April 21, 2016

A Brief History of My Hallucinations: a guest post by Nicole Cushing, author of "The Sadist's Bible"

How well do you know the people you chat with on a social network? 

Thirty-seven year old Ellie Blake is about to find out. Her Bible Belt community wouldn't dare accept her if she came out as a lesbian. Her husband, her pastor, and her neighbors would be scandalized by such a disclosure. But Ellie's desire for another woman's intimate touch grows stronger with each passing day, as does her desire to be dominant – to tell another woman just how to please her, to tie up another woman so that she'll never, ever leave. 

Ashamed of these feelings and hopeless of ever satisfying them, Ellie goes to a secret group on the social network and seeks out a partner for a suicide pact. There, she finds twenty-four year old Lori Morris--a woman who also claims devotion to death and lust. She agrees to meet Ellie in a hotel for an intense night of decadent sex and torture before suicide. But Lori has another agenda, too: to escape an oppressive force that might be God or might be the Devil. A force that even suicide may not allow her to escape. A force that wants Lori, Ellie, and all of humanity broken and brought to its knees.

A Brief History of My Hallucinations

By Nicole Cushing

When I was six years old, I attended my grandfather’s funeral. My mother took me up to see his body in the casket. I didn’t know it was taboo to touch him, so I gently patted his hand (as if to comfort him).
It was, of course, cold.
Very cold.
My brain tells me he couldn’t have been that cold. (He couldn’t have been any colder than room temperature, right?) But my heart tells me his dead hand was the coldest thing I’ve ever touched. In any event, this guest post isn’t about that particular moment. It’s about what happened afterward.
After touching his hand, I experienced this strange mental image of him falling endlessly through empty, black space. I say “mental image” but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It was more powerful and confusing than a mental image. My conscious mind didn’t create the image. It just arose involuntarily out of my six year old subconscious. It didn’t last very long (maybe only a few seconds). But here I am, writing about it over thirty-five years later. So it’s safe to say it shook me up.
I never mentioned it to my parents, because the image seemed to conflict with my Christian upbringing. I saw no clouds of Heaven. I saw no fires of Hell. I only saw blackness and oblivion. I’ve never considered this to be a genuine experience with the supernatural. At the time, I just thought of it as a weird, scary daydream that I didn’t want to dwell on--just a flash of an image that expressed my grief. And that’s still, basically, how I think of that vision. My neurons cobbled together an image to help me understand something that no six year old can ever fully understand.
That was the first such experience, but it was far from the last. Throughout my life I’ve experienced strange half-hallucinatory daydreams and vivid nightmares. When I was seven, I had an extremely strange, vivid nightmare about Hell that led me to wake up in a panic and run for my parents. (I still remember my mother saying my heart was “beating like a racehorse”.) When I was a teenager, I had another surreal nightmare (this one about the crucifixion).
The visions I’ve had in my adult life have touched on similar themes. They’re always disturbing and they’re often about metaphysical subjects. And I can assure you that none of these experiences have involved alcohol or drug use. I’ve had visions of strange, unholy chimeras and of saplings that bloom strangled fetuses. I’ve had nightmares about cosmic clowns.
All of these have served as inspiration for stories. Now, I should probably point out that visions and nightmares provide strong, emotionally resonant imagery but lack narrative structure. So it’s not just a matter of me getting a story zapped into my head by my subconscious. There’s a lot of work to do after getting the initial inspiration. I have to work out how the image relates to a fully-realized character and a compelling plot. But the inspiration is certainly fun. Even when the images shake me up, I can’t resist exploring them in fiction.
I used to think that every writer worked this way. (Or, at least, that many horror writers did.) Over time I’ve come to realize that I’m probably in the distinct minority. (And that may be an understatement.) Suffice to say: I’m not the kind of horror writer who can look at the hottest subgenres and plan my next three books accordingly. Pop culture tropes work for many folks (and if you dig them, fine). But, for me, visions and nightmares are where it’s at.
I think this is why my work is often described as “taboo”. When you’re working from visions and nightmares, you open the door to taboos. (As that’s where they routinely lurk, in all of us.)
Which brings me to my new novella, The Sadist’s Bible. This book was inspired by a vision I had while resting on a rooftop in New Orleans a few years back. What was that vision? Well, I don’t want to spoil things by revealing it. But I will say that it’s among the most vivid and disconcerting of the entire batch.
But this book isn’t just about a vision.
This is a book about two women who are, in their own unique ways, both brave and broken. It’s a book about sexual trauma and sexual repression. It’s about ugly institutional and interpersonal hierarchies and the groveling they inspire. It’s about the animalistic aspects of sex and spirituality. It’s about Heaven and Hell and that ugliest of all realms--Earth.
Intrigued? You can get it for $1.99 at Amazon.com, the Kobo Store, or directly from the good folks at 01Publishing.

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