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Grave New World

The Rolling Darkness Revue brings its ghost writers to Capitola

By Rick Kleffel

The Rolling Darkness Revue travels the California Coast to bring back the tradition of telling ghost stories around a campfire--and a fog machine.

The fog machine makes a gentle hiss and pumps out a cloud of mist. Behind the backdrop, Amar Chaudhary, a local musician, readies his flute and electronics. Authors Glen Hirshberg, Pete Atkins and local writer/editor Robert Morrish are waiting in the darkness that's rising from the ocean. Their voices will haunt your dreams.

At least that's their hope. This year, horror hits the road as the Rolling Darkness Revue comes to town at the Capitola Book Café. This is the second year of traveling the California coast for Hirshberg and Atkins. Hirshberg is the author of the acclaimed novel, The Snowman's Children, a charming and often disturbing tale of growing up in Detroit in the 1970s told against the backdrop of a series of child-killings. Atkins is the author of Morningstar and Big Thunder, as well as the screenwriter for Hellraiser II: Hellbound and Wishmaster. But they're coming to Capitola to bring their own brand of campfire tales.

"The idea was always to go and light a metaphorical campfire at the neighborhood bookstore," Hirshberg tells Metro Santa Cruz, "and then using your voice and your words and some man-made fog if we could find some--see if we could cast this kind of spell." The Rolling Darkness Revue is unlike any performance you're likely to see in a bookstore. Hirshberg and Atkins are not here simply to read excerpts from their latest works. They come into towns up and down the California coast, from San Diego to San Francisco, and work with local musicians and writers to create a unique Halloween-oriented presentation.

"We sort of set a theme for ourselves for this year," Hirshberg says, "which will probably be invisible to most of the people at the show. But we're all writing stories that involve travel, or things that happen when you're on the road. And they're written very specifically to be read in this kind of environment, and so we're excited about that." The contributors have each written a story specifically for the show, and the collected stories are available as bound chapbooks from small-press publisher Earthling Press.

Atkins and Hirshberg both see horror fiction as more than simple scares. "I think the great strength of any supernatural fiction," Atkins tells Metro Santa Cruz, "is that it does allow the discussion of things that we have been acculturated to cease discussing." In fact, Hirshberg adds, "A certain kind of shock element might be disruptive to what we're trying to do. Not all of the stories are scary, and even the ones that are scary, I think some of them are the terrors that linger in the mind rather than the 'we're going to grab you from behind' kind of scare."

The events are not just focused on the traveling duet. "There is a Rolling Thunder Revue aspect to what we're trying to do," Hirshberg says, explaining their monicker's Dylan reference, "a community element where we really like the idea of joining other writers, other musicians, of having each event be its own distinct, unique experience."

At the Capitola Book Café, they'll be joined by local writer Robert Morrish, who is also editor of Cemetery Dance, currently America's longest-running independent horror-themed magazine. Cemetery Dance publishes writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and not surprisingly, Glen Hirshberg. "I'm a great fan of Glen and Peter's work," says Morrish. "Having the opportunity to read with them is really a thrill. And I know from having attended a show last year in San Francisco that they'll make it a night to remember." Local musician Amar Chaudhary will be providing the atmospheric backing music. A longtime composer and performer specializing in contemporary and electronic music, Chaudhary has had his music performed internationally as well as locally.

The Rolling Darkness Revue is a clearly a labor of love for the participants, and the effect on the audience is not just frightening. "There's something cozy about ghost stories at Halloween," Atkins says. "Now obviously, we make it our business to try and destroy that coziness and genuinely unsettle the audience as best we can, but there is."

The Rolling Darkness Revue, 8pm on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola; 831.352.4415.

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From the October 26-November 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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