“Demon in Aisle 6” is an intimate horror story, one where the lines between personal hells and those of society blur. What inspired this tale?
Most of my fiction tends toward science fiction or dark fantasy, but at the time I wrote this story I had been reading a lot of horror and weird fiction. Stuff from Ellen Datlow’s Fearful Symmetries and Laird Barron’s Year’s Best Weird Fiction and a lot of Robert Aickman. And so I wanted to try my hand at a horror tale with a lot of weirdness. But I also wanted to tell a love story, where the force of one partner’s personality destroys another.
The story is rich with a number of subtle diversities: age, income, sexual preference, cultural differences based on geography, the description of life in New York, the struggles of a single-parent family. How much of yourself went into “Demon in Aisle 6”?
Quite a bit. In my senior year of college a close friend of mine took his own life, and the weeks and months after I felt as if I were walking through a personal hell, where mundane things became monstrous. My guilt was the hardest to face. Was it my fault? Could I have done anything differently? During this time a lot of weird things occurred too. Lights would pop and blow out. Photos would be weirdly double-exposed. And my dreams were frightening and vivid.
Went I went to school in Georgia, after having grown up on Long Island, there was a bit of culture shock initially when I tried to adjust to the different pace of life and social norms. I have also, at various times throughout my life, been close with people who I have allowed to influence me, only to later recognize how destructive those relationships were to my health. Over the years I have been both Davis and Lucas.
Horror and sexuality often go hand in hand. Here, the two mingle both as character development and as the struggle of big city versus small town. What is it about the twin forces of sex and death that appeal to horror readers?
Sex, procreation, is the opposite of death. But sex is also more than procreation. It’s the most intimate connection possible with another human. It’s a shared experience, beyond words. We naturally approach each other as a way to counter our fears of annihilation. It won’t prevent our ultimate erasure from existence, but it makes it less frightening knowing we have someone to stand beside us when the worst comes. Intimacy is a natural reaction to the fear of death.
While many writers consider subjects such as suicide, teen sex, and child abuse to be fair game for their works, many refuse to write about such things saying that such subjects are a step too far when it comes to exploring life through fiction. For you as a writer, are there any subjects you consider off limits?
It’s dangerous to say, “I won’t ever write about that.” I feel that my strongest works are those where I delve deep into the parts of my psyche I’m normally reluctant to visit. There are psychological barriers there that don’t want me to look too closely, to protect my ego from harm. But that’s also where the gold lies. I try not to limit myself and let my subconscious guide me.
Your novel King of Shards is slated for release in October of 2015 from Resurrection House. How does writing a novel differ from writing short stories?
I find novels more difficult to write than short stories. It’s not so much the length as the complexity of narrative. To keep all the plot threads neatly sorted takes a lot of mental energy. I can devote a week or two to write a strong short story, and then I’m done and can move on to the next. But a novel requires you linger in that headspace for months. If you step away from a novel for a bit, it’s harder to step back in and pick up where you left off. But I also enjoy the novel form because it lets me explore things in greater detail. I’m currently working on Queen of Static, the second book in the Worldmender series, and the sequel to King of Shards, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun exploring these characters I’ve created and seeing how they come to life.
What scares Matthew Kressel? What gets under your skin and lingers there with fire and dread?
I’m terrified that the facade of orderliness of the world will one day vanish and there will be chaos. I’m afraid that we will ruin the planet before we learn to protect its precious resources. I’m afraid of those who thrive on hate and war. There is great peace in the world, I have found, but there is also great violence. I’m lucky to live in a relatively peaceful patch of Earth, but I fear those who would do violence to others, especially to those whom I love.
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