memory, and I loathed school, but it’s still a nice scent!

Knitting a leftovers blanket.  I’ve years and years worth of little bits and bobs of sock yarn, the amounts that were leftover from a pair of socks and that did not add up to enough to do anything useful or interesting with.  I recently stumbled upon this blanket using up these leftover bits as wee mitered squares and became inspired to do the same myself.
Knitters –  I have a favor to ask, and I don’t normally ask for favors, so I hope you will indulge me. Do you have any leftover sock yarn that you know you are never going to do anything with? I’d love to incorporate it into the leftovers blanket that I am currently working on. It would also be neat to have little pieces of friendly, generous folks knit into this thing. Er, well. That’s a little creepy. Which is just perfect for me! Do let me know! I know I am asking you to drop something in the mail, which costs a bit of postage, so I understand if it’s not something you are able to do. But if you are…I would really appreciate it, and it would make the project extra meaningful.  Drop me a note at mlleghoul AT gmail dot com if you are interested in helping out.

…Cooking all of the things!  I am not sure if I am finally shaking off the laziness and lassitude of the holidays or what, but I’m much more inclined to putter around in the kitchen than I have been the last few months.  Over the weekend I made not one – but two! – suppers -and for someone who is firm believer in dining out all weekend long because somehow she came to believe that’s what fancy people do and she likes to pretend she is fancy – that’s no small feat..  Sunday night saw us simmering Baby Lima Beans in Chipotle Broth from Heidi Swanson’s Supernatural Cooking (but you can find the recipe online here) and on Saturday we made Giada De Laurentiis’ oricchiette with mixed greens and goat cheese – which is a simple but incredibly tasty one-pot meal.  Also, both vegetarian, if you care about such things.

What are you up to these days, in your part of the world?

The Christmas Service of the Dead

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The Christmas Service of the Dead

People say that long ago the dead held a service on the night before Christmas.  Once a woman arrived too early for Christmas service.  When she entered the church she found it lit up and full of dead people, singing:

Here we sing, our bones all bleached,
Here we sing with beautiful voice,
When shall the day of judgment come,
What yet have you to say?

The story continues on as the woman recognizes her dead sister among the congregation. Warned by her sister that she must flee, for the dead will take her life, the woman escapes, dropping her shawl behind her to confuse her cadaverous pursuers.  When the church warden comes in the next morning and puts the lights on, he spies the shawl in the empty chapel, torn almost beyond recognition.

This tale is widely spread in Europe and is extremely old, having been set in Autun, Burgandy, by Gregory of Tours in his De Gloria Confessorum.  See below for an illustrated version of the best-known Scandinavian variant of this migratory legend, “The Midnight Mass of the Dead” from Asbørnsen’s “En gammelgags juleaften” (“An Old Fashioned Christmas Eve”).  These wonderfully evocative images, full of dim shades, grim shadows and midwinter’s eerie light, were created by artist Chris Van Allsburg (JumangiThe Polar Express) and can be found in Ghosts” volume from theTime Life Enchanted World series.  These scans are from my personal collection; higher-resolution, more detailed versions can be found here.

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Wishing you peace and light in this dark, dying time of the year, and may you not be without your shawl or other talisman this winter holiday when the dead are afoot and hungry for your company.

(originally posted at After Dark In The Playing Fields)

 

This, that, and the other thing (IV)

The magical life of one pair of Icelandic twins, as documented by photographer Ariko Inaoka

Inaoka strives to give her photos of the twins—which were taken at the their house and other “timeless” natural locations about 30 minutes outside the city—a magical, otherworldly quality, because she finds the twins’ relationship as similarly extraordinary and mysterious.

 

The extraordinary art of R.S. Connett, full of vibrant color and exquisite detail


All the horror manga by brilliant author Junji Ito that you need for a lifetime of distress & disquiet

(Bonus listening: Paradoxical Night on 8tracks)

 

A bevy of fantastic Shirley Jackson titles & cover art over at Too Much Horror Fiction

 

The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME!
Let’s start planning our field trip, now.


Supervenus 
by Frédéric Doazan for the 17th Brussels Short Film Festival
, a macabre statement on standards of Western beauty.

 

Evening In Space – Daphne Guinness nonstop weird fashion and decadence

 

 

 

Angelique

I am finally getting around to reading this stack of books, ostensibly about a healthy looking lass with barely concealed bosoms, named Angelique.  I picked them up at the start of the summer, rescued, on a whim, from a dusty, sagging particle board shelf in the shadowed corner of a cramped used book store.  I thought they would be light, campy summer reading.
They – the covers, at least -also reminded me a bit of how my mother once read the riot act to a nosy, churchy neighbor who had a problem with me, as a 10 year old, reading Clan of the Cave Bear (which I was thoroughly obsessed with at the time). I don’t remember it was a great book, and true, I was only reading it for the sexy bits, but thank you mom, for never censoring my reading.

Looking at the covers, you’d think this was a series of bodice-rippers, wouldn’t you?  Yet, from even a cursory glance on Good Reads I can see that this is a much beloved heroine – witty, charming, beautiful, utterly captivating – and that many readers have been swept away by her adventures, and even more, the writing is supposedly superb and the historical details are amazingly accurate. This is a collection of stories that people return to and re-read time and time again.

It is now October and I’ve barely read a single chapter. I paid the princely sum of $15 for all eight of these paperbacks and I really need to start getting my money’s worth from them.
Or at least read the sexy bits.

beyond the pale motel; not a book review

8b5f1569c9220987b7d6c753c73ea11cTo be honest, I have not reached a point where I have forgotten that my mother has died.  I will hear some people say that they wanted to share something with their deceased parent – maybe a bit of good news, maybe something not so great – and they were dialing the phone before they realized “oh yeah, mom’s dead, I can’t call her”.

I’ve come to realize that I have been preparing (mentally, anyhow) to be motherless for years. Since high school, at least. My mother always seemed on a path to self destruction, in danger of oblivion at any given moment, and so long ago I’d stopped even being sad about it.  It was an inevitable thing, and probably sooner rather than later. So I’m really not continually surprised at her absence, and when I do find myself wishing to talk with her about something it’s more akin to an itch that I’d like to scratch rather than a wound I’d forgotten was there.

I just finished reading Beyond The Pale Motel, by Francesa Lia Block.  I recall discovering this author on a Barnes and Noble shelf when I was in my early twenties and floundering quite a bit.  I was struggling with dull classes and a dead end job and a dead beat boyfriend and I just didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with myself.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to want for myself.  My greatest love at that time, I think, was poetry – magic words stitched together to wrap me in a blanket of beauty that I desperately needed as a loser band girlfriend in a shitty go-nowhere beach town. She wrote stories the likes of which I’d never read before and barely dared to dream about; she felt like a fairy god mother with her tales of love and magic and beauty and wishes and soul-mates in the midst of harsh, contemporary landscapes and young adult struggles. Her fairy tales of a girls living in a “jasmine-scented, jacaranda-purple, neon sparked” Shangri-La seemed to be both memoires of lost souls finding themselves and how-to manuals for the small town mouseykins yearning to make those discoveries as well.

I purchased, with my small paycheck at that time, every title on that shelf. And I as I am now somewhat taken aback to remember, I shared them all with my mother.  I drove to her house within the next day to dump them all on her bed and tell her that whatever she was reading, she should put it aside and inhale the books I was giving her as quickly as possible.  I knew, at that time, that the stories and characters and magical writing were elements that my mother would have loved; I know now that I was sharing these stories of beauty and tragedy and redemption with one of the most lost souls I was ever to love.

As I read Beyond The Pale Motel this weekend, I sadly realized I no longer have the passion or the patience for Ms. Block’s writing. The book was dark, certainly darker than those strange and sparkling coming of age tales I remembered from almost twenty years ago, and there was no happy ending to be found. Never the less, I finished it in one sitting. I was both angry and sad about the ending of the book and the lack of magic contained therein; sad and wistful, I think because I had changed over time.  Maybe, I don’t really need those sorts of stories any more.  I have made so many of my own magics and created so many stories for myself since I first discovered her writing; perhaps words I once found so bewitching and transcendent no longer resonated with me.

Upon closing the book once finished, my first instinct was to call my mother.  I have still not forgotten that I cannot do this.  What is unexpected though, is the hot rush of tears that filled my eyes  and the painful twist of my heart when think of how I can’t ever share these insights and discoveries with her anymore, ever again. As someone who thought they were prepared for this eventuality, who had numbed herself to this outcome… this sudden heartbreak, this piercing grief –that’s the part I never saw coming.

A word after a word after a word

When I was younger, I would tear through a book in a matter of hours.  I would demolish a stack of library books in the span of a few afternoons.  My favorite time of year was grade school summer vacation, during which time I would banish myself to the screened porch; hunched on the sweaty patio furniture, I would gulp glass after glass of my mother’s weak iced tea and slip into the pages of Stephen King, John Saul, Anne Rice, HP Lovecraft, Dean Koontz (I didn’t really discriminate at that age). I thoroughly immersed myself in these lurid, awful tales of monsters and madmen and supernatural goings-on and oftentimes would spend upwards of 8 hours out in the heat, completely lost to the world.

Unfortunately as I’ve gotten older, I am much more easily distracted (or is it that there are more things to become distracted by? Hm.) and it takes me much longer to read through a horrid novel. Where I once left the library with no less than a dozen books, I now exit the building with with two or three of them lumped uneasily at the bottom of a mostly empty tote bag  -I fear they know as well as I that any more than one book at a time now is wishful thinking.

The past few years had been especially bad for this; with upheaval comes a distinct lack of focus, and I am sure that I grew weary of or bored with 50% of the books I’d attempted reading. This year I was determined to begin making up for lost time.  It is almost August now, and I am fairly certain that I have read more in 2014 than I have in the last ten years.

January
Doctor Sleep  |  The Ocean At The End Of The Lane  | American Vampire, Volume 1 | Garlic and Sapphires | Pretty Little Liars 1 (don’t judge me!) | Comfort Me With Apples | Tender At The Bone | Pretty Little Liars 2: Flawless | The Shining Girls

February
Angelica | Heart Shaped Box | White Is For Witching | The Imago Sequence and Other Stories | The Asylum | American Vampire, Vol. 2

March
NOS4A2 | Boneshaker | The Goldfinch

April
Red Shirts | Wild Fell

May
The Unseen | The Ghostwriter

June
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All | Horns | The Tenant | The Small Hand | Sex Criminals Volume 1 | Morning Glories Volume 1

July
Carrion Comfort | Morning Glories Volume 2-7

The standouts for me so far have been The Goldfinch, Horns, and Sex Criminals, but more than that I have just enjoyed the magic of burying myself in a book again, of being breathlessly caught up in someone else’s story, and yes – even the tinge of regret and disappointment once the tale has been told and the last page has been turned.

Next on the reading list: Penpal by Dathan Auerbach and The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf by Martin Millar.  And I am very much looking forward to The Children of the Old Leech (a Laird Barron tribute!), Burnt Black Suns, and The Lord Came At Twilight.

What is stacked on your bedside table for an evening read?  What stories are you most looking forward to immersing yourself in? Do tell!  There’s so many empty shelves that need filling in my Library of Probable Books…

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