This story seems to be based on a news story in Virginia about a girl who went missing after a concert. How often do you get your inspiration from news stories/current events? What about this particular story struck you?
I often start from real events, but I never know what’s going to strike me or when. The news story made me sit upright as soon as I heard it, not because of its particulars but because I realized that I had been worried about “missing student” accounts for years, and now it was time to write about it.
There are really two stories going on here—Shasta and Tomas—and I love how they ‘meet’ towards the end of the story. I’m intrigued by the two of them. What do you see as their similarities here? Why is Shasta thinking about him this night?
They came together on their own. I’d been going through a family history and came across the Tomas story, and I was trying to write about that when I heard about the Virginia student. In both cases I was annoyed by what I felt was a cautionary bias in the reportage. I left the Tomas draft and started the Shasta draft, going back and forth until I realized that both stories were about the same thing—making informed choices, even though those choices aren’t always safe. Shasta wants to be as in charge of her own destiny as Tomas has been with his, regardless of the tragic possibility.
You are working on a series of ghost stories right now. What is it with ghosts, scary stuff, that intrigues you?
Gothic is just my preferred flavor of fantasy. I like playing in the world I know, darkened and twisted. My mom read murder mysteries all the time, and my dad—who looked very much like Gomez Addams—took me to see Rosemary’s Baby and other horror movies when I was very small. It was a scandal. My brother Sam was also a huge influence—I was bored with Barbie-type dolls until he built little gallows for them. In college my soon-to-be husband got my attention by impressing me with his knowledge of Manson family trivia.
On the line of scary stuff—what are some of the movies, books, stories that have scared the pants off of you?
That’s a good question, because I don’t always know if something has scared me until years later. In terms of literature, horror comic books were important to me when I was young, and as an adult, novels by Kathe Koja, Peter Straub and Joe R. Lansdale, and short stories by Hawthorne and Flannery O’Connor. In movies, the images that have stuck with me come from black and white films: Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, Jane Eyre, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
But lately I’ve noticed objects wield more power than narratives. My dad was an antique dealer, and we were always coming into possession of items that made me think obsessively about their deceased owners. Hats are terrifying. And almost anything to do with colonial America gives me the willies.
Can you tell us a little about your VIPs on VSF blog? Where did the idea come from, and how are you feeling about its development?
I started the blog for my students, and it just caught on. I’m not actively adding to it right now because it feels like a fairly comprehensive volume, but once in a while someone volunteers a new article, which is lovely. Mainly I wanted focused, short remarks, no matter how idiosyncratic, about a form that to my mind has injected new life into short fiction. That said, I’m aware that not everyone is on board, and there are a few “flash vs. short story” skirmishes popping up on the net—as if one form threatens the other, which is ridiculous. When I scratch the surface of these arguments I often find that it’s really the old and non-productive genre vs. literary opposition all over again, with a twist; this time genre writers are cast as conservatives because conventional short story structure is still their ideal form, and for very good reasons. I’m sympathetic, but only a little—some opportunities are expanding, others are contracting. Art moves, one hopes.