The Scariest Part: William Meikle Talks About THE GHOST CLUB

My guest this week on The Scariest Part is author William Meikle, whose new story collection is The Ghost Club. Here is the publisher’s description:

Writers never really die; their stories live on, to be found again, to be told again, to scare again.

In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal dining club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.

These are their stories, containing tales of revenant loved ones, lost cities, weird science, spectral appearances and mysteries in the fog of the old city, all told by some of the foremost writers of the day. In here you’ll find Verne and Wells, Tolstoy and Checkov, Stevenson and Oliphant, Kipling, Twain, Haggard and Blavatsky alongside their hosts.

Come, join us for dinner and a story.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for William Miekle:

In The Ghost Club I’ve undertaken the task of writing a collection of supernatural stories as told in the voices of famous Victorian writers like Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde and many others. It’s probably the most ambitious piece of work I’ve ever attempted, but surprisingly to me that in itself wasn’t the scariest part of the process.

I’m Scottish, and was brought up in a tradition of old songs rather than old stories. My grandmother loved to sing to us, and she had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of folk songs, hymns, gospel, snatches of jazz and popular records of the day — this was the early ’60s, so Elvis and the Beatles got more than their share among the Scottish tunes.

It was one of the old Scots songs that was the cause of the scary part for me, a seemingly innocuous little song that’s also a murder ballad, a lament, and a rather nasty tale of infanticide. We Celts are big on that stuff in case you haven’t noticed. That, drinking, fighting and herring fishing, but that’s another set of songs for another day.

I had got to the Margaret Oliphant story and I knew it would be an ‘upstairs, downstairs’ tale of a maid and a big house. Mrs. Oliphant was another Scot, and I wanted to reflect that in the story somehow. But I didn’t know the song was going to turn up until it did, right at the moment I needed it. Gran had sung it to us, and I’ve since performed it myself in folk clubs, back when the world was young, so I didn’t even have to look up the lyrics.

“She sat down below a thorn. Fine flowers in the valley
And there she has her sweet babe borne. And the green leaves they grow rarely.”

And I didn’t just write it down, I heard it in my head, clear as day, in my old Gran’s voice, so clear that it brought tears to my eyes and I had to stop and look round to make sure she wasn’t in the doorway watching me.

That’s not the scary part either, for I’ve had that kind of reaction to sudden memories of her before now over the years since she died.

No, the scary part came later. I’d worked on the story all day and got nearly finished, but I was getting tired, it was late and time for bed so I didn’t push it. I went to brush my teeth, and was standing by the sink when I heard it. It wasn’t my Gran’s voice this time, it was a child’s, a young girl by the sound of it, and it seemed to be coming from outside the window, out in our back yard. I heard it, loud and clear.

“She’s taken out her little penknife. Fine flowers in the valley
And twinned the sweet babe of its life. And the green leaves they grow rarely.”

I didn’t look out, didn’t dare to, and I stood there for a while in the brightly lit bathroom, waiting, but it wasn’t repeated.

It was a long while before I got to sleep that night though.

Writers, eh? We’re a weird bunch.

The Ghost Club: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s

William Miekle: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with over twenty novels published in the genre press and more than 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. He has books available from a variety of publishers and his work has appeared in a large number of professional anthologies and magazines. He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company. When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies by William Golding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow, Golding’s classic LORD OF THE FLIES was overlooked in my reading history. Either the novel wasn’t assigned to me in high school the way it was for everyone else, or it was and I didn’t bother reading it (I neglected about half my school assignments; I was a bad student). But now, several decades later, I finally picked it up, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t completely love it — I found the first half rather slow and at times uninvolving — but I thought it was very good. It’s a deeply symbolic work, with symbolism that isn’t often very subtle, but it works well as an adventure story, too. I thought there were a few standout scenes in the latter half, though none so amazing as the one scene in which the titular character makes its appearance. At that moment, like no other in the novel, LORD OF THE FLIES feels vibrantly alive to me, and the story tips compellingly into horror territory (which is probably why the scene stands out so much to me). Overall, I enjoyed the novel and am glad to have finally filled this gap in my literary education. Sucks to your ass-mar!

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I give this one all the stars! What a fun, tight, and surprising novella! We all know the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but in reading Stevenson’s original novella I realized the source material is very different from what we know from movies, cartoon spoofs, and just general societal osmosis. We tend to think of it as Jekyll’s story, his scientific quest to isolate the parts of man that are evil, his stumbling upon the potion that creates Hyde, etc. None of this matches Stevenson’s vision.

The first pleasant surprise for me is that Jekyll is not the story’s protagonist. Our POV character is Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer, through whose eyes the mystery of Jekyll’s relationship to Hyde unfolds. I was also surprised to discover Hyde already exists when the story starts, and has for some time. In fact, the revelation that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person is saved for the big reveal at the end!

Jekyll’s motivations are revealed to be quite different from what I thought from those other versions; he is far more selfish and desperate to walk on the dark side without tarnishing his good name. We tend to think of Jekyll and Hyde like Bruce Banner and the Hulk, with one personality going to sleep while the other takes over, but that’s not the case here. Hyde *is* Jekyll, with all his memories fully intact, but with his id finally released from the domineering superego of societal norms. Nor is Hyde portrayed as the hideously disfigured creature of the films. Instead, he is shorter than Jekyll (his child self, one could argue; a throwback to Jekyll’s own hinted-at wild youth) and sports an evil expression that implies, at worst, deviousness. He’s no monster, at least not physically. It’s his crimes, all of which happen off the page and are related to Utterson after the fact, that make him one.

Despite this 1886 novella’s archaic language (“cabinet” is used in place of “study,” for example, which was something I had to look up), DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is a fast and highly enjoyable read. Without a doubt it’s one of my new favorites of classic horror literature.

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The Scariest Part: Jason Ridler Talks About HEX-RATED

I’m delighted that my guest this week on The Scariest Part is an old friend of mine from way back, author Jason Ridler, whose latest novel is Hex-Rated. Here is the publisher’s description:

Fall, 1970. Los Angeles has always been a den of danger and bliss, but even darker tidings brew in the City of Angels. Cults, magic, and the supernatural are leaking into the worlds of glamour and dives of the gutter. To the spectators walking down Hollywood Blvd, it’s just more proof that La La Land is over the cuckoo’s nest. But to former child magician and Korean veteran turned newly-licensed private investigator James Brimstone, it means business is picking up.

After attending his mentor’s funeral, Brimstone signs his first client: Nico, a beautiful actress with a face full of scars and an unbelievable story of sex, demons, and violence on the set of a pornographic film in the San Fernando Valley. The cops chalk it up to a bad trip from a lost soul, but Brimstone knows better.

He takes the case, but the investigation goes haywire as he encounters Hell’s Angels, a lost book of Japanese erotica, and a new enemy whose powers may fill the streets of L.A. with blood. He’ll have to use his Carney wits, magic tricks, and a whole lotta charm to make it out of a world that is becoming . . . Hex-Rated.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Jason S. Ridler:

Hex-Rated, the debut novel in my new series The Brimstone Files, is a supernatural mystery set in porn industry of 1970s LA. And the scariest part was writing the sexy bits.

I’ve written about love, lust, violence, horror and the grotesque for almost twenty years but this was a legit novel! And unlike Harlan Ellison and other heroes who wrote dirty books under pennames, I’d be using my own. What would the neighbors think? What might my family think???

Then I recalled a chat I had with my friend Weird-Ass Neil, back when I started writing fiction. Over hyper-priced coffee I complained that I was stalled. All my characters were lone wolves who had no family because I was worried that if I wrote a father, a mother, or sister…my real life family would scream, “That’s how you think of me? HOW DARE YOU!”

Ol’ Weird-Ass Neil’s about as blunt as a cement brick in the face. His response? “Sounds like you’re giving other people a lot of authority over what you can write, and they’re not even in the room. Dude, I think this is a recipe for mediocrity.” He was right. Fear of external judgment is the killer of creativity. If you please everyone, you’ll hate the work yourself. So I started writing about families and their influences (good, bad, and fugly) and my characters became vastly more interesting and “rounded” and I leveled up as a writer.

So, when I found myself at that crossroad of “Fear of External Judgment” again, I ran in the other direction. Hex-Rated is a pulp novel so there damn well better be some pulp sex. At the same time, the last thing I wanted was some kind of tribute to misogynist power-fantasies of that era. So I made Brimstone a sheet warrior, but a progressive and left-wing child of the Beats with an open mind and forward attitude about sex and sexuality. Yes, the sex in the novel is over the top and primarily built for hetero-normative modes, but it also fit his character and his attitudes. And, I hope, they’re fun to read!

Then, I waited for responses from the big bad world and the results have been HILARIOUS!

Some fans love those scenes for being salacious and ridiculous. Others say they’re “too much,” and Brimstone is “too good” at the beast-with-two-backs to be taken seriously. And my family, in true “children of the 1980s fashion,” skipped those parts like Fast Forwarding the “adult situations” in a teen comedy! I’ve walked the line, as Johnny Cash would say, with some folks loving the lusty bits, others hating them, and most folks loving the story and editing them to suit their interests.

That’s the kind of happy ending you only get when you don’t give in…to the Scariest Part!

Hex-Rated: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Jason Ridler: Blog / Facebook / Twitter

Jason S. Ridler is a writer, improv actor, and left-wing military historian. His novels include Hex-Rated, the first installment of the Brimstone Files series for Nightshade Press, Rise of the Luchador, and Death Match. He’s also published over sixty stories and numerous academic publications. FXXK WRITING! A Guide for Frustrated Artists collects the best of his column of the same name, and his next historical work, Mavericks of War, is forthcoming from Stackpole Books. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is a Teaching Fellow for Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

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