Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror

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Southern gothic horror is uniquely (under-appreciated!) American literature, and too often written by white men. Imagine my surprise when stumbling across Eden Royce’s self-published anthology collection on GoodReads. A  black horror author with roots in Hoodoo/Conjure. Yasssss. I downloaded her book without hesitation and read it while listening to my old delta blues records. The proper way to enjoy a southern gothic is on a porch swing while the sweet, idle songs from grasshoppers rise up from the brush. Unfortunately, congested, downtown Chicago makes that impossible. So listening to Skip James was the next best thang, y’all. I’m also a little homesick and I miss my Gulf side of Texas. Reading “Spook Lights” was the perfect escapism for this reluctant city gal.

Connect with the author on

@edenroyce on Twitter  or her website, edenroyce.com, or blog

Or better, just buy her book on Amazon  or Lulu

There are 12 short stories in all, but my three favorites were “Doc Buzzard’s Coffin,” “Hag Ride,” and “The Choking Kind.” Royce’s melodic writing is full of texture, atmosphere, and characters that invoke the South. I felt the swelter and stale, human sweat rise through each word. Descriptive language meets Black folklore to create a leisurely atmosphere. Think ghost stories told around the campfire. Think of the fairytales your grandmother read to you when you were a child. Reading Spook Lights is more of an experience best enjoyed when not rushed. The horror element is subtle, often ironic, and I found myself able to predict most of the stories’ conclusions, however, the author’s charm and folksy delivery kept me squirming in my seat until the end of them. Most of the short stories are cautionary tales, where the main character often does something stupid, only to be punished or chastised by a vengeful spirit or magical spell later. There’s Hoodoo, Voodoo, murders driven by passion, and quests for revenge.

There’s also strong thread of female (often motherly) wisdom and jilted love in this collection. I appreciated the strong female protagonists of color. The women were often victims of their own making, but learned along the way how to find themselves. You don’t have to be from the south, Black, or a woman to understand the overall concept of this book, which I love. The author does a lovely job blending mythology for contemporary tastes. This is a book to kick back with and savor, bit by bit. It’s down-to-earth, like crackling bacon grease in a hot pan or like cold, tap water from the kitchen sink. Let the stories do the heavy lifting for you–Royce’s subtlety is masterful.

I enjoyed Spook Lights for its storytelling, not necessarily for innovation, horror, or plots. That said, I’m giving this anthology collection a solid 5/5. I heartily recommend Spook Lights to those looking for an enjoyable read rich with Southern atmosphere and non-traditional folktales told from Native American, Black, and a Caribbean perspective. Eden Royce’s ability to entertain is a dream. I will be reading more of her work.

 

Shit sandwiches, the Hugo Awards, and PuppyGate

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I must live in an alternate reality where white straight male writers never win the majority of literary awards, and white straight male narratives are appallingly underrepresented in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction. I mean, whenever I walk into a bookstore or library I have to search for more than an hour just to find one book (JUST ONE) about a white straight guy saving the world. I wish there was just one strong example in scifi/fantasy/horror where the main character was white. And if I want to see white straight men on the silver screen, I can’t without attending those special artsy cinemas that show indie stuff with subtitles.

This must be the alternate reality I live in. A toxic subset of manbabies think white straight male writers have struggled for centuries from what they call, “literary affirmative action” and therefore can’t win Hugo Awards without sabotaging the election process and kicking all the icky gays, racial minorities, and women out. I mean, it’s only fair, right? Because what science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction needs more of is less diversity and we can thank the fine folks at Sad Puppies for making this our reality in fucking 2015.

Taken from Book Riot:

Along with the Nebula Awards, the Hugo Awards are considered to be one of the two major awards for science fiction and fantasy works. While the Science Fiction Writer’s Association nominates and votes on Nebula Awards, the qualifications for the Hugos are more lenient. One only has to buy a supporting membership to WorldCon in order to vote.

In recent years, the nominees and award winners for Hugos have begun to diversify. The world is changing, both in and out of publishing. As our world becomes more embracing of diversity, our reading and awards are reflecting that. More women and authors of color have been nominated and are winning. Unfortunately, not everyone sees this as a good thing.

Enter Sad Puppies, a small group of authors and fans that have decided the Hugo Awards were not accurately reflecting the tastes of science fiction and fantasy fandom. (You know, the people who were already voting on the awards.) So Sad Puppies, led by Brad Torgersen, created their own nominee list and encouraged people to vote for them. The list is significantly less diverse that it has been the last few years.

According to Torgersen, the Sad Puppies effort is to fight what he sees as an “insular” fandom of voters at Worldcon. Part of his defense of these choices, however, is more telling:

Along the way we fairly skewered the concept of literary affirmative action — that works and authors should be judged on the basis of author or character demographics and box-checking, not the audience’s enjoyment of the prose…

In a worst-case scenario (which is far too often fact in situations like these), this is coded, aggressive, anti-diversity talk. For the sake of argument, let’s take Torgersen at his word. If he’s speaking plainly, then he’s ignoring a big problem: the publishing industry (especially in science fiction and fantasy) is skewed heavily toward white, male writers.

Torgersen is right in one regard: awards should be handed to the best novels and their writers, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. No one thinks otherwise. But if we’re not reading diversely, the pool of books we nominate will not be diverse, either.

It’s a common straw-man argument against reading diversely: “I read what I like, regardless of the author’s race or gender.” We at Book Riot see this all the time. This argument would work if the publishing industry were fair. If the genders and races of published authors were equivalent to the actual demographics of the world, then sure, that argument holds water. But since the publishing industry isn’t fair, that argument falls apart.

Further Reading:

Elizabeth Bear

Chuck Wendig

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George R. R. Martin also weighed into this fight. His response is taking the limelight right now, so I thought I’d also include it HERE.

The general consensus among authors and readers is this: Sad Puppies’ hijacking of the Hugo Awards is a shit sandwich and spells future disaster for booklovers and writers alike. No, Damsels with Chainsaws is not a SJW blog, but we do want to see good stories. ALL good stories. Expanding fiction for everyone is not going to hurt the SF/F/H community. If anything, I think it’ll make our readership stronger.