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My Best Friend’s Exorcism

My Best Friend's ExorcismMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this novel! It’s frightening and suspenseful, but also funny, charming, and at times delightful. Grady Hendrix writes teenage girls so convincingly I can only assume he was one in a previous life. At the heart of MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM is Abby and Gretchen’s friendship, with all its ups and downs, frustrations and challenges, moments of deep connection and moments of supernatural terror, and because Hendrix portrays that friendship so realistically in its complexity, it keeps you invested throughout. The exorcism itself, when it comes, is both hilarious and profoundly emotional, and the end of the novel is beautiful. I can’t recommend it enough!

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The Scariest Part: Elizabeth Hirst Talks About THE FACE IN THE MARSH

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Elizabeth Hirst, whose new novel is The Face in the MarshHere is the publisher’s description:

Kenzie is twenty-five, with two degrees and no job prospects. When her parents offer her a job curating their museum, Ettenby’s Log Palace, she accepts out of desperation, despite their history of family conflict. She arrives praying that her secrets will stay buried, and her hard-won mental health won’t relapse. Once at the Log Palace, Kenzie is fascinated by an unsettling collection of junk dolls found on the property. As she follows the thread left by the collection, she discovers a history of poltergeist activity, witchcraft and death on the small island housing the museum.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Elizabeth Hirst:

The Face in the Marsh started as a vivid nightmare, the kind that causes you to jolt awake in the middle of the night, heart racing, veins filled with pure lightning. I tell this story a lot when I’m at conventions, recounting how I saw and felt the museum, the staring of the carvings, the decaying little people made of pieces of discarded junk that crawl around under the surface of a still, lily-covered marsh. In my nightmare, I was there, living my main character Kenzie’s most terrifying moments. And yet, that wasn’t the scariest part.

Even in those early stages, I knew that the museum collection menacing Kenzie, the shack across the river, and the strange way that Kenzie could pop through reality like a cut in a film were only symptoms of something larger. Even in the nightmare, the carvings and the little mechanical people had only scared me because I knew there was something behind them, something animating them that was vast and empty and hungry.  That emptiness is mirrored in Kenzie herself, and for a long time, it lived in me.

Like Kenzie, I am bisexual. I grew up in a rural area where even the offbeat straight kids had a hard time getting along, and where nobody understood people like me. When I realized my own sexual orientation, I searched for years for somebody, anybody that could act as a positive role model, who could show me that I could grow up to be the successful person that I always wanted to be. I found only criticism and misconceptions from the people that were supposed to look out for me.

Feeling like my only choice was to forget about being bi or to face a bleak future, I tried my hardest to forget. Doing so came with a price, and that price was a facelessness that dogged me in all aspects of my life. ‘Just be yourself’ was the cruellest and most confusing thing that anyone could say to me during that time of my life. They might as well have been saying, ‘Just step in front of that firing squad. You’ll be fine. They’ll love you.’ Deep down, I knew who I was, and I was thoroughly convinced that I was a monster. But I summoned my own monster, just as Kenzie did, and as I think we all do in different aspects of our lives.

The scariest part is that there is a monster out there that distorts our features until we can’t see our own face in the mirror. It slowly alienates us from everyone we love, until the bonds are so eroded that all we feel is emptiness. It isolates us from human emotion, as if we are trapped behind glass that no one else can see. It leeches away our sense of self-worth until we are just a hunk of colourless goo that might as well be anything else, some water or a goose or a few pieces of junk that rattle around at night. That monster is real, and it steals faces every day.

I tend to write stories from start to finish with characters and themes in place but no clear idea of what the end will be. I dive into the mystery in the same way that readers will, and much of the tension in my writing is derived from the fact that when I was writing it, I also did not know what would happen. I did not know if Kenzie would kill her parents or save them. I did not know if she would conquer the faceless void or surrender to it. Writing this book meant stepping out in front of that firing squad not knowing if the guns were loaded. It meant staring into the faceless void that destroys so many queer people, wading through it and finding out what happens.

Did I come out on the other side? You’ll only know if you read the book.

Sweet dreams.

The Face in the Marsh: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Chapters Indigo

Elizabeth Hirst: Website / Twitter

Elizabeth Hirst has loved fantastic fiction since her father read her The Lord of the Rings and other classics as a young girl. She has worked as an animator, online game writer and founder of her own small publishing label, and during that time, representing the people, places and culture of Ontario has remained close to her heart. Find her at the beach, the museum, or watching cartoons with her husband Robin.

The Scariest Part: Tracy Townsend Talks About THE FALL

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back author Tracy Townsend, whose new novel is The Fall. Here is the publisher’s description:

An apothecary clerk and her ex-mercenary allies travel across the world to discover a computing engine that leads to secrets she wasn’t meant to know — secrets that could destroy humanity.

Eight months ago, Rowena Downshire was a half-starved black market courier darting through the shadows of Corma’s underside. Today, she’s a (mostly) respectable clerk in the Alchemist’s infamous apothecary shop, the Stone Scales, and certainly the last girl one would think qualified to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders a second time. Looks can be deceiving.

When Anselm Meteron and the Alchemist receive an invitation to an old acquaintance’s ball — the Greatduke who financed their final, disastrous mercenary mission fourteen years earlier — they’re expecting blackmail, graft, or veiled threats related to the plot to steal the secrets of the Creator’s Grand Experiment. They aren’t expecting a job offer they can’t refuse or a trip halfway across the world to rendezvous with the scholar whose research threw their lives into tumult: the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers.

Escorting Chalmers to the Grand Library of Nippon with her mismatched mercenary family is just a grand adventure to Rowena until she discovers a powerful algebraic engine called the Aggregator. The Aggregator leads Rowena to questions about the Grand Experiment she was never meant to ask and answers she cannot be allowed to possess. With her reunited friends, Rowena must find a way to use the truths hidden in the Grand Library to disarm those who would hunt down the nine subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, threatening to close the book on this world.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Tracy Townsend:

I’ve always been a little bored by Tolkien’s Ents. Don’t get me wrong. They have qualities that interest me: their vastness of size and mind, their sense of elevation beyond human concerns, their physical prowess. But their disinterest in the world beyond their forest, their stubborn slowness, their refusal to act until pushed, hardly inspire my imagination. In their cool nobility and remove, they are merely reactive characters.

The last time I was here using Nick’s space to talk about the scariest part of my novels, I wrote about creating monsters — the aigamuxa, nightmarish ogres with eyeballs in their feet — that are villainous and dangerous while still being sympathetic in The Nine. Active creatures. Advocates for themselves and the wrongs they have endured. As terrifying a threat as they posed, they are as “human” as the actual homo sapiens they live among. Now, with my sequel The Fall, I look at my world’s other sentient race, the lanyani, with a different sense of fear.

The lanyani are my answer to the Ents. They are not the noble guardians of the forest. They are the grasping, starving, furious remnants of a wilderness that used to be: the weeds growing up through the cracks in humanity’s world.

What do you do when something that doesn’t breathe air, that doesn’t bleed, that doesn’t have organs to pierce or bones to break, decides it wants to go to war with you? What can you do against beings that looks at your flesh and blood and think of it as nitrogen and phosphates they will use to enrich their growing empire’s soil? How do you negotiate with a thinking, planning, organized species that sees cleansing the world of human grime as the only rational solution for its own survival?

You can’t. You don’t. Because you’re dealing with aliens.

“Alien” tends to be a word we reserve for use in science fiction, not a fantasy series like mine, but it’s the word that fits the lanyani best. It derives from the Latin “alienus” — “belonging to another.” The lanyani belong to a world where flesh is weakness, something that can’t be grown through sheer will, shaped and planed, shed and reformed, hardened and thickened as the fiber of their arboreal bodies can be. They can tunnel through the earth, turn their bodies into weapons, survive crushing blows and severed limbs, split themselves to reproduce, and lie dormant long past the point we would imagine them dead. These creatures belong to an entirely different biology, and with it, an entirely different way of seeing the world.

And they’ve decided they don’t need us. Not anymore. The lanyani have learned to use our world, because nature rewards opportunists. They are thieves and fences, drug dealers, con artists, and mercenaries. So what if it is dirty work? They were born in the dirt. It’s where they thrive. And they know that if only they can claim enough of that soil for themselves, they’ll choke out humanity like a thicket full of kudzu. We might beg for their lenience, but it would make no difference.

Nature isn’t big on the concept of mercy.

The scariest part of The Fall is up to each individual reader to decide, of course. That’s the beauty of books. But for me, the story’s deepest terror lies in the fact that this time, the danger humanity faces doesn’t need our empathy or demand an equal place in our society. It doesn’t want to redress issues of social justice, or punish the wealthy and wicked for making slaves of its kind. It doesn’t even want an apology.

It wants to pull us up by our roots.

The Fall: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Audible

Tracy Townsend: Website / Twitter

Tracy Townsend is the author of The Nine and The Fall (books 1 and 2 in the Thieves of Fate series), a monthly columnist for the feminist sf magazine Luna Station Quarterly, and an essayist for Uncanny Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the former chair of the English department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband.

Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path

Rat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal PathRat Queens, Vol. 6: The Infernal Path by Kurtis J. Wiebe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE INFERNAL PATH is very welcome return to form after a confusing vol. 4 and a disappointing vol. 5! Our foul-mouthed adventurers are back with an all-new mission to save their old adventuring chum Sadie’s kingdom from an army of orcs under the sway of the truly disgusting “fleshers.” Sadie is a great addition to the team, even if only a temporary one for this arc, and her blatant flirtations with both Orc Dave and Hannah are hilarious — especially considering Sadie has been transformed into an owl.

The loose threads of the previous storyline are still present. Dee remains concerned about the aftermath of waking the god N’rygoth, while Hannah, Violet, and Betty are worried that the evil, alternate version of Hannah is still out there causing trouble, which makes THE INFERNAL PATH more of a transitional story than part of the major arc. Still, it’s pretty great. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing is as sharp as ever. I’m getting more used to Owen Gieni’s art, but there were still a few panels where I couldn’t quite tell what was happening.

This volume also includes the “Neon Static Special,” a one-off cyberpunk adventure with an alternate version of the Rat Queens in a futuristic setting, but it’s not all that great and doesn’t bring anything special to the table. The Rat Queens work much better in their natural D&D-on-crack setting. I’m looking forward to the next volume!

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