WeWriWa—Halloween isn’t just for kids

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 15-year-old next-door neighbor Lotta Valli, dressed as a ballerina with a bit too much skin showing, told fundamentalist Samantha Smart she didn’t know how anyone could shun Halloween.

“Ain’t you a little old to go trick-or-treating?” Sam asked. “That’s something for little kids, as evil as it is.”

“I ain’t no little kid, and I’m going trick-or-treating,” Cinni said. “Girls can get away with it longer than guys.  Lotta and her friends go to the school dance and party too, and they can wear more adult costumes.”

“I can see that.” Sam glared at Lotta’s ample cleavage. “You oughta cover your body more, so you don’t offend God with that Satanic temptation.”

Lotta pushed up on her bust, and laughed at Sam’s horrified expression.

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A mad doctor’s bargain

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Released 3 December 1922, A Blind Bargain is one of approximately 100 of Lon Chaney, Sr.’s lost films, out of the 157 he made. While the vast majority of his lost films are from his pre-stardom years (1912–19), many of his stardom-era films are lost as well.

Many of Lon’s films, and other silents and early sound films, were destroyed in a horrific fire on 13 May 1967. Nitrate is highly flammable, and stands no chance when it comes in contact with flames. An electrical fire in MGM’s Vault #7 destroyed hundreds of films that day.

This is why film preservation is so most vitally important, as is always backing up our work. There should always be at least two copies of something, and storage conditions should never be careless. It’s easier to put a nitrate film onto safety stock, or back up a file, than it is to restore a damaged product or rewrite entire sections.

A Blind Bargain was based on British writer Barry Pain’s 1897 novel The Octave of Claudius. From the synopses I’ve read of both, it seems like the film stayed fairly close to the book’s basic storyline. One change from the novel was that Dr. Lamb’s nurse and butler became two of his macabre human experiments. The film also seems to have done away with the soap opera-esque storylines of many secondary characters.

Unsuccessful writer Robert Sandell (Raymond McKee), hurting over his mother’s poor health and his lack of publishing success, attacks and tries to rob theatregoer Dr. Arthur Lamb (Lon). Instead of having him arrested, Dr. Lamb takes Robert to his New York home and asks him to tell his story.

Dr. Lamb, a mad scientist, agrees to give Robert’s mother an operation on one condition—Robert must submit himself for experiments at the end of eight days (hence the word “octave” in the source novel’s title). Robert agrees, since he’ll do anything to save his mother.

Robert and his mother move into Dr. Lamb’s home, where they’re closely watched by Dr. and Mrs. Lamb. Also watching Robert is a hunchback (Lon in a dual role) who’s the result of one of Dr. Lamb’s experiments. So anxious is Dr. Lamb to experiment on Robert, he butters him up by giving him large amounts of cash enabling him to live high off the hog and impress all the people who wrote him off.

Dr. Lamb also arranges for Robert’s book to be published through Wytcherly, who runs a publishing company. Predictably, Robert falls in instalove with Wytcherly’s daughter Angela.

Mrs. Lamb, who’s been driven crazy by her husband’s experiments, and the hunchback warn Robert about Dr. Lamb’s true intentions. They also show him a strange underground vault containing an operating room and a tunnel of cages. Held prisoner in the cages are victims of Dr. Lamb’s experiments.

In addition to creating the hunchback and the people in the cages, Dr. Lamb’s experiments also killed his infant child.

With one day left to go, Robert tries to buy his way out of the bargain with his newfound publishing royalties. Dr. Lamb, terrified Robert will escape, drags him into the underground vault and ties him to the operating table.

His evil plans are foiled when Mrs. Lamb rescues Robert and the hunchback releases a cage door which brings Dr. Lamb to a most horrible end at the hands of an ape-man (Wallace Beery). This ape-man is yet another of Dr. Lamb’s monstrous experiments.

Robert returns home as a successful author, with Angela waiting for him by their wedding ceremony.

The film met with a standing ovation after its première by NYC’s Capitol Theater. Critics praised the film highly, particularly Lon’s dual role.

The film was beautifully tinted and toned in colors including straw amber, night amber, blue tint, blue tone, flesh tint, light lavender, and green tint. There was also a sequence colored with the Handschiegl process, featuring multicolored bubbles at a party.

In 1925, Raymond McKee (Robert) played a hunchback in Free to Love (which co-stars Clara Bow). This character was directly influenced by A Blind Bargain.

IWSG—Personal characters and a blacklisted troll

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This month, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is asking participants to posts photos of ourselves or our alter egos with any of the IWSG swag, or the logo. I edited two of my alter ego dolls into the T-shirt logo, one representing my good side and the other my dark side.

This month’s question is:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

As I’ve discussed before, Emeline Rosalie Troy of my contemporary historical family saga is strongly based on myself, though with some differences. For example, I only wish I’d gone to Vassar, I’ve never smoked pot, and I didn’t go right from undergrad to graduate school.

Emeline’s dysfunctional, one and only relationship is also strongly based on mine with my ex-“fiancé,” though I changed his name from Aleksey Smirnov to András Kóbor. I felt giving her a Russian boyfriend would resemble real life too closely, and I didn’t want to waste my favorite Russian male name on such a loser.

Writing the chapter “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry” in Justine Grown Up actually helped me to realize I needed to end my dead-end, dysfunctional relationship with Sergey. If my fictional dopplegänger could look at all this overwhelming evidence and realize it was long past time to walk away, for her own mental health and happiness, then I needed to do the same.

Many other aspects of my life and personality have seeped into my characters and writing over the years. I have a planned future post about how much of your real life to incorporate into your writing, and how to strike a balance between real-life inspiration and too much reality.

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For only the second time ever, I had to blacklist a troll from commenting. I got a notification of a comment on a post about how not to write third-person omniscient, and it sounded so much like a prior comment on a similar post. My instinct was right.

I honestly don’t get why people who disagree so strongly with a blog post take the time to write rude comments like that. If you can’t agree to disagree in a civil fashion, or offer respectful constructive criticism, your time would be better-served reading posts you do agree with.

He’s left a lot of similar rude comments on many other writers’ blogs, all iterations of, “The one and only true way for me is massive infodumps, purple prose, telling instead of showing, and remorseless adverbs, and none of your fascist diatribes and dictates will ever force me to change.”

These are just some examples:

 

 

My classic horror film series continues on Friday with the lost 1922 Lon Chaney, Sr., film A Blind Bargain. Next week will feature two more Lon films, The Unknown and the lost London After Midnight (both 1927), and Hilde Warren und der Tod (1917).

How much do you sprinkle yourself into your stories? Have you ever dealt with trolls or people leaving rude comments? What would you say to a writer who insists on only doing things his or her way and rejects suggestions for improving his or her writing?

A triple dose of antique horror

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Welcome back to my yearly October series on classic horror films celebrating landmark anniversaries! This year, I’m starting off with three Georges Méliès films from 1897, and will also be fêting The Unknown (1927), The Mummy (1932), Häxan (1922), The Lodger (1927), Freaks (1932), The Cat and the Canary (1927), Phantom (1922), Vampyr (1932), Hilde Warren und der Tod (1917), the lost Lon Chaney, Sr., films London After Midnight (1927) and A Blind Bargain (1922), and Nosferatu (1922).

Let’s get started!

Le Château Hanté was released as The Devil’s Castle in the U.S., and The Haunted Castle in the U.K. In spite of its British title, it’s not one and the same as the world’s first horror film, the 1896 Méliès film I featured last year.

Two men enter a castle, one dressed in red and the other in brown. The man in brown offers his friend a seat which moves away. When the man in red goes to fetch the chair, it turns into a ghost, a skeleton, and a knight in armor. When it disappears, the man is confronted by Satan, and his escape route is blocked by a ghost.

This film was Méliès’s first collaboration with Elisabeth Thuillier, who ran an all-women’s film coloring lab in Paris. They worked together till 1912, when he left filmmaking. This is also the second Méliès film featuring Satan.

The Bewitched Inn (L’Auberge Ensorcelée) features Méliès as a traveller who can’t get any rest in his hotel room, as he’s beset by obstacle after obstacle in his quest to change into pyjamas and crawl into bed. His clothes and the furniture all vanish, fly up to the ceiling, or move around the room. His candle also explodes. He finally gives up and leaves.

This is the first known Méliès film to feature inanimate objects coming to life, something he did many times in his films. The theme is very similar to 1896’s A Terrible Night (which I discussed last year), and would be used again (with considerable expansion) in 1903’s The Inn Where No Man Rests.

The special effects were achieved through substitution splice, wherein the camera would stop as something was added, changed, or removed. Méliès used this technique many times. The inanimate objects were animated with wires, and the exploding candle used pyrotechnics.

Sadly, Le Cabinet de Méphistophélès (alternately titled The Devil’s Laboratory, The Cabinet of Mephistopheles, and Laboratory of Mephistopheles) is lost. Only about 200 of his 520 films are known to survive.

Out of anger and frustration at his financial ruin and fall into obscurity, Méliès burnt many of his negatives. In 1917, the French Army occupied his office and melted down many others for celluloid (boot heels) and silver (ammo). The rest were lost due to the all-too-familiar deterioration of nitrate.

As suggested by the title, the story was inspired by Faust, and is believed to be the very first film adaptation of this timeless story. It’s also believed to be Méliès’s very first literary adaptation.

The synopsis says Mephistopheles cavorts about in various disguises before revealing his true self. Along the way, he does magic tricks, presumably objects appearing, disappearing, and moving around. I’d also assume Méliès plays Mephistopheles.

WeWriWa—Halloween costumes at the bus stop

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m switching to my yearly Halloween-themed snippets, in a section from the book formerly known as The Very Next. This is my chronological second Atlantic City book, set from March–December 1939.

During breakfast, antagonistic, longterm houseguests Urma and Samantha Smart had some very choice words for the Halloween costumes and decorations on display, and the holiday itself. Now Sam has gone out to the bus stop, and stands out like a sore thumb among all the other kids.

This has been modified somewhat to fit ten lines, and been given more paragraph breaks. Gyll is pronounced like Gil, not Jill. Like his oldest sister Liylah, I was too used to the alternate spelling to want to change it after my kreatyv spylyngz phase ended. Cinnimin’s name was an honest misspelling, not an attempt at creativity, but I kept it for the same reason.

Cinni had dressed as a devil, Sparky was a dog, Babs was a friendly witch, Stacy was a wizard, and Elmira was a princess.  Barry and Gary, standing off to the side, hadn’t worn costumes, though they could use the excuse of being too old and boys besides.  Babs was now in eighth grade, and in a minority coming to school in costume.  She got away with it for one more year because she was a girl.

Violet and Mandy came out to the bus in their own Halloween costumes, an angel and an antebellum girl, respectively, while Tina and Gyll came dressed as pirates.  Terri and John, like Barry and Gary, were too old to come to school in costume, though that hadn’t stopped John from dressing up as a dapper ringmaster.

The Valli children from next door, fifteen-year-old Lotta and thirteen-year-old twins Robert and Jane, had also flouted the unspoken rule against older students coming to school in costume.  Lotta was a ballerina with a little too much skin showing, Jane was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Robert was the Cowardly Lion.

“The holy roller didn’t dress up, I see,” Lotta said. “I don’t know how anyone could possibly shun Halloween, since you get free candy and money for doing nothing, you get to wear a costume all day long, and the parties are always fun.”