Archive for cooper’s fiction

Turning the Screw in CRAZY TIME

Crazy Time is a literary horror novel about a woman, Lily Henshaw, who goes through so much trauma that she begins to think that her experiences are supernatural, the results of a curse comparable to the suffering in the Book of Job. That she merely thinks the experiences are supernatural—she doubts her sanity, finds her senses unreliable, and therefore can’t be sure—is crucial for the way the novel unfolds. At least after the first couple of chapters (and possibly sooner), the novel starts “turning the screw,” a term I use to describe any narrative that places what is actually happening in the world of the story into unresolvable uncertainty, a kind of perpetual hermeneutic ambiguity.

The term, of course, refers to Henry James’s famous little horror novella The Turn of the Screw (1898), in which the (inset) narrator’s ghostly experiences may or may not be products of her mind. James uses first person to lock readers in his governess-narrator’s unreliable perceptions, whereas Crazy Time uses third person to lock readers in Lily’s point of view, and James turns his screw with poise and tidiness, whereas Crazy Time is… messy. With our ambiguous turns through compromised consciousness, however, we both exploit a kind of phenomenological weakness for dramatic effect. For both of us, supposedly supernatural phenomena become tests for the limits of conscious processing, gauges for the distance between that which is and that which is experienced, and revelations of the stability of the mind that is processing experience. Reading James, we must consider whether the governess’s sensory experiences of the supernatural reveal objective realities or a damaged mind. Crazy Time poses a less evenly divided question, preferring a spectrum approach. How much of what Lily experiences “actually” happens, and when what she perceives stems from hallucination and isn’t happening, what “actually” is? If Lily is insane, in her world, what might sanity look like?

Although Lily doesn’t have unlimited patience for doubting herself (eventually accepting that “crazy flows forward”), she has far more good sense than James’s governess. As an English and Philosophy double major in college, Lily asks and seeks answers for the sorts of phenomenological questions that interest James. Her book (I almost subtitled Crazy Time “The Book of Lily Henshaw”) offers an array of experiences that might play as un- or super-natural, and Lily stands in different relations of skepticism to them with regard to their “reality.” These different relations are softer and harder turns of the screw. By the novel’s second half, which is perhaps less horrific but permeated by the fantastic, nothing might be real, or everything might be real, or there’s a mix. If decisions are needed, only readers can make them, likely based on how much disbelief they suspend when faced with unnatural, extreme, absurd, and unsettling phenomena.

Trying to grapple with “What is real?,” a question asked often enough in postmodern texts (though hopefully not quite in my novel’s curious ways), Crazy Time’s readers might trip once or twice on the book’s other big phenomenological interest—the experience of time. If phenomenological instability of the “real,” primarily the reality of the spatial environment and what happens within it, points toward craziness (what else is psychosis?), then phenomenological instability of the temporal, experiences of time that disobey the even and predictable ticks of a clock, points toward crazy time.  Crazy Time doesn’t move like most novels. Split into two parts that are almost even halves, Part One covers an unspecified number of months, while Part Two covers a matter of (busy) hours. Some major events take pages and pages to play out, while others slip by in a sentence or two. Some sentences’ tortured syntax, if successful, will slow down reading, while others’ simplicity will speed reading up. Time’s instability is another screw turning, as it throws the scale of experience into uncertainty, deepening the interpretive quagmire.

This temporal instability comes at least partially from Lily’s struggle with PTSD—more on that in another post. For now, I’ll conclude by saying that crazy time, and Crazy Time, make the experiences of both space and time unreliable for both characters and readers. The book leaves no one standing on terra firma. Reading it shouldn’t provide an experience on par with Lily’s—that would be too horrifying—but having the screws turned on you should provide a glimpse of what such an experience might be like. And that, brave reader, is just the sort of phenomenon you’re seeking, right?

For Crazy Time on the Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/  

For the print version: https://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Time-Bizarre-Battle-Darkness/dp/1977250432/

CRAZY TIME and Flannery O’Connor

Horror, surreal distortions, absurdity, and religion: these are fundamental building blocks of my novel Crazy Time, and even though I don’t stand on any clear moral ground, since Flannery O’Connor was a master of using these building blocks in her fiction, I think I can safely claim her work in my book’s ancestry. However, I want to point out a closer connection with O’Connor, a tie of direct inspiration between her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and Crazy Time’s first chapter.

You can read Crazy Time’s first chapter in the Amazon Kindle preview: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/

In O’Connor’s first paragraph, the grandmother, who doesn’t want to go on the family trip to Florida but will go anyway, reads in the newspaper about an escaped convict, The Misfit, also headed toward Florida. She argues that the coincidence is a reason not to go. As she and the family travel, the grandmother thinks about how trips make her son “nervous,” and she brings up The Misfit again when they stop for lunch. The family and the restaurant’s proprietors generally discuss the world’s lack of trustworthy people and the fact that a good man is indeed hard to find.

Back on the road, the family soon gets into an accident and lands in a ditch. Toting guns, The Misfit and his two cronies find them. Conversation that is a delicate battle for the family’s lives ensues. As the criminals shoot members of the family, The Misfit, cold and detached, shares with the grandmother how he came to the conclusions that “‘crime don’t matter’” and that there is “‘no pleasure but meanness.’” By the end of the story, all the family members are dead, and the criminals move on.

One spark of inspiration for Crazy Time was a news article (unkept) about thieves deliberately sideswiping cars on the road so they would pull over. The thieves could then pull over with them and rob the cars’ passengers (or do worse) in isolation. The article struck me as good fodder for an urban legend, and the idea of criminals isolating victims on the roadside for terrible acts reminded me of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I’d loved the story since my teens, and I wanted to craft something with the same kind of tension and brutality. Crazy Time’s first chapter began to take shape.

The first thing I realized was that O’Connor’s story recalls (or perhaps predicts) more than one urban legend. Like many a legend’s late-night travelers who hear about an escaped criminal or lunatic on the car radio and later have a (typically deadly) encounter with the escapee, O’Connor’s characters reading about The Misfit in her story’s opening seems to seal their fate. Thus, when Crazy Time’s characters in the opening chapter—Lily, Eric, Kris, and Mia—notice that a pickup truck on the highway seems to be toying with them in their car, they think of urban legends and deadly outcomes with a kind of prescience.

Tension escalates as Lily and friends continue to imagine the worst, similar to the way O’Connor builds tension by having characters continue to discuss The Misfit and reflect on nervousness and the bad state of humanity. In both tales, the promise of the urban legend’s warning phase gets fulfilled when the protagonists’ cars end up on the roadside. In Crazy Time, the pickup truck sideswipes Lily and the others, and they end up trapped on the roadside with the men from the pickup, sadistic murderers who tease with conversation and certainly seem to believe that “crime don’t matter” and that there’s “no pleasure but meanness.”

The killers in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and Crazy Time’s first chapter all display a sociopathic indifference to the pleas and suffering of their prey, but they behave differently (Crazy Time’s killers are much more enthusiastic), and the situations take different turns and have different outcomes. If my chapter is successful, though, it shares with O’Connor not only a vicious brutality but also a feeling of emptiness, a senselessness that might carry more global significance. I leave that determination to you.

Again, read Crazy Time’s first chapter in the Amazon e-book preview: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09QCVHRBJ/

A highway predator from Crazy Time… or an urban legend

O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works. Ed. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: The Library of America, 1988. 137 – 153.

Countdown to CRAZY TIME

Crazy Time: A Bizarre Battle with Darkness and the Divine is a strange beast, a literary horror novel, a dark, surreal, contemporary supernatural fantasy that offers scares and suspense but seeks to terrify more on the level of concept, filling your head with thoughts and images that don’t fit right and perhaps shouldn’t even be.

The blurb on the back cover about the story is brief:

Lily Henshaw, an agnostic, suffers from increasingly bizarre traumatic events that convince her she’s in a crossfire between God and Satan reminiscent of the Book of Job. She doesn’t take sides: preparing to confront even the Almighty, she follows psychics, Satanists, preachers, and corporate executives toward an apocalyptic showdown.

Don’t get the wrong idea from the God and Satan stuff. Although the novel deals with some of the Bible’s most disturbing material–extensively with Job, also with the Book of Revelations–its perspective would likely offend (or, put another way, be way too horrifying for) a supremely devout Judeo-Christian reader. Lily goes through so much trauma that, by the time swarms of locusts and prophesying ghosts/hallucinations bring her around to a religious way of thinking, she’s so pissed off at the universe that her stance toward divine involvement is perhaps irreversibly hostile. Her quest for relief from her suffering and for answers to the question “Why me?” does little to improve her opinion. Satan isn’t the hero of her story, but God certainly isn’t either. She is.

Crazy Time will be coming from Outskirts Press in the next two to three weeks. Outskirts is a company that helps people with self-publishing, so Crazy Time, my eleventh book to be published, will be my first (kinda) self-published book. I suspect I will write again about this publishing experience, so I’ll only make a few comments here.

Why Outskirts? There’s an entire book on Amazon dedicated to bashing them, and other bad reviews aren’t hard to find, many resurrecting the term “vanity press” to focus the (hopefully fading) stigma against self-publishing in general. However, the actual criticism of the company seems to come from people who didn’t know what they were buying… so far I’ve gotten exactly what I’ve wanted from people who have been friendly and professional, but I’ve had experience and research to guide me through choices that might make others whine. Yes, they do upcharge significantly for things that one can do on one’s own. One pays them to avoid the hassle of doing things on one’s own. That’s why I hired them. Otherwise I… would do everything on my own.

Why (mostly) self-publish Crazy Time? No, the book hasn’t been rejected by a long list of publishers. In fact, since I first drafted it in mid-2016, I haven’t sent it to any publishers at all. Although I’m not as avid a reader as I used to be, I haven’t read or read about anything in the horror genre coming from traditional presses in recent years that didn’t seem formulaic and/or familiar (and keep in mind that I specialized in horror for my Ph.D.). Story-wise, but also structurally and stylistically, Crazy Time is the kind of horror that I think many smart readers will enjoy but that traditional presses would poo-poo for being bad product. As for small and indie presses, though I did use one for my 2018 quasi-novella-in-verse The Great Sonnet Plot of Anton Tick, my experiences with them have not generally been the best, and they end up requiring financial investments, too. Ergo, the moment seemed right to try the “self” route. Who knows? It could work.

Why Crazy Time now? Since 2016, I’ve written two other novels I haven’t tried to publish as well as more than 30 award-winning screenplays (one of which is an adaptation of Crazy Time, my only adaptation so far of a novel-length work). Quite simply, Crazy Time is one of my favorites, if not my favorite, on the list of my writings. I was not well when I wrote it, dealing with a host of problems, notably depression and PTSD, the latter of which the novel is in some ways “about.” As a result, the book is an emotional and intellectual maelstrom, still a layered experience when I visit it, even when double-checking galley proofs (which is almost pure drudgery, for those unfamiliar with such processes). Also, I adore Lily Henshaw, certainly one of my best characters, even though she told me when I finished writing the book that she’d never speak to me again (and after what I put her through, no one could blame her). Crazy Time is as relevant to potential readers now as it was five and a half years ago, and I’m sharing it now because I’m ready and because I believe it deserves to be shared.

I expect to write more about the Crazy Time‘s genesis, the screenplay, and other issues I’ve mentioned here in passing. The book has yet to be born. It’s coming soon, in print and on the Amazon Kindle. I hope you’ll join in the fun.

Screenplays-a-Go-Go

Latest update: January 25, 2022

Here is a list of scripts I currently have in circulation. Don’t let the date at the top of this post fool you–I’m updating it regularly. I’m including the scripts’ loglines (one or two sentences that push the characters and conflict) and what, if any, honors they’ve garnered so far. If you are a producer, manager or other industry professional interested in materials related to any of these scripts, please contact me at landrew42@gmail.com.

FEATURE SCRIPTS

  • Agave Agape (horror, sci-fi)
    • When a young gay man rents an apartment in a house where an eccentric scientist lives with her daughter, who has an odd relationship with the poison plants in their garden, he must resist taking part in their murderous designs or lose control of his life completely.
    • A loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic 1844 short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” now set in contemporary Los Angeles
    • Quarter-finalist, ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Competition, 2022; semi-finalist, Other Worlds FF / Under Worlds FF, 2021
  • Birthday Beta (sci-fi, drama)
    • On the night before a cyborg expects to become the first “human” artificial lifeform, several time travelers visit to explain disasters that follow whether he does or doesn’t accept the upgrade, complicating his choice and the notions of “choice” and “humanity” themselves.
    • With a single location, a limited cast, and relatively few FX, this script is designed to accommodate a low- or ultra-low-budget production.
    • Selection, Bloodstained Indie FF, 2021
  • Boy in the Lake (teen horror)
    • An imaginative black teenage girl encounters a beautiful, supernatural, white young man who lives in a lake, but as she pursues him, she unwinds a history of occult activity tied to the lake and to the multiplying copies of the young man wreaking havoc all around her.
    • Semi-finalist, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; quarter-finalist, Page Turner Screenplay Competition, 2021
  • Calling Cards (drama, thriller)
    • A lonely ex-professor receives a visit from a charming former student who performs a magic card trick that shows different ways, delightful and disastrous, that the evening could reshape their lives.
    • Finalist, The Great American Script Contest, 2021; selection, SoCal Film Awards, 2021; Best Feature, Psychological Thriller, Silver State FF, 2020; quarter-finalist, Screenwriters’ Network Screenplay Competition, 2020
  • Come Alive (comedy, adventure, sci-fi, LGBTQ)
    • A middle-aged gay couple’s attempt to rekindle their relationship turns into an absurd, hormone-fueled quest to defeat alien invaders and save a new LGBTQ society.
    • Hear professional actors read the first act or check out an interview with me that has some background about Come Alive, both thanks to the LGBT Toronto Film Festival!
    • Finalist, South Carolina Underground Film Festival; semi-finalist, RAINBOW Cinema Awards, 2020; selection, AOF Megafest, 2020; winner, live reading, FEEDBACK LGBT Toronto FF, 2020
  • Crash Café (thriller)
    • When a deranged but calculating man takes the customers in a café hostage by poisoning them and withholding the antidote, a strong-willed woman must lead the other hostages through a series of mind games so they can make it out alive.
    • With only one location–a single-room café–this script offers all the tension of a more demanding production without the demanding budget.
    • 2nd Place, Fade In Awards Thriller Competition, 2020; selection, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2020
  • Crazy Time (horror, dark urban fantasy)
    • A traumatized woman’s belief that she suffers from a Biblical curse launches a quest in which she follows psychics, Satanists, preachers, and corporate executives toward an apocalyptic showdown with God.
    • Finalist, FilmQuest, 2020; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020; semi-finalist, Zed Fest FF & Screenplay Competition
  • The Dark Tetrad (horror, psychological thriller)
    • A gay man whose life is already in shambles attracts the interest of a young female serial killer who murders people around him, focusing suspicion on him while forcing a reckoning with his dark impulses.
    • Best Thriller/Horror Script, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; finalist, Boston Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, Miami Screenplay Awards, 2021; selection, Marina del Rey FF, 2021
  • End of the Book (teen horror)
    • After unleashing monsters from cursed books, six teenagers must fight to survive a night locked in the shifting aisles of a labyrinthine haunted library.
    • Best YA Horror Feature Screenplay, Golden State FF, 2021; finalist, Best Feature Screenplay, The Thing in the Basement Horror Fest, 2020; semi-finalist, Los Angeles Crime and Horror FF, 2020
  • Familiar (horror)
    • When a black woman’s nephew is murdered by police, she uses an enchanted necklace that links her to a monstrous “familiar” who grants her wish for vengeance but creates an escalating cycle of violence.
    • Selection, LA International Horror FF, 2021; semi-finalist, Los Angeles Crime and Horror FF, 2021; quarter-finalist, Chicago Screenplay Awards, 2021
  • From the Walls (horror)
    • When a new arrival at a mental institution joins other patients in tracking down what they believe is a conspiracy involving the hospital staff, a mysterious basement, and shared hallucinations, she becomes part of mind-shattering and deadly events that could consume her.
    • Selection, Lit Scares International Horror Festival, 2021; selection, Shockfest FF, 2021
  • Idolatry (horror)
    • When a naïve college student becomes fixated on the leader of a notorious literary magazine, he risks getting lost in a world of decadent brutality and stylized murder.
    • Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Austin After Dark FF, Spring 2021; semi-finalist, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; selection, LA International Horror FF, 2021; Honorable Mention, WriteMovies Fall 2020 Screenwriting Contest
  • Interview with an Alien (sci-fi, dramedy)
    • A woman who shares her body with a collective of microscopic aliens tells a life story intricately woven into sixty years of history, explaining why she will or won’t turn her back on Earth.
    • Runner-Up, Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Script, Action on Film Megafest, 2021; Best Alien-Encounter Feature Screenplay, Miami International Science Fiction FF, 2021
  • Leanne’s Man (comedy)
    • As two nervous gay dads see their bright daughter through a series of dates from high school to college and beyond, they must balance their absurd overprotectiveness with recognition of her growing independence.
    • Semi-finalist, Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, ScreenCraft Comedy Competition, 2021; semi-finalist, 25th Annual Fade In Awards Comedy Competition, 2021; Gold Award, LGBTQ Unbordered IFF, 2021; selection, Action on Film Megafest, 2021.
  • The Masses (horror)
    • As the people of a small town succumb to infectious tumors that change their behavior, a strong-minded woman tries to save her children from the fascist nightmare that her husband and other townsfolk are creating.
    • Selection, Underground Indie FF, 2021; selection, Shockfest Horror Library, 2020; Honorable Mention, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2020; selection, Austin After Dark FF, 2020; Honorable Mention, The International Horror Hotel, 2020; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020
  • Miasma (horror)
    • As foul fumes fill their house, a couple in a strained marriage must fight through sickness, hallucinations, and violent impulses to save their children and escape.
    • Set in one location, a house, with only five characters, this script offers low-budget horror with high-octane thrills.
    • Finalist, Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Austin After Dark FF, spring 2021; semi-finalist, Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards, 2021; nominee, Best Feature Script, Independent Horror Movie Awards, 2020; selection, AOF Megafest, 2020
  • The Middle Reaches (horror/dark fantasy)
    • When five friends reunite to seek the truth about the otherworldly place where their high school friend disappeared more than a decade earlier, they journey into a dark realm of sex, violence, and creatures hungry to keep them forever.
    • Best Horror Script, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2021; semi-finalist, Stage 32 5th Annual Sci-Fi/Fantasy Screenwriting Contest, 2021; Honorable Mention, The Santa Barbara International Screenplay Awards, 2021; Best Feature Script, Bloodstained Indie FF, 2021
  • The Neighbors (thriller/horror)
    • When an insurrection led by white nationalists affects the entire United States, an interracial couple in the suburbs must fight off deadly attacks from their neighbors.
    • Selection, Shockfest Film Festival, 2021; selection, New York City International Screenplay Awards, 2021; nominee, Best Thriller/Horror Script, Action on Film Megafest, 2021; selection, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2021
  • The Phantom Cuckoo (drama)
    • Diverse members of an extended family attempt to adjust to changes in where and how they live while personal and political differences threaten to tear them apart.
    • Set in one location with an ensemble cast, this script does away with other budgetary concerns to focus on performances.
    • Selection, Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards, 2020
  • Sam the Rhino (mystery, thriller, noir, LGBTQ)
    • A trans private eye’s search for his missing mother leads him into a web of intrigue with a wealthy family who may kill each other—and him—before they can help him find his mom.
    • Best Overall Screenplay and 1st Place, Suspense-Thriller, Indie Gathering International Film Festival, 2020/2021; Silver Award Winner, LGBTQ Unbordered International FF; Gold Award Winner, L.A. Neo-Noir Novel, Film, and Script Festival, 2020; semi-finalist, RAINBOW Cinema Awards, 2020; semi-finalist, Action-Adventure, Creative World Awards, 2020; semi-finalist, New York City International Screenplay Awards, 2020
  • The Teenage Tasting Collective (drama)
    • When the soul of their group disappears, five teenage friends embark on a “summer of dissipation,” trying to stay together while grief is tearing them apart.
    • Quarter-finalist, SF Indie Fest Screenplay Competition, 2022; quarter-finalist, The Great American Script Contest, 2021; selection, The Thinking Hat Fiction Challenge, 2021
  • Their Father’s World (horror)
    • After they naively try to resurrect their father by opening a door between worlds, three long-sequestered sisters face supernatural and psychological attacks based on their family history while trying to escape their haunted house.
    • Visit this script’s custom website, which links to where you can buy the script on Amazon or view the script’s nifty trailer, also on YouTube.
    • Finalist, Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Oregon Scream Week Horror FF, 2021; selection, Screamwriting Festival, 2021; Finalist, 13Horror.com Film & Screenplay Contest, 2020; semi-finalist, Stage 32 7th Annual Search for New Blood Screenwriting Contest; semi-finalist, Lit Scares International Horror Festival 2020
  • Trouble at Home (drama)
    • When troubled siblings return to their childhood home to visit their mother, they confront her about a lifetime of abuse, but when she becomes violent, they tie her to the bed, pushing acrimony to life-threatening extremes.
    • Best Screenplay, Conquering Disabilities with Film IFF, 2021; semi-finalist, New York International Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards, 2021

  • Undying (horror)
    • A white supremacist terrorizes a neighborhood. No matter how hard a diverse group of would-be vigilantes tries to stop him, the murderous bigot refuses to die.
    • Selection, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2020; finalist, WriteMovies Horror Award 2019; finalist, 13HORROR.COM Film & Screenplay Contest, 2019; finalist, Big Apple FF, 2019
  • Unreal Anthony (drama)
    • A young man with a mental illness follows advice about trying to connect with new people, but his mind puts up barriers, ranging from the comic to the disastrous, that keep pushing connections out of reach.
    • Selection, AOF Megafest, 2018; 2nd Place, Drama, Indie Gathering International Film Festival, 2018
  • Wonder Drugs (drama, contemporary fantasy)
    • A woman with a mental illness tries new drug therapies and goes on a hallucinatory journey—through a giant garden, a mall in the clouds, a live volcano, and more—in search of a whole, stable sense of self.
    • Best Feature (Written Word) and Overcomer Award, Conquering Disabilities with Film IFF, 2020; selection, Hollywood Screenings FF, 2020; semi-finalist, Los Angeles CineFest, 2020; selection, Marina Del Rey FF, 2019; selection, Chicago Screenplay Awards, 2019
    • For a three-minute reading of a scene, compliments of the AOF Megafest, click here.

Some of my short scripts have also gotten some love on the festival/competition circuit, so I’ll mention them:

SHORT SCRIPTS

  • Charlie’s Mother (extreme horror)
    • A sadistic kidnapper teaches a self-involved young man a grotesque lesson in family values.
    • 3rd Place, Outré, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2019; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Complicity (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • When a man starts accepting mysterious payments through the mail, he also starts sleepwalking–and people in his neighborhood start losing their eyes, ears, and tongues.
    • Semi-finalist, ScreenCraft Shorts Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Hidden Subjects (thriller)
    • When a middle-class couple has dinner with a colleague fired for sexual harassment, double entendres thinly veil a darker secret.
    • Semi-finalist, Filmmatic Short Screenplay Awards, 2020
  • Selfie Stick (psychological horror)
    • A disillusioned millennial records and uploads intimate videos of himself, charting a decline into madness and murder.
    • Finalist, 13HORROR.COM Film & Screenplay Contest, 2019
  • Silence (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • After an insecure woman visits an unusual house, the people in her life gradually disappear.
    • Finalist/Nominee, Best Writing, Close Up: San Francisco Short Film Festival 2021; Semi-finalist, Your Script Produced! Studios: Season 2, 2021; 2nd Place, Supernatural Short Script, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2020; finalist, Hollywood Just4Shorts Film and Screenplay Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Tapestry (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • Knowing her turn will come soon, an ambitious young woman watches her co-workers succumb one at a time to a malady she suspects is connected to the tapestry in her boss’s office.
    • Finalist, Hollywood Just4Shorts Film and Screenplay Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns

Wording with Thorns

Only the fiction of my horror stories is exaggerated. The supernatural is mostly metaphor and code. The horror is real.

A lot of people—especially people with majority privilege—like to complain about political correctness. Think about this. Think about lying in your loved one’s arms at home at night, sleeping soundly. You wake up because so many arms have grabbed you that you can’t move. You get one more glimpse of your lover—you know instantly that she or he is going to be dead soon. Next, you’re tied to a stake, and bundles of burning sticks are being thrown at your feet just often enough to keep the agony high. These bundles are called “faggots.” You’re called a faggot, too, because your life is worth no more than tinder because of those you love. Watching you die is someone’s entertainment.

burning-at-the-stake1

If you think you have a right to complain about political correctness, and you have a shred of decency, you may not realize that there’s no exaggeration in the previous paragraph. More often than not in the name of Jesus Christ, people brutally and LEGALLY murdered their neighbors who expressed same-sex attraction from medieval times through the Holocaust (we wore pink triangles in the concentration camps, lest you forget). In the year 2016, homosexuality is still punishable by death in the Muslim world, not just in Iran (where the method of choice is live burial, like in the Edgar Allan Poe stories), but in nations the U.S. calls allies.

buriedalive

After the U.S. stopped putting homosexuals in prison, it still locked us up in mental institutions, using electro-shock and other methods to “cure” us that would likely be considered violations of the 8th Amendment and the Geneva Convention (remember American Horror Story: Asylum?). True story: homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness in the U.S. until the 1970s, and a lot of people in the U.S. still act like it is. Read the news about which minorities are a plague this week. When people treat you like you’re an illness, they want to cure you. What do people do with illnesses? Eliminate them. Hitler had a final solution. Do you?

electro-shock-therapy-sees-a-resurgence

The world really is that bad. So when you worry about political correctness as a Great Satan, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. If you want to complain about idiots who try to use political correctness as an excuse to censor art, please be my guest. I gladly say fuck those motherfuckers: I hope their intestines spontaneously explode from their bodies and form a slide for them to ride straight to hell.

reanimatorintestinespooljpg

I gladly say inappropriate things and create some of the most incorrect characters imaginable in my fiction. Some people who are fighting against political correctness feel that free speech is under threat, and to the extent that they’re right, I’m with them, but political correctness should be about acknowledging the power of language, which is something every good writer (and, in my opinion, good human being) should reckon with. So, fellow language-users, consider these two critical points:

  • Hate speech is a clear and present danger. If you’re arguing about limits on your free speech, remember that there already is one: you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Why? Because that’s an instance of speech that threatens the safety of a group of people. Dictionary.com defines hate speech as “speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability”. “Faggot” devalues the lives of gay people and encourages murders like that famous murder of Matthew Shepard. Likewise—more on this in a moment—when a group of people on Facebook attacked me by using the words “handicapped” and “bipolar” as insults, it clearly fit the definition of hate speech related to disability and therefore did not qualify for protection under the first amendment.normalboring
  • “Use” and “mention” of words are distinct. I have mentioned the word “faggot” many times here. I have referred to its history of hatred, but I have not used that history or used the word to apply to a specific human being. This distinction is subtle and difficult for many people. So is the distinction between in-group use and out-of-group use. Language is about contexts. Political correctness helps people less familiar with contexts to navigate them. Unless you’ve known me for a good long time, you’re better off not using the word “faggot” in my presence. I’m bipolar and I’m gay. A really close friend might call me a crazy fag, but the probability that you’re that person is close to zero.

So I referred to a recent experience with hate speech related to disability. Despite the persistence of ex-gay camps and such that insist on trying to “cure” homosexuality, the mainstream no longer treats it as an illness, which is good, because it seems like a fine thing to me. I can’t say the same about the other stigmatized category I’m in. So people feel much more justified in treating me like I’m an illness to be eliminated. Take your meds. Wipe yourself into an oblivion where you won’t bother us anymore.

butimacheerleadernewdirections

When people make fun of us, I really just want to point out to you normals that you’re literally incapable of fathoming how un-fun it is. Unless you have my mental condition, your brain is not equipped to handle what mine processes. I am THAT different from you. But if I say that, people will think it’s some sort of arrogance or exaggeration. But it’s biochemical certainty. Part of what I try to do with my horror fiction is give you people glimpses. Edgar Allan Poe did that, too. Word is he was bipolar, and having read all of his work, I feel fairly confident his diagnoses would have had much in common with mine (never been an alcoholic, though). Lots of you have some hero-worship for him… mine’s a little different. I think he was in my club. Chances are, you’re not. Bipolar pride. Woo-hoo. Now turn down the fucking lights and remember we’re all going to die.

walkitoff

For the last few election cycles, gay people were the favorite category to pick on. This time it’s the mentally ill, as we’re clearly the cause of all the shootings and such (nevermind that all the stats show we’re far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crimes, thanks in part due to asshole horror writers who don’t do research). Seems I can’t get a break. Like it or not, the zeitgeist is with me, and I am with you. My recent bouts with illness have left me feeling too in touch with contemporary psych, but a little bit of Freud stands strong: the repressed shall always return…

Which reminds me, when you call something “exemplary,” you mean it stands as an example of your highest values. The person who led the mob that used hate speech against me was called “exemplary” by an organization specifically for his behavior on Facebook, I put myself in reach of this bigot because of his high standing in the organization, yet the organization (which has a sordid history with alleged racists and rapists) refuses to act at all. I suppose I AM crazy to think “sane” people would see that “political correctness” is about decency, and, to quote a popular writer, “We endorse things by our participation in them.” People in the organization are hypocritical enough to dismiss me as too touchy and therefore not worth considering as yet another crazy “victim” of their membership’s hate.

Perhaps decency is just too damned rare. My mania is quixotic.

donquixote

 

UPDATE: The “organization” referred to in this blog post is the Horror Writers’ Association. When the recipient of the HWA’s President’s Award, given for his “exemplary” achievement not in literature but in the FACEBOOK COMMUNITY, encouraged a mob to attack me with hate speech on Facebook, I reported the incident to the President and Vice-President of the HWA. I was informed that the HWA “would never tell any member or any of our volunteers what they can say on their own page.” This echo of the HWA’s doomed position in an earlier incident chilled me. I’ll borrow from Brian Keene. In a “statement regarding their decision to allow an avowed white supremacist and fascist serve as a Bram Stoker Award Juror” they tried to defend themselves by citing a “principle of supporting and practicing freedom of expression.” Of course they backpedaled when they realized that being a horror writer isn’t an excuse for lacking human decency… but I’m concerned that Keene is right about history repeating itself, and although I may not be one of the HWA’s greatest victims, they’re standing fast by a bigot who’s proud of hate speech against people with mental disabilities. They stand by calling him “exemplary.”

TOP RESPONSES FROM HWA

“I would never tell any member or any of our volunteers what they can say on their own page.” (The HWA President, Lisa Morton, who gave the President’s Award to Patrick Freivald for his “exemplary” standing in the horror community due to his work on Facebook–she is therefore the person most directly responsible for representing the HWA in endorsing his Facebook values, which demonstrably include supporting hate speech against the disabled)

“You’re not a special snowflake. Sorry. [You are] Using Bipolar disorder for excusing passive aggressive behavior.” (The Vice President, on why HWA won’t act in response to my complaints about hate speech–he later berated me aggressively, all on record)

Several other HWA “luminaries” have read the hate on Freivald’s page and assented to the party line that I “overreacted to something that never happened in the first place.” Lisa Morton angrily severed contact–as if she had been wronged–when I alluded to a film about rape, but whether she likes it or not, her methods are tried and true for squashing rape victims. Nope, I’m not as bad off as such victims in this case, not by a long shot, but I’m sick of HWA grabbing at any excuse to shut down dialogue that points out what everyone knows: they’ve got deep, deep problems.