In “Out of Touch,” you do a great job capturing a sense of childhood dread—that sick feeling that bad, heavy things are going on around Neil which he doesn’t fully understand and can’t change, but is forced to shoulder. Do you find it challenging to write from the perspective of a child in the sense that he has to convey information to the reader without quite knowing it himself?
I don’t, but this is primarily because I often write stories about characters who are ignorant or oblivious to the truths that surround them. The unreliable narrator is a favourite tool of mine and particularly effective in the horror genre for creating a sense of dread and uncertainly about how the narrative will play out. I suspect there are very few of us who, when confronted with the sort of peculiar situations most horror story protagonists find themselves in, would be aware of what’s going on and why. We would likely all just stumble forward to our demise. If anything, it’s arguable that my characters’ inability to know and understand themselves is the exact reason they’ve taken the wrong turn down the alley or become lost on the back roads of some foreign country. Not seeing the truth that’s plainly before them is why these characters have failed.
When you set out to write a story, what do you hope to achieve? What themes or subjects are important to you or do you find recurring?
Each story is an exploration of the emotional landscape of the human condition—most specifically, my human condition. I’m hardly alone in that regard, but I still think it’s an admirable goal to strive for. My fiction is about interior landscapes and mysteries. This may explain why they tend to revolve around failed relationships in one form or another and concern themselves with the unknowable other. But the malignant outer also plays a strong part, the idea that our lives, though not necessarily preordained, are victims of the whims of unknowable forces. I suppose we’d all like someone or something to blame when things go wrong, and the idea that there are forces beyond and behind the veil that are actively intent on harming us is one I find fascinating to explore.
Not only have you authored several short story collections, you also edited the anthology Shadows Edge. Did the process of assembling and editing an anthology inform your subsequent writing? Do you look at things differently now that you’ve been on the other side of the fence?
Editing had no real effect on my own work, but it gave me some sympathy for those that edit full-time. Writers are late, writers miss the point, writers are fragile, and herding them is like herding those proverbial cats. It’s a task I would wish on no one. That said, there’s a joy to seeing a story come into being that might never have without your input, and it is exciting to give a platform for lesser-known writers to shine. I’m very pleased with how the book came out, and so far readers seem to be responding to it.
Any tips for aspiring horror or weird fiction writers?
I find most people who are intent on being writers figure out any important advice on their own. If it’s something they want, they’ll find a way of doing it, and those that don’t eventually fall aside. The only suggestion I have beyond the obvious is to finish what you started. It’s amazing how many would-be writers fail at that simple task.
Do you ever plan on writing a novel, or does the short form hold more appeal for you?
The longer I write, the more I find the idea of writing a novel appealing, so I don’t think I can ever rule it out, but the short form holds the most sway for me. And I think it’s important to note that the short story is no less an art form than the novel. We have to learn to break ourselves of the notion that it’s merely a stepping-stone toward longer works. The short story is really more like a poem than a novel. It’s about an economy of words and cohesion of effect. The short story doesn’t have extra room for meandering. Ever word is vital, every scene vital. I suspect I’ll never write a perfect short story, but that’s the whole reason I keep trying.
What are you working on at the moment?
My latest book, Burnt Black Suns, has only recently been published, so my attention is directed at getting it seen. I think it will surprise readers expecting my previously restrained approach. After that, I have a few different irons in the fire. I’m elbow-deep in a novella that I hope will knock some socks off, as well as chipping away at a future collection of short fiction. But when that will be done is anyone’s guess. I try not to plan too far ahead anymore because experience has taught me that things shift too quickly. Instead I keep in mind a list of goals and do my best to steer toward them whenever possible.
Spread the word!