After Dark In The Playing Fields
Embracing the nightside; An interview with My Love Haunted Heart

On a day nearing the end of summer, during a violent late afternoon thunderstorm common to east coast FL that time of year, I took refuge in a dim corner of the library. I was 9 or 10 years of age at the time, and I had wandered away from the young adult section where I usually selected the books I would read for the week.

I distinctly recall finding a small, worn paperback nearly hidden between two rather bland tomes of adult literature; the cracked spine laced with embossed vines and thorns had caught my attention and I gingerly drew it forth for closer examination.  The shadowy darkness of the tattered cover provided the backdrop for a beveled tower, back lit by the moon and away from which a pale faced and wan young woman fled, her ruffled peignoir trailing and tangling behind her.

Though my choice of reading material was never censored at home I instinctively felt that this mysterious book would prove to be not quite… wholesome - corrupt, even. That there was something inexplicably illicit contained in the tale told within.  And with that, even before the first page was turned, before the first word was read - I had discovered a great literary love.  I’ve long since forgotten the name of the book and the details of the story, but I will always remember how my heart pounded to see the sheer terror conveyed on that woman’s face and wonder breathlessly…what was she running away from?


Ghosts, phantoms and strange sinister spirits. Abandoned monasteries, isolated castles. Brooding, mysterious gentleman. Wild, turbulent love and bitter betrayals.  Fearful family curses.  Dreams, illusions, obsessions, murders. 

This is just a small list from the top of my head of the themes I’ve since encountered in these gothic tales of romance and for all I remember, she could have been fleeing any number of them!

Sara over at My Love Haunted Heart is “crazy about vintage gothic romance”; she is a connoisseur and collector of lurid paperback novels and shares my passion for these torrid tales.  When I found her blog with hundred of scans of bewitching, beguiling cover arts and detailed descriptions of the stories, I knew at once I would have to reach out and say hello.  It is always intensely fascinating to run into someone who shares an obsession held dear to one’s heart - wouldn’t you agree? 

Sara kindly agreed to answer some questions for After Dark in the Playing Fields which I have posted below, as I am sure many of our readers share a similar passion for these books.  Included are several gorgeous scans of the books mentioned herein.  Enjoy!  And thank you Sara, for your time and indulgence.

GND: As you’ve stated yourself, on your “about” page – these “small, usually unappealingly moldy smelling paperbacks” are a guilty pleasure for you.   I imagine the same could be said for many people – why do you think that is, what is it about the Gothic romance that draws people in? Does the appeal have more to do with the bewitching covers, or the terrible deeds hinted at within?  

Sara: True gothic romance is all about engaging the nightside of your brain, and the best gothics can’t help but fascinate. Who doesn’t like being frightened or love romance? So right there, having that blend of sexuality and suspense is irresistible – for me anyway.

And, certainly a good cover helps! Most of the gothics I write about come from the 60’s & 70’s when an explosion of mass produced paperback fiction hit the shelves, so I guess there was a lot of competition to attract readers. Many of these books are beautifully illustrated by some amazing artists. From the feedback I get on the blog, a lot of people collect these books for the covers.

On the other hand… writers such as Tania Modleski (Loving With A Vengeance, Mass Produced Fantasies For Women) and Joanna Russ (Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me and I Think It’s My Husband: The Modern Gothic), explore the appeal of gothics within the context of female paranoia and a woman’s ambivalent feelings towards marriage. Both cite Terry Carr, a former editor at Ace books, who is credited with explaining the popularity of these gothics as:

“The basic appeal… is to women who marry guys and then begin to discover that their husbands are strangers… so there’s a simultaneous attraction/repulsion, love/fear going on. Most of the “pure” Gothics tend to have a handsome, magnetic suitor or husband who may or may not be a lunatic and/or murderer…it remained for U.S. women to discover they were frightened of their husbands.”

 I’m not so sure about this! I was hooked on gothics long before I even thought about getting married. But yeah, that love / fear combination is a pretty heady brew…

Tell me about how this fascination began? 

Well I have always been interested in horror, the occult, witchcraft etc. Why? Who knows?  My mum was a fan of historical / gothic romances penned by writers like Victoria Holt and Anya Seton and the first gothics I read were hers.  I was lured in by the covers and by the shades of mystery and the occult that were alluded to in these works.

Though I read a lot of horror as a teenager, I didn’t read much fiction of any kind in my twenties. I was more into music. But I still collected my gothics - in particular the Dark Shadows books by Marilyn Ross. I think it was something about the covers and the almost chaste, low key approach to ‘nameless terrors’ or ‘unmentionable evil.’ They hinted rather than screamed and as such left more room for my own imagination to play.

What are the top 5 titles you would recommend for someone interested in reading these books?  Are there any so awful, so atrocious that you would caution against reading them?  Feel free to include those as well!

The best gothic romance writers are the ones who obviously love the genre themselves, or at least aren’t afraid to embrace all the tropes that make gothics so special. In particular, I’d recommend:

Virginia Coffman’s Moura, Victoria Holt’s On the Night of the Seventh Moon, Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, and Rona Randall’s Knight’s Keep.

The gothic romances that became very popular in the 1960‘s -1970’s were churned out in the thousands. Because so many were produced to meet the demands of the readers at the time, publishers became a little ‘creative’ with using the word gothic and it can be a bit of pot luck what you get – though this can be part of the appeal of collecting and reading them nowadays.

So, for books that stretch the definition ‘gothic romance’ to breaking point but are nevertheless fantastically weird and wonderfully twisted, I’d recommend: Seed of Evil by Petrina Crawford, The Black Dog by Georgena Goff, A Woman Possessed by Christine Randell and any of the Dr Holton series by Charlotte Hunt.

What are some of your most loved novels in this tradition?  Some of your favorite covers? Do you find the cover influences/sways your opinion at all?

The gothics I keep coming back to tend to be the classics – Wuthering Heights, Uncle Silas, Jane Eyre. Unfortunately most publishers tend to reprint these with fairly boring covers - one welcome exception being the Paperback Library Gothic series, who published quite a few classic gothics with some gorgeous cover art. Their reprint of Uncle Silas is one of my favourites; another cherished gothic of mine is my Classic Pan version of Wuthering Heights.

In the 60’s & 70’s, the archetypal gothic romance cover featured the beautiful young woman in a filmy nightgown running from a foreboding house with a single lit window. It’s a combination many fans of the genre love and no wonder, as some of the artwork is breathtaking – in particular the houses! Diamonds may well be a girl’s best friend but the real love affair in a gothic is between a woman and her house and the detailing that goes into some of these ‘gloom-ridden’ mansions is superb! Without a Grave by Poppy Nottingham (artist unknown) and The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (Dell 1969, cover art Hector Garrido) are just two examples.

I’m also a big fan of graveyard settings - The Yesteryear Phantom by W.E.D Ross (artwork Robert Maguire) and The Love of Lucifer by Daoma Winston (artist unknown) are both gorgeous.

Trees are another subject that makes for great gothic artwork – check out Lodge Sinister by Dana Ross (cover Hector Garrido) and the spooky hidden tree in To Seek Where Shadows Are by Miriam Benedict (artist unknown).

I imagine it must be difficult to track down the illustrators responsible for creating the cover art, but do you have any favorite artists? 

Unfortunately, many of the artists just aren’t credited on the covers so it can be very difficult finding out who the artwork is by. I have spent a lot of time squinting at book covers trying to match indecipherable signatures to some sort of name via various internet search engines. I am very lucky that a lot of people who know far more than I do about this subject contact me via my blog with information, for which I am eternally grateful!

 Victor Kalin is one of my favourite artists, again for the beautiful attention to detail and gorgeous recreation of mood and atmosphere. His daughter emailed me a link to a site of his artwork over at http://victorkalin.shutterfly.com

 It appears from your site that the stories you favor are from a certain period of time –60’s, 70’s, early 80’s?  Do you read much in the way of early Gothic/Victorian Romantic Literature? Do you read any contemporary Gothic fiction?  How would you say the genre has changed or evolved through the years to suit a modern audience?  

I constantly read and reread Poe. Others might disagree but for me, gothic romance begins and ends with Poe. Vernon Lee (Violet Paget) is another treasured writer of mine. I’m also a big fan of Victorian ghost stories, Dickens and just about anything from any of the Bronte sisters.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is widely ascribed as being the first gothic ever written and for anyone new to the genre, you could do a lot worse than start with this since it’s very short, wonderfully bonkers and I’m pretty sure you can download it for free over at Project Gutenburg.

The classic gothic romance of old usually featured an imperiled young woman, recently married or working as a governess somewhere in the middle of nowhere - far from family, completely at the mercy of her tall, dark and brooding husband or employer. This was very relevant in the days the early gothic romances were written, as it was not unusual for women to end up marrying virtual strangers, setting up home miles from family, socially isolated and financially vulnerable.

Modern gothics recreate this sense of isolation and vulnerability in a variety of ways. It helps if the protagonist is an orphan and many a gothic heroine shares this fate – (a fair few also end up married to their cousins, interestingly enough). It could be that she needs to recover from a broken relationship or bereavement and so accepts a job as secretary on an isolated estate somewhere.  Or simply that she has travelled abroad on holiday to an unfamiliar place and has stumbled into the wrong kind of trouble.

A common theme for many modern gothics is the one where the heroine suddenly inherits a huge old house from a distant relative, or is invited to stay with family she never even knew she had. Of course, these unexpected windfalls come at a price!  One of my favourites of this type is A Touch of the Witch, by June Wetherell, in which our leading lady wakes up in the middle of her first night in her new mansion, only to discover a black magic coven hosting an orgy in the basement!

As for anything written this side of the millennium, well, I don’t read much contemporary fiction so I can’t really comment. That’s not to say there aren’t some great books with elements of gothic romance being published - The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield, The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, Affinity by Sarah Waters and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon are a few that spring to mind.

 Map out your ideal story for me, (let’s say you were going to try your hand at it) – from the heroine, to the villain, to the setting, the plot, etc.  What part does evil play in a gothic story? Is the supernatural needed or desirable to enhance it?

A historical gothic romance would require far too much research, so ‘my’ gothic would be set in the here and now. I like damaged heroines, people with a bit of a past, so perhaps she’s just come out of prison or is on the run from someone. In any event she’s ended up in an isolated town, under an assumed identity, with no family or friends to fall back on.

I live by the sea in a place rumoured to be riddled with underground tunnels used by smugglers. I like this idea. Lots of gothics use disused tunnels and mines for people to fall down and get lost in. So my gothic would be set somewhere by the sea. The seacoast also makes an ideal setting for stormy sea-swept clinches - with the added advantage of having some treacherous cliffs for people to hurl themselves off of when it all goes horribly wrong. 

My heroine would need a job and so would end up working in The Big House on the Hill. The really old, really crumbly big house peopled by characters who are all just a little bit strange… I love horses and all things equestrian so perhaps she ends up working in the stables there or something. (Unlike the house, the stables would not be old and decrepit but state of the art - like many aristocrats, my master of the house would indulge his horses far better than he does his own family).

Many gothics employ two leading men in their stories – a villain, with whom the heroine initially falls in love but who is all wrong for her - and a hero, striding in at the last chapter to save both her heart and her soul. I’m not such a fan of this. I prefer exploring the dynamics within twisted, tortuous relationships so my leading man would be both hero / villain with his own dilemmas and choices to make.

My leading man owns the big crumbly house on the hill and is irresistibly handsome of course, but sad. His twin sister died a few months back from a mysterious wasting disease – caused by an ancient family curse. He keeps her body embalmed in an upstairs bedroom and spends an inordinate amount of time in there, grieving over her beautiful corpse.  When he isn’t locked away in the bedroom with his dead sister, he’s researching dusty old grimoires, reciting unholy incantations during depraved rituals in the family mausoleum, desperately trying to invoke a demon with the power to bring the dead back to life.

Sure enough, my romantic leads can’t help but become attracted to each other, growing closer and closer with each new chapter. But, as the demonic forces gather and swell around this accursed place, strange events start happening. I like the idea of my heroine being plagued by nightmarish visions so maybe the ghost of the dead sister is becoming restless and is haunting her. 

Anyway, as Halloween draws nearer, we learn the ultimate sacrifice is needed to bring the dead twin back to life. So… just how far can our heroine trust the man she has come to love?

I have no idea how it would end but I tend to prefer the not so happy endings.

Where are your favourite haunts for searching out these titles?

I can’t walk past a charity shop or second hand book store without going in and having a look. And I’m lucky to have quite a few near where I live!

Rainbow Books in Brighton is a regular of mine, though it’s not the best place if you’re at all OCD about neat rows of books! The horror and romances are stashed in big piles in the basement and the romance pile in particular gets in a terrible state!  I nearly got locked in one night - but for a stack of books falling on top of me and making enough noise to wake the dead, the owner had thought everyone had left and was just about to shut up shop for the day…

Thanks again, Sara for taking the time to answer all of my nosy questions and for sharing your love of the paperback gothic romance novel with us!  Be certain to check in at My Love Haunted Heart for more reviews and Sara’s flickr page as well for a great deal more beautiful cover scans!

Creepy/Cute - A Kewpie Quickie
image: Rose O’Neill, creator of Kewpie dolls
As summer begins to die down, the mornings start to have a chilled edge that burns off in the afternoon sun and the evenings, almost imperceptibly, are growing darker, earlier -   I am always reminded of the county fairs that start opening up in conjunction with upcoming autumn season.  It’s hard to say why this is because honestly I think I’ve only been to one such fair in my entire life.  I think I can probably pin this association on stories in books and an active imagination.
And though I’ve never actually won anything on the fairgrounds in the way of prizes from those impossible-to-win games ….autumn and fairgrounds always bring to mind those odd little cherub cheeked, unblinking Kewpie dolls that (I imagine) fellows obtain for their girlfriends when they manage to shoot a bullseye or knock down a bottle or whatever.
 Display of the Ubiquitous, Popular Kewpie Dolls as They Stand Attached to Canary Topped Cane Sticks   by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Though not personally creeped out by these strange, small figures, I know that some people can’t even stand the sight of them, or to be in the same room with them.  Curious about their origins and creator, I thought I might share the information that I found when I went digging.
The Kewpie doll, or the idea of them, had been fermenting in the creative mind Rose O’Neil,since childhood. In an interview in Hobbies Magazine Rose  			recalled, “The idea grew from a baby brother when I was a little  			girl. I made drawings of him while I played with him. All his little  			looks and gestures came out later in the Kewpie.”
Rose, also an illustrator for magazines and advertisements, as well as an author, elaborated further that “In illustrating love stories I had  			a way of making decorative head and tail pieces with Cupids. Edward  			Bok of the Ladies’ Home Journal cut out a number of these and sent  			them to me. He asked me if I could make a series of the little  			creatures and said that he would find someone to make accompanying  			verses. I replied that I would make the verses up myself and wrote  			him an illustrated letter in which I created the character of the  			Kewpie. I invented the name for little Cupid, spelling it with a K  			because it seemed funnier. ”
Rose’s biography, parts of which read almost like a fairytale, can be read at the Bonniebrook Historical Society website.

Rose was a self taught illustrator and though she knew little about commercial art, she entered the  			profession at a time when most illustrators were male.  During her early years in New York, Rose illustrated for such  			periodicals as Harper’s, Life, Broadway Life, Cosmopolitan, and  			Colliers. Her work became  			highly recognizable and advertising executives took notice, the appeal perhaps due to a combination of her sense of humor and  			her romantic nature.  She did in the neighborhood of 100  			illustrations for Jell-O,  her most recognizable  			advertising account, from 1909 to 1922.


"Well, when I tell you that I haven’t time to be a housewife and have   never in my life made up anything eatable except Jell-O, you will know   that I must appreciate the advantages offered by the ‘easy Jell-O  way.’"





"Signs", a cartoon for Puck by Rose O’Neill, 1904. Ethel: “He acts this way. He gazes at me tenderly, is buoyant when I am  near him, pines when I neglect him. Now, what does that signify?” Her mother: “That he’s a mighty good actor, Ethel.”





“I am in love with magic and monsters,  and the drama of form emerging from the formless.” - Rose O’Neill

In searching out information on the books she had written (in addition to illustration), I came across an intriguing mention of one of her adult titles, “The Goblin Woman”.  As goblins are generally of more interest to me than Kewpies, I waskeen to learn more!  Unfortunately, other than listings on a few auction sites, there is not much information to be had on this book. Persistence does pay off though, and I stumbled across It Goes On The Shelf , a site maintained by Ned Brooks, who notes with regard to The Goblin Woman “…There doesn’t seem to be any real goblin”.   Although I found that assertion to be mildly disappointing, I wrote to Ned to see if he could share any further info about the book.  Ned kindly supplied a synopsis for me, as follows:
"The book has four frontispieces of the main characters, Giulia, Windsor,  Tredegar, Jackie, Rosemary, and Helga - pencil drawings of heads,  printed in red ink. The only other art is chapter headings in black -  the one for the "Prelude" looks rather like Cthulhu, and so does the one  for Ch.1. But while the setting is eerie and the language is abused to  the point of confusion, the fantasy element seems mostly psychological.  The story opens with "the goblin" coming to a dinner party. It becomes clear on the first page that the "goblin" is the woman Helga, who has just moved into The River House, which indeed sits right  at the river’s edge, and has been invited to the dinner party. Giulia  says that Helga “looks not like anything you ever saw” - and yet the  reader has already seen the author’s drawing of Helga - quite normal  looking. Helga is a lapsed Catholic who inherited the house from her uncle  Llewellyn Tredegar, who got a portrait even though he is already dead as  the story opens - he does look old. On p.7 we learn why Helga is  referred to as a “goblin" - she and her sister had lived in the River House at the age of 10-11 and as there was no woman there to see to their clothes, went about held together with safety  pins. Oddly enough, as they await the arrival of Helga, one of them  refers to her as “Mrs. Tredegar”, which seems odd. Helga Tredegar, from  their gossip, must be about 25. Giulia reports Helga as saying that she  is “…a hyena and lives entirely upon the dead”. The dialog is full of  such bizarre hyperbole. On p.11 we are told that Helga is “Mrs. Tredegar” because she married  her uncle! Not Llewellyn, her father’s older brother, but Owen Tredegar,  her father’s younger brother. I would have thought that illegal most  places. Helga’s mother was Danish and the Tredegars are Welsh. Just  where the action takes place is unclear - the Prelude refers to it as an  “Aryan place”. The other characters all have anglo surnames. On p.12 we  are told that Helga was only 12 when she married her uncle Owen!  Wherever they are, the house they are in is said to have been in the  family for 200 years - perhaps these are British loonies. By the end of  Ch.1, Helga has not arrived for the dinner party. That should give you some idea of this demented soap opera. Skipping to  the end, I see that Helga and Windsor seem to be about to live happily  ever after. The goblin is as metaphorical as the  hyena. There are real hyenas - I just heard from a friend in Ethiopia  who says they prowl the alleys of the old city Harar. What I meant by  “no real goblin" was that the story does not contain any goblin that is actually supernatural or fantastical.”
 
Thank you, Ned, for indulging me!  And Playing Fields readers… if you have gotten this far in reading what was supposed to be a quick little post - I thank you as well!

Creepy/Cute - A Kewpie Quickie

image: Rose O’Neill, creator of Kewpie dolls

As summer begins to die down, the mornings start to have a chilled edge that burns off in the afternoon sun and the evenings, almost imperceptibly, are growing darker, earlier -   I am always reminded of the county fairs that start opening up in conjunction with upcoming autumn season.  It’s hard to say why this is because honestly I think I’ve only been to one such fair in my entire life.  I think I can probably pin this association on stories in books and an active imagination.

And though I’ve never actually won anything on the fairgrounds in the way of prizes from those impossible-to-win games ….autumn and fairgrounds always bring to mind those odd little cherub cheeked, unblinking Kewpie dolls that (I imagine) fellows obtain for their girlfriends when they manage to shoot a bullseye or knock down a bottle or whatever.


Display of the Ubiquitous, Popular Kewpie Dolls as They Stand Attached to Canary Topped Cane Sticks by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Though not personally creeped out by these strange, small figures, I know that some people can’t even stand the sight of them, or to be in the same room with them.  Curious about their origins and creator, I thought I might share the information that I found when I went digging.

The Kewpie doll, or the idea of them, had been fermenting in the creative mind Rose O’Neil,since childhood. In an interview in Hobbies Magazine Rose recalled, “The idea grew from a baby brother when I was a little girl. I made drawings of him while I played with him. All his little looks and gestures came out later in the Kewpie.”

Rose, also an illustrator for magazines and advertisements, as well as an author, elaborated further that “In illustrating love stories I had a way of making decorative head and tail pieces with Cupids. Edward Bok of the Ladies’ Home Journal cut out a number of these and sent them to me. He asked me if I could make a series of the little creatures and said that he would find someone to make accompanying verses. I replied that I would make the verses up myself and wrote him an illustrated letter in which I created the character of the Kewpie. I invented the name for little Cupid, spelling it with a K because it seemed funnier. ”

Rose’s biography, parts of which read almost like a fairytale, can be read at the Bonniebrook Historical Society website.

Rose was a self taught illustrator and though she knew little about commercial art, she entered the profession at a time when most illustrators were male.  During her early years in New York, Rose illustrated for such periodicals as Harper’s, Life, Broadway Life, Cosmopolitan, and Colliers. Her work became highly recognizable and advertising executives took notice, the appeal perhaps due to a combination of her sense of humor and her romantic nature.  She did in the neighborhood of 100 illustrations for Jell-O,  her most recognizable advertising account, from 1909 to 1922.

"Well, when I tell you that I haven’t time to be a housewife and have never in my life made up anything eatable except Jell-O, you will know that I must appreciate the advantages offered by the ‘easy Jell-O way.’"

"Signs", a cartoon for Puck by Rose O’Neill, 1904.
Ethel: “He acts this way. He gazes at me tenderly, is buoyant when I am near him, pines when I neglect him. Now, what does that signify?”
Her mother: “That he’s a mighty good actor, Ethel.”

“I am in love with magic and monsters,
and the drama of form emerging from the formless.”

- Rose O’Neill

In searching out information on the books she had written (in addition to illustration), I came across an intriguing mention of one of her adult titles, “The Goblin Woman”.  As goblins are generally of more interest to me than Kewpies, I waskeen to learn more!  Unfortunately, other than listings on a few auction sites, there is not much information to be had on this book. Persistence does pay off though, and I stumbled across It Goes On The Shelf , a site maintained by Ned Brooks, who notes with regard to The Goblin Woman “…There doesn’t seem to be any real goblin”.   Although I found that assertion to be mildly disappointing, I wrote to Ned to see if he could share any further info about the book.  Ned kindly supplied a synopsis for me, as follows:

"The book has four frontispieces of the main characters, Giulia, Windsor, Tredegar, Jackie, Rosemary, and Helga - pencil drawings of heads, printed in red ink. The only other art is chapter headings in black - the one for the "Prelude" looks rather like Cthulhu, and so does the one for Ch.1. But while the setting is eerie and the language is abused to the point of confusion, the fantasy element seems mostly psychological. The story opens with "the goblin" coming to a dinner party. It becomes clear on the first page that the "goblin" is the woman Helga, who has just moved into The River House, which indeed sits right at the river’s edge, and has been invited to the dinner party. Giulia says that Helga “looks not like anything you ever saw” - and yet the reader has already seen the author’s drawing of Helga - quite normal looking.

Helga is a lapsed Catholic who inherited the house from her uncle Llewellyn Tredegar, who got a portrait even though he is already dead as the story opens - he does look old. On p.7 we learn why Helga is referred to as a “goblin" - she and her sister had lived in the River House at the age of 10-11 and as there was no woman there to see to their clothes, went about held together with safety pins. Oddly enough, as they await the arrival of Helga, one of them refers to her as “Mrs. Tredegar”, which seems odd. Helga Tredegar, from their gossip, must be about 25. Giulia reports Helga as saying that she is “…a hyena and lives entirely upon the dead”. The dialog is full of such bizarre hyperbole.

On p.11 we are told that Helga is “Mrs. Tredegar” because she married her uncle! Not Llewellyn, her father’s older brother, but Owen Tredegar, her father’s younger brother. I would have thought that illegal most places. Helga’s mother was Danish and the Tredegars are Welsh. Just where the action takes place is unclear - the Prelude refers to it as an “Aryan place”. The other characters all have anglo surnames. On p.12 we are told that Helga was only 12 when she married her uncle Owen! Wherever they are, the house they are in is said to have been in the family for 200 years - perhaps these are British loonies. By the end of Ch.1, Helga has not arrived for the dinner party.

That should give you some idea of this demented soap opera. Skipping to the end, I see that Helga and Windsor seem to be about to live happily ever after. The goblin is as metaphorical as the hyena. There are real hyenas - I just heard from a friend in Ethiopia who says they prowl the alleys of the old city Harar. What I meant by “no real goblin" was that the story does not contain any goblin that is actually supernatural or fantastical.”

 

Thank you, Ned, for indulging me!  And Playing Fields readers… if you have gotten this far in reading what was supposed to be a quick little post - I thank you as well!


Will Errickson’s resplendent horror fiction reviews

Perhaps a month or so ago whilst puttering around on the internet late at night, a memory, unbidden, came to mind. A book I had read when I was younger.  Though I could not recall much of the plot (except that it was a riveting combination of almost-unacceptably-unbelievable and strangely compelling),  or the story details, or even the names of the characters - the cover, and the title were for some reason burned indelibly into my brain.  

On a whim, I thought I might poke around to see if what, if anything, other readers had to say about The Manitou, and it was then that I stumbled onto Will Errickson’s Too Much Horror Fiction blog.  Will’s sharp, smart, and endlessly amusing synopsis of the story and review of the book compelled me to dig deeper into his site, and in doing so I came across many strange, moldering titles that I had not thought of or seen in years…some I barely remembered and some which were so bizarre that I actually thought I  had dreamed them up. Before I knew it several hours had passed and it was 2:00 AM in the morning; I was exhausted but full of a sort of demented exultation -   I think it is safe to say that I have never in my life been excited to stumble across a corner of the internet as I was when I discovered Will’s blog, which is dedicated to “reviewing and collecting horror literature and celebrating its resplendent paperback cover art”. 

Will graciously agreed to do a bit of a Q&A with us over at After Dark in the Playing Fields; read on for, among other things, his thoughts on terror in the formative years, his picks for a compellingly horrifying read and a top ten list of his favourite deranged horror fiction book covers!

 

GND: To quote you, paraphrasing Poe and Lovecraft: “Horror… is that singular frisson of terror itself”. Can you hearken back to the time when you first experienced that dread feeling and share with us the details surrounding that, and the myriad ways it has manifested in your life up to this point?

Will Errickson: I’ve tried before to nail down early moments of fear and horror from when I was a kid, and I just can’t. All I can really say is that growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s there was no lack of spooky stuff on TV that you couldn’t avoid, whether it was IN SEARCH OF… or a commercial for movies like SILENT SCREAM, THE PROPHECY, THE SHINING and ALIEN. I remember finding a horror movie magazine that a teenage relative had that completely freaked me out; I couldn’t even look at the cover. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was pretty impressively scary at that age. Of course JAWS was inescapable, but once I actually *saw* the movie when I was 8 or 9 I became obsessed with it. Can’t quite remember how I began reading horror, because those trashy old paperbacks with skulls on the covers unsettled me. Think I just picked up one of my mom’s Stephen King novels when I was about 13 or so. So ever since I was a kid I’ve been into horror as well as the people who create it.


Back to the above referenced paraphrasing – what are some of your favourite books or stories that evoke such a feeling for you?  I believe I culled the quote from your post on The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, so I imagine that might be one of them?

Several of Ellroy’s novels have been disturbing, not just BLACK DAHLIA but also L.A. CONFIDENTIAL—the parts that *didn’t* make it into the movie version. Books such as DRACULA and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR were perhaps the first scary things I read; later Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and various stories/novels by King (especially “The Mist”) and Peter Straub. SONG OF KALI by Dan Simmons, THE CIPHER by Kathe Koja, FINISHING TOUCHES by Thomas Tessier, THE SEARCH FOR JOSEPH TULLY by William Hallahan. I read tons and tons of short stories in different anthologies as a teen and in my early ’20s; some of my favorites from that era are “Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe Lansdale; “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” and “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” by Poppy Z. Brite; “Dread” by Clive Barker; “Old Man and the Dead” by Mort Castle; “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner; “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” by David Morrell; “The Answer Tree” by Steven Boyett; various Shirley Jackson and Thomas Ligotti tales. It’s difficult to pin some down. Rereading them now is cool because many hold up and are still effective. I’m slowly making my way through the two-volume Library of America’s AMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES… Short stories really show the horror genre in its best light. There are great novels, of course, but short stories… yeah. I’m sure I’m forgetting some right now.


In this vein, what is your general criteria for a satisfying read?  Can you give some examples of the books which might fit this criteria?  And this may be a silly question, but how much does the cover art play into this for you? 

Pacing is probably the single most important aspect. Atmosphere is great too. I don’t need great writing but it does have to be good. A lot of ’70s horror novels, and even going back further, had a real professionalism about them; you knew you were in the hands of masters. But by the ’80s more horror glutted the shelves so many, many books were very poorly written and edited and conceived. You can forgive a lot if the author is sure of himself, which is the case with Graham Masterton’s THE MANITOU. It was rather ridiculous but his conviction carried it. THE AUCTIONEER by Joan Samson is a wonderful example of strong writing and story, as are Michael McDowell’s works. You can’t ever go wrong with Shirley Jackson. I loved THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by Anne Rivers Siddons. Fritz Leiber’s OUR LADY OF DARKNESS was excellent as well. ALL HEADS TURN AS THE HUNT GOES BY by John Farris. THE RATS by James Herbert. As for supernatural violence and the like, I like a quiet chiller as much as a gory thriller. Joe Lansdale’s THE NIGHTRUNNERS blew me away back in the day but I haven’t read it since. As for cover art, it doesn’t play into my interest in reading a book; I’ve gotten past that these days and if the books has a truly terrible cover, I try to imagine I’m reading it in manuscript form! So yes, I guess cover art can color your imagination as you read.

You reference John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night as a quintessential 80’s horror novel, with its “blurb from Stephen King and a review quote comparing it to The Exorcist, and its artwork of both a scary-looking young girl as well as a black-winged demon” –I’d be interested in hearing more about this idea of a quintessential 80’s   horror novel.  Also, do you feel there are elements of the story itself that make it a prime example of the decade’s horror offerings?  So…what would be a quintessential 90’s horror novel?  70’s?  60’s?  Ok, I’ll stop there. 

1980s horror to me is big and badass, influenced by more graphic horror movies. Huge set pieces of bizarre horror carnage, lots of characters, a go-for-broke attitude. Another cool ’80s novel is THE SCREAM by Skipp and Spector: big, bold, vivid, outrageous, energetic. A bit dated in a fun way. Let’s see… for the ’60s I’d say ROSEMARY’S BABY by Ira Levin: ironic, cool, blackly comic, lightly satirizing modern mores. The ’70s quintessential horror would probably be ’SALEM’S LOT, but I think an argument could be made for HARVEST HOME or THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon. Quieter and more reserved than King, but still creepy; a mainstream bestseller kind of vibe before the paperback horror boom of the ’80s fractioned off the audience. For the ’90s, that’s tougher, because I stopped reading contemporary horror in about 1993 or ’94. Kathe Koja’s THE CIPHER turned horror around by taking the focus off “regular folks” as it’d been in the ’80s and made it about artists, slackers, young people on the fringes of society. What can I say, I identified!

 For as long as you’ve been running your blog, what would you say are the top 10 most ridiculous/absurd/batshit insane horror novel covers you’ve featured?   

NIGHTSCAPE by Stephen George

ROCKABYE BABY by Stephen Gresham

SANDMAN by William W. Johnstone

DEW CLAWS by Stephen Gresham

SEE NO EVIL by Patricia Wllace

DEAD TO THE WORLD by J.N. Williamson

TRICYCLE by Russell Rhodes

LURKING FEAR & OTHERS by Lovecraft

WAIT AND SEE by Ruby Jean Jensen

RESURRECTION DREAMS by Richard Laymon

 But there are still many, many more out there! I will always be on the lookout to feature them on my blog…

What is your opinion of “pulp” and what purpose it serves—what can we learn from it about our culture that isn’t a part of canonical literature? “Pulp” novels are considered low-end and sort of disdained, but obviously they are popular to read.  What about the lurid themes found in them resonates with the reader? 

When it comes to the worth of any kind of pulp or genre fiction and its status, I like to turn it around and posit that lots of literature, the high-end, culturally-sanctioned stuff, isn’t nearly as profound or insightful as some people like to think it is. There is just as much cliche, lack of imagination, and poor—as in pretentious—writing in that kind of fiction as in pulp or genre fiction. Writers who began in the pulp fields are now considered major American authors, crime writers like Raymond Chandler as well as a horror writer like H.P. Lovecraft. Horror fiction deals with the same themes as any other kind of fiction: families, history, love, sex, death, violence, grief, guilt, etc. Sure, a horror novel might accentuate the less savory aspects of these themes, but I’d say a classic writer like Dostoevsky, for instance, is also exploiting them as well. I *think* that literary critics these days are little more amenable to that idea, anyway.
 


Finally – The Nursery, by David Lippincott (a cult favourite here at After Dark in the Playing Fields) – any opinions?* 

I’m unfamiliar with that title but the cover art is awesome! Added to my to-be-read list.

 


A heartfelt thanks to Will Errickson for taking the time to answer our questions and share his thoughts! 

*If any of our readers have read this appalling novel, drop us a line at grimtwins [at] gmail [dot] com - we want to hear your thoughts!  Be forewarned: it is really, really awful.