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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Podcasts and Horror Writing: Some Observations

Hello hello!

In the last six or eight months, I've fallen in love with podcasts. I started off just listening to Welcome to Night Vale, courtesy of Tumblr, and The Thrilling Adventure Hour soon followed after they ad a crossover. Following Mara Wilson's Twitter feed led me to I Don't Even Own a Television. From there, I started to poke around, and talked to a few friends, like Louisa (blog link). I got hooked on Sawbones and Oh No, Ross and Carrie. My Brother, My Brother, and Me became my nightly comfort, the McElroy brothers' voices lulling me safely to sleep. Listening to a happy, healthy family kibitz and bond over Yahoo answers and social niceties  has made dark times that much easier to endure, and helped me step back into the light.

Of course, I seek more than comfort and the joy of new information. These days, I often enjoy horror rather than fearfully avoiding it, and one of the best creepy podcasts around has to be Lore. As always, however, one can only binge-listen to a cast for so long before running out of episodes, and I sought alternatives and supplements to my fix. The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast caught my attention as well, and after I'd run out of episodes of that--no mean feat, but I tend to listen obsessively to shows I enjoy, rather than just taking them in once a week or every two weeks--I had to find more horror and fiction podcasts.

Where did I go next?

I haven't finished them or listened to much of them, so I will not yet link Psuedopod, Drabblecast, or Knifepoint Horror, but they come well-recommended. TANIS and The Black Tapes are also moderately popular, though have mixed reviews. Perhaps one of the best known is the Reddit-sourced NoSleep podcast, based on the subreddit of the same name.

I have not yet completed the podcast's run of back episodes, but my favorite episodes of NoSleep, and the ones I consider the best, are the following. I have included notes about the entries.

Episode 1--the very first story is perfectly chilling and one of the most unnerving I've ever heard.
Episode 3--the first story is the best, once again.
Episode 7--only We Don't Talk about Sarah, though.
Episode 8--My Best Friend's Grandmother; again, the others are meh.
Penpal Part 1--generally, both parts are an interesting and suspenseful mystery, but see below.
Penpal Part 2
Episode 14--the whole thing is pretty great.
Episode 18--both stories are rather good, but the last one is remarkable.

Normally, I wouldn't include so many links, but I want readers to understand my sources and references before I shovel conclusions over them like so much grave dirt.

What is it about horror? 

I've come to like horror because it allowed me to frame my own demons in a more useful way, and to get in touch with the dark side of my imagination. Many authors have written about the appeal of horror, and I would be redundant to ask why the world of shadows and fear calls to so many.

I would suggest, however, that in addition to expressing personal darkness, the appeal of horror is partly in how it inverts some expectations. Most stories involve things ultimately going right; horror is about things going wrong. The Hero's Journey structure (see below) becomes inverted, and often foreshortened abruptly by disaster.

Source. This is allegedly what all stories come back to.

In a horror story, the hero's journey still occurs, but there's no guarantee of redemption, just further horror and loss. Readers, viewers, and listeners derive a weird comfort from facing their fears about the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Meet the new boss? 

The exciting thing about the NoSleep podcast is that it's a trove of unknown and developing writers, rather than old hands and established experts. Sometimes the writing is mediocre or amusingly inept, but the variety is a real pleasure.

These authors tend to use an X-Files sort of sensibility--setting mysteries in the local environs, even in office buildings, subdivisions, and backyards. Narrators/protagonists are often relatively innocent, rather than being guilty of violence before the narrative's events take place. Surprise encounters dominate most of the events, or narrators become the victims of more powerful and often abusive, stalking forces.

Unreliable narrators are common, and it is often difficult to determine whether the main characters have a loose grip on reality or are truly experiencing paranormal events. This is enhanced or exacerbated by circumstances of shyness and social isolation; protagonists are usually lonely, ordinary nebbish types--not just Everyman sorts, but updated ones, often labouring under the kinds of crappy jobs that so many Millennials and Gen Xers take.

But not everything is intriguingly updated. With many modern sensibilities come unwelcome old friends.

...Same as the old boss.

No, what I want to know is--why does horror reinforce so many old ideas? The NoSleep podcast is a particularly interesting example of this, because the writers are culled from Reddit. Reddit is mostly populated by young men, under the age of forty. 

One might not expect that so many younger men would reinforce gender stereotypes as strongly as these writers do, but an interesting thread through even my favorite stories tended to be gender essentialism. Female characters were usually mothers, were depicted as more fearful and physically weaker than male characters, and tended to be subjected to far more violence.

Female antagonists, however, are common, and usually tend to be lurking spectres or haunted children. They present menace but rarely enact the actual violence. Other antagonistic forces are often either genderless or somewhat male-coded, and tend to be far more violent.

This being said, lady writers do occasionally contribute, and often focus on issues of mental health and abandonment, or lack of physical safety. Stalking also crops up. These elements are really interesting, and I'd love to see more of them. Perhaps the next seasons will deliver that!


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Pretty Things

Pretty Things by
David Bowie was rattling around in my head like a penny in a tin can
late at night I was

building tenuous struts from imaginary castles to real skyscrapers
linking the family I'd been born into with
the friends I had chosen
family is a concept made tenuous by distance and made real by our choices
that's just how connections work

Earl Grey was on my tongue and silver oxide on my fingertips as I
untangled and broke a dozen tiny chains, trying to fix what
errant neglect had done and

I contemplated the Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain 
like a scab or like a lost blood clot left in the tub from a shower that was too quick
a new period in my life, and one that kept going--
damn the hormones


considered being a mermaid for half an hour or an hour
whiling away time under a red light, in a few litres of heat and enlightenment

and I

remembered the days when pain was an option and a quaint memory, something that

had assumed was part of my past; that


moment of confidence that heartbreak and ache and soreness were behind me was
a long time ago

talk about the arrogance of youth all the time but I
knew better then.

And now--
I know better
than to know better.


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Black MariaBlack Maria by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is one of my most favorite, to the extent that I don't even talk about it to many people. It's a strange, eerie, weird tale about gender roles and the confining politics of abusive families; it is about loss and witchcraft and hidden things. If you want a mature young adult book that will haunt you, grab this.

View all my reviews 

I've read this book more times than I can count. I can remember the illustrations and quotes, word for word. Some books are read; some are tattooed onto the soul.

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!