In On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association, you discuss your short story, “The Misfit Child Grows Fat on Despair,” saying that you didn’t want to explain the more fantastical details of the story, such as the existence of a town within your protagonist’s gut, because doing so would take away from the story’s impact. How much of horror do you believe comes, not only from the unknown, but the reader’s own sense and justification for what is occurring in the narrative?
Well, I don’t think that readers really need to know every detail and bit of info about a story. They’ll come to their own conclusions about the nature of the piece one way or another. Perfect example is, “What is haunting Hill House?” when we read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Is it a ghost? Is it many ghosts? Is there no ghost at all? We never find out and so the book is that much more powerful because of that. Some people like to guess at the answer. Some just let it roll off their backs.
There are moments in “The Misfit Child Grows Fat on Despair” where the writing and content can be read as amusing, yet this doesn’t distract from the overall eeriness of the piece. How do you balance the comedic and the horrific in your work, and is comedy something you believe can emphasize horror?
I do believe that horror and eeriness are underscored more by humor, and vice versa.
In the story you toy with the convention of the stoic hero, setting up your protagonist, John, as someone who might jump in and thwart the bank robbery, but instead the narrative takes a much darker turn. What led you to write this kind of story, and what was the genesis of John as a character?
Those kind of funky twists just happen at the moment. I lean one way for the sake of story, and then dodge a different way when it feels right. So having John something of a hero in the opening pages and then learning he’s something of a psycho in the end is spooky and freaky.
Your first novel, Dark Feather, was the first piece of writing you ever sold. Had you written many short stories before that, or was short fiction something you got into after writing the novel? Do you find one form to be more suited to you than the other?
I had written a lot of short fiction but couldn’t sell much. After Dark Feather, I wrote a couple more novels that were rejected all across the board. I finally decided to go back to square one and learn how to do short stories, learn how to edit myself, and then when I started selling stories regularly, I re-edited all those unsold novels and they began to sell, too.
You once said in an interview with LitReactor that writing must come first, second, and third in an author’s life. This can be interpreted in a variety of ways, so what’s your interpretation?
Writing takes precedence over just about everything else. Ray Bradbury said that he wrote with thick drapes over his windows because he didn’t want to see when it was sunny outside because he had to stay in and write. I feel the same way. You need to prioritize writing at the head of your “things to do” list. So write, write some more, and then even more. To paraphrase Jack London: If inspiration doesn’t come to you, hunt it down with a club.
Are you currently working on any projects, and if so, could you tell us a bit about them?
I’m working on my next novel, Blue Autumn, which is due in December. It’s about an ex-con boxer who gets out of prison and returns to his small hometown to learn why a car with his best friend, his sister, his lover, and another passenger tried to outrace a train at a crossing and all got killed.
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