Here Sits His Ignominy

I’m pleased to announce my new story in Breathe FIYAH (an anthology of flash fiction produced in collaboration between FIYAH and Tor)

Flash fiction has been one of those categories that I’ve squinted at from afar with suspicion, because how well can you tell a good story in so few words? But when I saw the call for this anthology, and its accompanying prompt, I decided why the hell not?

I traveled 500 years into the past, and rewrote history with a single letter, creating a new timeline in which we did not lie prone and helpless but came swinging with the wrath of the gods. And damn it if I don’t want to live in this world for the rest of time.

You can read it here. Do check out the other stories. They are (pun intended) fiyah!

How Horror Seduced Me, or, How I Went Over to the Dark Side

CW: wet crotch, underpants, disease, body parts.


I

As a child, rummaging through the house for buried treasure was a favourite pastime, an exercise which ranged from digging through the cracks in the settee for long lost trinkets: combs, toy cars, dismembered action figures, dried chicken drumsticks (I heap all the blame on my sister for that one) to sneaking into my parents’ bedroom and poring over my father’s medical textbooks. The massive tomes with full color pictures of patients instantly captivated me and I found myself fascinated with the ways sickness could warp human features into something other. It was, well, horrifying. But that didn’t stop me from looking at them again. And again. And again.

It was during one of these treasure hunts that I found my parents’ secret stash of movies (no, not those movies). I popped in the first cassette into the VHS player and watched a now familiar opening scene: a car full of friends rolls up to a holiday cabin in the woods. It was The Evil Dead. I watched, terrified and yet morbidly fascinated (much as I had been with the medical pictures) as the evil claimed the friends one by one.

Needless to say I scarred my young mind by watching it, and endured several nights of nightmares. But like the books, I kept returning to the movie again and again, until I knew every minute of it by heart, until my dreams were a never ending reel of possessed clocks and rapacious trees and demons boiling out of the depths of hell.

That was the first cassette.

The second was an Old Nollywood movie called Diamond Ring 2, in which an idiot teenager and his friends rob a grave, stealing – you guessed it – a diamond ring off a freshly interred corpse. The vengeful spirit puts the foolish boy into a coma and gives his family 24 hours to find and return her ring or forfeit his life. I haven’t watched that movie in eighteen years and I still remember the soundtrack. Yeah.


II

Every culture has its ghost stories (which is a catch all for legends and tales bordering on the horrific) and growing up in Nigeria, I heard my fair share of ghost stories. But these weren’t tales we whispered by the light of campfires (why would you leave the comfort of your home for the cold uncertainty of the wild???[the wild is filled with a certain subspecies of humans with a penchant for body parts]); the tales were told in the cold light of day, in between mundane tasks and conversations, in the matter-of-fact tone of one commenting on the weather, which made it its own special brand of terror.

When I was ten we moved from the rented apartment we’d lived my whole life to our own duplex. And as I sat with my siblings watching Shrek on the new TV, behind us my parents chatted with their friends. I heard my dad say about the old house: “they say the landlord seeded the compound with the bones of some dead girl, buried her skull in the roots of the palm tree.” I whipped around and gawked at him, and he very patiently repeated what he’d said. I flashed back to all the times I’d sauntered past that palm tree, all the times I’d rested under it in between playing football with my goons and said, “why didn’t you tell me?”

“Did you really want to know?”

Did I really want to know? No. Would it have made a difference if I knew? Most definitely. But that didn’t stop me from thinking of all the times the palm branches had scratched against my window, and wonder if it wasn’t the spirit of the girl pleading to be set free.

Good Lord.


III

Secondary school introduced me to horror in its literary form. After the initial Harry Potter frenzy, I happened upon a Stephen King book in the library: Misery. I enjoyed it so much that I hid it where no one could ever find it, and stole to the library whenever I could to read it. Up until that point I’d only seen horror movies, become overly familiar with the beats, so to speak. But reading Misery opened my mind to a whole different kind of terror. With a movie, you’re more or less stuck with the director’s vision of the events and characters and setting etc (which is not necessarily a bad thing); with a book, you are the director of your imagination. And oh, doesn’t imagination like to run wild? Reading Misery, Paul’s pain was my pain, his terror was my terror, and the evidently unhinged Annie Wilkes was the stuff of nightmares.

But what really fascinated me was how simple words strung one after the other could light up the cinema of my mind, and evoke visceral reactions even more lasting than some of the movies I’d watched. It’s not surprising, then, that when I finally put pen to paper in the hopes of becoming a writer, what came out was a horror story.

The oldest and perhaps most visceral of human emotion is fear and I found catharsis in the ability to master my fears, in the ability to dream up dreadful situations and explore them on my own terms. If horror is fear of the unknown, then I gain power over it in the knowledge of the outcome, in an almost clinical detachment as I watch my characters navigate horror.

Creators of horror are rarely – perhaps never – scared by the stuff they create, because the horror is theirs, and they’ve seen it in its underpants (hell, they bought the damn underpants); the terrified are the readers who are kept in the dark and watch with soiled crotches bated breath the characters navigate horror.

Do I still look twice at the shadow in the corner of my room? That depends on a host of things, chief among them being my mental state at the given time. But best believe that by the time I put pen to paper I will have known that horror by its name, and bought it some damn underpants.

Event Horizon 2020

I took part in the wonderful Cymera Festival where Shoreline of Infinity put the spotlight on BAME writers. I, along with some wonderful writers (Zen Cho, Asith Pallemulla, Robert Rene Galvan) read from my work. I read from my story, publsihed in Shoreline of Infinity 18 “Isn’t Your Daughter Such a Doll”.

The entire event was streamed live, and is now available on Youtube

January update

Is it just me or it feels like there’s been 200 days of January? Quite a lot happened this month and now that I look back and reflect on everything I think I understand why.

Writing
The bulk of this month was devoted to The Novel. I queried this late last year and got a few agents to bite, but they all turned it down, save for one who gave me a detailed feedback and invited me to resubmit if I ever revised. Her notes lined up with most of the critiques I’d previously gotten so I decided to tackle them. I won’t lie it was hard. It’s still hard. Most of what I’d written had to go, and I’m still not sure I’m satisfied with this version. We’ll see where it takes me. I’m looking to finish this by February ending so I can send it out to the betas then start querying in March.

Reading
Kicked this year off with The Hobbit, then went on to the Golden Compass, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I read these books as a kid over ten years ago. It was very enjoyable rereading scenes I’d forgotten and just reliving the emotions which captured my tween heart. Next I read Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold. I read his First Law trilogy late last year and thoroughly enjoyed the narration. Joe Abercrombie is a master of characterization. I particular love how every chapter in his books reads like a short story, complete with a beginning, middle and end.

Life. Well this month was devoted to exams, and even though I didn’t study thoroughly I somehow managed to pass Neurology and Psychiatry. I’m not complaining. Also I finally got to see my sister! After 5 years. She studies on one end of Russia and I on the other end. Between us there’s over 15hrs of flight and a shitload of ticket money, so we never could visit each other. But she had to go renew her passport in the embassy and since Moscow’s only a few hours from where I stay it was the perfect opportunity to meet up. Yay! I mean we video chat and text and call, but to see each other in the flesh was surreal to say the least. I grinned like a fool the whole time:)

Best Books I Read in 2019

As of this writing I’ve read some forty-odd books (all the while trying to stay afloat in medical school and also write! As you can tell I don’t have a life). Of these titles some were good, some were okay, and some absolutely blew my mind.

These are just the books I read, not all of them were published in 2019 (just 2 of them actually)

In no particular order, here they are:

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

This is the third installment in the Winternight Trilogy and by far the best book of the three. I find myself at once trying to savour each page and also read as quickly as I can to find out what happens next. A very satisfying ending to Vasya’s story, one which I will be reading again.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This book, my goodness! Where to start? The world Laini Taylor creates here is fantastical, mythical and so deeply realized that I lost myself completely while reading this, and it has been a long time since I had that happen to me with a book. Lazlo is such an endearing character. It’s got books, a magical city, blue-skinned gods! And the prose is simply bewitching.

Also, whoever said third person omniscient (headhopping) is outdated clearly has not read this book. Seriously it’s a masterclass in this POV.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

The sequel to Strange the Dreamer is even better! I ate this book up in a day, flying through the pages, waiting to find to what comes next. Laini Taylor made me so invested in the characters that I empathized with every one of them (even a certain little tyrant!) You come to understand that there is no pure good or evil and everyone is a product of their circumstances. I mean, just like in real life. A brilliant conclusion to this fantastic duology.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

This book, which was Miss Oyeyemi’s debut, remains one of my favourite works of hers. It’s the one book I read every year and find something new with each reread. It tells the tale of a biracial child and the disturbing friend she makes on a trip to her hometown in Nigeria. Two of my stories (coming in 2020) were directly inspired by this book and I have no doubt it will continue to inspire me for the foreseeable future.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman, in my eyes, can do no wrong. This dark fantasy story is a very refreshing read. Here a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and recalls interesting (forgotten) events from his childhood. This book spoke to me on many levels, and I personally saw it as a commentary on that oh-so-magical period of our lives called childhood, and how, as we grow into cynical, rational adults, we forget. I read this book twice; the first time as a reader, and the second time as a writer, pen and paper scribbling away. On the second reread, I noticed Neil Gaiman never mentioned the name of the narrator. He wrote 50,000 words without telling us the name of the main character. It was cleverly done. Very good, Mr. Gaiman, very good.

Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

A boy seeking revenge against a class of pompous noblemen. Oh, and there’s dragons. And it’s Africa-based. Need I say more? Evan Winter’s debut is electric. His writing is that of a seasoned master. Trust me, you’ll be doing yourself a favour if you read this book.

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

This is an explosive conclusion to this series (First Law). Joe Abercrombie lives up to his title of Lord Grimdark. Everyone is a bastard in this book, and I love them all for it. I actually listened to the audiobook for the entire trilogy, and Steven Pacey did such an awesome job of narrating. He really brought the characters to life – especially Inquisitor Glokta. That lisp!