In the bookcase

 

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A weird thing happened the other day. I thought, “I should call mom and tell her about that.” And then I remembered, “Oh, yeah. Can’t do that,” because she was gone. Even though she hasn’t been around since 2012, this still happens to me all the time.

I guess it’s actually not that weird, but it feels weird. I know it’s a common thing people go through after a loved one passes. It’s like experiencing “phantom limb” but with a person who’s gone instead of a missing leg or arm.

My mother wasn’t young. She was 83. Her actual passing, while not tragic, still surfed along on the tail end of a tragic situation which I won’t go into today.  Before that, though, we stopped speaking for a long time once but then got together later to resolve our issues.

The day we got back together involved an awkward meeting at a restaurant and she was slow to thaw. I’d written a poem and I gave it to her. She never commented on it and I figured she’d just shoved it into a drawer somewhere at home and forgotten about it–or maybe even thrown it away–who knows how deep the grudge went from our year-long disagreement? I know I was still fairly miffed.

But after she passed away and I was helping my father organize her things, I came across it, framed, in the bookcase on her side of the bed.

 

Poem to my mother

 

It happened one day and then was clear

that the years and months

and days and hours

unspooling like ribbons into the stars

and stuffed with the tools

that framed the world

roused my spirit and my life too

stretched so far I think I knew

that I could never repay you

  

And even though one day that was clear,

I would always be bending

and always be trying

and when the day came I knew it was true

all day all night dusk to dawn

that thank you was tiny and not enough

I would still say it till we were both gone

 

thank you for understanding

thank you for not understanding

thank you for rioting

thank you for relenting

thank you for worrying

thank you for holding on

thank you for letting go

thank you for being my mother

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Hand in a Pocket

 

The timing of my last blog, Acting While Black, was a little ironic, coming as it did shortly before the latest incident of police brutality/murder in the U.S.

The premise that black characters rarely survive in movies of certain genres seemed absurdly laughable and it felt worthwhile to jog down that road a little bit, stopping at the glitziest and shiniest of hilarious examples.

After the past week, the humor of Acting While Black has soured in my mouth pretty much. The past week has been a case, for me, of tears over laughter instead of the other way around. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end or not.

But I know one thing. I know that a pocket wasn’t meant to hold a quiet hand while a heart stopped and a voice asked for his mother.

The casualness of it…like a stroll in the park.

Having a cup of coffee while reading the paper.

Waiting for a cab.

The unruffled, hushed, serene patience of it.

I don’t know if we can change. But those who realize that the wound is where the light enters will be the ones who ask: could there be a more chilling action, ever, than that quiet hand in that pocket, waiting out the clock?

Acting While Black

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Lately we’ve been slumped over on the sofa, unmoving, glassy-eyed, barely blinking and uncommunicative.

We’re okay, though. The only “virus” we’ve succumbed to (so far—knock on wood) is the addictive stupor of movie bingeing while locked up inside like everyone else.

During these dazed purgatorial viewings we’ve stumbled across that strange convention of mainly Sci-Fi movies but also lots of action movies, diminishing to a lesser degree as you delve into the other genres, where the black character is either the first one killed off or just eventually killed off period.

It may not be amusing on many levels but on at least one level it’s jaw-droppingly hilarious. So I’m gonna name a few of the most outlandish examples as an ode to the absurd, an elaborate Elizabethan bow to the comically bizarre.

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In The Lazarus Effect, Olivia Wilde kills her friends one by one in admittedly unpleasant ways. But while they later go out by choking, poison, and the swift, clean, preferable death of neck snapping, the first person she kills is Donald Glover of Community, the Martian, and Solo: A Star Wars story fame, and his death is spectacularly violent compared to theirs–namely being telekinetically hurled across the room into a locker and then crushed inside like a car compacter.

WTAF?! OMG!

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Remember The Transformers? There’s a “black” robot in The Transformers! Jazz! Guess what happens to him. He dies! Not right away, later, but who cares? He still dies! The “black” Transformer robot gets killed off!

Jazz’s curtain call actually didn’t bother me that much, since he was somewhat of an annoying cliché, even as a robot, but still…really?

Seriously?

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One of the most ironic and farcical deaths in schlocky sci-fi history happened to Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame in Leviathan from 1989. Having survived all the horrors below and actually having made his way to the surface along with two others, he is summarily consumed by the monster (which was supposed to be dead) seconds before the other two characters scramble onto a helicopter and are whisked away to safety.

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I’m not sure when this started in earnest. Maybe the ‘80s? Certainly the ‘90s.

Because looking back, in opposite world, we can’t forget that Yaphet Kotto almost made it to the end of Alien in 1979. And he gets knocked off at exactly the same moment as Hollywood darling Veronica Cartwright.

In Carpenter’s The Thing from ’82, Keith David DOES make it to the end with Kurt Russell. I never can remember his name because he has two first names. David Keith? Keith David?

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Similarly, Keith David survives in 1988 for most of They Live, and in a pretty big role too.

They Live, by the way, was based on a mere short story by Ray Nelson from 1963. A tiny five-page short story called Eight O’clock in the Morning, a commentary on modern-day slavery,  toiling in the shadow of capitalism and getting absolutely nowhere while the powers that be continually insist that all you need to do is buy things, have fun, and “obey” to have a good life.

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It had always irked me that Kubrick kills Scatman Cruthers in The Shining, because having been a huge Stephen King fan as a teenager, I knew Scatman’s character didn’t die in the book. I didn’t know if Kubrick’s subconscious was buying into the stereotypes like everybody else or if it was just a director’s ego. Still, Scatman almost made it to the end.

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After the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, though, I think hiccups like The Thing, They Live, and Alien became few and far between as the black sacrifice to the movie gods started becoming a “thing.” They even made fun of it with Omar Epps in Scream 2 in the late ‘90s.

A movie favorite of mine, 300, has Leonidas kicking the (black) Persian messenger into a well, and even though 300 was based on a comic book, the actual Spartans from history were not the righteous defenders of all good in the world, and the Persians were not the monsters and villains they were made out to be.

One of the best lines from the movie, though, from Xerxes, the 9-foot tall Persian King, speaking to Ephialtes: “Unlike cruel Leonidas who demands that you stand…I require only that you kneel.”

Which sounds a lot like the Chinese “curse” that says, “May you live in interesting times.”

The words sound really good at first, right? Then little by little you start to realize, hey, wait a minute…

But by then, it’s too late.

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One of the most ironic deaths ever—even more than Ernie Hudson getting dispatched by the monster two seconds before his cast mates are saved—is that of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead from 1968.

Duane Jones had a starring role as a strong character and capable leader (something fairly unheard of during those days) during a Zombie crisis and who—like Mr. Hudson—made it all the way through to the end… only to be shot by police… who thought he was undead.

Whoa!

But, boy, we were on the right track once with casting. I wonder what happened. One thing, though: it won’t last forever. This, too, shall pass. And become a footnote in history.

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As time went by, the acronym DWI turned into the jokey DWB (driving while black) which then in turn became a running theme: RWB, EWB, SLB (reading while black, eating while black, sleeping while black) which, beyond the ominous symbolism, is also an attempt at levity, something desperately needed these days.

So as my husband and I slowly de-evolve on the sofa before the flickering Netflix screen, and maybe you do, too, we can add to the growing list of acronyms with lighthearted humor as we wait for perspectives to change, society to shift (if even a little; already the skies are cleaner!) as the light at the end of the tunnel gets nearer:

SNNSFC: Saying no to Netflix and Sci-Fi Channel

TRHTDFDC: Trying to remember how to do fractions during coronavirus

SOTWDL: Staying on the wagon during lockdown

NSOTWDL: Not staying on the wagon during lockdown

SPPUZAWARTJSFWT: Surviving the pandemic/possible upcoming zombie apocalypse while any race by telling jokes, sharing food, and working together

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JUST BECAUSE

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Just because the days are stressful lately and this excerpt sent to me by a friend from David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King” feels, to me, like a meditation, a gentle inundation, a still, sweet, patient hush…

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtain, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.

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An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

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Max in America: Into the Land of Trump

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A sheltered, artistic Mexican man.

An overprotective mother who passes away.

A balloon.

A journey across borders…both geographical and psychological.

I know everyone’s beaten down by the present U.S. administration and can probably barely endure another moment even thinking about it, but Henry Chamberlain’s Max in America: Into The Land of Trump comes at us sideways from a different point of view: one of a Mexican national.

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Remember them? The sex offenders and criminals running across our borders in droves, raping and pillaging wherever they go? Oh, wait a minute. That was the Vikings. Or was it Chaucer (yes, Chaucer!) or Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby or obviously guilty but slapped on the wrist Kavanaugh or the Church covering up—to this day–for disturbed priests?

Rape aside, what about other criminals? The Madoffs and the Mansons, the Enron guys and the Ted Bundys? And yes, women too. Shouldn’t we worry about being murdered in our high schools by our fellow Americans or while we’re listening to music at a concert before we worry about Mexico?

I think so.

Realizing late in life that the beloved comics he’s always enjoyed lack Mexican-themed stories, Max comes to understand that his mother’s zero interest in Mexican culture fostered much of his blindness toward racial and cultural inequality, and once he “immigrates” to America, he can’t help but continue on to related, much larger issues.

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Once in the States, he begins to face the bigotry and biases that “ethnic” Americans face every day, and the author impresses upon us a startling truth out of this: “Your otherness becomes you.”

As Max continues on a fairy-tale like adventure buoyed by strange luck and almost ludicrously chance events which propel him into stand-up comedy on a quest across the States to “press the buttons” of a sometimes complacent society, I learned a lot, including some interesting stories about past personalities like George Herriman, an American cartoonist, famous for Krazy Kat, who passed for white but spoke about racial injustice through his character in code.

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Throw in the author’s delightful artwork before every chapter and lines like, “He might turn you in to ICE.”
“He might turn me into ice?”!
and you’ve got a quirky, odd saga told with insight, feeling, and humor. One can’t help but root for Max…who is, in the end, rooting for all of us.

I would definitely not skip over the epilogue, as a reader. The press conference following Trump and Putin’s secret meeting is displayed in full and is a mind-boggling read, complete with both of these dangerous men at one point actually applying the word “humanitarian” in regards to themselves. Mind-blowing. Craziness. Max in America.

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And The Bear Attack

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Origin of revenant: 1820-30;  French: ghost, noun use of present participle of revenir to return, equivalent to  re- + ven (ir) to come  (Latin venīre); a person who returns as a spirit after death; a person who returns.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is featured on a random internet list as one of “15 great movies that are incredibly boring.”

I have three words to say to that. Three times: the bear attack. The bear attack. The bear attack.

Although the Arikara onslaught on the fur traders early in the film was an uber-realistic, white-knuckle event which is captured in an uninterrupted, continuous shot without cuts, in my opinion the bear attack on DiCaprio’s character Glass was the eye-boggling winner as far as effects go. I think I’ve seen that scene at least four or five times, and each time is as horrifying as the last.

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But we can’t say a movie’s not boring just because of one scene, right?

Right. There’s action in this movie. It’s just spaced far apart, like the desolate stretches of frozen land that DiCaprio’s character traverses as he makes his way toward sweet revenge against the one who murdered his son and left him to die.

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Between Glass’s ghastly physical suffering and thirst for vengeance, the relentless attacks of the Arikara tribe who are also searching for the chief’s missing daughter, the French hunters who happen to be holding prisoner and raping said daughter, and myriad other randomly violent and demoralizing situations occurring in the story, one might wonder why the hell is it so boring then?

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On a side note, according to a Wikipedia article, a Canadian actor was “strongly critical of the movie for portraying French-Canadian voyageurs as murderous rapists.” And according to Allan Greer, the Canada Research Chair in Colonial North America, “generally the American traders had a worse reputation than the Canadians.”[49]

I would venture the difference to be in pacing and presentation; the dialogue tends to be formal and thoughtful, lacking quips and “cuteness,” the spectacular cinematography lures you into its imagined interior: you can almost feel the snow, the fire’s warmth. There is a savage beauty, and you fall helplessly in love.

And time spools out easily, almost dreamily between events, giving the viewer the space to recover, imitating, in my opinion, how time was probably experienced anyway back before our technological age: heavier, lengthier somehow, more packed with feeling, patience, even consideration of consequence. Nothing like today.  This movie nurtures time. That could be boring to some.

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In reality, the real Hugh Glass had not been holding a fiery grudge which drove him forward to seek revenge. In reality, Mr. Glass evidently only wanted his rifle back.

And the bear attack. Don’t forget the bear attack.

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Greed, misunderstanding, lack of empathy, betrayal: the makings of a good Hollywood movie (for some).

The general state of humanity.

Politics.

I wonder if a country could be a revenant like a person. If a country could, maybe the U.S. will be a revenant. Maybe slit open, cleaved in two, the odds stacked against it, it’ll dig upward, burst outward into something new.

Does a country have a voice? Maybe it does. Maybe howling, it’ll survive the journey and return, racked and scarred, like Glass, but alive, even though, in real life, Glass didn’t want revenge; he only wanted his rifle back.

And you’ll be happy to know, also in real life, that the fort took up a collection to pay him for all his trouble. A good end to a frightening, punishing quest. Could happen to anyone. Could happen to us.

Long distance French kiss

 

What the HELL did I just see?!

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At the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey, according to many sources, including The Guardian– https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/space-odyssey-kubrick-science-fiction  — there were hundreds of walkouts, including Rock Hudson, who asked, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?”

The title of this blog is an ode to Rock Hudson’s 1960s frustration and confusion. But not for 2001. Just replace Kubrick’s masterful space odyssey with Mother!, The Book of Henry, and The Lighthouse.

Mother! from 2017, starring Jennifer Lawrence. A large rambling house. A poet with a mysterious crystal object. A woman who is his muse.

Strangers with no listening skills or manners who keep appearing, invited in by the poet while his muse remains wary and struggles to keep order as chaos unfurls, slowly at first, then gaining momentum toward incredible havoc and ultimate violent destruction.

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If Rock Hudson had been at this movie, I guarantee he would have walked out at least one half-hour earlier than he did at 2001.

Not that I hated it. In fact, I admired the undertaking immensely, considering how difficult it would be to represent symbolically in film “God” and the Earth and the birth of mankind and the fall from Eden and all that ensues after our “innocence” is lost—namely our descent into petty narcissism, world wars, and the wholesale rape and destruction of the environment and Mother Earth.

But the repetiveness of certain phrases, scenes, and actions meant to build and layer tension just irked my senses and my brain. I know a lot of people who can’t stand Groundhog Day with Bill Murray from the ‘90s–probably for the same reason–although I thought Groundhog Day handled the issue of repetition well. Same with the more recent Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise.

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Though the over-stimulation of Mother! was unpleasant and unwelcome for me–kind of like jerking open a door and having thousands of bats unexpectedly fly at your face–the film was courageous and innovative in its daunting mission to cover eons of (Christian) Earth history in just two hours. Probably without the religious slant it might have felt more inclusive, but I think the general story still works with anyone’s personal beliefs exchanged for the Christian lore.

The Book of Henry from 2017, however, was a bizarre cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster of tones and plot which I can’t find within myself to compliment in any way.

Picture genius-level Henry, who’s sort of “running” everything in the family himself, a family consisting of his younger brother and single parent mother. Listen to Henry say to his mother at one point, “Stop playing video games and go to bed.”

Is that your jaw dropping open? Yeah. ‘Cause mine did. How laid-back do you have to be to not jump to your feet and say, “What did you say? WHAT DID YOU SAY?” But she doesn’t. She just does what he says.

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And then it’s devastating tear-jerker time and then a weird plan hatched by Henry is carried out by his mother to deal with the bad things going on next door with the neighbor girl and her father.

The director was slated next for Star Wars, Ep. IX, but right after The Book of Henry came out, he was no longer slated for Star Wars, Ep. IX. Although insiders say it was due to “creative differences” over the story, we know what it was REALLY about…..don’t we? Sources say the director just got “too close” to The Book of Henry and lost his perspective.

You might want to watch it just for curiosity’s sake to witness firsthand, with your own eyeballs, the crazily uneven tone and completely unbelievable plot that would never, in a million, gazillion years, ever actually happen.

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I had been looking forward to Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse because I had enjoyed The Witch from 2015. The Witch was a weird, eerie, tense, atmospheric period piece and The Lighthouse turned out to be all of those things, too.

But for some reason, The Witch felt like a mild marijuana trip compared to the salvia divinorum-infused freak ride that was The Lighthouse. I looked up hallucinogens and found salvia divinorum, an opioid-like plant with psychoactive properties, because mushrooms and mescaline–and certainly weed–just didn’t seem strong enough as words. The multiple syllables and dramatic spelling of salvia divinorum got a little closer.

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I love that Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame broke free of typecasting and has turned out to be a pretty damn good actor, and nobody can fault Willem DeFoe in that arena. They were really great in this movie. A coworker was pointing out that director Eggers focuses on isolation and what happens to ordinary people when unhealthily separated from the rest of society.

I get that. But what the hell part of it was actually happening and what was just going on in their minds? That bothered me. The same could be said of The Witch, but for some reason I didn’t come away unsatisfied. Possibly I’m just closed off to some avant-garde stuff—which Mother! definitely was—and it’s just me. I’m willing to accept that.

Or maybe I should blame my husband for slipping salvia divinorum into my tea when I wasn’t looking. Maybe not for Mother! ‘cause we saw that together. But during The Lighthouse, he made me some tea and then was suspiciously missing from the room most of the evening…

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What movies in your lifetime made you say “What the HELL did I just see?”

The Unseeming Horror of “Unseaming”

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When a story starts out, “You know he’s the one who made your beloved niece disappear,” it doesn’t bode well.

The first line of The Button Bin in Mike Allen’s collection of horror stories, “Unseaming,” is enough to raise the hair on your arms and the back of your neck. Allen, already well known as an editor and writer of speculative poetry, delivered “Unseaming” several years ago in all its luscious, spine-tingling dread and horror.

Imagine standing in front of a window. You’re holding a brick.

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You throw the brick through the window. With force.

You step close to the ragged hole and lower your hand, the sensitive flesh between your thumb and forefinger, steadily down toward a jagged shard jutting up at a crazy angle out into the open air.

That, in my opinion, is what it’s like to read “Unseaming.”

If the bizarre, mind-bending tales, often with an unexpected twist, aren’t enough, maybe the serrated, melodic writing will destabilize our repose as unnatural and chilling situations unfurl before us.

For example, we squirm uncomfortably but can’t look away as a grieving woman toes the edge of the abyss:

Soon she heard nothing else. An absence of music, an opposite of laughter, as if a throat sculpted pure mourning, emitted waves that drained away power and life as they washed over whatever they touched.

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If horror can be born somehow of lyricism, Mike Allen accomplishes that. And expect nightmares of all types: surreal and self-made. In one story, a hiker witnesses this:

The monster ascended the far side of the gully on legs like arched lightning, climbing into the murk at heart-wrenching speed.

When I go hiking, “legs like arched lightning” is the last thing I want to see. Where’s the racoon family or the friendly old man with the cane? Please don’t put the words “gully” and “climbing with heart-wrenching speed” together and expect me to visit Mr. Baldy again anytime soon.

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And then the other type of monstrosity declares THIS in the bookend of the collection:

To you I am a shriveled lump, but I speak with pride when I tell you that I’m a self-made monster, a Mandelbrot set, a Koch curve, a Menger sponge, and inside I have no boundaries.

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It’s not easy to find a book of horror, I think, that opines the state of heightened primordial sociopathy approaching omnipotence in such deliberate language peppered with an alarming and passionate undertone.  It takes talent to make the words “Koch curve” sound as deadly and sinister as “Nosferatu” or “The Mist.”

As an added point of intrigue, Mr. Allen has another collection of horror out there “The Spider Tapestries.” Spiders? Ughhh. Maybe it has nothing to do with spiders–I don’t know–but then why is she holding one–lovingly, I might add–on the cover?

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At any rate, I haven’t delved into this one yet.

Maybe you’ll get there before I do. But be careful if you do.

Don’t cut yourself….too deep.

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December Promote Your Book Party!

Thanks to Charles French again for hosting everyone’s books! Lots of good stuff in there. Too many books…not enough time.

charles french words reading and writing

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(http://hdcoolwallpapers.com)

It is now almost Winter, and it is time once again for a book promotion party!

I want to offer an opportunity for all writers who follow this blog to share information on their books. It can be very difficult to generate publicity for our writing, so I thought this little effort might help. All books may be mentioned, and there is no restriction on genre. This encompasses fiction, poetry, plays, and non-fiction. If I have neglected to mention a genre, please consider it to be included.

To participate, simply give your name, your book, information about it, and where to purchase it in the comments section. Then please be willing to reblog and/or tweet this post. The more people that see it, the more publicity we can generate for everyone’s books. I will continue to do these parties every few weeks.

Thank you for participating!

Promote your books!

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A Maggot…. again.

A fellow blogger reminded me of UFOs today, so I’m posting the link to one of the blogs I wrote long ago…when I had many fewer followers! If you’re not interested in the book review, just skip ahead to the paintings at the end, at least, and see if you find them as fascinating as I do. But John Fowles, author of A Maggot, is amazingly brilliant too.

https://staceyebryan.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/a-maggot-by-john-fowles-unidentified-flying-myths/