A queer writer and artist from the tidal flats of the Salish Sea. Author of Between Death and the Devil: Tarot Poems, So Our Idols are Dead: Empowerment Poems, and Persons of Consequence: A Pacific Northwest Gothic Novel.
I’ve mostly been writing self-indulgent vampire nonsense, so that’s what you get today:
A blur passed by them, accompanied by a cold breeze, and blood spilled from the ringleader’s mouth. It took Evangeline another moment to realize that his neck was bleeding. Most of his comrades had already fallen to the ground, but he staggered toward her.
Unthinkingly, Evangeline rushed to catch him. He coughed blood from his mouth and wound at once, his eyes fixed in terror at something behind her. Then Lizette screamed, and Evangeline turned to find a dead man towering over her, his lips red with blood, his eyes burning like the cold fires of hell.
This is better, she thought. I’d rather die fighting anyway.
The demon stepped toward her, and she plunged the shard of wood into his heart.
Several things happened at once. Lizette shrieked again, staggering backward. Evangeline felt a wave of warmth flow through her, starting with the hand which held the stake and ending at her raw, soaked feet. She’d expected to barely puncture the chest before her, but the shard slid through his rib cage as easily as a knife through butter. Like butter, the demon melted, blood bubbling from the wound and down her outstretched arm. He reached for her neck with both his hands and she watched in wonder as they, too, melted like hot wax.
I should be afraid, she thought as euphoria clawed its way through her body.
“Miss Barbriar, you are more than expected,” came a voice from the other end of the alleyway.
Last week I wrote a few poems, a few meditations, and a whole lot of a self-indulgent gothic romance. Here are a few of my favorite snippets.
A. You can want for nothing and still be unwanted. This was a thought that had crossed Evangeline’s mind at least once a week since her sixteenth birthday. Before that, she had small chance of noticing anything wrong with her little world. She’d had a caring nurse in Mrs. Fisher, then a kind governess in Miss Tulle. What had it mattered that her father rarely glanced her way? Why would she care if her mother seldom came back from town?
B. write about it
that moment you edge around
as if tracing the outline
can color the void
C. I want my house to tell you what you won’t learn from my lips. From the mask on the front door grinning with pride, spells spilling from his eyes, to the smell of rot emulsifying in the stomachs of my worms. Maybe you’ll spot the Venus fly traps, or maybe you’ll see a few flies and wonder what kind of mess you’ve befriended.
Tell me which intrigues you the most- a, b, or c. It may influence what I choose to continue.
Shape me. Chisel me up some accomplishments. Don’t erase this mind with those smooth Sargent strokes trading a life for an eternal raised eyebrow replacing a well-woven history with a few lines about beauty.
Don’t neglect the indents in my flesh — the armchair grasped too tightly reupholstered in silk and nervous twitches. Carve my jaw hard like I grind it at night but whittle whales into the bone
Remind me what’s soft in a body can also be strong can also be buoyant
K. D. Hume
I came upon this portrait during a birthday trip to San Francisco. It was part of a traveling exhibition that I entered on a whim, the weather outside leaving much to be desired. I’d seen the painting online before, might have even read a book or two that used it for cover art. But in that gallery, on that day? I fell in love. I’d never seen an aristocratic woman given this kind of agency in a formal portrait. This much personality.
What a force to be reckoned with, I thought. And I had to know more.
So, I researched her, and I researched Sargent, standing there in front of the painting in a crowded gallery. My respect for both the painter and the subject grew, and I wrote this poem. Years later, I’m still just as captivated as the day we met.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. No, I didn’t self-publish because I was rejected by real publishers, I self-published because I’m too impatient and anxiety-ridden to write query letters in the first place.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. I know, it’s audacious that I’d just go and write a book, then publish it without any authority telling me it was good enough. And then to announce it, like it’s not some dirty little secret? The scandal. Who do I think I am, anyway? Don’t I know writing is serious business?
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. I know the book you’ve been thinking about writing would be much better, but it doesn’t exist, does it? It must be very frustrating, me announcing a clearly inferior work, while your masterpiece is still only 10 pages long.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. It’s written in the pompous yet jaded style of the Next Great American Novel, but of course it can’t be that because I’m a woman.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. Yes, it’s just an ebook. No, it’s not a “real book.” Yes, a physical copy would be ideal, but I know how well this book is (not) going to sell. An ego boost just isn’t worth the hundred extra dollars it would cost to format paperbacks.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. Don’t worry, it’s the most literary thing I intend to write anytime soon. All the other books I’ve written so far are distinctly genre. Much less tragic and much more potentially lucrative. It’s not very professional of me, but I just couldn’t leave this one alone without publishing it. But if I cared about being professional I wouldn’t be posting this, would I?
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. I know you’re concerned about my good name, but names are cheap on the internet, and most of you probably already think I’m a trainwreck anyway.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. If you hate me, you should probably buy it. Pull it up on your phone during happy hour and read sections of it in a mocking tone to your friends. “We’ll be right back, we’re going to get more drinks,” they’ll say, interrupting a particularly cringe-worthy scene. “What’s up with her today?” you’ll hear them whisper to each other as they walk away. “She’s never mentioned this girl before, why is she so invested?”
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. It might be one gigantic shaggy dog story. Read it and find out!
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. It was either publish this or write detailed character studies of every single creepy man I’ve ever met, so there are some predatory fuckers who should be pretty grateful for this book. Just kidding, I’m still totally going to write those character studies at some point.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. And if you want to play the “list the ways self-publishing in general and this book specifically are bad ideas” you are going to lose, because I can list way more of them than you. So don’t try, because that would just be embarrassing for you. Not for me. I no longer feel embarrassment.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. Now that I’m an author I’m even more vicious when people poke at my insecurities, so tread carefully.
Anyway, here’s a book I wrote. It’s okay. Of the 1,200 something books I’ve read it’s solidly in the middle.
I am not here for you to learn a lesson. I am not here so you can be a better man, or a more clever man, or a more interesting man. I am here to tell stories. Maybe you’ll be one of them.
Darling, that’s a threat.
I don’t care if you like my stories. I don’t care if they make you better or worse, or if they display the virtues you want. I don’t care if my characters are too female for your empathy, or too unfeminine for your comprehension.
Nothing I am is for you. You should worship me for that. You should hate me. You should want to be me. You should want to kill me. Envy me and only me.
Shut up now. I’m talking.
I was never going to be your muse, darling, but you can be my mine, if you work at being pretty the way I want you to be. Show me those cut lines, baby, show me your spine. I’ll write all night about the fragility of mankind.
There are still claw marks inside my skull from all the time I wasted trying to stay quiet and nice. There are still tremors in my voice when I disagree. I do my chores before I write, I put my shit away. That’s all old learning I’m capable of shedding.
I know you want me to stay that way, not to get ugly, obsessive, productive, and mean. In the game of greatness, I’m the one who is supposed to be a casualty. For that alone, I’m going to take everything.
I’m done with nice and good. I’m done with pretty and clean.
This is a power trip. This is a rallying cry. The art monsters are rising out of soft skin and rainbow hair. They’re talons and teeth and wrinkles. They’re lightning and fat and snarl. They’re not interested in hearing about your film. They’re not going to see your band. You’ll want them because they do not care. You’ll hate them for making the art you’ve always claimed.
Consume me and I will destroy you from the inside out.
We took Quai Gustave-Ador out of Geneva proper, walking along Lake Leman until the winter tourist crowds subsided. I insisted on walking, despite the cold which had migrated to my lungs. I knew it wouldn’t be the same by bus. If I didn’t walk, it wouldn’t feel to me like I’d really arrived at Villa Diodati, the place where Frankenstein was born.
Why was visiting Villa Diodati so important to me? After all, books can be written anywhere, and while I enjoyed Frankenstein, I probably wouldn’t rank it in my top ten favorite books. Looking around my library, I can’t even say for certain that I still have a copy.
I suppose it’s not the book itself, which was mostly written later anyway. It’s the idea of the book, and the story behind the idea of the book. In that regard, Villa Diodati matters.
So we climbed, taking the narrow, moss-lined road up to Cologny, past all manner of wealthy homes and embassies, their driveways gated and guarded by expensive surveillance equipment. A few cars passed us, and two joggers in slick work-out gear, but otherwise we were alone, the codeine in my system not quite enough to keep me from coughing fits as we walked.
Already, my expectations were shattering. I hadn’t really been expecting a climb. Both my favorite Byronic horror film, Gothic, and the somewhat more historical Rowing with the Wind depicted Villa Diodati as close to the water. Additionally, as a fellow open-water swimmer, I’d always imagined Byron choosing a closeness to water, ready to rid himself of the shackles of his hated club foot by diving in at every possible moment.
Of course, the summer of 1816 wouldn’t have lent itself to swimming. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tamboro covered Europe in a bleakness known as “the year without a summer,” creating an ideal breeding ground for gothic ghost stories. The weather for our walk was mild, for January, one of those bright grey winter days without a hint of rain. It crossed my mind that perhaps our weather was similar to what Mary Shelley experienced.
Passing through Cologny, we saw few people. It was Sunday, our last day in Switzerland, and a single bakery, tantalizingly open, almost delayed us. We could still see the Jet d’Eau from certain points while walking through town, but it didn’t feel like we were in the city anymore. It must have felt infinitely more remote in 1816.
My fascination with Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, and even John Polidori started during a college course called The English Romantics. Lord George Byron seemed the kind of art monster who’s fun to read, but would be hell to encounter in a bar or at a party. I found Percy Shelley best when he embraced brevity, and dreaded reading Frankenstein, because I’d never liked any of the movies.
I should have had more faith in the teenage girl who wrote it. I’d yet to learn of Mary Shelley’s Original Goth Flavor, but the moment I started Frankenstein, my opinion of the novel changed. I saw how Brian Aldiss could argue for its place as the first true science fiction novel. More importantly, I recognized in it one of my favorite tropes, the fallen angel hellbent on destroying his creator.
Here, at last, was a story I could get behind. I was more offended than ever by the brain-dead movie monster Frankenstein. The best villains are full of brains, spite, and insecurities.
Taking a side street slightly downhill, we arrived at Villa Diodati. Although I’d seen pictures online, preparing myself for finding this privately owned property, I still almost missed it. I was suddenly glad we’d come in winter: we’d barely have been able to see the villa from the street with summer foliage.
Although beautiful, Villa Diodati was less grand than I expected. I’d imagined something sprawling, not an ornate cube on a steep hillside. I paced the garden wall, taking dozens of selfies, glad we were the only people anywhere to be seen.
The only clue that this was the famed house where literary giants once vacationed was a sign on what must have once been the carriage house, indicating that Lord Byron once stayed there. From a sign at the nearby Park Cologny I learned the Shelleys had rented a house slightly closer to the lake: another fact the movies twisted for narrative expediency.
Discovering how wrong I’d been was the opposite of disappointment. I’d traveled there to understand an aspect of a story I loved: four unconventionals, stuck in a villa on a stormy summer night, telling ghost stories. The youngest, a teenage girl who’d run away from England with a rock star poet, gets an equally unconventional idea: What if a scientist could harness power previously thought to belong only to God? How would his creation feel? This germ of a story would outlive all the rest of the rebellious group’s infamy, spawning thousands more stories, each audaciously asking “what if?”
Of course the villa matters, and the turbulent weather, and the view from the villa, and the lake below. That’s what I walked to Villa Diodati to learn, and that’s what I discovered:
From non-fiction to poetry to trashy romance, I thought I’d list some of the best books I’ve read this year.
Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic, by Victoria Loustalot
I went on Goodreads to see how this book was categorized (memoir) and was surprised to see how poorly it was rated. This ramble into modern mysticism ruffled a lot of feathers, but I read it almost a year ago, and I’m still thinking about it, especially the chapter talking about the link between New Age beliefs and orthorexia. Don’t expect conclusions, but do expect plenty of thoughtful conversations.
Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, by Amy Kaufman
If you, like me, occasionally find yourself watching certain reality tv shows, you’ll enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the manipulation that goes into making people act like utterly unhinged on television.
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon
Alternating chapters on the lives of a mother daughter combo whose works had an irreplaceable impact on our culture. I especially liked learning the details of Percy Shelley’s death by dick measuring with Lord Byron.
Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History, by Bridget Quinn
This book has irrevocably changed what I notice when I go to art museums.
I Am Not Your Final Girl, by Claire Holland
Feminist poetry about horror movies. If that description doesn’t convince you on its own, I don’t know what else to say.
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Now that my anxiety is medicated, I’m much more able to read horror, so I decided to start off with this classic. That was at once a very good and a very bad idea.
A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas
I finally got around to this book, and enjoyed the way it melded Tam Lin and Beauty and the Beast. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, but if it ends in anything but a thruple, I’m going to be pissed.
The Glamourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal
One of the best series I read this year. The first book reads exactly like a Jane Austen novel, with just a dash of magic. Then events escalate, rapidly, in deeply satisfying ways. Want a typical Jane Austen heroine to deal with war? Oppression? Treason? Slavery? Then this is the series for you.
The Pageant, by Leigh Walker
I always wanted to write a book that people would say was “just like the Hunger Games, but with vampires.” Leigh Walker got there first and I am extremely jealous. At least, the Vampire Royals series is just like the Selection, but with vampires. If you’re trash like me and think that sounds delightful, you’ll probably devour this YA romance series in a weekend.
Variant Lost, by Kaydence Snow
I think I’ll get into reverse harem romances, I thought to myself at some point in November. I immediately happened upon this super-powered series, and it’s still the best I’ve read in the genre.
We start with fear and end with the fantasy. First, there is a corpse on a riverbank. Later, she dances on a stage with red velvet curtains.
The North decays just as well as the South, but in deceptive ways. You won’t smell the body rot coming from the forest over the scent of pine and rain. You won’t be able to tell if the seal is resting on the beach, or has washed up with eyes already eaten out. You won’t see our poverty under our technological gleam, but everything rusts in the rain.
There is no difference between a monster and a predator besides literary conceit. A man need not be overly clever to kill hundreds, if no one is watching. A demon is a man until he is a demon. Until he cannot be explained. Until we do not want to explain him.
You cannot trust the light. It will leave.
Fantasy is a false denouement. The fantasy is the mouth of an ouroboros: a snare to bring you back to the fear. A predator can be caught, or killed, or imprisoned. A monster cannot. A monster lives where mirror meets glass, where mind meets sleep.
Like monsters, we can survive only in the liminal. Horror we can handle, as long as the macabre is fantastic as well. Like the bullied children we once were, we dream up magic to glorify our wounds.
“ I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” — Kurt Vonnegut
I recently decided something: I’d rather be Kilgore Trout than not be a writer. I’d rather be a piece of satire than just another stretch of silence.
Trout, Kurt Vonnegut’s prolific science fiction author insert, is a constantly shifting joke, his biography changing from book to book. The sometimes-author of 117 books, with a whopping 3 fans, he is also a perfect example of a creative’s defiance. He writes and writes and writes, despite any acclaim. He won’t shut up. He won’t stop trying.
If I can’t be anything else, I’m going to be Kilgore Trout.
I’d rather be Kilgore Trout than publish nothing, waiting for the perfect draft, the perfect circumstance, the perfect amount of encouragement. I’d rather die in obscurity, prolific and unappreciated, than give in. I’d rather say everything than say nothing, I’d rather show my hand than keep it close to my chest. I’d rather be Kilgore Trout than wait to be noticed, wait to be validated by some exterior authority.
Of course, there are some differences between Kilgore Trout and I. Primarily, I am not a man, so endless creative confidence on me looks less like a virtue and more like a sin. And yet, for me, Kilgore Trout resonates. I don’t know if Vonnegut meant him for me. I don’t know if he’s meant to be a beacon for the ironically optimistic and constantly daring, but he’s mine now anyway.
Because here’s the truth of it: There are always going to be people with less talent and more confidence than you. There are always going to be people with less talent and more confidence and more acclaim than you. And if you dare to publish, dare to paint, dare to create and tell the world about your creations, you are also going to be that to some other more talented, less confident person.
But every so often, in a blue moon, someone will look at your art and get it. Someone will laugh at your joke, or get that fierce look on their face that means they understand your anger. Maybe you’ll even get three fans.
So fuck it. Ignore comparisons. Be the one who goes for it. Don’t be the sad thing in the corner griping about how you could do better if you only showed off. Be a modern Kilgore Trout. Post your selfies. Read your shitty poetry aloud at parties. Sell your art for more than your family thinks it’s worth. Write a blog that no one reads and keep posting about it even though your friends find it embarrassing. Follow every idea that stirs your passion, no matter how absurd, no matter how unmarketable.
Oblivion is unavoidable, so there’s no point in face-saving silence. Keep writing. Keep saying things. Refused to be restrained. Be Kilgore Trout.
Her fingernails snip the stems of daisies and dandelions as she dreams of rings. Another flower crown, another fairy ring, another circle of friends, another playground game. “What if we were a spaceship?” she asks the other kids. “I saw in a show they can make them this way. We could spin through space.” The grass isn’t green, but these flowers are hardy things. If they can survive the playground, surely they could survive space.
Her parents watch early morning shows. More murders, more police killing children. The suburbs are vast and strangers are frightening, so they drive her to school every morning. In class she practices hiding in case of a mass shooting. Under her desk some former student drew a flower. Another drew a rocket. She traces over them with her own pencil carefully.
What if I could grow spaceships? she thinks. While the teacher talks about closing blinds and escape routes, she draws a tree around the rocket, making it into something living. “What do bullets do to trees?” she asks, hand raised. “If we had school in trees would we be safe? What if we wore trees, if they grew around us like clothing? Could trees be spacesuits?”
She loves what thrives despite everything. Not her momma’s orchids and lilies, but weeds growing unwanted in the driveway. She makes a chain of dandelions grown entirely from concrete. She isn’t sure what it means, but wears them as a crown above her pigtails long after they fade. They are a force field, unlike her age. She feels, even this early, the weight of history. An inheritance of violence and greed, already turning against her. She knows, in her soft child way, that evil things loom heavy over her family, but her dandelions weave golden armor around her, and she walks through a world capable of healing.
Everywhere, growing things.
“What if?” she asks. She wants to know what space is. What it’s made of. What grows there. If it might be safer than here. Sometimes teachers know the answers. Sometimes they just want her to stop questioning.
She doesn’t. She asks librarians, asks her phone, asks everyone she meets. The dandelions taught her all about thriving. About wiggling into places no one wants you to be, or dreaming up schemes no one wants you to think. Eventually, like them, she’ll get what she needs.
“A torus spaceship is like a somersault,” she tells her friends. “The outside is moving, but inside you feel safe.” They tumble down a grassy hill and into space.