“I hope I can find a plot for you, mister”: A Review of Those Who Scream

Trigger warnings for Those Who Scream: homophobic violence, gore, death, addiction, blood, self-harm

I once tried explaining to someone that my healthiest tactic for escaping the grip of writer’s block is to read other people’s work. The person I was talking to found this fairly obvious—of course any creative work, just like anything else, is based to some degree in whatever else has already been created. Whether or not we’ve consciously internalized the beats and rhythms of anything we’ve ever consumed, it all ends up somewhere eventually. Instead of fearing mimicry, we should simply aim to work carefully with the previous materials available to us. And sure, this all sounds relatively simple, but it’s not always so clear while scrambling to exist meaningfully in a creative market designed to make us all feel so desperately alone—like when God molded us individually from the primordial soup, he must’ve just forgotten to include the clump of gunk labeled “unprecedented talent” that would allow us to shit out a masterwork every 5 minutes “just like everyone else does.” 

Those Who Scream: A Novel by Thirty Writers, the soon-to-be-released project from Thirty West Publishing House, is an experiment in the limits of shameless consumption and collaborative inspiration. This novel is the result of the publishing house’s #antiwrimo project which involved, as the subtitle suggests, 30 writers writing one chapter—around 1,000-2,000 words each—of a book with an unprompted premise over the course of a month. The only direct source material each writer had to work with when crafting their section were the chapters written prior to their own. The final product is a novel that asks its audience to think hard about where stories come from if not our own wells of divine inspiration, and explores the lengths we’re willing to go to keep our oldest stories alive—or to finally kill them off.

The story follows Molly Hammersmith, a woman looking to stave off memories of childhood trauma, heartbreak, and damaged familial ties by taking on a mysterious gig as a gravedigger in rural Georgia. Over the course of each chapter, new elements of the plot are introduced, picked up, dropped off, or later revivified by new writers to craft the intricacies of Molly’s past and familial history. Thankfully, many writers chose to lean into the more surreal elements of the project, celebrating the chaotic potential of writing in the backstory as the story unfolds. (Nothing, and I mean nothing, will prepare you for the entrance of Rufus Stillborne and his gang of—y’know what, just read the name one more time.) The novel isn’t afraid to forget what it thinks is failing and dive deeper into what it just can’t let go of. 

In the mid-to-late chapters, you can feel the writers pulling taut the thematic threads that ultimately make Those Who Scream work as a story on its own terms. At times a modern Southern gothic reflecting on the failures of our kin to protect us from the inevitable, and at others a motorcycle highway chase for the fate of the final girl, the story often rips itself apart just to be glued back together later with blood (and some amount of ancestral magic that bends the space-time continuum). Even the occasional plot inconsistencies and more obvious nods to the book’s premise felt welcome considering the means by which the novel came to be. (Sorry, but a man with like 7 faces sutured together is just cool, whether or not it’s on the nose.) At points where I felt a writer let go of an element I was holding onto a bit too tightly, or when I became frustrated with the direction a writer suddenly swung the novel towards, I just had to lean into being a more curious reader than an impulsive or demanding one, trusting that each writer who came on had their finger on a unique pulse of this story. In the end, Those Who Scream was just as much of a writing experiment as it was a reading one—and it’s one that I’m glad I stuck with.

If you’re looking for a novel that’s crafted to pinpoint perfection, you might not like too many novels, and you definitely won’t like this one. But Those Who Scream is a must-read for anyone wanting to re-fall in love with the pure fun of writing and reading. The next time you’re feeling like your supposedly-solitary-and-utterly-unreliable genius self will never create enough fuel to run on, pick up Those Who Scream. You’ll be helpfully reminded that you’re correct.

Those Who Scream will be released Friday, June 3rd, 2022. Visit https://www.thirtywestph.com/shop/thosewhoscream to pre-order it.

Disclaimer: Kirsten Reneau, Operations Manager at Daily Drunk Magazine, contributed a chapter to Those Who Scream. She has not read this review prior to its publication or during its creation, nor did she provide insight into the creative process of the #antiwrimo project

Casey Dawson is a writer from New Orleans. Their writing has previously appeared in 433 Magazine and the anthology Mall Rats from Daily Drunk Magazine. They’re currently the Print Manager for Daily Drunk Magazine. You can find them on Twitter @caseylikekc.

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