Halloween Haunt (a progress report)

We started unpacking Halloween stuff yesterday. We are going with a spider graveyard theme outside and Starwheel by Kammarheit as the background music. I don’t know if you have ever heard this album, but it is scary as hell. I actually reviewed the album for Drops of Crimson a while back.

It’s some very atmospheric, dark and creepy music. That should scare the TOTs! 🙂

Inside we are going to do something different. We are going to have a skeleton wedding party in the front dining room. We have a groom skeleton and a bride skeleton. We are slowly building the concept and haunt as ideas come to us.

I haven’t taken any pictures yet but I will. I don’t like taking pictures of stuff in progress, too much. We wired the skeletons in the chairs, started working on the table decorations, got top hat and made a bridal veil and  bouquet for the dead bride. The front dining room will work really well because there is an old grandfather clock in that room and we can put the Satanic altar in there, too. I will also drape the entire room in spider webbing and with the red lights in the chandelier it should look pretty good. Finally, we are toying with the idea of using a chicken carcass for their dinner and putting rats all over the table. Should be creepy!

The outside will be a little bare compared to last year, but that’s the theme. Dead spider graveyard outside the haunted house, and inside the skeleton wedding feast. TOTs and their parents will come inside the house to the wedding table to get their candy — if they’re brave enough!

Oh, and today I bought more ceramic skulls from Walgreens. You can never have enough ceramic skulls, as far as I am concerned. 😛

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The Last Pale Light in the West — Music by Ben Nichols Inspired by Blood Meridian

Ben Nichols, frontman for the Texas country/punk band Lucero, released a solo acoustic album The Last Pale Light in the West in 2009.  It is an incredible work.

It’s a short album of 7 songs based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian. Each song follows a particular character from the book. The last song “The Judge” is an instrumental.

I have reviewed Blood Meridian at The Western Online and consider it one of the Great American Novels. The album by Nichols, with its dark, emotionally-layered acoustic music and pain-filled, stark and evocative lyrics, is a perfect companion piece to the book.

Like the book the album is composed of a strong narrative sense, emotional desolation, and dark imagery painted with nightmarish strokes.  Juxtaposed with this is the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human?

The album is short by modern standards but I think Ben Nichols uses every second of time to paint a portrait of perfect desolation and terrifying beauty.

From the title song:

In my hands I hold the ashes
In my veins black pitch runs
In my chest the fire catches
In my way a setting sun
Dark clouds gather round me
To the West my soul is bound
But I will go on ahead free
There is a light yet to be found
The last pale light in the west

The lyrics have a strong ethereal quality when sung by Nichols’s harsh voice. This is a superb album by any standard. As a work of art inspired by Blood Meridian it rises to a higher synergistic plane. I definitely recommend this album.

Nightmarish beauty in music


Suspension of Disbelief: Not the Rubicon You Thought It Was

The more I study opera the more I learn about suspension of disbelief at least as far as writing goes, and the human propensity for engaging in it.

Suspension of disbelief is a big thing in opera.  It’s a natural given you are to suspend a lot of disbelief so the opera can move on.  So what if the woman singing the role of a Viking is Asian?  So what if two characters meet and fall in love in five seconds to set up the tragic ending?  So what if a brother and sister, from the very same parents, are black and white?  So what if Brunnhilde’s horse, Grane, NEVER makes an appearance during Gotterdammerung, even when she sings an aria to him and leads him into the funeral pyre at the end?

It doesn’t matter.  You take it on faith Grane is there even if you don’t see him.

Now I’m not saying you can get away with this sort of blatant disregard in fiction.  You can’t.  But you can get away with a hell of a lot besides.  Fantasy is chock full of stuff like this: magic, dragons, elves, demons, etc.  SF is, too: time machines, faster-than-light spacecraft, stellar empires.  All that stuff is garbage.  The physical limitations the universe imposes upon these tropes are real and immutable.  You can’t travel faster than the speed of light because it violates causality. Period.  But we happily accept FTL spacecraft and other nonsense elements like telepathy for the sake of the story.  That’s suspension of disbelief on both the part of the writer and the reader.

And that’s what fascinates me from a human perspective.  Our willingness, or innate need, to want to believe things that are manifestly and demonstrably not true intrigues me.  Okay, you can kind of understand why someone would want to do it in order to be entertained.  They are entering a contract with the writer when they pick up a story. But you can’t cross that line in such a way the story jolts them out of that prepared place they’ve put themselves in.  Opera gets away with a hell of a lot, more than written fiction can, and I’ve yet to understand why, though I suspect it is because reading is entirely mental and opera has dependent qualities of visual and aural cues married to imagination.  But both depend on the audience willing to put aside some degree of skepticism so the story can continue in a logical way. That’s the important thing to remember.

I guess what I’m trying to say is people can be manipulated a lot easier than I originally believed.  That’s a pretty strong lesson for any writer to have learned, and I’m glad I have learned it.  Though there are still boundaries you can’t cross, suspension of disbelief is not the Rubicon I once thought it was.

Ennio Morricone – Once Upon a Time in the West

Beautiful music about a beautiful genre. God, how I love the west and all its mythic power, along with its ability to define us as human beings,  and help us find our true place in the universe. All good stories do this, but I think westerns have a special ability, and affinity, to tap into the poetic realm of our soul.

Sometimes I can’t believe how powerful this genre can be….and how lucky I am to be able to work in it.

The Ballet Giselle — Inspiration for “At the Center of the World”

It was this clip from the ballet Giselle (ostensibly about a dead woman dancing with her lover) that was the inspiration for my hard science fiction story “At the Center of the World” which was published by New Myths Magazine in their #16 issue. As you might expect, one of the main characters in my story is also named Giselle.

The end of the clip where she walks across the stage after him en pointe is haunting to me. I wanted to capture that same haunting grace and delicate power in the story, and a few readers have intimated they think I did.

I did a lot of research for that story and found the entire ballet world fascinating. All I knew about it before then was The Nutcracker and the paintings of Degas and his petite rats.  As I did more research I became deeply interested in the physical requirements and mental preparation that goes into these performances. As a writer interested in the human condition, I found that world fascinating. Suddenly there was huge story potential. Just researching the structural engineering and integrity of the shoes themselves was eye-opening on so many levels.

Here’s the clip from YouTube that inspired the story:

I got a new guitar!

Last weekend I bought a brand new classical guitar. It’s an Orpheus Valley Sofia handmade by Kremona, a small company in Bulgaria. Yes, you heard me right, Bulgaria. Kremona makes some beautiful instruments and I’ve got one!

I’ve been practicing and playing with it. Wow. The sound is fantastic with deep and tonal quality. It’s a true classical quitar so the strings are a little farther apart for the intricate fingerwork that style demands. It has a cedar top, mahogany bridge, bone nut and Savarez strings. It’s magnificent and I think I’m in love. The rosette around the sound hole is simply gorgeous, too.

I just love it. Here’s an Internet pic. Maybe someday I’ll take one myself with my camera when I’m not so lazy.

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