Southern Weird

"Pulp Mythology" excerpt from Black Flowers

Okay so this will be the last short story excerpt I post from Black Flowers before it releases in a few days. Hope you enjoy this little sneak peek.

Disclaimer: There are suggestive themes and explicit language.

She sat in the back booth of the diner with an unlit cigarette hanging loosely from her lips and one hand shoved in the pocket of her leather jacket, tightly gripping the snub-nosed .38 revolver as she waited for the woman to show. Her eyes gazed out the window over the wet pavement of the nearly empty parking lot. The waitress eyed her suspiciously as she made her way over.

She knew she must be quite a sight, even aside from the green hair cut into a messy mohawk that partially hung in her eyes and the studded jacket. There was now a puffy black eye and a fat lip to accompany her already attention-grabbing looks.

"Rough night?" asked the waitress as she removed the notepad and pencil from her apron.

She laughed with a lack of enthusiasm. "Yeah, you could say that."

"Now you don't have any intentions of lighting that up in here, do you honey?"

She smiled at the peculiarity of the question, withdrew the cigarette from her lips with her left hand, and placed it behind her ear. All the while never lifting a finger from the gun in her jacket pocket. "No, just knowing it's there will help calm me."

The waitress gave her a wink and a nod, "Well that's quite all right, as long as we have an understanding. Our owner's father who used to smoke two packs a day just died from lung cancer, so he doesn't allow smoking in any of his establishments anymore. Probably an overreaction that's gonna hurt business but hey, I don't make the rules, I just enforce them. So what can I get you tonight?"

"I'll start off with a coffee. Black. I'm waiting for someone."

"One black coffee coming up, sweetheart."

The waitress turned around and got the coffeemaker brewing a fresh pot. She heard the door chime as someone entered and she turned to see a tall, redheaded woman in a form-fitting, green dress with a large purse slung over her shoulder approaching her. Leaf had to admit she was more than a little impressed. The lady was a knockout; she usually didn't go for the prissy-looking bitches, but exceptions could be made now and then.

"Are you Bennie's friend? Miss Cartwright?" asked the redhead.

"That'd be me. Sit your pretty little ass in that booth and we'll have a talk," she said with a smile as she bit her lip ring in a suggestive manner.

Okay, cool it, Leaf. This woman probably intends on killing you before the night is through; she's not interested in going to bed with you.

The redhead set her purse in the booth beside her and got straight to the point. "If you know where Bennie is, tell him that if he returns our property now there will be no repercussions. If he keeps us waiting, though, he is endangering himself and everyone he cares about, including yourself, Miss Cartwright."

"‘Leaf’ is just fine," she said, appearing unaffected by the woman's threats. "So that's your deal, huh? Return your stuff or you're going to kill us? Not even going to butter me up a little bit? I've seen jackhammers with a more subtle touch."

"Well, Miss Cart . . . Leaf, if you prefer," she said with a malicious grin. "We happen to be on a rather tight schedule, so forgive me if I don't have time for common niceties. Your friend Bennie's theft has upset many years of planning for us."

"First of all," Leaf interjected, "I don't know where Bennie is. I'm still trying to find him myself, and second, it might be helpful to know what it is he took. So, when and if I locate him, I'll know what to return to you."

The waitress set a steaming cup of coffee down in front of Leaf and then turned to the redhead. "And what can I get for you, darling?"

"Nothing. I'm fine," said the redhead coldly without making eye contact with the waitress.

"Excuse my friend's manners . . . Debbie, is it?" said Leaf as she glanced at the waitress's name tag. "She's had a really rough night as well. She just had her heart broken by a no-good man."

The waitress perked up. "Isn't that a damn shame?" She slapped her hands down on the table and leaned in close to the redheaded woman. "Some of these men around here just don't know how to treat a lady, do they?"

The redhead sat there quietly without responding, growing more annoyed by the second.

The waitress looked at Leaf and said, "That bastard isn't the one that gave you the shiner there, is it?"

Leaf could hardly contain her amusement. "As a matter of fact, it is."

The waitress pursed her lips angrily and began shaking her head, "I knew it, I just knew it. My friends think I'm crazy but I've always said, 'A man that'll break your heart'll just as soon as break your nose.'"

Leaf couldn't keep from snickering and the waitress eyed her with distrust, now suspecting she was being made fun of. Leaf regained her composure and responded with complete seriousness, "Don't worry, Debbie. I knocked him flat on his ass for it. He'll think twice before putting his hand on either one of us again."

Debbie smiled. "All right, now that's what I like to hear. I—"

"On second thought, I'll have the number two with a side of eggs and some coffee," the redheaded woman blurted out in a desperate attempt to derail the conversation.

"Well, all right, darling. No need to get all excited. Coming right up." The waitress rolled her eyes at Leaf as she wrote down the order on her notepad and sauntered off to the kitchen.

The redhead shot a look at Leaf that was sharp enough to cut diamonds. "May I ask why you did that?"

Leaf shrugged and smirked. "Figured it'd piss you off. Worked, didn't it?"

"I believe you've mistaken me for someone else. I'm not the type of person you want to play games with." Her facial expression was intensely serious and something in her eyes told Leaf she truly might not want to anger this woman . . . .

All right so the countdown is finally coming to an end, Black Flowers will be out this Saturday and hopefully my anxiety doesn’t do me in before that happens!

What is southern weird?: Part II

Okay so in my last blog post I described and gave examples of the southern gothic genre, similarly in this one I will attempt to explain what the genre of weird fiction is in order to demystify what I mean when I describe my upcoming book Black Flowers as “southern weird.”

Firstly, let me begin with a quick description of weird fiction that I will later expand upon. Weird fiction is a somewhat slippery term used for strange, dark stories that blend horror, science fiction, and fantasy together often exploring the limits of humanity’s knowledge or individual encounters with the unknown.

When we left off I mentioned how HBO’s crime anthology series True Detective was a good example of the more grounded, realistic side of the southern gothic with only possible hints of the supernatural. In season one, those hints at the supernatural and occult were actually writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto’s nods to a somewhat obscure work of weird fiction. Fans of the show may remember the cryptic mentions of the “Yellow King” and “Carcosa,” which sent fans off theorizing in a million different directions similar to the show’s two lead detectives, Rust and Marty.

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True Detective ended up having its own explanations for these terms, but in real life these are references to Robert W. Chambers’ book of short stories, The King in Yellow, that was published in 1895. In The King in Yellow the titular character is an ominous, shadowy figure in a play that shares his name and he lives in the kingdom of Carcosa. The reader is only given brief, albeit disturbing, excerpts of the play throughout the book and it is rumored that anyone that reads the entire play will completely lose their mind . . . so pretty creepy if you ask me.

Anyway, The King in Yellow‘s importance to the genre of weird fiction has less to do with its own contents and more to do with who it later influenced, which was a writer by the name of H.P. Lovecraft. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, though not the earliest writer of weird fiction, is by far the most well-known and most closely associated writer with the genre. Lovecraft was one of the first writers to popularize the term “weird fiction” as well as one of the first to define it and explain what made it distinct from the gothic ghost stories of the old days.

The majority of Lovecraft’s stories were first published in the cheap, fiction magazines known as the “pulps,” referencing the poor quality of the paper. Pulp magazines reached their peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s with such titles as Unknown and Weird Tales.

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Weird Tales is the magazine that published the majority of Lovecraft’s fiction and seemed to be the one he connected with the most. Though I have not found this explicitly stated anywhere, I suspect the magazine’s title and content might have played a big part in why Lovecraft referred to his chosen genre as “weird” since it was in the very title of the magazine. In the time period when Weird Tales was first being circulated the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy weren’t clearly defined, distinct classifications as they are today. So in magazines like Weird Tales they were often lumped together and seen as a “lower” art form separate from the “higher,” more respectable art form known as “literary fiction.”

Lovecraft’s extremely influential contributions to weird fiction include a pantheon of ancient extraterrestrial gods known as the Cthulhu Mythos (the most famous being the octopus-faced god Cthulhu) and a pessimistic philosophy known as Cosmic Horror concluding that humanity’s existence and any of its actions are completely inconsequential in a vast and uncaring universe.

Recently many modern-day critics have stated that weird fiction was merely an insufficient placeholder term for the three, now, very different and distinct genres of sci fi, horror, and fantasy. Mostly due to the fact that the publishing industry has been using these terms for decades to classify and sell certain books. Others disagree though, some readers love the thrill of the unexpected and strangeness that comes along with reading a “weird” story and writers of the “weird” enjoy the freedom that comes along with being able to blend various ideas into new forms to create original concepts and stories.

In 2012, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer compiled a collection of 110 stories by various writers spanning over a century of time that was titled The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Many have seen this massive collection as the definitive book of so-called weird writing. On a side-note, some of you may recall the recent film starring Natalie Portman called Annihilation which was based on Jeff VanderMeer’s weird fiction novel of the same name.

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… So this ended up being a bit longer than I had originally planned so I’m glad I decided to split it up into two parts. I hope I did a good job of explaining what southern gothic and weird fiction are so that people can understand where I’m coming from with my own literary-hybrid of “southern weird.” In summary, I take the misfit characters and dark Southern settings of the southern gothic and combine them with all the scientific, fantastic, and horrific ideas of weird fiction.

Okay, so we’re clear as mud, right? Right! See ya next post.

What is southern weird?

All righty, here we go with my first blog post and I know the question everyone is just begging for the answer to is “What do you mean by ‘Welcome to the Weird South’?” and “What is southern weird?”.

…Okay so probably no one was actually asking themselves that question, but I like being nerdy and analytical so bear with me.

Southern weird is my own amalgamation of two previously existing fiction genres (southern gothic and weird fiction) that I feel best describes my book Black Flowers. First, I’m going to describe these two genres and provide some examples of their seminal works, some literary and some not, then tell you how I’ve worked to combine these two genres into something, hopefully, new and unique.

Southern gothic fiction is a subgenre of the larger category of gothic fiction, which I imagine most people are probably somewhat familiar with already. Gothic fiction is the literary genre that later evolved into horror, but was originally far more subtle and populated with mostly upper-class, Victorian folks. The timeless classics Frankenstein, Dracula, and the majority of things written by the goth-father himself Edgar Allan Poe are all good examples of your standard gothic fare.

Southern gothic is similar to those works in atmosphere and darkness of tone, but takes place specifically in the American South. The setting, instead of simply being a backdrop for the stories like in traditional gothic, is essential to the messages, characters, and values discussed in southern gothic works. It is thought that the reason Southern literature took this turn towards the “dark side” was due to its loss of the Civil War. The Civil War left the Southern economy in shambles, since it had formerly rested on the backs of the unpaid workforce of slaves, and many Southerners were dragged kicking and screaming into a new way of life, one where they were forced to face their sins of enslaving their fellow human beings when they should’ve treated them as equals, you know, as originally stated in the Constitution.

Anyways, this new moral territory for many Southerners eventually led to some classic works of literature, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” and “Barn Burning,” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Many southern gothic works dealt with the lingering racism in the South and typically had strange or unusual misfits as their main characters often used as a way to reevaluate what should or could be considered “good” or “normal.”

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Some more modern, non-literary examples of the southern gothic are HBO’s vampire drama True Blood or their crime anthology series True Detective, (especially season one and season three).

While True Blood is a good example of the supernatural side of the southern gothic genre True Detective, and no I don’t know why HBO is prone to naming their stuff True this or True that either, is a good example of the more grounded, realistic side of the genre, only hinting here and there at the possibility of something supernatural occurring.

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True Detective also serves as a good segue into the next part of this explanation of the southern weird, which I will continue in part two next week when I delve into weird fiction . . .