On your blog, you’ve talked about how tough it is for you to pinpoint the inspiration for stories beyond an intriguing title or image. I feel the same way! So I won’t ask what inspired “Snow,” but would you share a bit about how it developed in the writing?
“Snow” is one of the very few stories I can recall writing in much detail — usually I just recall a sense of generalized anxiety. This one, however, was intended for an anthology of stories set in the aftermath of alien invasion. The idea was to do something emphasizing the insignificance of human life against the grand scale of the universe, a story in which people were basically vermin on an alien-ruled earth — the equivalent of cockroaches or mice. But it wasn’t working at all. And besides William Tenn had already done a spectacular treatment of the same idea in Of Men and Monsters. So I scaled it back to the beginnings of what may or may not be such an invasion, and tried to examine the kind of terrible human choices such an invasion might force us into.
For some reason, I can’t get enough of survival stories, the more post-apocalyptic the better, and “Snow” hit all the right notes for me. What keeps drawing us to these kinds of stories, particularly today with shows like The Walking Dead and Revolution? What about them attracts you?
I don’t really have a definitive answer. Partly, I think, it’s the idea of wiping the slate clean and starting over. But that doesn’t really account for it all. Maybe it’s just that we like the idea of watching a band of disparate people banding together to survive the odds. I’m thinking especially of the “cozy catastrophe” — as Brian Aldiss calls it in Billion Year Spree — as practiced by mid-twentieth-century British writers like John Wyndham and John Christopher. I loved those stories when I was a kid. The academic in me wants a more complicated answer, wants to say that apocalypse stories reflect the culture somehow — and no doubt they do — but I can’t quite figure out how.
You’ve discussed literary theories of horror in essays and interviews before, particularly Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and it’s interesting to read “Snow” with that in mind. Since a key line in your story is “the rules have changed,” in what sense, if any, has horror changed or broken the rules of telling scary stories?
I think most horror fiction adheres to a very strong set of conventions, actually. In most of them some supernatural force (or serial killer or Godzilla or whatever) disrupts the everyday order of the world and is repelled, restoring the status quo. As King says in Danse Macabre, horror is as conservative as a banker in a three-piece suit (though I don’t think anyone wears those anymore). But the kind of horror that really interests me is the kind that doesn’t reassure us that way, that plunges us into some nightmare scenario and doesn’t give us any easy out. I’m thinking of stuff like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (excluding all the idiotic sequels and remakes) or American Psycho, which are absolutely nihilistic in their vision.
Can you recommend some recent horror stories, novels, and/or films that you’re excited about?
I think Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters is the best horror collection I’ve read in years. Karen Russell’s story “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” in her collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, left me breathless with dread. And I’m going to reach way back in time for a novel that I suspect has been more or less forgotten, even though it’s been twice filmed: Davis Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter. It’s the kind of book that, if I have extra copies, I want to hand them out to strangers on the street. Nightmarish. Lyrical. Utterly unforgettable. And out of print for way too many years.
What other work do you have out now or forthcoming? What are you working on?
A new collection — The End of the End of Everything — just made its debut, and everyone should go out right away and purchase one for themselves and one for their mother, too. Then a novel called The Subterranean Season this fall. Mom will want a copy of that one as well.
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