“Girl, I Love You” [the playlist]

“Girl, I Love You” is named after a song by Massive Attack, but this playlist is an atmospheric and moody one. I also really lucked out that each song has a wildly appropriate music video (was I actually writing a story to explain the “Summertime Sadness” video?!). That’s probably because music helped this story along by creating an ambiance, but the plot itself was inspired by a Junji Ito comic, “The Will.” Said comic is about two teenage girls who hate each other so much that they kill themselves in order to curse each other forever, and end up haunting each other’s bewildered families. Seriously – track this down. And everything else Junji Ito creates, for that matter. It’s totally (and willfully) absurd, but one of my very favorite things in the whole world is horror stories that take place in an elaborately-constructed, socially-and-economically-considered universe. This is why I appreciate movies like Daybreakers and Pacific Rim – because you get to see snippets of the kind of day-to-day society the paranormal phenomena has wrought. Good golly, I love that stuff. Anyway, that was what I was trying to achieve with this story – in a world where supernatural curses are commodified, what the hell would teen girls with all their psychodrama do with such curses?

emotionally compromised teenage girl

 

Fun fact: every time I look at that gif I think he’s holding a gun, not a cellphone.

And while this was not written from experience, per se (and thank God for that), I did and do have a best friend who once called us blood sisters back in seventh grade. I was very emotionally compromised at the time, and I am pretty sure that I owe that friendship my life. Shout-out to Lindsey, for whom the story is dedicated.

“Girl, I Love You” is in Phantasm Japan, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington.

“Girl I Love You” – Massive Attack: Girl I’m back in Spanish town, ain’t no trouble coming around, you promise you will never let me down, if you love me that much you will stick around

“Ghosts (Modwheel Mood Remix)” – Ladytron: There’s a ghost in me who wants to say “I’m sorry” – doesn’t mean I’m sorry

“Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix)” – Lana Del Rey: I just wanted you to know that baby, you’re the best

“Strawberry Gashes” – Jack Off Jill: Watch me fault her, “you’re living like a disaster,” she said kill me faster with strawberry gashes all over, watch me lose her (it’s almost like losing myself), give her my soul, and let them take somebody else (get away from me)

“In The Dark” – The Birthday Massacre: All these broken pieces left unglued should never find their way into the hands of someone like you

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“Only Unity Saves the Damned” [the playlist]

The first thing I do when I get a new kernel of a story is start compiling a playlist for it. I don’t know if I could write without music; it’s a huge source of atmospheric and linguistic inspiration, and quite frankly, I name a lot of stories after songs. In honor of what I owe to music, and because I spend so much time making these playlists, I’ve decided to share a five-song soundtrack for each story I publish.

“Only Unity Saves the Damned” is named after a political slogan, not a song, and like its cousin-story set in another freakish-mundane small town in Nebraska, “Absolute Zero,” was born essentially fully-formed. I think that like “Absolute Zero,” it’s a story whose themes and characters had been fermenting in me since I spent my tortured adolescence in Nebraska (there are things I love about the state – well, mostly the football team – but my Nebraska stories are all cold, moody, alienated, and in this case a little angry ["Bored," "Ticks and Leeches"]). What really kicked this story into gear was listening to the latest Swans album (The Seer) – in particular, the track “Lunacy.” I can’t remember if I decided to name my trio the LunaTicks before or after I heard this song, but it is truly the nucleus of this story in every sense. “Right Where It Belongs” is one of my favorite mood-pieces of all time, and hits on this story’s themes of (self-)deception, buried truth, mental entrapment. And “All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands,” well… besides Sufjan Stevens’ trademark creepy-quaint northern Americana that defines so much of Big Ten country, trees are a pretty big deal in this story.

OUSTD – ha, ousted – is in Letters to Lovecraft, edited by Jesse Bullington.

“Lunacy” – Swans: Break the chain hide within innocence (not innocent), innocent in no sense, eat the beast, keep him in, take the blame, speak the name (lunacy, lunacy) / kill the truth or speak the name (lunacy, lunacy), your childhood is over

“Bored” – Deftones: Get bored, I get bored, I get bored, I wish for a real one

“Ticks & Leeches” – Tool: Suck me dry, my blood is bruised and borrowed, you thieving bastards, you have turned my blood cold and bitter, beat my compassion black and blue / I hope you’re choking, I hope you choke on this

“Right Where It Belongs” – Nine Inch Nails: What if all the world’s inside of your head / Your devils and your gods, all the living and the dead, and you’re really all alone? You can live in this illusion, you can choose to believe, you keep looking but you can’t find the woods while you’re hiding in the trees

“All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” – Sufjan Stevens: And I am joining all my thoughts to you, and I’m preparing every part for you

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welcome to the bestiary

One of the many things I adore about NBC’s Hannibal is the feathered stag that haunts Will Graham and sometimes evolves into a stag-man.  I have a huge soft spot for the recurrent use of animals as symbolic, otherworldly entities in horror – i.e., not as monster bait, nor necessarily as the monster itself, but as a sort of gateway, sometimes a hallucinatory one, between the normal and paranormal world, or between the mundane and the sublime.

Hannibal_Stag_zps46309a7cClearly, I like stags for this purpose – I did write a story about a Stag-Man, after all – as they strike very evocative poses and call to mind a strange combination of beauty, royalty, sacrament, and ultimate victimhood (the ridiculous idea of Bambi as King of the Forest).  Any sort of animal horn is probably going to immediately ping your cultural spidey-sense, whether you think of the Abrahamic Devil or something older, like a bull-god.  Much like the stag, you hit that weird sweet spot between an image that looks very powerful but is intended to be sacrificed.  The Conspiracy captures this quite well, when one of the guys trying to break into a secret society finds himself wearing a very ominous-looking bull mask that marks him as the “quarry”:

TheConspiracy_Tarsus

But you don’t have to stop there.  Twin Peaks does this with owls (they are not what they seem), so well that I actually am rather frightened of owls now.  It’s a shame, because I used to like owls.  The video for the song “The Owl,” by I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, doesn’t help.

FinderScreenSnapz035

Candyman does this with bees.

10-horror-movie-facts-that-you-probably-didn-t-know-8ae3eae4-e4dd-4e60-9dc0-ff74053a044c

Ju-On does this with cats.

jucats

The Omen does this with dogs (all kinds of dogs, but the skeletonized jackal in the remake is the worst IMO).

PossibleSatanInRemake

The Disney movie captures precisely none of this, but Kipling’s The Jungle-Book has one of the greatest ambiguous animal conduits into the unknown of all time – the “ghost”-tiger Shere-Khan. I’m sure Shere-Khan himself was inspired by the great man-eating tigers that were the bane of British India’s attempts to lay railroad tracks.

Buldeo was explaining how the tiger that had carried away Messua’s son was a ghost-tiger, and his body was inhabited by the ghost of a wicked, old money-lender, who had died some years ago. “And I know that this is true,” he said, “because Purun Dass always limped from the blow that he got in a riot when his account books were burned, and the tiger that I speak of he limps, too, for the tracks of his pads are unequal.”

“True, true, that must be the truth,” said the gray-beards, nodding together.

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The Control Group

I’ve been really digging Emily Carroll’s horror comics. My favorite so far has been the very ghoulish “Out of Skin.”  Her wife Kate Craig’s comic “Heart Of Ice” is great too, especially if you love arctic horror (and who doesn’t?).  

emily carroll

I really admire artists that can draw scary things, mostly because I can’t imagine possessing that delicate of a balance between creative expression and mental control: I am pretty confident that if I ever created anything like one of Junji Ito’s comics, I would immediately burn it for fear of it coming to life. Not that this isn’t something I worry about with writing too – even though I write what I broadly classify as horror (I prefer “dark”), few things that I’ve written actually terrify me in the way that Ju-On, for example, terrifies me, and I think there’s a little part of me that doesn’t want to push that envelope because I’m afraid of my fears manifesting in real life. There are enough horror movies about writers who go forth to learn what fear is and cross one bridge too many (see also: reason I’m not about to go live in an old house for three months to pound out my final draft).

Of course, I have written stories featuring elements that frighten me – “Red Goat Black Goat” probably being the prime example, since that was based off a childhood story that scared the shit out of me, although “Girl I Love You,” “The Five Stages of Grief,” and “Pugelbone” also creep me out – and I haven’t gone crazy. I have “retained control” (get back to me if I ever write a story about crawling ghosts, though).  I’m sure horror illustrators don’t go crazy either (although I still think there’s something about image that is much more powerful than written text). They created it, after all; they control it. I think this is actually at the heart of the reason a lot of people tell horror stories – whether in text or art or film or music – they want to conquer some fleeting thing, some image, some sentence, some idea, that scares them. They want to wrangle it into something they can understand and control.  Which gets to something that Emily Carroll talks about in this interview, something that I’ve sort of dealt with too when people ask me to explain a story like, say, “Absolute Zero”:

So often people will treat that story like it’s a mystery with One True Solution, as though the final panel is a puzzle to be solved, but it really isn’t like that at all. And that was on purpose – growing up, my least favourite part of any horror story was the part towards the end that explained all the scariness away. Because I want to keep away from that in my own work, I made the conscious decision to leave the ending of that story (and preceding events, really) ambiguous and unresolved, in an effort to create a haunting feeling even after the comic ends.

 

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My copy of the Sword and Mythos anthology came in the mail today – my contribution is “Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth,” my second Lovecraftian story after “Red Goat, Black Goat” (and like “RG, BG,” set in Indonesia and published by Innsmouth Free Press, which is awesome).

There are other similarities too. “Red Goat, Black Goat” is named after a Death in June song, “Red Dog Black Dog.”  “Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth” is named after a Der Blutharsch song, “VII” off The Track of the Hunted album.  It’s a funny story of how I started listening to Der Blutharsch, though – somewhere in my freshman dorm lived a girl who had every single Der Blutharsch album, and due to the wonders of wireless internet and the iTunes technology of the time, I could listen to her music.  I was so freaked out and enraptured by them – “III” off When Did Wonderland End? is still one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.  Both Der Blutharsch and Death in June make music I’d characterize as incomprehensible, cinematic, and dark, which is why they’re major writing influences.  It’s music for a Mondo world.  Sometimes there are no lyrics, or the lyrics make no sense — the conclusion of the aforementioned “III,” on the other hand, is basically my writing manifesto: “the murder in your eyes, your journey through darkened skies, your adventure in blood and lies.”

I have been wanting to tell the story at the heart of “Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth” for a long time – it’s a story about a very deeply ingrained piece of Javanese folklore, the Spirit Queen of the South Sea (she’s the reason you are not supposed to wear the color green on Java’s southern beaches; certain old hotels are said to have a room “reserved” for her) – but my previous attempts never quite made it to prime-time.  In one case, the story was written from the perspective of a human princess who had to compete with the all-powerful Spirit Queen for the love of the young king.  Another version told the story from the perspective of one of the Spirit Queen’s handmaidens, who’d run away to try to become human by working in a fish factory.  With “Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth,” I finally realized that I had to tell the story from the Spirit Queen’s own point of view, and I had to make her ruthless.  Combining her with the ruthlessness of the Lovecraft mythos made perfect sense, and this story that I’d been wrestling with for years finally fell into place.

Here are a few other songs that inspired — facilitated, as you’d say in international development — “Truth Is Order and Order Is Truth”:

  • “Blood, Milk, and Sky” – White Zombie [if I ever publish an anthology of stories exclusively about Indonesia, I’d call it Blood, Milk, and Sky.  Because we were taught from a young age that the red of the Indonesian flag represents blood, and the white represents purity… and Indonesia is not so much a fatherland or motherland, but literally the “land where I shed my blood.”  And that’s called militarism!]
  • “Isis” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs ["if they're still up high, we'll throw them to the sea/ watch the murder of the wilds to the music of the deep"]
  • “Gorgon” – Scary Valentine [hooray for finally being able to find this on YouTube]
  • “Serpentia” – Danzig ["my little girl, won't you shed your skin/ little goddess, why don't you slither in"]
  • “Exterminating Angel” – The Creatures ["swarms of angels come to kill your sons/ and there's nothing but black holes where the stars should have been... poor little rich thing/ poor little bleeding heart"]
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good prose is like a windowpane

From George Orwell‘s essay “Why I Write”:

I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

Orwell defines political purpose thusly – and it’s a great definition (emphasis mine, because boy how I used to argue that, usually to people who really didn’t care about the issue one way or another and concluded only that I was a little cray):

(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Anyway, ever wonder what dictators read?

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