The Scariest Part: Amy Grech Talks About RAGE AND REDEMPTION IN ALPHABET CITY

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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Amy Grech, whose latest collection is Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Amy Grech’s stories shock, like a sudden splash of cold water. This latest collection delivers gritty profiles of people snarled in the crime and seething anger of inner city New York at its most violent. Here you’ll encounter five dark tales — “Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City”, “.38 Special”, Cold Comfort”, “Prevention”, and “Hoi Polloi Cannoli” — actually 12, if you count the literary parts. These startling stories will convince you that Grech is a noir and horror writer you want to watch.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Amy Grech:

I’ve lived in New York City for 19 years now. When I first moved to NYC from Long Island, it was a much darker place than it is today. Back then, certain neighborhoods like Alphabet City and Hell’s Kitchen were covered in graffiti and had a reputation for being dangerous sections of the city, where crime ran rampant. These were not places where young, single women had any business being, but one of my good friends lived in Hell’s Kitchen, so I got a taste of that region of NYC on a regular basis, saw the crime firsthand, albeit from a safe distance, witnessed junkies desperate for a fix and got a sense that desperation bred contempt. I envisioned Alphabet City to be the same way, but much to my surprise when I went there to explore in the early 2000s, there was no graffiti to be seen, condos dominated virtually every street corner and self-absorbed hipsters replaced junkies, a crime-haven no more…

The scariest part of Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City occurs in the lead novella when Ruby Fuji invites Dr. Trevor Braeburn, an eye doctor, back to her apartment in Alphabet City after meeting him in a bar, knowing hardly anything about him. A potent cocktail of overwhelming lust, coupled with lax inhibitions, leads to poor judgment on Ruby’s part, with tragic consequences for the young girl. There’s Rage and Redemption to be had in Alphabet City once her older sister Gia and Mr. Fuji discover the culprit and take matters into their own hands. You might say the eye doctor set his sights on the wrong girl…

I felt extremely uneasy after writing that particular scene, especially because Ruby has unknowingly made herself vulnerable to the lethal whims of a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. I don’t scare very easily, so it’s very rare for me to create a moment that strikes a nerve and lingers.

As a single woman living in New York City, one of my worst fears is that I’ll meet a guy at a local bar who is handsome, smart and after too many Margaritas, invite him back to my place, only to discover after we’ve hooked up that he has a gun or a knife and intends to kill me. Luckily, all of the guys I’ve dated have been pretty sane so far…

It’s an extremely dangerous, impulsive thing for a single woman to do, invite a stranger back to her apartment for a good time. And yet, thousands of single women do so every night in the Naked City. Some people might say these women are being reckless, setting themselves up for a fatal encounter. How much does she really know about him? Sure, she might know what he does for a living, where he grew up, when his birthday is, but she has no way of knowing if he’s a psychopath intent on doing her harm, until the macabre deed is done.

Amy Grech: Website / Google+ / Twitter

Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

Amy Grech has sold over 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines, including Apex Magazine, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Dead Harvest, Expiration Date, Fear on Demand, Funeral Party 2, Inhuman Magazine, Needle Magazine, Reel Dark, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, Space & Time, The Horror Within, Under the Bed, and many othersShe has stories forthcoming in Detectives of the Fantastic, Volume II and Fright Mare. Amy is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association who lives in Brooklyn.

Doctor Who: “The Zygon Inversion”

You might remember I thought the previous Doctor Who episode, “The Zygon Invasion,” was okay but kind of boring. It was all set up, and I figured everything important was going to happen in the second part, “The Zygon Inversion.” For about half the episode, though, I had the sinking feeling it was going to be no better or more interesting than the first episode. Then the second half of the episode came to the rescue.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

The second half of the episode takes place entirely inside the Black Archive, which we haven’t seen since the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” and consists primarily of the Doctor trying to convince Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Bonnie, leader of the Zygon revolution, not to start a war. All he’s got in his favor are two mysterious boxes, the Osgood Boxes, and a slim chance to convince them to stand down. He gives a long speech, a good speech about how you can’t know who will die in a war, a speech that covers so much of what the Doctor felt during the Last Great Time War, and one that is completely heartfelt thanks to Peter Capaldi’s BAFTA-worthy delivery. It’s a speech about being able to forgive yourself and each other in order to move forward. It’s the heart of the story. The only drawback is that it took an episode and a half to get there, but once it arrived I thought it was pretty damn good.

When I initially saw what was inside the Osgood Boxes, I felt my suspension of disbelief slip. How could the buttons be labeled Truth and Consequences, the same words the Zygon revolutionaries use as their rallying cry? How could the Doctor have known after the events of “The Day of the Doctor” that those words, and that very concept, would come into such heavy play later? I was tempted to pass it off as just another flashy but illogical Moffatism (Steven Moffat co-wrote the episode with Peter Harness), but then a line at the end of the scene, little more than a throwaway really, implied that this was actually the fifteenth time the ceasefire had broken down. Kate and Bonnie didn’t remember because of the Black Archive’s mind wipe. So it’s possible that at some point in the previous fourteen crises, the Doctor altered the contents of the boxes to match the recurring Truth or Consequences theme. (One must also presume that during the other fourteen crises no one was killed and no one saw a Zygon au naturale, because there’s no way the Doctor would have been able to accurately wipe so many people’s memories outside of the Black Archive. How the people who lost loved ones this time around will cope with what happened is left unaddressed.) Once again, Doctor Who has given us an amazing scene that doesn’t involve explosions or running down corridors or someone talking really, really fast. Just Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor talking to people like they’re adults. Like in “The Witch’s Familiar” earlier this season, it’s the best part of the story.

Anyway, this time the Doctor tries to prevent a future, sixteenth reoccurrence by only wiping Kate’s memory and not Bonnie’s. Then, in an about-face that is way too fast, Bonnie goes on to become the new second Osgood to help defend the Earth. It’s a sweet and likable moment with the two Osgoods at the very end of the episode, but it seems to me that this big a change of heart requires a lot more time and healing than “later that day…” After the amazing scene in the Black Archive, it rang a bit false.

I admire the episode for sticking to its guns and not revealing which Osgood we were seeing all this time, the human or the Zygon. Even the Doctor can’t resist asking, but she refuses to tell him, saying she’ll only do it on the day when it no longer matters. That, too, was a sweet moment and central to the story’s theme. (Also a sweet moment: When the Doctor tells Osgood he’s a big fan.)

All in all, I found the “Zygon Invasion”/”Zygon Inversion” two-parter not very interesting, at least until the end, but ultimately solid. One weird thing I noticed, though: I think the Zygon costume design actually looked better in 1975’s “Terror of the Zygons” than it does now. These new designs look too…dry. The Zygons should be slimier. Also, bring back the Skarasen!

And now for some fun Doctor Who neepery! The painting of the First Doctor in the UNIT safe house makes another appearance, with a wall safe behind it. Kate uses the phrase “Five rounds rapid” in explaining how she escaped from the Zygon that was about to kill her — a phrase made famous by her father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, in the 1971 Third Doctor serial “The Daemons” (which happens to be one of my favorites!). There’s another mention of “Sullivan’s gas,” the anti-Zygon weapon created by former companion Harry Sullivan, which the Doctor goes on to call “imbecile gas,” a reference to the Fourth Doctor memorably calling Harry Sullivan an imbecile in the 1975 serial “Revenge of the Cybermen.” In the Black Archive, we can clearly see the battle helmet of a Mire in the background. And finally, at the end of the episode one of the Osgoods is again wearing the Seventh Doctor’s outfit.

(And here’s some bonus James Bond neepery: the Doctor’s Union Jack parachute is a callback to Bond’s identical one in the opening scene of The Spy Who Loved Me!)

The Scariest Part: Paul Tremblay Talks About A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS

 

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This week on The Scariest Part, I have the distinct pleasure of hosting my good friend Paul Tremblay, whose latest novel is A Head Full of Ghosts. I’ve known Paul for probably two decades now, and I’ve always been in awe of his writing skills. For all the amazing short stories and novels he’s already written, though, A Head Full of Ghosts might be his best yet. But don’t take my word for it. If you like what he has to say here, check out the book for yourself. I think you’ll agree it’s one of the best of the year. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface — and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Paul Tremblay:

I tried to construct A Head Full of Ghosts so that reasonable minds could disagree as to whether there was something supernatural going on or the events of the novel could be explained rationally. And, was it an either-or type of situation with no crossover, or was it more like a you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate deal? I don’t know if I’m making sense, but I’m sad that my house is already empty of Halloween candy…

Anyway, for so many horror stories, the scariest part is the idea that reality isn’t necessarily as rational or as real as we think it is. That there’s slippage. And that slippage or liminal space is impossible to define, which makes it even more frightening. This idea of reality or the real story existing within the cracks of things is a big reason why I used as many pop cultural references as I could in the novel. I wanted to put the reader on initially sure, familiar footing, and then slowly undermine it all, bring everything into question, to continually having the reader wondering or asking what was real and what wasn’t. Scarier still is that we and our friends and our loved ones get stuck or trapped in those cracks. And then what the hell are we supposed to do then, right?

That all said, I think Merry gives my thesis statement (does a novel have a thesis statement? Work with me…) almost halfway through the novel when she says, “What does that say about you or anyone else that my sister’s nationally televised psychotic break and descent into schizophrenia wasn’t horrific enough?” Horror that truly terrifies, disturbs, and moves the reader isn’t ultimately about wanting to watch people suffer. Horror at its best is about our human inclination toward empathy, about wanting to and needing to understand why people do the horrible things they do and/or how we survive it, and having the courage to not look away. For me, the most horrific scenes/parts of the novel, the scenes that are most vivid in my own head, are the ones that are the least likely candidates to have a potential supernatural element intruding. These are the scenes of the family falling to pieces under the mounting pressures from all manner of outside forces and from their own bad decisions and personal failures.

There are two scenes in the novel that are the scariest parts of the book for me. One scene is at the end, post-attempted exorcism, and I don’t want to spoil it. The other scene hits at page 55. Merry just finished listening to her parents arguing and goes upstairs to find her older sister Marjorie sitting in the sunroom. Their fun conversation quickly dissolves into Marjorie matter-of-factly threatening to rip out Merry’s tongue. It’s when Merry (and the reader, I hope) realizes that she’s no longer safe in the company of her beloved sister (or her parents for that matter) and she doesn’t know what she or anyone else can do, or if there is anything they can do to help her sister. It’s when she realizes that the devil you know is not always better than the devil you don’t know.

Paul Tremblay: Website / Facebook / Twitter

A Head Full of Ghosts: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Paul Tremblay is the author of A Head Full of Ghosts, The Little Sleep, No Sleep Till Wonderland, In the Mean Time, and the forthcoming (June 2016) novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He is a member of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and numerous “year’s best” anthologies. He has a master’s degree in mathematics and lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children. He hates pickles.

Nick and Alexa’s Spoopy New Orleans Halloween Honeymoon

After four years of marriage, Alexa and I finally took our honeymoon last weekend! And what better time and place than New Orleans during Halloween? It was a spoopy good time!

Wine on the hotel balcony

We stayed at the lovely Intercontinental New Orleans on St. Charles Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter. When they found out it was our honeymoon, they upgraded us to a room with a terrace and gave us a bottle of wine! Our view was of the office building across the street, but still. A terrace! We had drinks out there every night and coffee out there every morning. It was divine!

New Orleans during Halloween is as crazy as you think. Rowdy crowds in Halloween costumes can be fun (surprisingly, we only saw one person throwing up, a girl who looked barely old enough to be drinking), but even more fun were the amazing Halloween decorations on display throughout the Quarter. They really do it up right down there!

The horror!

Terrifying! (This display was in the doorway of the notoriously haunted Lalaurie House on Royal Street, once the site of terrible torture and murder, and also once owned by Nicolas Cage, although the two were not concurrent.)

We did lots of fun things aside from just wandering around the Quarter, of course. We went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and saw the penguins; we went to the Presbytère and the Cabildo, two fine, historical museums on Jackson Square; we rode the St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Garden District, where we were blown away by all the beautiful homes; and we took two walking tours, one a spoopy nighttime ghost tour of the Quarter and the other a daytime historical tour of the famous St. Louis #1 Cemetery, where voodoo queen Marie Laveau is entombed, and also where Nicolas Cage erected a seriously hideous pyramid-shaped tomb for himself for when he dies. (Nicolas Cage clearly loves New Orleans, and is also probably the worst thing to happen to New Orleans since the storm.) We also got to spend some time with my friend, author and NYC expat Trisha Baker, whom I haven’t seen in years, and meet her partner Norman, who’s pretty awesome. It was great to catch up.

Albino gator

This albino gator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is even lazier than me!

And then there was the food, and the drinks! Oh my God, New Orleans!

Muffaletta for lunch at Central Grocery

Here’s me shoving a muffuletta in my face at Central Grocery! MUFFULETTA!

Enjoying a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's

And here’s me enjoying a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s. Or should I say “enjoying.” They’re kind of gross, but I suspect, given the insane amount of rum in each glass, people don’t drink them for the taste.

The trip was wonderful and over too soon. I took plenty more pictures while I was there (mostly of houses decorated for Halloween, as it turns out), which you can see here. We can’t wait to go back!

 

 

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