Things Not Made: Michael Sellars
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
If you combined the beautifully dark vision of Guillermo del Toro, the bizarre imagination of Lewis Carroll, and added splashes of cosmic horror, the result would be Things Not Made by Michael Sellars. Equally terrifying and heartbreaking, the story follows two friends desperately trying to reach each other after one is transported to an alternate reality populated by nightmarish creatures.
The book begins when Holly’s drink is spiked by a strange man in a green hoodie. Forget where you think this story is headed and enjoy the wild ride that ensues as Holly finds herself in a twisted version of Liverpool where black oily tendrils and other bizarre creatures attempt to ensnare her at every turn. Meanwhile, her best friend Melanie begins to search for Holly and the dangerous man in the green hoodie.
As the story progresses, the chapters alternate between character perspectives, and each section ends on a cliff hanger, making this book impossible to put down. There’s also a wonderful juxtaposition between the characters and the settings they find themselves in, which captivated me. The sensible, no-nonsense Holly is dealing with a world where logic seems to be abandoned, while Melanie, who normally takes life much less seriously, is stuck in the real world looking for concrete clues to lead to her missing friend. And even as these two women are separated their bond is further cemented as they draw strength from lessons the other has taught them in the past.
On top of an intense plot and fantastic characters, the novella is filled with rich delicious words making the prose an absolute delight. I’ve read quite a few works by Sellars and his style and voice keep me coming back for more. There’s a sort of rhythm to his writing which is almost hypnotic, dragging you deep into nightmares that you simultaneously want to wake up from, yet also hope to keep following.
I absolutely loved Things Not Made and it’s a story I can see myself returning to time and again to be lost in this vivid world of the bizarre. I can’t recommend it enough!
And, because I can’t stop thinking about this book, I had to reach out to Michael Sellars for an interview, which he thankfully had time for.
The Kendall Reviews Post Review Interview
J.A. Sullivan & Michael Sellars
J.A. Sullivan: What inspired this novella?
Michael Sellars: Hi Jen. Thank you for the very generous review! I don’t think there was any one idea that set the ball rolling on Things Not Made. I remember wanting to write a kind of Narnia story, but with a horror bent. I had the character of Holly floating around looking for a narrative for the better part of a year. And I’d always had a bit of a yen to write a cosmic horror story. All of this mushed together to become Things Not Made.
JAS: Congratulations on landing an agent at The Liverpool Literary Agency! What can you tell us about the work they are shopping for you?
MS: Thanks! It all happened very quickly. A writer friend of mine, and fellow Liverpudlian, S.E. Moorhead (author of Witness X) acted as matchmaker. I sent the agency the manuscript for Hyenas. They really liked it and signed me up. They’re great to work with, very positive, with lots of energy. They started shopping Hyenas around immediately and a couple of big publishers have already requested the full manuscript, which is a great feeling. There’s also been some interest generated by the pitch for the novel I’m currently working on, Choking Hazards.
JAS: Last year you released Heartfelt Horrors, a collection of nine short stories. Did you write these stories specifically for the collection? Or were these tales written over a number of years?
MS: Six of the nine stories were written and published in various small press publications between 2004 and 2009. None of the publications have survived, unfortunately. Three were written in the same period but were unpublished. I stopped writing short stories in 2009 when I started work on Hyenas, and I just haven’t got back into the habit. I really should. As a reader, I love short stories.
JAS: If you had to pick a favourite story from Heartfelt Horrors, what would it be and why?
MS: It would have to be ‘Written in Water’. I love the main character, Jenny Evans. She’s shy and awkward, not typical protagonist material, but she comes out fighting when her existence is threatened. Even as I was writing it, I found myself rooting for her and hoping the story wouldn’t be too hard on her. It was also the first story I had published which garnered a really favourable review (in Tangent Online), which gave my confidence a much-needed boost at the time. When I was putting the collection together, I trawled the internet for reviews and comments that I could use to market the book and found the Tangent review. It turned out it had been posted by none other than Aliette de Bodard. Then, Aliette was an emerging science fiction writer with short-story credits in Shimmer, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Interzone. Now, of course, she’s the Nebula- and BSFA-award-winning creator of the ‘Obsidian and Blood’ series, the ‘Dominion of the Fallen’ series and a ton of short stories. She has an abundance of award nominations: Nebula, Hugo, BSFA, Locus and World Fantasy… So, my confidence got another boost from the same review thirteen years later!
JAS: How would you describe your writing style?
MS: I think it’s pretty sparse. I don’t go in for much scene-setting, just enough to sow some seeds in the reader’s mind, and then I get the story moving. I love the Parker books by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake); they’re mostly verbs and nouns, and character development happens on the fly. In your review of Things Not Made, you mentioned rhythm, and that’s really important to me, that there’s a kind of beats-to-the-bar feel to it, and the sentences are sinuous and flow into each other. Whenever I finish a book, I convert it to an audio file and listen to it. Awkward sentences and clunky phrasing really jump out.
JAS: What are you working on now?
MS: I’m about a third of the way into Choking Hazards. It’s a horror story with a bizarre mystery at its heart and cosmic weirdness at the edges. In the first chapter, the main character, Madeline Carroll, is minding her own business when an old, crushed cigarette butt ‘manifests’ on her tongue. This is just the first of several, increasingly grotesque manifestations. I’m really enjoying writing this one!
JAS: I’d sincerely like to thank Michael Sellars for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and if you would like to know more about the author and his works, feel free to connect with him on the following social medial platforms:
Things Not Made
When book lover Holly Oliver’s drink is spiked on a Friday night out, she becomes separated not only from her best friend, Melanie, but from reality itself. Holly is pursued through the deserted streets of an almost unrecognisable Liverpool by ‘the man in the green hoodie’. But this is only the beginning of a journey into outlandishness and danger.
Realising her friend is missing, Melanie sets off in pursuit.
But where has Holly gone? What does the man in the green hoodie want? And why has he chosen bookish Holly Oliver as his victim?
Michael Sellars is the author of Hyenas (“Genuinely frightening… exhilarating” Kirkus Reviews), the novella Things Not Made and several short stories.
He also curates @HorrorPaperback over on the Twitters.
He was born in Oldham, raised in Liverpool by Mancunians, and identifies as ‘Northern’.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
As curator of “Scary’s Voices” on Kendall Reviews, an article series reviewing horror podcasts, Sullivan loves listening to all things spooky. If you have a horror podcast recommendation, let her know.
On top of contributing short stories to Kendall Reviews, her fiction has appeared in Don’t Open the Door (2019), It Came From The Darkness (2020), and she acted as an assistant editor for Black Dogs, Black Tales (2020). Other spooky tales and updates on her writing journey can be found on her blog.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan