The Anthology ~ ed. Ezra Arndt
CMR: hello, and welcome back to a very special episode of Eldritch Girl where we’ve got a number of interviewees today and they’re all authors from The Uncanny and The Dead anthology which is edited by Ezra Arndt which came out in January. So we’ve got Frank Rudiger Lopez and Allie Pino and Ezra Arndt, and myself, C. M. Rosens, I am in the anthology as well! Let’s start with Frank. Frank, would you like to introduce yourself.
FRL: Hello, I’m Frank, I’m a Brazilian historian, writer, researcher and podcaster, and I do many things! I work with science fiction and I’m currently doing my Masters, and I’m also writing fiction, because I clearly don’t do enough things.
CMR: Amazing. We’ve also got Allie Pino. Allie, would you like to introduce yourself.
AP: Hello and thank you for inviting me on to talk about The Uncanny and the Dead. My name is Allie, and I’m currently doing research at the University of Westminster on food, cultural memory and the Gothic. I am co-authoring A Gothic Cookbook, which is a book of recipes inspired by 13 Gothic novels.
CMR: And Ezra, the editor of the anthology who also has a story in it! Ezra, would you like to introduce yourself?
EA: Hi I’m Ezra Arndt and I write Gothic fiction. That’s where I’m at right now.
CMR: Amazing. I’m going to keep that line in. So you guys each have a story in the anthology. Frank’s is The Dark Pursuit, so that’s written in American English with Brazilian conventions. There’s Allie’s story, Hide and Seek, which is a very short one and that’s in British English, mine is also in British English, and then there’s Ezra’s ‘The Field Devours’ in American English. I’m going to pick on you now Ezra to go first. Would you like to read a snippet from your story and introduce it to us, please?
EA: I guess the whole premise of the story is that this flesh eating cornfield stalks people. I didn’t come up with that pun. That was Hester, Hester Steel who also has a story in the anthology.
CMR: I thought I recognized that. That sounded like a Hester Steel pun.
EA: So, I guess, this is the, this is the first paragraph.
And that’s all I got.
CMR: I love that opening, it’s just so creepy! So it’s basically, every time the [main] character Lee turns the light out they end up in a cornfield that wants to eat them. That’s basically the premise, and it’s just yeah. How did you come up with that? Where did that come from?
EA: I’ve always grown up around cornfields and then I had this sort of this vague idea for this story so years ago after watching part of Children of the Corn and I’m like well, why can’t the just the corn itself be eating people?? So that’s about where it came from.
CMR: I love it. It’s so good and it’s got such a – it’s got such a bitey ending as well, a bit of a bit of tragic love, in the middle and like.
EA: It’s definitely inspired by the Magnus Archives too.
CMR: Oh yes, yeah it’s got that it’s got a definite Magnus Archives vibe and, yeah, there’s a little bit of the Magnus Archives in the whole kind of premise as well right like it’s yeah I really enjoyed that because I love the Magnus Archives, so I was like, Oh, but it’s got this really cool twist that I didn’t quite see coming. And I was like oh. Oh okay you’re doing this, which I quite like.
Allie, you go next! Would you like to read a snippet from your story and just introduce it for us, please.
AP: The name of my story is Hide and Seek, and it’s about the ghost of a little boy trapped on a ship, part of which is displayed as an exhibit in a museum. Towards the end of the story, the ghost says:
CMR: Where did you get the idea for it from?
AP: Now, museums today are very different places to what they used to be. Before, they were showplaces of accumulated objects, and now, they are sites of interaction between personal and collective identities, and between memory and history. So my story aimed to raise the question, can an object allow one to re-experience something which happened in the past? When we walk into a museum and come close [to], or perhaps even touch an artefact, the symbol of a traumatic event, can its energy make itself heard, or can we simply forget, and never feel the need to understand events from a different perspective?
I suppose this story also wants to underline the importance of museums as spaces which contain and organise the existence of something, or perhaps someone, who lives on and can be connected to a specific place, where their bodies and actions [are] creating this [sic] strange repetitions and an oddness. The strength of their emotions of these memories, or ‘ghosts’, reaches out into the world, and creates something that goes beyond itself.
And so, through the image of this ghost boy, I wanted to explain how trauma repeats itself, and continues to speak out and make itself heard to those people who come into contact with this reorganisation of memory, and how they are affected and shaped by that energy.
CMR: Frank, last but not least, oh, I suppose I’m last, aren’t I because… [laughs] I should really be advertising my story too. But Frank, you can go next and then. Yeah. Frank, would you like to introduce your story.
FRL: So there’s a weird pursuit between a weird uncertain cosmic eldritch entity and the pursued, who’s uh well he’s fairly horrible but I won’t say much more than that, but I am going to read a short bit from the pursuer.
CMR: Yeah So this is the eldritch horror entity, cosmic… yeah. I very much enjoyed your story, Frank. Where did you get the idea for it?
FRL: Essentially, it was from a very visual image of the Hollow Knight video game where there’s a particular area I suppose. It’s called the abyss, and there’s this weird void, energy thing. It’s complicated, but it was very striking as imagery as this sort of sentient black mass. And I was like oh this, I can play with this a bit, so I changed… I got a bit of that and created my own eldritch entity, and it was… I always find it cool to give them a voice, so I did, and they always they usually enjoying themselves, which is fitting, I think.
CMR: I love it. I think yeah that’s really, really cool. Okay, so. I also have – mine’s one of the longer ones, unfortunately, and it’s called The Reluctant Husband. If anyone has read The Crows, it’s a standalone prequel set in 1938 and it’s how Nathan Porter meets and marries the eldritch tea lady, Deirdre Wend. It’s basically about a human occultist who bites off a lot more than he can chew in his search for power and occult secrets and ends up in a very mundane situation, which is where the horror is, I think.
So this is an extract from my story in which Nathan has just been invited to Fairwood House and it’s his first time meeting Deirdre who is serving him tea and he’s recording everything in his diary so it’s retrospective account.
CMR: So I just love the Lovecraft mythos and that sort of thing and Lovecraft heroes are just so ridiculous to me and I don’t like them, and they’re generally quite unlikable and I’m sorry, but those stories really make me laugh, and they’re not supposed to make you laugh. I just find them really funny, and so I decided to write a kind of parody, I guess, like I Lovecraftian parody, pretty much everything I write is a Lovecraftian or is sending up Lovecraft in some way and, yes, so this is this is Nathan expecting something very dramatic and he uses words like stygian a lot and a lot of things are indescribable, but what he’s actually describing is like literally a chambermaid who serves him tea, and who is also an eldritch horror, but that’s the least horrifying thing about her. She’s awful as well. She makes him go and watch Errol Flynn in the cinema, and… yeah, so yeah so that’s my story.
The reluctant courtship of Deirdre Wend and some very gnarly body horror happens to him later on, and other characters, so yeah and so that’s our anthology! Just a tiny peek at some of the stories in there, and I thought we could just have an open chat time about our love of horror and spookiness, because this is the Spooky by Association anthology which is the umbrella that it’s under.
And it came out of our…
EA: Group chat!
CMR: writing group chat, yeah, with additional… You had an open call for stories.
EA: It started off as a joke, and then I was like wait.
CMR: People loved it, I think it was such a good idea we had such a lot of interest for it as well and yeah you worked really hard on this Ezra, so thank you so much for putting it together and Spooky by Association was the working title originally but it’s just a really good indie publishing name as well.
Yeah, why did you guys, um – where did your love of spookiness and horror come from? Allie, do you want to say something? Anybody else jump in.
AP: I have always loved spooky stories ever since I was a child, and I’ve always believed in ghosts and been thoroughly scared of them. The first story I wrote about ghosts that was published was called ‘The Strange Occurrences at Sunnywell Care Home’, for a collection of folk horror stories from Horrified [Magazine]. And I love this idea that horror kind of flourishes in the cracks between worlds and our memory of events. So, inexplicable things happen every day, and it’s that inexplicable element that lets in the darkness. And with folk, we have forests of gnarled trees, or perhaps ancient relics, or a well that can remind us of our fleeting existence, and all these surroundings watch over us and follow us, as we battle on a day-to-day basis with the memory of violence or a traumatic event. So as we age, these surroundings still also age with us, and then… they kind of swallow us up. So I love this idea that a ghost story can really be so many things depending on what your darkness is.
FRL: I, I have a weird relationship with horror and spookiness because it’s it was mostly non-existent for most of my life. And I sort of started to grow fond of it via podcasts and a lot of… a lot of different people who like horror and write horror and study horror, and mostly via Romancing the Gothic and then meeting you folks.
And then, I was like okay I can actually enjoy it and really like reading horror, or at least some types of horror, and yours very much fits that small box. But I – and then I started to discover I can play with this too, because I work with Sci-Fi a lot of the time, and I like the Weird stuff, so I’m like Okay, I can bring that in too, and then, just like playing with cosmic stuff and weird feelings and just strange things, odd things happening, and then, that sense of the unnerving is something I really enjoy. So yeah. And weird and super powerful entities who just have a great time.
So I guess for me it’s… my love of horror is very recent, but it’s quite a lot of things, but it’s mostly to write this sense of like, I don’t know. I guess powerlessness or power or just weird things going on and ‘oh this shouldn’t be the case, oh no. Yeah I think that’s how I feel about writing or thinking [about] spooky stuff.
CMR: yeah I can I can see that a satellite because your podcast the Left Page is very much about class dynamics and power balances in fiction, and that kind of thing, so I can kind of see where you’re- where you’re coming from when you’re writing, and why power imbalances and that kind of dynamic is a fun one for you to play with, because you’re playing with it in a different kind of medium and a different vehicle, so yeah that makes that makes sense that’s really cool.
And Ezra, you used to write a lot of fantasy?
EA: I used to write a lot of fantasy but they always had like dark fantasy undertones, and I wrote that for the longest time, I was introduced… I grew up on the original Grimm Brothers fairy tales and the ones that those were inspired by, and those are like pretty grizzly most of the time. I loved them. But I didn’t really sort of embrace that until like later on, and then I read Flowers in the Attic at too young of [an] age. And that had the Gothic vibes, then I sort of started to combine those two things in my writing and then. Here we are.
CMR: Yeah, because you don’t tend to…You don’t watch many slashers, like you’re not, you know, a big slasher person,
EA: No. No.
CMR: But this story is quite gory and a lot of the stuff you write is quite gory your kind of – your brand is very much like there’s cannibalism somewhere, or like, somebody’s being eaten by something. How does that work?
EA: I guess because I can read and write it, but I just can’t watch it. It’s like once I get the visual in my head, like an actual visual with people at quote unquote “real things” happening, and like once when it starts to become more vivid that’s where I started having trouble with it, but I can listen to it, I can read it, I can write it, but just… no.
I think the scariest thing I could watch was probably a Del Toro.
CMR: But I introduced you to No One Lives.
EA: I know. That was an event.
CMR: Drawing you into the slasher realm with me… No, I’m very much the same actually. I think one of the worst things I’ve ever seen was Colour out of Space with Nick Cage, which is based on the Lovecraft story and it’s just the body horror and the slow changing of the characters in it, because they’re drinking the water and it’s so insidious.
And they’re eating fruit that has you know kind of grown out of the water that’s contaminated with this alien thing that is now changing them and changing the alpacas and like. [makes disgusted sound] I made the mistake of watch– I thought I’d watch it in the daytime but I made the mistake of watching at lunchtime, I was trying to eat. And I was just that is the one that yeah yeah just I was like oh no. I just couldn’t watch it, it was awful.
And it’s stuff like that that gets me, even though the, you know, the special effects are not necessarily amazing, it just it’s the concept of it and and yeah I write stuff like that you know.
EA: You write what horrifies you.
EA: You write what horrifies you, and yes, that’s why I’m able to do body horror, because I watched the worst parts of The Human Centipede at an impressionable age and just … Not that you’ve seen too much of it, but I do write stuff similar to that I’m just like horrified of myself while I’m doing it. But I can’t stop. Like a purging.
CMR: Is that your – is that your medical horror thing that you were writing?
CMR: Oh God. Okay, I’m excited for that to make its way into the world and also terrified.
FRL: I think that’s the general feeling I get when reading Ezra’s writing. It’s like, I want to read this. This is going to be horrifying.
CMR: Yeah that’s … that’s how I feel.
So I was thinking we could do another kind of fun thing, which is to pick somebody else’s story from the anthology and talk about that, and why we like that. Frank! What have you chosen?
FRL: I was thinking about Hester’s story, The Hitchhiker.
FRL: It nails all, I mean similar notes to what we’re talking about, this idea of like infection, or if more subtle in terms of like… well I won’t go too much into it, because I don’t want to spoil it, but a sort of creeping sense of like, oh, change, and shall we say compelling or impulses and then you’re like, Oh, is this really me, is it really not me, and it’s all getting weirder and there’s a fascinating and bizarre tone to the story and contains like a biological aspect, and I will not say anymore, but it’s like Oh, this is generally really cool and interesting and also terrifying.
But yeah it’s I mean the entire collection is full of great stories so yeah. This is one that is like oh good God.
EA: The way that it’s written so bouncy, like you don’t expect it to be like that, with the content you’re like Oh, this is like – you like – Hester pitched me the whole premise for it, so I was like Okay, this is going to be written like sort of you know, dark and really disturbing, but the whole piece of it is very bouncy.
AP: I loved all the pieces in the anthology, and Gunslingers and Garlic by L. J. Thomas stood out to me in particular, because vampire stories just never get old, and they have this ability to mutate and adapt to different eras and times, and this story brings vampires into our modern world again, where the dialogue is funny but let’s not forget that garlic is, as the story tells us, a very serious thing.
CMR: Yeah and it’s a real cool noir vampire story that’s also quite funny, and has got some really cool Southern Gothic-y elements in it, I think?
EA [talking under CMR]: Yeah, that one’s Southern Gothic.
CMR: What one have you picked Ezra? I know they’re all like – it’s kind of your entire thing’s your baby, so sorry.
EA: Yeah, I don’t know which one I would pick because they’re just such a vast array and everything is so different and everyone’s put bits and pieces of themselves into it and each have their own very specific voice and I don’t… I don’t know.
CMR: It’s unfair to ask you as well, because you’re meant to be the neutral impartial editor who’s chosen them all, and you’ve spent a lot more time with them all, more than anyone else has, because obviously you had to read the initial submission and kind of do the comments on that and then select and then…
EA: I read it probably about 13 times.
CMR: Yeah, and then you had other people do beta readings between your comments and developmental edit comments, which is by C. J. Listro, and then the copyediting was by Charlie Knight, so yeah we… and then, then you read it all again after everyone put their comments back in so. It was just a whole process.
EA: And I never got tired of it. Someone else’s stories… like, it’s a lot easier to read through other people’s work than it is my own, over and over.
CMR: I was, I was going to mention Michelle Tang’s On Reflection, because that was one of the first ones that I read, I think. It’s the first one in the book as well. I love the voice and I love how Edgar Allan Poe it kind of is even though it’s contemporary and it’s just I don’t know if it’s the setting and the whole tragic love thing and a man just kind of slowly unravelling to the point of you know. He’s… he’s slowly sinking into suicide as as that’s, that’s the content warning at the start, but it’s that whole journey that he goes on in such a short space of time, and it really did kind of have those Poe vibes for me and I just… yeah I really liked that in a very disturbing kind of a way.
It’s just been such a fun experience to do the whole anthology and I was just wondering how like… Because it was a total accident, I think wasn’t it, that you didn’t… I mean the theme originally was just kind of something dark and spooky. and as you were choosing them and they kind of all fell into this transformational theme didn’t they, so they’re all kind of loosely linked by a change of state or resistance of change and transformation and destructive changes that people go through, and mortality as well, facing mortality is a big thing.
And I just wondered if we could have a little chat about… Why is that? And change and transformation in general, and what that means in your story and the stories you read or enjoyed. Go as shallow or deep as you want, I guess.
Allie, what about yours regarding ghosts? What’s your opinion about ghosts, do you believe in ghosts? And like, how did you come to write a ghost story, why was a ghost story important to you?
AP: Often I ask myself, what is a ghost, and how the idea of what a ghost is has changed for me. And I think it’s something that can survive past the physical body, and interacts – begins to interact with us, and that’s when we see all these odd things that might feel inexplicable, or like magic, just because we’re trying to look at them through too narrow a lens, I think too traditional a set of beliefs.
So we start to look at whether or not consciousness is, you know, localised perhaps in just a physical part of the brain; whether it can survive past the physical body after it decomposes, and can it interact. So if that is true, if potentially that’s what ghosts are, then it brings me to the conclusion that ghosts can be ‘real’ it’s just a matter of asking ourselves what they actually are. So, depending on what your set of beliefs is, ghosts are kind of those dark spaces in our explainable existence, and they are how dark thoughts can creep in, as well. And hence, um, the creativity, as well. So, that’s my take on ghosts.
And this being an anthology on mortality, memory and transformation, makes it all the more relevant as a theme if we consider ghosts being some sort of energy attempting to mutate and transform in order to make itself known, and keep memories alive, and giving the silenced a voice.
CMR: Yeah, thank you for that Allie, that’s so interesting. I really like ghost stories, and I really like that moment just before death, you know, that – the, the facing mortality moment, where you’re not sure if you’re going to transform, or you’re not sure what’s going to be on the other side, and that sort of thing.
Alice Scott’s story in the anthology deals with that a little bit as well, The Death of Christian Pacey, and that’s really cool, that has a trans MC, a trans man main character. And it’s just, yeah, a really interesting look at Alice’s characters, and the mythology of that world. It’s a contemporary story, and it’s really cool. I can’t think of anyone else who has a ghost story, a proper ghost story, in it. Everybody’s haunted by something, though.
Ezra! What about you?
EA: I guess with writing my own like I knew from the beginning that… redacted and redacted were going to die. So it’s like I wrote out, knowing that this was the end, like it’s pretty clear for me from the get go what the story was going to be beat by beat. But I don’t know that I really thought about it too deeply, like not thinking, like, in the back of my mind thinking, Okay, I have to have these sorts of themes in it, it just… I just sort of wrote it and it happened.
CMR: Do you find yourself writing, I know you find yourself writing about death a lot of because a lot of people die in your stories and but yeah I was just wondering if, like you also wrote about transformational kind of body horror as well, like you write vampires you write eldritch transformations and that kind of stuff and when did that start for you, like what attracts you to writing those kinds of things?
EA: I guess I’ve always been writing that like since I was like, preteen just because, I don’t know, I guess it’s always – the whole aspect of being closeted and queer, and knowing that when you come out your family won’t support you with that, so that you start to feel a little bit monstrous. And as you’re going through these changes that are difficult and there’s a lot of self-realization and I guess I just sort of connected with the monsters that were going through these things more than I connected with the main characters.
CMR: Yeah it’s like that the recognition of the outsider, isn’t it, like, actually that’s me.
CMR: Yeah, definitely, I can see that. Yeah I think that’s a very common experience, it resonates with an awful lot of people, I think that there’s so many people who love the idea of the Monstrous Divinity anthology that you’re currently managing the Kickstarter campaign for, and so, if you go to @EzraArndtWrites on Twitter and the link will be in the transcript (here) which is on the blog as well, but you’ll be able to support that and have a look at that anthology premise and what’s going on there.
Frank, do you want to chime in about transformation?
FRL: Sure. I think in my case, like it’s somewhat similar because I think I started out with like with this visual image of like Okay, I want to play with this thing, but I want to also want to make it mine so, I think there was this shift of like Okay, how do I build this as a character and then, as I, I think it came first with the, the pursuer, in this case, and just, the setting that I was making, like Okay, I want to make this awful human being, and then the things that he did, and his refusal to acknowledge that throughout the whole story.
It’s really interesting because the story changed a bit over the various editing and it got, ha, it got some added content warnings and an extra gruesome scene. I think at the end of day it was for the best because you really nailed down like Oh, this is all this going on. And I think in terms of transformation like it’s very much, well, a weird pursuit in the in both a strange creature or being that is sort of enacting this chase along with a sort of refusal to change it and understand like Oh, why is this happening Why am I, being pursued and, at the end the strange results too, which is well it’s something particular as well is not exactly oh it’s just this it’s it’s… trying to find different words. But it’s not as simple as just oh it’s a transformation or a change it’s that but it’s also something else, and I think it’s a change which isn’t as easy, especially when playing with a horrible person under a weird eldritch being.
But that I think it’s something that isn’t as easy to understand, like something which remains in a sort of tension as like the ending kinda does that it’s not as simple an ending, so one reading you can have is that it’s resolved, but I leave a couple of crumbs there that it’s not that easy.
And I think for me is that, like Okay, what do these do? What does this transformation entail which isn’t just ‘okay this happened’, but this entails more, and that more is something that I might play with somewhere else. It is something that I might do as a potential submission for the Monstrous Divinity thing, which is very cool, I’m really excited about it. It’s definitely going to play something along those lines of like, how can power be played and how does that change the character, the environment, the beings of the characters or the lives involved so.
I think you’re right when you’re mentioned the power thing about me and what I’m doing, and I realized it, but yeah I think it’s how that causes change and is affected by other types of actions and changes and leads to very much unforeseen consequences.
CMR: That’s so cool, I love how everybody’s got different ways that they approach transformation and that kind of, you know, coming from a political standpoint or class standpoint, or you know. And then metaphorically transposing that into something else and playing with it, I think I kind of do that as well, because I play with class dynamics a lot.
And I also play with monstrousness a lot and embodying monstrousness a lot and I think for some of the same reasons as you guys do.
But, for me, I don’t know like I think, because it took me so long to do that self-realization self-actualization kind of thing and I’m not when I grew up in the 90s, when we didn’t we may have had labels for things, but if we did I wasn’t aware of them, because I wasn’t in those circles and I wasn’t online and I wasn’t…
You know I came from a South Wales valley school, I think there was like two people openly gay and the whole school and both of them were lads, you know, and it was it was. It was just one of those things that you don’t think about. And I don’t think about… you know I didn’t ever think about my gender. If I felt something I didn’t really have the way to – the words to articulate it and you know not also not knowing that I’m neurodivergent until I was like in my 30s and that kind of thing.
So for me, I often felt I guess that I’m in a constant state of transformation and that kind of process, and that is very much linked to my class. I’m from a working class background and I went to university at Oxford and that was, you know, where people have titles and people are from public school and people are the sons of earls and that’s just a fact and being a working class academic is an interesting thing.
And you do get that kind of, that playing with who am I, where do I come from and how do I navigate all of these changes and all of these different pressures?
CMR: And I think that’s where… that’s why I do both things; like that kind of monstrousness. Which is, you know, some of my characters happen to be gay or happened to be pan or happened to be like whatever and that’s all canonical – um, aro-ace as well, kind of like me – but the actual locus of monstrousness tends to be a class thing for me. And embodying those different spaces and being forced into those spaces, or being forced out of those spaces or trying to muscle your way into spaces that exclude you, or not, you know, or whatever, and it’s that kind of thing that I find more … you know, that I play with more.
Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it, how everybody’s got these different… is coming from different places, and then we all kind of merged into this like here, here’s a theme, and there are so many different layers to the theme, I love it. It’s just such an interesting anthology in that respect I think there’s so much going on.
But yeah Thank you so much guys.
EA: Thank you for having us.
FRL: It’s a great collection with great stories, incredibly edited and put together and just like yeah. Thank you. Thanks again Ezra for all your hard work.
CMR: Yeah, thank you for all your hard work and I’m really excited to see how the Monstrous Divinity anthology goes, and please do support that on Kickstarter if you can and follow Ezra @EzraArndtWrites on Twitter and the link will be in the transcript on the blog and on my Ko-Fi.
And that’s all we’ve got time for! Bye now.