“Blackbirds” was written for an Alan M. Clark anthology called Imagination: Fully Dilated. The idea was to take one of Alan’s paintings and write a story for it. I chose a piece called “The One on the Roof.” It featured a blackbird picking through a nest made from a jump rope, twisted sticks, a baseball, and skinned human faces. So that was the central image, and the blackbird became the key to creating a dark logic that would complement Alan’s painting and drive the story.
Who is the man in black? Is he a mere servant, or does he have an agenda of his own?
I’m not trying to be coy, but both . . . or maybe neither. Meaning as a writer I don’t always like to answer all the questions a story presents, or every question readers might have. Of course, I want the logic of the story to operate . . . but I want to leave room for a few mysteries, too. To me, that’s a key element to much of the horror fiction I enjoy—the questions that keep readers coming back to a piece, especially the ones that might make them see it a little differently the next time they read it.
Billy is the only one who figures out what’s going on and who puts up a fight. Was he just in the right place at the right time, or is there something special about him? Does he share something in common with the man in black?
Billy doesn’t quit when things go bad. He fights. So does the man in black. Apart from that, I wanted Billy to be kind of an All-American 1960s Everykid. And I’ve always loved stories about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations, so there’s a little of that going on in “Blackbirds,” too.
There seems to be an element of fatalism to this story in the sense that, no matter what Billy does, he can’t win. Do you agree? Is this often a theme in your work?
Definitely. That’s one theme I’ve visited many times. Growing up, I was fascinated with characters who couldn’t win and knew it. Everyone from Macbeth to Chuck Heston in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I still love stories like that.
What scares you?
My imagination, for one thing. Having a dark turn of mind means that it’s never hard to imagine a bucket of doom propped above the door, ready to dump on your head. Which means I’m always thankful when that doesn’t happen.
What will we be seeing from you next?
I’m working on a longish novella for Cemetery Dance called Oktober Shadows. It’s about a World War I soldier who wanders into a world populated by vampires, werewolves, and other creatures who go bump in the night.
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