This story was a thrill ride, from beginning to end. I loved it! It feels like noir meets cyberpunk meets horror. What gave this story its voice and tone?
I’ve written horror before, but this was the first time I set out to scare the shit out of people. In the past, I’ve told character stories with the trappings and toolkit of horror—ghosts, monsters, killer aliens, bloody revenge—where inspiring fear was less important than producing other emotions. I don’t know if I succeeded, but that was my Prime Directive on this story—to create the kind of creepy dread-filled atmosphere that could (hopefully) build to some solid scares. Voice and tone and rhythm all flowed from that.
The story feels very immediate, with the Lone Wolf epidemic and the commonality of legitimately random violence. What made you want to approach these issues like this, tie it together with the mysterious Met_A_Static app?
I know I am not the only one who is terrified every single day. The global headlines are bad enough, with kids in cages and entire continents on fire and a fatal pandemic and all the other horror-movie plotlines we’ve become tangled up in, but here in the United States at least I am actually equally frightened by the ways in which so many people have been completely hoodwinked and lied to and tricked into believing the most bizarre and irrational of lies . . . and the ways those erroneous beliefs are leading to violence. All around us, our friends and neighbors and family members have fallen under the influence of greedy monsters who will spout any horrific hogwash if it will get them clicks, or dollars, or power, all of which are pretty interchangeable at this point. Lies on the internet are driving people to kill. To hurt strangers. To vote fascists into power. We blinked, and the violence of patriarchal white supremacy that has always been the cornerstone of American identity woke up, achieved sentience, and colonized the minds of millions to bring a nightmare hellscape into being. That’s what I wanted to dramatize in the “character” of Met_A_Static.
Speaking of the app, where did the name “Met_A_Static” come from? Does it have any relation to metastatic cancer? That was the first thing I thought of.
Yes, absolutely. White supremacy is a cancer. Misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia are cancers. These cancers have always plagued the American corpus, but now they’ve metastasized and are killing the patient. It’s tempting to see these as new developments, things that happened after the 2016 election, but of course the groundwork of a far-right takeover of public discourse was being laid for decades, and for folks in marginalized communities, it’s been all too clear for all too long that this country would rather slit its own throat than take the boot off our necks. Hate and fear have always been the engine of our politics, and Met_A_Static is what would happen if that hate ceased to be a metaphor and became an actual monster.
A lot is said about gay hookup culture, and one of my big takeaways is how potentially dangerous it is, yet how few other options gay men have. I just wanted to say I appreciate how you brought this into “Darkness, Metastatic.”
I know this wasn’t technically a question, but I still have a long-winded answer (lol).
I think it’s easy to focus on the horror-movie fears, the danger that someone will murder us, tie us up and torture us, and obviously that’s something I am guilty of stoking here, but I think the true dangers of “hookup culture” are actually less dramatic, but should be equally terrifying to us . . . and it’s those dangers I was really trying to dig into with “Darkness, Metastatic.” And they’re not different from the dangers created by other technological innovations, other websites, other apps. Our trust in a seemingly benign social network led to an election getting stolen by fascists—Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to identify aggrieved (mostly) white (mostly) males and radicalize them into action, including electoral action, and it swung an election. Twenty years ago, the idea that we would routinely get in the cars of strangers we met on the internet and trust them to take us somewhere without robbing or harming us would have seemed absurd—but now tens of millions of us take Lyfts and Ubers every day. We let strangers into our homes (or enter the homes of strangers) and trust them not to butcher us in our sleep on Airbnb. And cab drivers are committing suicide, because they can no longer make a living, because so much of the money that used to go to workers is now going to Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
So, yeah. Hookup app culture is just one part of a transformation happening all around us . . . and that’s what we should be terrified by. The rules are being rewritten. Infrastructures are being eroded, with more and more of us getting less and less of the resources and power.
What do we have to look forward to in 2021?
Oh lord. Fighting like hell to save us from ourselves.
There’s my gentrification ghost story, The Blade Between, which comes out in December but you can totally read it in 2021. I have some more short fiction coming down the pipeline—including my David Bowie story “Let All the Children Boogie,” which drops on the fifth anniversary of Bowie’s passing. It adjoins my Prince story “It Was Saturday Night, I Guess that Makes It Alright,” which was included in A People’s Future of the United States, edited by horror icons John Joseph Adams and Victor LaValle. And I am working on a bunch of stories in various states of messiness. My big project right now is a graphic novel pitch, which I am super excited about.
And a whole lot of activism. As I write this, the US presidential election has been called for Joe Biden, which is a huge load off the minds of everyone who hates white supremacy, but there is still so much work ahead of us.
Spread the word!