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Some years ago, I chanced upon DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC. Included within its pages was a wonderful essay by Lara Parker detailing her journey writing her first book, Angelique’s Descent
As a long-time fan of the gothic (and charmingly playful) 1960s daytime soap, I was delighted to hear my favorite actress from the show had written a book detailing the life of her infamous character: the romantic and very scorned witch. The woman who would curse Barnabas Collins to eternity as one of the living dead.

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From the moment I began to read I was swept away in Ms. Parker’s warm recollections for the show, and her determination in honing the craft of writing.

“How in the world does an actress end up writing a novel? Actresses are those vain, frivilous creatures who bask in the limelight and would never think of holing up in a dark office for months sruggling to produce a piece of fiction,” she began.

Afte Jim Pierson (director of the official fan conventions) spent much time convincing Harper Collins to consider releasing brand new novels based on the show, Ms Parker was called in to meet with Caitlin Blasdell, an editor from the publishing firm.

“I appreciated the opportunity but I really didn’t believe I’d be able to do it…I was neither foolish enough nor presumptuous enough to assume that I would have the ability to generate hundreds of pages that in any way would resemble the many fascinating, intriguing novels I had read in my life.”

While Lara confessed she would be interested in writing about Angelique’s childhood- all the heartaches she must have suffered to turn her into the woman fans saw on the show, she was surprised by Blandell’s confidence in the endeavor.

The other explained in a hushed tone, ” ‘Please don’t worry, Lara. Just write it the best you can. We have professional writers at Harpers who will take what you do, fix it up, and make it into a real book.’ ”

“My pride was injured, and all I could do was think how much I resented her offer.”

Invigorated by the challenge in front of her, Lara immediately began to study literature, digging deep into the lush language and intricate plots of Daphne du Maurier, the Bronte Sisters, Dickens, Stoker, Poe, as well as many others. “I read Interview with the Vampire and Gone With the Wind, digging beneath the stories to focus on structure and point of view. I was determined to steep myself in the romantic style.”

Thinking upon the character she had played decades ago, “I began to imagine ever more heartbreaking events which would harden Angelique. Her hopes would soar, only to be shattered agaisnt the rocks….Any student of literature will recognize the obvious symbolism I struggled to put into place… Since Angelique was a child of the sea, water was her emotional center….I played with these elements, only because, despite what I said about actresses in the beginning, I was an English minor in college, and these things returned to me.”

The book was ultimately published as Lara Parker wrote it. No need for any ghost writers for that lady!

next post: Angelique’s Decent: Book Review

source for this post: Dark Shadows Almanac
edited by Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jim Pierson

A lovely “yay! Persephone has awoken and spring is here”- day. So did I go to a park? Stroll down the city streets to window shop? Why, no. I jumped into my clothes and headed to the nearby cemetery.

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As I wandered about, I was struck by a statue of what appeared to be of a statue of Buddha. This being a Christian cemetery, I found its inclusion interesting and quite lovely.

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My gaze then turned to the next plot and while reading the headstone, my heart sank. I was reading the epitaph for a child who’d died in 2007 at the age of seven. Included on the headstone was a photograph of a smiling, chubby-faced little boy. I won’t include that photo for sensitivity reasons and respect to his family who might not want his name and face made public in such a way. But here is a picture of another little stone included at his site:

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(“In Memory of a Wonderful Person”)

While I’m certainly no stranger to the reality of young lives being cut way too short, coming face to face with it (so to speak) by such a terse, elegant statement hit me hard. AFter paying my respects, I moved on, walking about until another gravesite called me over to it. It was a joint plot for a husband and wife, born 1897 and 1898, respectively. Both had been doctors. Then I noticed the little grave beside them. It was of their child who’d they lost at only one years- old. No other children were mentioned or buried by them so I was left to wonder if they hadn’t been able to have any more, or had purposely refrained so not to possibly face such pain again.

I wandered on, reading more headstones, noting the sites left bare, and others adorned with fresh flowers. The tended graves and the ones with overgrown weeds. Even though the graves of the children stayed with me, I left that day with a feeling of peace and gratefulness.

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Sonnet 98

by William Shakespeare (1609)

“From you have I been absent in the spring
When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.”

Hangsaman

Thanks to Penguin Classics, many of Shirley Jackson’s long out of print eary novels are being reprinted. Written in 1951, Jackson’s second novel, Hangsaman ,is a coming of age tale with the psychological hauntings one finds in her later works. Lacking the subtle, but unnerving chills of The Haunting of Hill House, or the macabre humor of We’ve Always Lived in the Castle, the novel rather foretells the greatness to come.

The book revolves around Natalie Waite- a young woman with a vivid imagination, whose father is training her to be a writer. Stressed by her father who seems to want to turn her into a mirror image of himself, and terrified of becoming like her neurotic mother, Natalie seeks her own identity inside of daydreams.

But a traumatizing event occurs which nearly shatters her already fragile persona.

“The danger is here, in here, ” Natalie thinks, “just as they stepped inside and were lost in the darkness.” Assaulted shortly before going away to college, she admonishes herself, “I don’t remember, nothing happened, nothing that I remember happened.”

Determined to move on, Natalie enters the liberal college with enthusiasm, but soon finds herself surrounded by cliques, hazing, and petty cruelities. Snubbed by the other girls, she slips further and further into her own mind until the reader wonders how much is of her own willing, her imagination- or whether she is truly suffering from mental illness.

“Remember, too, that without you I could not exist: there can be no father without a daughter. You have thus a double responsibility, for my existence and your own. If you abandon me, you lose yourself,” her father writes in one of his letters to her.

It is shortly thereafter that she begins to wonder if she is real at all. ”Perhaps- and this was her most persistent thought, the thought that stayed with her and came suddenly to trouble her at odd moments, and to comfort her- suppose, actually, she were not Natalie Waite, college girl, daughter to Arthur Waite, a creature of deep lovely destiny; suppose she were someone else?”

The only one who understands Natalie, and shares her visions of the world, is the strange girl named Tony whom she befriends. Ethereal ,and cryptic in speech, it is up to the reader to decide whether Tony is real or not.

“Will you come somewhere with me?” Tony asks her. ”It’s a long way.”

Whether Tony is an imaginary friend or not, hardly matters, for it is Natalie’s trust in her, and/or in herself that gives her the courage to embark on a surreal trip through the city and into the woods where she faces her greatest fear- being alone- and comes out triumphant.

Elegiac, yet also brimming with an undercurrent of optimism by its engaging protagonist, Hangsaman unfortunately falls short of what Ms. Jackson semed to be aiming for. Elements of it working better than the whole. A fantastic read for people already fans of Jackson, but not a good place to start.

As Halloween approaches, I wished to continue my theme from last week.

For Italian Witches, or those who follow the spiritual path of Stregheria, the pagan holiday of Samhain is known as, Shadowfest. ( La Festa dell’ Ombra). On October 31st, the deceased return to the world of the living for three days until they depart again on the second of November.

As hosting a Dumb Supper is traditional for some witches, it is customary for Sicilians to gather at the graves of loved ones and leave them food. One of the most traditional foods to be served is fava bean soup. Since the days of the Roman Empire, the bean has been associated with the dead due to a single black mark on the white petal. Bowls of the soup are left outside at the witching hour for the spirits to enjoy, and then buried when the sunrises.

Today in Italy, it is common to eat fave dei morte sweets shaped as skeletons. While modern Sicilians also partake in sugary figures shaped from legendary heroes.*

This practice of honoring the spirits of the dead for multiple days can also be found in Mexico’s, Día de Muertos which also lasts from October 31st through November second. Skulls made of sugar, marigolds, and favorite foods are brought to the graves of loved ones. November first, Día de los Angelitos, is set aside to honor children, while the second day of the month, Día de los Muertos, is to remember the adults beyond the veil.

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* information from Raven Grimassi’s, Hereditary Witchcraft

original title:  La noche de Walpurgis (1971)

Werewolf Versus Vampire Woman- ad

With a title such as, Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman, how could a lady such as I resist?   The sound of it alone brought me back to the little kid watching Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons.   Not to mention the slew of John Sinclair horror pulp novellas  which reside in this apartment.

Is this a great piece of filmmaking?  A masterpiece of cinematic technique?  Hardly.  It is unabashadly a B- film from the cheap sets,  silly dialogue, acting that seesaws between stilted and melodramtic, and heaving bosoms.  Don’t watch expecting a Psycho, Exorcist, Black Sunday, Suspiria, The Haunting, or anything of that ilk.   That said, I don’t judge any film or book in comparion to others.   One of my main tenants in critique is, did it do what it set out to do?

If director Leon Klimovsky and script writers, Paul Naschy and Hans Munkel, wished to entertain me, they succeeded.

Starring Naschy as Waldemar Daninsky and Gaby Fuchs as Elvira, this is a fun romp from the moment Elvira (with gal pal, Genevieve in tow) goes off to research the legend of a Countess Wandessa, rumored to have been a Hungarian vampire in the eleventh century.   As a writer of the occult, Elvira can hardly resist the story of a woman who practiced all methods of dark magic.  Of how members of the Inquisition tried to arrest her, but all who opposed her ended up dead.  Of a woman who preserved her beauty by drinking the blood of virgins.  Of how she was finally killed by her own lover who stabbed her in the chest.

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Naturally, fate sees it that the women get lost, while also running low on gasoline.  The droll Genevieve (Barbara Capell), jokes maybe Count Dracula will appear, and surely he will invite them to spend the night at his castle.    Elvira jocularly tells her to shut up.  However, her humor disipates when they do reach a run down castle where a Count Waldemar does indeed invite them to stay, as long as they wish.  From the start, she is suspicious of the oddness of the man, and his surroundings.   “This man has been lying to us all this time.  Have you noticed how the table was set?  Only a woman has that eye for attention.”

After listing all the weird things she’s noticed, Genevieve retorts by granting them all rational explanations.    Again she jokes of the undead.  “No vampire is going to suck your blood.”

Oh, dear.  Then you shouldn’t disturb graves of reputed Vampirin.

Perhaps it is this interest in vampires, that incites the risen Countess  to lure the woman into her coven.

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When the turned Genevieve tries to seduce Elvira into joining them, “I’m so happy.  It’s beautiful,”- Elvira is left to try to rescue her friend, as well as help the hairy Count destroy the vampiric witch once again.

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A Little Old Jazz

Posted: September 29, 2013 in music, silent films, Uncategorized

First entry in my new blog.   This will be very quick as I want to visit everyone else.   Can’t wait to catch up on a lot of reading.  🙂

Here is just a video from Jesse Crawford, a leading jazz organist from silent films.

Performing Irving Berlin’s, Blue Skies: