Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Few Thoughts on Krysten Ritter’s BONFIRE (2017).

I am not abandoning early horror fiction—not by a long shot. But when I first heard of Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, I could not resist.


Then, all of a sudden, it passed. The spasm apparently left her body, like an ebbing tide. Her eyes opened. She blinked and sat up, looking vaguely confused, but not displeased, to find us all gathered around her. By the time the nurse came, she seemed normal again. She insisted it was just a weak spell, because she hadn’t eaten. The nurse led Kaycee out of the classroom, and the whole time she was glancing back at us over her shoulder as if to be sure we were all watching her go. And we were—of course we were. She was the kind of person you couldn’t help but watch.

We all forgot about it. Or pretended to.

Then, three days later, it happened again.

An excerpt from Bonfire.


Kyrsten Ritter’s Bonfire was published in late 2017 by Crown Archetype, a division of Penguin Random House. In addition to the hardcover version, I purchased the audiobook version of Bonfire, narrated by Karissa Vacker and published by Random House Audio. This post will not reveal any direct story spoilers. However, there may be clues as to how the plot plays out.


Krysten Ritter was born on 16 December 1981, and raised in a small farm town in Pennsylvania. She began her modeling career while in high school after being scouted at a shopping mall. Following high school, Ritter moved to New York City to advance her modeling career which subsequently exploded on to the international scene.

Ritter’s film career began soon after her discovery as a model. She has acted in a variety of mediums, from commercials and bit parts to leading roles. Most recently, her career expanded with her being cast as the title role in Jessica Jones, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s television series on Netflix. Also, it was recently announced that Jessica Jones’ third season would begin production soon.

Though I have not seen any of her previous film or television work, I am a fan of Ritter’s portrayal of Jessica Jones. Thus, when I discovered that she had published a novel, even one with no supernatural elements, I was curious. Bonfire is Ritter’s first novel. I sincerely hope it is not her last.


Technically, even though Bonfire is a “legal thriller” ala Erin Brockovich, it is more a mystery within a mystery, or more like a mystery within a cover-up hiding another mystery (but not the one you thought). The legal thriller aspect of this book is the overt impetus behind the story. It rapidly becomes obvious that the legal issue is merely the means to an end, that of bringing people and place together in order to resolve the story.

The reader is lead to believe they have the intricate storyline figured out. Then, BAM! A new plot twist sets you off in another direction and everything you were sure of is overturned. Ritter manages this misdirection masterfully; not appearing forced or contrived. Each is plausible within the context of the narrative.

The narrative is told through the character of Abby – a former resident of this small town who got out and became an attorney. Her words, thoughts, feelings, interactions make up the entirety of the story. So much so that as Abby’s reasoning leads her down the wrong path, we are taken down that erroneous path with her.


In addition to the intricacies of the plotline, Ritter’s stylistic strengths contribute greatly to the success of the novel. She was able to present, convincingly I think, flawed characters that bear believable emotional baggage. For example, her depiction of Abby’s habit of compulsive hand-washing leaves the reader with a feeling of ill-ease. Also, Abby is tormented by what she later comes to know as repressed memories from a decade previous when attending a bonfire in present time blends with memories of a bonfire from the past

In writing this legal thriller, Ritter worried that detailed legal jargon would lose her readers interest and bore them. Happily for all of us, she was able to resolve this concern.


During a YouTube interview conducted by BUILD Series, Ritter detailed her entire writing process, addressing this particular concern at the 14 minute 45 second mark:

“But I would write, overwrite those sections, and then they would kind of read like VCR instructions. Mm, and then, I was like ‘Oh right, I don’t need to explain how, what are the steps going about this because that’s what Krysten would do, but the character wouldn’t actually do that because she knows it and it’s a short-hand. So she should be able to talk about this stuff the way I talk about my real life job and my acting and whatever, like shorthand—get in, get out.”[i]

The chapters of Bonfire are short and there are many of them, like scenes in a script. This trait of Ritter’s writing style enhanced the impact of her words and reflected her career in acting. Bonfire is told in a first-person treatment, mostly inside the protagonist’s head. There was no room for anything extraneous to the story. All information presented to the reader was necessary to the plotline.

Months before its release, at BookCon 2017, on a panel moderated by Penguin Random House, Ritter discussed the writing of Bonfire.


The moderator asked her about the short, very lean chapters. She replied that the chapters are like a TV script: “It either has to move character forward or story forward. And, I’m pretty good about cutting stuff.”[ii] A few minutes farther into the interview, Ritter stated that this format was what she was familiar with. “That’s probably…that probably comes from me being an actress, too. Like having a strong scene—gettin’ in, gettin’ out.”[iii]

I strongly recommend the two video interviews referenced in this section for anyone interested in understanding Ritter’s mindset writing Bonfire. She is a charming interviewee. Her answers were delivered in her usual bubbly, bouncy and happy way.



With Bonfire, just as with my previous post, I listened to the audiobook version of Bonfire after I finished reading it. In this case, less than a week separated my reading and my listening. And, just as in my previous post, I greatly appreciated this process. It enhanced my enjoyment of this tale and aided my review.

One of the strengths of audiobooks I most value is the entirely different perspective provided. Reading a book depends on the sense of sight; while listening to an audiobook depends on the sense of hearing. Different parts of the brain are stimulated. Thus, an entirely different experience is had.

Coupled with this eye-versus-ear sensory difference, a good narrator can illuminate things that the reader’s internal voice may have glossed over. A talented audiobook narrator does much more than just read the written word. A robot could do that. A good narrator breathes life into the tale . . . into the author’s words—literally. For example, the narrator of Bonfire, Karissa Vacker does exactly this, bringing a new depth to the experience of enjoying the novel.

In preparing to narrate a typical novel, Vacker expends a great deal of effort and energy in the creation of each character’s unique voice. In this case however, according to Vacker:

While I did this work to some extent with BONFIRE, many of the characters jumped off the page with such clarity that I could see and hear them right away. This was especially true with Abby, the protagonist. She has so much grit. It was a treat to voice her.[iv]

For me, it was as much a pleasure to listen to Vacker’s narration of Bonfire as reading Ritter’s words were. The various characters, the emotional drama, and most of all, Vacker’s rendering of Abby were spot on.


Bonfire is a fast-paced and powerful novel that reveals how the past, written by the victors, (or by those left alive) can be used to mask a dark deed committed in the light of a bonfire. The reader quickly comes to understand that this is indeed a dark tale, when industrial chemical pollution is not the worst crime that is committed.



Print Resources

Ritter, Krysten. Bonfire: A Novel (Hardcover), Crown Archetype: New York, 2017.

Digital Resources

Build Series. “Krysten Ritter Speaks On Her Novel, "Bonfire".” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube. 8 November 2017. Web. 17 April 2018.

Penguin Random House. “Krysten Ritter spotlight (full panel) - BookCon 2017.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube. 7 June 2017. Web. 17 April 2018.

Ritter, Krysten. Bonfire. Narrated by Karissa Vacker, Random House Audio, 2017. Audiobook. Digital Download.

Online Resources

Barsanti, Sam. “Krysten Ritter is writing her first novel.” The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc., 16 February 2017. Web. 13 May 2018.

Jackson, Frannie. “Krysten Ritter Talks Bonfire, Her Debut Novel Starring a Protagonist to Rival Jessica Jones.” Paste Magazine. Paste Media Group, 7 November 2017. Web. 10 May 2018.

Marie, Alyssa. “Bonfire by Krysten Ritter: A Book Review.” A Reader’s Journey. 10 December 2017. Web. 8 May 2018.

McLevy, Alex. “Jessica Jones’ Krysten Ritter wrote a surprisingly moving legal thriller.” The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc., 28 November 2017. Web. 13 May 2018.

Tang, Estelle. “Krysten Ritter Wants More Complicated, Imperfect, Not-Always-Pretty Characters.” Elle. Hearst Digital Media, 17 November 2017. Web. 10 May 2018.

Thompson, Eliza. “Krysten Ritter on Her New Novel and Why Women Like "Messy" Characters.” Cosmopolitan. Hearst Digital Media, 7 November 2017. Web. 13 May 2018.

Vacker, Karissa. “This girl is on fire! Karissa Vacker on narrating the “triumphant fiction debut” by actress Krysten Ritter.” Blog. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, 3 October 2017. Web. 13 May 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. "Krysten Ritter." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 April 2018. Web. 09 May 2018.

[i] All transcriptions were executed by me.

[ii] At the 15 minute 20 second mark. All transcriptions were executed by me.

[iii] At the 24 minute 50 second mark. All transcriptions were executed by me.

[iv] Vacker, Karissa. “This girl is on fire! Karissa Vacker on narrating the “triumphant fiction debut” by actress Krysten Ritter.” 3 October 2017.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Considering THE DOOR OF THE UNREAL (1919) by Gerald Biss.

Gerald Biss, an English author, writes about an American millionaire that finds himself in contention with an unimaginable evil emerging into modern (at the time of writing), post-World War I England.


The edition under consideration was published by Black Heath Editions in 2014. Black Heath Editions republishes lesser known works of supernatural fiction from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Kindle format for incredibly reasonable prices. I would not have even heard of many of these authors (and their works) had it not been for Black Heath Editions.

This Black Heath edition has a few minor editing issues. It is as if OCR software missed the mark on some words in the text. For example, “Line” is used instead of the correct “Linc”–short for “Lincoln.” To make matters worse, this error is repeated in each and every appearance of the word.

clip_image004Reproduction of dust jacket for original 1919 U. K. publication.[i]

The Door of the Unreal, an early twentieth-century entrant into the werewolf sub-genre of horror fiction, was originally published in 1919 by Eveleigh Nash & Grayson Ltd of London. This was followed the next year with the publication of the book in the U.S. by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

clip_image006Reproduction of dust jacket from 1920 U. S. publication.[ii]

The Door of the Unreal considered here is a reprint of the 1920 U. S. release. The only difference that I have been able to discern between the 1919 U. K. release and the 1920 U. S. release (aside from the dust jackets) is the inclusion of a Foreword, in which Biss expresses how pleased he is that The Door of the Unreal will be released in the U. S.

Born in Cambridge in 1876, Edwin Gerald Jones Biss was well-known for his serialized tales in journals and newspapers. That he was also a motoring enthusiast was made abundantly clear in the story considered here.

Gerald Biss died a few years after The Door of the Unreal was published. At the time of his death in 1922, he was 46 years old.


The story of The Door of the Unreal is made up of three parts.

The first part begins as a series of recollections, statements, depositions and documents by various witnesses. Up till this point, the narrator, aside from introducing himself, only made rare comments. A little more than half way through this part, the narrator makes his appearance in the tale and then becomes an active participant in it.

The second part is more investigative. The narrator and his associates start to put the pieces together. Progress into really comprehending what is going on, is slow. It is more than half-way through this section before the link between the attack and the full moon is made. The narrator has to explain to men of Scotland Yard that the killings are being done by two werewolves! He recounts events from the beginning of the story to the current point, everything falling into place. In light of these new revelations, together, they come up with a plan to attack and kill the werewolves.

The third and final part revolved around the execution of the plan to kill the werewolves. The ambush is carried out and the werewolves killed. Two interesting things about this: Firstly, when the werewolves make their appearance for the first, and the last, time in the story, they are as large wolves. Aside from their larger than average lupine size, nothing supernatural was evident. No mention was ever made of a hybrid man/wolf creature, what today is traditionally thought of as a werewolf. Second, in shooting the werewolves, there was no mention of silver bullets or indeed of any silver at all; not what one expects in a werewolf tale! Once the snipers fired, it was all over in a moment, evil was vanquished and all ended well.


As a change of pace from how I normally do things, a few weeks following my reading of The Door of the Unreal, I decided to listen to an audio narration of story from as well. The narration was performed by Alan Winterrowd.


To my pleasant surprise, it was good . . . very good. And yes, while the material was the same, hearing the spoken word after having already read the book made for a far richer experience of the book.

I heartily recommend this approach.


Biss, a great admirer of Stoker’s Dracula and influenced by it, used a similar style in order to firmly place his tale in contemporary England. Interestingly, in this story, it is an American who comes to the aid of the British against some German horror. Written less than two years after the end of the First World War, this can be no coincidence.



Print Resources

Digital Resources

Biss, Gerald. The Door of the Unreal. Black Heath Editions. 2014. Kindle Edition.

Biss, Gerald. The Door of the Unreal. Internet Archive. 02 September 2008. PDF.

Biss, Gerald. The Door of the Unreal. LibriVox. 24 August 2015. MP3 Audio.

Online Resources

Evans, Dewi. “The Door of the Unreal (1919) by Gerald Biss.” Mystery and Imagination. 23 June 2013. Web. 03 May 2018.

Holland, Steve. “Gerald Biss.” Bear Alley. Steve Holland. 21 August 2007. Web. 04 May 2018.

Terry, Mark. “Door of the Unreal, The.” Facsimile Dust Jackets. Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Web. 30 April 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. "Edwin Gerald Jones Biss." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 January 2018. Web. 30 April 2018.