“All the Hidden Places” throws readers into the bitter cold, demanding that we sit up and take notice of the unforgiving setting and the horror to come. What made you start the story on such a stark, frostbitten note?
I grew up where the temperature hardly ever dropped below seventy degrees Fahrenheit. My first experience of real cold was extremely unpleasant. Nikki, the protagonist of the story, comes from the same background, and I imagined this setting as especially horrifying within her context. Nikki has never been so far north and she doesn’t have the luxury of indoor heating (as I did, when I needed to flee from the cold). For her, this environment is stark beyond imagining, yet she endures through this hardship. In my mind, the opening scene stands as both a foreshadowing of the external threat of this post-apocalypse, and the inner fortitude needed to survive within it.
I loved how you blended a post-apocalyptic plague scenario with elements of a more traditional shapeshifter horror and a dash of Caribbean folklore. What inspired the story, this particular blend of genres?
Thank you very much! I’m glad it worked out. I wasn’t sure going in. I think the woo-woo came first. When I was a kid, my aunt told me a horror story that stuck with me into adulthood. In the story, a woo-woo devours a teenage brother and his younger sister when they’re alone in their apartment during a power outage.
Sometimes in a story I start from what I want to see and work backwards. In my aunt’s story there was only one of these creatures. I wondered what it would be like if there were many of them, and what an apocalypse caused by them would look like. Once I found Nikki’s character to grab onto, the rest came more naturally.
You’ve mentioned before that you grew up in the Caribbean and have family spread throughout the islands. Are there any particular elements of the rich wonder of Caribbean folklore that you would like to explore in your fiction?
I’d like to write a jumbee story someday. They’re a mythological spirit, sometimes good, sometimes evil, that I’ve grown up hearing stories about. But more than just the many types of beings that inhabit Caribbean folklore, I’m especially interested in how the strange coexists with the mundane in these stories. I love how a spirit or shifter or a magic user can live just down the street and everyone will respond to that knowledge with a sort of pragmatic half-belief. As a kid, I knew what houses I had to run past, just to be safe, or not to answer someone whispering my name on a quiet street.
“All the Hidden Places” isn’t that type of story, but I’d like to write more stories like that, on the murky edge of reality where strange things live next to playing children, where the boundaries are respected or else the careless invite calamity.
If you could go back in time and offer any tips or advice to a young Cadwell Turnbull just getting his writing legs under him, what would you say?
I’m sure young me needs the same advice I need now. Read writers you love, learn from them, bring back that knowledge to your own work. And probably a more important lesson: go out and talk to people, be open and learn through doing, in conversation with the world around you. This is something I’m learning. You can only spend so long scouring your own brain for a solution for a problem before realizing that you don’t know everything and never will, and that there’s knowledge to be found outside yourself. A lot of my anxiety about writing has always been wrapped up in thinking that my worth as a writer must be inherent. This sounds basic, but it is a subconscious thought I’ve been slowly coaxing out of its hiding place, replacing it with more healthy ideas about the work of writing.
What’s next for Cadwell Turnbull? What can eager readers expect in 2019?
My debut novel The Lesson will be out on June 18th, 2019. It is an alien invasion novel I worked on through grad school and a few years after, so I’m personally eager to see it out in the world. I’m also in the middle of writing another novel called No Gods, No Monsters. That one will be part of a series about monsters coming out in the world and the resulting political revolution that takes place, drawing parallels from the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s. I’m pulling a lot from Caribbean folklore, but also monsters from popular culture. My hope is all the disparate threads come together into something that honors all the parts.
As for short fiction, I have a couple other projects I’m working on that I can hopefully announce soon, if all goes well. I also have three stories I’m in the process of revising. If I can get them in shape, maybe they’ll find a home somewhere soon.
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