Lisa's June 2018 Newsletter (#18)
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In this issue:

Hi Gang!

Firstly (I've been dying to use 'firstly' since I heard there's a conspiracy against it), welcome to all of you who might be here for the first time! As my longtime subscriber friends know, I try to make these monthly missives as entertaining as possible, so I hope you'll tag along for the (joy) ride.

There's some big news this issue, as I unleash my next book: I'm currently working on an annotated collection of classic ghost stories with the estimable Leslie R. Klinger, whose recent books include The Annotated Frankenstein and The Annotated Watchmen. Les and I think we've come up with a deliciously spooky collection of spirited gems, and we hope our introductions and notes will give even the most knowledgeable readers a little more insight into these masterworks.

Here's looking forward to a summer of reading and fun!

Lisa
Still Life
In which I rhapsodize about favorite movie photos from my collection
Whenever I see lists of the weirdest films ever made, I'm always surprised to see that Bugsy Malone isn't mentioned..

I'll bet a lot of you may not even have heard of Bugsy Malone, and are wondering why it's so damn weird. Well, let's tick off a few items:
  1. It's a musical gangster movie.
  2. No one in the cast is over the age of 12.
  3. Everything - from the cars to the machine guns that shoot cream pies - is scaled down for the kid actors.
  4. Jodie Foster plays a singing vamp named Tallulah.
  5. It's got an African American kid lip-syncing to Paul Williams.
  6. It was the first feature by the director of movies like Midnight Express and Angel Heart
  7. It's rated G.
Here's possibly the weirdest thing about this 1976 oddity: it's really good. For some reason, it's also vanished from American film memory - no DVD release, no CD soundtrack release - although it remains popular in Britain.

Does anyone else out there remember this oddity?

The still above is from the British lobby set.

 
The Halloween Spirit
Tips for keeping it going all year 'round
I love ghost shows.

I've talked about them in past newsletters, but here's a quick refresher course: ghost shows were horror-themed magic shows that toured the U.S. in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. They were usually paired with a horror movie, and ended with a black-out when the "ghostmasters" flew phosphorescent "ghosts" on hidden wires across the shrieking audience.

I was pleased to recently hear from my writing colleague and friend David Lucarelli that he was resurrecting the ghost show in 2018 (and what better way to celebrate the Halloween Spirit than with a ghost show?). Dr. Zomba's Ghost Show of Terror will have its world premiere this month. I had a chat with David about this amazing theatrical venture:

How did you first discover the ghost shows of the past?

I stumbled upon Mark Walker's excellent history of the ghost shows, "Ghost Masters," at Comic-con one year.

What made you think of doing one in 2018?

I wanted to experience one, particularly the immersive blackout sequence at the climax, and since hardly anyone is still doing them, I figured I had to write and put one on myself!

The traditional ghost shows were an intriguing mix of magic and horror. Have you been able to capture that mix?

I think so. Our twist is that that our revival of the ghost show has a plot that runs through it. It's both revival of the classic ghost show, and a play about a ghost show. 95 percent of it is played for laughs, but oh, that 5 percent!

I know you researched the old ghost shows in depth, reading actual stage manuals and how-to guides. Is there anything you found in those that you really wanted to try but just couldn't pull off?

There's a couple of things: the safety laws regarding the use of fire are a lot more strict than in the 1950's. But that's a good thing. We don't want to do anything that's unsafe. We also have to work within the limitations of the Fringe fest. Normally that means 15 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to tear down. We worked it out to get thirty minutes. There's some tricks we'll be able to add should the show go beyond the Fringe fest.

Have you had to educate your cast members in what ghost shows were?

Our star David M Beach was hand picked to be the successor to one of the all time ghost show greats, Doctor Silkini, for a planned revival. So he knew exactly what the ghost show was. Everybody else was easy to bring up to speed because certain vestages of the ghost show can be found today in things like TV horror hosts, haunted houses, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Ghost shows used to promote themselves in clever ways. Tell us about some of the promotion you've done.

One of the classic promotions we stole was have a child dressed up in a ghost costume holding a sign that says “Such and such's Ghost Show Unfair to Ghosts!" My son Calvin won that role and has been dressing up to help promote the show since Wondercon! This Sunday we're shooting a promo video that will be done in the style of the old newsreels. We contacted the phantom coaches hearse club, and found a member gracious enough to let use his hearse so that our troupe can arrive in style!

In these days when "interactive" is a buzz word and haunted attractions are big business, it almost seems like the time is ripe for a new wave of ghost shows. If "Dr. Zomba's Ghost Show of Terror!" is a hit, are you ready to step in and become the first great 21st century ghostmaster?

The ghost shows were "interactive" and "immersive," before those were even terms. We didn't just copy the ghost show manuals, we came up with a few new tricks and twists of our own to bring the Ghost Show to life. If the demand is there, we'd love to bring back an expanded version of the show this Halloween, and then turn it into an annual tradition!
Get Tickets to see Dr. Zomba!
Strange Fruit
The weirdest thing I've recently uncovered in my research
Okay, here's a crazy fact: sometimes I use my own books as research material.

For example: I was recently writing an introduction to the first work in my forthcoming anthology of classic ghost stories and I couldn't remember a few facts. That work, "Sweet William's Ghost", is a traditional ballad about a woman who doesn't know her lover has died until his ghost appears and attempts to lure her into a (deadly) kiss. 

Long before ghost stories like Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" were popular, ghosts appeared in poems and ballads. In fact, it seems likely that the first recorded use of a ghost outside of mythology or religion is in the epic poem "Gilgamesh", or specifically a chapter called "Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld." In this tale, Gilgamesh sends his great friend Enkidu into the Netherworld to retrieve a beloved ellag, or toy; he gives Enkidu a series of instructions to follow in order to survive his trip into the Netherworld, but of course Enkidu disregards the instructions.

There are different versions of the story in regards to Enkidu's return; in some, he returns in human form, but in others he is a ghost (zāqīqu). He proceeds to tell the curious Gilgamesh that his descriptions of the Netherworld will make him "sit down and weep!" Indeed, he says terrible things: in the leper's afterlife, for example, "He twitches like an ox as the worms eat at him."

So why did I start this by mentioning my own book? Because I'd already researched all of this (and used much of it) for Ghosts: A Haunted History. I guess when you've written as many non-fiction books as I have now, you need to remind yourself of the facts again!
Behind the Screams
About a Story
Netherworld 
 
Novels have been much on my mind lately...mainly because I'd like to write another one.

Although my first published novel was The Castle of Los Angeles, the first one I wrote was actually Netherworld. Because of its episodic nature - it follows a 19th-century British noblewoman, Lady Diana Furnaval, as she travels the globe and eventually other realms in search of her lost husband - it was an easier way for a short story writer like me to segue into novels.

It also (truthfully) started as a short story, in which the lead character was Dr. Van Helsing of Dracula fame, paying a visit to the East where he encounters goong-si, or Chinese vampires, which are very different indeed from the Transylvanian count. However, after I finished it, I started imagining a 19th-century version of The Avengers' Emma Peel fighting monsters and I rewrote the piece (which appeared in the anthology Midnight Walk as "Diana and the Goong-si"). 

But I still wasn't done with Diana; she kept simmering in the back of my brain, demanding a bigger adventure. So, when I decided it was time for me to try a novel, Diana strode right up and claimed center stage. 

That was a few years ago. I remain proud of the book, and readers are still discovering it and enjoying it. And as I struggle with writing a new novel, I look back on my experiences writing Netherworld and hope I've both grown since then and can still call up that excitement for crafting a novel.
Watch the trailer for Netherworld
WIP It
My current works-in-progress
So I can finally reveal what I've been hinting at for a while now...

Ghost Stories: Forgotten Classic Tales will be coming from Pegasus Books in 2019. My amazing co-editor Les Klinger and I have been hard at work on this for a while selecting the stories, and we're now in the midst of annotating them. We hope that modern readers will rediscover these wonderful stories through our book!

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats is now available in e-book and print from JournalStone. It collects four novellas, ten short stories, a new introduction by Nancy Holder, and new notes about the stories from me.
Keep Halloween Going!
Ghosts: A Haunted History
My acclaimed book Ghosts: A Haunted History is now available in an affordable trade paperback.
Haunt Yourself
CD Select: Lisa Morton
CD Select: Lisa Morton is a mini-collection gathering together four tales chosen by me, with accompanying notes. Available in either e-book or signed & limited hardcover edition.
Reserve Yours Now!
Scream and Scream Again!
Includes my YA story "Summer of Sharks". Coming in July 2018. 
Start Screaming!

Haunted Nights

This anthology of all-new Halloween (and Dia de los Muertos/Devil's Night/All Souls' Eve) fiction features sixteen stories by some of the genre's hottest authors. The anthology received a starred and boxed review in Publishers Weekly, as well as raves from Rue Morgue, Locus, and many others.
Haunt Your Nights!
The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming
This volume in Stephen Jones's "mosaic novel" includes two chapters by me. Coming in November 2018.
Pre-order Now
Unspeakable Horror 2
Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire is the long-awaited follow-up to the Bram Stoker Award-winning first book. Includes my story "Ofrenda".
Get Unspeakable
The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories
Includes my story "The Ultimate Halloween Party App". Coming September 2018.