Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Wee Publication

A short essay I wrote will be appearing the October issue of Quiet Mountain, a journal of women's writing. You may remember them as the place where I was interviewed by Diane Saarinen (August issue). Yay! My essay is about the ambivalence many teachers feel at the end of the summer; however much you love teaching, the freedom of summer is an illusion we have a hard time giving up.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rogues and Pirates

There was an ad in the Sunday NY Times for a new YA book, Capt. Hook by J. V. Hart and illustrated by Brett Helquist. The letter from the author (screenwriter of Hook) says:

"Growing up in Texas, my gang of neighborhood kids would gather on Saturdays to act out movies like ROBIN HOOD, THE WOLF MAN, and CAPTAIN BLOOD. I discovered then that playing the bad guy was a lot more fun than being the hero. The villain always had the best lines and the big death scenes... "

Even better, the website also says:

"In the spirit of the Peter Pan charitable legacy, a portion of the author’s royalties will go to the Peter Pan Children’s Fund, an organization that supports children’s hospitals through philanthropy programs."

Rogues with good hearts, what could be better? I'm going to keep my eye out for the book. Speaking of rogues, I am trying to find out whether the ever-fabulous Vic Reeves' Discovery series Rogues Gallery will ever come to the States. Vic looks into the lives of famous rogues like Dick Turpin and Black Bart.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Return of the Pikebone Kantele

At last, it has returned! Earlier this summer, Gerry Henkel sent me the pikebone kantele he had made, but it arrived at the writer's colony broken. Over the summer he repaired it and, after dealing with some problems caused by the US Postal Service, it has arrived. It looks beautiful, even in this hazy PDA picture of it sitting on one of my drums:

You can see a better picture here. I mentioned its return on the Kantele Players Guild list and Jane Ilmola of 3 Rivers Kanteles mentioned that she had a link to a real pikebone kantele. From their website, click on the link for instruments, then click on the Martti Pokela collection. You can scroll down and see the boney kantele.

The pikebone is traditionally the source of the first kantele. According to the Kalevala, the runesinger Väinämöinen made the first instrument from the jawbone of a giant pike he and his cohorts had wrestled from the sea. Its strings came from the tail of Hiisi's mare. You can find a version of the tale here, and more about real pikes here.

Thanks, Gerry! I am so lucky.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Publishing News

Two new items this week:

Grimma Gaest: I wrote this short essay on Beowulf for a collection on cannibalism and eating "the other" [terminology from literary theory, defining the one who is not "us" the assumed narrator -- it can mean women to a male point of view or indigenous people to a colonialist POV, etc.]. My piece focuses on Grendel as the horrific "other" to the warriors of the story. He turns their world upside down and breaks the most fundamental taboo by eating them.

The Sorcerer: Thanks to S. T. Joshi I may have another piece to write for Greenwood Press. The collection is Icons of Horror and the Supernatural and I would be writing the section on the figure of the Sorcerer from antiquity to the present, in literature and popular culture. I'm just awaiting official word (and a contract) from Greenwood.

I was going to write a review of Weird Tales of the Ramones, but Gene beat me to it!

Monday, August 22, 2005


No, the title doesn't actually have to do with the first day of classes today, although there were stumbles aplenty. Funny how a summer with a lot of contemplation makes you forget what it's like to speak through three classes in a row. So I just finished a mug of Throat Coat tea.

As it happened, while trying to find something else, I ran across this short review (at Gothic Press) by Gary Wiliam Crawford of my encyclopedia entry on Ramsey Campbell:

Laity, K.A.  "Ramsey Campbell, 1946-    )."  Supernatural Fiction Writers:  Contemporary Fantasy and Horror.  2nd ed.  Ed. Richard Bleiler.  New York: Scribner's, 2003.

A good biographical and critical survey with a selective bibliography.  Discusses Campbell's subtlety and his use of urban settings that make Campbell's work more immediate and gripping.

It's also right below the review of the previous volume's entry on Campbell (an accident of alphabetizing), and I'm relieved that it shows me in a favorable light. It's also a mark of the desperate writer who is cheered by such a small thing.

Campbell is not only a wonderful writer, he's also a savvy film reviewer. See his film reviews at BBC Liverpool.

What is it about me and that seaside town? I'm currently reading Steven D. Stark's Meet the Beatles, which I will review as soon as I finish it. So far, I'm enjoying it and -- can you believe it? -- finding out a couple things I did not know about the Beatles.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sandman Papers

I recently received and signed my contract for the essay "Illusory Adversaries?: Images of Female Power in Sandman: The Kindly Ones," which will be a part of The Sandman Papers, a collection of essays on Neil Gaiman's comix series edited by Joe Sanders. It will be forthcoming "between April and September" of next year from Fantagraphics. I originally gave a version of this paper a few years ago at the comics area of the Popular Culture Association Conference. It's great to see it heading toward published form.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Encyclopedia coming soon

I heard from editor S. T. Joshi that World Supernatural Literature: An Encyclopedia will be out from Greenwood Press this September. I wrote two entries, one on Clive Barker and another on The Books of Blood. It also features a lot of folks I know like Faye Ringel, Richard Bleiler, Stefan Dziemianowicz and many others. Greenwood lists a slightly different title. Who can say which will be the one that ends up on the cover?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Review: Grizzly Man

We got free passes from the Brazos Bookstore to see Werner Herzog's new film, Grizzly Man. It's the story of Tim Treadwell, amateur grizzly observer who, with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, was eventually killed by a grizzly. They gave us "Grizzly Man" water bottles when we came in. Very odd -- celebrate the horrendous death of this man with a refillable water bottle! It had measurements on the side, but it also contained a piece of paper which disavowed any attempts to use it to measure anything. Ah, the weird world of film promotion.

If you're familiar with Herzog's work, you know to expect no easy answers. Herzog lets Treadwell's remarkable footage speak for itself most of the time. Treadwell becomes an intimate part of the grizzly world in Alaska, maintaining a foothold on the dangerous periphery of the bears' lives. Through his lens, we see them: powerful, individuals, enormous! The up-close view of grizzly life will perhaps be Treadwell's greatest contribution.

But there's also the unravelling of a deeply damaged person. In the months of solitude, Treadwell turns to his camera as to a confessional. His disgust with the human world emerges clearly, as do his erratic mood swings. The childlike delight in the beauty of the remote paradise clashes with his increasingly antagonistic anger toward perceived enemies of his sanctuary. Companion interviews with Treadwell's friend and family fill out the portrait of a deeply troubled man. The grizzlies provide an initial rescue from substance abuse, but seem to become another destructive obsession. It's hard not to see Treadwell's choice to remain longer and longer among the bears as a kind of intricately orchestrated suicide.

In the end, Herzog cannot resist imposing his own view of nature as chaotic and cruel. Over footage of the bear that most likely killed Treadwell and Huguenard, Herzog expresses his view of the grizzly's "blank stare" and sees him as a cold killer, without acknowledging that his reaction is just as shaped by his expectations as Treadwell's was. Neither can see nature without romanticizing or demonizing it. But Herzog chooses from the hours of footage sequences that show the amazing lives of these animals, their beauty and their power; the footage itself inspires awe in the simplest form for these magnificent creatures who live in a harsh and alien world.

There are some extremely horrific moments, though not the deaths themselves. There is an audio tape of the event, taken by Treadwell's video camera with the lens cap still on. In a overly self-conscious moment, Herzog listens to it in front of Jewel Palovak, Treadwell's former girlfriend and co-creator of Grizzly People. Herzog asks her to turn it off, declares she should burn it and never listen to it, which makes the scene feel much too exploitive. Similarly, the scene where uber-creepy coronor, Franc Fallico, hands Treadwell's (still functioning) watch to Palovak while explaining that it was found on his severed arm, is both awkward and, well, creepy. Likewise, Fallico's singular dramatic recreation of the death scene adds new resonance to the bizarre coroner, now a seeming staple of television.

The film is fascinating. I'm not sure how I feel about Treadwell in the end. He was deeply troubled, no doubt, and perhaps misguided. What really stays with me is the ironic difficulty people have dealing with nature. Living in the midst of a mostly unnatural city which seems at times paved end to end, I can see how the separation from the natural world leads to both Treadwell's and Herzog's viewpoints, either romanticizing it as a lost paradise or demonizing it as dispassionate killer. That separation is the real tragedy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Gender & Ecstasy

I received another acceptance to a conference today; better yet, it's in England. Hurrah! It's for the 2006 Gender and Medieval Studies Conference at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. Here's the topic:

Joy of Warriors: Juliana’s Masculine Ecstasies

The Cynewulfian poem Juliana features a harsh connection between physical pain and spiritual ecstasy. The young virgin saint’s very body becomes the alchemical cauldron that converts the sadistic torture of her fiancé into a public spectacle of pious triumph. While the events take place in ancient Rome, Cynewulf’s singular vision replays the drama in the realm of Anglo-Saxon warrior poetics. Juliana’s power derives not just from her divine connection to the god who is the
wigena wyn (joy of warriors), but also from her embrace of hegemonic masculinity. Because heroic behavior to the Anglo-Saxon audience was equivalent to the strict warrior code, even female saints like Juliana (although this can apply as well to Judith and Elene) could become heroic by performing masculine behavior. Her appropriation of masculine vocabulary and action has immediate effects on those around her, including the demon she holds and tortures while herself in prison. The demon recognizes her as wigþrist ofer eall wifa cyn (most battle-ready of all woman kind) and the warriors gathered in the city respond to her courage with the clashing of weapons. In her final ecstatic speech of triumph before her martyrdom, Juliana employs martial language, reminding her audience to keep on their guard and watch for the clamor of battles. In Cynewulf’s heroic poem, the virgin saint transforms from a passive canvas for divine presence to an active warrior for ecstasy.

Even more fun, one of my colleagues also submitted an abstract, so it's quite possible we'll both be going (ahem, assuming our department can afford to send us).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ten Seconds of Fame

As my friends all know, I am never keen to have my picture taken. Video is worse, so it is with great ambivalence that I learn I am to be featured in the 30th Anniversary promo video for UHD. I'll be in it for about ten seconds. Of course, it will take about two hours to film that ten seconds -- or even less than ten, come to think of it. They're going to use some footage from the awards ceremony from May.

Adding to the ambivalence: I only got this opporunity due to the recent death of poet Lorenzo Thomas. Lorenzo was our big name in the English Department, well known in the world and respected by so many people. He was a big part of the Houston Poetry Fest; I saw a number of the Poetry Fest folks at Lorenzo's funeral.

The wheel of life, always turning...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Clive's Bible

I'm working on editing my essay on Clive Barker for an anthology on sexuality and the gothic Other, and came across this excellent interview with Barker in the L. A. Weekly. Dennis Cooper is the interviewer. All right, back to work --

Monday, August 01, 2005


I am interviewed by intrepid Finnish-American reporter Diane Saarinen (international woman of mystery!) at Quiet Mountain Essays, a journal of women's writing. Quite an honor to be the featured interview.

There are some other interesting reads there, too. I really enjoyed Kat Mead's "Authoress Despair," about the vagaries of film versions of writers. I admit it -- I love those films even when they're awful. Even if they're not awful, they are usually nothing at all like reality. But the reality of writing could not be more dull to watch, so I understand why filmmakers dwell on the angst and crumpled papers. On the more serious side, there's an essay on "Advertising and the Exploitation of Female Sexuality" by Chineze J. Onyejekwe, which not only highlights the phenomena but also discusses efforts to address the problem. There are also a number of related links that provide fascinating reading.