TWIR: It came from the woods (most strange things do)

I have trouble finding things that scare me. In stories, I mean. When a movie is supposed to be terrifying, it often turns out “terrifying” means “jump cuts and gore,” which is not what I consider scary. It’s a trick! It’s a trigger for my autonomic responses! Surprise and disgust are not the same things as fear. On the other hand, if it’s trying for a more subtle terror, I don’t even notice. Which is also what happens with books.

But I think I’m figuring it out. (You’re also free to argue that I need to watch more movies, which is valid.)

Movies have too much going on. The backgrounds, the actors, the music, the framing. It distracts from the creeping terror of a black night and an unknown sound.

Novels and short stories are too distanced. When it’s words on the page, I get engaged, but I’m not involved. I read The Haunting of Hill House and had no idea it was supposed to be scary. Atmospheric, internal, psychological. But scary?

Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I define scary too narrowly.

Then I come to my current read: On Sunday I picked up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I’ve been reading no more than one story per night, and should finish up tonight, only to re-read it all, I’m sure. Only one of the stories is already online: His Face All Red.

Cover of
Beautiful and spooky

love Emily Carroll’s work. It’s beautiful, and her horror comics are slow-burn terrifying, the unexplained creeping up through the blackness of each page (or the stark whiteness of snow). The new stories in this book are just as good as I’d hoped, if not better (because my imagination is not Emily’s).

This is my theory: Comics are better at terror for me. In the hands of the right artist and writer, I have the visuals to connect me with the story, but not so many distracting elements to distance me again. The pacing is deliciously excruciating, so long as I can keep myself from peeking ahead. The restraint in the art, the cadence of the words, even the choice of when to turn the page…

This merits further research. Is it the medium of comics, or is it Emily Carroll and the style she uses? Are there movies that are Carroll-esque?

As a side note, I was concerned about this being in paperback but there was clearly a lot of care taken creating this book as an object. The cover has tantalizing textures, and the entire thing is printed well on high quality paper so the illustrations are vivid and the colors pop. It really is worth having on your shelf.

TWIR: Genre-bending, fantasy, and capitalism at the movies

I love #fridayreads and want more excuses to talk about reading (even though it’s Saturday), so I’m going to attempt to do that regularly with This Week In Reading.

Last weekend I went to Readercon, as mentioned, and picked up a bunch of books, but have barely touched them because I was already in the middle of several things. I have limits, you know. I can’t read ten books at once.

Five? Sure.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I sped through The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes before Readercon. It worked as a book to clear out my head after weeks traipsing through the autobiography of a labor activist (Elizabeth Gurley Flynn — the bio was great! But heavy, with a million little stories of wins and losses for the movement.) The Shining Girls was one of those cases of a book straddling the border between litfic and genre. Beukes made a valiant effort to write something that embraced litfic + time travel + mystery/thriller, but because she was balancing so many things, they all came off a little less rich than they could have been if focused on one. That may sound like a criticism of the book, but it’s not meant to be. I like the effort, and what combining genres did for the story. No aspect of it collapsed when poked, which is a huge accomplishment.

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

I also started Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip. I wouldn’t normally pick up something that has a cover like this, with the flowing locks of hair and the pensive look and the Renaissance-y stylings. This is not to say that I automatically dislike this sort of thing. It’s that I am not actively drawn to it, but the author was specifically recommended to me. So far it has magic, and ancient ageless evil, a girl made of wax, and a shadow underworld, so… I’m on board.

Short things I’ve read recently:

Smash the Engine at Jacobin Magazine:

“As it is, Snowpiercer is an enjoyable spectacle whether you care about its political message or not. But this is also a story with genuinely subversive and radical themes….It’s about the limitations of a revolution which merely takes over the existing social machinery rather than attempting to transcend it.”

That was a good movie, everyone.

Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball by N.K. Jemison:

“Then, apparently oblivious to Grace’s stare, the boy burst into tears. ‘I told him to be careful.'”

Please go read this story like I did: knowing nothing about it.

#readercon

Last weekend I went to ReaderCon for the first time. Somehow, it’s happened for the past 24 years without me having any idea. This is a travesty that I’m pleased to have corrected, because I loved it. (So, thanks Gillian!)

I could go on for 4,000 words about it and detail every moment that I remember, but no one wants that, least of all me. And let’s be real: There is one thing that happened that was, for me, the highlight of the entire weekend:

I got to sign something I wrote.

I walked up to the Crossed Genres table and pointed at the latest print issue. “I’m in that one!”

“Congrats! Want to sign it?”

I knew I should have been practicing my signature all these years.

Signed copy of my story in Crossed Genres Magazine
The first signature of at least a few, I hope.

So that was a delightful moment, and for that I thank Bart Leib, one of the publishers at Crossed Genres, who published my story back in January. You can read “The Gaps in Translation” here.

Other highlights of Readercon 2014:

  • Coffee in the con suite. Bless the con suite.
  • Admiring the poise and style of Sofia Samatar, and getting A Stranger in Olondria signed.
  • All the readings I got to go to! Sofia Samatar, Daniel Jose Older, Max Gladstone, seven contributors to Long Hidden… such riches. I’m spoiled.
  • Kaffeeklatsch! It’s an absolute must. I missed out on Max Gladstone and Lev Grossman (as I expected to happen) but got my name down for Daniel Handler (with Kit Reed and Kate Maruyama)!
  • Daniel Handler said many great things, but one in particular that’s going to stick with me: Writing is like going to work. I mean, I’ve been doing this drive for fifteen years. Shouldn’t the commute be shorter by now? But no, writing doesn’t necessarily get faster over time.
  • I’m nothing if not predictable. On Sunday I went to an Unreliable Narrators panel, and Unlikely Cartography. Yes, please, talk to me about lying narrators (and the lies of a map, even!)
  • I was absolutely thrilled with the amount of discussion of diversity throughout the weekend.
  • Also thrilling: The number of panels that had a “token” man, or no men at all. It can happen!

In conclusion, I’m still tired. And have so many books to read!