Friday, January 20, 2017

'Luk Thep: a horror novella' FREE on Amazon Kindle January 21st, 22nd description:

The ‘luk thep’ are the ‘angel dolls’ or ‘spirit dolls’ of Thailand. Ultra-realistic in appearance, some Thais believe that each doll is infused with the spirit of a prematurely departed child. But are all child spirits benevolent?

Jane Hughes is an American executive who is visiting Thailand for a routine business trip. When she sees her Thai colleague’s ‘luk thep' doll, she has dark premonitions about what is actually inside it. When Jane later receives the same doll as a gift, she begins a ghostly nightmare that will lead to terrifying supernatural encounters on two continents

From the Author

Early in 2016 I read an article in The Economist about a new craze in Thailand among affluent, single, childless women: the luk thep, otherwise known as 'angel dolls', or 'spirit dolls'. According to the article, many luk thep owners believe that each ultra-realistic-looking luk thep doll contains the spirit of a child who died prematurely.

I knew there had to be a story in there somewhere.

My first thought was, "What if the spirit that inhabited a particular luk thep wasn't especially nice?"

The result of that line of thought is, Luk Thep: a horror novella.

This is a tale of what happens when a 34-year-old American executive, a woman named Jane Hughes, travels to Thailand and encounters a nasty luk thep named Lawan.

This is more than just another "haunted object" story: In addition to harrowing supernatural events on two continents, herein you'll find corporate politics, the travails of thirty-something dating, and much more. This is also, at its heart, a story about culture shock, which I well recall from my own days in the global automotive industry.

From the Inside Flap

(Excerpt from Chapter 5: "This is Lawan.")

Jane looked closer, and now she saw that the small figure seated in the chair was only a doll, albeit a very realistic-looking one.

"She gave you quite a scare," Khajee said with good humor. Jane noted Khajee's use of the personal pronoun. Jane also noted that yes, indeed, the doll had given her quite a scare.

The corporate realm was not a world without fear. The cutthroat competitiveness of the global economy produced a macro-level fear of being downsized, "right-sized" out, or otherwise falling into obsolescence. Jane had not a protectionist bone in her body, but she couldn't help feeling the occasional twinge of admiration-mixed-with-resentment toward her Asian colleagues: They worked so tirelessly, so efficiently. All of the jobs at TRX Automotive Thailand represented jobs that no longer existed in the United States. How long before her job, too, was outsourced to a more efficient Asian or Latin American rival?

Beneath the macro-level fears was the constant uneasiness about where you stood within the company hierarchy--not just the formal organization chart, but within the ever-shifting hierarchy of senior management favor. This was not simply a matter of doing your job well, but of maintaining the outward perception that you were doing your job well.

Although Jane was single and had no dependents, she had much invested in her career. She knew that despite her undeniable hard work, she was fortunate to be where she was at her age. Jane did not want to lose what she had gained. She wanted to continue moving forward.

Anxiety about such matters occasionally kept Jane up at night. But the fear of the genuinely unknown was mostly alien to her existence. No one ever discussed haunted houses or vampires at a corporate meeting, even during the informal pre-meeting banter. To express an interest in the macabre would be (yet another) way to sideline your career prospects. People would think you were unhinged.

Perhaps that was why Jane was momentarily uncomfortable over her reaction to the doll. She now knew, rationally, that the doll was just a doll. But it made her uneasy, nonetheless.

"It looks very realistic," Jane said. "Like a real little girl."

Khajee nodded. "Each one of them is unique. They aren't cheap."

Khajee then mentioned the price she had paid in baht, the Thai currency. It was an amount that corresponded to about $800 American dollars.

"A lot to pay for a doll," Jane blurted out. Then she realized the potential rudeness of her observation. "I--I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by that remark."

But it was a lot to pay for a doll, realistic-looking or not.

"That's okay," Khajee said. "But this is a special kind of doll, you see. And I'm not only talking about the way it looks. The doll is called a luk thep. That means 'angel doll' or 'spirit doll'. They perform a ceremony for each doll at the plant where the dolls are made. And then each doll is supposed to be inhabited by the spirit of a deceased child."

"You mean the doll is--possessed?" Jane asked. Khajee gave a puzzled look in response. "I mean--haunted," Jane clarified.

"Well, yes," Khajee replied, after giving the matter some thought. "I suppose that's one way to look at it, though a Buddhist would see the matter differently than someone from the West, you understand."

Jane nodded noncommittally. A lapsed Roman Catholic, there were many holes in her knowledge of her own spiritual and religious traditions. She had only the vaguest grasp of Buddhist beliefs.

Didn't the Buddhists believe in reincarnation? Jane was almost certain that the Buddhists did. Perhaps that would make them more comfortable with the notion of a 'haunted doll.'

But still, even a Buddhist would have to ask certain inevitable questions. For starters: What kind of a spirit would want to inhabit a doll, and to what purpose?

"It certainly looks realistic," Jane said, repeating her prior observation, not knowing what else to say.

"Her name is Lawan," Khajee said, as if correcting Jane. Khajee smiled self-consciously. "Yes. I named her. Most luk thep mothers do. I suppose you're wondering why an adult woman would want to buy a doll and name it."

Jane couldn't avoid an involuntary flinch at Khajee's description of herself as the doll's 'mother'.

"I suppose I would wonder," Jane admitted.

FREE on Amazon Kindle January 21st, 22nd only

A few words about '12 Hours of Halloween'

From my YouTube channel: A brief video about why I wrote 12 Hours of Halloween:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Idealized TV families of yore

The death of Florence Henderson (1934 - 2016) late last year prompted me to think about a topic that has not crossed my mind in any serious way for at least 35 years: that fictional family, The Brady Bunch. As most readers will know, Henderson was best known for her role as Carol Brady, the mother on the Nixon-era sitcom. 

I was of that generation for whom The Brady Bunch was a constant companion during the years between roughly eight and the onset of puberty. I was barely too young to have seriously watched the show in primetime. (The Brady Bunch ran from 1969 to 1974.) But I am quite sure that I saw every single episode in rerun, some of them multiple times.

A few years ago I heard a stand-up comic who was roughly my age confess that during his childhood years, he had secretly wanted to be the seventh Brady kid. Although well into middle age by this point, I found myself blushing. The comedian had somehow read my thoughts, after all these years.

Not that I’d admit that to you, by the way, if you ever questioned me about the matter in real life, in a room full of people. Although I haven't watched a full episode of The Brady Bunch since before Ronald Reagan was president, I am somewhat embarrassed at my devotion to the show at the age of about ten.

But at least I’m not alone. The generation that came of age during the 1980s was the first generation to endure, en masse, what used to be quaintly called the “broken home”. Divorce rates in the U.S. reached all-time highs in 1980. The Brady Bunch, by contrast, was a sitcom in which the parents never yelled or fought, everyone was always cheerful, and there was no problem that couldn't be solved within the show’s 26-minute running time.

In real life, I was one of the lucky ones of my generation. My parents didn't get divorced, and my childhood was basically a happy one. But from the perspective of a ten-year-old, the idyllic family life depicted on The Brady Bunch was a tough act for any real family to follow. 

The show also had a certain proto-erotic appeal for the pre-adolescent boy that I was in the late 1970s. The premise of the show is that you get to live with three sisters who are not really your sisters, and two of them are very hot. Yes, I had a crush on Eve Plumb when I was ten. What ten-year-old boy of that era didn’t? 

While life onThe Brady Bunch looked perfect, there were all sorts of real-life problems going on in the background. Maureen McCormick had become addicted to cocaine and quaaludes; and years later she would admit that she sometimes traded sex for drugs. Robert Reed, the sitcom's ever-patient, all-wise father figure, was a closeted gay man who would die from AIDS in 1992. 

No matter. The show was supposed to be an illusion, and for those of us who were of a certain age at a certain time, the illusion worked. 

The Brady Bunch would never past muster today. Our culture is too cynical, and too obsessed with controversy for controversy’s sake. The show would also be lambasted today for its lack of diversity. Almost every character to ever appear on the show was white—an unlikely situation even in the California of that era. And as for gay or transgendered characters? Don't even go there.

The Brady Bunch was originally filmed in the immediate aftermath of the 1960s; but the show’s writers and producers ignored the Vietnam War, the counterculture, rising crime rates, drug abuse, and the sexual revolution. 

The show was a last glimpse of the American family was it probably never was—completely, at least. But there was a time, a tad more than forty years ago, in which millions of Americans could still tune into such an illusion for half an hour, and sort of believe in it. 

Especially if you were ten.

I do remember the show fondly for that, if for no other reason. But like I said, don’t ask me to admit any of this to you in person. I’ll steadfastly insist that I never liked The Brady Bunch, and perhaps feign ignorance that such a sitcom even existed. Like the rest of America, the years have made me more cynical and disbelieving, too. 

Stephen King's cynicism and "'Salem's Lot"

From my YouTube channel: A viewer asked me to discuss the cynical portrayal of the townspeople in Stephen King's 1975 vampire novel. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lovecraft's storytelling technique

From my YouTube channel: an example of Lovecraft's storytelling technique.

The example tale is At the Mountains of Madness. The story features a typical Lovecraftian setup: A lone, bookish male protagonist relates an experience that nearly drove him mad. But will anyone believe him?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Ruination of the Vampire Genre

Let me come right out and say it: The genre of vampire fiction has been done a great disservice by the Twilight franchise and its seemingly endless parade of clones.

I tried to read Twilight about five or six years ago, not knowing at the time what I was in for. I read about a third of the first book, before the inevitable conclusion took hold: What I was reading wasn't a vampire story, but a teenage girl’s romantic fantasy. The Twilight movies, from what I’ve seen of them, are similarly designed with the dreamy-eyed teenage girl audience in mind. 

The Twilight-esque vampire is a supernatural iteration on the “bad boy with a heart”—a persistent fantasy of adolescent girls since the days of James Dean. The success of Twilight spawned not only more girly vampire books, but similar stories in which werewolves, and even zombies, are now objects of romantic interest. This is odd on multiple levels. I’m not sure if I would be comfortable with my teenage daughter (if I had one) romanticizing paranormal creatures. 

The vampire should be a repellant creature. The vampire is properly depicted as a supernatural villain, cast in a context of good versus evil. The spiritual context need not be Judeo-Christian, necessarily; but the vampire is a creature that corrupts the body as well as the soul. 

If your only exposure to the vampire has come via the Twilight series, then you might understandably be wondering how a proper vampire should be depicted in fiction. I would recommend that you start with two classic novels of the genre: Stephen King’s 1975 novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, and the original Dracula by Bram Stroker. 

‘Salem’s Lot is highly addictive, one of King’s best. Dracula was written 120 years ago; but the story moves along quickly; and most readers will have minimal difficulties with the Victorian style and language. 

Stephanie Meyer doesn't deserve all of the blame for the recent ruination of the vampire, of course. We should not forget that nearly twenty years before Twilight, Anne Rice made the vampire into a character that could be depicted by the then-youthful Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Even before that, in 1954, Richard Matheson tampered with the supernatural core of the vampire in I Am Legend. Matheson's vampires were the product of a viral project gone wrong. This secularized premise was a round peg in a square hole; but a similar version of it was soon to become the standard cliche of zombie film and fiction. 

There is, of course, no law against “reimagining” a horror trope—nor should there be. The problem is when the “reimagined”, watered-down version becomes the new default. 

Search for “vampire fiction” on Amazon,and the first thing that comes up is Vampire Academy, yet another Twilight clone written with teenage girls in mind. The vampire genre needs more books like ‘Salem’s Lot, and fewer Twilight wannabes.