Discussing horror as a literary genre proves to be an exceedingly difficult undertaking. A reader familiar with contemporary horror writers will undoubtedly protest against this statement, citing the fact that horror writers are generally more than happy to discuss their stock tricks, ways of thinking, and sources of inspiration. True enough. Contemporary horror writers are a gregarious crew. Yet when it comes to horror itself, our paradoxically macabre attraction to the dark and inhuman realms of terror, everything remains infuriatingly inexplicable. This paradox—our attraction to the repulsive as embodied in horror fiction—is dubbed famously in critical aesthetics ‘the paradox of horror’. I will utilize as a demonstration the appeal of Philip Fracassi’s recently published ‘Lovecraftian’ horror novella, Altar. The book itself is quite typical of its generic milieu, given how Lovecraftian horror is racing to the fore of contemporary horror fiction with the encouragement of affluent writers like Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti (or more recently, Cody Goodfellow and Jeremy Robert Johnson). One advantage of Altar’s utilization as a demonstrative model for horror fiction is that its simplicity and quintessentially Lovecraftian plot vastly complicates many of the theories offered up in supplication to the paradox of horror. It is my intention to challenge several theoretical ‘suggestions’ regarding the paradox by emphasizing the hitherto overlooked experiential “gap” in horror and the corresponding encounter with the Other. (more…)
Notes on an Essay Concerning Writing, Performing, and the Nature of Reality
[Author’s Note: This is an unfinished essay I vaguely remember writing, the result, I suspect, of having taken too many meds, which I do by accident from time to time.]
My mind reels. Sometimes I lock myself in my head, in my world, and everything around me—my wife, my kids, my friends and job—vanish. Not literally. Figuratively. Everything slips into the background, sometimes into the deep background. Sometimes the universe transforms into background noise, a sort of visuospatial white noise. Other times, it disappears altogether.
I get so locked into my world, the world mutating and transmutating and exploding in my head, that the world and everything in it almost vanishes.
A strange sensation: living in my head inside, then going outdoors and feeling as if the world itself is indoors, as if the world is a set constructed inside a planet-sized soundstage. Sometimes, when these sensations inundate me, I glance around—at the ground and the sky, cars and buildings and passersby—and marvel at the corporeality of it all. Of everything.
On occasions, when I’m experiencing these sensations, I ask myself two questions, sometimes in conjunction, sometimes in disjunction:
What is imagination?
What is “reality”?
So I’m sitting in a wheelchair on the corner of an intersection, wearing a plaid shirt, overalls, and sunglasses. I’m hunched over in the chair, not moving. Concentrating on steadying my breath, minimizing the expansion and contraction of my rib cage, trying to render it imperceptible.
Try it. It’s a fascinating study, something akin to sociology. People ignore you when you play dead. They amble or scurry past you. Some glance while others act as though they don’t see you. Some joke while others furrow their eyebrows.
I’d probably sell the death routine if “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees wasn’t blasting from a speaker attached to my phone in my right pocket. (more…)
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step into any bookstore or library and you’re bound to discover at least one book professing to be capital-t the underscored book to learn how to write a book that publishers and agents and readers and Hollywood producers and the Dalai Lama and maybe the Pope or some low-rent Mafioso will recognize and idolize and adore. Fiction, according to the reality in which these writers write, is an algorithm. Replace variables with values and, viola, book is done. Sale is imminent.
And that might work for some people. But if you have integrity, then you should buy or borrow that book, tear out each and every page, and use those pages to roll cigarettes or joints or to wipe your ass.
Inhale the words fermenting on the pages.
Or cover them with shit and piss.
Those rules are better to inhale and exhale, they’re better as permanent scars on your lungs, than they are to absorb and incorporate into your writing.
Now let’s make a distinction. Some rules are useful, such as word economics or showing in lieu of telling.
I’m talking about structure.
I’m talking about form.
I’m talking about what information is necessary, what isn’t—but I’m modifying it: ambiguity and disconnection constitute important information as well.
I’m talking about the algorithms writers and agents and editors and authors of ‘How-to’ books drill into your head.
The algorithm of fiction is what we want to avoid.
How else are we going to invent new ways of telling stories—and new ways of seeing ourselves—if we stick to the same tired rules?
Which leads to a question: How do we invent new forms of storytelling?
Which leads to Step #1:
Experiment. Break the mold. Try to write in new ways, try to shake things up—to use a cliché—try to change how sentences and paragraphs and chapters flow. Try to alter what information you find necessary and what information you don’t find necessary. (more…)
I woke in a void, empty. The room appeared as a mirage: both there and not there. Stumbling across the room to get dressed, then sneaking downstairs and closing the door behind me, certain not to wake my wife and baby, I floated in a state devoid of thought. A machine running on autopilot. Our dog stood in his kennel, whimpering. I let him out and followed him into the kitchen and opened the backdoor to let him out. He ran, tail wagging. After pushing past the cats in the bathroom doorway, I took a leak and brushed my hair and put on deodorant. Then I ambled into the kitchen and kneeled in front of the oven—after turning on the exhaust vent overhead—and lit a cigarette.
I turned on my phone and checked the news: a slaughter in Las Vegas. More than fifty dead. As many as five hundred wounded. The emptiness inside expanded, consumed me. Neurotransmitters flooded my brain. Chaos. Depression. Thoughts attempted to rise but nothing appeared. I pictured the dead and wounded, blood filling the streets, and my depression deepened.
What’s the point? What’s the point of any of this? We’re meat feeding on chemicals, motivated by chemicals, until these organic machines stop. Then we cease to experience anything. The universe, as far as we’re concerned, blinks out of existence the moment we no longer perceive, think, feel, experience. We’re meat machines fueled by desire, without objectives—desire, for us, acts as both the means and the end. But the chemicals permeating this meat persuades us we’re somehow only incidentally meat. We’re something greater, some say, far great. Not animals. Special. (more…)
Fresh off the kinda sorta success of my short story collection, A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms, I’ve released a new novella, Elegiac Machination, available in paperback or as a Kindle ebook. Please not: All proceeds generated throughout the month of June will be donated to inner city arts programs.
Reality is a product of perception. To alter reality, we must alter our perception. But how? Our unnamed narrator explores this question and attempts to unravel the mystery in this experimental novella, a non-linear, surreal trip through consciousness—and beyond.
Embracing the street art mythos, the narrator plasters an unnamed city with symbols meant to open up awareness—awareness of consciousness, of reality; reality as it is, not how people perceive it. But he lives in a world in which corporations, government, and technology have transformed people into mindless automatons. People move without thinking, follow without thinking, work and live and dream without thinking—and they don’t realize they’re shackled in a continent-sized prison.
To change people, our narrator has to wake them up; he has to make them aware of their shackles. Can he use stencils and spray paint to wake them? Can art still thrive in a culture populated by drones?
Part philosophical meditation, part surrealism and literary cubism, Elegiac Machinations is unlike anything you’ve read. It’s a haunting exploration of what it means to be alive, a meditation on the nature of reality and art, and on paying attention in a world dominated by routine and distractions.
About the author
Daulton Dickey was born into a family of circus freaks. Without any noticeable defects or talent, he hitchhiked across the Atlantic Ocean and kicked the corpse of William S. Burroughs. He currently lives with his wife and sons in a city on a planet in the Milky Way Galaxy.
He has written for several websites, including popmatters and filmthreat, and he was, briefly, an editor for the journal, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens.