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Sing Me Your Scars (Apex Voices) (Volume 3) Paperback – February 15, 2015
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"Like the best horror fiction, this collection is at once subversive and invested in the peculiar delights of the genre. The result is a full-body experience, packed with gasps and shivers, pulse-pounding jolts and moments of intense instinctive recoil -- shocking, yes, but completely enthralling and oddly uplifting as well."
-Helen Marshall, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Love, loss, and the mutable, yet ineluctable, truth of identity are the bedrock, the steely spine of Sing Me Your Scars. The stories comprise a mirror, shattered to 20-odd bits and reassembled and bound within a frame. Each jagged sliver reflects some distortion of the viewer, each shard bends and traps light and pierces the eye, perhaps the soul, with an isolated wound, but step back and back and a kaleidoscopic effect takes hold. Behold a powerful, important statement writ in the weird."
-Laird Barron, Locus Magazine
"I've read some wonderful pieces of fiction over the years, hundreds and hundreds of fantastic stories that I've loved in their own way. But this is something special, something just at a level above all that."
-Paul M. Feeney, Ginger Nuts of Horror
"...Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters is a sharp treatise on the subject of human pain, in all its forms, and what comes after. Underlying the physical torments endured by Walters' protagonists are believable emotional horrors with which most readers will relate. Realistic tragedies - loss of love, proxy wars in a messy divorce, parental disinterest, the loss of a relative to Alzheimer's - are placed side-by-side with more bizarre tribulations, such as the gradual vanishing of a lover's body, impossible anatomical experimentations, and Inquisitorial ordeals inflicted on wielders of magic."
-Christopher Burke, Weird Fiction Review
"Sing Me Your Scars is a gripping collection of short stories that provides a number of deeply-felt chills without relying on the crutches of common horror clichés and tropes. ...Damien Angelica Walters focuses less on the boogeymen in the shadows and more on inner demons like doubt, insecurity, and dependance. Don't get me wrong - this is no mundane collection of inner monologues; we've got a snake-headed woman you might recognize from Mythology 101, and a robot model of Henry VIII that lives with a stripper, and women who can sing buildings into existence, and many more such wondrous creations. But every single story, no matter how outlandish the window dressing may seem, is grounded in the very real foibles and frailties of human existence. ...Walters is a writer that seems prepared to be around for the long haul, and horror fiction as a whole is likely to benefit greatly from her talents."
-Blu Gilliand, The October Country
"I haven't felt this way about a collection of short stories since I read Thomas Ligotti's Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Walters's collection of short stories is haunting, creepy, and beautiful. The author makes mundane terrors seems otherworldly, and the otherworldly seems strangely familiar."
-The Dunwich Review
"Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author's ability to achieve so much in so few words."
-Suzanne van Rooyen, South African Speculative Fiction Review
"If you have not read any of Walters' work then this collection of short stories is an excellent place to start. Even if you have read some of the stories in other publications, it is worth getting this collection for the eight new stories. 'Sing Me Your Scars' by itself is reason enough to part with some money and treat yourself."
-Andy Whitaker, SFCrowsnest
"...creepy, weird, heartbreaking, and lovely."
-Sarah Richardson, Women Write About Comics
About the Author
Damien Angelica Walters is the author of Cry Your Way Home, Paper Tigers, and Sing Me Your Scars, winner of This is Horror's Short Story Collection of the Year. Her short fiction has been nominated twice for a Bram Stoker Award, reprinted in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror and The Year's Best Weird Fiction, and published in various anthologies and magazines, including the Shirley Jackson Award Finalists Autumn Cthulhu and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, World Fantasy Award Finalist Cassilda's Song, Nightmare Magazine, and Black Static. Until the magazine's closing in 2013, she was an Associate Editor of the Hugo Award-winning Electric Velocipede. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescued pit bulls and is represented by Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency.
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A lot of stories have managed this for me over the years. Daniel Keyes's Flowers For Algernon was probably one of the earliest (the short story - the novel did it a few years later). Passages in longer works can do it, too. Then there's a scene in Peter F. Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction where a group of enhanced mercenaries have formed a ring around a group of fleeing children. They're putting themselves in the firing line against a supernatural attacking threat to give the kids time to get picked up in a drop-ship. It's a powerful scene in a cracking bit of space-opera, and it's making me choke up now thinking about it. Hey, I'm a sucker for that last stand/heroic sacrifice kind of thing. More recently, Carole Johnstone's Equilibrium in Black Static really hit me, alternating deep melancholy with mounting dread, before a final breath of quiet hope. Beautiful stuff. Black Static tend to be a great resource for this kind of thing. And Christopher Fowler's Down, in the anthology The End Of The Line; this one had me bawling my eyes out, coming at me unexpectedly and at a time where I had similar things on my mind as the subject matter. And I think that's the common theme with these and all the other stories that have affected me. They resonate with me, push past all my 'defences' and get me right in the soul, for want of a better word.
All this is a massive preamble to a collection I've recently finished which I'm really struggling to do justice to in reviewing. Sometimes, something comes along and it just feels utterly perfect and magical. Whether that's just me and it's getting me at just the right time, or whether there truly is a pinnacle of writing and craft that these stories hit, I haven't got the faculties to analyse properly. I mean, there's no denying the beautiful sentences, the clarity of prose, the sense of someone who just knows exactly what they're doing, who is in complete control of their writing and style; the writing is confident, assured and poetic.
Of course, all this might mean little if the content of the stories themselves were lacking, but thankfully, that's not even close to the case. The breadth of imagination, the multitude of scenarios, the seemingly endless invention; all presented with absolute conviction and convincing detail.
I have to say, that even with the huge amount of fantastic short stories, novellas and novels I've read over that last few years - ever since getting back into horror reading - I am completely blown away by Damien Angelica Walters's first collection, Sing Me Your Scars.
Instead of doing my usual with anthologies/collections - talking about my favourite stories - I think I'll do something a little different here. I'm going to give an overview, talking about my impressions of the book as a whole, and dipping in and out of various stories to try and give an idea of what's on offer here.
First off, the overriding theme of the book - as you'd expect from the title - is one of pain and darkness, of suffering and the dark side of human emotion. Within these dark, fantastical tales, are undertones - and overtones - of abuse, mental illness, heartache and melancholia; there is loss and grief. Yet there is also hope, though fragile, and a quiet strength; even dignity. What's also noticeable about these stories is how plausible Damien makes everything seem. From the opening title story, Sing Me Your Scars, where we are presented with a woman stitched together from the various body parts of other women - and each woman still retains her voice in her respective piece; to Dysphonia In D Minor, which follows the fracturing relationship of two women who come from a region of the world where there singing voices can literally create buildings and structures; through to the final tale, Like Origami In Water, where a woman watches helplessly as her brother slowly fades from existence, piece by piece; we are struck by how utterly convincing it all feels, presented in such a style as to feel all too real. At no point did it cross my mind that these situations were anything less than depictions of reality; as soon as I started each tale, it felt as though I had always known the story, the situations. To me, it's a rare gift to be able to make the reader immediately comfortable with what would otherwise be absurdities.
That's not to say that these stories are predictable. They most certainly aren't, merely that the voice is so confident, so assured, that you do not question what you're reading. Take, for example, the story Paper Thin Roses Of Maybe. In this, we are presented with a world in which the doomed protagonists are existing in a small pocket of all that's left, as a strange wall encroaches on them from all sides, changing everything to motionless sepia-tones of an old photograph. And yet, we accept this situation on the face of it, because the inhabitants of this world experience the pain and fear so keenly. But I also think another part of it is that there is also deep subtext to these stories. The bizarre and unexplained end of the world in this story could equally be read as a metaphor for change, for unforeseen circumstance disrupting a previously smooth existence. Melancholia In Bloom puts us inside the mind of a woman who is lost in the horrible depths of dementia. It alternates viewpoints with her daughter, who is struggling each time to visit someone who appears unable to recognise her own family. Weaved through this terribly sad tale is a hint of magic, of lost hope and a fragile, aching attempt to pass on a precious family legacy. It can be read as literally as it's presented or with layers of meaning.
Or something. It occurs to me that I've got this far into the review, and I feel I'm not even close to doing justice to how wonderful these stories are, how beautifully written they are, how heartbreaking, and how absolutely filled with the pure depth of human longing, grief and pain. As I said at the start, I'm not an intellectual person, I don't know how to deconstruct a piece of prose or a story; I can only go on my instincts and the accumulations of what I've read in the past. Thirty or so years of reading have taken me to a point where I know what I like and love, I know what moves me and pushes my buttons, but I can't always say just why. And I don't think it matters terribly. What matters is that these stories spoke to me, touched me deeply in a way that very few have managed before. Again, I've read some wonderful pieces of fiction over the years, hundreds and hundreds of fantastic stories that I've loved in their own way. But this is something special, something just at a level above all that.
Girl, With Coin I first read in the anthology Choose Wisely and it was my absolute highlight in a very strong group of stories; yet on rereading it here, it loses none of its power. It is still a powerful piece of writing that pierced my heart with its perfect depiction of someone who feels no physical pain, yet still yearns for an emotional response that was denied her growing up. She does this by offering herself as an art exhibit, mutilating and scarring her body in installations of blood and torn flesh. Yet the only reaction she gets from her audience is revulsion. Her inner world is thrown off-balance when she receives a letter from her mother, after years of nothing. This was my first taste of Damien's fiction and it remains one of my favourite stories. Yet the absolute pinnacle for me in this collection is unequivocally Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion), a story set in an alternate Lithuania overrun by Germany, where the people are capable of real magic yet are forbidden from practicing it. Andrius takes care of his young daughter, Laurita, who is ill, possibly terminally. He tries to keep her entertained and occupied whilst worrying about what has happened to his wife and trying not to be caught performing magic for Laurita. This one had me in tears. The quiet, hopeless desperation of Andrius; the innocent, optimistic sweetness of Laurita; the looming inevitable threat of capture or worse. This one really got to me. I'm an absolute sucker for that kind of innocent character who isn't fully aware of the harsh world around them. Characters like John Coffey or Tom Cullen in Stephen King's books, or Genna in Ray Cluley's Water For Drowning. There's something about that kind of bittersweet naivety that really gets to me. Definitely my favourite story in a fantastic collection.
I worry that I might be overselling this, that my praise - or gushing - is setting the collection up to too high a standard. Yet I can only give my honestly felt opinion, it's all I ever do. Having read many other accolades and testimonials for Damien's work, I think I'm probably not overstating too much how good these stories are. But, you know, hopefully I've given you enough of an idea as to what these tales are like. The rest is up to you, but I doubt you'll be disappointed. Definitely one of the best things I've read recently, and I have read a lot of great stuff.
Every lining has a cloud, be it a worn spot, a mended seam, or an unraveled thread. They are neither perfect nor impenetrable, no matter how much we wish it so. People will tell you that damage makes the fabric stronger.
It depends on the damage.”
Finally, I had discovered a piece of fiction I could put in front of people who didn’t understand the complexities of domestic violence. It was written with such beautiful speculative components that a story of horror and violence became something more than the condition it described. And through reading it, especially as a survivor, it transformed this tricky subject into something that transcends the concepts of victim and violence.
Walters has been in this business for several years now and she continues to quietly push boundaries and reshape the world of speculative fiction with each story she writes. I purchased "Sing Me Your Scars" as soon as it came out and I’ve read it, cover to cover, three times now. Each time through, I find something new, something worth sharing. There are several pieces in the collection that I can find a direct relationship with – the yearning for a mother’s approval in “Girl, With Coin,” the self-blame entangled with the desire for vengeance in “Scarred,” the fear of the violence that comes on the heels of beauty in “Always, They Whisper,” and the regret of lost relationships in “Dysphonia in D Minor.”
Other pieces needle the edges of other emotions, tugging on loose thoughts and fears as she stitches the reader into unfamiliar skins. Stories including the title piece “Sing Me your Scars” and “Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” remind us of the will to survive through the tragic and traumatic experiences that reshape our lives. “Melancholia in Bloom” and “Paper Thin Roses of Maybe” draw on the desire to be remembered and the fear of loss. And “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” and “Like Origami in Water” contemplate the empty spaces left behind.
All in all, "Sing Me Your Scars" is a sybaritic symphony of stories – a collection which will draw you into its depths time and time again. Highly recommended.
"Girl With Coin" perfectly reflected my own mother's complicity in changing my capacity for feeling. Walters leaves the reader wondering how the coin will land and what will happen next. I know how my coin landed and I hoped that Olivia would have the same outcome. Some things can never be forgiven.
Every story in this collection resonated with me on some level. This is a collection that I will read again and again because my own experience is in more than one of her stories. It is stunningly beautiful.
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Sing Me Your Scars is a sad-creepy-disturbing-weird journey into the...Read more