“The Narrow Escape of Zipper-Girl” opens with a number of delicious possibilities: vampires; body horror, stalkers, skin walkers. Likewise, the story ended on a dark and satisfying note. Tell us what inspired this particular tale.
It began, oddly enough, as a contemplation of a point precisely opposite of the one it ended up making: to wit, the introduction of a body modification by someone of little personal distinction, as an alternative to actually having much in the way of a personality. (As has been noted by many people other than myself, the mere application of a tattoo does not make a boring person interesting.) By degrees, the story turned to putting that mod on a person who almost certainly has more than one dimension, and an antagonist who had no other real interest in seeing them. The horror grew the more I concentrated that tunnel vision into monomania.
You have a knack for creating realistic, and at times sympathetic, monsters, particularly those in human skin. Here we see a person with a need for an expression of body horror that is nearly all-consuming. It is a drug, an obsession that compels and complements the idea of a perfect relationship. The fantasy would most likely not survive the reality, but that fact does not make it any less needful. What is it about the nature of darker, unspoken fantasies, that you feel appeals to readers?
I think everybody acknowledges that if we had the power to always know what the person next to us is thinking, we’d be too horrified to ever leave the house. The difficult thing about writing this story is that I had to make his imaginings legitimately erotic, by his lights, while also recognizing how profoundly screwed up he was; also, while serving the object of his desires just as well. I need to point out that my first conception had a much more conventional story arc: to wit, he did eventually get to pursue his mania to its bloody final conclusion (though I did not go so far as deciding whether she survived or not); the more I wrote, the more it seemed important that the story become about her seeing through him, and in that way escaping him.
Your horror stories have very strong literary overtones that make them all the more chilling. The almost lyric description of Zipper-Girl in the mask, her body remade to suit his desires. The first inkling of real fear in “The Totals” when Clutch begins to realize what a monster he is. The extreme violence and redemption of “Of a Slow Sweet Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs.” Some critics insist that horror is not, and can never be, “literary.” What are your thoughts on “genre purity”? That the literary market should not be sullied with lesser subjects?
Pfooey to “genre purity.” Horror without a point of view is just an autopsy, horror without effective prose just an exercise in poring through the thesaurus for synonyms for “viscera.” I sure as hell don’t know the precise dividing line beyond which a work of fiction stops being just a story and starts being literature, but by God, I know when I am deep in that country, and appreciate finding myself there.
You write fiction, non-fiction, reviews, movie commentary, and so much more. Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a set writing schedule? How do you balance non-fiction vs. fiction writing time?
My schedule is messed up, really. I put aside novels to work on my short story idea of the day. Or on other, newer and shinier novels. Naughty writer! Naughty writer! The non-fiction, at this point, is just a bunch of regular columns, one of which begins this very issue, and by itself it rarely sidetracks me for more than a day.
Still on the subject of writing, what are your writing goals? What projects or fields of writing would you still like to try?
I am hoping to eventually get to write a screenplay or two, a play, a mainstream thriller. I am working on at least one of those, and see the possibility of another on the horizon. Stay tuned.
A key tenet to writing is to be well read, and to read outside the scope of your writing. Read anything and everything. To whom do you turn outside the SF/F/H genres when you want to get your book on? Are there particular authors or subjects that tickle your fancy?
Because of my book review column, most science fiction and fantasy writers, however praiseworthy, are relegated to the realm of work, books I must read in order to review. I may enjoy them, and indeed choose much of what to read on the basis of positive expectation, but the job has otherwise eaten the discretionary whole. So when I read outside the field, it is because it is stuff I want to elbow in, somehow. I have mentioned before that I love the dog novels of one Susan Wilson. I read the police procedurals of Michael Connelly and the crime novels of Dennis Lehane. I regularly turn to the poetry of Charles Bukowski, and once in a great while manage to schedule an Alexandre Dumas. I have a Library of America collection of Women Crime Writers of the ’40s and ’50s that I’ve been dipping into, regularly, for the last year or so, and—for reasons that resonate with my Nightmare book column this month—a glorious Shirley Jackson collection with which I have been doing the same thing.
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