What inspired you to write “The King of Ashland County”?
Stories from friends who grew up in various rural Ohio towns, particularly Chillicothe, a small city that’s been in the news this year after a local sex worker put down a serial killer who’d been preying on drug addicts. This is a place that had a vampire scare in the late 1990s, and a friend of mine was stopped by local police on the suspicion that he might have robbed a bank or been living as a vampire. Heroin usage there has risen sharply over the past decade, which is true of most of the Midwest, and very few of these places have the forethought and infrastructure for needle exchange programs, so we’re also seeing sharp rises in completely preventable HIV and Hep C infections. Over and over again, you see this combination of arduous rural poverty and police departments whose ineptitude would be humorous if it didn’t get people killed—the kind of places where anything could happen, but none of it will be good.
“The King of Ashland County” relentlessly strips away any possibility of romanticism from the traditional selkie story to expose the horror underneath: instead of a poor fisherman, Reggie is a drug dealer; instead of finding the skin, it’s strongly implied that he set out purposefully to capture Cian. Were you bothered by the romantic light that selkies are usually cast in?
No. I get bored sometimes, because selkies are almost always women who spend their long periods of captivity in relative passivity. My favorite selkie women burn down houses and murder fishermen to get back to the sea. People still resist seeing men in damsel roles, so male selkies are rare. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single butch selkie of any gender, which would be a delight.
Everyone except John (and Reggie, of course) gets something we can imagine as “happily ever after.” Is the line between fairy tales and horror just POV?
Ha! Maybe. I didn’t really think of this as a horror story when I wrote it—it was just kind of sad. Publishers are always releasing new collections of horrific “original” versions of fairy tales, which is ridiculous, because when you’re talking about centuries of oral storytelling we don’t have access to “original” versions of anything. But lots of people prefer versions of fairy tales with the sex and violence turned up to 11, and who can blame them? They’re more exciting that way.
What are you working on these days? Any upcoming publications readers should watch for?
Nope! Just working on a passel of short stories that are all over the place.
You’ve fallen into a teen horror movie. Which archetype are you?
The guy who shows up to the party with a bong and a Ouija board, saying, “What could go wrong? It’s just a game.”
Spread the word!