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Happy Halloween From Literary Traveler!

October 31, 2012 in American Authors, American History, Bookstores, Classic Literature, Dark New England, Edgar Allen Poe, Famous Museums, Halloween, History, Holidays Literary Traveler, Horror, Horror Writers, Massachusetts Travel, New England Travel, Psychology, Short Stories, Stephen King, Vampires in Literature

Literary Traveler has been very excited about Halloween…and it’s finally here! To celebrate, we’d like to show off all the work we did in advance of the spookiest day of the year. All Treats.

Halloween Reflections – “Halloween is a time when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest.”

Mercy Brown: American Vampire – “Like the vampire, tuberculosis visited ordinary communities seemingly at random – preying upon family members, slowly robbing them of their life and turning them into fevered ghostly individuals with a persistent bloody cough.”

The House of the Seven Gables – “If Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables house was once haunted by the uneasy ghosts of family (his ancestors were involved in the Salem witch trials), the resident ghost today seems to have the philanthropic and busy spirit of Miss Emmerton.”

The Hawthorne Hotel – “Despite general manager Judi Lederhaus’ assertions, hundreds of tourists stream into the stately lodgings ready to embark on a supernatural safari.”

The Psychology of Salem – “The most dangerous element of the teenage mind is the inability to grasp the concept of linear thinking. Some teenagers cannot see beyond immediate gratification.  This makes decision making tricky.”

Master of Creep: Edgar Allen Poe – “Poe created complete universes in which the reader starts to believe the narrator.”

The Salem Witch Trials – “In 1692, fear spread through Salem, Massachusetts like contagion, infecting the minds of the mainstream, and claiming the lives of those among the periphery.”

Literary Traveler Goes to Salem – “I mosey by a zombie playing the saxophone for a couple of onlookers and I am officially sold on the city of Salem.”

Don't Judge a Writer by His Genre

July 19, 2011 in Horror Writers, Short Stories, Stephen King

I always disregarded the works of Stephen King. Despite (or perhaps due to) his wild popularity, I always thought of him as a “sell-out,” an author willing to rely on cheap cliffhangers and deliciously revolting subject matter to keep the reading masses turning page after gruesome page. Plus, I don’t enjoy being scared. Haunted houses and the Saw movies are on my list of things to avoid, so why would I read a book of the same ilk?

My father, on the other hand, is a big Stephen King fan. I believe he’s read just about every King book there is and pretty much enjoyed them all. He would often recommend the books to me after he was done, but at that time I only made room on my bookshelf for books considered “literary” or “classic”.

Just a few weeks ago, however, I found a copy of King’s newest book, a collection of short stories calledFull Dark, No Stars, on my kitchen counter. I was intrigued, because a collection of short stories seems a vessel more suited to noble literature than trashy horror. I also recalled a college professor whom I greatly admired had recommended King’s work (she was reading Carrie), so I gave it a shot and read the first story, “1922.”

I have to admit: the book wouldn’t let me put it down (as if it possessed me). I read all 128 pages in two sittings, and it wasn’t the result of gratuitous cliffhangers as I imagined. The events of the tale were gripping, but what kept me reading was the narrator’s voice. Within the first few sentences, Wilfred LeLand James, or “Wilf,” makes it clear this story is his confession of the murder of his wife, Arlette. Throughout the narrative, my feelings towards him oscillated between revulsion and pity. The perversity of his thoughts and deeds, though horrifying, were grounded in humanness, and through his telling I became thoroughly acquainted with his mind, a mind quivering with fear, paralyzed by obstinacy, and wracked by guilt.

Near the beginning of his confession Wilf states, “I believe that there is another man inside every man, a stranger, a Conniving Man.”

Throughout the story, Wilf refers to things the Conniving Man does or says and we come to see this evil figure as a separate entity, an evil twin or counterpart. It seems it’s human nature to feel like this when we make mistakes in our own lives; however, the story’s chilling finale is a reminder that cannot ignore the evil inside (or it will lead to our destruction).

I have to put my foot in my mouth, because I found “1922” haunting, provocative, and (dare I say) literary. Stephen King will probably never be my favorite writer, since I am a wimp when it comes to things that go bump in the night, but I have learned not to judge a work by its genre. It is the writer (and sometimes the lesson we learn from his demented character) that truly makes the work.

 

Nikolai Gogol, Father of Russian Realism

March 31, 2011 in LIterary Traveler Birthdays, Russian Writers, Short Stories

Dead Souls postcard by Pyotr Sokolov

Anyone who yearns for literature with dark and satisfying twists reads the Russian greats.  Russian writers are known to take their history of long suffering and somehow morph all this into humorous stories filled with satire and social commentary.  Nikolai Gogol, the Ukrainian-Russian writer who is considered the father of modern Russian realism, did exactly this in the novel Dead Souls and again in the classic short story, “The Overcoat.”

In both Dead Souls and “The Overcoat” silliness and misunderstanding are common themes.  The characters are so over-the-top, they seem like caricatures of themselves.  Gogol pokes fun at serious social problems at the time, including serfdom and communist values.  “The Overcoat” in particular is written with such humorous flair, wit and brilliance, it is considered by many one of the greatest short stories ever written.  And to that, we can say thank you (spaseeba in Russian) to Nikolai Gogol, who was born on this very day March 31st in the year 1809.

Na zdorovie to you, Nikolai Gogol, we celebrate your life, your writing and your indelible mark on literary history!

 

Flannery O'Connor's 3 (Posthumous) Writing Tips

March 25, 2011 in American literature, Short Stories, Southern Writers

Photo by Idea Go

by Katie Davis

We all know Flannery O’Connor: the mastermind behind “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a devout Roman Catholic from Georgia, and of course, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century. As I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for the first time in a beginner’s fiction workshop, I was completely gripped by O’Connor’s prose and after the complex, haunting finale I couldn’t help but wonder: “How did she do that?” Though O’Connor is no longer alive to give us writing tips in person, it isn’t hard to glean advice from her biography, letters, and fiction. So if you find yourself wondering, “What would Flannery O’Connor do?” here are a few suggestions:

1.    Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite
O’Connor believed that writing was hard work. Famously she remarked, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair falls out and the teeth decay.” In her letters, compiled in Habit of Being, she reveals that she was often frustrated by how long it took her to finish a piece because of her constant rewriting. However, her hard work clearly paid off since her stories seem to have flown seamlessly from her mind to the page. So, when in doubt, rewrite! You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

2.    Don’t be afraid of the dark.
It seems beginning writers (myself included) are often tentative to describe controversial events or issues in their work for fear of a negative response. O’Connor took the opposite tack. “I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial,” she remarks in one of her letters. The ending of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” certainly does not fit the cookie cutter “happily ever after,” but this is what makes the story so powerful and memorable. So, don’t be afraid to face the sinister or perverse in your writing, but keep in mind O’Connor’s final word of advice…

3.    Seek truth.
This suggestion may appear the most obvious, but it can also be the most difficult to follow. O’Connor states “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode,” but what exactly does “truth” mean in this context? For me, writing truthfully means pursuing your artistic purposes with conviction while tuning out (to some extent) the mutterings of critics.  It is evident that O’Connor believed in the truth of her writing, as she defended her “not conventional” novel, Wise Blood, to an editor, stating that if he didn’t like it she would take it elsewhere. Though it may be difficult to write truthfully at times, O’Connor shows us that this search for truth can be one of the most essential and beautiful things about creating art.

To learn more about Flannery O’Connor and her places of origin/inspiration watch the Flannery O’Connor Literary Tour Video from LiteraryTraveler.tv.

Remembering Shirley Jackson's The Lottery

March 3, 2011 in American literature, Classic Writers, Short Stories

Shirley Jackson / B&N ReviewShirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is a short story worth remembering.  I won’t ruin the ending for you if you haven’t read it … but it’s quite frankly one of the most memorable and bizarre endings in literary history.  It’s no wonder that Utne Reader has decided to revisit the publishing of “The Lottery” in The New Yorker in 1948.

I first read “The Lottery” in elementary school in a program called Junior Grade Books.  I recall being bored by a lot of the stories we were required to read, but when we started “The Lottery” I felt an immediate attachment to it.  I loved the way Jackson describes the heightened tension–but without letting the reader in on the big surprise.  At the end, I was completely shocked as were the rest of the kids in my class.

Fast forward to nearly 15 years later.  As a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia, I taught English as a foreign language.  My advanced class loved reading American and British literature and it was a good way to build their context clue reading skills.  Therefore, I gave them “The Lottery” to read.  And they loved it too.  Only one student foresaw the ending while the others were left in the dark as I was reading it for the first time as a kid.

As Utne Reader reports, when “The Lottery” first came out, readers of The New Yorker were horrified and disgusted, even canceling subscriptions and flooding Jackson with hate mail.  My, how times have changed.  As a society we’ve gotten much darker.  Is that a good thing?

Join us in celebrating “The Lottery” with our article entitled Shirley Jackson’s Outsider Perspective of Bennington, Vermont.

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