Today I bring you my review of K. Z. Morano’s 100 Nightmares, a collection of 100 stories of 100 words apiece with illustrations mixed in. I do hope you like what I’ve got to say, because you’d be missing out if you didn’t hop over to Amazon (or lulu or smashwords) and take a look at one of horror’s newer up-and-coming writers.
100 Nightmares is a collection of tightly-written, hard-hitting stories that leap from one genre to another as lizards leap from wall to wall. Ranging from realist to Lovecraftian, from dark fairy tales to alien attacks, Morano has no problem exploring a wide range of topics via the oft-done but rarely done well medium of micro-fiction. As an added bonus, this features illustrations from four separate illustrators, breathing color and design in the spaces between each little slice of horror.
As with any collection this size—and especially one that endeavors to make each story only 100 words—there are some phenomenal stories. A number of these set my skin crawling, and once in a while I had to stop and say, “Man, that was… woah,” as they’d left me speechless. The tradeoff is that some aren’t quite as high-caliber. These less impactful tales are still worth reading, but won’t leave the same wide-eyed look on your face.
Some of the twists feature far more disturbing fates than others. Among the most wonderfully disturbing are “Mommy Makes Dinner” and “Contaminated Conception,” the latter of which has a deft change of her usual narrative voice. These kept the stories from running into one another.
The order and placement of stories in any collection is a daunting task that some overlook, but Morano has clearly taken care with where each piece belongs.
Morano’s work sometimes interweaves prose and poetry, creating a musical narrative style that lures the reader into a sort of dark lullaby. This is especially important when featured in stories that otherwise would be weaker, such as “Deep,” a Lovecraft-inspired tale that doesn’t hold the same terror or as visceral a punch as some of the others.
I’m not sure how I feel about the pictures included—in one sense, they’re interesting snapshots that embody a chosen story, giving the reader a change of pace from the rapidly-shifting scenes. For stories like “Golden Locks” and “The Lights Went Out,” the images were captivating. However, with writing that is already both succinct and visually-oriented, some of the pictures seem unnecessary, thereby taking away from the image Morano has already implanted in the readers’ minds, such as that which accompanies “Gingerboy.”
They’re most effective in the Yokai section, which focuses on creatures from Japanese folklore. Both the stories and the illustrations are daring and evocative, composed so that you don’t need to know the original myth to understand the story.
Morano’s skill is most apparent in handling surreal and abstract topics, but the strict length works both in her favor and against her. “Tick-tock,” a piece both disturbing and rife with barbed satire, left me craving more; it was as effective and powerful a story as they get. “Glass Slippers and Lotus Feet” left me wanting more as well, but this time, out of confusion. The majority use their space very well. It’s only the occasional tale that might leave a reader needing more detail to understand what was happening.
Among pieces like “Tick-tock” and “Mommy Makes Dinner” are a number of pieces with a brutal, intriguing psychology, such as: “Johnny’s Horoscope,” which blurs lines between the supernatural and schizophrenia; “Practice Makes Perfect” has a twisted notion of just what we’d sacrifice for those we love; “Witch’s Stew” is one of a raw, macabre desperation to survive. These are but a few of the stand-out shorts in this collection.
K. Z. Morano is definitely one of the better writers on the indie horror circuit, and I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for what work she publishes in the future. You’d be doing yourself a favor if you did the same.