RIDING THE BLACK

A little while back, Mark West put together a fantastic BRIT HORROR MIXTAPE on his blog, inviting contributors to recommend and write about their favourite British Short Horror stories. It was an excellent list, full of excellent recommendations from excellent writers. So I was immensely flattered when he invited me to contribute to the follow up an AMERICAN HORROR MIXTAPE, which went live yesterday.

It’s a cracking lineup of contributors and a cracking selection of stories – each and every one essential reading. Go check it out.

For my part, I wrote about Charles L. Grant.

“Riding The Black” by Charles L. Grant

Some day I’ll tell you how Harlan Ellison changed my life, but not today. Today, I want to talk about Charles L. Grant.

Elmore Leonard (who knew a thing or two about writing) once said you should never start a story with weather. I’d add the caveat: “unless you’re Charlie Grant”.

No one wrote weather like Charlie. No one else could make it speak and breathe the way he did. It wasn’t just mood, it was a character, and he wrote place as well as Machen or Blackwood.

It pains me that he’s not talked about more, that there aren’t websites full of interviews and columns that he wrote; that his name doesn’t come up more often when people speak of Greats within our genre, because he was.

The cadence and the rhythm of his prose, the attention to the ebb and flow of it, is almost musical; certainly poetic. It demands attention, full and undivided. Not because it’s ‘difficult’, but because it’s delicate. Fragile. And to break it is to lose its finely wrought sensibilities, perfectly balanced craft. It demands to be savoured. No use chomping down on this one, you have to let it melt in the mouth, let the flavours overwhelm you.

I feel like I should have a porch to sit and read him on at the end of the day – perhaps the best time to read Charlie – as the sunset bleeds from shades of blood to shades of dying (that’s one of Charlie’s right there), as shadows lengthen and the night sets in, and the clock in the hall talks death to itself (that’s one of his too). I’ve spent the last couple of weeks re-reading Charlie’s short stories (those I have to hand), and trying to pick just one. I almost settled on “Coin Of The Realm”, because there’s something sort of perfect about it. Something very classic, very TWILIGHT ZONE, very American about it.

But I’m choosing “Riding The Black” instead, and here’s why:

Because it just won’t fucking go away.

I don’t know that it’s the ‘best’ Charles L. Grant story ever written; as with all Great writing, and all Great writers the work grows, and changes, and means something more, or less, or different every time that you return to look again. But, of this I’m sure: I’ve read a tonne of Charlie’s stories in the last few weeks. Swum in their deep, dark waters; breathed their shadows and tasted their particular chill. I’ve wallowed in the worlds that Charlie created. A week ago I closed the covers on those books and came back home. This story that came back with me.

It haunts me.

Not because it was the scariest. Not because it shocked me so. Because it moved me. Because it oozes sadness. And because I’m not quite sure what it means. Is the guy just an ageing gunfighter who outlived his times? Is he a God or a Legend? Is he one of the Four Horsemen? Is he the Devil, or Death itself?

I don’t know. Sometimes I think one, sometimes the other. But I’m sitting here, with the kids playing in the room behind me, and it’s still with me. He’s still with me. Haunting. Lingering. Like the smell of the summer as the clouds close in and thunder rolls in the distance. There’s gooseflesh prickling my arms.

And I’m smiling, and thinking of Charlie…

 

Which lead directly to the idea of DANCING WITH SHADOWS, the Charles L. Grant Blogathon.

12th-18th September I’ll be hosting a celebration of Charlie and his work, with contributions from myself, Ramsey Campbell, Nathan Ballingrud, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Bacon, Mark west, James Everington, Thomas F. Monteleone, Nancy Collins, Stephen Bissette, Stephen Gallagher, Jean-Daniel Breque, Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Oliver, Marc Laidlaw, Steven Savile, Kealan Patrick Burke, P.D. Cacek and John Langan and more to come…

If you’d like to be involved, get in touch!
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#dancingwithshadows #charleslgrant

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DANCING WITH SHADOWS… the Charlie Grant Blogathon

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Photo (right): Mary Jasch

Ten years ago this September, we lost one of the finest writers that the genre has ever seen.

Charles L. Grant is too little talked about these days, and I want to see that change. He was one of the Greats of our genre. More people need to know that. No one wrote like Charlie. No one wrote such exquisite, quietly chilling prose as he did. His pen dripped with black diamonds; phrases like glittering jewels that could cut glass.

He was one of the best.

I’m pushing hard for this, and it’s coming together beautifully, but just to be clear: The Charlie Grant Blogathon is open to EVERYONE…

I’ve been inviting people who I know were friends with Charlie or have spoken previously about his work, but PLEASE, if you loved Charles L. Grant and/or his writing, and you want to be involved, get in touch! 10 years since he passed away, we want to make sure his name is still a part of the current Genre conversation. He was a truly Great writer, and he deserves it. Let’s mark this anniversary in a way to make him proud.

The Blogathon will run from 12th-18th September. Right now the blogroll includes:

Myself, Ramsey Campbell, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, Christopher Golden, Mark West, Nancy Collins, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Laws, Stephen Bacon, Nathan Ballingrud, David Sutton, Kealan Patrick Burke, James Everington, James A. Moore, Peter Coleborn, Steven Savile, Marc Laidlaw, John Langan, Tim Lebbon, Jean-Daniel Brèque, Tom Monteleone, P.D Cacek, Jonathan Oliver, and Stephen Bissette.

If you want to join us in celebrating the life and work of one of the finest prose stylists that the genre has ever known, just get in touch – message me or leave a comment. JOIN US!

All you’ll need to do is post about Charlie and/or his work during the week of 12th-18th September. Include the image up top (including photo credit) and link back to this blog (there’ll be a specific BLOGATHON post the day before we launch, link to that and I’ll update it daily with links to every contribution made so that everybody can be found and read easily).

Please share your posts and mine. Use the hashtag #dancingwithshadows or #charleslgrant see if we can get Charlie trending that week. The genre is preserved by the people who love it. By those of us who do not forget. Remember Charlie this September. Share some love.

 

Let’s make this huge.

Neil.

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Midnight Movie Monographs

The Midnight Movie Monographs line is coming together nicely, and will launch this September at FantasyCon from Electric Dreamhouse/PS Publishing.

I thought I’d share these cover designs from the inimitable David Chatton Barker as a way of whetting your appetite.

They certainly have me excited.

More about this exciting new series soon!

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Happy Birthday, Horror!

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It may not have been a natural birth, stitched together as it was from the flesh of other fictions, given life by the lightning bolt of Fear… still, it was 200 years ago this June that, by most accounts, Horror as a genre was born.

Brian Aldiss in his TRILLION YEAR SPREE cites Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN as ground zero for SF as a genre. While Sir Christopher Frayling begins his NIGHTMARE:The Birth Of Horror, with FRANKENSTEIN and how it came to be.

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That ‘Haunted Summer’ on the shores of Lake Geneva, within the walls of Villa Diodati has a lot to answer for… and to celebrate, since not only did it result in the creation of FRANKENSTEIN, but also, indirectly, to DRACULA, in the writing of John Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE, and indeed in the figure of Byron himself, who directly influenced Polidori’s depiction of Count Ruthven, and the iconic image of every darkly handsome, gloweringly dangerous vampire thereafter.

From this night, when Byron, Shelley, Mary (then Mary Godwin) and Polidori told ghost stories comes one of the most influential books in the English Language and indirectly, an entire genre – one from which that most vampiric of arts, the cinema, has drunk deeply.

“Cinema comes to life in the dark – like Dracula.” – David Thompson

Given the immense influence of these books, these people and that night on our culture – artistically and otherwise –  why then does there seem to be so little celebration of it?

The BFI in their infinite wisdom chose to hold a huge celebration of Gothic and Horror Cinema a couple of years before this momentous date… which seems rather short sighted. They couldn’t have waited?

The way that TV and Literary subjects so often tie together now – see the recent spate of books and TV series about Russia, or those which ties very sensibly to specific historic events like the Somme, you’d have thought they could have held on just a little, in order to ensure blanket coverage.

As it was, the BFI Gothic celebrations were an immense success, but it’s hard not to feel that the Official bastions of our cultural and artistic heritage once again have slighted or underestimated the genre. Don’t quite take it seriously enough to think it warranted the extra effort, or the wait. Or perhaps just don’t see this moment in our cultural history for what it really is: One of the most important events in the history of art. Literary in it’s basis, but infinite in its influence both in subject and in style.

Is this because it’s Horror? I can’t help but think it is. It’s a genre then that has commercial value to our cultural institutions, but not enough meaning to be genuinely respected or cared for. Not enough meaning to note a date.

Similarly, though Mary Shelley lived for many years in the city of Bath and wrote much of FRANKENSTEIN there, that city still has not recognised her, nor the place where she lived and wrote with the ‘Blue Plaque’ seal of official approval, despite the fact that she is hands down one of Bath’s most famous residents, and despite the efforts of Sir Christopher Frayling, Angela carter and others to encourage the city to do otherwise. Jane Austen is their cause celebre… the respectable face of their literary heritage. Not this rebellious young woman who eloped with her lover, spent a summer with the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, and wrote a novel which got so under the skin of its readers as to never have left their nightmares since.

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Perhaps that’s as it should be. Horror is, after all, a ‘disreputable’ genre. It’s meant to be the outlaw, the outsider. The genre that dares to challenge and attack and shake things up. But when it has so much influence, when it has borne GREAT and LASTING works of art, it still bothers me to see them diminished, ignored, or not given their due.

SO, while the cultural capital was a little premature with its ‘Petite Mort’ for horror (left the money on the dresser and walked out of the door)… up North we embrace it and declare undying love. Darkness and Shadow are part of the lands in which we live. We seem to occupy a similarly ‘outsider’ status, and we recognise one of our own.

It makes me proud  to see the way Newcastle has NOT forgotten, and indeed is celebrating this momentous anniversary with a series of lectures by Gail-Nina Anderson and our own NOVOCASTRIA MACABRE screening of Ken Russell’s GOTHIC at Newcastle Castle, which dramatises the events at Villa Diodati in a way that comments on them, the people involved, and the genre they begot, with Stephen Volk (screenwriter of GOTHIC as well as GHOST WATCH, AFTERLIFE, THE AWAKENING, MIDWINTER OF THE SPIRIT and more) and  David Pirie (who quite literally wrote the book on British Horror Films and the importance of Gothic Horror to our culture with A HERITAGE OF HORROR: ‘The Gothic is to Britain as the Western is to America’) in discussion after the film, chatting about the making of the movie, it’s conception, and the importance of the events depicted.

We’ve had our Shakespeare celebrations this year.

If you love the darker side of literature, the dangerous free spirits of Horror, Fantasy and SF, this is your moment. This one’s for YOU. Villa Diodati is YOUR Stratford Upon Avon. The theatre of your mind’s eye, The Globe. And whatever dark entity was conjured from the collective fears of Byron, Shelley, Mary and Polidori… that’s YOUR Shakespeare.

Embrace the darkness. Face your fears. Celebrate!

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GOTHIC screening at Newcastle Castle with Stephen Volk & David Pirie

Gail-Nina Anderson lectures at Newcastle Lit & Phil: ‘The Birth Of Frankenstein’ and ‘Byron: Poet, Pin-up, Vampire‘.

GOTHIC review by Ken Hanke

GOTHIC news and reviews at stephenvolk.net

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Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead.

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Okay, so it ain’t ever gonna happen, but goddammit I’ve fallen in love with this idea…

A few days back I was jonesing for a John Carpenter fix, and looking at Blurays for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. But times are tight and unless I can trade something in somewhere, it’s gonna have to wait. It came off the back of reading Jonathan Lethem’s excellent monograph about Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, which I highly recommend, it’s great fun and it hit just the spot I was hoping for during what is, for me, a cyclical obsession with the films of John Carpenter. I’ll go for ages not watching them, but it always comes back around. The style, the craft involved in all his work… but that’s a separate post. While I was jonesing for a Hi-Def hit of early Carpenter, I started dreaming, and then… THIS hit me. And I just can’t shake it loose.

I even wondered if I might somehow be able to get a meeting with a studio to actually pitch this idea, because I love it so much, and I really think that it would be a great sequel, and a way to pass the baton, set things up to be an ongoing series should a studio decide they want to… but that was pie in the sky thinking. Studios don’t meet with nobodys to hear an their take for how to relaunch a pre-existing property.

Nontheless, for what it’s worth – on the off chance their current writer has fallen through and the studio are looking for a new direction – here’s mine:

What if Snake Plissken came back just strong as Max Rockatansky didn, in a movie that’s both a genuine part of the existing series and a reboot all at once?

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK deserves it’s FURY ROAD…

So what if THIS supercool young badass, lived to become THIS kind of ornery old guy:

 

Last we saw Snake Plissken he double crossed his handlers and switched the whole damn world off line at the end of ESCAPE FROM LA (my favourite scene in the movie, and a defining one for the character). But what happened next?

What did the world become thereafter? And what became of Snake?

I don’t know about you, but I’d LOVE to see Kurt Russell play Snake OLD. I can watch Kurt Russell in anything, but just look at him in BONE TOMAHAWK, or DEATH PROOF or HATEFUL EIGHT. He’s always been a great actor and a great screen presence, but he’s on fire in these films. He’s amazing. He has what I consider to be genuine movie star qualities and an incredible charisma on film.

So what if Snake is an ornery old man, a semi mythic outlaw of the past to some, ‘The Man Who Flipped The Switch’. But he’s getting old, getting slow, still full of piss and vinegar, still kicking ass, because he’s fucking Snake Plissken, but he’s not a young man any more.  He’s Rooster Cogburn, William Munny, Pike Bishop… his days are numbered and he knows it.

And that’s where a young woman comes in. Not a kid like in TRUE GRIT, but a young woman. Out of her teens. She wants his help to find someone. She’s not an innocent. Probably no one can be in the kind of world that will exist once the lights go out, not if they want to survive. Who is she? What does she want?  Her journey with this ageing outlaw will reveal it. And sure, the journey with Snake will see her mature. In fact, she’ll save him as much as he’ll save her by the end. The road will be hard and unforgiving. Snake won’t live to the end credits. His time is up. Their fight will be painful and real. She’ll lose an eye. And Snake will die to save her. And when it’s over she’ll take that eye patch and tie it on and bloodied and battered and mean as a snake, she’ll walk into the sunset and the oncoming storm of what lies ahead for her. If the movie is successful, it’s her we’ll follow through further adventures in a world gone back to the range…

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Found online… clumsy photoshopping, but I like it.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, TRUE GRIT, THE ROAD WARRIOR, EL DORADO and THE WILD BUNCH are part of this film’s DNA, but it should have a heart and soul that are uniquely its own. True to itself and Carpenter’s original vision.

That’s my set up. You listening, FOX?

Not convinced? Think about this one… see how directors are lining up to put their own kind of stamp on the extended universe STAR WARS movies? That’s what you do with these sequels. Joss Whedon, Neil Marshall, Guillermo Del Toro, Lexi Alexander, Rian Johnston, Joe Cornish, Edgar Wright, Shane Black, Justin Lin, Jennifer Yuh, Lynne Ramsey, Bong Joon-Ho, Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Tykwer, Gareth Huw Evans, Nicholas Winding Refn (I’d love to see these people work within the world of Escape From New York and any number of others).
C’mon FOX, this idea has legs. If you still have the property and things have stalled… reach out. Let this be that Pie In The Sky, one in a million headline. The lightning strike that kick starts it back to life… I think this is worth exploring.

I don’t really think this post will come to anything (I’m not THAT deluded) but this idea will not get out of my head, and if it ain’t goin’ anywhere, then why not share?

Of course, the last I heard, Neil Cross had been hired to write a script for a brand new version of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and if this is working… all power to them. I loved Cross’s scripts for DOCTOR WHO and LUTHER. Hell, if the remake route is how it goes? I’d take Idris Elba as Snake Plissken any day.

But, just in case it’s all come off the rails again? Fox? My door is always open…

#PieInTheSky #FuckIt #ChanceInAMillion #PlisskenAintDead

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Greatest ever picture of Carpenter and Russell.

 

 

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