“Spider Season, Fire Season,” to me, works in multiple ways; most directly as a spine-tingling horror story, but more subtly as a meditation on the cyclical nature of domestic abuse. Where’d you get the idea for this story?
I didn’t entirely realize I was writing a story about domestic abuse until I was halfway through it, although I probably should have. This one actually began life as three wildly different story ideas. One was pretty much just the title, honestly, and a vague inclination to push back on the idea that California doesn’t have seasons. One was about a witch trying to get rid of ants in her home by reluctantly learning to communicate with them—and later being able to call on said ants when someone attacks her. And then there was the horror movie idea, where a young woman wakes up during a home invasion and kills the burglars in self-defense, only for the audience to realize that the woman is a ghost, and the burglars are just people who’ve moved in. We’d then shift POV to the newest tenant, a pregnant medium on the run, only the medium would actually be able to communicate with the ghost, and they’d become a family unit.
I could never get any of these stories to really take off, but after evacuating last year because of the Kincade Fire, I felt this need to write something about fire season and home. And for some reason, it suddenly clicked that I might be able to put these three partial ideas together and make a full story.
I really enjoyed your approach to ghost metaphysics! Often, ghosts are portrayed as being stuck in one particular loop of events without being able to break free, but Olivia is “woken up” when she flips the script of her own death. What made you want to “free” Olivia in this way?
I think I wanted a power flip moment. Something where Jacob, abusive and controlling, is completely powerless to stop—or even fully understand—what’s happening to him. And something where Olivia, who’s been reliving her own murder for years, finally gains the upper hand, finally gets to be in control. Flipping the script allows Olivia to see that, this time, she can change the ending.
It’s an interesting choice to make spiders sources of comfort and help in this story, especially since you yourself are not a big fan of them. Why did you go with these eight-legged creepy-crawlies as allies for December and Clara?
Masochism is a possibility. Mostly, though, it’s because of Story Idea One and those alternate California seasons. We used to get a lot of spiders in the spring, especially when I lived near a creek, so I started thinking of it as spider season. (As well as allergy season. Spring is really the worst.) When I put Story Idea One and Two together, the ants-as-allies became the spider allies instead.
They still scare the hell out of me. Writing this hasn’t made me a braver person at all.
I was delighted to find on your blog (mygeekblasphemy.com) that you pair your short stories with Radiohead songs. Where’d that idea come from, and what does “2 + 2 = 5,” your selection for “Spider Season, Fire Season,” add to the story?
Man, I really wish I had a better, more insightful answer for this question. Truthfully, though, this all started because of a Twitter meme a while back. The hypothetical went like so: if Hollywood was adapting all your work, which one musician/band would you pick to score every book/story? Clearly, I chose Radiohead. Then, just because it was fun, I decided to pair each story I’d published with a different song, and I just never stopped doing it.
I pick the songs mostly by instinct, whatever sounds right for the vague fanvid version of the story that lives in my head. “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)” has always been one of my favorites. It has this build into chaos that deeply works for me, and it just . . . felt right.
I fully acknowledge that I am a ridiculous person.
What do we have to look forward to from you next?
Let’s see: I have a story coming out in Strange Horizons that’s all about siblings and gruesome fairy tales and polite witchery. “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future” (Nightmare issue eighty-five) will appear later this year in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, Vol. 1. And I’ve recently begun working on a novel: witches again, but this time in a weird western with queer ladies, monsters, and, of course, murder.
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