Time Consuming

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I’ve been watching YouTube videos reading about manifestation through parallel realities, how envisioning what you want as reality can manifest it. Well, at the risk of sounding like someone who just joined a cult, it worked. Liquid Imagination published my poem, Time Consuming, today! I love this poem and the little monster inside me that whispered these words. You can read it AND listen to it for free (shout out to my husband for all of his EQ-ing and recording program wizardry)! I feel like this poem and the beast at the heart of it exquisitely translates to audio. This publication is extra exciting, because I’ve always wanted to be a voice actor or audiobook narrator. Don’t worry. I’m not one of those weirdos who is immune to hearing my voice on a recording. See tweet below for evidence.

But I do enjoy reading aloud. I’ve always been faster at understanding what I’m hearing than silent reading. I will say though, after twelve takes of this poem, I appreciate how much work goes into audiobooks.

In my last post, I suggested some different mediums to celebrate Women in Horror Month. For more ways to commemorate, check out Annie Neugebauer’s 9 Ways to Celebrate Women in Horror Month on Lit Reactor. In keeping with Annie’s third way to celebrate this month, I have to give a shout out to another woman in horror who gets me to my desk every Sunday morning to dabble in my dark proclivities: Carie Juettner. We met back in 2013, and our history just goes to show that online friendships can be just as strong. We’ve exchanged snail mail, attended a horror conference together, and traded our horror stories, novels, and poetry over these last six years. Check out her poem Night Walk in Dreams & Nightmares and her shudderingly good story Makeup, which you can listen to on Tales To Terrify. The narrator is fantastique!

To close out Women in Horror Month, I also want to share my first ever published work, The Insolubility of Nightmares, published by Hello Horror in 2013. Cutting a path for oneself in writing of any kind is an arduous, time-consuming process. Because of my publication today, three years since my horror flash, “The Wake“, and because I like circles, it seemed befitting to dedicate this post to the friendly person and fierce writer who inspired me to first submit my work, Annie Neugebauer.


If you checked out my first poem, The Insolubility of Nightmares, or read/listen to my new poem, Time Consuming, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

6 Reads of Unexpected Horror

My sisters and I used to have an ongoing competition to see who could scare the other two the most by jumping out at them. I never begrudged them whenever they would win, because it meant that I had been scared. That game was how I got my original horror kicks.

Nowadays, I’m a little less spastic (not really, I keep the legacy alive with my husband and daughters) and far more cultured about my love of horror. I love horror in art, horror movies, and of course reading horror. While movies spoon feed it all to you, seeing and reading it involve a little more on the part of the viewer/reader. Art requires you to create a story in your head, consciously or subconsciously, that makes it horror to you. You fill in the blanks the artist left behind. Whereas when reading it, you’re given the story and you make up the rest with the images dancing in your brain. It depends so heavily on the writer’s skill, their understanding of fear and fearlessness in employing that understanding.

Below, you will find a little reading list of horror in surprising places. Because what better time is there to scare yourself as we approach Halloween? None, I say.

Horror in Middle Grade (MG) Fiction

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The Nest

It’s not that I think it isn’t possible for a children’s book to be scary. I started my avid reading career in Goosebumps, okay? But I became physically uncomfortable when reading this book, squirming throughout most of it. On the surface the premise might seem innocuous: A boy worries about his sick newborn brother and develops a complicated relationship with the wasps building the nest outside his bedroom window; I assure you, the novel is anything but. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Extremely original and skin-crawlingly creepy.

Horror in Young Adult (YA) Fiction

My Best Friend’s Exorcism 

Yes, it’s shelved as horror.  But I have read plenty of horror novels I enjoyed but that didn’t scare me. You know what I mean? It’s hard to do.

In this post last Halloween, I recommended this book as quirky horror. And it was. But I have to be honest, there were a couple scenes in this 80s-centered novel that terrified me more than any Stephen King scenes.

Horror in YA fantasy

The Raven Boys

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have read my most recent post, you know I’m obsessed with this series. On the real though? My body broke out in chills while reading The Raven Boys, and I had to stand up away from the book to pace while my husband politely listened to my hysterical string of curses. The horror was intense, and it’s not even marketed as horror! This author does atmosphere so well, so when she wants to scare the shit out of you, she’s pretty damn successful. Also, it doesn’t stop with this book. It’s strung throughout the series.

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Uprooted

A note about horror in YA and MG: I would never recommend these books to anyone looking for “lite horror”. When I say unexpected horror, that’s exactly what I mean. These novels scared me, and I didn’t expect it. When reading this novel, I experienced utter physical discomfort and psychological…interruption.

Do not let that cover fool you. This novel was stunning, but it has an inky darkness made all the blacker beside the life and love it struggles to consume.

 

Horror in Poetry

Satan Says 

There were some lines, shit, entire poems in this collection that grabbed me by the throat and still haven’t let go (I reread the first poem in this collection for this blog, and it was even scarier because I unlocked a little more of its meaning). I’ve also talked about Sharon Olds here. Poetry is a perfect way to inject your Halloween with atmosphere. This article on Lit Reactor has more fantastic suggestions.

Horror in the Classics

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Dracula

Now I knew going in that this novel is horror. I guess I just wasn’t expecting…well, horror. I feel like Hollywood has desensitized me with jump scares and Frankenstein creations of mismanaged lore and urban legend. But Dracula reminded me vampires can be scary, that they actually ARE monsters. Which makes sense, since Dracula is the OG of the vampire myhthos–as original as we’re getting in this post anyway, and most everything after are watered down reinterpretations.

Parts of this novel lured a visceral reaction from me. The narrative structure definitely makes it a work of psychological horror, which always sticks fast with me (House of Leaves, Bird Box, A Head Full of Ghosts).  The narrators’ heads, as they face down the monster, are our landscape and it’s just as rich as the physical landscape.

Have you read any of these novels, and were you at all surprised by the horror? Feel free to leave additional suggestions for books or poems that gave you unexpected chills.

I hope everyone has a safe, horror-filled Halloween, and at least one evening curled up with a blanket and a scary read in hand.

Gut Instinct

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For my birthday last year, my husband gave me Jane Hirshfield’s Come, Thief. I remember picking it up, devotedly caressing its pages, being slightly disappointed by the cover that was not the one I wanted, then chastising myself for being picky.

I remember opening to the first poem, “French Horn”. I remember reading it. I remember not getting it. Not a damn word. My brain stayed closed like a flower with night still pressing upon it. I put Come, Thief away.

It’s been in the back of my mind for weeks now, because I realized I have not written a poem in months, maybe even closer to a year. I haven’t felt the inspiration for one. But lately, I’ve been catching others’ poems here and there, like light glinting off a reflective surface from its meridian. You look, but you can’t stare for more than a second because it hurts your eyes. I want that feeling of a poem rushing out of me. I’m ready for it. But I know I need to reacquaint myself with its language. So today, I picked up Come, Thief. I read “French Horn” again. This time, the locked language of the poem moved the machinery of my brain, allowing me to unlock the phrases, piece by piece, to embrace the whole.

Returning to the work of this favorite poet was like slipping into a pool of water the exact temperature of my body, then sinking deeper to be surprised by the colder recesses. But I was ready for it. And it was a pleasant shock to be immersed back in that language when I would be most receptive to it.

“Intuitions are not to be ignored, John. They represent data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend.” –Sherlock

I finally sat down to the fourth season of the BBC’s Sherlock, and this quote from the first episode enamored me. It went so well with this idea that has been crackling in my brain about gut instinct. The same instinct that lead me back to Hirshfield at the right time.

Before my first poem was accepted, I had submitted it to maybe three or four places, along with some other elementary attempts. One day, going through these rough poems, “The Insolubility of Nightmares” jumped out at me as the one with the most potential. I revised it. When I stood back and looked at the completed picture, I had that gut instinct that told me this is done.  Now it’s ready for publication, I thought, and the right place will take it. Not that it is an exemplary poem in the Realm of All Poetry That Ever Was, but the concept of it had been teased into completion and polished to its highest form. Do I have stronger poems than that, published and unpublished? I think so. But my gut told me that specific poem was done. After that revision, I sent “The Insolubility of Nightmares” to Hello Horror, a newer lit mag at the time, and I received that coveted first acceptance.

At some point along this uphill trek to build my writing credits, I realized I don’t want sub-par work out there. With my story “The Wake“, I liked it about as much as I like some of my short stories I’ve stopped submitting because I know they’re not the best they can be. So when I looked at “The Wake” again with a more critical eye, I knew I needed a more explosive ending. Now, the note on which it ends is more faithful to my narrator’s personality and the choices she makes with her “scientific mind”. This alteration of her thoughts in the end made me get that same tugging in my gut: this is done. After this overhaul, the first place to which I sent it accepted. ☺ Coincidence? No.

For writers, I’m starting to understand that instinct is just as important as the other nuts and bolts in one’s writer toolbox. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t feel that gut instinct crying out to you:

You’re not ready for that yet. 

or

This poem is not complete. 

or

It’s time to move on. 

or

It’s time to leap.

Just like everything takes practice to get better, so too does listening to one’s intuition, I’ve discovered. You get to know yourself, the fears that you must eschew, your lavish ambitions, your limitations, and your potential. I’m learning to let my gut instinct help sift through these aspects of myself, to better hear its call through the fog, whether prudent restraint or quiet encouragement.

6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

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This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

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A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, NestLooking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

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And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane EyreHouse of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?

10 Halloween Indulgences

This day is all about the mood. To set the mood, here are 10 spooky reads and movies for your Halloween enjoyment.

7 Spooky Reads

Classic Gothic

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

If you take your horror with a side of obsession and romance, then this powerful novel is for you. Whether you see vampires or just madness, this book has some dark and truly unsettling parts.

Contemporary Gothic

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant

I listened to this book on audio, discomforted by the eerie setting and tone the whole way through. With its folk lore and Irish gangs, Bondurant firmly places you in a literary landscape you want to stay in forever and escape in equal measures.

Horror

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

I read this book as a comparison to one of my own novels, and it was everything I hoped it would be. It is full of cults, ghosts, possession, and desperate measures.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The second most terrifying book I have ever read (after House of Leaves). I guarantee you have never read–nay! experienced anything like this!

Literary Horror

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This is a good book for people who like mystery, thrillers, film, and of course, horror. Not to mention, the antagonist is very intriguing.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Grim, gruesome, and gritty. I loved Camille’s tone. I loved the tone of the entire book. Such a satisfying mystery shot with horror and an ending that’s sure to make you reel.

Quirky Horror

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

This book was unique, and it really made me squirm in terror at times. I remain ambivalent about the end, but if you like horror and the 80s were part and parcel to your childhood, this is definitely worth a read.

3 Spooky Movies

The Witch (2015)

One of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen, subjectively speaking. Obviously, I want to be scared when I watch horror, and this one digs under you skin.

Goodnight, Mommy (2014)

A highly uncomfortable–but satisfying–foray beautiful cinematography, boyish adventure, and M. Night Shyamalan-ish twists.

The Descent (2005)

I can’t believe I’d never watched this until recently. It’s psychological and creature horror wrapped up in one edge-of-your-seat horror.

 

As a bonus, if you’re looking for a quick horror fix, check out my flash horror story, “The Wake”, which just came out, or my horror poem “The Insolubility of Nightmares”–my first published work from October three years ago.

Have you already seen these movies or read these books? What did you think (no spoilers, of course)? What horror novels or movies are you indulging in on this All Hallow’s Eve?