Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Few lurking threats keep one awake at night more than a home invader. Especially one who comes when you are home and at your most vulnerable: lying in bed on what seems like a normal night. Alone. Or even next to your partner. After all, they are sleeping too.

From the first time I stumbled upon the story East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker (sometimes called EAR/ONS), I was horrified and intrigued. The story was unexpectedly relevant to me. Two of the Southern California murders happened in a city where I had once lived, very close to people I knew well. I discovered it in the same way that we discover many horrible things: clicking through Wikipedia articles. In my case, it was looking at suspected Zodiac murders that brought me to this case that had happened not only in my backyard, but up and down California.

The crimes began in 1976 with a series of home invasions in Sacramento. A young man would appear in women’s homes, tie them up, and then alternate attacks with trashing their homes and eating food out of their refrigerators. Then he escalated, attacking couples in their beds–shining a bright flashlight in their faces and subduing them before they even had a chance to react. He was spotted skulking through neighborhoods, watching families and individuals, but would slink away before anyone could catch him. He was nondescript. A blonde? A dirty blonde? A brunette? And during his attacks he wore a ski mask.

Between 1976 and 1979, he attacked nearly 50 people in Northern California including in Sacramento, Modesto, San Jose, and Walnut Creek, mostly tying up couples and assaulting the women over the course of an entire night.  Between 1981 and 1986, there were a series of murders–mostly couples in their beds–that claimed 10 lives in Santa Barbara, Ventura, And Orange Counties. One of the cold case investigators referred to the killer as the Original Night Stalker, referencing how similar his methods were to Richard Ramirez, and the awkward name stuck. It wasn’t until 2001 that the DNA evidence connected the Northern and Southern California attacks.

East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker combined into the extra-ignorable “EAR/ONS.” Most people had no idea the monster had ever existed.

He was reckless in a way that today’s criminals could not be in an urban area without being caught after the first few incidents.  His fingerprints and DNA were everywhere. But the database that stores DNA is only dependent on arrests and is confined to California. And if he’d never been arrested for anything else, or if he’d only been arrested out of state, there would be nothing to match him to.

That’s why so many people are baffled that he has never been caught. I’d kept that morbid curiosity quietly to myself. Others pursued the mystery with dogged persistence, confident that even though he was so stubbornly under the radar, he could still be caught. Michelle McNamara was one of those people.

Michelle McNamara was a true crime writer who kept up the blog True Crime Diary and wrote an atmospheric and nuanced piece on what she re-dubbed the Golden State Killer for Los Angeles Magazine. Many commenters are critical of her new name for the killer, but I think creating a new name for this previously obscure character brings more attention to him and unifies his identity. It’s less confusing and easier to remember. Basically marketing 101.

While many writers, podcasters, and filmmakers can barely contain their prurient interest in serial killers, McNamara’s work conveys a pure determination to uncover the truth. She cooperates with other amateur sleuths and retired investigators who refuse to let this be the case that got away. She was working with people who were creating historical databases, trying to use geographical tools to whittle down who had lived or worked in those different locations at those particular times and fit the profile.

Unfortunately she passed away in 2016, in the thick of her investigation, at 46. She had an undiagnosed heart condition and accidentally combined several prescription drugs in a way that exacerbated it. She was married to comedian Patton Oswalt, and he said that she’d been working doggedly on the book and was sleep deprived for a long time leading up to her death. It’s hard not to feel more resentment toward the killer because of this–as if he claimed another victim.

Fortunately, she had several passionate investigators working with her, and a loving husband with the resources and clout to make sure the book got done. Cowriters make clear delineations between her writing and their supplementation. They admit that they tried to imitate her style but were unable to pull it off. It’s empathetic, fluid, sincere. Oswalt has a warm, but not cloying afterword. But Michelle gets the last word: a direct challenge to the killer himself, an assurance that at some point a light will be shone on him.

I really hope she’s right.

If you’d like to buy the book AND support this blog, please click the Amazon link below. Thank you!

February 2018 Explorations

The Playlist:

Listen to this playlist while you drink adjunct stouts or barrel aged porters, and it will be like you were at my birthday party.

The Movies

Lady Bird

The first time a film made me leak from the eyeballs from beginning to end. As a 30 year old woman from a small town in California with humble-to-middling economic resources, I was absolutely the target demographic for this movie. It was intensely relatable, poignant, humorous, and the acting was superb.

Got. Damn.

Girls Trip

So many movies lately advertise themselves as being kind of funny and then end up being depressing as hell (yes, Landline, I am looking at you). This is just non-stop fun. I seriously cannot remember the last time a movie made me laugh this hard.

The Books

Despite it being my birthday, February was a bit of a dark month for me this year in more than just my consumption of stouts and porters. My choice of books kind of reflects those murky emotions as well. All in all, my greatest recommendation of all of these would be Rabih Alameddine’s The Angel of History (you can see my Goodreads review here). I also reviewed Sister of Darkness in a separate blog. What the Hell Did I Just Read is certainly the most fun of the selections above. It’s the third installment of the John Dies at the End series and is just a lot of ridiculous cosmic horror nonsense.

If you would like to buy any of these books AND support the blog, please click one of the Amazon links below. Thanks!

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Book Review: Sister of Darkness

Rachel Stavis calls herself the “only non-denominational exorcist” working today. I’ve also recently learned that she’s apparently known as an exorcist to the stars, working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles and exorcising entities from actors and anyone else who needs it as a side gig (but a pay-what-you-want side gig). To be clear, this book is not marketed as a work of fiction. She really does these activities irl and you can follow her on Instagram if you’re into a mixture of inspirational quotes and goth-girl selfies accompanied by long paragraphs about authenticity and self-love.

That’s one of the secondary points of interest about this book. Whereas you see “exorcist” and think of the Catholic rite or maybe Matisyahu and the dybbuk box, Rachel’s exorcisms look a lot more like new age chakra cleansing or energy healing. They’ve just got a lot more ghosties in them. Rachel’s world has a range of entities at varying levels of dangerousness. From troublesome “Clives” that are almost like the deer ticks of the spirit world to sinister “realm walkers” that can envelope entire cities, Rachel claims that entities attach to people and feed off their life forces. “Trickster” entities appear in the form of imaginary friends and strike Faustian bargains with their hosts. “Wraiths” attach themselves to people who have experienced personal traumas. “Collectors” inhabit places where bad things have happened and trap the souls of people who die there inside–pretty much like in every haunted house movie ever.

While this is partly a memoir, Rachel spends a lot of time explaining how to “raise your vibration” to avoid having spirits attach to you. She also talks about the gods, goddesses, ancestors, and guides who assist her in her exorcisms and all the different tools and rules she uses. In this way, it reads a lot like a prescriptive new age or wellness book, such as Unmedicated, rather than an occult memoir. You can almost hear the editor’s comments as you read, prompting every claim the author makes with a “yes, but how do you explain…” Then again, Rachel is a screenwriter and works with Hollywood people every day, so a lot of the world building is likely something that comes naturaly.

The more dangerous entities that look the most like movie demons are discussed in the final third of the book. She talks about her experience exorcising a “collector” from the warehouse where the Soska Sisters film their horror game show “Hellevator.” This exorcism involves the weeping ghost of a 1930s mobster and a mooing cloud of ghost cows. The scariest entity (and most awesome to hear about for horror fans) called the “realm walker” is described as inhabiting Los Angeles’s Cecil Hotel, where Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, lived during his reign of terror and Elisa Lam mysteriously met her end in a water tank (CW: Seriously creepy surveillance video when you click that link).

Rachel informs the reader that she’ll soon be performing an exorcism of this dangerous entity at the Cecil Hotel and that the Soska Sisters will be making a documentary of the whole experience. She talks about how dangerous it will be, and how ever since they agreed to do it, dead doves have been dropping out of the sky and landing at her feet and random people have been coming up to her on the street and telling her to stay away from the Cecil. To that film I say: shut up and take my money. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

If you’d like to buy the book AND support the blog, click the Amazon link below. Thank you!

January 2018 Resolution Rundown

So after last week’s announcement of a commitment to better content consumption, here’s how January went.

It’s not an hour and a half, but it’s a start.

My playlist is like new music with training wheels. It includes several artists I had on repeat in that fateful year, 2007. Of Montreal, David Byrne, The Shins, and Jack White specifically, happen to have new music out this month. That made it sort of easy.

And yeah, I do use Tidal. Calm down.

These aren’t all new songs, obviously, but most of them are new to me. I tried to keep it modest and well-rounded with a balance of pop, hip hop, and even a little Americana–skip right to Leyla McCalla if that’s what you’re here for. A few of these songs are from my explorations of those Top 500 album lists. Nina Simone, in particular, is a classic artist that was long overdue for more exploration.

Movies and TV

I saw two films in the theater: The Disaster Artist, which was fine, and I, Tonya, which was great.


At home, we re-initiated our DVD Netflix account with Ingrid Goes West. It was difficult to watch, but featured solid performances by Aubrey Plaza, O’Shea Jackson, and millennial Drew Barrymore, Elizabeth Olsen. It was nice to see a more sympathetic portrayal of someone with borderline personality disorder, even if most of what she did made her the clear villain of the movie. Movies and art of all kinds are supposed to kind of help us learn how to hold more than one conflicting thought in our head at once, right?

TV is going to be a greater challenge, I think, since I don’t often watch it to challenge myself. We watched the first few episodes of Big Mouth, which we decided not to continue for several reasons, the easiest to explain being that they made Duke Ellington into way too much of a minstrel-y stereotype for no reason. (Like, literally no reason.) I ended up just rewatching Lady Dynamite from the beginning. At least it was just the second time I’d rewatched something, I guess?


Even though I made a big announcement on Twitter that I wouldn’t be buying self-help books this year, there are a couple of exceptions already. The Michael Hyatt book was preordered in 2017 (HA!) and I had to read Unmedicated for work. There’s no way I’m not going to count a book I read for work on my Goodreads challenge.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is one that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I got it as an Audible book and I highly recommend it, though maybe not on audio if you have a hard time focusing. I bought it in hardcover, too, just to have it around for a reference. Anyone who is interested in storytelling will probably get some value out of it.

I’m calling January a modest success and looking forward to a more artistically adventurous February.

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Climbing out of a content rut

My father is a man who knows what he likes. He loves big red wines, buttered popcorn, and loud movies. And for the bulk of my childhood I could count on the same CDs in rotation in his car: Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (narrated by Dame Judi Dench), the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack (and later 2), and Dire Straits’ Brother’s in Arms. And when I say bulk, I mean it was rare that you would hear anything else in there whatsoever. For years.

    So when I suddenly realized that I still gravitate toward to the same three or four albums that were on rotation on my iPod in 2007, I had to take stock of my life. Now that grad school is over and I’ve got a fairly predictable schedule, it’s time for me to not rely on the same old crutches that kept me grounded and sane. It’s time to make some content-consumption resolutions.


    I’m going to kick it off by working my way through some top 100 album lists online in addition to exploring new music recommended by friends and the streaming apps I use. At the end of each month, I will have a 90 minute (or longer) playlist that I’ll share to reflect my exploration.


    Watch a new movie every week, and at least once a month let that be a movie in the theater, not the house. I’m doing pretty well in this area and have seen two movies in theaters so far this month.


    A total of 52 books for the year, aka., book a week, and exploring new genres. While I wish I could commit to a single book at a time, my ideal paradigm is: one audiobook, one nonfiction, one fiction book at once.


    I try to prioritize reading, but in times of stress I would definitely turn to television. To self soothe, I would always watch the same things: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, Arrested Development. I’ve promised to try watching one new show each month, if for no other reason than to possibly have an easier time making conversation with people. Or to annoy myself so much with the selection process that I decide to pick my book back up instead.
    I’ll be updating here as I go with book and movie reviews as well as playlists. Probably not TV, though. And soon there will be some non-consumption creative goals to share as well, though I’m not quite ready at the moment.
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    The Map is Not the Territory: A review of “Come As You Are”

    Warning: I’m going to talk about vaginas, penises, arousal, and other sexual things.

    If you’ve ever looked at your sex life and wondered, “Oh my god, what is wrong with me?” this book is for you. (Btw, the answer is: probably absolutely nothing. You just think there is, and that’s the real problem.)

    Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. is so much more than a sex book. In its 300-some pages of well constructed chapters, notes, and appendices, it manages to do away with a wide array of harmful myths about sex, encourage radical self acceptance, and teach mindfulness and stress-management techniques that help with basically everything. While the book is mainly written for cisgendered women in monogamous relationships, Nagoski shows how her studies have been helpful in the sex lives of hetero and homosexual couples in a range of ages, and the principles are heavily applicable to all humans. After all, as you learn in the early chapters, everyone has the same partsjust arranged differently.

    The premise of the book rests heavily on the “dual control” model of sexuality and the brain, which is explained by the author pretty clearly in this comic (fair warning: if you click around on that site it can get pretty explicit). It gives a really useful framework of sexuality as a set of “on” and “off” switches, or as things that hit the “brakes” or the “accelerators.” She brings in several different women who have sensitive brakes with non-sensitive accelerators, or vice-versa, or any other combination. It becomes abundantly clear how important context is for sexual desire to healthily flourish (and despite this brake vs. accelerator metaphor, desire for sex is not a “drive”).

    Why I think everyone should read this book is because of its effort to correct harmful myths we’ve all come to believe about what is “sexy” and how someone should be as a sexual person. Nagoski talks about how the myths come from pop culture, from the ways in which we grew up, and from our early experiences of love, affection, and sex. A phrase that keeps popping up in my life over and over is “the map is not the territory.” And synchronously, she talked about this very concept in one of the concluding chapters of the book:

    But perhaps the biggest challenge is that when the map and the terrain don’t match, our brains try to make the map true, forcing our experience into the shape of the map. “No, no, this is the trail,” we say as we stumble through the thicket. “It says so on the map.”

    We find this recurring problem in so many parts of our lives, and our sex lives are no exception. To that point, a major-major PSA that everyone should know is that non-concordance is a thing. That is to say: Genital arousal and sexual desire often don’t match up.

    In fact, for people with vaginas, only about 10% of the time that a vagina self-lubricates does the person find the stimulus actually sexually appealing. It’s about 50% of the time for people with penises (which is still not actually that much if you look at the situation objectively rather than subjectively). Because we’ve come to think that these physical signs are really what matters, and because we can be so out of touch with what we actually want as people, we culturally buy into this myth that if a vagina is “wet” or a penis is “hard” then the person really wants to have sex. It should be clear how this lie plays into sexual assault and abuse. There’s really nothing that beats clear communication and a safe, healthy sexual context where people feel like they can express what’s happening in their brains instead of fumbling for misleading genital cues. And this is actual science, not just my opinion as a feminist and former sexual assault victim advocate.

    For my part, I found Nagoski’s chapters about creating a proper context for healthy sexual desire to be really useful just for day-to-day happiness. Everyone talks about how stress should be “released” but rarely do we really look at what that means. Nagoski explains stress as something that is cyclical: it’s instigated, it builds, and if there is no completion of the stress cycle, it just continues to build until it damages us. In the modern world, we have a lot of chronic stressors that take us to that second part of the cycle, but unlike the “acute stress” of physical danger, there is often no escape from the predator or vanquishing of the enemy. Activities that “release stress” are simulating the relief you feel when you realize that you’ve run inside and locked the door before the rabid beast can catch you. Crying instead of repressing your feelings of sadness, roaring through a workout after a frustrating day at work, and jumping sky-high when Pennywise pops out of the storm drainthese are all ways to complete the stress cycle. And I’m finding that this really practical approach to stress management is making my life better in many ways (and a lot of those ways are not-NSFW).