First, I want to say I loved this story. Is this a story universe you’ve explored before or have any interest in exploring more of down the line?
Thank you! I wrote this story after hiking the Nüümü Poyo (also known as the John Muir Trail), a two-hundred-something mile trail in California’s Eastern Sierra, with three friends. We hiked during the first summer of the pandemic. Toward the tail end of our trip, wildfires were encroaching to our north and south, and we were engulfed in fairly heavy smoke. I immediately wanted to write a horror story set in a smoke-hazy town we passed through called Independence. So. . . in a way, I’ve explored this universe in real life! An empty, ravaged California. Except it was August 2020, and not the 2070s of the story. And none of us ate each other. I still feel really drawn to June/“Dana,” Dey, and exploring the link. I can see myself writing a few linked stories, or even a novella, about this world! That would, I think, be really fun.
Following “Dana” and Dey along this part of their journey reminded me of following Lauren, Harry, and Zahra in Parable of the Sower. Who are some of your creative influences?
Octavia Butler is a huge influence and guiding star! Toni Morrison, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Tananarive Due, Kiese Laymon, and N.K. Jemisin are all writers that I consider my mentors, through their teaching and writing. Stephen King and The X-Files made me fall all the way in love with horror and weird, creepy monster-of-the-week stories.
We’ve been seeing a resurgence of dystopian storytelling over the past couple of years, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Why do you think readers are drawn to these types of stories in moments of uncertainty?
Dystopias feel very cathartic to me. In times of prolonged uncertainty, which we are squarely in right now—a pandemic, climate crisis, global political destabilization—the “crisis” can remain, for some people, ambient, or chronic. It might never become acute, or the cascading crises may be too complex or too nonstop to be able to process. That can lead to something called “disenfranchised grief,” a grief that’s displaced, not recognized, or not able to be mourned socially. As a writer and a reader, dystopian fiction presents an opportunity to make swirling, incomprehensible fear and distress very, very concrete. The story presents me with something to hold onto, and I can use that to process my feelings and grief about what’s happening in real life.
I also think that dystopian stories are really about survivors. People who are finding new ways to live, or thrive, or fight, or connect. One of my favorite series, Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic, showcases this so well.
What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
I have a story coming out in Death in the Mouth: An Anthology of Horror by People of Color, that I’m very excited to share. And I’ve finished the first draft of my novel—a ghost story!—that I hope to share with the world in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, you can find more of my stories and essays at my website (bit.ly/3OQmYqn).
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