First off, thank you for sharing “Wallers” with us! I’m curious about the title; so far as I can tell, Martha is the only waller present in the story. Why plural?
Another one could be in the walls, watching you right now.
I wanted to ask you about the structure, specifically how you intercut the narrative with various children’s rhymes (especially interesting given a child needs a specific “chant” passed down to them to become a “waller,” according to one snippet) and academic sources about the waller phenomenon. What made you decide to include them?
Like most of my stories, “Wallers” started out with a simple sentence: “The day her mother brought Mr. Nelson home, Martha faded into the wallpaper.” I paused, had some coffee, added two more sentences, and then stopped. I had no plot, no other ideas, just that tidbit about Martha fading into the wallpaper, to be safe. And the story pretty much stayed there for . . . well, longer than I care to admit.
And then I ended up on a panel about experimental stories. Towards the end, an audience member talked about how often fanfiction incorporates things like songs, emails, tweets, and fictional newspaper articles into story structure, and wondered why this was rarely seen in original fiction. I immediately disagreed with the premise—I knew I’d seen several short stories and novels that utilized similar structures—but when I tried to think of actual examples, my mind went blank. Naturally, the second the panel ended, I yelled “BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA! STEPHEN KING’S CARRIE! CASEY MCQUISTON’S RED WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE!” which accomplished nothing beyond scaring the cats. So to ensure that I would never scare my cats again—at least, not that way—I realized I would have to write one myself, just to make sure I always had an example on hand. And as it happened, I had this story that I’d been stuck on . . .
. . . a few nursery rhymes later, and I finally was able to write what exactly happened to Martha after she faded into the wallpaper.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “The Yellow Wallpaper” in talking about “Wallers;” its bones are very much present here. What ideas from that story make this one work so well, in your opinion?
The idea of magical creatures living in the walls around us has fascinated me ever since I read The Borrowers. “The Yellow Wallpaper” introduced the horror inherent in that idea. But what if someone enters that entrapment willingly, for protection? What then? And what about food? Water? Borrowing things?
I saw that you’ve written numerous essays on fairytales, Disney, et cetera. I very much feel the influence of that background in this story; young, neglected child, evil stepparent, apathetic parent. Why do you think these ideas have so much resonance?
For all their talk of Other, fairy tales deal with the most fundamental of terrors about families and homes. Parents that aren’t parents. Homes that aren’t homes. Sudden, uncontrollable changes. We need those tales, I think, to grapple with those terrors. And sometimes transform them.
It seems like Mr. Nelson pretty much already knows Martha is in the wall and is actively hunting her. How much do you think he knew about “wallers” beforehand?
I’m not sure how much he knows about “wallers,” specifically. He’s an adult, after all, not a child, and he doesn’t strike me as the sort who regularly reads academic articles. But he certainly knows that something is in the wall, if not what that something is.
And of course, flickering lights would drive anyone bonkers.
What do we have to look forward to from you in the future? What are you working on?
A couple of small poetry chapbooks and short stories here and there. Watch @mari_ness on Twitter for more details as they emerge. And don’t tell anyone, but I’m working on a secret plan to tame dragons, so that all of us will have a chance to fly. Though the cost of feeding said dragons remains a problem.
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