I really enjoyed your play on Marie Kondo and the sometimes predatory, sometimes powerful nature of “self-help” material. What drew you to the subject?
Thank you! Even as someone who doesn’t follow the self-help world, I was aware of that question to ask about your possessions: “Does it bring you joy?” It’s a pithy question that became so popular. At the time, some readers and writers also pushed back against Marie Kondo’s suggestion about purging books, since obviously most of us have large book collections that we’re unwilling to part with. Sure, working on decluttering your home sounds like a great idea, but at some point, you have to wonder . . . how far is too far? And I think that was the “too far” moment for a lot of bookish people.
With all of that in mind, for a story about a house that has become so cluttered it’s literally taken on a life of its own, it just made sense that some bastardization of the KonMari method might arise. Of course, just like with the way the clutter takes itself to an extreme in the house, I also wanted to take that kind of self-help to the extreme—to the horrifying idea of truly giving over all autonomy to your self-help guru, as an alternative to giving yourself over to the clutter. Both options result in a loss of identity to the significance of “stuff” or lack thereof; both end up seeming equally horrifying, to me.
Your novels Dark Carnival and It Will Just Be Us also focus on somewhat domestic, personal spaces being twisted against us. What do you feel, if anything, is gained when the protagonist has a deep, intimate connection to the horror itself?
Strange and otherworldly horrors are a lot of fun to play around with, but for me, the truly terrifying comes from something that is supposed to bring us comfort. I think that deep connection does make it all the more frightening. Your house ought to be the most comfortable, safe place in the world—so when it’s not, there’s this implication that nowhere is safe. Dark Carnival centers around the hometown itself and the idea of “home” as a kind of awful magnet pulling you back, no matter how hard you try to get away; and in the book, there is something terrible lurking under the surface of the town that is inescapable. Small-town horror is so fun to play around with because of the expectations of how quaint and safe the small town should be (though decades of small-town horror have proven otherwise by now!). It Will Just Be Us brings it more intimately into the home itself, where I really explored the idea of the uncanny in a domestic setting: a house haunted by itself, by everything that has ever happened in it, and perhaps everything that ever will happen. And then you get into other similar territory of uncanny, intimate terror, like demonic children, other versions of your loved ones, and the house itself becoming unfamiliar. I think there’s such a deep well to draw from here, and the more intimate, the more impact—on an emotional and psychological level.
Let’s turn this back on the writer. Many things in the story compete for the protagonist’s attention—the bills; the cleaning; the husband—that the protagonist threatens to be consumed/replaced entirely. What do you do in your personal life to stay true to yourself when there’s so much competing for our attention now?
Hah! That’s a tough one. Perhaps some of the horror in the story is my own fear of being consumed by all the different things vying for my attention. Imagine if the protagonist had kids on top of it? (I can’t, which is why she doesn’t). I definitely have those days where I tell myself, “I’m going to clean the kitchen.” And then it becomes, “I’m going to clean the kitchen . . . tomorrow.” And tomorrow . . . and tomorrow . . . and tomorrow . . . and after a while, creeping in this petty pace, it just sort of . . . accumulates. I end up having to prioritize what is most important to me (what brings you joy?). You know what, I can let the kitchen get dirty, and I can postpone checking my email for a few hours. What makes me feel like . . . me? Writing, of course. Reading (even though you paradoxically lose yourself in characters, but maybe that’s when we come to understand ourselves). Playing my cello. Petting my cats. We all need that balance, which is what I think it comes down to in the story, too. Fall into either extreme, and you’re lost; balance the annoying minutiae of living with the joys of life, and perhaps you’ve figured out what it really means to be alive. But what do I know; I’m a total homebody.
Your novel It Will Just Be Us came out just a few months ago. What’s next for you?
I finished a new novel right around the time It Will Just Be Us came out, so that was great timing! I guess I would categorize it as sort of a western Gothic, with elements of postapocalyptic horror. It takes place largely in an old mining town in Nevada haunted by . . . something mysterious, of course. My agent has it now, and I’m hoping we’ll soon sell it to a publisher. It Will Just Be Us was also optioned for film/TV by Ill Kippers, a production company owned by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones), so that’s really exciting. Nothing much has happened with that yet, but I’m keeping my newsletter subscribers in the loop as soon as any developments arise. Other than that, I’m getting started on a new novel about a haunted apartment building, and excited to see where this one takes me.
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