Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Mary Anning truly was a remarkable creature.  Born in 1799, she was struck by lightning at the age of one and survived.  Living with her family in the village of Lyme Regis on the southern coast of Britain, little Mary spent many hours on the beach with her father searching for “curies” or “curiosities” which were in fact fossils of many prehistoric creatures such as ammonites, crinoids and belemnites.  To Mary and her family, “curies” were a way to put food on the table.  They collected the specimens and then sold them to the tourists who visited the coastal resort each summer. 

When the three spinster Philpot sisters move from London to Lyme Regis, Elizabeth Philpot takes an interest in Mary and her fossils.  A collector herself, Elizabeth joins Mary in scouring the beaches and uses her connections in aristocratic circles to help her sell her finds.  When Mary discovers a “monster” embedded in the rock, she unknowingly uncovers the first documented dinosaur, the first of many finds to come, and Elizabeth must fight to see that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.

Chevalier has taken a real life person in Mary Anning and fictionalized her life and accomplishments.  At the time that Mary lived, science was a man’s world and hunting fossils was not considered a suitable pursuit for women.  It was seen as “an unladylike pursuit, dirty and mysterious.”   Although she made major contributions to the world of paleontology, Mary was never given the credit she deserved and was mostly forgotten, though several of her finds are still on display in museums today. 

Alternating between the voice of Mary and the voice of Elizabeth, the chapters emphasize the class differences between the two women and highlight their unlikely friendship, including both mutual admiration and, at times, barely disguised envy and jealousy.  Not just a book about fossils, Remarkable Creatures is also an examination of the roles of women in society, and in the world of science, at a time when being a spinster at the age of 25 or spending time in “unladylike” pursuits such as fossil hunting were looked upon with suspicion and derision.

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Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost

Writers workshop of horror So you want to be a horror writer . . .

Then you must first understand the genre and learn techniques from masters of the craft. The Writers Workshop of Horror places the expertise of some of horror’s finest authors at your fingertips, and Michael Knost has organized an informative collection of essays and interviews about the craft of writing tales of dread.

The Writers Workshop begins with Elizabeth Massie’s excellent piece on “Creating Effective Beginnings” and follows the process of crafting a short story or novel through Brian Yount’s “Ten Submission Flaws That Drive Editors Nuts.”

The essays aren’t dull, because each of the authors imbues his or her own special stamp on subjects ranging from voice to editing. Jeff Strand’s essay on “Adding Humor to Your Horror” was crafted with Strand’s wit, and I found myself enjoying his writing so much, I forgot he was teaching.

I was doubly delighted with both an essay and an interview with Ramsey Campbell. Mr. Campbell writes about rediscovering “awe and supernatural dread” with his essay “The Height of Fear.” Using such masters as Edgar Allan Poe, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James, and other great authors, Campbell teaches the student of horror how to utilize prose to evoke sublime terror for the reader.

Michael Knost also interviews Mr. Campbell, giving him the opportunity to expound on the craft of writing horror. If Ramsey Campbell’s dark tales aren’t your speed, check out Gary Frank’s interview with F. Paul Wilson, who gives some nice tips about writing a series.

Tim Deal interviews Tom Piccirilli, who talks about the business of writing, and if you’re a Tom Piccirilli fan, you don’t want to miss Mr. Piccirilli’s essay on “Exploring Personal Themes.”

Lucy A. Snyder conducts an illuminating interview with Clive Barker where Mr. Barker discusses everything from collaborating on screenplays to his personal writing process.

The Writers Workshop was fun for me to read as a fan, because each author’s love of writing shined with his or her essay. While the Writers Workshop is about writing horror, the techniques and advice these ladies and gentlemen impart to the reader are applicable to all genres.

Good writing is good writing, and if you want to know how it’s done, listen to the masters.

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