Samuel R. Delany Roundtable at the Mumpsimus

I’m participating in a roundtable discussion about the work of recently crowned Grand Master of Science Fiction Samuel R. Delany, which was organized by Matthew Cheney at his blog The Mumpsimus.

I had the pleasure of taking a class with Mr. Delany back in the late 80s, and he also critiqued my early, jejune fiction. Check it out, and join in the discussion with other academics, writers and fans!

Delany Collage by Matthew Cheney
Delany Collage by Matthew Cheney

Race, magic, and Pinterest

Skin Deep

I just submitted a cleaned-up manuscript of my forthcoming collection of dark magical realist fiction that deals with the matter of Race to my publisher. There’s horror, humor, and history in these tales.

I have created some Pinterest boards that sort of point toward some of the inspirations. The Skin Deep Magic board features images of some of the characters I’m writing about–women from the Victoria era and up to the 40s who feature prominently in some of the tales. The Vintage Racism board shows images of black used in advertising. There are Golliwogs, Aunt Jemimas, and mammy jars.

Mammy

Existential Horror, 70s-Style in Richard Kelly’s ‘The Box’

I recently saw The Box, a movie by Donnie Darko’s director Richard Kelly, and starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden. It was on TV, interrupted by commercials for inane things, so I didn’t get the full immersive effect. I don’t think it was a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was very, very disturbing and mind-trippy.  I won’t rehash the plot, which expands a Twilight Zone style idea/moral quandary, complete with a MacGuffin.

It’s set in the 70s and evokes the feel of the horror movies of the 70s, not just in the costumes (feathered hair, leisure suits) but also in the pacing and the exquisitely crafted mood of dread. The film is wan and washed out and there’s a kind of cinema verite flatness to the acting. Frank Langella, as a Satan character, is terrifying both in his disfigurement and his understated menace. Weird scenes of possession combined with vintage sci-fi effects (sterile, all white labs, portals of hover water) are a complete homage to such horror classics as The Exorcist, The Omen and even Trilogy of Terror. The horror is existential, as the sinister back-story is slowly revealed, and as a viewer, you have to put some of the pieces together.

The Box is not a great film, but it does stick with you.

Fairytale magic in chroma-key, green-screen and shoulder-pads: an appreciation of Faerie Tale Theatre

Back in the 80s, when everyone was wearing neon headbands and parachute pants, I was obsessed with Shelley Duval’s Faerie Tale Theatre. These were live action versions of classic tales, featuring all star casts and notable directors (like Tim Burton). Every weekend, I’d go to the video store and rent a VHS tape.

 

Lee Remick as The Snow Queen
Lee Remick as The Snow Queen

I recently re-watched their version of “The Snow Queen,” with Melissa Gilbert as Gerda, Lauren Hutton as the Summer Queen and Lee Remick as the titular Snow Queen. The effects are as cheesy as those 70s Dr. Who episodes, the acting somewhat stilted, and the pacing was off. The mood of the piece is off, as well. Are Gerda and Kai supposed to be little kids or young adults? Is it supposed to be scary or funny? In short, it didn’t hold up to my memories. In short, it is very dated.

I like my fairytales dark, and for the most part, Duval’s versions are vectored towards the kids. Still, the series was the spark of my life long interest in fairy tales and folk tales.