Book Love: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

I adored Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, with the first book Ancillary Justice being one of my favorite reads in 2015. One of the things I loved about these book is how the author was able to shape cultures that felt vivid and complex, exploring the power structures that exist and the various nuances of custom, belief, and prejudice within those societies — and this is something she does equally well in her first foray into fantasy, The Raven Tower.

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Poet Spotlight: Michelle Scalise on the horrors of grief

Since 1994, Michelle Scalise‘s work has appeared in such anthologies as Unspeakable Horror, Darker Side, Mortis OperendiI, Dark Arts, The Big Book of Erotic Ghost Stories, Best Women’s Erotica, and such magazines as Cemetery Dance, Crimewave, Space And Time, and Dark Discoveries. She was nominated for the 2010 Spectrum Award, which honors outstanding works of fantasy and horror that include positive gay characters. Her poetry has been nominated for the Elgin Award and the Rhysling Award. Her fiction has received honorable mention in Years Best Fantasy and Horror. Her latest poetry has been chosen by the Horror Writers Association for their anthology Horror Poetry Showcase: Volume I and II.

Her fiction collection, Collective Suicide, was published by Crossroad Press in 2012. In 2014, Eldritch Press published a collection of her poetry, The Manufacturer of Sorrow in paperback and ebook. It became a bestseller in the women writers category on Amazon. In May of 2019, her latest collection of poetry, Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning, was published by Lycan Valley Press. Michelle was raised in Kent, Ohio and is married to bestselling author Tom Piccirilli.

Your collection, Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning, delves into the brutal emotional intimacy of loss, pain, and abuse. Can you tell us about the book and the story it’s trying to tell? 

Dragonfly is about the horrors and monsters that find you as an adult and the ones that still haunt you from your childhood. Cancer and child abuse are more frightening than anything made-up. As I was writing about the death of my husband I stumbled upon articles related to WW1 widows in Great Britain and how these women were treated. As the death toll rose and there seemed to be no end in sight, the public began to question the war. The government needed to reassure people that the war was going to be won soon. So they issued pamphlets to the widows who were collecting a small stipend. They were told how long they should wear widow’s weeds and show blatant displays of grief. They were told how to mourn. It was bad for moral for a woman to still be broken-up after three months. A person could lose the small funds they were receiving if they didn’t follow the guidelines.Volunteer ladies would visit homes and report back. I don’t even remember most of what happened in my life the first year after my husband died. I lived in my bed. Never bothered to get dressed, let alone clean the house. I realized I wouldn’t have lived up to the rules they requested these widows adhere to. It has been four years and I still don’t live up to them.

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New Books in Poetry: The Gates of Never by Deborah L. Davitt

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Deborah L. Davitt about her new book The Gates of Never (Finishing Line Press, 2019).

Drawing on the author’s deep knowledge of classical literature, Deborah L. Davitt’s book of poetry The Gates of Never explores the intersections of myth, science, and humanity through her beautifully accessible poems, reflecting a variety of forms and linguistic styles. These poems morph between being moving, irreverent, unsettling, and erotic — offering up a richly textured collection of work.

“He writes me upside down
and backwards, so that
I hardly know myself yet,
but my hundred newly-open mouths
whisper secret meanings,
and offer atramentum kisses;

he soothes my wounds with
copper vitriol, making the words
holy and incorruptible,
incapable of fading into sepia;

yet as he kisses me, our tongues meeting,
the words spark white-fire
under my skin, the runes writhing
into new configurations”

– from “Testament”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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Culture Consumption: August 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, and podcasts.

Books

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-GarciaSet in the 1920s, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is about Casiopea Tun, a young woman who works as a servant for her rich family while dreaming of life beyond her grandfather’s house. She gets her chance to escape and travel, when she opens a chest in her grandfather’s room and awakens the Mayan god of death who has lain captive. Bound by blood and bone to help the god regain his throne or meet her own death, Casiopea and and the god travel across Mexico to regain his power.

I love stories of accidental adventure, of someone discovering a secret that lay buried and find themselves drawn into a dangerous adventure. Casiopea is a perfect such adventurer, sassy and brave and hungry for more in her life. Although she dreams of escape and running off to discover the world, she’s faced with her own insecurities when finally finds herself on the road — and it’s the journey that helps her to grow into her own strength. This is a fun and charming adventure, full of magic, humor, and romance. It’s delightful.

I read two phenomenal horror short story collections this month. The first, The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila is a beautifully unsettling collection of horror short stories (which I talked about at length in another post).

Books of Blood by Clive BarkerThe second is Books of Blood, Vol. 1-3 by Clive Barker. I’ve known about Barker through his work in movies, but had never read any of his fiction up until this point. I honestly should have jumped on that train sooner. Barker’s stories are rich in character development and unique in their portrayal of horrors, from the depravities of human making to sympathetic and terrifying monsters of most unusual origins. Entire cities might enact ancient battles by constructing giants made from the bodies of their citizens (“In the Hills, the Cities”). A women wakes in a hospital after an attempted suicide wakes with the power to grotesquely reshape the men who try to control her (“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”). A charity race turns out to have greater stakes than anyone knows, with the racers literally running for their lives (“Hell’s Event”). A monster rears up from the dark of a movie theater, born from the desires of years of movie goers (“Son of Celluloid”). These stories are fantastic across the board, and I just learned that there are many more volumes of Barker’s stories, so I’ll definitely be picking those up as well.

I also read three wonderful poetry collections this month. The first was Deborah L. Davitt’s The Gates of Never, a beautifully accessible collection of poetry that explores and blends history, mythology, and magic with science and science fiction. These poems morph between being moving, irreverent, and erotic — a great collection of work. (I interviewed Davitt for the New Books in Poetry podcast, which I’ll be able to share soon.)

little ditch by Melissa Eleftherion and The Dragonfly and Other Songs of Mourning by Michelle Scalise are two stunning poetry chapbooks. little ditch looks at the intersections between the body and the natural world in order to examine issues surrounding sexual abuse, rape culture, and internalized misogyny. Dragonfly is a beautiful exploration of the horrors of mourning and childhood abuse.
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Classics of Mexican Horror: The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

Amparo Dávila is a beloved figure in Mexican horror. During the Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors: The Gothic Universe of Female Mexican Horror Writers panel at WorldCon 76, speakers Raquel Castro, Andrea Chapela, and Gabriela Damian Miravete, as well as moderator Pepe Rojo praised her work as being vital and foundational in the genre. Her writing examines the social conditions of women within Mexico under the guise of chilling tales.

Dávila has been writing horror stories in Spanish since the 1950s. Now for the first time, her work appears in English translation through the publication of The Houseguest and Other Stories in mid-2018 — which I had to pick up as soon as I was aware of its existence.

Translated by Matthew Gleeson and Audrey Harris, the language presented in Dávila’s collection of stories has a subdued beauty that calls forth underlying tensions and terrors of daily life. The titular story, “The Houseguest,” is one of the author’s best known and well-love stories. The lady of the house is horrified when her husband invites a guest to stay with them, a guest who terrifies her and the women and children of her household. When she brings this up with her husband, he ignores her concern and demands that she show this guest every respect due. As the days go on her horror slowly increases, as it becomes less and less clear whether this guest is a man or something else.

“The Houseguest” perfectly illustrates Dávila’s unique brand of horror, which is centered around the mundanity of every day life. When looked at from one angle, everything seems normal with any fears the result of the generalized anxiety of being a human being in the world. But if you look at it from another angle, the strangeness of the events bubbles to the surface, one moment added together with the next revealing surprising answers.

Other stories carry the same sense of the banal laced with horror. “The Last Summer” is the story of a woman who is dispirited by life and aging. The news of an unexpected pregnancy does not cheer her, but instead feels nothing but foreboding.

In “The Breakfast,” a family’s sense of normalcy is shattered, when the daughter begins relating her bad dream. As much as the family tries to carry on with their morning breakfast, they become increasingly unsettled by her haunted expression and frightened words.

In “Oscar,” a woman returns home from the city, prepared to face the judgement of the men in her family and the oppression of a family secret that rears up from the basement.

Although many of these stories focus on horrors faced by women — such as the causal violence enacted by men — women are not alone in facing the ever-present disturbing-side of the world. For example, in “Moses and Gaspar” (one of my favorite stories in the collection), a grieving man inherits two creatures, named Moses and Gaspar, following his brother’s death. The sorrow of these “pets” is just as great as that of the main characters, and they show their grief through tears and angry outbursts. This story is terrifying to me, since it’s not clear what kind of creatures Moses and Gaspar — cats? dogs? monkeys? or are they even animals at all? Although the man tries to care for them in honor of his brother, they disrupt and destroy his life. It would be easier to just dispose of them — except that they are all bound by the shared experience of immense loss.

In addition to their discussion of Dávila’s work, the Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors panel also discussed a number of other great female horror writers from Mexico. You can listen to the full panel via The Outer Dark podcast, where you can also find a list of authors discussed listed in their show notes.

The Houseguest pairs well with Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez.


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