We have a guest post by recently published Damien Angelica Walters in honor of her short horror story collection SING ME YOUR SCARS.
Below she writes about some of her favorite dark, short fiction which is, wonderfully, all by female authors.
On Short Fiction by Damien Angelica Walters
I keep reading that short fiction is making a comeback. To that I say, did it ever go away? Looking at the books on my bookcases, I say no, but in the public eye, perhaps it did. I know I see more single-author collections on bookstore shelves now than I have in the past, and while many of the collections are by those already established, some are by debut authors. I think it’s a great time to be a fan of short fiction.
There are so many talented authors working in the field of dark fantasy and horror, and Shirley Jackson Award nominee Livia Llewelyn is one of my favorites. She writes horror, dark fantasy, and erotica and her collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, contains ten stories as beautiful as they are brutal. In many ways, her prose reminds me of Tori Amos’ lyrics—poetic and gorgeous with a razor-sharp edge that will cut you so carefully you won’t even notice until after you’re bleeding. Livia doesn’t pull any punches with her fiction and she goes into dark places many writers would hesitate to go.
One of my favorite passages from “Omphalos” references events between a mother and daughter and isn’t necessarily disturbing on its own, but it holds an undercurrent of calculated cruelty which says much of the relationship of the characters. “Long ago, like when she’d hide drawings you’d made and replace them with white paper, only to slide them out of nowhere at the last minute, when you’d worked yourself into an ecstatic frenzy of conspiracies about intervening angels or gods erasing what you’d drawn. You’d forgotten about that part of her. You’d forgotten about that part of yourself.”
Another favorite is Helen Marshall. Helen Marshall writes elegant and disturbing stories, often with young protagonists. Gifts for the One Who Comes After has been nominated for a 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection; her first collection Hair Side, Flesh Side won the 2013 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer.
Haunting is the perfect word to describe her work, and her stories are filled with imagery that send shivers down your spine. Take this bit from “In the Year of Omens” for example: “A month later Leah found something in the trash: one of her mother’s sheer black stockings. Inside it was the runt-body of a newborn kitten wrapped in a wrinkled dryer sheet.”
Since I know people are sensitive to such subjects, it’s important to note that this isn’t a story about animal abuse, and the main character tucks the kitten away in an old music box, but after I read the passage I could not get that image out of my mind. Then it’s revealed that the kitten has fish scales on its belly, another image not easily forgotten.
Molly Tanzer’s first novel Vermilion was just released and it’s in my to-read pile, but I’d like to talk about her collection A Pretty Mouth, which was released in 2012 and was a British Fantasy Award nominee. The four stories and one novella it contains are connected by familial lineage. The Calipash family history unfolds in reverse chronological order and the stories are weird, beautiful, and often darkly whimsical.
This, from “A Spotted Trouble at Dolor-on-the-Downs” always makes me grin: “The Lady Alethea was…in the bath. And when I say in the bath, I do not mean that she was laving herself in a tub full of frothy suds and rubber ducks. She was in the nude and fully submerged under the surface of the water, which trickled into the large basin out of the faucet, and though I did not like to look upon her so indisposed, when I noted some, let us call them physical peculiarities, I could not help but stare.” I will not spill the story by revealing what those peculiarities are, but suffice to say that you would stare, too, if you were in that situation.
Aurealis and British Fantasy Award winner Angela Slatter writes dark fantasy and horror and her most recent release is The Female Factory, co-authored with Lisa L. Hannett. I am rather partial to her 2010 collection The Girl with No Hands (and Other Tales). The sixteen stories within are imaginative and lyrical and, more often than not, heartbreaking.
In “The Chrysanthemum Bride,” Angela writes: “She is sleek but a little plump; any spare food goes to her, to keep her beauty intact, for her family believe this is how she will save them. If she is lovely enough, a rich man will take her to wife or concubine, then, they pray, prosperity will flow to them, that emptiness will become fullness.” So much pressure for a young woman. Without giving any spoilers, all I’ll say is that the end of the story and its revelations hurt my heart and made me angry.
Here are four stories by the above authors available to read free online:
“It Feels Better Biting Down” by Livia Llewellyn
“The Hanging Game” by Helen Marshall
“Herbert West in Love” by Molly Tanzer
“Bearskin” by Angela Slatter
Other authors whose short fiction I love are A.C. Wise, Anna Taborska, Kaaron Warren, S.P. Miskowski, E. Catherine Tobler, Sunny Moraine, Alyssa Wong, Natalia Theodoridou, and JY Yang. And when it comes to multi-author collections, you can’t go wrong with anything edited by Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran. Their most recent anthologies are The Doll Collection and New Cthulhu2: More Recent Weird, respectively.
About Damien: Damien Angelica Walters’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in various anthologies and magazines, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu: New Lovecraftian Fiction, Cassilda’s Song, Nightmare, Black Static, and Apex. Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of short fiction, is out now from Apex Publications, and Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press. You can follow her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or visit her website at http://damienangelicawalters.com.
About SING ME YOUR SCARS: In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.
Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you're real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.
200 pages | Apex Book Company | February 15, 2015 | Ebook & Paperback