I’m not into horror. Not into lots of blood and gore. I do enjoy a well-written thriller. In the 80s there were lots of scary films out there and I think that many GenXers can’t those out of our heads: Amityville Horror; Poltergeist; Friday the 13th; Children of the Corn. Here’s a mix of films that are excellent, flip-you-out thrillers or are about vampires or ghosts.
1. Drag Me to Hell (2009)– yes this is horror and I loved it. Directed by Sam Raimi, Alison Lohman plays a loan officer who kicks an old woman out of her house and gets cursed. it’s brilliant
2. Byzantium (2012)– another gorgeous film directed by Neil Jordan. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton are sisters and vampires in a quiet seaside town.
3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)– as you’d expect vampires to be. all sex and drugs and rock and roll. Directed by the arty Jim Jarmusch and starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.
4. Dead Again (1991)– Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in a jumpy, classic make-you-scream thriller.
5. Let the Right One In (2008)– girl vampire and it’s GOOD. completely unique.
6. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)– Mia Farrow in this classic about a mysterious pregnancy and its aftermath. Directed by Roman Polanski.
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)– the original found footage horror/scary film. I saw it in the theater and was freaked out for days.
8. The Skin I Live In (2011)– Antonio Banderas stars in this Pedro Almodovar (love him) film about a plastic surgeon who creates an indestructible synthetic skin.
9. The Secret in their Eyes (2009)– retired attorney writing a novel about one of his unsolved homicide cases.
10. The Ghostwriter (2010)– Ewan McGregor plays a writer hired to write the memoir of the former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). As he completes research and writes he uncovers some secrets the PM would like kept hidden.
11. Swimming Pool (2003)– a British mystery writer (the venerable Charlotte Rampling) visits her publisher’s South of France vacation home. Her interaction with his unusual daughter sets off a series of unsettling events.
12. Contagion (2011)– appropriate. all-star cast portraying healthcare professionals, government officials and everyday people who find themselves in the midst of a worldwide epidemic.
13. The Others (2011)– Nicole Kidman plays a woman convinced her old, darkened house is haunted.
Each scary in their own way. some thrillers, some nonfiction, some memoirs and a few classics that totally creep me out. I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary one summer and was afraid of things jumping out of bushes for a long while after finishing it.
1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
3. Montana by Gwen Florio
4. Biohazard by Ken Alibek
5. Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
6. There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
7. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
10. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
11. Stiff: the curious lives of cadavers by Mary Roach
12. Threats by Amelia Gray
13. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek
At first I was hesitant to even screen this show but I’ll admit I’m intrigued about prison wives. Mainly the women who marry men already incarcerated and women staying with men who commit horrific crimes and have long jail terms. I breezed through the first two episodes and it’s everything you’d expect this show to be.
Prison Wives Club focuses on four women and their complicated, bizarre marriages to men in prison. They all live in Washington state. Kate, 28, and Jhemini, 25, are sort-of friends and live in Seattle. Jhemini gets on Kate’s nerves because Jhemini “thinks she’s perfect.” In episode two, Jhemini says: “I don’t want to look like someone who’s married to someone in prison.” Not quite sure of what that woman looks like but Jhemini sure stereotypes people.
LaQuisha, 32, and Ana, 28, who live in Tacoma, Wash. are friends because their husbands are best friends in prison. LaQuisha decides to form a support group for prison wives and Kate and Jhemini attend. The women spend a lot of time justifying why they’re married to men in prison, communicating with their husbands via phone or Skype and visiting once a month or so. In between they’re hanging out with friends and working. Or not.
This show is definitely a train wreck. It’s mind-boggling. LaQuisha’s the only one who is independent and mature. She’s the most interesting of the three woman. I just can’t wrap my head around her marriage to Phillip.
Her husband is currently serving a 10-year sentence for assault.
“We slept together and it was amazing and an emotional attachment formed. I married him knowing he was going to be going away.”
Why? Really why? Jhemini gets extended family visits (EFV) with her husband. So I guess she’s getting that amazing sex every so often. She’s also very judgmental of the other women in the group. Unsure how she supports herself.
Her husband Carlo is also serving a 10-year sentence for assault. He’s completed three years. They met in high school and ran into each other a few years later. She visits Carlo once a month and is allowed conjugal visits.
“Just because my husband’s away doesn’t mean I have to act like some raggedy prison wife.”
Is there such a thing?
“What do I do for sex? I travel with a pack of lesbians and Carlo is fine with me having girl on girl fun.”
LaQuisha dated Phillip in high school and 11 years later she got a facebook message from him. Prisoners are allowed to Facebook? He’s in prison for murder. A 60 year sentence of which he’s served 13 years. Oh what is the point to be married to a lifer. She has a daughter and her ex-husband still loves her and wants to be with her. She works at a hospital, I think as a rad tech.
“I’m okay with it because this is the man I love.”
Ana met Michael via writeaprisoner.com and they’ve been married about a year. Sweet newlyweds. haha. He’s been in prison since 1987 but might get re-sentenced under some sort of law because he was 15 years old when the crime occurred. Ana works late nights at a convenience store. Her husband robbed a convenience store. She lives with two friends to save money.
Prison Wives Club premieres Tuesday, October 28 at 10pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
“Elodie couldn’t get what Lena told her out of her mind. Par ot her was impressed with Lena’s courage, while another part was concerned for her friend’s safety. It was no secret what the Fascist police would do to her should she get caught. Their beatings and torture were a well-known threat to everyone in the city. Many people had simply vanished after being arrested, while others were sent back to their homes severely beaten, their scars a visible reminder of who was in charge of Italy. It was reason enough to stay away. That, and the fact that Elodie could only imagine how devastated her parents would be if anything happened to her.”
Think you’ve heard all the stories about WWII. Think again. The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman focuses on the Italian Resistance. Elodie, a young student and cello player, becomes involved in the Italian Resistance when artists and teachers at her school become targets for Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Her own father gets taken away and beaten while he’s questioned. Elodie starts attending clandestine meetings and carrying out missions through her music for the resistance. She plays codes through her music. She falls in love with bookseller Luca, a Resistance leader. When Luca is killed and she finds herself pregnant, Elodie escapes to the coastal town of Portofino. A widowed doctor (his wife and child died during childbirth) still in mourning and longing to care for someone takes her in and they slowly open up to each other.
“There was also something about the smell of bookshops that was strangely comforting to her. She wondered if it was the scent of ink and paper, or the perfume of binding, string, and glue. Maybe it was the scent of knowledge. Information. Thoughts and ideas. Poetry and love. All of it bound into one perfect, calm place.”
I savored this novel and learned much about the Italian resistance movement and its use of codes and the arts. The Garden of Letters truly delighted me. Choosing to have her main character, Elodie, be a music prodigy and able to contribute to the movement through something she’s passionate about propels the novel in magnificent ways. Richman writes superbly and with splendid detail. Elodie is a charming, smart, intense woman and from the start you root for her and want her to success and find her bliss.
“Elodie has something that is completely her own. Her music is the root of her sorcery. She fills the air with it. She uses every part of her body when she plays: her fingers, her arms, her neck, and her legs. He simply cannot take his eyes off her.”
The Garden of Letters
Berkley Trade [September]
Alyson graciously took the time to speak with me about the novel and her writing process.
Amy Steele: I can’t believe this is the first novel of yours I’ve read. I will remedy that soon. And finally I’m getting questions to you. Apologies again about the rescheduling. You went to Wellesley College. I went to Simmons College in Boston. I loved the experience at an all-women’s college. What did you take away from your years at Wellesley?
Alyson Richman: I loved my years at Wellesley. Because it was a woman’s college, my social and academic life was kept completely separate. This helped me to maintain a sense of focus that I might not have had if I went to a co-ed college. The intimate, yet challenging, atmosphere also enabled me to build a sense of self-confidence and to believe a career in the arts was even possible.
Amy Steele: How did you become a novelist?
Alyson Richman: Actually, I first started thinking about becoming a novelist during my senior year at Wellesley. One of my art-history professors told me that I had a particular gift for telling the story “behind the painting.” As graduation approached, I remember thinking to myself: “If I could do anything in the world, what would I do?” And I told myself that what I’d really love to do was write stories that centered around the lives of artists. I had spent a year in Kyoto as an apprentice to a Noh mask carver, where it took me over a year to carve a single mask. [AS: amazing.] I remember thinking to myself during that time, here I was a Western woman studying a traditional Japanese art form, when did the reverse occur? When did the first Japanese artists start studying Western-style art? When I asked my art-history professors upon my return, no one knew the answer. I immediately thought this would be wonderful backdrop for a novel. I then applied for a grant upon my graduation, which enabled me to research the first Japanese artists who left there at the turn-of-the-century to study painting under the French Impressionists. I began writing my first novel The Mask Carver’s Son about the son of a Japanese mask carver who forsakes his family’s artistic traditions to study in Paris under the Impressionists.
Amy Steele: You write historical fiction. What appeals to you about the genre?
Alyson Richman: I love learning about something new with each book I write. The research part is truly one of the best aspects of my career. I love traveling to the countries I’m writing about, learning about a foreign culture, the food and traditions, and observing the landscape. When writing historical fiction, I also use photo archives and, in the case of my novels that take place during WWII, I try to locate people who were alive during that time who might be able to share their stories. I learn so much from the research part, and I love weaving that into my novels so my readers learn alongside the narrative.
Amy Steele: The Garden of Letters focuses on the Italian Resistance during WWII. Where you got the initial idea for the story is interesting. How did you come up with it?
Alyson Richman: I was at a dinner party when someone shared with me a story about how her father escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers. When this friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully, he was sure he was going to be arrested. Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week. Thank heaven’s you’ve come!” He seemed to know the German guards, and was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino. When my friend’s father asked this man why he saved him, as he clearly wasn’t his cousin, the man replied: “I try and come to the port every month. I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.” When I heard that story, I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel. I imagined the two people who meet at this port. One fleeing and in need of shelter, the other person who senses his fear. Two lives intersecting without either of them uttering a single word between them.
My novel prior to The Garden of Letters was called The Lost Wife. It took place in the Czech concentration camp, Terezin, so I knew I didn’t want to do another Holocaust novel. I began to research women in WWII Italy and learned about these female messengers who risked their lives working for the Resistance by transmitting important information during the war, many times the information was not written down, and if it was, it was done in code. I decided to make my main character a cellist, because I wanted the codes she transmits to be done through her music playing. In The Lost Wife I explored how art was used as a form of resistance during WWII. In The Garden of Letters, I focus on how music was used.
Amy Steele: Your descriptions are beautiful and you’ve done impeccable research. Can you explain your research process?
Alyson Richman: I made three trips to Italy. The first was purely a visual trip, where I visited the northern cities that the book takes place in: Verona, Mantua and Venice. I also tried to make new contacts that would be helpful for my research. I was able to connect with people who introduced me to their more elderly relatives who shared their memories of life during wartime. The second trip, I hired a translator who helped me with my interviews of messengers in the Italian Resistance, partisans who had fought in the mountains, and people who were connected somehow to the material. The third trip I went to Liguria to see the coastal villages of Portofino and San Fruttuoso, which also are settings in the book. You can actually see many of the photos from my research on my website: Alysonrichman.com
Amy Steele: You said that you’ve always added art and painting to your novels and this is the first time you’ve written about music. What drew you to make Elodie a musician?
Alyson Richman:Almost all my previous novels deal with painters. I’m the daughter of an abstract painter, who always taught me to see the world with an artistic lens. I even considered a career as an artist myself right around the time I began applying for college. But in The Garden of Letters I wanted to challenge myself with something new. I wanted to see if I could write through the eyes of a musician and explore how she might be able to use her talents to do something original and help those who are resisting German occupation.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about Elodie?
Alyson Richman: I love her memory. I love that her mind and her ability to remember everything with such razor precision is what sets her apart from her peers. When I visited Venice, I was told that Venetians have a particularly strong visual memory because they live within a labyrinth, where it’s difficult to remember all the street names but one can give directions that are grounded in a visual sight. I love connecting Elodie’s natural ability with her maternal bloodline.
Amy Steele: Were Elodie’s actions and interest in the resistance unusual for the time or were a lot of students getting involved? She risked a lot.
Alyson Richman: It’s hard to say exactly how many students were involved at the time because so much of the Resistance occurred underground and with great secrecy. There was, however, a lot of recruiting done from the university campuses amongst students who felt impassioned to fight against the looming threat of German occupation.
Amy Steele: You add in some real-life characters to the novel—Rita Rosani, Brigitte Lowenthal, Berto Zampieri and Darno Maffini. Why did you choose to do that and what were the challenges?
Alyson Richman: I decided to set the novel in Verona, Italy because years ago, on a family vacation, I saw a plaque on the outside wall of the synagogue there honoring the fallen partisan, Rita Rosani. I had never heard her name before and our guide told us that she was one of Verona’s most beloved partisans who died in battle on the Monte Comune in the nearby mountains. Little is known about this woman who was only 23 when she died, other than that she was a former school teacher who died bravely in battle and that she was Jewish. When I began researching other members in the Italian Resistance in Verona, I learned about Brigitte Lowenthal, Berto Zampieri and Darno Maffini. I love interweaving into my stories little-known historical figures. Many of these people have done incredible and heroic acts that required great risk and sacrifice and I love shedding light on them and sharing their accomplishments with my readers.
Amy Steele: What is your favorite thing about The Garden of Letters?
Alyson Richman: My favorite part of the novel is the scene in which Dalia constructs the room in Angelo’s house that contains the garden of letters. I think it’s one of the most poetic and visual chapters in the novel. I’m particularly biased about this scene because it was one of those unscripted, magical moments in writing when the characters start doing something you hadn’t planned. It sprang from an image I had of Dalia kneeling on the floor, cutting the paper, preparing the glue, and it just began to grew from there. The character literally took over and created something artistic within the pages of the novel, and I just love when that happens.
Amy Steele: Thank you SO much Alyson! I look forward to speaking again soon.
purchase at Amazon: The Garden of Letters
River of Glass by Jaden Terrell
The Permanent Press [October]
When the body of a young Vietnamese woman is found in a dumpster outside Nashville private investigator Jared McKean’s office he becomes linked to the case since she’s clutching a photo of Jared’s father. A few days later, a Vietnamese woman named Khanh, saying she’s his half-sister, shows up and asks for help in finding her missing daughter Tuyet. While former police detective McKean hesitates he takes her case because he can’t turn the woman easily away. Soon they’re investigating the dark world of human-trafficking. Working the case, McKean aggravates his former police co-workers yet at the same time they grudgingly trust and respect each other, albeit.
“I wanted to protect Khanh, to keep her in the shadows while I followed threads and searched for her daughter, but I understand now that, even if she’d had reason to trust me, she needed to play a part in bringing Tuyet home. She’d walked into a minefield to save Trinh, but she had failed. That failure made her doubt herself. It made her doubt me. It made her doubt the probability that Tuyet–that anyone—could be saved.”
As for the human trafficking, Terrell shows that it can happen anywhere and can involve anyone– maybe the least likely candidate hiding in plain sight. It’s sad, it’s depraved and unbelievable it could be happening in your own backyard but that is today’s reality. Women are chattel used for sex and tossed when no longer young, pretty or useful. Treated like slaves. Because that’s just what’s going on. There’s also a sweet bond developing between McKean and his maybe half-sister Khanh, a determined woman with a war-weary past. Terrell adds twists to keep the reader turning pages. She’s created quite the character in private investigator Jared McKean.
The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs
Berkley Trade [November]
“I’m a cat, you see. I understand this stuff. Cats live in the here and now. We are opportunists and chancers. We are pragmatists. We change all the time.
That’s what the nine lives thing means.”
This is the story of a stray cat adopted in his later years by a gay couple near Manchester, England. Or rather Fester chose the two men, Paul and Jeremy, as cats do. It’s as much about the cat as about Paul and Jeremy. To write the couple’s story from the perspective and voice of a cat makes it a clever and entertaining read. Fester overhears Paul and Jeremy discussing a range of subjects, entertaining guests and occasionally arguing. Paul’s easy-going while Jeremy’s more neat and organized. Generally the men get along but like any couple who’ve been together for more than a few years, they have clashes and annoyances with each other.
“Jeremy is forever railing against authority figures. I am coming to realize this. He gets especially cross when those with authority are morons, as he puts it. Jeremy spends a lot of his time being exasperated.”
Fester lives with Paul and Jeremy for eight lovely years. They treat him quite well—he gets a smorgasbord of food, special treats and lots of attention particularly from Paul who works mostly at home after he gives up his teaching job to focus on writing. When he arrives at the guys’ home, Fester’s flea-ridden and terribly mangy. They take him to the vet and through the years he’s treated for worms [in a funny scene, Magrs writes: “Well, I’m mortified. Worms! Worms at Christmas. Not very bloomin’ festive, is it? I got to flomp down miserably in my basket while Jeremy goes to the vet’s. Now I daren’t even look at my bum in case I see something staring back at me.”], a thyroid condition and then a stroke.
The subtitle says “How One Remarkable Cat Changed Two Men’s Lives.” I didn’t find that Paul and Jeremy’s lives were extraordinarily changed by the addition of the cat. I adore cats but this isn’t Marley & Me. Cats are wonderful, independent, enigmatic creatures. Like a cat sometimes the memoir is warm and fuzzy and sometimes it is quiet and reflective. Taking care of Fester proves to be a touching way for the two men to come together for one purpose. Taking care of Fester strengthened Paul and Jeremy’s relationship.
Sean Kelly wins Project Runway S13
It’s probably not that surprising that a young designer won Project Runway as editing either makes it really obvious who’s out or obvious who’s in. Sean won a few, lost a few, struggled at the beginning, won when it counted and is young and cute. I’d hoped that Amanda Valentine would win if only to outshine her Maroon 5 brother for once but I guess she’ll always be the less popular sibling. Also she really had the best reason for wanting to win Project Runway. She said she wanted to be a brand. a big brand.
Sean, the 25-year-old designer from New Zealand, beat out 15 fellow designers. Currently residing in Brooklyn, Sean garnered attention this season with a dress chosen by Emmy Award-winning host Heidi Klum to wear at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys. Sean impressed judges Klum, Nina Garcia, Zac Posen and finale guest judge Emmy Rossum (Shameless) with his 10 piece winning collection inspired by the “Betrayal of Caesar” at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week at New York City’s Lincoln Center this Fall.
–$100,000 from Red Robin to launch his business and the opportunity to design a fashion accessory for their servers
–complete sewing and crafting studio from Brother International Corporation
–premiere entertainment center, courtesy of Samsung [so he can watch future episodes of Project Runway, Project Runway: All Stars and Project Runway: Threads]
— fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine
— car from Lexus
–entire year’s worth of Mary Kay beauty products for his fashion shows and professional makeup artist services for his debut show
–shoe and accessory collection from ALDO to help enhance his upcoming runway shows
— Best Western International will also provide Kelly with travel and hotel accommodations to fashion capitals and inspiring locations around the world
— Kelly’s winning model, Alisar Ailabouni will also appear in the winner’s fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine
Runner-up Amanda Valentine
Third place Kini Zamora
Fourth place Charketa Glover
“You showed some really beautifully cut clothing . . . like a cool Solange Knowles. Now you’ll have to bring up the fashion game a little bit.” –Zac Posen
“One of my favorites is the balck and white two-piece. I definitely saw your vibe.” –Heidi Klum
“It was exciting to see someone who was a Tim Gunn save make ti to fashion week.” Emmy Rossum
“The problem is you’re trying too hard to be something you’re not.” –Heidi Klum
“I think our jewelry is ready to go. This was the most original collection on the runway.” –Zac Posen
“I thought you were really true to yourself.” –Emmy Rossum
This is probably the most editorial of the collections. It’s very polished.” –Nina Garcia
“It’s all very sophisticated which I like.” –Heidi Klum
“The clothing was chic, sexy and edgy and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want to feel that way.” –Zac Posen
“You’re clearly gifted.” –Emmy Rossum
“There’s something about the fact that you use denim in such a sophisticated way.” –Nina Garcia
sometimes I’m like this:
sometimes I’m like this:
occasionally I’m like this:
I have clinical depression, anxiety and an unspecified mood disorder [possibly a personality disorder]. the stigma surrounding mental illness astounds me. I’ve never gone off my meds and have always been under the care of both a psychiatrist and a therapist since I was diagnosed at age 27. Currently I’m part of an extensive year-long mentalization program at McLean Hospital. I’m in good hands.
But I’m also really stuck. I’ve been looking for work for years. A friendship ended badly several years ago and I’ve been cyber-harassed for four years. I’m tired all the time. I can have days (or nights) where I’m extremely sad or unmotivated. I’m insecure but I also think I’m rather cool. I think about killing myself often. I’m just not as professionally and personally successful and satisfied as I thought I would be by this time.
Every day I take several medications. I will always have to take those medications. In addition I exercise for my mind and body and I have cut way down on sugar intake. Two years ago I cut out diet soda and although I didn’t drink it in massive amounts I feel better.
Depression means keeping a mood journal. It means being kind to yourself. It means lots of self-care and not having as many expectations for oneself as you may have had. It doesn’t mean I’m lying about in bed all day and night. I have goals and aspirations. I do a lot but some days I get extremely tired both physically and mentally. And that’s okay.
I’ve had a few hospitalizations– very brief stays– that didn’t lead to much change in my care. After one major breakdown four years ago I changed psychiatrists and meds, I took CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and completed a partial program. More recently I was in the hospital for a week where I was ignored, lost five pounds and then at my insistence got into a program at McLean Hospital (my psychiatrist had to call them but I had a psychiatrist who was a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital). After the partial at McLean in April, I was recommended for the Mentalization program and took a six-week introductory course. In August I started the year-long program which consists of weekly individual therapy and group therapy.
Don’t call the police on someone who is depressed. The police are not trained to deal with the mentally ill. If someone says “hey I’m lying here with a bag over my head and I’m about to duct tape it” or “I just swallowed 200 pills” then yes, call 911. Otherwise, call that person directly and suggest a chat or meeting over tea. It’s much more useful and shows empathy.
FACTS about DEPRESSION:
–major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3
–affects 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
– the median age at onset is 32.5
–Women are 2 times as likely to suffer from depression than men.
–20 million people in the United States suffer from depression every year.
– Many creative individuals experienced depression, including Ludwig van Beethoven, John Lennon, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Georgia O’Keefe, Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath.
–Mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.