Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: H. L. Nelson

This story ends with a dedication. Would you like to tell us more about that?

I would. Thanks for asking. I’ve just finished my next-to-last grad school term at Queens University of Charlotte and had the illustrious Pinckney Benedict as instructor. He’s honestly the whole reason I chose to apply to Queens, because I feel a kinship with his work. As an instructor he did not disappoint, with his unaffected demeanor and despite his insistence that he only has a small amount of knowledge to impart. (Ha!) Before attending QU I read his “Mudman” piece in Miracle Boy and Other Stories, and I knew I had to write my own golem piece. I’d been wanting to do so since I studied Piercy’s He, She and It in a Science and English Lit course years ago at Texas Tech U. After I turned in a solid draft of “Dirtman,” Benedict offered crucial criticisms that helped me solidify the dirtman’s role and craft the best possible ending. I know I couldn’t have written it the way it ended up without his insights.

In other interviews you’ve been very candid about your difficult childhood. Was it tough writing about a protagonist with whom you share some common experiences? Do you think drawing on personal experience makes for a deeper, more profound story?

This was the toughest story I’ve ever written, hands down, and it’s because I do feel quite close to my main character. This story started off as an 800-word piece, because I couldn’t write more than that for months. There are specific scenes that come directly from my own childhood experiences, and perhaps a few cathartic tears were shed during the second draft filling-out process. With the help of my awesome beta readers who talked up the story, I kept at it. I think any time a writer draws from intense personal experience, and is able to transmute it into story form in a beautiful way, readers will certainly respond.

Have you written from the perspective of a child before? What do you like about this approach, and what do you find challenging?

Nothing that’s been published, I don’t believe. It was very challenging to maintain this main character’s voice and dialect without using words that could be construed as too advanced for her age. I’ve read differing things on the subject, though. Some writers say it’s perfectly fine to give children advanced voices, and other writers disagree. I had to go with what I felt worked for my main character, who is smarter, more learned, and experienced than the average nine year old.

I get the sense from this story that you’re fond of critters, be they dogs or insects. Would you say that’s true?

It’s not true, actually! I haven’t owned a dog since my eldest son was a crawling baby, and I pulled dog hairs out of his balled fists every day, despite vacuuming incessantly. Dogs plus kids equals too much trouble for me. And, though I don’t mind most insects, I prefer they stay outdoors. Having grown up in a semi-arid region, I’ve been bitten by scorpions, ants, and a host of other creepy crawlies, so I’m done with all of it!

As well as writing prolifically, you edit Cease, Cows, an online literary magazine. What do you as an editor look for in a story?

For CC, we want to see a complete story, no story sketches. We want there to be a surreal element, even if it’s slight. And, of course, we want the least amount of grammatical mishaps as possible. But that goes without saying. Lately, we’ve received a rash of submissions that aren’t surreal in the slightest, so we’re imploring submitters to read our guidelines.

What are you working on now?

The better question is: What am I not working on? My thesis is due to Pinckney Benedict (I chose him as my advisor, of course) by October, so I’m desperately trying to finish a draft. It’s my first full collection of dark fiction, and I hope to be shopping it around by the end of the year. I’m also working on a collection of short fiction for Marginalia Publishing. Additionally, my husband and I have started a new venture, Litdemon.com, with workshops and, eventually, manuscript services. It’s been a fun process setting up the site and bringing the instructors aboard. And, I’m working with Waide Marshall of RedReel Productions to bring a short-film version of “Dirtman” to the screen. We’re hoping to be finished by the end of the year. I am never, ever bored!

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Erika Holt

Erika Holt

Nightmare assistant editor Erika Holt lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she writes and edits speculative fiction. Her stories appear in several anthologies including Not Our Kind, What Fates Impose, and Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead. She is also co-editor of two anthologies from EDGE and Absolute XPress: Rigor Amortis, about sexy, amorous zombies, and Broken Time Blues, featuring such oddities as 1920s burlesque dancers and bootlegging chickens. Find her at erikaholt.com or on Twitter as @erikaholt.