On this week’s show, I talk about discovering character in the process of novel writing with Jay Baron Nicorvo!
On this week’s show, I talk about discovering character in the process of novel writing with Jay Baron Nicorvo!
The Curator of Schlock #200 by Jeff Shuster
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake
How come he gets four skulls and I only get one?
Whoah! 200 blogs. What a long, strange trip it’s been. I remember when John King first approached me on writing this weekly column. We had arranged a deal. If I made it to 200 blogs, John King would give me his vintage, still sealed box of Mr. T cereal with the Mr. T stickers inside. A promise is a promise, Mr. John King. I will expect to be my Mr. Ts in the near future.
We continue our month of super scary movies here at the Museum of Schlock. Tonight’s feature is 1959’s The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake from director Edward L. Cahn.
He’s the same guy who directed It! The Terror from Beyond Space. I covered that almost one year ago. Fancy that. We don’t have Martian monsters this time around, but we do have a witch doctor with a penchant for shrinking heads. It’s the little things that make life worth living.
The movie starts out with someone getting murdered. I think any movie that counts for anything starts out with someone getting murdered. Actually, before the murder, we witness a man by the name of Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz), university professor and occult expert, alone in his study and transfixed by the shrunken head sitting in the palm of his hand. At that moment, Jonathan Drake sees three floating skulls in front him. They’re all transparent, kind of like ghosts. Ghost skulls! Floating ghost skulls! What could be scarier than floating ghost skulls?
Next, we see Jonathan Drake’s brother, Kenneth Drake, attacked by some voodoo zombie. At least, that’s what it said online. I thought it was just some guy wearing pajamas. Sure, his lips are sewn together just like that shrunken head Jonathan Drake was so transfixed by, but I figured sewn lips was just a kooky fashion trend of the 1950s, like studded tongues or nose rings today. But nope, the guy is a zombie. He attacks Kenneth Drake by nicking his neck with a tiny sliver of bamboo. With that, Kenneth Drake falls dead. The zombie pulls out a blade to cut off Kenneth’s head, but scurries away when he hears the butler approaching.
What? Is the zombie afraid of getting caught? He could always kill the butler. The zombie has a nice, sharp knife to do some serious damage to anyone who gets between him and a severed head. This happens again later when he’s trying to cut off another head. The butler shows up and he runs away before getting his head.
I don’t get it.
Is this part of the zombie code? You never kill a butler?
Oh, and the Drake family is under a hundred-year curse of sorts. I guess one of Jonathan Drake’s ancestors led an expedition to Ecuador where his party murdered a bunch of the natives. Drakes have been losing their heads every generation.
Looks like it’s Jonathan Drake’s turn!
You can catch The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake streaming for free on Amazon Prime.
It should have been called The Thirteen Skulls of Jonathan Drake.
Then I could have covered it last week instead of a certain other movie.
In this week’s episode, I share a recording of Loose Lips, the monthly current events literary thing hosted by the inestimable Tod Caviness, with special guests Erik Deckers, Whitney Hamrick, Joe Snyder, Mary McGinn, and moi.
Join us on October 21st at Vinyl Arts Bar in Orlando!
Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The First White President.
The Curator of Schlock #199 by Jeff Shuster
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Let’s just get this over with.
Sigh. It’s Friday the 13th so I have to cover another Friday the 13th movie. I guess it’s a horror movie so it fits in with this month’s theme. This one is 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter from director Joseph Zito. I know for a fact that it isn’t the final chapter because I’ve already reviewed Part VII and this is Part IV.
I’m going to have to break this down into parts. I’m about this close to making this blog about my PEZ collection!
Why do coroners eat sloppy sandwiches around dead bodies?
The body of Jason Voorhees is brought to a nearby hospital. A coroner by the name of Axel is eating a sloppy sandwich. I guess it’s tuna salad or chicken salad, some kind of salad bound with mayo. When the police bring the dead body of Jason Voorhees in, he just lays the sandwich on top of the body only to pick it up again and continue eating. Ewwwwwwww! Oh, it turns out Jason isn’t dead after all. He takes a hacksaw to Axel’s neck and twists his head around while Axel is perving out to some jazzercise videos.
Crispin Glover is in this!
Yeah, Crispin Glover, star of River’s Edge, a wonderful movie about the amoral youth of the 80s. That one also had Keanu in it.
No Keanu in this Friday the 13th movie or any Friday the 13th movie for that matter.
This one does have Lawrence Monoson as Ted who also played the last American virgin in the movie The Last American Virgin. He makes fun of his friend’s lack of sexual prowess, but Crispin Glover’s character gets lucky while Ted is stuck watching stag films from the 1920s while smoking dope. Obviously, they both die horribly.
Everyone dies in this movie!
Just about. We have a whole house of partying teenagers and not one of them is making it out of this movie alive. Jason isn’t even following any rules anymore. If you partake in sinful activity you die, but if you stay on the straight and narrow, you also die. He just doesn’t care anymore. What’s his motivation? Is he still suffering trauma from watching his mother’s head get chopped off or is this killing just part of his nature. I guess the latter. Why does Godzilla torch Tokyo? Because he’s Godzilla. Still, it’s the creative ways he kills people that really stands out this time around. Jason uses corkscrews, machetes, harpoons; whatever he can get his hands on. This guy’s like Rambo if Rambo we’re a psychopath instead of a great American patriot.
Corey Feldman is in this movie!
No Corey Haim, though. I should really do a Two Coreys Month.
We have a vigilante in this movie, a Jason hunter if you will. His name his Rob. He seeks vengeance for the death of his younger sister at the hands of Jason Voorhees. Jason turns Rob into meat. I guess you failed, Rob.
Crispin Glover can dance!
Shakespearing #48 by David Foley
Wit and Fresh Sorrow: As You Like It at CSC
When non-traditional casting is not the same as color-blind casting, things can get interesting. (I realize non-traditional casting is a bit of a misnomer since by now it’s quite traditional.) In John Doyle’s new production of As You Like It at Classic Stage Company, Orlando is black and his brother Oliver is white, and the production itself is set in what seems to be a version of the old South. When Orlando complains, “My father charged you in his will to give me good education: you have trained me like a peasant,” the lines take on painful contemporary significance. Doyle stages the fight between the two brothers more violently than is customary, turning race in America into a Cain and Abel rivalry, primal and recursive. When Oliver slanders Orlando as a “villainous contriver,” it becomes almost Ta-Nehisi Coatesian: the need for a criminal onto whom our own rapacity can be transposed.
Doyle seems to want us to feel the real costs of Shakespeare’s warring brothers and tyrannous fathers. Ellen Burstyn, she of the pellucid, emotive face, sits through much of the first part of the play with a volume of Shakespeare on her lap, following the events with deep and anxious empathy. For a while, you feel that the play has been brought to new life for you, made immediate and painful.
And then it kind of dies.
And it dies because in mining the play for fresh sorrow Doyle forgets how it works.
I wasn’t a fan of Doyle’s much-praised Sweeney Todd, which seemed great at mood and theatrics and not so good at making sense of the plot. Since Sweeney Todd gets its theatrical juice from melodrama, that seemed to me a not-inconsiderable flaw. You got to see Patti LuPone play a tuba, but still. I quite liked his Company, which I saw on video, though in retrospect it was maybe more at ease with emotion than wit, another not-inconsiderable flaw if you’re dealing with Sondheim.
Wit is the reason to do As You Like It, and wit is what dies once we get to Arden. Or rather wit, in the play itself, is what lifts us out of the dark currents of plot into the magic circle of Arden, where the evils and troubles of the world turn to play. That’s what wit does. It plays. It allows us to toss the serious things up in the air the better to see them.
Like Doyle, As You Like It is not big on plot, but there is a major turn. When Orlando arrives in the forest, hungry and desperate, he flourishes his sword at the exiled Duke, demanding food. The Duke responds with kindness and grace. We are no longer in the oppressive world of the court. We are in a world of gentility and play. Doyle will have none of it. Immediately, Orlando’s old servant Anna (Adam in the original) dies in his lap. We have not evaded the sorrowful world, even temporarily, by coming to the forest. One result is that the actor playing Orlando is forced to begin carving love poems on trees, his eyes still wet with tears.
This sets the tone for what follows: a Rosalind denuded of her wit. Her jousting with Orlando is played with smothered grief, her jests run through with the pain of her feelings for him. Her wit seems foreign to Doyle, as if he can’t imagine that lightness itself might be profound.
Earlier in the play, the usurper Duke charges in on Rosalind and Celia in a furious rage, banishing his niece. They fly apart in terror. It was one of those moments when I felt the thrill of Doyle’s method. A moment that we by now almost blank over had been made viscerally real. But now I wonder if this, too, is mistaken. It misunderstands the pleasures of story, which are also a form of play. The emotional charge smothers the pleasure of the scene, which taps into not living trauma but our joy at hearing what happens next.
Before the play, I was joking with my friend that British directors of American musicals sometimes seem to want us to take our native form more seriously. “Don’t you see,” their productions say, “Oklahoma! is dark!” And, of course, Oklahoma! is dark, and so is As You Like It. Most things that touch on the real world are. The power of wit is not that it makes us forget the dark stuff, but that it reimagines it for us. It suggests that though we may be stuck with it we’re not stuck in it. It imagines new freedom.
David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at Argos, A Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.
In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer.
Colum McCann hosts a lovely Bloomsday reading every year at Ulysses Folk House in downtown Manhattan.
Check out my interview with the late Charlie Bethel, an amazing playwright and performer, back on episode 39.
The Curator of Schlock #198 by Jeff Shuster
One Dark Night
One dark night all by yourself in a mausoleum with a psychic vampire!
It’s that time of year again! Time for your Curator of Schlock to transform into the Curator of Shock! It’s a full month of super scary movies! So get ready boys and ghouls to get shocked out of your skin! No. That’s not working for me. I’ll try again. So get ready boys and ghouls to get shocked out of your Adidas. That’s a brand of sneaker. Kanye West is one their guest designers, so there!
Tonight’s tale of terror is a 1983 feature entitled One Dark Night from director Tom McLoughlin. It stars TV’s very own Batman, Adam West. Actually, he just plays the husband of the bereaved daughter of a psychic vampire. Kind of disappointed with that.
Can you imagine Adam West playing a psychic vampire? I can! It also stars Meg Tilly who played Carmilla on Shelly Duvall’s Nightmare Classics back in 1989.
This is the part in the review where I would mention that I had a huge crush on Meg Tilly when I was twelve years old, but would then refrain from making such information public for fear that my readers would find out that I have a vampiress fetish.
One Dark Night starts out with a bunch of police and paramedics storming into the apartment of the famous Russian psychic, Karl Raymarsevich. There are all kinds of pots and plates stuck in the walls almost like a poltergeist went to town. And then the police discover the bodies of several young women stuffed in Raymarsevich ‘s closet, all twisted and contorted. Oh, and Raymarsevich is dead too, but even his corpse seems to retain some of that psychic ability since his dead hand shoots a bolt of lightning at the ceiling as they remove his corpse. It probably would have been a good idea to cremate the body, but they just shove him in a mausoleum. I do hope some naïve teenager doesn’t decide to spend one dark night in that same mausoleum.
Enter our protagonist, Julie Wells (Meg Tilly), a high school student who is desperate to join this girl gang called The Sisters. This gang only consists of three members, but they’re looking to branch out and their leader, Carol (Robin Evans), chooses Julie as their first pledge.
Oh, and Julie is currently dating Steve (David Mason Daniels), the ex-boyfriend of Carol. Steve feeds Julie some Mint Milanos right in front of Carol, prompting the green-eyed monster to rear its ugly head. I’m referring to the emotional state of envy not an actual green-eyed monster. This movie already has a psychic vampire in it.
Julie is sick and tired of everyone saying, “Julie’s such a nice girl! Julie’s such a nice girl!” You know something, Julie. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice girl! Getting involved with gangs like The Sisters will just get you into trouble. Carol and company request one final initiation right before Julie can join The Sisters. She must spend a night alone in a mausoleum. Carol gives Julie a Demerol pill to help her sleep through the night. Little does Julie know that Carol and her friends plan to dress up as ghosts and sneak back into the Mausoleum to scare Julie half to death.
Little does Carol know that there’s a psychic vampire in the crypt that has the power to summon every corpse in the place so he can feed off the fear dumb teenagers who aren’t satisfied with being nice girls!
Buzzed Books #55 by Amy Watkins
Bob Hicok’s Sex & Love &
In the first episode of the FX comedy series Louie, the main character (single dad Louie CK, playing a fictionalized version of himself) goes on a date with a woman he does not know. When she asks about his children, he answers candidly with a gross story about his 10-year-old daughter’s recent vaginal infection. His date is appalled, and, when he tries to answer her question again, his response swings so far in the other direction that he tears up as he struggles to express what his daughters mean to him: “I don’t know,” he weeps, “they’re my girls.”
When I watched this scene, I laughed so hard I snorted beer out my nose. As a writer who mines her real life for material, I identify strongly with the two-sided problem of speaking honestly about close relationships. Both Louie’s answers are honest, and his date considers both answers rude, or at least TMI. The truth is that the whole truth of any deep love is a bit much. Every one of my close, long-term relationships is both sweet and gross, sentimental and practical, romantic and profoundly unromantic. This is true of my relationships with my child, my parents, my siblings, my best friends, and, perhaps most especially, my spouse.
Bob Hicok’s Sex & Love & (Copper Canyon, 2016) reminds me of that scene in Louie. The book is about a mature marriage, and the poems run full speed at the contradictions inherent in married life. There’s no doubt that the speaker of these poems is deeply in love with his wife, but he’s long past any delusions about never-ending butterflies in the stomach or a lifetime of perfect sex. He’s confident and mature enough to both celebrate and wryly admit what it’s like to love one person for a long time.
The book is full of poems about sex, poems about love, and, as the second ampersand in the title implies, poems about a third, unspoken thing. At first glance, the implied third thing could be all the mundane details of living with someone day-to-day–paying the bills, planning for the future, arguing about who mows the lawn and who does the dishes–but I think Hicok sees the mundane as a necessary part of married sex and love, not something separate from it. He writes:
time is a shape
my wife and I share, our time, our shape
our sexy memories of Paris and putting
our dog to sleep
In a marriage, the erotic or romantic and the mundane exist side by side, are part of each other. The third part of the equation is death. Hicok’s speaker is middle aged and facing his mortality and the mortality of his beloved in the form of occasional impotence and the failing health of pets and loved ones. Death is present in even the sexiest and most romantic poems.
The book’s second “Love poem” starts out as a celebration of the freedom of sex with a long-term partner: “For a time we licked toes & liked it / & neither of us asked the other to wash.” If you’ve been with someone for a long time, very little is embarrassing or taboo anymore, and maybe that wears down some of the giddy excitement of sex with a new person, but the trade off is, as Hicok writes, “more / to lick & not lick as we like.” The poem is sexy and a little funny, until it shifts suddenly in the last lines: “it’s as if there’s a menu & she / is the menu & everything is allowed, minus / forever.” Death is inextricably entangled with sex and love.
My favorite poem in the collection reinforces the theme. It begins:
I’ll die before she does
probably. We fuck
and kiss extra so she can bank
affection and I’ve caulked
around both tubs and typed
an explanation for how to use
the generator when storms
knock the power out.
Again, sex and love are caught up with the mundane details of daily life and the inevitability of death. He says that he’s left notes for his wife to find after he dies:
a few thousand in shoes and inside
her ears and on every leaf
for ten miles that I love her
and don’t forget to turn
the heat down at night.
The collection’s most unapologetically romantic lines are followed immediately by the most unapologetically ordinary, not to undercut the romance but to make it real.
Recently on social media I witnessed a young poet complaining that all he’s written lately are love poems. He seemed to find this embarrassing and pointless, since–according to him–no one serious writes or publishes love poems anymore. If that’s true, it’s a damned shame. At their best, love poems can be erotic, romantic, heart-wrenching, and hilarious. Hicok proves that.
Pair with the everyday version of something luxurious: your favorite $12 pinot noir, say, or a leftover bottle of champagne you open with your loved one on a Tuesday, just because.
Amy Watkins (Episodes 124, 161, 164, 192, and 209) grew up in the Central Florida scrub, surrounded by armadillos and palmetto brush and a big, loud, oddly religious family, a situation that’s produced generations of Southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl and earned her MFA in poetry from Spalding University. She is the author of Milk & Water (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) and the art editor for Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine.
The Lists #34 by John King
What I Believe
John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University.
On this week’s show, David James Poissant and I offer words of advice for 12 new writers and their questions. I probably swear more than I should in a classroom.
Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The First White President.”
Congrats to the finalists for Poet Laureate of Orlando: Curtis Meyer, Susan Lilley, and Terry Anne Thaxton.
Check out the music of The Bambi Molesters, an extraordinary surf rock outfit out of Croatia.