Part of what makes this story so charming—and ultimately chilling—is the way you portray Corry. She seems like a real little girl. Was “Dhost” inspired by a cute mispronunciation of “ghost” by a child you know? How did it develop?
I don’t remember which of the children I love (four children, four grandchildren) pronounced “ghost” that way for a while. The story wasn’t inspired by that particular thing, but I filed it away, as writers do, for verisimilitude when I needed a child POV character. In addition to helping with characterization in “Dhost,” I thought the charming quality of the mispronunciation would help to bring out the difficulty of her situation as she struggled to understand it.
At first, this story seems like the supernatural element might remain ambiguous, until it firmly settles on one side of the line separating normal and paranormal. Did you ever consider taking it in the other direction?
Often I know the genre of a story before I start writing, just as I know whether it will be a short piece or a novel or a play. Often, too, I consider taking stories in any of a number of directions. When I teach writing, I invite students to try writing a story in several genres and see how it morphs when written as a science fiction story, a romance, a crime story. Part of the germination process for “Dhost” was determining which “side of the line” would best serve the story.
I loved the family dynamic in this story, particularly because it is from Gail’s POV. As a grandparent, she must defer to Anna and not overstep her boundaries, which limits how much she can help Corry—and that powerlessness contributes to the horror. What draws you to write about “terrors that haunt families,” as it says on your website bio?
I suppose it has to do with the fact that my other career is in social work. I see a lot of families with a lot of terrors. In choosing the POV for “Dhost,” though, I deliberately set myself the challenge of choosing a character who would have limited ability to affect things, because that required me to do different things with other parts of the story—plot, voice, language.
You often collaborate with other authors, including your husband, Steve Rasnic Tem. Does he see all of your fiction before you send it out into the world? What kind of input does he have on your solo fiction, and how does it differ from when you’re working on a piece together?
Actually I’ve collaborated with only a few other than Steve: Nancy Holder (Witch-Light and Making Love), Janet Berliner Gluckman (the unpublished What You Remember I Did), and our son Joe when he was a child (the story “House Full of Hearts”). Most of my work is solo, which usually I prefer unless the project demands the collaborative approach. One of the reasons I enjoy playwriting, though, is because the play is a collaboration among playwright, director, and actors, and the result is something none of us could have done alone.
Steve and I have been each other’s first editor for more than thirty-four years now. Nothing leaves the house until the other has read and commented on it. Editing requires finding and fixing the dropped comma and the misplaced modifying phrase, pointing out when a character needs more development or the ending doesn’t work (and why), catching inconsistencies and lapses in logic. But the piece belongs to the one who wrote it. Collaborating authors actively create; the result is different from what either would do alone.
What are you working on now? What other work do you have out now or have forthcoming?
I’m working on two new novels, one of which has sold on spec, and have a handful of stories in progress, plus making notes for a new play. My magical-realism novel The Yellow Wood will be out in late 2014 from ChiZine, which will also publish my paranormal crime novel Proxy in mid-2015. My novels Out of the House of Darkness (mainstream), Absence (YA time-travel), and Alden Mills (quirky detective) are in the hands of my agent, Bob Fleck.
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