As a tattoo-aholic, I thrilled at the premise of “Inkmorphia,” how a tattoo opens a door thought closed. What inspired this exploration of darkness and grief?
I often wonder if something static is not static at all. We always talk about the permanence of tattoos, but I thought—what if they weren’t? Tattoos are also often used as part of the mourning process and so I wanted to make them even more dynamic to healing. That said, as I wrote it, a lot of the other stuff in this story completely caught me off-guard.
Like I didn’t know it was a love story.
Here, I found myself drawn into the sensory details of this story: the description of berry seeds caught in your molars; searching for the tattoo; the “weird atonal singsong” of the mother’s voice; berries rolling in the dirt. What does horror mean to you? Does horror live in individual details or is it something about the gestalt?
I don’t know how horror works. I didn’t know I wrote it until I saw the term used in a review and I thought, “That’s not horror. I’ll give you horror.” I believe much of writing is about giving undeniable details—gaining that trust—and then messing with people on a deep level.
It is difficult to weave a sensitive and often realistically painful view of mental health into a story. Many have said that horror is the familiar seen through dirty glass and terror what happens with the breath of realization, a similar description to the process of piecing together a soul shattered by PTSD. Here, mental health does not drive the story, it is the map the story follows to the junkyard. Why do you think so many people associate mental health issues with monsters rather than victims?
I read some research once—no idea where—that in war-torn countries, those hit hard with collective trauma, horror movies are very popular. I’ve wondered if that’s about agency. They say that someone who’s been through something traumatic but who has some agency to get out or fight back does better recovering than those who weren’t able to. I wonder if engaging with horror allows the reader/audience some measure of agency. The horror is controlled; it has a narrative. It’s knowable. They can watch or turn away or close their eyes or walk out.
Moths are often associated with death and the souls of the dying. In the last paragraph you describe the sense of “something like moth wings.” What does that mean to you?
I just think about how dusty moths are. They’re so frail—and seem suicidal as they throw themselves at lightbulbs. I love their optimism and vulnerability.
Your work is everywhere, from nonfiction and writing classes, to novels and short stories. Are there any projects that continue to tempt you?
I recently said that I couldn’t write crime. And then I wrote crime, a short story. Usually when I say there’s something I can’t write, it settles in and kicks around and then finally I find myself trying it.
What’s next for you on the creative front? What can eager readers expect from Julianna Baggott in the future?
I got an offer for a short story collection, awaiting contract. So, I’m still writing but not sending out stories for publication, hoarding new work for the collection. That said, I weirdly have two publications coming out in your sibling publication Lightspeed—“Welcome to Oxhead” and “The Historiography of Loss,” which are both weird in their own ways.
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