Halloween Reading Challenge

(For those reading this looking for my free-for-all Friday post: Please check back on Saturday!)

Halloween is here, and I forgot that I’d signed up for a reading challenge called RIP III. It’s good bookish fun through Halloween, and I joined in because I had the perfect book: Elizabeth Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles.

I hadn’t read a spooky book in awhile, so this was perfect.

Yet, I do have a history with scary fiction. I read my first Stephen King when I was 14, and thereafter spent the rest of adolescence terrifying myself.

I just had a memory: My mother, who was never one to give gifts outside birthday and Christmas, enters my room one night. Picture me cuddled on my waterbed (because I was diagnosed with scoliosis, I swear!) perhaps reading “The Exorcist” or the latest Peter Straub. “I thought you might like to give this book a try,” she says, and hands me a collection of humorous short stories. Humor?!?! I was so far from humor you might as well have nominated me poster-girl for hormonally induced angst, moodiness, and depression!

So, yes, I have a history with the creepy, but I don’t read them much anymore. I’m glad to say that Engstrom’s The Northwoods Chronicles led me through her haunting northwoods universe with a ton of artistry and no gratuitous shlock.

The creepy factor is enhanced by her minimalist writing style. Disappearing children, killer wax statues, murderers, and mermaids inhabit her universe with the same quiet poise as her grieving mothers and college students. It’s all the same reality, and this is a big reason for the creep-factor.

As the cover states, The Northwoods Chronicles is a “novel in stories.” I liked meeting and re-meeting her characters in different contexts. I also liked that she preferred ambiguity over perfect plot bows.

I’ve been interested in the concept of linked short stories for awhile. Reading Engstrom’s novel in stories, I realized that she made it look easy. The secret, as she told me, is to create a full-fledged universe. Her universe fascinates.

(Okay, writing this in front of the telly, Thursday night. Just flipped the channel and found “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Talk about memories: midnight showings, yes, during high school. You’re probably not surprised to know that San Francisco loved its Rocky Horror midnight showings!)

Ode to a Neighborhood Cafe

kodigoodbyesign.jpgAn era has ended, and I hadn’t realized I was in a mini-funk until today.

I previously mentioned Kodi’s in this post. Alas, Kodi’s is yet another independent coffee house to bite the dust. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m at a loss. I mean really, how can a coffee house closure mean so much?

The answer is complicated because it relates to an internal conflict I face each writing day: I’m prone to restlessness (with routines), rebelliousness against “the man” (which means against myself since I’m my own boss), and nocturnal habits (yet I don’t write well at night). 

The challenging part of my writing life is what I call “being a good girl,” which means me — the restless, rebellious, nocturnal woman — fashioning a work week around dull and clean-living habits. This requires more self-discipline out of me than the writing itself!

Unfortunately, to pseudo-quote The Shining by Stephen King: All work and no play makes Lisa a dull girl (with a blocked brain). I have to work with my restless, rebellious self, not banish it. I’ve tried banishment: disaster. Thus, my optimal writing life must also include room for impulsive, procrastinatory, random people-time, which pacifies my bad-girl tendencies just enough to keep me balanced, happy, and writing (happier still).

To this end, Kodi’s was the perfect outlet and therefore crucial to my writing life. Kodi’s was a neighborhood coffee house with a crew of regulars — at least one of whom was sure to be lounging around when I entered — and an owner who became a friend.

Last Thursday during the wake we held after Kodi’s final day, I realized that I wasn’t the only discomposed regular. Our talk over beers and fancy alcoholic coffee drinks revolved around the next nearest cafe and whether it had plush chairs and decent mochas and friendly baristas and WiFi.

My writing life aside, our conversation got me thinking that in our rush-rush-rush, depersonalized world, the break-up of any family — even our rag-tag crew of Kodi’s eccentrics — is ample cause for a mini-funk. I’ll find a new outlet to assuage my bad-girl tendencies; however, I wonder how easily I’ll find such a merry and welcoming coffee-house community.