“Antripuu” opens with a fist to the gut and only gets stronger from there. Often writers are afraid to step off the cliff, preferring to ease the reader into the story, yet you drop us into the middle of the action and don’t let up. Why do you feel horror lends itself so well to sudden, more visceral, openings?
I don’t know if horror is any more suited to these sorts of openings than other genres and modes of storytelling. I’d think you’d find this same sort of in medias res technique in all genres that support thrilling or causing a physiological response in a reader. What’s more important than the genre would likely be the story itself. The first paragraph of any piece sets the mood for what’s to follow—whether it be languid scene-setting or, in this case, a stripped-down story of monsters and survival. It all depends on the atmosphere the writer is attempting to evoke, and how to best get the reader there. For “Antripuu,” that best way was to throw her or him to it immediately and unflinchingly. That lack of emotional ramp up gives the narrative a propulsion that helps drive the story all the way to its end.
Tell us something of what inspired “Antripuu.”
After spending a few years writing my latest short story collection, Nothing Is Everything, for Undertow Publications, I found I hadn’t written something firmly in the horror vein for quite a long time. To be clear, I consider all my stories to be horror stories, but for me the term describes such a broad, inclusive field that I found what I was working on was straying further and further from what might actually frighten readers, and I realized I’d developed an itch to get back to something purer and more direct. I also think of horror stories falling into two groups: investigation stories and experience stories, and while by nature I’m drawn to writing the former, I really wanted to write something that fit into the latter. I wanted to focus on the experience of merely surviving an unnatural encounter. As for what inspired the specifics of the story, who’s to say? Like many writers, I’m a magpie who steals bits and pieces from various sources and combines them in ways that I’m hopeful are interesting. They’re interesting to me, at least.
I truly appreciated how your prose kept pace with the story, granting a near seamless narrative. By not immediately identifying the main character by gender or social interaction, you invite the reader to better slip into the story. Did you experiment with other points of view or narrative styles, or was the narrative voice shaped by the story itself?
In this case, the story dictated the voice from the outset. To tell something so immediate requires a voice with as little distance as possible, which means first person, present tense. Nothing else puts you right there in the middle of the action. I don’t think I could imagine the story being told in any other way. It would, by necessity, be something completely different. Minimizing identifying characteristics like the sex of the narrator only helps to heighten that sensation.
Of course, though I knew from the outset how this story should be told, that’s not always the case, and I’ve often found myself changing tense, POV, and sex in stories. Sometimes that reveals new and exciting ways of viewing a story that hadn’t been clear before, and other times it proves to make the story less and needs to be reversed. That discovery phase is part of the fun.
What would you have done if you were caught in that cabin? Would you have made the same decision as the others? Would you have found a reason to hope?
I imagine I’d have made the same decisions. There really were no other options for the group: either try and maybe succeed or stay and definitely don’t. Besides, I have enough irrational belief in my own good luck and indestructibility that it would probably never occur to me that I might not actually make it. I mean, let’s face it: nothing has stopped me yet, though many have tried. But I think no one really knows what terror will do to them until they’re face to face with it. For some people, it’s debilitating, for others, it’s sort of freeing. I can only guess and hope which way I’d react in the situation. With luck, I’ll never actually know.
You are an accomplished writer and editor. What’s next for Simon Strantzas? What can eager readers expect from you in the future?
My latest collection, Nothing Is Everything, only came out late last year, so anyone looking to read my recent work has only to pick up a copy of that. In terms of what will follow, I have a few reprints due this year in Best New Horror and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, as well as journals such as Nightscript. I’m also hard at work on a new sequence of stories that, if all goes well, will become the backbone of new collection in a couple of years. And, of course, there’s that short novel I’m been working on for so long that I’m determined to finish and publish. One day, I promise. One day. But probably not today.
Spread the word!