“The Dollhouse” is a story that encompasses body horror, domestic horror, claustrophobia, and pedophobia, and a dash of the Twilight Zone in a neat little package. What inspired this dark exploration into a seemingly perfect setting?
I sometimes start typing without any clue where I’m going. This results in a lot of abandoned fragments, but also a lot of stories that surprise me with their destinations. This was one. Honestly, I had the not-unusual premise of a man imprisoned in a dollhouse, and considered it for all of thirty seconds reflecting not only that it was old, but also that it was damned similar to one just published in Lightspeed Magazine, “Sand Castles.” And then I thought, hey, maybe he’s a full-sized man trapped in that dollhouse, which to him will be a confining cage. And that immediately resolves to, well, then, he’s motionless, what the hell could he offer us as a protagonist, but the view out the window, and . . . from there, every problem solved led to the next paragraph. It wasn’t until fairly close to the end that the destination came into view, and I realized that my little exercise had become a full-on portrait of family dysfunction. I love when this happens. The writer’s ideal of not just composing, but discovering, a story, had come to fruition.
You not only write horror, you review it as well. Have you found that horror tropes have changed over the years? Are there any that remain constant?
One thing I struggle with as a horror writer as well as horror reader is the absolute truth that, in situations involving mortal danger, women make the best threatened protagonists. (This is true even of strong ones. Honestly, create a tough-talking, take-no-prisoners, most-formidable-person-in-the-room and, all things being equal, the audience still tends to worry about her more, and this is built into the human organism, I find, even when she’s condescended-to in no way, and even flattered constantly by the narrative; a gift to any storyteller who wants you to worry.) Alas, this is a factor that has contributed to lots and lots of stories that devolved into women as victims, one reason why some people resented my prior story, and as of this writing, current World Fantasy Award nominee, “The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation.” What I have noted over the years, not just in horror but in pop culture in general, is that the tension this has created has resulted in the creation of a lot of female characters who kick unholy ass, to the point where this has become such a default that it threatens to become a cliché, itself.
Honestly, in any given situation, there will be some screaming ninnies, people who fall apart like Barbara in Night of the Living Dead.
What first sparked your interest in the horror genre? When did you have your first taste of cinematic horror?
My first exposure to scary stuff is now wholly lost in the sands of time, but I can say, with confidence, that I encountered the Universal Pictures monsters fairly early.
Often readers are hesitant to delve into the horror genre for fear that (pun only slightly intended) they’ll be overwhelmed by the loud, primal fears, the ones that demand your attention with fountains of blood and piles of severed limbs. Are there any particular horror books you might recommend to a new reader interested in sampling horror fiction before diving headfirst into the bloodbath?
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (and her short stories, in general). Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. But those are often mentioned. Find a 1974 novel called The Little Girl who Lives Down the Lane by Laird Koenig, beautifully filmed in 1976 with Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen.
Spread the word!