Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Michael Marshall Smith

In “Night Falls, Again” the protagonist is overwhelmed by guilt and regret, so much so that he’s haunted by visions and drinks himself into oblivion night after night. Do you find psychological horror or darkness more compelling than graphic depictions of violence and gore? Or do both have their place?

Once in a while a graphic depiction of violence is exactly what’s required: all of us, from time to time, will be suddenly and shockingly confronted with the visceral reality of the fact that we’re not disembodied minds, but inhabited bodies, to which bad and terminal things can happen. This violence can also stand in symbolically for harsh mental cataclysms of the type that life hands us. But I’ve always found darkness and eeriness and unease far more interesting and compelling than gore in the long run. Working out what’s uncanny is one of the clearest routes into understanding what we believe about the world.

Do you believe in ghosts or any other supernatural phenomena? Why do ghosts—real or metaphorical—so often appear in literature?

I don’t strongly believe in ghosts, but I certainly don’t disbelieve in them either. I don’t disbelieve in God. I try not to disbelieve in anything, really, as these ideas are often both compelling and emotionally resonant. The human mind loves to spot or create patterns, and some of these patterns and associations are very nebulous and conceptual—metaphors, perhaps. I’m happy to use anything that gets us just a little closer to understanding what it’s like to be human, because that’s what all literature—and art in general—should be about.

Your writing is elegant and insightful, and blurs the boundaries between genre and literary fiction. Where do you see yourself fitting in?

I just see myself as writing “stories,” to be honest. I’ve never been good at sticking within one particular genre and have wandered across mystery, horror, science fiction, and conspiracy—because I love the feel of each of these, their specific atmospheres and tropes, and I believe genre fiction has recourse to the best and most vital metaphors. But I love words, too, and so try to write in a style that gives them the simplest environment to shine.

You list Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, and Clive Barker, among others, as influences on your writing. What is it about horror and dark fiction that interests you?

I think this type of fiction reflects a core part of the way we live and think, areas of life that we may be prone to shy away from on a conscious level. There’s also just a deep fascination, too . . . as Milton said, writing Paradise Lost was far easier than Paradise Regained . . . We know we stand on the end of a precipice. And we want to look over it from time to time . . .

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m editing my new novel, currently titled Murder Road, and working on a few ideas for television.

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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.