Life is a circle. Events and experiences have a way of coming back like ghosts or phantoms, or the undead after having been given some sort of serum or been blasted by the radiation from a fallen Russian satellite.
One of the first times I ever travelled to downtown Los Angeles was for a film scout. I was working on a big Hollywood movie for a big-time director with one of the biggest stars in the movies. A good portion of the movie took place in New York City. The idea was to go to downtown Los Angeles and find places that might stand in for the Big Apple.
While we were there, our small crew stopped in a magical bookstore that had been previously a large Bank. Retrofitted with bookcases, couches, and an upstairs art gallery, being inside the store felt like we landed in another world where books and literature were everything. All our outside worries and stresses vanished.
The second level of The Last Bookstore was most magical of all. A maze not unlike the infamous Catacombs of Paris, and instead of its walls having been created with skulls, femurs, and rib bones, the architecture consisted mainly of book spines cleverly stacked and affixed into several shapes and corridors.
All too soon, we were quickly whisked away and back to our offices somewhere overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier.
Since I was a small boy, books have occupied a very storied place in my life. My parents were and are avid readers. Their passion carried over to my brother and me. I'll never forget when my mother hurried into my room with a copy of Interview with a Vampire for me, insisting I read it as soon as possible. I fell in love with the gothic style by the second chapter.
My father had just discovered Clive Barker and passed on a copy of The Great and Secret Show. These books were paradises. I know what you're probably thinking. Aren’t teenagers supposed to rebel against their parents? Aren't they supposed to hate everything about them? Run counter to everything their parents stand for? Well, there was a little of that growing up, but I never felt it necessary. Acting in that manner felt like a waste of time. My folks were both pretty cool artists in their own right. Both respected and supported my dreams of writing, being a musician, and working in the film industry.
When I toured with my bands, I always had a notebook along with me. At first it was to keep track of our schedule and to take notes on our shows and songs. Again, I saw the world a little differently than expected. I wasn't much into the cliche lifestyle that went with being in a band. Neither were the other musicians in our group. I also learned quickly that if I did not conserve my voice during the day, there'd be nothing left those evenings when I finally got in front of a microphone.
I took to exploring the towns and cities we played. I'd seek bookstores. I'd spend time in the local libraries. When the weather remained pleasant, I took my notebook to a park or other public place to sketch and write. I also carried and bought a lot of books with me. I remember borrowing the practice when, as a small child, I opened my father's trunk and found a secret box of horror comic books and paperbacks. I asked him why he had so many, to which he told me he was afraid that if the car broke down or if there was a natural disaster, he wanted to make sure he had enough reading material to get him through.
Ever since, I still feel empty and naked leaving the house without having a paperback with me. Just in case. And you know what? Having something good to read has come in handy more times than I thought it would. Even with smartphones and Kindles, if you need to save your battery for an emergency phone call, it's great to have a paperback and not feel compelled to check your social media every 15 seconds. This was another thing related to literature and reading that was passed on to me.
Fast forward several years. My dear friend Kathryn McGee connected me with Eric Larkin, who was setting up book clubs at The Last Bookstore, and would I be interested in shepherding one centering on Gothic literature. I jumped at the chance. This would be a wonderful excuse to explore and read so many classics of gothic fiction I've always wanted to read but never quite had the time. I then had an excuse, and a wonderful one at that.
During our first night, while I was driving, I noticed the beauty and strength of the city where the 101 freeway splits off to the 110 and you enter the downtown zone. Back when I first made that drive there wasn’t headspace or time to notice its unique beauty. Entering downtown Los Angeles can feel like you’re going into an alien world because you get so used to everything being suburban height throughout most of southern California.
Finally, I would be able to fully appreciate my surroundings and my time. I was coming full circle, but it was not a repeat. Even though the journey I was taking was relatively the same physically, I was there on my own terms. I would soon share and give back one of my favorite things to do in the world. Reading and talking about classic Gothic literature.
During that first night and so many nights that followed, I thought about the first time I went to The Last Bookstore with our film crew and how we navigated the famous tunnel of books, and visited the Vault of Horror inside an actual old bank vault.
Now I think how cool it is that I have now been tasked with leading a monthly discussion on Gothic literature for a small but passionate and loyal group of readers. That passion has helped all of us through some very challenging times, no better example than our current pandemic. Like so many other gatherings, we had to meet virtually. Yet, the heart and soul of the group's dark heart beats strong. I think of the countless memories we've made sharing these books with one another, and some of the deep friendships that have been forged over our common love for all things Gothic. When one of our members, Cora, went on a trip to Paris, she brought us back bookmarks from the Catacombs.
One of the more fascinating fringe benefits of our book club is how it has encouraged not only myself but all of our members to share these titles beyond ourselves. Many members share how their significant others, or their friends are curious about what they're reading, become intrigued, and then also want to read something they've always wanted to.
Even a title such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, which everyone seems to be familiar with through film and pop culture, is a much more nuanced and layered read than expected. It's those revelations that make everybody want to share their findings with their friends, families, and loved ones.
We've also found many much older books are still as vital today as they were when originally written. Some titles, such as Matthew Lewis's The Monk, don't even feel like they were written hundreds of years ago. The language feels very similar to how we write and speak today. Everyone we've spoken to and share that nugget with has been intrigued.
Literature has stood the test of time. Books have stood the test of time. A few years ago, it was thought eBooks we're going to destroy the paper book industry. Thankfully, it remains healthy and as viable, inspiring just as much passion in those who pass it down, as was passed down to us.
Below, please find a list of titles we have read in our book club. I urge you to look them up, and to seek out the ones that speak to you. Within each title there is a conversation to be had between you, the reader, and the story which can be every bit as powerful and prescient as the day it was published. That is, if you allow your heart to be open to its inherent darkness.
The Monk by Mathew Lewis
Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliff
Carmilla by Joseph Sheriden La Fanu
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (Also included: The Vampyre by Polidori)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Haunted House by Charles Dickens
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Haunted Castles by Ray Russell
Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
A Good Man is Hard to Find By Flannery O’Connor
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Graveyard Shift by Neil Gaiman (Graphic novel edition)
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson
Kill Creek by Scott Thomas
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield
Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno Garcia
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
It Will Just Be Us by Jo Kaplan
He won the Bram Stoker Award© in short fiction in 2016 for “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop”. More short stories have appeared in anthologies from Cemetery Dance, Weird Tales, Space & Time, PS Publishing, Independent Legions, DarkFuse, Crystal Lake, Terror Tales, Lovecraft eZine, Horror Library, Bizarro Pulp, Written Backwards, Dark Continents, Big Time Books, McFarland Press, Darkscribe, Dark House, Omnium Gatherum, and more.
Non-fiction pieces have appeared in BLUMHOUSE, FANGORIA, BACKSTREETS and DARK DISCOVERIES magazines.
He is serving as the President of the Horror Writers Association and has been featured in the LOS ANGELES TIMES and VANITY FAIR magazine.