Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #367
Author: Spencer Gray
Suggested Audio Candy
Rollins Band “On My Way To The Cage”
Anyone who reads my work should know by now that I am anything but an avid reader. Of nearly 400 appraisals only two were reading assignments and the fact that I refer to them as such suggests that they aren’t my comfort zone. It’s a time thing more than anything else; I barely have enough hours to juggle to sit and soak in a four hundred page novel and, besides, I have always been a sucker for visual stimuli over the written word. Having just finished one book and with another which I have promised to analyze and already woefully tardy with, I can state with assurance that I’ll be taking an extended hiatus from full-length fiction for the foreseeable. However, there has been one exception to this rule and that is The Misfit Words by a certain Spencer Gray.
Let me make this abundantly clear from the offset. The Misfit Words isn’t your conventional page-thumbing material but instead an insight into the cluttered mind of one of the brightest students of horror currently whirling the circuit. The Dallas-born Gray has already got a wealth of experience under his utility belt and, like Keeper, has been cherry picking the whole time whilst locating his true voice. He has been associate producer, actor, SFX artist and, more recently, writer and director and recently found his true calling after gifting us the arresting Snake With a Human Tail. Instantly I could sense common ground after watching his penetrating short about an iniquitous Catholic priest with a dark secret and, after reading the prologue to The Misfit Words, I knew only too well that my hunch was correct.
I have cried and tried.
I have forcefully stitched life into me.
Like some rare organ I am not compatible with.
I teeter precariously.
I pride myself on two things; integrity and my willingness to share everything about myself to anybody who wishes to listen, in an attempt at reaching out to my audience and empowering them to realize their own exclusive potential. Gray lays it all out, like wash day linen, and is disinterested in whether or not said laundry is soiled. This is so refreshing to me. Should you desire warts and all, then you will undoubtedly get exactly what you wish for; as restrained isn’t a word which I would use to explain this particular expose. It is deeply personal, to the point where painful childhood memories are recalled and discussed with a frankness which I find energizing and utterly enlightening. We all harbor dark thoughts; it’s in our make-up. But not all of us are comfortable with sharing.
His comfort will invariably be the reader’s discomfort and this could only ever be a good thing as he has no intentional of supplying a little light bedtime reading to unwind before we slumber. He wants us to feel distressed, cramped, and troubled and each screaming word is designed to burrow beneath the surface and lay its cruel eggs in your psyche. By affording us wisdom as to his tortured soul he starts as he means to go on… with unabashed honesty. However, there is more to resonating with your audience than being straight with them, and it is here that Gray shows the other side to his game. His creativity with prose is evident from the very first poem and there are literally dozens upon dozens forming the first half of The Misfit Words. I, for one, got the sense that every time he woke from a vivid nightmare, the first thing he did was to put pen to paper and it’s more an autobiographical scrapbook than structured narrative.
Having said that, the second part of the novel comprises three screenplays, including his untampered treatment for Snake With a Human Tail, and it is here that it operates on yet another level. I would have no qualms with sharing my own findings when learning to write a screenplay and would be happy for that to be placed in the public domain. Fuck being cagey, when all is said and done, we focus on our own game and the moment we worry about the Joneses coming up on our blind side is the very moment we fritter our minerals. Many will find the inclusion of these drafts to be massively helpful and Gray is alright with that, indeed he encourages stimulation. This speaks volumes for the man’s character and is the reason I would support his endeavors to the end of the world and back again.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
My hate is enough.
To make a dead girl lust.
Last night she was vibrant.
Alive.This morning she is just a body.
A cold, broken vessel.
There are so many ways in which you could benefit from giving The Misfit Words the time of day and it will likely mean completely opposing things to different people. If you want to discern the light which can come from darkness then look no further although you will be needing your heads on a swivel as this goes far deeper into desperation and despair than some will be at ease with. Therein lays the redemption; for as bleak and foreboding a place as the one painted by the author, it’s also testament to a man doing battle with his numerous demons and kicking their shit cans. He’s a fighter for damned sure; that instinct is clear but, at the same time, he had to learn the hard way without certain role models to aspire to emulating. His pluck to fuck and drive to thrive is riddled within the pages of The Misfit Words and he wears his heart outside his chest, hemorrhaging publicly and, most critically, unapologetically.
One of the hardest challenges any would-be scribe faces is learning not to be afraid of their work touching a nerve. Should we live in fear then we can never truly excel in our trade and Spencer eats consternation for breakfast and shits it out by lunchtime. However, his lack of anxiety enables him to reveal just how scared he really is and this is a balancing act few achieve with any degree of certitude. Already, this Texan hellion is making in-roads and I await his full-length debut with sweaty palms and dilated pupils. Until that day comes, this is the definitive tour through the blackened recesses of one of horror’s most imaginative headspaces and a vital work for anyone looking to free their own shackles. If you’re easily offended then I would liken it to attending a Tourette’s seminar and advise you enter with caution. However, should you simply say “fuck vigilance” and dive into this sordid cesspool of wretchedness, then you will be left both replenished and inspired.
So to closing and it seems fitting that I revisit one of my earliest observations about Spencer Gray to wrap things up. I made a particular comment during my appraisal for Snake With a Human Tail, and I quote, “this is the guy you don’t play chicken with on a deserted Texan road if you value your fender”. While I still uphold that, I would now willingly offer my services for riding shotgun alongside him. Should we career off course and explode in a ball of blazing alloy then so be it. Some rides are just worth taking the uncalculated risk for.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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