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Where the Woodbine Twines

"Where the Woodbine Twineth," an unusual episode of the already unusual "Alfred Hitchcock Hour," first aired in January of 1965. I didn't see it, though, until two decades later.

The episode was based on a David Grubb short story which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in February of 1964 and in the collection YOU NEVER BELIEVE ME, some years later. Grubb is best known for his novel THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, which was made into a movie by Charles Laughton. (This information via Ellen Datlow at datlow.com.)

"Where the Woodbine Twineth" takes place in the Deep South, in the dismal shadows of live oaks, in a grand old wedding cake house with tall columns fronting a deep front porch. It was strange even for a Hitchcock show: eerie, moody, and macabre, as most episodes were, but unlike most of them, it was crime-less, magical, and mystical.

I knew I wanted to write a story with those features one day. I'd set it in the Deep South because I'm acquainted with the darkly numinous qualities of that region. I'd give my tale a similar title, an almost identical one, as it turns out, because I liked wondering where it is--this place where the woodbine twines. Like the story on Hitchcock, mine would be true Southern Gothic, based on the definition of Southern Gothic that I maintain and defend:

Southern Gothic is naturalized gothic. Supernatural tropes are lacking altogether or only inferred. The strangeness in this brand of Southern Gothic arises like a miasma from the setting and situation of the old South, from its atmosphere of decay, its faded aristocracy, its dead or dying ways, its twisted, home-grown, extremist religion. Real Southern Gothic has a distinct grittiness and leaves the reader with a feeling of dis-ease she can't shake off.

With the exception of some of the stories in Mariah of the Spirits: And Other Southern Ghost Stories, the strangest work I've produced so far is Where the Woodbine Twines: A Novel. The simple cover image seems to draw people in like none of my other book covers. I had nothing to do with the design of the book jacket. It was all my publisher's doing. I did not see it until it appeared on the book and can take no credit for its peculiar magic.

I'm often asked what woodbine is. It's a kind of vine, one of the honeysuckles, I think, but in common usage any coarse vine might be called woodbine.

"Where the Woodbine Twines" is a folk saying--though not a common one--for where you go when nobody knows where you went. In my short novel by that name, I also suggest it as the place we all hope for, where everything is somehow made right. In the story, the narrator had a strange little friend who disappeared under very strange circumstances. The narrator grew up, haunted all her life by the memory of the disappearance of her friend. One cold, windy November, she is walking down the street in Myrtle Beach, SC, when she sees a woman she thinks just might be that long, lost friend, all grown up. Is it her mysterious friend or is it not? Do we find out? Why did the little girl haunt her so?

The scene at the carnival hall of mirrors where the lost girl appears over and over, going back, farther back, farther back, is my imaginative way of playing with the idea of infinity, and with the possibility that other realms really exist--places not dreamt of in our mythologies--where we really do go on somehow.

Dr. Clifford Pickover discusses this with us in the next post. Needless to say, Dr. Pickover, polymath, scientist, extremely prolific author, inventor, and modern-day-Da Vinci, talks about the concept with a whole lot more sophistication than I can, and we learn from him that the bizarre idea that we may all have multiple selves and endless variations of ourselves, is not just idle speculation.

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