Sparrow is a twisty and dark piece that draws on a lot of classic horror tropes. What inspired your piece?
My deep love of Faustian stories. Also, oddly, my own acknowledgement of my deep love of Faustian stories. I’d say more, but it’d spoil question four.
How did you connect these stories with the theme of GOTHIC?
I don’t think I ever fully “disconnect” from gothic themes, to be honest; I’m too much in love with the lush settings, the mystery, the atmosphere. I’m too captivated by the aesthetic’s indulgences, and the shadows cast by the romantic light shone on issues of philosophy, class, and morality. But perhaps most of all, I’m far too eager to write pretentious purple prose. Pro-tip: pretentious purple prose is way more forgivable in gothic fiction than it is in, say, YA lit or comedy.
Both the narrator and The Maid in "Sparrow" add fantastic horror elements to the piece. Where did those characters come from?
Faustian contracts are one of my favorite tropes, period. Contracts of any sort, really. I love exploring why someone would go to such great lengths to achieve an end, as well as the dynamic that this sort of power play creates between characters. Whatever the incarnation, I am endlessly fascinated by such deals; therefore, they are a well I often dip into in my own writing. “Revelation 2.17,” “Almost,” and “Bibliosmia” all feature a human and a demon with some connection between them. And between us, I’ll probably write more stories like that in the future, because I find them super fun!
But when I started “Sparrow,” I knew I wanted to do something different. I wanted to change perspectives. Rather than tell a story about a contracted pair, I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of the “contract” itself. This idea of “sentience” gave birth to the narrator.
From there, I needed characters to be contracted: hence, the Master and the Maid. A good deal of the Maid’s character is a consequence of her relationship with the narrator, which I won’t talk about explicitly here for fear of spoilers. But I will say that one of the ways in which I sought to make this story “different” was by writing about a contract between a human and a non-demon magical entity. It was the conscious decision to switch that up that made the Maid what she is.
How did you get into horror? What do you enjoy in the genre? What scares you?
Even though I grew up enjoying dark things, it took me until college to realize, “Oh… I guess that dark stuff is a form of horror.” Until that point, I had only ever heard the “horror” label used in relation to “jump scares” and “blood porn,” and I just don’t have the constitution for stuff of that ilk. Even now, I can only read the wiki summaries of the big-time horror movies… which I guess tells you a lot about what scares me!
But what speaks to me about horror as a genre is how reflective it can be. I was raised in the States, where hundreds of years of Christian influence has resulted in a society with a very “black or white” sense of morality. However, the media that held the most sway over me hailed from Japan. Particularly when it comes to the supernatural, Japan boasts a far more “grayscale” mentality: a mindset that is exemplified by the monsters in both their traditional and pop culture. After being introduced to that “grayscale” way of thinking, I began to reflect on and question the religious realities with which I had been raised. What makes something “evil?” Why is it “evil?” And which is worse: to be irredeemable from the start, or to knowingly reject offered salvation?
Mark Twain once wrote, “But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” I return to that quote a lot. Authors whose demons lean upon the uncomplicated crutch of “pure evil” might scare me in the moment, but they don’t haunt me. What does is the terror and sorrow of a creature who needs, yet never receives, compassion. Terror and sorrow are emotions I can access, and thus, be affected by. Empathy as horror. It’s a style that goes for the metaphorical heart, rather than the literal one—that crawls under your skin and makes you think and think and think. That’s the sort of haunting that keeps me coming back to this genre.
What’s your writing process like?
I tend to begin by jotting pieces of an idea: general plot, specific details, random lines of dialogue. These come to me in bits over a few days. (Often when I’m trying to sleep. Of course.) Despite my valiant attempts to utilize a stack of gifted journals, these notes usually take the form of emails I send to myself, or memos made on my phone. Once I feel like I’ve got my thoughts in a semblance of order, I’ll type out a rough draft. Many of my author friends like to hit a café for this step, or will get together with a writing group, but I’m afraid I can’t concentrate when there are people around. I’m more of a “hole up in my bedroom” gal; solitude allows me to make all the weird faces required to find the words I need.
After I’ve got a draft, I’ll let it sit for a few days so I can start the editing process with fresh eyes. I’m an absolutely brutal editor. Friends who have asked for my help have been known to regret it, and I can’t say I blame them; I hate editor-me, too, haha. It’s not unusual for me to clock an hour or more on one page. I’ve spent full days reworking the same sentence. But despite all that effort, there’s always something I miss, so I usually ask my mom or my friend Stacy to give my work a final read-through before I send it out into the world.
How does identity play a role in your writing?
I think it feeds into my tendency to stress sentiments. We live in a highly sexualized society. Despite being very puritan in our views and dialogues about sex, almost everything is filtered through a sex-based lens, and that lens only gets stronger as we get older. As an asexual, this worldview baffles me. My ace friends and I joke about “those allosexuals,” but the truth of the matter is that we are struggling to get by in a world where a ludicrous number of decisions are spurred by attractions that elude us. We watch movies and read books and in every, single genre there are people making nonsensical decisions because “sex.” And we find it difficult to empathize with that.
We can empathize with other strong emotions, though.
Like most authors, I write what I want to read. While I can and have written scenes with sex in them, to me, the act is secondary to the emotions (or lack thereof) behind it. Which is to say, I tend to focus on love. Usually horrible, twisted, unhealthy loves that “normal” people wouldn’t understand. And let me clarify this: these loves aren’t meant to be “understood.” I’d hate for people to think that I was condoning the actions or beliefs of my very corrupt leads, haha. But more to the point: everyone, I think, can empathize with the sort of intensity, passion, and desperation that would lead a character, good or bad, to make a terrible decision over love. And hopefully, if everyone can empathize, everyone can enjoy.
Speaking to the connection between identity and writing, what role do you think horror plays in the LGBTQ community?
I think your intro answers this far more pithily than I ever could! But if I were to take a stab at it: I think many of us in the LGBTQ community were raised around religion, and as a consequence of that, the idea of repression. You repress bad thoughts, you repress desires, and you most certainly repress a gender or sexual identity that is not deemed “normal.” I was one of far too many children told that I would be disowned if I “decided” to be gay— that is truly horrifying. In that sense, I think a lot of us were just in the closet so long that we learned to make friends with the monsters in there. And now that we’re out, we’ve found— like others before us— that the horror genre is a fabulous place to explore our secret traumas, as well as a cathartic, “safe space” in which to rediscover who we are and how we relate to others.
So what’s next for you, creatively?
While I’m hoping to continue contributing to anthologies and podcasts, my personal goal is to publish something longer, something all my own. To that end, I’ve been working on a few different projects. Writing them has been fun! Editing them, less so.
Any great horror recommendations?
I highly recommend the works of Otsuichi, especially his short story “Summer, Fireworks, and my Corpse,” his novel “Black Fairytale,” and his collection (coincidentally titled) “GOTH.” There is a snapshot clarity to his writing that astounds me, and an elegance to his exploration of the monsters that lurk behind the human mask. Be warned, though: for horror that contains little gore, his work is at times disturbingly visceral. During the climax of “Fairytale,” I actually had to close the book and set it aside for a while— that was a first for me!