Q2, 2016 Recap

On the nonfiction front, I’ve recently wrapped a review for WFR of a soon-to-be-released collection by an author with whom I was not very familiar at the time.  Will include here when it goes live.

Events-wise, I’m looking forward to attending ReaderCon on the Saturday and Sunday of the convention, particularly the Shirley Jackson Awards.  At the last convention I went to (NecronomiCon), I met lots of fantastic people whose names I’d only seen and respected through their work, and I also met plenty of people whose work I had not encountered prior and I’ve now come to appreciate.

Reading-wise, I’m working on Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt, and it’s an excellent collection so far.  I first encountered his fiction through Shadows and Tall Trees, which contained his story “Onanon.”  That piece is included in Greener Pastures, and I’m glad to see he’s released such a strong debut collection.  Alongside that, I’ll be starting S.P. Miskowski’s Stag in Flight shortly.  She has been on my radar since first hearing about the Skillute cycle a year or two ago, but I haven’t been able to conjure the time to fit the longer pieces into the reading schedule yet unfortunately.

Turning now to the weather fiction, my story “The Drognar” was recently released through the annual (possibly now semi-annual) journal of weird fiction The Yellow Booke, published by Oldstyle Tales.  Oldstyle Tales is a nonprofit publisher seeking to spread a love of horror classics, and they publish affordable volumes of both well- and lesser-known authors.  Meanwhile, The Yellow Booke highlights current voices of similar persuasions.  The electronic version of the latest volume is available for free here, and if you’re like me in preferring a nice tangible artifact that will eventually add up and make you never want to change residences again, you can get it through Amazon at a low price that primarily covers costs.  I also want to take a second to thank Justin Steele and Scott Nicolay for a recent mention of The Yellow Booke, Vol. 3 on my favorite weird fiction podcast, The Outer Dark.  I’m glad the show found a new home with This Is Horror after being on hiatus for a time.  I’ve also been a fan of TiH’s own podcast, and I think they’ll work well together.

Some of those navel-gazey thoughts on writing process and that kind of thing, as relates to my most recent story to see daylight: I wrote “The Drognar” 2-3 years ago in a bit of a frenzy that rarely occurs for me.  I included a quote from a favorite Kelly Link story, “The Specialist’s Hat,” because it was a partial inspiration for the piece.  Though I lead with such a reference, I should state clearly that I’m in no way attempting to replicate the unique feats of which Mrs. Link is capable.  However, the concept of playing dead as it appears in her story struck a chord that called forth a topic that has long fascinated me: the strangeness (seemingly to adults, anyhow) with which young people make games and other diversions out of the most serious of life’s defining processes–death and sex–before ever really having a concept of what either really is or means (and of course, one could say no one can ever truly know all of the realities and meanings of those two milestones).  When I was very young, I used to hide under blankets and pretend that I had passed from this earth forever.  While this was simply escapism in a sense, the fact that I specifically thought of it in terms of “experiencing” what it was like to be dead is something that, growing older, always struck me as both thoroughly normal and thoroughly strange. The converging fact of reading Kelly’s story and musing on my own personal experiences led me to start the piece, and during the time of its writing I also wanted to explore the boundaries between “reality” in an “objective” sense (no time to dismantle those here, sorry to say) and “reality” in a narrative sense.  In other words, I was preoccupied with finding the points at which those two concepts overlap and/or collide to create tension, disarray, and psychological upheaval.  I can’t say with certainty who the victor ever is in either case, but I do know that the worst of these shocks can inflict lasting trauma, and even the most trivial of them naturally accumulate to a difficult world for any conscious creature.

It strikes me that so many of the worst shocks to our psyche that we can experience are a direct product of foundational narratives around which we develop our own identities colliding with cold, hard reality, and wrestling with whatever emerges in the wreckage. Sometimes the wreckage becomes life, sometimes the wreckage becomes something beautiful, and sometimes the wreckage remains an ugly blot forever in our personal histories. The easiest example to point to of the kind of consciousness-altering realization I’m trying to explore is the process of dismantling one’s religious upbringing in the face of proven falsehoods upon which such narratives depend, but I’m also fascinated by the smaller shocks we all experience: discovering that Santa is mom and/or dad, finding out that making the right choices doesn’t always produce the right results, arriving at an understanding that race and gender are not fixed and objective facts but rather nebulous constructs that only exist because enough people think they exist, and so forth. And sometimes reality doesn’t collide head-on with illusion, but instead one is sideswiped by the other and they each remain tainted with little chance of a return to the alleged reality.  I don’t know if I managed to call forth all of those things through the story, but some of these things were floating around in my mind in terms of the kind of horror I was seeking to evoke.  And some aspects of these English major-y themes I only became aware of well after finishing.  Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in my few completed pieces of fiction is that it really isn’t that necessary to purposely set forth with a specific theme as a goal: if you concentrate on telling a decent story (and I’m not claiming to have accomplished that necessarily), resonant themes and coherent symbologies will emerge as a natural byproduct of the thought put into telling a good story.

To conclude on a different and shorter note, I hear tell that Ellen Datlow, one of the best editors out there, had the following to say about Nightscript in her must-have Best Horror of the Year series (no, seriously, I’ve read several “best-of” anthologies and hers are tops):

“Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange and Darksome Tales edited by CM Muller (Chthonic Matter) is a very promising anthology debut of what’s intended to be an annual, with content along the lines of New Genre and Supernatural Tales magazines. The first volume has twenty stories. There are notable ones by Patricia Lillie, Daniel Mills, David Surface, Charles Wilkinson, Clint Smith, Damien Angelica Walters, Ralph Robert Moore, and John Claude Smith.”

While my piece was not deemed “notable” (which I wouldn’t really have expected anyhow), I’m honored simply to have been in the Table of Contents, and congratulations are due all around for C.M. and all the contributors for earning a mention in the book.  While I haven’t read all of them, a couple of my favorite discoveries I found in “Best Horror of the Year” are “The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine” by Peter Straub & “Omphalos” by Livia Llewellyn. I’ve read them both twice now, which is a rarity these days for me.

 

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