Author Topic: Pseudopod 261: Widdershins  (Read 10413 times)

Bdoomed

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on: December 23, 2011, 01:58:28 PM
Pseudopod 261: Widdershins

By Robert Mammone
You can get the Kindle version of his new short story, “Shivers”, in the collection The Big Book of New Short Horror from Pill Hill Press. And check out his earlier Pseudopod story, The Copse.

Read by Frank Key.  Click his name to visit The Hooting Yard! Also, check out his previous reading for ESCAPE POD, Hesperia and Glory!

“His dreams were disturbed. He saw the moon emerge from behind a bank of racing clouds, the surface yellowed and cracked like old bone. He stood in a clearing, surrounded by outcroppings of rock and trees whose branches were lashed by the breeze. He thought he heard indistinct muttering which, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make out. Gradually, though, the muttering grew clearer, until, with a jolt, he understood.

‘Widdershins start my hair, widdershins start my hair.‘

There was a sudden blurring and the clearing vanished replaced for a brief moment with an image of Hendricks, face rigid with intent, looming over him, a wad of stinking cotton clutched in one hand. Powerless, he felt the material pressed over his mouth and nose, the fumes filling his nostrils and then he was falling…”




Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

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Scattercat

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Reply #1 on: December 26, 2011, 05:25:00 PM
I liked this one, though having had experience with "The Copse" made me more prepared to just roll with the dreamlike transitions.  I'm not sure what exactly happened, but I wasn't frantically trying to keep up and correlate everything together like I usually do, so it wasn't a problem. 

The Green Man is a one creepy little piece of mythology, that's for sure.  Frankly, most of the older legends were at least halfway creepy until the USian 1950s got ahold of them.



Robert Mammone

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Reply #2 on: December 29, 2011, 05:57:59 AM
I liked this one, though having had experience with "The Copse" made me more prepared to just roll with the dreamlike transitions.  I'm not sure what exactly happened, but I wasn't frantically trying to keep up and correlate everything together like I usually do, so it wasn't a problem. 

The Green Man is a one creepy little piece of mythology, that's for sure.  Frankly, most of the older legends were at least halfway creepy until the USian 1950s got ahold of them.

Bad things happened!  Well, a bad thing, anyway.  I think moreso than The Copse I was going for a more ambiguous feel to the events in the story.  With each circuit, reality begins to unravel just that little bit more.

Glad you liked it.  I wonder what other listeners thought?



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Reply #3 on: December 30, 2011, 03:51:30 PM
Even if this had been stripped of author name, I could've guessed that this was written by the author of the Copse.  Like that one, this one was very evocative of the mood, but like that one, in the end I'm not really sure what happened.  There was a hole in his opponent's face that opened into a vast void, I think...

The first half of the story I didn't have trouble grasping.  But, the first half of the story bothered me in its use of perspective.  I really want to sink into a story and feel like I'm the character.  When this works, it's because the POV is done very well.  One of the biggest obstacles to this kind of POV is the POV withholding important information from me.  If I realize that the POV character is withholding vital information from me (for dramatic effect or whatever reason) then this creates a distance between me and the character that I'd rather do without.  I don't feel like I am the character because if I were I would know what they know.  I'm not talking about knowing their childhood history (unless that's actually important to understanding current events), but anything of vital interest right now should be disclosed.  In this case what bothered me is not knowing the topic of the other man's thesis.  In the first 20 minutes it is brought up again and again, and is clearly meant to be the focus of the story.  They have arguments about it, it's what drives the plot but I don't know what it is.  Then finally when it's revealed 20 minutes in nonchalantly, that's when I actually got some interest in the story.  For it to work with the POV, it would've been better IMO for that information to be near the beginning.  And it seemed like withholding that didn't even provide any useful dramatic tension, it just got on my nerves and made me feel more distant from it.

So, overall, I still like the use of mood for language, but between the distancing use of POV and lack of listening comprehension, I'm not sure I really got it.



Robert Mammone

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Reply #4 on: December 30, 2011, 10:43:18 PM
Even if this had been stripped of author name, I could've guessed that this was written by the author of the Copse.  Like that one, this one was very evocative of the mood, but like that one, in the end I'm not really sure what happened.  There was a hole in his opponent's face that opened into a vast void, I think...

The first half of the story I didn't have trouble grasping.  But, the first half of the story bothered me in its use of perspective.  I really want to sink into a story and feel like I'm the character.  When this works, it's because the POV is done very well.  One of the biggest obstacles to this kind of POV is the POV withholding important information from me.  If I realize that the POV character is withholding vital information from me (for dramatic effect or whatever reason) then this creates a distance between me and the character that I'd rather do without.  I don't feel like I am the character because if I were I would know what they know.  I'm not talking about knowing their childhood history (unless that's actually important to understanding current events), but anything of vital interest right now should be disclosed.  In this case what bothered me is not knowing the topic of the other man's thesis.  In the first 20 minutes it is brought up again and again, and is clearly meant to be the focus of the story.  They have arguments about it, it's what drives the plot but I don't know what it is.  Then finally when it's revealed 20 minutes in nonchalantly, that's when I actually got some interest in the story.  For it to work with the POV, it would've been better IMO for that information to be near the beginning.  And it seemed like withholding that didn't even provide any useful dramatic tension, it just got on my nerves and made me feel more distant from it.

So, overall, I still like the use of mood for language, but between the distancing use of POV and lack of listening comprehension, I'm not sure I really got it.


I see your point about the topic of the thesis, but my reasoning about dropping it in later in the story was not to be completely obvious about it really early in the story.  In a short story, that sort of information very early on can be a blatant sign post to what is going on, which is what I wanted to avoid.  Still, I see your point and thanks for your feedback.  Much appreciated.



Fenrix

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Reply #5 on: January 03, 2012, 08:50:04 PM
Enjoyed the Copse as well as this one. I felt the imagery using the cemetery and the church were particularly compelling. It brought to mind the churchyard from Haunter in the Dark and from In the Mouth of Madness.

I felt the action scene where he was accosted and tossed into the van the weakest part of the story. Maybe I was distracted by traffic, but I was a bit confused by what was occurring. After the arrival at the cemetery I was hooked.

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The Far Stairs

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Reply #6 on: January 06, 2012, 06:57:31 AM
I loved this one. The hints about weird things having happened on previous occasions of the ritual were very effective. The characters were fleshed out just enough to involve you in the events. The idea that a man could unseat reality simply by walking in a certain direction at a certain time was the brilliant part. It felt like a nightmare, and the transition was handled perfectly. Also, the images at the end were horrifically beautiful--surreal and suggestive rather than blatantly monstrous.

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Robert Mammone

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Reply #7 on: January 06, 2012, 11:08:49 AM
I loved this one. The hints about weird things having happened on previous occasions of the ritual were very effective. The characters were fleshed out just enough to involve you in the events. The idea that a man could unseat reality simply by walking in a certain direction at a certain time was the brilliant part. It felt like a nightmare, and the transition was handled perfectly. Also, the images at the end were horrifically beautiful--surreal and suggestive rather than blatantly monstrous.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the story.  Kudos to Frank for his great reading of the story - a great reader adds immeasurably to a story's impact.

I'm particularly pleased you picked up on the suggestive nature of the story - I was aiming for that effect and wondered if I'd managed to achieve it.

Once again, thanks!



The Far Stairs

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Reply #8 on: January 06, 2012, 11:58:55 PM
Absolutely. If the great god Pan had appeared and eaten someone, I'd have thought, 'Eh.' But the suggestions of vague and terrible things that were unnatural  (or perhaps too natural) were perfect. Less Lovecraft and more Blackwood, if you know what I mean.

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Reply #9 on: January 09, 2012, 05:44:57 PM
I see your point about the topic of the thesis, but my reasoning about dropping it in later in the story was not to be completely obvious about it really early in the story.  In a short story, that sort of information very early on can be a blatant sign post to what is going on, which is what I wanted to avoid.  Still, I see your point and thanks for your feedback.  Much appreciated.

I can understand the concern about putting in too much information too early, you don't want to frontload everything good and leave the rest dull.  The problem with it for me was that I didn't have basic information about the situation that the point of view character did.

What's an exaggerated example I can use to illustrate (because I do love exaggerated examples).  Imagine that Back to the Future started after Marty was in 1955 and had hidden the DeLorean, and did not explain any of the previous events.  The scenes where Marty meets Lorraine and meets George are now lacking in much of their necessary tension because you wouldn't know that these are his parents.  She's an attractive girl that's interested in him, so why is he so jumpy and standoffish, etc...  I could imagine what Marty was thinking because I knew the relevant details of his past that tied into his present.  Without that background information, it wouldn't work.

If I remember correctly, withholding important information from your character that your reader knows is called dramatic irony, and it's a useful technique because it can increase tension.  To me this is exactly the inverse of that, withholding important information from your reader that your character knows and, to me at least, it reduces tension.



Listener

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Reply #10 on: January 10, 2012, 02:50:17 PM
I kept getting lost in the reading, which was so good that I ceased to care about the story and just let its vocal goodness wash over me. Every time I tried to pay attention to the story, though, I found that I just didn't care. Plus, the story veered a bit too abstract/lovecraftian for me, and I think I tuned it out.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #11 on: January 10, 2012, 08:41:16 PM
I hate to say that I didn't like a story because it wasn't original. I really believe that what is written matters less than how. I really believe that there are only so many stories out there, and if we criticize stories for not being "new" or "original" we're eventually going to run out of neat stories.

But.

I didn't like this story because it wasn't original.

I think it was just the degree to which everything in this story resembled the canon (or cannon!) of the "growing horror and dread" subgenre. Plethora of unlikeable characters? Check. Arrogant scholars meddling in things they ought not to? Check. Growing horror and dread over the course of a series of events culminating in something terrible, but never completely explained? Triple check. The story wasn't just "not original," it was basically rote.

The narration, though, was brilliant and added a lot of character to the experience, character that the story... lacked.

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Robert Mammone

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Reply #12 on: January 11, 2012, 12:09:15 AM
Thanks for your comments - really appreciate them.

I can't disagree - all the usual tropes are present, as you've outlined.  I can only say I like writing what I read (though I don't read that sort of weird fiction all the time, certainly) and that I've written horror for only a few years now so I've got plenty of time to expand my scope!

Glad you enjoyed the reading - again, props to the reader for his sterling job.

I can't really say anything more to what you've already said.

I hate to say that I didn't like a story because it wasn't original. I really believe that what is written matters less than how. I really believe that there are only so many stories out there, and if we criticize stories for not being "new" or "original" we're eventually going to run out of neat stories.

But.

I didn't like this story because it wasn't original.

I think it was just the degree to which everything in this story resembled the canon (or cannon!) of the "growing horror and dread" subgenre. Plethora of unlikeable characters? Check. Arrogant scholars meddling in things they ought not to? Check. Growing horror and dread over the course of a series of events culminating in something terrible, but never completely explained? Triple check. The story wasn't just "not original," it was basically rote.

The narration, though, was brilliant and added a lot of character to the experience, character that the story... lacked.



Sgarre1

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Reply #13 on: January 11, 2012, 01:38:47 AM
Quote
I think it was just the degree to which everything in this story resembled the canon (or cannon!) of the "growing horror and dread" subgenre.

By this do you mean "suspense" or did you not actually mean subgenre?  I mean, "growing horror and dread" is a device, not a subgenre, at least that I'm aware of (I read "The Blue Lenses" by Daphne Du Maurier last night and it had a lot of "growing horror and dread", but no arrogant scholars and no unlikeable characters).  Or do you just mean "the Weird tale" which, at least, is a subgenre I can get my head around, even if I'd still argue it's more varied than your reductive assertion.  I feel like I'm somehow missing an enormous subgenre I've never heard of (this story reminded me a little of "The Story Of A Panic" by E.M. Forster, but that doesn't have scholars either, so...)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2012, 02:39:46 AM by Sgarre1 »



The Far Stairs

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Reply #14 on: January 11, 2012, 05:58:53 AM
It's interesting that this same discussion (pretty much) is going on over at the "Black Hill" thread. I felt that story was a little too rote in terms of the classic Lovecraft narrative pattern. I didn't think this one was, though. If anything, it reminded me of a Clive Barker story.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #15 on: January 11, 2012, 06:03:51 AM
Quote
I think it was just the degree to which everything in this story resembled the canon (or cannon!) of the "growing horror and dread" subgenre.

By this do you mean "suspense" or did you not actually mean subgenre?  I mean, "growing horror and dread" is a device, not a subgenre, at least that I'm aware of (I read "The Blue Lenses" by Daphne Du Maurier last night and it had a lot of "growing horror and dread", but no arrogant scholars and no unlikeable characters).  Or do you just mean "the Weird tale" which, at least, is a subgenre I can get my head around, even if I'd still argue it's more varied than your reductive assertion.  I feel like I'm somehow missing an enormous subgenre I've never heard of (this story reminded me a little of "The Story Of A Panic" by E.M. Forster, but that doesn't have scholars either, so...)

I think I meant suspense, of a certain kind, a meaning that was somewhat confused by my flippancy.

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justenjoying

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Reply #16 on: January 21, 2012, 04:11:26 AM
This was just super wierd and not really scary because of it. Supposedly the seams of the world where coming apart,
but the only hint to that is that he gets more and more scared. It was definitly an omage to Lovecraft, but that was about it.
Lovecraft would not be the peak of horror today and neither is this.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2012, 11:53:37 AM by justenjoying »



The Far Stairs

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Reply #17 on: January 22, 2012, 12:05:52 AM
This was just super wierd and not really scary because of it. Supposedly the seams of the world where coming apart,
but the only hint to that is that he gets more and more scared. It was definitly an omage to Lovecraft, but that was about it.
Lovecraft would not be the peak of horror today and neither is this.

I thought the surreal tone of the story was pretty scary. The guy started seeing crazy figures with horns at the end, which would seem to be more than him just getting scared, unless he's hallucinating.

We could argue whether or not Lovecraft would still be "the peak" of horror today (I think many of his stories hold up very well), but that would probably take forever. I'll just say that, far from being a "definite homage" to Lovecraft, I didn't notice a single detail in this story that was explicitly Lovecraftian. I might have missed one though. What did you have in mind?

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Robert Mammone

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Reply #18 on: January 22, 2012, 07:13:04 AM
This was just super wierd and not really scary because of it. Supposedly the seams of the world where coming apart,
but the only hint to that is that he gets more and more scared. It was definitly an omage to Lovecraft, but that was about it.
Lovecraft would not be the peak of horror today and neither is this.


A pity you didn't enjoy it but you've got to take the rough with the smooth.  It's definitely not a homage to Lovecraft - he's the author who wasn't in my head while I was writing it - it's a bit 'quieter' than what Lovecraft did.  Still, always interesting what interpretations readers/listeners bring to a story.

All the best!



Robert Mammone

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Reply #19 on: January 24, 2012, 09:53:01 PM
I should also say if anyone is after a copy of the story to read, e-mail me at rob.mammone (at) gmail.com and I'll send you a scan of it as it appeared in Midnight Echo (I think I forgot to mention it was originally published in the Australian Horror Writers Association mag, ME).



Robert Mammone

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Reply #20 on: December 29, 2022, 12:10:28 PM
Good Lord!  Is it really a touch over 11 years since Widdershins was released on this site?  Happy anniversary to me, and once again, many thanks for the kind and interesting comments!