Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of “Cult”?
A friend of mine told me about getting a call from an ex-girlfriend asking if he could come get her from a cult, simply because she didn’t have anyone else to ask. He did, it was a little weird but in the end that was it: he was asked to give someone a ride and he did. Then I started thinking about how differently that might have turned out if both of them had been different sorts of people, how odd it might in fact go, and that led to the story.
Cults and twisted religion feature prominently in your work, although the real cult in “Cult” is the relationship between Tammy/Star and the protagonist. Are cults and abusive relationships the same at the bottom? Is the evil that people do to each other in their relationships a more interesting subject to you than supernatural monsters?
I think there are lots of similarities between cults and abusive relationships. I also think with both it’s very hard to see them with any sort of clarity as long as you’re inside of them. I was in a room with an ex-girlfriend not long ago and found myself wondering “How is it possible I ever dated her?” — not out of hostility but just genuinely wondering. But both cults and relationships draw you in slowly and often in that process you lose track of who you are and surrender your will. Before you know it, you’re on a Japanese subway releasing sarin because the leader of Aum told you to do so. At least in a bad relationship, the only people you’re gassing are each other.
Both human evil and monstrous evil are interesting to me, and I write about both. On Halloween of this year, for instance, Granta published a more supernatural piece of mine. My next collection goes back and forth between those two different things (human monstrosity and the supernatural), and tries to show the links and connections between them.
In addition to writing fiction, you’ve published a number of translations of other writers’ work. Do you find that your translation work affects your own writing?
It has a big effect on it. I feel like every time I translate a new author I learn new strategies for writing. There’s something, too, about submerging yourself in the work of another writer to that degree, there’s a kind of intensity to it, an intimacy even, which can’t help but have an effect on how you look at language from there on out.
You’ve got a collection of stories coming out in 2015. Care to tell us a bit about it? Any other upcoming publications or exciting projects you’d like to tell readers about?
It’s called A Collapse of Horses and should be out late in 2015. Some of the stories are about collapsed relationships. Others are about misperceptions of reality, the way the world around us can suddenly seem unstable. Still others are supernatural stories, ghost stories really, but strange ghost stories. There are a few other strands in the book, and all those strands are part of a larger conversation for me.
Other than that, writer Jesse Ball and I did a collaboration together, along with cartoonist Lili Carré, called The Deaths of Henry King in which the same hapless character dies over and over. We’re just beginning to look for a publisher for that.
Who are some up-and-coming voices in horror doing really cool things? What classic works of dark fiction are underrated these days?
There are lots of people out there I like. In terms of up-and-coming voices, I’m really fond of Laird Barron’s work, though he’s probably less up-and-coming than he is arrived. Same with Simon Strantzas and John Langan. Nathan Ballingrud is great as well, as is Caitlin Kiernan. I love Kelly Link’s work that slants toward horror, but like all her work really. I think Michael Cisco is underrated — he’s doing exceptionally strange and compelling work. There are a lot of others.
In terms of underrated classic works, I’ve just been re-reading Robert Aickman, and still love him. I know he’s getting more attention now, but still . . . There are the great stories everybody knows, like the excellent “Ringing the Changes” and “The Stains,” but also the ones that are slightly less known —”The School Friend,” for instance. Or things like Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla,” which probably a lot of people don’t know because they don’t think about him as writing dark fiction. Arthur Machen’s “The White People” is probably my favorite story and I wish more people knew it. There are lots of others I’m no doubt forgetting . . .
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