Life, Writing Process

Denver Pop Culture Con 2019 — “Death in Fiction”

denver comic con
Photo by Josh Starbeck

This summer, I went to Denver Pop Culture Con, once Denver Comic Con until San Diego made them change the name. The convention had the usual—the cosplay, the contests, the artist alleys and merchant mesas, and many, many literary panels.

Being a dabbler of morbid subjects, I went to a panel, entitled “Death Becomes Her: Representing Death in Fiction,” which sought to explore our literary fascination with death.

The panelists were Brenna Yovanoff, Sherry Ficklin, Cat Winters, and Paul Kreuger, and the moderator was Amalie Howard. I found each of the authors had something to say of importance, and I will collect their best statements below:

Brenna Yovanoff

  • Literary deaths can be a safe space for readers who need to cope with their emotions. Books allow you to process at the spend you want to process. You have control. You can always put a book down and think a while.”
  • “Zombies compel and repel us. It’s the uncanniness. A thing that is supposed to be empty and still getting up and moving around.”

Sherry Ficklin

  • “Often YAF characters are experiencing things for the first time. First love, first death. It’s a fun playground because everyone reacts differently, everyone copes differently. It’s kind of like coping mechanism origin stories.”
  • The death of an inanimate thing can impact us as much as the loss of a life. The loss of a job, the destruction of an ideal. In fantasy, this can change from ‘my roommate moved to a different city’ to ‘my roommate turned into a cat.’ It’s still the loss of a friendship.”
  • “Death is not judgment. Time is the enemy, wearing down heroes and villains alike.”

Cat Winters

  • “Death in fiction can give us hope that there’s life beyond. Even the restless spirit appeals to us. Says—This might not be it. Death is not a stopping point. However, even if death is not finite, we still will not have what we have now. Death increases our appreciation of life.”
  • “Edgar Allan Poe was able to write about being alone, about not knowing how to handle the death of loved ones, the weirdness in our souls. He got away with horror and murder and madness under the stamp of literature.”
  • There is often hope in horror. Sometimes the story ends with the character destroyed, sure, but usually we get to see our protagonist once the horror has passed. We see what the character looks like on the other side of darkness. A stranger, broken, but on the path of healing.”

Paul Kreuger

  • “I often think of the post-apocalyptic story. The death of normality, of stability. And compare that to my experience as a millennial. The death of that promise I’ve had my whole life that if I get good grades and graduate from a good college, I will have a happy, cushiony job waiting for me. A house, a car.”
  • Fiction sometimes romanticizes death, but there’s a wide gulf between 13 Reasons Why and the economy of hot or not. I like hot monsters. I’d be okay with the grim reaper having ripped abs. If death were sexier I’d welcome it. But often, when suicide is glamorized, the author is usually the least affected by death, and the least responsible for the effect of their books. I question purpose. Unless its a martyrdom for loved ones, self-destruction is not congruent with hope.”
  • “Zombies can be whatever we want. They’re a blank slate. Romero had zombies represent the glut of U.S. capitalism. In Kim Eun-hee’s Kingdom, zombies literally eat the rich. They’re the external manifestation of the rot in South Korea coming from greedy rulers.”
Fantasy, Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Nominated — “And We Who Never Died”

The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.

BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”

When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.

Then Coffin Bell posted this:


And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.

As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.

But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.


Fantasy, Life, Writing (Published)

Published — “Directions After Death”

This isn’t my achievement, but my wife’s. Coffin Bell has published J. Motoki’s “Directions After Death” digitally and physically in their first print issue. If anyone’s interested, the anthology, Coffin Bell: ONE, is available for preorder ($15). Per usual, I’m both horrified and impressed by my wife’s dark literature. Where I’m satirical and speculative, she’s weird and wonderful and clearly, clearly, the better writer.


Fiction — “Ren Rats”

Today, we crossed a field of grass bordered by the black-and-yellow bark of Ponderosa pine, and we stopped and took it in. The sun-through-the-clouds coated us in a bluefire, and when I looked at my friends, at Jo and his plate-mail, at Lobard and his mad beard, and they at me, in my deep cloak with a celtic braid, holding a longbow, we had to laugh. It seemed exactly like we were a fellowship for some quest, maybe to steal from a gluttonous dragon, or to stop a cult from resurrecting their god, not a couple of Ren Rats surveying the clump of trees behind a parking lot.

“I don’t see any signs,” said Lobard, plucking some fern. “Don’t smell them, either.”

I remember taking a sweet breath, feeling the wetness in the air and the aged-wood and butterscotch of pine. Relishing in the thought: the dead aren’t here.

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Flash — “A Thousand Worms”

I work freeways, where thoughts slip pass like cars. It’s easier pulling over a Corolla. The only voices come from the car.

/ Where the hell is my registration? / Wait, I thought I was going the speed limit. / Stay calm, it’s just the tail light. /

Growing up, I thought I could be a librarian. Among books, thoughts turn slowly. People read well-tread passages like cars following a snow plow. But the librarians ruined it—their minds are violent. I could hear them from the aisles.

/ That goddamn madman couldn’t use the library’s search engine? / Where the hell is nonfiction again? / If she sneezes one more frigging time./ 

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Zombie Fiction — “Living Things Pet Shop”

Copper is the most antsy, selfish, stupid dog. She yips when you’re not paying attention, she flops on the floor and pushes your feet, belly jittering like jello, eyes pleading. Or she sneaks by your toes to beg, and if you pet her she pees.

If I put my hands on her head and push down to her rump, she pumps out a puddle.

Copper sleeps in the back office with the door locked and a gun on the desk. Where I sleep. I don’t trust the other dogs. They’re dreamers. But Copper sleeps lightly, and has a good ear, and will nose me awake when they are nearby.

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Fiction — “Necronomi Con”

A warehouse that could be the love child between a dumpster and a medieval castle. Coming from inside, groansMoans. A few shrieks cut off by the violent slapping of struggle, and then the wet patter of teeth on flesh. In the air an odor like rotten onions and shit and that unappetizing yeasty smell that accompanies unwashed bodies.

Welcome to Necronomi Con.

Booths. Endless booths, configured like holding cells in a prison. Each booth – a few posters depicting the wares of the artist, a stack of comics or a pile of plush things, and the artist itself, chained by the neck to a post, slobbering and scratching and gibbering horridly. Fans loiter, maybe to see how close they can get, maybe to ask for commissions (the zombies mostly vomit disturbing things, but sometimes they can be coerced to draw a portrait), maybe to get a scab or two flicked onto their special edition issue. In some places, the fans let the artists chew on them awhile as sort of ritual, sort of bragging right, sort of showcase of respect.

A few nibbles. That was what Alesya was slobbering for. She’d started her webcomic Radio Sex mostly for the bites, for the giblets, and maybe those penitent few who’d volunteer a limb. Unfortunately, five years on this lame series and she’d only gotten a few wrists, a pair of eyes, maybe an ear or two. Now she’d begun to brood and still, eyes alive but body stiff as the corpse it should be.

“I really like this.”

Alesya’s head snapped up. A fan!

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