After my recollections of September, my former magazine delighted me by publishing my memories of snow in their latest issue. I translated it in English, fascinated with the process once more. The two texts are similar; they both have the same trunk, yet all the little branches coming out of it are different, giving each text a distinct meaning, atmosphere, and focus. Another piece of evidence for me that writing in two languages involves two “persons” or better yet, two personalities, as my inner writer/writers relays/relay on specific knowledge, mentality, and tradition connected to the language used at that moment.

Here is the English version.

Every time I said I liked snow, people would give me a strange look.

The snow of my childhood was deep and heavy. The sled pulled by one of the adult family members would bounce off the frozen bumps, while my four-year-old self, bundled up in thick blankets, would shriek in delight and try to catch snowflakes with my tongue.  A quick note: part of the country where I was born lies on the bottom of the ancient Pannonian Sea that existed up until a million years ago. Now it’s as flat as Saskatchewan so sledding has always required three elements: the sled, its child passenger, and someone who would drag it. 

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

I still can hear the sound of wooden shovels in the early morning and the muffled clanging of the old streetcar. I can recollect the narrow path on the sidewalk framed with the walls of snow so high that it would obscure smaller kids. Only the pompoms on their caps would be visible and moving. The city was wrapped in a soft, white cloak, sleepy and slow. The air was slightly bitter from chimney smoke, and our kitchen smelled of burning wood, black tea, and apple fritters.

When I was seven, my family moved to the mountain region of my country. From my typical Central European birthplace with strong Catholic roots, we settled in a village near a big city, where my parents, both teachers, had gotten their jobs. In many ways, the new city was shockingly exciting and exotic. Its predominantly Islamic heritage was a result of 500 years of Ottoman rule. At the same time, it preserved a significant Orthodox Christian tradition and developed a specific and cautious yet enduring brand of Catholicism, encouraged in the 19th century by the new sovereign, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This incredible and—then—harmonious amalgam would soon ignite my curiosity and deep appreciation for Islamic and Eastern Orthodox cultures.

Everything else was different: the climate, the dialect, the food, the mentality, the architecture… The sounds and smells, the landscape. No more endless plains where your sight couldn’t rest. Whenever you turned, there were hills, cliffs, pikes, ridges, slopes. The air was sharp and cool. The rivers, unlike the mighty, slow, and murky Danube and Drava, were clear, noisy, and rushing. The forests were not the hectares upon hectares of centuries-old oaks but the dark green expanses of spruce, pine, and beech. It was love at first sight; this corner of the world became my spiritual homeland and I couldn’t love it more.

Photo by Emily Toycen on Unsplash

During winter, there were blankets of snow. That snow had almost a transcendental quality: it was whiter and it shimmered; it was pristine and sweet. (I can vouch for that for I kept eating it). It was so pliable that it could be effortlessly molded into anything our imagination conjured.

Sledding became a completely new experience. The sled used here was a small, bullet-fast one-seater. From the top of one of the countless elevations, we would zoom down head first to the bottom. More often than not, we would end up half-buried in the snow.

Later, when we moved to the city, like little Heidi I would mourn the loss of my rural idyll, including the magnificent winter months. Everything had changed once more and the snow was no exception. There was less and less of it, and when it would snow, it stayed unspoiled only for a short time. Traffic, smog (which the city was infamous for), and hurried steps of countless pedestrians would quickly cover it with a grayish patina or melt it into slush.

I do remember one particular winter and the biggest snow of the decade. I was fifteen or sixteen, the time when children start their journey to adulthood. Snow, like a special gift from heaven, had started falling just around Christmas and hadn’t stopped for several days. Its slow, unwavering descent filled me with some soft sorrow wrought with even softer joy, as a premonition of all my future quests and wanderings, and temporary discoveries of joy and relief.

This strange melange of melancholy and delight would stay with me forever.

Fast forward many years ahead… For a long time, snow here in my adopted homeland was unlike what I remembered from my childhood. Powdery, dispersed in tiny dry and angry flakes, it would barely sprinkle the ground, leaving depressingly yellow-grey grass and brown trees uncovered. I was disheartened – I came to Canada believing there was plenty of snow (almost) everywhere. Yet, year after year, the only proper dump would happen in April or May.

That has changed, though. More abundant and less dry, it’s now more like what I think snow should be to be properly enjoyed.

When it’s snowing, I like to stay home, open the blinds and peek outside every now and then, just to make sure it’s still falling. And I wait for my old friend to come and sit with me—that feeling of subdued joy and hushed ache I know all too well. I don’t need to wait for long; it never disappoints.

Then I like to make a cup of black tea and grab a book from one of my beloved Russians that really knew how to write about winter.

And when I say, with a smile, that I love snow, people give me a strange look.

They have no idea…

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First, Second and Third of all…

First of all, congratulations to my friend JP McLean on her newest book, Ghost Mark! I read it before it was published, and I loved it! Stay tuned for my review, and in the meantime, if you like well-written, clever thrillers with a touch of romance and paranormal, I highly recommend her novels, including Ghost Mark.

Second of all, I’m about to publish my fourth book. That could mean this month, the next month or in the spring. I’m not in a hurry. I have a cover image (included below), the manuscript has been sent to my proofreader, I did a mock formatting so that my designer, the same gal who did such an awesome job with the cover for my previous book, knows the page number for the paperback edition.

It has a long, romantic title that no publisher would ever accept: I Will Be Waiting for You at the End of the Story. One of the perks of being a self-publish author is that you don’t need to worry about it. You can call your book however you like.

The main characters, Harper McCain and Jamie Breckenridge had supporting roles in my previous novella, Best Friends and Other Lovers.

Here is the blurb:

Love, then marriage, then a baby in a carriage? Not always in this order. For Harper and Jamie, the baby came first, love was there all the time, just tangled up with heartache and despair. And their happily ever after? It just might be waiting for them at the end of the story.

Trivia: Some plot details are based on real events related to my short but exciting career in police force.

Back to the novella: the heroes and heroines of my contemporary romances are often related through family ties or through the setting, and Jamie and Harper are not exceptions.

I also established another connection within my books: every now and then, the inhabitants of my love stories and novellas jump into the fantasy realm of my paranormal romances or vice versa, intertwining the two worlds.

And of course, the trademark character of all my books, Dr. Gerd Falkenstein, the very fictional descendent of the Holy Roman Emperor Josef II, is here again.

A decade ago, when I started my writing journey, I believed I would have the time and energy to spin many other love and fantasy stories. Alas, I didn’t take into account getting older and having much less time and energy for writing than before.

Just in case I might not be able to touch on all I’d once planned, I’ve hinted in this book how some of those untold tales should unfold. Christin Enescu, a mighty Tel-Urugh from my Red Cliffs Chronicles books and one of my most beloved secondary characters, did manage to swipe the young human girl, Lucy Daville, from her feet. That’s the only reason Lucy is mentioned in this story—so that we know they ended up together and very much in love. Between the events of Best Friends and Other Lovers and this novella, the gorgeous, self-confident, Arless Dexter married Jamie’s father, David.

The story of Jamie’s sister, Daria, and Harper’s cousin, Simon, is still in the making. I hope I’ll finish it one day. If I give up on them for whatever reason, I want my readers to know, from this story, that they’ve also had their happily ever after.

Third of all… Wait a second. Do I have it? Yes, I do! I’ve been commissioned to write another article for my former magazine and its famous column, and I expect to appear there one of these weeks, with my melancholic memories of snow.

I’ll make an effort to change into my other linguistic self, translate it in English and post it here.

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Belgrade via Texas

My original recollections of September have been written in my language and post on my FB, after a years-long gap in this kind of writing. Later, I translated it. Not an easy task since I, like many others who operate in two or more languages, have some sort of “multiple personality”, depending which language I use. I’m a linguist, and this aspect of being bi-lingual is terribly intriguing. Although I don’t know much about it theoretically, I live it every day and it’s never ceased to fascinate me. Or us, because there are two linguistical mes, as I said. 😉

I’ll turn my attention to this phenomenon sooner or later, and try to explain to myself and others why I can’t write fiction in my language and some other forms in English.

Last week, however, was all about me in my native tongue and, dare I say, my native state of mind. I had a great privilege to see my piece published in my former magazine, Vreme, still the most respectable weekly publication in Serbia, in its famous column Vreme uzivanja (“Time of Leisure”).

It’s hard to express what it means to me. It’s a sort of validation–over time, this prestige column has hosted some very big names. Vreme was the last magazine I worked at before I came to Canada. It’s tied to my refugee and war years, the worst and the best time of my life. If I’m proud of any achievements in my career, then it’s my four years there as an editor. These were tough and very dangerous times, when you couldn’t make compromises with your conscience, not in sightless.

I couldn’t open the full article–I’m not a subscriber to the magazine simply because I can’t and don’t want to keep up with the Serbian political scene–but that didn’t matter. September was there, my name under the title, with an error at the end, apparently.

Thanks to my old FB joke/ruse, I was announced as a current resident of Texas.

And that’s fine; this innocent mistake (that I’m responsible for) happens to connect some dots of my past and my present. I’ve loved Texas since I was a child devouring a popular Italian western comics series, Tex Willer. Just to mention, Tex was–logically– a Texas ranger and his physical appearance was modeled after Gary Cooper. I was in Texas a couple of years ago, and that visit only solidified my sentiments toward it.

Somehow, this Texas-slip made my comeback even more special.

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September, the Colours of Scents

September–the summer in autumn and the autumn in summer.

It’s the month in which I was born, right after the equinox. If you believe in astrology and you know me, you can tell that I’m a typical Libra. I don’t, but still, I AM a typical Libra.

I remember September mostly by the beginning of my high school years. I changed primary schools several times, so my memories of those Septembers are vague and mixed up, and the university years were not September-related: they would start in October.

To me, September is irrevocably connected to those first few weeks of school when you don’t have to worry about the exams and how you will survive a year of learning mathematics. It was a promise to yourself that you will study regularly so that the sheer volume of academic subject matter doesn’t overwhelm you, although it will definitely crash over you soon like a giant wave whether you study every day for hours or not. I attended one of the most prestigious grammar schools in my country. To say the program was demanding would be an understatement, but by the end, we were equipped with a solid understanding of just about everything–from science, languages (including dead ones) and literature to social studies, music, and art. In any case, it was enough to be admitted to any university program. Compared to high school, my four-year undergraduate linguistics studies were easy and way more enjoyable. After all, there was no math anymore.

Speaking of math, my high-school Septembers were also a short-lived hope that, if only I tried hard enough, I would be able to grab the bull by the horns. Alas, any hope would evaporate as soon as the teacher wrote the first equation on the board.

(Back then, I believed that my life would be much happier if I didn’t struggle with math. What I’ve learned since then is understanding mathematics is not important; mathematics teaches us to think in a certain way, even when we don’t know how to arrive at a solution. Just as the written word, or art in general, teaches us to learn about the world through the experiences and feelings of others. Ultimately, mathematics, at least in its fundamentals, isn’t something that cannot be learned, as I realized later. What I knew then, and I know now, is that our approach to learning mathematics, unlike many other disciplines, was fundamentally wrong.)

I still remember that the weather in September, especially at the beginning. It was usually sunny, with cold mornings and warm afternoons, right up until early night, when the sharp and humid mountain air would descend upon the ground like a cool blanket. Like many people who suffer from migraines, I too see abstract concepts in colors: letters, colors, days of the week, months of the year, feelings. So, for me September is not golden-orange-brown, as might be expected, but bluish-greenish like water, airy, and slightly golden-yellow like sunlight through birch leaves starting to change colors. That’s how it smells: bluish, airy and golden. Because for me, a migraine veteran, even scents can have colors.

The classrooms of our sturdy, spacious high school were full of sunshine; they smelled of polished floors, although it would quickly air out. The big, sparkly windows were kept open allowing the air to enter and dilute the miasma of all kinds of scents: from young bodies still going crazy with hormones, new books and floor polish to various eau de toilettes that we then had at our disposal—the inexpensive ones that could be bought in local stores and ones that were brought from Italy. Somehow, in those years—and I’m talking about the late 1970s and the early 1980s—the light, fresh floral fragrances were not in fashion or we couldn’t afford them. Those available were either aggressive, sharp, on the edge (migrainous!), or sweet to the point of vulgarity. Olfactory memory brings up Yardley’s Shanida, Khadina and Sea Spray; Babe and Charlie from Italy or from duty-free stores. I vividly remember our biology teacher, who really liked to spray herself with one of those Yardley’s perfumes; she was wrapped up in the fragrant cloud which would then fall on us in the front seats, creeping into our noses and memories. Some boys used their fathers’ Pino Silvestre or Brut (one domestic, one imported, respectively), the cheap male equivalents to the popular female Charlie and Babe; I can’t think of any others.

I also used Yardley’s sprays; of course I did. Back then, they smelled lovely to me. I was fortunate enough, however, to get a bottle of Arpège from my much older and quite wealthy cousin, a gift that would broaden my perfume-wise horizons and shape my taste in a different direction.

September was an opportunity to show off the new cloths bought during the summer, a new pair of shoes, to talk with your best friend about your sweet and innocent summer love affairs, to check who is with whom on the lunch break, and whether a certain he was still looking at your direction.

As the days went by and September shed away the last traces of summer, the initial lightness of being would also start to fade. The school was heating up, the dreaded math tests would be approaching us inevitably like a train entering the station, becoming a serious threat that somehow had to be neutralized.

Even to this day, I sometimes can’t believe it’s over.

Like many other things in my life, my experiences of September are divided into those ‘there’ and those ‘here’. Climatically, September here is unpredictable: it can be sunny and very warm, or it can snow. However, it is still bluish-golden and airy in my inner colour chart. If the weather is nice, the sky is a deep, azure blue. I might have caught her in one of the photos. The good thing is, even after all these years—there are no math tests; sometimes they just pop up in my dreams and wake me up.

My album of memories of September here is full of pictures of my children and their beginnings of the school year, when the teachers, assistant teachers, staff, management… introduced themselves to the children and parents and welcome them to the new school year. Later the kids would fly the kites and blow soap bubbles.

My boys, thank God, don’t have math traumas like their mom.

The only thing is, September here goes by very quickly, although this is more related to now than here: time speeds up as we get older. The latitude also contributes to this phenomenon to some extent: around the equinox, the days are already noticeably shorter, so it seems that they change quickly. The golden-yellow leaves fall after the first hard frost, the trees shake almost all them at once, but the whisps of warmth can remain in the air for some time, and the sky, if it is sunny, is still cerulean blue, as if washed out.

And then suddenly we’re in October, which I love because of the holidays I’ve learned to observe here, but also because of the heavy clouds, wind and cold weather that I sometimes need as much as sunshine and cheerfulness. Seen in colors, to me October is reddish-brown, like cinnamon, but that’s another story.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I was ready to close my blog for good. After several years of posting about what I read and what I write, with a few excursions into the art of film, painting and history, I was ready to throw in the towel.

Writing a post takes time, a commodity I don’t always have. I have a full-time job, but less mental and physical energy than before. I’ve had a couple of tough years… I’ve been struggling to find the audience from the very beginning of this journey (which makes me even more grateful to those four or five who’ve stayed with me all these years).

My contribution to the Library Silent Auction 2017. Beneath the pink cover is Rosen Torte: a luscious cake made of 12 layers of thin sponge and 12 layers of walnut buttercream.

Does it matter if I call it a day?

Yes and no. Blogging doesn’t affect my sales, doesn’t attract more attention to my books. My absence certainly wouldn’t leave an unfillable void in the blogging community. Nonetheless, I feel that, if I give up on blogging, I may give up on writing in general. Somehow, blogging accompanies my creative process, it helps me stay in touch with my stories and people who live in them, even if I write posts about unrelated topics such as history, or painting, or food.

I’m still not sure how this is going to end, but for a little while, I would like to explore a sort of “fusion” blogging. I make wonderful desserts, so I may write about famous cakes and share my recipes. Or about savoury food my family consider me famous for. Or more about acrylic painting… and about books, of course.

Speaking of books, I’ve just found another review of Best Friends and Other Lovers on Smashwords, from January. The reviewer appears to be an author as well.

“Loved all three of the books. The first one’s ending was a little abrupt but that was okay. The second one was the fastest-paced of all of them. But if you know me, I like a good fast-paced romance. The last one was the most aggravating but so rewarding at the end. I’m happy all three of them got their happy-ever-afters.”

Short and sweet, and I’m thankful to her.

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The Best Antidote for Self-doubt

I almost wept when I read Audrie Driscoll’s review my three story collection, Best Friends and Other Lovers. It’s been so long since I got any feedback about my writing.

Yesterday I told my friend, Georgette, about it. “I probably should print it out and frame it,” I said. “Of course you should,” she said. “You also should hang it on the wall and read it next time self doubt starts to gnaw on your confidence.”

Not only that, it made me reconsider my plan to give up on my blog.

Not only that, it also made me feel better about my newest novella, or story No. 4, I Will Be Waiting for You at the End of the Story that I’ve just sent to my editor. It continues with the same family/friend angle like its predecessors — the primary female character is Ted’s Canadian cousin Harper, who appears in the third story in a minor role, just to make things complicated. (The third story is also my favourite, although, this upcoming novella might shuffle that order. I really like this new tale and its feisty, courageous and funny female protagonist, who has “a problem for every solution”, as her love interest, Jamie, likes to point out.)

And now — drum roll, please! — the review.

“This trio of romantic encounters features three different couples. An interesting aspect is the family and friend relationships that exist among the six individuals, in addition to the sexy encounters that are the focus of each story. So, for example, Nick in “Once Upon a Night,” the first story, has an ex-wife named Hannah. She is the female lead in “Blind Date,” and Nick’s sister Deanna is the narrator and main character of “Best Friends & Other Lovers,” the third and final story. That means there are references in the later stories to the people in the earlier ones, a nice touch.
For the most part, the characters are professionals in their 30s–doctors, architects, business consultants, etc. They have lots of money at their disposal, so the reader is treated to pleasant surroundings, lovely clothes, and delightful meals.
The first story, “Once Upon a Night,” is about a relationship that develops from unlikely to actual, thanks to a winter storm. It’s told in first person from alternating points of view, hers and his. Since there is quite a lot of steamy sex, I must commend the author on capably rendering the sensations and emotions of both parties.
“Blind Date” begins with a fantasy that becomes reality played out in detail. Readers will definitely want to keep a fan handy for this one. It fairly sizzles.
“Best Friends & Other Lovers” is subtitled “a Christmas story,” and indeed it is. I liked this one the best of the three because it contained more characters and backstory, which made the main characters more relatable and sympathetic. Good friends Deanna and Ted go to his grandmother’s ranch near Calgary, Alberta for Christmas. In addition to holiday warmth and fun, there’s the question of when (or if) Ted plans to propose to his absent girlfriend, and how that might change his friendship with Deanna.
The sexual situations in these stories are explicit and detailed but not gratuitous. All sex is consensual and responsible. I’m not a dedicated reader of romance, but I found these stories to be well-written and diverting.
I would recommend this book to fans of spicy romance.”

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A Long Journey Home

At the beginning of Covid-19, Amazon suspended the shipping of proof copies. I was reluctant to publish the paper versions of my books without physical verification, so they sat there, unpublished. Finally, almost two years after I’d formatted them, my proofs arrived.

Getting the proof copies made me truly happy, as if my books returned home after a long journey. If I have to summarize it, they brought me a lot of joy, some frustration, and a very modest income — about $300. A drop in the bucket of money invested, and it mostly came from the platform that hosted them for a year. Nothing from Amazon, of course, a little bit from D2D and Smashwords, which lists 134 sold copies, the majority of them for free during their promotional events, and about 2,400 free downloads of full books or samples.

I enrolled all three of them for their Annual Read an E-book Week Sale from March 6-12. For free, naturally.

Still, one little step before I’m officially done – I need to change the margins in “Guardian” — the recommended outside trim is too narrow — and fix the pagination on the very end. Big manuscripts are indeed difficult to maneuver. Then I’m going order a few proper copies for myself, and close this chapter.

And open a new one.

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Edible Fiction: Do You Like Ebelskiver?

I’m often pleasantly surprised when I stumble upon food and drink tips and recipes in fiction. As a rule, writers seem to take it seriously and they don’t season their books with just about any spice.

I’ve never developed taste for Crème de menthe, no matter how much I adore Hercules Poirot, but I do recall that I became a serious tea drinker around the time I was reading Alexander McCall Smith’s “The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series. My beloved Precious Ramotswe prefers bush tea; I’m more in favour of black tea infused with cardamom. She, however, made me understand the deep spiritual connection between a person and her cup of tea. After reading JP Mclean’s “Gift Legacy”, I now always Kentucky-fry my eggs; Susan Toy’s great mystery novel, “One Woman’s Island” contains quite a few recipes, all of them worth trying. And so on…

Food references ended up in my writing as well – people who live in my stories need to eat and drink, too. Only twice I sneaked in full recipes, though — for fluffy pancakes, and for one of my signature dishes, Pasta Carbonara (which I wrote about earlier.). The rest are just mentions, here and there: cardamom black tea, espresso coffee, white (Canadian, unoaked) wine, Remi Martin … tuna fish, beef steak, pasta dishes, fine cakes such as Mont Blanc (I’ll make a post about it as well), East Indian dishes, beef barley and chicken soups… food and drinks that I like. No pizza, however. Unless I’m in Europe, I couldn’t care less for pizza, so I don’t think I ever brought it up in my novels, even though it appears to be among the most common nutrition instances in–at least–romance fiction.

In “Guardian of the Realm”, I mentioned ebelskiver, which this post is about.

I do love this cover…

Years ago, my friend Sonya, who’s mother was Danish, gifted me with an ebelskiver pan — to the utter delight of my then small sons and their frequent sleep-over buddies. To me, nothing smells, tastes and feels more like a Sunday morning than a plate full of ebelskiver filled with hazelnut spread or apricot jam and sprinkled with a bit of powdered sugar, and a bunch of small, barefoot boys in super-hero pajamas, gathered around the kitchen table, waiting to devour them.

A classic treat in Denmark, ebelskiver are light, small and round pancakes. The filling can be sweet or savory (above mentioned Nutella, jam, curd, peanut butter, chocolate ganache … cheese, minced and sautéed mushrooms, etc.) They can be served plain, only sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, or rolled into the mixture of ground walnut and vanilla sugar, or doused with maple syrup, or topped with cream, or… the only limit is your imagination.

Providing you have the pan, they’re easy and fun to make. You need 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 Tbs. sugar, 4 eggs, separated, 2 cups milk, 4 Tbs. unsalted butter (or canola oil) and filling(s) of your choice.

Now, in a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks, add milk and melted butter. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour mixture until well combined. The batter will be lumpy, but don’t worry; it’s how is supposed to be. Do not overmix it.

In another bowl (lots of bowls are needed for this!), beat egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter in two additions.

Grease lightly each well of the pan with canola oil and set over medium heat until hot. Pour 1 Tbs. batter in each well, add 1 tsp of the filling in the center of each pancake and top with 1 Tbs. of batter. Cook until the bottoms are golden brown and crispy, then, using two wooden skewers, flip the pancakes over (it’s easier than it sounds!) and cook until those sides are golden and crispy as well. Transfer to a plate and repeat the whole process with the remaining batter. I use the same recipe/method of mixing for ordinary pancakes I mentioned above – it makes them airy and puffy, a completely different experience from heavy and often rubbery regular cousins. Although, I have to admit, I prefer crapes to pancakes at any given time.

As I said, making ebelskiver is a no-brainer — only very messy and not quick. The whole operation leaves a ton of dirty dishes and cutlery around.

And lots of happy grins, so it’s worth it.

Have you ever tried a recipe that you found in fiction?

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A Short Journey to Horror Fiction

I rarely plunge into this genre, but I read and reviewed Priscilla Bettis’s debut work, “The Hay Bale”.

First, my review: “The best way to describe this short horror story is that I took a deep breath in on page 1 and let it out on page 42! What a great contemporary Gothic read, with constantly rising tension and a disturbing, yet oddly satisfying resolution. Very atmospheric, with great characters and an unsettling (and intelligent) plot. Five stars from me, and I even don’t like (and almost never read) horror fiction!”

Now about my uneasy relationship with horror fiction. Gothic novels à la Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights are alluring and i love them, but I draw the line there–I can’t take much more than that. This is the reason why I never read any of Stephen King’s horror novels, or any of the other big names of the genre.

In other words, my experience with horror is limited. When I was in my early twenties, I did read a couple of books and watched a few movies outside my gothic/spooky comfort zone. One story and one movie in particular had so long and disturbing an impact on me that it might be the reason why I’ve been more or less ignoring this category.

Back then, one of the staples of the leading daily newspaper of my former country was the serialized novel. My father read that newspaper every day; he would end his ritual by doing the crossword puzzle. After that, the neatly folded issue was ready for the rest of the family to use, which mostly meant me. I would go through a couple of articles–they had an exceptional team of journalists and columnists–the customary recipes written by readers and the rest of the entertainment section, including the next instalment of the novel the newspaper was currently running.

Not that I read every novel they published, although, overall, the selection wasn’t bad. The one that I still can’t forget sucked me in from the beginning. I don’t know who wrote it, but I remember that the characters’ names were English. It could’ve been an obscure translation or the writer could’ve been a well known future horror novelist, whose name didn’t mean anything to me, who knows. It was also possible that a local author, needing some quick cash, wrote it under a pseudonym. I remember the title, which won’t mean anything to you if I translate it back to English: “Exceptional Glow” or “Extraordinary Glow”, something like that. The story was set in NYC, if I recollect it correctly. It was a horror-suspense-thriller-SF novel, the kind of stuff that Dean Koontz is known for.

In short, a young couple rents a flat for peanuts in a fabulous building, in return helping with the maintenance or something along that line. It was a deal anyone would be crazy to turn down, in any case. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the rest of the tenants are supposed to be much older than they appear to be. They all have that “extraordinary glow”. The friendly residents take the young couple under their wing, promising to share their secrets with them. It’s nothing more than a balanced diet, they say, so they coach the couple how to eat heathy, how to exercise, they give them some supplements, etc. In short, they interfere with the couple’s life until they almost completely control it. Still, the husband trusts them blindly; the wife begins to recognize the strong cult-like elements in the behaviour of the older neighbours. She becomes suspicious, figures out their true age and the fact that some earlier young renters had disappeared… I guess you don’t need a spoiler alert here, since it’s unlikely that you’re going to find this book and read it. Anyhow, by the time the smart wife puts all the pieces of the puzzle together, she and her husband have already achieved the “extraordinary glow”, their blood becoming the source of food supplement necessary for their co-residents’ prolonged youth and longevity.

Well, I still have chills and goosebumps whenever I think about that story.

I’m not going to summarize the movie. I watched it and I was horrified. When, decades later, a copy ended up on my desk to be catalogued, I took it, unaware what it was, and dropped it the moment I recognized the title. I did catalogue it, but I was sick in my stomach with the awakened terror. It’s a French movie, Eyes Without a Face (1960). I sincerely wish I had never watched it. Why exactly it had such a powerful effect on me I don’t fully understand, but it’s probably because it felt too close to real life. What happened in the film could easily happen in reality.

There are a few horror movies I love, among them a sensual horror-romance Cat People (1982), with David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Nastassja Kinski. Since I adore Coppola’s Dracula as well, it seems that if horror is diluted with romance, I can enjoy it. The romantic component isn’t always necessary, though. I’m a great admirer of Alfred Hitchcock’s opus, and I’ve watched all his movies more than once. Psycho, although disturbing, never made me feel terrified; Birds, despite my severe avian phobia, even less (and the love story in the background is lukewarm.) They both have a cathartic effect – it feels good to be a little bit scared, knowing all the time that we are, in fact, safe and sound.

Movies like Carrie, Friday 13th, or Halloween are just too frightening for me, although I could deal with this type of fear. Eyes Without a Face, on the other hand, left me scared and scarred for life.

Like every other genre, horror comes in all shapes and sizes, and while some are appealing to me, some others are not. Generally, I avoid it. That’s why I’m glad that my first encounter with horror after a long time was Priscilla Bettis’s story. It has reminded me that horror can be a good and satisfying read.

What are your favourite, or most scary, horror/Gothic/spooky books and movies?

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Fluid Landscape?

I don’t particularly like landscapes done in acrylic pouring techniques. It’s hard to breath life into them. How do you create the illusion of light and shadows by flipping a cup filled with layered paints? It also requires an understanding of drawing and perspective–something I don’t possess at all–in case that some details need to be tweaked later, and they usually do. Most of all, it implies a bit of preliminary planning: what will be in the foreground, the background, where to put the horizon line, etc.

And I’m not god at that. I don’t plan much when I write–I plant seeds and let them grow. When I paint, I rarely go beyond choosing the color palette, the canvas size and the technique. My best paintings–those that made me happiest, that is–were created without much more that that.

Nonetheless, there is one artist, Chris Schneider, whose acrylic abstract landscapes are astonishing. She has inspired me to try, so I did some light planning and came up with this… seascape? riverscape? marsh?

If I had any talent for drawing, now it would come in handy.

Oh, well. The dark blue part in the middle looks kinda Castle Mountain. What is in the foreground is anyone’s guess, but I like the sky. My Instagram buddies seemed to appreciate it, though. One of them commented, “It looks like somewhere I would want to go”. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever been graced by.

Castle Mountain, Alberta

An observation, while I’m here. As much as the art of (amateur) painting is different from the art of (amateur) writing, so much is the painting community different from the writing community. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare them since they’re so dissimilar, but I belong to the both and, in my experience, the former often tends to be clicquey and elitist, competitive, obsessed with rules and prone to criticism; the latter is indefinitely more open, accepting and supportive. Interesting, isn’t it?

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