Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Lucy Taylor

“Blessed Be the Bound” opens with a subtle blend of fears which coalesce into something much darker than the sum of its parts: bondage, imprisonment, body mutilation, loss of identity, helplessness, sexual deviancy, death. What scares you about this story?

Just about everything. My number one terror is of captivity, so much so that when I was a teenager I made a promise to myself that if it ever became apparent I was about to be imprisoned, incarcerated, or taken hostage by crazies claiming to have my best interest at heart, I would kill myself before allowing that to happen. The protagonist in the story is already imprisoned and helpless and facing terrible mutilation, the price she is paying for committing what is considered sexual deviancy in her world.

Eugenia’s primary enemy is her mother, who continues to profess her love even while setting events in motion that will clearly destroy her. The people I find most frightening are those who use love as a reason to engulf, manipulate, and confine. Add religious zealotry and erotophobia into the mix, and you get a real cornucopia of horrors.

Among other things, the story is about body mutilation in which the body itself becomes a prison. As people age, of course, they often become more aware of physical limitations, but we are all vulnerable to maiming and mutilation, simply by virtue of the fact that we inhabit such delicate and ultimately fragile body-shells.

It’s a fine line, though. Obviously a lot of people derive pleasure from practices like bondage and body mutilation, and loss of identity is a powerful force behind addiction, be it to substances or to sex. There’s that exceedingly thin edge, where it’s difficult to know where ecstasy ends and terror begins. That’s another gift/drawback to inhabiting a flesh and blood body.

From the gel compression restraints to touching the flaccid female leg of the Bound to clawing at the flesh graft, you make great use of tactile sensory input to drive the horror home. What inspired you to explore this particular style to tell your tale?

I think it just came naturally. “Blessed Be the Bound” is a very short story with a possibly unreliable narrator, and I knew I needed to create as real a setting as possible in a very few words. I tried to be very specific about things I invented (the gel clamps, the oblivion dot, etc.) so that Eugenia’s narration has the tang of truth to it even if we can’t be sure if her version of events is always accurate.

Since this is a story about body horror, about mutilation and the helplessness of the body to defend and protect itself, I also felt that the more vividly I could get the reader to feel what was going on, the more impact the story would have. I wanted to create a sense of the terror and claustrophobia that someone facing Eugenia’s fate might experience and to make the reader a bit uncomfortable, if I could.

I also hoped to convey a sense of malice in small details that might otherwise seem innocuous. For example, when Eugenia’s mother touches her while wondering which of her arms will be amputated, that to me was very horrific. The loving touch that’s worse than pain, because it carries the underlying message that basically comes down to, this is my idea of love, and yeah, you are so fucked.

Horror often goes hand in hand with sexual expression. There is a sense that Eugenia is not a reliable narrator and that she encouraged the relationship with O’Dell rather than succumbing to his advances. You also explore the shadows of intimacy between both Eugenia and O’Dell and their mother. What is it about sex that invites such a comfortable coupling with horror?

Well, sex and death are certainly the two sides of the horror coin. For a lot of people, I think sex combines the greatest desire coupled with the greatest fear, of entering or being entered by another body, which is, after all, a fairly intrepid undertaking for both parties in the act. Even more frightening is the potential for engulfment on a psychic, emotional level. Some people find amazing transcendence of ego in sex while to others, that same transcendence might trigger the terror of annihilation. Not for nothing do the French refer to orgasms as the little death.

Sex, after all, is both thrilling and potentially dangerous on many levels. When at full throttle, it’s both hypnotic and diabolical — it usurps everything. And I think this is why sex is so viciously controlled, manipulated, and subverted in many cultures, including our own. Like the proverbial Bonsai tree, sexuality grows into a stunted, freakish shadow of itself.

Is Eugenia a reliable narrator? I really don’t know, but I will project myself into Eugenia for a moment and say that, my best guess is that, yes, she very probably seduced her brother and enjoyed the hell out of doing so, as it gave her a moment of freedom from and power over those in control of her. I think the sexuality between O’Dell and Eugenia springs from the much more deviant sexual relationship each of them had with their mother — and which Eugenia briefly refers to. After all, if sex is dangerous, then sex stewed in the cauldron of a dysfunctional family system has the potential to be the most grotesquely twisted.

What authors inspire you? To whom do you turn to feed your own horror needs?

I’ve always loved and admired the work of Clive Barker. The Books of Blood and The Damnation Game are still vivid in my memory even though it has been years since I read them. Same with Dan Simmons’s wonderful Song Of Kali, as well as all of his other work. And I never tire of reading Joyce Carol Oates, who has written so many powerfully disturbing pieces that fit within the framework of Southern Gothic.

More recently, I’ve enjoyed Windeye by Brian Evenson, The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus, and I just reread Norman Partridge’s terrific Dark Harvest for Halloween.

Above all, I enjoy reading anthologies, such as Year’s Best Weird Fiction (edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly) and The Cutting Room (edited by Ellen Datlow).

You were nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for your collection Close To The Bone, and have a long and distinguished horror and dark fantasy bibliography and an admitted fascination with Southern Gothic themes. How did you first set foot on the darker literary path?

By getting born into my family of origin, of course! Seriously, little could better prepare one for writing Southern Gothic fiction than being the only daughter of a powerful but absent father inhabiting a mansion far away (Meadow Farm in Orange, Virginia), a narcissistic mother who gave birth in order to produce a hostage, and an anhedonic mother/grandmother team who filled the household with a virulent and repressive dread of men and sex. Which, needless to say, provoked a passionate interest on my part for both.

There was also imprisonment at age fifteen and torture (EST) though thankfully, not even in Richmond, Virginia, had anyone come up with the nifty idea of Binding disobedient daughters.

Beyond that, with a few exceptions (I wrote erotica for a while in the early ’80s) I never really wrote any fiction that wasn’t in some fashion dark. It’s something that gives me pleasure, perhaps as a way of taming down the things that scare me by manipulating them to my own ends. I know that the world is not always dark and bleak, but I enjoy imagining that it is, that danger and deception lurk around each corner. By writing about scary things, I make my own world seem safer and more manageable.

And bottom line, it’s fun!

What’s next for Lucy Taylor? What terrible, intimate surprises are in store for readers?

All I can say at this point is that they will probably take place in New Mexico, as I have truly fallen in love with this part of the country since moving here in October of 2013. New Mexico is a place of incredible contrasts and, frankly, if there were ever a place where the weird, the outlandish, and the macabre would flourish, this would be it. And I say that with much love for my adopted State — I hope that its occult undercurrents (and other pleasures) will keep me here a long time.

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Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell is a forty-seven-year old, happily married mother of two, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her work has appeared in such venues as Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Daily Science Fiction, Crosssed Genres, Pseudopod, and The Drabblecast. She is hard at work plotting her second novel or world domination. Whichever comes first.