Book Writing

Not everyone wants to write a book.  A great number of people, however, do possess that desire.  Or that desire possesses them—that’s often more accurate.  For some it’s because they have ideas that feel compelled to share.  For others it’s the sense of accomplishment of having successfully strung together thousands of words and seen them encased between covers.  For still others it’s economic—books can be sold, and if done well, can become a living.  There are surely other reasons as well.  Since I read a lot, I frequently wonder about other authors’ motivations.  Often, I suspect, it’s because they underestimate how difficult it is to navigate this path to success.  You have to come up with an idea that is unfamiliar to your target readership—free advice: no book appeals to everybody—that has a hook that will make them want to read it.

I’ve read books where this hasn’t been thought through well.  Love them or hate them, this is what major publishing houses do well.  They figure out what likely will have appeal.  They make mistakes, of course.  Everyone does.  Still, they have a solid track record that makes them the hope of writers who have the burning need to, well, write.  One of the cases where this becomes an issue is where an author tries to be funny.  There is a lively market for humorous books, but if you’re trying to convey serious information but you find yourself cracking jokes along the way, you’re going to confuse, rather quickly, your readers.  What are you trying to do?  Make me laugh or teach me something new?  What should I prepare for when I pick up your book?

Don’t get me wrong—I clearly haven’t figured all of this out myself.  I do think that the combination of a doctorate (which teaches advanced research skills), and editorial work (which teaches how publishing works), should be a winning combination.  Ideally, anyway.  What I find is that it does make me approach books critically.  I look at the publisher.  I ask myself, what is this book trying to do?  You see, to read a book is to enter a relationship.  The book has an author.  That person is sharing what she or he has thought about.  By publishing it, they’re inviting you into intimate spaces.  That’s why I tend to be gentle in my book reviews.  I know the hunger.  I too feel compelled to write.  And if I don’t get the mix right, I would hope that any readers might, if they reflect on it, see that this is merely an awkward effort to begin a conversation.

Self Finding

I had occasion to peruse the Dictionary of American Family Names recently.  I realize that other people’s genealogy is generally boring, so I won’t provide the details, other than to say that “Wiggins” seems to be Breton in origin, way back when.  In any case, I checked my other ancestral names to find that they were either Germanic or unknown.  That made me feel a little special (an unusual feeling, to be sure).  I may be a mutt, but I’m a mutt with mysterious background.  Can you feel the mystique?  The thing about our origins is that they’re irresistible.  When I was still employed as an academic, one summer I was completely enthralled by the state archives in Madison and spent hours and hours researching—trying to figure out who I am retroactively.

This was before the need for horror films reasserted itself.  I was living the dream, employed in the profession for which I’d trained.  Or at least close enough.  At Nashotah House there was no real measure of academic productivity.  I was publishing at least an article a year and I had the draft of my second book written.  But who was it that had written that book?  What did I know about that person and where he’d come from?  My family names, at least until I get back to the inevitable Smith, are all pretty distinctive.  As a child “Wiggins” was a rare name, but it is the most common one from among my grandparents.  Perhaps all this Teutonic weight helps to explain my endless pondering.  Perhaps not.

Origins have always fascinated me.  The other day I was glancing over all the books on Darwin and Genesis that I had collected and read in those Nashotah House days.  Those were for the book that had never gotten written.  And names (and their origins) are all about identity.  Other people we meet want to know what we’re called.  Surnames, especially, convey quite a bit of information about us.  They might locate us geographically or ethnically.  It’s really a wonder that they’re not protected information.  Indeed, if you reveal too much genealogy online someone might be able to answer one of your security questions!  I suppose that’s another reason to keep your ancestry to yourself.  We do, however, take some of our cues for our identity from our names.  Family names aren’t generally chosen, except in cases of name changes.  And those can be tricky for those seeking to learn who they are.  Who am I? It depends on when you ask me.

Feeling Chilly?

David Cronenberg perhaps defies the tame image we tend to have of Canadians.  I know that’s a parochial thing to say, perhaps reflecting my lifelong admiration of those north of the border.  I even have Canadian family members, from back when it was possible to cross over without a passport.  In any case, David Cronenberg has always been a controversial director.  As the progenitor of “body horror,” his films are often not for the squeamish.  I nevertheless find him one of the more intellectual auteurs, and his movies leave me thoughtful.  One of his early films, Shivers, has long been on my syllabus of “must see movies.”  If you read my pieces regularly you also know that living on an Ed Wood budget, I can’t afford to pay for frequent films and have to wait for a free venue.  Thank you, Tubi, for obliging.

By the way, the poster here shows one of several alternative titles for the movie: “They Came from Within” (aka “The Parasite Murders”).  The film is pretty graphic body horror, but as scholars now focus on embodiment, it seems like this should be explored.  Set in an almost utopian island community, Starliner Towers, the movie opens by touting its perks.  Intercut with that is a graphic murder-suicide taking place within the paradisiacal apartment tower.  A parasite, as one of the alternative titles suggest, has been unleashed by what might be called a mad scientist.  And that parasite has two main effects—prompting orgies and violence.  (Hey, the official title of this blog is Sects and Violence in the Ancient World, after all.)

Religions, Christianity in particular, in the west, are often uncomfortable with the body.  In religious studies approaches to embodiment, it’s stressed that everyone has to reconcile themselves with what it means to be a physical being.  So much so that the mad scientist developed this parasite because he believed people thought too much.  They’d forgotten the mindless reality of bodies.  We’re sometimes uncomfortable being reminded of our bodily existence—at least those who perhaps think too much are—and that comes with both good and bad.  The interesting thing about the film is that it refuses to condemn the results of this experiment gone awry.  Everyone eventually falls victim to it (sorry if that’s a spoiler, but the film was released nearly half-a-century years ago).   Cronenberg is difficult to pin down, but his films, perhaps despite the message, always give me things to think about.

Hard to Say

There’s no easy way to say this, so I probably shouldn’t try at all.  Still, I feel compelled to.  You see, I’ve sat on admissions committees and I’ve written my fair share of letters of recommendation.  The former (admissions committees) have a difficult kind of calculus to compute.  Schools need students and their tuition money—this is, after all, the capitalist way.  (Yes, there are alternatives, but boards of trustees have severe deficits of imagination.)  Some schools get around this by being elitist.  Generally they have endowments of very old money and can weather all but the most severe of storms.  Such universities are in the minority and so the rest, and various small colleges, need to compromise from time to time.  Money or integrity?  You cannot serve both God and mammon.

At the graduate level this becomes even trickier.  Grad students bring in more money, and getting into grad school used to (and here’s the difficult part) require what some admissions folks secretly call “special intelligence.”  The paperwork and in-person interview reveal it clearly—this candidate (not always from a privileged background) displays a canniness that suggests they might really have a truly unusual ability to reason things out.  This is someone who should be admitted for advanced work.  But if you apply that principle not only will you be called “elitist,” you’ll also run out of lucre.  The solution is simply economic—let those who don’t have this kind of special intelligence in.  I have seen Ph.D.s after names from schools that I had no idea offered doctoral-level research.  And they legitimately call themselves “Doctor.”

When choosing a grad program—go ahead, call me elitist, but then interview me and see that it’s not true—I knew it had to be at a world-recognized research institution.  I ended up at Edinburgh, and my bubble was already deflated when I told family from western Pennsylvania and they supposed I was going to Edinboro College (now Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), located maybe 50 miles from where I grew up.  I had been accepted at Oxford and Cambridge, however, neither of them could offer scholarships to a penniless Yank, but the famously frugal Scots were far more generous.  And let’s face it, Scotland is more exotic than England.  You have to admit that much.  Of course, the deciding factor was, in my case, money.  You have to wonder if there’s any possible way of escaping it.  From all appearances, mammon wins.


Psych!  Yesterday was actually the vernal equinox.  And speaking of psychs, it was about the coldest morning jog I’ve had all winter.  (The equinox itself didn’t occur until 5:24 p.m., which is way it was the 20th instead of the 21st.  And I honestly can’t understand how that works since don’t you need 24 hours for night and day to be equal?  There’s a reason I went into the humanities.)  Interestingly, in the pagan Wheel of the Year, it was Ostara.  And the similarity of that title to Easter isn’t really coincidence.  (By the by, I discuss this to some extent in The Wicker Man, due out in September.)  Easter is, in essence, a spring holiday.  Ēostre, a germanic goddess of spring, seems to have been its namesake. 

First light comes suddenly, for those awake early enough to see it.  I keep a close eye on the diminishing darkness so that I can get out and jog in the twilight.  It will be too dusky to see and then suddenly it’s not.  Sunrise is like an epiphany each day.  From now on light will increase both morning and evening until the summer solstice, or Midsummer.  Between Ostara and Midsummer lies May Day, or, as it was also known, Beltane.  Beltane is the fuel behind The Wicker Man, or so I argue in my book.  Holidays are important.  More of them should be recognized.  If the pandemic taught us anything it’s that most of us probably work too hard.  At any rate, spring is now here.

The mornings are still below freezing, at least around here.  The winter never got very cold and we had very little snow.  Some would argue that it was more like an extended, chilly spring.  The light, however, was missing.  I spend a lot of time awake in the predawn hours.  There’s a stillness to that time that’s a daily gift.  Yesterday was a brief moment of balance.  Soon it will be time to start mowing the lawn and to do the endless weeding of summer.  Those will last until long after the other equinox, awaiting in September.  Climate change has assured us that the weather will be erratic, but the waxing and waning of the light is as old as the spinning of this weary planet.  We’ve entered the light half of the year.  Equinoxes remind us that balance is rare and should be appreciated when it arrives.  It’s worth making into a holiday once more.

Moments of Happiness

“When happiness shows up, give it a comfortable seat,” Fezziwig says.  I wonder just how much like old Ebenezer Scrooge I am—apart from the abundant money, of course.  This isn’t going where you expect, I promise you!  I don’t come across as a happy person.  I was forced out of my ideal career many years ago by Fundamentalists, and I struggle to keep my writing going.  That old rabbinic adage that you can’t be both wise and happy probably doesn’t help.  So I sit here worrying about the everyday cares and concerns of a sexagenarian (not as sexy as it sounds) and watching horror films to help me cope.  That doesn’t mean, however, that moments of happiness don’t appear.  When they do they shine bright and hot and shed enough light to help me make it to the next beacon that some thoughtful lamplighter has set ablaze.

For a birthday gift, we gave a family member a trip to see Cats live in Philadelphia.  Everything about that day comes back to me through rose-tinted lenses.  The worry and stress of driving in Philly—I’ve done it a few times and it’s always nerve-wracking.  Finding the theater, negotiating parking, finding a place to accommodate a vegan, a vegetarian, and an omnivore for lunch.  Locating seats only to discover they’re further back than they looked on the schematic map, and then the lights dim and the music begins and you’re in a different world.  All the worry and fear melt away.  Happiness has appeared and you know she’s sitting right next to you.  Even with evening Philly traffic still looming ahead and a drive when I’m beginning to feel drowsy, I’ve had an experience almost of a religious nature.

It’s no wonder that many early evangelical Christian leaders warned about the theater.  Live performances reach that spiritual place that weekly Sunday services only wish they could.  Of course, it helps that Cats is my favorite show—I’ve seen it live five times over the years.  It’s a show about happiness and finding redemption.  I’ve written before about the religious undertones to the musical, but here I’m thinking about how the day after always has a special glow.  Yes, the quotidian worries are still there.  The attempts to grow wiser and stay solvent.  The difference is that something transcendent—all the more valuable for being rare—has happened.  It has shaken me out of my comfort zone and my daily routine.  And I can’t wait for happiness to come knocking again.

Sleepy Once More

I think this is the last of my recent nostalgia reads for a while.  When trying to recapture the feeling of watching that first season of Sleepy Hollow without actually spending all the hours necessary to do so, the spin-off novels are a quick fix.  Keith R. A. DeCandido obviously has quite a bit of experience of writing novels that tie into pop culture.  Many of us were pretty enthralled and impressed in 2013 (already a decade ago!) when Sleepy Hollow first came on the air.  This literary member of what was an emerging new legend is a novelized episode that is slotted into season one, referring back to what had happened earlier in the season without betraying the cliff-hanger ending for the 2013–14 run. Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution is a guilty pleasure read and a jaunt back to a decade that now seems long ago.

Here the story involves an attempt to resurrect (one of the main themes of the show) the witch Serilda of Abaddon.  Serilda had her own night in the moon earlier in the series (the episode “Blood Moon” was dedicated to her).  This novel asks, what if a coven of her followers, one of them a former policewoman, tried to bring her back?  It does so by using historical scenarios—much like the series—such as Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, and impregnating them with magical subtexts.  Here there are congressional awards that have been secretly engraved with runes.  George Washington knows about them, of course.  When brought together they can transform Serilda into a real monster.  Remember, Moloch was still an active concern in the first two seasons of the show.  In the present day, these artifacts have been regathered by the coven, and you can guess that all Hades will break loose.

I often ponder how, with the series Sleepy Hollow, the story began to fall apart when the Bible fell out of it.  It was in the process of tying together great American mythologies such as Irving, Revolutionary-Era history, and biblical self-identification.  These formed a compelling net that brought in many viewers.  Season one ended with two of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse in Sleepy Hollow, and a third had been nodded toward earlier in the series.  Instead of finishing out that line of thought, the storyline dispensed with Moloch and gave the headless horseman a head.  The plot ran out of steam.  Books like this demonstrate that there was other fertile ground to plow.  Had the original conceit kept intact, we might still be watching it.  Of course, novels like this are good for reliving those days a decade ago.

Wicker Man Comes

Not that I would know bodily, but it seems like a book being published is something like giving birth.  It takes several months (perhaps years, in the case of books) from conception to delivery and there are certain milestones along the way.  And you worry like Rosemary.  Has something gone wrong?  Is this still going to happen?  The book production process is a long and complicated one.  Just this week, however, the next recognizable stage occurred for The Wicker Man.  An ISBN has been assigned and a new book announcement has fed out through various channels.  It’s not on Amazon just yet but a Google search of 9781837643882 will bring it up.  I’d been worried about this because I saw a new book announced on The Wicker Man due out in October.  This is the fiftieth anniversary of the film, and I suspected I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed that.

Ironically, another film turns 50 this year.  The Exorcist released in December of 1973 to far greater acclaim than The Wicker Man.  Both films became classics in their own right, but The Exorcist would become a household name.  Even if they’d never seen it, most people had heard of it.  The Wicker Man is more of a cult classic.  It’s known among horror fans and a certain kind of Anglophile.  And those interested in paganism, particularly of the Celtic variety.  Although the cover isn’t available yet, I was glad to see the feed for my book going out.  It looks like I might scoop the other book by a month or so.  If that happens it will be the first time that I’ve actually had a book on horror release before Halloween.  The last two missed the deadline by a couple of months.

Having said that, if you’ve had your appointment with The Wicker Man you already know, it takes place on May Day.  And you likely know that a large number of people claim it isn’t a horror film at all.  Indeed, the horror element only becomes clear in the last ten minutes or so.  It’s the build-up that makes the movie.  And it was really a one-film wonder for the director, Robin Hardy.  He did other movies, but this was the one that lasted, and spawned imitations and parodies.  It’s exciting to see that the discriminating, or very persistent, searcher can now find the book announcement online.  I haven’t seen much to-do about the 50th anniversary just yet, but now when I do I’ll have something to point to.  More on this to come!

Old Library Books

There’s a quiet joy to it.  Even if they have other people’s markings in them, books I obtain ex libris are among my personal treasures.  They bring back memories of reading library books—learning new things.  For a fleeting moment when reading my current used, ex-library book, I was taken back to a night long ago.  The youth group at my local United Methodist Church had occasional sleepovers in the church itself.  Despite being a small town, folks were okay with mixed genders (with chaperones, of course) doing this.  We were even allowed to go into the sanctuary at night.  Churches are scary places in the dark.  We would sit there and talk about nothing in particular, the way teens do.  And I always brought a book.

On one sleepover I was working on a term paper on—don’t laugh—vampires.  I’d been researching with the limited resources of Oil City High School’s library, supplemented by the Oil City Public Library.  I still remember the exact book I took along.  Although awaking ultra-early only developed with me during my commuting years, I’ve always been an early riser.  (The early teen, or tween, years excepted.)  I remember waking up before everybody else, returning to the sanctuary, sitting in our usual pew, and reading about vampires by the light of dawn coming through the windows (which were only modestly stained with off-whites and yellows).  And feeling profoundly happy.  Friends were asleep downstairs and I was curled up with a library book.  What more could you ask?

Many such memories linger as I age.  But my current reading of a marked-up library book brought something else to mind.  Many such books have marks near the beginning that quickly peter out.  As if most readers never made it past the introduction.  I’ve stopped reading a book or two in my time, but generally I need to get past page 10 or 20 before I’m willing to make that call.  I often find that a book’s introduction is one of the best parts—especially in academic books.  Authors try to draw you in with intriguing ideas and then, at least in my field, get technical once you reach chapter 1.  Honeymoon’s over.  The mind of the person, however, who marks up a library book and then suddenly stops intrigues me.  Perhaps I’m just feeling nostalgic this morning, but reading a withdrawn library book, with its soft pages and old book smell, is one of life’s great gifts.  Even if it’s not about vampires.

Human Capital, Are You?

Human capital.  Is there any more demeaning phrase?  Those in positions of political authority like to use the term.  To grow the economy, to people the military, to ensure the GDR Almighty surpasses each and every idol, we have to ensure the correct placement of our human cattle.  Oh, I mean capital.  I was recently reading about our rivalry with China.  The expert I was consulting noted that it all comes down to human capital.  With populations shrinking, this is annoying to those who want to measure nation against nation, back to back.  In China, it’s said, your fate is determined at a fairly young age.  And that made me wonder about late bloomers.  Like yours truly.  To see me up through at least fourth grade nobody would’ve supposed I was Ph.D. material.  (Considering how this all worked out, maybe they were right.)

Humans, if we’re honest, mature at different rates.  Some of us take decades to learn what we’re good at.  This may be a problem endemic to the poor—kids who are raised by parents that are uneducated and don’t even know about things like after-school classes and clubs to enhance the experience of growing up.  Or if they do know about them, can’t afford them.  They raise their children to be blue collar in mentality.  Of course, capitalism relies on this.  You need human capital to collect garbage and dig ditches.  To people the military.  I often wonder how many of these folks might’ve been (and still could be) hidden geniuses.  You see, when I grew up working as a janitor in my middle school, during the summers, I listened to the hourly employees as they talked.  It wasn’t all about women and alcohol.  No, some of them were untrained philosophers.  I learned that I wasn’t the only human capital that thought deep thoughts while running a floor stripper.

The very concept of human capital ensures that some potentially world-changing kids will be overlooked and slotted where “society needs them.”  If we would educate ourselves more our world could become a more equitable and pleasant place for the 99 percent.  Instead, we keep the capitalist machine fed, nations comparing one another’s capabilities.  China may use balloons creatively, but we can be assured that all developed nations are surveilling their neighbors, assessing how they’re using their human capital.  All I know is that I grew up destined to work as a janitor, but the thoughts in my head wouldn’t stop.  And one mentor, who worked for a church, decided to show me the way.  How I wish I could help others escape, but there’s some comfort in being part of a machine.

Which bit are you?

Handle with Care

It reminds me of that old Traveling Wilburys’ song, “Handle with Care.”  Hate is a strange and dangerous motivator.  It’s something that makes me consider demons as a real possibility.  Having experienced Zoom bombing during an online meeting about racism, I was greatly saddened.  The distress the bombers caused in just a few minutes was truly saddening.  With white supremacist comments and ideology, they seemed to have nothing better to do than to ruin the day of twenty-some people who want to make the world a better place for all.  I was reminded of a video that Arnold Schwarzenegger had posted earlier that same week.  The link is below and it is worth twelve minutes of your life.  I’ve been impressed by how Schwarzenegger has been using his influence to combat the evils of Trumpism, although himself a Republican.  Of course, he has a backbone that many elected officials lack.

As an Austrian, Schwarzenegger is aware of the damaged lives that Nazism left behind.  There’s no glamour here, just pain left behind for all.  We’ve unfortunately suffered through four years of leadership based on the rhetoric of hatred that has rubber-stamped this kind of thinking.  It will take many years to recover, if we ever do.  And the internet, for all the good it does, also offers a venue for those who find hateful activities enjoyable.  I do wish there were a way to channel such people to Schwartzenegger’s video.  It is the moral responsibility of the strong to protect the weak.  We have millennia of history to back that up.  What’s so hard about live and let live?

Opposites don’t always hold fast, but love certainly is the antithesis of hate.  One of the things watching horror movies has done for me is to reinforce what happens when hatred is allowed to take control.  The best of the genre contains morality that reinforces that those who love overcome while those who hate never end up in a happy place.  No belief system that promotes superiority is worth investing in.  There will always be those with nothing better to do than to trawl the internet to troll those who try to make the world a better place.  As a society we can reject such behavior and attempt to help those who are motivated by hatred.  The damage caused by hate is real.  Actual human beings are destroyed by it, and for no reason.  Many of us, most, I suspect, think love is the ultimate good.  We must do what we can to try to help those who disagree, no matter what certain political leaders espouse.  The Wilburys were right, all people deserve to be handled with care.

Content Creation

Those who know me know my stand on books.  I’m pretty much defined by them.  I hope my blog makes that clear.  I’m always amazed, however, when someone happens across my little fissure in the internet and offers to send me a book, if I’ll mention it here.  That’s happened probably on an average of once a year over the past dozen or so that I’ve been doing whatever it is I do here.  It’s one of the perks of being a “content creator.”  I know it may sound odd, but being a content creator is a viable career these days.  Not for me—I don’t have nearly enough followers—but for the younger, prettier, or smarter, it is a way of virtually being in the world.  Or being in the virtual world.  I don’t think that means that books are passé.

In fact, I turn down offers to read free ebooks.  I spend all day at work on a computer and when I can finally turn it off, I generally pick up a book.  (Unless the lawn requires attention, or it’s garbage day, etc.)  The  thing about reading is that you have to make time for it.  For a “content creator” I’m not in love with spending all my time online.  I don’t use my phone much at all and I find a paper book in hand to be comforting.  I’m glad to write about those I’ve read in my little fissure here.  And since I sit on the editorial side of the desk, I think that increases my appreciation of books even more.  But honestly, I wouldn’t mind making a little income on what I spend so much time doing.  Maybe reading to keep out of trouble could be a job?

Content creation is like a sponge filter feeding.  You suck in the culture around you, drawing what’s useful into your brain.  Then you make it unique to your perspective and if enough people think it’s worth seeing/watching/listening to, advertisers will begin to swarm.  Or, in my case, they might send books with the hopes that someone will actually read this blog.  And the senders obviously have—at least a little bit—so does this make me an “influencer”?  Whether or not it does (or doesn’t) I do end up, when the day is through, one book up in the equation.  And that’s a good thing, given my stand on books.

Silicon or Paper?

Most of us follow blindly through this tech jungle.  We do it, I suppose, because there are rewards for having the world of information and entertainment at your fingertips.  The problem is that the constant upgrades are expensive and as you approach retirement age—even if you can’t afford to retire—you have to keep spending in order to meet your tech needs.  A few years ago I purchased an app because apparently my laptop was running too slowly.  I do tend to have more than one app open at a time, I confess.  Maybe too many.  But apps take up so much operating memory these days that you can either constantly quit and reopen (if you have a mind like mine) or you can upgrade.  And even then you’re not sure of what you’re doing.

I’m old enough, you see, to remember having to load the program you wanted to use via floppy disc when you booted up.  We all assumed the swapping of discs was the price you paid for being able to, say, type a dissertation without using white-out all the time.  Then we started hearing these rumors of an “internet” with “email.”  I found my first (and it turns out, only) full-time professorship via letter.  Delivered by the post office.  A friend wrote to me about the opening and I sent a fateful letter of inquiry to Nashotah House.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I’ve kept much of the paper of those early days.  The movers always complain that I’ve done so, but I’m between worlds.  I was born in a paper world and I don’t trust this electronic one.  That’s why I still buy physical books.  I’ve had too many devices die on me.  And now I keep only one or two apps open at a time, and forget to look at the stuff on the others—I keep them open to remind me.

It is a jungle, this virtual world.  We like to think it’s civilized but what do we really know?  So I deleted the app that pops up telling me that one app open at a time is too taxing for my computer’s memory.  Then I remembered that I pay an annual fee for such annoying reminders.  I had to reinstall and await the notices again.  Yes, some of my files are big.  I write books, and that’s just the way it works.  So I put up with those yappy reminders because, well, it’s better than swapping discs a dozen times just to type a sentence or two when I have time.

Love’s Life

One of the things about literary classics is they open themselves to reinterpretation.  It’s often a lot of fun to trace these.  Andi Marquette is obviously an educated writer.  Her The Secret of Sleepy Hollow is one of those reinterpretations that has a unique take on the tale.  Set in modern times and featuring a member of the Crane family—Abby—as a graduate student, this story brings the tale into a contemporary context.  Abby meets another graduate student—Katie—in Sleepy Hollow and the two fall in love.  It turns out that Katie is a member of the Van Tassel family, thus bringing the two main families of Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” together again.  There’s even a headless horseman.

Like the biblical book of Ruth, this is a gentle tale of women’s love.  There’s no overt violence, no heads get chopped, but two women love and care for one another.  Many of the more modern repackaged versions of Sleepy Hollow tend to go for the violent, sometimes drug-fueled tales of bored youth in a small town facing an angry ghost.  Here the interest is more literary, a gothic romance.  The fact that it’s a lesbian love story makes me wonder why so many people have trouble with others’ love lives.  People are prone to curiosity about sex—that’s a simple fact.  What isn’t so simple is that mores based on culturally specific ideas from millennia ago don’t stand the test of time and yet cause misery in modern lives because they can’t accept what we now know—sex and love are anything but simple.

Marquette’s book is marked by that anxiety.  When people discover a love that’s often misunderstood, they face ridicule or worse.  The book of Ruth provides a good guide here—the acceptance of a normally forbidden love can bring good and happiness to people in what is often a difficult world.  There’s trouble enough—there are headless horsemen out there—that we don’t need to be causing more by judging the loves of others.  Even a cisgender heterosexual can understand that.  Life is complicated and we all try to find our way through.  Love is one of those things that can help to make it more bearable.  I found The Secret of Sleepy Hollow compelling in that way.  It may not be a literary classic—few books are—but it takes on a complex topic intelligently and with heart.  It’s a new take on an old story that still fits the modern world.

Monster Bride

I’ve been taken with Ed Wood lately.  It’s quite possible, lost somewhere in my memory banks, that I saw one of his movies as a kid.  If I did it would’ve been Bride of the Monster.  Just in case I hadn’t, I decided to watch it again.  As I’ve noted about Wood before, I admire someone who persists in the face of constant criticism.  Someone who refuses to back down, even if they end up alcoholic and dying too young, in poverty.  Now he’s coming to his deserved recognition.  Even if his movies weren’t intentionally bad, when I laugh out loud I’m not laughing at Ed Wood.  No, it’s the absurdity of fame and the price it both expects and exacts.  Wood paid that price and now that it’s too late he’s grown a considerable fan base.  Or maybe it’s never too late.

Bride of the Monster brings Bela Lugosi back to the screen as a mad scientist.  Rejected and mocked (I’m sure some of this was personal), he locates an isolated swamp house from which he plans his revenge on the world.  He’s somehow managed to build a nuclear reactor in his hidden lab and he intends to make a race of giants to conquer the earth.  Naturally enough, he starts with an octopus.  As the story unfolds, we learn that he was also responsible for the Loch Ness Monster.  He’s employed a human (but somehow bullet-proof) henchman, Lobo, to help him in his quest.  When a nosy reporter and her police detective boyfriend get involved, well, you might imagine the results.

The stories behind Ed Wood films, it seems, are as entertaining as the movies themselves.  This one, for example, has as its protagonist an acting unknown (Lugosi was the name draw).  Tony McCoy was the son of the owner of a meat-packing plant.  He received the lead role as part of his father’s stipulations for funding the movie.  Another stipulation was that it had to end with an atomic explosion (which it does).  Wood would go to any length to see his movies made, even agreeing to casting choices and plot points made by those who had no other connections to the film.  That’s part of the charm of Ed Wood’s movies—they were made to order.  And they demonstrate that deepest of human desires—to tell a story.  If I didn’t see this as a kid, I would’ve loved it if I had.