Paperback Nightmares

I’m not assertive.  My voice is not loud and even when I have strong opinions I like to let others have their say.  Those of us who’ve been beaten down too many times can be like that.  So it took a lot of courage to ask.  “Is it possible that Nightmares with the Bible might be issued in paperback?”  You see, I know that “academic” books almost always sell the copies they’re going to sell in the first year.  Some follow-up sales continue into years two and three, but beyond that it’s about done.  And I also know that when authors ask for a paperback it almost never sells as well (or even more poorly) than the hardcover.  I’m hoping the paperback of Nightmares will buck this trend because it published into the pandemic.  That was a game-changer.

When you’re worried about staying alive you might not feel like reading about demons.  Of course, what better time to do so is there?  Paperbacks are often produced, in academic settings, to appease authors.  I have long believed—and this flies counter to the orthodoxy of the publishing world—that if books were initially published in paperback and priced affordably they would sell better.  The fear is that the higher priced hardcovers wouldn’t be purchased by libraries.  Librarians would, oh tremble, purchase the reasonably priced paperbacks and rebind them for less expense than the stratospheric price put on a 208-page monograph.  Publishers are often afraid to try anything different.  Assured sales are a blessing that can be bankrolled.

I’m hoping, once the paperback comes out, to do some more promotional work on it.  This blog was started long before I had books to flog.  It’s free content for those who like the less sweet kinds of treats in the bowl.  I do appreciate the occasional free advertising I can do.  It’s my hope that there’s always something to learn offered with it.  Successful content providers can make a living doing it.  Others pay for the privilege.  I often ponder what will happen to this blog when I run up against the size limits of my WordPress account.  The next level up, commercial, is beyond my price range.  Perhaps, like a phoenix, it will be time to start all over again when that moment comes.  In the meantime I’ll reuse images as often as I can, because each new one takes a byte out of my account.  And when it’s all said and done, Nightmares will still be available in print. Hopefully in paperback next year.


Slow Running

It’s extremely slow.  In fact, you might think nothing is happening at all.  I mean the book publishing process, of course.  It takes a long time to read 60,000+ words.  Even longer if you’ve had a few poor nights of sleep.  And many people have to read it before it gets anywhere near a printing press.  Everything about writing a book takes time.  While everything in the outside world happens at an unbelievable pace—last year at this time there was no war in Ukraine, for example—the slow process of organizing thoughts, putting them into words, sending them to a publisher who has many, many other proposals and manuscripts to consider, getting it rejected once or twice, finally finding a publisher, making the requested changes, getting it copyedited and typeset, getting the files sent to one of the few domestic printers left (who have tremendous backlogs), then to the bindery, and finally shipped out to the warehouse—it takes years.

Centuries of work

Current events publishers can rush things through and it often shows.  Meanwhile the authors of all other books learn to wait.  And wait.  Often the payoff isn’t great.  (I’ve received no royalties at all for Nightmares with the Bible.)  So why do we do it?  Those of us compelled to write have many motivations, I suppose.   One is to expand human knowledge.  We’ve discovered something and we want to share it.  We want to inform and entertain.  Those of us who write fiction also hope that our ideas may speak to others.  Having the fiction piece accepted is a validation of our outlook and experience.  Those who do so well may be inflicted on future literature classes.  I still remember The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe.  We had to read it in twelfth-grade English.

None of my friends liked it.  It was a collection of short stories by Sillitoe, titled after the one story that is still his only real claim to fame apart from his novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.  The tale of an English boy’s alienation didn’t speak to the rural western Pennsylvanians of the late seventies.  One of my classmates disliked it so much that he drove his pencil through the runner’s image on the front cover in a kind of uncouth performance art.  Now as I experience trying to get short stories published (with a little success here and there, but no royalties), I can feel for Sillitoe.  Still, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” was made into a movie and has quite a few cultural references pointing its way.  Long-distance running, like publishing, is sometimes a slow process.  And at times you decide not to finish the race.  Or at least realize this race may last for years.


Consistency

Consistency.  Back in Wisconsin I belonged to a group of Hebrew Bible professors who read a book and got together to critique it.  We came from different schools—Marquette, Sacred Heart, Carroll College, and Nashotah House (me).  We took turns on different campuses and spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon discussing our selected title.  Soon one of our members, an Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Milwaukee, began to look at me right off and ask if the author had been consistent—my most frequent criticism was inconsistency.  It’s the way I think.  If is an argument is being made, or a story is being told, it has to be consistent in order to be convincing.  Recently I realized that this has carried over into my writing on horror.

The dream of many authors and auteurs is to establish a successful series.  Publishers and studios like them too.  Follow one success with another just like it, so the thinking goes.  People like to see how the story ends.  The longer a series goes, however, the more difficult it is to maintain consistency.  I’ve been noticing this in the articles I’ve been writing lately.  I follow the stories closely and inconsistencies creep in.  I noted this in a recent post about Dark Shadows and I wrote about it when looking at The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity franchises in Nightmares with the Bible.  I realize, just as my Bishop friend pointed out, that consistency is my problem.  Sometimes it gets in the way of enjoying the tale.  Deft authors and auteurs will tease you with it.  It’s part of the literalist mindset.

Being raised as a literalist, from my youngest days I learned that the story goes only one way.  The world, however, is much more ambiguous than that.  Stories have multiple points of view and endless iterations.  Not only that, but not even the author or auteur has the final say in what “really happened.” When I first learned of reader-response theory I was suspicious of it.  Even with a doctorate and teaching experience I was still looking for consistency.  Get the story straight!  But stories are crooked and queer and untamed.  They follow the imagination and defy literary convention.  Those that succeed best are remembered as classics.  The rest are nevertheless expressions of fertile minds with tales to tell.  I doubt I’ll ever get over my watching out for consistency.  I should, however, pay attention to that gentle teasing my erstwhile colleagues gave.  Relax and enjoy learning how it goes this time.


The Network

Although it’s not NBC, the New Books Network has quite a reach with academics.  That’s why I was glad they accepted my pitch for an interview about Nightmares with the Bible.  The interview is now live and can be heard here.  The experience of getting the interview made turned into quite a saga with my pitch going back to at least November, and acceptance coming early in January.  The actual interview was over a month ago and it was posted only yesterday.  I’m not naive enough to think it will boost the sales of a hundred-dollar book, but maybe a few more people will become aware of it.  Even in academia there are too many books published for all of them to get notice proportionate to the work that goes into writing them.

Some publishers are of the opinion that editors shouldn’t try to be authors.  Obviously I disagree on that particular point.  Author-editors share the ups and downs and know what it’s like to put in the work only to have a book disappear.  I haven’t received any royalties at all for Nightmares.  I have no idea how many copies have sold.  Many writers publishing into the teeth of a pandemic fall into the same category.  While trade books—including fiction—did remarkably well during the height of Covid-19, academic books languished.  Nightmares is, of course, its own kind of hybrid.  A monster, if you will.  Written for educated laity it’s packaged and priced for the academic monograph market.  That’s why I pitched it to NBN.  I’m glad to see the recording is now available.

Nobody writes this kind of book to get rich.  I’ve had friends ask me why I bother.  Believe me, that question occurs to me too.  Some of us have something to say but the auditorium’s empty.  The Bible’s at a low point outside a specific cross-section, and that cross-section generally doesn’t pay attention to horror.  Of course, that’s another reason I do this.  Bringing opposites together offers the world, even the staid academic world, something new.  Horror is at last being taken seriously by literary and cinematography scholars.  Some biblical scholars are realizing that apart from comforting words of love, and towering demands for justice, the Bible itself contains plenty of horror.  When unlike things mix, monsters are born.  I’m grateful to the NBN for taking a chance on my book.  If you’ve got some time, and the inclination, you can listen in here.


Masking the Devil

There are many books on the Devil.  In fact, entire horror movies such as The Ninth Gate are based on that fact.  Since writing a book on demons (Nightmares with the Bible), I read a few of the many.  I’ve continued to read some further since, and one of them is Luther Link’s The Devil: A Mask without a Face.  The first thing to note about this book is that it is the same as The Devil: The Archfiend in Art from the Sixth to the Sixteenth Century, as it was published simultaneously in the United States.  (The former was published in the United Kingdom.)  Many authors don’t realize that when you sign a publishing contract you’re selling the rights (the copyright) for your book.  Some publishers or agents will sell the rights in different territories to different publishers.  They don’t have to use the same title largely because, prior to Amazon it was difficult to buy UK published books in the US and vice-versa.  Now a lot of “buying around” happens so books published anywhere can be purchased anywhere.  (Except in authoritarian states.)

In any case, this book is a study of the Devil in art.  The UK subtitle, A Mask without a Face, focuses on the conclusions drawn, whereas the US subtitle is more descriptive of the contents.  There are a number of interesting points made by Link.  One of the most important is that of his conclusion—the Devil, in the biblical and theological worlds of the long Middle Ages, really isn’t so much a character or “person”as a representation of “the enemy.” His looks and actions depend on the circumstances.  As Link points out, to the Pope Luther was inspired by the Devil, to Luther the Pope was inspired by the Devil.  Both, Link concludes, were dealing with a mask without, well, a face. Further, since the Devil does God’s bidding, whether he can be considered evil or not must be questioned.

Another interesting point is the strange continuity and lack thereof that characterize the representations of the Devil.  Some of the continuities go back to an antiquity (such as ancient Mesopotamia) that had by lost by the Middle Ages.  There was no real avenue of transmission since who remembered Humbaba after the tablets of Gilgamesh had been buried for centuries?  This seems to point to what Jung would’ve considered archetypes.  Or it could be that the same things scare people across the ages.  The point of the book isn’t to be comprehensive, but it does make a good point.  Anyone accusing someone of being the Devil opens themselves to the exact same charge.


Not Really New

It’s called the New Books Network.  I have no idea what its stats are, but it is a place to get word out about your book that the academy has apparently overlooked.  I pitched Nightmares with the Bible to them some months ago and I recently had an interview about it.  I’ll keep you posted when it appears.  I suppose those who read this blog for the horror content sometimes think I may’ve forgotten about it.  The fact is I think of horror every day but there’s more to my psyche than just that.  This blog is a romp through part of what’s on my mind.  Sometimes it’s the quotidian horror of everyday.  At times it’s full of curiosity and wonder.  Sometimes I just trying to figure out how to work this thing.

So with the New Books Network.  I found out about it from an interview I heard with the guy who started it.  Funny—one interview leads to another.  He encouraged those listening to pitch their books.  I don’t have an institution to support mine, or students to have to buy a copy (and I’ve received zero royalties for it), so I figured what’ve I got to lose?  It was quite a nightmare (speaking of which) to arrange a time that worked for both interviewer and interviewee.  I think we rescheduled about half-a-dozen times, but then finally we both had a few free minutes together to chat.  Perhaps it’s a good thing I’ve been reading about the Devil.  

This was actually my third interview about this book.  Perhaps it’s a measure of how small the impact it’s had has been that I can recall each one so precisely.  You’ve got to start somewhere, so why not here?  The last question asked was about the next book.  I do hope I have a few more left in me.  I started writing early but publishing late.  Just because you write doesn’t mean people will read what you produce.  I find writing the most hopeful avocation ever.  Like a sower with his or her seeds, broadcasting them across the air, hoping they’ll land legible.  If there’s anything worth reading here there’s always the possibility it’ll be discovered someday.  That’s optimism with a glass half empty!  In any case, check out the New Books Network.  There are hundreds of books there to learn about.  And, I suspect, many authors who’d like the world to know what they’ve written.


Can You Recall?

While recently in touch with a colleague I’ve never met, I agreed to send along a filmography of my two horror movie books, Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible.  I tend not to read my own books after sending them to the printer.  Defensively it might be that I can say, “I know what I wrote,” but in reality it’s probably more a lack of self-assurance.  Writers often experience self-doubt and although you’ve convinced an editor and an editorial board you may still have your harshest critic to please.  Even though you’ve read the book many times through—at least fifteen each for these two books—you fear you might’ve overlooked something.  So it was strange trying to recall which films I’d actually discussed.  Or how many.

The latter point became clear in a recent review on Reading Religion.  Knowing how I went about piecing together Holy Horror, I’d forgotten just how many movies I watched and rewatched for it.  While it was never intended to be a comprehensive treatment of the Bible in horror (I haven’t seen all horror films), it nevertheless ranges widely.  After having submitted it I continued to watch horror and I continue to find various Bibles in it.  The amazing thing is just how truly widespread the Good Book is as an iconic symbol.  Indeed, I’d been reading about the Bible as an iconic book and that idea took hold in the early days of putting words down for the book.  As an editor I help authors figure out these kinds of issues all the time.  Physician heal thyself.

Even though Nightmares with the Bible just came out over a year ago I couldn’t list all the films off the top of my head.  Sometimes you need reminders.  My books are never discussed at work.  The people I interact with on a daily basis have no interest in them.  In other words, unless I’m having an interview or reading a review, I don’t have much opportunity to think about them.  I’ve moved on to my next projects.  The draft of The Wicker Man has been submitted and I have three promised articles to work on.  Still, I’m trying to settle on the next book.  I seem to have found some acceptance among the horror crowd.  Biblical meteorologists and researchers on Ugaritic goddesses are much less seldom in touch.  Monsters are often mixed forms.  I should know that after watching all these movies.


Nightmares with Poe

A review of Nightmares with the Bible recently appeared in which the reviewer said he didn’t get the Poe references.  Indeed, the anonymous reviewer said the same thing.  What neither of them understood is that Edgar Allan Poe has been formative for my life and that book was a tribute to him.  Did Poe write about demons?  Not really.  Did he once claim that the death of a beautiful woman was the most poetic theme?  Yes.  I saw the opportunity, in discussing possession movies, to draw Poe’s observation into the conversation.  Could the book have been written without it?  Yes and no.  Yes, I could’ve written a book on demons without mentioning Poe.  No, I would likely not be writing books at all were it not for Poe.

Today is Poe’s birthday.  What is this strange attraction I have for him?  It began, as most things do for me, with growing up poor.  We couldn’t afford bookstore prices, and that’s even assuming there was a bookstore nearby (there wasn’t).  I found the majority of my reading material at Goodwill in Seneca, Pennsylvania.  The shop had a book bin or two with prices I could afford (books were a quarter, if I recall).  I found a copy of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Terror there.  I probably heard about Poe from my big brother—he’s a good source for scary information.  Reading Poe, I wanted to read more.  We couldn’t afford Scholastic school fare rates, but I did find a four-or-five volume collection of Poe’s writings at Goodwill.  Foolishly, I bought only two—those with his stories.

By high school I was checking out biographies of Poe from the library.  Perhaps as the child of an alcoholic I identified with a man who seemed so tormented.  I count his stories still among my favorites.  My favorite short story is, I believe, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  It has come back to me at several points in my life and I find myself thinking about that gloomy house.  Particularly the narrator’s arrival there.  So full of possibilities.  So much potential fear.  Those of us who consume horror have a gateway to it—some event, or influence, or person who introduced the aesthetic of fear to us.  For me it was Edgar A. Poe.  Nightmares with the Bible is of a piece with Holy Horror.  To leave Poe out of it would’ve been the worst kind of sacrilege.


EBF

The third annual Easton Book Festival is underway.  As part of it Eric Ziolkowski, the chair of the Religious Studies department at Lafayette College, interviewed me about Nightmares with the Bible.  You can watch the interview here.  And be sure to check out the other offerings of the EBF—it’s hybrid this year so much of it is online for those who can’t make their way to Easton.  We’re all looking forward to the day when the festival can be in person again, as it was in 2019.  As part of tomorrow’s program I’ll be interviewing my friend Robert Repino about several of his novels.  That event will be live and outdoors, but I suspect it will be posted on the festival website later.

The EBF is a shining example of what books can do for a community.  People have been turning back to books with the pandemic.  Those of us in the publishing industry are keeping an eye on this.  While academic usage has shifted to electronic, the wider market has been favoring print books because, well, people like books.  Andy Laties, one of the proprietors of The Book and Puppet Company, has spearheaded efforts to continue this celebration of books even as a pandemic has changed the way we do everything.  Easton isn’t a huge city, but the Lehigh Valley is a book-friendly place.  When the will to organize book lovers exists, wonderful things can happen.  Books can build a community as well as be a community.

A friend recently said that the problem with writing books is that too many people do it.  I don’t see this as a problem.  Many self-published books do far better than those I’ve sent through more traditional channels.  They may put pressure on traditional models, but pressure isn’t always bad.  The route to publication is actually full of roadblocks—some accidental but many intentional.  One of the largest barricades is the fact that the publishing industry is a rather small one.  Major publishers have been monopolizing for years, bigger companies buying out successful smaller ones, so that the highway to publication now has many toll booths that require exact change.  There have always been those who can find their way through by an alternate route.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be part of the conversation.  If you’re near Easton come on out in person—bring a mask—and see what’s happening tomorrow.  If you’re not in the area take a look at the free content online.  I’m sure you’ll find something you like.


Interview Two

October turns the northern hemisphere mind toward Halloween.  It must be strange to receive northern media while living in the global south—Halloween occurs just as spring is getting underway.  I guess that’s what May Day’s for.  In any case, in the United States Halloween thinking is in nearly full swing.  My last two books, while not Halloween themed, look at horror films which, in keeping with October, are on everyone’s mind this season.  And it’s been quite a week for interviews.  The second half of my podcast interview on The Incarcerated Christian was posted yesterday.  If you want to hear more fun Q & A with Robin and Debra, click here.  I’ll post more about this Friday, but tomorrow my interview with Eric Ziolkowski of Lafayette College will air as part of the Easton Book Festival.  The festival’s going on right now, so be sure to check out the offerings online.

One bit of advice that I give as an editor: if you want to make it as an author you need to promote your own work.  Some of us were reared to believe that it’s in poor taste to do this, but in the internetted world it’s pretty much a requirement.  Something I learned from political activism is that every election is local.  Getting noticed also has to start in your own backyard.  I love doing interviews.  It’s always flattering to know that someone’s read your book and wants to know more about it.  I’ve started to explore the newish area of religion and horror.  From what we see in the news, it seems like it’s an area that’s likely to take off.  But only if those who work in it get their stuff out there where it can be seen.  (Or heard.)

Neither Holy Horror nor Nightmares with the Bible have sold very well.  They’re expensive, and academics, who will spend money on books, are still trying to decide if this area’s worth exploring.  I admit that there’s a puerile kind of naughtiness to taking monsters and “low brow” entertainment as a subject of study.  Horror, however, has lots of fans.  Perhaps not in the academy, but in the real world.  I like to think such marginal areas bring people together.  Horror, like demons, isn’t going away any time soon.  Instead of running away from what you fear, why not try embracing it?  If not even that, please consider the free content available on The Incarcerated Christian and the Easton Book Festival.  After all, Halloween’s just about here…


Taking Part

It’s always a pleasure to be invited, even if not as a proper guest.  To an academic conference, I mean.  Most of us sit around feeling pretty obscure most of the time, even if we do write books.  I am literally genuinely surprised when sometime contacts me to tell me they’ve read my work.  It was, therefore, a complete surprise to be asked to attend the “Ancient and Modern Ideas of Possession” conference hosted by the University of Innsbruck.  I wasn’t an official participant, but the organizers, somewhat surprisingly, knew of Nightmares with the Bible and thought I might be interested in, well, possession.  Because I work “nine-to-five” and because Austria is several hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, I couldn’t Zoom in for all of it, but what I did hear I really appreciated.

One of my suspicions was confirmed, and that is that the idea of possession remains an outlier in academia.  The sixteen or so presenters represented several academic fields, none of which boasts of being interested in such things.  What surprised me, but then really didn’t, was that a comment or question came up several times: do any of us believe in the ontological reality of demons?  At least for the time I was able to sign in the question was never fully discussed but I had the sense that one or two of these academics were willing to lean in that direction.  We all know that individual observation is often faulty and subject to biased interpretations.  We may, however, know that many such accounts have been written by highly reputable individuals with nothing to gain by making spurious claims.  Academics should remain curious.

I learned that at least two of the presenters had written books that it would’ve been useful to have read for my own book.  Books are part of a conversation.  Seldom is any single volume the last word on a subject.  It was a privilege to be among other academics, if I may classify myself as one, even if erstwhile, that had come to a similar place in their explorations of the world of spirits.  Women and men who were willing to ask that most shunned of questions, “what if?”  Human experience moves ahead and some ideas are left behind.  That doesn’t mean those ideas should never be revisited.  Nobody at the conference mentioned my book, but at least one person in the room was aware that it was, in some form, part of the discussion.


Clash of the Titles

Well, it seems I may be stuck in publishing for a while.  At least it’s a place to learn.  The inside story, it turns out, would be very helpful for authors to know.  Let’s take titles for example.  An editor sees a basic misunderstanding on the part of many academic authors.  Hey, I’ve even done it myself.  To correct this misunderstanding it’s important to see that academic publishers see different basic kinds of books.  One of them is the academic monograph.  No matter what the author thinks (I know the feeling of working on a book for years and supposing everyone else will be interested in the topic) academic books are of limited appeal.  Their main buyers are academic libraries and academic librarians want to know at a glance what the book is about.  The title has to say this, even before reaching the subtitle.

We’re all used to the idea of seeing books with clever titles in the bookstore.  (Remember bookstores?)  These are trade books.  Some of them are from academic presses, but these are books that have often been worked over by editors and marketers and publicists to make them more appealing.  The title can be clever, with an explanatory subtitle, because the target buyer is a bookstore rather than a library.  It’s difficult for an author to admit that this tome that has consumed your waking life for years, and maybe even decades, is primarily something a couple hundred libraries only will buy.  And family and friends who feel they need to support your efforts.  It’s a hard reality to face, but it often comes down to title.

What are you going to call your book?  My own most recent effort, Nightmares with the Bible, was written for a trade readership.  The publisher, however, had the library market in mind.  For success in the library market, the title works against the book.  No matter how accessibly your book is written, no mere mortal will pay $100 for it.  (Some of us will feel compelled to dish out that kind of cash for a title we really must read, but we are the exception rather than the rule.)  I like my title, but it was a mistake.  It should’ve probably gone by its subtitle, slightly modified, The Bible and Cinematic Demons.  In my mind as I wrote it, I had an educated but popular readership.  The publisher had different ideas, unclear to me when the book was put under contract.  Now it’s time to give this post a popular title so that it will be read. And hopefully taken to heart.


Discount Nightmares

Now that we’re past the equinox it’s officially okay to obsess with monsters, right?  (Any excuse will do.)  Nightmares with the Bible was officially a pandemic book.  Academic publishers (especially) found out that books released in 2020 tended to flop.  People weren’t thinking about much other than the pandemic (or crying about losing an election fair and square).  Books, of course, take a long time to write and a long time to produce—it’s not as simple as it looks.  And if your production schedule falls during a pandemic, well, be prepared.  In the case of Nightmares there was the added burden of price point.  When all you’re thinking about is survival, cashing out a Franklin to read about demons seems hardly wise.

Just yesterday I received a flyer, that I’m passing along to you, for the book.  It has a discount code on it (look at part 2 below) so that the book is merely expensive rather than very expensive. Nightmares is part of a series titled Horror and Scripture.  The series, published by Fortress Academic and Lexington Books, is now coming out with its third volume.  The publisher, starting to recover from the pandemic, is promoting all the books in the series.  You see, Nightmares was not only a pandemic book, it also missed that highly sought-after pre-Halloween release.  Books that deal with horror get a boost during the holiday season.  Ironically the same thing happened with Holy Horror.  Both books came out in December when nobody but Charles Dickens is thinking about scary things.

Academic book pricing is based on a model that’s beginning to crumble.  It’s that capitalistic trope of what the market will bear.  The market is academic libraries, and it has been demonstrating lately that even they aren’t made of money.  I don’t know if libraries get to use discount codes or not—it can’t hurt to ask your librarian.  Fully employed academics, however, will sometimes pay a hefty price for a book they really want or need.  My shelves upstairs are filled with books that were overpriced but were required for the books and articles I wrote when it was an expectation of my job.  My next book, which is now in the negotiation stage with the publisher, will be more reasonably priced.  It will likely have a smaller appeal, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  I sincerely hope I’m through writing hundred-dollar books.  Please pass the flyer along to all your rich friends—it’s just in time for the haunting month of October.


Al’s Rhythm

Algorithms.  Who can understand them?  I’ve been having some trouble with searches lately.  Not on the internet in general, but on specific websites (including this one).  While Sects and Violence in the Ancient World isn’t a particularly media-heavy site, I find it difficult to find images by searching.  For some reason, even when I put the title of the image in the WordPress search bar, it doesn’t always come up with the answer.  Well, given the time of morning I suppose I might’ve misspelled something.  Then I went to Amazon.  I’ve been working on my author page and wanted to update something.  I tried typing the distinctive title of my most recent book (Nightmares with the Bible—it is apparently the only actual book with that title [and titles can’t be copyrighted, in case you’re interested]) and found that it didn’t show up on the first three pages.  They were filled with books with other titles.  Algorithms.

Now granted not a lot of people seek the book on Amazon (I’m a realist), but if you type an exact, and unique title in the search bar and it doesn’t come up, isn’t something wrong with your algorithm?  (By the way, algorithm is one of the many words English borrows from Arabic.  It’s named after a ninth-century mathematician, al-Khwārizmī.  You could do worse than to have something so useful named after you!)  I’m not so naive as to think Amazon isn’t thinking to throw better selling books at you first—if you’re like others you’ll buy those before you’d consider shelling out a Franklin for mine.  But still, isn’t searching made easier when what you enter is what you want to find?

The internet’s primarily about selling you stuff.  Some of us look up sites for information or entertainment, but then someone tries to sell you something.  (I’m not trying to sell you my book here, by the way—it’s not priced for individuals, or even mortals—I’m not even putting a link to it on Amazon here.)  I’m just wondering why, if you tell websites exactly what you’re looking for they can’t find it.  You have to wonder if we’ve reached the level of too much stuff.  There’s a lot of sorting to be done and new webpages are added every day.  Even though I’ve been writing here a dozen years now, there are far older blogs and many more newer ones.  Finding things is an important exercise, and maybe if we sit down with al-Khwārizmī for a while, we’ll be able to figure something out.

Image credit: Gregor Reisch via Wikimedia Commons

Conjuring an Exorcist

In both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible I discuss The Conjuring.  In the latter I actually go through the universe that the films spin around the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Like most series where the writers and directors shift, the story line isn’t always consistent.  I suppose that one of the features of the series that appeals to those of us who love monsters is the fact that many of the movies have more than one.  The main threat, however, always seems to be demonic.  I enjoyed exploring this in both my book and in my recent piece on Horror Homeroom—check it out here.  

This series, in financial terms, has been highly successful.  There is little that attracts attention in any media more than money.  The Conjuring universe also shows that people are very interested in the topic.  A materialistic worldview doesn’t work for everyone.  We sense that there’s more going on that what the laboratory reveals.  I’ve often wondered why we can’t consider the world “both and” rather than “either or.”  We seem to think knowledge is some kind of zero-sum game.  I suppose that’s because the spiritual interferes with the material.  If there are outside forces working against the “laws” of physics then all that hard work is open to question.  It’s far easier to suggest that human beings (and other animals) who experience something “supernatural” are deluded.  Or superstitious.  Demons are a good case in point.  If they exist it would complicate the world of science.  And yet people pay good money to see movies based on them.

The Conjuring franchise pays off most of the time.  Some of the stories—those of the main series especially—are based on cases that the Warrens actually investigated.  There’s sometimes an element of the sideshow (the amazing Warrens!) to some of their work, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience of real people.  Experience is an important way to navigate this strange world in which we find ourselves.  I’m not the only one who finds horror films to be a reasonable guide through this territory.  The Warrens’ case files leave lots of opportunities to explore this strange world of demons, and there are further movies in the franchise currently under development.  The most recent film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, changed basic concepts from its early days.  It was delayed by the pandemic.  And yet, it made money.  There must be a lesson to be learned here.