Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview by Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful, diabolical hostess of the wonderful Shilling Shockers horror host show (seen here in Portland and elsewhere on public access television stations), was kind enough to interview me about the bookshop back in October. I thought I'd posted it when she put it online, but apparently not!

It's available via her LiveJournal blog at, or you can read on here, for those of you who haven't read it yet elsewhere:
Interview with Michelle Souliere of The Green Hand Bookshop
Oct. 14th, 2010 at 6:17 PM

When the crisp Autumn wind rattles my attic windows, I like nothing more than to light a candle and curl up by the cauldron with an ancient grimoire or tale of terror. Outside of a black cat, a book is a witch's best friend. Inside of a black cat, it's too dark to read.

The printed word can whisk us away into worlds of wonder, and The Green Hand Bookshop in Portland, Maine is a place of many wonders indeed. I recently spoke with The Green Hand's proprietor, Michelle Souliere.

Michelle, could you tell us what inspired you to open a book store?

I have long been a booklover, and tried my hand for many years at bookscouting for local dealers and selling on my own via eBay and At one point I tried to avoid getting involved to the point of having a shop -- it seemed like more of a burden than I was ready for. However, over the last few years, it became apparent that was all I really wanted to do. I enjoyed working at the Portland Public Library but the large machinery of the institution seemed to trod upon so much of the vitality in the staff as it went about its work. I found myself thinking more and more in terms of "Wouldn't it be nice if..." I set tentative goals for sometime in the future, say 5 or 10 years down the road. Then the economy freaked out, and I moved to another job to save myself from debt, only to have that yanked out from under me as the university rearranged its departments due to budget cuts and other changes in focus. It became apparent that maybe I'd be better off taking a chance on my own now, since even the old tried-and-true jobs seemed to be increasingly unstable, and the money I'd saved in a 401(a) account during a 15-year stint as an office worker certainly wasn't multiplying on its own.

When did you first open for business? How has the response been from the community?

I first opened for business on First Friday, November 6, 2009. The response from the community has been terrific. A lot of the local neighbors seemed very relieved to have a legitimate business with the appearance of real stability opening up on this corner. There has also been a lot of curiosity as to what is going on here.

As an enthusiast of dark literature and forgotten lore, I must say I am pleased to hear that you have a "killer horror section." Could you tell us a little bit about your literary interests?

*laugh* My interests are very broad. I tend to have a smorgasbord of in-process books nearby, and dip into various volumes depending on my mood. However, I tend to have at least one good supernatural, horror, or other fantastic fiction book around, as this is my favorite genre. The best of the bunch? My top ones include M.R. James, Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Stephen King, John Gordon, Dan Simmons, Mark LaFlamme, and more. I'm always adding to the list. I also love mysteries, and favorites in that field include Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, John Dunning, and John Connolly. However, there are dark times of the year when one must move to lighter fare or risk forever losing oneself in the shadows, and on those occasions I get a kick out of Stella Gibbons' "Cold Comfort Farm," Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books, Mark Helprin, John Crowley, and more. Magical realism is another favorite genre (Helprin and Crowley certainly have works in that field), and of course Ray Bradbury remains one of my icons, how could I ever forget the first time I read "Dandelion Wine" or "Something Wicked This Way Comes"?

This is not to say that I veer away from non-fiction. I read heavily in fringe non-fiction (cryptozoology, paranormal, occult, mythology, folklore, and the like), and historic non-fiction, especially New England related. I also have a penchant for travelogues and biographies, and enjoy science and math related reading, such as "The Radioactive Boy Scout" and "The Mystery of the Aleph."

For an idea of my staple books, you can stroll through my account on LibraryThing, which gives an excellent slice of around 170 favorite parts of my library:

You have listed many of my favorites as well Michelle! Now, could you explain the origin of store's name: "the green hand?"

A few years ago, when I left my office job, I felt like it was time that I try to put my art degree to work, and one of my goals was to create a branding umbrella to encompass all my creative pursuits. One of the themes/logos that came up was the green hand. The two things I find myself drawn to over and over again are eyes and hands. The original green hand has an eye in the center of its palm. The art track fizzled, though I maintain a sporadic studio practice and do not intend to give up making my work, ever.

I stumbled across the green hand when I was casting about for a name and logo for the shop. Somehow, it just insinuated itself into place as the only option!! So far it has been ideal. It suggests something mysterious, which in turn generates curiosity (I hope!), and at the same time the green alludes to growth (five times the power of a mere green thumb!). On a more literary level, it pertains to the pulp magazine imagery of a green hand reaching out to some hapless victim, or an alien hand, perhaps... alluring dread!

What can visitors expect when they cross the threshold to The Green Hand Bookshop?

They can expect a wide variety of subject matter in the shop's inventory, which I take great pains to keep well-organized and carefully curated. The shop, very atypically for a used bookshop (at least from what I can tell from people's reactions), is spacious and bright. I won't spoil the surprise of the first thing you see coming through the door! But there are old-fashioned streetlamps, and a bench for perching on, and some old wooden chairs, and thousands of delicious books to browse through for as long as you like. :)

You share your storefront space with a fascinating museum. Could you talk a little about that?

The International Cryptozoology Museum shares space with the Green Hand in a wonderfully symbiotic relationship. To enter the museum, you approach the gate at the back of the bookshop, and therein lie many marvelous things, some naturally occurring, some man-made. Loren Coleman, the museum's owner and a well-known cryptozoologist in his own right, is there to give you your tour personally more often than not, which is handy if you have some of his books that you'd like him to sign while you're visiting. Fans of Bigfoot, the yeti, the Mothman, chupacabras, and many other mysterious and rare creatures will be in seventh heaven when they walk through the door.

You are also the creator of the fantastic Strange Maine blog. How did that come about?

I found it baffling that no one had formed a single site online that collected resources about Maine's intriguing elements. Add to that my unfortunate propensity for doing things instead of waiting for someone else to do them, and.... well you get the picture.

Your husband Tristan also runs a marvelous business right across the street from The Green Hand. What can visitors expect to find there?

The Fun Box Monster Emporium is a throwback to the toy emporiums of old and at the same time practically a museum of homage to the pop culture of the 1980s. Good stuff! Not only does he carry a ridiculous variety of action figures and other collectibles of the '80s, he also has vintage video games up the wazoo, not to mention the actual working pinball and arcade machines he keeps the shop popping with. In other words, it's fun.

Any exciting future plans or upcoming events at The Green Hand?

We're psyched to have Dan Blakeslee, a.k.a. Doctor Gasp, playing deliriously eerie Halloween tunes here on the night of October 13th, and Lynne Cullen telling wicked spooky stories the night before Halloween. We are also happy to be hosting meetings of the Speakeasy Society, which is made up of folks who are keen on the Jazz Age world of silent films and their stars. Who knows what we'll do next?!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Michelle.

The Green Hand Bookshop is located at:

661 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

REVIEW: "The Painted Darkness"

"The Painted Darkness" by Brian James Freeman is a quick, captivating read. The novella, published by small horror press veteran Cemetery Dance, sets the reader into the mind of Henry as he spends his time sunk into working on his paintings. The pieces are of a fantasy/horror bent, featuring monsters and blood, and he paints them as though in a trance, motivated by a mantra whose genesis is buried deep in his childhood – “I paint against the darkness.” He sets his brush to canvas with his father’s advice to him as a child ringing in his ears: “Just start at the beginning and the rest will take care of itself.” As he begins to work, his mind empties. Hours later he emerges from a fog after placing the latest piece carefully down with its face to the wall. It is not until much later that he inspects the latest series of work, flipping them over one after another, to see just what horrors he has painted this time.

His involvement in his work to the exclusion of all else has his wife Sarah worried. They’ve just had a fight over the amount of time he’s been spending in his attic studio, high up in the remote old stone farmhouse they recently bought. The fight caught Henry off guard as he was hurrying back upstairs to finish the latest piece. He hadn’t realized how upset Sarah was. After he went back upstairs, she left, driving off in the minivan with their three year old son Dillon to visit her parents.

Now Henry is in the old house, all alone. Alone except for the presence of his fears, a blank canvas, an approaching blizzard, a cranky and potentially dangerous old boiler in the basement, and… something else. Something so terrifying and unknown that he hasn’t seen the likes of it since that time when he was five years old.

Since he doesn’t really remember that event so well, he has no idea what he’s up against. He just knows it is very, very bad.

* * *

The novella is a tricky form. Too long to be a short story, yet not quite long enough to be a novel, its very easy to make it feel like it’s either a short story that’s been padded out or that it’s an embryonic novel not fully fleshed out. “The Painted Darkness” is one of those novellas that makes one want more, which is the better end of the spectrum to land on, as far as this reviewer is concerned.

The suspense is effective, caught as the reader is between the multiple threats of unmanageable ready-to-explode boilers, blizzards, lonely madness, upset wife, and unspeakable Other Horrors. The best ingredient, however, is the memory of child-Harry. The glimpses into his five-year-old mind’s experiences are like wandering into a snow globe crafted by my favorite kind of horror master – one who can drop tiny bits of what-was-that into the real world, creating a magic both terrifying and alluring at the same time.

All in all, a good read to curl up with by the fire on a cold winter night.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Free Videoport offer if you Buy Local!

Wow, just when you thought ol' Father Christmas couldn't think up anything else, the elves at Videoport came up with a great idea. For every $10+ purchase you make at a Buy Local business (which includes the Green Hand Bookshop) between now and December 18th, you can get a free video rental at Videoport to watch while you're wrapping your gifts! No kidding!

For a full list of vendors, see the IndieBiz directory at

Be sure to get your receipt at the register and hang onto it for reimbursement at good ol' Videoport!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

REVIEW: "The Little Stranger" and others

After a spate recent recommendations from friends, I picked up "The Little Stranger" for a try, and in this way had the uneasy pleasure of finally reading my first Sarah Waters book.

This story starts with golden, hazy recollections by village practitioner Dr. Faraday of his sole encounter as a youth with a fabled local manor estate, Hundreds Hall. Unfortunately, the reality of the present day is not so rosy. By chance, and later by habit and fascination, Faraday finds himself bit by bit becoming entwined in the everyday life of the Ayres family.

They still retain their position as longtime gentry of the countryside, but over the years the estate has been eaten away until its footprint encompasses only the grounds of the house itself, an adjoining park, and their struggling farm nearby. Mrs. Ayres remains as lovely and gracious as ever, but her two children, now grown, show the signs of their post-war struggles to maintain the property in spite of the times.  The labor of keeping up appearances has reduced them to the point where their personal appearances hint at a certain eccentricity, as niceties are replaced by necessities.

I found it very easy to get pulled into the strange vortex of the world of The Little Stranger's characters. As the book starts, the reader settles into post-WWII Britain, where everyone lives with the ghosts of not only the war, but also of the way England lived before the war. The tension between then, now, and in-between is palpable, and the pain it causes the Ayres family and Dr. Faraday is at times raw, pushing everyone's to their breaking point as they attempt to maintain the "proper" British facade at all costs.

It takes a while for the really eerie part of the story, the title's haunting, to kick in. By that time, you're sailing along thinking you're safe in these staid, British seas. Well, keep brewing that hot tea and stocking up on biscuits, because you won't want to put the book down once the story kicks into gear. I won't give any spoilers here.

For me, this book aligns itself with others I've read in the last couple of years that harbor an obsession, mild on the surface but running deep, with lost family property and the feel of the land and its old houses. Those who enjoy The Little Stranger, and like a story with an undercurrent of the supernatural, will likely enjoy these too. Both books I am thinking of are by author John Harwood.

His debut novel, The Ghost Writer, shares with The Little Stranger a lingering sense of the post-war years in Britain. It is fundamentally intriguing and the ending ... well, perhaps you should just read it for yourself. The text is set up so that it is interspersed with short ghost stories written by the narrator's lost Victorian ancestor, a real treat for someone like myself that has a soft spot for supernatural fiction tidbits tied in with an intriguing, overarching storyline.

Harwood's second novel is the one I read first -- The Seance. It was the first Victorian pastiche I've read in a long time that felt real and sincere -- in other words, truly seemed like something written long ago, with more solid underpinnings than modern make-believe. Tremendously haunting, and full of deeply-felt gothic undertones, the book is also rich with compelling mysteries and characters that will keep you turning the pages long after dark.

There is an excellent discussion by Shade Point, with links leading to others, of The Little Stranger's narrative and the controversy that has been swirling around Waters' storytelling methods that I highly recommend to the curious and to those who have read the book already: