“Death’s Door Café” is a story of subtle horrors and the shadows of memory. Can you tell us about what inspired the tale?
The story came from a couple of different places. I went to an exhibition at our National Museum that exhibited artifacts from Australia’s bushrangers. In the middle of the room stood a large, solid wooden door, soft with age, riddled with bullet holes. One of Ben Hall’s gang had been shot and killed in front of this door. The bullet holes were distinctive, and I thought I saw bloodstains, and the image was so powerful I almost imagined his ghost, up against the door.
I thought about other doors, and what happens behind them. This is one of my story-telling obsessions; what goes on behind closed doors?
The image sat for a while. I began the story of “Death’s Door Café” but couldn’t quite figure out how I wanted it to end. And I wasn’t sure who my protagonist was. I lost a couple of friends to cancer around this time, and much of the raging you do is about wishing you could have done something. Saved them.
Then, driving home one day, I heard an amazing story on the radio that affected me so deeply I had to park the car and sit for a while.
It was an interview with an elderly man, who spoke about his most lasting memory, the thing that keeps him up at night. His family property had a large cave, where many bats lived. He said that great fear of Lyssavirus meant all of these bats were exterminated; thousands of them. He said the guilt will never leave him.
I used that experience, that sense of guilt, to help form the character of Theo.
The sensory impressions drive the story, laying the foundation for each scene: “the pain in his veins as the clawing of bats,” the cracking of dry lips, the chilly hallway, “bat bodies still warm,” a crinkled shirt tail. As a writer, how important do you feel such sensory impressions are to the flow of the story?
Very important. As you say, they lay the foundation for the scenes and for the story itself. They place the reader in the story (and the writer, too) and, I guess, play tricks to lead them into certain ways of feeling.
Too much detail can be overwhelming, but these small touches are vital, I think.
In this story you touch on death, perceptions of the afterlife, guilt, and the possibility of redemption. If you were presented with the opportunity to step through one of the doors in the café, which death would you choose?
They’re all pretty awful, aren’t they? I tried to depict deaths that were lonely and sad. The one I wouldn’t choose is the one that Theo chooses. That man is the loneliest of them all, and his unnoticed death the saddest.
Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” What would you say is the most challenging aspect of writing? The most rewarding?
I’m one of these annoying people who loves it all! From the spark of an idea to the final edit, I love it. Some days, it’s hard to sit in the chair and work when you’d rather be sleeping or watching stuff on TV or many, many other things, so I think that is the greatest challenge. Making yourself think hard when you’d rather be lazing around.
The most rewarding . . . that’s hard! I’d agree with Parker (who I adore), that “having written” is perhaps the most rewarding part. The first draft is the most rewarding completion, because then at least you know you have the bedrock down and have something to work with to make better.
From your first sale in 1993 you’ve had a prolific and varied career. What’s next for Kaaron Warren? What can readers expect from you in 2016?
I have stories in:
Star Quake 3: SQ Mag’s Best of 2014, ed. Sophie Yorkston
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016, ed. Paula Guran
Street Magicks, ed. Paula Guran
Nightmares: a New Decade of Modern Horror, ed. Ellen Datlow
In Your Face, ed. Tehani Wessely
Sisterhood, ed. Nate Pedersen
68 Days, ed. Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski
My latest short story collection is Cemetery Dance Select: Kaaron Warren
I have an SF/horror novella coming out from Cemetery Dance, announcement soon. And there is an announcement about a new novel, coming soon!
Spread the word!