Coming this August: The new novel from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Mr. Suicide, Nicole Cushing.
Award-winning author Noelle Cashman is no stranger to depression and anxiety. In fact, her entire authorial brand, showcased in such titles as The Girl with the Gun in Her Mouth, Leather Noose, and The Breath Curse, has been built on the hopeless phantasmagoric visions she experiences when in the grip of paranoid psychosis. But Noelle has had enough, and, author brand be damned, has found help for her illness in the form of an oblong yellow pill, taken twice daily.
Since starting on this medication, Noelle’s symptoms have gone into remission. She’s taken up jogging. She’s joined a softball team. For the first time in Noelle’s life, she feels hope. She’s even started work on a nonfiction book, a history of her small southern Indiana town.
But then Noelle starts to notice the overwhelming Grayness that dominates her neighborhood, slathered over everything like a thick coat of snot, threatening to assimilate all.
From Bram Stoker Award-winning author Nicole Cushing comes A Sick Gray Laugh, a novel about madness, depression, history, Utopian cults, literature, sports, and all the ways we struggle to stay sane in an insane world.
“Nicole Cushing comes in smart and hard, skilled and strange times three. Many aspire. But you can’t fake this kind of weird.” –John Skipp, author of The Art of Horrible People
“Novels don’t come much more transgressive than this one, folks. Got a taboo? Watch Nicole Cushing grin while she dances all over it. In other hands that might be reason enough for the witty Mr. Suicide to exist. But this is more and better than that — a truly nightmare world, richly imagined, told to us in a canny, subversive second-person voice that makes you, the reader, the hero of this tale, like it or not. That it also manages to be ultimately life-affirming is yet another wonder.” –Jack Ketchum, award-winning author of Off Season and The Girl Next Door
Cover Art by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen Cover Art and Design by Matthew Revert
And you can now read the title story from Livia Llewellyn’s Word Horde collection, Furnace, courtesy of the folks at Weird Fiction Review. Llewellyn’s Shirley Jackson Award-nominated story “Furnace” originally appeared in the Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.-edited Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets. Read it here.
A hearty congratulations to Nicole Cushing, whose Word Horde debut Mr. Suicide was awarded the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel this weekend at StokerCon in Las Vegas. Here’s a photo of Nicole holding her haunted house, courtesy of Rhonda Rettig:
It’s been quite a journey over the year since Mr. Suicide was released, and at times we wondered if Mr. Suicide might be too controversial, too transgressive, for the Stoker Awards. We’re pleased to have been proven wrong in that respect. (You sickos!)
We’d also like to say thanks to a number of people for their roles in bringing Mr. Suicide to you: Nicole Cushing, for writing a book that was impossible to put down; Zach McCain, for that haunting cover; Shannon Page, for copyediting; Sean M. Thompson, for publicity; authors Jack Ketchum, Billy Martin (AKA Poppy Z. Brite), and Ray Garton for reading and blurbing the book; Publishers Weekly, for a review that felt more like a warning; the members of the Horror Writers Association, for voting for Mr. Suicide; and you, the reader, for all you do to support Word Horde authors. We couldn’t do it without you.
Mr. Suicide is available wherever better books are sold. Ask for Mr. Suicide by name at your favorite bookstore!
When the news broke last week that Nicole Cushing had been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in two categories, for her Word Horde debut novel Mr. Suicide and her Cycatrix Press collection The Mirrors, we knew it was time for a new interview. So here’s Sean, talking to Nicole about transgressive horror, awards, writing one of the best books of 2015, and more…
Do you think that works of transgressive horror tend to get less acclaim due to their shocking elements?
It depends on who’s bestowing the accolades.
I think I’ve been given a fair shake by most of the reviewers who’ve chosen to talk about Mr. Suicide. Peter Tennant of Black Static, Frank Michaels Errington at Cemetery Dance, Nick Cato at The Horror Fiction Review, and George Anderson at Ginger Nuts of Horror all mentioned Mr. Suicide on their lists of the best books of 2015.
But sure, there will always be readers, reviewers, editors and critics who will clutch their proverbial pearls when faced with a book like Mr. Suicide. If everyone liked it, then–by definition–it wouldn’t be transgressive.
Do you think Mr. Suicide is too controversial for The Stokers?
There’s no way for me to answer that question impartially. That question is better answered by readers, reviewers, bloggers, and the voting membership of HWA.
I will say this, though. The very fact that the book garnered a nomination is encouraging. I also take heart from the fact that just last year, the HWA bestowed a lifetime achievement award on Jack Ketchum. So this is an organization that’s open to honoring controversial authors.
What do you think the role of genre is in fiction?
Genre labels are there to help readers find writers and vise-versa. And, if that’s how the labels are used, I’m cool with them.They only become a problem when they devolve into dismissive stereotypes.
Do you work slow or fast?
It depends on how we define the terms. On the one hand, I think I’ve managed to be reasonably prolific over the last year or two. On the other hand, I’ll likely never be one of those authors who can routinely write three thousand words a day.
I’m a little too obsessive for that. The words don’t have to sound pretty, but the sentences do (if that makes any sense). I want the sentences to have the right rhythm, and that takes time.
So I’m a tortoise, slow but steady. I usually can get in around 1200-1700 words a day, when things are going well. Towards the end of a project I find I build momentum and might routinely do 2,000 words a day. But sometimes I have to spend time on the business end of the job and I get very little written.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Rituals? No. Habits? Yes.
I’ve taken to writing on my laptop while slumped down in my comfy office chair with my feet propped up on a piece of luggage I use as a makeshift ottoman. I have terrible posture and probably look like a loon, while writing.
What do you hope to achieve with your fiction? What emotions do you want to elicit?
When someone reads one of my books, I want them to experience an altered state of consciousness. I want them to experience a waking nightmare that is both weird and utterly convincing. I obviously want this altered state of consciousness to be temporary and voluntary (the reader can always stop it by putting the book down). But I want the ride to be intense, because my life experiences have been intense and intensity seems more honest than coziness.
I’m a traumatized person. To some degree, an alienated person. I’ve had more than my share of intense emotional ups and downs. All of these facts shape how I look at the world. I suspect that the readers who feel a strong connection with my work are those who can relate to what it’s like to be traumatized, alienated, or intensely emotional. Either they’ve lived a life with similar issues, or they know people who have.
Quiet, subtle horror has its place, but I don’t want to write fiction that’s gentrified or predictable. I like juxtaposing stretches of quiet horror against moments of graphic horror and moments of graphic horror against moments of absurdity. I feel a novel is a large canvas, so there’s room for all of these approaches.
In that way, a horror novel can be a bit like a symphony. If you listen to a Shostakovich symphony, for example, you hear that his work isn’t all loud, or all quiet. He juxtaposes stretches of quiet, introspective strings against blasts of monstrous horns and the throbbing of monstrous drums. (A perfect example of this is the final six minutes of the Fourth.) I dedicated Mr. Suicide to another Russian composer, Alfred Schnittke, who possibly went even further than Shostakovich in advancing a so-called “polystylistic” approach. As ridiculous as it may sound to those who think transgressive horror is for boors, Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 was an inspiration for the polystylism of Mr. Suicide.
Got any pluggy-wugs?
Four, but I’ll make them quick.
First, I want to encourage readers to check out my Youtube channel. I’ve recently started a series of brief (five minute long) videos called Forgotten Lore. Each week I discuss an unjustly-forgotten work of dark fiction from an author who is no longer with us. It’s a labor of love and I’m having a lot of fun with it.
Second, I want to mention that my short story collection, The Mirrors (Cycatrix Press), was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. It’s available at Amazon, directly through Cycatrix Press, and at a couple brick and mortar bookstores.
Third, I want to share the news that my next book, The Sadist’s Bible, will be coming out in April from 01 Publishing. You can pre-order from Amazon now.This is a novella weighing in at about 30,000 words. Readers who enjoyed Mr. Suicide will probably dig this one, as well.
And speaking of Mr. Suicide, I should mention that–to celebrate the Bram Stoker Award nomination–Word Horde is taking two bucks off the price of the Kindle edition. It was $4.99 and is now $2.99. It also appears (as I write this) that Amazon has taken ten percent off the price of the paperback So if you’ve been on the fence about buying it, now’s a good time to go ahead.
One week from today is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday which we celebrate by gathering together, sharing food, and saying thanks. This year, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, because you’ve helped Word Horde succeed in its most ambitious year yet. We published five books this year: Molly Tanzer’s weird western, Vermilion; Nicole Cushing’s ultra-dark delve, Mr. Suicide; Orrin Grey’s captivating collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and the anthologies Giallo Fantastique and Cthulhu Fhtagn! So, to celebrate this success, and to give back, I’ve decided it’s time for The Return of #FeedCthulhu.
In 2011, when my first anthology, The Book of Cthulhu, was published, I challenged readers to make a donation to a local food charity, and to share news of that donation on Twitter, using the hashtag #FeedCthulhu. That year, we raised several hundred dollars in pledges across the country to local food banks and homeless shelters. In 2012, to accompany the publication of The Book of Cthulhu 2, we repeated the challenge, raising over a thousand dollars worth of pledges.
Thanksgiving may be the time to celebrate our prosperity and providence, but people still go hungry. And hunger sucks. So once again I’d like to challenge you to make a difference, by making a donation–no matter how small–to a food charity. This can be a local food bank, church, temple, mosque, coven, bin outside your grocery store, or national (or international) hunger relief organization. The organization doesn’t matter, so long as they’re feeding people. Once you do that, post the following on social media:
I fed Cthulhu [your donation] to [organization] #FeedCthulhu @lossrockhart
Don’t forget to include the hashtag (#FeedCthulhu) and my Twitter handle (@lossrockhart) so that I can see–and share–your post. Also, if you send a link to your post via email to publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com, in return for your generosity, I’ll send you the ebook of my latest anthology, Cthulhu Fhtagn!. Just let me know if you’d prefer ePub, mobi, or PDF format. I’ll be checking social media for the hashtag, and on December 1, I’ll be selecting three random posters, who will receive a personalized autographed copy of Cthulhu Fhtagn!
“Pie is my favourite dessert, and blueberry (for summer) and mince (for winter) are my preferred kinds—with apple as a good all-year-round third. Like to take vanilla ice cream with apple and blueberry pie.” –H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard (7 November 1932)
And for dessert, I’d also like to say thanks to you by making you a special offer. Place an order with Word Horde between now and the end of November, use the coupon code THANKS, and take 20% off your purchase. It’s our way of saying “Thank you!” for a great year, and encouraging you to give Word Horde books to your cool friends this holiday season.
Earlier this week, Sean M. Thompson sat down with Mr. Suicide author Nicole Cushing, to ask her a few questions. Here’s what Nicole had to say:
What made you want to join with Ross and the Word Horde?
Finding a publisher who is a good fit for you is somewhat analogous to dating: once you’ve been doing it awhile you know what you like, what you need, and what you should run from.
Ross is excited about books that take chances and don’t necessarily follow the conventions of the tentpole projects released by corporate publishing. So, artistically, we’re on the same wavelength.
At the same time, he struck me as someone who knew the business end of things pretty well and was committed to helping offbeat books maximize their audience. (That impression is, if anything, only reinforced by the work I’ve done with him since signing on.)
So, what’s not to love?
What do you feel the role of genre is in fiction?
Genre labels can help readers find books they may end up loving. They also help writers find publishers (and vice versa).
I know some people find genre labels to be limiting or even counterproductive, but I think genre (and subgenre) labels give us a helpful shorthand method of describing various types of fiction and the communities that love them.
Why is transgressive literature necessary?
Because it’s the only tool that can accurately communicate the emotional core of certain extreme experiences. In my opinion, conventional literary approaches fail when they attempt to depict trauma, poverty, addiction, underground subcultures, homelessness, violence, and certain varieties of mental illness.
At best, they can only get to the periphery of such experiences. Not the core. And so, they let down readers (particularly the readers who have lived through such extreme experiences and know their emotional textures). People who have lived through the worst that life can dish out deserve fiction that tells the truth about how the world (at its absolute worst) really works. So do people who haven’t lived through such experiences, but have curiosity about them.
Increasingly, American culture feels a need for all art to be created according to the polite, considerate, and safe dictates of the superego. But I suspect the best works of dark fiction come from the id.
The short answer is…life. Mr. Suicide is a warped, funhouse mirror depiction of how I (and some of my classmates) grew up.
The main character is a composite. Some aspects of him are autobiographical, some are drawn from my memories of troubled family members, but others (including some of his most disturbing facets) come from a boy I knew in high school who said outrageous things that–even after all these years–I can’t forget.
It’s like I had a blister on my brain for the last twenty-five years. Mr. Suicide was one of the ways in which I lanced it.
I also should acknowledge the influence of a brief talk given by Jack Ketchum called “Writing from the Wound”. (You can find it on YouTube or in the archives of the Odyssey Writing Workshop podcast.) After listening to Jack’s talk, I felt I had no choice but to “go there”.
What are some of your favorite transgressive novels?
Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr., The Maimed by Hermann Ungar, Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite, The Folks (a novella) by Ray Garton, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (a story collection) by Tadeusz Borowski, Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, and Excrement (a memoir) by Crad Kilodney.
What have you been working on lately?
I’ve been working on the last bit of polishing of my story collection The Mirrors (in preparation for its impending, official release). I’ve sold a novella called The Sadist’s Bible (which I can’t say much about, until the contract is signed). Speaking of contracts, I just signed one with Dark Regions Press to provide a novella (as yet untitled) for their forthcoming anthology I Am the Abyss.
I continue to write nonfiction articles for the UK-based horror film magazine Scream.
Also, I’m working on a novel tentatively called Knife & Wound and I’ll be contributing short stories to a number of anthologies in the coming months.
It’s a full plate, but I’m excited and grateful to have so much work.
What scares you?
I have the same fears everyone else does. I pride myself on my ability to look my own mortality in the eye (without resorting to belief in an afterlife). But the truth is I’m just as scared of dying as anyone else. I’m also scared of the inevitable death of my loved ones. I’m not crazy about heights. Hell, I’m even scared of the possibility that one day I’ll face financial struggle again.
Nothing too noteworthy, there.
But I do have my oddball (perhaps irrational) fears, too. For example, I’m scared of the U.S. falling into an economic or political crisis during my lifetime. I also have a variety of strange, entirely irrational, idiosyncratic anxieties that have sometimes made my life a bit difficult. And I’m scared of things no self-respecting horror author should admit they’re scared of. My hubbie and I once had a skink in our basement that scared the shit out of me. Loud, sudden noises have sometimes gotten to me, too.
I hate to admit these things. It makes me sound like such a wimp. It makes it sound like I can dish out fear but I can’t take it. So I’ll finish this interview by talking about something that highlights my status as a badass. I’m not afraid to be rude to door-to-door salesmen, religious proselytizers, or politicians. I once told a group of political canvassers who defied the “no soliciting” sign on my door that I would make sure to vote against their candidate simply because they bugged me. (I wouldn’t really vote on that basis, but it was worth saying it just to see the expression on their faces!)
Thousands of them, warriors covered in the blood of fallen subjects, their axes stained crimson from predicates who never knew it was to be their end.
“Sean, this is not just any group of warriors you’re teaming up with, this is the Word Horde!”
Their swords are terrible in the light of a scalding sun, gleaming with the ferocity of verbs, nouns, and adjectives ready for a fight. I too am ready to do battle; to sacrifice my body, (mostly my fingers and hands) to the cause.
“I will join the Word Horde!” I scream, and the din around me is terrifying, but it certainly gets my adrenaline pumping.
The drums thunder with the promise of hand-to-hand combat, page after page of it.
We charge, individuals made strong by a common goal. To whoop these readers upside the head, and go in for the kill. To shake those in search of literary entertainment to the core. None of them have any idea what’s in store, but oh let me tell you, we got a fever inside us. Inside of me, my ancestors are high off wode, and the thrill of Valhalla, cheering in unison.
Lightning cracks the sky, scorching the horizon, and a storm begins in an instant. I grit my teeth, get ready for it. The smile on my face would set a clunky paragraph to crying. Rain soaks the land, and a qualifier falls beside me: I grab his mace. A terrible spiked metal ball attached to a wooden handle: I slam it into the spine of an adverb as it advances upon me, shrieking onomatopoeic obscenities.
“Great job Sean, I like what you’re doing here!” Ross says, and he’s in a terrifyingly scant amount of armor, his hair underneath a horned helmet.
“I didn’t see you, brother,” I say, knocking a weak noun off of its feet, ducking as one of my Horde looses an arrow, which slams home into the heart of a particularly poor word choice.
“I’ve been here since the beginning!” Ross shouts, and the slash of his mighty golden editor’s sword is a thing to behold.
A beast of war barks by my feet. I see it’s none other than Elinor Phantom, the terrifying battle hound out for blood with our Word Horde. May the gods help whoever crosses her path of vicious bloodthirsty hunger.
“How many words did you want me to kill?” I shout over to he of the Locked Heart, and he shouts back “as many as seems appropriate,” before he slices another poor word choice down the middle with his powerful blade.
“FOR THE WORD HORDE!” I scream, and lose myself in the chaos of battle, a berserker in a frenzy.
This battle is just beginning, friends. We need warriors to join up with the Word Horde. Can we count you among our number? Do you long to slay boring sentences in the moonlight? Do you worship the Gods of Story, and plot, and Character? Understand, once you join, you must dedicate your energy to the Word Horde. The only way out of this is in a hole in the dirt.
“And ALSO?!” she bellows in a timbre I didn’t think such a small creature could emit.
“Oh, and Livia Llewellyn’s collection Furnace in 2016!”
Before I know it, the Word Horde is alone, our foes seem to have retreated, for the moment. Seeing their comrades rendered into so much spilled ink seems to have put the necessary fear into them they should have had from the start.
“Not bad for a first battle,” Ross says, and puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Do you always wear so little armor?” I ask he of the curly man-mane.
“What do you mean ‘so little’? This is a lot of armor for me. Normally I have on way less.”
The adrenaline of the battle having died down, I start to seriously question my decision to become social media manager for Word Horde.
Remember when horror fiction actually felt transgressive? Like it was something dangerous, something that had the potential do damage. A sort of literary hand grenade, pin pulled, primed and ready to go off. And in exploding, maybe change the world. I do. Once upon a time, horror was ripe with a sense of palpable risk. I felt that sense of danger the first time I read Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, and in Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, and in Ray Garton’s Live Girls. I’ve felt it in King and Keene and Barker and Kiernan. Lately, however, too much horror plays it safe. Warmed-over tropes and familiar monsters. Stories without any real sense of risk, or danger, or transgression. It’s enough to make the genre feel almost… cozy.
It’s about time someone take you out of your comfort zone. It’s about time someone publishes a horror novel that actually aims to horrify. Which is why I’ve come to you today, to tell you about the debut novel from Nicole Cushing, Mr. Suicide, which Word Horde releases today.
Audaciously written in the second person, Mr. Suicide puts you in the driver’s seat as an abused young man is pushed to the breaking point. And Nicole Cushing is the perfect storyteller for this unrelentingly transgressive tale, as evidenced by her 2013 Shirley Jackson Award nomination for her novella Children of No One. Here are just a few of the raves (and warnings) Mr. Suicide has received so far:
“…a work of brutal and extreme horror… disturbingly graphic content…” —Publishers Weekly
“This tale of a damaged and murderous child is the most original horror novel I’ve read in years. Cushing’s prose is rapidfire, grisly, and passionate.” —Poppy Z. Brite, author of Exquisite Corpse and Lost Souls
“Novels don’t come much more transgressive than this one, folks. Got a taboo? Watch Nicole Cushing grin while she dances all over it. In other hands that might be reason enough for the witty Mr. Suicide to exist. But this is more and better than that—a truly nightmare world, richly imagined, told to us in a canny, subversive second-person voice that makes you, the reader, the hero of this tale, like it or not. That it also manages to be ultimately life-affirming is yet another wonder.” —Jack Ketchum, award-winning author of Off Season and The Girl Next Door
“Nicole Cushing uses her sharp and confident prose like a surgical instrument to dissect both her characters and our emotions. Mr. Suicide is horrifying and harrowing, but just as much for the emotional devastation it causes in the reader as for the violence and depravity—as well as the twisted humor—it portrays. This is horror fiction that leaves marks.” —Ray Garton, author of Live Girls and Sex and Violence in Hollywood
Like everyone else in the world, you’ve wanted to do things people say you shouldn’t do.
How many times in your life have you wanted to slap someone? Really, literally strike them? You can’t even begin to count the times. Hundreds. Thousands. You’re not exaggerating. You’re not engaging in… whatchamacallit? Hyperbole? You’re not engaging in hyperbole.
Maybe the impulse flashed through your brain for only a moment, like lightning, when someone tried to skip ahead of you in line at the cafeteria. Hell, at more than one point in your life you’ve wanted to kill someone; really, literally kill someone. That’s not just an expression. Not hyperbole. Then it was gone and replaced by the civilized thought: You can’t do that. Not out in public.
One of the most influential and transgressive horror writers of the last few decades has high acclaim for Nicole Cushing’s forthcoming Word Horde debut, Mr. Suicide:
“This tale of a damaged and murderous child is the most original horror novel I’ve read in years. Cushing’s prose is rapid-fire, grisly, and passionate.” –Poppy Z. Brite, author of Exquisite Corpse and Lost Souls
Two brand-new bits of Word Horde news for you this Monday:
The Horror Fiction Review‘s Christine Morgan previews Giallo Fantastique this week, calling the anthology “a lavish, sumptuous tapestry of luxurious surrealism and strangeness,” and singling out the stories by Garrett Cook, Nikki Guerlain, and MP Johnson as personal favorites. Giallo Fantastique will be published May 15, 2015, and may be pre-ordered here.
And esteemed author, editor, and filmmaker John Skipp weighs in on Nicole Cushing, author of the forthcoming debut novel Mr. Suicide, saying, “Nicole Cushing comes in smart and hard, skilled and strange times three. Many aspire. But you can’t fake this kind of weird.” Mr. Suicide will be published July 15, 2015, and may be pre-ordered here.