Sunday, August 4, 2019

Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror

Lullabies for Suffering: 
Tales of Addiction Horror,
with stories by:
Caroline Kepnes
Gabino Iglesias
John FD Taff
Mercedes M Yardley
Mark Matthews
Kealan Patrick Burke

coming January 2020

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Announcing: “Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror”

Happy as hell to announce a new project on the horizon.

“Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror” is in development and expected in early 2020.

This is a follow up to Garden of Fiends, but certainly not a sequel, for the scope will be larger and the volume much bigger. Garden of Fiends injected horror into your veins, Lullabies of Suffering will slice into your wrist while tenderly holding your hand. A fantastic list of contributors will be singing songs of suffering in the form of novellas and novelettes.

Addiction starts like a sweet lullaby sung by a trusted loved one. It washes away the pains of the day and pulls you into a world where nothing hurts and every dream is possible. For the sick and suffering addict, the warm bliss becomes a cold shiver and the dreams become nightmares -yet we can’t stop listening. We crave to hear the siren song as it rips us apart.

Such is the paradox of addiction, and dark truths such as these require a dark piece of fiction to do them justice. Expect compassion for the plight of the addict inside this volume of tales from a fantastic list of writers.

Here is the list of contributors:

Caroline Kepnes

“Hypnotic and scary,” said Stephen King of her work. Kepnes writes in a unique tone of darkness you’ll not find elsewhere, deconstructing relationships and taking deep dives into those tiny hidden crevices in your life we think nobody can see. Her novel YOU is one of the greatest second person point of view works you’ll ever read, and the inspiration behind the must-binge series on Netflix.

Gabino Iglesias

Like Kepnes, another master of the mosaic. The passion of this man is in every word, and he weaves his sentences as part sledgehammer, part harpsichord, beautiful but savage. Try to pin him into one genre, and it will change with the next sentence. Iglesias is the author of the ground-breaking, award-nominated Coyote Songs, with more songs to sing.

John FD Taff

The KING of PAIN is back and turning up the temperature to “The Melting Point of Meat” with a powerful piece on the obsessive urge of cutting and need for pain. His characters are vibrant but fragile, the cracks in their life where the light comes shining through. Taff was the backbone for Garden of Fiends, and he is back for round two with a savage, sweet, visceral piece.

Mercedes M. Yardley

The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the Pretty Little Dead Girls. Mercedes is criminally creative with wit and whimsy that turns her prose to music. To read her works is to live deliciously and walk through a field of poisonous wildflowers. The dark fantasist will be taking us to new territories with her story, "Love is a Crematorium."

Mark Matthews

My own work will be sandwiched in between, like the seasoning on that boiling piece of meat. Addiction horror has guided my works such as Milk-Blood and All Smoke Rises. I’ve got a few more words to say, this time about what happens when you’re the dreaded final girl after a mass heroin overdose.

Kealan Patrick Burke

"I am in awe of his talent,” said Bentley Little, and perhaps every reader of Kealan’s fiction. Kealan writes part Faulkner goth, part cosmic horror, listed here last as the grand finale of a firework explosion. His novel KIN is one of the greatest horror novels ever written. After his masterful story, “Wicked Thirst” from Garden of Fiends, it was impossible not to ask for more. We asked for more. Much more is coming.

There you have it. Check this space for cover art, excerpts, contests, celebrations, general notes from the underground, and giveaways of works from each artist.

Never too soon to sign up for advance reader copies. Emaill with ‘Lullaby ARC’ in the subject line.

*Presale expected Halloween night. For-sale date 90 days later.*

Saturday, March 23, 2019


I have Hamilton buzzing in my head, beating in my heart, running through my veins. I feel this urge to write these thoughts out of my chest before they burst. Forgive everything that comes next, for it is the result of a maelstrom of Hamilton stimulus.

In the span of three days I saw Hamilton twice, first time 3rd row after winning the 'Ham4Ham' lottery, second time with previously purchased tickets, and it just happened to be the performance when LIn-Manuel Miranda appeared on stage at curtain call to the delight of the crowd.

I saw the musical first time in Chicago last summer, and fell in love, for multiple reasons, and could speak at length on each character's arc.  I would see it again, tonight. I just like how I feel when I am watching it.

What the hell does that have to do with Horror writing?

Well, I'm declaring our country's foundation was built upon a work of Hamilton Horror. Yep, a work of Horror.

Um, what?

First off, the story of Hamilton is the story of a writer. Someone obsessed with its power, and who could wield it like a wizard. Hamilton's"skill with the quill is undeniable" and his opponents knew that "as long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat."

His words were part of what made Eliza fall in love with him, as she states:

"You and your words flooded my senses. Your sentences left me defenseless. You built me palaces out of paragraphs... You built cathedrals..."

But his obsession with writing starts to confound her as she asks:

"How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you’re alive?"

If it weren't for his writing skills, he would have never made it to America, and what a different country we may have become. After the devastation of a hurricane rained down upon his West Indies island, he documented the horrors, and the world took notice.

"Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain, he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain - Well, the word got around, 'hey, this kid is insane? lets take up a collection and send him to the mainland.'"

In other words, he got his own scholarship from hell when the community, astounded by his talent, financed his move to the states, without which he might not ever have set foot in the country. 

The passage that set him free, found here,  screams of Cosmic Horror with its references to a supernatural forces, as if the hurricane was a creature, and the mortal humans powerless below. Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft would be impressed. I am taking an expansive view of horror, for sure, but if you define horror is an unflinching stare down at the pain of being human, the ever-present spector of death with its "unrelenting scythe, pointed, and ready for the stroke" and when facing down this darkness, we are forced to look inward at the 'deformity of our lives' - well, then, I'm saying it qualifies. 

Here's just a brief glimpse:

"Good God! what horror and destruction. Its impossible for me to describe or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels"


"Look around thee and shudder at the view. See desolation and ruin where’er thou turnest thine eye! See thy fellow-creatures pale and lifeless; their bodies mangled, their souls snatched into eternity, unexpecting. Alas! perhaps unprepared! Hark the bitter groans of distress. See sickness and infirmities exposed to the inclemencies of wind and water! See tender infancy pinched with hunger and hanging on the mothers knee for food! See the unhappy mothers anxiety. Her poverty denies relief, her breast heaves with pangs of maternal pity, her heart is bursting, the tears gush down her cheeks. Oh sights of woe! Oh distress unspeakable! My heart bleeds, but I have no power to solace! "

Alexander lived through plenty of horrors; abandoned by his dad, his mom died of the same sickness that afflicted both of them, but Alex survived then "moved in with his cousin, but his cousin committed suicide." One can see how he "imagined death so much it felt like a memory." 

"I wrote my way out of hell," he explains, as his pride swelled and inflated to greek tragedy proportion, proclaiming in a howl: "When my prayers to God were met with indifference, I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance."

Well, Icarus flew too close to the sun, and when he tried to write his way out again with blunt honesty after caught in a sex scandal, the community wasn't ready to rejoice in the same manner. His opponents danced with glee "Never gonna be president now."

*I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other elements that make the musical so special. 

Hamilton rewrites the narrative of our history to reflect the kind of country we live in today, with its inclusiveness and representation of minorities and people of color. It shows the founding fathers with all of their noble intentions, fatal flaws and foibles, delivered in a hip-hoppy music, with wit and wisdom. So often the lyrics cite actual, historical quotes mixed in with its colloquialism. It rewrites the narrative to include those who currently live within its unfinished symphony, and allows so many to feel part of our country who before only saw a bunch of white dudes. (and lets not forget, Woman in the sequel! 'Work'

Its delivery has reached an audience and taught our history in ways no other medium could. My daughter is in 6th grade and has President Washington's farewell speech memorized. She can describe the significance and unique precedence of transitions of power when he stepped down. These are concepts usually reserved for High School AP history. 

All of this is explained in numerous essays written with much more eloquence than I've managed here, but no time to rewrite. I'm off to play the Hamilton lottery looking for tickets to tomorrow's performance. There are a million things I haven't done, but just you wait, just you wait.

Nothing excites an obsessed man as much as a play about an obsessed man.

Friday, March 22, 2019

That Which Grows Wild, by Eric J. Guignard

Happy to have Eric Guignard on the blog today.

Eric is one of the nicest humans you will ever meet. He has this fantastic aura that bleeds kindness, and to spend a few moments with him, you can't avoid getting caught up inside. You also can't avoid noticing his intense appreciation for books. Their content, their presence. their power. I've seen him tending to his collection of signed paperbacks (can I share this? I hope so) as if each one was an ancient artifact, a rare gem. This appreciation is why he creates such fantastic books himself, including the groundbreaking anthology, A World Of Horror, and the fiction collection featured below, That Which Grows Wild.

If you don't believe me, believe this - BOTH of them were nominated for Bram Stoker awards in their respective categories. 

What was the inspiration for this collection?

The book is a collection (my first!) of previously published works, the stories having first appeared in various anthologies, magazines, etc. Each story in itself had its own inspiration or aim, so the collection is more about which stories would work well together in a grouping. I worked with editor Norman Prentiss at Cemetery Dance to select ones that showed a range, but at the same time weren’t too far “out of the box”. Originally I had some other choices that were more “weird” or satire or dark, and Norm suggested switching out those to ones a bit more in the same mood, so voilĂ , the finished product, which I’m happy with!

Story ideas and inspirations come, literally and figuratively, from everywhere: Dreams (both night and day), global news and current affairs, conversations with people, personal observations of the world, and playing the “What If?” game.

General inspirations for my creative works also stem from The Twilight Zone television show, comic books, and authors such as Cormac McCarthy, George Orwell, Dan Simmons, Seanan McGuire, Joe R. Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, and many, many others.

What are you working on and what can we expect from you in the future?

My most recent writing work is my debut collection, That Which Grows Wild: 16 Tales of Dark Fiction (Cemetery Dance Publications; July, 2018)

Quick synopsis: Equal parts of whimsy and weird, horror and heartbreak, That Which Grows Wild, by award-winning author Eric J. Guignard, collects sixteen short stories that traverses the darker side of the fantastic.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing fiction driven by the goal of publication since February, 2011. However, I’ve been writing and drawing stories ever since I was a child. I just did it then for my own interest, or for friends. I stopped in college, in order to pursue business and serious-minded life necessities... which, of course, I now regret. I don’t regret the pursuit of those things, but rather having given up writing for so many years. I only jumped into as a potential career after the realization struck me that I was missing out on something I was passionate about!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"GARDEN OF FIENDS" Is Two Years Old - Get It Free on Amazon.

Two years ago this week, GARDEN OF FIENDS: TALES OF ADDICTION HORROR went up for presale.

To honor the anniversary, the book is free on Amazon. One click of the button and a Garden Grows on your kindle.

FREE today and tomorrow. Check it out here:

If you're a Bookbub subscriber, you'll see it show up in your inbox today. 

Garden of Fiends was the culmination of a series of books that feature addiction horror, including Milk-Blood, The Damage Done, All Smoke Rises, and to a lesser extent, On the Lips of Children. It's a topic very personal to me, and as I wrote from the wound, words just kept bleeding. I created Garden to see what other authors would do with the topic, since to truly capture the insidious nature of addiction, it takes a work of horror. I'm so incredibly thrilled at the list of writers on the table of contents.

Kealan Patrick Burke 
Jessica McHugh 
Max Booth III 
Johann Thorsson 
John FD Taff 
Glen Krisch 
Mark Matthews
Jack Ketchum

It's been two years, but seeing those names is still a thrill, and there is some sad literary irony to have Jack's story conclude the anthology. His story showcases his love of pets and is about a spirit who returns after death to find his partner destroying herself with alcoholism and neglecting his beloved cat. I hope Jack's soul is less distraught. 

"Garden of Fiends is scary in the realest of ways. What fertile ground for horror. Every story comes from a dark, personal place."
-JOSH MALERMAN, New York Times best-selling author of BIRD BOX

"There's something here to scare anyone and everyone. Garden of Fiends pushes all the wrong buttons in all the right ways!" 
-JONATHAN MABERRY, New York Times best-selling author of Dogs of War

*But wait, there's more*

Two titles also go on a .99 cent Kindle countdown deal:

MILK-BLOOD: "An urban legend in the making."

ON THE LIPS OF CHILDREN  "Dark fiction at its visceral, chilling best.

*You still here? Well, guess what. The Garden is going to get a follow up anthology. Stay tuned!*

Sunday, January 20, 2019

BODY OF CHRIST is on the Preliminary Ballot of the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards.

Happy to announce that my novella
is on the Preliminary Ballot of the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Awards.

Thanks to everyone who voted.

BODY OF CHRIST is the story of a young boy who secretly builds his own Jesus out of communion wavers and the flesh of his dead father. (Of course, his Jesus will rise, like Christ-figures tend to do. )

HWA members who want a copy (and of course you do) I've got PDF, Mobi, limited number of paperbacks and audio-book vouchers. Also look to this space for another amazon FREEBIE.

..or I'll simply read it to you bedside and you'll have a spiritual awakening.

Message me at:

Want to think some fine folks who helped with this piece, John FD Taff, Andi and Charlene, Julie Hutchings, and the gang of Corpus Press.

Many of my favorite titles on this list below, and I hope to read as many of those I haven't in the short window.

See y'all in Grand Rapids.

2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot

Superior Achievement in a Novel

del Toro, Guillermo and Kraus, Daniel – The Shape of Water (Feiwel & Friends)

Di Orazio, Paolo – Dark Mary (Independent Legions Publishing)

Katsu, Alma – The Hunger (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

King, Stephen – The Outsider (Scribner)

Maberry, Jonathan – Glimpse (St. Martin’s Press)

Malerman, Josh – Unbury Carol (Del Rey)

Manzetti, Alessandro – Naraka (Independent Legions Publishing)

Oates, Joyce Carol – Hazards of Time Travel (Ecco)

Reid, Iain – Foe (Gallery/Scout Press)

Saadawi, Ahmed – Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel (Penguin Books)

Stoker, Dacre and Barker, J.D. – Dracul (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Tremblay, Paul – The Cabin at the End of the World (William Morrow)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Barsa, Michael – The Garden of Blue Roses (Underland Press)

Fine, Julia – What Should Be Wild (Harper)

Gordon, Jerry – Breaking the World (Apex Book Company)

Grau, T.E. – I Am the River (Lethe Press)

Kiste, Gwendolyn – The Rust Maidens (Trepidatio Publishing)

Lieske, Ryan – Fiction (Burning Willow Press, LLC)

Lye, Harriet Alida – The Honey Farm: A Novel (Liveright)

Setchfield, Nick – The War in the Dark (Titan Books)

Sorensen, Chris – The Nightmare Room (Harmful Monkey Press)

Stage, Zoje – Baby Teeth (St. Martin’s Press)

Tremblay, Tony – The Moore House (Twisted Publishing)

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Alameda, Courtney – Pitch Dark (Feiwel & Friends)

Ernshaw, Shea – The Wicked Deep (Simon Pulse-Simon & Schuster)

Heidicker, Christian McKay – Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Ireland, Justina – Dread Nation (Balzer + Bray)

Kane, Dani – Wormholes: Book One of Axles and Allies (Barking Deer Press)

Legrand, Claire – Sawkill Girls (Katherine Tegen Books)

Maberry, Jonathan – Broken Lands (Simon & Schuster)

Snyman, Monique – The Night Weaver (Gigi Publishing)

Watson, Mary – The Wren Hunt (Bloomsbury Publishing)

White, Kiersten – The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (Delacorte Press)

Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel

Ahmed, Saladin – Abbott (BOOM! Studios)

Antone, Alex and Wielgosz, Dave James – Cursed Comics Cavalcade (DC Comics)

Azzarello, Brian – Moonshine Vol. 2: Misery Train (Image Comics)

Bellaire, Jordie – Redlands Volume 1: Sisters by Blood (Image Comics)

Bunn, Cullen – Bone Parish (BOOM! Studios)

Hammond, Warren and Viola, Joshua – Denver Moon: Metamorphosis (Hex Publishers LLC)

LaValle, Victor – Victor LaValle’sDestroyer (BOOM! Studios)

Lemire, Jeff – Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn (Image Comics)

Liu, Marjorie – Monstress Volume 3: Haven (Image Comics)

Pichetshote, Pornsak – Infidel (Image Comics)

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction

Bailey, Michael – Our Children, Our Teachers (Written Backwards)

Feldman, Stephanie – The Barrens (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2018)

Fracassi, Philip – Shiloh (Lovecraft eZine Press)

Hill, Joe – You Are Released (Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales) (Scribner)

Kelley, Brent Michael – Cruce Roosters (Omnium Gatherum)

Kurtz, Ed – Black’s Red Gold (At the Mercy of Beasts) (JournalStone)

Malik, Usman T. – Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung (Nightmare Magazine Issue #74)

Mason, Rena – The Devil’s Throat (Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror) (Adrenaline Press)

Matthews, Mark – Body of Christ (Wicked Run Press)

Smith, Angela Yuriko – Bitter Suites (Createspace)

Sullivan, Todd – Shape Shifting Priestess of the 1,000 Year War (Schlock! Horror!) (HellBound Books Publishing LLC)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction

Deady, Tom – “All Summers End” (Unnerving Magazine, Issue #8) (Unnerving)

Eldridge, Tori – “Life After Breath”(Running Wild Anthology of Stories Volume 2) (Running Wild Press)

English, Kary – “Cold, Silent, and Dark” (Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath) (WordFire Press)

Fawver, Kurt – “The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking” (The Dissolution of Small Worlds) (Lethe Press)

Herrman, Heather – “The Woman in the Blue Dress” (Dark Screams: Volume Ten) (Hydra)

Landry, Jess – “Mutter” (Fantastic Tales of Terror) (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Murray, Lee – “Dead End Town”(Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2) (IFWG Publishing International)

Neugebauer, Annie – “Glove Box” (The Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine Volume 3, Issue 4-July 2018)

Power, Kit – “Fish Hooks” (New Fears 2) (Titan Books)

Robertson, Andrew – “Her Royal Counsel”(Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland) (Exile Editions)

Taff, John F.D. – “A Winter’s Tale” (Little Black Spots) (Grey Matter Press)

Ward, Kyla Lee – “And in Her Eyes the City Drowned” (Weirdbook #39) (Wildside Press)

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection

Carmen, Christa – Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked (Unnerving)

Files, Gemma – Spectral Evidence (Trepidatio Publishing)

Guignard, Eric J. – That Which Grows Wild (Cemetery Dance Publications)

Iglesias, Gabino – Coyote Songs (Broken River Books)

Niveau, Thana – Octoberland (PS Publishing Ltd)

O’Neill, Gene – Frozen Shadows: And Other Chilling Stories (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Paramaditha, Intan – Apple and Knife (Brow Books)

Smith, John Claude – Occasional Beasts: Tales (Omnium Gatherum)

Snyder, Lucy A. – Garden of Eldritch Delights (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

Taff, John F.D. – Little Black Spots (Grey Matter Press)

Waggoner, Tim – Dark and Distant Voices: A Story Collection (Nightscape Press)

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay

Aster, Ari – Hereditary (PalmStar Media)

Averill, Meredith – The Haunting of Hill House: The Bent-Neck Lady, Episode 01:05 (Amblin Television, FlanaganFilm, Paramount Television)

Averill, Meredith – The Haunting of Hill House: Screaming Meemies, Episode 01:09 (Amblin Television, FlanaganFilm, Paramount Television)

Cosmatos, Panos and Stewart-Ahn, Aaron – Mandy (SpectreVision)

Dyson, Jeremy and Nyman, Andy – Ghost Stories (Warp Films, Altitude Film Entertainment, Catalyst Global Media in association with Lionsgate)

Fradley, Jeff, McBride, Danny and Green, David Gordon – Halloween (Blumhouse Productions, Miramax, Night Blade Holdings, Rough House Pictures, Trancas International Films, Universal Pictures)

Garland, Alex – Annihilation (DNA Films, Paramount Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, Skydance Media)

Heisserer, Eric – Bird Box (Bluegrass Films, Chris Morgan Productions, Universal Pictures)

Ray, Billy and Smith, Mark L. – Overlord (Bad Robot, Paramount Pictures)

Woods, Bryan, Beck, Scott, and Krasinski, John – A Quiet Place (Platinum Dunes, Sunday Night)

Superior Achievement in an Anthology

Chambers, James, Grey, April, and Masterson, Robert – A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State (Hippocampus Press)

Datlow, Ellen – The Devil and the Deep: Horror Stories of the Sea (Night Shade Books)

Dewar, Simon – Suspended in Dusk II (Grey Matter Press)

Guignard, Eric J. – A World of Horror (Dark Moon Books)

Murano, Doug – Welcome to the Show (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Murray, Lee – Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenaline Press)

Neal, David T. and Scott, Christine M. – The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror (Nosetouch Press)

O’Regan, Marie – Phantoms: Haunting Tales from Masters of the Genre (Titan Books)

Ward, D. Alexander – Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Worthen, Lyn – Quoth the Raven (Camden Park Press)

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction

Connolly, John – Horror Express (PS Publishing)

Cutchins, Dennis R. and Perry, Dennis R. – Adapting Frankenstein: The Monster’s Eternal Lives in Popular Culture (Manchester University Press)

Gambin, Lee – The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film (Centipede Press)

Hopton, Sarah Beth – Woman at the Devil’s Door: The Untold True Story of the Hampstead Murderess (Red Lightning Books)

Ingham, Howard David – We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror (Room 207 Press)

Jones, Darryl – Sleeping with the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror (Oxford University Press)

Mynhardt, Joe and Johnson, Eugene – It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Phillips, Kendall R. – A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema (University of Texas Press)

Poole, W. Scott – Wasteland: The Great Ward and the Origins of Modern Horror(Counterpoint)

Wetmore Jr., Kevin J. – Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series (McFarland)

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Boston, Bruce – Artifacts (Independent Legions Publishing)

Clark, G.O. – The Comfort of Screams (Alban Lake Publishing)

Cowen, David E. – Bleeding Saffron (Weasel Press)

Fletcher, Joe – The Hatch (Brooklyn Arts Press)

Lynch, Donna – Witches (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

Shepard, Oliver – Thirteen Nocturnes (Ikonograph Press)

Simon, Marge and Manzetti, Alessandro – War (Independent Legions Publishing)

Tantlinger, Sara – The Devil’s Dreamland (Strangehouse Books)

West, Jacqueline – Candle and Pins: Poems on Superstitions (Alban Lake Publishing)

Wren, Twyla – Gwendolyn Witch and Other Macabria (Independently Published)

Saturday, December 29, 2018


*First off, Trigger Warning, particularly related to issues surrounding suicide*

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain.”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

In Bird Box, the apocalypse is caused by mass suicide. The only way to prevent being a victim is to avoid, at all costs, looking into the outside world, for if you do, there's something you will see that compels you to take your own life. Suicide comes both immediate and by an any means necessary.

Bird Box has taken the world by storm, and has broken Netflix records for number of times viewed within first week of its release. 

Build a better monster, and the world comes knocking at your door.

Bird Box is its own type of choose your own adventure. Each of us imagines what 'monsters' the characters see that compels them to suicide. In my view of the BB universe, each character sees something unique and personal to their deepest fears, their own life experiences. Something so primal it overrides every bit of life instinct for survival. It's as much a hallucination in the mind's eye of the viewer rather than something that tangibly exists. In this way, we are all like a character in the book, no two of us imagine the same thing. Had the book or film shown us the monster and denied us this ability to imagine what each character sees, it would have robbed us the opportunity to create our own private monster. 

“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”

― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

"What do you think they see?" isn't the question. The question is; "What might we see that would compel us to need an immediate end to our existence?"

"There's nothing that would make me do such a thing," is not an acceptable answer in the land of BB, for there is something that is so terrifying and deeply despairing that it shatters all firmly cemented notions that suicide is not an option to even comprehend. Suicide suddenly makes perfect sense, and must be sought out as immediate as possible. 
Imagine, if for a second we could all really relate to those who feel a desire to take their own life? The world in which you are reading this sentence, not the BB world, but the street you live on, has someone living on it who wants to kill themselves. Right now. Maybe three doors down, maybe half a mile, but the radius does not have to be too large to encompass someone who see suicide as their only option. They are fighting what they feel, what they see, right now.  

So often we tell such people to try 'taking a walk', that 'there are those who have it worse', that 'it will pass'. Can you imagine walking up to someone with that Bird Box suicidal look in their eye and suggesting such things? Of course not, for see the conviction in the eyes of those who are seeking to jump from a window or stab themselves with scissors. 

But such are the words and lack of understanding we treat those suffering from such mental illness. We need to do better. 

In Bird Box, we are all in their world with them, and the only way to survive is to set up barriers to keep the horrors out through voluntary blindness. Only an artificial construct such as a blindfold can keep the horrors away. 

“We all build internal sea walls to keep at bay the sadnesses of life and the often overwhelming forces within our minds. In whatever way we do this—through love, work, family, faith, friends, denial, alcohol, drugs, or medication—we build these walls, stone by stone, over a lifetime." ― Kay Redfield Jamison

  There are some in Bird Box who escape this fate. Those who are already severely mentally ill can keep their eyes wide open. In the BB universe, if you have this sort of power, then your charge is to force others to take off their blindfold, sometimes prying their eyes open with your fingers and making them see what you already do, knowing that they can't handle the result and will succumb to suicide.  (I don't believe the BB universe suggests that those with such affliction have this inclination, but rather that this is part of the malevolent phenomena of whatever is in the air.)  

In the movie, those who can view the world with impunity take a sort of satisfaction in their abilities where the power structure is flipped.  Those who are deemed insane are the ones who can easily navigate the world, drive with full sight, celebrating in their power by doing donuts in the driveway, while the mentally healthy are now crippled by fear.

Once again, an empathy to those who must bear the burden of abject depression and despair.

Towards the end of the film, Mallory experiences intense audio hallucinations from the voices most dear to her, begging her to take off her blindfold. The voices are seductive, and I think the audio is just a hint into what the visual might be, something seductive, personal. Severe depression becomes something more sinister, and that is severe psychosis. 

Being psychotic is so often misunderstood and used with cliche, but the psychotic walk among us and suffer with hallucinations nearly identical. This is not fantasy.  Those with psychosis often experience hallucinations as Mallory did, and hear the voices of deceased loved ones. Command hallucinations, they are called, asking us to do something harmful, to hurt ourselves, often times in voices personal to us.  Somewhere nearby you someone is fighting these off, right now. 

Mallory's fight in the forest isn't only the screen, it's also down the road.

I can't help but extrapolate this to other diagnoses, especially addiction. Imagine if you were forced to feel the urge to get high and do everything in your power to use some form of drug; vicodin, heroin, cocaine. The urge to use the substance was felt with the same urgency as a drowning man seeks to breathe. Something a non addict doesn't comprehend, but right now soon as someone opens their eyes, there is a similar intensity of compulsion and obsessions. 

Compulsions to destroy ourselves. Perhaps we don't realize how fragile our sanity is. That there is something in the air that can tap into the part of us that goes so incredibly mad it must end all consciousness.  The monsters inside us can be awoken by our senses, and it is our senses that sometimes must be denied for a higher good.  We can only make our way through this world through forced blindness of certain horrors. But when we do, we can live within glory upon the tree tops, among the most noble of birds. 

The hope at the end of BB does not feel contrived, but a celebration of the human spirit. We can ignore the constant voices and whispers, shut off the horrors of the world, as long as we are guided by love. We can't live in fear, we can't give up hope. We must work together and be persistent.  We can climb that oak tree, and it's no coincidence that Tom's story is one of sight and his vision at the top. It's a story that ends with glory, not gloom.

Lastly, how cool is it the Horror Writer's Association is converging on Michigan for its next convention, home of the BB creator and guest of honor, Josh Malerman.  One only need to share space with him for a moment to feel his incredible zest for art. He fully understands the potential for horror to makes us feel the full range of human emotions. 

Malerman has built a better monster, one that is uniquely ours. And he's just getting started. 

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