Non-fiction Archives#1

Crime & The City Solution: Tony Black By Paul D Brazill

Edinburgh crime writer Tony Black is an award-winning journalist, editor, and novelist.He is the editor of the brilliant PULP PUSHER ezine and the author of three novels featuring punch drunk, boozy Gus Dury, an ex  journalist turned Private Investigator.Paying for It, Gutted & Loss see Gus sniff around the back streets of Edinburgh and follow the trail of crime and corruption to the top. They’re gruelling, intenese and exciting journeys – not without moments of humour and tenderness. You feel as if you’d like to give Gus a smack every few pages but the pitbull proves himself again and again and it’s down to Black’s great writing that when you you finish one of his novels you feel battered and bruised  but can’t wait for the next round!I asked Tony some fairly rubbish questions and he gave some cracking answers;PDB) Gus Dury sees Scotland from inside its bowels. You’re an outsider. How do you get into his way of thinking?

Tony B) I’m not much of an outsider … I was born in Australia but left there when I was about nine-weeks-old to come to Scotland, my parents were ten-pound Poms who lasted ten years in the sunshine before the dreich shores drew them home. So, yeah, I’m Scots more than anything so I’d be a bit worried if I couldn’t get into the national mindset.
PDB) Does it take it out of you living with Gus so much?

Tony B) He can be hard work, no shit. He’s a real glass-half-empty kind of guy and I definitely wouldn’t want to hang with him, just in case any of his bad luck rubbed off. But, y’know, I don’t have that much trouble separating my life from his … I close the laptop and he’s away.
PDB) Do you see the world with a journalist’s eyes?
Tony B) I was a hack for over a decade so you do get into that way of thinking a bit, yeah. It’s kind of hard to stop yourself coming over stories for the papers and muttering, ‘good yarn’, and so on … I remember when I started as a cub reporter, I was green as grass and my first editor said, give it time you’ll be seeing stories all over the shop and he was right. It’s a shame the journalistic world is in such a bad way because that way of thinking has little value these days, the state newspapers are in. Ironically, we need people who can sift through the smoke and mirrors more and more … it’s a heavy weight to be putting on bloggers’ shoulders!
PDB) Did you ever own a ‘I Came In Eileen’ T-shirt?

Tony B) No. But Christ, I wish I did! For the record, I never owned a Makin’ Bacon one either … remember those?

Makin’ bacon – advertised at the back of ‘Sounds’ magazine in the 70’s.

… which brings me to

PDB) If Ken Bruen is the Iggy Pop of the new crime writers who are you?

Tony B) You’re obviously not catching the Iggster’s new adds for life insurance here in the UK … man’s sold out. Ken has way too much class for any of that caper, he’s more a flat-out genius of the John Lennon variety … I’d be the bloke that carries his guitar to the gigs, if I was lucky!
PDB) If there was a chance to adapt the Gust stories for films or TV, how would you feel? Would you be worried that they’d be bolloxed up like Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning?

Tony B) I wouldn’t be letting that Cold Feet geezer anywhere near anything I did … he’s well over exposed and has only one way to act – pish. So, yeah, I’d be against that … but like I’d have any say. To be honest, if anyone from TV or film got in touch, I’d be too busy turning cartwheels to care what they did with it.

PDB) I liked the story I Want Candy that you wrote for Thuglit. Was it weird writing in ‘American’?

Tony B) No, not really … I think here in the UK, and elsewhere, we’re so exposed to US cinema and music and culture in general that it’s almost like a default gear for a lot of writers. I’ve spent a lot of time in the States, visited over 20 cities, and I’m pretty well immersed in their music scene so it comes quite easily. In fact, I’d really like to work on a US-based novel one of these days … maybe that’s the way to get the US deal that’s evaded me so far.

PDB) What’s on the cards now?
Tony B) I’ve just finished the fourth in the Dury series, LONG TIME DEAD, and it’s out in July. The paperback of LOSS comes out at the same time through Arrow/Random House here in the UK. I’m taking a bit of time off for the next few weeks to do some catch-up reading and then I’ll be down to work on the new standalone, MURDER MILE. This one’s a police thriller and doesn’t feature Gus, but it’s set in Edinburgh as well. I’m starting out with a new character, a messed-up cop called Rob Brennan and I’m looking forward to that.

Have a snifter of Gus Dury in the short story Last Ordershttp://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2010/01/last-orders-original-gus-dury-story-by.html

Tony Blacks website http://www.tonyblack.net/

PULP PUSHER http://www.pulppusher.com/#

Tony Black talks about Ken Bruen http://pdbrazill.blogspot.com/2009/11/guest-blogger-tony-black-storm-bruen.html

INTRO TO THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL By Robert Crisman

First, the title: How George Bush and the Lovely Danielle Saved Planet Earth From Zork the Galactic Destroyer. A little unwieldy perhaps, but, still a grabber. Already you’re thinking, George Bush? Saving Earth?This has gotta be fiction but, hell, let’s check it out…Here’s how I came to write the damn thing:The original title was Two Rotten Weeks, the story of Joey and Danny, two crooks who kept chasing the roadrunner into that tunnel, the one where the light at the end is a train. It was going to be Looney Tunes brought back to life, one cartoon fuckup after another, straight ace, deuce, tray—but this time with people!None of whom at that point were George Bush.Still, it was real-life drama. You would have loved it!

Except—there wasn’t enough for a novel! The way I’d mapped it, Joey and Danny had maybe 100 pages to flounder around to finis. Enough for a screenplay.

In fact, that’s how Two Rotten Weeks started out. My plan had been to hook up with Robert Rodriguez, who’d put it on screen where the thing would make billions—and then I’d go shopping for mansions and Bentleys, and then spend the rest of my life getting laid by young freaks. But Rodriguez had other shit going. Quentin was busy. Van Sant said, “No!” Visions of Section Eight housing, or maybe a lean-to under a bridge trestle, loomed.

Hollywood showed me the back of its ass! I thought to myself, I’ve got to do something! And—why not a novel? Something to do till my Social Security kicks in!

But as I said, what I had was a screenplay. One hundred pages. I had to pad that bad boy!

So I tossed in some killer sci-fi shit, mixed in with political intrigue for days—about how George W. Bush, the Forrest Gump of malevolent dipshits, fucked up the plans of Zork the Galactic Destroyer to eat planet Earth like a tunafish sandwich. Not on purpose, of course, he’d have fucked the thing up, but, how he actually did do it’s a story, my brother, and one that has to be told for the sake of our children.

See, Zork and his legions had noshed through millions of planets and sucked out their marrow, and had now worked their way to this neck of the woods.

And they wanted us bad!

This was true for two reasons: First, their home planet., Zork, was just toast. They’d chewed it to mud. Nothing but mud—like Elbonia in Dilbert cartoons.

Zork had once been much like the Earth. It had trees, grass, and bugs, and small woodland creatures, a couple of oceans, and Zorks, who were sort of like people.

And as people here do they fought like baboons. And what happened was, they started with rocks and ended with anthrax and death rays. Kind of like us, but way space age, man. We’re still like monkeys compared to the Zorks.

Ghengis Khan? Romans? Mere punks!

Anyway so, the Zorks are blasting away at each other and falling like flies, and after awhile the whole fucking planet’s a toxic waste dump. Everything smelled like dinosaur shit. And, funny thing, all that weird stuff they’d cooked in the labs for their wars? If we even think about breathing that stuff we fall over dead. But the Zorks—they’d sucked it into their DNA, man, and—turned out they liked it! Some kink in the genes just went crazy or something!

Charles Darwin was right! You know, take some species, they’re pooping along and it’s same-o same-o, and then the wind changes. The skies all fall down, the dudes get bent over like boomerangs, man, and the next thing you know, the Queen of the May is wearing her tits on her butt!

A guy’s gotta see what he’s grabbing for, right?

New conditions, new needs, new tools to get the job done!

Same with the Zorks and that anthrax. They learned to use it as food! It tasted like ribeye! They’d sprinkle it over their cornflakes and stuff! Cornflakes and ribeye, a real taste treat! Their ads on TV made it look like it all came from Spagos!

By this time the rest of their planet was pretty much hasta la bye-bye.

And it was the same with the rest of the places they raped. One minute bunnies, the next minute mud. The Zorks were voracious! They needed their anthrax! They searched out the planets that stockpiled the stuff. They chewed through the cosmos. And then they found Earth.

The Zorks all got woodies! Earth was a sump. The oceans were landfills, the rivers caught fire. People ate plastic and absolute shit: Mickey D’s, Herfy’s, the frozen foods section at WalMart, and so on.

Fort Dietrich made the Zorks drool for a week.

They prepared to invade and, like I told you, George did us a solid. Just how is for later on in the book.

All I had to do was make the thing plausible, right? Do that and I had a surefire bestseller!

Now, as it happens, I’d written another screenplay, called Bone Thugs, in 2006. The thing was a hard look at Bush and the rest of his ratsucking crew, and nobody’d touch it, scared that the Feebs would ship them to Gitmo or something. But now, under cover of Joey and Danny’s timeless and heartwrenching tale, a tale of low crime and late-inning redemption, the story of one man’s love for a woman you all wish you had—the Lovely Danielle whom you’ll meet down the road, who makes Nicole Kidman look like a boy, who sooner or later will give up the Good Thing to Joey, most likely right at the end of the saga’s last chapter, and who sure made him wait a long goddamned time, who in fact has his nuts in her sack, and who, assuming we still have a future, will rule the Dominions foretold by Zoroaster and—

Where was I?

Oh yeah! And plus, she can flat cook her ass off!

And I could sneak Bush and the Zorkian menace right into the middle of this nonsense!

Am I a stone fucking genius or what?

Also—and you can think of this as a bonus—I padded the book even more to be safe. Publishers now thirst for tomes. See, novels these days cost as much as that payment you put on the house that you lost when the variable interest rate landed last fall, and publishers feel that the bigger the book the better you’ll like it and won’t bitch so much about price. They all think you’re size queens or something.

So to beef up my book, I took a break at a quasi-logical point to show in a little vignette how the jails in this country get filled up with dopefiends. Ironically, the folks in this story escape because one of them, Leann, is a stone fucking fox and the cops are a gaggle of dick-thinking morons. Had that not been the case, Leann and her partner’d be under a jail right now and—

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with Joey or Danny or George or the Zorks, but it sure is a clown show and full of the same kind of laughs as my epic and, consequently, a sort of thematic companion. You’ll dig it, I promise.

Scout’s honor!

Ticket To Ride – A True Story By Robert Crisman

Rob’s trip on the Speedball Express went like this: He blasted on out of the station, and sped up the mountain lickety-split. He’d signed on for a ride straight to heaven. The train flew past clouds and jumped over the moon, and tracked off toward Alpha Centauri. And by God he got up to heaven! St. Peter grinned and waved him on in. Some other saint, maybe John, took his jacket and gave him a robe made of smoke, some Cuban cigars, and a big fucking boatload of chips Photo : Jim La Rue 2001 for the tables. An houri knelt and sponged off Rob’s feet and whispered a promise for later. He entered the Hall of Blue lights. No cheap neon here. The ching ching ka-ching of fast action! Angels sang in his bloodstream. He wafted on into the Game Room. Bogart and Greenstreet off to his left at the baccarat table looked up and laughed and motioned him over. He started that way—and Ava the Barefoot Contessa rushed up and planted herself there before him. She wore a tiara. Her wisp of a gown flowed around her, kissing, caressing her flesh. She licked at his nerve-ends, making him sweat. Angels belted out doo-wop.

She put her hand to Rob’s face, stroking his cheek with the tips of her fingers, a light in her eye that perhaps even Frank never saw, and plaintively asked him, “What took you so long?”

In the blink of an eye they lay in a field of roses, entwined, their every breath a small gasp of attar that danced to the rhythm of oboes. Ravel wept with joy.

And angels swooped low and then soared! Bobby Hatfield held forth on tenor! This truly was heaven!

Rob dropped off to sleep. Ava made off with his nuts in her sack…

He didn’t mind. Let her play! She’d bring them back. This was heaven

And, next stop, the White Powder River! If all the brochures had it right, he’d float like the sky on a raft made of feathers, with luck till time died.

It was why he’d come, really…

The White Powder River meandered, past the lush jungles, jade outcrops, the pulsing of drums, and sirens and mermaids that shimmered and sang as he floated. Rob became one with the waters…

And then, and then…the day became night! Up ahead now, lights blinking, all day-glo colors, arranging themselves into words that spelled out—the exit? From heaven?

Above the exit a clock going tick-tock…

Time’s up?

Jesus Christ, man! Rob had just started to get a good groove on!

St. Peter showed up on a barge with guns mounted foredeck and aft. With him, St. Michael the Archangel, looking all bad-ass and dressed like a Ton Ton Macoute, with the shades, the beret, the whole fucking bit. “C’mon, Rob,” Pete said, “you knew what the deal was, brother…”

Michael meanwhile kept tapping his whipstick against his right thigh, letting Rob know that he’d love to work it on out his own special way.

One psycho dude…

This wasn’t in the brochures for damn sure!

Nonetheless, back on the tideflats, Rob scrambled to get back to heaven as soon as he possibly could. Ava, the White Powder River, the raft made of feathers; he wanted to float like the sky…

He even made it a couple three times. Ava kept making off with his nuts, true bliss for sure but—each time he fell back to earth the wind picked up speed and blew colder…

Then, one time Rob geezed and stepped on the train and started on up—but the ride leveled quickly and heaven began seeming a tad far away. And, for the first time, he noticed these bumps on the track, his car listing a bit. The train stopped just short of heaven’s front porch.

Rob would remember this ride with his stomach. So near and yet so far away!

And so it went. He kept buying tickets. The train started dying in Leadville and places like that. And this one time in Provo, the train up and stopped beside Hank Williams’s old, broke-down tour bus. Inside the bus, Hank, wrecked by speed, eye sockets empty, toothless mouth gaped, dead and gone

Rob felt his own teeth grow loose in his gums…

Meanwhile, the price of the ticket climbed up up up up

Rob started to have to rob banks to get back on the train! He’d hand the conductor his ticket, the conductor would give him the stinkeye and tell him, siddown, and the train would chug out of the station and start on a ride through some outpost of hell.

It was hot in the train. Rob’s armpits stank. Rats nibbled up under his seat…

Too fucking bad; Rob had to keep riding. What else to do? A habit will rope you, my man.

Rob slept in the train station now. Outside, nothing but dust storms and cops, and golems with uzis and six-inch-long teeth. Rob owed those golems a whole ton of money. The banks that he plundered couldn’t begin to cover the money he owed.

Rob shivered and shook. He slept in a corner that hadn’t been swept since the 1893 Expo. An old New York Times, yellowed and muddied and torn by the decades, made do as his blanket. He didn’t change clothes. Someone made off with his toothbrush. He had six teeth left.

He’d ride and he’d ride. Then this one time out of the station, the train picked up speed and Rob started to rattle. He looked out the window—and the train was hurtling downhill! I mean like fast! It bounced, man, no shit, there were rocks on the track, and Rob’s head hit the roof—and his teeth, shaking loose in his head and—goddamn! He had to slow this train down!

Bing, an idea! Grab the damn brake and make the train stop! And then—no! Shit, fuck, piss, shit! That would mean the end of the ride! Rob was out in the middle of nowhere! Stop the train and then what?

The train hurtled down, down down, down, lurching and thrashing and—Genius attack! Rob ran to the boiler room, grabbed up a shovel. He opened the furnace, coal there on the floor—and he started stoking! Burn, baby, burn! He’d blast his way through all this shit and take off for the moon!

Oh yeah, baby, zoooooooooom

Down a funnel! Hey, where’s the moon? Rob bumped, bounced, and banged! The whole train caught fire—and, outside now, wolves! Sabertooth wolves! They were gaining!

Stoke, stoke, stoke, stoke! Rob had to go faster and faster and faster! Those flames, licking closerhis ass, on fire!—and here came the lip of the cliff and—shazaa-aa-am—!

Bye bye, Rob…

Heaven, turns out, was merely a stop on the way to the rocks down below.

Bio: Robert Crisman rode on that train. Heaven’s exactly the way he describes. So is hell.


Dave Zeltserman – Interview

This year sees the publication of the brilliant KILLER by Dave Zeltserman. In Killer, Leonard March walks free from jail after fourteen years’ hard time served after turning state’s witness against his Mafia boss Salvatore Lombard. Killer is the third part of Zeltserman’s “man-out-of-prison” trilogy – the other two being Small Crimes and Pariah– and it’s a hell of a read.Look what the big kids say:‘Killer is a major novel of crime and likely the book that will win Dave Zeltserman a much wider audience.’ Ed Gorman‘To put it simply, Killer is a brilliant character study that will rip the literary rug right out from under the reader’s tightly-curled toes.’ Corey Wilde, The Drowning Machine.

“With graphic imagery and exciting twists, this novel is impossible to put down and has a surprising ending. A brilliant read.” The Aberdeen Press and Journal

Dave was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Killer and his writing in general.

PDB: Dave, in twenty five words or less, can you pitch me your new novel KILLER?

Dave: A meditative look into the mind of a killer.

PDB: Small Crimes, Pariah and Killer all have protagonists who are very bad men that have done some very bad things. Doesn’t this go against the mandates of creative writing classes in that the ‘heroes’ of those books aren’t sympathetic?

Dave: I think most readers are going to find Leonard March, the protagonist of Killer, a sympathetic character, at least through most of the book. Yeah, he was a hit man, but he leaves prison as little more than a toothless old wolf howling at the moon. He’s got all these forces working against him, and he’s introspective as he tries to figure out how he got to where he is.

Kyle Nevin, my protagonist from Pariah, is a different beast entirely. Kyle is a force of nature, and like of forces of nature–hurricanes, tidal waves, volcanoes–it can be fascinating to see the destruction that he brings those unfortunates that get in his way.

Just as noir masters like James M. Cain and Jim Thompson could keep readers fascinated watching their noir protagonists inevitable descent into hell, I think the same is true with Kyle, except I think even more so given his utterly destructive and unrepentant nature.

PDB: Is the location of Killer an important part of the story?

Dave : Most of Killer takes place around Boston, but not really in it, with areas like Waltham, Revere and Winthrop taking center stage, but the flavor of these areas are important to the story and atmosphere. Boston is much more important to Pariah as a lot of South Boston mob lore is worked into the novel.

PDB: You once said that writing Small Crimes was a very ‘instinctive’ thing? What did you mean by that?

Dave: At some point the subconscious taking over, and adding strong thematic elements that weren’t planned, or necessarily intended at an intellectual level but worked their way into the book regardless.

Let me give you a more concrete example with Killer. Killer is written as alternating present and past chapters. Before I started writing I had the present chapters outlined at a very detailed level, but I was going to wring it with the past chapters, and make each one Leonard committing one of his mob hits.

At some point that changed without any real planning, and instead the past chapters ended up having a strong arc of their own, and connecting to the present chapters in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

PDB: Has your writing process changed over the years?

Dave: Not really. I still write very detailed outlines before starting. I still find myself deviating from these outlines as the book becomes something organic–a living thing so to speak. But while new and unexpected plot threads and characters are born, I always end up working my way back to the original outline.

I tend to struggle with my 1000 to 1500 words a day like I’ve always have, and then go on a blind writing fury when I get within 7000 or so words of the ends, finishing those in one sitting. The only real change is I’m closer to the mark now when I finish.

My earlier books needed far more revising–Pariah and Killer and others needed very little revising from their first drafts.

PDB: What’s in the pipeline for Dave Zeltserman in 2010?

Dave: Other than Killer, I have two more novels and a bunch of short stories.

Outsourced is a different kind of crime novel than my ‘man out of prison’ novels. In this one a group of desperate software engineers come up with a brilliant plan to rob a bank with things not quite working out as planned. Think Ocean’s 11 and Falling Down, which not too surprisingly, John Tomko, who was a producer on both those movies, is involved in the film development of this, which has been optioned by Impact Pictures and Constantin Film.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field is not crime, and I think is a book that is really going to surprise readers who’ve gotten to know my crime fiction. The basic premise of this is that a field has been weeded for over 400 years by a succession of caretakers, with the mythology being if the field isn’t weeded, the world will end. Now in the present day, the current Caretaker believes this myth but finds that most of the people in his small town no longer do, and his job becomes increasingly more difficult. A balancing act is performed through the book on whether he’s crazy or knows something nobody else does.

As far as short stories, Julius Katz and Archie will live on in Ellery Queen, and I also have stories in the next Thuglit anthology and Damn Near Dead 2

Dave Zeltserman‘s website is here

His blog – SMALL CRIMES – is here

Killer will be available from Amazon

The first chapter of his unpublished novel Vampire Crimes is here


“Writer’s Guilt, Envy & A Bullet In The Foot” by Mark A. Crittenden

The vast network of intuitive ideas known as the “blogosphere” is an open market for thoughts and opinions.  The serious writer can inject his or her thoughts on any topic into the minds of others, without the restraints of running it by an editor of a major publishing company.  An author can now say, “Here is an excerpt from my new book, which by the way, I have decided to self publish.”  But nine times out of ten the blogger is letting you know about anything from how they like their eggs to what movie will be the blockbuster of the month.  Why are we as a society so prone to prattling about so much superfluous information?  Why the need to publicize it?
One author sees the other one doing it.  Word count becomes the enormous object of envy.  So and so writes more daily than I do.  I must “one-up” him or her. The irony of it is that it makes the writer a flash junkie.  That’s right.  I said it.  Ten years ago, I had never heard the term flash fiction, but now it’s the latest thing.  Sure there was brevity and concision, but no flash.  Or maybe it was always there, and the invention of the blog just brought it into the mainstream forefront of our lives.  What is flash?  Most would define it as a story less than one thousand words.  There are subspecies of it as well, some designed to be one hundred words exactly, or just two or three sentences.
So, we are in the midst of an obsession with writing something incredibly meaningful in a few sentences or more- mini haikus for the plot-developmentally impaired.  What sparked this incredibly combative and envy-driven form of expression?  As an editor, I have noticed that authors are less likely to turn in a piece over a thousand words, as if this form of Samurai duelling amongst each other has rendered them incapable of writing in long hand.  What may very well have started as an exercise to increase concision and exposure has had a paralyzing effect on word count, and the possibility of a story having due time to unfold.  Well, I would say more, but it appears I am out of space.  HA!
Mark’s work can be found here: VisionPrimordial

Ghost Story By Peter Straub –  A Review By Steve Jensen

The Time has Come to Tell the Tale…’

Gustav Moreau – Helen at the Scaean Gate


“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me…the most dreadful thing…”

So begins Peter Straub’s landmark horror novel Ghost Story; with the telling of tales…

Ghost Story‘s show-stopper is the legend of Eva Galli. Half a century previously, five friends were implicated in the death of a young woman with whom they had all been in love. In grief-stricken panic, they hid Eva’s body, and their shameful secret, away, supposedly forever. In doing so, they avoided ruinous scandal. In time, the killers lessen the malignant power of their nightmares by meeting, with solemn ceremony, as ‘The Chowder Society’, a club of sorts dedicated to the telling of horror stories. Straub has his character Don Wanderley (note that inverted ‘M’; perhaps a discreet homage to Manderley, the home of that magisterial ghost, Du Maurier’s Rebecca?) read about Hawthrone’s The Scarlet Letter in DH Lawrence’s extraordinary Studies in Classic American Literature. So we see the relation between the Society’s shared past and their cowardly attempts to, at once, disavow and disarm it:

(They) hug their sin in secret, and gloat over it, and try to understand.’

But Eva Galli was not dead, indeed, she was not even mortal, in human terms; a shapeshifter, a manitou, an archetype of depthless evil, taking her pleasure  in the corruption of innocence, she had turned the naive young men into murderers; now she would return, in differing guises, to haunt them unto death.

Surely a story to end them all. Yet this is just a continuation of a timeless tale – in fact, Ghost Story relates the evolution of storytelling. From the oral tradition of the Indians’ encounters with Eva-as-Manitou and The Chowder Society’s civilised ‘camp fire’ tales; to the author’s nods to those masters of American fiction Hawthorne and James; to Don Wanderley’s would-be novel; to Ghost Story‘s fascination with the movies; to this discussion taking place on that most modern form of communication, the internet. Straub’s book is the story of Stories.

The beautiful but truly alien fiend known as Eva Galli tells her former admirers:

I have lived since the times when your continent was lighted only by small fires in the forest, since Americans dressed in hides and feathers…We chose to live in your dreams and imaginations because only there are you interesting.

An awe-inspiring thought for certain, but is Straub (as Eva) making a claim for the genuine existence of those creatures we dare not believe in? Or perhaps he is actually giving a voice to that most beloved of human inventions – the creature we call the Fictional Character; do they not live in our dreams and imaginations? They are certainly alive and running riot, beyond the various storytellers’ control, in the sleepy town of Milburn – Don Wanderley’s novel-within-a-novel impinges on reality – a fictional reality created by Peter Straub – characters see themselves in real-life movies playing in Milburn’s cinema. In fact, and in fiction, Ghost Story‘s characters are given life, power, by the stories told about them, just as we turn typed characters on a page into creatures human and otherwise with our imaginations.

In closing, some final thoughts on the timeless charm of Eva Galli. Yes, she is the vengeful femme fatale men cannot resist…writing about. And yes, she is beautiful (of course she is – she is the creation of men, by way of Hollywood, the so-called Dream Factory). But her beauty is almost irrelevant, for her face is blank, lifeless, and as Straub repeatedly makes clear, her true face only reflects ours; she is the cipher of Gustave Moreau’s painting Helen at the Scaean Gate.

In the course of the novel, Eva has been a myth, a film star, a fictional character (as ‘Rachel Varney’ in Wanderley’s book) and a ‘real-life’ person; but she can only be those things because of us, because of the imagination she finds so fascinating. In the chapter titled ‘Edward’s Tapes’ an old recording of her voice taunts a captive audience (Don’s uncle had been taping Eva’s fictionalised life story – another piece of oral storytelling for the benefit of posterity):

Could you defeat a dream, a poem?‘ But to do so would be absurd; dreams and poetry have no meaning – no independent existence – beyond our interpretation, beyond the meaning our imagination bestows upon them. Eva is essentially powerless, despite her boasts, despite her preening – we, the dreamers, allow Eva and her kind to haunt us.

Ricky Hawthorne, the lone survivor of the infamous five at the novel’s end, (and notably, perhaps the only male character who truly respects women) tellingly compares Eva to Louise Brooks, the nonchalant, destructive Lulu of GW Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box, another allusion to the movies’ seductive blurring of fact and fantasy, myth and reality; and of course, the endless, ever-changing power of the Story. Near the novel’s end, Peter Straub for once gives it to us straight, and tells us the truth about our need to hide our reality in the guise of tale-telling:

What was the worst thing? Not the act, but the ideas about the act: the garish film unreeling through your head…

Steven Paul Jensen was born in South Wales in 1965.

He is seeking publication of his first novella, The Poison of a Smile while writing his second book, Ariele – A Ghost Story. Steve is working on a number of literary projects with Frank Duffy.

http://stevejensen.eu

…and The Journal:

http://coaction.wordpress.com

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