Book release party for local author at Savoy

This interview was originally published by The Westerly Sun on August 23, 2018. That same month, The Westerly Sun was sold to Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, and previously published content is no longer available online.

I CHOSE TO WRITE A HORROR STORY BECAUSE:

‘Why horror?’ is a question dark fiction writers and even the more casual lovers of the macabre get asked on a regular basis. The answer I most often give is the simplest, most straightforward one I can formulate: because much of life is horror. There’s a quote I love from an article written by Emily Asher-Perrin and published on April 13, 2017 at Tor.com, “The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women,” and it states that, “Horror exists as a genre primarily to reflect the ugly and the despicable parts of our world back at us through a funhouse lens that makes the trauma digestible.”

Classic novels like Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are less about monsters than they are the terrifying possibilities we might afflict upon ourselves when science and technology extend beyond our control. Both Get Out—a horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele—and The Shape of Water—a dark fantasy written and directed by genre master Guillermo del Toro—were nominees for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture. Get Out depicted how, however unintentionally, the racism of ignorant, complacent white liberals can be every bit as menacing as its more vitriolic counterpart. The Shape of Water, which won the Best Picture Oscar, along with three other Academy Awards, deftly explored how society treats the other in its midst, whether it be a humanoid amphibian creature reminiscent of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or the ordinary people we see right next door.

My collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, combines horror with social critique, and features women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems, such as grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, as well as a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead. I think the horror genre is a great way to explore fears both supernatural and psychological, and hope that my short fiction captures some of those tried-and-true tropes, as well as instances where the two come together in new and exciting ways.

MY SCARIEST MEMORY AS A CHILD INVOLVED:

Looking back, this can hardly be counted as a scary childhood memory, since first, it was self-inflicted, and second, it only functioned to further my love for horror kickstarted by those young adult and middle grade series like Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Goosebumps and Fear Street series, the vampire novels of Christopher Pike, Caroline Keene’s Nancy Drew mysteries, and the Bunnicula books by James Howe. But I’ve wracked my brain for something terrifying and/or traumatizing, and this is the best I can come up with.

The first time I read Salem’s Lot, I was thirteen years old, soon to embark on my freshmen year of high school, and a Stephen King virgin. If you’re from a small town like Westerly, the characters that inhabit the Lot are your own neighbors; Matthew Burke is your high school English teacher; Father Callaghan is the priest at your church; Ben Mears is the outsider everyone notices, and is instantly suspicious of.

I still remember the setup of my old bedroom: full-sized bed pushed into one corner, a set of double windows looking out over a spacious backyard, flimsy curtains that would let in the shadows on moon-drenched nights. I did gymnastics for a number of years, and had adopted the slightly morbid habit of hanging bouquets of flowers I’d received at competitions upside down from thick nails on the walls of my room, like a collection of winged insects pinned to display boards that rustled ominously when disturbed. There, pink roses and white carnations, lilies with petals like tongues, and fragile, flaking baby’s breath would desiccate into shapes far more abstract and Burtonian than they’d been in life.

On this particular evening, I came to the point of Barlow’s siege where Danny Glick is sent to the window of Mark Petrie in an attempt to receive an invitation to enter Mark’s room. As my mind conjured up the image of the vampire-boy tapping at the second floor window, both terrible and tempting as he floated there, suspended in the mist, my eyes flicked to my own window, waiting for the inevitable figure to appear, a silhouette against a glowing, pregnant moon.

The flowers lining the walls shed their associations with accomplishment to become so many hanging bats, swinging from their elongated feet, grinding their needle-sharp teeth. Swallowing my fear, I forced myself to read on, making my way, in tentative fits and starts, to Matt’s summons of Ben to the deathbed of Mike Ryerson.

At this point, I decided there was only way to get through the night unscathed: traverse the room—hopefully uninterrupted—and retrieve the cross my aunt and uncle had gifted me for my First Holy Communion. I made it to the jewelry box on the opposite wall—beneath the most menacing cluster of poisonous-looking petals—and back without a single childhood-friend-turned-vampire making a bid for my soul, but to this day wonder if that cross may have provided protection from the potential acquiescence I may have given a particularly persuasive vampire.

WHEN PEOPLE LEARN I AM A WRITER OF HORROR FICTION, THEY:

... usually are friendly, supportive, and inquisitive. You also inevitably get asked if you’re a Stephen King fan as a horror writer, which is fine by me, because I certainly am, but it’s funny how he’s the end-all be-all of horror for so many people. There are dozens of amazing horror and dark fiction writers working today, most whose books you can find on the shelves of the Savoy, such as Cherie Priest, Gemma Files, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Seanan McGuire, Ania Ahlborn, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Caroline Kepnes, and Sarah Pinborough, to name a few.

PEOPLE SHOULD READ MY BOOK BECAUSE:

Several of the stories in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked were published in magazines, ezines, and anthologies like Fireside Fiction, DarkFuse Magazine (which unfortunately exists no more), Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties anthology, Unnerving Magazine, Tales to Terrify, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2. Unnerving, my publisher, asked upfront that a certain percentage of the stories be reprints, so once I’d filled that quota, I added two stories that had been published by markets no longer in circulation, changed one story that had appeared on a podcast to the novella version I’d been hoping for a chance to unveil, and chose three brand new stories to tie everything together.

Ultimately, I am very pleased with the balance that was achieved. I think readers can appreciate a collection that includes a few reprints, especially from magazines and anthologies they may have read previously, and hopefully enjoyed, as well as a handful of new tales that allows them to experience an author’s latest work.

As for why readers should give my book a chance, the collection can be taken a number of different ways, and will hopefully appeal to a number of different readers. I think the most literal way to read Something Borrowed... is as a series of straightforward horror stories. For the no-nonsense horror lover, we have ghosts, apocalypse-inciting rains, witches, depraved serial killers, more ghosts, evil shadow creatures, zombies, haunted houses, long-preserved corpses, newly-opened mausoleums, sinister trains, and out-of-place staircases.

But those tropes are thinly veiled stand-ins for themes that run deeper. Without giving too much away, the babysitter in “Souls, Dark and Deep” might possess powers in the same vein as those of a witch, but she uses her powers not for evil, but to level the playing field against evil and injustice. The depraved serial killers in “Red Room” function less to scare à la Michael Myers, and more to warn of the perils men face when they disbelieve women. The ghost of Aunt Louise in the eponymous flash fiction piece is a hardcore, Gloria Steinem-quoting, take-no-nonsense-and-even-less-prisoners feminist. And the shadow wolf in “Flowers from Amaryllis” represents many, many things: the fear of eventually losing a companion animal, the fear of losing a parent, the fear of being alone, the fear of going mad, the fear of not being able to be true to who you are. In summary, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked has a little something for everyone.

— Interview arranged and edited by Nancy Burns-Fusaro
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Published on January 30, 2019 12:18 • 32 views • Tags: authorinterviews-literary-horror
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