We’re behind on shows. Like, really behind. By the time we get around to watching *the thing everyone’s been talking about* for the last who knows how many years, not only is the buzz dead, it’s been buried, resurrected, buried again, and left to moulder away in obscurity. Put it this way — we still haven’t finished The Walking Dead, although that probably has more to do with comic vs. show angst. And the fact our daughter can’t stand how “stupid everyone is, all the time” (her words, not mine). We haven’t finished Grimm yet either, or Orphan Black, or Penny Dreadful.
When it comes down to it, we’re bad at watching TV. In retrospect, the fact that we’re only 3 years late on The Witcher is actually pretty impressive. Woohoo! Go us!
We’re 1.5 seasons in, and we’re enjoying it (so far). It’s exactly the kind of quick-paced, plot and character-driven fantasy we all needed. In fact, it’s delivering the same kind of not-much-brain-required comfort as our go-to stress-watch: the baking show.
But I have thoughts, and in no particular order, here they are:
Thought # 1: Geralt is attractive. No, I’m serious. This is a thing, because I don’t usually find BIG AND BUFF appealing, and I don’t find Henry Cavill attractive in his other roles. I gravitate towards androgynous looks and sharp features. Loki over Thor, any day. Little Person and I were discussing this, and we came to the conclusion that he’s attractive because he’s gentle and expressive, albeit in a mostly non-verbal way.
Thought #2: Predictable is comfortable. This show doesn’t surprise me, and that’s okay. What I need from my entertainment right now is comfort and fun, and by giving us a dark fantasy romp that has yet leave me guessing, The Witcher is delivering on both accounts.
Thought #3: Yennefer is 100lbs of tropes in a 10lb sack. What do I mean by that? Well, here are some examples:
She couldn’t be really powerful until she became beautiful.
She couldn’t be really powerful until she became inhuman.
She gave up her fertility for power.
Despite willingly trading her fertility for power and beauty, she feels unfulfilled and yearns to be a mother….
See where I’m going with this?
All of these tropes are common in fantasy portrayals of women (I wrote an essay on this topic in university) and are often used as a stand-in for actual character development. (Oh oh…let’s make it so she has to give up something for her power! What would matter most to her? Well, she’s a girl, so…her womb? And then…get this…she wants to have a baby! So tragic!) I mean, really…it’s 2022. What kind of gender-essentialist bullshit is this? Yennefer comes across as a men-writing-women attempt to create a complex female character, and ends up being reductionist as hell. This is my main complaint about a show that I’m otherwise enjoying, and it’s very much a personal opinion.
If you’re a fan of genre-defying fiction, hopeful futures, audio books, and glitter, have I got just the thing for you!
I am honored to have my story, the “The Rainmakers”, featured in Issue #74 of Fantasy Magazine. “The Rainmakers” is now available online to read and as a podcast!!! If you are interested in behind-the-scenes stuff, it is also accompanied by an author profile that explores the story and my creative process.
If you enjoy this story, the entire issue is available for purchase for just $2.99, and/or you can subscribe for just $23.88/year.
The internet has informed me that it is customary at this time of year for speculative fiction writers do a little announcement to let people know about the work they’ve published in the past year that’s eligible for the various speculative fiction/horror awards.
Given I still do a little happy-dance every time I get a good review, even the thought of having my work recognized is overwhelming…but, you know…in a good way. If any of my published works from the past year made you smile, or cry, or shiver in the dark of night, please feel free to nominate for “best of the year” or any other awards that strike your fancy!
“Isobel Dreams of Childhood Things” Published in Issue #3 of Frost Zone Zine (March 2021). In this gently unnerving gothic short, a content middle-aged mother comes to regret the vampiric promises she made as a teen.
“Jenny” Published in Dark Waters, edited by Rhonda Parrish (Sept 2021). In this dark, voicy tale, an elderly Muskoka woman tells a visiting private detective about what really happened to her missing neighbors, and why you should always carry iron near Green’s Lake.
“Here There are Dragons” Published in Bodies Full of Burning from Sliced Up Press (Sept 2021). ‘When your monthly blood stops flowing, it’s time to feed the dragons’. This horror-fantasy mash-up celebrates the transformative power of menopause.
“The Rainmakers” To be published in Fantasy Magazine on Dec 28, 2021. Sorry, no summary yet – I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise!
“Jenny” and “Here There are Dragons” are available in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon, and I think a review copy of Bodies Full of Burning was provided for HWA members. Please contact me via this blog if you are a reviewer/nominator and would like to request a copy.
Check out the Goodreads reviews for both anthologies (“Dark Waters” and “Bodies full of Burning”) and the Ginger Nuts of Horror review of “Bodies full of Burning”, which can be found here: gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/book-review-bodies-full-of-burning-edited-by-nicole-m-wolverton. I’m honored to have my work in such great and well-received collections.
I’m a fan of zombies. Like, a huge fan. Give me a well crafted zombie story, and I’m a very happy girl. I firmly believe it’s a genre that will never die. Why? Because it’s already undead (da dum dum).
But seriously, the zombie genre keeps rising from the grave because zombies are, in many ways, the perfect backdrop for every horror sub-genre you could imagine, from drama (Maggie), to splatstick exploitation (Planet Terror), to humor (Shaun of the Dead), and zom-rom-com (Warm Bodies). Zombies work so well because they can be just that: backdrop. They are the background terror, the slow but steady-burn anxiety, a constant, underlying (or in your face, depending on the story) threat. You can take almost any story you want and set it against a zombie apocalypse. Newer movies, like Army of the Dead and Army of Thieves have played this to the max, giving us fun, frenetic heist movies where, at least with Army of Thieves, the zombies were simply background noise…a low, unsettling hum that didn’t play a big role in the immediate story-line but sure as hell added an edge of discomfort to the whole thing.
So why are zombies so scary? For me, there are three main reasons:
Overwhelming numbers: a singular zombie isn’t that big a threat; most people could take one down with a baseball bat and outrun at a quick walk (so long as you’re dealing with classic Romero shamblers and not 28 Days Later-style infected). But zombies never come alone, do they? They come in hordes, swarms, and armies. They overwhelm with sheer numbers, and no matter how fast or far you run, they just keep coming.
Human sized: I know it sounds weird, but bear with me. Zombies are scary because they are they same size and scale as us. They can go where we go, follow us into our homes and hiding places. The raptors in Jurassic Park were scary for (among other things) the same reason. Rexy was huge and terrifying, but she was built on a totally different scale. If you could get inside a sturdy bunker, you’d be safe. With the raptors, not so much. They fit in the bunker…the could even open the door. H.R. Giger’s Aliens were much the same: they invaded and colonized human spaces.
Making the familiar “Other“: zombies take what should be comfortable and familiar – your friends, your family, your neighbors – and turn it monstrous. The horror genre writ large relies a lot on the concept of “the other” to incite unease and terror. It plays on our conscious and unconscious fears of the unknown, the dark, the unfamiliar or alien. By “othering” the familiar, they flip the narrative on what is safe and what isn’t, and by doing so upend the characters’ (and audiences’) entire worlds. They even “other” our own bodily autonomy – one bite and you’re infected, invaded, and on the path to becoming inhuman. Nothing is safe in a zombie story.
Long story short, zombies scare the crap out of us because there are lots of them, they can follow us wherever we go, and they twist the familiar and safe into a source of fear.
BUT…and this is a big BUT…”othering” can be loaded, and those of us working in the horror community need be explicitly aware of what we do, how we do it, and the messages our work sends, when we use this narrative device. We need to think very hard about how the genre has (historically and not-so historically) used things like physical and invisible disability as a lazy-writer’s way to create an instant ‘other’.
To explore this further, I’d like to have a look at how “othering” works in three zombie movies.
Example #1: Shaun of the Dead
In Shaun of the Dead, the titular character Shaun and his friends wake up one morning find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. England is a country with a diverse population, but most (not all, but I’m looking at the big picture here) of the zombies Shaun and his friends encounter look pretty much like them, which is to say, white and English-speaking. In classic zombie movie-style, Shaun of the Dead “others” that which is closest and most familiar to the main character – his family and friends…people just like him.
Gaze centered: White (White, English-speaking MC & secondary characters)
Others: White (Zombies are mostly white, English-speaking people)
Power relationship: Neutral
Example #2: The Dead 2
In The Dead 2, an American Engineer tries to save his girlfriend as a zombie plague spreads across India. When this movie first came out, I was super excited to see a zombie movie in a non-western setting (all the diverse voices, please!), but elements of this firm and how it employs “the other” are seriously problematic. First and foremost, it doesn’t give us a diverse voice. The main character, Nicholas Burton, is a white, English-speaking American. On the other hand, the vast majority of the zombies he encounters are non-white and non-English speaking. In fact, the trailer goes out of its way to emphasize India’s population (1.2 billion) as a tension builder. This movie creates fear by first playing on a (presumably white, western) audiences’ discomfort with an unfamiliar, crowded setting (we’re literally invited to imagine just how many zombies there would be), and then systematically and intentionally “othering” people who are visibly, culturally, and linguistically different from the main character. It does not take the familiar and make it scary. It takes what is already unfamiliar to the audience and the says “what if this scary, unfamiliar thing was even scarier?”
When a story centering a white (or abled, or hetero/cis-normative) gaze “others” a marginalized population (BIPOC, Disabled, LGTBQ2+), that’s just lazy horror writing. Not only that, coming from white creators and marketed to a (mostly) white audience, it reinforces damaging biases and inequalities. It’s punching down.
There is absolutely no reason this movie (or its predecessor, The Dead) couldn’t have featured a non-white lead – a South Asian actor for The Dead 2, or an African actor, for The Dead – and given us a completely different view on a zombie apocalypse.
Gaze centered: White (white English-speaking MC)
Others: BIPOC (Zombies are mostly non-white, non-English-speaking people)
Power relationship: Punching down
Example #3: Blood Quantum
In Blood Quantum, the Indigenous residents of an isolated Mi’kmaq reserve find themselves immune to the zombie plague spreading beyond their borders. As refugees converge on the reserve, the inhabitants must decide how to deal with the (potentially infected) outsiders. Written and directed by a Mi’kmaq film director, with a predominantly Indigenous cast, this film tackles Canada’s problematic colonial history head-on in a number of ways, including by intentionally “othering” the white, English (or French)-speaking majority. While this movie also “others” a group of people who are different visually, culturally, and linguistically from the main characters, it centers the gaze of a marginalized population and “others” the group responsible for that marginalization. In doing so, Blood Quantum presents not only a scathing cultural critique, but a critique of the horror genre’s unfortunate tendency to center those already in positions of privilege.
Gaze centered: Indigenous (Mi’kmaq MC & secondary characters) Others: White (Zombies are mostly non-Indigenous people – there’s a bit more nuance to this in the film but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll say the zombies are non-Indigenous) Power relationship: Punching up for the Win!!!
Long story short, how we construct the “other” in our horror has meaning and power, and it’s our responsibility as creators to challenge the status quo and to avoid playing into and reinforcing those biases and inequalities.
It’s been a busy couple of months publishing-wise, and I’m definitely behind on sharing news (I’ll get there, I’ll get there) but I couldn’t let today go past without a quick shout-out to this creepy anthology.
I originally submitted “Jenny” for another anthology Rhonda Parrish was editing. She found herself with a handful of stories she loved but that didn’t quite fit the tone of the original book. Not wanting to throw them back (see what I did there? Water related humor FTW) she decided to put together a darker, more horror-themed anthology, and Dark Waters was born.
When you suffer a traumatic brain injury people will tell you two things:
Don’t think about recovery as “getting back” to the way you were before, but rather as “discovering the new you”; and
Recovery isn’t a straight line.
Over the past three years, I’ve learned that you can hear, understand, and even preach these messages to others without actually internalizing them yourself. Without coming to terms with what it means for you and the life you imagined. Accepting and being really, honestly okay with the “new you” is a lot harder than just saying the words.
I injured myself in a fall during the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship (OCRWC) in 2017.
I tried to keep working for seven months, until my family, doctor, and employer all agreed I couldn’t keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I was still performing (traveling internationally, facilitating workshops, all that over-achiever stuff) but the cost was immense. Blinding headaches, exhaustion, confusion. No energy for anything beyond getting through one more day at work.
I was off work for two years, and during that time, things got better. We pared my life back to structured simplicity with no big cognitive demands (other than writing, which I could take at my own speed). Of course, me being me, I sometimes (often) overdid things and crashed, but overall it felt like I was seeing a steady improvement; my endurance got better, the crashes became less frequent, and I could do more of everything.
I could even run. A lot. Physical exertion didn’t work my brain, and without the exhaustion and fatigue that mental work brought, I had the energy to push myself in other ways. 2018 and 2019 were good race years. Not great – I had to be careful with which obstacles I attempted, and a lingering shoulder injury kept me off the rings and ropes – but good. We did our first 50k and started making plans for longer distances.
Then, in May 2020, I returned to work, and everything changed again. The fatigue came back like a blanket of wet cement, and it hasn’t really lifted since.
And I’m mad. SO, SO MAD.
I’m angry and frustrated that my body has let me down again and what I could do in 2018 and 2019 – both post injury years – I can’t do now. That I’m so tired every single day that I can’t even run 5k, let alone 50. That some days I can’t even fold the damn laundry by the time work is over. And that sometimes it feels there’s no end in sight. After all, we need my salary.
On bad days, I really hate the current version of “new me”. I know I can’t get back to who I was in 2017, before I fell, but what about 2019 me? She had a brain injury too, but she was way fitter. She had energy to run.
On good days, I keep hoping things will improve. I’ve changed jobs, and my new employer is serious about accommodations. Maybe once I settle in, my energy levels will get better.
I don’t know, and that’s the hard part. I don’t know if I’ll ever know. Brain injuries with lasting symptoms are like that. Unpredictable. Up and down. Better one day, worst the next.