Hello again, Berlin.
Hello again, Berlin.
Now available for pre-order from Swan River Press and due out next month is the anthology The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, which includes my story “Every Exquisite Thing” and nine other stories by terrific writers. Edited by Mark Valentine, this is another gorgeous production from Swan River Press that you won’t want to miss.
Also available for pre-order: Best New Horror #28, edited by Stephen Jones, from PS Publishing. This includes my story “Who Is This Who Is Coming?” from my short story collection You’ll Know When You Get There. You can get the trade paperback or the signed limited edition of Best New Horror, which has a fine lineup as always. And you can still get a copy of You’ll Know When You Get There from Swan River Press while they last.
Finally, there’s a new Black Static out; I have an ongoing column here, and for this issue I wrote about ghosts. There’s also a regular column by Ralph Robert Moore, fiction reviews by Peter Tennant and film reviews by Gary Couzens, and the usual lineup of fine fiction, this time from Ruth EJ Booth, Ralph Robert Moore, Georgina Bruce, Andrew Humphrey, Carly Holmes, and Mel Kassel, all beautifully illustrated by Vince Haig, George C. Cotronis, and Joachim Luetke. If you subscribe, you get the first issue free.
Darker Companions, a Ramsey Campbell tribute anthology, is out now from PS Publishing, with cover art by the great JK Potter.
Here’s the glorious lineup:
When Joe Pulver first asked me to contribute to a Ramsey Campbell tribute anthology he would be editing with Scott Aniolowski, my reply was something like Try and stop me! Ramsey Campbell has been one of the most significant influences from the horror genre on my own writing, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to honor him in this way.
I first read Ramsey Campbell as a teenager—a copy of The Face That Must Die, the Scream Press edition with the JK Potter photographs and the harrowing essay by Ramsey about his childhood somehow made its way into our house in rural Georgia. (I have no idea how. Perhaps through some demonology on the part of Ramsey himself.) That was quite an introduction to his work. To be honest, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. I’d never encountered anything like it. But a couple of years later, I’d started reading his stories in Year’s Best anthologies and picked up The Hungry Moon, a tale of ancient pagan evil and modern fundamentalism in a small English village, at my university library. I loved it.
Not long after that, I went to Ireland for a few months on a student work visa. I waited tables in a pub in Dublin, a dreadful yuppie establishment that used to be on Wicklow Street, thankfully now long gone and forgotten, and drank a lot of Guinness. I was pretty broke, and books were expensive in Ireland even then, so I relied on charity shops and my two flatmates to keep me in a steady supply of reading material. At one Oxfam shop near where I lived in Rathmines, Ramsey Campbell paperbacks started turning up, one or two a week. It became a kind of ritual, stopping in to see if whoever seemed to be working their way through Ramsey’s bibliography and then passing them more or less directly on to me had left me another. It was during this time that I fell well and truly in love with his work, his allusive and often intricate style, his descriptions of a world in which realities shifted in front of characters’ eyes, and his themes, including those of alienation and the oppressive nature of organized religion–two that I borrowed for my own story in this anthology. I remember how sad I was when I’d read all the novels he’d written up to that point, and there were no more new books coming in.
It was with all this in mind that I set out to write “The Dublin Horror.” I wanted my main character to be a 1980s teen goth girl—perhaps not so different from Amy of Ramsey’s 1998 novel Nazareth Hill, one of my favorites by him. I wanted her to discover a writer in the same way I’d fallen in love with Ramsey’s books, and as I once owned a copy of his Night of the Claw written as Jay Ramsey, in a moment of cheekiness I gave the writer the first name of Jay. After that it got cheekier—I won’t spoil my own story, but suffice it to say any resemblance to Ramsey Campbell, the writer and the person I have come to know a little over the years, ends there.
At its core, though, I wanted to tell a story that evoked the same sense of disorientation and isolation that so many of Ramsey’s stories have done for me. I set out to write something that felt, to me at least, Campbellesque, as filtered through my own style and preoccupations. I’m just so pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to this anthology and to pay my respects to a writer who has meant so much to me—not just as a writer, but as a reader. Like many of my colleagues, I wouldn’t be here in quite the same way without him.
I’ve read all the reports about how white nationalists came from all over America to the “Unite the Right” rally. I’ve heard the claims that not all these people are Southerners. And it is absolutely true that racism is confined neither to the South nor to the whole of America. The sickness of racism infects people worldwide.
But we cannot ignore the fact that these people — wherever they are from — chose our region and the symbols of the Confederacy as the place to take their stand. Therefore, it’s up to us to root them out. As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over.
If you’re a white person—a white Southerner in particular—I suggest you go and read this entire piece linked above. I’ll wait.
Back? Okay then.
I’m a white Southerner. I have a profound love for the region where I was born and raised, but it is a complicated love, and I do not love and have always loathed many things about it. I do not think black Southerners–or black people from anywhere–should have to live and work and go to school in places named for and next to monuments dedicated to men who fought for their enslavement. This does not seem to me to be a particularly radical position to take. This seems to me to be a fairly basic exercise in empathy, but apparently that is not the case.
It is long, long, long past time that white Southerners moved past their romantic narrative of the Lost Cause and joined the rest of the world in the 21st century, which I still hope can be one of peace and cooperation and not increased division. A lot of white Southerners think that it’s wrong to even talk about these things, that in doing so we sow the seeds of discord, we spread “hate” and disunity and hurt feelings, as though non-white Southerners haven’t had to paper over those feelings for a couple of centuries–lest they be, you know, murdered. A lot of white Southerners think we shouldn’t even talk about “black” and “white” because that just needlessly divides us, too.
If you are white, and you think that, or that people should just “move on” from this, consider that maybe—just maybe—yours is not the voice that matters the most in this conversation. If you have black friends and you assume that they agree with you, consider that this might be a conversation that they are not even comfortable having with you.
If you are a white Southerner, maybe stop assuming that everything is about you, is an attack on you, or requires your input, and just take some time to listen.
And then, when it matters, speak up, because black folks can’t do all this themselves. As white Southerners, we can’t do anything about the dreadful past, but we can help change the future. As The Bitter Southerner says, “the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over.” It’s actually been over for a very long freaking time, but if not now, then when?
I’ve been traveling around a bit this year and having some adventures and I am trying to force myself to start putting things here on the blog rather than on Facebook, although so far that has (clearly) not been successful, but I’m going to put some travel stuff up soon. In the meantime, here are some things by me that have come out that you can buy!
First up, OUTSIDE is a comic anthology edited by Amir Naaman and Doron Hamburger, produced/designed by Ash Pure, and containing stories and art by loads of talented people including Maura McHugh, Joe Pulver, Joe Lansdale, John Shirley, Diamanda Galas, Chesya Burke, Daniele Serra and more! Including a story written by Sean Hogan and me and illustrated by Australian artist Matthew Dunn. It’s really gorgeous, and it’s published by TOPICS Berlin, and I am in Berlin right now, which meant that I was able to be at a most excellent launch of the book here in Berlin a couple of weeks ago. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m a lifelong comics fan, but I’ve never written a comic before, so working in a new medium was fun and challenging. I believe this is my first-ever collaboration as well. Finally, seeing Matthew Dunn’s art bring our story to life was very cool.
Next up, two books from PS Publishing! Best New Horror #27, edited by Stephen Jones, contains my story “The Seventh Wave,” which originally appeared in Terror Tales of the Ocean, edited by Paul Finch, and loads of other excellent writers. Now available for pre-order and out soon from PS as well is We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale, edited by Neil Snowdon and including my essay “On Wishing For a Nigel Kneale Childhood.” Neil’s assembled an amazing lineup of writers for the book and shepherded it through some very troubled waters to bring it out at last.
Gothic Lovecraft is edited by Lynne Jamneck and S.T. Joshi and includes my story “The Unknown Chambers” along with stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nancy Kilpatrick, John Shirley and many more!
And, as ever, there is a new Black Static out, packed with all the usual great fiction and nonfiction including my column, “Notes from the Borderlands.”
First, there is a lovely review of my second collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, at the site “See the Elephant,” written by Paul St.John Macintosh. You can, of course, purchase You’ll Know When You Get There from its publisher, Swan River Press.
Second, my Shirley-Jackson Award-winning story, “The Dying Season,” has been reprinted at Nightmare Magazine, where you can read it for free. I strongly suggest that if you like the story, you should buy the anthology it appears in, Aickman’s Heirs, which also won the Shirley Jackson and is one of the best anthologies I’ve read. (It’s available on Kindle as well.) Oh! And there is also an interview with me, largely about the story, at the same site.
Third, the writer David Surface has written a lovely piece on his blog feature, “One Great Story,” about one of my early published stories, “These Things We Have Always Known.”
Fourth, I’ve written a couple of pieces about other writers for Women in Horror month. Check out the list of recommendations at Mark West’s Women in Horror mixtape, and over at the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Jim Mcleod asked me to write about a woman horror writer who’d influenced me in the past and also a newer one that I would recommend.
I’ve kept a journal all my life, or at least since I was eight, when I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first of many times. I should amend that verb tense, that “I have,” to just “I,” though, because the “have” implies that I still do so. Sometime in the last few years, though, I got sick of the sound of my own voice in that particular form. I’ve made a few stabs at restarting, but they haven’t come to much.
Since I woke up on November 9 to the results of the U.S. presidential election, that urge to start chronicling my thoughts returned. I didn’t recognize it as such immediately. I only knew that I was using Facebook a lot more to talk about what I was feeling and to try to understand what was happening around me. I kept reading pieces like this one by Masha Gessen in The New York Review of Books on how to survive an authoritarian state, or this powerful piece by Sarah Kendzior, who is an expert in authoritarian states, that urged me to do that very thing, write it all down:
Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.
Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.
Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.
Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
This was something I did instinctively for a few years after 9/11. That was the first time in my life that I had a through-the-looking-glass feeling about my country, when words stopped meaning what they had always meant and practices like surveillance of ordinary citizens, indefinite detention and torture began to be talked about by normal citizens as practices that were necessary and good. It was also the first time that I felt I was seeing history being rewritten before my eyes, in which events would shift and be described differently in the space of only a year. I wrote about how strange and paranoid and disorienting it all felt.
I never dreamed how much worse it was going to get.
Yet I still find I have no desire to return to those journals of old. Instead, what I have is a need to reach outwardly instead of inwardly.
I keep writing and saying that words can save us. I repeat this the way someone struggling with their faith might repeat a familiar prayer; I am no longer sure that I believe it, but I have to believe it. If I do not believe it then all will be lost.
But social media, and Facebook in particular, is a hermetic environment. And frankly it’s annoying on Facebook when anyone bangs on and on about just about any topic (except for your cat. You can talk about your cat until the death of the sun and I wouldn’t get tired of it. But I digress.) Plus, it just isn’t the right platform for what I now realize I’ve been reaching toward.
And I have this blog here, and I haven’t really been doing anything with it. So here we are.
I’ve long had a policy about not talking much about politics online, not talking much about anything of substance really. It’s not for a lack of opinions–I have a lot of opinions, very strong ones–and it’s not because I am one of those writers who is terrified of “alienating” readers because of actually being a human who thinks things. (“All art is inherently political anyway” is a topic for another day.) It’s simply because the internet is such a toxic environment–especially for women–and so devoid of nuance, that it always just seemed pointless. And I am all about the nuance, the shades of grey.
I feel like that’s a luxury I no longer have. And it’s not just my country that is hurtling toward a right-wing authoritarian nationalism; it’s happening in the UK, it’s stirring all over Europe. I think it’s incumbent upon ordinary people like me to start speaking up, to beat that drum that says this is not normal and I will not accept this.
But it’s more than that. There is a smallness, a meanness of spirit in the Trumps, the Farages, the Le Pens of the world. As the writer Nina Allan put it so brilliantly in a blog post that you should go and read immediately:
..it also makes me want to weep, for the vile shortsightedness of a political culture that seeks to drive us away from Europe and into the arms of the US, a direction of travel precipitated by Thatcher but accelerated by Blair and all driven by a flag-waving, proud philistinism that is always going to value the politics of the so-called ‘free’ market over philosophy, sustainability, indigenous culture, creative endeavour and abstract thought, all the social and artistic values inherent in being human.
I want to celebrate those things here. I want to write about books and film and art and music and stories and travel and all the glorious things in the world that these small mean grubby minds, these pathetic, paltry imaginations, do not value, would like to crush out of existence. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere,” said Theresa May, apparently thinking this was some sort of insult. I will proudly take up the badge of citizen of nowhere; that sounds to me like a person of courage, someone who is unafraid of borders and differences, of crossing over, of discovery. But I also want to remind people: Dissent is an American value. Because I criticize my country and my government and hold them to higher standards, I am no less a “real American” than anyone else. You would think this would not be in question, and yet it is.
As I write this, we have two days left. I feel like Lewis Barnavelt in The House With a Clock In Its Walls, that tick-tock-tick-tock to doomsday following me everywhere I go. And I think about the world that could have been, the future we could be heading toward–should be, because I feel like that future has been stolen from us, I really do–had things gone just a little bit differently in the U.K. and the U.S. Instead of heading into a glorious, humanist future, it feels like we’re going to repeat all the horrors of the twentieth century again, only with different players this time. And the only way I know to not give into despair is to just keep writing. So here we are, and here I will be.