I loved how this story snuck up on me with a building sense of horror, as thrilling as it is disturbing. On your website, you describe “Fishwife” as, “a damp foray into Lovecraftian horror,” but it also has roots in fairy tales. Can you talk about what suggested this story to you and how it evolved with those two influences in mind?
The story owes pretty much its entire existence to the Stuart Gordon film Dagon. While watching it, I felt like I finally got what Lovecraftian fiction was all about, a feeling I hadn’t gotten from any other story, or even any of Gordon’s other Lovecraft-inspired films. It really is horrifying, it never quite crosses that line into gross or silly, and the resulting madness the main characters fall into feels genuine rather than contrived. I just loved it. But of course, given my own quirks, I wasn’t interested in the main characters’ story, I was interested in the villagers, and how they got to where they are from what they had been before. I went back to the original Lovecraft story “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” folded that background into the story, and there we are. If there’s a fairy tale influence, it has to do with Lovecraft’s own roots in fairy tale tropes, the dangers of magic and witchcraft, the psychology of the liminal, and so on.
You’ve drawn from fairy tales, mythology, and various genres before, most notably in your novel Discord’s Apple. What are the challenges of referencing such familiar source material? What draws you to incorporating and confronting fairy tales and myths in your work?
Folklore and myths are a universal language in some ways. They’re primal. They’re always being revisited and reworked for the current culture. They have to do with birth, death, growing up, the nature of the world. The challenge is—you have to take a stand. Most fairy tales and myths can be interpreted many different ways, and if you’re going to be writing about them you have to decide what they mean, for yourself and for the story, and I think the stories that come out of them have to have conviction. A confidence that the story really is true and universal. They can’t just be pastiches, they have to be interpretations.
What’s your favorite fairy tale or myth? How about your favorite Lovecraft story?
I like the stories involving animals and communication—“The White Snake,” “The Golden Bird,” “The Goose Girl”—where the hero accidentally gains the power of speech of with animals and thereby accesses great wisdom, or the hero is helped along in his or her quest by a talking fox, horse, etc. I haven’t written much inspired by these stories, but they were always my favorite to read when I was young.
I don’t think I have a favorite Lovecraft story. As I mentioned, I just never got into his work, except in the ways it’s inspired other writers and artists. For example, the Lovecraft episode of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon in which Egon observes that Cthulhu makes Gozer look like Little Mary Sunshine.
I will put in a plug for an earlier author who inspired Lovecraft—Arthur Machen, whose work is truly weird, liminal, disturbing, and wonderful. I love his stuff.
Please tell us a little about your writing process, in general and for this story in particular. Did you do any special research for it? Did anything in the story surprise you as you wrote it?
Once I have the idea—writing a story about the villagers from “The Shadows over Innsmouth,” for example—I let it cook for a little while. Then I’ll brainstorm. For a short story, I’ll often just start writing scenes, setting, and atmosphere, to try to get a handle on where I want it go. Pretty quickly I’ll figure out an ending, where I want to the story to go, and that will give me a map on what the rest of the story needs to look like. I’ll usually do two to three drafts on a short story. My only research for it was reading the original Lovecraft story and a bit of Googling to look at fishing tools. I don’t know that I get surprised, per se, since the whole writing process is about discovery. I’m expecting to find and learn things about the story. I do get a rush when it all comes together better than I expected, like with “Fishwife.” I joked with my friends while watching the movie that I was going to write a story, and those jokes don’t always bear fruit. I’m glad it did this time.
You’re a very prolific and versatile writer, producing short fiction and novels for adults and teens in many different genres. Is there any type of story you haven’t written yet that you’d like to try?
I’ve written just about every genre at the short story length, but I definitely would like to write novel-length traditional fantasy and space opera, which I haven’t done yet. Also, romance is a weak spot in my storytelling and I’d like to do a bit more of that—writing about relationships, rather than the straightforward adventure stories I usually do.
What are you working on now? What published work can readers expect to see from you soon?
Two Kitty books are being published this year—Kitty Rocks the House in March and Kitty in the Underworld in July. After that, my next released book is likely to be the sequel to my superhero novel—Dreams of the Golden Age. As usual, I have a bunch of short stories that will be trickling out over the next year. The novel I’m working on now is the next one in the Kitty series, that’s actually from the point of view of a secondary character, Cormac. It’s an exciting change of pace.
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