In mid-November, I read a short book that I had meant to finish as an October read. I’m glad I didn’t give up on getting it read. Conduits by Jennifer Loring wouldn’t stop demanding my time. It’s categorized, so I thought, as a horror novel, but it deals more with the horror inside your own mind. So psychological suspense mostly with some Japanese folklore and it’s a brain trip for sure. I’m glad I checked it out. You’ll be able to read my full review below, then join me for an interview with Jennifer.
As many of you know, since in my life I’ve dealt with some pretty heavy and emotional topics, so do I write stories with these themes as well as read them. Some people who go through trauma and then have triggers so badly they can’t write, read, or watch about them. That’s just not me. But I understand if it’s you. So if suicide or mental illness is a trigger for you even in an otherwise amazing read, then you might consider that before reading the below interview or the book. They deal with some dark subjects. However, I hope you’ll read them both and be moved or maybe heal. It’s categorized as horror, but it’s due to the mental illness component and the horrors of our own minds. It’s really more psychological suspense.
Conduits, Review –
The book was touching and heart-wrenching all at the same time. I like books that make me feel to this level. This little novella Conduits was first published by another publisher and then re-published by Lycan Valley in Spring 2019. I was drawn to it as I love Japanese literature and horror and it was in shorter form (love short form horror). I initially was unsure when it started about some of how the words were catching instead of rolling off my tongue (and flowing in my head) but quickly that was put to rest as I learned her cadence and the content (protagonist) sent my mind into circles. A literary dreamscape of a piece not unlike horror you’d watch in a episodic tv show. It’s its own shard of glass (you’ll know what I mean when you read it) in an otherwise cookie cutter world. It’s so original and free-flowing and truly showcases the art our mind can create when allowed to roam freely. I found this truly beautiful even though some of the content was sad, as we get down on mental illness so many times, and yet, people who struggle with it sometimes have the most amazing ability to see things we cannot otherwise see in this blinded world. The emotional weight this tiny book carries is huge, and I’m relating and scared all at the same time. It was touching my deepest recesses of pain. It will touch all the pain you have too.
I loved how she interwove Japenese folklore into the book and I think she did an extremely good job of showcasing the inside of mental health facilities. By the end, you don’t know who to believe or what is going on, except for in the protagonist’s heart. Which is really all that matters that in terms of people, isn’t it?
It may need a second read to fully grasp every component and nuance but it certainly has the feels if you like your horror emotionally-driven, ambiguous, and thought-provoking. Read this one and enjoy every word. Loring truly does have her own writing voice. I’d be interested to see how others interpret the ending. It’s suspenseful, psychological, dreamy in an Alice down the rabbit hole sort of way. It’s a quick read but I’d read it when you have a little of time on hand to think it through and ponder on it.
Join me for an interview with Jennifer about Japanese folklore, research, mental illness, and the future of horror! Enjoy.
Hi Jennifer! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I recently read your book, Conduits, and was intrigued by it so I wanted to ask you a few questions. I’m very happy you’ve dropped by. You can head and have a seat at the dining table, those chairs have comfy seats, and I’ll bring in some hot tea. Or if you chose something else, say the word!
Jennifer: Hi, Erin, and thanks! I’m glad to be here.
Erin: There is some cream and sugar on the tray too if you need it. And I’ve brought in some ginger scones. I’ve been trying out new holiday recipes!
Jennifer: Sounds yummy! Thanks for reminding me that I still need to bake ginger cookies!
Erin: Let me ask you a few things about your book – which I suppose readers could get a jest of from my review. How did you become interested in Japanese literature and folklore?
Jennifer: It was because of Japanese horror movies and video games that I started researching Japanese mythology. In the early 2000s, Asian horror was the big trend. I’d also begun playing games like the Fatal Frame series, Kuon, and so forth, which rely heavily on Japanese folklore and myth. The yūrei—the ghosts we all know and love with the long black hair and white clothing—are such striking figures that I knew I had to incorporate them into a story at some point. It was many years before I actually did, but that’s where the seed for Conduits was planted.
Erin: Did you research or utilize any particular customs or legends for Conduits or was it all fiction?
Jennifer: I used actual Shinto customs as well as the concept of the miko (shrine maiden) in her original form as a shamanistic figure. Shrine maidens used to perform spirit possession and takusen (dream revelation), so this was the ideal figure for me to use as the antagonist in Conduits. I made up the part about the miko carving into herself with glass in her function as an intermediary between the shrine’s god and the villagers, but most of the other stuff was taken from real Shinto rituals.
Erin: Did the legend of the suicide forest in Japan inspire any of your story?
Jennifer: Not directly, no. But I’m very familiar with the legend, so it may end up in future work. 😊
Erin: I only asked that question because a part of it reminded me of that. Mmmm…well, I suppose the over theme is there in terms of this. Suicide is a difficult topic and hard for people to read. I’ve had it hit close to home for me and I’ve written about it in some of my work, but for others they shy from it. I’ve been having a debate about that for a few years online in terms of trigger warnings. How do you feel about writing about topics that push people’s sensory boundaries and how do you feel about warnings?
Jennifer: Suicide hits close to home for me too, which is one of the reasons I’ve written about it a few times now. I understand why some people want warnings, but I also think that some use them as an excuse not to have to think critically about or be challenged by things they don’t like. Everyone has triggers, but it’s not realistic to expect that the world can be sanitized so that no one gets offended by or exposed to difficult topics. We learn to deal with them by confronting them, not by pretending they aren’t there. In horror especially, I think there should be a reasonable expectation that characters will encounter a lot of unpleasantness. Besides, a good blurb will generally indicate the type of content you can anticipate.
Erin: I agree. Mental illness and cutting also play a big role in your story. How did you bring this to the page in such a humane way? Did you research them and/or asylums?
Jennifer: Mental illness is a running thread in a lot of my work because of its impact on various family members and myself (having dysthymia as well as generalized and social anxiety disorders). When you’re dealing with it first-hand, it’s easier to approach it in a more humane way, I think. You know how you’ve been treated and how others treat you. I’ve had family members in psych wards too, so I have had the opportunity to see that world in person. A lot of Mara’s time there came from my sister’s experience both as a patient and as a psychiatric nurse.
Erin: How did you intertwine the themes of mental illness with legend and paranormal so that the reader is never quite sure what’s the truth? Was it plotted out and you created each link, or did it simply spill out of you stream of conscious? It certainly felt like we were in her confused mind.
Jennifer: I honestly didn’t make a conscious effort to create an unreliable narrator in Mara, so it was a happy accident that it all turned out the way it did. Once I realized what was happening, I just tried to get out of my own way and not overthink it. I’ve never been much of a plotter, so it was fun to discover ways I could link the paranormal with both mental illness and quantum mechanics as I was writing.
Erin: I am a pantser too, not a plotter. I love to see where the mind takes us as wrtiers. Your imagery was unique and unnerving. Was it your intent to make the reader as uncomfortable and confused as your protagonist? Why?
Jennifer: Yes. (Laughs.) I love the idea that we never truly know the nature of reality, which is unnerving in itself. A lot of the imagery from Shinto can be pretty unsettling to Western audiences, so I used that as much as possible to set the scene. I researched some of Japan’s paranormal hotspots and incorporated imagery from those as well, like the ruins of Nakagusuku Hotel on Okinawa.
Erin: You don’t particularly write HEA endings, but do you feel this ending, without spoilers, was full of sadness and gloom or calming in its own way? For some reason I sort of felt the latter. How do you feel overall about writing endings in horror?
Jennifer: I think of it as calming, too. I like to imagine that Mara is existing as happily as she can in that state of being. In general, I feel that “unhappy” endings are more realistic, especially in horror, but as with Conduits, the definition of that is open to interpretation.
Erin: You’ve described yourself as a more literary writer (I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere), what does that mean to you and to readers? What is the difference in literary horror from other labels?
Jennifer: For me, it means that I love playing with language and exploring the human condition. I think the latter is fairly common in horror, but I remember Gary Braunbeck once talking about his dislike of “pedestrian” writing, and it’s the same for me. How you tell a good story is as important as the story itself. Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can do it with craft.
Erin: Gary has a lot of good thoughts like this! That’s VERY true and something most people just don’t understand. I also read you think that horror lends itself well to shorter works. I love that because I feel the same way. I love to write and read shorter horror works. But can you explain why?
Jennifer: It can be hard to maintain the kind of tension horror requires over the length of a novel, without a lot of it feeling like filler. I’ve read—and you probably have, too—quite a few novels where you can tell the author was padding it to reach a certain word count. And that just saps the tension for me. I think Thomas Hobbes’ concept of life as “nasty, brutish and short” really applies well to horror fiction, too.
Erin: What’s next for you in terms of writing? What are you working on now?
Jennifer: A lot of new short fiction (of course!), and I’ll be starting my PhD work in Creative Writing next September, so I’ll finally be working on a new novel. I’m already contracted to appear in four anthologies next year—hopefully more on the way! And maybe another novella…
Erin: How do you feel about the market and the genre currently?
Jennifer: I think it’s a great time to be a horror writer, and I hope this boom continues. There are so many talented writers finally getting the recognition they deserve (like Nathan Ballingrud, who deserves it more than just about anyone).
Erin: Where can readers find Conduits and you?
My personal site is http://jennifertloring.com.
Erin: Thanks so very much for stopping by to talk to me! Feel free to come back anytime. I enjoyed my experience reading Conduits.
Jennifer: Thank you for having me! It’s been fun. 😊
About Conduits –
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend’s sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister’s death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.
“An evocative journey into the darkest realms of a troubled psyche. Part ghost story, part psychological suspense…” —Tim Waggoner, author of The Way of all Flesh
Jennifer Loring, Biography –
Jennifer received her MFA from Seton Hill University’s program in Writing Popular Fiction, with a concentration in horror fiction. In 2013, she won first place in Crystal Lake Publishing’s inaugural Tales from the Lake horror writing competition, which found her published alongside her mentor Tim Waggoner in the anthology of the same name. DarkFuse released her psychological horror/ghost story novella Conduits in September 2014 (which was re-released by Lycan Valley Press in 2019); her debut novel, Those of My Kind, was published by Omnium Gatherum in May 2015. She has since appeared in anthologies alongside some of the biggest names in horror, including Graham Masterton, Joe R. Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Clive Barker. In addition, Jennifer has presented her academic horror research at StokerCon 2018 in Providence, RI, the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival (IVFAF) in Sighisoara, Romania in 2018, and NecronomiCon in Providence in 2019.
Jennifer lives with her husband in Philadelphia, PA, where they are owned by two basset hounds and a turtle. She is currently at work on a number of projects, including more short fiction.
Thanks for joining us today to learn about Jenn!