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The Final Girl Support Group

The Final Girl Support GroupThe Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Final girls are having something of a literary resurgence these days, from Daryl Gregory’s WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE (which admittedly also features final boys) and Stephen Graham Jones’ THE LAST FINAL GIRL to Riley Sager’s FINAL GIRLS and now Grady Hendrix’s THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP. Hendrix’s novel takes the concept a step further by making his final girls the bases for alternate takes on the horror movies we all know and love, as well as giving them names that horror fans will enjoy taking the time to decode. That’s half the fun of this fast-moving and involving thriller.

It can be frustrating to follow a protagonist who makes a lot of bad choices, and Lynette Tarkington (whose analog to a real-world horror movie character is an inspired choice) makes a lot of decisions that had me doing the reading version of yelling at the movie screen. Still, she’s a compelling character, damaged physically and emotionally by her experiences, and despite the frustration, I never stopped rooting for her.

When Lynette and her fellow final girls are are all together, this novel sings. Unfortunately, there’s a long stretch in the middle where Lynette is on her own, and though it’s narratively necessary, the story just didn’t feel as alive to me as when they share the page. Still, if my only complaint is that I wanted more time with each of Hendrix’s vibrant, well-drawn characters, I’d say that’s not really much of a complaint.

As with all of Hendrix’s novels, THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP is compulsively readable. Written with his signature blend of horror, humor, and heart, fans of classic slasher movies and fans of well-crafted literary thrillers alike will enjoy pulling up a chair and listening to the group.

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Secret Sphynx Salon – Tuesday, October 11th!

On Tuesday, October 11th, I’ll be reading spooky stories at the Sphynx Salon along with Steven Van Patten, Cara Mast, and Meg Elison!

The location is a secret that will only be revealed to those who RSVP using this form.

The form will ask you to upload a picture of your vaccination card, too.

Hope to see you there!

The Scariest Part: Michael Harris Cohen Talks About EFFECTS VARY

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Michael Harris Cohen, whose debut collection is Effects VaryHere is the publisher’s description:

Effects Vary features 22 stories of dark fiction and literary horror that explore the shadow side of love, loss, and family. From an aging TV star’s murderous plan to rekindle her glory days, to a father who returns from war forever changed, from human lab rats who die again and again, to a farmer who obeys the dreadful commands of the sky, these stories blur the thin line between reality and the darkest reaches of the imagination.

These stories have been previously published in places ranging from The Dark to Conjunctions to various anthologies. Four of the stories have won awards, including one for a contest judged by Mercedes M. Yardley. Two of the stories are new to this collection.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Michael Harris Cohen:

About a dozen years ago, I discovered I was claustrophobic.

Crammed in a tent with my wife and daughter by the Black Sea, I woke up to find our thick air mattress leaking and my face pushed into the nylon wall of the tent. I felt I was suffocating; my heart turned all drum and bass. I scrambled out of the tent and gasped in the night air. Collecting myself, I tried to crawl back in and return to sleep (I’d grown up in a family that camped and tented all the time) but it was impossible. The tent walls closed in on me and, for the rest of the trip, I had to sleep outside in the sand.

Since then, I’ve had a few other dreadful moments of claustrophobia — a low-ceilinged loft bed in NYC, or a too crowded car ride. It’s not a crippling phobia. I have no problem in elevators, for example. But those rare moments when it hits strike deep. Phobias are unlike regular fears. They spike the reptile brain, a jolt of primal terror that transcends logic and equanimity.

Even just the idea of being trapped in a tiny space can do it. Like the end of Sluizer’s The Vanishing (the original, not his terrible Hollywood remake) guts me. Just as the end of Brian Evenson’s “Grottor” does.

In Effects Vary, there are two stories that tapped into this primal fear and scared me most when writing them.

In “The Wishing Box” I imagined what it would feel like to be trapped in an abandoned ice cream freezer, one the MC barely fits into. The small space and lack of air was bad enough to envision, but to top it off I realized my MC would see the sky, the air, as he struggles for his final breaths. It was an awful scene to write which, I hope, makes it effective.

The other story, “He Dies Where I Die,” was written for a cosmic horror anthology about terrors under the earth. I’d read an article about the Zama Zamas (illegal gold miners in South Africa) and that, coupled with my claustrophobia, became the story’s tent poles (no escaping those damn tents, I guess). The MC, following a man who may or may not be human, journeys ever deeper into an abandoned mine, with the tunnel walls closing in tighter and tighter.

The anthology rejected the story, but Sean Wallace and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia at The Dark liked it, though they had reservations. Moreno-Garcia’s note was that it needed a trim because, “Claustrophobia becomes boredom at some point.” I guess I’d leaned too hard into my phobia, obsessing over those humid, narrow tunnels and the thinning air. I cut a thousand words, they accepted it, and it was my first original story with them. Later, Pseudopod accepted it for their podcast and Phil Lunt did a superb job voicing it. That story was scary to write and, even for me, is scary to listen to.

To misquote Robert Frost, no fears in the writer, no fears in the reader.

If you can scare yourself, you’ll hopefully scare your readers. I’m not talking jump scares. I’m talking those moments in a story where your grammar of being goes flimsy, leaving you unmoored and wholly vulnerable. I try and hit that when I’m writing dark fiction or horror. Tapping into my latent phobia did it for those two stories. Different fears drove the other stories in this collection.

Finally, I realized with these stories, along with most of my writing, I do not want to be a MC in one of my tales. Perhaps if there’s a hell writers are dragged to, it’s this: Having to spend eternity in a nightmare of one’s own creation.

I certainly hope not.

Effects Vary: Amazon

Michael Harris Cohen: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Michael Harris Cohen has published stories in Conjunctions, The Dark Magazine, PseudopodApparition Lit. and numerous anthologiesHe’s a recipient of the New Century Writer’s Scholarship from Zoetrope: All-Story, a Fulbright grant for literary translation, and fellowships from the OMI International Arts Center for Writers, Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Djerassi Foundation, The Jentel Artist’s Residency, the Künstlerdorf Schöppingen Foundation, and Hawthornden Castle (forthcoming). He’s won F(r)iction‘s short story contest, judged by Mercedes M. Yardley, The Modern Grimmoire Literary Prize, as well as Mixer Publishing’s Sex, Violence and Satire prize, judged by Stephen Graham Jones. He lives with his wife and daughters in Sofia, Bulgaria and teaches creative writing and literature at the American University in Bulgaria.

The Pallbearers Club

The Pallbearers ClubThe Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Tremblay’s THE PALLBEARERS CLUB is a sublime achievement, a novel in the form of a memoir (drawing partially from the author’s own life) by the pseudonymous Art Barbara, but which also offers us the viewpoint of a second narrator, his friend since high school Mercy Brown, in the form of notes in the margins as well as what those of us in the business would call “editorial letters.” Mercy has a few things to say about the way Art is representing (or misrepresenting) his life to the reader.

Like much of Tremblay’s recent work, this is a character-driven literary novel that dips its toe into the horror genre. You won’t find fast-paced thrills between these pages, but you will find expertly drawn characters and, yes, moments of absolute horror. Tremblay’s authorial voice — sometimes humorous, always earnest — rings authentic throughout, whether it’s Art talking about all the terrible bands he’s been in or Art relaying a night of grueling terror that will stay with him for the rest of his life. Mercy’s frequent use of sarcasm endears the reader to her, even though it’s clear she’s hiding secret wounds.

THE PALLBEARERS CLUB is a vampire story of sorts, although not of the cape and fangs variety. Art becomes more and more convinced that Mercy is secretly feeding off his vitality, and in a way she is, but so is he, because these two are not good for each other (despite Mercy introducing Art to better music than he was listening to previously). It’s refreshing that Art and Mercy’s relationship isn’t romantic but rather one of lifelong friendship. They’re best friends, but they’re also the worst friends. It’s very relatable. We’ve all had people like that in our lives at some point.

Beautifully written and exquisitely, gracefully told, THE PALLBEARERS CLUB is a novel like no other I’ve read. I’ve always been a fan of Tremblay’s work, but this is a next-level achievement. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(Note: Longtime Tremblay fans will enjoy spotting a few clues that THE PALLBEARERS CLUB takes place in the same world as one of his previous horror novels.)

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