Review: Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand

One for the music fans amongst you: you may know Hand’s work from the Cass Neary stories (if you don’t know them yet, waste no time diving into Generation Loss and then jump into Available Dark and Hard Light). While Cass brings a punk sensibility to the rebel photographer’s life, this novella explores the harder edge of alternative folk music in the sixties. Wylding Hall is of course the place where the mystery happens and the narrative unfolds like one of those Behind the Music docos.

Blurb:

After the tragic and mysterious death of one of their founding members, the young musicians in a British acid-folk band hole up at Wylding Hall, an ancient country house with its own dark secrets. There they record the classic album that will make their reputation but at a terrifying cost, when Julian Blake, their lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never seen again. Now, years later, each of the surviving musicians, their friends and lovers (including a psychic, a photographer, and the band s manager) meets with a young documentary filmmaker to tell his or her own version of what happened during that summer but whose story is the true one? And what really happened to Julian Blake?

Like all of Hand’s books, it cracks right along with indelible images, told through the different voices of the band members and the others who become entwined in the tale. The mystery of what has really happened to Julian deepens as the ‘eye witnesses’ of course don’t agree — and don’t see the same things. There’s a familiarity with the music world that will satisfy fans (showing Hand’s encyclopedic knowledge of the field with such touchstones as Brian Jones’ The Pipes of Pan in Joujouka), a touch of the supernatural (or is there?) and a lot of emotions boiling under the surface of a tight-knit group, as you would expect. All of which makes for great fun.

Some snippets:

On folk songs: ‘It’s a kind of time machine, really, the way you can trace a song from whoever’s singing it now back through the years—Dylan or Johnny Cash, Joanna Newsom or Vashti Bunyan—on through all those nameless folk who kept it alive a thousand years ago’

‘He reminded me of Syd Barrett. Oh god, I thought, another fucking acid casualty.’

“Burna thyn haer yn flamme Tiss wrennas fedyr and thyn hatte blod.”

‘As soon as he opened his mouth and began to sing, the room fell quiet. Not just quiet: dead silent. I’ve never seen anything like it. Like a freeze-frame in a movie. Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Nobody breathed. I know I didn’t, not for half a minute. It sounded as though he were whispering the song into your ear.’

‘Truth is, often Lesley got the fuzzy end of the lollypop. Didn’t get enough credit for the songs she wrote or the arrangements she came up with, didn’t get credit for how much of our live performances she carried.’

wylding-hall-hardcover-by-elizabeth-hand-2753-p

Interview: Dana Fredsti, Murder for Hire

mfh-195x300Connie Garrett knows that a trenchcoat and a fedora don’t make a detective. She’s the co-founder of Murder for Hire, an acting troupe that specializes in spoofing, not sleuthing. When MFH performs at a sleepy coastal community’s mystery gala, celebrating the works of a famous hard-boiled mystery writer, the bodies start stacking up, and Connie finds herself on the case whether she likes it or not. Now Connie is committed to solving the murders while trying to keep both the show-and her love life-afloat.

Was this story inspired by your own acting experiences?

Murder for Hire was definitely inspired by real life events. My best friend and I had a murder mystery oriented theater troupe in San Diego many years ago (I will not say how many, other than to admit that I had to actually add cell phones in by the time the book was first published). Many things in MFH actually happened, including a confrontation with a truly horrible woman who tried to get us fired from one of our jobs. She actually said that we’d ‘never work in this town again.’ She caused a lot of stress for us and our actors, so we decided to kill her. In a book, of course! So we wrote the first draft of MFH, which was rewritten several times over the years before actual publication fifteen years later.
God, I feel old now…

Is acting a good preparation for writing?

For those of us that like to write, I think it gives much experience to draw from. But I don’t think the crossover works for everyone because there are plenty of actors with no interest in writing and vice versa. Where I think acting experience really helps a writer is prepping them for public speaking and publicity. So many authors are introverts and find the whole process of promoting themselves and their works to be akin to torture. I personally love it, but when I first started acting I was a lot more self-conscious than I am now.

 What skills are similar?


Hmmm… the ability and delight in stepping away from the real world for a while and making it as real as possible to the readers/audience.

 So, are there any characters based on real experiences?

Well, see above for the woman who inspired MFH in the first place. Her name and appearance were changed to protect the innocent (that would be me), but at least one of her scenes pretty much followed the true to life version of it. A lot of the characters in MFH are based on real people. Some are conglomerations of two or more people. Some are completely made up. The two main characters, Connie and Daphne, were definitely inspired by me and Maureen (my best friend), but the difference between the first and final draft is very noticeable because I’d managed to achieve distance and perspective. Which made for a better book.

How would you compare writing this novel to writing the Ashley Parker novels?


Oh jeez… There’s no way to really compare because MFH was so closely based on real life events (and wish fulfillment ’cause killing off people who have been total asshats without fear of being arrested is AWESOME) that writing it was… well, it was easy. Mind you, it needed the rewrites it eventually got, but that first draft… I think it was a three-week process.

Come to think about it, I still kill off people who piss me off in real life in my novels… So as far as that goes, I enjoy it as much in my Ashley Parker novels as I did writing Murder for Hire.

Do you always start out with a clear plan or do you feel your way along with a story?

First draft of MFH was outlined. The murderer, though, did not cooperate and ended up being changed after the first draft was finished. That made for a better book because there were all these built in red herrings pointing to the character who was originally the villain. The first Ashley Parker book was not outlined beyond a page of ‘this happens and there are these characters and, and, and… zombies!’ Now that I’m working with Steve Saffel at Titan Books, everything has at least a basic outline. I still find some of the best ideas happen when I’m doing research and something will spark an idea that leads me down a completely different path than expected.

 Will there be more novels in this vein? 


I really want to finish the sequel to MFH. I started it quite a while ago and have three chapters waiting for me to get on with it.

What’s next for you?











I’m currently working on the first in new urban fantasy trilogy based on the Lilith mythos for Titan Books (which is, btw, a UK publisher), which is going to be released next year. I’m also working the first of a science fiction trilogy with my husband David Fitzgerald (an awesome writer!) that’s also being published by Titan Books. It’s called TimeShards. I’m stoked (that’s my Southern Cal surfer gal coming out there) about both series. Additionally I’ve got a story coming out in the latest V-Wars anthology, edited by Jonathan Maberry (he also writes the wraparound stories for the books), as well as a story in the upcoming Joe Ledger crossover anthology Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, which is being edited by Jonathan and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and features characters from various authors’ universes interacting with characters in the world Joe Ledger.

What are some of your favourite crime stories or writers? Films that inspire? 

Not so much into crime stories as I am mysteries, really. Favorite authors off the bat: Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Marlys Millhiser, Juliet Blackwell, Terry Shames, Susan Shea, Lisa Brackmann… that’s just a start. As far as films? Classic film noir for the win as far as inspiring MFH!

 
Is writing better than acting?

And yes, writing is MUCH better than acting. I can wear pajamas and don’t need a boob job to do it!!!

Dana Fredsti is a novelist and screenwriter, B-movie actress, zombie aficionado, exotic and domestic feline advocate, swordfighter, wine lover and beach glass junkie. She writes the best-selling Ashley Parker series: Plague World, the sequel to Plague Town and Plague Nation, is available now from Titan. Murder for Hire is out now from Fox Spirit Books.

Cover Reveal: Satan’s Sorority

Behold the luminosity! Out October 13th from Number Thirteen Press, it’s Satan’s Sorority. Those devilish girls of Sigma Tau Nu — there’s simply nothing they won’t do!

“Forbidden books? Necromantic rites? Queer Sorority girls? I’m pledging Sigma Tau Nu!” — Carol Borden, Evil Overlord of The Cultural Gutter

“Seemingly sweet sorority sisters serve up sexy satanic surprises.” — S. L. Johnson

“I want to join Satan’s Sorority.” – Julie Beman, Professional Pollyanna & member of Chica Non Grata

Number 13

FFB: Picnic at Hanging Rock

PicnicathangingrockPicnic at Hanging Rock
Joan Lindsay (1967)

I think I may have vaguely known there was a novel behind Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I suspect not. So stumbling across it at the Oxfam Book Shop I was at once intrigued. My Vintage edition has a sedate, sepia-toned photographic cover that emphasises the genteel girls at the centre of the tale. I like how the first edition cover captures the fractured narrative. Weir’s film does a brilliant job of capturing the narrative, too.

I don’t know if I thought I’d find more answers than there are in the film; I love that the film doesn’t spell things out. At the heart of everything are many unknowable mysteries. What happened to the girls on that rock in 1900 is not as important to Lindsay as how the people around them cope with the mystery — or fail to do so. It’s not a spoiler to say that the girls’ disappearance is only the start of events.

The tale has the same leisurely pace as the film and much of it unspools with the same beauty and menace:

Miranda was looking at her so strangely, almost as if she wasn’t seeing her. When Edith repeated the question more loudly, she simply turned her back and began walking away up the rise, the other two following a little way behind. Well, hardly walking — sliding over the stones on their bare feet as if they were on a drawing-room carpet, Edith thought, instead of those nasty old stones.

The hostility of the English to the mysteries of the Australian landscape permeate their reactions, whether they’re trying to recreate a little homey countryside or just exploit the resources before leaving the land behind.

Of course the darkest parts of human nature show themselves in the wake of the disappearance. The hostility is sudden and strong, and the ripples of horror keep spreading.

As always, in matters of surpassing human interest, those who knew nothing whatever either at first or even second hand were the most emphatic in expressing their opinions; which are well known to have a way of turning into established facts overnight.

The one girl who is rescued imagines that her friends will be glad for her narrow escape, but when she returns to the school, their greeting is chilly to say the least:

There were no answering smiles, no hum of excited greeting. In silence the ranks broke to the shuffling of rubber-soled feet on the sawdust floor. Sick at heart, the governess looked down at the upturned faces below. Not one was looking at the girl in the scarlet cloak. Fourteen pairs of eyes fixed on something behind her, through and beyond the whitewashed walls. It is the glazed inward stare of people who walk in their sleep. Oh, dear Heaven, what do these unhappy children see that I do not?

It’s a slow build that gradually gathers speed, force and is ever so chilling. If you have the patience for the leisurely development, the payoff is several hard blows of horror that linger long after you’ve closed the book.

Just like the film.

See Patti’s blog for a round up of forgotten gems.

Film Review: Gone Girl

I wanted to make sure I saw this before NoirCon as people are bound to be talking about it. I’m glad I did, as I really enjoyed it. Though it may well fit under Anne Billson’s umbrella of preposterous thrillers, I didn’t mind and I am eager to read the book now. First can I say what a joy it is to see a film so full of women! Carrie Coon is terrific as the Nick’s twin sister, Kim Dickens is just amazing as the dry detective investigating the case, Casey Wilson, Missy Pyle — and where did Lola Kirke come from? Wow, she was great in a small role. Unexpected Sela Ward klaxon! Rosamund Pike finally gets a role that allows her to show her chops and not just stand around looking beautiful. Affleck surprisingly good; as my friend Maryann said, his blandness works particularly well for the role.

I can’t be sure exactly when it popped into my head but Larkin was there:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

A lot has been made about this film as a reflection of our paranoia about relationships in the modern world, but it isn’t just about romantic relationships. Nick and Amy never deal with the baggage they carry even though they recognise its weight. As Larkin’s poem also reminds us, “But they were fucked up in their turn/ By fools in old-style hats and coats”. How happy we are in this life depends a great deal on how much we’re able to chuck that baggage away.

Nick and Amy embrace it.

I don’t want to give too much away; I knew some of the twists going in, but fortunately not all. This isn’t a gimmick film that relies on twists to work; I look forward to watching it again and watching the twists come. I don’t tend to like Fincher all that much, his visual slickness skates over too much, but it fit the subject matter perfectly. This is a precisely contemporary film because it’s all about our consciousness of playing ourselves in public — online or in security cameras. As Vonnegut wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Because sometimes the façade can be deadly.

Plus: ginger cat FTW!