The Seers’ Table September 2021
Linda D. Addison, Member of the Diverse Works Inclusion Community
You can see any of The Seers’ Table posts since inception (March 2016) from the menu item “Diverse Works’ on the top of the HWA main page.
Tish Jackson introduces:
Megan Giddings is a serious writer. An MFA graduate of Indiana University, she has published several chapbooks (Arcade Seventeen and The Most Dangerous Game) and is a lover of peonies, with shorts appearing in The Offing. Megan is currently a senior features editor for The Rumpus and prior Executive Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. She is a fan of martinis—very serious!—Octavia Butler, and flash fiction. She is also a compelling writer with the power to make you question your own reality.
Receiving numerous accolades including NPR’s Book of 2020, the novel Lakewood by writer Megan Giddings is chilling. Giddings takes on the topic of human experimentation, but the first-person point-of-view makes the story seem less like fiction and more like a memoir. Her writing is beautifully lyrical, but packs a gut punch when the impact of those pretty words sinks in. The genre for this work was highly debated, but the more I read the colder I felt. This book is definitely scary, and I have no problem classifying this story as horror.
Lakewood is told from the point-of-view of Lena Johnson, a typical Black college student in America. Navigating through collegiate waters can be difficult for many even when not including dynamics like racism, generational poverty, and mental illness. However, Giddings goes further by taking this story out of the mundane and into an altered reality with a suspicious job offer. This innocent office job ends up turning into a mind-bending experience that results in blood and tragedy.
Initially compared to Jordan Peele’s work GET OUT, this book’s power is in the narration from the protagonist. Racism and classism are hinted at but are not centered as a motive, which I found even more disturbing. When there is no clear motivation for horrific acts, it becomes inimically more traumatizing. As humans, we need to classify things in order to understand them and persevere through the experience; without a reason it is hard to feel safe against additional trauma. After considering, then rejecting all the implied motives, the conclusion literally had me yelling out loud. That twist at the end is definitely Peele-like in its novelty.
Her newest book is titled The Women Could Fly and is being published by Amistad Books through Harper Collins; it will be out next year. The book is rumored to contain adventures and witches; I cannot wait.
Recommended Reading: Lakewood (published in 2020 by HarperCollins):
Standing on the sidewalk was the man with dreadlocks who had been protesting two days ago.
His shirt was off. There was a large hole in his torso. His intestines were pink, blood was circulating, there was a yellowish thing visible, maybe his stomach or gall bladder. The top of a bone, light pink and gray. He was shouting. They did this to me, they did this to me. Stop letting them control this town.
I felt faint. My brain was split between fighting my nausea and wondering how it was possible. How did his organs not flop out? How was he alive? His intestines reminded me of hot dogs. And, in most contexts, I find hot dogs disturbing. It’s the way they shine, the way they look like human meat. There were more flyers at his feet. His stomach was quivering.
I signed up to be in a “memory experiment.” But it’s been so much more than that. We were simply told it’s a small town and people like to talk. The pellets. The cabin. The girl. The pills. My brain. The way they’re making me doubt myself, reality. The secrecy.
Kate Maruyama introduces:
Ian Muneshwar is a writer and teacher based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His short fiction appears in venues such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Black Static, and The Dark, as well as Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. In both his writing and course design, he is concerned with queer subjectivities, cultural memory, and the ways in which queerbrown identities are shaped by diaspora.
Ian holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.F.A. in fiction from North Carolina State University. He teaches writing in the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program at Brandeis University, in the Experimental College at Tufts University, and in Clarion West’s online workshops.
Recommended Reading from his short story, “Still Water,” which you can read on Anathema.com:
Miles moved the boat in closer, reeds hissing along the sides of the kayak. The catfish kept its spine arched in a strange, pained curve. The fish opened and closed its gasping mouth slowly, methodically, in search of the water that was only feet away. He got out of the kayak when the water was shallow enough that the bottom of the boat scraped at the sand.
The fish didn’t watch him as he neared; a thin, mucusy film covered its small eyes. Miles squatted beside the animal and reached a hand out. When he touched it, the fish rolled to its side, revealing its soft, pale underbelly.
You can learn more about Muneshwar at: https://www.ianmuneshwar.com/
Kate Maruyama introduces:
Mia Tsai is a Taiwanese-American author of speculative fiction. Her debut novel, a xianxia-inspired contemporary fantasy titled Bitter Medicine, will be published by Tachyon Publications in fall 2022.
She lives in Atlanta with her family, and, when not writing, is a hype woman for her orchids and devoted cat gopher. Her favorite things include music of all kinds (really, truly) and taking long trips with nothing but the open road and a saucy rhythm section.
She has been quoted in Glamour and Washington Post‘s The Lily and in her other lives is a professional editor, photographer, and musician.
Recommended Reading from Bitter Medicine:
Next character. Elle doesn’t bother picking up more ink, dragging her brush down so the characters will be joined by a long tail. Her hand flies, brush tip sweeping left to right, up to down, looping around in a messy grass script. She runs out of ink partway through but pushes on, her magic roaring as she grinds the brush against paper.
Her magic seizes control, greedy. Untethered after so many years, it charges into her hand with glee, guides it to the ink stone, brings it back to the paper. Elle paints two more characters in the center of a vortex, no longer looking at what she’s doing, her eyes open and sightless in her heightened state. All around her, papers flutter and whisper as her power ripples out. Brushes clack against each other, swinging on their hooks from a sudden wind. The tiny open mouths of her test tubes send up a chorus of hollow moans, echoed by the partially filled Erlenmeyer flask held hostage in its clamp. Elle’s ponytail, not one to be left behind, streams out behind her as if being tugged by an invisible hand.
You can learn more about Mia at http://www.miatsai.com/.
Mia is on Twitter at @itsamia and Instagram at @mia.tsai.books.
Tawana Watson introduces:
Kristi DeMeester is currently based in Atlanta, GA, the state where she grew up within the fundamentalist religion. Kristi received her Masters in Creative Writing from Kennesaw State University in 2011, and has had her fiction published in magazines such as Apex, Black Static, and The Dark. Kristi also has had her fiction anthologized by Ellen Datlow in The Best Horror of the Year in both Volume 9 and 11. Kristi self-published her first novel, Beneath, in 2017.
Her upcoming book, Such a Pretty Smile, will be released in January 2022 from St. Martin’s Press:
There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.
2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.
2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape―both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.
As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty.
You can learn more about DeMeester at https://www.kristidemeester.com/.