Monday, May 26, 2014

Devilish Dogs, Dediless and Deception: Southern Haunts, Part 2

As promised, today is my slightly occult blog tour for "Southern Haunts:  Devils in the Darkness."  This type of thing holds a special place in my heart.  I aspired as a child to live in a haunted house and from my experiences in high school, I got my wish.  I lived in a house built early in the 20th Century where odd things kept happening with doors and cold spots and noises.  I didn't know until much later that my sister had actually scene a little girl staring through her window when she borrowed a little girl's notebook from the attic.  It's the house where I didn't get sleep for over 30 hours because I was home alone and accidentally found The Exorcist on TV.  When I went to Dublin, I eagerly went on a ghost bus tour (even if I made the conductor's life hell by correcting his mythology) and visited sites of satanic rituals well after dark.  I once saw what I believe to be a ghost at Gettysburg.  And I have a picture of a semi-transparent figure staring over its shoulder at me and surrounded by orbs in one district of Philadelphia.

With that background, of course I heard about this book from the author of Haunted Richmond and Virginia's Haunted Historic Triangle.  She was a contributor and since I follow her blog regularly, I decided to volunteer for the blog tour.

I admit to having rolled my eyes a bit at the cover.  In my opinion, Satan doesn't need to be caricaturized.  This portrayal might have had a 666 in the smoke coming from his Freudian cigar or there could have been skull-shaped ice cubes in the highball glass.  Then again, I enjoy minimalist covers where the meaning has to be divined by reading the book, such as my copies of Les Miserables, To Kill a Mockingbird and, more recently, My Sister's Keeper.

And there were lots of instances of  "your insane," "black heals clacked" and "Amy shuttered in fear."  Parts of this, I read aloud and spelled the word in question for the enjoyment of my fellow OCD spellers.

There, my beefs with the book are over with.  Seriously, if the cheesily leering devil on the front cover and sporadic spelling mistakes are the worst things I can say about an anthology that required the hard work of so many different authors, those of you who have known me to rant and rave about the vocabulary used in a romance novel's sex scenes should sit up and take notice.

Demonology According to Me

As you may have gathered from my opening spiel, I do quite like the frightful and otherworldly.  As soon as I got over my fear of The Exorcist, I went out and read the book.  I love King books.  I watch horror movies to cheer myself up.

Recently, I began editing a manuscript for a friend.  In it, Lucifer appears to a teenager and flat-out offers him unlimited power in exchange for evil deeds.  The rest of the book so far has checked back on these evil people, who are constantly acknowledging that they like being evil. 

Pardon me for being an opinionated Mormon here--it's my blog, after all--but I don't believe in that version of the occult.  In "Dediless," a demon has an aspiring artist sign a seven-year contract.  The artist tries to bargain his way out of it and the demon agrees, but because we have an appreciation for the nature of this demon, we know it's not as simple as that.  And it's not.

Daemon means "wise one."  If demons are not cunning, tricksy, conniving and less sinister than they should be at first glance, they aren't demons.  They're just...well, to borrow a Dilbertism, "Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light."  They don't work for me.

The devils in each of these stories was an individual to me.  There is an antichrist.  There is a pre-Aztec god of terrible, yet faded, power.  There are the requisite cloven hooves.  There are a hell of a lot of possessing spirits.

I admired every incarnation of the occult in this anthology and was impressed by the imagination.  My version of demonology is that the author identifies what a character holds sacred, what a character decries as profane and introduces a party which makes the sacred profane and demands that the original state be returned.  The best stories, in my opinion, are ones where the sacred can never be restored.

Favorite Plots

Another one of my hobbies has been to judge the writing competition at Life, The Universe and Everything.  Those stories are almost always science fiction or fantasy, though I was unfortunate enough to read a science picture book about lunar cartography told from the perspective of an infant troll and a vampire-hunting story in which the hunter hugged a teddy bear to death in a field, only to find it was a vampire in the form of a bat.  I discovered in the years that I got to judge that it is difficult to come up with a new spin on a genre, no matter what your age.  There are always the alien invasions, the flights from earth, the E.T. knockoffs and the short stories that were not-so-subtly ripped off from "How to Train Your Dragon" or "Star Wars."  (*cough* Eragon.  *cough*)

The same goes for sinister stories.  I found one story in this anthology that gave in to the urge to blame everything on pre-marital sex and ouija boards.  Another seems to have come from the era of the last few years where all supernatural occurrences were eventually explained by toothless old granny being in a coven.  They still managed to be good stories, but I was more impressed by others.

Notable for me was the "Battle for Vicksburg," the second entry in the book.  If you're sentimental about The Cause and the reason for the War Between the States, you can easily imagine that the fight between good and evil extended to beyond the grave.  My sister once stood on the sidelines of a reenactment in Virginia and demanded to know who the bad guys were.  I gave her the stink eye and so did about thirty Southerners.  In this tale, it's not North vs. South.  It's patriots on both sides vs. the Devil, led by Lee and Grant.  It's a brief moment in time, but the plot is one of the most victorious of the books.

In "Dead End," I'm reminded of this funny line from Scream:

Phone Voice: Do you like scary movies?
Sidney Prescott: What's the point? They're all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting.

Sometimes, when reading horror, I wonder how many teenagers actually have a sense of self-preservation.  Yes, nine times out of ten, if you go into a creepy house with your boyfriend, you'll come out with a hickey and some good memories of how he tried to scare you.  In the same way that "Life does not imitate the World Series," "Life does not imitate campfire cautionary tales."

So what makes me remark on "Dead End?"  The fact that you're not entirely sure when the frightening moment arrives.  It took me several pages before I started noticing that either the author was confusing her characters or there was something very, very wrong.  I suspected the latter because the writing was very good and I was right to get my hackles raised.

 I enjoyed "Let Demon Dogs Lie" because of the innocence of the parties.  It is a tale of a hellhound and its victims, but the protagonists are neither meddlesome nor aggressive.  It is an unfortunate set of circumstances that any one of us all could wander into.

"Beleth" has a certain element of The Ring to it, where a curse is perpetuated in complete ignorance.

In terms of favorites for this anthology, I will go with "What Demons Men Make" by Windsong Levitch.  In an attempted exorcism, it's not just one religious figure struggling against the demonic.  The Native American in the story calls on every resource available to her, and then reaches out for help regardless of the differing credos of the helpers.  It is set in fairly modern times, but the affliction is more ancient.  The last paragraph is particularly chilling:  "I don't think the devil can make a demon as bad as man can.  You see, the devil is a fallen angel, who was cast out of Heaven for defying his father.  Over centuries, he grew bitter and hateful.  Bitterness and hate is what builds demons.  But what a man can do is much worse.  The demons in that house were raised by man iwtha taste of blood and a lust for pain."

Where do you go from here?  Facebook page  Where you can find it on Amazon.

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