Shawn is a scientist developing the formula for a drug that may cure blindness by stimulating
another area of the brain that controls perception. When he surreptitiously tests the drug on
himself, he accidentally accesses a neural pathway that appears to allow him to communicate
with a complete stranger through telepathy instead. When Shawn finally discovers the
significance of their connection and of the drug’s true effects, it is too late to stop the damage
their intimate friendship has set in motion to unfold.
A genre-bending sci-fi horror that will have you turning pages into the night. Shawn is a scientist on the quest to cure blindness – he has invented a pill that should offer such a respite – and decides to be the guinea pig for his own invention. Slowly, Shawn begins to hear a voice – is it an auditory hallucination induced by the drug, a ghost, or something else? The mystery behind the voice and how the protagonist soon finds himself smitten by the female he can only hear in his head proves to be an interesting love story, albeit a strange one. The writing is fresh and evocative – with realistic dialogue, and a plot twist that will have you questioning everything you’ve read up to that point. You don’t want to miss this one out – especially if you love your spooky to come with a side of body horror.
Short Q & A with Author
What inspired this novella?
I’m not a fan of science fiction traditionally, but two things pushed me to write Optic Nerve. During the pandemic, I found that a number of my friends—all of them were my age: 40s and early 50s—discovered increased strains on their personal relationships. Some ended up separating from their partners. The isolation and the stress of lockdown acted like steroids in an already anxiety-prone time of their lives, middle age. Most of my characters tend to be in their thirties, or early forties at most; I wanted to write about someone middle-aged for Optic Nerve, to address that anxiety head-on. At the same time, I started to experience a marked decline in my eyesight, and that was, and still is, terrifying to me. I’m an English teacher by day and an editor and writer by night: my eyes are my most utilized tools, so the experience of losing them is a true horror.
You’re a very prolific writer, often appearing in various anthologies. How do you stay motivated as an author?
I used to think I was alone in this approach, but I am the kind of writer who doesn’t sit down and create something unless she hears a line of it in her head, and the line usually comes out of nowhere. The experience is as close to having a muse as I can imagine. When I talked about this in another interview, a few authors reached out to me to say they, too, function that way. I wish I could say that x, y, and z motivate me to write, but the truth is, when a sentence appears in my head, I go with it. Sometimes I go months without writing anything because the lines just don’t appear; other periods, I churn out story after story. Someday, the lines may stop appearing altogether. I hope that isn’t the case, but it’s certainly a possibility.
I think we’ve all had an unconventional crush like Shawn, and usually, these unconventional crushes don’t always result well in the end. Are you a fan of unconventional crushes and love stories?
As a general rule, I’m jaded about romantic storylines. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m a realist at heart and I think Hollywood too often idealizes relationships. Whenever I stumble upon a saccharine movie on television, I have to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head. On the other hand, when authors capture the high we feel when we do make that unique connection with someone, it’s poetry. I think unconventional love stories are often the most realistic. Zora Neale Hurston described falling in love as a “soul crawl[ing] out from its hiding place,” and I think that’s spot on, but I don’t think those moments are as ubiquitous as Hollywood presents them. Those moments are rare and precious, and maybe I’m jaded specifically because of the fiction that dumbs them down.
Tell us about any other projects you’re currently working on right now or will be releasing soon.
My weird horror boogeyman-centered novelette Shagging the Boss just dropped this summer, and I had a great time writing it; it’s still one of my favorite projects. I’m proud to have stories in upcoming anthologies releasing this fall, too, including Sinister Smile Press’ Institutionalized, Omnium Gatherum’s In Trouble (100% of proceeds benefit the National Network of Abortion Funds), and Night Terror Novels’ Nerve-Janglers. In early March, my next edited anthology American Cannibal releases; it’s historical horror fiction and the stories are flat-out phenomenal. It’s like nothing else out there right now, and readers are going to be blown away.
What’s the horror book you always find yourself recommending?
I find myself returning to Joyce Carol Oates’ The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror over and over. It’s creepy and hypnotic. I’m a fan of unreliable narrators and Oates does them like no one else. (laughs) And there isn’t one sentimental romantic tale in the bunch!