You should be reading Sumiko Saulson

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Every now and then I stumble across an indie author who writes such an incredible (and underrated) book, I have to shout their name from the rooftops. I present Sumiko Saulson and her bizarre horror anthology, “Things That Go Bump In My Head.” I took a chance on this anthology after reading positive reviews on Goodreads, and after reading the first short story, I knew this was one of those rare books that deserved the hype.

“Things That Go Bump In My Head” is an unusual horror anthology–it’s not quite literary fiction, not quite science-fiction, not quite fantasy, not quite horror…it’s a mishmash of all these genres. The author steered clear from conventional  slashers, and created a new kind of horror story. In that way, the anthology’s undefinable “weirdness” lends itself well to speculative fiction.  I don’t like the term, quiet horror, since there was nothing at all “quiet” about the morality lessons in her tales.

A Life Of Her Own | The anthology opens with a heartbreaking story about a 15yr old girl who is wooed by a smooth talking thief on a bus. Smitten by the encounter, she unwittingly returns home with empty pockets and is beaten to death by her father as a result. I was horrified by this story most of all, not because the events were frightening, but because I know things like this happen in real life. The author subtly reminds the reader that children are most vulnerable, thus forcing us to confront the monsters of everyday life. Sumiko Saulson’s narrative voice is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s, “Good Country People.” I enjoyed this unusual ghost story almost as much as Agrippa.

Agrippa |Hands down, my favorite story in the anthology. This short story takes a sharp left turn from A Life Of Her Own and dumps the reader into a suspenseful, sci-fi dystopian romp. We meet Agrippa, a feisty 80-something year old woman who is forced into experimentation labs during the aftermath of the Dulcetta Reforms. Scientists swap old peoples’ bodies with organic and inorganic hosts to find the source for everlasting life. Agrippa has all the makings of a new classic, and should be read alongside H.P. Lovecraft’s, “Whisperer in Darkness” or any of Neil Gaiman’s short stories. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but definitely read this story if you don’t read anything else by Sumiko Saulson! The author reads a short sample of Agrippa aloud HERE.

The Best Book You Never Read | This story is a weird one. A depressed writer busts his typewriter open, freeing two genies, Brownshit and Greenshit. The writer asks the genies to help him finish his novel, however the genies’ intentions are as ugly as their appearances. It’s a cautionary tale about drugs, but I like that the narrative reads like an acid trip. The surprise ending is definitely a surprise. I think I like this story for its bizarre premise and original writing.

Company | A gothic ghost story that will make you think. Despair saturates each sentence, oppressive, and inescapable to the reader as it is for the characters. A doomed waitress lives in a haunted town that sticks to melancholy like roaches on flypaper. She struggles to free herself, but finds herself hopelessly bound to the lost souls around her. When they die, they stay. No one leaves. Ever. It’s an interesting story about life and death and moving past it. Again, Sumiko Saulson shows sensitivity towards her characters, painting even the most pathetic bum in a sympathetic light. Whether or not the town deserves it, the reader can’t help but feel sorry for its undead residents.

As with most anthology collections, the short stories in “Things That Go Bump In My Head” range from brilliant to just so-so. I enjoyed most of the poems and original artwork. All in all, this is a great introduction to Sumiko Saulson and quiet horror and speculative fiction in general. She’s a fantastic writer and more people should read books like hers. It’s different. But different doesn’t always mean “bad.” I’m giving this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. Hell yes all the way!

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La Leyenda de la Llorona (2011)

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This is a kid’s movie. So why am I reviewing it? Because the ghost of Llorona got nothin’ on chupacabras! And I’m always hunting for spooks from other cultures. Damsel Bruja will write more about Llorona and Mexican ghost tales in another post. For now let’s talk about this movie.

Brother and sister, Beto and Kika go trick-or-treating in their village only to find a strange ghostlike woman. The spirit is Llorona, the wailing witch who kidnaps children. She takes Beto and leaves Kika in the forest. Enter Leo San Juan and his paranormal team of investigators. Leo San Juan is a cute character. His snarky sidekicks add comic relief. There’s Teodora, a ghost who mimics Paris Hilton,  Alebrije, a talking dragon, sugar skulls, and a knight. They travel by air balloon and wind up crashing on a haunted puppet island.

Leo San Juan learns that, in life, Llorona was actually a single mother named Yoltzin. When her house caught fire, she tended to the flames, accidentally leaving her children to drift downstream and drown. The loss proved unbearable, filling Yoltzin’s heart with hate. She became the vengeful spirit, Llorona, and captured other children to replace the ones she lost. Those who got in her way were cursed and drained of life.

It’s a decent kid’s movie. The art isn’t offensive, the side characters add comedy, however the movie runs a little long. I liked watching it in the original Spanish language version with English subtitles. I learned a little Spanish in the process, which is always a good thing! I liked the cultural references, too. Damsel Bruja introduced me to the story of Llorona one evening when we were talking about what inspired Guillermo del Toro’s  film, “Mama.” (below)

This short film frightened Guillermo del Toro. So what does that tell you? I’m really happy Damsel Bruja showed me this. It only makes me hungry to find other Mexican horror films!