A new American myth for readers who enjoy a bit of madness in their weird fictio
Welcome to one of the January 16th stops on the blog tour for Mamacadabra by Carrie Monroe O’Keefe with Bewitching Book Tours (schedule linked.) Follow the rest of the tour for more spotlights, guest posts, reviews, and other exclusive content!
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What inspired you to become an author?
It is a sacred charge; when you witness a story, situation, character; when you experience something personal and dynamic and essential, the idea that it could simply go unseen or be forgotten is heartbreaking. I write because there are stories that need to be shared.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I describe my writing as “gothic funk” which is a term I developed with some other writers and artists in the early 2000s. It’s easiest to describe as experimental work infused with romanticism, darkness, depth, and swagger. Gothic Funk is avant-garde but it’s more fun than pretentious. It’s magical but it’s more heavy than whimsical. It’s full of hope, but it’s a painful flavor of hope. It’s like black coffee and dancing on a winter night. It is both resolute and deeply emotional. While I write in a Gothic Funk style, I have to note that there’s plenty of Gothic Funk music, artwork, fashion, and more out there. Anything can be Gothic Funk if executed with the right intention.
Is the book, characters, or any scenes based on a true life experience, someone you know, or events in your own life?
Most of my writing is influenced or inspired in some way by things I have directly experienced or witnessed. However, I’m excited by fiction because it is only constrained by imagination and possibility, not by observed facts. And I usually find it is possible to tell certain stories better through fiction than through nonfiction.
Hollywood was influenced by a very significant year in my life; my friends and I formed an informal artists collective living on the North and South Sides of Chicago and threw a series of themed parties. That year I was engaged to be married and applying to grad school, so there was a lot of change in the air. We stayed up late, took walks, probably drank too much, went out and experienced the city, experienced a lot of art, and I still bask in the afterglow of the times we shared.
What books are in your to read pile?
I’ve been reading a lot of cosmic horror (my favorites being Victor LaValle and Mark Z. Danielewski) and I’m trying to get to the bottom of that gloomy abyss: I’m reading The Horror of Philosophy by Eugene Thacker, the grotesque fiction of Thomas Ligotti, and Junji Ito’s Uzumaki are all on my short list, as well as Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country. It’s also been fun to round this out with the equally weird offerings of Lethe Press: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Matthew Cheney, and Julian K. Jarboe.
I’ve also got a multi-year project going to unpack the literary Gothic but I’m still deep into the underpinnings of Gothic literature developed during the 18th century: writings on the theory of the sublime by Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant. Slow going, admittedly, and sometimes very dry, but rewarding if you can stay the course.
For fun, I’m looking forward to more fantasy and magical realism. I have books by China Miéville and Nnedi Okorafor sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to find a spare minute!
What books/authors have influenced your life?
My two favorite books are Les Misèrables by Victor Hugo and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. They are both mammoth-sized, flawed opuses that try to say something big and throw everything and the kitchen sink at the story to do so. Les Mis, of course, is the most famous, but I love how it mashes together the very political crises of its moment in time (1830s Paris) with eternal tensions between age and youth, sex and gender, incremental reform and revolutionary need. All of which are highly relevant today.
Unfortunately, Ann Radcliffe is kind of regarded as a footnote by most readers today (even fans of the Gothic), partly because her longest and most famous book, The Mysteries of Udolpho was famously lampooned by Jane Austen. But Austen had a great deal of respect for Radcliffe. Reading the book today is an almost hallucinogenic experience in the way it twines description, reverie, and poetry with a plot that is just as sensational as Les Mis. It takes a lot of time and patience to get into, but it has a hypnotic power if you give it the space to work on your brain; I’ve read it three times now and I hope to live long enough to read it another half-dozen times!
But there are a lot of more modern influences, as well. Toni Morrison is my favorite modern American author, and her writing is both Gothic and Midwestern. William Faulkner, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Add Patrick Rothfuss, Fritz Leiber, and J.R.R. Tolkien to that list; fantasy got me into writing in the first place and I still love it. Sometimes books jump out and say something profound, even if I’m just reading them for fun. A year ago, I finally read The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, and I can’t stop thinking about it. For that matter, Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night is a board book for preschoolers, but it is beautiful, lyric poetry with illustrations that hint at a whole vast world of gentleness and grace!
Do you have a song or playlist (book soundtrack) that you think represents this book?
I do, and you can and should listen to it!
It is available on Spotify at http://tinyurl.com/hollywoodnovellaspotify and YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/hollywoodnovellayoutub. You’ll find a lot of indie rock and dance music from the mid-aughts, which is when the book is set.
When you’re not writing what do you do? Do you have any hobbies or guilty pleasures?
Most of my hobbies involve “poking around” or “puttering.”
“Poking around” takes in hiking, walking, camping… basically exploring. I like to go on long walks (or road trips) and see things I haven’t seen before. I love to travel, whether it’s to San Francisco or Saginaw. I like to check out new restaurants and parks and sometimes forgotten places here in Flint (like Oak Park on the North Side or the strangely forlorn Garden Street behind Eisenhower Elementary).
“Puttering” takes in gardening and cooking, but also boils down to enjoying the seasons and the passage of time. I like growing my own food. I like watching flowers bloom and fade month after month. I like throwing parties and going to parties. Since the seasons are always changing here in Michigan, puttering is never boring!
What is next for you? Do you have any scheduled upcoming releases or works in progress?
I’m finishing up the third installment in my sword-and-sorcery series Impure Lichigan, following two women with secrets as they swashbuckler their way across “the perilous peninsulas” of the Great Lakes Realm. I’d like to publish six of these stories in total.
I’m also doing preliminary research for a novel about a haunted coney island (that’s all of the cosmic horror reading I mentioned earlier), tentatively titled One Up. And farther down the road, another novel titled Counterflood, about a woman who is reunited with her nephew after many years apart, and discovers that he has become half-fae in the interim. They’re both ambitious, big projects that will probably take years to finish.
About the Book
by Connor Coyne
Published 3 February 2024
Genre: LGBTQ+, Literary, Magical Realism
Page Count: 86
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
Anxious Ophelia steps off the elevated train in the big city, hoping to start a new life with her summer hookup, far from her dissolving family and all of the traumas of industrial Rockville.
Over the course of the next few hours Ophelia will lose her roommate, her money, and eventually, her sense of sanity when she sees a mile-long shark out on the lake, unwitnessed by anyone else, but obviously there, because if it wasn’t how did she get so soaked?
Ophelia cannot go back to who she was before sighting the beast, and the friends and opportunities she discovers all proceed from what and how she acts on that first, fierce, drunken night.
One August afternoon, in the midst of the hottest years ever recorded, with the nation crashing through wars, the stock market climbing like Icarus toward the sun, and the City funneling its poor people inland as it closed and demolished the last of the projects, Ophelia got off the Red Line elevated train at the Thorndale stop, squinted in the sunlight, and kicked her foot against the platform to free a stone from her sandal.
“Home at last?” she asked herself.
She certainly hoped so. There was so much here, and all of it everywhere: dozens of dark smears from murdered bubble-gum on each sidewalk square, hundreds of quartz-bright sidewalk squares lassoing each block, and thousands of glowing, sweltering blocks throughout the City with its millions of people.
To the west, between the tracks and Broadway, Ophelia made out a video store, a laundromat, and an internet café, all noisy with activity at four in the afternoon. To the east, between the tracks and the lake, she saw a canyon of tenement apartments—mostly brick, fronted with stoic windows, several stories high—going out for three blocks before the real high rises rose from the beach, blue and white and glass and concrete, almost unimaginably tall. Their heights arrowed sunlight back toward Ophelia, hitting her from all sides. And here, too, she saw people coming and going in the glow of late summer.
“Please,” she said. “Let this be my home.”
But who was going to answer her? Not the smartly dressed Black men talking in low voices, laughing softly, leaning out over the tracks to look for the next train. Not the old Polish woman in the headscarf murmuring her rosary to herself. Not the train attendant patrolling the platform. Or the sun, the steel high-rises, the brick tenements, the video store, or the laundromat.
Since nobody would answer Ophelia, she descended the stairs, passed through the station, and went out into the City.
* * * * *
Five minutes later, Ophelia stood in the lobby of her new apartment building, buzzing for the super to come down and give her the keys. The building stood near the corner of Kenmore and Ardmore, just one block from Sheridan Road and the lake. At eight stories high, it was the tallest of its neighbors, though still dwarfed by the towers just a block away. A white stucco lobby. Moll carpet. Plastic plants standing in shell-shaped alcoves cut into the wall. Nothing fancy, but with a breeze coursing down the hall from an open fire escape, Ophelia’s new home felt luxurious.
The super arrived and eyed her new tenant suspiciously. Ophelia wasn’t tall, but she was so skinny, especially about her face, that it created an illusion of height. When she looked in the mirror, her prominent cheekbones reminded her sometimes of a skull and sometimes of a praying mantis. Ophelia was white, pale even, with fine brown hair that wisped gently about her shoulders. She generally considered herself a fairly okay-looking person, whatever her other defects might be. Still, she knew wrinkles and exhaustion were about the corners of her eyes. Anyone could see this. Everyone noticed. She was only in her early 20s but seldom got carded for alcohol.
The super frowned but must have decided Ophelia was harmless because the woman hit the button in the wall, and the elevator dinged in reply. The super pulled open the accordion gate, and as they rose through the building, Ophelia watched each floor sinking out of view. She tried to ignore the stench of stale piss. They got off at the seventh door. The woman fumbled with the keys, swearing under her breath in some Slavic language, and opened the door to Ophelia’s apartment.
She’d seen Tasia’s pictures, but they didn’t do justice to the place. The hallway opened into a long white living room with a white carpet and a bay window looking out to the east. Slivers of blue water peeked in from between the lakeside towers. An arch to the left led into a slender kitchen, all Formica and old appliances, while another hall exited the back of the living room, passing the first bedroom and the bathroom and ending at a second bedroom with plenty of closets and built-in shelves along the way. Ophelia spotted a cockroach crawling across the stovetop and another in the back bedroom. Still, there was something so happy and fierce about the light and the skylike linearity of the lake that hope welled up in her chest anyway. This was fine. No, glorious! She’d deal with the roaches later. Maybe after Tasia arrived.
As Ophelia carried out her inspection, the super stood in the living room with her hands on her hips, waiting, but there wasn’t much else for Ophelia to do: everything had already been settled.
Several months ago, she had told Tasia that she was going to off herself before the end of summer if she didn’t get out of Rockville. “Let’s move to the City,” Tasia had said. “Get jobs. Get a cheap apartment. Hit the beach. Hit the good stuff.” The joke came up several times before the friends realized that they took the idea seriously. Even though Tasia’d gotten her Associates from the community college, she seemed stuck in dead-end cashier’s jobs and was dying of boredom. Rockville was killing her slowly.
And killing me quickly, Ophelia thought. She’d only been half kidding about surviving the summer. So, before she knew it, the two were creating profiles on Monster.com, Googling neighborhoods, and emailing old friends from high school who had moved to the City. Tasia drove out one weekend, picked up some job applications, toured the apartment on Kenmore, and signed the lease. She’d gotten in on a special promo: no security deposit required. Ophelia had faxed her signature. They were in.
But if Tasia had set the whole thing up, she also needed another week to tie up the last loose ends at Spencer’s Gifts. “My manager got caught stealing inventory,” she’d said. “They want to promote me. I haven’t broken the news to them yet.” So, Tasia stayed behind while Ophelia went ahead with her sleeping bag and a backpack full of cleaning supplies. To get the new place ready. To make it homey.
Ophelia thought back to the 4th of July weekend when she’d lain in Tasia’s bed with Tasia on top of her and Rockville’s fireworks bursting out the windows. The taste of shandy on Tasia’s lips and her sturdy weight pressed down. How all the wretchedness and sorrow of all those years had collapsed that one drunken night. So … were they friends now? Roommates? Lovers? Friends-with-benefits? With all the planning for their big move, this was one thing they hadn’t discussed. Ophelia wasn’t sure if it complicated things or simplified them.
“Okay?” asked the super.
“Thanks,” said Ophelia. “It’s wonderful.”
As if on cue, a dull thudding sound—four-to-the-floor with the bass bass bass—started thrumming down from the apartment overhead. The eighth-floor penthouse.
“Uhhhhh,” groaned the super. “They never stop.”
She let herself out, leaving Ophelia with the music.
* * * * *
It took Ophelia only a short time to unpack. She chose the second bedroom, near the back. It didn’t have a view of the lake, but it got more sun, and she could see the long sweep of high-rises following the shore and rising toward their downtown crescendo. Since she didn’t have a dresser or bed, Ophelia stacked her clothes in neat piles along the wall, unrolled her sleeping bag in the middle of the floor, and crushed a cockroach with her shoe before it could scurry for cover. Then, with the music still thudding overhead, she shouldered her backpack and left the building.
Ophelia found a supermarket just past the Thorndale stop on the other side of the tracks and spent the next half-hour in a reverie, pushing a shopping cart up and down each aisle and wondering what the next month held in store. I could apply to be a cashier here, she thought. I could apply to be a teller at that bank across the street. I wonder if I could apply to work for the El trains. I’ll need to make money somewhere! She didn’t worry a whole lot about what she did or didn’t need to buy. She had a crisp hundred in her wallet—a parting gift from her grandpa and some keychain pepper spray—but this was just the first of many shopping trips. Right now, she just needed to make it through the next week. She bought some Bisquick, some eggs, and milk. Instant coffee. Bananas and apples. Bread and peanut butter. A dollar box of cookies. A six-pack of cheap beer. Paper plates and plastic forks. A tall can of Raid. A small pillow. It ate up half of her money, but it was enough. She was halfway home before realizing she had nothing to cook the pancakes in or boil water for coffee. I can go back tomorrow, she thought. The peanut butter and beer will keep me going for tonight.
When Ophelia made it back, the sun was lower in the sky, and shadows covered the streets below. The thudding upstairs continued. She set her keys and phone on the counter, massaged her sore arms, and noticed that she’d missed a call from Tasia.
“Tasia?” she said when her friend answered.
Tasia gasped. “I didn’t think you’d call back so quick!” she said.
“Why wouldn’t I call back quick? I was carrying groceries. What’s up?”
“I’m bursting! I’m bursting! I can’t lie! I can’t come to the City with you!”
“I was going to turn down the manager job, O, but that was before they made the offer. I didn’t know it came with such a huge raise. They’re gonna pay me twelve an hour. That’s, like, twice what I make now! No way I will get a job in the City that pays that much. And you know how expensive it is there … have you seen the gas prices yet?! We didn’t think this through, O. I can’t move now. It would be crazy. I mean, it would be fucking stupid. I mean, I’m gonna get fucking health care!”
“Slow down, Taze. We have been planning this for months!”
“I know, I know, I’m so sorry, it was my mistake too. It was just a dream, you know? It was a silly dream. A summer thing.”
“But our names are on the lease!”
“No security deposit, remember? So, we’re out that first month, but I’ll make that up in like a month. Maybe two. Point is, I’ll make it up quick! You could get out. It was my fuckup. I signed the lease. We just walk away. Hey, I’m the manager here now. I can hire you. Think how fun that’ll be. We can work at the mall together. Lunch at the food court. You know you love them burritos!”
Ophelia’s heart was sinking. It was already in the basement laundry room, and maybe it wouldn’t settle until it reached the bottom of the lake.
“I don’t know, Taze,” she said. “I was … I was really excited about this. For us. I … went shopping.”
“Oh, shit. How much money do you spend on us, O? It’s okay, I can pay you back. Now I’m, like, rolling in money! Compared to what I have been. You’ll come back to Rockville, right?”
Ophelia looked helplessly out the window. A seagull sailed down the street, caught between cool breezes from the lake and the warmer currents wafting off the brick buildings.
“I don’t know, Taze. I don’t know anything right now. You shocked me. I mean, you surprised me.” She took another long pause. “I have to think about it.”
“I understand. I’m sooo sorry to just drop this. But I’d be crazy not to, you know?”
“I know. I get it.”
“Call me when you make up your mind. I’d love to hook you up.”
Would you love to hook up?! Ophelia cried out in her brain. What does this mean? What did that mean? What does anything mean?
“I will,” she said. “I’ll call you soon.”
“Hey, nothing else, we’re paid up through the end of September. Take a vacation in the City before you come back!”
* * * * *
It wasn’t anything, Ophelia thought. It couldn’t have been much. She was drunk, and I guess I was desperate.
Ophelia went into the kitchen and took another look at the food she had bought. She probably had enough money left over for a pot and a pan, but she wasn’t sure that would leave enough for public transit, and if she wanted to get a job, she’d need some train fare. She decided that she could boil water for coffee in a pan, leaving her enough to take the train downtown for a week. That’s ridiculous, she thought. Who lives like this? If I go back home, I’ve got a sure thing at the mall. I can go back to Grandpa and Grandma’s. Maybe save up. Maybe try again in a year. Or two. Maybe Tasia and I get a thing going … if she wasn’t just drunk. If she really meant it. A car on the street below started honking. The honking continued, and Ophelia realized the driver was waiting for someone to come out of another apartment. She was drunk. She didn’t mean it. There’s no way I can stay here, and there’s nothing for me to go back to there, either.
Between the thudding bass and the car honking, Ophelia was starting to get a headache.
She wanted to bang against the ceiling with a broom but didn’t have one. She opened a beer with the bathroom towel bar, using the trick her brother had taught her. She shotgunned the beer, then had a second and a third, and then she was halfway done, so she went to the bathroom for a pee and drank the rest of the beers on the toilet. By then, she was getting dizzy, but at least drunkenness was a temporary relief. The honking had finally stopped, but the bass thudded on.
Ophelia went into her bedroom and shut the door, thinking it might muffle the sound, but it didn’t. An elevated train of alcohol slammed into her skull. She giggled sadly and reeled. Ophelia knew she was just as drunk as she’d been when she’d tumbled into bed with Tasia, but she was all alone this time. The walls and windows swirled around her, the bile danced in her stomach, and her ears popped like fireworks. “Shut up!” Ophelia said and fell asleep.
About the Author
Connor Coyne (he/him) is a writer living and working in Flint, Michigan.
Connor has published several novels and a short story collection, and his work has been featured in Vox.com, Belt Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the director of the Flint-based Gothic Funk Press and is facilitator for the Gloria Coles Flint Public Library‘s writing workshops.
Connor is a graduate of the University of Chicago and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School. Today, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Flint’s College Cultural Neighborhood (aka the East Village), less than a mile from the house where he grew up.
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