Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Halli Villegas

Much of the horror in “Fishfly Season” results from the fact that Marisol feels like — or is seen as — an outsider, partly because of her background and ethnicity. Why do we find social and emotional isolation so unsettling? Do the horror elements in this story serve as a metaphor for larger social issues?

When I was a kid I used to always dream that there were ghosts in the house we lived in, or that a terrible disaster was about to occur. I would run around and frantically try to get my family out, but no one believed me. They would laugh at me, or ignore me, and I would become more and more desperate as the dream progressed and disaster loomed closer and closer. That to me is the horror of her isolation, that she sees the nastiness in Grand Beach, behind the upscale socially polite faces. She starts out with a physical isolation, as an outsider because she is not from there, is from a different ethnic background, and becomes even more isolated because she sees. So it’s a triple threat, outsider because she didn’t grow up there, outsider because of race, and finally the most horrible of all, outsider because she sees what no one will ever believe. Not having a voice is perhaps the most frightening of all isolations.

I never write a story with a political or social agenda in mind. The elements come out of my own experiences, what is going on around me (in the media, on the subway, things I overhear) and what has happened to me in the past. However I do think that racism of the type practiced in Grand Beach, so prevalent in “genteel” communities, is the most insidious type of all. How can you protest or cry out against someone politely dismissing you?

There is also a sense that darkness, emptiness, or even evil lurks behind the community’s “normal,” perfectly manicured facade. Is this a theme you find interesting or explore often in your writing?

The crux of all good horror is what lies beneath. Beneath the innocent facade, or even the typical “scary” setting. But the really frightening experience is when something presents its self in one way, and then is shown to be rotten. All my favorite stories have this sense of something off kilter in the most ordinary of circumstances: Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People,” and Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Doll” and “The Museum of Dr. Moses.” Distrusting your own intuition about what you sense, willful blindness to the underlying meaning of what is happening, what people say, and the circumstances that arise from that are some of the themes I most often find myself writing about. To get the frustration out of my system, I suppose.

In 2005 you established Tightrope Books. Can you tell us a little about Tightrope? Has being a publisher changed your perspective on writing?

Tightrope is an independent literary press. For the most part it focuses on what the grant juries refer to as “urban” literature, which means LGBT, or books that are a bit “grittier” then the standard Canlit fare. We also publish The Best Canadian Poetry anthology and The Best Canadian Essays anthology.

Being a publisher made me much more compassionate to small and independent publishers’ travails when it comes to producing and selling a book. It has made me extremely amenable to editing, and much less likely to call my publisher up and complain about my ranking on Amazon. However, after nine years of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, I sold the press in October 2014 to one of my writers who has no idea what he is getting himself into.

What do you most like to read?

I read constantly so pretty much everything is fair game, though I am not crazy about “Chick Lit” or even deeply meaningful contemporary fiction about, say World War II Paris. I love to reread too, and often fill up the tank by reading short stories by horror’s masters that I have read over and over. I love British women writers, Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Angela Carter. I read tons of mystery and true crime, as well as (very unhealthy) books on serial killers and psychopaths.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel about a serial killer groupie with the same setting as “Fishfly Season,” also plugging away on edits for my first novel about paranormal investigators, and I’m about halfway through the stories for a psychological horror short story collection with every story having a woman as the central character.

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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.