Remembering Toni Morrison

 

Photo: Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo from vulture.com. Photo: Timothy Fadek/Corbis via Getty Images

I just read that Toni Morrison has died. I felt my heart break when I read the news. She is one of my all-time favorite authors.

I was never assigned Toni Morrison in school (a damn shame, in my mind), but her works were listed as optional reading in AP Literature. I made a mental note of her work and, when I started college, I checked out my first Morrison novel from the vast rows of stacks at NC State: Song of Solomon. I was struck by the beauty of her prose amidst the sadness and darkness of her story.

Afterward, I read what would become my favorite Morrison novel: The Bluest Eye. My heart broke for the young girl who longed for blue eyes in the hopes of being accepted by everyone around her. It ached the most at the end, when she thought the staring at her pregnant belly was everyone’s awe at her eyes, at last, having changed.

I read many more of her books, including Beloved and Sula. In 2015, I was fortunate enough to see her speak at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, in promotion of her latest book, God Help the Child. She spoke about her books, but what I remember most was when she spoke about the recent, tragic murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Md. She spoke with disdain about the media giving their usual spin and asking their usual, fruitless questions. She answered their spin and their questions with a simple, powerful statement that she shared with an astonished voice: “A child is dead.”

Morrison’s voice will live on in her work. Still, I am saddened that she has left us. I will mourn and remember her. Rest in peace.

No Matter What, You’ll Always Need an Editor

I’m currently on my third reread of the Harry Potter series. I came to the series late, my first readthrough being in 2014; and while I’m not a superfan, I love the series. It’s a great story across seven books, with wonderful characters and world-building. I also admire anyone who can write that much and have it all come together and make sense.

With the third reread, and thus the story well-settled into my memory, I’m starting to notice more little things in terms of style. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, around the time the series truly exploded — from what I recall, after Goblet of Fire was released — the tightness of the editing waned.

This struck me during Order of the Phoenix, which I’m almost done with. Now, it’s a good story, like all the rest. Its length isn’t a huge deterrent to me, though Harry doesn’t even arrive at Hogwarts until almost 200 pages in. It’s more the stylistic choices. A popular style choice in the book is to end every other sentence with ellipses. Almost everything Harry does or thinks trails off, especially after the halfway mark. It was okay the first 50 times, but after, oh, the fifth paragraph in a row with three sentences ending in ellipses, it starts to get irritating.

I won’t use this post to air all my style grievances with Order of the Phoenix (though seriously, the all caps yelling could also stand to take a chill pill). But as I noticed this sudden hard left turn from Book 4 to Book 5 — one that coincided with what I remember as the rise in the series’ popularity — I wondered if the series’ increased popularity, and J.K. Rowling’s subsequent increased clout, had the negative effect of the publisher taking a step back in terms of editing. Rowling’s books were immensely popular, and now that her work was proven — and rightfully so — perhaps there was less insistence to change or edit her work too much. But as I’m seeing in Order of the Phoenix, that isn’t always for the best.

I can’t say for sure that was the case for Books 5-7 in the Harry Potter series, since I wasn’t in the publisher’s office when the book was finished (though my Potter-loving friend said in response to my tweets about this, “No good editor would have let 400 fucking pages of idling in the damn woods stand. Also, the epigraph.”). But I can site a similar example that was in fact a documented case of a creator receiving little to no editorial interference: George Lucas and The Phantom Menace.

According to a book I just read and loved, Best. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery; George Lucas had earned the right (and money) to tell the studios that he wanted complete creative control over the return to the Star Wars universe. However, this led to a movie that many fans consider the worst in the series — it’s slow, the acting is wooden, it misses the forest for the trees in terms of lore, and the dialogue is god-awful. To the latter point, Lucas even admitted he wasn’t good at writing dialogue. And yet, he didn’t want assistance with dialogue — and the studios allowed him that freedom because of his clout.

I saw The Phantom Menace when I was 13. Even then, I knew what I was seeing was bad. George Lucas is a creative genius who has devised a modern legend that will live beyond any of us. That doesn’t mean he didn’t need an editor.

Everyone needs an editor, and yet almost no one wants to admit it. Editors are for amateurs, some think; or are deployed by anxious big-wigs who don’t trust their creators or anyone’s vision that’s different from theirs.

Yes, there may be publishers who overstep and edit to their expectations as opposed to the writer’s voice. But just because that happens, that doesn’t mean an author outgrows the need to be edited. It just means they need a better editor — one that respects them as a writer and wants to encourage their growth.

I know both the temptation to go at my work alone, and the sting of being told what parts of my creation need to be fixed. When I get my memo and edits back from Evelyn Duffy, I use them to learn and remember them as I write my next piece — and I’ll admit, I occasionally think, “Ha! I remembered to do [blank] this time! I’m doing one better!” I submit my work to her and wait to see if she notices and remarks on any improvement. I don’t kid myself into thinking a piece won’t need to be edited, but I feel a special sense of glee with the piece that only needs a few copy edits.

Still, those pieces are few and far in between — and lucky for me, I’ve found an editor who doesn’t let improvement on my part diminish any editing on her part. Evelyn even remarked that one of my short stories she recently edited “made me step up my editing game.” This is good for both author and editor, but in my mind, it’s especially good for the author because it challenges the author to keep growing and improving with each piece.

Even if one doesn’t have an editor like Evelyn (and I pity those who don’t, because she’s amazing), it’s still important to remember that, no matter where you are in terms of writing experience, popularity, or clout, you should always be edited and you should always consider the input of others. And if you’re an editor or publisher, you should always maintain that role over your authors’ work, even if they’re established and popular. It results in better outcomes for everyone involved.

I’m all for giving creators more freedom, especially when they’ve proven themselves. But there’s also such a thing as giving a creator too much freedom because they’re so popular. Everyone needs an editor. Everyone needs advice. Everyone needs oversight.

To bring this point home, I present a tale of two creators, as shared anecdotally by friend and fellow beer writer Will Gordon. On one hand, we have David Foster Wallace:

I won’t add much of my two cents, since I haven’t read Infinite Jest; but from what I’ve seen online, the general consensus seems to be that, at best, it’s an ordeal to finish.

On the other hand, we have David Sedaris:

David Sedaris has one of the most distinctive voices in literature. He is edited, and he listens to his editor.

Charity Anthology: Give to “Horror for RAICES” and Receive a Free ebook!

horror for raices

In response to the horrific conditions for asylum-seekers, refugees, and immigrants at the U.S. southern border, Nightscape Press is releasing an anthology called “Horror for RAICES: A Charitable Anthology.”

From the anthology’s GoFundMe page:

Nightscape Press is putting together an emergency charitable anthology for RAICES called Horror For RAICES. RAICES is a major player in the fight for immigrant and refugee rights in the United States.

Horror For RAICES will be edited by Jennifer Wilson and Robert S. Wilson and all net proceeds from the book will go to RAICES. If you donate $10 or more via this fundraiser, you will get an advance uncorrected eBook copy of the book as soon as it’s ready.

Our aim for this publication is to have the ebook officially available by August, 2019 with the trade paperback edition coming shortly thereafter.

Our aim for this GoFundMe is to raise at least our goal before the official release. Please help spread the word!

Horror For RAICES will include stories by Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Slatsky, Paul Michael Anderson, and more fantastic authors still yet to be announced.

I hope you will consider making a donation for this excellent cause. And, you’ll get an advance ebook copy for any donation of $10 or more – a bargain for the good this anthology aims to do.

Please also share the fundraiser with your family and friends.

Thank you!

Summer Reading: Pride Edition

Happy Pride! The entire month of June is a recognition, celebration, and honoring of LGBTQIA individuals. While there are many ways to celebrate, I plan to spend part of June reading books by LGBTQIA authors.

One of my 2019 resolutions was to read at least one book per month that someone recommended to me. I put out a request on Twitter for recommended reads by queer authors. One user recommended White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which is on its way to my front door as we speak. I look forward to reading that one!

As far as my own recommendations, here are some books I’ve enjoyed that were written by LGBTQIA authors. I recommend them for Pride month and, of course, for any month.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — a fascinating collection of feminist horror. My favorite story was “Inventories.”

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay — another great collection of short fiction. My favorite story was “Water, All Its Weight.”

Dry by Augusten Burroughs — Burroughs is one of my favorite authors, and you really can’t go wrong with any of his books.

Letters for Lucardo, Vol. 1 by Otava Heikkilä — a tender, erotic comic about a May-December romance between a human and a vampire.

F4 by Larissa Glaser — a wild, crazy, sexy creature tale that’s perfect for summer.

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag — a graphic novel about a young boy who yearns to be a witch.

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arcenaux — a wonderful, funny collection of essays.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby — I laughed now just remembering this book. The essays within are a scream.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Allison Bechdel — a “best of” treasury of Bechdel’s amazing comic.

Do you have any recommended reads for Pride? Leave them in the comments below!

The Horror of Motherly Love

This Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day. Sadly, my mom lives several hours away in North Carolina; but we chat every Sunday and I always send her a gift (though it’ll be late this year — sorry Mom).

Ahead of the holiday, I found myself reflecting on how most of my love stories fall into two categories: romantic (however twisted it may be), or familial between a mother and her daughter. The titular stories in my two collections, “The Crow’s Gift” and “Wither,” both focus on relationships between the main female protagonist and her mother. “Wither” goes one step further and includes Mother Nature — and the destructive relationship that can occur between her and her children.

sharp objects
Left to right: Amma, Camille, and Adora from Sharp Objects.

Without Condition is my first story to examine both motherly love and romantic love. While the focus is largely on Cara and her boyfriend, my first inkling of the story was rooted in the relationship between Cara and her mother. It was her mother’s unconditional love for her, even in the face of horrendous activities, that helped me think of the rest of the plot (not to mention the title).

I once read a study that claimed the bond between a mother and her daughter is the strongest possible bond between any parent-child pairing. While I can’t say that for sure, there is certainly something special about the way a woman is bonded to her mother in ways we don’t see with her father, or don’t see between a mother and her son. It’s something special to witness when it’s good, and something terrify to witness when it’s broken or abusive.

Carrie touched on this perfectly. The terror doesn’t lie in Carrie’s powers, nor just in the way she’s bullied; but in the power and influence Margaret White has over her daughter. As evil and tormented as she is, you still see their bond and the fact that Mrs. White truly worries about her. I think of in the movie, when Carrie shatters the mirror; and Margaret stops playing the piano and says in her most normal, concerned voice, “Carrie?” She’s worried her daughter is hurt, even as she calls her sinful. It almost makes it all the scarier when Margaret comes for Carrie with a knife in the climax.

margaret white
Also, this scene is just creepy AF.

I also think that the TV show Riverdale has done an excellent exploration of mothers and daughters in the fraught connection between Betty and Alice. Season 3 has been a little uneven, but the show has quietly shown how hard it is for a daughter to sever a tie with her mother, and how that tie — even when dangerous — may be the least dangerous option she has. Alice has joined a cult called The Farm, a group that Betty wants no part of; even if it means losing a connection to her mom. Out of desperation, Betty turns to her jailed serial killer father instead of her cult-worshiping mother, but when her father is (purportedly) free, he comes for her and tries to kill her (this post was written on May 7, and it’s possible revelations in later episodes may dispute these facts, because that’s what Riverdale does and that’s one of the reasons I love it in all its messy glory). Betty gives in to her mother for safety, and she’s embraced. She may still be in danger, but she’s with her mother; and with her mother, the feeling of safety is stronger and perhaps more real. This could be to Betty’s advantage or her detriment — only time will tell.

A final story that delved into this in spectacularly creepy fashion is Sharp Objects (which I also wrote about when the HBO adaptation aired last summer). Here, you have three female bonds: mother, daughter, and sister; none of whom can abandon the other completely despite the misdeeds of each. It also shows the darker side of a mother’s desire to feel needed, and how her daughter will nearly die to fill that need.

Betty and Alice Cooper
Betty and Alice Cooper.

The bond between a mother and daughter can make for excellent dark fiction when done well. I’m less interested in “crazy mom/rebel daughter” narratives, and more the stories of daughters who can’t leave their mothers behind, or vice versa; despite their dark deeds. The bond is strong, even when it’s frayed — maybe even the strongest of all. But that isn’t always a good thing.

I hope that those of you with good bonds, though, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And, I want to wish the happiest of Mother’s Days to my mom. Thanks for reading my work, supporting me, and being an all-around gem.

Busy Bee for Spring

One thing I don’t want this blog to ever become is a string of posts promising to write more. I figure, if there’s a prolonged period where I don’t have much to add, I’ll let the blog sit and hope that people see me tweeting or Instagramming to see what I’m up to. Of course, on Twitter and Instagram, I’m usually talking about hockey or terrifying beauty rituals if I’m not talking about writing.

That said, I realize it’s been a minute since I’ve posted; and I wanted to check in, especially since I already recapped a prolonged absence following the release of Without Condition. This time, my absence hasn’t been because of writing. I have some exciting things going on in my personal life, which I’ll talk about more once those pieces are in place; but I can assure you that they’re all good!

In between the hubbub, though, I’m doing some writing. I’m working on a piece for a food horror call for submission. Sadly, this call for submission doesn’t accept flash — otherwise, I’d totally submit Crust (which you should read if you haven’t yet!).

I’m also letting Little Paranoias sit before giving it one full read-through. I plan to send it to Evelyn for editing in June, and in the meantime, I’ve started working with Doug on what the cover will look like.

I’m a busy bee this spring, and I’m grateful for the energy warm weather gives me to juggle it all. In between new projects coming out soon, I hope you’ll pick up one or two of my books to read if you haven’t done so — I have four to choose from!

Happy reading, everyone.

Celebrating Women in Horror Month

Today is Feb. 1, meaning it’s the first day of Women in Horror Month! (Though really, every month can be Women in Horror Month if you try hard and believe in yourself)

I plan to celebrate as both a writer and a reader. I’m participating in the monthly Ladies of Horror Flash Fiction Picture Contest, and will be featured as part of author Elaine Pascale’s “Ones You Don’t Bring Home” series throughout February. You will also see me popping up on various blogs and review sites, doing interviews and being reviewed, because …

Without Condition will be released on February 12!!!

. Without Condition. Cover Art by Doug Puller
Art by Doug Puller

*throws confetti*

We’re less than two weeks away from the release of my next book. You can check out more on this very site, and also see some early feedback from reviewers on Goodreads.

I’m also pleased to see Without Condition included in the Ladies of Horror Fiction’s Women in Horror Month Read-Along. They’ve set up five categories for their readathon, with the books they both recommend and plan to read. Without Condition is included under Indie Author.

lohf-readalong

I have four books I plan to read for Women in Horror Month:

  • The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantalinger
  • Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke
  • Cruel Works of Nature by Gemma Amor
  • The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

I plan to read more for sure.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Women in Horror Month this year, and beyond!