Fox Pockets Party

Viktor Wynd’s Wunderkabinett

The last time I was at the Last Tuesday Society it was to attend a night featuring tales of ghost trains and the music of Sarah Angliss. I got to play her theremin, which was enough of a thrill that I finally did have to get my own theremin. I also wrote down the phrase ‘luminiferous ether’ which led to my writing White Rabbit (in concert with a lot of other strange head explosions).

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I had not visited the Viktor Wynd museum, however. Drawn by the occult theme of the week, I decided I really needed to see its ‘largest collection’ of Austin Osman Spare works on public display. The south London artist has long occupied that strange niche between occult and art, cultish devotion and imperious neglect, which makes it difficult to see more than isolated pieces at any one time (cf. the Language of Birds exhibit).

Crowded into the back room of the establishment are indeed several works by the artist which are difficult to get a good look at both due to the lighting and the profusion of other curiosities about (thus the poor pictures here). It would be great to have a proper exhibit that allowed better access, of course. Yet I’m grateful nonetheless for the opportunity to see these. Handily, they had copies of Phil Baker’s bio of the artist for sale so I picked one up.

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The museum itself is a mad jumble of nigh-on Victorian gloom, down a vertigo-inducing spiral stair, full of beasts, freaks, monsters, dandies, dead things, a little occult & magic, and some pulps. The dandies include not only Stephen Tennant‘s ephemera but also Sebastian Horsley‘s red sequined Savile Row suit. There are lots of skulls and bones, fossilised things, an ‘alchemists toolkit’ and all manner of weird and interesting curiosities crammed into a very tiny couple of rooms. It’s all a bit overwhelming. You can’t possibly take it all in in just one visit. So if you’re in Hackney or need an excuse to be, you should drop by.

TOA/V — Tea: The Dark Side of the Cup

“Billions of cups are sunk a day for centuries and nobody says a word – until now.”

A mockumentary exploring the silent epidemic of tea dependence. A plight, engulfing our society for a millennia – undocumented.

Click here to watch on Vimeo

I supported their kickstarter and received a lovely tea coaster like the image above. I will admit to a tea addiction but I see no harm in it. It fuels my whimsical imagination — how dull I would be without it!

Check out all the overlooked A/V gems at Todd’s blog.

SpeakEasy Radio: Fox Spirit Books head, Adele Wearing

St Urho Hopper“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!”

Happy St. Urho Day! As usual, we commemorate the saint (or his wife) who chased the grasshoppers out of the vineyards in Finland in the usual manner — by fire-grilling the grasshoppers! No, wait — that’s just a cool design made by S. L. Johnson who thought this holiday a little crazy but a good excuse to make a hellfire hopper. I love it.

SpeakEasy sqwebToday brings another episode of SpeakEasy Radio: I chat with Fox Spirit Books head, Adele Wearing, who talks about starting her small press, folding in her love of martial arts and how much she loves her readers, writers, artists and staff. Fox Spirit Books include TALES OF THE NUN & DRAGON, EMILY NATION, THE STARS SEEM SO FAR AWAY, EUROPEAN MONSTERS, WHITE RABBIT, DRAG NOIR and the entire Fox Pockets series.

Tonight: Nassau Free Library 6pm

Cover art by S. L. Johnson

Now that the snow’s done for a while why not consider hopping on over to the Nassau Free Library (just east of Albany) for a fun event with me and my fellow Sister in Crime & Maven of Mayhem, Frankie Y. Bailey. We’ll be chatting with lovely librarian Katherine Chansky and have some books available.

Be there 6pm for all the fun!

Upcoming Appearances

Cover art by S. L. Johnson° Meet the Authors: Frankie Bailey and K.A. Laity

Nassau Free Library
January 26, 2015 @ 6:00 pm Rescheduling due to snow

Professor Frankie Bailey (UAlbany) and Professor K. A. Laity (College of St. Rose) will be visiting the library to talk about their published mystery books and will introduce Mavens of Mayhem, the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, founded by author Sara Paretsky. Learn more about how mystery writers compose the intriguing tales we love to read.

° Mavens of Mayhem at East Greenbush Library
Saturday Jan 31, 2015 from 12-3pm (click pictures to embiggen).

MofM Sisters in Crime Flyer 2015 p1 MofM Sisters in Crime Flyer 2015 p2


Have you always dreamed of writing, but didn’t think you had the time?
Sat Feb 7: 10am-1pm
Universal Pathways, Berne NY
Cost: $50 (Paypal)

Register here. Enrollment limited!

How to Keep Writing

Writing to Music (SinC Blog Hop)

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Music is my drug, my balm, my mood enhancer: assuaging a bad mood (though sometimes wallowing in it for a while) or extending a good one usually to the point of dancing and singing.

Music is my haka. If you’ve ever experienced New Zealand’s All Blacks perform theirs as a pre-game ritual, you know the power of it. They chant, grunt, and move as one in aggressive postures, slapping their chests and thighs while contorting their faces into grimaces pulled to intimidate their opponents.

It often works.

The right music does the same thing for me. It calls forth my warrior: who are my opponents? The blank page, my lizard brain, the weight of apathy every creator faces. And on my team? The muses, my ambition, the sheer joy of creation.

‘Listening to music while writing’ needn’t always be that. I just need it to get me to that sweet spot, what Poppy Brite calls, ‘falling through the hole in the page” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as “flow”. We all know the state: it’s the drug whose lure keeps us writing in the face of failure, rejection or the worst of them all, the blank wall of indifference. It’s the Wonderland that catches us as we fall—timeless, boundless, rich with possibility. The mundane world falls away and your only concern is the struggle to type or scribble fast enough to capture the wonders unspooling before you.

You are immersed, excited, alive in a way this vegetable world cannot match. You realise genius is not a quality, but an activity, one you have to work to earn. Music helps you get there because it bypasses the lizard, the logic and the doubt. Just dance: the trance, the movement, the beat—they all conspire to lift. Try to imagine any celebration without music. Like drinking or other mind-altering chemicals, it suppresses the inhibitions and allows us to play, but it leaves us coherent enough to remember it all. It’s joy in motion.

Trust no one who refuses to dance.

For a long-term project, music can provide the path back to the same muses who got you started. Instead of a jumble of disconnected parts, you can have a cohesive whole. The monkey mind, who leaps eagerly for the next shiny thing, can be wooed back to the path you’ve selected with the right kind of music.

We can lure the needed muse with the proper music, like a mouse to cheese. I have a double CD set of German techno music that I never listen to (or even dance to) but play whenever I have a loathsome project (which may well have begun life as a delightful assignment that has since become burdensome because of deadlines or an evaporation of inspiration or the lure of other projects). The physical effects are immediate: an increased heart rate, alertness, adrenaline. Combined with pomodoros it’s an unbeatable technique for that last sprint to the finish line.

Since turning to crime I have found that the muse muttering in my ear is usually The Fall. I don’t know why, but the lyrics of Mark E. Smith coupled with the hypnotic music has fueled so much of my writing in that genre that I have begun to suspect that I am possessed. The bard of Salford may have captured me to use as a mystical conduit for his writing ambitions. I hear a song and I know a story; I see a line of lyric and the world unfolds before me. I manufactured a drug—mandrake anthrax—but Smith had already created it, so I can take no credit except in the theft. The music provides a deep well I drink from regularly. I feel a tug of superstitious fear even writing of this—muses are notoriously shy and inclined to disappear when too much light catches their shadows—but then I have blathered on at length via social media about my obsession, so it ought not matter that much to name it now.

I will make burnt offerings just in case.

Then again, I am also promiscuous as all artists must be with their muses. I have crime stories that sprang from other bands: most recently White Rabbit but also “Losing My Religion” and “Kiss Like a Fist” (which is wrong anyway, it’s “with” but that’s not how it came out of my head as opposed to Florence’s). It’s a wide tradition. There are countless books titled from songs (Norwegian Wood, Exit Music, You Must Remember This, Crazy for You) and the favour has been returned with bands taking their names from books (The Doors, Steely Dan, The Velvet Underground, Veruca Salt, and of course, The Fall). All arts intertwine at some point.

Music: a drug, a lifeline, a cheering section, a haka. Freud hated music, but Nietzsche wrote that, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I know without music I would still be staring at the blank page, despairing and lost. The beat goes on.

Follow along with the Sisters in Crime September Blog Hop and meet new authors.

I tag my Mavens of Mayhem colleague, Frankie Y. Bailey, who shares my love of Alice in Wonderland-themed crime: check out her novel The Red Queen Dies.

My Inspirations playlist: Songs that Spawned Stories.

[An early version of this originally appeared thanks to Frank Duffy’s invitation at the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, May 2013. A longer version exists at Medium.]