How did you come to write “Red House”?
“Red House” had been hanging around, in one form or another, for at least five years. Another version of it called “Lost Girl: A Beginning,” was published by the awesome folks at The Collagist back in 2010. It’s a different story, entirely, but to me they are part of the same slippery world. In the other version, we see a girl through the eyes of those who find her, but “Red House” kept insisting the girl get a version of this world for herself. I wrote who knows how many drafts of what eventually became “Red House,” some of them quite different, especially in regards to the ending. This isn’t uncommon to how I write, which is slowly and revisingly. There were always a handful of things gnawing at me, though: the image of the girl standing on the muddy road, who-knows-what looming behind her; the image of the house itself deep in the woods; and this sense that perhaps there isn’t one story, but many, with each of them attempting to shove another aside.
Reality becomes slippery throughout the course of “Red House”—at first, we think, because of the girl’s trauma, but later it appears the real cause is something else. Is what we can’t know always scarier than what is fully revealed?
The anxiety of facing a monster or psychopath is of a different kind than the inability to know something for sure. For me, uncertainty possesses its own kind of unsettling. Narrative has traditionally insisted on closure, but more and more I’m suspicious of cause and effect, motivations, and neatness in stories. I encounter many readers who not only get frustrated but sometimes downright angry when things are left unhinged. I suspect those reactions are partially about readerly expectations, but also a kind of defense against not-knowing, against those times when conflicting realities are forced to inhabit the same space. These moments can be both scary and exhilarating, and yet they may make us wonder whose head we have on.
What are you working on these days? Any upcoming publications or exciting projects to tell readers about?
I’m putting the last touches on a collection of stories, of which “Red House” is a crucial piece. The stories seem to have a lot to do with families: spouses, parents, children. A previous editor called one of the pieces a “domestic grimoire,” and while there is something nonsensical in that phrasing, I’m quite fond of the description. I’m trying to get the remaining connective tissue to do its work, hold the stories together into the semblance of a body with functioning parts. I hope to have it done any day now, and after that, it’s back to noveling and an idea that won’t stay dead.
You take a Buzzfeed quiz purporting to tell you Which Horror Movie Protagonist you are. What are your results?
Because these Buzzfeed quizzes often dip from a shallow well, I suspect no matter how I try to manipulate it, I will always come up Freddy Krueger. At age ten, me and two friends had some parents drop us at the movies (yes, this was the mid-’80s, when parents dropped ten-year-olds off at the movies), and being brave young boys, we bought a ticket to one flick but snuck into Nightmare on Elm Street. When I watch it now, and see how hilarious and campy it is, I sometimes suspect we saw some other version of the film back then, one without any jokes or over-wrought effects, one that was deadly serious about the world not being anything like we thought it was. Because of this, I tend to always give Freddy his due, for the hope that doing so will keep him and his kind at bay.
But if Buzzfeed is running some extra sophisticated algorithms, then surely I would be the boy from Phantasm, a movie I saw at an even younger age, late night, on cable, when I suspect the parents had gone missing. That boy’s desperate attempt to tell anyone that there was another world sickly inhabiting this one, it has always felt right to me, while the film’s final scene, and my subsequent life long association with mirrors, has always felt wrong.
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