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The Occult Activity Book Volume Two has arrived! To those who have pre-ordered, our winged demons will begin the process of packing and shipping your mystical goods over the next few days. Many, many thanks to our extraordinary contributors: Tenebrous Kate, Jack W. Shear, EC Steiner, Carisa Swenson, Dana Glover, Dan Bythewood, Heather Drain, Laurel Barickman, Sonya Vatomsky, and Alex Kievsky.

You can still order your copy of The Occult Activity Book Volume Two at MunichArtStudio.bigcartel.com

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20 Sep
2016

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This past month has seen a slow shift into a less hectic pace and has presented me with more time to focus on things I have been neglecting. The past year has been so busy, especially the earlier part of the summer, and so it was easy to ignore things piling up…as in literal, actual piles and stacks of things that just kept growing and slowly taking over the entire house.

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I spent the greater portion of August getting these things sorted and settled. Stacks of books were dismantled and properly shelved. Art was hung on walls, makeup and brushes were given a home, and jewelry is now untangled and on display. It’s about time.

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If you’re curious about the coffin shaped pin boards and jewelry hanger, they were created by brilliant folks over at Life After Death Design, and I’ve written about their marvelous virtues previously.

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Currently I am obsessing, just a bit, over okinomiyaki…which, if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically (as far as I can tell) just a savory Japanese pancake. I think it usually always contains cabbage, but from there you can probably add whatever you like: shrimp, pork belly, chicken, sausage, squid…whatever. Or maybe shredded carrots and lots of green onions, if you don’t want to add any meat.

I see some people refer to it as “Japanese pizza”, but maybe that’s because it seems a bit like junk food? Or maybe because it’s a flat disk-like food with lots of toppings? Who knows!  Anyway, here’s a basic recipe for it, and it’s fairly easy to make. You mix a bunch of stuff together, fry it, throw some other stuff on top, and serve it.  Here’s a shopping list for the items that might present more of a challenge to locate, if you wanted to make it for dinner tonight: okonomiyaki kit // dashi // bonito flakes // kewpie mayo // okonomiyaki sauce

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How did this okonomiyaki obsession begin? Well, I blame it on Wakakozake, an anime I started watching last year. Shown in 2 minute episodes, it follows Murasaki Wakago, a 26 year old woman, who likes to go out to dinner or for a snack and a drink, every night after work. Somehow, they took that concept and turned it into a half an hour live action show (or maybe the animated short came second? I’m actually not sure.)

On the surface, it’s not very complex: our main character picks a restaurant or a bar, she orders something and eats it, musing on its delicious qualities all the while. Sort of like a food blog, I guess, but much less pretentious. Wakago can be silly and is a bit of a day-dreamer, and there’s such a lovely lack of artifice in her observations. Also, I loved what this reviewer had to say about it, and after reading this, I really did start to think about the many layers of Wakakgo’s reflections and interactions. And although, as the reviewer notes, the show barely scratches the surface of this way of thinking. It’s fascinating.

“I think one of the best things about this series is how it both introduces and scratches the surface of a side of Japanese thinking and approaching food that is very specific and methodical, yes, but even that touches on something that is very characteristic of traditional cultural aesthetic values in Japan – there is not only a right way to prepare food, but to eat food, and to evaluate, criticise and appreciate what is placed in front of one.”

Sometimes I will prepare dinner, and depending what sort of mood we are in, we will either have our meal at the dining room table, or sit in front of the tv and watch something. Lately, my response to the question of “what shall we watch?” is “I want to watch the lady eat!”
Nope, I’m not creepy or anything.

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Some more one-word reviews for you on films I have recently watched:

Sun Choke — maybe
Kwaidan — YES
Let Us Prey*  — yes
The Silenced* — yes
Rebirth — NOPE
Neon Demon — yes

*these titles can be found on netflix

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I just finished Jeff Vandermeer’s extraordinary Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Acceptance, & Authority), and now I’m at a bit of a loss and I don’t know what to do with myself–the perils of reading something so wondrous that you just don’t think anything else can measure up! The books tell of the mysterious, dangerous wilderness of Area X and the humans exploring it: several decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred and a large swath of land and sea was sealed behind an invisible and largely impenetrable barrier. “Inside it, nature shifted. It grew wild and pristine, dense and fertile—improbably pure, as though nature had said “Enough!” and reclaimed itself.”  It’s an uncanny, and genuinely surprising read that haunted me for days and probably will continue to do so for a long time to come. With this series The New Yorker refers to Vandermeer as The Weird Thoreau, and …yeah, I totally see that.

Also read, to some degree of enjoyment or another:

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix — this was quite fun!
Consumed by David Cronenberg — didn’t love it, but glad I read it
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay — suspenseful and compelling.
Preacher Book One — well, I had to read this sooner or later
Sex Criminals Volume Three — still enjoying this, though the meta-narrative is getting tedious
Ghostie Boo by Kate Litterer — a book of poetry that I am still musing on. I am not so great with sussing out the meaning of or analyzing writing, especially with abstract writing like poetry. Often times I have to read reviews or interviews to get a perspective, and then return to the source and re-read. I am aware that in doing so, I might be unduly influenced by thoughts not my own, but sometimes, well, that’s the only way it works for me. I’m telling you this now because you should buy the book, read it, and then read this terrific interview of Kate Litterer by poet Sonya Vatomsky, who asks some thoughtful, illuminating questions.

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Currently smelling: the few offerings from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s The Art of the Unicorn collection. I have not yet made much headway, but I can tell you that De Vos’ Unicorn (sugared peony and rose-tinted vanilla with mallow, white musk, lavender buds, and a touch of apricot) smells like a brothel run by a flock of scrumptious marshmallow peeps. But like, peeps if…they weren’t purchased stale and on sale after Easter, but rather if some enterprising, over-achiever foodie made a bespoke, hand-crafted batch of peeps. After a few hours, the scent softens becomes very much like my beloved but sadly discontinued Antique Lace, so it is definitely going to be hoarded away.

Incidentally, did you know that the collective noun for unicorns is a “fondle” of unicorns? Well, according to Wondermark it is. I’d like to add that it’s no doubt a “glittering fondle of unicorns.”

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OAB2_Cover

We are incredibly excited to share the final cover reveal for our greatly anticipated Occult Activity Book Volume Two. Both the book itself and the deluxe version featuring exclusive, spooky goodies are now available in the shop for pre-order!  

Brimming with all manner of completely new arcane arts and activities from our coven of brilliant contributors, the book will be ready to ship the first week in October…just in time for the *best* time of year!

Just a head’s up, friends, fiends, and phantoms – the first volume sold out completely in a very short period of time, so be sure to grab a copy while you can! Once it is gone, it is gone forever…

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13687158_1505275199498442_1881285878_nDo you guys remember that little project, our wee devil baby, the demonic thing on which Becky Munich and I and a coven of infernally talented artists and writers collaborated, conjured forth from the depths of the abyss, and birthed into the world in the early months of 2016? Sure you do! I mean, I hope you do, right?

Our Occult Activity Book for artistic creatures of the night & weirdos who like to dabble in the arcane arts (using crayons and colored pencils, of course!) was a rousing success and sold out in three weeks! As it was a very limited run–“spooky and special”, according to io9!– we decided that we were not going to revive it and raise it from the dead for another go round, but instead make a Volume Two that is twice as filled with magic and witchery, and even more splendid than the first!

This second book is scheduled for release in Fall of 2016, and to whet your appetite for more bewitching spell craft, dark arts, and esoteric fun times, I have gathered a collection of teaser images from the forthcoming book, below. I hope that you are as excited as we our for the release of our devil baby Jr., Occult Activity Book Volume Two!

{Art credits: Becky Munich, Carisa Swenson, Dana Glover, Dan Bythewood, Tenebrous Kate, & Casket Glass Studio; words by Jack Shear, Heather Drain, and Sonya Vatomsky.}

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13277644_739243496216166_85591962_nGosh. It’s been a while since I’ve written about what I am currently up to! I tried to put a brief missive together back in June but I was so frazzled with my grandmother’s illness, I just couldn’t think straight. Let’s try again.

I finally put to use the kitchen aid ice cream paddle attachment that I received as a gift last Christmas (or was it two Christmases ago? Jeez.) and made a beautiful batch of coffee ice cream, just in time for some seriously hot Florida weather. Nearly two months later it has only gotten hotter, but have I made any more ice cream? No. The answer is no, I have not. It will probably be another two years. Such is the life of frou-frou kitchen gadgets.

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Speaking of unused Christmas gifts, I received Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful vegetarian cookbook Plenty More a year or two ago, and I will shamefacedly admit that other an initial flip through to gaze at the dazzling photos, I hadn’t opened it again since. In searching out some meals that I could ostensibly cook ahead of time and then nibble off pieces for breakfast or lunch as needed, I came across the “cauliflower cake” and thought it looked perfect. I think his recipes are a sort of…Mediterranean fusion, you could say? So, the sort of book with lots of interesting ideas requiring not readily on hand ingredients, and instances where you might look at the recipe title and think, huh, I wonder if that’s really going to work? The cauliflower cake is like a more labor intensive and fancier and perhaps heftier version of a quiche, and we ended up really enjoying it. You can find the recipe over at smitten kitchen, so if you are interested in dusting off your spring form pan and turning on your stove, give it a try.

All summer long I have been making this avocado and crab salad, I think it’s a Tyler Florence recipe, maybe? It’s basically lump crabmeat from the fish guy in your supermarket (not the canned stuff on the shelf, I don’t trust it), mixed with some mayo, sriracha, black sesame seeds, minced green onion, and a wee splash of sesame oil. If I have it on hand, I stir in some diced, seeded cucumber for texture and for, well… roughage, I guess.  In the meantime, dice an avocado, sprinkle with lime juice and salt, and mold it together in a little cracked glass dish that is too cute to throw away. Voilà!

This is the perfect breakfast for me. I cannot eat cold cereal in the morning (it makes me a little nauseous; I think I associate it with the existential dread I felt at the prospect of facing a classroom of second graders when I was 7 years old), and I don’t really love oatmeal or fruit because it’s sweet and sweets in the morning make me rather ill. Wow. I never realized how picky I am.

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13731239_1090341507717227_207964854_nIn early June my office got a bit of a revamp, and though I was opposed to it at first (probably because I didn’t want to do any of the work), I was thrilled with how it turned out. No more stacks and piles of crap! No more hand-me-down particle board!

We have bookshelves elsewhere in the house, so these particular cubbyholes are housing reading for research and edification rather than entertainment– as well as a perfume sample station, knitting nooks and a mini mom altar. There’s some empty spaces yet to fill, though, so that either means I will be stuffing junk in them or saving them for something special. Probably the former.

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My reading has been all over the place over the past few months. I just finished book one of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I will confess I know nothing of Sabrina, I never even watched the television series in the 90s. I don’t think I would have expected how…dark this story was; I thought it might be lighthearted and campy/spooky. Except I totally expected how dark it was, because the internet spoiled it for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to read more.

I was immediately sold on I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl  after reading the Amazon blurb: a “… film noir set in verse, each poem a miniature crime scene with its own set of clues—frosted eye-shadow, a pistol under a horse’s eye, dripping window units, an aneurysm opening its lethal trap. ….”  But in the reading of it…well, to be perfectly honest. I was left feeling pretty dumb and filled with self-loathing. Why wasn’t I getting it? What were all of these readers who have rated it 5-stars seeing that I wasn’t? There were portions in while I was almost there…I was lost in the words and the imagery for just a second, and there was nearly a glimmering of understanding, and then I lost it. As the book wore on, these instances became more frequent and so overall, I mean, yeah–I got it. I think. But it wasn’t a very enjoyable read and I think I finished it out of spite.

I have had my eyes on The Decadent Cookbook for several years now and used a recent  weird and creepy cookbook purchasing binge as an excuse to finally pick it up. Described as a slightly sinister and highly literate feast of decadent writing on food, and with chapters such as “Dinner With Caligula”, “Blood, The Vital Ingredient”, and “I Can Recommend the Poodle”, I can’t tell you how excited I am to dig in. Expect a roast flamingo on my supper table very soon.
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I have been meaning to watch Morgiana for years and just got around to it this weekend (it’s on YouTube, with subtitles!) It’s gorgeous and captivating and quite eccentric. And as one reviewer says:”… Edward Gorey as filmed by Ken Russell–a sardonic chunk of Victorian penny-dreadful melodrama tweaked to new levels of aesthetic and emotional hysteria.”

More one-word reviews for you on other recently watched films…
Hush*–maybe
Late Phases*–yes
Session 9–yes
Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For*–eh
Big Hero 6–maybe
They Look Like People*-maybe
The Invitation*–YES
Darling*–maybe
They’re Watching*–YES(but)**
The Martian–eh
Baskin*–um

*these titles can be found on netflix
** I loved it, in spite of….well. Just don’t kill me for suggesting it.

 

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4 Aug
2016

Image: Ghost Of Perdition by Chris Dessaigne
Image: Ghost Of Perdition by Chris Dessaigne

This was originally written for and posted at After Dark In the Playing Fields on Halloween in 2010, by my partner in the enterprise at that time, to whom we at Unquiet Things refer to, with much love, as a “Kindred Spirit”.

However, I can’t think of a better time to indulge in a chilling tale than during summer’s infernal furnace when the promise of autumn’s cooling glooms are still a dreadfully long way off. And so, you can thank a feverish August heatwave for the re-sharing of this this delightfully spooky list.

Some of the listed items below are complete books, whereas others are shorter stories. I have attempted to include links to read for free on the web, where possible;otherwise, the links will lead you to amazon where the books/stories can be purchased.

1. “The Music of Erich Zann” by H.P. Lovecraft. The shrieking and whining of desperate viols…defending against…what exactly?

2. The Tenant by Roland Topor. The most disturbing novel I have ever read, a nauseating crescendo of paranoia and sinister characters.

3. “O Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad” by M.R. James. Mysterious medieval whistles with Latin inscriptions and the infamous “face of crumpled linen”.

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Evocative, eerie and I first read it in one sitting.

5. “The White People” by Arthur Machen. “And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?”

6. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. Two campers encounter a place where the veil between the worlds has grown thin…an alien world, a world tenanted by willows only and the souls of willows.

7. “A Haunted Island” by Algernon Blackwood. Chilling terror and remniscent of the Adirondacks island camp I stay at in the summers. (Blackwood makes this list twice, because he is truly the master of the unsettling tale.)

8. The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. A found manuscript, swine creatures and the swift passing of the universe…is the narrator sane or not?

9. “The Spider” by Hanns Heinz Ewers. Mysterious suicides take place in the same apartment, seemingly without cause.

10. “The Human Chair” by Edogawa Rampo. A bizarre tale of the Japanese gothic.

11. “The Room in the Tower” by E.F. Benson. Sinister dreams and unfriendly nocturnal visitors.

12. “The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce. What may happen in a field of wild oats.

A bonus pick from your host, Mlle. Ghoul:

  • 13.  The House Next Door by Anne River Siddons.  A singular tale, and from what I can tell the author’s lone foray into the genre. A unique take on the haunted house story – is the evil housed within in the structure of the dwelling, or is it the wickedness of the inhabitants that drive the horrors that occur within?  The chills are so subtly sinister and so elegantly written that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the book is so frightening; I imagine the shudders provoked by these pages will be very different for each reader.

Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!

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20 Jul
2016

things i loveFor a while now I’ve been wanting to do another Stinkers & Duds post but oddly enough, there’s really been nothing I’ve hated enough to include in a round-up of loathesome stuff.
I guess that’s a good thing?

Instead, here are a few things I have really been enjoying lately.

Le Baume Absolution has a concentrate of Marula, Perilla and Calendula in it and is absolutely fantastic, but whatever– I would love this lip balm for it’s chubby, stubby, easy-to-fit-in-the-hand shape, regardless. It is a wonderful formula, though–not too greasy or too heavy, and not mentholated (which is a huge NOPE for me.) This is, without a doubt, my favorite lip product ever.  I have already replaced it three times now.

L.A. Splash Studio Shine Lip Lustre in Catrina is a gorgeous deep brown base color with a strong metallic blue-green shift, or at least that’s how it is described, but on me, this is definitely less of the beetle-winged color and almost straight-up shimmery green-blue.  Also, you may never have to re-apply this stuff. It doesn’t fade, it doesn’t wear off. Hell, you can barely even get it off your face. (Hint: I use this stuff and a really scrubby washcloth).

Ear Scoops! Yes, yes, I know–we’re not supposed to be sticking anything in our ears. But there’s nothing quite so satisfying as cleaning the gloopy, glunky stuff out of our ears with a q-tip, after a shower, right? That’s what I thought, but then I read this and was immediately intrigued and had to stock up. I’ve already had one weird scare, but I’m an idiot and won’t let that stop me. I’m gonna stick things in my ears and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

The Uncanny Valley by Perturbator is both eerie and energizing and is full of aggressive retro-synth and jazzy noir and groovy bits and I yeah, everyone I know is over this 1980s sci fi/horror sound, but I can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s perfect writing music if you need some melodic noises in the background but you don’t want someone distracting you with a bunch of lyrics. *See also: thisquietarmy’s entire discography.  It’s different sound (ambient/drone/post-rock), but perfectly suited to this use.*

Sunday Riley Luna Oil is a product I have mentioned before, but it’s really just that good.  Advertised as a “next generation retinoid oil [that] reduces pore size, improves appearance of damaged skin, and helps fight wrinkles.”–it’s basically a nighttime vitamin A treatment oil.  It gets mixed reviews for the ingredients (here’s a list), the price, the blue tint, but I wake up with the most velvety skin after having applied it before bed. When I run out I would love to find a more cost-effective version of this stuff, but for now it is pretty amazing.

Satanic Panic has got Kier-La Janisse’s name attached to the project, so I already love it, but how does this sound? “In the 1980s, everywhere you turned there were warnings about a widespread evil conspiracy to indoctrinate the vulnerable through the media they consumed. This percolating cultural hysteria, now known as the “Satanic Panic,” was both illuminated and propagated through almost every pop culture pathway in the 1980s, from heavy metal music to Dungeons & Dragons role playing games, Christian comics, direct-to-VHS scare films, pulp paperbacks, Saturday morning cartoons and TV talk shows —and created its own fascinating cultural legacy of Satan-battling VHS tapes, music and literature. From con artists to pranksters and moralists to martyrs, Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s aims to capture the untold story of the how the Satanic Panic was fought on the pop culture frontlines and the serious consequences it had for many involved.”

I am only a few pages in, but I am already deeply engrossed.  The link above is a pre-order on Amazon; I got my copy directly through the publisher, but I think that version is sold out now.

Wow. I just realized there is no perfume on this list! I think it’s because I am testing a bunch of stuff right now and I’m not ready to talk about any of it yet, ha.
What’s got you excited lately? Books, musics, perfumes? Tell me all!

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Abandoned-LEGO-Victorian-Houses-by-Mike-Doyle-1Victorian Lego houses!

 

A timeline of influential and aesthetically beautiful horror movies from 1895 until 2016.

skellyCartoonist Katie Skelly On Creating The Erotic & Intimate Agent Series

13510760_10208911024520474_2864935256194117897_nA sneak peek of some of the pages for the next Occult Activity Book, with mad-libs inspired words by madman Jack Shear.

13521942_1220316641344833_6520443789216168133_n In love with the stick & poke tattoo art by Tati Compton

KS_Suspiria500If you’re in Southern California, you must go see “My Blood Runs Yellow: A Tribute to Giallos” at Sloane Fine Art Gallery

The Secret of Taste: Why We Like What We Like – Fascinating!
† I can’t wait to read this: Films of the New French Extremity
Short Film Roundup: Horror Edition
Magical Advice We Got From A Real Fitness Witch
New Book To Celebrate 35 Years of Elvira!
17 Female Ghosts & Demons in Japanese Folklore
Demonologica: Dressing in the Demons of Ben Templesmith
A fantastic Best of 2016 list from the inimitable Tenebrous Kate
A Conversation on the Occult Practices in the Arts

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29 Jun
2016

48/75

categories: bookish

Books

Though I never again will see the days where I would devour an entire stack of library books in one week, I have made diligent attempts over the past few years to ensure that I don’t neglect one of my favorite past times (I was terribly guilty of this neglect in my late teenage years and early twenties and I cannot tell you how much I regret the reading that I did not do at that time!)

Last year I challenged myself to read 50 books–which seems a rather paltry amount now that I have typed it out–nonetheless, I achieved that goal, and upped my number this year to 75! Now, to be perfectly honest, I include in this number comic books and graphic novels and slim volumes of poetry. But whatever.  Reading is reading, I reckon.

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So far I am at 48/75 which isn’t bad at all, although I think I can do better. I’m certainly working hard to diminish these countless stacks of newly accumulated books, at any rate.

My standout reads more than halfway into the year are:

The Etched City – languid, decadent, dark fantasy; gorgeous but short on plot.
Salt Is For Curing – witchy recipe/poems of curses & murder & bones & bodies
Yurei – entertaining, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable book about Japanese ghosts
Geek Love – everyone knows this wildly marvelous, heartbreaking book, I won’t embarrass myself by synopsisizing it
Wylding Hall – ghosts, a haunted manse in a remote locale, and a British acid-folk band
A Head Ful of Ghosts -teenage madness and/or possession funtimes
Bluets – a poet’s memoir and brilliant investigation of/reflection upon the color blue
Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam -further adventures of depressed, disgusting degenerates
Margaret the First – beautifully imagined story of Margaret Cavendish, the eccentric and wildly unconventional 17th-century Duchess.

Have you got a reading goal for yourself this year? Are you keeping up with it? And what have you enjoyed thus far? Do tell!

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(This was originally written for and posted at After Dark In the Playing Fields in 2010, by my partner in the enterprise at that time, who shall henceforth be known as A Kindred Spirit)

‘Valancourt? and who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. Ah, woe is me that the glory of novels should ever decay… Inquire at Mudie’s, or the London Library, who asks for ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ now? Have not even ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ ceased to frighten? Alas! our best novels are but for a season…“

–William Makepeace Thackeray

Several years ago, I returned to upstate NY after spending several months living in semi-tropical Taiwan. That winter was particularly cold and I spent much of it huddled under woolen blankets on the couch reading anything that was within arm’s reach. Eventually, I had to venture out to an actual bookstore, where on a whim I picked up a reprint of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian gothic thriller Uncle Silas (1865). To my surprise, I became completely engrossed in the plot twists set in its creepy conspiracy-laden corridors. All too soon, the book was finished and I was unable to find anything remotely like it.

Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I had two newly reprinted gothic novels from Valancourt Books in the mail before I could despair too much. (As you can see from above, more have followed.)

Valancourt Books is an independent small (micro) press founded in late 2004 and presently based in Kansas City, specializing in quality new editions of rare literature from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. They now have over 102 books in print, with many more on the way, in a variety of genres, but mainly focusing on Gothic, Romantic and Victorian literature.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask James D. Jenkins, the publisher and editor of Valancourt Books, some questions about this type of literature and the appeal of this genre to readers in the twenty-first century.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

OTB: What makes these types of works considered “gothic”–and how did you become interested in this type of literature? What is your favorite work of this type?

JDJ: Really, looking back, I think I’ve always been drawn to the Gothic. I remember one summer as a child when my dad sent me to the public library and told me to bring home a classic book to read. I came home with Dracula, which apparently wasn’t what he had in mind. But, as far as the types of Gothic works that Valancourt Books specializes in, I first became interested in those as an undergraduate. I recall being in the university library one afternoon and stumbling across this old book in a black binding called The Castle of Otranto. Something about it intrigued me, and I took it home and stayed up late that night reading it. I was totally riveted by it (and still am!) I started reading other Gothic novels and was completely fascinated by books like Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. The press, of course, is named after the hero of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I first stumbled upon in the bookstore at the Roma Termini train station when I was 20. I read it for the first time in a medieval castle I stayed at in a place called Montagnana, Italy. I’ve really been hooked ever since.

As far as what makes them Gothic, I guess that’s a little hard to define. It’s one of those things where you know it when you see it. Most of them do share common elements, such as being set in ruined castles or monasteries and featuring heroines in distress and dastardly villains, as well as common set pieces like skeletons, phantoms, rusty daggers, old manuscripts, and the like. Typically in the old Gothic novels, those published between 1764 and 1830, there are two main types-–the “terror Gothic,” which attempted to terrify the reader through mystery and suspense, and the “horror Gothic,” which tended to shock readers with explicit sex and violence. As for a favorite, I don’t know if I could pick one. I really love The Castle of Otranto, which I’ve read repeatedly, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, which always amazes me. Among the minor Gothics, I’m a huge fan of The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) and Francis Lathom’s The Midnight Bell (1798), two of Jane Austen’s “Horrid Novels.”*

What made you decide to found a press? I know I was fortunate enough to stumble across your website several years ago–there really were no other publishers of these kinds of novels at that time. Have you encountered any particular difficulties unique to this kind of business?

I think you were actually our first customer! I’m glad you found us! The short story of how the press was founded is that I graduated law school in 2004 and couldn’t find a job. I had a lot of time on my hands in between applying for work, and by that time I had read all of the dozen or so classic Gothic novels published by Oxford and Penguin. I wanted to read more, but they just weren’t available. I started thinking, “Someone should be publishing more of these,” and then somehow it just hit me that rather than wait for someone else to do it, I could start doing it. So, I started spending my free time typing The Animated Skeleton and The Castle of Ollada from microfiche, and now, over 100 books later, I’ve never looked back!

 Some of these works could rightly be considered, for lack of a better word, the “bestsellers” of their day. Why did the majority of these works go out of print, in spite of their original popularity? Why did certain works like those of Radcliffe or Walpole, remain in print over the years? Were they really that much better in terms of story quality than the ones that faded into relative obscurity?

That’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it. Just like today, I’m sure a lot of these books were published back then to critical disdain and poor sales and didn’t go into a second edition. Many of them quite deservedly fell out of print. But then there are some that make you scratch your head. Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The Heroine (1813), which we are preparing for the press at the moment, comes to mind. It was hugely popular and went through several editions, and found numerous admirers, among them Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s also incredibly funny, even two hundred years later. Why did satires of Gothic literature by writers like Austen and Thomas Love Peacock survive in print into the 21st century, while Barrett’s did not? I don’t know. The great thing is that with the greater availability of rare old texts through sources like Google Books and other electronic and print sources, more and more of these books can be rediscovered and those that were undeservedly lost can be republished in new editions.

 Despite their sometimes initial popularity, these works were often marginalized and dismissed by the critics of the time, considered pulp or cheap entertainments. Over the years, they only became of interest to academics or other specialists–do you see a value in bringing these works back into print for something other than scholarly pursuits? Are they worthwhile to the modern reader simply as historical artifacts or for an intrinsic entertainment value?

I guess that depends on taste! A lot of our readers enjoy these works simply for their entertainment value. In fact, I’ve never liked to think of them as historical artifacts and I’ve tried to encourage our editors to avoid that sort of thing in their introductions. I mean, with all the books available-–both classics and contemporary literature – why would you want to waste your time reading something that’s only worthwhile as an historical artifact? That said, I think I’d have to concede that we’ve published one or two that were of more interest for their rarity than their literary value!

Why do you think gothic literature could still resonate with readers today?

I think the Gothic has always resonated with readers. Even in ancient texts, you find mention of such things as ghosts and apparitions, and of course in early British literature, such as Shakespeare’s plays, you pretty regularly find things like phantoms and witches. These sorts of works of course gave rise to the Gothic works of authors like Walpole and Radcliffe. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that the Gothic ever really went away. In the Victorian era, you had mystery and supernatural works by writers like Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu, and a little later popular novelists like Richard Marsh and Bram Stoker. Even in recent years, we’ve had Stephen King, Anne Rice, and now Stephenie Meyer. I think something about the Gothic, about scary stories and tales of horror and mystery, is a universal impulse-–it’s something that has always existed both in our literature and other countries’ literatures, and that I think always will.

What are your most popular titles? Do any have a surprising popularity or affect readers in unexpected ways? I would imagine that the lesser known works of Bram Stoker or perhaps the previously mentioned “Horrid Novels” would have especial appeal to someone interested in this type of literature.

You’re absolutely right. The Horrid Novels and works by authors that are better known, like Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, tend to be among our best sellers. One book that, year in, year out, is always among our bestsellers, though, and which I always find surprising, is George Brewer’s The Witch of Ravensworth (1808). It’s really a wonderful little book and I’m happy that people have discovered it, but I’m nonetheless always a little perplexed at the levels of its sales.

 I have noticed over the last few years that Valancourt Books has been expanding in scope to include titles from the later Victorian period as well as the twentieth century. What was your motivation to include these sorts of books in the catalogue? Are there still more areas you might decide to cover in the future?

Well, one thing that tends to happen when you have your own press (and especially when it’s a one-person press) is that what the press publishes tends pretty much to be whatever you’re interested in. As I’ve gotten older and read more widely in other areas, I’ve discovered new areas of interest and other obscure works that I wanted to bring back into print and share with readers. One of these is the popular literature of the 1890s, which is just an amazing decade. It’s in the 1890s that Sherlock Holmes rises to prominence, that we get characters like Dorian Gray, Dracula, and The Beetle, and perhaps even more importantly, it’s the decade where the three-volume novel that had dominated publishing for a century or more and had made books largely unaffordable to everyday readers was finally abandoned in favor of inexpensive, one-volume editions that were accessible to all. So we start to see just an explosion of popular, thrilling, cheap novels, many of which are truly fascinating and worthy of new attention. We’ve also started doing some gay-themed literature from the early 20th century, which is another interest of mine, and something that’s getting a lot of scholarly attention these days. Presently we don’t have plans for any new series, although we plan to continue expanding our 18th century and Victorian collections, which have been gradually growing.

What titles will be forthcoming over the next year or so? Is there anything particularly intriguing or obscure that you’re still trying to track down for future publication? Are there some known works so hard to locate that original copies to work from do not exist or are too rare to even get access to?

JDJ: Probably the two that are the most highly anticipated are the final two “Horrid Novels”: Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse and Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan of the Rhine, probably the two rarest of the lot. Although probably twenty, thirty years ago, there would have been works so rare that you couldn’t get copies of them, that’s not really the case anymore. With online library catalogs like Worldcat and COPAC, it’s pretty quick and easy to find out what libraries hold a given book. And although the books we publish are usually so rare that the copies do not circulate, with modern reproduction and scanning technology, the books can usually be copied or scanned for us (for an often lofty price!) For example, The Forest of Valancourt (1813), which we published in hardcover, survives in only one known copy–-at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and we were able to get a photocopy of it so we could republish it. There are a couple old Gothic novels mentioned in reference works that we have not been able to track down (the most notable is probably W. H. Ireland’s Bruno; or, The Sepulchral Summons), but for some of these lost works, we have been unable to verify after extensive research that they ever really existed in the first place.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. As always, I wish you and everyone at Valancourt Books every possible success for making these titles available to everyone.

JDJ: Thanks, Jessica, always a pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to share some info about Valancourt Books with you and your readers!

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Valancourt Books’ list of currently published works can be found here; they are widely available at Amazon or other booksellers.

*The “Horrid Novels” refers to a selection of 18th century Gothic fiction mentioned by Jane Austen in her gothic satire, Northanger Abbey. Most of the ‘horrid novels’ were believed to be inventions of Austen until the early twentieth century. For a complete list of titles, see here. Valancourt Books has published five of the seven and has plans to release the other two in the future.

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