“Weird Literature,” Third Graders, and Me-Now

Here’s a little story. When I was in third grade, we moved from Hawaii, where my father was stationed at Pearl Harbor, to Williamsburg, Virginia, in the middle of the academic year. I was put in Ms. Riddick’s class. Already established as a community, they had all sorts of little rituals and routines that I didn’t know, like a class song they sang every day after the pledge of allegiance (the ending of which, sung at the top of enthusiastic 9-year old voices, was “we’re the cream of the crop / and we rise to the top / we’re Miss Riddick’s CLA-a-ASS!”) There was always extra emphasis on that last “ass” and it wasn’t until much later I realized that my classmates relished being able to say a BAD WORD in class, hehehe. That’s literally the only part of the song I think I ever actually knew, because she didn’t teach me the song, I was just expected to figure it out and sing along. I wasn’t especially invested in it, so I sang that part to be seen participating, and never bothered to learn the rest.

Ms. Riddick was not thrilled to have me added to her class because it was already full and because in Hawaii, we had not yet done the times tables and in Williamsburg, they had, so I meant extra work for her across the board [spoiler: she gave me flash cards and left me to it. I still occasionally struggle to recall some of the times table to this day.] Whatever, I’m not a mathematician (though I respect those who are tremendously) and there are calculators.

BUT, like all good if overworked elementary school teachers, Ms. Riddick had a shelf of books we were allowed to access if we finished our seatwork early, and I was GREAT at efficiently completing seatwork because that shelf of books was an excellent motivator. And on that shelf, which was not carefully curated so as to preserve strange ideas of young people’s innocence as readers (beyond the reasonable exclusion of adult novels) but included pretty much whatever was donated or obtained as lot boxes of paperbacks purchased at rummage sales, she had a lot of pulp fiction things, like GRAPHIC NOVEL GHOST STORIES and HORROR STORY COLLECTIONS and SCIENCE FICTION STORIES with spectral ghosts and werewolves with dripping fangs and lurid aliens and such on the covers. These were genres which to that point in my young life I had never seen or had access to. And I was truly obsessed with those books because they were nothing like anything I had encountered before. And also, probably, because my mother wouldn’t approve of them and so it felt vaguely subversive and thrilling to read these things that were well beyond my comfort zone in the safety of the classroom, where I wouldn’t be questioned about it, so I could just enjoy them. Meanwhile, at home I was introduced to The Hobbit, a fantasy book my mother did love and enjoy, and the one that (as I’m sure it has done for countless other literary kids!) kickstarted my lifelong love of dragons.

That year, strongly influenced by those books, I wrote my first* “novel”–The Fuzzy Wuzzies: to my mind at the time, a major work of outstanding children’s science fiction featuring mop-like alien beings with antennae and giant feet they either waddled or bounced like rabbits on, who crash landed on Earth and had to start a new village in this strange new world. I still have that little book, handwritten and hand-illustrated. It was essentially “the Smurfs” meet a nine-year old’s idea of aliens, with some Hobbit thrown in for good measure (I did not tiptoe across the line to the horror side of things, just put them in great peril as they crash-landed, because I was nine and cried when I witnessed someone stepping on a bug; horror was something I could read, but maybe not write, myself, just yet.)

My book impressed my mother tremendously, and also my teacher, or maybe my guidance counselor–I don’t remember the hows of it, but I wound up being nominated to participate in a Young Author’s Conference, which was a one-day event where we got to “network” with a lot of other K-8 writers and attend some workshops. I have no memory of the conference itself because I was a deeply socially awkward kid and I think looking back that the whole thing just overwhelmed me entirely. But I do remember being delighted that someone liked my book enough to decide I was a Young Author. And it did send me down the path of speculative writing which I continue to happily wander today.

Behold: A Fuzzy Wuzzy

Nine-year old me would be thrilled to know that she would eventually grow up to publish her writing in those kinds of pulpy venues she discovered on Ms. Riddick’s shelves. I sincerely hope that somewhere, another young author reads something I’ve written and dreams of doing that one day.

Me-now is deeply grateful for Ms. Riddick. Never underestimate the power of those classroom libraries to inspire, influence, and help young readers find their place. Thank you, Ms. Riddick, wherever you are. Truly, thank you to all the Ms. Riddicks of the world who opt not to censor young people’s reading choices, but rather make a wide range of materials available to them, trusting them to find what they want and need to read. The importance of that freedom to read beyond one’s ordinary boundaries in those formative years is so incalculable.

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*technically it was more like my third novel, but the first two were done in pictures because I couldn’t write words yet, and the third was a complete rip-off of Bambi called Zandi and every bit as bad as you think it probably was.

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Anyhow–Spectral Realms 17, featuring two of my speculative poems and a lot of other, really wonderful writers’ wonderful work, is now available for purchase if you like weird literature.

The Gorgeously Weird Cover for Spectral Realms 17

You can purchase it here: https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-17

And here’s the Table of Contents for this issue:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Poems

Slouching toward Yuggoth / Richard L. Tierney

To Richard L. Tierney: In Memoriam / Leigh Blackmore

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: An Extended Surveil / Carl E. Reed

A Promise for Today / Maxwell I. Gold

La Gata / Lori R. Lopez

Footsteps in the Night / Ngo Binh Anh Khoa

The Golden Age / Charles Lovecraft

I Met a Girl in a Cemetery / John Shirley

I See Too Much: A Clairvoyant’s Complaint / Frank Coffman

House / Rebecca Fraser

Malice Must Dwell within Your Heart / Darrell Schweitzer

The Nachzehrer / Scott J. Couturier

The Path of Grey / Adam Bolivar

Semblance / David Barker

A Creature of the Twilight / Wade German

Cometfall / DJ Tyrer

Candy Corn Caresses / Ashley Dioses

The Garden of Night / Andrew White

Death Confession: A Golden Shovel / LindaAnn LoSchiavo

Communion / Manuel Pérez-Campos

The Witch’s Tree / Jay Hardy

Last Soldier on the Beach / Jay Sturner

The Black Goat / Linn Donlon

Knowing the Dragon / Geoffrey Reiter

Battle against the Dark Lord / Jordan Zuniga

Spider / Don Webb

Antiquarian Research / David C. Kopaska-Merkel

A Little Song of Death / Carl E. Reed

The Court of Azathoth / Ngo Binh Anh Khoa

Destiny / David Schembri

A Song of Two Deaths / Ian Futter

Flower of Evil / Manuel Arenas

Nordic Instinct / Charles Lovecraft

The Lady in the Wood / Geoffrey Reiter

In the Beginning / Melissa Ridley Elmes

In Her Defence / Claire Smith

By What Right Do You Call Yourself Patience? / Thomas Goff

Incubus / Scott J. Couturier

Heolstor / Adam Bolivar

Cast / Ron L. Johnson II

Phantasms / Wade German

The Seeker’s Lament / Frank Coffman

A Crime of Passion / G. O. Clark

On the Fantasque Ballet Premiere of Afternoon of a Faun / Manuel Pérez-Campos

Yethwood / Oliver Smith

Whalesong / DJ Tyrer

Dusk / Andrew White

Nativity / David Barker

Blindsight / Lori R. Lopez

Bold Voyager / Darrell Schweitzer

The Daemon Lord / Chad Hensley

Eye of Sapphire, Eye of Emerald / Kurt Newton

Survive against the Swarm / Jordan Zuniga

Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti, Cemetery Superstar / LindaAnn LoSchiavo

Blackburn’s Bloom / Manuel Arenas

Essential Guide to the Land of Dream / David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Watch and Wait / Margaret Curtis

The Ghosts’ Autumnal Fair / Ngo Binh Anh Khoa

Churchyard Passacaglia / Thomas Goff

Fat Man and Yellow-Eyes: A Ghoulish Tale / Carl E. Reed

On Reading Poe / Josh Maybrook

Cats Which Walk in Dreams / Linn Donlon

How the World Ends / Melissa Ridley Elmes

When Cyber Things Return / Maxwell I. Gold

Zeohyr’s Allure / Scott J. Couturier

The Squire of Sweven / Adam Bolivar

Whispers from a Crematory Skull / Manuel Pérez-Campos

Unrepaired / DJ Tyrer

Of the Swordsman of Words and Worlds: Eldritchard / Charles Lovecraft

Classic Reprints

Funeral of a Vampire / Lilith Lorraine

Vampire / Bertrande Harry Snell

Articles

R. H. Barlow and the Activist Poets: How Did They Meet? / Marcos Legaria

Notes on Contributors

About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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