“The Judas Child” is one of those stories where I’m actually afraid to ask: What inspired it? And how did it evolve from there?
I’m honestly not sure. Of late, most of what I’m writing is solicited fiction written around specific themes. I was struggling with one of those stories and needed to take a break. So I opened a Word doc, stared at it for a bit, and then typed this: Sometimes the world cracks open and a monster emerges. People don’t like to talk about it; they like to pretend that monsters don’t exist. It’s better—easier—that way. But monsters are real, they’re worse than you could possibly imagine, and they’re always, always hungry.
Monsters are always fun to write about, right? Of a surety, the world is full of them. After I wrote that intro, I stepped away from the computer to do some brainstorming with notebook and pen. It didn’t take long for the story to take shape, but when I realized where it was going and the underlying metaphor, I almost didn’t write it. Then I asked myself What Would Livia Llewellyn Do? (my recurring mantra when I hold back) and plowed ahead.
Although Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still current and popular, those references immediately recall my own childhood—and it’s probably rarer today to see kids playing alone at the park. Is there a nostalgic element to this story? Although it really reads as timeless, did you imagine it in a contemporary setting or in the 1980s?
This is where I get to extol the virtues of a good editor. Originally, the boy in the story referred to the others as Blue Cap, Red Shoes, etc., and John Joseph Adams suggested changing those names to reflect familiar childhood characters. Transformers was one of his suggestions. I came very close to using names from Star Wars, but opted to use Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead as they aligned more closely time-wise, and picking characters that wouldn’t lock the story down to one specific timeframe was a deliberate choice. With respect to the setting, I see it both ways—from a child’s perspective then and a parent’s perspective now. My hope is that a reader will decide when the story is set according to their own experiences.
I’m grateful that John has such a discerning eye. The story worked with the original names, but the changes gave it a richer, more poignant feel. I also owe Brian Keene a thank you, too, and he knows why.
A popular piece of writing advice is “kill your darlings,” but sometimes that’s a challenge even for horror writers. Can you tell us what your favorite line or moment is from “The Judas Child”—or one that didn’t survive to publication?
My favorite line is: The boy knew this made him a monster too. I think it encapsulates the entire story. Although calling the boy a monster isn’t quite fair, given what he’s gone through, but it’s definitely how he thinks of himself.
My favorite deleted lines are from the first draft. In one section, the boy was thinking of escape and I wrote this:
Other ways to escape:
- Pick the scabs off the bites.
- Count your heartbeats, until you realize that you’re not sure if you’re counting them from one to whatever or hoping you’re counting down to the end.
I ended up cutting it when I found the right voice to use for the boy and switched the story to third person, but I still like that snippet.
Do you have any particular writing rituals or habits that are either essential to your process or help your creativity?
I used to just sit at my desk and write, but I’ve started relying on things like walking away from the computer to write with a notebook and pen or sitting on my front porch, staring off into space while I mull over stories or characters or sticky points, or working things out while walking the dogs. I think, hope, it’s helped me craft stronger stories.
I was reading your Tweets even before I discovered your fiction. On Twitter, you frequently signal boost other writers and stories that you’ve enjoyed. What are some recent horror novels/stories/authors you think everyone should be reading?
I love talking about good books and stories, and word of mouth is a powerful thing for both readers and writers. With that being said, the best horror novel I’ve read so far this year is A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. It’s beautifully written and unsettling. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough is a very close runner-up. It’s dark and lovely and heartbreaking with an ending I won’t forget anytime soon.
With respect to anthologies and collections, I recommend Aickman’s Heirs edited by Simon Strantzas, Skein and Bone by V.H. Leslie, The End of the End of Everything by Dale Bailey, and you can’t go wrong with Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran’s Year’s Bests. Some of my favorite authors working in the genre right now are Helen Marshall, Laird Barron, John Langan, and, of course, the aforementioned Livia Llewellyn.
Some of my favorite short stories published so far this year are “Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma (Tor.com, July), “Snow” by Dale Bailey, and “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, (Nightmare, June and October, respectively).
Now a little more about your own work . . . You’re very prolific, and I see from your website that you have many stories forthcoming as well as a new novel, Paper Tigers. Can you tell us about the book and what readers can expect to see from you soon?
Paper Tigers is, at its heart, a ghost story, but it’s about the things that haunt the main character as much as it about the ghosts she encounters. To some degree, it’s also a commentary on the destructive power of society’s concept of beauty.
I have short fiction forthcoming in several anthologies including Cassilda’s Song, Chiral Mad 3, Autumn Cthulhu, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu: New Lovecraftian Fiction, and others. A complete list can be found here: damienangelicawalters.com/short-fiction.
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