My short story, “What Nightmare are You Living In?” was featured on Starship Sofa this past summer. It’s a wonderful little story about monsters with bottle cap eyes and a retired soldier whose life isn’t what he thought it was going to be. Listen to it here.
While Outland Entertainment isn’t currently open to general submissions, we are always really eager to look for new talent—and we’re especially eager to expand our novel offerings to better represent diverse voices. To this end, I am participating in this year’s #DVpit, alongside editor Alana Joli Abbott, to represent Outland Entertainment. Each of us has written up our Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) and tweeted out our short versions, but here they are in full.
Gwendolyn N. Nix: My love of science fiction and fantasy began with Tolkien, Weis, and Herbert, strengthened with Neil Gaiman, and darkened with Anne Bishop, Jacqueline Carey and Laurell K. Hamilton. Right now, I love heart-wrenching stories, gorgeous writing, with strong character interaction and development. Give me your grimdark tales, dark fantasy romances, your horror sagas, your weird space operas. LGBTQIA+ and diversity welcome.
Alana Joli Abbott: Although I love traditional Western fantasy, I seek out stories from underrepresented voices, especially those steeped in mythologies and cultures outside my own experience, to see how they can expand my favorite subgenres: high fantasy, epic fantasy, space operas, and weird Westerns. I look for complex characters with agency that represent multiple genders and ethnicities, and smart stories with humor and hope.
Solicited Submitting to Outland
If we reach out to you on #DVPit and you decide to submit—first, thanks so much for entrusting us with a peek at your manuscript! We want to see your synopsis and the first three chapters of your completed manuscript. We are not currently interested in seeing works in progress for the purposes of this event.
That’s it! If you’re a writer doing #DVPit, have a fantastic time and best of luck to you in finding the perfect home for your novel. If you’re a reader, tune into #DVPit and see all of the cool things people are writing!
Originally published August 8, 2014
Updated note: My great-uncle, Peter Setera, was a barnstormer and in 1928, at the age of 33, he went up in flames as he hit the ground. My dad’s a librarian, so I get lots of fun facts 🙂
For the past two weeks, my work has been consumed with aviation. Research, profiles, aircraft engine facts…I feel like I could rattle on about F-16s and C-130s at any given time. After collecting data on wingspans and figuring out just how fast Mach 2.5 really is (1,930 mph thank you very much), I gathered some interesting information about barnstorming, a particularly influential piece of aviation’s history that I thought I’d share.
At the start of World War I, the Allies quickly realized they needed to gain some kind of tactical advantage over the highly successful German zeppelins used for reconnaissance missions, bomb raids, and scouting for enemy artillery fire. By targeting London, German airstrikes infused fear into their enemies while igniting the imagination of many in regards to a different form of warfare.
For the Allies, air warfare appeared questionable. Many older commanders were hesitant to employ the newer technology, but change needed to happen to shape the outcome of the Great War. At first, aircrafts were used for reconnaissance missions, spotting, and observation, but later evolved into being used in bomb raids and aerial attacks. This took off, especially when aircrafts and pilots began carrying grenades and grappling hooks, and later upgraded to handheld firearms, and finally, the machine gun.
As the War came to an end, manufacturers in the United States had produced a huge number of planes, in particular the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane, which had been used to train pilots. Usually costing around five thousand dollars, the U.S. federal government sold these planes at a fraction of the cost, some down to $200, to veterans, servicemen, and civilians.
First designed and built in 1915, The JN “Jenny” was a two-seater biplane mainly used as a training airplane for the army, but later modified to be an aerial ambulance. Classically recognized with a front propeller and dual wings, the JN “Jenny” became an incredibly popular and famous aircraft during World War I.
While the aircraft industry boomed during wartime, afterwards, many airplane companies went broke, flooding the market with even more discounted planes for sale. Many pilots put their aviation skills to good use by gaining employment as crop dusters, mail carriers, and as good old-fashioned smugglers. Others flew around the country selling airplane rides. Landing in a farmer’s field, the pilot would negotiate with the farmer for the use of his field as a temporary runway and arena to showcase his plane. These ‘barnstormers’ then created a buzz in the nearby towns or farms by dropping handbills advertising the pilot’s daring aviation feats, marketing plane rides, and stirring up a carnival-like ambiance. In some instances, pilots were forced to land in fields because they simply ran out of fuel. Thus, the farmer was stuck with the grounded flyer until the pilot could make enough money to buy enough fuel to leave.
On the other hand, wing walking started with Ormer Locklear as a means to repair his plane mid-flight in World War I. By literally climbing out of his cockpit mid-air, walking along the wing, and attending to the mechanical problem, he soon began a trend that quickly transform into handstands and parachute jumps.
With rising popularity, barnstormers cashed in on their fame by forming troupes of elaborate flying circuses known for their stunt pilots’ aerobatic maneuvers, such as plane dives, loop-de-loops, and barrel rolls. Wing walkers, usually beautiful women, strong men, or even the pilots themselves, would walk, dance, or perform acrobatic stunts along the plane’s wings while in mid-air. In time, stunts became so incredible that they ranged from planes flying side by side and each pilot exiting their cockpit, wing walking, and trading places with each other to wing walkers being picked up by other planes, much like a trapeze artist. Some of the most famous flying circuses were “The Five Blackbirds,” “The Flying Aces Air Circus,” “The 13 Black Cats,” and “Gates Flying Circus.”
During the 1920’s and into the 1930’s aviation regulations were extremely loose, allowing pilots to do any combination of daredevil stunts that became more dangerous and insane to quench the crowd’s thirst for adrenaline. Once regulations started to be enforced, barnstormers and flying circuses had a difficult time maintaining their audience’s awe while still sticking to these safety standards. Once the military stopped selling Jenny’s, barnstorming steadily decreased into obscurity in the 1940s. Luckily, wing walking and flying circuses continued after World War II to this day.
“Wingwalking History.” Wingwalking History. Silver Wings Wingwalking Team, 2013. Web. 06 Aug. 2014. <http://www.silverwingswingwalking.com/resource_zone.html>.
White, John M. “The History of Barnstorming.” All Things Aviation: Informing, Education, and Entertaining Pilots. N.p., 31 May 2011. Web. 06 Aug. 2014. <http://all-things-aviation.com/flying/history-of-barnstorming/>.
I’m familiar with Sunny Moraine’s fiction and have followed their publications on Apex, Nightmare, and Shimmer. Additionally, I’ve worked with them professionally, and their editorial work is great (highly recommend). Singing With All My Skin and Bone has been on my backlist to conquer since it first published from Undertow Publications and I couldn’t be more happy with the collection. It has everything I wanted: Moraine’s work all in one place where I could read them back to back, not just as quick online magazine skims during my lunch break. Moraine’s style continues to be darkly heartbreaking, like a deep well. You drop a stone or coin into it and the ripples touch more than you thought possible. Plus, the tons of references to Richard Siken’s Crush—how apt is that for me?
My favorite stories, I believe, center around Moraine’s later works. Their voice seems settled and certain compared to some of the other stories, but no matter where you are on the timeline, you know who the words belong to. By far, my favorite story is “Singing With All My Skin and Bone,” an intimate story of rage, blood witchcraft, self-mutilation, and bullying. I can’t say it enough—the voice in this story is so intimate it becomes painful and even as the protagonist wields newfound power with terrible consequences, you can understand why the sublimity experience might be worth it.
The theme of physical self-destruction continues into my second favorite story, “Come My Love and I’ll Tell You a Tale,” where an apocalypse, cannibalism, and heartbreaking love are front and center. Survival lies in the eye of each story’s maelstrom—as in the things people will do to stay alive because it’s in our nature to live—and how to deal with the consequences of choosing to live and not die. In a sense, it all boils down to sacrifice. At first, the main character sounded like a young child to me, who quickly grew into an adult seeking some kind of comfort and acceptance for what she was forced to do.
“Event Horizon” was my third favorite story, mainly because it’s a story I’ve always wanted to write. Hungry houses that must be fed, but will they feed on you? And amidst the sacrifice blooms a hidden love that gets its first taste of rejection. I wish this story was longer—hell, I’d pay greenbacks for a novel—it has that Stephen King IT mentality of experiencing the magical and horrific as a child and finding out it still haunts you into adulthood.
My fourth is a tie between “Across the Seam,” with feet in the legends of Baba Yaga and “So Sharp That Blood Must Flow,” a Little Mermaid re-telling. Watching the little mermaid reject her sea foam fate and turn into a vicious, bloody sea witch made my heart a bit happy. I’m not sure what Young Me would think of it, especially with my infatuation with the Disney re-telling, but Present Me was delighted.
Other notables are “Love in the Time of Vivisection” which feels like an intimate portrait into the life of someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, wielding ultimate power over life and the unwilling (here, willing) victim to satisfy that ultimate insatiable need to control. “It’s Healing It’s Never Whole” felt like a fresh take on the afterlife—but it did have me pondering for a good long while why many times afterlives are created to be a workaholic capitalistic lifestyle, as if finding ultimate satisfaction in work is a kind of heaven unattainable in the real world. “The Throat is Deep and the Mouth is Wide” had me wondering about unanswerable questions, and, if any answer would be good enough to satisfy that hunger to know.
The other stories were entertaining, but what halted their ascension to Favorite heights centered around the fact that they felt more like emotional explorations rather than a story. More like thesis stated facts told in an emotional way, a comment on society, or even just a strange occurrence to create an unsettling ambiance, rather than a tale where I connected with the characters.
Still, this collection made me think and take my time in reading. I couldn’t ask for more. Five glorious stars.
Richard Siken’s Crush may be an older book of contemporary poetry, but it’s one that continues to be close to the heart. Other reviews have described it as panicked and obsessive, which I agree with, but other things that aren’t covered as often encompasses the sense of desperation—resonating with a generation today to be careful for what you wish for.
Crush is Ouroboros, a giant ancient snake of want, need, and desire, that, because of the shades of his passion, cannot find fulfillment or reciprocation. The only solution is to take, demand, and hurt, which further bloodies and mutilates the object of desire until it doesn’t resemble anything of its original beauty. The characters within Crush must devour their own hearts, consume their lover’s hearts, asking “Did he find that one last tender place to sink his teeth in? (41)” until wild promises are made and kept, rendering the protagonist into “your slaughterhouse, your killing floor, / your morgue and final resting (41).” Since things like love, hate, desire are ever-changing constructs, Crush embodies how you must own a piece of your obsession to keep them/it as they are—whether that be a bullet lodged in your heart, or a jacket you’ll always wear, or one side of the wishbone that you pull after you’ve both murdered a man. These act as some semblance of a living memento mori, or better yet just simple evidence that the characters can present and show to their lover after time as if to say, “What do you want, sweetheart? (62).” There is no better way to love than to devour—that taking the beloved into yourself is the only true way to show that love.
Throughout Crush, love and desire exist on a liminal plane, wavering between sex or violence. One kiss can land you in a passionate embrace, or drowning in a swimming pool. An obsession can land you existing in an abusive affair. After all, “kissing degenerates into biting (23).” But it’s water which soaks the pages of this collection, twisted from its traditional symbolism of cleansing and purifying. Out of the swimming pools and lakes rise “And a lady singing / Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on / Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly / flames everywhere (11).” Ouroboros arises, unfulfilled by the love it expects, love it’s told it deserves, and remains unsatisfied with what it’s given. Siken’s characters try to birth their desires, which remain stillborn or twisted: “You could drown in those eyes, I said, / so it’s summer, so it’s suicide, / so we’re helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool (6).” In the privacy of the shower, you can imagine the things that make you feel dirty, “wearing your clothes or standing in the shower for an hour, / pretending that this skin is your skin, these hands your hands (4).” Water doesn’t purify or baptize. It drowns.
One thing I’m not portraying well in this review is Siken’s structure. The line placement feels like gasping breaths, heavy moments, or intimate pauses found in conversation where you’re choking on your words. It’s a secondary piece that makes this work so gut-wrenching. Beyond the brutal prose, the spaces feel like the character is finding courage to spill his soul, just waiting for the judgement he might receive, and cutting down expectations early by cutting in:
“And the part where I push you
flush against the wall and every part of your body rubs against the bricks,
I’m getting to it (11).”
Criticism may be difficult to come by within this collection, but at times some of the imagery can be too close to Siken, as if it only represents a feeling or experience that is wholly his, one that readers cannot partake in. List of objects paint a scene, yes, but they also generate confusion regarding their significance. In that way, Siken keeps pieces of his work incredibly private, like an inside joke, that the reader can only guess to its meaning. But that might be part of the joy of the work—getting to know the poet in a way only a lover could.
The tagline for John Langan’s cosmic horror novel, The Fisherman was “A River Runs Through It straight to Hell.” C’mon, as a Montana kid, how could I not read a book like that? I’m also catching up on a bunch of recommended horror novels from 2018, and yes, this one was on the list. That’s why it’s called a TBR pile. You get to it when you can.
Overall, I liked this book. I had a lot of complicated feelings about it when I read the last page. The writing was completely my style—that kind of literary prose that kept my mind engaged by vividly picturing every detail, almost like a memory. The book resonates with humanistic grief and the first section entitled “Men Without Women” sets up the tone perfectly. After all, horror can also be loss. Yet, this horror also felt somewhat detached, like a fairy tale, or more accurately, a fisherman’s tale.
Our protagonist, Abe, plays the part of a fisherman almost too well. His voice is the slow, detail-oriented speech of a grandfather, telling a story where you’re on the edge of your seat, asking him to speed up and get to the good stuff. But he won’t be rushed—the details mean something—and he’ll fill your hours explaining the routes to drive through the Catskills, the rivers waterways that mean nothing to a girl like me, how he lived through the rising success of IBM and his bitterness when the company betrayed by asked him to retire before he wanted to. Hell, he even explained how he lived his retirement up to Y2K and how he managed to survive.
Once, in a creative writing class—and this is relevant, I promise—a gal wrote a story and used references that those in the younger generation didn’t understand. Our professor applauded her, telling her that she didn’t need to explain her story to fit the masses. If they wanted to look up what she meant, that was the reader’s responsibility, not the writers. At the time, I totally agreed with him, but I’m beginning to waver on that point. It’s also a comment fueled by the information age—just Google it, and you’ll figure it out! Why should I take my time explaining it to you when you can do it on your own? We’ll, I’ll tell you right now I didn’t Google Maps the layout of the Catskills, or the history of IBM. I just kind of sighed in my chair, and mulled over whether it served the overall master plan to capture the true voice of a fisherman. I mean, the book is called The Fisherman. Who was I to complain when it felt just like an old guy reliving his horror days and hoping you’d stick with him until the end?
A fisherman’s tale is similar to a fairy tale: there’s a foe to defeat, the hope that luck is on your side, and the glory earned when you come home with a prize—of a monster fish or a princess. That tone wrapped around this horror story, and once I accepted that, a lot of other things made it easier to swallow. I didn’t get fully drawn into the story until the second act. Like a fairy tale, the story wasn’t all the protagonists alone. In some ways, he was just the vessel to tell the true story, an outsider who had accepted to a degree, the loss of his wife, who, like Virgil, took it upon himself to guide another grieving husband through the healing process.
The second act transported me back to the early years of the United States, and explored a melting post cast of characters who came together because of stone masonry jobs building a reservoir. Spooky occurrences began to happen—a dead woman with gold eyes haunting the town who’d been brought back from the dead. The supernatural seemed somewhat common place for the characters—after all, nothing could stop them from doing their stone mason job, not even a golden eyed creature hellbent on getting her live children. I read a good portion of this late at night while the winter wind howled outside, so when I had to use the ladies room at one in the morning, I sprinted from the bedroom to the bathroom, convinced I might see a soaked dead creature with golden eyes following me, catching me in the closet, and showing me the horrors that live within the cosmic ocean of the universe.
Of course, Rainer—our hero, father, and black magic wizard turned stone mason—came to the rescue with his otherworldly knowledge gained from the old world, doing a bunch of esoteric stuff to halt the bad forces. Like a fairy tale, a lot isn’t really explained, but I mean, that’s a fairy tale’s bread and butter. Characters just know how to do shit.
And now, into the spoilers.
The Fisherman, another grieving man without his woman, has gathered the magical tools to fish for the giant world snake that wraps around the world. It’s a culturally interchangeable fish, at some point being called Jormungand and then Apophsis. What the Fisherman hopes to gain from this, I can only surmise. Control over death? Power over the world? The powers of resurrection? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Yet somehow, Rainer has experienced this Fisherman myth, although we really don’t know why or how, but Langan enchants me with his vivid weave of prose that immediately struck my imagination like lighting, so I’m okay with not really knowing:
Has he woven the ropes?
From the hairs of ten thousand dead men.
He has forced the hooks?
From the swords of a hundred dead kings.
Rainer saves his daughter from the dead woman’s spell upon her soul, he stops the great world fish from being caught, and then goes back to his life as a stone mason and later water control manager. Only much later, when the mysterious forces from his past return, do we get inside his head to understand where his magical knowledge came from. What Langan describes is something I have dreamt about, a place I’ve been trying to write a story about for a long time, but haven’t had the words.
These are the cities built along the shores of the black ocean. This was one of them. It was neither the largest nor the oldest of these places, but it was of sufficient size and age for our instructors’ purposes. They had set us to a task—a kind of examination—to determine if Wilhelm and I were ready to proceed to the next state in our learning. Our mission was simple: we were to make our way to the other side of the city, where we would find its necropolis. There, we were to locate a certain grave, and pluck from it a flower we would find growing in its soil…Not only was the flower rare, it was regarded by the city’s populace as the soul of the priest who was buried under it. To remove such a plant was considered a mix of heresy and murder. The streets were full of police, tall shapes dressed in black cloaks and wearing masks fashioned to resemble the curved beaks of birds of prey; they were armed with long, curved knives..The geography of the city was strange, contradictory. Streets ended unexpectedly in blank walls, or climbed bridges which came to a stop high in the air…We had to guide ourselves by the stars burning overhead. These were not arranged in the familiar constellations. Here, the images they drew had been given names such as the Rider, the Staff, and the Garland of Fruit.
Are stories like Jormungand? Eating their own tail, simply reiterations of the same creative force that floats like an ocean over writers, artists, dreamers, and creators? Sometimes, I feel like we are all pulling from the same source, and the flavors are the only difference between them. Like any fairytale, I wanted more. I wanted to explore the city, I wanted to be in Rainer’s past like an ache, I wanted to make the real Fisherman tell me his story. I suppose this is what makes fairytales so accessible. How many renditions of Snow White grace the shelves? The Fisherman is a launching board for a variety of interpretations and other avenues of story that, I feel, are desperate to be told.
My final note ends on the idea of cosmic horror. I briefly read other reviews that tagged this as Lovecraftian, and I myself blundered into using that term very fluidly. Yet, I wouldn’t say this boils down to the Lovecraftian insanity induced by, say, Cthulhu, but it does have that type of cosmic god-like horror experienced by overwhelming environmental-inspired fears. I have an urge to settle on a different term for cosmic horror that doesn’t directly link to Lovecraft. Sublime fiction? Cosmic Sublimity? I’ll work on it and get back to you.
Sharp Objects was another novel, like Bird Box, that I planned to tackle before I saw the television series. Dark Places was my first Gillian Flynn novel, and I loved the visceral descriptions there and expected something similar in Sharp Objects.
From my understanding, Sharp Objects is Flynn’s first novel and it shows. When held against the polished pieces of Gone Girl and Dark Places, you can see how her writing and imagery have evolved from the raw, somewhat malformed intent in the prose found in Sharp Objects. As if, Flynn had been building up to Gone Girl through the iterations of her previous novels. In Sharp Objects, the polish isn’t quite there. The images and actions don’t quite have that punch. There’s a bit of wobble to them, like puzzle pieces that just don’t quite fit. And I feel terrible saying that, because it’s not fair to compare stories with each other, but it is fair to acknowledge how an author has grown and matured as a writer. But no matter what, Sharp Objects has that Flynn style. From the opening page you know you’re in for an unhealthy, disturbing journey, a story full of meanness that can kick any slasher/vampire/serial killer/murder/psychological horror out of the park. I’ve never felt so unnerved reading anything before, and you can take that to the bank.
Sharp Objects gets a solid 3-stars from me. After all, this is Gillian Flynn, and her words shudder with an undercurrent of violence, from our protagonist Camille picking out a new sweater to her wandering the streets of her hometown Wind Gap, trying to find a murderer who strangles young girls and pulls out their teeth. The story is almost a study in place—the suffocating cyclical nature of small towns where your high school status follows you into your adult life, where drugs. sex, and alcohol run rampant as a solution to boredom, where one big blue-collar business keeps the town alive and kicking. Camille, a second-rate reporter, comes to Wind Gap on assignment to get the big scoop on the murders, hoping to use her intel of the town and its inhabitants to break the story first. She stays with her mother, Adora, and meets her half-sister, Amma, all the while having a romantic fling with the detective on the case. While she’s there, the past begins to resurface, making her face issues she thought she’d long since buried.
Camille is a really bad reporter. Like, she violates a ton of ethics and just doesn’t have that digging edge to get the story she needs. And she knows it. Her experience doesn’t really drive the story, instead, it’s the way she spirals from one moment to the next—drinking herself silly in the morning, having sloppy sex in the afternoon, and taking X with her half-sister in the evening. Oh, sure, she sets up interviews and chats with suspects, visits old friends to get their take on the murder, and cries to the only person she can trust—her editor—but Camille disintegrates as an adult in Wind Gap the longer she’s there. While that theme worked at times, sometimes I got the sense that Camille could’ve been a more impactful character that would’ve fit in more with the conversations crafted between the other characters—say, if she were a younger girl instead of a woman in her 30s. Then, it’d be more plausible as to why she’d follow her 13 year old half-sister into a house-party and take ecstasy and Oxy with a bunch of high schoolers and then drink a shit ton and meander home and oh, get a gut feeling that she’s figured out the murderer’s identity. I’m sure there are adults who do that, but it just felt so…uncomfortable to see a woman act that way. I didn’t buy it. I felt she couldn’t connect with the characters because she acted like an 18-year old, instead of the world-weary woman she was. There’s also a sense of intimacy found between characters that I’d never think could exist—Camille and her editor for one. If she was a younger woman and he her mentor, then yeah, I could see it. But the actions some of these characters did just seemed so strange.
Here’s a non-spoiler example: Camille goes to visit the best friend of her mother for an interview and the woman gets high on drugs, eats chocolate, and has Camille rub her feet while they talk. These women haven’t seen each other in years. And yet, she’s down to have Camille rub her feet? What??
Thank god for Richard Willis, detective extraordinaire, who, when it seemed like every character in Sharp Objects couldn’t do their job, actually had his shit together the whole time. I’ve never felt more relieved to sense the presence of an adult in a novel before.
But back to themes. As with Bird Box, bad mothers become a layer of horror to the tale, something that can be genetically passed from mother to daughter, something that infects all the relationships in Wind Gap. One scene in particular stands out—Camille forced to dress shop with Amma and Adora where Adora demands to see what Camille looks like in some kind of strappy dress that reveals that Camille is a cutter. Camille begs to stay behind the dressing room doors, but Adora forces her way in and is disgusted with what she sees. Camille bundles the dress into her mouth and screams. And, it’s a plausible scene like that that sticks: while not always so visceral, things like that have and can happen in real life.
It must be the reading theme of the month: how motherhood can be a horror of its own. Bird Box demonstrated it and Sharp Objects uses it to reveal how one bad mother creates another bad mother in a cycle that seems like it can’t be broken. How delicate the line between nurturing and suffocation can be, yet without love, be it twisted or not, the child yearns for some kind of affection or validation for the rest of their lives. I felt this could’ve been explored more deeply within the novel, but unfortunately, it got tacked on the end, much like the resolution to the book as a whole. An ending for sure, but not a satisfying one in the least. Things were wrapped up conclusively, but it came on too sudden, and felt like Camille rubbing the feet of a woman she hadn’t seen in years. Weird.
My suggestion? If you’re new to Gillian Flynn, read Sharp Objects first to get a taste of her style. Then, you’ll be able to appreciate her other works far more than if you double back. Or, just skip right to Gone Girl. Either way, you scare the shit out of me, Gillian Flynn. Write another book.
The end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 had/has me eyes-deep in spreadsheet management and cold querying which means eight-hours worth of reorganization, re-numbering, email blasting, and copy and pasting. My higher brain function—well, more accurately, the creative part of my brain—has bemoaned our situation. This led me to Nightmare Magazine, where I could binge the stories to my heart’s content. Since I’ve always wanted to have a story accepted by Nightmare, I figured it was a great time to study the market and what made the stories that did get accepted stand out.
I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Nightmare podcast stories from 2018 as well as some runner-ups. I’m always interested in picking apart the reasons why I love certain themes, stories and characters, especially why these things either do or don’t resonate with others. My best friend and I like to say that we both like the same things, we just like different parts of that thing.
Favorite Nightmare Podcasts of 2018
Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen
Whales, inventions, leviathans, impossible transformations. Can we talk about Stefan Rudnicki as a narrator? I adore his voice. He brings that extra flourish that especially settled in with the protagonist in this story. I could see the protagonist, standing at the edge of his whaling ship, listening to the whales singing, watching the dark water below him undulate in a strange, horrific way. God, so good!
Bridge Before You by Stephanie Malia Morris
I didn’t catch on that this was a fairy tale until near the end of the story, but the Southern twist made it that much more special. The interwoven imagery of spiderwebs, silks, veils, won’t leave my imagination soon. The voice of the story caught me immediately—the rage, the craving for love even as she destroyed it, the notion that you should live with your fate even if you don’t want to. Gah! So good!
Crook’s Landing, by Scaffold by G.V. Anderson
This caught my attention:
When the trapdoor opened for the short drop, the sharp stop never came: instead, my soul slithered loose from my body…
Like, what? Tell me more! The unique idea that the executed criminals could fall into a limbo where they lived out their vices eternally and forgot all that mattered to them…what a great premise. Our protagonist, on a mission to find his brother before they both forgot each other, left trails of colors in a place of despair and had an ending that made me ache.
On the Origin of Specie by Vajra Chandrasekera
Oh, this story broke my heart! A rebellious protagonist with a morally straight compass that worked against her as she fought against taxes she didn’t believe in, which ultimately lead to her downfall. Taxes. Such an ordinary, hated thing throughout history. I loved the undercurrent of the story: what do these taxes stand for? Why do people pay them blindly? What are you supporting? Doesn’t it put blood on your hands if you’re the funders?
Pitcher Plant by Adam-Troy Castro
I had a hard time getting into this, probably because I was on more familiar territory imagination-wise with science-experiments-gone-wrong and bone mazes and reaper traps, but the writing was excellent and the ending nailed it.
The Island of Beasts by Carrie Vaughn
Interesting take on how the definition of civilization could be transformed and changed and used as a way to regain and maintain what had been lost. Again, I experienced a lull within the story that kept me from being totally immersed in it, but the ending wrapped things up well.
Dead Air by Nino Cipri
I’m glad I listened to this one. I skimmed the text to see if it was my style and became overwhelmed with the style—how’s that? Listening to it worked far better for me, even if I wanted more of the voices, more reasons behind what was happening, just a tiny bit more explanation. Maybe a second listen will illuminate some things for me.
Bird Box has been on my radar for a while now—and not just because the Netflix movie came out, geez, people—from a couple book club discussion groups I was involved in. My New Year resolution is to read more for pleasure, which was the impetuous to pull my Bird Box copy from the bookshelf (okay, and somewhat because of a blindfolded Sandra Bullock blowing up my social media feed meme-style, but you know, whatever) and read that short and sweet book. And it is short—an easy hill to climb and conquer and finish reading in a couple days’ time.
I mean…look at this internet gold:
Bird Box got a solid 3.75/5 for me. I read it over the span of two days, catapulted into the story by the horror-survival genre and mysterious suicide-inducing creatures. I like the insanity-inducing Cthulhu monster take instead of the mind-bending aliens idea, but I don’t know what they really look like…more on this later. No time wasted here—the novel shot off like a rocket, and ping-ponged between the future where our protagonist, Malorie, escapes her compound-like house with two four-year-olds to travel down the river and find safety with other surviving humans. The flashback portions of the novel focused on the arrival of the creatures and Malorie’s first experience living with a bunch of poor mannered, terrified
college students similar survivalists.
The good? The unsettling ambiance. Some scenes sent chills up my spine. The close-eye writing style kept the bits of survival-fear real. That little kid? Spooky, man.
Plus, is there any way I can have assurances that my four-year-olds will be smart as all get-out? Malorie’s at-times cruel motherhood style created superhuman children, but I know young children are capable of incredible things. Hell, I’ve learned how kids overcome developmental issues when the adults are convinced all they can do is goo-goo ga-ga. Malorie denied her children milk if they kept their eyes open. She made them sleep in chicken-wire cages draped in black cloth. Her training was made of iron and steel, not comfort and cuddles, yet if she hadn’t implemented some sort of militaristic-parenting, there’s a chance they might not have survived as long as they did. She relied on her children to keep her safe, relied on the skills she’d honed within them. In a way, they were tools, only granted the titles of civilization—actual names—when they’d finally found some semblance of safety that wasn’t based completely on Malorie’s actions and the responsibility on her shoulders. Out there, they are Boy and Girl. Within a reconstructed civilization, they are Tom and Olympia.
I think that unbelievable fascinating.
A great portion of the book was composed of Malorie mentally spiraling. She constantly overthought her decisions and choices, running through what could happen over what was happening, the span of a page only a couple of seconds. This definitely composed a great amount of the horror in the novel—in a world where the creatures will drive you insane enough to kill yourself, it’s not hard to double back on everything you do, whether it be parenting techniques or trusting someone who’s asking you to take off your blindfold. This was probably what I’d be thinking if I were dropped in an apocalyptic world. I’m notorious for my indecision…but that doesn’t mean I want read about my own mind. The one-liners and sentence capitalization emphasized the franticness, and at moments, the story felt claustrophobic. You, the reader, were captured inside Malorie’s thoughts—which turned and turned like the widening gyre.
This was a fine line for me. As the novel raced to a finish, the internal survival angst propelled the plot, but it became wearing, especially when I desperately wanted more creature/monster development.
The monsters! What could they be? Gah, how my little Cthulhu heart yearned for some glimpse of Bird Box’s world-breakers. Yet, I can’t let this be a negative toward the story. It wouldn’t be fair. Letting Malorie glimpse the creatures without killing herself would violate the established rules in Bird Box.
Yet, why were some people able to see the monsters and not become suicidal? Gary, our antagonist, had a cult-like reverence for them, had become somewhat of a Renfield to the Cthulhu-Dracula. Gary felt like a loaded gun that sat in the corner—constantly casting dread, but never actually doing anything. He did his one somewhat-big initial villain act—and then disappeared for the rest of the book.
He had a greater role to play, yet, yet he was never resolved, and then he became a topic that Malorie spiraled about. An anxiety-inducing plot point with no meat! I think that’s why I felt so underwhelmed after I closed the book. Something central to the story was missing—he was the link that could develop the creatures, develop the world, lend a kind of eye-witness account that would upend the eeriness into true horror.
Oh, yeah, and I did watch the movie after I finished the book. I’ll always be a sucker for Sandra Bullock and she pulled off Malorie’s franticness quite well. There was a gut-wrenching moment when she had to decide between the two children, and that scene made the movie for me. The analysis of Malorie becoming a mother and what it means to her—beyond the influences of her lover or her sister—could shape an essay, and in this Ted Talk I will…