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October 31, 2002|Susan Carpenter; Renee Tawa; Jessica Hundley

He scares it well

With a human-size Grim Reaper standing just inside the door to greet them, about 200 people descended upon Dark Delicacies in Burbank to meet the reigning king of horror, Clive Barker. The 50-year-old artist, author and director -- most notably of the classic fright film "Hellraiser" -- was on hand Sunday to sign copies of his new novel, "Abarat."

His fans, however, were there to have him sign not only "Abarat," but also any other bit of Barker-related merch they had in their possession -- pictures, posters, DVDs, CDs, T-shirts, records and watch straps.

Carrying a cardboard box loaded with two posters, six CDs and six books, Mark Adams was first in a line that extended down an aisle of vampire novels, past a coffin-shaped wall clock, out the door and down the block. He was stressed, he said, with the pressure of having to "sound intelligent" in front of Barker, who looked anything but threatening in his red Chuck Taylors, blue jeans and a button-down shirt.

More intimidating was Barker's "executive protector" -- the tall, dark and humorless man who was his bodyguard for the event. Although his protector expected nothing to happen, at another signing a crazed fan had apparently attempted to cut Barker with a knife and take some blood.

There was no evidence of such craziness at Dark Delicacies. Some of the fans may have been wearing pentagram necklaces and skull-and-crossbones rings, but their sole intent was to meet the man behind "Saint Sinner" and "Tortured Souls," to have their picture taken with the author and to ask about the next three books in the "Abarat" series.

When it came to the upcoming books, Barker was elusive, revealing only that they will be released every two years and, not surprisingly, get "darker and darker."

-- Susan Carpenter

*

Facing a brutal past

Behind the glow of a candle, Sister Dianna Ortiz was a slight, girlish figure in a dark jacket, cream-colored blouse and dangling silver cross earrings, with a chin-length black bob.

Earlier this week at the Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture, in L.A., the soft-spoken American nun sat behind a long table and began speaking in a firm voice about her torture in 1989 by Guatemalan security forces, who also gang-raped her, leading to an agonizing abortion.

Twenty minutes later, Ortiz read a passage from her memoir, "The Blindfold's Eyes" (Orbis), that described another woman's torture in the same prison. Her voice cracked and shook. Tears fell. Then she dropped her head into her hands and sobbed. No one in the audience of 60 moved for several minutes while representatives of the reading's co-sponsor, Amnesty International, spoke quietly with her.

The reading was over, but she stayed to sign books. Ortiz, who now is director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International in Washington, looked back up. "I just want to apologize for my breakdown," she said in a halting voice. "I know Nov. 2 is coming up, and I'm feeling kind of raw."

On that day 13 years ago during Guatemala's civil war, at age 31, her story began.

-- Renee Tawa

*

Of Joy and obsession

You may never have heard of a band called Souled American, but Camden Joy intends to change that. At Skylight Books on a recent Saturday, the L.A.-born, Boston-based music writer read from his newest book, a compilation of his early essays titled "Lost Joy" (TNI Books), which includes his extended diatribes on Pixies lead singer Frank Black, and his hilarious, poignant and obsessive manifestoes.

Originally composed for Joy's innovative guerrilla poster campaigns, these manifestoes appeared on mailboxes, telephone poles and bus stops in New York City from 1995 to 1997. They addressed subjects as varied as the inherent corruption of the major-label record industry and the beauty of a band called Souled American.

Joy's voice has earned him a bevy of dedicated admirers, including writers Dave Eggers and Dennis Cooper. Cooper was in the crowd that sat rapt as Joy revisited his obsession with Souled American. Reading from a selection of his manifesto essays, Joy occasionally paused, letting the band's folk-tinged melancholia float softly down from the store's speaker system. "Looking back, I see these recurring themes, story-wise," Joy says, "this idea of bittersweet nostalgia, like waiting for a relationship to die so that you can mourn it. That's a feeling that's all over 'Lost Joy.' "

-- Jessica Hundley

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