Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Creeped Me Out

It’s true.

But it’s not the fault of the film or anyone who worked on the film. I quite liked it. Baz Luhrman’s slick, dizzy filmmaking melded well with the slick, dizzy decade of the 1920s. I even liked the modern hip-hop music, which I felt added to the party atmosphere rather than detract from it. The cast did a great job with difficult material, and DiCaprio, Maguire, and Mulligan poured their hearts into their roles. 

No, The Great Gatsby creeped me out for the same reason that other films, music, TV shows, and photographs of and about that decade creep me out:  

It, well ... seems so familiar.

Now, I should state right here that I do not believe in reincarnation. It’s a fascinating concept, and the idea of a cosmic ‘do-over’ is almost too romantic to pass up. I have a ledger of mistakes and regrets that I’d love to shelve in my coffin and forget about. Plus, there’s always a chance that my next incarnation could be something fun, like an eagle or a wiener dog.

But there’s the problem of evidence. Namely, that there is none. And because of this, reincarnation is an act of faith, despite the protestations of apologists. Yes, I know the story of Jeffrey Keene. Yes, I do know who Dr. Ian Stevenson was. I’m still not convinced.

Yet, the familiarity persists.  

By familiar, I’m not talking about the vague recognition I feel when watching a western. The wagons and cowboy hats and six shooters and wise-crackin’ prostitutes are familiar because I’ve seen them in a dozen other western movies. No, I’m talking about a deep familiarity, a type of sensory osmosis that seeps through the screen or through the audio track or through the portrait. 

The feeling of an ivory cigarette holder pinched between two fingers.

The hot touch of a Ford Model A on a summer day.

The itch at the back of the neck from a wool suit jacket.

The soft clack of a pearl necklace when dancing the foxtrot.  

I’ve told a few friends about this, and those few friends (who do believe in reincarnation) have pointed to my experience as proof. This is proof, and I'm just being stubborn. What else could it possibly be? 

And I suppose they could be right. Perhaps I did live in the 20s. One particular friend declared that she was Zelda and I was F. Scott Fitzgerald. This could be true, although everyone was someone famous, weren’t they? Most likely, I was just some dapper ‘sheik’ who, one night, drank too much wood alcohol and thought he could fly. That sounds more like me.      

Plus, I’ve always struggled with The Great Gatsby. It is great, but I’m not always sure why it’s great. Perhaps my internal editor reincarnated with me!

Let’s suppose for a moment that all this is true, and I was alive in the 1920s. What do I do with this information? Investigate through regression hypnosis? Regression hypnosis has even less evidence than reincarnation. Search for a photo of my likeness? What if I wasn’t a Fitzgerald, but a Zelda? Then the search for a photo would be futile.

Maybe it’s all psychological. I could be suffering from Golden Age Thinking.

I first learned about this disorder from the Woody Allen film, “Midnight in Paris”. In that film, writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) doesn’t like his modern life and yearns for Paris in the 1920s. In one scene, he and his friends are touring Versailles when Paul (Michael Sheen) says that Golden Age Thinking is: “The erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one, one’s living in.”

This could be true, although I do enjoy my computer and my Ipod and my pizza pockets. On the other hand, I do understand Gil’s romanticism of that time period. A chance to hang out with Hemingway, meet Picasso, and appear in a Dali painting alongside a rhinoceros? Yes please!

A few years ago, I found out that I’m not alone in this phenomenon. A musician friend told me that she has the same feeling about the 1970s. Somehow, she knows that period in history, and movies like "Almost Famous" feel all too familiar to her.    

Perhaps we all have a comfortable time period, a place in history where our personality would be better suited. Perhaps that explains it. Maybe I just like the 1920s.

But that doesn’t feel right either. Like can’t explain the constricting tightness of a bow tie (which I’ve never worn), or the smoke and sweat stink of a speakeasy, or the baffling crush I’ve always had on Mary Pickford.   

The easiest explanation? I have an overactive imagination. But as a writer, I’ve spent more time with my imagination than I have with any flesh and blood person. I know those ghosts when they come to visit.

These sensations don’t come from the same place. They come from an Other place. And they are always fleeting, vanishing once I stop watching the movie, or close the book, or look away from the photograph.

But when I return to them, they return to me, a vague reflection in an indistinct mirror.

Monday, 22 April 2013

And Vows

Hey everyone! Here's my contribution to the Dark Fairy Queen Writerly Bridal Shower. 

Title: And Vows 

Author: J. Birch 

ebook: Yes 

“This is madness.”

Ella crumpled the page. Then she flattened it out. Then she read it again. “Madness.” She ripped it into strips and tossed it into the air. It landed in her hair and in her lap and snuck down the back of her blouse. It itched.

She opened her window and stared at the oak on her front lawn. Her fingernails tapped the windowsill. A robin chirped.


She spun around in her chair, stood, and stepped away from the typewriter, note pads, and pencils. On the dresser, Billie Holiday sang Glad to be Unhappy from her portable radio.  


Billie sang.

“I put a man on Mars,” Ella said, tugging the hem of her blouse. She felt the strip tumble out. “I put a woman on Venus. I sent Stitch and Drake to Nebulous Prime to fight the Comet Lords. But I just, can’t…” She marched over to her bookcase and pulled A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Planets by E.A. Smith off the shelf.

Opening the book, she said, “343 pages of words.” She tossed the book onto her bed. She pulled out The Nero of Neptune and said, “238 pages of good, strong, words.” She tossed it. The book struck the bed and bounced. “For crying out loud, I’ve been published in Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Galaxy, and Future!”

A breeze disturbed the sheets of blank paper on her desk. She returned to her chair and grabbed a pencil. 

Outside, the robin chirped.

She threw the pencil at it and then grabbed another. At the top of the page she wrote the words future and Sam. “Bother.” She tapped the pencil on the page.

She wasn’t good at near future. She was good at far future: jammed airlocks on a super intelligent space station, gaseous beings on Pluto, slime monsters in the sewers of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. Not churches crammed with people in tuxes and dresses—

“And white gowns.” She slumped. “And vows.”

A crisp black and white photo of Sam stood beside her typewriter. She lifted it. “And handsome grooms in black.”  

She set the picture down. She tapped the pencil on her chin. “From the day we first met … no. I knew we would be … no.”

It must be perfect and special and cause those brown eyes to widen and those lips to smile and it must make him proud. “I vow to love no no no!

The pencil flew out the window. It clattered on the sidewalk.

Ella leaned on her elbows and propped up her chin. She shut her eyes. On the radio, Miles Davis felt Blue in Green.

How did she feel about Sam? How did she feel. She opened her eyes and looked at his picture. He was tall and handsome and loved to dance and whispered in her ear when they danced. He read Jules Verne and D.C. Fontana. She loved him, of course. She saw babies in-between deadlines.

And in five days, she’d see him at the church with her white gown and his priest. And a congregation.

And blasted vows.

She plucked another pencil. 

“I vow…”

She touched the pencil to the page.

“I want to…”

The pencil started looking aerodynamic.


She paused at the word you. She swallowed her lower lip.

And then she had it. She had it!

* * *

The church was full. Sam stood before her in his black tux. She stood before him in her white gown. He held her hands, saying, “From the day we first met, I knew we would be together. I knew I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life.” He paused. “My dear bride; I vow to love you now. I vow to love you forever.”

Father Maxwell nodded. The congregation nodded. Ella’s mother and Sam’s mother started bawling in unison.

“And Ella?” Father Maxwell said. “Your vows?”

Ella nodded and breathed. She resisted the urge to swallow her lip. Pews creaked as the congregation leaned forward to listen.

“Sam,” she said, gazing into his eyes. She squeezed his hands. She smiled. “You will always give me writer’s block.”

Monday, 25 March 2013

Q&A with Anne Michaud, author of "Girls & Monsters"

Excerpt from "Death Song": 

Something catches in the back of my throat. I hide my face in my hands to quiet the sobs. But then, something ain’t right. Air moves around me and I stop. I look between my fingers, but the blur of my tears thickens everything: the bathtub, the towels, and someone on the floor. A woman’s in here with me, door still closed and locked. An exhale, like after a deep swim, and a smell, like the swamp close to my empty home. A chill runs down my back, I wipe my eyes, rub and scratch them to see more clearly. And I do.

Recently, I was given the privilege of reading an advanced copy of “Girls & Monsters”, a collection of YA horror stories by author Anne Michaud. After diving into her twisted world of lake monsters, giant spiders and blood thirsty dogs, I emerged with a plethora of questions not only about this newest collection, but also about her fascination with the macabre, and the craft of writing. 

J: Hi Anne, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your newest collection, “Girls & Monsters”. As I made my way through, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between your style and that of Stephen King. Was he an influence on your writing?

AM: Actually, I’ve only read Salem's Lot from King, and although everybody says he's a great writer, I've never been tempted to read his other novels. I know, I can hear people groan, too.

J: Who else would you cite as an influence?

AM: I really love Neil Gaiman, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Suzanne Collins, Jean-christophe Rufin and Edgar Allan Poe. I love different genres with darkness as a common thread.

J: Why did you choose to write a YA novel? Do you write specifically YA, or have you written novels for adult readers as well?

AM: The thing is, writing young characters automatically puts your book into the YA category, even if you don't deal with teen angst and sweet emotions. I've never imagined myself writing for YA. When I was young, I read books for adults, but now that I am one, I prefer stories aimed at a younger audience. I might need therapy.

J: Is writing therapy for you?

AM: I strongly believe it is. I do like to base my antagonists on people I hate in real life—and then let all hell break loose. I highly recommend it, by the way. It feels great after you kill them off, but you don't go to jail. One stone, two birds.

J: There is a continuous theme of small towns in these stories. What inspired you to use small towns as a theme?

AM: I come from a small town and live in one at the moment, living close to my own family and my beloved niece, which reflects in my own stories. Although I've had addresses in Montreal and London, I’ve never truly felt that I belong in a big city.

J: These stories seem to be centered around American characters or locales. Why the decision to make these stories American-centric instead of Canadian?

AM: Good question. Let me think. I have not a clue. I mean, I've travelled in the US many times. I love NYC, LA, Maine and Vermont, so that might be it. I write what I love, which means living in a small town in the USA, it seems.

J: Have you considered writing any stories which take place in Canada? Do you have any Canadian themed projects planned for the future?

AM: I do! The third installment of my French books will take place where I live at the moment, on the south shore of Montreal.

J: Short fiction writing can be difficult when it comes to character building. Did you find the restricted word count a hindrance when constructing believable characters?

AM: No, I think it’s the exact opposite. Since you have so little lines to bring someone from your mind to life, you have to be precise without lingering on useless thoughts and actions. Although I restricted these novellas to a 12k word count, there was still space for the characters to shine through. Well, I hope so.

J: Was it a challenge to squeeze in backstory for your primary characters?

AM: No, because I've never been a fan of long flashbacks, so my approach was to keep them short, sweet, and effective. You never need much, anyway. 

J: What attracts you to the horror genre?

AM: The no boundaries approach to it. Even if my collection is dark horror and not gory-gross-super-scary horror, I let myself be guided by what creeps me and other people out: going insane, suburbia, things at the bottom of a lake, one big spider and leaving everything you love behind. Horror has so many levels, you can just pick one and go with it. Plus, the authors are cooler.

J: Are there any horror genres that you feel have reached a saturation point? And are there any genres that you’d like to see better represented?

AM: I am fed up with nice vampires and white trash werewolves. They are supposed to be beasts, so how come everyone wants to tame them into humans? I just want my monsters to remain monsters. I do hope vamps and wolves become hungry and angry again, and soon.

J: How long have you been writing?

AM: This, intensely, for about eight years. It started with screenwriting and now is exclusively novellas and novels. Almost. I have this idea brewing for a script that’s begging to come out, so I'll attack it this summer.

J: Which comes easier for you: writing scripts or novels?

AM: A script is faster to write, but a novel gets deeper. On the screen, characters mostly develop through dialogue and action. In a novel, characters think and describe feelings through inner monologue. These days, I think in novel-length for every story, so my answer is: novels.

J: How much does music influence your writing process? Do you play music while writing, and if so, which artists?

AM: I cannot write if there's no music playing. Although The Cure is my favorite band of all time, I cannot listen to them while I'm working. Instead, Nine Inch Nails, Vast, O.Children, James, Mumford & Sons, The Box, John Denver and many others accompany me while I write. I block if silence surrounds me, but I also can’t write surrounded by people. I'm just special. 

J: Are you currently working on any new projects?

AM: Oh hell yeah! I'm almost done with the sequel, “Girls & Aliens”. After that, I’ll be starting its last installment: “Girls & Ghosts”. Then, I have to edit this French novella about Hiroshima, a script about a musician and his muse, and it's back to Rebel for the 365th draft.

J: Thanks, Anne, this has been a pleasure.

Anne Michaud’s “Girls & Monsters” will be available for purchase on April 30th through You can find her online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @annemichaud.

Enter here for a free softcover copy of "Girls & Monsters" plus The Monster Collection Skellies: 5 pieces handcrafted by the author. The winner will be announced during Anne's exclusive live chat at 9PM EST on April 30th.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Visual Dare 1: Between

To check out the other Visual Dare entries, visit Angela Goff's Blog: 

We’ll Fall

Her wings are granite. Her eyes are white. She’s wrinkled with cracks. Her toe is missing. 

I’ll catch her when she falls. When the mortar cracks and she tumbles, I’ll catch her and we’ll fall together. We’ll smash on the sidewalk and cheer like scattering coins.

She is beautiful.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Blog Hoppin'

Hey everyone! My friend and fellow author  Julianne Snow tagged me for a blog hop. And when you're tagged, you must respond! Although some of these questions are directed toward a WIP, I've decided to shed a little more light on my book Gasher Creek. Here are the questions and answers:

1. What is the working title of your book? 
- Gasher Creek.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? 
- To be honest, I'm not sure. I wanted to write a book about loneliness, and thought a western would be a good setting for that. Gasher ended up turning into a book about guilt, but I still think the genre fits.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
- Western, although there are both mystery and paranormal elements to it.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
- I think Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead would do well as Sheriff Tracker. Jack is a little more difficult. He's a very enigmatic character. Not sure.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
- Geez, that's a tough one. Boy thinks he's a murderer, boy runs away, boy can't outrun his past?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
- Self-published. This was a very difficult decision but I'm glad I did it.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
- I'm thinking three or four months. It was quite a long time ago now.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your own genre?
- Honestly not sure. I'm not a big western reader. This story just wanted to be a western. Elmer Kelton and Elmore Leonard are fantastic western writers though. Same with Richard Matheson.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
- It just sorta popped in my head.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? 
- The most common comment I've been getting is "I'm not a western fan, but I like it." Not being a big western reader myself, I don't think I wrote a western in the traditional sense. Gasher Creek's skin is a western, but there's so much more beneath. It's a drama about guilt, it's a mystery, and it's a paranormal thriller.

TAGGED: The amazing and awesome Thea Gregory . She'll be posting her answers on the 9th of January. Thanks for reading everyone!