The Big Idea: David Nickle

Today, with his novel The ‘Geisters, author David Nickle goes to a dark place. Want to come with him?


I wanted to write a book about kink.

This was around the time that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books were getting popular; well before the time that E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey took Edward and Bella’s figuratively Dom-Sub relationship to its more literal manifestation in Christian and Anastasia. Part of my interest was mercenary—at that point, my previous two novels (Eutopia and Rasputin’s Bastards) were at the polite-rejection stage of their life cycle, and it sure seemed that this emerging kinky-horror market was a good place to set up a booth.

But I soon realized it would have been a lousy booth. Because every time I thought about the sparkle-skinned vampires of the town of Forks, I couldn’t help but also consider the silicon-skinned hausfraus of the town of Stepford. And while there’s a lot of sex, and sexual politics, at work in Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, it’s not what anyone would call titillating.

In Stepford, kink is expressed as its nasty uncle: perversion.

So it was that I set out to write The ‘Geisters: a horror novel about perversion.

It’s the story of Ann LeSage, a young woman whose life has been shaped by the continual intrusion of a poltergeist that she eventually named the Insect. Unlike poltergeists of lore, which are said to wreak havoc for months or years in households including a troubled young daughter, the Insect doesn’t just disappear when she passes puberty. It in fact becomes downright murderous.

That’s bad enough. But the Insect has attracted the attention of a group of men who have a twisted and erotic obsession with poltergeists. They are long past chat rooms and dungeon play. They are powerful and wealthy and determined to use those advantages to court the real thing.

And the Insect… it’s prepared to show them reality like they’ve never seen it before

The book as it’s come together really owes a debt to Ira Levin. Think Rosemary’s Baby, with the part of Rosemary Woodhouse played by Carrie White.

It owes another kind of debt to a real-world perversion: the horror story that emerged in 2008 in Austria, of Elizabeth Fritzl who’d been kept prisoner in a cellar for 24 years as a sexual slave by her father Josef, among a growing “family” of children borne of repeated rapes. The ‘Geisters was in the proof-reading stage of its life-cycle when Amanda Berry made her escape from a makeshift dungeon in Cleveland, where she’d been literally chained for years along with two other women, so I can’t say that story influenced the book. But it surely did confirm to me the existence of a continuum of men using their predilections as a jumping-point for a literal life’s work of the objectification, subjugation and rape of women who are anything but willing ‘Subs.’ In that manner, the privileged gentlemen of The ‘Geisters aren’t playing a sex game divorced from human consequence, even as they trick themselves into thinking that they are. They are not sexy. They do not sparkle.

The ‘Geisters goes to an ugly and horrific place. It’s not the place most people go when they decide to experiment with responsible BDSM or other non-vanilla varieties of consensual sex. It is a place, to use the current parlance for these things, that contains more than a few triggers.

But it goes to that place in the company of Ann LeSage, and the Insect. I like to think that the horror show in my made-up story The ‘Geisters is at least more of a two-way street than it is for the victimized women in our sad reality.


The ‘Geisters: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Hear the song inspired by the book, by Kari Maaren. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Ding Dong, DOMA’s Dead (and So is Prop 8)

Photo by Nate Chongsiriwatana. Used under Creative Commons license.

In one of the better days for the United States recently, the Supreme Court of the United States knocked down the “Defense of Marriage Act,” pointing out, quite reasonably, that you can’t actually defend marriages if you’re telling some people that their unquestionably legal marriages are less marriage-y than others. Here’s the full decision (pdf link). As a bonus, it also punted on California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage, in the basis that those bringing the suit (who were not the state of California) had no standing to do so. That effectively allows same-sex marriages to continue to happen in the Golden State, since the state government itself has chosen not to defend Prop 8, possibly because it’s a bigoted, hateful piece of crap. Here’s the full ruling on that, too (pdf link).

So in one day: Those same-sex marriages that are legally constituted in their respective states are to be recognized on a federal level; the most populous state in the union gets its same-sex marriages back. Again, all things considered, one of our nation’s better recent days.

Caveat: Same-sex marriage still is not legal everywhere in the United States. Here in Ohio, where I live, there is still a ban on it in our state constitution. Two-thirds of the states still don’t have same-sex marriage and/or have active laws (or constitutional amendments) against it. If anyone believes peeling off those laws and constitutional amendments is going to be a walk in the park, you’re at the very least a lot more sanguine about it than I am.

What the DOMA ruling does do, I think, it make it a lot less easy for those who work to deny same-sex marriage to say they do so out of anything other than bigotry. 57 million people in the US now live in states where same-sex marriage are legal, and (now) recognized by the federal government; in those states no opposite-sex marriage has been threatened or undermined by those same-sex marriages, the respective state governments did not fall and in general the world did not end. Religious organizations who oppose same sex marriage don’t have to sanctify them. And no one’s slippery-sloped themselves into marrying a goddamned horse or dog, for Christ’s sake.

None of the arguments against same-sex marriage, at any level of reasonableness, have stuck the dismount. At this point, the reason you’re against same sex marriage is just because you don’t want people of the same sex to have the same rights and privileges you do, because waaaaaaah.  I think it’s fine (if sad) if one believes same-sex marriage is somehow wrong, but otherwise leaves people to do as they will. But if you’re out there trying to keep people of the same sex from getting hitched, then we have a word to describe what you’re doing.

Now, as it happens, I don’t believe everyone who has a bigoted point of view is inherently a bigot, in the sense that they actively go out of their way, day in and day out, to discriminate against other people. It takes a while for the scales to fall from one’s eyes. But I will say that the correlation between bigots and bigotry is pretty high. I think we’re at the point where on this matter, the longer you hew to bigotry, the less convincing a protestation that you’re not a bigot is going to be. The axing of DOMA makes it that much harder to pretend. I think that’s just fine.