Travel Post – New York (Part 2)

A Souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest

A souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest 

The first day in McKee’s genre fest was dedicated to horror. Ask me five years ago if I’d be writing my own tales about the darker side of life and I would have told you you’re mad. Nowadays I see the beauty in plumbing the dank, dreary depths of the human condition. Fear is a powerful force. It tears off the mask we wear for social acceptance and sinks its claws right into our subconscious. Horror is the one genre that has the potential to reveal our true selves: the good, the bad and the repulsive. It’s also a powerful medium for society’s response to polarizing topics like war, political corruption, and racism. Take the film Get Out for instance. Try to reframe that story as a simple family drama and see if it makes the same impact. Mr. McKee’s presentation had a lineup of film clips that demonstrated superb examples of spooky cinematography tricks, scare tactics and underlying themes in horror: eternal damnation, the monster within, and not so surprisingly, sex.

Since sex is such an anxiety-inducing topic for many Americans, it makes sense that this would be a core element in most U.S. horror films. And it was soon after Mr. McKee made this point that I observed a relevant example of this from the audience around me; a distinct difference in how horror affects us depending on our gender. Now I must take a small detour down a dark and thorny path. The especially squeamish may want to skip the next paragraph.

Out of all the horrific imagery of bizarre gore and gratuitous violence seen that day, do you know what elicited an audible groan from the men in the audience? The scene that made them most uncomfortable? A small, infamous snippet from the 1978 film, I Spit On Your Grave. Without getting too graphic, it involves a woman murdering a man out of revenge by cutting off his “ahem” and locking him in the bathroom to bleed out in a bathtub. Absolutely vile and cringe-worthy? Of course. But speaking from a female-identifying perspective, where the sexual violation and abuse of women is sadly a historical norm, this kind of sexual violence against a human body seems almost run-of-the-mill.

The fact that it happened to a man, however, is not.

It was a jarring example of how removed from empathy a majority of men are when considering the trauma many women live through every day. I don’t necessarily fault men for this, but consider how many countless films depict the sexual violation of women. How often do you see men squirming in their seats or averting their eyes at such a scene? It’s a dark, twisted perpetuation of human behavior that the patriarchal society shrugs at because, well, that’s just how it’s always been. The terrible truth is that most women will suffer some form(s) of physical abuse in their life because of their sex, especially in minority and trans communities. I’m in no way devaluing the experiences of male-identifying individuals who have suffered similar abuse. I only aim to point out an observation that a strong majority of the male population don’t seem quite as affected by the representation of violence against a person’s sex…until it’s their own. As gender fluidity increases in society, it is my hope that we’ll empathize beyond our own corporal boundaries and realize that harm to any“body” is intolerable.

I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

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Autumn in New York

The following seminars were just as eye-opening. Every day Mr. McKee broke down a film scene by scene, pointing out all the key genre elements that made it a successful story. I hadn’t seen Bridges of Madison County before this seminar and let me tell you, I cried like I had just seen a parade of dead puppies. It was very embarrassing to be sobbing and sopping snot from my nose in front of fellow colleagues. Good stories are supposed to move us, whether it’s wetting our seat in fear or doubling over in a fit of silent laughter…you know the kind where your face is frozen in an ugly-cry expression, your nostrils flare and you can’t breathe. A good story gives us a memorable experience and binds us together because of it.

For any budding writers out there, I can say whole-heartedly that Mr. McKee’s seminars are worth every penny. (No, I’m not being paid to write this.) I’ve dedicated most of my free time outside of writing to study great works in film, television, and literature and I like to think I have a pretty solid foundation of what makes a good story tick. I even expose myself to some pretty terrible material to understand why it’s so bad. But Mr. McKee’s complete and thorough understanding of successful story structure made me realize I still had more to learn. And I was most impressed by his genuine love of sharing this knowledge. He engaged us in thought-provoking debates and on every break throughout the day he made himself available for one-on-one questions, conversation and book signings. Nothing about his presentation felt mechanical. I can only imagine how many times he’s given these same lectures and been asked the same questions, yet he approached each day’s lecture with the enthusiasm of a passionate, seasoned professor. I left these seminars invigorated and inspired, eager to bring new energy and a critical eye to my works in progress.

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Veteran’s Day Parade preparations 

On the final morning of my stay, the city was buzzing with more activity than usual. It was Monday, November 11th and the streets around Madison Square Park were clogged with motorcyclists, floats and hundreds of uniformed men and women for the annual Veteran’s Day parade. I found myself surrounded by military faces easily 15+ years younger than me. Kids, really; each one with an air of discipline beyond their years. I had to leave before the parade kicked off but the celebration of honor and gratitude for all these service members lifted my spirits for the trip back home. I’m glad I gave myself permission to enjoy this little sidetrack. Sometimes being a responsible adult means making time for that little kid inside you that tugs your sleeve, points to your heart’s desires and says, “Let’s do that!”

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Veteran’s Day Parade

By: Erica Ruhe

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Travel Post – New York City (Part 1)

Bow Bridge, Central Park

Bow Bridge Central Park 

A few months ago I found out Robert McKee would be in New York City in November to host a week of his famous story seminars. It would kick off on Monday with the marketing workshop “Storynomics” and the genre days would follow: horror, action, romance and comedy. The genre fest immediately snared my full interest. I’ve been trying to do the whole “responsible adult thing”, keeping my expenditures in a moderate budget, holding myself back from another travel adventure. But as soon as I saw this opportunity, my miserly conscious ripped open the purse strings and said, “This is a business trip and an investment in your writing career!” Who was I to argue with that totally legitimate and tantalizing rationalization? I booked my travel, giving myself a day and a half of city exploration, and the rest of the time I would dutifully plant myself in a theater seat for the seminars.

Central Park Rowboats

Central Park

There is something quite magical about New York in the fall. And it’s not just a sentiment drummed up from the multitude of romantic films set in the city. The trees are aflame in gold leaves; window displays and building exteriors emit the first twinkle of holiday lights; and the cooler weather tamps down the odors of mysterious biological evacuations that stripe and splotch the pavement. Ah yes, New York City. It’s kinda like a toddler: a noisy, smelly, temperamental stain-factory that still manages to capture your heart. I had three things I wanted to check off my must-do list: stroll the High Line, wander aimlessly through Central Park and make a pilgrimage to pay homage to The Stonewall Inn.

The Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn

I’d visited NYC last summer on the heels of PRIDE week and one of the most memorable sights I’d ever seen was the night sky lit up by the rainbow glow of the Empire State Building. It seriously brought tears to my eyes. The tragedies and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community occupy a big, special place in my heart and I have a great appreciation for their culture and bigger-than-life approach to love. I’d arrived at The Stonewall Inn during off-hours but enjoyed a few moments of quiet contemplation at the site. I spent part of the afternoon walking the streets of the neighborhood reflecting on the history made there; the heroes that were unwittingly born from the riots in ’69; the change that would unfold over the years; the representation of PRIDE in the world today. I would’ve loved to have attended a drag show while I was there but I normally work overnights and resetting my schedule back to daylight hours completely body-slammed me face first in my hotel pillow by sundown. Next time…

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line is truly a gem in the city and another shining example of a popular amenity that wouldn’t be around without the history and efforts of the gay community. Partially opened in 2009, it’s an abandoned elevated train line turned linear pedestrian park full of green spaces, art installations and unique, cinematic shots of west side Manhattan. Instead of its original destiny of demolition, Friends of the High Line and the surrounding neighborhoods rallied for its preservation and thus, the infrastructure was repurposed as a popular new park spanning nearly one and half miles from the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea, up to 34th Street. At the end of this lovely trek was one of those ubiquitous food stands and the smell of fresh French fries. It was like crossing a rainbow bridge to the fried pot of gold at the end.

The High Line - Window Overlook at 10th Ave. & 17th St.

The geniality I encounter in this city always amazes me. Living in Florida for almost twenty years has given me an unfair impression of New Yorkers. Here, I have only been witness to a rather rude and discontented variety which led me to believe all New Yorkers were like this. Yet in my explorations of the city streets, whenever someone needed assistance (myself included) there was always an eager expression on a nearby face and a helpful prompt.

At the Bus Depot: “Whatcha looking for, sweetie?”

On a street corner: “Need some help, buddy?”

At a construction site: “Careful, guys! Watch your arms, hands, legs, feets and bunions!”

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Even getting an order of fries from the guy at the food stand was like chatting with a long lost friend of the family whose sole focus in that moment was genuinely enjoying his conversation with you while making sure you get the best damn fries in all of New York.

“This sauce is special. It’s my own recipe, from my grandmother; a secret marinade with garlic, some sherry and a little bit of mint. Promise you, these are the best fries in New York.”

And yes, they were the best damn fries I’d had in all of New York.

Central Park was just as fantastic as I imagined it would be. Get a few paces in to that walkway through the trees and the sounds of the city just disappear. The sky was clear, the temperature was mild. Herds of families enjoyed an afternoon stroll, musicians played to tourists for tips, friends laughed in rowboats on the lake. I could have spent hours on a bench people-watching but the daylight was short and my stomach demanded more sustenance.

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park (1)

I settled in for dinner at a newfound favorite: P.S. Kitchen. I’d had the privilege to enjoy a few of its vegan delicacies last year and knew I had to come back on this trip. The food is phenomenal and the service is excellent. The ambiance is like dining in one of those cozy Pinterest-meets-Etsy photos full of cream and eggshell tones, warm lighting and weathered, exposed brick walls. It’s the perfect oasis to escape the fall cold and city buzz.

The Holiday Season Approaches

The Holiday Season 

Vegan Caesar salads and French fries are my crude measuring stick of a culinary experience when I explore a new U.S. destination. Not very exquisite, I know, but it brings my little plant-based heart joy. So far only one rivals the vegan Caesar served at Darbster’s in Lake Worth, Florida and that’s P.S. Kitchen’s. As I was enjoying it I was actually struck with a moment of horror, thinking, “Okay, this is way too rich to be vegan. Did I order the wrong salad?!” But no, it was just that good. Then came the creamy Colombian potato soup, poured into the bowl right at the table. (Ooh, la la.) Followed by a maple roasted honeynut squash sandwich with herbed almond ricotta and pecan pesto on a crispy-soft focaccia bread. (Hold me.) And the non-alcoholic specialty drink called “The Pumpkin Patch” was swoon-worthy. (No kidding. Nearly fell right out of my seat after the first sip.) It was like a farmer had just milked a fresh pumpkin pie, shook that up to get a nice frothy head and then poured it on ice…I…I really don’t know how else to describe it. The Dutch like to portray this experience as an angel peeing on your tongue and, oddly, it seems a fitting analogy because the whole meal left me throwing my hands up in praise. (Which the staff kindly asked me to stop because I was making other patrons uncomfortable.) Plus, when dining here the warm and fuzzies are doubled knowing that the restaurant’s profits are donated to charity.

I merged in to the stream of foot traffic, admiring the city’s colorful transition from day to night, and hoofed my way back to my hotel on 24th. After a hot shower, I lay curled up in bed exhausted and content. It was only day one but I was already grateful I’d seized this opportunity. There really is no place quite like New York City.

The Lake at Central Park

Lake at Central Park

By: Erica Ruhe

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

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Flash Fiction: Driver, Surprise Me

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I could still feel Rex’s hands wrapped around my neck when I met Damon. I shuddered at the thought. Maybe it was because he was wearing a suit, or maybe because I needed a getaway car, but when Damon stopped the car to ask me if I needed a lift I nodded – still dazed from the lack of oxygen. It was only after I got in that I noticed them. The whole back seat was lined up with porcelain dolls. Their glassy eyes and red lips painted in a perpetual smirk kind of creeped me out.

“Where to?” he asked, dazzling me with his smile.

I gulped – unsure of where I was headed. I hadn’t planned that far ahead when I ran out of the apartment.

“The bus station,” I hesitated.

“Getting out of the city?”

I nodded.

“Where to?”

“Florida,” I lied.

He nodded, as he tried to make small talk but I wasn’t listening.

I kept staring at the rearview mirror so I could steal glances at the dolls. I was transfixed by their disarming beauty and impeccable detail. Each doll dressed in a particular style, goth, hippy, posh, 17th century baroque, to mention a few. Once he caught me staring at them, our gaze met in the mirror for a fraction of a second before I quickly diverted my focus.

I looked down at my hands. Thought about how they had been covered in blood an hour ago. My mind raced, replaying the scene. The blade coming down and his hands around my neck. He didn’t think I had it in me. He thought I was weak. But boy, had he been wrong. Dead wrong. I stifled a chuckle.

“They used to be broken you know…” Damon interrupted my thoughts.

“What?”

“The dolls. I fixed them.” There was something about the way his eyes moved over my body that made me feel as though he were prying into my very core.

“Oh,” I replied. I suddenly felt uncomfortable. The space between us seemed too little at that moment, and I willed him to drive faster. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, he suddenly brought the car to an abrupt stop. I would’ve flung forwards and probably through the windshield if I hadn’t worn my seat belt. Before I had a chance to react, a rag covered my mouth and I blacked out.

I’ve gotten used to it by now. Sitting here and waiting for the night to go by as he drives throughout the city. He fills our nights with music as we ride. The Doors, Nirvana, at times even Queen. We’re in a loop, hapless passengers of a demonic ride. We pass through Soho, Park Avenue, across the Brooklyn Bridge. My glassy eyes take in the city lights while my red lips are frozen in a perpetual smirk.

But I’m no longer broken.

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Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

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The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Plot Summary:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Grade: A

Review:

Soon after reading The Last Time I Lied, I picked up Final Girls (I still need to read it) and of course requested a copy of Lock Every Door the second it was available on NetGalley. Luckily, I managed to snag a copy. There’s something about Riley Sager that I just LOVE. He always manages to incorporate some horror aspect into his thriller novels. For example, with Lock Every Door, Jules is a recently laid-off worker, and finds work as a housesitter in the exclusive Bartholomew Building (in which she and her sister used to obsess about since their favorite book was set there), and for some reason the book gave me some serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes. Maybe because of the uber-rich, yet creepy neighbors, or the fact that it’s alluded that the building is cursed and witches may be involved. However, this being a Sager novel means that although it may give you horror vibes, it never ventures off into supernatural.

I found Jules to be very relatable, as I think we can all identify with her. She was a hard worker in college, received a degree thinking she could better her social standing, instead, she ends up working a crummy office job in which she gets laid off from, and in her desperation to find a new living situation (her loser boyfriend cheated on her), she falls for an ad on Craigslist that is looking for a housesitter. Now, if Jules economic situation hadn’t been so fire, she would’ve bailed at the first inkling of something being amiss at the Bartholomew, but since beggars can’t be chooser’s, she sticks it out even when us readers are yelling, GET THE FUCK OUT!

Some aspects of the story seem kind of over the top, but I feel like it works, or at least Sager has enough thriller cred to make it work. This book is perfect any of you who love mysteries, thrillers, or horror (cause even though it’s not horror it DOES have a lot of horror vibes running throughout).

I really enjoyed this book a lot and have a feeling that Sager will become one of my fave new authors.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dutton for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Empire State Building Visit

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During my one week vacation where I visited four cities, one of the stops was New York City. Being someone who loves seeing the skylines of cities from high buildings, one of the places I had to go to was the Empire State Building. This building was the tallest building in the world from 1930-1970. It’s a 102-story skyscraper that is situated on Fifth Avenue.

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The visitors wishing to visit the building may do so by purchasing a ticket for $31. There’s only two places that the visitors are allowed to go to. The 80th floor to see the city from behind the windows, and then 86th floor where there’s Observatory Deck that you can go outside and see the city from there. The view from up there is absolutely breath-taking and very much worth the visit. It’s probably the tallest building I’ve ever been up to, and in a way being up that high kinda felt the same way when you’re up on a high mountain.

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Apart for having a penchant for tall buildings, another reason why I wished to visit the Empire State Building is because one of my favorite photos depicts a suicide where a young woman (Evelyn McHale) lept to her death from the 86th floor to land upon a limousine parked directly below. Since the opening the Observatory there’s been about thirty suicides, and actually a few that didn’t result in death.

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So if you’re planning to visit New York City, I absolutely recommend visiting the Empire State Building. You won’t regret it!

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For more info visit: https://www.esbnyc.com/

By: Azzurra Nox