Truth: I’ve been sitting for two hours in front of this blank page, unsure where to start or what to write about. There may have been a few side trips to Facebook and Twitter during that time, but I was wracking my brain trying to come up with a subject as opposed to just talking about my short fiction collection.
Non-fiction doesn’t come easy to me, and every topic I thought of discussing (likeable versus unlikeable characters, the resurgence of the horror genre, the difference in reviews of work written by women as opposed to that by men) has already been discussed and by those far more learned than me, so I’ll write about what I know, which is trauma.
It’s okay if that made you roll your eyes; I’ll confess to rolling my eyes as I typed it. I know people love to slow down when they drive past the scene of a wreck, but don’t worry, I’m not going to peel back my layers and reveal an inner victim here. I’m referring to trauma in fictional characters, trauma as it relates to horror and dark fantasy.
Take scars, for instance. Some are fascinating, others horrific; some draw the eye, others repel it. Regardless of our initial, visceral reaction, every scar has a story. Every scar is a story.
I had major surgery when I was three and have a fairly large scar on my neck as a result. As far as scars go, it’s an interesting one and resembles a burn more than something surgery would leave behind, but my memories are far more interesting: the smell of the hospital, the feel of the hospital crib with its metal bars, the sense of being so very small beneath the bright white lights, the rasp of my fingers against the bandage nurses put on my stuffed rabbit to match mine. As for the story: I was born with a large hemangioma (a benign tumor) on my neck that continued to grow, and the removal required something like two hundred stitches. I found out later that my surgeon went into reconstructive plastic surgery because of it.
Fast forward to me in my teenage years, when I accidentally put my arm through a window. I’ve quite a few scars from that, too. My memories consist of the bit of skin I left behind on the glass, the blood draining from my friend’s face when she saw the wounds, the snow outside, the doctor’s eyes as he stitched me back together. And the story? It involves me taking out the trash and coming back in, my friend and I started goofing about with opening and closing the kitchen door. It was cold, I was in my school uniform, and it was funny until I moved my arm forward when I should’ve moved it back.
Both of those memories, those stories, are as clear now as they were five, ten, even fifteen years ago.
But the scars that don’t show on people usually have the strongest stories, even if they’re the stories people won’t or can’t tell. No scabs to peel, no stitches to break, but the wounds run even deeper than the physical. This is the horror I’m drawn to.
Life does its best to break us in ways small and large, and many of my stories, regardless of how fantastical they seem, have their roots in the real. “Sing Me Your Scars,” the title story of my collection, owes its birth, in part, to my frustration with the endless onslaught of memes about what real women look like. Although they’re completely different stories, both “Melancholia in Bloom” and “Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” share the common thread of loss of memory and loss of self. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, and another family member is in the middle stages of the disease right now. I can’t help but use it in my fiction as a way to help make sense of things, to help cope.
But the trauma that seeds my work is not always my own, and the real horror in the world is that it’s everywhere you look. The world sings it scars every day. I could never read the news again and still have enough story seeds to grow a lifetime’s worth of stories. This is what makes my heart hurt. This is why I write of such things.
In spite of what I write, I’m an optimist. The world might be ugly and people might be cruel, but there is beauty and kindness and hope, too. Sometimes it’s hard to find, but it’s there. My stories may not always come with happy endings, and when they do, the characters are usually left with more than their fair share of wounds, but damaged and scarred, I’d like to think they keep moving forward out of the shadows in search of that light.
About the Author
Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Apex, Nightmare, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and others. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu and reprinted in the Chinese literary journal ZUI Found, has been nominated for a 2014 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.
Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of her short fiction, is available now from Apex Publications. Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press.
You can find her on Twitter @DamienAWalters or online at http://damienangelicawalters.com.