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.
I am honored to join fellow horror writers A.P Cairns and Tonya Liburd as a guest speaker for the Women in Horror episode of the “Words with Writers Podcast” from the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Authors Association.
It has come to my attention that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself.
I gained weight last year. I think almost everyone did. Our races were cancelled, we stopped walking to work, and comfort food became VERY appealing. While fumbling our way through the strange new normal of work from home, we soothed ourselves with chips. So very many chips. And candy. Dan figured out how to make cake in the crock pot (our oven broke in November 2019 and we have yet to replace it) and gave me WAY too much white chocolate for Christmas.
Sometime around New Years I realized that my “baggy” leggings were feeling, well, not very baggy. The past few years have been hard for me, when it comes to food. I’m a long distance runner. 10k, 20k, 30k, 50k…I’ve run them all. I used to be GOOD at managing my intake to support my energy needs. After I suffered a TBI in 2017, things changed. It got harder to say no to treats. And I didn’t want to say no. The concussion specialist who treated me said the area of my brain that controls cravings was damaged, but I know it was emotional too. When my symptoms were acting up, all I wanted was comfort food. The ambient stress of the past year made things worse. Long story short, I knew just deciding to change wouldn’t be enough. This time, I decided, I would bribe myself. With books! I established a food and exercise plan. I made it flexible, gave myself free days, and used check-boxes to keep track of everything. Check all my boxes for two weeks, I get a new book. Seven weeks and three new books in, my “baggy” legging are baggy again, and I’m on track for the holy grail, my old pre-TBI jeans. And on the plus side, NEW BOOKS. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:
I returned to work in May 2020 after two years off on disability. It was meant to be a gradual return with the complexity and quantity of work ramping up slowly to allow me to rebuild my cognitive endurance. Between the pandemic, challenges with work-from-home, and some other lovely complications specific to my organization, it was anything but. I realized that while I can write all day (not edit, just write) without triggering my TBI symptoms, complex analytical tasks in a fast-paced environment rife with constant interruption and competing urgencies KILL MY BRAIN. The past four months have been…challenging. Lots of headaches. Lots of crashing on the couch by 3:30 pm so tired I barely have energy to eat, let alone drag myself through my exercises to earn my check-boxes. Long story short, I haven’t been managing my spoons well. Now I’ve got my eating planned out, it’s time of turn my attention to another aspect of self care; taking more breaks and pushing back on tasks that do not fall within my accommodations. In other words, learning how to say ‘NO’ and/or ‘Yes, but not now’.
Finally, I’ve realized there’s a lot to be said for being unproductive. Trying to be productive all the time doesn’t let your brain rest. When you have an injured brain like mine, that means it doesn’t heal. Pushing myself too hard after my injury is probably why I still have symptoms now. I never gave my brain a chance to get better and hurt myself more in the process. With lockdown forcing the whole family to spend more time inside, we’ve discovered the joy of calm, fluffy TV. TV that doesn’t take energy to understand or demand your constant attention. We’ve discovered baking shows. When I’m feeling on the edge of crashing — too tired to read, too tired to play a board game, too tired to even have a decent conversation without losing the flow — I put on a baking show and veg. I might even close my eyes and let the dulcet discussions of sponge and frosting sooth me off to sleep under my new, weighted couch-blanket.
You’d think the feline social structure in our house would be simple.
Mutant Cat 1 is older and bigger:
Mutant Cat 2 is younger and ridiculously tiny:
You’d think, based on age and size, MC 1 would hold the highest position in our household’s fuzzy hierarchy. You’d be wrong. But you’d also be wrong if you thought tiny little MC 2 was running the show. It’s not that simple. Each of our cats has their own particular areas of dominance.
MC 1 is the boss of food. He has no off switch. If you try to leave out enough food for a quick overnight trip, he’ll have eaten it all, horked it back up, and started on round two before you’re out the door. He once ate 900 calories worth of high-protein running fuel (left, ill-advisedly, we learned, on the counter) in a single bag-shredding, package chewing go. He’s honed his food-acquisition techniques through years of practice.
Technique one: Speed. MC 1 wolfs down his own food as fast as he can, sometimes even leaving it unfinished, so he can bolt down the hall, shoulder MC 2 out of the way, and scarf his. MC 1 then strolls back to his own bowl at his leisure. We have to stand guard until MC 2 is done.
Technique two: Sneak. Because he eats so much faster than MC 2, and becasue he can’t rest if he knows there’s other food available, MC 1 spends the vast proportion of kitty mealtimes trying to get to MC 2’s food. In the kitchen, this translates into an elaborate, slow-motion slink around the island. He tries one way, gets blocked. He tries the other, same. Over, around again, the other way…all to an endless chorus of “you’re not as sneaky as you think you are”.
Technique three: Distract. MC 1 has learned that if he shoves things off the counter, the humans get up. The bigger, messier, and louder the thing, the faster we jump. He’s also learned that when the humans are running for the large, sharp knife he’s just sent clattering to the floor, it’s a perfect opportunity to dash for the table and make off with half their breakfast.
MC 2 is the boss of cuddles. He’s tiny but fierce, and defends space — any space ( lap, counter, couch, pillow, etc.) — with wicked smacks. He makes himself comfortable no matter what that means for MC 1. He shoves him off pillows, pins him under blankets, slaps him in the face, tea-bags him. All’s fair, to MC 2, when it comes to claiming a spot to curl up.
Despite the confusion of dominance, both our cats are heat-seeking cuddle bugs. They don’t just want to sleep on your bed. They want to be under the covers, in your PJs with you. We choose onesies and hoodies for their cat-accommodation potential.
Warm appliances are also a favorite.
MOMMY’S BOY vs THE LITTLE MAN
MC 1, despite being bigger and older, is the needier of the two. He cries when I leave the house, and won’t sleep at night unless I’m hugging him. He’s a lovely, derpy boy with separation anxiety and an a whole lot of existential dread. That’s OK, MC 1…I can relate.
MC 2, on the other hand, is a confident little guy. He’s tiny (and occasionally scooty, becasue the world is a BIG place when you’re only 5lbs) but he carries himself with bold certainty and takes affection on his own terms. As a friend once said, “MC 2 knows he’s a fashion model. He doesn’t need us. MC 1 is weird and desperate for love.”
For all their eccentricities and foibles, we love them both to pieces, and let them walk all over us. Often quite literally.