Let’s start with an easy question: How do you know so much about snakes?
When I was ten or eleven I read this series of children’s books in Urdu featuring a boy who travels with snake charmers and has a pet snake. He and his snake have many adventures. Subsequently I dreamed about becoming besties with a snake or two for years. I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. The Indian subcontinent, of course, has many myths about snakes who assume human shape after a hundred years. I wanted to write a story about that. The research and details naturally followed.
It sounds like this story took a long time to get from its inspiration to Nightmare. Can you tell us a little about how that happened?
Between April 2012 and December 2013 I was on fire in terms of creative output. Sometimes I wrote a story a week; most were junk and eventually trashed. However when I applied for a spot at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in end 2012. I specifically wrote nine to ten stories for my submission sample. An early draft of “Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung” was one of them.
It was too long to be useful for workshop submission and I ended up putting it away for months, but eventually I returned to it in 2014 and after minor revisions began submitting it. I believe three or four markets turned it down which disheartened me, newish writer all, so I trunked it.
For whatever reason, four years or so later I was about to go to turn in for the night when, suddenly, I remembered a scene from the story. I got up, pulled it up on the computer, and in a fit of inspiration, changed the title and began cleaning it up. Four hours later, at one or two in the morning, I was done and the story was submitted. This time the first market—Nightmare Magazine— picked it up. Funny how these things work.
This story does a tremendous job balancing the mythic—it really seems to draw on folklore—and thriller elements, like the heroinchie subculture. How did you decide to mash those together, and did you struggle to keep the two elements from overpowering each other?
I started with a character and a vague idea of the theme: a drug addict drawn into a mythic world. Everything else sort of came together. While the story took several rounds of cleaning, the central drivers and characters remained the same. I honestly don’t remember how the balance, if any, was achieved.
This story feels both very modern and yet somehow classical. In particular, to me the ending, with its apparent victory unhappily eroded by evil, has a definite Lovecraftian or Blackwoodian flavor. Did you set out to write something that fit that turn-of-the-century Weird vibe? Is that an era of horror that speaks to you?
I’m influenced by a lot of writers in how I write stories. I think it’s fair to say this story likely does borrow tools from the gaslamp era of macabre stories; yet I imagine most of the influence really is from subcontinental and Urdu literature rife with shapeshifting snakes and back alleys filled with drug addicts. Side note: I have always believed Blackwood to be vastly superior writer to HPL when it comes to generating unease and the feeling of otherworldly terror. He continues to be a vastly under-read and underappreciated writer.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this story? Do you have anything coming out that we should be keeping watch for?
I hope your readers like it. I’m especially interested in seeing the desi reaction to the story. Subcontinental readers will recognize many elements and hopefully enjoy the mishmash I’ve created here. Alas, I’m not the most prolific of writers and have nothing else coming out at the moment, but you never know. Perhaps next year I’ll write a line or two . . .
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