When we accept the exploitation of various classes and minorities (like children in Victorian England) for the profit of the powerful, that we tend to see “the world” as inherently unjust and cruel, when it’s actually a particular group of people creating and enforcing that world. If you think, for instance, about some of the most resonant horror stories, you can see this too.
by Britt Gettys
I’ve always believed in tossing the reader into the water and making them swim. Sometimes the water is deep. Besides, explanations are overrated. I find as a reader that authorial explanations by their very nature often take me out of a story. Too much opportunity to stop and consider, and all of a sudden I’ll start asking questions that expose cracks in the setup. So I do try to operate with authority, and I keep things moving.
by Kevin McNeil
I’m generally fascinated with stories that involve a trip to the Underworld, and one of the things that happens fairly often in those stories is that someone goes to the Underworld to rescue someone else. And we all think, “Yes, great! A Get Out of Hell Free card!” And we don’t often think, “hmm, I wonder if the person in the Underworld maybe wanted to stay there.” So I wanted to write a story where that seemingly great rescue was twisted all the way around.
by Erika Holt
Once in a while a graphic depiction of violence is exactly what’s required: all of us, from time to time, will be suddenly and shockingly confronted with the visceral reality of the fact that we’re not disembodied minds, but inhabited bodies, to which bad and terminal things can happen. This violence can also stand in symbolically for harsh mental cataclysms of the type that life hands us. But I’ve always found darkness and eeriness and unease far more interesting and compelling than gore in the long run.
by Sandra Odell
I work in visual effects (for film) as my day job, so I think that visual storytelling is always a big part of my writing. Narrating is kind of a cheat, in both worlds. It’s cheating to tell a reader what to think, and it’s bossy and flimsy and a lot can go wrong. Better to give them something physical to react to and trust that they’ll arrive at whatever you’re getting at by themselves.
I live in a lovely part of the countryside, and scattered around where I live (South Wales) there are at least half a dozen pillboxes. These are buildings that were built in WWII—designed as heavily fortified machine gun emplacements—and they formed defensive lines across southern and eastern Britain in case of a German invasion. They weren’t designed to stop the enemy advance, just slow it down. They were always built in line of sight of the next pillbox, and though many have now vanished, there are still lots of these overgrown, solid buildings, usually made of cast concrete and brick. They’ve always interested me.
by Erika Holt
In the 1970s, to research a novel called Testament, I spent thirty-five days on a survival course in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. If anyone’s curious, the course was conducted by Paul Petzoldt’s National Outdoor Leadership School and trained its students in a variety of mountaineering skills. At the time, I lived in Iowa City, where I was a literature professor at the University of Iowa. After I descended from the mountains, I drove back home along Interstate 80, but my car developed engine trouble, and in the Nebraska panhandle, I had to leave the highway, hoping to find a mechanic. That’s when I came to this very unusual, very scary town.
A lot of things went into this story, but the main thing was reading a news article about transgender teens using online games to explore gender identity. At the time, I’d recently written a story in which a man takes on a female identity online for practical purposes so he could post things he perceived as “girly” without attracting attention. But it hadn’t occurred to me that an online gender swap could be such a powerful tool of self-discovery. So I wanted to explore that.
by Britt Gettys
I think there are a lot of clichés about trauma and how you’re supposed to respond to it. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” carries with it the expectation that if something doesn’t make you stronger, you’ve failed. Another one is that hardship is a gift/challenge/etc., that is, something you should be grateful for and have to learn from. While it’s true that a lot of people come through a trauma or an illness stronger, countless others are worn down or broken. Many live and cope with pain but do so as very fragile people. Are they strong? What is “strong,” for that matter?
by E.C. Myers
The Victorian death photos are straight out of my own childhood. I found a book of them in an Idaho library when I was little. I’m pretty sure I’ve been ruined ever since. They were on a bottom shelf. There were no names in the checkout log. Unlike the narrator here, I didn’t steal the book, but oh, oh, I thought about it.