c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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I suppose knowing that there's a danger in knowing secrets doesn't stop the longing, does it? :)

Pffft. If it did what would anyone write books about?

So true. Raven and Coyote know secrets, and want to learn more secrets, and they're inveterate storytellers. Liars, too. You'd think they were writers. :D

I am halfway through it, but like you am a longtime aficionado of horror. I don't remember the gore, either. I remember the depth of the knowledge and secrets and darkness that permeated the books I read (many of them King's, as well).

I am also from the west, newly transported to the midwest, where things rot and swell with humidity in the summer in a way that I'm not used to. I can smell that basement with its dark pools, see the roots and tangles of things better left alone.

I would be interested in your version of horror.

This really quite an amazing essay. So much to think about. The Red Tree is one of those books that continues to haunt long after the final page is read.

You live on horror novel island. I keep telling you.

I'm repeating myself because I just commented on FB, but this book is such an evolution for Caitlin.

I was delighted when I first read it, because so few books strike me as real or true. I read about characters in a book who do things, two-dimensional cut-outs who prance across sentences and paragraphs.

Unlike many characters in books on my shelves, even books I adore, Sarah Crowe died because she was alive.

So with you on every point here. It only serves to remind me that I need to write her that fan letter I've been ruminating on...

I think every one of us has that particular moment when we're lost, wrecked, when we doubt everything about ourselves--the three A.M. certainty that we can't actually write, and haven't ever really learned how to do anything else. That we've never loved anybody who loves us, and never will, because we're not capable of it. And yes, this is when the ghosts come: Memories, nightmares, fantasies. The impinging past. The potential future. Everything gets knotted and overlaid, so snarled it's like we're strangling, and we just want to lie down on the floor until somebody--anybody--comes and takes us away. To anywhere the drugs are free and the limitations aren't self-imposed, for once.

That's what The Red Tree reminds me of--that bottomless, drunken despair. And because Caitlin's such a goddamn good writer, she can make me want to revisit it, to stay there awhile. To enjoy it.

It's a rare conundrum, isn't it?

Ahst, I didn't even know that, about Rhode Island. I've always figured you were more miserable in Japan in the crazy jungle heat and cold winters. But I can totally see it, why Newport would be it.

You know, I read about how the book sparked longings in you to write horror of your own, and I'm struck by two feelings. As usual, I get immediately excited - I'd /love/ to see what kind of horror you'd write (if a bit scared -- I suspect horror affects me too much). But also.. there's a secret part of me that hopes you won't write it, because I feel that horror, especially the type you talk about, comes from such a core of sadness and loss. Which I know you've had plenty of, in your life, but I just, magically and irrationally, hope that it's not there and certainly not enough to fuel a novel. Does that make sense?
If you really are going to write it, please do, and ignore that previous sentence :) You know how much I love your writing.

I was just lying here thinking: I couldn't write a sad empty New England house with you in it, though. There would be no place for you, my happy, fuzzy, excited werewolf boyfriend, in any horror novel I could write. I couldn't kill you off or put you down there in the dark with me. And of course when I think about writing a horror novel I know without having to write it how personal it would be, the way The Red Tree is so clearly personal to CRK.

Ohh, it's not like that, I promise. I'm plenty in the dark, and you know it.

Also - for one, I'm sure that whatever personal novel you write will not have to involve me. Or if it does, I would /love/ to meet a horror-novel version of myself (even if the lifespan of such might be extremely short)! :)

I enjoyed this essay!

I'm always suprised by how many of my story ideas qualify as horror. As for New England, well...I've thought to myself before that the South produces humorists and New Englas produces horror writers.

Speaking of which, scratch me down as another who'd love to read any horror novel you wrote.

As for the Lot, well...I have a yearly ritual of reading that every October. :) In addition to being deliciously scary, it's so freakin' autumnal! He may think he's the literary equivalent of a Big Mac, bu there are passages of that book that I idealize.

It is,I think, his greatest work. Certainly one of the best. Norror novels rarely give me the willes,but that one did And to this day I avoid walking over a storm gutter.*shivers*

I just got my copy of The Red Tree in the mail yesterday and am dying to read it. Alas, I have a tonne of other reading to be done first.

For the record, I love it when you talk about books that influence you.

I am halfway through this incredible book, so I admit I sort of skimmed this entry. I will come back to it when I've finished, though.

The Red Tree is one of the best books I've read in *any* genre, I think. So far, at least. :)

This is why I cannot review books, not really. I don't want to give them ratings or talk about their use of unreliable narrators--I want to talk about where they fit into all the other books I've ever read, how they make me feel, what I become because of their influence--because I am always and forever a golem patched together from the books I've read.

It may not work for official reviews, but this is entirely the sort of review I'd prefer to read. Not only does it give a sense of the book, but there's the possibility of learning about something else worth reading in the comparisons.

I don't do horror; I get frustrated with authors who beat up their characters for no particularly apparent reason, and suspense in general either comes across as stupid or a bit too much for me. But reading about your fascination with secrets makes me want to give the genre another try.

I am linking this. What an awesome nonreview!

I want to talk about where they fit into all the other books I've ever read, how they make me feel, what I become because of their influence--because I am always and forever a golem patched together from the books I've read. This is not the work of a good critic. It is too personal. It rambles.

But this is the kind of writing-about-books that I like best: the way it places a shared experience within someone else's context, I think...

since at 9 or 10 one doesn't have the ability to purchase books for oneself.

Really? That again would be someone else's context: by that age I was certainly spending all my allowance on books, my own choice, utterly unsupervised.

I don't think I had an allowance at that age-- at least I don't remember having one. I had a weird childhood. Also, my books and permission/ability to read was taken away as punishment with some frequency, so I doubt I would have looked at books as a safe investment even if I had.

See? Other people's lives are fascinating. And, um, in some ways unenviable. My own childhood was less than ordinary, but nobody ever tried to take my books away from me.

What I'm left with is not the tree itself, which I assumed would be at the heart of it, but Sarah and her sadness, and how she, like so many heroines before her, took her sadness to New England, where sorrow goes to meet its sisters.

What a great visual.

Salem's Lot was my favorite horror novel as a child - it's still up there in the nostalgic ranks as on my mental "Shelf of All-Time Favorites". I treasure the simple joy of reading a book at night and it chilling me to the point that I can't - just CAN'T! - look up at the darkened window to the leering monster-face I just know I'll see there. The deeper, more secret, illicit sort of joy you feel when... yes, as you said, you know there are such secrets you're about to discover and some secrets you'll never be allowed to really know... just sense out in the edges of the dark. Great stuff. I can see it in your writing, too.

I grew up in love with horror novels as well, and I think, as my tastes evolved, I grew to love historical fiction-based mystery with a "horror flair". Have you read Caleb Carr's Alienist? I know it's not horror specifically, but it chilled me the way I used to feel chilled by a King novel as a kid. The Dante Club too, because I spent a lot of time analyzing the horror in The Inferno.
A lot of the turn-of-the-century-serial-killer novels seem to be set in Boston, or New York, or the northern Atlantic or New England towns that seem to welcome it. I tend to think that the states that know snow - real, devouring, serious winter snow - understand cold (and darkness) better than the rest of the country. It goes along with the sunshine thing you mentioned.

Anyway, great essay. I look forward to talking about it more with you someday. :)

Ms. Valente,

Thanks so much for what I feel is an essay about New England's horror roots (pun intended) as much as it is about Ms. Kiernan's The Red Tree. Thank you for putting into words what I've felt for years but not been able to so eloquently articulate. I'm a Mainer, born and raised, who also discovered SK at just the right time (in my case, adolescence---I'm older than you), and 'Salem's Lot is as knitted into my bones as granite is knitted in the New England landscape.

I enjoyed The Red Tree for the same reasons---it smacks of real New England, and yes, secrets, secrets, damn it! That IS what New England's about.

I live in Freeport. Perhaps one of these days I'll bump into you on the sreets of Portland, and introduce myself.

Jeff P.

Ms. Valente,

You write an amazing essay on an amazing novel. I've only recently come to your writing, but I have been a longtime CRK reader. I agree with you on what you say about The Red Tree, and I am curious to know how you feel about her short stories? While I love her novels, I think the short story form is an ideal forum for her writing.

I haven't read her short fiction yet. :(

I think you would love he short form. I have many favorites of hers, but there are a few that have struck a chord with me.

"The Comedy of St. Jehanne D'Arc"
"The Escape Artist"
"Stoker's Mistress"
"By Turns"
"Night Story 1973" (Coauthored with Poppy Brite)


I have been trying to find a way to tell you how much I adore this collection, but am finding easy to tell you that I believe this collection of wonderful short stories is addictive. Easily addictive.


I adore this collection PZB and CRK together? Amazing. "Onion" and "Night Story 1973" I thought were the best here.

TO CHARLES FORT, WITH LOVE devistated me. I can't say anything other than this, because it is the last collection of hers that I have.

Oh and I would really encourage you to read "Le Peau Verte." It give great insight into an absinthe high.


You're a wonderful writer and a brilliant reviewer :-)


In addition to Lovecraft, there's M.R. James. Edgar Allan Poe. The creepy stuff in the Sherlock Holmes stories . . . and in Chandler's LA. The crawling things under the sunny stones and inside the pink stucco houses; the nameless ageless things in the woods alongside the road and under the sea just past the harbor. What you find when you dig in South Brooklyn, in Baltimore, in the Home Counties.

So I really can't see it as New England, but part of it may be England. And LA still seems more a horror story kind of place to me than SF. The sunshine and everyone's grim determination to flash equally sunny smiles just makes it worse when the crack opens.

who may write horror one day, who knows

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