Horror & Dark Fantasy

COSMIC POWERS

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Megan Arkenberg

After reviewing your bibliography and biography all I can say is . . . Wow! Numerous publication credits in top markets, awards, and inclusion in “Best of” collections; attending grad school, writing both poetry and short fiction, and editing two online publications: Mirror Dance and Lacuna; a penchant for naming pocket-watches (Nemesis and Juggernaut); and a love of critical theory. What’s your secret? How do balance all of this?

Most days, it’s not balancing so much as juggling! I have to be realistic about how many projects I can handle at one time—something I’m still struggling with, as anyone who has to live with me will tell you. It’s vital to assign priority to certain projects, especially the ones that pay the bills, and to know when to sacrifice time from the smaller tasks for the more necessary ones. To keep on schedule, I’m hyper-reliant on lists, charts, calendars, and organizing tools of all kinds. But I guess my most effective secret is the old one about breaking herculean tasks into tiny, easily achievable ones. If I can’t summon the energy to write a short story in one sitting, I can definitely tackle the outline, then the opening scene, then the second scene, then the third . . .

Would you say wearing more than one hat (poet, writer, editor) makes a person better at all three?

Absolutely—if you can manage all the time demands. I think reading through so many short fiction submissions each week has sharpened my sense for pacing and story structure. For example, I’ve learned that many speculative fiction writers need far less explicit exposition (info-dumping) than they assume they do, so managing the flow of information is something I pay attention to in my own writing. Also, as a writer who likes to play with established genre traditions, I love tracking the shifts of certain tropes, themes, and scenarios as they appear in the slush pile. If I read eight different approaches to the same fairy tale over the course of a week, there’s a strong chance it will inspire me to respond to the fairy tale in my own way.

The setting in “The Crowgirl” seems almost a character unto itself, lending a strong sense of atmosphere to the piece through rich and disturbing descriptions. Is this intentional? Do you think this is important, particularly in horror, or perhaps in every story?

The setting was always key in my conception of this story. Actually, as the opening paragraph might suggest, I began writing “The Crowgirl” by drawing a map of the farmhouse, fields, and forest at the top of my notebook page. I knew I needed enough space to keep the characters moving around, separated from each other, but I also wanted to keep the atmosphere constrained, almost claustrophobic.

I think almost every story needs a well-defined setting to engage readers, unless it’s playing with form in such a way as to make that impractical (e.g. a story in the form of a scholarly article). I don’t know if the setting necessarily needs to play an active role in the plot (although in my work, it frequently does). I can say for sure that my favorite horror writers—Lovecraft, Jackson, and Kiernan, just to name three—all write heavily atmospheric fiction, and I, for one, adore a good haunting!

What is the significance of the recurrent lines of poetry throughout?

The verses are variations, mostly my own, on an old poem about counting crows (sometimes magpies) to tell one’s fortune. I’ve always found the poem unsettling, and thought it worked well both to convey Gabrielle’s anxiety and uncertainty about the future and to maintain a sense of the supernatural around the birds themselves. While I enjoy science-fictional takes on the zombie apocalypse, I wanted this story to stay creepy, irrationalized, almost magical—in a sinister way. So I tried sprinkling in a bit of folklore.

The poem has been adapted and inserted into work by a number of talented writers and musicians. One of my favorite adaptations is Seanan McGuire’s song “Counting Crows,” which makes the rhyme the background for a love story gone awry.

Why doesn’t Gabrielle like her sister?

The simple answer is that she’s jealous. Her sister has this bizarre ability that has suddenly made her enormously valuable to everyone around her. I don’t think the sisters would be close under any circumstances; their goals, desires, and values are too disparate. But the strange situation in which they find themselves exacerbates that natural tension.

Why is the crowgirl chosen by the crows? Does she really control them?

I don’t know why the crows chose her. World mythology is full of characters who have a special affinity with some species of animal, and this story is partly me trying to work through the implications of that kind of relationship, the circumstances in which it would be most powerful. I don’t think the crowgirl controls the crows, in the sense of being able to command them; the birds are simply drawn to her, and crows, well, they’ll eat whatever is in reach.

What does the year ahead look like for you?

My tale of an epically dysfunctional family, “The Sons of Zeruiah,” will appear in Dybbuk Press’s King David and the Spiders from Mars this December. I have poetry slated to appear in a number of fine magazines, and even a few international publications coming up. My non-writerly life is in a huge state of transition; as I type this, I’m boxing up the last of my notebooks for my move from southeastern Wisconsin to northern California for graduate school. By the time this interview is published, I’ll have been there long enough to love the weather, become addicted to Peet’s Coffee and In-N-Out Burger, and miss Lake Michigan a tiny bit less.

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Erika Holt

Erika Holt

Nightmare assistant editor Erika Holt lives in Calgary, Alberta, where she writes and edits speculative fiction. Her stories appear in several anthologies including Not Our Kind, What Fates Impose, and Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead. She is also co-editor of two anthologies from EDGE and Absolute XPress: Rigor Amortis, about sexy, amorous zombies, and Broken Time Blues, featuring such oddities as 1920s burlesque dancers and bootlegging chickens. Find her at erikaholt.com or on Twitter as @erikaholt.