“Red Rain” jumps off the page, demanding your attention, pummeling you with every visceral detail that sets the horrifying tone for the rest of the story. Tell us something of the inspiration.
Alas, it is not always possible to track all of the various steps that lead to the birth of a story, and certainly isn’t, here.
I can say that this story was a shift from a premise I could not make work to one that I could. In the original iteration, the horrific event was a citywide plague of suicide, and the opening fall of bodies from skyscraper altitudes was the result of people leaping from windows, which would have soon given way to the protagonist stumbling through streets where people were doing away with themselves using a variety of methods. Some version of that scenario might still emerge, someday, but I got steered away by practical, niggling considerations like, “How are people getting through the sealed, impact-resistant glass of modern skyscrapers, in the numbers this image suggests?” Then came the thought, “Isn’t it scarier if the event is even more inexplicable than that, and they’re falling from even higher up?” The supposition I got bogged down in led to the one I ended up using, instead.
The story held elements of Guernica, of recent mass deaths caused by intentional violence, of natural disasters that defy reason and pile the bodies higher. In many respects, the second-person nature of the questioning narrative levels the playing field for the readers, serving as a reminder that this could happen to them, that they are next. Do you feel it is the events themselves or the inevitability they represent that is the true horror of this story?
The events are horrific, obviously, but I think the story’s most horrific aspect is the clear sense that this catastrophe is a world-ending event, still in its earliest stages. Honestly, I could have started the narrative twenty minutes or an hour later, and it would have been even nastier.
While I appreciated the unanswered “why?” of this event, some readers may feel cheated that you didn’t wrap everything up with a neat little bow. What, if anything, do you feel an author owes a reader when crafting a story?
The science fiction genre’s obsession with rational explanations has its place, mostly when the stories are about the nuts and bolts, but this hunger for “why?” sometimes pollutes the reaction to stories where that is just so, so not the point. There have been times, in the past, where stories that left that out were slammed for failing to provide what the author was really under no obligation to provide. I wrote one fantasy “The Thing About Shapes to Come” (bit.ly/2GVQtEC) about an inexplicable event where the focus was on human response to that event, where some anal-retentive readers were so angry that I never explained why the central strange stuff happened (even though the story itself comes out and says, in a paragraph all by itself, that the explanation is unknown to humanity and beside the point), that I was driven to the frustrated public response, “All right! It was radiation from space!” An empty justification that added nothing.
If any genre has a history of inexplicable events that exist only to bring extremes of human nature into sharp relief, it’s horror. Night of the Living Dead actually offers a few lines of lame explanation as to why corpses suddenly became ambulatory, but that explanation was a vestigial remnant of the radiation-based horror movies of the 1950s, and was quickly abandoned by the sequels, as well as by the hundreds of iterations the film inspired. You don’t need to know why. It happened. Hugger-mugger about ancient cursed books, and magic amulets, or alien energies, or so on, can be distractions. Finger-waving.
What the author owes the reader is what belongs in the story, and not one line more.
“Red Rain” is framed in such a way that everyone can see themselves in the story. Where are you in the narrative? Did Adam-Troy Castro make it onto the page in any way?
I’m the seventeenth corpse from the right, buried twenty layers down, near the hot dog stand.
Much of your work is intended for more mature audiences, yet you also penned the wonderful Gustav Gloom novels for middle-grade readers. What would you say the biggest difference is between writing for older vs. younger readers? Are you more mindful of the subject matter or approach?
There’s surprisingly little adjustment involved. Sure, I had to stay away from some nasty elements, but I’m fond of pointing out that the Gustav Gloom series, popularly (and I happily assert, justifiably) praised as a fun romp suitable for eight-year-olds, includes in various forms dark places, otherworldly forces, a serial killer, the murder of a pregnant woman, the kidnapping and imprisonment of children, threats of torture, Lovecraftian planes, and lots and lots of monsters. There are similar horrors in the Oz and Harry Potter series, also deemed suitable for kids. The trick was to know where the line was and go as close to it (and sometimes over), as I could.
Writers are always encouraged to remember self-care, to be mindful of the how often and why they do something. Still, self-care can be indulgent and fun. Do you have a particular indulgence or favorite meal that puts a smile on your face?
Carrots, cats, Words with Friends, pizza, blackjack, being regularly needled by the wife.
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