It’s Okay to Say No

“Today is the first day of November and, so, today, someone will die. –The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

Not to be dramatic, but I always feel a side of fear with my excitement on
November 1st. Yes, you’ve guessed it. This is yet another post about NaNoWriMo, where writers world-wide converge into one collective unconscious creation amoeba and delve into a 50,000 word-writing sprint over the course of November’s 30 fall-flavored days.

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Since I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2013, this will be the first time I will not be participating[1]. Learning to manage expectations is just as much a part of a writer’s growth as learning the mechanics of writing. As I sit beside my writing and critique partner, whom I am also fortunate to have as a best friend, and she clacks away at her brand spanking new novel, I realize, for once, I do not feel envious of her ability to jump into new worlds with such ease. This is how she writes. She enjoys world-building, the excitement and possibility of beginnings, while I fear beginnings and yearn, from the outset, for the delicious center, where all the secrets begin to surface like bodies rising in the Dead Marshes. I’ve also been fortunate enough to view Maggie
Stiefvater’s seminar on writing
(which she’s offering for half off today!), and it has reinforced my instinct to hold off on putting this project down into words; the seminar teaches temperance as I hold my novel baby in the realm of perfect forms in the furnace of my brain and continue weaving it like candy floss in this space, safely hidden away from the imperfect translation of thought-to-word.

I completed an exercise from Stiefvater’s seminar to explore the mood and test which point of view this novel might work best in. As I wrote, I was freshly astounded at how stories are woven: an image that creates a story in your head and takes off on its own if you’re lucky or practiced. It seems like a random image that ignites a random movie that plays on your brain screen. However, both that seed of a story and the resulting array of Power Point slides stem from an infinite combination of stimuli and memories that make your unique map of synapses and the sparks traded between them like paper
fortune-teller predictions in grade school. So don’t discount the experience of just writing to write, without feeling like it has to fit in anywhere or be applied to any tangible Work or Project. Even if it never finds permanence in your body of work, it has done important work in your brain and exercised that story-telling instinct with which humans, in all of our pattern-seeking wiring, are born.

I used to think of myself as a procrastinator, when actually I am afraid to commit something to paper before I have an idea of what I’m setting out to do. Not necessarily an entire outline, but as Stiefvater beautifully puts it in her seminar, it is integral to the writing process to know what kind of book I want to hold in my hands at the end of it all, what kind of emotions I want the reader to feel during and days after reading it, and what I want them to remember, years later, about how they felt when they see it on their shelves. We are, after all, conductors eliciting a mood in our readers; we need to know the mood before we can adequately translate it. This has given me the peace to refrain from writing while I fill out its form in my head, letting the rain build before ripping the cloud apart. This takes less time for some people, like my writing partner who asked me to assign her a genre[2] and had a solid idea, characters, and pages of plot and dialogue in 24 hours. For me, it takes more.

I thought this would be a pep talk so that I didn’t feel some type of way about skipping NaNoWriMo, but it’s more of an affirmation that this is the right decision. And if this speaks to anyone else, then welcome to my kumbaya circle. I’m not a particular fan of Kenny Rogers, but I find myself returning to and adhering to the advice of “The Gambler” again and again. The chorus is as follows:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

All this just to say ‘intuition’ in a quirky, entertaining manner. Intuition isn’t some mystical otherworldly place you can only touch with meditation and burning sage (but our kumbaya circle does meet on Tuesdays to do this). Sometimes it takes practice, like anything else, to listen for its voice and know when to follow it. This little seed of a novel isn’t done germinating, so I do not yet know the shape of this very emotional, personal project. Therefore, I will continue slowly curating my playlist and Pinterest board–which has been overrun with wolves somehow–and cheering you all from the sidelines, whether you’re endeavoring to write 50,000 words this month or saying no to NaNoWriMo.

1Not including 2015, when my twins were 2 months old, but I wasn’t even human then, let alone a writer, so it doesn’t count.

2After reading through this for coherency, aforementioned writing partner/best friend wanted me to mention that I also gave her the idea for her main character and his goal, so as not to downplay my part in her NaNoWriMo project. *smirk*

Women in Horror Month

I listen to film scores…recreationally. I would say this is just a thing I do when writing, but it’s also when I’m driving, coloring with my kids, at work–it’s often, okay? I remember hearing one composer and thinking wow but not recognizing it because I hadn’t seen the movie. The composer was Rachel Portman (the song was the main title for Chocolat). I looked into her and found a massive body of magnificent work. I realized I had not heard of her because female composers in film are a rare breed–whether there really aren’t that many or that it’s hard for them to break through in a field dominated by men.

Women in horror presents and simultaneously disproves a similar statistical situation. But that’s another endeavor entirely. THIS post is about celebrating women in horror across a variety of mediums. Last year, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I wrote a post on my experience reading 44 books by only women authors in 2017. This year, I’m recommending some contemporary (and one classic) works by women in horror for you to sink your teeth into.

Novel

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Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage was an unexpected read last year. It was an audiobook I chose on a whim, and I’m glad I did. Gabra Zackman did a phenomenal job of narrating. I feel like the blurb is a little reductive of the sophisticated exposition and themes at play in this psychological horror. The end culminates in a different revelation than the reader carries from the beginning, leaving awe and sharp discomfort in its wake.

Actually, it reminds me of a short story I recently read by Annie Neugebeauer–

Short Story

“That Which Never Comes” by Annie Neugebauer appears in the first volume of Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon. This story is all about painful anticipation, but, there was something at the end, that really, truly terrified me and it had nothing to do with that which never comes. This story is such a full representation of a difficult, often deliberately misunderstood genre. You should also read her manifesto on why women in horror month matters.

Film

This article on 15 female horror directors revealed the director of my favorite horror film, American Psycho, to be another woman in horror to celebrate, Mary Harron. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a black comedy and psychological horror. My husband and I always reference it as the movie which you can play at any moment and it’s a good and/or hilarious part.

The article also reminded me of Honeymoon, a film that has stuck with me since watching it five years ago. The acting is seamless with tension that builds and builds to a gut-twisting crescendo.

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A more recent achievement for women in horror was Toni Collette’s complex, layered performance in one of the most startling, horrifying films I have ever seen, Hereditary. I can’t even say anything about this film. You just have to see it.

hereditary

Art

One of my absolute favorite mediums of horror is art. Dappermouth is an artist I discovered on tumblr a couple years ago. Every one of her pieces is so evocative and makes me feel things I don’t understand.

dappermouth

Another artist who dabbles in horror is the author and musician, Maggie Stiefvater. Her tarot cards, The Raven’s Prophecy, are stunning. If you’re just beginning with tarot reading, the images are extremely emotional, making them easier than some decks to connect with.

Music

I want to recommend two artists, Meg Myers and Banks, with music in this genre.

The first video I saw for Meg Myers was Desire and I kinda fell for her. Her music is something that is waning in a very self-conscious field: it completely gives in. This song and video is so dark, she revealed in an interview, that a boyfriend broke up with Myers after experiencing it.

Banks is another phenomenal artist–I like earnest female artists, okay? She writes electronic, contemporary R&B-inspired confessionals. Her song “Fuck With Myself” examines the interplay and imbalance between self-love and self-hate. The video, in which Banks abuses a bald effigy of herself, is a horror gem.


 

Do you have an women in horror recommendations? Favorites? How will you celebrate the month? 

The Raven Cycle: A Fangirl’s Love Letter

“Gansey looked up to them, and she saw in his face that he loved this place. His bald expression held something new: not the raw delight of finding the ley line or the sly pleasure of teasing Blue. She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, the strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.” –From The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

There have been books that have utterly shook me, searing themselves into my soul, and I didn’t shrink from the screaming heat of the branding iron. Harry Potter was the first–really the only–series I fangirled over. I read the first book sometime in my early teens. I shared a room with my two sisters, my bed a solitary twin that laid perpendicular to their bunk beds, so I think I was in eighth grade. I can remember the exact moment, laying back on my bunched up blankets and pillows, holding The Sorcerer’s Stone, that I fell in.  

My love for that series was swift and lasting. As each book came out, it became ingrained even deeper in my thoughts, who I was becoming. I have not read a series until now that has transfixed me so completely. The plots over all seven books are certainly intricate. But more than that, it was this orphaned outcast I loved so much, and his aggregate of emotions upon entering a world it seemed had been designed just for him (and designed just to destroy him!) for how much it feels like home.

After that, there were other, standalone novels that moved me to that same degree. The Catcher in the Rye, because well, Holden Caulfield is my spirit animal. Jane Eyre and later Villette for their lonely, harrowing, emotional, full protagonists. Years and years after Harry Potter, The Fountainhead nearly killed me. Again, it was a solitary outcast of sorts, Howard Roark, and his electric relationships to the other alive characters that took my breath away. The year my daughters were born, during my maternity leave, Carry On reminded me of my deep love for Harry Potter. And then there was Uprooted, because Jesus Christ, how can a novel have that much magic, and horror, and emotion, and love? But still, no series that caught me up quite like The Boy Who Lived and his story.

Now, I have come face to face with what will most certainly be a life long adversary, for I will forever have to fight for headspace with this series even now that I have breathed its final breath.  The Raven Cycle starts with The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. A psychic’s daughter sees a spirit on the corpse road, which means he will be dead within the next year. That non-psychic Blue Sargent can see him means he is either her true love or she is the one who kills him. Considering her family of psychic women have all predicted she would kill her true love with a kiss since forever, she isn’t precisely excited by either scenario. Especially when she meets the boy of the mysterious spirit to see he is a very much alive and very much the bastard that she has come to think of the private school Aglionby boys. Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are on a quest to find and wake the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, and Blue is willing to overlook Gansey’s faults (and the constant whisper of her hand in his impending death) to join them.

Maggie Stiefvater’s art

The series is so much more than this starting point, this single moment in a universe of moments, each as powerful and vibrant as all the others. But I did not expect what came next, which made the novel–and the following three –all the more mind-blowing.

The Raven Cycle has, not only, “it all” but so much of “it all” that I feel very near to combustion when I think about it. Three-dimensional-walk-out-of-your-dreams characters, palpable tensions, tragedies, the crisscrossing strings tying events, places, and characters together, and an atmosphere so terrifyingly alive, I could feel it breathing against my ear.

I read the entire saga in June, and in August, started listening to the audiobooks, because I was dying to hear Will Patton voicing Kavinsky, a character from the second (and my favorite) book in the saga, The Dream Thieves. I was not disappointed with his performance.

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Art by Cassandra Jean at cassandrajp.tumbler.com***

Listening to the books so soon after reading them allowed me to appreciate all the concentric circles, the resonating themes, the sheer magnitude and power of this idea. 

One article claims the series is “a meticulously crafted cycle that rewards rereading in heaps” (don’t read these essays until you’ve read the series). And when I reread it less than two months later–listened to it–I enjoyed it even more the second time around for this reason, the intricacy, and magic, and infinity of it all.

“There were many versions of Gansey, but this one had been rare since the introduction of Adam’s taming presence. It was also Ronan’s favorite. It was the opposite of Gansey’s most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia. But this version of Gansey was Gansey the boy. This was the Gansey who bought the Camaro, the Gansey who asked Ronan to teach him to fight, the Gansey who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn’t show up in other versions…Ronan didn’t really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Gansey was burning.”  –From The Dream Thieves

I am so in love with these books, these characters, I have an ache in my chest when I am looking around listlessly, trying to remember what it was that had my heart so high in the sky–and then remembering: The Raven Cycle. And how it’s over. But lo, it is not. Maggie Stiefvater is working on a new trilogy for Ronan, my favorite character in the series (hint: ALL the characters are my favorite). You have time to read these damn books before the era of the new trilogy dawns. Please read or listen to the audiobooks and come back and tell me what you think. I will never tire of singing this series’s praises.

I will be going to see Maggie for her All The Crooked Saints signing in October. I wish I could smash all these words into a concise, heart-felt utterance of the crush I have on her brain and my devotion to and adoration of this world she’s created. Instead, I’ll probably just stand in front of her smiling like I’ve been body-snatched and forget my own name. Alas, this will have to suffice.

***Don’t look up fanart because spoilers! Listen to this song the author wrote instead–it conveys the tone of the series so beautifully