In your short story, “Elo Havel,” your main character dealt with the death of others and was then confronted with his own mortality. You also included environmental issues within the subject matter. Is this something near and dear to you?
When I was twelve my father was one of a small group of physicists using mathematical models as a means of understanding the unexpected dieback of ‘ohi‘a trees in Hawaii, where we lived for a year. I remember him talking about it as he was working on it, and it was one of the first moments I remember beginning to actively think about our connection to the world around us. That same year, when my parents were out one evening, I watched the movie Day of the Animals when it aired on TV. It’s a bad B movie, but it did suggest to me the idea that something that humans did (in this case, depleting the ozone layer) could end up having a massive effect on other species, and that they could come after humans for revenge, and it terrified me.
Then, earlier this year, I glanced at the beginning of one of my father’s ‘ohi‘a papers, which starts “By means of a very general model system, the possibility of interdependent dying, as contrasted to individual, random dying, in large areas of forest is investigated.” That phrase, “interdependent dying,” stuck with me. I began to think of it not just between trees but as interdependence across species, and that led to this story.
“Elo Havel” incorporated some dark elements; what piqued your interest in the horror genre? What authors inspired you?
I think of myself as a writer with feet in several different genres: science fiction, horror, literature, mystery (which I guess means I have about four feet), but the one that seems to exist as an underlayer of all I do is horror. It’s an extremely flexible genre, one that adapts easily to different generic environments, and is a mood as much as a genre. I love what it is capable of doing, and I find its possibility endless.
In terms of inspiration, there are a lot of writers who have inspired me. I couldn’t do what I do without Robert Aickman, who Peter Straub introduced me to, and I couldn’t do without Peter’s work either. He’s a wonderful writer. I think of Oliver Onions’ “The Beckoning Fair One” as an almost perfect story, along with Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.” I like Shirley Jackson’s work very much. William Sansom’s a very underrated writer who I’m very glad is out there. I’m also drawn to John Langan, Kristine Ong Muslim, Paul Tremblay, Victor LaValle, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, and Stephen Graham Jones, and many, many more. I teach a class at CalArts called “The Monstrous and the Terrible,” where we look at horror fiction and film, so I have the chance to teach a great many writers who I admire.
Interest in the horror genre is somewhat cyclic. Where would you like to see horror in the next few years?
I like the way that the genre has exploded both in film and fiction, with people trying all sorts of things. I’d very much like to see that explosion and expansion continue. Horror is at its most interesting when it’s trying new things and allowing new voices to speak. I’d love to see that explosion continue.
You have several works of horror fiction published. What are you working on currently, and when will it be available to readers?
I’ve got enough stories for a new collection of short stories, but I’m trying to figure out if they’re the right stories. I’m working as well on a novel called Phantom Limb, which is a sequel to my novel Last Days. I’ve still got a way to go with that . . .
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