Sarah Hollowell is a queer fat Hoosier writer aiming to up the magic quotient of Indiana.
Sarah’s debut YA contemporary fantasy novel, the Locus Award-nominated A Dark and Starless Forest, is available now, with her second book, What Stalks Among Us, coming on September 12, 2023. Her work has also appeared on The NoSleep Podcast, Huffington Post, and Fireside Magazine, among others.
Sarah volunteers with teen writers through the Alpha Workshop, raises small cryptids in the shape of cats, listens to too many podcasts, and repeatedly makes the mistake of watching horror movies alone at night. You can find more of her work on her Patreon, and find her on Twitter @sarahhollowell.
I’ve been watching professional wrestling for two years and, as far as I can tell, in the world of professional wrestling fandom, this makes me a tiny little baby. Maybe less than a tiny little baby. It seems like most wrestling fans got into it at nine years old or came out of the womb with a folding chair grasped in their infant hands. They know the difference between the PG Era and the Attitude Era, which were the only two of the several WWE eras I could remember off the top of my head. Without thinking about it, they can tell you who was in the main event match in any random WrestleMania and the outcome.
To test this, I asked my boyfriend, Ian, about WrestleMania 12. He spent a few moments in his mind palace, doing math to figure out that it took place in 1996, that it was Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels, and that Shawn Michaels won. Ian was also pretty sure that was Shawn’s first time with the world championship belt. I had to check but yes, it was. And yes, Ian’s one of those childhood wrestling fans.
I am in awe of fans like him, and more than a little intimidated. It took over a year of watching wrestling before I felt like I could tweet about it without the caveat that I’m new to the sport. I was so sure at every turn that I’d get something wrong or reveal my general ignorance. It’s not like I’ve even had bad experiences with more knowledgeable wrestling fans. I’ve seen the unpleasant fans from afar, but so far avoided them. None of the wrestling fans I’ve talked to have been interested in gatekeeping—they’ve mostly been interested in telling me more about wrestling.
Still, this impostor syndrome persists. I rarely go outside my little bubble of wrestling friends. When one of them names a wrestler I don’t know, but says the name in a way that indicates they expect me to know, it’s a coin toss on whether I’ll admit to not knowing or just nod along. When I theorize about how a match might go, I keep one eye on Ian’s face to see if there’s any indication that he thinks I’m speaking total nonsense. I’ve been watching anywhere from three to ten hours of wrestling every week for two years, and yet I can’t shake the feeling that I have no idea what’s going on.
But when I’m absorbed in a story or character, none of that seems to matter. During the shows, I’m rarely bothered by the fact that I can only name maybe a dozen moves and can only reliably recognize three or four, because the ones I do recognize are strongly connected to stories and characters I love.
That’s why one of those few moves I know well is the buckshot lariat.
This is the finisher of Hangman Adam Page, a star wrestler for All Elite Wrestling. Hangman was the main character of a storyline that many people now use as an example of the power of long-term storytelling in wrestling. It involves him being betrayed by his best friends, descending into a deep pit of anxiety and depression, having his confidence shattered, and being slowly raised back up by AEW’s resident cult (please trust me when I say this is a nice story, though).
This was the storyline that led me to start watching wrestling, which eventually led to watching AEW’s 2021 Full Gear pay-per-view event. There, Hangman Adam Page took on the reigning AEW world champion, Kenny Omega, to battle for the belt.
I was still learning to read the bones of wrestling. I didn’t know all the portents or have the ability to predict matches. I was deeply disadvantaged by not knowing many of the quirks and politics of wrestling. I knew stories, so that gave me some advantage, but books and wrestling aren’t the exact same kind of storytelling.
I spent the whole match stressed out. Although I now adore Kenny Omega, he was my mortal enemy that night, because he stood between Hangman Adam Page and the title. There were so many moments when I was convinced that AEW’s owner, Tony Khan, had completely betrayed us and decided Kenny Omega would continue to be the reigning champion. I held my breath for every count, waiting for one of them, please, just one of them to hit “three” while Hangman had Kenny pinned.
I don’t remember if, at the time, I recognized the move that finally took Kenny out as the buckshot lariat. I’d seen Hangman do it before, flipping over the ropes before slamming his tensed arm into his opponent’s throat. (Just for fun, here’s an improvised version he did after his opponent purposely removed the top rope to prevent him from flipping.) If I didn’t know the name of the finishing move before that night, I did afterwards, when it led to the announcer declaring, “AND NEW AEW WORLD CHAMPION, HANGMAN ADAM PAGE!”
I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest. He officially became My Champion, kind of like how Doctor Who fans have a doctor who’s Their Doctor, usually the first one they watched (mine is Nine). No matter who holds the title after him, and no matter how much I love them, my AEW world champion is Hangman Adam Page. I will always remember the joy of watching him win the title—and the despair of watching him lose it to CM Punk 197 days later at the Double or Nothing pay-per-view. And it’s those emotions, those highs and lows, those moments when my heart could burst or I could scream at the TV, that keep me watching wrestling.
As I write this essay, I keep being overcome with sudden bouts of anxiety. What if I get something wrong? What if I misunderstand something vital about a wrestler or a match or the sport itself? What if someone who knows more than I do reads this newsletter and points at me accusingly and labels me a fake fan? What if they're right?
It’s the matches where I’m fully invested that I’m reminded my kind of fandom isn’t any less passionate or worthy than one based in facts and figures. Just because my memories are focused more in images and emotion and story doesn't mean I'm not a real fan of wrestling. I can't 100% for sure tell you which pay-per-view had the first Anarchy in the Arena match, but I can tell you that the moment I saw Eddie Kingston come down the ramp bloody and dirty and holding a gasoline can was the moment I became his loyal fan. I don't know if it was on a pay-per-view or an episode of Dynamite where Jamie Hayter ran away with my heart, but I know she's my phone lock screen, she's still my women's world champion even if she doesn’t have the belt anymore, and if she ever wrestles Kris Statlander I will be bisexually deceased. I have zero idea when Willow Nightingale first debuted but I know she's one of only a handful of wrestlers who never fails to make my heart grow two sizes.
It's almost annoying how well I can map this fan experience onto my experience as a writer. I frequently feel like I'm less of a writer because I focus most heavily on vibes. I don't have precise scene-by-scene breakdowns of my drafts because that turns them into gibberish for me. I don't make character profiles and rarely, if ever, know their eye colors. You're unlikely to ever get a detailed magic system from me, or even a detailed outfit description.
I'm extremely self-conscious of these aspects of my writer-self. I'm so often sure that they make me less attentive, less ambitious, less talented, just… less. I have such massive admiration for the authors who can create vast detailed worlds and characters, and I have a bad habit of turning that admiration into disappointment in myself.
But I'm trying to remind myself that it's okay to not be that kind of writer. My goal isn't for my readers to be able to fill out a wiki about my work, it's for them to have their own moment of seeing bloody Eddie Kingston walking down a ramp with a dead look in his eyes that leaves no doubt he absolutely will set someone on fire if security lets him get close enough. I want them to find characters in my books who act as their Jamie Hayters and Willow Nightingales.
If I can ever write something that makes a reader burst with emotion the way I did when Hangman Adam Page won the AEW world championship, then I'll have succeeded. Maybe if I can keep believing in myself and be a fan of my own work, I’ll be able to hit readers with my own buckshot lariat.
What Stalks Among Us by Sarah Hollowell
Best friends and high school seniors Sadie and Logan make their first mistake when they ditch their end-of-year field trip to the amusement park in favor of exploring some old, forgotten backroads. The last thing they expect to come across is a giant, abandoned corn maze.
But with a whole day of playing hooky unspooling before them, they make their second mistake. Or perhaps their third? Maybe even their fourth. Because Sadie and Logan have definitely entered this maze before. And again before that.
When they stumble on the corpses in the maze, identical to them in every way (if you can ignore the stab and gunshot wounds)--from their clothes to their hidden scars to their dyed hair, to that one missing tooth--they quickly realize they’ve not only entered this maze before, they’ve died in it too. A lot. And no matter what they try, they can’t figure out what—or who—is hunting them.