What was the main seed for this story?
It’s always hard to say exactly how a story comes together, but I think there were two main drivers for this one. The first is that I wanted to write a story exploring my conception of a “Midwest horror” that I first began developing for an H Word column that was published in Nightmare. I knew I wanted to delve deeper into those themes and that aesthetic, but I wasn’t sure exactly what story I wanted to tell. From my initial notes for this story: “The idea of midwestern horror specifically. Cornfields, farmhouses, wide sunny skies, grain silos, dirt roads, this sun-drenched aesthetic where tornadoes and storm clouds are just off-camera.” So that setting came first.
Then came the idea of a monster that emerges from the closet, which is by no means a new idea in horror—in fact, it might be one of the oldest ideas around. But I think the reason that particular idea held such sway for me at the time is because I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and change feeling “trapped” in my baby’s room, afraid to move the slightest muscle lest I wake a sleeping child who has been passionately opposed to sleeping at all, and certainly not sleeping alone. During one of those confined moments I was staring blankly at the closed closet door when suddenly and randomly the thought came, “A door is a door. What if something from another dimension just strolled out of it?”
Doors are a symbol of safety, but also a bit about control, aren’t they—in terms of who’s allowed to open them and when? Is this the story of someone rectifying a mistake she made, or someone dealing with hostile circumstances as best she can?
I think rectifying a mistake is closest, but not quite. We all lock things away for reasons that seem necessary at the time, often for our own survival. It isn’t a mistake to close that door, but sometimes, if we want to move forward, we have to find a way to open it again.
Were there any cool ideas or images you had to cut from this piece? Have any previous cuttings become their own stories?
I had one early idea for this story that featured more of a time loop or a pocket universe or . . . something. I imagined someone isolated in the middle of nowhere, trying to get help, and they can see an elderly couple sitting on their front porch, but no matter how long they walk or how much distance they seem to cover, they never get any closer to the old couple or that porch they’re sitting on.
I like the cinematic quality of that image and the idea of human contact always hovering just out of reach. I think I also liked the evocation of perpetual effort without progress, which is how life often felt during six months of quarantine with a baby in rural Missouri. But that version of the story didn’t really go anywhere.
I often save snippets like that. I have scribbly text documents filled with them. I can’t say I’ve ever turned one of them into a successful story—yet—but they are there for when I need them.
What’s filling up your creative tank these days?
I moved to Chicago less than two months ago, which means that everything about life in the windy city still feels emphatically strange, delightful, and new. Even the sky is a different color of blue. I am the kind of person who thrives on newness, and right now I’m deriving such satisfaction from simply soaking it up. It’s so nourishing to walk around in my new neighborhood, gazing at the old brick houses and front yard gardens.
It’s October as I write this, and last night I sat in the dark living room for a long time and watched the falling leaves swirling outside, illuminated by streetlights. I am also a fan of fall, and right now this place, this time feels like the most beautiful and vibrant place you could be. I don’t know what I’ll do with that yet. I am still settling into the new life I wanted, and somehow was fortunate enough to get. I know it will impact my work, but as of yet I have no idea how.
What can we look forward to next from you?
I have been asking myself the same question.
Spread the word!