Personal Essay: Alice M. Phillips
Watch out for horror writers! wrote Gene Wolfe in my copy of Strange Birds at Balticon in 2006. It should have occurred to me to watch out for horror podcasters, too, and I met several that weekend while attending the convention with Serah Eley (then known as Steve) of Escape Pod and Ben Phillips, who would go on to become Pseudopod’s Chief Editor. I admit I am selective about the horror in which I partake. As a child, I couldn’t get enough ghost stories and daydreamed about the Addams family adopting me. I suppose I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of art and literature. As an art historian, I dedicate my research to Romanticism’s gothic ruins, Victor Hugo’s spirit drawings, and nineteenth-century Symbolist visions and Decadent nightmares, such as a saint’s infernal tormentors portrayed as formless, primordial figures emerging from the velvety darkness of an Odilon Redon lithograph.
Creating horror seems to appeal to those of us who feel like outsiders. For me, horror became a form of escapism, as I discovered while gleefully writing about sculptural slaughter in fin-de-siècle Paris for my recent novel, and Pseudopod was there when I needed other creative escapes. Listening to Pseudopod while painting, costuming, or making altered books indelibly linked that project to the stories I heard, which still linger like ghosts in my memory. I enjoyed it when a narration made me stop what I was doing and just listen, further entangling my art with unforgettable horror imagery. Pseudopod is where I turn to find classic stories reanimated with new life, watch dreadful legendary creatures emerge into the modern era to frighten us anew, and hear Alasdair Stuart’s reassuring voice at the end, making me feel less alone with the images now haunting my imagination.
With its sheer variety of horror stories, the authors’ consistent creativity and originality, and riveting narrators, Pseudopod truly offers something for everyone with a tendency towards the macabre. The podcast continues to draw me back, not only into its stories, but also back through time to Poe and Lovecraft, to gothic castles, to decadent art of the past, those skeletal figures forever beckoning from darkened doorways.
Alice M. Phillips, author of the historical thriller The Eighth Day Brotherhood, is an art historian living in Iowa City. Her recent museum exhibitions include Exploring the Demimonde: Sin and Temptation at the fin-de-siècle and Nocturnes: The Darker Side of Modern Art. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Iowa, specializing in late nineteenth-century Symbolism. Dr. Phillips is also a visual artist, Irish fiddle musician and step-dancer, and facsimile creator of rare historical medical books. She can be found online at www.mephistophelia.com.