“The Blue Room” is a perfect blend of desperation and fear that leaves you holding your breath, desperate for air. Tell us something of the inspiration behind the story.
YD: Claire and I wrote this story during last year’s Clarion Workshop. Our Week One instructor, Carmen Maria Machado, suggested that we all try collaborations if we could. When we sat down to write the story, we each brought with us a set of ideas that interested us individually, and over many days and glasses of wine, we found our way into a story that brought those elements together. I’m deeply invested in writing about the working class Latinx experience, but I’d never written horror before. Co-crafting a horror plot was an excellent opportunity to examine the elements of suspense more closely; and to really think about how we wanted the architecture of the story to reflect its emotional content.
CW: We’d been discussing fairytale adaptations in class with Carmen, including Bluebeard. I think we were both drawn, as others have been (such as this story from Helena Bell: bit.ly/3c0WuPb), to the parallel between Bluebeard’s many wives and domestic violence—the repetition, the never-ending nature of it. I’d been chewing over the idea of a haunted hotel that mirrors abusive dynamics; Yohanca had worked with Rachel Louise Snyder, the author of No Visible Bruises, in her MFA program. We spent a long time talking about the cycle of abuse documented so unsparingly in that book and wanted Amada’s interactions with the hotel to spiral in on themselves, with small incidents ramping up to larger acts of violence. Of course, abusive relationships can provide financial stability and an emotional refuge, and we wanted to show that, too: how these dynamics might exist all together and all at once.
I appreciated how you tied Amanda’s experiences with the hotel to her relationship with Tommy, reflecting the cycle of abuse even as you don’t gloss over Tommy’s brutality. Do you feel like the horror genre allows writers and readers to explore real life horrors in a safe, reflective manner?
CW: We become so inured, so quickly, to the many “real life horrors” of, say, existing as a woman in the world. Rachel Louise Snyder beautifully documents the mundane and everyday nature of this violence—how easily we can ignore signs of abuse in the relationships of those we love most. Horror enables us to turn the dial up a few notches, situating familiar dynamics in new environments and thus returning them to the realm of the unfamiliar. My favorite kind of horror story—I’m thinking of Debbie Urbanski (bit.ly/2wuFty0) or Alice Sola Kim (bit.ly/2V8a6l2) or Sam Miller (bit.ly/2V9bcwS)—never fully allows the reader to escape the implications of that horror on the page or off.
Stories of haunted/possessed houses and hotels abound, living buildings eager to lure the unsuspecting to their deaths and damnation. What is it about such stories that keeps us coming back? Why are we so intrigued with the thought of places of comfort and shelter given over to the shadows?
YD: Your home is second only to the womb in terms of perceived safety, right? The horror I like best takes something “safe” and familiar and twists it into something surprising or malevolent. And it starts with that creeping realization that something’s not right in your own haven.
A hotel presents an interesting remove. It can be comfortingly anonymous and it offers a sort of sanitized, uniform safety. But there’s an unfamiliarity there that feels interesting to me, a transient space, full of strangers. But what if strangers aren’t the scary thing? What if the threat is hidden in the people and places you know best?
Writing with a partner can be tricky. Not every writer can step back from the page and let another continue the story. What was the toughest part of working together? What did you enjoy most?
CW: For me, the hardest part was writing this story while surviving the absurd schedule at Clarion. Yohanca and I had taken some time to figure out the plot in advance but ended up writing the first draft over the span of a few days. It was the last week of Clarion. There were many late nights, many glasses of wine. I think we were all losing our grasp on reality a little bit by that point.
One of the (many) enjoyable aspects of collaboration was the process of being each other’s sounding boards, and the way that bouncing ideas back and forth accelerated the story development process. Yohanca and I were able to talk through plot holes and other issues in advance—throwing double the amount of brainpower at any thorny questions. I think a lot of us have been taught that writing has to be this solitary, isolated quest. It was a huge relief to break that paradigm, stop slogging, and have fun.
YD: I second the idea of sounding boards! Being accountable to each other was more challenging than writing alone, but it also allowed us to find momentum in each other whenever we felt stuck. Once we’d ironed out the general plot beats, we drafted the story section by section, switching off baton-style, just ahead of the workshop deadline. That required us to have absolute faith in each other’s ability to move the story forward.
What’s next for the two of you? Are there any individual projects coming up? Can eager readers look forward to another collaboration?
YD: I’m working on a short story collection and a novel. I’ve got some stories coming down the pipeline later this year, fingers crossed. Working on a collaboration with Claire was such a wonderful experience. It would be harder to co-write now that we are no longer living in the same UCSD dorm and seeing each other for fourteen hours a day, but we’ve also got a good sense of each other’s rhythms now. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
CW: I have a couple stories hopefully making their way into the world later this year. Stay tuned! Like Yohanca, I’d love to do another collaboration. Maybe someday we can replicate the experience with a week in the same place, some bottles of wine, and just enough sleep deprivation that the weirdest ideas start sounding reasonable.
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