This was a long winding road to where I am now. I started writing experimental literary stuff, mostly because what I liked to read/write/watch/consume where dreamlike, strange. I preferred startling images over concrete reality, slippery moments of time that felt unreal. Even when I created complex, real characters, I put them into moments and situations that danced around the edges of the real, without explanation. I blame this on a childhood love for the Wonderland books, and later on for movies like Fantastic Planet, Jacob’s Ladder, and etc as a young pre-teen. Also books, devouring such strange books…

I preferred the ones that had interesting characters, ones you could latch onto and understand. That was a kind of anchor, a grounding to me that I found necessary. Esp if the plot moved in a way that slipped out of my hands. I needed that center of the story, and for it to work on a kind of night logic (credit to Ursula K. Le Guin for that one). The night logic is not the logic of dreams, exactly. It is the logic that works out of the corner of your eyes, in your blood and bones. Visceral logic. One that you can sense, but does not seem rational in the light of day.

Faerie tales, folk lore, that kind of thing. Folk magic, too. The sort of stuff where you put a frog in your mouth to get rid of a sore throat, or bury a live cat (or child) in the walls of a house to create a guardian spirit. Where spit and blood are potent items of power. The imagery was the most important part of these things to me. Stuff that startles you, and reorients you, and tickles the numinous areas of the brain.

A good example? Most of the stories of Kelly Link, but also, the poetry of the crawler in Vandermeer’s Annihilation. More key things, I think, would be the magic of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but also the short stories of Borges, and others. Some films of David Lynch, but I feel like most of them are unanchored to me, unmoored and lost at sea. Fire Walk with Me is the main exception to that, anchored as it where on Laura Palmer. her personality and mind explored to painful details. Same with the show, though that has nightmare moments, but is not a nightmare per se.

That is it, isn’t it? Not just surrealism. Not just night logic. But nightmares. Things were reality slips, just a little. The surfaces become uncanny. You see things unnatural and strange. It lights up those parts of your mind that see it, understand it, and know it to be…

Wrong, yet right. For it to work you need to be anchored in some way. Character, in my eyes, is the easiest anchor and the best. Plot can anchor, too, but then you lose some of that liminal nature that nightmare stories require. You need that slipperyness, the real is just out of reach. A haunting needs to be more than a haunting. I want to see terrible and beautiful things. And that’s what I want to write, too. Terrible and beautiful things. There is a poetry to the imagery, something that night logic embraces.

Note, I know most genre people consider “poetic prose” to be “purple prose”, and I find that so odd. Maybe they’re concept of poetry ended at the Enlightenment period. Maybe they see it as being overwritten, overwrought, whatever, and have ignored the advances of the poetic form since the Modernists up through to the New Sincerity and the imagist poets? I don’t know.

But poetry isn’t about purple, like a bruise. It’s about using words in such a way that they carry on the rhythm of the sentence, spark images that crawl under you skin and live in your heart. It’s not about the complexity of words, but rather…

The simplicity. Of line, of form, of rhythm. Poetic prose pulls you under, like waves on the beach, and your lost adrift.

It’s why you need that anchor, that character, that grounds you in the real. The lighthouse shows you the images and lights a path, a compass bones while drowning in the sea. But it cannot lead you all the way out. The nightmare needs to be a nightmare. It’s not hopeless or hopeful, but rather, a reorienting of the self. A remaking, a transformation. There is wonders in a nightmare, as well as terrors and a wonderful dream.

We slip past. The vampires here are not symbols. There is no metaphor, no morality. A nightmare is. That is it, it is all it can be. The dreamer wakes, and make tries to interpret what they’ve seen, yes. But all good dreams resist interpretation, and all nightmares that are too vapidly symbolic shrink away from fear in the dark.

I do, I write nightmares. I resisted it. I wanted to be more real, more grounded. But that is not who I am, and that is not the terrors I write. Things need to slip. They need to blur out of focus. We need to be lost while anchored. I remember trying to write this realist horror story, where the supernatural maybe did or didn’t exist…

And then a black door appeared on the side of an apartment building. I wanted to resist writing about it. But the character wanted to know what was behind it. It heard things moving in the dark. Where did it come from? It wasn’t there an hour ago, at the start of the story, and a voice beyond whispered, “do you wish to learn magick? that icky sort, visceral and bone strong. I can make your heart into a compass, and we can walk the path of night, and find the things that make us human, and scared, and terrifying.”

And I couldn’t help it, I opened that door. I let that character walk in, and that was it. The character was gone from the story, but all the others heard her in the walls of the house, moving. Lost. Calling out for help.

Nightmare stories do something to us. Maybe they trap us. Maybe not. But there is something there, working beneath the surface of the mind. Worms in a fistful of dirt, beckoning.

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