The chiaroscuro is quite literal in this piece! How do you set up your workspace to write a story? Did this one come out of specific environment or idea?
I begin to think most of my horror ideas are the product of dreams, haha. In this case (a little like “Sweet Dreams Are Made of You”), this was inspired by a dream, in which someone was telling me about the Flashlight Man game. My dreams have always trended towards vivid, WTF, and wildly inventive, so whenever I can mine those for (let’s hope coherent!) fiction, I love it.
My writing space, unfortunately, is much more scattered—I have a desk, but because I don’t have a locked-down, consistent writing schedule, it really depends on whether I’m writing while my kitten, Tater Tot, rampages across the desk, or writing on the couch with Tater Tot curled up on my lap, or sitting in bed, with Tater Tot attacking my feet. You might say the only consistent element is my small chaotic boy who tries so hard to be “helpful” when I write.
The instructions in the opening are vivid and visceral without being particularly threatening in and of themselves—face that way, observe this, close your eyes. But then the spotlight appears. How does seeing or being seen go from neutral to horror?
A lot of this draws on the idea that when you don’t see the monster, it can be more terrifying—what isn’t shown often ratchets up the tension and horror because the reader/viewer is imagining things. And let’s face it; the unknown has always been a threshold for things humans fear (sadly). I suppose it also slides along the adjacent “knowledge is power” axiom, to some degree? When you know what the monster is, then you have some idea of how to defeat it. By not knowing what hunts you, it makes defense and offense all the more difficult, which is then its own stressor.
I’ve always liked how mundane things can turn into horror—except maybe dolls, dolls have always been and always will be haunted. But stuff like photographs or innocuous toys or a blank wall . . . when things get weird, the more mundane it is, somehow the creepier it gets. Staircases in the middle of nowhere; haunted pictures; a game that will kill you.
Are most of your protagonists around the same age? Does the voice come from their circumstances or do the circumstances create their voice?
My protagonists’ ages tend to wildly vary, depending on the story. I’ve written child protags and ageless entities and probably everywhere in between at some point! The voice grows a lot from the circumstances and how the character’s brain works. Not being neurotypical myself, it’s often hard to figure out if the voice “matches” a social construct of age as accepted by the narrative—so stuff set in our world is trickier for me, because I’m juggling how much age and background and brain-weird the characters are and how that will, obviously, influence the voice. Sometimes, the voice comes first and I infer elements about the character from how the voice sounds.
(It’s always difficult for me because my accepted age and how I think of myself in terms of age are wildly different; it confuses me further when a lot of my IRL neurotypical friends espouse about age-related problems and I am like ???? because age and linear time are just not concepts that make a particularly lot of sense to me most days.)
You’ve got this incredible breadth to your work, across time, space, and genre. Are there any authors whose work you read and think, I wish I could do that?
Oh wow, yeah, so many—my list is long and always growing because there are just so many amazing writers, and I get such a thrill out of finding someone new to me to eagerly follow.
(I may be weird in that I don’t necessarily think in terms of “I wish I could do that,” but more like “Ooh, that is so good, how can I adopt elements in my own stuff?”—because I am much more satisfied when I can figure out how a thing works.)
For time constraint reasons, here are a few authors will happily yell about: Nibedita Sen, for her luscious prose, the delicious dark thrills of her horror writing, and the sheer joy and delight I always find in her work; R.B. Lemberg’s stunning, vast, gorgeous world-building (check out their Birdverse stories) and beautiful prose that just sings; Ada Hoffmann, who bounces around so many cool ranges, from surrealist to Lovecraftian space opera horror, poetry and prose, and always gives you a big batch of Feels for her characters; John Wiswell, because he can always make me laugh, and his stories are just so delightful and funny; Nino Cipri for their always fabulous stories (read “Finna”!) and who, in my opinion, has such a masterful handle on structure and experimental frameworks; Gemma Files, who can creep me the fuck out with her stories no matter the length, and I hella admire the rich, wonderfully meta world of her film-horror stories (check out Experimental Film); Aliette de Bodard, for her incredible, stunning prose and amazing world-building and fantastic characters; Leigh Harlan, who writes horror so creepy and gripping and fucked-up, their stories just make me yell with delight; Sarah Gailey, because they always have such precision prose, needle-bright characters, and satisfying endings to each story; Rivers Solomon, for their utterly gripping narratives and wrenching emotional prose; Emma Osborne, who tells stories so rich with imagery and emotions, you just want to inhale each word; JY Yang, for their knock-your-socks-off cool stories (read their novellas!); Cassandra Khaw, who makes horror so tasty and her work is just filled with utterly delightful creepiness; Izzy Wasserstein, for how much emotion she can pack into small stories, and she is also a fantastic crafter of cool structure and razor-keen prose; Sam J. Miller, who continually guts me with the emotionally charged stories and especially endings; Darcie Little Badger, who has a brilliant range and can rock the horror and humor spectrums with equal measure.
. . . and I am going to feel awful that I have not included everyone so I’m going to stop for now, but seriously, there are so many amazing authors out there, creating incredible work, expanding the horizons of genre. I love how many bright, brilliant, beautiful writers are working in the field these days. It’s so exciting!
What can we look forward to next from you?
I’ve recently turned in a handful of stories solicited for anthologies, so hopefully later this year I’ll be able to shout about the projects on social media and share links.
Spread the word!