What’s the connection between horror and baked goods, you might ask? I don’t know – all I know is that, even when you leave out Halloween celebrations, there are a lot of creative cooks out there crafting elaborate (and presumably delicious) edible horror artifacts. I did learn one interesting new piece of trivia in the course of my online research; iconic horror actor Vincent Price was born into wealth courtesy of his paternal grandfather, who invented the first cream of tartar baking powder. So there’s that.

Here for your delectation is a selection of articles and posts to whet your appetite. First up, the one that inspired this blog post: Christine McConnell. A.k.a. the woman I would want to be if I couldn’t be me.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/domestic-goddess-makes-sinister-sweets

A little history on the origins of the sugar skull, where I learned that sugar can be a good sculpting material for poor, pious and artistically talented.

http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/support/dodhistory.html

Shut up and take my money!

http://drfudgenstein.com/

I love sugar, but I can barely stand to look at these, let alone try to eat them if I was left alone with one.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/29116/10-bloody-gory-and-delectably-evil-horror-themed-cakes

Just a simple fangirl, combining two of her favourite things (much like what I’m doing, except without getting my kitchen dirty).

http://hauntedmeg.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/true-blood-inspired-cookies/

Apparently, zombie-themed wedding cakes are a Thing. Do we have AMC’s The Walking Dead to thank for this?

http://www.whokilledbambi.co.uk/2012/01/zombie-themed-wedding-cakes/

 


Whenever the topic of book banning and censorship of children’s and teens’ reading material arises on my Facebook feed, it’s invariably accompanied by streams of commentators – almost all writers, many of them horror writers – who maintain that “I was allowed to read whatever I wanted when I was a kid, and it never did me any harm”. And I usually distance myself from the conversation, because although I would not advocate the outright banning of a book, I am a proponent of age-appropriate reading material. I don’t let my pre-teen kids have free rein over my bookshelf, and neither was I allowed such when I was a kid…

Except…hang on a minute. Now that I think about it, I actually was.

When I was a child, my siblings and I spent a lot of time during our school holidays with my paternal grandmother. She had a farm on the outskirts of a small logging town, and a house that in my memory was massive but wasn’t really. One of the features of this house was a study off the veranda, barely big enough to fit a single bed and a desk, the walls of which were lined in paperback books. My grandmother’s home seemed to be something of a halfway house, with a constant parade of people in and out, some staying for days, some for months, and I was never quite sure who was family and who was just a wayward child in need of a good feed and some honest farm work to keep them out of trouble. The library, as I thought of it, was a “take one and leave one” kind of affair; like the house’s inhabitants, some books were permanent residents, and some would be there today, gone tomorrow, its “bed” taken up by a newcomer.

We were left to our own devices a lot on those holidays (scandalous by today’s standards, but quite the norm in 1970’s New Zealand). Favourite activities included climbing trees, riding bareback on a slow and ancient gelding called Prince, riding pillion on the farm bike behind whichever teenage boy had the patience to drive us kids around (and burning my bare legs on the exhaust pipe – the not-so-much-fun part), shooting tin cans off the fence with an air rifle, and playing with the plethora of dogs and cats about the place. And reading. Lots and lots of reading.

Once I learned to read, it didn’t take long for me to make my way through the entire child-appropriate section of my grandmother’s library (mostly crumbling Secret Seven and Famous Five paperbacks), so once they were done, I started in on the others. Sometimes the adults noticed what I was reading – I recall someone observing, “She’s reading The Darling Buds of May,” and somebody else laughing, but I never got the joke. And nobody ever swooped in and took a book off me or said, “That’s not for you.”

I knew when a book wasn’t child-appropriate. I knew when it seemed like there was some hidden significance to the words that eluded me, like when I read in a biography of Rasputin that his penis was 12 inches long. (Was that big for a penis? Small? What difference did it make to have a penis of that specific measurement? All of these questions and more my ten-year-old self pondered.) I knew because of the uncomfortable feeling in my gut and the tingling on the back of my neck, like I was naked and someone was spying on me through the window. Just looking at the cover of The Eyes of Laura Mars made me feel a little creeped out in that way. I knew when a book made me feel physically ill, like Eat Them Alive.

But it didn’t stop me reading them.

As a child I was ridiculously responsible, a good girl and a rule follower of the highest order, so perhaps it was some kernel of rebellion that made me read what I really shouldn’t. Did it do me any harm? Hard to say. I don’t feel especially traumatised, although I’m always skeptical of anyone who says, “…and it didn’t do me any harm.” It’s entirely possible that those people are simply not very good at self-analysis.

Did my childhood reading habits influence my calling to write horror fiction? Now we might be getting somewhere; I do remember thinking of Eat Them Alive that the plot was flimsy, the gross-out descriptions gratuitous, and that if stuff like that could get published, then when I grew up I was going to write something just as scary but much, much classier. An informal study of horror writers shows that most of them, like me, read anything and everything when they were kids. Or perhaps it’s simply that a voracious appetite and a varied palate for the written word is a common trait of most authors in general.

And perhaps, along with Stephen King, Clive Barker and China Miéville, I should start listing Pierce Nace as one of my influences. Just not the kind of influence he might want to be.

 


SOCIETY IS DIVIDED
Silicon Valley has taken virtual sex to the extreme, encouraging men to act out their darkest and most violent sexual fantasies. Militant feminists and churches are bitterly opposed. Powerful corporations battle for market control. In the midst of a fierce protest campaign, a bomb goes off in San Francisco.

TWELVE ARE DEAD
Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a gun, a badge and a handheld lie detector. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber before he strikes again.

A NIGHTMARE AWAITS
Madsen plunges headlong into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual and the web of corruption extends all the way to Washington … only to discover the stakes are higher than he could ever imagine.

 #

 (Review copy provided by the publishers via Netgalley.)

As author Bruce McCabe discusses in a Q&A with his publisher Random House, Skinjob is more techno-thriller than science fiction. Nevertheless, the book should appeal to fans of both genres. McCabe’s writing style is clean and utilitarian, and serves the subject matter and the novel’s fast pace well. With perhaps the exception of the hyper-real “skinjobs”, the sex dolls after which the novel is named, most of the science is very-near-future, and as such feels immaculately researched and completely plausible. McCabe weaves all his futuristic tech-threads together seamlessly with timeless human conflict and desires to create a believable glimpse into a world soon to be.

Most of the story revolves around the protagonist Daniel Madsen’s battle; against the villains who are many and various, against time, and against the law enforcement system that he is sworn to uphold. But some page space is given to exploring the ethical and societal implications of using human replicas for sexual gratification. McCabe does not preach, but puts forward two opposing and equally compelling points of view: one from refined feminist Eva Hartley, who asserts that dollhouses contribute to the objectification and mistreatment of women, and the other from flamboyant sex shop owner Eddie, who sees no sin in sexual activity between consenting adults (or between a consenting adult and his inanimate props of choice).

With its American setting, topical themes, engaging characters and the aforementioned cracking pace, the story is ripe for a blockbuster movie adaptation (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if McCabe has already written the accompanying screenplay).