Beautifully Macabre: The Beauty deep within the Macabre

“…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear – the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness.” -H.P. Lovecraft

I have two very close friends. The macabre and beauty itself. They greet me every day, in my work, in my play, and in my sleep. The closeness we share has created a blissful trifecta. We have become so entangle that no boundaries remain. But often times, I find myself stepping back, observing the creations born out of the bond between macabre and beauty. For a long time, I had a great obsession for these creations, but I did not understand them or my obsession.

I philosophized for years over this matter. What is it about a splatter of blood that interests me? Why do I eat up literature on beheaded queens like it’s candy? Why do I envy ghosts? What is so beautiful about death? All questions I have asked myself for years and had recently given up trying to answer…

My whole life I’ve wished that there was a monster in my closet. I would friend him. Call him Frodile. He’d protect me. He’d read me scary stories and draw me pictures of the ghastly things from his world. Most importantly, he would understand me. Well unfortunately Frodile never came, he won’t exist in this lifetime. But I found his human equivalent. And no one will ever be as lucky as me.

About two years ago, my Frodile stepped out of my closet in the form of artist Rebekah Joy Plett. Rebekah and I became fast friends–I believe on a subconscious level because neither of us knew about our mutual love for the macabre–and today we are partners in the dark arts. I am Rebekah’s literary agent, her art representative, and business partner in the macabre children’s literature and art magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree. Merging our sensibilities (she brings the macabre, I bring the horror) we’ve opened up a labyrinth that continues to amaze me and continues to answer the questions I’ve pondered for years.

Through conversations with Bex, and possibly even more importantly, through viewing her art, I’ve found my answers.

“I think beauty in horror — or horror in beauty — is such a successful match because beauty itself is not enough; it’s great to look at but eventually the brain becomes bored. It’s with the combination of the two that something truly interesting is created. We want to look, but we don’t; we want to enjoy the piece but something is horribly wrong about it. The beauty tells us ‘It’s okay to look at me’, while the horror says, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I think this is why many people are drawn to the Shakespeare character Ophelia, or Waterhouse’s nymphs, or Girl, Interrupted. When you combine beauty and horror, the result becomes unpredictable and irresistibly desirable.” -Rebekah Joy Plett

I remember the first time Bex showed me this image:

Rebekah has always had a penchant for unique, pop-surrealist, ghastly, and creepy art. If not straight horrifying art (Read: Rebekah’s Human Nature art series that is yet to be completely unveiled but involes a lot of blood and death).

Yet when she showed me the above art, I was stricken with an overwhelming sense of belonging. Rebekah’s previous invisible or obscure monsters were now blatant monsters. Real life monsters. This quickly became a series for Rebekah because the monsters and the beautiful girls did exactly what we had both been dreaming of for years. They married the macabre and beauty… equally.

It was at this point that I described Rebekah and her art as being “Innocent yet sexual, macabre yet beautiful, horrifying yet earthy, and completely organic.”

One of Rebekah’s greatest qualities is that she doesn’t fetter her creativity.

Creativity — like monsters — never sleeps. It only waits.” –Rebekah Joy Plett

And when her creativity is done waiting, it just blooms and blooms and blooms until it’s a wild monster’s tongue reaching out from the painting, trussing you up in its sickly slime, yanking you back into the painting with it. Rebekah is the Lewis Carroll of art, she’ll push you down the rabbit hole.

While discussing the marriage of beauty and the macabre with Rebekah, we both agreed that the majority of adults have lost the ability to still see monsters. They’ve grown too old to think that there may be something underneath their bed. The only thing adults think might be lurking under their covers is a spider or two. Horrifying art like that of Stephen Gammell makes the average adult shrug or say Why would anyone want to look at that?

(Well that’s a subject for another time, because I do love me some Gammell.)

But what Rebekah (and other artists like her: Mark Ryden, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Camilla D’Errico, Elizabeth McGrath, Matthew J. Price) has done is made deeply morbid and disturbing art beautiful and more accessible to those who might have lost their ability to dream darkly.

While Rebakah and I strive to open the imaginations of children with our children’s magazine, Rebekah’s art strives to do the same but for those adults who subconsciously want to feel scared, want to be intrigued, want to feel shock and delight simultaneously.

The girls? Lovely. The monsters? Devilish down to the tips of their tongues and claws. Like Rebekah says, Blood is in the details.” 

Death, monsters, blood, insanity… it’s not always about evil. It can often times be about creativity, love, imagination, and yes… still insanity.

a work in progress by RJP

“Something beautiful alone, or something only macabre doesn’t say much, but once you put them together a conversation is started. Why is there a pretty girl laying in the grass? Why is that bird making off with her entrails? A story has begun.” –Rebekah Joy Plett

I want to thank Rebekah for the interview, the images, and the friendship. She’s the monster in my closet, the darkness that takes over when the candle flame dies.

Three VERY important things…

One: Princess Prep: Fashion & Words Contest. Ends October 10th. (https://www.facebook.com/princessprep)

Two: Guys Read Thriller Contest. Ends October 13th.

Three: October Issue of Underneath The Juniper Tree!

This is such a fun time of the year, get into the spirit of the season by dressing up princess dolls, writing thrilling tales, and reading spooktacular stories!

February Hot Blogger (a bit unorthodox) Kate Grace AND Bree Ogden

Kate= Purple, Bree= Blue

Let’s get this started…this is some intense stuff we are talking about today…

Don’t Fear the Reaper… or Commitment.

(Visit Kate’s site at www.abitofgrace.com, and watch the trailer for Burden of the Soul here.)

I stepped off the backline and took the seat next to my improv comedy teammate, mirroring the small, intricate motion he was doing with his hand as the scene started. Between two fingers I mimed holding a small, rounded object while my other hand twisted another small object over and over as if screwing a nut onto its bolt. Or, as my mind saw it, making bullets.

I wasn’t so far off because the scene started around us with dialogue from two other team members. With comedic measures, our scene was the meeting of a murder club, a completely ridiculous spoof on Fight Club.

The creative collaboration of the scene took shape and I was the simpleton member who answered only by nodding her head yes or no (and still got it wrong) and just loved making her bullets and lining them up in neat rows.

But then the scene was made even more ridiculous when the conflict was introduced. The newest member was told he had to “kill” the next person that walked in the door or he would be out of Murder Club. Enter another teammate pretending to be a cute girl scout selling Samoas.

The scene continued from there and I could feel my simpleton character breaking. I could feel the laughs coming and the desire to be an audience member taking over. But I caught myself by internally stating, “You will stay here. Stay right here.”

Literally. My inner voice became the inner drill sergeant. “You chose to be the creator and not the viewer so commit. You WILL stay here.”

Commitment: it’s something stressed in every improvisational theater school and needed in any creative process. It’s also something guys say they’re afraid of, but I’m convinced it really means, “Your toothbrush doesn’t belong there, it belongs way far away in your apartment.” But that’s for another day.

Commitment in your creative writing process is huge, and so important, because as you fall deeper into the writing coma you feel as if you shift from writer to transcriber. The story is taking place in your mind like a movie and you’re just kicking back going along for the ride, watching your characters’ lives play out…

…and sometimes end.

Your fingers freeze and the silence in your room is overpoweringly loud now that the clickity clackity of keyboard keys has called it quits. Your brain stops for a moment and you think, “NO!” For so many “reasons” such as: “It’s so early, what if I need her/him later?” or “I could be shooting myself in the foot here,” or “That’s way too dark.”

But mostly, those are just excuses because what you can’t necessarily admit is somewhere along the way you went from writer to reader and became emotionally attached to your characters. You can’t let them go emotionally.

I’m working on the additional books in the Burden of the Soul series and I’ve come up against this wall a number of times already. I gave over fully to the writer’s coma and trusted the story completely. So when I had a hunch to visit a shooting range for research, I didn’t question it. When I felt a hunch to start asking car specialist about the mechanics of car chases and crashes, I didn’t question it. When I started Googling “Krav Maga classes” near me, I didn’t question it.

I gave over completely to my sense of creative process. I became that same simpleton just lining up the bullets, never piecing it together where those bullets would go.

So then the moment came where the story and my subconscious actually put it on the page. My fingers froze and the silence in my kitchen became overpoweringly loud when the clickity clackity of keyboard keys called it quits. My brain stopped for a moment and I thought, “NO!” Then, “Oh shit, Bree is gonna kill me,” because Bree is emotionally attached to these characters too.

But then another voice kicked in, stern and convincing. “You will stay here. Stay right here. Commit.”

Still I didn’t budge. Then a softer voice: “Trust.”

Slowly, the clickity clackity returned.

It’s such a difficult balance to strike as a writer, trusting your inner storyteller and your inner reader and hoping they agree at least majority of the time. As the moments piled and got bigger, darker or more tragic, I finally had to take it to someone. The doubt was setting in.

Sitting on the grass along the Missouri River in St. Charles, I told the darkest of these moments to Bree Ogden in great, vivid detail. She sat really quiet looking out over the river.

She. Didn’t. Say. A. Word.

I panicked and started the rewrite in my mind immediately and continued it on the flight back to Michigan through the night and into the next day.

But then came the Facebook message, the email, the text. Her reaction was… Well, I’ll let her tell you.

Bree?

I’m going to take a step back for a moment. There are several authors whose words stick with you long after you read them. For me, one of those authors is Chuck Palahniuk. Often times I’ll read something he has written, completely unaware of the impact it will have on me later that week.  And then, I’ll be going about my life and POW, this insanely strong emotion will set in and I won’t recognize its source. This happens often with Chuck. And it happened with Kate.

I read Kate’s manuscript, the one I currently represent, Burden of the Soul a few times, and was emotionally involved with the characters. And that day, sitting by the river, I learned of the absolutely gut wrenching, and I mean absolutely rip-your-heart-out-of-your-chest-with-a-fist, complete story of a few of these characters.

I was heartbroken. It wasn’t necessarily the loss of the characters. It was the way I had to watch them fade out of my life. But life went on. It’s just a book right? They’re just words. Right?

Weeks later, I felt sad. Really sad. I felt like something was missing in my life but I couldn’t place it. It was the same feeling I had after I read Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. And when I recognized that feeling, all of a sudden a bloody, tear-streaked montage played through my head. Blood drenched hands. Chains. Anger. Tears. Passions and admissions—I remembered what Kate had told me in Missouri.

I felt genuine pain for her characters. And I knew that as much as I hurt for them, Kate must hurt for them ten-fold. Still, weeks passed and at random times of random days, I would feel the loss.

As an author, this is the type of devotion you want your readers to feel towards your characters. And it’s okay to take them away from the reader. Rip them away from us, smash them to bits, tear them into pieces, splatter the reader with their blood and guts if you must. But make sure that your reader has had the chance to develop some sort of emotional connection with these characters before you do so. You want your reader to be wiping tears from their face along with the blood and guts of your characters.

In Invisible Monsters when I’m mentally watching a character write haunting words on the wall in her own blood—I’m crying, and I’m re-reading, and I’m unsure—but I’m hooked.

Kate?

The doubt faded and the inner artist smirked with an “I told you so, you idiot” gloating air.

Because if we trust and commit, and give over fully to that artist living inside those chunks of meat in our chests, then something amazingly powerful will come out of it. You must trust. And you must commit.

This isn’t dating advice, but it is relationship advice for you and your Work in Progress. Trust it. Don’t give up on it the moment it shows its less attractive, gritty, dark side. It’s never going to be all bubble gum and roses. What may strike you as “too far” and difficult to accept may just end up being your most haunting plot turns or the moments in your story that the characters pull at your readers’ emotions and ignite empathy.

Your characters have a story to tell. Your characters are chomping at the bit to connect with your readers, so step aside and let them. Think of yourself as the conduit.

And as for Murder Club? I did stay there and the scene continued to wonderfully absurd heights where the Girl Scout revealed she was an orphan, could sing and dance, and saw nothing but the beauty of endless possibility and rainbows outside the window. The newest member struggled and eventually got kicked out of Murder Club, unable to make the kill.

Admit it. At first read you cringed at the thought of “Murder Club”, and now you want to see that scene where a sweet little Girl Scout outsmarts a room of trained killers.

And BLACKOUT!

D.M. Cunningham has gone MISSING! Or, in my opinion has been kidnapped–Halloween Tree Chapter 19

I’ve received a very important and seemingingly dire email from The Creepings of Creeping Hills. D.M. Cunningham has gone missing. (Although I’m not too sure how much I trust the Creepings of Creeping Hills. They are a diabolical bunch.) However, they have found the last known footage of D.M.:

I’ve been asked by the Creepings to post he Halloween Tree animated series, which I think is a brilliant idea. In this animated video, you will see a more cohesive version of what we have been reading over the last 19 days. I hope you take some time this lovely Halloween and enjoy this classic book by the legendary dreamer, Ray Bradbury.


Happy Halloween!

I hope you have enjoyed our crazy Halloween Tree readings, as well as agentbree.worpress.com’s month long Halloween extravaganza! It’s been a blast for all of us to bring this story to life in a somewhat unconventional form.

Go be deliciously evil and spontaneous tonight!

I love you all! Thank you for participating in this very special month!

Thriller! Halloween Tree Ch. 18…HC STILL hasn’t gotten his girl outta there!!

You know, at first I’m thinking, “Wow, this HC guy is a really selfish boyfriend. Forcing his hot model girlfriend to stay at a scary movie. Even the Late MJ left the movie for his girlfriend.” And If I remember correctly, MJ was IN the movie. But then I saw the end of the reading, and realized HC’s not so bad at all. And it appears her date with HC is going to end better than her date with MJ…

 

The Halloween Tree Ch 17-Addison and Avery Sign-off!

Aunt Kate gets a massage while she reads the Halloween Tree Chapter 17.

Addison and Avery do their best to simultaneously make Kate’s life difficult and make her life bliss while she reads. I’m going to miss these girls, their incredible cuteness, and their commentary “It’s impossibly impossible!”

The Suns’ Mascot reads to us…The Halloween Tree Ch. 16

LOVING the voice and body language of this Halloween Tree reading. FEARING the gorilla mask.

Let’s just say, I grew up in Phoenix, AZ and was once traumatized as a young girl by the Suns mascot…

…that sounds a lot darker than it should. I just physically ran into him in a dark room of the arena and he grabbed me to steady me… TRAUMATIZED. So thanks for opening up old wounds, Peter!