Show and Tell Time

Where did The Land of the Beautiful Dead begin? Well now, it began when I was four years old. Bear with me.

When I was four, I taught myself to read out of resentment that my older sisters were learning to read and I was therefore being left out of something fun. I also started kindergarten that year. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hailstone, and the only way she could have had a more perfect name would be if she was named Mrs. Hellfire or Mrs. Wormwood or maybe Mrs. Killkid. She was a horrible, horrible human being. Used to walk up and down the rows of her kindergarten class and smack our little hands with a wooden ruler, either for talking or sleeping or staring out the window or coloring out of the lines and especially for crying because your hands hurt. One day, I brought my favorite book in for Show and Tell, because if you didn’t bring anything in for Show and Tell, you got the ruler. The sight of that book in my four-year-old hands sent Mrs. Hailstone into a baffling fury and she threatened to take it away forever because I was a liar and liars get punished. What was I lying about? Why, that it was my favorite book. I couldn’t possibly have a favorite book because I couldn’t read. On hearing this, I began to cry, because this was actually my father’s book and I was terrified of losing it. Through my tears, I insisted I could too read, and so, to further humiliate a four-year-old child, Mrs. Hailstone ordered me to open it up and read in front of the entire class. So I slowly crept up to the front of the class, struggled the heavy book open (it was an oversized hardcover), and in my shaky, tearful voice, read, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…”

She snatched the book away, flipped some pages and ordered me to read where she was pointing. I did. And then I did it again. And again. And then she spanked me on my fanny in front of everyone with that ruler for “making a scene” and made me stand in the corner until it was time to go home. Which I did, crying, but with the book clutched in my arms.

teddytrash

On a subsequent Show and Tell, she threw my teddy bear away. That’s not even a joke.

It comforts me no end to know this all happened long enough ago that she is probably dead. If not, I hope she’s reading this. Mrs. Hailstone, you are a horrible, horrible person.

I told you that story to tell you this one: After the Show and Tell incident, The Hobbit was no longer my favorite book. My mother, a wise and wonderful woman, noticed but did not know the circumstances of our falling-out, because I was four and did not have enough worldly experience to know that what happened to me was wrong and I should have told someone. All she knew was that I was no longer reading Tolkien. So she went out and bought me a small stack of classic horror stories rendered in comic book format: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, A triple-play of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death and The Raven, and HP Lovecraft’s The Outsider. These were not gory Vault of Horror type comics, I hasten to add, and I certainly was not traumatized by the black-and-white blood I did see in them. They didn’t give me nightmares and they didn’t turn me into a serial killer. I loved them. My love, sadly, was destructive and they didn’t survive it, but I remember vividly reading them over and over, transfixed by the interplay of words and images, and most especially by the story of Frankenstein.

When I was ten years old, I was already an avid reader, and my mother, bless her, went out again and purchased about two dozen large-print books at a library book fair, called the Classics Collector’s Library. It consisted mostly of adventure stories, like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and The Count of Monte Cristo, but also had a small selection of horror novels: Dracula and Frankenstein again, and also one of my all-time favorite horror stories, The Picture of Dorian Grey. But Frankenstein again captivated me, particularly with Mary Shelley’s original prose. Her Frankenstein was eloquent as well as horrible and the combination simply thrilled me.

And before I get a shit-ton of comments about how Frankenstein was the doctor, not his monster, I say that the creature referred to the doctor as his father many times, from which one might safely assume he considered himself the doctor’s son, and as there is nothing more natural than for the son to take the name of the father, I say Frankenstein applies equally to creature and creator. So there.

I have seen many of those classic stories brought o brilliant life on the big screen, but in all honesty, I must say I’ve never seen a Frankenstein as perfect as the one from that comic book so many years ago. Boris Karloff’s monster was frightening to look at, but a groaning, shambling beast; De Niro got the dialogue right, but, once his stitches healed up, he was just too human. And I realize that Shelley never says and may never have intended that her monster be anything but human in appearance, but my first Frankenstein had both the face of a monster and the mind of a poet and that, by God, was what I wanted to see.

 

Rock hard abs are great and all, but seriously, this is not a monster.

Rock hard abs are great and all, but seriously, this is not a monster.

So when I realized I was about to write what could only be called a zombie apocalypse novel, I wanted two things: First, I wanted the apocalypse part to be over. You will not read about hands punching out of the ground in the graveyard or people screaming through the streets in a blind panic. The war is over. Neither will you read about the stalwart survivors who continue to fight the good fight, buoyed by their own indomitable human spirit; the war is over and they did not win it. This is not a book about the living, but about the dead.

And that brings me to the second thing I wanted, which was to create a monster to equal that comic book creature of my childhood, one that was terrible and yet intelligent and reasonable. Azrael is brutal and cruel and he kills people. He’s horrible to look at and he’s even worse to touch. He is a monster…and he knows it. He is Frankenstein, without a father to pursue or be pursued by him, a creature who doesn’t even have the dubious comfort of being sewed together by pieces of men. He has no “kind”. He has never been human and has been worn down by enough time that he no longer wishes to be, but he still envies them. Unlike the real Frankenstein,, who went out into the world newborn and did at least some of his evils purely in innocence, Azrael is old. His cruelty has been honed to perfection. He has suffered and in doing so, has learned just how to inflict suffering on others to the best effect. He has power no one else possesses and he uses it to set himself even further apart from the rest of the world…and he knows that too. I remember muttering the first speech from Richard III as I drew up his character notes, because I am insufferably pretentious even in the privacy of my own home: “But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks…I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty…I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by this dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…since I cannot prove a lover…I am determined to prove a villain.”

I like Azrael. I’m proud of him. I found it disturbingly easy to put myself in his head and we did some truly horrible things together. He is unmistakably a devil, but as someone or another famous once pointed out, there can be sympathy for the devil.

 

 

 

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33 responses to “Show and Tell Time

  1. I just spent the last two months re-reading everything you wrote because I was suffering withdrawal.
    Even though your memory of your teacher really really sucks a small bit of info for the book made me do embarrassing mental squees. One of the things I enjoy most is the creation and actions of all of your characters. There is more to them than just black and white, there are a myriad shades of gray. The good guys aren’t perfectly white, and the bad aren’t totally black. The different shades act to add texture and make one think that a serial killings, brain harvesting alien has issued, but look @how he grew up. Err,
    sorry for the ramble… I don’t think I made much sense….
    So, yay! That should….

    • Well thank you!

      There was a time when people expected their heroes to be white knights, flawless, self-sacrificing and so pure, that when they died, they could be made into Ivory soap with hardly any effort. Villains wore black, were ugly and/or were morally ambiguous, and were evil just for the sake of being evil. I’m glad we seem to have outgrown those types. Heroes are more interesting when they’re flawed and villains are scarier when you like them. The current trend for anti-heroes–badass muscleboys who have just enough stubble to avoid being called ‘pretty’ to their faces, who jump in and out of beds yet are bizarrely monogamous when the heroine comes along, and who are represented as expert killing machines who are always on the side of justice if not always within the law–are a nice change, but are definitely reaching their saturation point. I think that’s why The Avengers is so successful. Yeah, you got your devil-may-care Iron Man and your ruthless Black Widow, but you’ve also got white-knight Captain America and a Hulk who is conflicted about his anger issues. And Thor. Who has his shirt off as often as possible.

  2. Your kindergarten teacher sounds so much like my 2nd grade teacher it’s uncanny. My mom still brings up what that she-devil wrote on my report card thinking it hilarious in it’s absurdity …”Student talks to other children and pretends to read books beyond her comprehension. She also has a lack of respect for authority and has called me an alien on multiple occasions” …..I’m still convinced she is/was an alien !

    I completely agree btw that Frankenstein is his name via creation, and that movies continue to make him look like a human. They just throw some stitching of flesh here and there and say “yeah let’s go with that!” I don’t think burn victims or ppl with stitches are monsters so Mary Shelley has to be face palming herself in the grave every time someone tries to visually remake her creation. What I love about your ” monsters ” is that your unapologetic with the descriptions of their appearance and personalities. I have a feeling Azereal is going to be a badass creature that will have little, if any ,overtly human characteristics. Which I personally LOVE , and why I devour your books like I used to devour HG Wells , Ursula Le Guin , and Phillip K Dick. (Except I think I like yours more with the added bonus of more romance and sexy times 🙂

    • “…has called me an alien on multiple occasions…” *snort!* God, that’s funny. I wouldn’t have dared talk to a teacher like that in the second grade. It took me years to develop my lack of respect for authority. I still have relapses.

      Overall, I had very positive experiences with teachers and in fact credit my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Dyson-Bunsen, with my being a writer today. Mrs. Hailstone just stands out because she was my first and was so over-the-top unqualified to be around small children.

  3. When I read Scholomance I knew you had to love Poe and/or Lovecraft at some point!
    I am that kid, too. My mom bought me a collection of horror stories when I was 7y old. I still have it; Pickman’s Model was reread so many times I can close my eyes and remember some passages.
    About a month ago, I started watching this show Penny Dreadful. The premise is simple:all famous characters from victorian gothic literature at one place- how awesome is that? Sadly, the show didn’t met my expectations,but it made me reread those classics again. I couldn’t agree more on Frankenstein – there is something touching about monster from the novel despite his horrible look and yellow eyes and his actions. (my favorite though was Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde because I never thought of it as split personality thing that’s so often referenced in popular culture…more like man embracing his dark side. 😉 )
    I am now very intrigued by Azrael – true monster with a mind of a poet. I am looking forward reading about him1 🙂

    • Ah, Pickman’s Model…that was the first of Lovecraft’s stories to spark that weirdly-sexual undertone in my young brain. My favorite of his tales is probably In the Walls of Eryx. It’s considered by many to be sci-fi rather than horror, but the ending has to be one of the most truly horrific–rather than merely scary, as so many of his works were–I’ve ever read. And then, of course, we have The Festival and its final line: “…and things have learned to walk that ought to crawl.”

      I will never be able to write that well.

      • This is such a coincidence – I actually mentioned In the Walls of Erix in my review for The Last Hour of Gann. I made a connection when I read it not because of lizards which is obvious- but sense of desperation, existential horror…and all that jazz. 😉
        Lovecraft always had this theme in his book- protagonist is always driven to find some place, or discover truth- some purpose anyway, and when he gets to it, it’s something so horrifying it shatters his brain and he deteriorate to madness. That’s so effective in terms of horror, better than body horror or slasher, imo.
        And that line from Festival is right there with “….silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” line from Shirley Jackson’s THoHH.
        My mind was already blown away by this blog post, but the fact that you love In the Walls of Erix, story so atypical for Lovecraft and so often unfairly left out just made my day.

      • Love Shirley Jackson. The movies cannot begin to capture the atmosphere in her books, and I’m not one of those literary purists who think all books are better than all movies. Some things translate better with words than pictures and vice versa. Lovecraft is another great example: I’ve only ever seen one Lovecraft movie that really and truly did it for me and that was a low-budget thing they mostly just show on the Syfy Channel (It’s Dagon, if you’re curious). Every rendition of Hill House they’ve put to film has only been good as an exercise of how to enjoy a bad movie. I know, I know, the black and white version is supposedly a horror classic, but it’s dull, disjointed and laughably low budget. No one watching that movie or the remakes would ever guess the book is as good as it is.

  4. Reading about your experience with your kindergarten teacher made my heart ache for your four year old self and what you had to endure at the hands of evil masquerading as a teacher. What goes around comes around and she is (or will) be lamenting her actions to those in her charge. Mrs. Dyson-Bunsen may have led you down the writing road but I bet your mother was the catalyst of your love for horror stories with her gift so long ago. We, your readers, owe her a debt of gratitude. As for Azrael, I can’t wait to “meet” him. The monster in the man (or non-human) is ALWAYS my favorite character hence my love of Kane from Heat. If I may ask, how did you come by the name, “Azrael”? Does it have a special meaning?

    • My mother was a librarian before her marriage and loved all things bookish. She wrote fan-fiction for a small group of devoted readers (how devoted? 20 years after her last book, people were still asking when the next one was coming out) and encouraged all her children to read and write as well, without censorship or restriction. She had a great love of science-fiction and fantasy and encouraged all of us to imagine bigger worlds than the one we physically occupied.

      It was from my father, actually, that I get my love of horror. He was the one who gave me not only Tolkien but Lovecraft and Poe. In turn, I introduced him to The Dark Tower saga by Stephen King.

      As for the meaning behind Azrael’s name, it is not just the name of Gargomel’s cat, it is one of the old names for the angel of Death.

  5. If ONLY there was a screening process for those who would be teachers, as extensive and thorough as the ones they put potential home owners or adoptive parents through! How sad that I too, can relate to this tale of “The Teacher from Below.”
    Frank is still my all time favorite monster because, let’s face it, he was the original dysfunctional serial-killing product of a mentally disturbed abusive and incapable parent.
    I can’t wait to meet Azrael and walk around in his world for a time!

    Shirley Jackson… I will forever get chills when I think of The Lottery.

    Thank you. Thank you for this post and now the inspiration to re-read some old favorites!

    • It’s amazing how many people have their horror roots in books and movies that were made whole generations before they were born. Movie monsters are too forgettable these days. I can’t think of even ONE movie or book written in the new millennium that I imagine people will be talking about or referencing in another fifty years.

      Then again, Mary Shelley didn’t know Frankenstein would be the hit it was or have its staying power, so who knows?

  6. “because I am insufferably pretentious even in the privacy of my own home” Bahaha. Love this.

    You should write a Dorian Grey-like novel! I bet it would be fabulous.

    Can’t wait for this book!

  7. Wow, I wonder how many of us had horrible Kindergarten teachers. You sparked a flashback in me. I had a similar, but not as horrific, experience. Although she never threw anything of mine in the trash, she loved her ruler and paddle. My first and most memorable experience with her happened on the first day of school. I was that scared child that cried on the first day because I didn’t want to be separated from my Daddy. I clung to his leg and cried. My father, bless his heart, didn’t know what to do with me. He was very kind, patted my back, told me I’d be okay and he’d be back very soon. The teacher, Mrs. Strictland (So apropos… I think her and Mrs. Hailstone would have been chummy) had to pry my little fingers apart and pull me away from my Dad’s leg. She said, if you’ll just leave she’ll settle down in no time. Ya. Ha! With what I had waiting in store, I did indeed settle down in no time out of pure fear and humiliation. My Dad left, and Mrs. Strictland took me to the center of the room, bent me over her knee, and proceeded to paddle the hell out of my bottom with a wooden paddle in front of the entire class. That was my “first day of school” experience and only one of many bad experiences with that teacher. I wasn’t the only one either. She was an equal opportunity destroyer of dreams and self esteems. She tolerated very little, if nothing at all, from any of us. I don’t even think she LIKED children, she was so hateful to us all the time. I can’t think of one memory where she had something nice or encouraging to say. But everyone did what she asked us to do out of pure fear of her paddle and ruler. She definitely had us all trained. And like you, I never told my parents. At least not until much later when they could no longer do anything about it and it didn’t matter anymore. My Dad was horrified when I finally did tell him as a teenager. He said he wished he had known so he could have wrung her neck. But at that time, I assumed, in my little girl mind, that all adults were on the same page, and if she was okay with spanking me in front of the class for crying and being scared, then all adults must be okay with it too. Oh to be able to turn back time and tattle my little heart out on that horrible shrew of a woman. I’d love to see a character like Mrs. Strictland or Mrs. Hailstone get their comeuppance in one of your stories. And how crazy is it that both of those horrible teacher creatures had names befitting their entire demeanor?

    • Wow Aimee that is awful!! I guess I was pretty lucky to have my kindergarten teacher. She was a cake baker on the side so every couple months we’d have an Alice & Wonderland style very un-birthday celebration where we’d all dance around and pretend it was our birthday. It was fabulous. 🙂 That was at a catholic school too… wonder if it’s age that does it. My dad always talked about the nuns back in the 60’s hitting them with rulers too. Can you imagine if someone did that to a kid today? Just last month a teacher grabbed a student at one of our schools and the mom called the cops on the teacher got taken away in hand cuffs. Times do change.

      • Yes, times do change. Interesting that you had such a contradictory experience at a Catholic School. That’s were I’d definitely think the rulers were still being brandished. But then you’re younger than me and those days were probably gone before you came into the picture. Corporal punishment was still used at most if not all schools back when I was in Kinder and even elementary. I can’t remember when that changed exactly. I wasn’t paying much attention. Too busy being an angsty teenager probably. Lol. 🙂

    • Jeez, what a horrible story! Strictland, sheesh. Yeah, it might be cathartic to give a teacher like that a good shellacing in a future book…Maybe in The Bone Tree…(foreshadowing!)

  8. I can’t wait for this book. I love everything you write. Do you plan to produce The Last Hour of Gann as a paperback? I would pay any price to have it on my bookshelf.

    • The plan is to get all my books on Createspace or some similar site so they can all be in paperback, but I have just so much real-life crap to deal with right now, with the new house and renovations and my father moving in, so I can’t tell you even at a guess when I’ll get to it. Sorry.

    • I’m so sorry. I can only keep apologizing for not updating more often before it loses all credibility, and I think that ship has sailed. I will update the blog tomorrow (or later today, seeing as it’s nearly three am) so you all know where I stand. As of now, my estimate of a publication before or around Halloween is still plausible, but there have been some unavoidable real-life drama delays.

      • My original comment lacks a lot of context and was horribly written. So first, my apologies. You owe me none. I only very recently was introduced to your novels and had devoured all of your writings after finishing the Last Hour of Gann. (Which I cannot count the times I’ve reread since as it is in my top 3 favorites ever). I then found your blog and spent a couple days on a tear, living the snippets you offered (and wanted more!). Admittedly, I got overly excited about Pool and Beautiful Dead. I’m Gen Y and the impatience of wanting things now rings true sometimes. But I fully understand how life just gets in the way sometimes. I hope circumstances improve to alleviate you and your family of the recent dramas. In the meantime, I can entertain myself with other books as I wait patiently for yours.

      • The sad fact is, I will never be one of those authors who whips out a book every 90 days. It takes me a year to write a book and I’m comfortable with that. Whenever I get to feeling inadequate, I just remind myself that, word for word, I have already written more than Shakespeare. Or J. K. Rowling. Or Tolkien. Quality is another subject, but it pays to keep some perspective (That Devil-Bitch Perspective, as my latest heroine might say), especially since so many writers never finish one book, let alone nine. Am I up to nine? Feels like I’m up to nine.

        Anyhoo, I am nearly always either writing or editing, but complications at the new house and my personal life make the long stretches of which I used to be capable less possible these days. This is the down-side of blogging. My expectations and deadlines get posted, then delayed, then recinded, then shelved to work on another project, and there’s my readers, (rightfully) expecting a release that gets further and further away. If I didn’t blog at all, no one would know the book was late. It would always be a happy surprise. 🙂

  9. OMG! Mrs. Hailstone was evil! I was lucky, I never had a bad teacher, some were a bit bitchy, but nothing like her. I feel like I need to give you a hug. *hugs*
    Azrael sounds like the perfect anti-hero, just the way I like them… I adore your books and know how talented you are… and I can’t wait to meet Azrael, I know he’s going to be another one impossible to forget. 🙂

    • What stands out most about that time for me is not just Mrs. Hailstone’s pure evil, but that my teacher the following year, Mrs. Maydew (I swear, that was her real name. It’s like they all stepped out of a Simpsons school) had a reputation for being the meanest teacher in the universe, but I found her to be quite pleasant. Of course, any act following Mrs. Hailstone was bound to seem pleasant by comparison.

    • Less well than I ought to be. 😦

      But still writing! The Land of the Beautiful Dead is in edits (very early on in edits), so we’ll see how quickly I can get it to you.

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