I love weird books. The kind that you never forget because they do things that other books are afraid to do. So here’s a list of some you should check out if you, too, love stuff that’s effed up.
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
This book became one of my favorites after one reading. It’s a post-war dystopian in a fairy world where the fairies are all disaster bisexual sex workers subjugated by the trolls. Also, you don’t die, your body parts are still sentient. Also, it’s being written while you’re reading it and sometimes the narrator makes cross-outs or rewrites parts of it. It’s like a postmodern effed up fairy tale and I’m here for it. / YA fantasy/dystopian
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Do you want to feel really mixed feelings? Somehow this book about a brother-sister incestuous relationship got published. Yeah, I don’t know how either. But it’s a lovely, confusing book that makes you almost root for the couple until you keep remembering, NO THIS IS WRONG STOP BRAIN WHAT. Definitely pushes boundaries and makes you think. / YA contemporary
Brother by Ania Ahlborn
This one is exceptionally effed up and it’s meant to be because it’s horror. The main character lives with his adoptive family in the woods and every so often they kidnap, torture, and kill young women. Except the main character isn’t a huge fan of this and kind of falls for one of the victims. Yeah, it’s got upsetting written all over it. / Adult horror
Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke
This one’s a shortie and it’s perfect if you want a fast, creepy as f*ck read. A man grapples with his infant child’s death and becomes stalked by the child’s baby blanket. Which was buried with the child. Yep, I said it. / Adult horror (short story)
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson
In this twisted horror, a man and his son keep dozens of girls prisoner in a secret garden at their mansion. Each girl is given tattooed butterfly wings and a new name, but one girl clings to her identity. It’s told in flashbacks and it’ll give you chills. Not for weak stomachs. / Adult thriller
The Last Time I Died by Joe Nelms
A truly effed up premise, not for the faint of heart. MAJOR content warning for suicide because this is all about a man seeking out near-death experiences in order to remember his past, which includes his witnessing his father kill his mother. Mashed in there is a beautiful portrayal of how toxic masculinity prevents men from seeking help in healthy ways. / Adult literary fiction
Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald
This is such a strange, delightful book. Based in an Italian fantasy world, it’s about a city that can only get water because the head witch lady makes it out of her blood. And if you get these marks on you, you have to sacrifice yourself to her. And one girl is like NOPE and goes on a batshit crazy adventure to try and find another way…because she kind of has to…because she accidentally murders the witch. / YA fantasy
Here, have a scene from my newest WIP! To learn more about it, check out the Books section of the site.
In ten days, the world will end.
This is what Daga’s mother had told her, as she had been told by her mother, as she had been told by her mother, and on and on for centuries. The world would end after the Autumn festival, to be reborn in the Spring.
And it all started with the Pageant, the most important ritual of the year.
Daga was effervescent with excitement, because today was the Choosing. One girl in her seventeenth year would be chosen to play the Pageant’s Maiden. The Maiden would be the center of attention for the whole Autumn Festival. She would have the best place at the feast. All of the best young people would want to dance with her. She would be crowned and celebrated and admired. If that were not inducement enough, everybody knew that being chosen as the Maiden was almost a guarantee that you would be married by the next year. To be secure of a lover by your eighteenth year—Daga could scarcely even laugh for giddiness. She was a hopeless romantic, always full of quixotic notions and swooning stories. To find her true love—that would be everything.
“Daga! Dagmara! You’re letting the hem trail.” Jadzia’s voice pierced through Daga’s reverie.
“Oh no!” Her stomach sank. Indeed, the white pageant gown in her hands had dragged in the dirt, muddying the hem. She would have to wash the whole thing again.
“Daydreaming again?” Jadzia teased lightly.
“I can’t help it!” Daga balled up the dress and dunked it into the washtub. “How can you think of anything else right now?”
“Because there’s work to be done. We can’t have a festival in dirty clothes.” Daga knew that Jadzia was also excited, but her joys had always been more tempered and measured than Daga’s free-floating, spiraling emotions. She shared her enthusiasm in quiet smiles and hidden twinkles of her eye.
On the other side of the washtub, Poldek snorted. “All you think of is the festival. Festival this, festival that.”
“You’re just jealous because boys can’t be chosen.” Daga stuck out her tongue at him. “You only get to play the gods.”
Playing Zerno and Belo in the Pageant were both honors afforded to someone of any gender, but only those who identified as female could be chosen as Maiden.
“No one will be chosen if you don’t hurry.” He checked his pocket watch. “The ceremony starts in twenty minutes.”
Jadzia gasped and looked ashamed of herself. “Oh no! I should have been more watchful of the time. Let’s hurry.”
Daga would have been happy to abandon the washing, but too-good Jadzia and Poldek would never allow them to shirk their work, even for something so important as the Choosing. Still, that didn’t keep Daga from rushing through her scrubbing and haphazardly pinning clothes to the line like frantic butterflies.
Pulling up her skirt, Daga raced with her friends to the square outside of the town council hall, where already most of the villagers were gathered. Pieklo was large enough that there were people whose names she didn’t know, but small enough that their number wasn’t many. She scanned the faces, wondering who among them would be Maiden.
The ceremony had already started by the time they found their places at the back of the crowd. Cezary Krzeszewska, mayor and head of the elders council, stood at the front podium, arms spread wide. He wore the traditional stroje ludowe in celebration of the festival season. The costume consisted of a white linen shirt, a bright blue embroidered vest shaking with tassels, and striped trousers. His krakuska hat with its red felt and peacock feather sat proudly atop his salt-and-pepper hair. He was of a middling age, younger than the youngest of the elders, and Daga admired him deeply, although Jadzia often reminded her that he was of an age with her own father. “It’s mere respect,” Daga would say, blushing.
Cezary’s trademark broad smile seemed to glow especially for Daga today as he proclaimed, “People of Pieklo! Today marks the beginning of the end of the world!”
A raucous cheer roared from the crowd. Daga whooped along with them; excitement like ale bubbled up from her stomach into her throat until she was almost dizzy with it.
Cezary basked for a moment in the applause, then he shushed the crowd, who obediently fell to a low murmur. “To ensure the rebirth of the world in the spring, today we choose a Maiden from among our girls who have come of age this year.”
Daga shivered with excitement and looked around at the faces of girls she recognized. Any female people in their seventeenth year were eligible. It was a carefully guarded secret every year, who would be chosen and how exactly the decision was made. There were no common threads among the choices as far as wealth, popularity, or appearance. Every girl was eligible, and every girl was equally possible. Daga surveyed the girls around her and dreamed. Would it be Ksenia, mild and brown-skinned and sedately beautiful? Or Szarlota, freckled and pale and independent and loud? Or perhaps Kazimiera, with her striking dark hair and olive skin and easy smiles?
Or, perhaps, could it be Daga herself? Clumsy, red-headed, and plain? She crossed her fingers against the evil eye and prayed to Belo. Choose me. Choose me. Her fingertips fizzed with electric anticipation.
Cezary’s eyes twinkled as he surveyed the group of young women clustered at the front of the crowd. Daga eased forward onto her toes, straining towards him as though if only he could see her, he would choose her.
“Our Autumn festival maiden this year is . . .” The silence lengthened into a vibrating, living thing. The crowd thrummed like the plucked string of a lute. “Jadwiga Grzybowska!”
Daga’s insides froze. Of course. Of course they would choose Jadzia. Jadzia, lithe and fair, her blond braid with never a strand out of place. Not like Daga’s wild red locks always windblown and tangled with leaves from lying in the grass, dreaming of other worlds. Jadzia, mild-mannered and obedient. Not Daga, who frequently forgot to collect the goats from grazing because she was reading a story of romantic adventure in the ruined castle.
Happy cheers and whoops boiled up from the crowd. The other young women clapped politely, although many a disappointed air contoured their well-bred smiles.
Moisture threatened to glass up Daga’s eyes and betray her feelings to Jadzia, who looked as flabbergasted as though she had just been sentenced to death. Daga clenched her fists and plastered a smile onto her lips. Jadzia was the last person to believe in her own merits; Daga always had to do that for her. She couldn’t hurt her friend by betraying her envy. “Jadzia, I’m so happy for you!”
Jadzia relaxed, although only a little. “It should have been you, Daga.”
Yes, it should have, said Daga’s traitorous mind. But she shook her head extra fiercely, because she knew that Jadzia absolutely meant it. “No, it should be you. You deserve it.” And Daga meant that too, even though the other half of her was clutching and cold in its envy.
Poldek beamed and threaded his fingers shyly through his blond hair. “Go, Jadzia, they’re waiting for you! Congratulations!”
“Oh! Right!” Jadzia blushed deeply. The crowd parted and strained to catch a glimpse of her face. With small, uncertain steps, she walked through the gauntlet towards Cezary and the town council on the stage.
Daga watched Poldek watch her go. A moony expression slackened his mouth and dusted his eyes with starlight. He had been in love with Jadzia for years, and everybody knew it—except for Jadzia. Another hot claw of jealousy closed around Daga’s heart. Not because she was in love with Jadzia or Poldek—Jadzia was too much her sister to think of romantically and Poldek was Poldek. But because Jadzia, always unsuspicious of anything that distinguished her, would eventually realize that Poldek loved her, and that she could love him. They would marry, and Daga would be alone.
Daga shook her head and some of the darkness cleared. No, no, she couldn’t think like that. Her prince or princess would come for her, just like in the stories. She just had to wait. For now, she was happy with her family and her friends. Her wonderful best friend had just attained the highest honor that Pieklo could gift to a young woman. And what would follow this ceremony was ten days of dancing, revelry, and merriment.
A genuine smile settled onto Daga’s lips, and with it true delight eased the sting from her heart. It was not in her nature to be melancholy; she could never sustain a negative mood for long.
Ten days of merriment, and her best friend as Maiden. It was perfect. It was glorious.
It would be an Autumn festival she would never forget.
Welcome, welcome! Today is the start of a new writing journey. My awesome writerly friend Shannon Ives and the twitter #QuerySquad and I have decided to try out a new prompt. Every Tuesday, Shannon or I will draw a tarot card and we’ll all write about it.
Today’s card comes from the beautifully stark Postcard from the Liminal Space oracle deck.
The world scorpion is enjoying the early starlight.
He basks in the glow of it, his tail curling and uncurling, and with it the tides flow back and forth, and the winds shift their direction, and the sun and moon trade their thrones in the sky. His sting catches the light and glints like the tip of a knife forged from lightning. It is the sting that forged this world from darkness. The sting that skewered and leaked its venom into the empty dome of Nothing. The venom that poisoned the Nothing to convulsion. The Nothing seized, and spasmed, and split apart like a doe’s rotting flesh. And like maggots crawling from its body, crawled forth the stars, the suns, the rocks that would mutate into earths. Thick with venom, the stars burst forth into galaxies and the rocks spewed new creations, long-limbed maggots that could walk and talk and scrabble at the earth with their own hapless claws.
The scorpion concerns himself with none of it. He Exists. Some late day, he will sting again and birth another world, or perhaps claw through the world of Now and bring forth a true End.
Last Christmas, I asked my parents for a tablet and got a Samsung galaxy note. I wanted it for drawing on especially, because while I love art, physical painting takes up a lot of time and energy that I don’t always have. Since then, I’ve been working more and more on my art. It’s been frustrating and difficult and I have to try not to compare myself to professionals, BUT I’ve also been having so much fun.
This image of Alex from Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo was in my head for a while, and I finally went for it. I’m so so proud of her, especially her face and the transparent dress. I can tell I’m getting better with every drawing, and I can’t wait to see what my future art will look like!
It’s good to have a hobby while you’re waiting to enter the query trenches. Eek.
Yeah, sure, we all read the blurbs on the back covers of books. But do those really tell us what we want to know? I, C.J., have taken it upon myself to reveal the truth about a number of popular books. And yes, this is going to be highly sarcastic, and also these are all books that I enjoy, so don’t @ me with “you’re so mean!” because I will chuckle. (For more extensive honesty, check out my Book Breakdowns on instagram.)
If there’s one thing all the great Masters have in common, it’s oil paint. (Horrid generalization, but work with me here.) Now, I’ve painted quite a bit. Having a painter and former art teacher for a father kind of lends itself to that. But let’s just say I have a whole new respect for all those old Masters. Painting a landscape sounds really easy; then, all of the sudden, you’re half-covered in blue paint and throwing sponges across the garage because the bush you’ve been painstakingly speckling is now a green-crimson blob. There is nothing more frustrating then getting all that perfect linework down on your canvas, only to start blending and, oh! look, you have a lovely blue-green-gray smudge. It’s like trying to write a story in Italian and realizing that you don’t know any of the rules anymore.
At the same time, it was amazing fun. Having dad there to show me the tricks step-by-step didn’t hurt either. It’s also amazingly freeing–in a way, more forgiving then acrylics, since it can take days to dry and mistakes can be rubbed away into the background or scraped off and filled in. It’s like spending all your life writing on a typewriter and suddenly being given a computer with that magical Backspace key. So for an obsessive-compulsive editor like me, it’s the perfect magic medium. Next step? Portraiture. And maybe by the time I do my second painting, I’ll have gotten all the blue off my elbows.
And now for something completely different. (Oh, Monty Python, how I love you and your oddball antics!) Third story submitted to fourth literary magazine. Paper copy of first story still not mailed. Butt still not in gear. Fourth story . . . sort of kind of not really in progress.
So, the birds have flown. Two stories have been sent out to three literary magazines. Well, okay, technically two literary magazines, but there will be a third tomorrow when I get off my slighty-less-than-motivated backside and mail it. Perhaps a few more submissions will follow tonight or tomorrow, if I can find something that fits. But as exciting as it is to hit that Send button or to seal it, stamp it, and ship it off, it’s also (read carefully) scary as hell.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve sent out queries. In its various iterations, Dark Moon 1 has been queried probably half a dozen times, and sadly, no bites yet. But as much as rejection letters make your stomach twist like spaghetti wound too tight, there’s nothing quite like the half-sick, half-stoked brain haze you get when you send the thing in. You want to be optimistic and all that, but if you’re a happy cynic like me, your brain keeps poking all sorts of possible disasters into your little happy-bubble.
Best case (okay, fine, best case after it being published and you becoming the next J. K. Rowling) it gets published and you realize, “Oh, wait, that’s actually absolute trash and now an obscene amount of people are going to see it.” Take my poem that got into the Juggler. I had a sneaking feeling that it would, because I had just found all sorts of bits to edit a few weeks after I submitted it. But hey, Scenario 1 isn’t that bad. You’re published. P-u-b-l-i-s-h-e-d. I’d take it any day.
Think about it. If you really are published, or just passed around the editor’s office, a small piece of your soul (yes, melodramatic as that sounds, your soul) is now floating around the world for the scrutinizing eyes of dozens. Or hundreds. Or thousands. Doesn’t matter if you’re a suburban housewife with three kids and your book is about androgynous space aliens who speak in clicks. You eke out of every word as sure as if you’d given them a detailed diary of your thoughts. Anonymity is dead.
But the truly scary part? Sending that query is final. It’s done. The whole time before you send it, your future can be whatever you want to be. Anything can happen with you and your book or your story until then, because until that moment, it’s all in your head. But as soon as you send it, your life is on a path, on track for triumph or tragedy. Once it’s done, you’re open to rejection.
What keeps you hanging on to that hope is that maybe one of those little birds will land somewhere.
So, today I join the hundreds (thousands?) of other writers peddling their work on the good ol’ internet. Why, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t. You could already be sick of me at this stage. But let’s assume you still care.) Anyway, I guess if I want to be an actual published author some day, that means getting serious about writing. It means getting my work into the world and practicing until I get carpal tunnel.
Since so many writers seemed to have embraced this whole blog thing as a way of doing just that, I’m officially jumping on the bandwagon. And clinging to it until either I fall off and roll into a ditch or jump off into somewhere more productive than the stagnant water that is here.
So, hopefully-real readers, this is it. The beginning. (Sound dramatic, doesn’t it? I feel like I should be writing soaps.) Check back for ponderings, poetry, prompts, and . . . there’s really no way to make short stories start with a ‘p.’ Basically, whatever bits of creativity I can squeeze out of my brain on a regular basis. Enjoy the madness. Rock on.
P.S. Many thanks to “Karma Police” by Radiohead for the title of this blog, as well as Adobe Photoshop and stock photos for allowing me to create the banner. Cheers!