The Outer Dark | Weird/Horror Interviews with Scott Nicolay

Today sees the launch of a new podcast series from weird renaissance author Scott Nicolay, you can read my review of his fantastic collection Ana Kai Tangata here, which will feature weekly interviews with people working in the weird/horror field. Today’s inaugural show features an interview with Livia Llewellyn, who I have raved about here in the past, which will make for a really interesting listen.

Episode One
[audio www.projectiradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/tOS_1_LiviaLlewellyn_mixdown.mp3 ]

…in which horror author Livia Llewellyn discusses the evolution of her Shirley Jackson Award nominated collected Engines of Desire, the genesis of her forthcoming collection Furnace from Word Horde Press, the influence of Shakespearean tragedy, method acting, and swarming insects on her creative process, body horror and the horror of women’s bodies, the link between bad writing and bad erotica, the terrible things done to Scully’s body on the X-Files,Tales of the Black Century–the collection of dark erotica she is building story by story on Patreon, her semi-secret in-progress novel of literary erotic horror (even though literary erotic horror doesn’t officially exist), why you should be reading Peter Dubé, and hints at even darker things to come.

After today’s show Scott will be interviewing a cracking line up of authors.

30.June: Jayaprakash Satyamurphy
7.July: S.P. Miskowski
14.July: John Langan
21.July: Nicole Cushing
28.July: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

TheOuterDark1

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Now Available as an ebook

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Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

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Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

#LadyHags: Women in Horror Month

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It be Women in Horror Month, wahey! Don’t worry lads, only another couple of weeks and we’ll be back to Men in Everything 11 Months so don’t be worrying your pretty little heads over it. 😉 To be fair to my fairer sex all the posts from men that I’ve seen about WiHM have been extremely positive. However there is always someone who insists on behaving like something of a douche and, more than likely, starts speaking without engaging their brain-mouth filter.

Ridiculous cockwombles aside I think that any excuse to celebrate the fantastic fiction produced by women is a valid excuse. So I thought I would share some thoughts on some absolutely amazing women writers that I’ve discovered over the last few years.

Nicole Cushing

 

 

 

 

 

Nicole Cushing has been producing short fiction in the Bizarro and Weird fiction genres for a good while now but it is her two longer pieces that I really want to bring to people’s attention –Children of No One (UK, USA) and I am the New God (UK, USA).

I first discovered Cushing’s work when I was searching online for work by Thomas Ligotti and this name kept on cropping up. Nicole Cushing, Nicole Cushing, Children of No One. My interest was piqued and so I decided to download Children of No One from Amazon. I’m not really a fan of ebooks on account of not having an e-ink reader and so having to read on my phone -I can’t read long texts on a screen and tend to even print off short stories rather than read them online. I devoured Children of No One however and went straight out to pre-order I am the New God.

Children of No One is a dark, very dark, look at the extremes to which a person can go when they are driven by a single goal and who are convinced of the overwhelming value of their desires. The story follows an extremely wealthy individual as he attempts to get access to an underground, highly illegal, art installation. Throw in a hefty dose of occult mystery and the disgusting attitude of the elite towards poor and working people and you have a disturbing, chilling, and fantastical tale of a very human darkness.

Cushing’s second novella, I am the New God, is perhaps, for the most part, a more traditional horror tale of madness and murder. A highly disturbed young man is contacted by, an, equally disturbed, monk who convinces him of his divine destiny. This results in twisted experiments to test the veracity of the monk’s claims, a murderous road trip, and a gloriously twisted and ecstatic finale.

Cushing has two books being released this year. A collection of short fiction  -The Mirrors from Cycatrix Press and her debut novel Mr Suicide from Word Horde.

Caitlin Kiernan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kiernan has been producing dark fiction since the early 1990s but I first found her fiction with the publication of the sublime The Drowning Girl: A Memoir in 2012. She has produced 10 novels, a whole bunch of comic books and hundreds of pieces of short fiction. She’s also a published palaeontologist to boot. The two works of Kiernan’s that I want to talk about are The Red Tree (UK, USA) and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (UK, USA).

I’ve discussed The Red Tree before and so I’ll let that review speak for itself. Suffice to say this is one of the best pieces of cosmic horror produced in the last decade, at least the last decade.

The Drowning Girl: A Memoir is in some ways similar to The Red Tree in that it deals with an unreliable narrator who is fully aware that they are an unreliable narrator and makes no attempt to hide it. The Drowning Girl is the story of India Morgan Phelps, or Imp, a young woman with an undefined mental health issue kept stable with medication who has an encounter with a naked woman she meets by the side of a deserted road one spring, or possibly winter, who is a mermaid, or possibly a werewolf, and the affect this has on Imp and her relationship with her games journalist girlfriend.

Kiernan’s prose is utterly beautiful and her ability to build a sense of disorientation and weird horror is second to none.

Livia Llewellyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Livia Llewellyn is a writer of erotically charged weird fiction. She has one collection of her short fiction currently available, 2011’s Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors (UK, USA), but has at least one new collection due out this year (I think).

I talked briefly about her story Furnace in my ongoing review of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction -you can read that here, which first appeared in the Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets (UK, USA).

Another story of particular note that was published recently is It Feels Better Biting Down which was published in Nightmare Magazine’s October 2014 special Women Destroy Horror! special issue. A story of twin sisters with a special birth defect who encounter something weird that changes them completely yet somehow makes them even more themselves. Llewellyn’s language is rather erotically charged which adds to the discomfort the story instils in the reader.

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These are just three of the prominent women currently writing wonderful weird fiction and who are some of the driving forces behind the weird renaissance that is presently underway. They are by no means alone in this however. There are some amazing women working in the field, too many in fact for me to even consider writing briefly about. We have the likes of Molly Tanzer, Gemma Files, A.C. Wise, Joyce Carol Oates, Ellen Datlow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Allyson Bird, Kathe Koja, and so many, many more. So many in fact that it seems absurd that we should need a Women in Horror Month and it is a sad fact, considering the breath taking quality of the work produced, that we still do.

Gemma Files – This Is Not For You

ART © 2014 SHELBY NICHOLS (From Nightmare Magazine. Image links to artist website)

It’s here at last! Women Destroy Horror, the special edition of Nightmare Magazine edited by the, ever awesome, Ellen Datlow. A handful of the short stories and articles  are going to be made available for free on the Nightmare Magazine website. To read the whole lot you have to buy the magazine either in hard copy or ebook(Kindle, Nook. Kobo), the ebook looking like a proper bargain as it’s still the regular price of £1.90 despite featuring far more stories and articles than a regular issue of Nightmare. The hard copy is a shade off £8 but is still a bargain considering how much is crammed inside.

The first story to be released for free is ‘This Is Not For You‘ by Gemma Files.  Files has been publishing fiction since the mid-1990s yet, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first tale of hers that I’ve read – a full list of her published work can be found on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

I read ‘This Is Not For You’ on the train to work this morning and, if the rest of her writing is like this, I have to read more. I’m adding her to my Christmas list this year for sure. (Are you reading this C?) The story follows the bacchanal rites of a revived Hellenistic cult with a serial killer lurking in their midst. This is a disturbing, yet playful, story and the elements that make it disturbing are exactly the same elements that also make it playful. Files inverts the trope of the male serial killer  -the lone hunter- stalking his, mostly, female victims and turns it into a very female collective activity that celebrates female power in the same way that the serial killer trope celebrates male power through its fetishization of violence and the ability to take life at will. The story also has a nice little dig at the male douche-patrol that stalk the internet fighting for the rights of men oppressed by women everywhere(sarcasm).

Over the next couple of weeks we are going to see ‘…Warmer’ by A.R. Morlan(8th October), ‘It Feels Better Biting Down’ by Livia Llewellyn(15th October) and ‘Unfair Exchange’ by Pat Cadigan(22 October) released for free. I’m really excited to read Livia Llewellyn’s story. But then again who wouldn’t be? 🙂

As well as the short fiction Nightmare are also releasing ‘The H Word: The H is for Harassment (a/k/a Horror’s Misogyny Problem)’ by Chesya Burke8th October), ‘Artists Showcase: Five Women Artists Who Are Destroying Horror Art’
by Galen Dara(15th October), and an interview with Joyce Carol Oates by Lisa Morton(22nd October). All of which I’m looking forward to reading over the coming weeks until pay day when I’ll be ordering the hard copy.

If you are considering buying this via Amazon please use either the links in this post or the links to Amazon in the sidebar as that way the fantastic Lovecraft Ezine will get a bung at no extra cost to you. 🙂

Keep it weird.