Litcrawl 2014

Window display at Casa Bonampak

Window display at Casa Bonampak

So another Litquake is over.  I didn’t get to see anything except the one event I performed at, because of this damn cold I’ve been fighting for the last 10 days.  I wanted to see the Being with Death reading and Taxidermy Gone Rogue and Science Fiction in the 21st Century.  Instead, I stayed home and coughed til my chest hurt and my throat felt like I’d swallowed glass.

Last night, though, was really fun.  Kim Richards and William Gilchrist of Damnation Books/Eternal Press took three of us out for dinner at Aslam’s Rasoi, where I had the best mattar paneer ever.

The lovely Rain Graves

The lovely Rain Graves

Then we were off next door to Casa Bonampak for the Night of Eternal Damnation.

After a brief introduction from Kim, Rain Graves started off the evening by reading “Underneath the Ravens” from The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two.

I followed with excerpts of “A Curiosity of Shadows,” about horror writers and a seance/exorcism from The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One.  There was a moment, in the middle of my second piece, where the crowd fell so silent, I knew I had them.  That was really fun.

— photo by Kim_Richards (@Kim_Richards)

 

The lovely Dan Weidman

The lovely Dan Weidman

Then Dan Weidman read from his essay “My Possession” and his humorous poem “Hungry House” from The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two.

Myra Sherman read an excerpt from her upcoming science fiction novel, then Kim rounded out the evening with an excerpt of Catharine Bramkamp’s Future Girls.

We had a pretty good crowd, although like all Litcrawl crowds, people roamed in and out.  The venue had us set up with the clothing racks behind us, which meant for some weird photos.  The sugar skulls and skeletal figures, though, could not have been more appropriate.

A couple of people came up to chat afterward, which is the best part of doing any reading.  I love to hear what the audience thinks.

Next year, though, I am going to stay healthy for the whole month of October, so I can get out and support other readers more.

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The Weekly Morbid

CIMG1796October really is the best time of the year.

If you missed my lecture on the demolished pioneer graveyards of San Francisco at last weekend’s Death Salon, there’s a Storify compilation, so you can relive the whole glorious, fascinating day.

I got quoted in Travel & Leisure’s list of the World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries.

Gothic Beauty magazine reviewed — and really liked — Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel in their October issue.

My exhortation to “Take You Children to the Graveyard!” (published on Scoutie Girl) has been getting some nice attention.  You can check the essay out for yourself here.

I survived another of my brother’s birthdays.

And I’m going to read some of “A Curiosity of Shadows” from The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One at tomorrow night’s Litcrawl.  I’m part of the Evening of Eternal Damnation at Casa Bonampak at 8:30. More details are here.

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Ghost Stories Live this Saturday

HMP2cover510x680Rain Graves, Dan Weidman, and I will read from Years One and Two of The Haunted Mansion Project at Casa Bonampak (1051 Valencia Street, San Francisco) on October 18 at 8:30 p.m. We’ll be reading as part of Eternal Press & Damnation Press’s Evening of Eternal Damnation reading during the final leg of the Litcrawl.

Hope you can join us.

Here’s a taste of what you’re in for:

In 2010, twelve writers and artists joined hostess Rain Graves and a team of ghost hunters for a long weekend at a haunted historical mansion in Northern California. The first Haunted Mansion Retreat was so inspiring—and so scary—that most of us jumped at the chance to do it again in September 2012. Some new blood was added to the mix and all of us looked forward to four days together in the haunted house.

I rode with Rain and Sèphera Giron up to the mansion on Thursday afternoon. Once we arrived, Rain put us to work. Sèph and I went up to the second floor to put name tags on beds so that everyone could find their assigned spaces. Sunlight flooded through the windows, highlighting the crisply made beds and cozy rooms. Mount Tamalpais loomed on the west, lush and green, enrobed in autumn.

Sèphera and I started with the familiar rooms at the top of the stairs: here was where S. G. Browne had been menaced by the Black Mass; here was Wes and Yvonne’s sunny corner suite; here was my friendly little blue room where a ghost had touched my hair.

We had just come out of the room that would be Chris Colvin’s. Sèph was telling me about the Black Mass that had harassed her and Rain in the corner room in 2010. We stood in the little hallway, sorting out our list and the name cards, when something large moved through the empty room we’d just left.

I looked up, startled, and met Sèphera’s eyes. “Did you hear that?” I gasped.

“Something is up here with us,” Sèph said. And smiled.

#

Friday night, most of us were writing in the first-floor parlor while the rest joined the GhostGirls’ investigation on the third floor.

Something heavy scraped across the floor above us: on the second floor, in the area where Yvonne, Wes, and I had our rooms. It sounded like a heavy piece of furniture—for some reason, I thought of a trunk—being dragged across the floor. None of us would do such a thing, conscious as we were of being in someone else’s house. We exchanged glances, but couldn’t explain what we’d heard.

Scott stomped down from the third floor. “What was that?” he demanded.

“We thought it was you,” someone said.

“We were all on the third floor,” he said. “Who’s on the second floor?”

“No one. We’re all right here.”

#

My blue room

My blue room

After midnight, when I finally got brave enough to go upstairs to change for bed, I tried shoving the furniture around my room to see if I could replicate the noise we’d heard earlier.

The bed was on casters. It glided silently across the bare, unmarked floorboards. Nothing in my room could have made the heavy scraping we all heard.

#

The house seemed quiet on Saturday. Even the night passed peacefully. I felt pretty relaxed about the whole experience, until Yvonne teased me about sleeping with my light on.

I’d woken up in a puddle of moonlight, so I knew I’d shut the light off before I went to sleep. My room had been locked from the inside. No one had been in there touching the lights, but me.

Or so I thought.

#

So: twice now, a small group of writers and artists met at a haunted mansion in Northern California. What we find there excites us, terrifies us, and inspires us even after we leave. The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two is our documentation of the four intense days we spent together in the house in September 2012.

The contents range from the official site report prepared by the GhostGirls to survivors’ subjective accounts of their experiences to short stories and poetry inspired by the house’s atmosphere and the things that occurred there. Damnation Books published the book in 2013. It’s available from Amazon.

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Death Salon interview: Megan Rosenbloom

MeganToday, the third Death Salon conference is taking place in San Francisco.  (There may be still a handful of tickets available, so if you’re interested, come on down to Fort Mason.)

I am curious about the women behind the Death Salon project, so I’m going to interview some of them. Earlier interviews with Annetta Black and Elizabeth Harper are already up (see previous post arrow above), with more to come next week.

Megan Rosenbloom is co-founder and director of Death Salon and a member of the Order of the Good Death. She is the Associate Director for Collection Resources at the University of Southern California’s Norris Medical Library.

How did you get interested in death?

Megan Rosenbloom: Well, I was raised Catholic, which I think has at least a little to do with it. Mostly, it was from being a medical librarian and working in the history of medicine and rare books, interacting with all of these texts and seeing the struggles that doctors went through to try to prevent death. People often ask me what death has to do with medicine and it always sort of shocks me. Death is the end of medicine. I think it’s fascinating.

How did the idea for the Death Salon come about?

MR:  Mortician Caitlin Doughty inducted me into the Order of the Good Death. We all started chatting online about how fun it would be if we could get together and share ideas. It majorly snowballed from there. Since we were both in LA, it seemed like the obvious choice for the first event. I decided to help plan it because I’m reasonably good at that sort of thing. Next thing you know, here we are.

How far would you like to see the Death Salon go?

MR:  That is a really good question and, surprisingly, one I’ve never been asked before. We get requests all the time from people to have Death Salon in their city. Since we’re not like Death Cafe — in that it’s curated solely by us (and that’s how we want to stay) — there is a limit to the amount of events we can do in any given year. However we keep doing more than we anticipated, and it keeps making us want to do more, but Death Salon is never going to be our full-time jobs or anything. We’re hoping to get some content online soon so that people who can’t physically come out to an event can still interact with the ideas.

What’s your favorite morbid item in the Norris Library’s collection?

skeleton

Illustration from Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles of the Human Body

MR:  So hard to pick, but I think it’s probably the Albinus Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body 1749. It’s got really beautiful, whimsical engravings. The book goes from my nose to my knees when I have to carry it, which is kind of comical. It’s a real show-stopper.

I hear you’re writing a book.  Is it death-related?  When will it be available?

MR:  Wouldn’t I like to know! I am writing a death-related book, but it’s very much in flux right now — back and forths with agents, trying to make it the best it can be — so it’s still very much a work-in-progress. Hopefully, I will have more concrete information soon.

You can connect with Megan on Twitter & Instagram @libraryatnight or meganrosenbloom.com.

DeathSalon_FB

Megan will be speaking at the Death Salon in San Francisco this evening.  Here’s the description of her talk:

Megan RosenbloomBooks of the Dead: Death Imagery from the Library Vaults

While researching her book in libraries across the U.S. and abroad, Megan has collected examples of interesting death images and objects safely kept in the best research libraries’ special collections. Take a tour of some beautiful and macabre illustrations, photos, and objects that the public rarely gets to see.

The whole schedule of this weekend’s lectures is here.

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Death Salon interview: Elizabeth Harper

Elizabeth Harper

Elizabeth is the lifelike one on the left. On the right is the incorrupt body of St. Paula Frassinetti. A little Italian nun insisted on taking this picture of them together.

This weekend, the third Death Salon conference is taking place in San Francisco.  (There are still a handful of tickets available, if you’re interested, but the evening only tickets are sold out.)

I am curious about the women behind the Death Salon project, so I’m going to interview some of them.

Elizabeth Harper writes All the Saints You Should Know, a blog about bodies, bones, relics, lore, and oddities from the Catholic Church. She is a regular contributor to Atlas Obscura and has been featured on Slate, MSN, The Mirror, and Los Angeles Magazine. She’s lectured at the Morbid Anatomy Museum and is a Death Salon advisory board member.

How did you get interested in death?

Elizabeth Harper: For me, the places where the living and the dead can mingle together are very soothing. Saint John Chrysostom wrote about getting away from “the tumult of affairs and the throng of everyday anxieties” at the tombs of the martyrs. I feel the same way. To me, crypts are sensually pleasing. There’s nothing better than leaving streets teeming with people, cars, noise, and heat for somewhere cool, silent, and dim, where you’re almost always alone but just steps beneath the crowds. Visually, the combination of Renaissance and Baroque craftsmanship, the patina of age, and human remains is sublime. You’re surrounded by greatness. The lives of the saints include some of the best aspects of human nature: generosity, bravery, fortitude. The art created to house their bones is equally humbling; I don’t think I could wash the dust off Bernini’s chisel well. And yet, I’m not hopeless or anxious down there. The combination of bones and art inspires this very tranquil feeling that I must persevere and calmly try to do better and be better every day I’m alive. So I guess my interest in death is really more about life. Thinking about death changes the way that I live.

How did you connect with the Death Salon?

EH: In real life, I’m a lighting designer for theatre and events. When Megan Rosenbloom started putting together the first Death Salon, I jumped in and offered to help coordinate the cabaret. Around that time, I had also just published a long-form piece on my blog about mortification of the flesh and female saints. Colin Dickey asked if I would be interested in presenting on the day Morbid Anatomy was curating. It went well, so here I am.

DSFinalSquareLogoHow far would you like to see the Death Salon go?

EH: I say let’s go as far as people will have us. Every time we go to a new location, there are different co-currators and presenters from the community. There’s always something new to learn about or experience. At the heart of Death Salon is a real love of learning, so I think the more diverse scholars and artists we can host, the better the events will be. Death, after all, is universal. So not only can we diversify culturally, but we can also diversify through time. Every culture has a past, present, and future of death. Someone out there can tell us something interesting about it.

What’s your favorite morbid story about a saint?

EH: I’m very fond of St. Lucy, a second-century Roman martyr. I have a large print of her in my office that shows her holding her eyes on a plate. According to one version of her legend, Lucy was determined to give her dowry to the poor and remain an unmarried virgin, but her family betrothed her to a young pagan. When the young man complimented Lucy’s eyes, she gouged them out, gave them to him, and said, “Now leave me to God.” He turned her over to the emperor for being a Christian. She was beheaded.

Are you writing a book?

EH: I am. It’s a nonfiction book of essays. Each chapter takes you on a different walking tour of Rome and explains the history and lore behind some of the more unusual (and sometimes seemingly morbid) Catholic sites. So from home, you can learn all about the history of bone-art or incorrupt saints or demonic artifacts. If you’re in Rome, you can use it as a guidebook to some very unusual and little-known places.

DeathSalon_FBElizabeth will be speaking at this weekend’s Death Salon on Saturday afternoon.  Here’s the description of her talk:

Elizabeth HarperThe Public Corpse: Exploring Death Rituals and the Spaces Dedicated to Them in Rome Death is not the end of the road for Catholics in Italy. Though the public  display of corpses and bones may seem macabre, these traditions illustrate a spiritual and physical journey that begins at death. It’s a journey that takes us through the liminal space between here and the afterlife and between flesh and bone; where the impermanence and even embarrassment of the human body and its functions only underscores the permanence and dignity of the soul. In this illustrated talk, we’ll take a virtual walking tour of Rome through its crypts, purgatorial societies, tombs, and shrines and find this message of life hidden in places devoted to death.

The whole schedule of this weekend’s lectures is here.

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