Friday, November 1, 2019

Positive review of 'The Plague Victim'

In what might be the first ever 'review' of my work (really a comment on a blog post) D.F. Lewis has some very kind words for my story 'The Plague Victim' in this year's Nightscript.

You can read read Lewis' thoughts on 'The Plague Victim', and all the other stories in Nightscript V, here:

Monday, September 30, 2019

Nightscript V is out!

My short story 'The Plague Victim' has been included in this year's volume of the annual literary horror anthology Nightscript, which is out now.

Nightscript V can be bought as an ebook or paperback here.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Some Thoughts on 'Midsommar', 'Hereditary' and 'The Ritual' and Folk vs. Cosmic Horror

The most effective, and scariest, works of horror are those that are so 'clean' that they could just as easily be considered nonfiction as fiction. Those that seem like like nothing more than a window into our own world. Ari Aster has taken two somewhat different approaches in his two films 'Hereditary' and the recent 'Midsommar'. Some thoughts on these films, as well 'The Ritual'.

This is one large central craft choice in a work of horror that has a significant effect in its execution: whether or not to expose the supernatural or metaphysical aspect of the horror. In 'Hereditary' we get this pretty decent dose of the cult's practices and beliefs (something to the effect of "'Paymon' has been conjured by the grandmother who has passed his presence down through her lineage in order to get those in her coven benefits, like good familiars etc..."). It is a cool premise. In 'Midsommar' the metaphysics (if there are any) are a lot more impressionistic. Presumably the gods and forces have a  Scandinavian Pagan origin, but as they elders point out, their book of lore is always evolving, always growing, and are channeled through the 'unclouded mind' of the inbred savant Reuben. The reason behind the sacrifices is vaguely described as perpetuating the health of the community (maybe allowing nine more children to be born into the community(?)) but the mechanism here is kept obscure. There is sort of this cinematic parallel to what the viewer is afforded: in 'Hereditary' there is a scene where Annie opens one of her mother's books and flips through, getting a vague idea of the metaphysics of the cult (and the world) which provided the viewer with some insight, but in 'Midsommar' when Josh asks to read their book of lore, is provided entrance into their world and tries to plumb the mechanisms of their cult, the elder 'closes the book' and prevents Josh from reading it (and while he does take some pictures he - and we - never get to view them) and the metaphysics are closed off from us.

Granted Paymon is never shown in his true form in 'Hereditary' but there are enough little sparks flying around to ensure that the overt supernatural is meant to be considered an essential part of that world. Of course, too, the proximate comparison for 'Midsommar' is 'The Ritual' another recent Scendinavian folk horror film wherein the monster-god is clearly seen a half dozen times and the supernatural is clearly invoked. Inn 'Midsommar' we are primed a bit to expect something in that yellow house, something beyond the bounds of reality. But when everything is said and done any supernatural elements in 'Midsommar' can be foisted off onto the psychoactive herbs and mushrooms that are freely distributed to the attendees.

This is an interesting decision, and 'Midsommar' prevail and suffers in various ways because of it. The story of the Harga - its history, past and future - never feet fully fleshed out. We don't know if the commune is seeking some 'omega point' or if they just want to perpetuate their happy way. In some sense it is more ominous than the coven in 'Hereditary', it has a sort of 'Stepford Wives' forced utopianism about it. On the other hand it is far less menacing than this group that is actively moving to bring genuine agents of hell to earth.

As practitioners of supernatural horror, we generally have to make this choice. Revealing the supernatural is playing a strong card, one that cannot be unplayed. It has dual effects: we pull the reader further from this reality, which inevitably makes the story less believable (though not utterly so, if executed appropriately). The card must be played very judiciously. But then playing this card well can add so much depth to a story. By not playing it, by keeping things open, there is room provided for interpretation on the part of reader. There is a lot of arguing back and forth that can occur, and the option for greater depth in this way. What would have happened in 'Midsommar' if 'the source' had been revealed more fully? Would it have added more to the movie or detracted from it? Granted 'Midsommar' is more of an image driven film (not relative to 'Hereditary' which is deeply image drive, but just in general).

In an image driven work like 'Midsommar' overplayed metaphysics can detract from the work, in the sense that the images take primacy and a lot of backstory can get in the way of the elegant presentation of the images. Stated differently: the images and the metanarrative can compete for the reader's attention, and a strong set of images will, or may, be muted by a strong underlying structure.

'The Ritual' shows another, somewhat different take on this balance. The imagery is strong throughout the movie, having a sort of disconnected feeling at first, until near the end of the film where things congeal. The creature (described late in the film as 'a bastard child of Loki' who provides the rural group with eternal life in exchange for the sacrifice of outsiders) is only hinted at for much of the film but is then revealed, in full, in the last act where while pursuing the last living character. The film, in this case, seemed to suffer for it. While the monster is very cool - and pretty scary - by revealing its true nature, what it looks like and how it works, its lurking nature is replaced with a somewhat mundane explanation. It seems to to be bound by the confines of the remote forest in which it lives. In this case, the monster is 'bound'. It is not some cosmic entity that transcends the boundaries of the human mind, but one that is caught in the boundaries of human thought (inside the forest: unsafe; outside the forest: safe). This is not an uncommon trope folk horror, in fact it is sort of a hallmark of folk horror: when you are in the village you are bound by the village's rules, you are subject to the village's monsters, but outside the village you are freed from the village's traditions and can go about your way unharmed, unpursued. In Cosmic horror, almost by definition, you are never safe. The horrors are specifically unbound by human thought, because they are existentially outside of human thought, concerns and boundaries. A question arises: are folk horror and cosmic horror incompatible?

I loved this resonance in the endings of 'Midsommar' and 'Hereditary' this 'final room' with the bodies all blooming and rotten. The juxtaposition between the living and who we had thought were the dead, but are really the eternally living. Whether this is 'saying' anything or not is hard to decide, though it is a beautiful and horrifying image, the sort of thing that stick with the viewer long after the movie has ended. A dark alter. In 'Midsommar' the yellow house is burned down, the bodies (living and ritualized) are destroyed, or transmogrified into glory for the commune. It is a very folk horror ending, in line with 'The Wicker Man'. In 'Hereditary' the film ends on an ambiguous, or resonant note. Paymon is present in the treehouse with the cult and the bodies. Something new has come and the alter will persist even after the movie has ended. Its presence is present and inescapable. It is sort of a nod toward cosmic horror: the room is out there and it is also in us. It has planted its germ and it is only a matter of time before it spreads. We will never find the burned ashes of the yellow house in Halga: it has been tilled into the soil and it influence will stay there, the alter in the treehouse however is somewhere, and it is spreading. We may look for it and we may find it, but even if we try to hide from it, it is still there, somewhere, working its strange force.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Dystopian Strangeness of being suspended on Twitter

I abhor these kinds of things, at this point pretty much on principle. I don't want to be one of those people that brags about not having social media, but I came to a point in 2014 where I realized they were not worth the effort and deleted Facebook and Twitter and maybe one or two others. It was a good thing.

I 'successfully' had a twitter account for maybe six months in 2013. I followed a few writers, a lot of dumb weird twitter accounts (is weird twitter still a thing?) and had the pinnacle of my social media fame when I just tweeted something like 'My favorite radical feminist is Andrea Twerkin' and got four likes.

At this point twitter feels almost like an anachronism. Like something that should be in the history books as having lived its life and now out to pasture. But there are a lot of interesting writers who post updates exclusively on twitter so, a few months back, I semi-grudgingly attempted to create a new twitter account, for the express purpose of following writers and journals that I found.

The process, of course, was very easy. I got on and went on a bit of a spree, following these folks that seemed interested. Shortly afterwards I was asked for me phone number, to validate my identity. Sure, fine, I put it in, but since I was in the middle of rural Utah I didn't have any service and couldn't respond to the verification code.

Twitter, being near the very bottom of my life priorities, was forgotten for a few weeks until I had phone service to verify the code. When I opened the page there was a notification that my account was suspended. If I remember correctly, it didn't actually tell me until I tried to follow someone, at which point the little banner popped up in the bottom of the screen. Again, low priorities, I forgot about it and figured it would resolve itself.

Yesterday I tried it again, filed an appeal, explained the situation which, I figured, was common and innocent enough that it would be sorted out without issue. How naive. I was informed, shortly after, in a terse and stern e-mail that my account had repeat violations of Twitter's policies (I had not sent out a single tweet) and that I should not attempt another appeal or seek further information.

So I am locked in this strange place, where I can see my account, click around on the page but am unable to send out, or receive any information (all the account that I followed have been unfollowed). I even attempted to deactivate the account, just, you know, sadly place my tail between my legs and limp out the back door. But the beautiful thing is, when I went to deactivate the account I was told that this is not allowed, because my account is suspended.

This, I feel, is where the absurd arrives. Unable to actually do anything, even the one benign thing I had hoped to do: learn about what other writers were up to, I am forced to wallow in shame at some sort of altercation. I'm not indignant. Life will go swiftly on without Twitter. It is just a strange place to be, turned away and locked out for no apparent reason, and unable to discover why.

Friday, July 19, 2019

'The Sculptor' accepted for publication in Vastarien

A short story I wrote titled 'The Sculptor' has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the literary journal 'Vastarien'.

'The Sculptor' follows a journalist as he travels to interview a reclusive Sculptor whose work has a strange effect on those who view it. During their interview the Journalist realizes that the Sculptor has either gone totally insane, or is in contact with something much greater than he had originally realized.

The story is concerned with the power of art, the malignant deity and the meagre space that separates dream and reality.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Essay: The Proximity of Horror, and its therapeutic effect

There is a strange memory I have, the sort of memory that is so dreamlike in nature, yet so real in feeling, that I am not sure, after the intervening years, whether it actually happened or not. It's not uncommon to have these sort of things in our childhood, these memories that are likely either dreams, or so wildly distorted by mist of memory as to have taken on the tenor of a dream. But this event happened when I was eighteen, and I recollect it so well that I am almost positive that it happened.