The Cannibal’s Handbook and Spider Spun
By Kit Daven
The Cannibal’s Handbook
One of the greatest joys I have as a reviewer is discovering new authors to add to my favourites list. When it’s an author writing out of my own local backyard, all the better. Such is the case when I met Kit at a recent book signing. I went in only knowing that a mutual friend (Sephera Giron) had edited Kit’s work and recommended I go check her out. Since I was already behind in my reading, I had to forego Kit’s trilogy of novels (next time, Kit!) and instead walked away with a pair of novelettes, presented as stand-alone booklets, each displaying some nice cover art to boot. It made sense for me to review both at once and, as an added benefit, you can read my bonus interview with Kit below these reviews.
First up is The Cannibal’s Handbook where we discover a dystopian world ravaged by colossal storms until no vegetation can survive which, as you might imagine, puts some serious pressure on the global food chain, humans included. Desperate to survive, the major food source for the surviving population becomes the declining human race itself. But there’s a catch. If you want to keep whatever fleeting sense of humanity remaining in an otherwise dying world, there’s a right way and a wrong way to eat your fellow human lest you pay dire consequences.
Author, Kit Daven, embodies the voice of an unlikely survivor, a ragged old lady, with perfect validity. The language which Kit utilizes is a character all its own and carries the new world upon a believable stage. Beneath Kit’s pen, the old lady tells about the time she stumbled upon a pair of young boys locked in a cannibal’s cage waiting to be fattened up and provide a good meal. Turns out the cannibal had been doing it wrong for far too long. The old lady intervenes for the sake of the young boys and we soon learn she’s managed to survive by keeping a well-hidden ability tucked well up her proverbial sleeve, one which becomes as much of a curse as a blessing. The old lady’s story grows beyond one of simple survival into one of human evolution and whether the ongoing cost of sticking around is worth saving the world.
Overall, Cannibal’s Handbook is a fast-paced thrill ride worth digging into to.
This novelette proved to be a true gem and such a joy to discover. The prose, often poetic and deeply reflective, was used to hammer home the delicate madness Izzy Idris seems destined to spiral down into. Each paragraph and chapter, hell – each sentence, sets up yet another layer of psychological torment so subtle even our poor protagonist seems daft to notice.
While doing laundry within the dank confines of her basement, Izzy spends much of her time reflecting upon her life and how she fits into those closest to her. Her reflections flash between her lawyer hubby who seems to be so distant of late and her best friend who has not been acting herself lately. Unraveling memories of recent events and conversations leads Izzy to construct repressed feelings and concepts of wha0’s really going on when she isn’t looking. As Izzy’s feelings and conclusions continue to mount, so too does the ongoing battle raging in the basement when a spider appears before, reaching out from its web as if taunting her to face even more fears than she’d prefer. Killing the spider is the obvious (and brave) solution, but with each fresh kill, the damn thing comes back bigger than the last, but not quite as big as the next one, and the one after that.
Left with the impression that this story is much bigger than what its accumulation of words conveys, I imagine I’ll be pondering the ending of Spider Spun for a while yet, which I’m pleased to do. After all, isn’t that what every great story should do?
Go ahead, check it out, and see if you disagree. The spiders await.
DARK BITES: First of all, Kit, I think the concept of putting together short stories into a booklet format is such a great idea. Not only does it provide a super cost effect way for readers to access your work, it’s a way to make your favourite stories stand out despite their size as compared to traditional novels.
When did you first decide to do this with your own shorter stories and how did you settle on Spider Spun and Cannibal’s Handbook, specifically? Were these stories previously unpublished until now?
KIT DAVEN: Back when I first started promoting myself at conventions, I met author Jen Frankel and saw that she was selling small booklets that contained excerpts from her books. She gave me a couple, and they reminded me of the zines I used to do when I was younger. I figured it couldn’t hurt to present a short story or two in the booklet format, that way readers could get a taste for how I write without investing too much of their money on a new writer. I told Jen that I intended to copy her, and she was thrilled and gave me her blessing. (Since then, we’ve become very good friends.)
Immediately, I began writing a short story. At the time, my husband and I were battling a spider invasion in our home, so spiders were on my mind, and I channelled my experiences into what became Spider Spun. The story evolved into something longer than I expected, but the booklet format still worked. Given how many people enjoyed the story, I began to hunt around through folders of abandoned writing in search of inspiration for a second story, and found a brief character study that I had written. That bit of writing became the opening to A Cannibal’s Handbook.
Originally, both Spider Spun and The Cannibal’s Handbook were DIY projects, which involved betareaders and very simple cover art that I designed myself. The covers were sent out to be printed, while the interiors were printed on my photocopier at home, then cut, collated, and stapled by myself. Eventually, I got tired of making them and started looking around at other options. Alfonso Espinos at StudioComix suggested trying a standard comic book format, I gave it a try, and fell in love with what is essentially a mini magazine. The new editions are very slick looking. They’ve been professionally edited by Sèphera Girón, author and head of the Ontario Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. They’re also both illustrated.
DB: When I met you at a recent book signing in Waterloo, Ontario, you also had a trilogy of dark fantasy novels to offer your readers. Are your longer works your primary focus, or can we expect to see more short stories and novelette’s like the ones mentioned above?
KD: Oh, definitely expect more short stories, novelettes, and stand alone novellas in the future, at least for a while. The complexity and length of the trilogy took a toll on me, and I will need to recharge before I attempt longer novels again. And the times, they are a changing. Shorter fiction is seeing a resurgence in the market, and I’m curious to see if I can break into it, especially when it comes to weird and horror fiction, two of my favourite genres. The short story format is one I fumble with repeatedly, and I’d love to figure them out because I find them more satisfying to write and publish. They don’t take nearly as long as a novel to complete.
DB: Aside from the stories themselves – which I much enjoyed – what I also loved about your two novelettes is how different in style they are. Spider Spun is an urban modern tale which hints at the possibility of a supernatural occurrence, although that could be left for the interpretation of its readers. Meanwhile, The Cannibal’s Handbook is a post-apocalyptic story where the supernatural acts as a fulcrum point for the characters and the world they try to survive within.
Considering the language and style is as unique
as the stories themselves, was your approach and overall mindset much different
before starting each of the two
stories, as well as compared with your world-building fantasy trilogy?
KD: It’s damn near impossible to approach every story the exact same way. I’ve been writing fiction since the age of seven and have given up trying to mechanize my process. Some writers can. I’m not one of them. However, I always go in with a mindset of curiosity and experimentation, and often I learn a lot along the way Asking myself what is the most effective way to tell this story and go from there has always produced wonderful results. Ultimately, I pay attention to the story and its needs, which can be very different from another story’s needs. Perhaps this why Spider Spun and The Cannibal’s Handbook have different styles and tones.
DB: Regarding Spider Spun in particular, this was a story that felt like it may have been more than a little personal for you to write. Is there any truth to this, or has your talent for great narrative fooled me in this regard?
KD: For the record, I’m pretty good at fooling people with my writing. On one occasion, an artist read a literary story of mine and thought I’d gone to art school. She was deeply impressed after she found out I hadn’t. On another occasion, my parents asked if they needed to find me psychiatric help when they stumbled across a piece of writing I had left out by accident. That was embarrassing at the time, but it’s funny now. They’re two of my biggest fans. As for Spider Spun, when it comes to the fears surrounding infidelity, I definitely channelled some of my own insecurities which I’ve seen mirrored in other people. Then there’s my paranoia, which my best friend tells me is at a healthy level. She’s promised to let me know should it ever get out of control. So far, so good. As for the spiders… That part of the story is inspired by events that occurred when we moved into our first house. The place was inhabited by several different species, especially in the basement, and every time I killed one, it seemed the next one that came along was bigger. After several attempts to slaughter a spider that was too big to be sucked up by the vacuum cleaner, my husband and I finally massacred the spider population in the house. Soon after, we started having an ant problem, of course.
DB: Not only do your novelettes benefit from your engaging prose, but your husband also lends a hand by providing his talent to the artwork. What’s it like being able to collaborate with your partner and the challenges that may arise as far as connecting your tales with his personal vision?
KD: Working with my husband, Sean Chappell, has been a tremendous learning experience for both of us. He’s a fine artist who prefers doing his own original artwork, so doing custom work isn’t something he does very often. I have an eye for design, but that’s hit and miss sometimes as well, because I have no formal training in it. For the most part, we work pretty well together. I know enough about art to be able to describe what I’m looking for, and if that doesn’t work, reference images have been a big help. I also know the importance of letting an artist have room to do their own thing. One of the more difficult challenges has been when he does a piece and I give the okay, only to go back to him and tell him it isn’t working and we have to start over. I get such a sinking feeling when that happens. Given how little time Sean has to do his art, I decided that once the third book in the Xiinisi Trilogy was finished, I’d no longer request his services. I’ve been expanding my skills at digital design and did the cover for Spider Spun, as well as the cover and illustrations for The Cannibal’s Handbook.
DB: As for the ongoing future of your writing, what do you plan to focus on next?
KD: Short fiction is my focus now, with a leaning toward horror these days. I have several stories in various stages of completion. When a dozen or so are finished, I intend to start shopping them around to the pro markets. I have a third novelette stashed away, a ghost story, that may be published similarly to Spider Spun and The Cannibal’s Handbook. Haven’t decided yet. I also plan to launch an online project that involves canonizing the multi-dimensional storyverse in A Xiinisi Trilogy. And as another side project, I’m developing a card game with my husband and a friend, which we hope to start raising funds for in November.
DB: If readers wish to get in touch with you and enjoy your stories, what’s the best way for them to do that, be it digitally, in person, or otherwise?
KD: After this year, I plan to take a hiatus from conventions. I keep saying this, but it hasn’t happened yet. Still, online is the best way to reach out to me. You can find me online just about everywhere now. My books are available through Chapters, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and as of recently, Google Play. For readers who use the Tapas App, The Forgotten Gemstone is being published one bite-sized episode at a time. My books are also available through Overdrive, so you can request them through your local library. For anyone living in Toronto, the ebook edition of The Forgotten Gemstone is already available through the Toronto Public Library. You can find a few copies of the print edition at StudioComix in Kitchener and at Millpond Records & Books in Hespeler. For those who’d like to see me in person, my next appearance is at the Tri-City Super Con the weekend of Sept 28th.
Thanks for the interview, Rick. I enjoyed it very much. Kit
DB: Thank-you, Kit! For more of Kit and her work, you can follow her online at any of these links: