To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about writing “The Bacchae?” Did anything in particular spark you to start writing this story?
I wrote “The Bacchae” heavily under the influence of J.G. Ballard, I think in particular his novel High Rise, which I’d just read. I’ve always been aware of how close our world is to the precipice, but I’d always projected the tipping point to be at some indeterminate moment in the future. With High Rise, I saw how the tipping point was right now. So I played with that notion, of the world devolving into a rather effete savagery. It’s funny to look back on “The Bacchae” and see how it anticipated shifts in the fashion world—some of those characters could have walked right off the runway of an Alexander McQueen show.
When I read “The Bacchae,” I was struck by how much the situation of the men in the story (absent some of the speculative elements) felt, to me, like the realities of everyday life for myself and most other women I know—reading reports of attacks and acquittals over attacks, nervous to be out in public at night, looked on with disapproval for making too much noise, and so on. Were the parallels intentional, or did they just grow organically with the story?
Oh, they were definitely intentional. I was abducted and raped in 1979, when I was 21, and I carried a huge amount of barely suppressed rage for a long time afterward. Today we’re a lot more open to the idea of women being proactive rather than reactive, much more in-your-face in their attitudes towards men: there’re a lot more women writers with a take-no-prisoners attitude, people like Cara Hoffman, Helen Zahavi, Gillian Flynn. I wrote “The Bacchae” in a pre-internet world, living in a fairly isolated setting in rural Maine, with no immediate contact to others who shared my own views or experiences. That story and “Justice,” written around the same time, exorcised some demons.
What are you working on these days?
I’m working on Flash Burn, the third Cass Neary novel, following on from Generation Loss and Available Dark.
What’s your favorite creepy urban legend?
Hmm. I’m partial to a story that the head counselor used to tell at a day camp where I worked as a counselor when I was a teenager—he’d recite it round the campfire during the annual overnight we’d have at the Pound Ridge Reservation. It was about Victor, the Radioactive Boy, who was on a campout and wandered away from the campsite, confronted some sort of alien or UFO, and became ten feet tall and glowing green. Victor now haunts the Reservation, and woe betide any hapless camper who wanders away from the campsite. The kids were terrified (believe it or not), and I was suitably impressed by how a good urban legend could also function as crowd control for a bunch of unruly middle schoolers.
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