Monday, November 6, 2017

Leave the Purple Flavor-Aid, Take the Cult-Inspired Fiction

This week N@B Dallas is on again at The Wild Detectives and if you enjoyed that shit last time (I know I did) be sure to get there early for Harry Hunsicker, Max Booth III, Mike McCrary, Michael Pool, Kathleen Kent, J. Suzanne Frank and Eryk Pruitt.

Pruitt is on tour for his new novel, What We Reckon, and fortunately for all of us, he's promoting it with live appearances, (including a just-wrapped N@B-Austin with Gabino Iglesias, Mike McCrary and host Scott Montgomery and I'm sure they'd all agree that he's joined a list of names like Johnny Shaw, Matthew McBride, David James Keaton and Fred Venturini of authors you don't fucking want to have to follow at a live reading - 'cause y'know, they always fucking slay) as well as guest pieces popping up around the web where he's doing it right - pimping the good shit that influenced his own.

Seriously, this is the kind of self-promotion by promoting others that I wish were more rampant. Andrew Nette did a hell of job letting us know what we were in for in Gunshine State with his The Heist Always Goes Wrong series of posts and Eryk's current virtual promotional tour is easily my favorite one since Nette's.

If you can't get out to see him in person, check him out at:
The Strand - Six Great Southern Crime Novels
The Hard Word - A Dime Bag of Drug Fiction to Roll Up and Smoke
Writers Read - on Ernest J. Gaines' A Gathering of Old Men
Washington Independet Review of Books - interviewed by E.A. Aymar

And today at HBW I'm pleased as proverbial punch to have him dishing on cult-inspired fictions and non...

Leave the Purple Flavor-Aid, Take the Cult-Inspired Fiction
by Eryk Pruitt

If you're like me, often wondered what it would take to get twenty young women in yoga pants to do your bidding on a daily basis. What would it be like to control the impressionable minds and bodies of today's youth? Is it possible to avoid the missteps made by Jim Jones and David Koresh and have a family full of obedient followers that live happily ever after?

I answer all of these questions and more in my latest novel, What We Reckon.

But I assure you that I did more research for this topic than simply sitting on the side of a mountain and daydreaming what my horizons might look like if they were peopled with young lovelies picking strawberries. I actually dusted off the library card and got to work.

Now, if you want to start a cult, I have assembled a little instruction manual for you.
You're welcome.

Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi - They should teach this in school. But they didn't. Instead, I read this book so often in high school that my copy split in two, right about the second batch of photographs. You know the ones of the crime scenes where the victims' bodies had been whitened out…Bugliosi masterfully combines investigative procedural with psychological analysis into the mindset of cult leaders and followers. This is a must-read.

The Ashes of Waco Dick Reavis  and
A Place Called Waco - David Thibodeau
The news media documented well the government's side, but this twin pairing of non-fiction tomes is essential to understanding the other side of what went down outside of Waco, TX during the Spring of 1993. Dick Reavis, an investigative reporter for the Dallas Observer at the time of the siege, dared take on the government's story and produced the definitive account of the standoff.

Thibodeau's point of view is that of an acolyte of Koresh and a participant inside the compound during the raid and the subsequent siege. He is one of only a handful to make it out of the flames alive. His book provides unique insight to Koresh and what led to his involvement, as well as what it was like inside the walls during that fateful Spring. Prepare to get very, very angry.

The Sound of My Voice - d: Zal Batmanglij w: Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij - This story of two undercover journalists infiltrating a supposed doomsday cult will leave you reeling. It's sneaky good. The first half of it lulls you to sleep with the story of the reporters and their crumbling relationship as they infiltrate the inner circle of a charismatic cult leader. The last third of the movie hums past so fast, you're begging for it to slow down. By the end credits, you will have to pick your jaw off the floor. Kudos to the script and filmmakers for turning tropes and predictable storylines onto their heads.

Raven - John Jacobs and Tim Reiterman and
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown - Julia Scheeres
You have two choices here: Heartbreaking, emotional storytelling, following the lives of several players in the Jonestown drama, unsure who will live and who will die…or an exhaustive, definitive inquiry into every fact, detail, and nuance of Jonestown.

The former is A Thousand Lives and, although you know the outcome, you won't be able to put it down. Scheeres hits all the points: the evolution of Jim Jones and his inevitable downward spiral. Raven, on the other hand, reads like a textbook. It's dense. But if you want to know everything there is to know about the tragedy that resulted in over a thousand deaths at once, you won't find a more detailed account.

The Path created by Jessica Goldberg - No one was more excited about this show than me. I love cults. I love TV shows. That guy that played Jesse on Breaking Bad seems like a fun guy. On paper, this television show had a color-by-numbers path straight to my darkened little heart. So how did it fall so flat on its face? For one, there are no stakes. So many times during the first season, the plot inched its way toward something really deep, only to back away from it. Why? Who knows. Two, the cult leader is the least charismatic of the entire cast. And for another, it turned into a boring family drama when it would have served the much better as a dark exploration into the inner workings of a pseudo-religious cult. And plot holes abound! Everywhere you look, stupid, stupid plot holes. There was a second season, but I couldn't make it past the first episode because they took everything ridiculous about the first season and turned it all the way up. Pass.

David Koresh Superstar - The Indelicates - 1. Get this album. 2. Play it over and over. 3. Thank me. 4. Repeat. This rock opera by the U.K.'s The Indelicates plays like an unproduced musical about the incident in Waco and it is damn near impossible not to picture the action on stage as you listen to the resounding music, the nuanced lyrics, the wrenched emotion…If The Indelicates initiated a crowdfunding campaign to get this concept album on the stage where it belongs, I would pitch in and champion the cause stateside. Most notable are the Koresh origin story The Road from Houston to Waco and the love song from acolyte to Koresh, A Single Thrown Grenade. However, you're probably waiting for the whole thing to burn down, and you more than get your fix with Gethsemane.

Martha, Marcy May, Marlene -w/d: Sean Durkin - This is the one. Right here. Look no further. It has it all. John Hawkes' cult leader is far more sinister and charismatic than all the Charlie impersonators over the years, than whats-his-name on The Path, than all of them. Sure, they are riffing on the Manson family here, but they do it right. They follow the Other Olsen Sister as a character who quits the confines of her increasingly dangerous cult, only to find she no longer belongs in the world she previously occupied. The underlying current of dread is the real scene-stealer in this flick and when the screen goes black and the credits roll, you'd sell your soul for just five more minutes.

The Girls - Emma Cline - On the flip side is this book. It's got almost exactly the same premise and inspiration as the film above, but gone are any impending senses of doom, unless you count a life lived as a navel-gazing MFA. I finished this book on principle alone, but it soon devolved into a hate read. The Girls reads like a creative writing exercise followed up by an introduction to the right agent at the right time…There are no stakes in this book, which kills me, because the subject matter is for the ages. Emma Cline's protagonist removes herself from any responsibility and, to make matters worse, the entire story is told in flashback, allowing us the ridiculous opportunity to pontificate about her relationship with the younger set while, at the same time, removing any suspense from the narrative. The Girls is a wasted opportunity.

Child of Satan, Child of God - Susan Atkins - Want to hear the  same story from above, but told by a woman who could give less of a fuck? Try this first person account from Miss Sadie Mae Glutz herself. Claiming to have "found Jesus" in 1977, she penned this novel in hopes of swaying young women from idolizing Manson. Although her narrative distances herself from each of the murders which made her famous (even going so far as to claim self-defense in the murder of Voytek Frykowski), the real gold is the description of what led her down the wicked path to Charles Manson's Family.

The Greatest Miracle in the World by Og Mandino and
Beyond the Yellow Brick Road by Bob Meehan
Want to start your own cult? You need a "front." There is no better front than self-help, including drug rehabilitation. Mandino's power of positive reinforcement is a great manual for talking the talk, but if you want to walk the walk, you'll need Meehan's how-to guide on how to manipulate young minds.

Meehan, now incarcerated, was once a powerful leader of several teen sobriety groups, but that empire crumbled after a series of exposés revealed a web of racism, homophobia, misogyny, tax frauds and insurance scams. However, his influence was widespread, having gotten Carol Burnett's daughter, half of Van Halen, and countless other celebrities sober. (He's even on the cover of the Damn Yankees' Don't Tread album!!) Although now out-of-print, a little digging will find you this essential guide to breaking down the psyche of young people to get them to do your bidding.

My copy is autographed.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey.  His short films Foodie and Liyana On Command have won several awards at film festivals across the US.  His short fiction appears in The Avalon Literary Review, Pulp Modern, Thuglit, and Great Jones Street, to name a few.  In 2015, he was a finalist for the Derringer Award for his short story "Knockout.". His novels Dirtbags and Hashtag have been re-released by Polis Books alongside his third novel, What We Reckon. He is the host of the Noir at the Bar series in Durham. A full list of credits can be found at his website.

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