An Exercise for the Reader

I love fiction, but I really love speculative fiction. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy: the best of any of these poses complex questions about the nature of humanity, what it means to be alive, and who (and how) we want to be, both as a species and as individuals. The otherworldliness of speculative fiction encounters makes it possible to delve into topics normally too uncomfortable or shameful to broach. You need look no further than Caprica, Dollhouse, or Star Trek to experience the deft interweaving of difficult moral and ethical questions into the fabric of science fiction. I was introduced to this pseudo-magical ability of sci-fi to address topical issues by  Arthur C. Clark and Issac Asmimov; much later, Elizabeth Hand showed me the same can be done with dark fantasy. I am thankful to those authors, to the public library, and to my Mom who, although not specfic fan herself, never batted an eye at her strange, strange little girl.

Decades and media delivery formats later, and the strange little reader has become a writer. My debut novel is strictly horror, but my work in progress is a horror/sci-fi hybrid. It’s just about the coolest thing my brain has ever thought, and I’m already working hard to get it written so I can share it with all of your brains. Just make sure you pay your power bill before you read it, because it’s scaring the bleep out of me to write it and, if I do my job right, that scary is gonna make its way to you. You’ll want the lights on – yes, even you!

Fiction can ask serious, humanity-sized questions. It can also ask more mundane, choose-your-own-adventure type of questions. In Stolen Climates, there’s a mix of both, but for this post, I’m going to pose one of the latter. Here’s the situation:

You and your spouse are moving away from the strain of urban life because your spouse has been unstable, and possibly close to accidentally harming herself or your kid. Your remote, not-quite idyllic destination is Breaker, Texas. There are some houses for sale, but all of them have obvious, unlivable defects. Then your realtor shows you one that isn’t as flawed; in fact, it seems just about perfect, if a little odd, what with all the extra shutters on the windows. Still, you’re in a bit of a rush to get the family settled because the office has called. There is a Class-A cluster that you, as manager, need to handle. You’ll have to leave your wife and kid, but you’d like to get them set up in the house first. Your realtor has one more surprise: a condition imposed by the seller. You need to read and notarize that you received the following message:

Potential Buyer –

The house is as good as it seems. The walls are straight, the floor well plumed, the windows sealed against the winter winds and screened against the summer sunlight. The house won’t be your problem.

At first, you will probably love it the way my wife and I did. We were outdoor enthusiasts: hiking, biking, camping. We spent weeks carving trails out of the woods, but the trails we found never seemed to be the ones we made. That was part of the problem. The rest of it, the real crux, are the woods themselves. I’d explain, but it would be a waste of time because you’re either from Breaker or you’re not. Someone in the first category already knows. Someone from the second: buyer beware.

Signed,

The Lowells

Your assignment is to answer this question: Would you buy the house?

If you choose NO, go to page 73.

If you choose YES, go with whatever gods you have.

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor. Stolen Climates / 02.2012

 

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Boobies! (or, How I Accepted Myself as a Horror Writer)

Sometime around the seventh grade, other girls began to get boobs.  Honest to goodness breasts that required honest to goodness support and garnered honest to goodness attention.  My genetics made me a lot of things, but being a big booby girl was never in the ribonucleic cards for me.

For years, I felt awkward and unattractive.  I was a mess of self-doubt all because I didn’t look the way I thought I should look.  It wasn’t until my late twenties that I accepted my body and I began to feel at home being myself.

How does this have anything to do with writing?  Or horror writing in particular?  Well, for me, the process of accepting my body mirrors the experience I had in accepting myself as a horror writer.

When I started writing stories, I was convinced the only works that ‘mattered’ were Literary Works. I eschewed mass-produced fiction and felt superior to people who expressed an interest in genre writing. I was a snob who read horror novels in places where no one knew me, like the airport.

When I started writing, I was full of BS!  First of all,  where was my debate, careful thought, and good definition of what it meant for something to be literary? Second, where was my self reflection, where were the questions as to how I could love horror so much when no one was looking? Third, where were my boobs?

From 2005 until 2009, I wrote short stories. When I had about 30 stories, I played with the idea of putting together a collection of shorts.  I set about reading and organizing everything I’d written. It was an Event. A Discovery. Nothing short of a Revelation. Everything I had written that really had heat could be classified as horror!

Horror!

By this time, I was less of a snob.  I felt let down by the contemporary works labeled as “Literary.” I’d grown impatient with books that tried to be so clever with their metafiction and their own cleverness that they didn’t carry a story. I was bored of being tricked, bamboozled and led.  I wanted to read books that swept me away. I wanted to be seduced, not analyzed. I wanted a good read.

I gave myself permission to explore all the sections of the bookstore. I read what I wanted, no matter who might see me. I devoured horror novels. I searched for female horror writers and discovered Elizabeth Hand and Alexandra Sokoloff, whose writings prove that horror can be well written, absorbing, even beautiful. I rediscovered Steven King and was absolutely blown away by THE SHINING, a novel that works on so many different levels it transcends any narrow categorization. I was loving my reading with a depth and fervor that I hadn’t felt since the onset of my snobbery. I was a happy reader.

And I was a very, very uncomfortable writer. I had never considered writing horror, yet horror is what I wrote. I found it difficult to accept and for a long time did not tell anyone what sort of works I produced. I even tried to write some stories that were consciously engineered to be devoid of anything supernatural, horrifying, or creepy. Those were terrible stories!  They reminded me of a bra I once bought that promised to make me look two cup sizes bigger and jiggle! All I ended up doing was looking silly and bumping into stuff because I wasn’t used to my chest protruding that far away from my body. I’m built more like Milla Jovavich than Christina Hendricks, and that’s just a simple fact of life. I write tales that have more in common with Dean Koontz than with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that’s just a simple fact of life.

I’m flat chested and I write horror.   And I’m okay with that.  Finally!

 

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