Have you ever had any strange or creepy experiences in old houses or buildings?
Writer’s imagination mixed with architecture? Life can be nothing but creepy experiences. That said, I’m usually well aware it’s only my imagination. There are only two standout moments. When I went to college, the first dorm I stayed in had this weird ghost cat kind of thing happening. I’d be in bed, in the dark, and then there’d be a thump on the bed, the kneading of paws in the blankets. A weight at my side. I figured I was just missing my pets. But apparently most of the rooms in the dorm got a visit. One girl woke us all up shouting: she was convinced rats had gotten into her room and into her bed. Same phenomenon, different reactions.
The other experience was much creepier. I work part time in one of the oldest department stores west of the Mississippi River (I don’t know why it divides the states that way, but that’s our claim to fame), and it’s a really noisy place. They still run pneumatic tubes, so the walls hum and grumble all day long.
I went down to the basement after hours, alone in the store, to shut off the tubes, and there was this single strange moment . . . The basement is partitioned into several sections—some stuffed with merchandise, some with shrouded mannequins, some storage in tiny spaces between the walls, two feet wide at most but forty feet long—and it’s not the most welcoming place. But it was familiar by this time. I had turned off the tubes, bringing silence to the store, and was heading back out of the basement when something snagged in my hair, just caught it, flipped it back, a tiny ouch moment. Then a sigh.
There’s something very human about a sigh. Very distinctive. It doesn’t really sound like much else. There was nothing to catch my hair, no one to make that pained, exhausted sound. But I was completely convinced that someone had been there.
For the first time, I was spooked. Headed up the stairs at a steady clip, finished up, and got gone. I mentioned it later, feeling pretty foolish, and the other clerk, a son of one of the owners, told me that a generation previous, one of the managers had shot himself in the basement.
Do I believe him? Was he pulling my leg? Probably.
I haven’t heard that sound since, in all my trips to the basement. That’s okay by me. I love writing about ghosts; not that enamored of encountering one.
You allude to Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado.” Would you say his writings have influenced your work? Any other influences?
Poe almost had to be an influence. My father read “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and “The Raven,” to me while I was still in a crib. Nightly. (As well as de la Mare.)
And what speaks to a fledgling teen writer more than Poe’s “Alone”? From childhood’s hour I have not been/ as others were . . .
Poe just doesn’t mess around. From the first moment you start reading his stories, he builds up this palpable sense of dread, all circling around a central character. I loved that, looked for it in other books.
I found some of that in William Sleator’s novels: he keeps you cruising along, aware that things are going wrong, and finally hits you with this sort of shriek of horror. That moment when you-the-reader and you-the-character have gone too far to turn back, even though the path ahead is terrible. Wonderful.
Does the black window have any symbolic significance?
Windows are rife with symbolism. In this story, I wanted a few things from my window glass—whether I succeeded or not is up to the reader. Windows are great for isolation. Letting you look at other people, other worlds, and still be separate. They’re a barrier that teases. And of course, like a door, they have the potential of opening when you least want them to. Then again, if the window is clear enough, you might not even realize it’s there, keeping you apart. That’s sort of the feel I wanted with Holly. Watching her siblings, but held separate without realizing it.
And a black window . . . if a window is something you see through, then a black window is just a perversion of the natural order of things. Worrying.
This story works both as a literal horror story and as a metaphor for grief and loss. Did you intend it this way?
For me, horror stories need to be reflective. I want the events to happen to just the right character: the one who’ll be most changed, most affected by the events. And while I love scary stories—the pleasant shiver up your spine, that shifting glance to make sure you’re alone as you thought—I feel like horror, like SF, has the potential to speak to people in broad ways. There are things that wake us in the middle of the night, plague us—will we die alone, will we lose a loved one, that sort of thing. Mundane but powerful worries. I wanted to tap into that. And Holly the archaeologist seemed like a good choice. Here’s a woman who’s made her life dealing with the long ago dead, learning that nothing has prepared her for losing her family. She’s very much in denial of that loss, focusing on all the minutiae—her lost job, her new responsibilities—and nearly loses her siblings because of that.
What does your year ahead look like, writing-wise?
To paraphrase Allie Brosh, “Write all the things!” I just turned in a psychic romance novel to Blind Eye Books. I’m working on a complicated tangle of an alternate history SF thriller, and I have a dark fantasy trilogy nagging at me.
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