It was a busy weekend. I spent 4 days in Seattle, attending the wonderfully run Norwescon, where I co-facilitated a writing workshop. The other instructors were Nisi Shawl, Carol Berg, the editor Neil Clarke, and workshop co-chair Barth Anderson. The workshop was run Milford-style, and it was great to read and critique fiction from the talented cohort. Being a mentor is one of my bucket list items. Thanks to Anderson and Sienna Saint-Cyr for the opportunity. In addition to the workshop, I sat on a few panels and met many new people.
The Geeks of the Galaxy podcast where I discussed the Jordan Peele movie US with Tananarive Due and Evan Narcisse debuted on April 20th. Thanks to host David Barr Kirtley for having me on again. You can listen to it here.
Up next–approving copy-edits for A SPECTRAL HUE. I suspect a reveal of the gorgeous cover art is just around the corner.
Dale Bailey’s novel In the Night Wood exists in the nether region between dark fantasy and psychological horror. Charles and Erin Hayden have suffered a terrible loss, the accidental death of their six-year old daughter Lissa. Their marriage is also on the rocks due to Charles’ affair with a fellow professor, which in turn has caused Charles professional strife. Roughly a year after the tragic loss, Erin finds that she is the heir to the home of Caedmon Hollow, the author of an obscure British Victorian fantasy novel. The couple leave their North Carolina home, where Charles intends to research and possibilty write a book about the author in hopes of rekindling his academic career. The couple also hope that the change in scenery will help heal the rift in their relationship.
Located at the edge of a primeval woodland, Hollow House is the quintessential Gothic mansion, overlooking the ominously-named Eorl Wood. The nearby village, Yarrow, has suffered a loss of its own: a young girl has gone missing. In this atmosphere of grief and fear, both Charles and Erin begin seeing things in the wood, such as glimpses of a lost little girl and the shadow of an antler-crowned figure. Charles goes down the rabbit hole of research, making connections between the local folklore and Caedmon Hollow’s phastamorgic novel. Erin isolates further, drowning her sorrows in alcohol and pharmaceuticals.
In the Night Wood is a darkly lyrical tale, drenched in literary allusion, referencing Yeats, Pre-Raphaelite literature to older folk tales, such as the Erl King and changeling myths. The novel is filled with images of sylvan dread and imbued with the kind of Celtic Twilight aura that runs through the work of Alan Garner. The undercurrent of grief gives the story an emotional weight that grounds the dark ephemerality of the narrative. Recommended for fans of Elizabeth Hand, Sarah Waters and Alan Garner.
A SPECTRAL HUE has a release date of June 18. It’s currently at the page proof stage and ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) have been sighted. I have seen the glorious cover art Word Horde plans to use and can’t wait to share it with you.
In the meantime, you can hear me read an excerpt of the book at the Outer Dark Symposium, along with readings by Kristi DeMeester (fellow Word Horder), Damien Angelica Walters (practically local to me–outside of Baltimore to my DC) and Michael Wehunt (fellow lover of ambient music). A presentation on the history of the Swamp Thing comics and panel on the role nature plays in Weird Fiction follows.
The third annual Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird occurred last weekend. It was a confluence of readings, panels, and academic presentations all held in a special effects studio in Atlanta, under the watchful gaze of silicon monsters. Attendees came from all parts of the country, as far away as Hawaii. The readings spanned the entire cosmos of Weird Fiction, from the absurd to creepy to literary and all points in-between. The lively panels were full of passionate participants.
I have no idea where my own fiction fits in this constellation but it definitely has a home, embedded there amongst the other dark stars. In fact, I pitched A SPECTRAL HUE at last year’s symposium (check the acknowledgements of the book). Thanks to everyone who had a hand in organizing this event.
Till next year!
A few of the other attendees (Silver Scream FX Lab)
I saw Velvet Buzzsaw, Netflix film about haunted paintings and outsider art for a few reasons, foremost among them the fact that my forthcoming novel,A SPECTRAL HUE mines similar territory and shares some tropes.*
The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette and Rene Russo as dealers and critics in the contemporary art world. It starts out as a roman a clef/satire of that scene. Gyllenhaal plays a critic (loosely modeled on Jerry Saltz). Russo is an ex-punk rocker turned arts dealer, a nod to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and Collette plays a cutthroat curator. There’s no small element of camp in the performances and writing of these characters, as they pretentiously prattle on about the arts on display, some of which is shown in the film. (Which includes incomprehensible abstract art, and, most notably, a horrific robotic homeless person).
Russo’s put-upon underling (and Gyllenhaal’s secret affair), played by Zawe Ashton, sets the plot in motion when she discovers a cache of disturbing paintings left by her deceased reclusive neighbor. The discovery of the paintings resembles the discovery of Henry Darger’s work. (Darger’s epic novel and collage-based paintings were found after his death by his landlords). Vetril Dease, the artist, wanted his canvases destroyed, but the culture vultures ignore the directive and a feeding frenzy starts, as the dealers, curators and critics rush to promote the work as the Next Hot Thing.
That’s when the supernatural element comes into play, and Velvet Buzzsaw turns into a moralistic slasher film. The death sequences are inventive, but the actual haunting—its rules and mechanisms—are not explored. There’s an under-developed subplot about Dease’s mental instability and possible murderous activities. All of that takes the backseat to the stylish comeuppances.
As a ghost/horror story, the movie didn’t work for me. As an over the top jeremiad against the contemporary art scene, the message is muddled. For all that, I’m glad that it was made and the performances were entertaining if a little too cartoonish.
*A SPECTRAL HUE features an art critic and haunted outsider art work, but goes in a completely different direction and mood. The Outsider art in the novel is partial inspired by the quilt makers of Gee’s Bend.
When I was in high school, I wrote a story inspired by the work of the Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. I was going through a Southern writers kick back then. The story was about the friendship between two women, one white, the other black in the deep South. The white woman became friends with the black woman because her out-of-wedlock pregnancy made her a pariah in her small town.
I submitted the story to the school literary magazine. I went to a small, mostly white Episcopalian high school in the DC suburbs that was moderately conservative. The vice principal rejected the story as being “immoral” (there was no sex in the story, it was just two women reminiscing, like a two person play).
The next year, the literary magazine published a story by a white girl about a homeless black woman who kills a man in a robbery and uses the money to feed her kid. The first line in that story, I’ll never forgot, had the would-be murderess’ child say, “Momma, I be huuuungry.” (Of course, the mother in the story presumably also “immoral” in the same way my piece was).
That was one of my first experiences with blatant bias and revealed how White Privilege works. A literary story by a black boy was “immoral” and “filthy because it alluded to illegitimacy;” a story by a white girl, full of violence and stereotypes (and poorly rendered African American English), however, was acceptable.
Thirty years later, we’re still centering white voices over people of colors’.