“Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” was a tasty bite of fiction that made excellent use of a reader’s imagination. What inspired this particular tale?
As frequently happens with short horror fiction, what arrived first was the final terrible implication, requiring me to then work my way back.
That’s not the whole of it, though. I’ve had the title and the format in mind for a long, long time, but I had always pictured the story as the tale of a more mundane and sordid street assault, recording what the innocent title character thinks while being killed by some random crazy. The result might have been more powerful, possibly more than the human heart could bear, but such an exercise demands an absolute reason to make the journey, and still risks being a wallow in ugliness for its own sake, a risk that always faces writers who tackle such material. (With great awfulness, comes great responsibility.) This version takes a step back, in the direction of fantasy.
The story brought to mind elements of Zelazny’s Amber series and the unthinking elements of destruction humanity wreaks upon the environment by our simple presence. It also offers a different take on cosmic horror, how creatures beyond humanity’s ken are themselves the leavings of even greater powers. What is the appeal of such stories? Are we able to excuse man’s inhumanity to man by pretending there are worse fates in store?
I’ve done cosmic horror before (see my very short story “Windshield,” or “During the Pause” over at Apex Magazine), whenever it suited my purposes to reduce my protagonists to the level of ants. I’ve enjoyed other practitioners following in Lovecraft’s footsteps, though not the man’s own work (I find him dire). Generally, I think horror is scarier when the menace is comprehensible, but think there’s room, once in a while, for a glimpse of something too big to be understood.
You also twist the trope of sexual power and assault by giving Dr. Eggard his “just desserts,” as it were, and transforming the horror of a threat to the horror of a sanctuary offered by a far greater threat. Are there other horror tropes you’d like to turn on their ear?
Aside from the trope of “The Last Girl” familiar from so many slasher movies, which I believe has been subverted to death in the last few years, I can’t think of any right this second, but I’ll get back to you.
The story’s breakdown of a few sparse seconds as a cognitive exercise speaks both to the horror and the humor of the piece. There were moments when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cringe, in particular the complexity of language and perception of intent. What is it about horror that lends itself to the catharsis of laughter?
I noticed a long time ago that many horror movies seen with a large crowd are exercises in screaming, and then laughing at yourself for screaming. One jump scare in a non-horror movie I saw many years ago got such a shriek from one member of the audience—who had evidently bene dozing—that the rest of the audience was too busy laughing to hear the next ten minutes of dialogue. It’s the same dynamic on roller coasters. We scream and then we laugh at ourselves for screaming.
What are some of your favorite horror movies, the ones you would recommend to fans of the old and new?
The Haunting. Psycho. Peeping Tom. Halloween. Jaws. Night of the Living Dead. The Universal Frankenstein cycle. A Korean film called Thirst. A Hong Kong film called Dream Home. For sheer hilarity, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. And I am afraid that I cannot wrap up this answer without mentioning the film that traumatized me to the point where it was six months before I watched another horror film, the French version of Martyrs. I am not sure that qualifies as a recommendation.
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