Mirrors Don't Always Show You the Truth

 photo by Nathan Fernig

photo by Nathan Fernig

Mirrors don’t always show you the truth.

Elizabeth, by Ken Greenhall, has two possible reflections to consider.

Lisa and I chose this book because it, as we say in the podcast, is a relic of something that could have been. According to Stephen Graham Jones, instead of Beautiful Horror being a sub genre, it could have been the genre, should Shirley Jackson and Ken Greenhall have built the foundation rather than Stephen King. Now, Beautiful Horror may be locked in its place as a sub genre, but Ken Greenhall still manages to do something different that stretches visceral, Beautiful Horror to its limits.

What makes Elizabeth so special? Greenhall sets the book up not only to define the character, but the reader as well.

There are two ways you can read this book.

On one side, Elizabeth is a fourteen-year-old girl who is at the mercy of a hostile, despicable family. She develops peculiar coping mechanisms to survive. She has a bleak out-look on society. She is, for all intents and purposes, experiencing trauma, is the victim of abuse. Her Uncle—whom she’s had a sexual relationship with since she was thirteen—kills her parents so she can become his adopted daughter. The horror of this book is being behind the eyes and owning the voice of someone suffering abuse. It isn’t until the end of the book that the reader begins to realize that they have read the book as someone who is traumatized and experienced exactly what a brain is capable of doing to protect itself.

The brain will protect itself from abuse by hallucinating, projecting, and assuring the body that it is not the victim. It’s in control. Elizabeth tells us in the beginning of the book that she is not a child. She tells us she is okay with what is happening. That she is in control. This admonition allows the reader to follow her and trust that she doesn’t need our help or our empathy. She’s just fine and we needn’t worry about her. Even though we do. We worry for her soul. For her fourteen-year-old self.

Or.

Or that’s false and she’s actually evil and a witch-in-training and is controlling everyone like a puppet master.

 photo by Jack Hamilton

photo by Jack Hamilton

Elizabeth collects slippery, crawly critters and hugs them to the bare flesh of her chest. She regards her parents and family for exactly who they are. Ugly and human. Elizabeth doesn’t feel something like love, doesn’t let that get in the way. In fact, it can be argued she only truly feels love and abandonment at the end for Frances, her witch teacher that lives in mirrors. 

Perhaps it has to tie back to the mirror. She does say early in the beginning that what she sees in the mirror isn’t really there. It isn’t really her.

So, who is Elizabeth, exactly? It’s up for you. Look and see.

This little book is pregnant with content, beautiful and somehow, a slow burn. There isn’t a wasted line or even a wasted word in this book. Elizabeth is an unsung classic worthy of any and all praise coming its way. Pick up a copy and listen in as Lisa, Stephen and I dissect this book, try to see its insides.

 

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Cultivation & Connection at StokerCon 2018

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A professor from my alma-mater 

told me I needed to start going to conventions.

I’d been feeling down and unaccomplished. I still only had a handful of articles published and getting an agent seemed to be a very far away dream. I was toying with the idea of getting a Ph.D. and had applied to Georgia State and the University of Colorado. I thought about trying my hand at being an agent and looked into internships. I had shopped a book around that was drafts away from being ‘complete.’

I was Lost with a capital L.

If you’ve ever been Lost, you’ll remember, you tend to get desperate and look for help in every nook and cranny. You hope that someone, anyone, some other fellow traveler, might hold that one piece of helpful information. That one crucial tidbit that will nudge you off the edge into what would hopefully be much needed water.

I (unprofessionally) began to talk about my plights at my grad school’s alumni party. A professor I hadn't worked with and had only spoken to a handful of times during my studies pulled me aside. He said that I needed to stop spinning in circles. I needed to start going to conventions and shaking hands.

“That’s the only way you’ll meet people,” he told me, empathetic and kind.

I gave the usual excuses.

“I’m broke. What about my husband, job and dogs?”

“Figure it out,” he said.

That’s where is started. He’s one of the people I need to go back in time and thank, because he was the fellow traveler who took the time to set down his drink and explain it to me in small, understandable, meaningful words.

So: Thank you.

I went to conventions. A blog I worked for at the time (Dwarf+Giant) was only too pleased to have me go and be boots on the ground. The first one I attended was StokerCon 2017. I knew a couple of my friends were going and figured it was a good place to start. I was so broke I stayed for only two days instead of four, mostly drank green tea and crashed on friend’s couches on the way down to LA from Northern California.

I drove the entire state for this one.

And three incredible things happened. What do they say about life? Most of it is just showing up?

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One. I was able to give Dwarf+Giant five interviews and a write up of the Con. I had new material to share and publish. To this day, the authors I spoke with are near and dear to me. They’re the first ones to reach their hands out into the void and offer their assistance should I ever want to talk to anyone else. All I have to do is ask.

Two. One of those authors hired me.

A fledgling literary magazine, Gamut, was hot off the press and I desperately wanted in. They were dark and gritty and aware. The editor-in-chief was Richard Thomas, a friend of my graduate program. After we met at the Con, Richard reached out to me and asked if I could help out.

Three. I got to meet George R. R. Martin. My former professor-turned-mentor, Stephen Graham Jones, knew I had a deep, unhealthy love for GRRM. You know. The kind where you just want to revert back to a five-year-old, sit on the person’s feet, squeeze their legs hard and keep them rooted to the ground?

But I’m way chill about it.

Stephen introduced us. Not only did I get to chat with Martin, but he also asked to
see an essay I wrote about his craft during graduate school. Regardless of if he actually
read it or not, my essay sat in GRRM’s inbox.

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So, by putting myself out there at just ONE convention, I changed the trajectory of my life. Gripped the bull by the horns. Ran the train off its tracks.

 Later, I had the pleasure of going to World Fantasy for Gamut, where I met with Tananarive Due and Karen Joy Fowler: two amazing powerhouse women who dominate both the fantasy and horror genres. Not only did I go with the intention of meeting people, but that time, I got paid for it.

StokerCon 2018 was the first event Lisa and I attended together to represent our fledgling project, Ladies of the Fright. I’m pleased to report that just by reaching out our hands, just by being there, we rerouted everything in the best way. Ladies of the Fright took root. We aren’t going anywhere.

We started our podcast as a fun way to talk about everything dark. We thought it was a cool and interesting idea. To our great surprise and delight, people agree with us.

Because of StokerCon, Lisa and I were able to grab the wheel and turn.

Hard.

May our past life trajectory remain quiet and untraveled. Gather snow. We’re on a new road now, and we’re so thankful for everyone who’s helping us pave the way.

Please: new reader, author, editor, enthusiast. Go to these conventions.

Go to the classes. Watch Grady Hendrix perform stories. Listen to Paul Tremblay lecture about Shirley Jackson. Hug Ellen Datlow. (I mean, ask her first. Be cool.) Wait forever for the elevator, and then sidle in among friends. Buy books. Introduce yourself. Bring business cards. You never know who you may run into. Who you may just click with.

Oh. And look for us. We’ll be there. By the glass elevator that overlooks the city. One way or another, Lisa and I will be bringing our podcast to these events because the people, that’s what it’s all about. And we want to find them, tell their stories. Help them get their words out into the world.

We’re going to.

Go find yourself at StokerCon. Wrap arms and legs around the new you and never let go. 

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Grady Hendrix: MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM

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It’s 1988 and everything is perfect.

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since they were ten.

They’ve shared everything. They eat together. They play volleyball together. They share the same group of friends and sleep over at each other’s houses, even on weeknights. When Abby has terrible, awful skin problems, Gretchen buys her make-up. When Gretchen isn’t allowed certain kinds of music, Abby introduces her to Madonna. They sing Billy Joel at the top of their lungs and call each other at 11:06 every night.

And then a demon possesses Gretchen.

Abby watches Gretchen grow distant, dirty, and overall just not herself. To Abby, it seems like everywhere Gretchen goes, evil, destruction, and chaos follow. As the one who knows Gretchen best, Abby is the only one who can truly help her.

Abby will have to call upon an unlikely exorcist, her love for Gretchen, and a different brand of faith to get her best friend back.

The back of the book says it best. “My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession.” This book? It’s like someone combined The Exorcist and Breakfast Club. The Omen and Sixteen Candles.

Fire up the DeLorean, this book takes you to the past and gives you everything you could expect from a demonic possession story (vomit, blood, and evil) while simultaneously pulling you along a classic 1980’s high school story that spills over with the usual tropes of love, best friend adventures, and a solid soundtrack. When it’s over, you’re left in a puddle crying, wanting more.

Damn you, Grady Hendrix. Damn you for writing the perfect book.