This is not a review. Paul Tremblay’s A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS (William Morrow, 2015) is likely the best “if Shirley Jackson wrote a postmodern version of The Exorcist” novel you’ll ever read. There are so many levels of excellence in the book that it’s difficult to summarize it in any satisfactory way. Which is really how it should be. One of the aspects that most appealed to me is the novel’s insistence on keeping one from knowing what it is. What seems like a classic tale of exorcism suddenly turns on its head, and leaves one wondering if there is something more going on. Even those moments that, surely, could only be the work of a devil, get turned around in a postmodern deconstruction of what we come to expect from an exorcism story, and, in a broader sense, how all fiction is an amalgamation of what went before, reconstituted and recontextualized. His character work is strong, outlining the descent of his characters’ family from average normalcy into confusion and chaos, yet maintaining a through-line that follows them into their final moments, all spearheaded by a narrator relating her experiences when she was a charming eight year old. Anyone who knows Tremblay’s work knows this sort of writing is his specialty, and as ever it continues to impress. This one is well worth your time picking up.
I’m pleased to mention that my collection, BURNT BLACK SUNS, has been nominated for the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award. Joining me in the nomination for best single-author collection are powerhouse writers Helen Marshall, Rob Shearman, Stephen Graham Jones, and Mike Allen.
Thank you to the jurors for selecting my collection to appear among them.
I’m pleased to be co-instructing this four-week course for all aspiring Horror writers. The deck is stacked with formidable talent, and the funds go to support the Shirley Jackson Awards. For more information, or to register, please follow this link to the LitReactor website.
If you’re looking for me at the World Fantasy Convention this year (held in Washington, D.C., from Nov 6th to 9th) I’ll be participating in the following programming:
Gender Issues and Sexuality in Robert Aickman’s Fiction
Time: 11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Saturday, Washington
Panelists: Chris Maloney (M), Rebekah Memel Brown, Lawrence Connolly, Simon Strantzas
Description: While known for atmospheric pieces, Aickman’s work does not shy away from issues of sexuality, as in his self-proclaimed “strange stories” such as “The Swords,” “Marriage,” “The School Friend,” “The Inner Room,” or “Revissante.” How are gender, sexuality, and the relationship with the natural and spirit worlds handled by the master? What influence does it have on the work of contemporary writers?
The Great Author You Are Not Reading: Robert Aickman
Time: 5 p.m. – 6 p.m., Saturday, Tidewater 2
Panelists: Simon Strantzas (M), Michael Dirda, Peter Straub, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Description: Have you read Cold Hand in Mine, Painted Devils, or Powers of Darkness? Then you are missing out on some wonderfully strange and compelling stories. Robert Aickman not only wrote strange stories, he also won the short fiction award at the first World Fantasy Convention in 1975. Learn why Aickman is being honored at this World Fantasy as the panel reviews his outstanding body of work.
I suppose I’m also invited to take part in the Mass Autograph Signing on Saturday night, but I tend to find those events soul-sapping, and will likely avoid subjecting myself to it.
Otherwise, I’ll be around for the bulk of the convention, so if you miss me at a panel, I’ll likely be wandering around the Dealer Room. Please feel free to come up and say hello should the mood strike.
The extremely talented Molly Tanzer has tagged me in something people are calling “The Writing Process Blog Tour”. Process is something that interests me greatly, so this entire tour has been enlightening. I’m hopeful readers of this blog feel the same, and will follow the links backward to see what others have written.
1) What are you working on?
I’m not working on anything specifically at the moment. My last book, the collection BURNT BLACK SUNS, was a difficult one for many reasons, and now that it’s in the world I find myself somewhat in limbo. Which isn’t to say I’m not working, but rather that after a few years of focused work in this one aspect of the weird, I’m pleased to open up the motor a bit and work on different sorts of tales. But rest assured I have plans for where the future will take me.
2) How is your work different from others’ work in the same genre?
When I began, I felt I fit into a very particular niche of the weird genre—so particular in fact I wasn’t really aware of anyone else working there. A mixture of weird fiction and strange fiction that was different from the British-inspired psychological stories and the American visceral stories that were a big part of the genre’s slow resurgence a decade ago. Since then I feel there’s been a tremendous growth of writers with a similar or sympathetic focus, and I’m certainly pleased to see them. That said, I feel my pendulum swings wider than most of these peers in its exploration of this particular intersection. I know a few writers who work with oblique narratives, and a few more with cosmic horror, but I don’t know many that flip between both to the degree I do, especially within the confines of the same story.
3) Why do you write what you do?
The dark strangeness of the world is a topic that holds utter fascination for me. Experiencing that frisson is the closest thing to real magic I’ve ever experienced, and I very much want to communicate that same feeling to others. If I can do so, I’ll consider my time writing in this darkened corner well spent.
4) How does your writing process work?
Every story writes itself in its own way, so my process can vary. For the most part, I find myself stricken by an image or metaphor or juxtaposition, and start writing. Often it’s best for me when that image is the culmination of a tale, and I spend my time working toward it. I rarely pre-plot and instead simply write with that target on the horizon in mind. Once I reach the end, I reassess the story and determine what it actually is, then I chip away what doesn’t belong and rework what’s left. Sometimes I hit the nail right on the head the first time through, and sometimes my first draft bears only a passing resemblance to the end result. I work best in the hours between 10 a.m and 3 p.m, and between 7 p.m and 10 p.m. That said, I don’t often have those times available to me, so I work any chance I get instead.
As per the requirements of this chain-letter, I’m forced to pick two other writers whom I don’t think have been tagged yet and obligate them to endure what’s I’ve just endured. So, I’ll select the well-established Ian Rogers and the soon-to-be well-established Michael Wehunt.