Review: The Tired Sounds, A Wake, a Creepy Novella by Michael Wehunt, 2017

The Sanguine Woods

IMG_1527 Story and cover art by Justine Jones. Publisher: Dark Regions Press, 2017.

I am only sorry I didn’t read this novella by Michael Wehunt sooner! I bought it then slipped it onto my bookshelf. It’s so thin, I didn’t see it, snuggled up to that big fat hardback by a very popular horror novelist, whose fiction is good, but not as good as the fiction Wehunt is writing here.

I am not only in awe of the sharp, lean prose style and insight into character the story shows. It is also entertaining, enjoyable to read, creepy, haunting, a sneaker-upper on you; and it seems craftily self-aware of the dark nature of its own beauty. You can sense this in the story’s misleadingly mild tone, and in the careful descriptions—and thoughts and behaviors of—characters Lorne and his wife, Gwen, both of whom tell the story along with a peripheral narrator who…

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Dracula…But, Have You Read the Book?

The Sanguine Woods

IMG_4195Dracula, the novel from 1897, is one of my favorite books. If you haven’t had the chance to read it, it’s filled with passages such as this one, which may have been caught visually, on film, but not with the atmosphere Bram Stoker stirs up, like cold fog. This is one of these passages. Barker is supposed to meet Count Dracula at the Borgo pass, but, the stage driver got Harker there an hour early, no doubt so he could save Harker and himself, the doom that may befall them on this night (it is May the fourth or St. George’s Day and at midnight, evil things are permitted to walk the earth unobstructed). But as we see here, the dead-undead are not easily fooled…

Jonathan Harker’s Journal, May 4…

‘When it grew dark there seemed to be some excitement amongst the passengers, and they kept speaking to him, one…

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Some Thoughts on Good and Not-So-Good Ghost Stories…

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The cover of my upcoming anthology of Ghost Stories, published by Wick Press.

At the end of this post is a paragraph from a very very good ghost story that is 135 years old. But, first, I had to work out my thoughts about why I wanted to share it. And, it ties in with the premise for my ghost story anthology.

This is why I do what I do: I have been reading ghost stories and “mystery and suspense” stories and “uncanny” stories and “stories of the supernatural”—since the beginning of 2017, when I first began to narrow a list of hundreds of stories—maybe more—down to a growing longlist and then a shortlist for a 2-volume ghost story anthology—because, I thought, there is something about the stories written before 1920-ish, that were just better. They are better fiction, hands down, and I needed to explore this so I understood it better. After reading umpteen stories from 1780s-1915, give or take, I have come to the conclusion that, it is not about flowery language or “purple prose” or antiquated anachronistic plot structures, etc. etc. It is about being better-educated writers during a time when more was expected of our mind, our manners, our mores, our work ethic (even in writing), our reputation before “the world” (these periodicals made their way around and were widely read).

I had heard that a lot—the “overwrought prose of yesteryear” angle—and I was open to it being correct…and as I went along I compared some ghost stories from that time with some from the 1950s forward and all I could think was: ‘why does it seem that we have dumbed down fiction writing in the ghost story genre to a level of a Sport’s writeup in the Times?’ Nothing wrong with Sports writeups in the Times.

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One of the stories that I will be including in my upcoming anthology: The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, Wick Press, 2017

But, I don’t want to read fiction like that. I want depth, thoughtfulness, a sense from reading that the author is well-read, the characters, too; I want them drawn in 3D and not over-described.I want atmosphere. And, I want to feel like the entire story took time to build, like a cathedral, not a hut made out of hay bales.

I know some amazing writers today who are writing cathedrals. And I am so thrilled as a reader about it.

I remember reading a quote in college by Henry James, or maybe it was Joyce Carol Oates…about writing the “telling detail”…but I think we still struggle today, especially in genre or “pop” fiction, which can also be very high quality, (sometimes), with telling the “wrong” detail(s). Wrong is a subjective term. Maybe the better descriptor is the “unthoughtful” detail, the “rushed string of details” the ones that sound OK, but that when strung together fall short of showing something cohesive about the character (e.g., the red-head waltzed into the room wearing a black dress cut down to there and orange lipstick, emerald earrings that dangled like stars from her earlobes, a matching bracelet on her right wrist, bright-red patent-leather 10-inch pumps, black nylons like the ones you wore in the 1940s with a line up the back, and a purse made out of the skin of some animal, but oddly, with all of that bling, she wore not a single ring on any of her long graceful fingers, the nails of which were painted “hotlips red”).

I would argue that the only telling detail here, is that she wore no rings. Why? That detail interests me. The others don’t. They are part of a “formulaic” writing style, noir, Roger Rabbit meets Raymond Chandler, but isn’t written as well as Chandler, etc.

I don’t mean to be negative, just reflective about why some stories seem to inspire more awe in me; whereas others feel utilitarian, not unnecessary, just thin.

The writers of the 1800s weren’t writing “horror” or “weird” fiction. Because those weren’t genres yet. They were states of mind or emotion, or behavior. And they made their way into this high quality fiction. What I especially love in these stories, is the way the entire story is treated with such respect—from the pacing to the tension and from the atmosphere to the characters—these writers were grand writers, and they had been brought up not on “the milk of fiction” but on its “meat”. I fear today, we are if not back to the milk, then at least to some protein-shake-gluten-free, non-dairy, lactose-free milk substitute, with vegetable-product thickeners.

I am still on my longlist, because I thought I would find more stories and novellas, sooner. Last night I found two, that may skip the longlist and jump right to the shortlist. I’m so impressed. One is by Sir Walter Besant. I’d never heard of him until today. And, here is a paragraph from the second one, a longer story by “Mrs. Oliphant” (Margaret O. Wilson Oliphant)—and published in a two-part serialized format in a new periodical of the time, that went on actually to become very successful.

This story is 135 years old. You tell me if it doesn’t read like the best literature published today. Purple prose? Outdated style? I don’t think so. And this is just one paragraph. Imagine the whole story, about the solemn, wandering ghost of a woman, long-dead—Stay tuned for The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, December 2017.

“They asked me to come at Ellermore when we parted, and, as I have nothing in the way of home warmer or more genial than chambers in the Temple, I accepted, as may be supposed, with enthusiasm. It was in the first week of June that we parted, and I was invited for the end of August. They had ‘plenty of grouse,’ Charley said, with a liberality of expression which was pleasant to hear.

Charlotte added, ‘But you must be prepared for homely life, Mr. Temple, and a very quiet one.’ I replied, of course, that if I had chosen what I liked best in the world it would have been this combination: at which she smiled with an amused little shake of her head. It did not seem to occur to her that she herself told for much in the matter. What they all insisted upon was the ‘plenty of grouse;’ and I do not pretend to say that I was indifferent to that.

Colin, the eldest son, was the one with whom I had been least familiar. He was what people call reserved. He did not talk of everything as the others did. I did not indeed find out till much later that he was constantly in London, coming and going, so that he and I might have seen much of each other. Yet he liked me well enough. He joined warmly in his brother’s invitation. When Charley said there was plenty of grouse, he added with the utmost friendliness, ‘And ye may get blaze at a stag.’ There was a flavour of the North in the speech—of all not disclosed by mere words, but also by an occasional diversity of idiom and change of pronunciation. They were conscious of this and rather proud of it. They did not say Scotch, but Scots; and their accent could not be represented by any of the travesties of the theatre, or what we conventionally accept as the national utterance. When I attempted to pronounce after them, my own ear informed me what a travesty it was.”

– Mrs. Oliphant, “The Lady’s Walk,” Part I, Longman’s Magazine, 1882

The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James

The Sanguine Woods

loneanimatorArt by Loneanimator (Deviantart.com)

The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James

Montage Rhodes James

“M.R. James joins the brisk, the light, & the commonplace to the weird about as well as anyone could do it—but if another tried the same method, the chances would be ten to one against him. The most valuable element in him—as a model—is his way of weaving a horror into the every-day fabric of life & history—having it grow naturally out of the myriad conditions of an ordinary environment…”

– H. P. Lovecraft in a Letter to Emil Petaja, March 1935)


tumblr_mynba2N4q11syfoijo4_500From BBC edition of James’ story, “The Tractate Middoth”.

Table of Contents

Preface
Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book
Lost Hearts
The Mezzotint
The Ash-Tree
Number 13
Count Magnus
“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”
The Treasure of Abbot Thomas
A School Story
The Rose Garden
The Tractate Middoth

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