I just put up Warped & Wefted, a cosmic horror story set in the drag ball scene. Think Paris is Burning meets the nameless void.
Check out my Patreon here. (I’m only asking a $1 for one level, $2 for the second level).
What’s it about: A short story about a different type of monster. A kaleidoscopic story, full of dream logic.
It’s also illustrated with Orion Zangara’s beautiful and eerie drawings, and beautiful designed by Dim Shores publisher Sam Cowan.
It’s a limited edition–only 150 copies will be produced.
Where you can get it: Dim Shores Press Webstore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The new Tanith Lee novella combines elements ghost story conventions and zombie apocalypse fiction in an truly unique way. The “twist” is clever, but the short novel is more a contemplative character study. The assembled cast are ghosts from a variety of eras that are all haunting a historic Great House in the moorlands of England. They share their histories in monologues that range from tragic to humorous. The faceted narrative mode shifts from contemporary to gothic and even has a smattering of Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Simultaneously, humanity has been plagued with zombies, which do not affect the undead company. The fantastic contrivances, though crucial to the plot, take a back seat to the leisurely character reveals. In this way, the novel reads more like a play. (“The Ghost Monologues” would also be an apt title). Zircons May Be Mistaken might be the only zombie novel full of pathos and an exploration of the “human condition.”
Last year, I sent this eerie holiday-themed story as a Christmas card. I’m sharing it with you now.
Enjoy “The Angel Mehitabel.“
Uncle Remus was my first encounter with a Magical Negro. I saw him in the (now banned) Disney movie, Song of the South when I was a child. I remember seeing an elderly black man walking through the fields, so gloriously happy that animated bluebirds swirled around him as he sang. I remember thinking that he was some sort of sorcerer, like Merlin. Like Dr. Doolittle, he could speak to animals, and knew their tales. I barely remember the frame story, which was some treacly affair about a runaway tow-headed tyke who was (rightfully) enchanted by Remus and his store of animal tales. For some reason the (white) adults didn’t care for Remus and forbade little whatshisname from seeing him. (Didn’t they know that he was a great magus?) The kid gets attacked by an angry (real-life) bull and Remus saves the day, which is what honorable wizards do. The frame story was a distraction from the vividly animated exploits of B’rers Rabbit and Fox, but I actually thought Remus was the more interesting character. I couldn’t grasp why he lived in poverty, when he was so obviously a warlock or whatever. I began to devise adventures about him. Move over, Gandalf, Jeannie and Samantha. Remus is in town! He was the protagonist in my stories. Remus FTW! Years later, I recognized that Uncle Remus was a Magical Negro. That is, a stock figure in fiction (and other narrative media) meant to teach and/or accessorize white protagonists. They have no real life beyond being helpful wise people.
The Magical Negro shows up in a variety of books and movies. The MN has no back story. They are allowed to be sassy comic relief, but primarily, they set up the white protagonist for victory over various odds. Certain black actors have long careers playing versions of the MN. Oda Mae Brown in Ghost is one massively popular example. Oda Mae somewhat subverts the paradigm. She does, for instance, have an extensive backstory (as a petty criminal) and much is made about her being a reluctant supporter of the titular ghost and his living lover. Oda Mae is much more a player in her story than Remus was in SOTS, and her portrayal by Goldberg steals the show. The actual plot of Ghost escapes me, but Oda Mae stays with me. I would watch the hell out of an Oda Mae-based sequel. (A tragically separated couple who make phallic clay vases and like ‘Unchained Melody’ a little too much—not interesting).
I guess what I’m saying is this: I have a complicated relationship with the MN trope. I recognize how its harmful and stereotypical. Can this narrative device be reclaimed, retooled, subverted? The untold stories of Remus: The Real Grand Wizard of the Old South and The Oda Mae Chronicles really ignite my imagination, perhaps more than is healthy.
My own fiction deals with race in one way or another; Otherness is a recurrent theme. I use fantasy tropes, both on the literal and allegorical level. After a while, I found that I had amassed a body of magical realist/urban fantasy/weird fiction where people of African descent were the main protagonists. The stories range from satire to horror to whimsy. These ‘magical negroes’ are in the spotlight. So, in a way, Skin Deep Magic is inspired by those ur-Magical Negroes. I’ve given them a voice. The characters are flawed, some of the stories are discomforting. But they have their own voices and histories to share. I aim to be provocative as well as entertaining. Like Remus, I am a storyteller. But, I’m a liberated one, smashing stereotypes and remixing tropes.
I actually don’t think I write horror, as in flesh-eating zombies or vampires or splatter punk. I tend towards dark fantasy or ‘weird’ fiction. But there is a definite darkness in what I write. And the forthcoming collection (not to mention the eBook series, Variations) has at least one piece that could be considered straightforward horror. Someone always asks me why I write what I write. Why so dark, so pessimistic?
Part of me wants to use the ‘channelling voices’ excuse: that the characters just sort of use me as a vessel to tell their stories. And I think every writer has a moment when they feel that: Where did that come from? But if I am channelling voices, why are they such sad, and at times, disturbed voices?
A large part of me being drawn to dark fiction is, of course, I grew up on horror. I macerated in it. I live in DC, where the movie The Exorcist took place, and the true story that inspired it happened in just-across-the-border Mount Rainer. It was a young rite of passage to visit the terrifyingly rickety Exorcist steps in Georgetown. Stephen King burst on the scene in my childhood. I remember, vividly, those lurid covers from the 70s. Cryptozoology was serious business. I used to devour books documenting the existence of Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Jersey Devil, and nearby Maryland’s own ominous Goatman. I even had an aunt who told me her creepily prophetic dreams. Summers we went to Atlantic City where, at the time, there was still a freakshow that featured a fearsome Ape Girl who would escape and bum rush the audience.
Or maybe it’s something more. I learned pretty young that the world is a terrible place, full of disease, torture and worse. I think I write dark fiction and about dark subjects because its cathartic, and helps me work through the fear and anger I have. The ‘voice’ I am channelling is my own subconscious. I contend, in my own fiction, the real world horrors my characters face are often worse than any supernatural demon.
Here is me reading an excerpt from “Psychometry, or Gone with the Dust,” from my forthcoming collection Skin Deep Magic.
I just submitted a cleaned-up manuscript of my forthcoming collection of dark magical realist fiction that deals with the matter of Race to my publisher. There’s horror, humor, and history in these tales.
I have created some Pinterest boards that sort of point toward some of the inspirations. The Skin Deep Magic board features images of some of the characters I’m writing about–women from the Victoria era and up to the 40s who feature prominently in some of the tales. The Vintage Racism board shows images of black used in advertising. There are Golliwogs, Aunt Jemimas, and mammy jars.