“The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood Is More Than Just Fiction

Most likely, if you are reading this you are either a fan of me (yay) or a fan of Margaret Atwood (also, yay). I am a fan of both.

The Handmaid’s Tale

I admit, when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in college I wasn’t blown away by it. I just didn’t get it at the time in a way that resonated with me, and I am working to be 100% honest so there it is peeps, I did not like THT when I first read it. 

True story.

Fast forward a whole mess of years to the start of the TV show on Hulu. I decided that it was time I re-read this old chestnut and see if as an older (maybe wiser) adult I might get more out of it.

Boy-howdy, did I ever.

I loved the book on this second read, and I understood it in a whole new way, especially in light of the Trump Era of cluster fuckery. 

Atwood’s writing is so beautiful, so seemingly effortlessly making flowers out of shit that I cannot even stand it. I’m sorry if that is foul and the complete opposite of how Atwood writes, but it’s so beautiful I can’t come up with the proper words to express it. 

The Testaments

When I heard that Atwood had written a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale I about lost my ever-loving mind. I actually pre-ordered a copy because I wanted, no needed, to have a copy in my hot little hands the day it was released. Then it sat on my bedside table for a few days, and then I started reading it, and I did not want to stop.

I repeat: I DID NOT WANT TO STOP.

I would have read this bad boy in one day back before I had a job and a husband, but I had to content myself with getting little juicy tidbits of it each night before bed. It was kind of nice, and I was sad when I finally finished it. 

I’ll start my review of the book here: It was excellent. 

Now, there may be some spoilers, but at this point the book has been out for weeks and I’m sorry, but I can’t keep from talking about the plot in a review so either read, don’t read, or just close your eyes and absorb the content of this blog via osmosis, whatever floats yer boat mateys.

Onward and upward.

“Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.” – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

The basic plot of The Testaments is that it’s 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and we are getting the testimony of three women about their experiences both within and outside of Gilead. 

There very different perspectives. 

One is from a woman who grew up in Gilead, one from a woman who grew up in Canada, outside of Gilead, but had a lifetime of hearing about the horrors within.

Finally, the third perspective is from Aunt Lydia.

Yes, that Aunt Lydia.

Illustration- Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

I have to say, part of me enjoys Lydia’s portions more than the other two women; partly because of the Hulu show and Ann Dowd’s powerhouse performance, but also because we know so little about the Aunts and what got them to where they’re at. Learning how Lydia becomes Aunt Lydia is utter horrifying, and fascinating. We see how much someone can be pushed, how much someone can be treated like an animal, how much they are tortured and made to fear for their lives until they turn against their own kind (aka, women). 

I think we all like to believe that no amount of torture would make us turn against our own, but let’s be realistic here, who really knows the answer until faced with the reality? 

In The Testaments, Lydia is doing the thing you’re not supposed to do, she is writing it all down. Every wart, every ugly sore on the face of Gilead. She is committing to paper and history just how awful Gilead is, and what it does to its women. I mean, most of us, if we’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale or even just seen the TV show, we know this stuff for the most part, but it still makes for riveting reading. Simply because it reminds us of the horrors people are capable of — again, something I think most of us know (even if that knowledge is buried deep down inside).

These three perspectives weave together into a story that gives audiences another side to Gilead and its horrors, and is an excellent sequel to an already stellar piece of literature. 

Favorite Line(s)

There were many parts that caused me to pause, take a breath, and reread them, but one that got me — to the point where I still remembered where it was weeks later when I set down to write this review — Is where two women, in training to become Aunts, discussing the suicide of another Aunt.

“But why did she do it?” I asked. “Did she want to die?”

“No one wants to die,” said Becka. “But some people don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.” -Margaret Atwood, The Testaments

Think about that for a minute, and it explains not only the few choices given to women in Gilead, but the millions who face their own battles to “conform” in real life. 

Gay, lesbian, transgender, anything that is considered “out of the norm” (something decided by others that makes literally no sense). 

Anything that doesn’t allow a person to fit neatly into the boxes of straight, white, and male/female. They are offered a choice, live in the way that society wants you to live, or don’t. Some choose to die because they “…don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.” 

From The Testaments

Boom. 

Atwood’s world of Gilead and beyond has a way of resonating strongly with society itself in reality. She takes these ideas of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be useful, what it is to be spiritual and have a belief system, and makes us look at what happens when belief goes too far. When one person decides that their way is the “only” way and everything goes to Hell. 

And through at least two of the three women in The Testaments we learn what it is to face that belief and realize it is a lie. The woman growing up inside of Gilead, as she learns to read (because Aunts are allowed to read) discovers that Gilead is a lie, that it’s tenets and the loyalty it demands of its community are all lies. That the leaders are horrible people doing horrible things in the name of power.

The woman struggles, she feels her faith shaken and destroyed, as she says;

“If you’ve never had faith, you will not understand what that means. You feel as if your best friend is dying; that everything that defined you is being burned away; that you’ll be left all alone. You feel exiled, as if you are lost in a dark wood. … the world was emptying itself of meaning. Everything was hollow. Everything was withering. … The truth was not noble, it was horrible.”

I could honestly go on for days and days talking about this books, but I leave you to read it and engage with me, your friends, your cats, whomever, about it. There is a lot in this book that takes time to unpack, and probably more than one reading, but it is worth reading. It’s worth taking the fictional lessons imparted within it’s pages and realizing that they matter in real life. 

The Tipping Point

We are at a tipping point where something like Gilead could happen, and I think most women, and quite a few men, know this. We have to pay attention, and we have to stay strong in the face of looming disaster.

But that is for another blog on another day. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, go out and get it today, and while you’re at it, pick up The Testaments

… you could believe in Gilead or you could believe in God, but not both. “ – Margaret Atwood, The Testaments


Hello!

I am taking a bit of time off from blog writing because as some of you may know, I got married on the 7th!

While I am recalibrating my brain I have been reading Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments, and I just finished it. It. Was. Amazing. Next week I am planning on writing my review so stay tuned!

For now, make sure you pick up the Trickster’s Treats 3 anthology on Amazon today! My story I Want It is part of this great collection of spooky, creepy stories just in time for Halloween!

Shadow and I will see you soon dear readers!

Available for Pre-Order Now!

You can now pre-order the short story anthology Trickster’s Treats 3 and you’ll get to read my short story called “I Want It” — along with some other great and spooky stories!

Proceeds will go to the charity:water organization! So your money benefits an important cause AND you get some awesome stories!

Pre-order your copy TODAY!

Fictional Friday!

When I started this blog I knew I’d have some weeks where it would be a struggle to come up with content I feel passionate enough about to post on. I have a post written, but it doesn’t feel like quite the “right” time for it, so I am going to hold onto it for a bit longer, tweak it, and wait for its time to be born into the blog.

For now, I wanted to share with you all another piece of my fiction writing, this time from my collection of short stories Menagerie of the Weird.

I love this story, I wrote it in college for an assignment and it is my ode to my all-time favorite Poe story, The Masque of the Red Death.

When I first read the Poe story I was instantly entranced by the ideas of the different colored rooms, the rich and powerful thinking they can hide in opulence from disease, and realizing that no amount of wealth can help when it comes to the plague.

Here is my story, I hope you love it like I do.

“The Color of Death”

by JL Metcalf

“There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.”

~Edgar Allan Poe

She sits on the orange couch surrounded by orange walls. Her hands bunch and clench in her lap, unsure what to hold onto. She gazes at the young police officer standing over her and he speaks but the words are lost in the buzzing in her ears. Someone is screaming. She shakes her head and looks away from him. The orange rug is dirty now. All the people walking in and out of her apartment had left footprints. She hated when the apartment was dirty. 

She put her face in her hands and tries to understand what happened. How had it all come to this? She can’t concentrate, there’s too much screaming. Then she smells the blood, the coppery rich smell of blood and remembers that it’s on her hands. It’s all over her. She had touched the body. 

The body.

Dear God, there was a body in her apartment.

She sobs and looks back up at the police officer who stares down at her with obvious sympathy. He hands her a Kleenex and she wipes her face, bright red blood on the white tissue. She must look a fright, her face and hands covered in blood. She tries to pull herself together.

“Ma’am? I need you to tell me what happened here.” the Officer’s voice starts to break through the fog and she looks at him.

“Yes. Yes I do.” she said, her voice soft. She looks up at the Officer, “I killed her. I did it.” she said and the Officer stared at her, speechless. The woman smiled at him in a kindly fashion, she understands that this is all very overwhelming. The blood and the tears, the screaming woman. It’s all very overwhelming.

The Officer turns away to find his superior, this is turning into a huge mess. The woman remains seated on the orange couch as more people march in with a stretcher. They make their way to the back of the apartment. Is that for the woman wailing in agony? Someone really needs to shut her up. She thinks to herself and then she realizes, she is the woman wailing in agony. She is the woman screaming. The stretcher isn’t for her.

It’s for the body. The dead body.

Four Years Ago

“You like Poe? I love him!” Stephanie says and grins. Cindy tentatively smiles back at her. She is slightly overwhelmed by this woman.

“His short story, “The Masque of the Red Death” is one of my all-time favorite stories. I love all the colored rooms.” Cindy says quietly, her cheeks flush with color but Stephanie doesn’t laugh at her, she claps her hands together and nods her head.

“I know! It’s an amazing story.” Stephanie says and takes her hand, “But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious.” She quoted, smiling. Cindy looks down at their joined hands and smiles in return. This is nice. This woman Stephanie is stunning and Cindy cannot believe she’d be interested in her. She’s so plain, mousy brown hair, brown eyes and pale skin. Nothing remarkable about her figure or her personality. She always thought of herself as rather bland. As someone not to be noticed.

Stephanie on the other hand, she was vivacious and full of life. Her short hair was blond and she had bright blue eyes. She wore a lot of blue to accentuate them she had admitted earlier. She was tall and curvy and gorgeous. Men stared at her with lust and women stared at her with obvious jealousy. Cindy felt suddenly proud that this fantastic woman would stop to talk to her, much less hold her hand in public and quote Poe.

“Cindy, do you want to have dinner with me tonight? This has been so much fun but I have to get to class now.” Stephanie released Cindy’s hand with obvious reluctance and stood, gathering her book bag as she spoke. 

They had met in a lecture on the role of horror in literature. They had struck up an instant friendship, chatting about books and movies. Actually, if Cindy was being honest, Stephanie had started and carried most of the conversation. Cindy had been too stunned to say much of anything. She wasn’t used to beautiful women talking to her like she mattered.

“I would love to.” Cindy said and smiled at her new friend.

Cindy was never what you would call popular. She had friends and she had boyfriends but she never felt truly connected to the world around her. Her boyfriends had been few in number and she had never had sex with them, they had all been short-lived affairs that ended in their tears and Cindy’s indifference. She never found much solace in other people. She really only felt peaceful when she was alone and writing.

She decided she was gay when she was about sixteen but knew she couldn’t come out to her parents until she was older. They wouldn’t understand that it wasn’t a choice she made, it was simply how she was. So she kept her secret and pretended to be like everyone else. It wasn’t too hard, no one paid much attention to her anyway.

She finally came out in college. Her parents were horrified but cautiously optimistic that it was just a stage even though Cindy insisted that it wasn’t. She allowed them their falsehood because it kept them in her life. They never talked about her sexual orientation again after that day. Cindy was relieved. If she was honest with herself she’d admit that she wasn’t all that interested in her own sexual orientation either.

As Stephanie walked away from their table that afternoon Cindy realized that if she and Stephanie began dating, it would be her first relationship in college. She had spent time with a couple girls and had even kissed one of them, but she never felt moved to go any further. The relationships eventually withered and died. The girls left feeling a weird mixture of confusion and relief. Cindy never suffered much at the end of any relationship, she moved on quickly. She was often indifferent to the pain of others, or so she was told by the girls she briefly dated. Stephanie was different, Cindy didn’t know why she felt this way, she simply knew that Stephanie would be someone very special.

That night at dinner was wonderful, they flirted, they laughed and then, when all was said and done, they made love. Cindy admitted afterwards that it had been her first time and Stephanie was blown away. It was a beautifully tender and romantic night. 

Cindy felt like a different person with Stephanie. She felt more alive. More in touch with the world around her. More in touch with herself. Or, who she thought she was anyway. Stephanie helped her see all the colors of the world. Cindy pretended to care deeply about them.

Cindy would refuse to admit to herself that even with Stephanie’s love, she still felt empty. She felt alone. She ignored the fact that sex made her feel ugly and dirty and that it did nothing for her. She forced herself to do it because Stephanie seemed to enjoy it so much. 

They quickly fell in love, spending every moment together and Cindy couldn’t get enough of Stephanie. She fed off of her light and her exuberance. Years passed in the blink of an eye. At their fourth anniversary Cindy took her out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. She had planned the night  in intricate detail. As they sat sipping champagne Cindy noticed that Stephanie seemed distracted.

“What is it?” she asked.

“What? Oh…it’s nothing.” she said and smiled.

“Tell me Steph.” 

Stephanie sighed and shook her head, “I don’t want to do this here, not on our anniversary. It seems…wrong.”

Cindy felt her stomach drop and she put her champagne flute down onto the table. Reaching forward, she clasped Stephanie’s hand and met her eyes.

“Tell me.” she said, her voice rough. Stephanie put her glass down as well and put her other hand on top of Cindy’s.

“I’m…I’m not happy Cindy. We’re not good for each other…” she paused and picked her glass up again, breaking contact with Cindy by taking her other hand and laying it in her lap, “We haven’t made love in months and you barely even speak to me…this dinner is the first time we’ve been alone in weeks.” she guzzled the rest of her champagne and looked at Cindy nervously.

“I see.” Cindy said and stood up, “Come with me. Let’s go talk somewhere private.” she said abruptly and Stephanie nodded in agreement. She looked anxious and while part of Cindy wished she could ease her fears, she was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to bother. She was fascinated at her lack of emotional response to Stephanie’s words. She had felt fear and sadness but no surprise. None of it was a surprise, for months now Stephanie had been making snide comments about their “boring” life and getting angry at everything Cindy did. Cindy ignored most of it, figuring it had nothing to do with her. But now she saw that it was all her fault.

She had allowed her indifference to permeate their relationship. She had allowed Stephanie to experience who she truly was. She had allowed Stephanie to see that she was an empty shell and Stephanie was rejecting her. 

Stephanie was going to leave her. Cindy couldn’t allow that.

They spoke little on the drive home and when they walked into the apartment Cindy turned to her, “Drinks. We need drinks. I’ll get them, you relax.” she said and touched Stephanie’s face, “I do love you…let’s really talk about this.” she said and Stephanie smiled, looking relieved.

“I love you too Cyn.” she said.

Cindy stepped into their blue kitchen and looked around, this apartment was bizarre to her, she had not understood Stephanie’s desire to color-code the rooms. When she asked about it Stephanie had looked offended before finally saying, “It’s an homage to our favorite Poe story…”The Masque of the Red Death” …I thought you’d like it.” she sniffed before locking herself in her office.

Cindy sighed and made her way to the fridge where she pulled out a bottle of wine. Looking behind her she heard Stephanie turn on some music in the living room and sit down with a sigh. Cindy quickly dashed across the hall to the bathroom.

Where Stephanie kept her sleeping medication.

Crushing the meds into the glass she filled it with wine and went back to join Stephanie in the living room. They sat down on the orange couch and sipped their wine. Finally, Cindy sighed and drank the last of her glass before putting it down.

“So…we need to talk…” she said and Stephanie nodded as she nervously sipped her wine. “If I’m being honest Steph…I’m not happy either.” Cindy said and watched the relief spread over Stephanie’s face, she took a big gulp of her wine and nodded. Stephanie blinked a few times and rubbed at her eye with one hand. She suddenly looked tired.

“What can we do to change things?” Cindy asked her. 

“I-I think we need to…we need to…be…more…” Stephanie’s eyes were closing and she looked sleepy, she looked at her wine glass and at Cindy, “What…you do…what did you?” she slurred and leaned forward to put her glass on the table, she missed and the glass crashed to the carpet, spilling its last drops of wine onto the orange carpet. Cindy looked at it in disdain.

“Look what you did. You know I hate when it’s dirty in here.” she said angrily and stood. Stephanie watched her, helpless to move as Cindy walked over and slapped her face. “You can’t leave me Stephanie. I forbid it.”  she said as Stephanie’s eyes closed and she fell into a deep sleep.

As Cindy and Stephanie fell in love Cindy discovered Stephanie’s fatal flaw. She was desperate to please and she very rarely stood up to anyone. Cindy found that she had an aggressive side to her and could easily force Stephanie to her will. She thrived on making Stephanie do what she wanted and ignored her when Stephanie tried to enforce her own will upon their relationship. Cindy also found that Stephanie did best when steered with a firm hand. If that meant a few slaps or punches here and there, than so be it. Cindy knew what was best for Stephanie and eventually, Stephanie came to the same realization.

When Stephanie woke up she found herself handcuffed to the bed. Cindy sat beside her, reading a book. 

“Ah. Your awake. That was quite a nap you took my love.” she said, putting her book down.

“What’s going on? CIndy?” Stephanie pulled at the handcuffs locking her to the bed and glared at Cindy with anger in her eyes. Cindy laughed.

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all,” Cindy quoted from Poe’s work and smiled at her lover. Stephanie stared at her, unbelieving that the woman she loved could be so far gone. 

“What the hell? Cindy, you have to let me go!” she cried out. Cindy laughed again.

“You know…that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you truly angry. Bravo Steph! Now, we have to discuss some changes. I don’t think you understand that I simply do not care if you’re unhappy. You are here for me and only me. Do you understand that? You are going to marry me and we are going to live a nice, normal life.”

“I won’t-“

“Hush up.” Cindy punctuated this statement with a slap to the face.”You will do as you are told or face punishment.”

“Screw you Cindy. Let me go!” Stephanie said, suddenly defiant. Cindy laughed and stood up. She surveyed the pristine white of their bedroom, sad to think it was soon to be soiled. The bedroom had always been her favorite room in the apartment. Something about the pristine white appealed to her. She turned and bent over to root through a small bag at her feet. She pulled out a pair of large pliers and turned to Stephanie.

“Do you now what these are for?” she asked. Stephanie said nothing. “No idea? They’re for removing your toenails and fingernails. One at a time.”

Stephanie screamed when the first toenail was torn off. Cindy had to gag her to keep the neighbors from hearing. By the time she finished, the quilt beneath her was bloodied and Stephanie was passed out. Cindy put the pliers away and sat back down, picking up her book once more.

She kept Stephanie tied to the bed for weeks. During that time she removed all her nails, shaved all her hair and tortured her in a myriad of unpleasant ways. The bedroom was no longer white, the walls and floor were spattered with blood, some fresh, some dried to a crusty brown. 

“This room smells rather…unpleasant…I think it’s time to clean you up.” Cindy said and unlocked her hostage from the bed. Stephanie had lost her strength a few days ago so Cindy wasn’t worried about her escaping. She had lost a lot of weight even though Cindy fed her. Her once perfect skin was scarred and scabbed over and many people had called looking for Stephanie. Cindy told them all in a tear-filled voice that Stephanie had left her for good and she didn’t know where she had gone. They all believed her and it made Cindy realize that Stephanie’s unhappiness was far greater than she had imagined. She had clearly been discussing it with their circle of friends. In the end though, it made Cindy’s life easier. Everyone believed her story.

She carried Stephanie into the bathroom and laid her in the bathtub where she lay unconscious. Cindy went into the bedroom and surveyed the damage. It was really beyond cleaning, she might as well burn everything. She grabbed some trash bags and was going about stuffing bedding into them when she was suddenly hit it the head. She cried out and fell onto the bed, when she turned over Stephanie stood above her, holding the frying pan in her hands. 

“What are you doing?” she asked, touching her head and feeling the wetness of blood she glared at her former lover with fury.Stephanie started to laugh hysterically, her face a mask of madness.

…who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him –that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!” she cried out, quoting Edgar Allan Poe as she brought the frying pan down again. And again. And again. With a cry of rage Stephanie slammed it into her face one last time. Cindy’s legs jerked and were still. Dropping the pan Stephanie fell to her knees and through her tears she screamed, “And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death!!!” Then she began to laugh hysterically.

Today

“I did it Officer. I killed her.” Stephanie sobbed and held her hands out towards the Officer who stepped back, his face a mask of horror. Then he turned and went to look for his Captain as the woman collapsed back into herself. When the Officer and the Captain returned the woman sat stiffly on the couch, staring into space. Her wounds were gruesome and deep but she wouldn’t let the paramedics take a look at her. Every time they came near she started screaming again. The Captain eyed her cautiously and turned to his Officer.

“She’s clearly been tortured or beaten, we gotta take her in to get checked out.” The young Officer nodded and they stepped up to where Stephanie sat on the couch, an orange  blanket from the couch wrapped around her shoulders.

“Miss…” The Captain sat in front of her on the orange coffee table.  The woman didn’t move for a moment but then her gaze shifted over to him.

“Yes?”

“My officer says you have admitted to killing Miss. Jones. Is this true?”

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal –the redness and the horror of blood.” Stephanie quoted and the two men glanced at each other as Stephanie nodded, “Yes…”the redness and horror of blood” …have you ever read Poe Officers?” she asked, eyeing them with the eye not swollen shut.

“Um…can’t say I have Miss.” The Captain said, his forehead creased with worry.

“Oh, I love Poe,” she mused,  “…there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise –then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.” she smiled wanly at the men who were left speechless at her recitation.

“Uh…Ma’am…” the Captain said but was struck silent when Stephanie stood and looked him directly in the eye.

Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” she quoted loudly and walked out of the apartment, the Officer quickly following. The Captain stared after her, his face an unreadable mask as a paramedic walked over to him.

“Where did she go?” he asked and the Captain shrugged.

“Officer Smith is going after her, I think she’s lost it man.” he said and the Paramedic peered at him.

“Why? Cuz of the screaming? That’s normal after so much trauma.”

“No man, she won’t stop quoting some Edgar Allan Poe story.” he replied and the Paramedic looked at him incredulously as the Captain repeated himself, “I think she’s lost it.”

The End

My collection of stories came out in the Summer of 2015, and is available for purchase on my website or on Amazon!


5 Questions For a Creator: Heather Rigney

This week I got to chat with author/creator Heather Rigney! Heather is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. She is the author of The Merrow Trilogy –a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all.

Her journalistic writing has been featured in both Motif Magazine and The Avenue Concept Magazine, and she contributes weekly to Inkitt-The Writer’s Blog. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets.

You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website: www.heatherrigney.com

Author Heather Rigney in her natural homicidal mermaid form.

JL Metcalf: What is your number one tip to creators (new and old) on how to best market themselves in today’s world?

Heather Rigney: Be consistent and be yourself.

I am at least one of those things–I’m always unapologetically ‘me’ but I suck at consistency! Recently, I got a full-time teaching gig and my artistic gigs have suffered. However, I do know that to stay relevant, you need to be consistent with your audience. Have weekly content on your social media channels that is both a glimpse into your world as a creative individual and that features what you’re selling in some way. I am not good at this. My sales have dipped because I don’t stay on top of this. 

An author friend of mine sends out a weekly newsletter about what’s going on in her life and I am always fascinated by how she finds the time and the content. I love that she is always herself. Personally, I can’t stand fakeness. I know a few lifestyle bloggers and the forced, posed, staged content makes me gag. 

JLM: Why is marketing yourself, aka the business of creating, so important for creators to learn and embrace?

HR: We, creators, like to make stuff.

The stuff is only a business when you get it out there in the big wide world. Because we are makers, we tend to be on the shy side. The business world does not embrace shy, it embraces the go-getters. So, that’s the dirty truth. We shy violets need to dig deep to be outgoing when we are not. It’s the only way you’re going to sell anything. 

My advice, if you can’t be you, be someone else. That’s weird but true! Try and do what your most out-going friend would do! I do that sometimes. I think of my friend who talks to everyone and I channel her. “Hi! I like your shirt! Can I tell you about my book?” I also have bookmarks with my best review ever on the back which I hand out. “Here! Don’t take my word for it, read the description on the back!” These bookmarks have sold me more books than I can count and I barely had to say anything. Find your trick(s) and use them. 

Art piece by Heather Rigney

JLM: What do you like best about being a creator?

HR: The zen part of creating appeals to me. When I am writing or painting, I zone out. I’m completely wrapped up in words, ideas, media, patterns, shapes, whatever. When I create, all the other life-junk fades away. It’s an escape for me. 

Also, I create worlds where I am in control. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be in control of just one small thing and have it turn out just the way you like it? Creating is like that for me. I make stuff to make me happy. 

JLM: What do you like least about being a creator?

HR: Figuring out what to do with stuff after I make it. The creating is awesome. The editing, marketing, selling, etc. … Meh. That’s serious work and it takes a lot out of me and gives very little back. That’s a lesson I have learned the hard way–realizing that my hustle is not going to yield as much as I would like. And, the creative business is all about the hustle. 

The Merrow Trilogy by Heather Rigney

JLM: Who (or what type of art) inspires you most and why?

HR: Great question! I’ll break it down into my two creative realms–writing and painting/illustrating.

Writing – I have always admired and been in love with the works of both Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter. Ms. Atwood because she writes about women in a way that is both true and intimate. She also tackles science fiction/speculative fiction in a way that is both frighteningly thought-provoking with a feminist edge. Angela Carter also writes with a feminist slant, but her writing is more in the dark fairy tale vein which really appeals to me. 

Painting/Illustrating – I really enjoy both figurative and abstract work. Right now I am loving Audra Auclair. Her colors, her imagery, her intense knowledge of anatomy is everything to me. 

Art piece By Heather Rigney

Thanks Heather for your insightful comments – and thank you to my readers for checking out this weeks 5 Questions For a Creator!

Make sure to check back here next Friday for another post!

A Bit of Fiction for Friday!

In July my fiancé Frankie showed me a contest that a local magazine, Motif, was having as part of the upcoming NecronomiCON celebration.

Here in Rhode Island we have wicked love for all things weird, as well as all things HP Lovecraft.

(In case you didn’t know, Lovecraft was born in Providence, hence our love for the writer.)

The contest asked local writers and artists to submit works in the vein of Lovecraft, but with their own spin (brownie points given if you somehow include Rhode Island into the tale).

I did not win the contest, but I did get one of four runner up spots – something that made me quite happy. To get runner up out of 50 something entrants isn’t shabby at all folks!

I had a lot of fun writing this story. I have read some Lovecraft (every school kid has, right?) but I wasn’t extremely well-versed in his style. But I know enough about what scares me, and I also know that some of my favorite writers, Stephen King included, take some of their inspiration from Lovecraft.

Well, without further ado – Check out my entry, It Won’t Be Ignored, and I please click the link after the story to check out the other awesome entries!

It Won’t Be Ignored by JL Metcalf

She sat at the desk, tapping her keyboard, liking the click of the keys but not typing anything of worth. With a sigh she peered out her window at 

(her prison?)

Providence, her home. The buildings rose up, thrusting their cement edifices into the gray skies. Rain fell onto the city, cleaning it, making it pure. But purity was not what was needed. What was needed was something unspeakable, something she couldn’t quite believe she was a part of. 

She looked at her keyboard, “Shub-Niggarath” she murmured. 

MONTH ONE:

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

The sound again. That infernal noise. She sat up in bed and looked around her. The bedroom was dark, and would be quiet if not for that damn scratching in her walls. 

Her landlord, a man large of belly and small of mind, had chuckled at her over the phone the last time she called him regarding the noise. She could tell he thought she was a hysterical female desperately in need of a man. In fact, he had uttered “Don’t you lesbeens know how to, you know, do stuff?” She had clenched her fist angrily, it wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last time he called her a lesbeen. In his barely understandable Rhode Island patois he told her he would “Take care of it.” When she asked when that would be he coughed a deep, phlegmy cough and hung up the phone without responding.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

That was weeks ago. Weeks and weeks of the noise. It sounded like little feet and claws in her walls. Of a busy critter making a nest, destroying insulation, doing damage. Making her insane. Weeks of it waking her up at night, of it disturbing her work. Weeks of it echoing in her brain like some kind of soundtrack for her life. 

Truth be told, she loved her apartment. She lived on Union Street in a loft that had views of the skyline that took her breath away every day. If not for the scratching, it would be the perfect apartment.  She often told friends that it was a place she could live in until she died. 

Which might be today, she thought unhappily as the scratching intensified, if that damn noise doesn’t stop! 

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

As a freelance writer, she spent most of her time in her apartment. When the sound had started she had hoped it would fade away on its own. When it got really bad, or what she then considered really bad, she played music to cover up the noise, but lately even that didn’t seem to be working. The noise permeated every moment of her life in the apartment.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

You’re being stupid, she thought as she lay back down and put her pillow over her head, it can’t get louder. You’re just tired from lack of sleep. Unless, her tired mind retorted, there are more of them in your walls. What if it’s an infestation. The thought made her heart race and her stomach clench. The thought of hundreds, no thousands of critters in her walls

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

made her feel sick. Infestation. Vermin. Disease. Impurity. The words swirled and danced through her head like some kind of sadistic, twisted mantra. Infestation. Vermin. Disease. Impurity. Over and over again.  She moaned. 

“Go to sleep crazy,” she said out loud to stop the racing, swirling thoughts, “Go to sleep.” 

She closed her eyes. She knew what to do, she had learned it in therapy. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Rinse and repeat.

Impure. Impure. Impure. 

“No,” she moaned and shifted in her bed, the sheets tangled between her legs, her body coated in sticky, smelly sweat. 

She tried to count sheep, but the fluffy bastards wouldn’t cooperate. They started out all cute, like the Serta sheep in the old commercials. Then the clouds above formed the word Impure and the sheep began to transform. They became hairless, emaciated beasts, their mouths dripping with blood and some weird green goo. Their eyes rolled back and sunk into their skulls with a wet plop. Their flesh hung in ropey strands over bright white bone. They turned, opened their gaping, rotted mouths, and the sound

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

Echoed around her. “Dammit!” She groaned and got out of bed to watch TV, “I give up, you win!” She yelled at the walls as she brewed coffee and sat on the couch, watching endless episodes of The Office as she waited for dawn. 

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

MONTH THREE:

Bleary eyed, a massive coffee clutched in one hand, her laptop under her arm, she sat down in the Dunkin on Dorrance Street, and sorted out her stuff. By this point the noise had been ongoing 24/7 for months. She no longer felt like herself. Her dreams, when she slept a few hours each night, were filled with monsters with sharp, glistening teeth calling her name. With dark rituals she didn’t understand, but that felt familiar and ancient. That felt purifying. 

She sipped her hot coffee,

Impure.

not caring that each sip burned her tongue. She relished the feel of the caffeine working its way into her system, the warmth it created in her belly, “Ah, that’s the stuff,” she murmured and laughed to herself. 

A man in a suit and tie looked over at her curiously, but said nothing. “That’s right douchebag, I’m talking to myself,” she mumbled and chuckled again, “I’m a loony tunes lesbeen,” she cackled. Now more people were looking at her, their eyes shifting to her laughing face and quickly away when they saw something in her face that scared them. If they accidentally met her eyes they felt a chill run down their spine, an awareness of something…evil in their midst. In fear they fled the shop, praying that distance would cause the fear to fade.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

She looked around her, “No,” she said, her posture hunched, like a scared animal, “No,” she repeated. The sounds of the coffee shop dimmed, all she heard was

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

The sound. It was everywhere.

“No,” she said again, louder. Around her the crowd in line shifted away from her, faces buried in phones or looking outside, looking anywhere but at the dirty, disheveled woman talking to herself and getting more and more agitated. 

She jumped when a hand touched her arm, “NO!” She growled in a voice she didn’t recognize, looking at, but not seeing the worker. 

The Dunkin employee jumped away, her young face stricken, “Ma’am?” She asked, her voice shaking.

“NO!” She snarled again, “Not here! Not here!” She screamed.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

“Ma’am, are you all right?” The girl stepped away as the woman fell to her knees, her hands in her hair, a groan emanating from her in one long wail that sent many of the remaining customers out the door.

She looked up at the worker suddenly and smiled. The young girl gasped and stepped back so fast she tripped and landed with a plop on the floor. Her coworkers were gazing at the woman in fear, too afraid to do anything, and the manager, a tidy man in his 20s, stepped forward. He cleared his throat, but when he opened his mouth to speak

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

was all that came out. She looked at him, tears in her eyes. She looked around the Dunkin, and shook her head, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” She mumbled, “I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.” 

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

It was all she couldhear now. Then a voice sounded, it was her voice, but not her voice. It was a dead voice.  An ancient voice.

Impure. The blood is the way. Shub-Niggurath

Confused, she screamed and ran from the coffee shop, she had to get back to her apartment she thought insanely. She would be safe there. The sound would keep her safe.

As she made her way through the streets of Providence, she swore she was being followed, she felt eyes on her, hunting her. A grunting hot wave of breath washed over the back of her neck and she shuddered, “No,” she moaned, “Please,” she begged, not knowing who she was begging exactly.

Impure. The blood is the way. Shub-Niggurath.

The voice was insistent. It wouldn’t be ignored. Sobbing, She turned to see the beast she knew was hunting her, knowing if she saw its eyes it would be the last thing she saw, but her legs got tangled and she crashed to the ground in a sobbing heap. Snot ran from her nose and dripped to the pavement. She pressed her forehead into the ground.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

She screamed and banged her head on the cement sidewalk. Once. Twice. Again and again, until blood stained the pavement. 

The blood is the way Morrigan. Shub-Niggurath.

Suddenly she smiled, yes, the blood, the blood would make it stop. It would make the sound stop. She was sure of it. It would cleanse her, for she was impure. 

You need more.

A hand gripped her shoulder, she flinched and scuttled away, growling. The police officer sighed, but he stepped way, holding his hands up. She gazed at him and watched his lips move, but

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle.

was all she could hear. It lived in her brain now, that sound. But she had been given the answer, the way to make it stop. She knew now what to do.

Blood. The blood. It needs the blood to make the sound go. Get the blood. Bathe in the blood. Feed us the blood. 

“Who is us?” She asked out loud. The police officer rubbed his face and spoke into the walkie on his shoulder, “I’m going to need an ambulance at the corner of Dorrance and-“

“SHUB-NIGGURATH!!!!!!” The woman screamed the sacred name, the word coming from an ancient and unknown place within her. She suddenly, in a burst of knowledge handed down from generations of her ancestors, she knew what had to happen. What was happening. 

Her shriek had started the police officer and he stepped back, away from her madness, away from the fear that jumped into his throat at the sound of the name.

He stepped back, off the curb, and directly into the path of an oncoming bus.

She felt warmth wrap around her. For the first time in months, she felt happiness as the police officer seemed to explode as the bus driver slammed on brakes that screeched and squealed. As bystanders screamed in unison. As the blood sacrifice was made.

YessssssWell done Priestess.

All she heard was silence. Blessed silence.

Exhausted, she pushed herself off the sidewalk and shook her head, blood drops from her wounded forehead flying around her in a gruesome halo. People had run to where the officer had been killed. Others stood nearby, wailing in surprise and fear.

No one noticed as she slowly walked away, the silence around her a welcome and comforting cocoon. 

MONTH FIVE:

Morrigan sat at her desk, tapping the keys happily. She felt so refreshed, so creative. Things had been good. Even the dreams didn’t bother her. She knew it was the beasts way of honoring her. She knew now what she had to do to keep the noise at bay. She knew how to serve the beast and keep the noise quiet. 

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

Sniffing the air, she raised her head. It couldn’t be, it was so soon.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

She stood and gathered her things, “Shub-Niggurath,” she said solemnly, Reverently. 

She got it done efficiently for the beast, for that was her sacred duty as priestess. 

The blood. It needs the blood to keep the quiet. To purify.

Scratch scuttle. Scratch scuttle. 

The End

For more stories, including the winning story, Click Here

Note: All photographs are by JL Metcalf and are her sole property.

Flash Fiction and Booksie

I am always on the hunt for writing contests and fun ways to stretch myself with my writing.

Last month I found this fun writing prompt on Booksie, along with a flash fiction contest I could enter into for free.

Image credit: Frankie B. Washington

What’s fun is that I can see how many people have viewed my little story – 325! – and I am appreciative of every one of you who have read and shivered over my horror tale.

If you haven’t read it yet, go here and check it out, feel free to share the story far and wide!

5 Questions For a Creator: Penny Dreadful

This week I got to chat with Penny Dreadful, the host of a horror show called Shilling Shockers that airs on television channels throughout the country. If you haven’t checked out her show, do so immediately, it’s loads of fun!

Penny, aka, Danielle Gelehrter is an actress, writer, and comedian from Massachusetts. In the persona of witch horror hostess Penny Dreadful, she introduces horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies on the local TV horror movie show ‘Shilling Shockers.’ The series ran from 2006-2016, and continues on in the form of annual Halloween specials and DVD releases.

In addition, Gelehrter along with Eric Marshall, have been the co-writers of the official Masters of the Universe Classics toy bios from 2016-present. Gelehrter has also been a writer on several He-Man books from Dark Horse publishing. She is currently working on a book about the werewolf folklore and legends of New England. 

JL Metcalf: What is your number one tip to creators (new and old) on how to best market themselves in today’s world?

Penny Dreadful: Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to get the word out via social media platforms and websites. Things like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great tools for getting the word out. However, because it’s such a great place to showcase your work and advertise, there are a lot of people using the internet to promote what they do. Because of this, it’s easy to get drowned out in the overwhelming ocean of posts and websites.

It’s important to present material in such a way that’ll help you stand out. It’s a balancing act too, because you want to keep putting updates out there, but you also don’t want to “overload” your audience with constant posts about your work either. 

The internet isn’t all though. At least as far as being a horror host, doing appearances at horror conventions and local events is key. That way, you get to go out there and meet folks in person, which is great. It’s more fun to connect that way, both with existing fans and with potential new fans. A lot of people got turned onto ‘Shilling Shockers’ after they randomly stopped at our table during a convention.

JLM: Why is marketing yourself, aka the business of creating, so important for creators to learn and embrace?

PD: Putting in the work to market yourself is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and, in fact, is usually pretty essential to your success as a creator.

It can be challenging to “embrace” it because of the stigma which is sometimes associated with this kind of self-marketing. For example, you may get the occasional person who will throw out the disparaging “shameless self promotion” comment. I even sometimes say it about myself in a joking manner. However, unless you have some paid representative to do it for you, you need to promote your own work to get the word out about it, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Otherwise, how are people going to find out about what you do? Nobody else will magically do it for you, and your audience isn’t going to materialize out of thin air. Creator + Audience – it’s a two part equation, and that’s the truth.

That said, it takes time and effort, and some level of nuance to do it. You don’t want to shove it down people’s throats, but you don’t want to quietly sit back and hope that people will automatically find you. It takes some practice to get it just right, I think, and there’s a something of an art to advertising your creativity without turning people off by bombarding them.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Paiva

JLM: What do you like best about being a creator?

PD: The joy of making something that didn’t exist before, bringing it into the world, and watching the reaction. I think that’s why I love improv comedy so much. The spontaneity and energy of improv is creation in its purest form – “creating without a net,” if you will. That’s a pretty great feeling.  

JLM: What do you like least about being a creator?

PD: Trolls. Not fantasy, fairy tale, and folklore trolls – those are totally awesome and I love them. I’m talking about trolls of the “keyboard warrior” internet variety. I haven’t had a ton of run ins with them, fortunately, but it happens on occasion.

JLM: Who (or what type of art) inspires you most and why?

PD: Inspirations include many classic actors, writers, and comedians. To name just a few: Mary Shelley, Boris Karloff, Lucille Ball, Shirley Jackson, Agnes Moorehead, Weird Al, Vincent Price, Vampira, Joan Jett, Basil Gogos, Mozart, the Marx Brothers, Jonathan Frid, the Ramones, Zacherley, Carol Burnett, the Sex Pistols, Margaret Hamilton, Charles Addams, the Monkees, Caspar Friedrich, and Bugs Bunny.

All art and creativity inspires me if it comes from the heart. That’s kind of a cop-out answer, but it’s true. Acting, writing, visual art, and music are all forms of art that inspire me.

Photo Credit: Eric Parks

It’s Okay To Be Seen

Don’t Be Ashamed…

I’ve read a couple different things recently that have really made me think about something women face their entire lives, something that we don’t even maybe realize we are doing to ourselves: This idea about women being ashamed to take up space. To be loud. To make themselves seen, heard, and known.

How many of us hide in the background, afraid to be seen because when we are seen, we are called some pretty nasty things. They call us bitches, whores, and much worse. 

Why?

At 40, I am more confident than I have ever been, but even with that confidence I know that I am still afraid to truly be seen all the time. I don’t like being the center of attention and I figure that’s normal and just me being humble and appreciative for the little sliver of stuff I have.

But it’s more than that. It’s something that’s been engrained in me by society my entire life. Not on purpose, please understand that none of this is me saying “Men are bad, women are great.” No, nothing like that at all. This is me calling attention to something that really bothers me, something that I fight against every single day, and I wonder: Who else feels this way?

I have wonderful parents that never treated me less than my brother, but at the same time I grew up in a world that says women should be quiet. They should be on the sidelines. They shouldn’t take up too much space because when they do, they are taking space that belongs to a man.

I feel angry even typing that, but it’s true and I have to say it.

When the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won and celebrated that win, Piers Morgan Tweeted: 

Moment of Clarity

We are pushed down and pushed down and pushed down, and when we want to leap up and scream our victory, or our rage, we are told that we need to be silent. That by screaming our truth we are somehow egotistical and rude and bitchy

This Tweet is a good example of how if and when a women “gets loud” she becomes “shrill”

“Don’t Be Such a Bitch”

Good god how I hate that word, bitch

It has been used against women for so long that it’s no longer anything but a massive insult. It’s a way to push women down, to push me down back into “my place” where I am supposed to be quiet and not need anything. Where I’m supposed to do as I’m told, take care of others (ideally men) and not make any kind of noise. 

Because when a woman makes noise, she is uncouth, she is rude, she is ugly. 

Well, I’m saying now, screw that nonsense. It’s bullshit. 

We are all human beings and as such, we should treat one another the same. I’m going to use a word that’s thrown around and has therefore lost some of its power, equality. We need to start treating each other with equality.

In meditation practice the word equanimity is used a lot. If you’ve never heard this term before, “Equanimity is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight” (Buddhanet).

Now you may be shaking your head even more confused. The idea of equanimity is balance. Balance between love and hate, anger and happiness, male and female. It is when states such as these are out of balance that distress happens, disease happens, war happens. 

We all, as a collective human, need to find our way to equanimity. 

I won’t even say that this sounds easier than it is, because honestly, it sounds just as hard as it is. How do we get everyone (Trump lovers and Sanders lovers and everyone else) to come together in equality? In equanimity? 

I have no freaking clue. 

I’m not going to spout affirmations and words of strength because I don’t know how I change an entire lifetime of programming. I honestly am not. I can say, however, that I have friends and family and my soon to be husband who support and love me — whether I make noise or not. My fiancé especially encourages me to be loud, to be seen, and sometimes he makes sure I am seen when he sees me hiding. 

This is a video of me being seen at a book reading in 2014 – It was REALLY hard for me to do this, but I am glad I did.

The thing is, we can’t just suddenly change how we behave, but what I think will change things is by being aware of the issue and by actively trying to make changes to our behavior. We need to look to the women who have decided that they are going to be seen and heard, and aren’t going to be ashamed of either. We need to look to them and see them as proud warrior women who can show us the way, we shouldn’t judge them because we fear them, we should embrace them and ask them to help us be better at being seen. 

The Phantom Queen, Morrigan.
A bad ass warrior deity.
Image Courtesy of AstralCollective

It’s perfectly okay to be seen, and honestly, it’s okay to hide sometimes too, we can’t expect change to happen overnight. The important thing here is don’t be afraid to be seen, as hard as it can be. Don’t be afraid to need love and kindness and strength from those you care about, don’t be afraid to need others to help you. It’s okay to need people.

That’s another thing I have trouble with — I suppress my pain. I hide it inside myself so others don’t know about it because I don’t want to be a burden, because I don’t want to need anything from them. I don’t want to ask for help because it seems like weakness. Again, I don’t want to be truly seen. 

I suppress good news and try to minimize it. Recently I was accepted in an anthology that comes out over Halloween 2019, and while I was very excited to get that acceptance email, I also had one of those moments of, “Well they picked me because there must not have been a lot of applicants.” *Sigh* I have no idea of knowing if that’s true or not, and it doesn’t matter, because I was chosen and I am allowed to feel good, to be happy, to be seen.

Once again, me being seen in an upcoming Halloween Anthology

But I won’t beat myself up about this. I have made huge strides. I do ask for help, even when that voice inside says, “No! Don’t do that! They’re busy. They’re hurting. They don’t have time for you!” Because that little voice is wrong. When I ask for help, help is given readily and without judgement. I am seen, and it feels good sometimes, even when it’s hard.

We have to be the change if we ever hope for change. 

5 Questions For a Creator: Robert Geronimo

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with writer and artist Robert Geronimo. Robert is a published illustrator, writer, and comic creator, known for his dark fantasy series, Blood Realm.

JL Metcalf: What is your number one tip to creators (new and old) on how to best market themselves in today’s world? 

Robert Geronimo: The hustle never stops. Lot’s of up and coming creators often think they can sit back once they’re published. That is not the case. You still have to generate excitement around your book every time there’s a new release. Never take your readers and fans for granted.

JLM: Why is marketing yourself, aka the business of creating, so important for creators to learn and embrace? 

RG: We live in an age where we’re inundated with media. It’s non-stop. Especially with social media platforms like Instagram. Creators have to get people behind their product and let everyone know about it. On the plus side, there’s an audience for everything. 

JLM: What do you like best about being a creator?

RG: Seeing readers get excited about a new release is incredibly rewarding. It’s the ultimate pay-off. Especially when they’re discussing it after they’ve read it. 

JLM: What do you like least about being a creator?

RG: Things won’t get done unless you motivate yourself. Particularly when it’s a one-man-show like Blood Realm. I write, draw, color, and letter the series, and I don’t have anyone else to blame but myself if something isn’t finished.

JLM: Who (or what type of art) inspires you most and why? 

RG: Artists and writers that take risks inspire me. There are many titles that have the same aesthetic and story beats. I admire creators that go against the grain but can still tell deep and compelling stories.

Thanks Robert for taking the time to answer my questions! You can find out more about his work on his website.