Updated: Sep 1, 2021
tw/cw: a discussion regarding Unicult -- a new age internet cult that Allison is a member of.
We have always pledged to approach things with an open mind - and appearances never tell the full story. We remind all to consider the nuance found within our personal definitions of lexis and language, something we all love and appreciate within the vivid worlds we escape to whenever we pick up a book. Whilst we are not actively promoting participation within any cult, we simply ask you to consider allowing all those that do not promote or commit harm to others a freedom of belief and lifestyle, whether you -- or we -- agree with it or not. We humble ourselves with discussion, and learn from healthy critique. We hope you appreciate our approach.
We've reached our tenth Beneath the Needle, a series that brings light to our talented contributors, their incredible submissions, and vivid and varied insight into countless topics that emanate the passion behind the author. Today, we speak to Allison Louise Miller, our latest Short Fiction contributor. Snow Day epitomises the importance of "fun" within the genre at large; an ode -- with twists -- to the slasher subgenre that many of us find such nostalgic comfort within.
Allison Louise Miller has several published short stories and wrote book one of the Tool Trackers paranormal detective series (read the first twenty percent free with Kindle Unlimited here) while studying creative writing under Brian Leung and Paul Griner at University of Louisville. Having spent most of her life looking inward to explore imagination and creative play, the isolation of the past year forced her to develop self-acceptance as spiritual practice, a central tenant of her faith as a member of Unicult, a New Age Internet cult led by androgynous space angel Unicole Unicron. Her interests include cooking at a professional level, photography, and video production. She was inspired by a teaching creative writing class to develop her writing practice as a quasi-spiritual or ritual magic practice, a yoga of writing in and through the body that incorporates elements of clairaudient channelling and divination, which she’d like to one day teach in a classroom. In other words, a year of isolation has driven her utterly insane.
A long-time fan of dream-like weird fiction by writers such as George Saunders, Aimee Bender, and Kelly Link, incorporating elements of screenplay writing and pop culture as collective unconscious, as in Snow Day and other recent work, her stories could be described as mass media fairy tales. Genre tropes are given a reverence normally reserved for religious symbolism. The zombie apocalypse is the new Revelation. The final girl is the new holy virgin. She frequently posts hyperbolic 3AM notes about such matters on Twitter, over 50% of which she later deletes. Her works in progress under the pen name Downy Thornapple include YA novels The Patchwork Girl and All Parents Must Die, a hentai trilogy called Shinjuku Sex Wars, and a comedic men’s adventure novel series about a transgender private investigator called Candy Sapphire.
So, Allison - Snow Day epitomises pulp fun, riffing on genre tropes whilst developing its own relatable identity amongst the greats. What's the most "fun" you've had with horror cinema?
Hausu, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. There was a great period in 70s Japanese cinema when artsy film school and commercial directors were hired to direct trash, mostly porno, reminiscent of the Andy Warhol pulp-art films Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein. Obayashi’s absurd surrealist B-horror is the absolute pinnacle. I was delighted to see your cover art for Snow Day evokes the Hausu poster’s dripping “blood” text.
That’s the classic formula right there, teenagers staying overnight in a strange place and getting killed off one-by-one for no explicable reason, except that it has something to do with awakening sexuality and a jilted old woman.
A slasher through and through, Snow Day successfully stands alongside those it takes inspiration from, with a relatable and adorably naïve cast of characters. How did you approach developing these unfortunate folk?
Naturally stereotypes came to mind first, the classic grouping of teens from movies like The Breakfast Club. The slasher mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon touched on the importance of having a good mix among the victims. When I got to writing, though, I felt drawn to the weird and awkward outsiders. Mark, the main character, is not the natural leader of the group; in any other story, Scott would be the star; Jenny is quiet and shy compared to her outgoing sister; Stephanie doesn’t really have any friends; and Sterling and Wilson are definitely the “freaks and geeks” at their school. These characters are the kids who normally watch from the side lines.
You've expressed your faith in Unicult, a new age movement that originates from a foundation of celebrating self, expressing joy and a moral framework of accepting all for who we are. It's undeniable that it highlights important societal issues that affect many across the world within dominantly patriarchal societies. There's also obvious criticisms to be levelled against such an organisation, the dangers of fervent faith in an individual draws comparison to the many California-based cults that -- more often that not -- prioritise exploitation and monetisation. Could you share some of your own perspective and experiences on the matter?
I feel blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor. Unicult doesn’t have a commune yet, and there’s no live in-person service, so there hasn’t been an opportunity yet for Unicole and everyone to go really off the deep end crazy. We just hang out in text and video chat, and sing together during cam church. I think of it like Discordianism in a way, only it’s not a joke. Like any religion, we’re just a group of likeminded people who choose to believe absurd things because it makes us feel good.
It feels very much like a close-knit group of friends, but there can be as many as a thousand people watching cam church on YouTube and TikTok each week. When we one day have live church services at Uniacres, it’s going to be wild. I picture it like a megachurch that’s just a non-stop warehouse rave with literal “trance” music, mass brainwashing, people waving glow sticks and speaking in tongues. It’s going to be awesome!
"I picture it like a megachurch that’s just a non-stop warehouse rave with literal 'trance' music, mass brainwashing, people waving glow sticks and speaking in tongues. It’s going to be awesome!"
During your time within academia, what do you recall as a vital lesson that you often share with your peers in the writing community?
Oh boy. Gotta give this one a big think.
What comes to mind most is just the conceptualization I developed of writing as the act of dreaming on paper. You can think of communication or planning as key, especially as teachable skills, but it’s really about the process of pen on paper and staying with your thought. It’s really key to stay with whatever it is you’re writing and make sure it’s true to itself.
At its most basic level, you could talk about developing a thesis and staying on-topic, but those lessons are all frameworks or pointers to what you should be doing: writing. Writing is not a set of rules, but it is a discipline.
Actually, come to think of it, the biggest lesson was this: An English Lit professor told me you always write your thesis statement last. You have to write first to figure out what you’re writing about, which ties into writing as process.
You also mention the parallels between genre tropes and religious reverence, with many aspects and subgenres of horror celebrated by dedicated fans of the craft. What was your first exposure or recognition of this, and what trope do you never grow tired of?
I think, probably, Scream brought the theory or jargon of horror fandom into the mainstream. That movie came out just a couple of years after Pulp Fiction, when indy filmmakers—really, fans—started making movies that are heavily self-referential and aware. Filmmakers have always referenced movies that came before, but it’s so meta now, you can make movies like Wild Zero that are just huge ironic jokes about genre tropes.
I love it when everything seems symbolically sexual, for no logical reason. Any kind of speculative fiction is best when it has a dream-like quality, but horror especially should be like a fairytale with a very Freudian interpretation. I think of the original Cinderella’s yonic fur slipper and the stepsisters cutting off their toes to make their feet fit, evoking menstrual blood. The odd underlying sexual symbolism of slashers is just like that. There’s always a transgression or a sex act that sets off the killing.
What dish do you cook to impress, if any? Do you consider cooking a particularly cathartic practice?
When I want people to see that I know what I’m doing, I cook salmon on high heat, because I can do that exactly like I did at work. I like to pretend I’m developing dishes for a restaurant menu and refine my processes, so I love cooking for three or more people, juggling multiple pans and side dishes. Even the clean-up is part of it. There’s a whole imaginary universe in which my menus exist, but there’s also an objective result that you can see and eat, so that’s very satisfying.
"I like to pretend I’m developing dishes for a restaurant menu and refine my processes, so I love cooking for three or more people, juggling multiple pans and side dishes."
Your upcoming projects are both varied and intriguing -- could you give us some insight into your process, and how you fleet between various genres, topics and formats?
It’s like how Tarantino says he does movies that take place in the “real world” (or Tarantino Universe), but he also does movies that characters inside the Tarantino Universe would go see at the theatre. I take notes and imagine whole series of books, TV shows, and movies, and then the stories I actually publish are like fan fiction about those series. Or you could think of them as long-running comics I imagine, and then I write new single issues (short stories) or graphic novels (books).
I focus first on the storytelling engine; the characters, conflicts, and themes that will produce stories; and then I start coming up with stories as I fill in the “series bible” with all sorts of lore and backstory. It’s basically the same thing I did as a child at play, only it’s become more serious. I have over 50,000 words of notes for The Patchwork Girl and have published two "Patchwork Girl" short stories, and I plan to finish it as a single novel.
In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Snow Day?
Life or death!
Thank you, Allison, for your kindly participation in our Q&A series -- Snow Day hits audiences this year, in The Needle Drops... Volume One. Keep warm. To close, some final thoughts from Allison.
It’s funny, a year ago I was planning to publish novels under the pseudonym Jake Winters and thought it would be hilarious to appear in drag for my book jacket photo, cosplaying as Anne Rice from the Interview with the Vampire DVD intro. Downy Thornapple was a character in Candy Sapphire, a poet-revolutionary who sought to destroy the English language through publishing absurd pulp novels. Now, I am Downy Thornapple.