Cassandra Khaw is joining us today to talk about their novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.
It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.
A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.
But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions.
What’s Cassandra’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about Nothing But Blackened Teeth was creating the story that Philip tells at the beginning of the book. For those who haven’t yet read my new novella, this is how the story goes: a marriage was once meant to take place in the mansion in which the book is set. Unfortunately, the groom never arrives, having died along the way. Instead of collapsing into grief, the bride takes things in stride. She tells the wedding guests to bury her in the foundation of the house. Why? Because she wanted to wait for her love, wait until his ghost came home to her. Every year after her horrifying death, a girl was purportedly murdered and put to rest inside the building, all to keep her company until her beloved returned.
Though an incredibly small part of the book, it delighted me to invent something wholesale for the book, a little piece of apocrypha extrapolating from stories I’d heard before. I wanted something slightly camp, slightly familiar, but poignant enough to dig its way under the skin, to generate a mild frisson of ill-ease while still eliciting a groan of, “ugh, I heard that before.” A large part of my reasoning behind this is simple nostalgia.
Like the characters, I grew up in Malaysia, a country steeped in folklore and stories from half a dozen cultures. At least among the people I spent time with, no one was ever selfish with their ghosts; we always shared them with each other, used them as currency to buy more stories from our peers.
And honestly, many of them were mediocre, being nothing more than something someone concocted on the fly. I loved them for that reason. There’s something joyous about the process, regardless of whether you were storyteller or audience. As the listener, you understand that much, if not all, of what you hear is fiction. At the same time, however, the animal brain is always whispering, “What if?” If you’re the one telling the story, well, that depends on the day of the week. Some days, it’s all about seeing if you can make the color drain from your friends’ faces. And sometimes, it’s you feeling the story hum in your marrow and wondering, “Is this a memory I’d almost forgotten?”
I wanted to take some of that into the book and I think I succeeded. Here and there, I catch glimpses of people talking about how they’re unfamiliar with the legend at the heart of Nothing but Blackened Teeth, and I grin to myself. Anyway, that’s probably my favorite bit in the book.
CASSANDRA KHAW is an award-winning game writer, and former scriptwriter at Ubisoft Montreal. Khaw’s work can be found in places like Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. Khaw’s first original novella, Hammers on Bone, was a British Fantasy award and Locus award finalist, and their novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth, is published by Nightfire.