There’s an interesting progression in “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” in that Amanda starts off being afraid of death but comes to believe that not dying is worse; essentially exchanging one sort of existential crisis for another. Do you see Amanda’s journey this way?
Yes, I do. I very much see the story as a reflection of our societal relationship with death. Much has already been written about the harmful side effects of Americans’ squeamish attitudes toward death—my personal favorite is Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which likewise concludes with the great truth, “Sometimes, death is better.” I wanted to explore what it would be like to have those harmful, constricting assumptions broken. Amanda eventually comes to see that death is necessary for life to have meaning, and by the end has come all the way back around—no need to chase death, or to feel exiled from death, because death is everywhere. Lives, narratives, identities are constantly being ended and reinvented.
Are the cults you describe based in reality? Does religion feature often in your stories?
Not to my knowledge! Though of course, eternal life in some form or another is a fixture of many if not most religions. I did loosely model the interaction between the cult of universal resurrection and mainstream U.S. society off of the history of the utopian societies that emerged during the Second Great Awakening. I do write frequently about religion, probably because I grew up as a non-believer surrounded by belief of all kinds—I grew up in Indonesia surrounded by Islam, my maternal grandfather was born a Mennonite, and I spent my teen years in Nebraska surrounded by mainstream Protestant Christianity. I’ve sat in on a lot of religious sermons and ceremonies, and I’m deeply fascinated by the incredible power (both positive and negative) that religion wields on individuals and society, though I confess I think I’ll always be an outsider.
What books or authors would you say have influenced you the most?
Great difficult question! In terms of authors, I would say Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Henrik Ibsen, Graham Greene, Franz Kafka, and Shirley Jackson. In terms of specific books, Catch-22, The Sheltering Sky, and A Passage to India are my core curriculum. I tend to read a lot of early-mid twentieth century stuff, usually about hopelessly lost vagabonds. I think it grows out of my childhood obsession with old British classics—the product of living in a former Dutch colony, I suppose. The last book I read that really spoke to me as a writer was Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932—incredible mix of politics, art, and psychology, presented with maximum empathy and boldness.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell our readers about?
I’m very honored to be serving as a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year. Also, my debut short story collection, She Said Destroy, will be published by Word Horde later this summer!
Spread the word!Tweet