San Diego is an unlikely place for stories about mysterious forces and gruesome crimes, but somehow America's Finest City has become a hotbed of horror.
The latest installment of Black Candies, an annual anthology of literary horror and dark fiction published here in San Diego by the literary nonprofit So Say We All, is titled Gross and Unlikeable and features 28 stories written and illustrated by women. (Full disclosure: CityBeat columnist Ryan Bradford founded the series, and I've contributed to previous editions.)
For this edition, Black Candies turned to guest editor Natanya Ann Pulley who writes in the foreword, "I believe writing stories (like all art) is a political act. Whose story we tell, whose we share, and how we expect them to be handed to us is an engagement with truths... This collection doesn't just give women a space to tell vile stories, it grapples with notions of story and reality handed to women through things dark and dangerous."
Written and illustrated by writers and artists from all over the world, Gross and Unlikeable features local writers such as Rachel Lee Taylor, Jennifer D. Corley and Hanna Tawater, and artists such as Carrie Ann Hudson and Vanessa Martinez, among others.
The stories are arranged in loose categories. There's disturbing fairy tales, body horror, stories of psychological torment and so on. While the tales in Gross and Unlikeable are considerably more nuanced than the formula of blood, breasts and beasties that has been the staple of B-movie horror films for decades, many are as vile as advertised.
In Danielle Renino's "I'm Better Now," a young professional makes a grisly discovery in the bathroom at her corporate office job. "There is a fly inside her mouth. It walks over her two front teeth and down over her tongue. She holds a pair of scissors to her chest."
Some stories, like Christine Hamm's "Notes on Wolves and Ruin, III," make the grotesque more palatable with a dash of humor: "The first time I kill my husband, I stab him in the chest thirty-four times and wrap his body in our Ikea comforter." While others, such as Colleen Burner's "Murmuration: A Confusion," are epically gorgeous: "I am the savage giant in the cave; I am the bald child with claw feet appearing where you don't expect."
The stories collected in Gross and Unlikeable are as arresting as they are disturbing, and will leave readers anxiously wondering if they remembered to lock the door.