This story is . . . wow. Spiders, grief, doubt, wishing, dissociation, and the gray mists of loss. What inspired “Hairy Legs and All”?
Just my fear of exactly this happening. I mean, with a spider probably not quite so big. And I guess with a spider that’s not like that fish you catch that grants you wishes. How would we know, though, right? If you knee-jerk a wish up like this and Lathe of Heaven-change the world around you, then . . . I’m guessing you start to forget, like those kids in It. Too, growing up way out in the pastures in West Texas, I learned early on to shake my boots out each morning, because scorpions would sometimes have fallen in for, I don’t know, scorpion reasons—I always imagined scorpions are just real hopeful, are always thinking there’s scorpion burgers way in the toe-end of this boot—and then I guess they couldn’t get out.
One element many horror stories overlook is the power of stream of consciousness. I feel that stream, that single sentence, is one of the strengths of the story. It forces you to focus on every word, not gloss over to the end, and then you, as the reader, realize that the “you” as character has reached the same conclusion at the same moment. What was the biggest challenge writing this story?
Revising it was super tricky, since it’s just a burst of a moment, a string of clauses, a word snowball rolling faster and faster downhill, getting larger and worse. So, going back in and fiddling with this phrasing, with that word-choice—so much else depended on it, not only in that word or phrasing’s moment, but then later on down the line, too. It was like I’d worked all day standing dominos up around the gym floor, and then I was trying to tippy-toe among and between them all, to change this double-six out for a one-five, and not start the whole line of them falling away from that change in either direction, leaving me standing in that clattering wreckage one more time . . .
I once took a class with you where you unpacked the importance of story form when crafting a particular narrative. Are there any stories that speak to you in this regard, any shining examples of different structures that serve to enhance the story?
Yeah, I remember that. As for what alien forms or just weird stories contribute some DNA to this story, there’s a couple of Gordon Lish novels I read that imprinted on me pretty deeply, where the whole book is a single sentence, but, really, I think where this comes from is this dream sequence from Richard Grossman’s The Book of Lazarus, which is bar-none the best sixty-odd pages of prose I’ve ever read. Each clause and bit keeps turning into other clauses and bits, and, because there’s no punctuation, you can’t stop, you just keep getting pulled in deeper and deeper. It reads amazing on the paper page, in some monospaced font, but you can dial it up online too (bit.ly/3nvURiZ). And, the funny thing is, I’m generally super opposed to dreams in fiction, unless that dreaming space is a real space, with actual consequences or bleed-over, since writers tend to use dreams just to smuggle exposition in, and to show off their armchair psychoanalytic engineering, and to, you know, “get crazy with the kaleidoscope,” but this dream works for me all the way. Don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I know there’s more reads coming. I think what pulls me in so fast and so completely is the magic of Things Becoming Other Things. Which is basically what story is, for me.
Let’s turn the tables a bit. What is one spur of the moment decision you wish you could take back?
Probably about half the eBay purchases I win in the last two seconds. I always tell myself I’m going this high and no higher, that this old tool or that old VHS tape isn’t worth anything in the first place, meaning it’s for sure not worth ten dollars more than it’s already going for. But then I get locked in that auction-frenzy thing, and end up paying more for the item than I should have—and probably twice what it’s going for over on Etsy or somewhere. But? Sometimes it works out. The other day I won some old slasher VHS, then went to My Purchases to make sure it was showing up, that I hadn’t just fallen into a wishing well of my own making, and . . . I’d just bought the same version a couple days earlier, and it was already en route. And of course, it wouldn’t be cool to try to cancel that win. So, I figured I’d just have two, and try to make that make sense in my life. But then, a couple days later, the seller wrote to refund me, since it turns out they’d already sold the tape. Possibly to me, I didn’t check. I like to think so, though—that that seller and I were locked in a repeat of that bidding war from earlier in the week, but this time it wasn’t actually for the prize, it was just for the rush (and instant grief) of a higher and more ridiculous price.
You have a new novel coming out in 2021, My Heart is a Chainsaw. Can you tell us anything about this new taste of Stephen Graham Jones?
If I had to stand it up alongside any of my other novels, then . . . My Heart is a Chainsaw goes pretty well with Demon Theory. And sort of with The Last Final Girl. It’s a slasher, I mean. But, where Demon Theory’s set out at a farmhouse in a snowstorm, and The Last Final Girl is in and around a high school in Riverhead, I think—no state, but that usually means Texas for me—My Heart is a Chainsaw happens up in a mountain town in Idaho called Proofrock, that’s idyllic enough that all these Richie Rich-types have moved in, are taking over, building their version of Camelot on the far shore of this postcard lake. But bodies are stacking up, as they do. There’s blood in the water, and there’s more coming, and there’s one girl at the swirling center of it all who’s both been praying for this day, and is kind of wishing now she could take it all back.
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