In “Construction Project,” you clearly put some thought into the defenses the protagonists used to defend their home. Was this something you had to research?
I believe I did some research to get the terminology right; I brushed up on the names of things, like I-joints and trusses. But I’ve always been interested in the built environment, from portable one-person shelters to cities contained in a single skyscraper (also known as arcologies). Dwelling spaces of all kinds, and what they represent, is something I think about a lot. (When I was a kid my family lived for a few years in a double-wide mobile home. I will never forget the thrill of seeing our house delivered in two halves and then glued together.)
At the time I wrote “Construction Project,” I was living in one of those blandly corporate apartment complexes, where the buildings are labeled A, B and C, and inside the apartments are all identical, with beige carpets and off-white walls. I imagined how I might go about altering my own apartment to build a “panic room.” So I guess my research was mainly a thought experiment.
The point of view in this story is quite fascinating, as the protagonists refer to themselves as “We,” and we, as readers, are never sure which, if either, is narrating the story. What was your motive in choosing this approach?
I think the uncanny and the horrific are seen most powerfully from the edges of society. Because of this, I often choose narrators who are marginalized in some way, or whose connections to mainstream culture are for some reason tenuous.
In the case of Sarah and Eli, their preoccupation and obsession with each other has become a kind of sick system. Their relationship is their primary focus, to the extent that they’ve developed their own way of seeing the world; their connection to the outside is tenuous because they’ve intentionally built their own bubble. Perhaps there are couples who can create their own world in a way that is positive, but for Sarah and Eli their shared narrative becomes restrictive and destructive.
The fact that they refer to themselves as “We” is a reflection of this codependency, and it is a way of answering the question, “But how could things come to that?” When there is no room for dissent, sick systems can become fatal.
It seems that the horror of “Construction Project” comes from the subtle build toward an inevitable conclusion, metered by the passing of the seasons and the ever more arcane and inward-looking actions of the protagonists. When you started writing this story did you have the ending in mind or did this evolve for you and come as a surprise? Why did you choose Sarah, instead of Eli?
The ending actually did take a while to come clear. There’s a moment in the story, after they’ve finished building the safe room inside their apartment, where they sort of turn to each other and say, “Now what?” That’s also a reflection of what I was thinking.
For a while, I considered concluding the story at the point where they’re sitting inside their safe room, and the beast is slavering outside the door. At this point, violence of some kind has become inevitable. But I realized that wasn’t quite right. Because, despite being a horror story, this is also a love story. And love requires bravery, and heroism, and sacrifice.
Or perhaps believing that love requires bravery, heroism, and sacrifice is merely what allows such toxic narratives to emerge in the first place.
But, anyway . . .
If this is mostly a horror story, you might read Sarah’s sacrifice as the outcome of archetype; women are always the most vulnerable ones, and horror stories often find a way to carve us up. On the other hand, if this is mostly a love story, you might read Eli’s sacrifice as an act of courage; after all, he’s the one who has to endure the rest of life without his better half.
We love this story. What else do you have in the works?
“Deus Ex Machina,” a slightly gruesome science fiction story, is forthcoming in Lightspeed Magazine. Like the protagonists of “Construction Project,” this story’s main characters also find themselves retreating to the safety of a very confined living space.
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