“What’s Coming to You” is a dark and stirring tale with roots in the jagged edges of loneliness, bitterness, and despair. These are powerful and profound emotions; ones that are not afraid to drag the reader into the depths of darker, more haunting, terrors. As a writer, how important would you say it is to quickly establish such an emotional resonance with readers. Why?
I think it’s incredibly important to create some sort of emotional resonance with the reader early on, or risk losing their interest and engagement. I love a good cerebral or plot-driven tale, but what really pulls me, personally, into a story is the feeling that it evokes (whether that feeling is positive or negative). If I’m not feeling anything from a story, then it’s more likely my attention will wander. When I’m working on something, I always have the story’s emotions somewhere in the back of my mind, and if I’m not feeling them coming out, that’s when I sense that the story is falling a bit flat.
Everyone knows a woman like Maddy. Tell us something that inspired “What’s Coming to You.”
It’s funny that you should say that, because Maddy was not actually based on any real person that I know. I’m not quite sure where she came from—it was one of those rare, lucky situations when the character simply presented herself to me, already familiar. The story that really inspired this one, though, is Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I’ll let you decide on the parallels there.
The environment lends itself to the narrative: the slow crunch of gravel of a car coming down the drive; thin white curtains like hanged ghosts; curling wallpaper and burned out lightbulbs. In your mind, is there an optimal horror environment, or can anyplace become the setting of a horror story, given the right atmospheric touch?
For me, there’s definitely an optimal horror environment. I adore that classic Gothic setting of crumbling castles, derelict ancestral estates, and dank catacombs, but by now those settings have been used again and again, so it becomes hard to make them feel fresh. I consider setting of utmost importance in horror fiction, so for me it usually becomes a balancing act of trying to find a setting that feels somewhat new or fresh while also imbuing it with some of those classic Gothic elements that really feed the darkness in my soul. I’m certain, too, that anywhere could become an effective horror setting with the right touch, but I think you have to be a great writer with real finesse to do that well.
The story reminded me of episodes of the original The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, the creepy unknown stranger offering an impossible situation, the slow build of tension and despair. Many writers like to dream of ideal casting if their stories were ever produced for the screen. What would your ideal cast be for “What’s Coming to You”?
What a great question! I never thought about that for this story (although I definitely have for others). I think, for Maddy, you’d need an actress that can pull off that delicate balance of unpleasantness and vulnerability, and for Lucien, someone who maybe doesn’t seem so intimidating at first, but somehow becomes creepier and creepier the more we see him. I know, I didn’t really answer the question. This is a tough one. Sorry!
What scares Joanna Parypinski? What fears find their way onto the page or leave you uneasy when you’re alone?
In relation to this story, my great existential fears involve being stuck in a mediocre, unfulfilling, or meaningless existence, as Maddy certainly is here. I also have a bit of mild claustrophobia irritating enough for me to avoid elevators if I can help it, so as the gray fog closes in around Maddy’s house at the end, I think there’s a bit of that coming out. Also, and this is kind of weird, but I have these half-waking anxiety dreams about spiders descending from the ceiling onto me while I’m sleeping, to the point where I wake up in a panic, convinced there is actually a spider in my bed. So you’ll see spiders appear here and there in my fiction, although I wouldn’t say I’m arachnophobic, exactly. It’s just really creepy when they’re dangling on their threads, tiny legs working . . . ugh!
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