Can you tell us how “Need” came to be? Where do you typically draw your inspiration from?
This is a tough one—I wrote “Need” thirty-three years ago, so not only the original inspiration but the details of the story itself are pretty fuzzy by now. I do know that I wrote it in October 1979, when I was living in Austin, Texas, and that I was drawing on memories of a cemetery in Syracuse, New York, for the setting. I went to Syracuse University, and there was a large cemetery located almost immediately behind my dormitory. It was a nice place to go and walk. Besides the location, I suppose I was also thinking back to my college years and finding inspiration from the various complicated emotional involvements of those years. Although, unlike Corey, I was not engaged to be married, I had left a boyfriend behind in Texas, and we wrote many long letters to each other, and planned to be faithful and love each other forever—until one day in late October or early November of my freshman year, I received his letter saying maybe we should date other people . . .
All of that was a good many years in the past when I wrote the story about a lonely college girl. My intention in writing it was to make it into one of the Shadows anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant—I had been trying (and failing) for several years (although Charlie and I both felt I was a natural for this “quiet horror” series, somehow I kept missing) and with “Need” I finally managed to hit the mark. It was published in Shadows 4 in 1981.
I often draw on experiences from my own life for inspiration, but as a writer of fiction I am not bound to stick to things that really happened. Dreams, daydreams, music, art, books, other people’s lives—these things and more give me ideas for what to write.
Corey seems to derive much of her identity from the will of others—whether that of her parents or her fiancé—and struggles to assert herself. Are these themes and issues important to you in your work?
Hmmm, I’m not sure. It is an issue in this story, certainly (as the title suggests, I was thinking about “neediness” in relationships), but in other works? Perhaps that was something I struggled with much more in my late teens and early twenties; not so much as I became older and more independent. Corey’s situation and her view of life seem old-fashioned now, perhaps. (Again, I must point out it was written a long time ago!)
Harold suffers from a similar lack of self esteem. For Corey, he exists only as a “listening presence” to keep her from being alone, and he seems to think of himself in the same way. Is it possible for two such people to truly connect? Would things have turned out differently even if she’d met him as agreed?
Well, no—they don’t have a real relationship—each one is living in a sort of self-absorbed fantasy and doesn’t properly see or understand the other. Harold invests Corey with the power to make him happy—to save his life—while she prefers to ignore his feelings for her so that she can use him to keep her company while she obsesses about Philip—or, rather, about the imaginary perfect lover she wants to believe he could be—and meanwhile (I suggest) they are both blind to the fact that all this powerful but misdirected emotion is building up into an incredibly destructive force.
What is it about cemeteries that is so fascinating? It’s interesting that for both characters, it’s a place of peace and refuge.
I don’t know, but they do have a powerful allure. Cities of the dead. Gardens of rest. Many people feel that, although the Victorian tradition of spending a whole day out with the family visiting a cemetery is no longer popular.
What are you working on now?
Trying to finish a novel I seem to have been working on forever. Or way too long, anyway! It’s called Magic Pictures, and has three timelines running through it, set in 1913-1914, the mid-1980s, and the present day. There is a fantasy element, but I am starting to worry—as I near the end—that it is hard to classify, and I will find myself once again “falling between genres” when I try to sell it.