Posted in books, ghosts, hauntings, horror, writing

Book Review (spoiler-free) – HARBOR, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

One of the lovely benefits I’ve discovered of being on Twitter is the opportunity to get free books! A few months ago, a note went out from Tor Books that St. Martin’s Press had ARCs of the forthcoming novel by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead) to give out to the first 65 people to email them. Score! I was quick enough to nab one. The photo is the uncorrected ARC I received, no doubt the final edition will look somewhat different, and today is the U.S. release date.

Harbor - Lindqvist

I had read Let the Right One In and enjoyed it a great deal, but Harbor really showcases Lindqvist’s talent. It’s a big development in style, we get more inside the characters’ heads, hear their musings and ruminations on life, how they got from point A to point B. The story is told in both current setting and via flashbacks, alternating between the two, ably using the flashbacks to draw detailed portraits of the characters and set up the story, avoiding the “As you know, Bob” infodumps in the present. Flashbacks are usually discouraged for writers, and at first I was a little confused until I realized what he was doing (no reflection on Lindqvist or his writing, I can be a little slow at times), but on the whole I liked the structure, and I would say Lindqvist handles the technique well. If he had simply written the story in a linear fashion I don’t think he could have really gotten around the infodump issue. There’s a lot of history of the people and the location that is revealed slowly, as more pieces of the puzzle drop into place. The incident around which the entire book turns only makes up a small slice of time, which would have been a lot of build-up with little action or could have felt really disjointed.

Lindqvist’s characters are multi-layered, no one is entirely what they seem, and they all have definite motives for their actions and behaviors. The writing is beautiful, and I am only sorry that the book is classified as “horror” because it will likely keep many people who don’t read in the genre from picking up this wonderful author. There is actually minimal gore in the story, so if gore isn’t your thing you could probably skim over those bits without losing too much of the story. There’s an understated supernatural element that drives the events, it’s more creepy than horrific in that sense. I loved the portrait of this island and its inhabitants, normal people going about their lives with this extra dimension guiding them. The ending had a Lovecraftian feel to it, which is all I’ll say about that. But you may never look at the sea the same way again. I’m still letting this book sink in and settle.

Land and sea.

We may think of them as opposites; as complements. But there is a difference in how we think of them; the sea, and the land.

If we are walking around in a forest, a meadow or a town, we see our surroundings as being made up of individual elements. There are this many different kinds of trees in varying sizes, those buildings, these streets. The meadow, the flowers, the bushes. Our gaze lingers on details, and if we are standing in a forest in the autumn, we become tongue-tied if we try to describe the richness around us. All this exists on land.

But the sea. The sea is something completely different. The sea is one.

We may note the shifting moods of the sea. What the sea looks like when the wind is blowing, how the sea plays with the light, how it rises and falls. But still it is always the sea we are talking about. We have given different parts of the sea different names for navigation and identification, but if we are standing before the sea, there is only one whole. The sea.

If we are taken so far out in a small boat that no land is visible in any direction, we may catch sight of the sea. It is not a pleasant experience. The sea is a god, an unseeing, unhearing deity that surrounds us and has all imaginable power over us. That’s just the way it is. The sea knows no limits, makes no concessions. It has given us everything and it can take everything away from us.

To other gods we send our prayers: Protect us from the sea.

I know I’ll be re-reading this one.

(Winner of the giveaway contest for a copy of the book will be announced later today.)

Posted in ghosts, Halloween, hauntings, horror, Portland, writing

Build Your Own Cemetery!

When I was a kid, there was a house in town that did a Christmas display that would have rivaled Disney. I’m talking a working carousel that carried 3’ tall elf dolls, a working ski lift/skyride that more of these dolls rode in, and loads of other things all over the yard. Sadly, vandals finally did so much damage the owner finally gave up. Terrible shame.

But this. This is unbelievable. A co-worker who shares my love of Halloween told me about this today after seeing my former cube all decked out (I didn’t bother decorating the one I actually sit in). The Davis Graveyard in Milwaukie, Oregon is not a cemetery at all. This is someone’s home.


No foolin’, this is for realz. Somehow I have missed this annual spectacle of the macabre, even though they’ve been covered on the news numerous times, and have apparently won all kinds of awards. From the home page click on the Gallery, and take a look at some of the past years’ displays, as well as this year’s.  The decorations are up for a full month, the rest of the year it’s probably a normal suburban house. They seem to make most of the props themselves and during the summer the owners offer reasonably priced classes to make your own corpses, gravestones, etc.  I’m in awe. Most nights it’s just the display, but at least 3 nights also includes sound effects. Like driving past Christmas lights, only better! Check out the Links page, too. They have an impressive collection of links to others who did this, as well as annual haunting convention (yes, there is such a thing), known logically enough as HAuNTCon. Be still my heart!

Here’s a pic of my little decorations at work. Kind of pales by comparison. There’s more, but it’s hard to photograph a cube. The Skull o’ Cookies did make a return appearance today, to much acclaim.

Halloween 001

Posted in ghosts, hauntings, horror, music, writing

Music for the Goth In All of Us

For those who enjoy some mood music to set their scenes, whether in real life or to help us conjure our fictional fog-shrouded moors and darkly lit dungeons and castles, I have two new tasty morsels for you to choose from.

Heavenly Creatures Heavenly Creatures is gothic electronica from France. Oo la la, c’est magnifique! The homepage is like visiting an ancient catacomb, with dripping water sounds and subdued ghostly wailing (or is that only the wind?).  You can hear excerpts of the album on their site. I have to admit I liked some of the tracks better than others. For instance, the track titled “Le Chat du Cimetière has an almost comedic, cinematical feel to it. I could picture a humorous scene with a mime and a cat in a cemetery. The rest of the tracks are more atmospheric. It’s strictly music, no spoken word at all as far as I could tell. Some of the background effects, the sound of dripping water are evocative and creepy. Track 8, La Vieille, kind of loses it with the accordion, it’s a little too Parisian street scene to be what I’d call ‘gothic.’ Many of the tracks feature harp, violins, and an ethereal chorus. Shall we call it “Goth Chic”? Hint: click the words “Dark Ambient and Electronic Music” at the top to spin the figures and see the second image.

Diminished 7Next is another entry in what is sometimes called “love metal” (a la HIM), or dark metal, but still with the gothic feel to it. If you need something a little edgier but still in the gothic vein this might be what you’re looking for. At the moment,  Diminished 7 seems to consist only of the band’s founder, Alex Crescioni on vocals, and a drummer, Chase Breckenden. Despite that, there are several tracks available to listen to on the MySpace site. I’m not sure how, but Alex found me on Twitter and ‘followed’ me, which is how I found him (good marketing tactic, Alex, it worked 😉 ). I’m liking what he’s got out so far, and look forward to hearing more when he gets a full band together. He’s also on Facebook (which makes me wonder if he knows there’s another band on Facebook with the same name, who appear to be a country/folk group out of Austin, Texas). On his MySpace page, Alex has posted a blog of what not to say when applying to a professional band, an actual letter he received for the position of guitarist. Can I just say, “Tooooooooo many drugs!”

Posted in ghosts, Halloween, hauntings, writing

Ghostly Roads and Haunted Locales


It’s that time of year when everyone is trotting out stories of ghosts and hauntings. So let’s join in the fun.

Digital City has an article listing ten of the creepiest roads in America, reportedly haunted by everything from ghostly children to spectral dogs, Civil War soldiers to star-crossed lovers. Check out the ghostly locales at Unexplained Happenings on America’s Creepiest Roads. I’ve seen some of these dramatized on various tv shows over the years, specifically the one in Texas where the cars roll themselves off the train tracks and tiny, child-sized handprints are found on the powder-coated bumper after the fact.

There is another article on the sidebar, which purports to be about haunted houses. Fair warning: It’s mostly about fun house attractions, although it does cover the Winchester Mystery House in Santa Clara, CA. I’ve been to that, and it is indeed a bizarre place. The rest of the “haunted houses” in the article are tourist attractions, complete with actors and animatronics.

Ghost cams are fun, too. There are scads of them all over the Web. A quick search on Google brought up 140,000 hits. Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana, seems to be capitalizing on their resident ghost, the Grey Lady. They offer ghost tours, and she’s been seen so often she’s considered part of the staff. Luckily, whoever she is, she is not out to do harm. She seems to like to make her presence known, but beyond that folks are left alone to go about their business.

Even a local theater here in the town I live in is purported to be haunted, and was staked out over the summer by a professional ghost hunting team:

IPRG, which itself has allied teams in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Germany, is recognized by The Atlantic Paranormal Society. TAPS, for fans of events that defy scientific explanation, is the group behind the Ghost Hunters show on the Syfy network.

They got a little bit of weirdness, rapid temperature changes, and some EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). I must head down there sometime to see if I can have my own ghostly encounter. It seems to be a very active ghost, or ghosts.

Other local ghost hangouts are a haunted hall at a local university, and the McMenamins Grand Lodge, both in Forest Grove. McMenamins is a local chain of brewpubs which specialize in buying up interesting properties and converting them to bars and theaters. They serve their only own beers and wines (although full bars offer everything else). I’ve been to the Grand Lodge many times and have yet to have an paranormal encounter, darn the luck.