“Promises of Spring” begins with a tense combination of urban legend thriller, teen confusion, and the chilling realization that time does not heal all wounds. What can you tell us about the inspiration for this story?
I like writing about teenagers because everything is so vivid and immediate to them, and they make bad decisions on the reg, which is more fun in fiction. Also it was nice outside, and I was sitting on the porch looking at all the mayapple umbrellas popping up, and I thought, “How could I ruin this?”
The witch appears, and the appearance of the witch, are both comparatively mundane, making the reality of Tay’s screams all the more terrifying. That terror carries in the back and forth nature of the narrative between 2009 and 2004. How did you approach this dual narrative? Was it always your intention to present the story in this fashion?
I like writing about the aftereffects of trauma, but a lot of the suspense of plotting comes from the lead-up to or creation of trauma, so I guess I just wanted to have my cake and eat it, too.
You make excellent use of sensory details to flesh out the setting of the story: the yap of a lap dog; how Tay strokes his scars; the smell of calla lilies; woods so thin you could see the lights of the houses on the other side. When writing, how conscious are you of setting the scene, of providing just enough detail to catch the readers’ imaginations?
Years ago, Rosecrans Baldwin wrote a little essay about the phrase “somewhere a dog barked,” and ever since, when I’ve included a dog barking in the distance, it’s been as a kind of joke with myself. In general, I think and write in dialogue first, then add these grounding details later, as an afterthought to the interactions of characters.
Whether in print or on the screen, drug use often plays a large part in horror fiction. Some critics have attributed this to the inherent wickedness of drug use, how using drugs, even if the result is some form of enlightenment, opens the door to the evils and horrors that befall the characters. With the changing attitudes towards marijuana in the US, do you see a difference in the role drugs play in horror?
Anything that alters a person’s perceptions is pretty rich ground for horror, but I think it’s deeply important to consider what status quo you’re endorsing when you engage in the “a transgression is punished” narrative.
You recently became a parent (congratulations!). How has this impacted your writing time? Tell us a bit about your writing routine.
I do exactly what they tell you not to do: I only write sometimes, when I have an idea, and when I like what I’m writing. For years I tried to write every day, but it just made me miserable, and what had been a private joy instead became performative work, with friends sharing daily word counts and trying to cheer/goad/shame each other into productivity. That works for a lot of people, but I’m not one of them. I write in bursts at random times: during a lull at work, at night after the baby’s asleep, at my favorite bar when I have a rare evening to myself.
You excel at writing horror, but what do you like to read? What genres or sorts of nonfiction tickle your fancy?
Right now I’m halfway through Joyce Carol Oates’ Gothic Saga, which has been an absolute delight. I’m also reading Mary Roach’s latest, and I highly recommend her if you enjoy popular science and have ever laughed at a fart joke. I just finished the first trade of Gotham Academy, which is lighthearted fun. The last book I read that really blew me away was Hanya Yanagihara’s People in the Trees, which I recommend to absolutely everyone.
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