Horror Business: Julia Evans

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

As some of you may know, I serve as a volunteer/Creative Director for a nonprofit literary group called So Say We All in San Diego, and one of the creations to spring forth from that organization is the monthly live reading series called VAMP (Visual, audio, monologue/performance). Authors submit and, once accepted, are subjected to a month-long bootcamp of workshopping, editing and performance coaching. I can’t tell you h0w much my own writing has benefited from this regimen.

For those who always dreamed of being a writer but never had the support or inclination, it’s usually a heartening process that rewards people who are willing to put in the work. But every now and then someone comes along whose talent is so natural, so nonchalant—someone who infuriatingly just gets it, that you can’t help but feel jealous every time you read their work. Julia Evans is one of those people.

No doubt, Evans’ writing is dark, but it’s also sad and funny—and she somehow weighs those precarious emotions with a sense of unease. The honesty with which she writes about marriage, family or motherhood is admirable, if not a tad collar-pulling. She’s not afraid to paint herself as an unlikeable character, which is probably on par with “loving horror movies” as a way to my heart.

Check out her  story “Leona Never Happened,” published in Hobart earlier this year. She’s also got a story in States of Terror, an monster anthology featuring creatures, folklore and legends from each state in the USA. That’s coming out in November.

julia

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

JE: My fear is a many-branched thing. There’s the obvious things, things that make me either realistically, physically afraid in situations where I’d once felt safe (I’m thinking of a scene in the recent final season of BBC’s Luther, where a psychopath freakishly murders a random couple together in their own home), or the types of circumstances that I’m unlikely to get myself in to (that murderous threesome chainsaw scene in American Psycho and my heart is racing just thinking about it).

Then there are the less obvious things, things that aren’t exactly scary. The stuff that fills me with more intrusive, obsessive fear than a chainsaw threesome. In my youth, it was always stuff like dying kids, divorce: the kind of tragedy I didn’t have in my life, but only thanks to sheer probability. The kind of plot lines that would make me look around and count my friends because one in five of us would surely die soon. Now it’s the farfetched worst-case scenarios. The potential of a flick of a wrist on a highway overpass. Accidentally killing someone. Back to the dying kids.

Natanya Ann Pulley’s Horror Business post got me thinking about that too-early horror, when we’re too young to process it, too young to be soothed by the make-up, the fiction, the sensationalism of it all. For me, it’s the Hitchhiker scene from Creepshow II. I’ve chased this memory before.

I was raised in a small, sheltered village in rural England. It was the 1980s and America was an oddity, this twangy, saturated beast in denim and golden curls. I was somewhere between age 5, when the Glaisters moved to town, and maybe age 8, when Emma Glaister got her own tv set in her room. Because before that, we’d watch the telly with her teenage brother. One afternoon, he said he wanted to show us something “right funny.”

I don’t remember much of the plot. I remember a darkened highway, an American car, a solo woman. It’s always a solo woman. There’s a shredded, mangled figure, bits and pieces of dangling undead flesh or maybe they were fresh wounds. It was the idea that something dead could seek me out, sneak up on me, or, I don’t even know, drip on me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared or grossed out, and maybe this chilling reaction as a too-young child solidified what would be a lifelong aversion to the zombie genre, to the idea of the undead. I just tried to rewatch the clip and stopped it right when the woman looks behind her a second time and the waving, distant hitchhiker had disappeared. I couldn’t go on to see when he pops up right next to her. Is it because, when I watched it at 8, I didn’t know enough to know that it was pretend? I don’t want to feel that again.

And then, probably thanks to repression, I can only hear the hitchhiker’s voice.

Well, it’s muddled with Emma’s brother’s voice, relentless, teasing, preying upon two scared kids, and (notably) a terrible attempt at an American accent. He was actually kind of cheery. “Thanks for the ride, lady!

I watched the full American Psycho chainsaw scene a few hours ago in my car, parked on a darkened side street downtown. My heart still raced but all I really feared was that a passerby might think I was watching porn. But I still can’t face the hitchhiker.

hitchhiker

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Elizabeth Ellen’s Fast Machine

There are only four words, repeated twice, on the exterior of Elizabeth Ellen’s Fast Machine, which I just typed. On the back, there is a photograph of the author, clad in a leather jacket, stockings and looking off to her right. She looks like someone (out of frame) has begun a “I have good news and bad news” conversation and they’ve moved on to the bad news. It’s a look of fleeting happiness, trepidation and building rage.

I think this picture is a better summation of Ellen’s work than any blurb or synopsis usually reserved for that space.

Fast Machine is technically a collection of Ellen’s work over the last ten years, but it feels like a novel. The narrators endure abusive mothers, malnutrition and countless father-figures in childhood; premature marriages, alienating boyfriends and nomadic lifestyles in adulthood. Ellen’s characters live in Ohio and Florida. They smoke weed and watch mediocre movies. They masturbate a lot.

That description makes it sound like a livejournal book: angsty, melodramatic but ultimately inconsequential. And at first, I that’s what I thought too. Her story “Period Sex” (which appears early in the collection) seemed like a meandering account of a sexual encounter, told with the same passive detachment as an entertaining Thought Catalog article. Good but without substance. (I also admit to being slightly drunk when I read that one).

“Winter Haven, Florida, 1984” is what sold me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story so honest to adolescence–the alienation, the self-consciousness, the hurt and the fun–as Ellen’s story of a boarding school. It gave me context for everything else to follow. What I thought was meandering prose became intense confessionals–the kind that connects readers with the mistakes they made in their own youth. It’s such an unflinching account of family history and tragedy that you can’t help but feel a kinship. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fast Machine earned Ellen some stalkers.

Despite how damaged her characters are–from the shit they’ve seen or how they’re treated–there’s a subtle rage inside that keeps you on their side, which I think separates Ellen’s work from a lot of innocuous indie lit. Backed into a corner, this book will snap back.