Shirley Jackson Award Finalists S.P. Miskowski and Ennis Drake discuss genre, human nature, and more

Two authors published by horror and dark fantasy publisher Omnium Gatherum Media, S.P. Miskowski (Delphine Dodd) and Ennis Drake (Twenty-Eight Teeth of Rage), are finalists in the Shirley Jackson Award novella category this year. Today on My Bookish Ways they discuss genre, sexism, human nature, and the nature of reality.

S.P. Miskowski: I try to keep an open mind about sub-genres. I don’t judge. But I just can’t get with anything whimsical. To me, it’s an escape and I prefer to lock the doors and windows before I scare the hell out of readers.

The story is a place I take them to, and there is no escape from the reality of mortality. I think this is close to your approach, too?

Ennis Drake: Yes, I think we have uncannily similar ideas about what genre, particularly “Horror”, is (and what it is not).

I just don’t deal in escapism. That’s not why I write. I am not here to deliver the Good News. That said: I’m not here to preach to you, either. Engagement is all I ask. I will show you my dirty face before taking your hand, but I am going to rub your nose in the shit of the world, and I am going to do it over and over again. I am interested in the truth–in telling the truth of modern society as I see it. I will not bend your mind with my opinions: I want you to see what I see, yes, but with your own eyes and your own thoughts. And to do that, up till now, I have used genre in its various forms as a tool, or, as Nathan Ballingrud once put it to me, as a palette.

S.P. Miskowski: I wandered into horror while looking for more truthful portraits of human life, particularly where women are concerned. Or I began to use horror as a tool more and more often, in more ways, so I became curious about other artists currently using it to get at truth about our existence.

I found a lot of non-genre-specific fiction portrayed women in ridiculous ways.

Ennis Drake: Genre is not innocent of that, either. Gender disparity and outright misogyny are ever-present. And not just in the media and in fiction. This business is rife with it, particularly in the Horror/F&SF communities. It was one of the deciding factors for me, as a writer, to leave the HWA (for the second time). And it’s one of the reasons I’ll never belong to the SFWA.

S.P. Miskowski: Misogyny is actually easier for me to deal with than women on pedestals, or as angels or deified maternal figures. At least hatred is overt. A lot of people believe, at their core, that women are better people than men are. And that’s BS, but it’s a kind of BS that people love. It makes women something other than human. Often women fail to see how detrimental it is.

Sexism leads to misogyny. Once you decide someone is an angel, or a potential angel, she isn’t real and doesn’t have rights.

Ennis Drake: The yin and the yang of inequitable standards. More than man, or less than man.

S.P. Miskowski: I have this friend who is very nice, who likes to rescue women. He is so in love with this, he can’t see how he contributes to the distress of the damsels he rescues. His words of “comfort” go like this: “Even though no one else appreciates or understands you, I do.” It’s a way of disarming women, robbing them of authority. I think that is just as destructive as a guy who expects the only woman on the panel to get him a cup of coffee.

But let’s get back to horror itself?

What horrifies you? What makes you want to run away screaming?

Ennis Drake: Any newsfeed, anywhere. The state of the world horrifies me.

S.P. Miskowski: Ditto. But don’t you think the state of the world has always been crap? In a sense? We just hear more about it today because we can all see one another online.

Ennis Drake: Yes, I doubt we have evolved much, from a socio-psychological standpoint. But the idea that our technology might be affecting us negatively is certainly a point of interest for me, particularly at the moment. The book I’m writing now deals with it specifically. As far as the state of the world, the state of humanity, I feel a duty to report it. To remove the blinders and look, look honestly at what we are, who we are, what name we commit atrocities in…if there is one at all.

S.P. Miskowski: So you feel a calling to write. And it isn’t political but philosophical, a humanist urge? Sometimes I think I’m just lighting a fire to see who will answer. Who sees this thing as I do?

Ennis Drake: I do, yes. I think the undertones of the stories I tell are more philosophical than political. Human nature, even my own, disturbs and fascinates me. And to carry that thought along, I’d say the greatest potential of “Horror” is that it’s easier to get away with having no hero, no villain. People, in life, are their own heroes, their own villains; sometimes in equal measure, most often not. There is nothing black and white in our daily lives, why should it be so in our fiction? Good vs. Evil is a sham.

What’s been your experience with that? With the answers to the fires you light?

S.P. Miskowski: My no doubt ludicrous theory about the answering voices? Most of the people who answer are British. That sounds funny. But I’m not joking.

Ennis Drake: Why do you think that is?

S.P. Miskowski: I relate well to people who have failed and are not afraid to admit it. Most Americans, even progressive liberals, are still clinging to optimism about where we are and what’s going on. Our nation is in decline, and we won’t admit it so it’s worse. British writers have already grappled with decline. They are more realistic about humanity and history, less delusional.

Ennis Drake: I couldn’t agree more.

S.P. Miskowski: The majority of our nation still believes we are going to “come back” and “kick ass” and be the “greatest country on Earth.” It’s insane, really. We are wasting HUGE sums of money on junk. Military might that won’t save us. At the same time we treat our returning military men and women like junk. We don’t take care of the people who need us. We don’t spend money and time on public education, so every child can have an excellent chance in life. Parents all over America are finding ways to keep their kids OUT of public education, and the result is further fragmentation. Human life and humanity are not our top priority. We think if we own enough and have enough guns, we will win. We are losing.

Ennis Drake: We are losing. We are more divided than ever. More polarized than ever. Greed is the law of the land.

S.P. Miskowski: What horrifies me is the way we ignore these things. The fact of poverty, neglected education systems, the glorification of materialism, this is all taken in stride and accepted as reality, as necessity. Oh yes, we say, isn’t it sad how the world works? We don’t accept responsibility for making the world as it is, every day. Greed IS the law. You’re right. And it is so because we choose it. We can choose another way, and we don’t seem to want to at the moment.

Ennis Drake: We live for entertainment, for distraction, are happy for it. Obsess over things, OUR things. And when confronted with the horror of the world around us, we say: “But, hey, whatcha gonna do?” And we put it out of our minds and carry on with the business of consuming.

S.P. Miskowski: Yes, eating and shopping.

I believe, as Kurt Vonnegut said, that our main purpose is to fart around. All the eating and drinking and sex and joking and dressing up in fancy clothes would be fine if we didn’t also fly around the world killing one another. Or if we didn’t have citizens living in abject poverty, with no hope of education and no way to realize their dreams. But this seems to be what we are. We justify and ignore.

So the objective, shaking people up, seems to me to be worthwhile. Writers must flick ice water in the reader’s face before we can talk about anything. And using horror in fiction is a way to do that.

About DELPHINE DODD:

Before the town had a name, people buried their dead on the mountainside. Now Mont des Morts exists only in memory, but its ghosts still haunt Delphine’s family.

First in a series of three novellas set in the world of Knock Knock.

“All the skills that made Miskowski’s novel such a success are equally evident in this story of magic and changing times.” —Peter Tennant, Black Static

“Delphine Dodd not only expands and illuminates the tragedy in the brilliant novel, “Knock Knock”, but also further proves Miskowski possesses that talent most enviable in a writer: she makes you *believe*.” —Simon Strantzas, author of NIGHTINGALE SONGS

“Spanning a period from shortly before World War One through to the early Seventies, this is a story of rural life in Washington state. But, while rich in realistic detail, it also uses storytelling and dreams to produce a sense of a world of strange and alarming mysteries lying just beyond our own and always ready to break through… There are scenes that may horrify the reader, but that is because it looks clear-sightedly, without rancour, at cruelty, selfishness and deceit. And there is as much beauty here as there is horror, thanks to the author’s finely-crafted prose.” —David Longhorn, editor of Supernatural Tales

“Miskowski doesn’t merely craft ‘atmosphere,’ she generates gravity. Dark and compelling, Delphine Dodd is a singularity…pick it up and its pull is inescapable.” —Ennis Drake author of TWENTY-EIGHT TEETH OF RAGE

About 28 TEETH OF RAGE:

Nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award One man ravaged by disease, the other by war, their stories–and fates–bound by an ancient entity that thrives on suffering.

For Detective Ernest Riley, the path to damnation begins with an anonymously mailed recording detailing a series of grisly murders. Can Riley unravel its secrets without sacrificing his humanity? Or will he surrender to the RAGE inside him?

Strom Wheldon has returned from Iraq a literal half-man. But he’s lost more than his legs to that desert Hell. He’s lost his will to live. Can love save him from the RAGE eating him from within? Or will a gift given in innocence cost him everything?

“28 Teeth of Rage has the bite of a crocodile. Drake tears a hole right through modern horror. This guy isn’t on the way; he’s kicking in the door.” — Laird Barron, award winning author of THE IMAGO SEQUENCE, OCCULTATION, and THE CRONING.

“A powerful work of horror. Drake’s prose beats with a million-mile-an-hour force, propelling you through meat and sinew with a terrifying bite. This is not a work for the weak, for the timid. With beautiful language and raw power, Drake takes you on wrenching journey into our worst desires. A propulsive read by a fantastic new voice in the genre, one you’re likely to never forget.” –Simon Strantzas, author of “Nightingale Songs”

“This is a tale of possession and madness, but the kind that any sane person will understand. Drake gets inside the heart and mind of each character and never stops digging for the truth. You know these people. I know them. They have suffered terribly, and they are haunted by their loss. At the same time they are the inheritors of the spectacular horrors human beings have hurled at one another throughout our blood-spattered history. This is a hell of a ghost story, one you won’t forget thanks to Drake’s storytelling ingenuity, but also because it springs directly from our collective well of grief and rage. This animal howl— for justice, for retribution— resonates within us, and is unanswerable.” — S.P. Miskowski, author of the the Shirley Jackson Award nominated novel KNOCK KNOCK

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