Haunted Houses

Earlier this week I published my newest zine of horror-themed microfiction. Haunted Houses contains fifteen very short stories about haunted spaces and the terrible people who inhabit them. The cover art is by @QuinkyDinky, and the zine contains interior art by @irizuarts. I’ve got a listing up on Etsy (here), and I’m also promoting the zine on Twitter (here) and Instagram (here).

This zine is quite short, with each story and illustration occupying only one page. This is partially a trick of formatting, but it’s also a result of careful editing. You wouldn’t want to spend too much time in these places, after all.

I have to admit that, even though I’m categorizing this zine and the two other collections of microfiction that preceded it as “horror,” I’m on the fence about what genre my stories actually belong to.

In my mind, the genre of horror isn’t about a specific set of tropes or narrative structures. Rather, horror is characterized by the psychological and visceral sensation of unease it inspires.

I personally prefer to think of most horror, including the stories I write, as “dark fantasy,” or perhaps simply “magical realism.” I’m not easily creeped out by fiction, mainly because the real world is so lowkey awful so much of the time. As I write this, the National Guard is setting up base at a West Philadelphia Target in advance of the presidential election next week, ostensibly as a “defense” against people engaging in civic protest. There are actual tanks in the parking lot of the place I go to stock up on toilet paper, and that’s really scary. But monsters? Not so much.

I’ve always tended to identify with monsters, and not simply because so many villain characters are overtly coded as queer. Monsters are about disrupting the status quo, and I can get behind that. Postwar American horror cinema, including the slasher films of the 1970s and 1980s, is all about interlopers quietly invading small-town America and infecting people. The story behind many of these movies basically boils down to this: Can you even imagine scary things like communism and feminism and civil rights secretly gaining a foothold in our town? (Stephen King goes into fantastic detail about this in his 1981 book Danse Macabre, if you’re curious, and I think the book still reads well and holds up in many ways.)

To me, monsters aren’t scary because I am the monster, which is an uncomfortable set of life experiences to try to talk about in fiction or otherwise. There’s nothing you can specifically put your finger on regarding why people treat you the way they do, but you know there’s something a little off.

Fuck Sigmund Freud and his weird misogyny and homophobia, but I think I’m on the same page with him regarding “the uncanny” as one of the primary components of horror. Freud got a lot of things wrong in his career, but something he gets absolutely right is that it’s difficult to discuss the uncanny in concrete terms.

The uncanny doesn’t just apply to appearance, of course – social interactions and environments can be uncanny as well. If what I’m writing is horror at all, it probably falls into the subcategory of social horror, which focuses on people behaving in a way that’s almost human, but not quite. Many horror stories are cathartic, in that the status quo is threatened but ultimately restored at the end. Even if things have changed, we can feel relief in the knowledge that at least they’re getting back to normal. With social horror, however, our anxiety is never resolved, because we now understand that the status quo itself is horrifying.

It’s difficult for me to talk about the details of my identity and life in a mimetic way. When I’ve tried, it’s been my experience that people either won’t believe me, will think I’m being manipulative in an attempt to elicit undeserved sympathy, or will be put off by the political elements underlying my descriptions of the ways in which I’ve had to move through the world.

The point of the stories in Haunted Houses is not to try to explain why certain aspects of my life have been unsettling, but rather to create a sense of the uncanny in order to communicate the sense of feeling unsettled for reasons you can’t quite explain. Sometimes my stories about haunted houses are about the hidden trauma of being queer in a society that goes out of its way to create monsters; but, in the end, I just really like telling stories about strange people occupying uncomfortable places. I enjoy exploring these themes both as a reader and as a writer, and I’ve found that summoning the courage to open the door and peer into the darkness on the other side is, if not total escapism, still good spooky fun.

And right now, at this specific moment in time, I think we can all relate to the uncanny experience of feeling trapped in a haunted space, because this is our daily life – we live here now.

Cats Will Kill You

I have nothing but the strongest admiration for everyone who shares their living space with one of these little murder machines.

I drew this comic for the Catsploitation 2 zine created and edited by Matthew Ragsdale (@blankvalleyfilm on Instagram). You can get a copy of the zine from Matthew’s store (here).

Legend of Haiku Zine

I’ve been spending a lot of time this past week sitting on my couch and riding out waves of bad feelings (this is the world we live in right now, what can you do) while hunting for Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild. I just finished a second completionist run on the Switch version, and I didn’t want to delete everything and start a new game, so I dug my Wii U out of my closet and picked up where I left off in that version of the game in 2017. Along the way, I’ve been coming up with all sorts of silly haiku, like this:

a star fragment falls
as the lone hero watches
from a mountaintop

Haiku are a lot of fun and relatively stress-free, so I think it might be cool to make a Legend of Zelda-themed haiku zine. I put together a similar project for the class I taught about The Wind Waker in Spring 2019, so I already have the basic format set up and ready to go. If I were doing this by myself, I’d probably write something like 26 haiku and make three small illustrations (along with the cover page, front colophon, and back bio section) for a total of 32 pages (plus another four for the front and back covers). If I did the interior pages in black and white and used the same small format I used for the class zine, it wouldn’t be expensive to print.

I don’t have much of a following on social media, but it might be interesting to open the zine to contributions. I don’t have the time or energy to put together a big project, so this would be a super casual “email me your haiku and I’ll send you a copy of the zine” sort of deal, as well as a no-pressure “post your work whenever and wherever you like” sort of approach. I might also open artist submissions, with the encouragement that anyone of any skill level is welcome to contribute. I’d use Gumroad to host a free digital copy of the zine once it’s finished, and I might use Etsy to open preorders for at-cost physical copies of the zine (to be printed in addition to the contributor copies) if there’s any interest.

I’d post the announcement on October 1 and close submissions on November 30. I’d try to put the zine together a bit at a time so that I could send it to the printer during the first week of December, and I could spend the rest of the month getting everything ready to go before mailing out the physical zines during the first week of January.

If I were going to open submissions, what I’d need to do in advance would be to:

– find and commission a cover artist
– put together an information sheet
– create a graphic to use for the information sheet
– plan a series of three additional images to use for promotion
– create an account on Tumblr
– create an account on Twitter
– create an account on Gmail

And of course I’d have to write my own contributions in advance so that I don’t get stressed out.

I’ll take the rest of the month of August to see how I feel, and then I’ll make a decision in September.

It Never Happened

It Never Happened is my second zine of horror-themed flash fiction. It collects fifteen very short stories, as well as a spooky comic (that you can find here) by the artist Frankiesbugs.

This is the zine description:

This zine collects fifteen short stories about finding oneself in strange circumstances and adjusting to a new normal. Nothing that takes place in these stories actually happened, of course. Most of what transpires is a little creepy, but it’s important to remember that none of this is real. If you read these stories, you might not be real either, but don’t let that stop you.

I love autobio comics, and a lot of these stories came from my failed attempts to write comic scripts. What I realized during this process is that it’s very difficult for me to talk about myself. Although I obviously have no trouble sharing my opinions, I never know what to say when I try to describe my own life. All of the stories in this zine are based on real experiences; but, as the title suggests, none of this ever actually happened.

Or rather, that’s not entirely true. One of these stories is 100% factually accurate, but I’m not going to say which one.

If you’re interested, there are still a few copies of this zine (on Etsy).

My Favorite Things in Ocarina of Time

This is a small zine I made to express my appreciation for some of the more interesting things in Ocarina of Time using graphics and screenshots from the game itself. It’s eight pages long and 4.75″ x 4.75″ (roughly the size of a Nintendo 3DS box).

It took me about four hours spread out over two days to make this zine. On the first day, I spent two hours collecting screenshots and other graphic elements like text boxes and fonts. On the next day, I spent another two hours creating the front and back covers, laying out the pages, and writing the text. My previous zines took weeks to put together, so I wanted to challenge myself to make something short in a limited amount of time.

I also made this zine to have something small to sell for $1.00 at the DC Zinefest this summer. I sold almost all of my copies at the event, and I put the remaining copies in my shop on Etsy. I think it’s probably fair to say that there are a lot of people who love the Legend of Zelda games, and it’s been fun to use this zine as an excuse to meet and talk with other Zelda fans in person and online.

What the experience of making this zine taught me is that it wouldn’t be that difficult to make something like a fake game manual that looks fairly official. What this means is that, at my current Photoshop skill level, I could make something that looks almost exactly like the official game manual for Ocarina of Time but provides “instructions” for an entirely different version of the game. For example, I could make a manual for a game in which Princess Zelda is the protagonist or a game in which it’s the player’s goal to capture and tame various monsters. I could also (very easily) reframe Ocarina of Time as a dating sim. The possibilities are endless, really.

In the future, I think it would be fun to do a similar zine about my favorite things in The Wind Waker. It might be also cool to create a fake Wind Waker game manual written from the perspective of Ganondorf, who wants the hero to stop mucking around and bring him the Triforce already. I’m planning to start work on an actual book about The Wind Waker soon, and making these two zines might be a good way to keep the project exciting and interesting.

Haunted Haiku

Haunted Haiku collects of 147 horror-themed haiku. Some are eerie, some are elegiac, some are homages to cult horror films, and some are just weird.

This zine is fifty pages long and standard half-letter size. This was my first time printing a zine with perfect binding (in which the pages are glued instead of stapled together), and I underestimated how large the interior margins need to be. I’m almost sold out of this zine (although there are still a few copies left on Etsy), but I’m going to change the font size if I ever end up doing a reprint.

The cover art is by the Australian writer, illustrator, and comic artist Sarah Winifred Searle (@swinsea on Twitter). It was an incredible honor to be able to work with her! It was actually Sarah who came up with the title of this zine. I was going to call it “Horror Haiku” (like my other two haiku zines), but Sarah suggested that “Haunted Haiku” might sound nicer. She was right, of course, which is one of the many reasons why it’s always wonderful to collaborate with artists on projects like this.

In any case, this is the first zine I took to be sold at Atomic Books in Baltimore, which is one of my favorite independent bookstores in the world. One of the reasons I love Atomic Books is that their shelves of zines are the first thing you see when you walk in the door, which makes you feel as if you’re stepping into a unique and special space. Anyone can buy books on Amazon, which is why I appreciate when independent bookstores use their physical location as a way to bring an actual community of writers and readers together. Getting an email from Atomic Books saying that they would be interested in receiving a few copies of this zine is definitely one of the coolest things to happen to me this year.

The Legend of Comics

The Legend of Comics is a collection of drawings and short comics I posted on Tumblr between 2014 and 2018. This zine is 32 pages long, standard half-letter size, and filled with my love for the Zelda series.

I sold several dozen copies at the DC Zinefest this summer, and I also took a few copies to my local comic book store, Fantom Comics. I put the remaining copies on Etsy, and they sold out quickly.

This zine was fairly successful, but I don’t think I’ll do another print run. I had little to no idea what I was doing on Photoshop until relatively recently, and my art has evolved significantly since then. The way I drew Ganondorf in particular makes me cringe.

I also had a strange experience on Etsy in which someone bought this zine as a present for their six-year-old child. My understanding of both zine culture and Tumblr culture is such that I never would have expected someone to associate either of those things with the notion of “kid-friendly,” and the parent was (understandably) offended that the zine contains adult humor. I therefore had to put a disclaimer on the Etsy listing that reads “The zine contains two instances of strong language and one mildly risqué allusion to an old internet meme, and it’s probably not suitable for young children.”

This incident helped me realize that presentation and curation are important, even for an amateur fanzine. I think it might also have been good to include captions for some of the comics whose humor is closely tied to my specific corner of Zelda fandom. I printed this zine in February; and, after six months of reflection, there’s a lot I would do differently now. Instead of trying to revise this zine, I’m looking forward to implementing my ideas into a new Legend of Zelda fanzine that I’m planning to publish next January.

Sweaty & Upsetty

Sweaty & Upsetty is a collection of short comics I posted on Tumblr between 2014 and 2018. Some of these comics are about fandom, and some are about anxiety, but most of them are about the experience of being on the internet as a weird little gremlin. There are also a few comics about my Super Mario Bros. headcanon, which is that Bowser and Princess Peach are not-so-secretly dating.

This zine is twenty pages long, standard half-letter size, and professionally printed by Mixam with a velvet-touch cover and full-color glossy interior pages. It was an experiment in formatting artwork for print, so I only made fifty copies to give to friends. I also dropped off a few copies at my local comic book store in Washington DC, Fantom Comics, and I have three last copies that I’m going to leave at Quimby’s Bookstore when I visit Chicago for an academic conference in late October.

My artwork has improved in leaps and bounds since I started sharing it online five years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever reprint this zine, but I’m looking forward to putting together another comics zine early next year!

Ghost Stories

Although I’ve written fanfiction on and off for decades, I got really serious about fandom around November 2014. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of fic since then; and, for the most part, it was a positive and rewarding experience. Although I’m still wrapping up a few ongoing fandom-related projects, I’ve started to think about publishing original fiction.

I published a chapbook called Ghost Stories in November 2018, and it collects thirteen short stories that occupy the space between horror, magical realism, and autobiography. It’s 28 pages long, standard half-letter size, and professionally printed with a velvet-touch cover and glossy interior pages by a service called Mixam. The tagline for the chapbook, which appears on the back cover, is this: These are the stories I tell myself to help make sense of a truth that’s too strange to be believed. Sometimes ghosts are kinder than the living.

The cover artist is Kirsten Brown (@unknownbinaries on Tumblr), who creates absolutely incredible horror-themed art.

I sold my last few copies of this zine at the DC Zinefest in July, but you can read the first story in the collection (here).

We Don’t Live in a Patriarchy

In the spring of 2014, back when people still used Facebook, I came across a post from a male friend who was a grad student at a West Coast school known for its progressive social climate. He had put together a proposal for an event with a female grad student in his department. She sent the proposal to their department chair, who returned it with a brief comment saying that it was unprofessional of her to submit such a shoddy piece of work. My friend and his colleague therefore sat down together and rewrote the proposal. This time he submitted the papaerwork, and the department chair congratulated him and told him that their administrative assistant would be in touch soon to help set up the funding.

When my friend forwarded this response to the female grad student, she pointed out that, lo and behold, he had made a mistake and attached the first draft – the very same one that she had submitted the first time around.

My friend was upset, as he rightly should have been, that such an obvious display of sexism could happen at his Progressive Liberal™ institution. I replied with “I blame the patriarchy” as a comment on his Facebook post and then thanked him via DM for being a good ally and talking about this in a semi-public space.

I didn’t think too much about this exchange until I got a notification that someone had replied to my comment on his post. A white woman around our age, who was a grad student herself, wanted to let me know that she objected to my use of the term “patriarchy.” She threw the Merriam-Webster dictionary at me, saying that, if “patriarchy” is defined as a “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the family,” then we haven’t lived in a patriarchal society for a long time.

I literally saw red when I read that.

Within the space of ten minutes, I had posted more than a dozen responses to her comment, each of which cited and linked to accredited sources of statistics strongly suggesting the male dominance of various political, economic, social, religious, and cultural fields in the United States.

When I came to my senses, I sent a DM to apologize to my friend. He got back to me right away, saying that my responses were important and asking me not to delete anything. I thanked him again and then took a nice long break from the internet.

I was still upset a week later, though, so I copied all of the text from my responses to that comment on Facebook and made a zine that I called “We Don’t Live in a Patriarchy.” Several dozen of my friends (and friends of friends) wrote to ask me for a copy. I also took copies from three print runs to Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago within the span of two months, and I sold out of all the remaining copies almost immediately after I put them on Etsy. I think I probably ended up giving away or selling more than a hundred copies of this zine, which I found surprising, especially given how quickly put together and cheaply made it was.

The world has changed since the spring of 2014, but not as much as you’d expect, and not always in a sane and reasonable way. I’ve considered updating this zine several times, but I always decide against it. The truth is that I dislike being angry. I feel like anger is a tool that no one person can hold for an extended period of time, so it gets passed from one feminist to the next like a baton. I made my angry feminist zine back in spring 2014, and now it’s time for me to step back so that the next group of young people can speak and be heard.