Drawn Up from Deep Places: A Diverse, Cohesive Collection of Genre Tales

It is fascinating to assess Gemma Files’ Drawn Up from Deep Places as a collection, because the book’s construction is so uniquely connective. That is, rather than reading as an assortment of individual, isolated pieces, Drawn Up from Deep Places registers as a carefully designed, cumulative whole, comprised of two re-emerging fictional sequences woven among several standalone stories. With this text, Files displays extraordinary thoughtfulness and craft, both in conceptual and formal terms.

The collection begins with the vivid, haunting “Villa Locusta,” which situates us in an apocalyptic environment laden with mythological and religious imagery. Files further demonstrates her penchant for religious allusion with “Sown from Salt” and its companion story, “A Feast for Dust”: this duo recalls Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, injecting a somber Western narrative with Biblical and supernatural reflections.

The bulk of the collection is devoted to another ambitious, genre-crossing series of interconnected tales. These pieces (“Trap-Weed,” “Two Captains,” the title story, and the final novelette, “The Salt Wedding”) revolve around a toxic, queer, and (sometimes dangerously) magic pirate romance aboard a ship named the Bitch of Hell.

There is also a queer horror-Western populated with demonic zombies (“Satan’s Jewel Crown”), a dark, culturally-specific love story with supernatural threads (“Hell Friend”), and an assembly of screenplay-formatted tableaus set around Jack the Ripper (“Jack-Knife,” definitely my favorite). With “Jack-Knife,” Files draws adeptly on her cinephilia and film criticism background, designing a narrative that reads both thrillingly as prose fiction and convincingly as visual text.

Drawn Up from Deep Places showcases a highly talented writer who inhabits rich genre histories and always manages to reconfigure those traditions in unusual, interesting ways. Files demonstrates stunning formal dexterity here, and a total command of voice (I am in awe of the sheer range of approaches here). This is a collection meant to be consumed as a whole, carefully designed and artfully executed. Highly recommended to adventurous readers of genre fiction.

Dark Updates (for Better and Worse): Darkest Hours & Shelter for the Damned

It seems only yesterday that I unleashed my debut short story collection Darkest Hours on the world. November 10, 2020 will mark its three-year anniversary, and the end of its print run with Unnerving. So far, the book has been thriving thanks to support and enthusiasm from readers, reviewers, and horror enthusiasts from all dark corners. I fully intend to find it an excellent new home, and I will provide updates as they come!

Having said that, if you want to pick up a copy of Darkest Hours, now is absolutely the time. Order from Amazon or Barnes & Noble before it vanishes (for now…).

In other news, my debut novel Shelter for the Damned is scheduled for release with JournalStone on February 26, 2021. I have a lot of exciting updates related to that project, but I’m going to have to sit on those for the time being.

Here’s the synopsis:

While looking for a secret place to smoke cigarettes with his two best friends, troubled teenager Mark discovers a mysterious shack in a suburban field. Alienated from his parents and peers, Mark finds within the shack an escape greater than anything he has ever experienced.

But it isn’t long before the place begins revealing its strange, powerful sentience. And it wants something in exchange for the shelter it provides. 

Stay spooky, my friends! More updates soon…

The Weird Delights of Daniel Braum’s Underworld Dreams

Cover Reveal: Underworld Dreams by Daniel Braum – Ink Heist
Lethe Press, 2020

Daniel Braum’s new short story collection Underworld Dreams comes equipped with a Story Notes section; within these Notes, the author provides thoughtful reflections on his creative process, narrative intentions, and philosophical interests, among other things. Most prominently, Braum stresses his persisting interest in the ambiguous space between the psychological and the supernatural. Braum’s fiction inhabits this space and engages with the Weird tradition to depict our reality as innately interstitial, slippery, and impervious to “mastery.” By extension, Underworld Dreams repeatedly encourages us to scrutinize the artificial gap between human and nonhuman animals, between subject and world.

This coy, quiet, and unassuming challenge to human exceptionalism resonates throughout. The first story, “How to Stay Afloat When Drowning,” features a disturbing centerpiece in which a group of people brutally torture a shark; later, the story uses its psychological-supernatural ambiguity to blur the distinction between shark and human. “The Monkey Coat” lends attention to the suffering bound up in its titular object (the origin of whose horrors remain unknown).

Braum does not employ this symbolism to bluntly didactic ends; rather, he assesses the artificial divide between human and nonhuman animal to underline broader investigations about the human subject’s relation to the world. For example, the title story sees characters discussing acts of infidelity and dishonesty as reflections of their “monkey in the jungle” selves.

Braum cites Algernon Blackwood’s classic Weird novella The Willows in his Story Notes, and the imprint is visible: Underworld Dreams repeatedly sees its characters encountering eerily numinous spaces and reality-fissures in environments that have evaded global industrialism. Braum finds lots of potential for the ineffable in “natural” spaces, demonstrating a knack for imagery and atmosphere.

There are horrifying moments here (perhaps most notably in the aforementioned “Monkey Coat,” reportedly inspired by advice Braum got from the legendary Jack Ketchum), but this book mostly occupies Weird Fiction’s less macabre terrain. China Melville writes that the “obsession with numinosity under the everyday is at the heart of Weird Fiction,” and this is the obsession that most clearly characterizes Underworld Dreams. For readers seeking fiction with a strong narrative engine and a bold commitment to the unknown, this collection is one to seek out.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑