on Characteristics of Aberrational Cultic Movements

Characteristics of Aberrational Cultic Movements appeared in Caketrain 9 late last year. It is available here.

Most of my father’s side of the family is in an extreme Christian sect, the kind other Christians call “aberrational.” The religion has no name; they don’t identify as anything, but people outside the church refer to them as the Two by Twos. Their preachers (known as workers) own no possessions. They used to be very anti-technology, although that has softened — they use the internet, don’t have to hide radios when the workers visit. My father thankfully left the church in his teens.

I should mention that I don’t think the church is a cult — they employ systems of control I consider abhorrent and unethical, but they don’t have many of the warning signs of a cult. They lack any central charismatic leader. They communicate with people outside the church. In many ways they are similar to conservative evangelicals. But still, the memory of being young and knowing that my extended family was involved in a secretive, nameless sect had to have contributed to this story.

The other point of reference was simpler, rooted more in horror movies and half remembered news reports of my childhood. The source is much more dramatic than the story I ended up writing, but the fear drove it. Read transcripts of John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats talking about horror movies (here, here, here) and you’ll get the idea.

The actual writing of it was unusually quick and straightforward. I had at first intended more specific voices, but I liked how they jumbled together into one collective voice. The characters of the children came about pretty organically, and they became the most distinctive narrators.

The title I owe to this website.

I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out. The arc of the narrative feels clunky and maybe should have been extended near the end. It feels like there isn’t enough build up. I tried to strike a balance between narrative tension and a more natural approach, but didn’t succeed in either. The language usually works though, and the collective voice makes sense.

That’s about all. I’m grateful to the editors Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed for the acceptance. The other work in the issue is excellent and the book is wonderfully designed. I’m happy to have been included.

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