Writer’s Corner: Hints from Lovecraft


H.P. Lovecraft was the Stephen King of his day, if King had been a depressive type with a thing for turning horror fiction into fantasies of existential dread. He’s remembered these days almost exclusively for his Cthulhu mythos, in which unlucky humans occasionally run afoul of the ancient deities whose foul existence predates known history and any sense of modern morality.

But Lovecraft was also a student of the form, and not just horror (though his writings on “weird” and supernatural fiction are excellent in themselves). In his essay “Literary Composition,” the master of eldritch horrors from beyond the ken of mere mortals opines on the proper way to turn a sentence. Here’s a few snippets of still-applicable advice on what to avoid:

  • Barbarous compound nouns, as viewpoint or upkeep.
  • Use of like for as, as “I strive to write like Pope wrote.”
  • Errors of taste, including vulgarisms, pompousness, repetition, vagueness, ambiguousness, colloquialism, bathos, bombast, pleonasm, tautology, harshness, mixed metaphor, and every sort of rhetorical awkwardness.

Keep an eye on that last one in particular, no matter how tempting the market may be for work filled with vulgarisms and bombast.

New in Theaters: ‘Unbroken’

Jack O'Connell faces down a sadistic prison guard in 'Unbroken' (Universal Pictures)
Jack O’Connell faces down a sadistic prison guard in ‘Unbroken’ (Universal Pictures)

unbroken-coverLaura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken has been sitting atop the bestseller lists for close to 200 weeks now, which is no surprise, given its incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, who went from a record-breaking performance running in the 1936 Berlin Olympics to being a brutalized Japanese prisoner of war. Angelina Jolie’s (yes, she directed) take on the book is respectful and professionally done, but never quite gets at what made Zamperini such a survivor.

Unbroken opened wide on Christmas Day. My review is at Film Racket:

If one learns anything from a handsomely-told World War II survival fable like Unbroken, it’s that if you are marooned at sea for weeks and then tossed into a brutal prison camp, it’s best to do so with an Olympic runner by your side…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Gambler’

Mark Wahlberg in 'The Gambler' (Paramount Pictures)
Mark Wahlberg educates the youth in ‘The Gambler’ (Paramount Pictures)

In the newest film from William Monaghan, writer of The Departed, Mark Wahlberg plays a professor who’s burning the candle at both ends, what with all the late-night gambling, fooling around with students, and those loan sharks who keep dropping by.

The Gambler opened wide on Christmas Day as a curious piece of award-film counter-programming. My review is at Film Journal International:

In the world of The Gambler, a hyperactive head-scratcher of an addle-brained disaster, many things are possible. Compulsive gamblers can play hand after hand of blackjack where the cards magically fall their way. Mobsters freely dispense philosophical koans like beads thrown from a Mardi Gras float. Level-headed, beautiful blondes get weak at the knees at the approach of self-centered boors. Mark Wahlberg can play a novelist and professor of literature. The film’s sense of realism is, to put it mildly, elastic. Not that this would necessarily matter were the material at hand more compelling. But this is a pulp confection that never manages to commit to the ludicrousness of its central conceit and ends up shortchanging the entire enterprise…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘American Sniper’

Bradley Cooper (right) as Chris Kyle in 'American Sniper' (Warner Bros.)
Bradley Cooper (right) as Chris Kyle in ‘American Sniper’ (Warner Bros.)

americansniper-cover1Before Chris Kyle was murdered at the age of 38, he had amassed a legendary kill record as an army sniper; possibly the most lethal one in American military history. His bestselling memoir, American Sniper, was originally planned as a Steven Spielberg project, but the film was ultimately directed by Clint Eastwood, no stranger to squint-eyed dramas of force and will.

American Sniper hit theaters today. My review is at Film Racket:

Bradley Cooper is rarely the sort to grab one’s attention at center stage; he only truly lights up films like American Hustle or The Hangover series when there’s a co-star for him to bounce his nervy patter and blue eyes off of. But Cooper’s performance as Kyle delivers the proper mix of humility and bottled-up frustration called for in a soldier from whom so much is expected. The film starts off with Kyle on a rooftop in Iraq, covering a column of Marines advancing through a city. He sees a woman hand a grenade to a young boy, who runs with the weapon towards the Marines. No other soldiers have eyes on the pair. His spotter reminds him that if he gets it wrong, “they’ll burn you”…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Holiday Reading: December 24, 2014


New in Theaters: ‘Two Days, One Night’

(IFC Films)
‘Two Days, One Night’ (IFC Films)

twodaysonenight-posterIn the latest film from the Dardennes brothers, Marion Cotillard deglams to play a factory worker who has to fight for her job in a particularly grueling way.  Hopefully, it’ll be the odds-on favorite for the Oscars next year.

Two Days, One Night opens on Christmas Eve in limited release and should expand around the country in the new year. My review is at Film Racket:

In the nervy pressure cooker Two Days, One Night, a hollow-eyed Belgian factory worker tries to convince her co-workers to keep her on at the company instead of getting a raise. The narrative is similar to those gladiator entertainments — see who wins and who goes home — but it’s structured around a different impulse. Here the protagonist is trying to succeed by convincing the other characters to listen to their altruistic instincts. It’s not the sort of thing people normally bet on…

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: The March from ‘Selma’

Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) leads the charge in 'Selma' (Paramount Pictures)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) leads the charge in ‘Selma’ (Paramount Pictures)

Selma-posterThe passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 might have technically outlawed most racist policies in the United States, but that didn’t stop much of it in practice. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led the march from Selma to Birmingham, he wasn’t just making a symbolic act, he was deliberating provoking die-hard racists in order to force President Lyndon Johnson to pass a law that would help stop racism on the ground: The Voting Rights Act.

Ava DuVernay’s spectacular protest film Selma opens on Christmas Day; make sure to check it out. My review is at PopMatters:

Throughout the film, King makes no apologies for inciting trouble. His detractors in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), including a young John Lewis (Stephan James), initially resent the SCLC showing up in Selma where they’ve been working on voter issues for years. When they suggest that King is a publicity hound, he doesn’t disagree. To him, the motivating principle of nonviolent protest is not only its moral imperative, but also its demonstration to white Americans the persistent costs of racism and segregation. To do this, he and his colleagues seek news coverage, to reveal stories of violent repression in their morning newspaper headlines and evening TV broadcasts…

The trailer is here: