Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Another outline, and some research

Why is it that good ideas always come when our schedule is completely full? I think it’s because our brain, as we are working hard on a couple of projects, shifts gear, so to speak, and generates a surplus of ideas. Talk about hyperactive imagination.

So last night, while I was taking a break after dinner, I did the only thing one can do in such a situation – I opened a Scrivener file, I gave the thing a title, and typed a general idea and then a tentative outline for something that would work great as a novel, if only I had the time to write it.

It is indeed an idea, for what I would call a folk horror, that has been tumbling through the dark (and deserted) corridors of my brain for a while now, but as it usually happens, now some bits and pieces have clicked together. What I don’t have is time.

But as I was putting all the bits and pieces together to save for later, I also noted down a few links and stuff for background research.

I was quite surprised at how nicely the ancient goddess Cybele (aka Kubaba, aka the Magna Mater) fits my plan – and I found quite funny the bit on Wikipedia that says…

In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception.

Sort of like a rock band or an art movie.

On the plus side, having stuff I want to write makes me more focused on what I need to write – and helps me work faster, better (hopefully) and with a stronger motivation.


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The Fourth Bette Davis Blogathon: The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

My brain is a sieve, and I was almost forgetting today it’s the last day of the Fourth Bette Davis Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
I blame the spring. But all is not lost, and here is my late-night contribution.
Be sure to check out the link above to find a wealth of other posts on the movies of the woman that was called The First Lady of Hollywood.

But then come back here, because this late-night post is filled with things that go bump in the dark: we’ll be talking about Walt Disney’s horror The Watcher in the Woods, from 1980.
The film that was to be Disney’s response to The Exorcist.
I kid you not.

Continue reading


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Folk horror: Eye of the Devil (1966)

Sharon Tate was so beautiful it hurts.
Which is stating the obvious, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Her fame rests on her beauty, on a handful of movies and on her tragic death at the hands of Charles Manson’s cultists.

Tate’s screen debut was slated to be Eye of the Devil, a small black and white occult/folk horror with a stellar cast: Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Donald Pleasence, David Hemmings. The lead female role should have been covered by Kim Novak, but the actress had a riding accident early on in the filming, and was replaced. Or maybe she was replaced because she fought with director J. Lee Thompson, and/or because she had had an on-set affair with Hemmings.

It was, all things considered, a very troubled production: change of leading lady, three directors stepping in and then out, at least a major rewrite of the script, a change of title (the movie was originally to be called 13) then the movie shelved for over one year.

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Wylding Hall, a review

One more book as Halloween comes closer – and again an old review I was paid all of four bucks for last year.

25010941American Elizabeth Hand has had a long and honored career as a writer of fantastic fiction, with a long list of titles and a good number of prizes including the James Tiptree Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. Like many hard-working authors, her bibliography also includes novelizations and tie-ins with popular franchises such as X-Files and Star wars; but it is in his original works that the spark of originality and wonder are found that justify the success, the positive reviews and the awards.
Wylding Hall, published in 2015, is a novella, which nevertheless captures in less than 150 pages more ideas, surprises and twists than many novels six times more massive. Continue reading


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December, a review

Phil Rickman is an English author with a background in music and a deep knowledge of the traditions, legends and atmospheres of that region of the British Isles straddling the England-Wales border.

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In this territory Rickman has set his series of novels focused on the Anglican exorcist Merrily Watkins, mixing detective fiction with a supernatural that is more hinted at than made explicit. In this Rickman is admirable author in his ability to intercept two sectors of the public – that of horror and that of the British-style mystery (not necessarily a cozy), which are usually considered to be mutually exclusive.
Rickman is also the author of a series of mystery novels set in Elizabethan England and featuring Dr John Dee and the Earl of Essex as a team of sui generis, sort-of-X-files investigators.
At the same time, Rickman produced a number of stand-alone novels, more frankly horrific and generally ascribable to that typically British genre of “folk horror” or “rural horror” that is going through a renaissance in these last years1.
December belongs to this batch of stand-alone books. I originally reviewed it last year, for an Italian magazine – a friend borrowed me her copy, and I was able to meet the publisher’s expectations. I recently bought the book (together with four other stand-alone Rickman books), and here goes my review – suitably expanded and updated. Continue reading


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Wine, sex and folk horror (and other things)

Despite the general sleepiness that comes with Spring, I’m trying to clear my desk of my backlog of stories, articles and translations I need to deliver to my clients, and in the meantime I’m trying to work on a pair of submissions and a couple of self-published things.
The new Buscafusco story is 75% done, and I’d like to nail its box shut by the end of the month.
acheron_the__ministry_of_thunderAlso, the Dean Wesley Smith book Writing a Novel in Seven Days is making me itchy to try. As I mentioned, I did it once already, and the novel I wrote in eight days later became The Ministry of Thunder, of which I am well pleased, as are my readers (eight 5-star reviews! hooray!)
Now I’m wondering if it would be feasible to try and do a 42.000 words story about Aculeo & Amunet.
And then there is the bit about local traditions and folk horror. About six months ago I promised a friend a novel a-la Dan Brown to stimulate interest in the territory and lure tourists in these hills. Part of that project became the Buscafusco series, but the idea of a horror story set in the Piedmontese vineyards sounds more attractive every day. And as per original plan, might make enough people curious to give a minimal boost to local tourism.
Now, as I think I mentioned, the local spook-du-jour are the masche sort of witches/hags of peasant tradition – and my friend Fabrizio Borgio is an expert on the subject.
BUT, in a twist of research madness, I decided to look at another tradition that might provide ample food for stories… even Aculeo & Amunet stories.
Because this is a wine country, and wine means Dionysus. Continue reading


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The folk horror of Piedmontese Neogothic

Folk Horror.
Apparently the tag was coined by Mark Gatiss in 2010, and used to describe a certain genre of very British horror movies that focused on the countryside, its people and its folklore, its legends and superstitions.

sands1008The three movies that form the core of the genre are Michael Reeves’ historically accurate nightmare Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s delicately-titled The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man (1973). A lot of stuff follows, including some of the things that creeped me out the most when I was a kid, to wit Children of the Stones, a rather scary 1977 occult serial from ITV. It was supposed to be kid’s entertainment, but boy was it the stuff of nightmares.
But hey, even The Persuaders had a folk horror episode!

Now I am usually wary of labels when it comes to fiction – they make for good party games, but obsessing too much about such things often means forgetting about the story.
But there is a folk element in Arthur Machen, of course, and in M.R. James, and even in Lovecraft. The genre has a history, and deep roots, and more than a little pulp blood in its veins. Continue reading