The writer on his experience with night terrors, which he associates with his love of horror films and the work of Tom Savini, a special-effects artist known for working with director George Romero on zombie films:
Savini joined the Army rather than wait to get drafted because enlisted men got to pick their jobs. He served as a combat photographer in Vietnam. After the war, he moved to North Carolina and started acting in a repertory theater. He was still playing around with makeups, still using them to scare the holy shit out of people. (In Vietnam, he had been all, “Mama-san, take . . . a . . . look . . . at . . . THIS!”) In fact, that’s what earned him his early notoriety, the verisimilitude of his wounds. “There’s something about seeing the real thing that sets me apart from, let’s say, some other makeup artists who have never experienced that,” he said in a post-Vietnam interview. “When I’m creating an effect, if it doesn’t look good to me—real—doesn’t give me that feeling I used to get when I’d see the real stuff, then it’s just not real enough for me.”
An excerpt from Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir The Other Side, which details Johnson’s experience of being held prisoner in a soundproofed room by her ex-boyfriend and what followed after she escaped:
The Detective follows me to my new apartment in the unmarked car. He offers to come inside, to stand guard at the door, but I don’t want him to see that I have no furniture, no food in the fridge, nothing in the pantry, or the linen closet, or on the walls. I ask him to wait outside. I call my boss at the literary magazine where I am an intern and leave a message on the office voice mail: Hi there. I was kidnapped and raped last night. I won’t be coming in today. I call My Good Friend’s cell phone. I call My Older Sister’s cell phone.
While I’m in the shower, the apartment phone rings and callers leave messages on the machine: My Good Friend will stay with her boyfriend; she’s delaying her move-in date. Of course she hates to do this, but she’s just too scared to live here, with me, right now. You should find somewhere to go, she says. My Handsome Friend’s message says he heard the news from My Good Friend. He’s leaving town and doesn’t think it’s safe to tell me where to find him. The message My Older Sister leaves says she wants me to come stay at her place, which sounds better than sleeping alone in this apartment on the floor.
The writer and her husband, who live in the Sans Bois Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, deal with a rattlesnake problem:
“Nineteen-year-old Faith comes in the door after a bit, hunting her camera. ‘There’s a snake coiled in the yard,’ she says, her voice remarkably calm. Little eight-year-old C.C. marches to the living room, stands in front of my snake-phobic mom, and announces: ‘There’s a big snake in the yard, Grandma. We think it’s a rattling one.’
“Daddy is up from his easy chair and out the door like a shot. I hurry around trying to locate my phone to take pictures while the rest of the family troops out to see it—except for my mother, of course, who wouldn’t go out there on a dare.
“By the time I reach the porch, the rattler has uncoiled and begun crawling away from the house toward a flat nest of sandstone slabs and boulders beside the pond path. I catch a glimpse of it gliding rapidly through the dead grass, its diamond markings mottled, but distinct. Its size is almost beyond belief: even winding S-like that way, the rattler is longer and thicker than any I’ve ever seen.”
Novelist Robert Boswell tells the story of how he met his wife, the author Antonya Nelson, and uses the story to explore how fiction is crafted:
“Why are we drawn to stories about people falling in love? There are likely a host of reasons, but here’s a good one: marriage, when observed from a place of solitude, has the power of dream. Solitary people fall in love with couples, imagining their own lives transformed by such a union. And once the transformation finally happens, people need to talk about it, telling not only their families, friends, and strangers on the bus but also themselves—repeating it to make it real, to investigate the mystery of marital metamorphosis. And they get good at the telling. People who cannot otherwise put together an adequately coherent narrative to get you to the neighborhood grocery will nonetheless have a beautifully shaped tale of how he met she (or he met he, or she met she) and became we.”
This week’s Member Pick is “House Heart,” a short story by Amelia Gray, the author of the novel Threats and short story collections Museum of the Weird and AM/PM. “House Heart” was published in the December 2012 issue of Tin House.
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Hollywood screenwriter Budd Schulberg’s unlikely collaboration with Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, who was arrested and asked to provide evidence at Nuremberg against war criminals:
“In subsequent interviews he continued the story: ‘I had this warrant for her in my pocket. It was like burning a hole in my pocket … Finally I took the thing out and said, ‘Miss Riefenstahl, I’m sorry, but I have to take you to Nuremberg.’ And that’s when she screamed, “Puppi, Puppi … he’s arresting me.”‘ The little majordomo raced into the room, with Schulberg now realizing he was her husband. ‘I tried to reassure her,’ Schulberg continued. ‘I said, “Look, you’re not being put on trial with Goering and von Ribbentrop, but we do need you as a material witness.”‘ He took her outside, where his driver and his vehicle awaited. The trip from Kitzbühel to Nuremberg was roughly 150 miles. ‘She didn’t say anything on the way … She was very ticked off—very. And I guess scared.'”
[Fiction] A grieving teen and his friend look for a place to drink:
“‘Hey, you know what? Roy’s grandparents were Nazis.’ Phillip leaned back and took a drink from his beer and put an arm around Veronica. ‘I’m not even kidding. Tell them. Tell them about that time you found the swastika armbands and all that shit in your grandpa’s closet.’
“It was something I thought I had seen once, and maybe I had or I hadn’t, I wasn’t sure, and when I tried to remember what I had seen in that closet, and I put myself back in that room, all I could smell was talcum powder and see my grandma standing at the window, stiff and straight, staring out at nothing in the weak light, her back to me, the tears streaming because I had said it, I had said names, called her things, told her how my mother would disappear every time she got off the phone with her, my grandmother with her thick accent and twisted language, harsh, guttural, clipped through the phone, and for seventeen years I never once remembered my mother asking me how I felt—not once—how do you feel? Because feelings, she said, were lies. The only truth was in what you could see.”
Our latest Exclusive comes from author Elissa Schappell, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and co-founder and editor at large of Tin House, which is where she published “How the Light Gets In”—a story about a life changed by seizures. (Subscribe to Longreads to receive this and other exclusives.)
“To say it is a curse would be to lie. This is what I wrote in my journal in 1993, when I was twenty-nine. The handwriting is tiny and childlike, recognizable to no one but me as the way I wrote only after suffering a temporal lobe seizure. The brain’s temporal lobes, situated over each ear, swoop back from the temples like the wings on the thunder god’s helmet, which is fitting, given the ominous auras that sometimes rumble through my brain before a seizure.
“However, they don’t always portend a terrible storm, and while ‘suffering’ accurately depicts 99 percent of my seizures, 1 percent have been transcendent.”
An examination of authors Gore Vidal and Terry Southern’s literary erotica:
“Gore Vidal was a friend and admirer of Terry Southern, calling him ‘the most profoundly witty writer of our generation’ and he could not have failed to have had the example of Candy in mind as he embarked on his own adventure in black-humored sexual satire, Myra Breckinridge. Like Candy, the book had its inception in a high-porn enterprise: Kenneth Tynan had asked Vidal to contribute a sketch to his planned erotic review Oh Calcutta! But as soon as he set to work, the mysterious sentence ‘I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess’ sprang to mind and Vidal knew he was heading somewhere else entirely. The book became an outrageous theater of polymorphous perversity, a heady cocktail of Aristophanes, Marcuse, and Nietzsche married to an encyclopedic knowledge of the American cinema of the thirties and forties.”
[Fiction] An elderly woman encounters her past at her nursing home:
“A beautiful day—even though Elise can smell chickens from the poultry complex down the road and exhaust from the interstate, even though the pear trees in this so-called orchard bear no fruit. The mums are in bloom. Bees glitter above the beds. And a skinny man comes toward her, showing off his mastery of the strap-on LIMBs.
“‘Elise.’ He squints at her. ‘You still got it. Prettiest girl at Eden Village.’
“She flashes her dentures but says nothing.”