It would seem like everyone has a friend like Nancy, the loud, slightly strange misfit who doesn’t quite fit in and who may not always understand why. What do you think it takes for a character to become “real,” to become someone the reader can identify with?
Whoa, that’s a huge question. I want to be glib and say, “make a character ‘real’ by using your imagination.” But start by paying attention to the human beings in your life, and then steal liberally from their histories and mannerisms. The things that you recognize in them are things that other people will recognize, too.
“An Army of Angels” doesn’t rely on many of the common horror tropes that would have presented the horror with an undeniable frontal assault. The story has a fast, almost intuitive blend of action and thought, using one to support and enhance the other. How conscious were you of setting the tone of the story and creating a mood of surreal darkness?
Not very. I just kind of write the scenes as they pop into my head, in whatever order I think of them. Eight times out of ten that makes a viable story, and two times out of ten I get a pile of dumb words.
Most writers of contemporary horror rely on a wealth of setting details to carry the story along, yet you allow readers to fill in the details from the shadows of their own minds: a smartphone with caller ID picture capability; a miscellany of junk in Nancy’s room; long, white toenails. What are your thoughts on the philosophy that writers only write half the story and that readers finish the tale with their own experiences and impressions?
Just assume that your readers are smart and creative, and that they’re better at scaring themselves than you are. If they weren’t smart and creative, they’d be watching TV.
“An Army of Angels” is not your first appearance in Nightmare Magazine. What inspired your love affair with all things terrifying and creepy?
I’ve always liked the sad and weird and unsettling, although my favorite things manage to be all of that and funny, too. My first memory of being a creep comes from the age of eight or so, when our family canary died and my dad buried it in the garden. I dug it up three days later, just to see. The canary’s head came off in my hand, and it didn’t have eyes anymore. Shit like that makes me a good writer, but an awkward party guest.
Mental illness is a component of many of your stories, most notably “Centipede Heartbeat.” What is it about mental illness that you find most disturbing to readers?
Our brains are the only instruments we have with which to perceive the world, but when they go off-kilter, we’re usually the last to know. So you can’t ever completely trust your version of reality, because it could be — and, for various reasons, often will be — wrong. So you have to constantly filter your perceptions of reality against your perception of other people’s perceptions of reality, while they do the same to you, both of you working off of some imagined “objective” reality whose values you’re theoretically sharing, and everyone just sits around hoping that none of it goes too wrong. And if at any point it does, haha, I’m sure it’s not your fault. I’m sure you’re not the crazy one.
What’s in store for Caspian Gray? What other tasty bits of the macabre can readers look forward to?
I’m neither very prolific nor very successful, so once this comes out I got nothin’ else on the publishing horizon. I’m currently dividing my creative time between a cycle of literary stories about my hometown and a novel about a group of frenemies trying to retrieve a damned soul from hell and sneak it into heaven. If you’re not interested in reading that, don’t worry, neither is anybody else.
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