Writer’s Critque - Annie

For the first time in a long time, I watched the 1982 film Annie, a favorite in childhood, and for the first time noticed a great many character, pacing, and dialogue issues. This probably can be attributed more to my supposed adulthood than my writing abilities, but I’m still going to try to make this more about the writing. 

 

The dialogue is hokey and stereotypical, probably because much of it was written in as replacements for musical numbers. That having been said Carroll Burnett is still fantastic.  Not to mention the racist undertones of Punjab and the Asp, Mr.  Warbucks bodyguards. Also, despite having the look of the Great Depression,  the adult conversations in the movie are very 80s. If you listen, most of the background information, which is meant to just go over Annie’s head, is all about capitalism, the economy, and communism. All of these ideas were everywhere in 1982, where as a kid in 1935 is only worried about where food is readily available. The writers may have been sticking to a “write what you know” rule. 

Pacing wise, what the heck is up with that entire scene in Radio City Music Hall where they spend about 15 minutes watching dancers on some very 70s looking sets followed by huge hunks from the film Camille. As a kid, this part bored me. As an adult it baffles me. I feel like it would make sense if the movie on screen had some kind of connection to the story and characters of Annie. Just a quick summary for those who don’t know, Camille is a 1936 drama adapted from an Alexandre Dumas book. Greta Garbo stars as a socialite deciding between love, money, and sacrifice before (spoiler alert) succumbing to tuberculosis. First of all, it’s not a kids’ movie! Why would Daddy Warbucks even take her to that? Second, there was no reason to show hunks of this tragedy in the midst of Annie and the adults supposedly bonding. The scenes shown from Camille have nothing to help move the plot of Annie forward or, other than Grace crying, reveal anything about the characters.  

 The character development (which I know was based on a Broadway play but still) could have been more involved for such a long kids movie. Annie really only spends the painfully long Camille scene and some time in the pool with Daddy Warbucks  and, suddenly, they have a father daughter bond. She actually spends more time with the secretary and the two bodyguards then she does with a man who adopts her.

Well, I think I picked that apart enough. Childhood ruined or just slightly tarnished? At least the dog was cute.

Twelve Days Of Xmas

For those of you currently arguing with relatives because you have yet to stop watching Christmas Hallmark movies, I have good news for you. It’s still technically the holiday season! 

You know that aggravating. . . I mean traditional song the Twelve Days of Christmas? That is actually a dozen days starting on December first and ending on January 5th, according early Christian traditions. Twelfth night was once for caroling, a festival with a king chosen by a pea in a cake, and leaving out your festive wreaths. 

So why am I sharing this information? Because I’m too lazy to take down my holiday decor yet. But clearly I don’t have to for two more days. Haters can choke on a pear. . . tree. 

In Defense of the Willful Child

I’m picking this one in case anyone’s kid had a case of the gimmees this holiday season. Enjoy.

Brief History: In this German story, a stubborn and disobedient kid (sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl depending on who translated it) falls ill and dies. After being buried, the kid’s arm refuses to stay under the ground, popping up like a daisy each time its re-interned. Finally, the child’s mother comes to the grave and beats the arm with a switch. After that, the child rests in peace.

Analysis: Um… I feel like I shouldn’t actually have to analyze this one. You guys get it, right? Because the child didn’t want to be disciplined in life, mom still had to do so after the kid was gone. That’s just how willful this mythical child was. We should probably keep in mind that when this was first told, child mortality rates were high and so just hoping your kid had a restful afterlife must have been the best you could hope for, even in a fairy tale.

Blame it on the Victorians: When the Grimm Brothers wrote this one down, they added that God had made the child sick as punishment for being so awful to his/her mother. Then, the child didn’t get well because he/she still would not be sweet or obey. So, you could tell your kid when they were sick that if they didn’t do what they were supposed to, God would literally smite them with Scarlet Fever. This same idea is in Carlo Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) where the Blue Fairy, annoyed with Pinocchio’s refusal to take medicine, summons undertakers and tells him he’ll just have to die then.

Last Thoughts: Why hasn’t Disney made this into a movie? The animal sidekick could be a cute mouse. . . a cute, decomposing mouse who can talk.

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Local Business: Some of Our Favorite Local Artists

This final local business blog of the year is going to focus on local artists and artisans.

Scott P. “Doc” Vaughn

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Scott P. “Doc” Vaughn is a local illustrator, pin-up artist, and comic artist. Beyond his prints and commission work (ahem - Fair to Middling), Doc is one of the creators, with Kane Gilmour, of the web-comic Warbirds of Mars. Beyond the comic, the diesel punk tale of aliens and Nazis has spawned two radio/podcast specials and an anthology book which featured vast local talents.

Check out Doc’s work here:  http://www.vaughn-media.com/

 

Keith Decesare

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Also known as KAD Creations, Keith has been a hard working and talented member of the art community for many years. Beyond his own prints and beautiful work, he has been commissioned for book covers (ahem - Emerald Door), personal artwork, and more. He has also delved into sculpture and performing arts.

Check out Keith’s work here: https://www.facebook.com/theartofkeithdecesare/


Kylara Griffis 

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An up and coming talent, Kylara is both a talented and unique sketch artist as well as an amazing make-up artist. She has recently been commissioned on a project with Kira Shay that we will be excited to present to you. 

Check out Kylara’s work here: https://perpetualartistry.weebly.com/

Small Business Saturday and Beyond

Thanksgiving is here and you know what that means - Shopping. Horrible, crowded, unnerving shopping. Before you venture out into retail Hell, consider shopping locally first.

Start with Small Business Saturday, the much calmer, saner, and more economically helpful version of Black Friday. Check out what smaller artisans and shops have to offer.

In honor of this, our blogs will feature some shout-outs to some of our local Phoenix businesses for your consideration.

Help your community thrive.

In Defense of the Legend of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and Myles Standish

Brief History: First of all, I know this isn’t my usual fairy tale/folk tale blog, but I thought I’d try something more Americana in honor of the football season. . . or something. Second, I promise that since this blog is about the group known as the Pilgrims I won’t get on my many colonial America soapboxes such as the difference between the strict, hypocritical Puritans and the religous-diverse Plymouth colonists or the broken agreements with the Wampanoag people or the lack of cultural acknowledgement for Tisquantum (a.k.a. Squanto) who is the only reason why we have Thanksgiving. Nope. Nor will I go into the history Thanksgiving not being celebrated in U.S. until the Civil War as a morale booster and really had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. [Deep breath] Now, on to the story.

In 1858, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the king of historical inaccuracies (i.e. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere), wrote a long poem called The Courtship of Miles Standish. In the midst of battles against the indigenous people and bad harvests, Miles Standish had an eye for the young, pretty Priscilla Mullins. As a military leader, Standish naturally was not a romantic (as according to the big book of stereotypes) so he asked his friend, John Alden, to speak on his behalf. However, John and Priscilla grow close and by the time he tries to propose for Miles, Priscilla says, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” So, they get married, Standish gets over it, and they all eat turkey.

Analysis: Everyone likes history better when it has a love story involved. Case in point - Titanic. (And they could have both fit on the door. Just saying.) In reality, historians don’t know if there really was any triangle between the political assistant, the military advisor, and the daughter of a shoemaker. This is what is known:

  • The major events from the poem like the Nemasket raid really did happen, but over many years instead of a few months.

  • Myles (correct spelling) Standish really did remarry when his first wife died after arrival in Plymouth, but he married a woman that came over on a separate ship about three years later. His first wife died very shortly before Alden and Mullins married so if he really did want Priscilla for his wife, he must not have waited long.

  • John Alden originally joined the colonists as a barrel mender and became a part of the standing military and a secondary governor. He sounded more ambitious than his literary counter-part.

  • Priscilla Mullins was one of the only members of her family to survive the voyage on the Mayflower and married John Alden when she was about 19 years old. They had at least 10 children, one of whom grew up to be accused during the Salem Witch Trials.

Blame It on the Victorians: Longfellow was a descendant of the Aldens and claimed the story of the love triangle was a family legend passed down through generations. An upside to all of the fame his poems gained by being more dramatic than historical is that Longfellow used some of his fame towards his support for the abolitionist movement. Focusing on a positive here.

Last Thoughts: “Didn’t it reeeeeeeeally happen that way, Grandpa?” Ever seen the Elmer Fudd cartoon where he’s John Alden? Huh. Huh.

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Reviews: The Perfect Gift For Your Favorite Indie Author

You want to get something for that special someone whose book you bought from a local festival or convention. You loved this book (or even just kinda enjoyed it) and wish could give back to the person who put so much time, blood, and tears into telling a story. Good news: you can without spending money or even having to creepily stalk said author.

Write a review.

Reviews are how independent authors get traffic to websites, recognition from peers, and interest in their future work. You might not think that writing a review is really important if it was something you liked. Look at Yelp - most people just go on their to complain. But in a social media obsessed society, you need to record the good with the disappointing.

Below is a list of places for book reviews are that helpful because its where other people go to read about a book they are curious about. Even if you only liked a part of the book, say there was a character you loved, but a scene you thought was too slow, then write the truth. Help out the local authors in your community by giving them a voice online.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble - These 2 seem obvious, but indie author books are available on these platforms, but can get less notice without a community behind them. That’s where reviews come to the rescue.

Goodreads - This is the ultimate in book recommendation websites. You can write whole summaries, send book links to friends, and, of course, write reviews.

BookBub - If good reads is overwhelming with its massive database, this new website for primarily ebooks is not just good for reviews, but also if you are looking for new book samples to read.

Online sources of your local newspaper - Sometimes, the local news will want the opinions of the people posted on their message boards or in response to editorials. At times, especially in the midst of gift-giving holidays, this can include the work of independent authors and artists.

Your Own Personal Social Media - If you are comfortable, post on your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog, or whatever social media outlet you are currently addicted to. A review or book recommendation doesn’t have to be long to help an independent author.

All Saints' Day

In the Southwest, Mexico, and some Latin American countries, today is best own as the first day of El Dia de los Muertos, but November 1 also has it’s background in All Hallows Day or Hallowmas.

In Medieval Europe, Halloween lasted three days - All Hallows Eve on the 31st of October, All Hallows Day on November 1, and the Feast of All Souls on November 3 - which were all meant to be days to honor the death and keep one’s own morality in mind. Halloween was part of a Pagan day of harvest. What started as Samhain, a day when the veil between the spirit world and the mortal world was dangerously thin, became a Christian holiday of remembrance. The recently deceased were the most cared for in these celebrations, hoping their souls weren’t lost in Purgatory. All Saint’s and All Soul’s days are for visiting graves, feasting in honor of the dead, and, of course, remember all of those obscure Catholic saints who died in very creative ways.

So what’s with the history lesson, you may ask? I just wanted to point out that, even if you aren’t Catholic, your Halloween celebrations do not need to end just yet. Sacrifices aren’t just for on Halloween, you know. The powers that be need to know that you are serious about your tributes.

So, make a pretty wreath from the bones of your enemies and place it on Grandma’s grave. She will like to know you’re thinking of her even after Halloween is over. And while you are at it, say a prayer to St. Dymphna. Her story sucks. Look it up if you dare.

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Character Study - The Orginal Final Girls

“The Final Girl”  is a phrase for slasher movie heroines who gets to kill the big bad and survive at the end. Long before we had Jamie Lee Curtis and slow moving serial killers, we had Victorian pillars of virtue who got to kick a little ass in their own way. Okay, so they don't really fit the true description of the "Final Girl" trope, but let's give a hand to the earliest of the horror story heroines who didn't just faint and wait to be rescued.

The Woman in White: Marian Halcombe

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins isn't really a horror story, it's more of a psychological mystery about how women's lives were effected by greedy men a time when they had very few legal rights. Collins, a good friend of Charles Dickens, also managed to fill the story with a number of murders. Marian is one of the heroes of the tale. The less-wealthy and therefore less-eligible for marriage female character compared with Laura. Laura is Marian's beautiful and sweet half-sister, the perfect Victorian woman. She is also the antithesis of the headstrong and intelligent Marian. As her sister is caught between her love for the very-good art teacher Walter Hartright and the evil plans of murderous men, it's Marian who has to help Walter to unravel the mystery. She is the one who overcomes grief to take charge of a situation that women did not handle in that time. I do not want to give away the mystery, but Marian is fantastic female character and the book is one of my favorites.

Dracula: Mina Murray Harker

I will always defend Mina Harker no matter how anyone interrupts this book. I have read Bram Stoker's tale of horror many times and I say Mina was, by Victorian standards, a strong character. Yes, Mina is a demure lady who sweetly stands by as the start of the vampire's terror effects her life. But once Mina is aware of what is happening, she's the one who asks the right questions and wants to put a stop to it. She takes care of the ailing Jonathan Harker when he returns from Dracula's castle, she agrees to be the center of the dangerous climax, and she is one of the few characters that Van Helsing shows respect to. She's brave and loyal and not the stereotypical Victorian damsel.

The Phantom of the Opera: Christine Daae

Forget the musical where all she wants to do is cry and hide. In the original Gaston Leroux novel, Christine is trying to be logical and caring while protecting her childhood crush and adult love interest, Raoul. Yes, she has compassion and an interest in the Phantom (a.k.a. Erik). But she is also trying to be in control of her own life and find a way out of the trap her “music teacher” set for her (by tricking her into thinking he was an angel sent by her late father which is a psychological mess I’m just not going to get into). It's she that rescues everyone in the story through sacrifice and kindness, but she also has a will and a mind of her own. Even Raoul cannot control her or make her his little "housewife". In the book, Christine is, for lack of a better word, sassy. She does what she has to do in order to survive and keep others safe without compromising her own opinions.

The String of Pearls: Johanna Oakley

Another example of how the musical differs from the original book. The String of Pearls, later re-titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, was a penny dreadful primarily from the point of view of Johanna Oakley, the fiancee of a sailor who asks the help of his friends to find him. We don't know for certain who wrote this story that made the infamous Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett the legends of nightmares and farce. What we do know is that, although not the greatest work in English literature, the fantastical story places the characters in several horrifying situations including the insane asylum and in the clutches of Todd himself. What makes Johanna a badass isn't simply her gathering the characters to help her find out the truth of what happened to her boyfriend, but how she herself finds out. She disguises herself as a boy and takes a job in Sweeney Todd's shop when no one else will investigate. C'mon. For a woman in a novel written in 1846 that's pretty cool.

 

Pictures: Top Left hand Side: Marian of The Woman in White, Bottom (from left to right): Mina of Dracula, Christine of Phantom of the Opera, Johanna of The String of Pearls

Pictures: Top Left hand Side: Marian of The Woman in White, Bottom (from left to right): Mina of Dracula, Christine of Phantom of the Opera, Johanna of The String of Pearls

Sahuaro Ranch Park

Another Arizona location which will appear in an upcoming FSF Publication is Sahuaro (Saguaro) Ranch Park.

This large piece of land situated between a public library and a community college was, as the name would suggest, a ranch at the turn of the 20th century. Instead of tearing it all out to build a suburban neighborhood (which was the fate of many ranches in the Phoenix area including one that will play a major role in a new book coming out by our own Kira Shay), this one was preserved as a park.

When I was a kid, the playground equipment was pretty lame. It was a lot of concrete tubes and broken swings. However, you came as a kid for list of other reasons.

1) Peacocks. Those beautiful bastards were (and still are) all over the park. They run it, like a long feathered mafia that likes to poop on everything. And they were just too gorgeous not to stare at. It was also fun to watch them peck at the idiot children who got too close.

2) The trees. Holy crap! There were trees! Trees that grew things like oranges and pecans and were perfect for climbing which we all tried to do despite the very clear signs and stern security guards.

3) Snow cones. There was always a dude selling snow cones from a wheeled cart. I’m sure there still is.

4) Crashing a stranger’s wedding. The park is a popular location for weddings due to it’s well-tended rose garden and old fashioned atmosphere. The park was usually pretty good as keeping us kids away from the festivities, but that didn’t mean we didn’t try to take a peak. Interestingly, I would be the maid of honor in a wedding at that park in my adult life, probably being spied on by some kid I didn’t know.

5) The Houses. About 1/3 of the park is made up of the original buildings from the ranch, protected by historical laws. There are two fantastic Victorian style homes, a more common style ranch house, many shed/storage buildings, and an outhouse. I had been in these houses once or twice in my childhood back when tours were rare (now they are a pretty common part of the park’s income). When I was nine or ten, I met a woman who had lived in the house as a little girl. I remember her be a twig, wrinkled and a little bent, ancient to my eyes. She was standing in a room staged to look like that of a little girl and wore a beaded flapper dress. Despite her frail appearance, she snatched my arm and held me in place in order to whisper in my ear, “When I was your age, I had a pony.”

Other than being touched, which was one of my least-favorite things at that age, this somewhat un-nerving meeting made me happy because I was convinced the houses were haunted. Creep little old ladies were perfect for my own imagined ideas of the ranch. My friends and I would run around the houses in circles, peering in windows and marveling at shadows on the floors. I wanted so desperately to see a ghost in those hallways that I even once tried mashing pecans into oranges which had fallen off the trees (you weren’t allowed to pick anything) and left them at offerings. Yeah… I don’t get it either. I was a kid. I think I just assumed that pecans and oranges were a sign of good faith or something.

Honestly, and a little regrettably, I no longer think the park’s historic buildings are haunted. Every few Octobers, the local news will print something about volunteers seeing a man in a suit walking through the orchard or the proverbial “woman in white”. However, considering that they only peddle theses tales when they are good for business, I find them highly suspect. Sorry, nine year old me.

If Arizona or WWII history interests you, order your copy of Fair to Middling by Kira Shay here.

In Defense of The Turn of the Screw

Fine, Henry James! Just fine! You win! I give in! Turn of the Screw is a fantastic ghost story and I will defend it. . . but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Brief History: Henry James wrote this novella after hearing the story of Hinton Ampner, an English manor that reported at least two ghosts from several occupants before being torn down. The Turn of the Screw is told as a memoir from a now dead (and unreliable) narrator. This narrator is a former governess who had the job of caring for Miles and Flora, the orphaned niece and nephew of a sexy rich man who has no time for them. At a home in the country, far from the uncle, the governess discovers the 2 delightful kids, but is curious as to why Miles has just been kicked out of boarding school. She also learns the cryptic tale of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, the guardian's valet and kids’ first governess. Prior to their deaths, Quint had managed to worm his way into a scandalous relationship with the upper class Miss Jessel and become a corrupting influence over Miles. The mystery gets darker and darker as the governess starts to realize that the children at times portray secretive, almost adult-like attitudes. She believes she can see the ghosts of Quint and Jessel searching for Flora and Miles. Whether her story is truth or madness within her own head is never told, but I won't spoil the ending beyond that.

Analysis: How do you make creep-tastic children even creepier? Never fully tell the reader why they are creepy. The question stands throughout the story as to whether the ghosts are real or a delusion brought on by Victorian repression. I seriously could not even begin to analyze this story. It's been hashed out a billion times in the last century. Questions of if the ghosts weren't real, why did the children behave the way they did? Were they abused by the previous governess and Peter Quint? And if there were no ghosts, why does the ending occur the way it does? However, if the ghosts aren't supposed to be real, why did James state that he was inspired by a supposedly haunted house? Or maybe it's both - the ghosts are real and the governess is nuts.

Blame It on the Victorians: As a kid, I watched The Heiress with my mom and decided I hated Henry James. Let's face it, at the age of 10 you might not want the jerk to win, but you still want the main character to be happy. As an adult, I realized that James was trying to make a lot of points about women of money and men of morals in his world. He created so many characters who were misused by the people around them in ways that were very common of the time. In Turn of the Screw, you have an intelligent woman who honestly cares about the children in her care, but when she senses something is wrong their uncle won't believe her. The other woman on the property, the housekeeper, at least trusts the main character to a point. Also, so many of James's other novels are straight about society (What Maisie Knew is one of the first books about divorce from the point of view of the kid), but it practically a requirement that all Victorian authors write at least one ghost story. Ghosts were totally in fashion in those decades.

Last Thoughts: There are over 30 TV/Movie versions of this, many under different titles - and I've watched about half of them where it took me 10 minutes to realize that I was watching The Turn of the Screw. . . again.

Character Study: The Typecasting of Vampires

I confess that I tend to stick with older vampires novels then new. Yes, I did read Twilight and, of course, the Vampire Chronicles (Anne Rice- I salute you). However, I get tired of the brooding, sexy vampire. Sorry Angel and Spike. You know I loved you once. 

So here is a list of truly monster ohs blood sucking fiends: 

Lord Ruthven of John Polodori’s The Vampyre is sort of a cheat for this list. Yes, he’s a sexy monster, but he is not brooding. He is a confident and devious hunter who the reader never feels pity for. He had been created the same opium-induced night one of my idols, Mary Shelley, first conceived of Frankenstein and his creature. Rumor has it that Polidori based the predator of women and men upon his “friend” Lord Byron. It makes sense. Both had a habit of using people up for their own pleasures.

Any vampire designed by Gueriermollo del Toro makes this list because they are ugly, gruesome harbingers of death. Enough said. 

Lilith, first wife of Adam from Hebrew mythology, is imagined somewhat vampiric in this bizarre tale by Victorian fantasy writer George MacDonald. The book takes place in a version of purgatory where Lilith feeds of the innocent along with her blood sucking tiger. She is beautiful but seems so awful as to be unredeemable. And yet Adam and Eve who occupy the same the world are in a battle to save her. It’s all very allegorical and philosophical, yet makes Lilith pretty darn scary.

The 1922 silent film Nosferatu introduced the world to Count Orok, the twisted, pointy eared equivalent of Dracula (there was a copyright battle with Bram Stomer’s widow). He is a legendary beast, designed by the oldest vampire folklore. He is not handsome or suave. He is a demon with a plan, not a lovelorn and conflicted baddy. 

The Superstition Mountains and the Elvis Chapel

East of Phoenix is the mountain range of legend. A place of Apache legend, lost gold, and Elvis. 

The Superstitions were once thought by the Apaches to contain a hole to the underworld (which may be why a retirement community was built so close to it). The range is beautiful and popular with hikers, for reasons I will never get. People die or disappear on those hikes all the time. I think it’s the rattlesnakes. They’re more devious than people realize. 

Okay, it’s probably not the rattlesnakes. It’s probably the ghost. That’s right - I said ghost.  

The most famous tale of the mountains (and the main reason so many people get lost up there) is that of the Lost Dutchman Mine. Jacob Waltz (who was German not Dutch but whatever) died in 1891 claiming her had discovered a crud-ton of gold in them thar hills. Gold which no one has ever found. Dun dun duuuuuunnnnn! 

This story is so popular that there is an entire pioneer museum dedicated to it. Okay, the museum is really about the history/geology of the mountains, must most people go for the Lost Dutchman exhibit or the Elvis Chapel.

I kid you not. The museum includes several buildings and equipment from the mining town days of Apache Junctuon, this little white church was moved to the museum strictly because of the role it played in the film Charro! If you go, you may pray as much as you wish to a cardboard cutout of the King of Rock and Roll. If you show true reverence he may grant you a pair of new blue suede shoes.

Both the mountains and the Chapel will play a roll in a new upcoming book from FSF Publications .

 

In Defense of The Pit and the Pendulum

Brief History: Once, a long time ago in a land called the United States, Edgar Allan Poe was reading a very historically inaccurate book about the Spanish Inquisition and thought, “I’m going to put that in a story.” The tale's unnamed narrator describes his trial as a blur and without much detail. The reader does not even learn of what crime he's accused. A majority of the story takes place within his cell, his own private torture chamber. Each time he passes out he discovers new horrors have been added, leading up to the titular pit and the pendulum.

Analysis: This was a horror story not because it was supernatural or spooky, but because Poe described each and every emotion the narrator experienced with such truth. The situation is terrifying the reader experiences the situation alongside the tortured man. Also. . . rats. Rats are gross.

Blame it on the Victorians: This was written in the earliest years of the Victorian era, yet it should be pointed out that this time period was both extremely morbid and not interested in historical accuracy. Poe's people.

Last Thoughts: The Roger Corman movie version written by Richard Matheson and starring Vincent Price really has nothing to do with the original story. . . But I loves it!

Remember: Nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition!

Character Study - Hollywood and Ghosts

For this first list, I'm mainly looking at a couple of ghost films. There's a reason for this. Keep reading and you'll see. Also, I only picked films that as a writer I could also recommend watching for character study reasons.

Hollywood and the history of film in general has a strange relationship with ghost stories. Today we think of ghosts falling into the genre of horror with box office and critical successes like The Conjuring, the Others, and the Sixth Sense. But it was not always like this. 

Ghosts in silent and early talking film were usually comedies. The spirits were slapstick foibles meant to be an excuse for the hero to do silly double takes. This continued into the 1930s and 40s where witty ghosts humorously tortured the only human who could see them such as in the Topper films.

The other type of early ghost films would be more serious mysteries or dramas where the ghost turned out to be a living man in a mask. Think Scooby Doo where the owner of the abandoned amusement park actually kills people. There were naturally some exceptions, but most of those were not from the United States, for example Swedish film The Phantom Carriage (1921) which inspired Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick to be creepy.

So what changed ghosts from being comic fodder and murderers in masks? In 1941 Irish author Dorothy Macardle published Uneasy Freehold, an atmospheric and eerie ghost story that sold extremely well. Three years later it was made into a film under the U.S. title, The Uninvited. It’s the story of a brother and sister, Ray Miland and Ruth Hussey, purchasing a gorgeous house atop an English cliff. In doing so, they get to know Stella (Gail Russell), the daughter of the people who built the house. She is drawn to the house, even in adulthood, and the new owners must solve a mystery to save her life. 

But this is a character study and I promised you ghosts. What makes The Uninvited a shift in the genre was the way it handled its ghosts - one who cries and one who brings the cold. I don’t want to give away the mystery, but let’s focus on how these 2 ghosts have distinct personalities while barely showing them on screen.

The ghost who cries is, besides clearly being depressed, is established as gentle and having a clear connection to Stella. The ghost who brings the cold is established as violent and bitter. All of this is shown to the audience/reader through actions and sounds, not facial expressions or jump scares.

As a writer, showing instead of telling can be one of the most difficult tasks. But it creates a better bond with the character for the audience. They get to figure out the character on their own and that stirs up emotions. 

The Uninvited is somewhat forgotten now, despite it causing a shift in how to make ghosts scarier and complex without the cornball. Comedy ghost movies were still prominent in the 1940s/50s, but by the 1960s movie goers got goosebumps from films like Carnival of Souls, The Haunting, and The Innocents.

There was one where they combined the two idea: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), based on the book of the same name (but I confess the movie was better). In this film the ghost is a prominent character who establishes his personality the first time he laughs to frighten potential buyers away from the house he haunts. While this gruff sea captain spirit provides chills at first, he also is a part of the comedy of the story and his relationship with Mrs. Muir, the independent single mom who moved into his house, reveals his softer side. This is not a horror movie, but the ghost is not a joke. He's a former human who still has clear emotions and motivations.

Now let’s get to 1 modern film from a director who was inspired by The Uninvited: Guillermo del Toro ’s Crimson Peak. Again I am only focusing on the ghosts as a character study.

Within the film there are multiple spooks but only some are really given clear personalities. Both are seen on screen, but their character traits are based on what isn’t told outright. The first is the ghost of the former mistress if the house, Lady Beatrice, who had been killed by an ax while taking a bath. She is described as a harsh, strict, and abusive woman, yet this could come across in a description of her ghostly face. The way she sits in the bathtub with wrists up suggests her uptight attitudes. Her only words in the film are accusing and in no way helpful to the main character.

The other ghosts who gets to show some personality are three young women named Pamela Upton, Margaret McDermott, and Enola Sciotti. Instead of explaining their traits as presented in the film, watch it for yourself. Pamela Upton and Enola Sciotti have the most revealed about who they were when they were alive. What character traits do you find?

Have a Nice Trip - See You Next Autumn

Throughout September and October, the Vaughn blogs are going to change-up in honor of that most wondrous of times - the celebration of Halloween.

Some of the blogs will be the In Defense Of theme of the fairy tale blogs, but will focus on ghost stories and horror movies.

The other half of the blogs will be a part of a shameless promotion of a new book coming from FSF Publications, Fable of the Immortals. The book takes place in Arizona at several locations with their own superstitions and creepy stories and there will be blogs about traveling to these spots.

*Side note: There isn't really Autumn in Phoenix. There's slightly cooler weather and by November the wildflowers start to die. If you have some way to send Autumn to us, please do. Most people here think it only exists in Hallmark movies and Joann craft stores.