At long last, some publication news! I asked Santa to bring me a publication deal for Christmas, and while it took him a little while, he finally remembered where I live. I am beyond thrilled to announce that my novella The Shadow Dancers of Brixton Hill will be published by Cemetery Gates Media.
In 1937, American circuses are trying to recoup the losses they incurred during the Great Depression, while also competing with newer forms of entertainment like movie theaters. Kate Montgomery travels to Brixton Hill to scout the Shadow Dancers, a group of young girls who can manipulate their shadows to dance independently of their bodies. Signing such an unusual act will revive her family’s failing circus, but when Kate witnesses their abusive training conditions, she’d rather help them escape their dismal lives. However, the Shadow Dancers aren’t as helpless as they seem, and Kate might need to rescue herself.
For those unfamiliar with the format, a novella’s longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. These bite-sized books are very popular in the horror world. The novella could be out as early as June (!) but should be coming sometime this year. I’ve worked with Cemetery Gates Media before and am so happy my weird little story found a home with them. I’ll keep you updated as things develop.
This story has two direct influences.
The first and more obvious influence is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic 1932 film Vampyr. This is a visually fascinating movie in which a young traveler moves through a surreal, dreamlike landscape as he’s drawn into the struggle between a local family and a vampire. And in one memorable sequence, people’s shadows just kinda roam around doing their own things before catching up with their owners. They even dance. Indeed, some of the roaming shadows do not appear to be attached to humans at all. You never see actual people dancing in the below scene:
The less obvious inspiration is the 2022 Russian ladies’ figure skating team at the Olympics.
You may remember the doping scandal that engulfed Kamila Valieva, the Russian team’s 15-year-old figure skating prodigy. What you probably don’t remember, unless you are a fellow skating obsessive, is that the entire Russian ladies’ team could fire off quad jumps that no other female skaters in the world, and relatively few men, could do. They were all coached by the same woman. She has coached the last two Olympic ladies’ champions and silver medalists, plus one of the Olympic team gold medalists in 2014.
Some of their superior ability was almost certainly due to doping. And some of it was likely due to the appalling training conditions these young women are subjected to. They’re snapped up while they’re children and they’re taught dreadful technique to grind those jumps out, which earns them gold medals by the bushel but wrecks their bodies and ends their competitive careers early.
Because smaller female bodies have an easier time grinding out harder jumps, these skaters are encouraged to subsist on “powders.” They don’t even drink water during training or competition. No ladies’ skater coached by this team has ever competed in two Olympics; the training is so brutal these girls are generally one and done.
Something else that stayed with me: Even before the doping scandal broke, Valieva looked like the unhappiest person on earth when she won her segment of the Olympic team event. And I still haven’t forgotten the sight of Olympic champion Anna Shcherbakova sitting on a couch backstage after her win, looking blank and empty. You’d have never known she’d just won her sport’s most coveted prize. You might remember Oksana Baiul collapsing in joyful, emotional tears on her coach’s shoulder, or Tara Lipinski jumping up and down and screaming, or Sarah Hughes literally falling on the floor when she found out she’d won. That’s how winning an Olympic gold medal should look. But in 2022, the very angry silver medalist (another member of the Russian team) and the delighted bronze medalist showed far more emotion than the actual winner did.
I couldn’t get those Russian skaters out of my mind. Even their wins looked like loss. Yes, the Russian ladies could do things that almost nobody else in the world could do…but at what human cost?
I tried writing a short story about an evil figure skating coach, but that idea didn’t quite take. But one night when I was hunting for inspiration, I ran across a story prompt about shadows, and I started thinking about dancers who could manipulate their own shadows to dance independently of their bodies. And then I pictured the person who’d trained them to do this, and how manipulative and cruel he was, and how this amazing ability wasn’t really worth the loss of humanity these dancers endured. And then I started writing.