“Don’t Turn On The Lights” is both exquisite and delightfully horrific in its variation. Every retelling is a feast of sensory impressions that add to the growing tension of a particular version of the story: “drip, drip, drip;” “the concrete cold against their legs;” “when the air was the stink of piss and flayed meat.” As a writer, what do you feel is the most difficult part of creating a framework of sensory impressions for a story?
God. That’s a, hmm, really interesting question for me. So, like, I was having a discussion with a friend about this, and I tried to explain how I react to stories. Words have textures, tastes to me. Sentences are entire literal flavour palates. Some stories clang. Others whisper. Some seethe with diamond dust, others taste like drowning. And when I’m writing, I’m almost trying to transpose a framework of a meal onto actual text? (Wow. That sounded pretentiously artsy.) But that’s kind of how my brain functions and that, in turn, is the hardest part of the whole equation for me. It’s an imprecise science; I’m trying to materialize something I don’t entirely understand. I’m building up an image out of half-remembered tastes, sounds, and kind of trying to make a diorama of it all.
*paws at sky*
*puts little Plasticine figures on a pastoral scene*
*stares at you*
I loved the opening description of stories as mongrels without pedigree, “that God himself couldn’t tell you which one came first.” What can you tell us about the origin of this story?
I’d been rereading John Horner Jacobs’ Southern Gods for the umpteenth time, I think. And Stephen Graham Jones’ Mongrels. And between the two, I had a little bit of the Americana voice stuck in my throat like a thorn. I’d also been reading urban legends and thinking about how there is always a lot of nuance to every story, how every retelling changes a story a little bit. Every storyteller adds their own flourishes, own little tweaks. Because it’s fiction, isn’t it? No one’s gonna be the wiser.
That soup of thoughts eventually came together as the beginnings of this story. I wanted to visit the same legend over and over again, see how many times you can roll it around in your hands and still find a new side, a new possibility. I was angry at the world during that time too; the story’s about how villains hide their cruelty in the foot notes, smooth it all over. How a crime can be altered by its telling and how, sometimes, when you’re angry enough, you’ll hum with its backbeat.
Even at its most gruesome, horror is subtle and often lurks in the shadows of other emotions. Each retelling of the tale calls forth a different emotional resonance: terror; the twin, fear and guilt; satisfaction laced with dark pleasure. When you sit down to write, do you have a specific emotional tenor in mind, or do you coax the story along to see how it grows?
It starts with a tone, yeah. Or rather, a tone comes around by the third sentence or so. I write when the first few lines fall into place and the voice feels “right” to me, if that makes any sense. From there, it’s chasing the dream-image of the idea (so not a plotter, so much a pantser) through its rabbit hole, shaping it as it goes.
July saw the nomination of “Hammers on Bone” for the 2017 British Fantasy Awards. How did such recognition make you feel?
Confused? Elated? Deeply and thoroughly confused and slightly horrified that more than a few people have read my book? But also validated? I’ve seen “Hammers on Bone” on the same list as people like Victor LaValle and Seanan McGuire and I’m like, “What the hell am I doing here?” I swear I keep thinking someone else carefully sent the wrong book to people and that’s how I have a nomination.
Would you have turned on the lights?
If I was mad enough to drag a thing from hell to eat someone alive? Fuck yeah.
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