Want to get to know one of Monsters’ incredible contributors? Read our interview with Nicholas Wunderli, the author of “I Call Him Charlie,” which was featured in our recent episode, NIGHTMARE.
“I Call Him Charlie” rests on the perspective of its young, haunted protagonist . What inspired this piece?
Like every student in probably the entire US, I was forced to read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I had a teacher who insisted that the long-windedness of the book’s opening chapters were an effort to create believability in Nick as a narrator. I hated those classes so much that I began experimenting with non-reliable narrators. I began early versions of “I Call Him Charlie” about five years ago, but my interest in non-reliable narrators became the center of the ultimate plot.
How were you inspired by the theme of NIGHTMARE in this story?
Nightmare speaks to the psychological element that builds up what sort of animal this story became. The most horrific idea for me to explore was an inability to tell what is real. The story remains horrific through the ending because it turns out that the question doesn't really matter. Descartes' famous "I think therefore I am," came about after fretting over the realization that he couldn't prove that what he saw or sensed was real and not a nightmare. Holly's reality is built from this idea, but the horror genre pushes the philosophy further than is comfortable. For Holly, she thinks it and therefore it is. The nightmare is Charlie, and because Holly frames him and his actions to fit the events of her life that are outside her control, the nightmare is her reality.
How did you get into horror? What do you enjoy in the genre? What scares you?
I got into horror my freshman year of college when I discovered Joe Hill. Now, I enjoy catching up on all the classic eighties and nineties horror I missed out on as a kid. I love how horror, as a genre, forces authors to accelerate their stories. In horror movies, an audience has to connect and empathize with a character quickly, and that had always been my favorite part of literature in general. Creature flicks scare me more than anything else. My worst fear is probably Sasquatch.
What does your writing process look like?
I usually start by reading a chapter of another book, usually just where I left off the day before, but sometimes I'll specifically reread a section of a book with a great beginning or end or something else that I'm trying to draft that day. I draft my stories in haphazard sections and then fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle at the end. While I write, I usually listen to lofi synth jazz--and therefore so does my long-suffering roommate.
How does identity play a role in your writing?
Holly’s defining trait is a need to feel like she knows everything, but her story deals with a situation that robs her of the ability to process trauma and then information itself. The circumstances around her parents’ death becomes something she cannot know, and this not-knowing juxtaposed with her need to know drives all the events of the story until her identity evolves and grows to encompass a piece of both contradictory things.
Charlie and Holly's relationship is full of both tension and affection. Where did the idea for that relationship come from?
Holly and Charlie’s relationship dynamic is modeled after mine and my brother’s. I’ve always considered my brother to be one of my best friends because he and I are polar opposites, but living with each other forces us to understand and accept one another. I’d die for my brother, unless I’m the one who murders him.
What role do you think horror plays in the LGBTQ community? Do you think your writing in horror is linked to your experiences?
I grew up in an extremely repressed religious environment, and I realized that I was attracted to other women during my freshman year of college, which, coincidentally or not so much, was also when I got into horror. I became very interested in highly personal horror, stories that deal with the discovery of something inside of ourselves that is unexpected and uncomfortable. As I grew more comfortable with my identity, and distanced myself from my childhood, my interest evolved and re-centered on stories about an individual up against the worst parts of society. My interest grew and evolved within the horror genre as I did. Being an LGBT author allows me and others like me to build our own platforms and put something out there for a larger number of people which might ultimately help them empathize with our minority. I think that horror lets us strike back at bigotry within ourselves and in others.
Can we look forward to more creative works from you?
I am working on the finishing touches (and I've been working on the "finishing touches" for about a year now) on a horror-romance novel about a gay couple who must decide if and how they are to stay together while one of them battles religious guilt and the other develops an appetite for human flesh.
Any great horror recommendations?
I am a huge Stephen King fan, and my favorite by him is Needful Things. Joe Hill dragged me into the genre though, and Horns is my favorite by him. I also enjoy Lovecraft, so long as I read him with a willing sort of tunnel vision. Lastly, for a quick read that will alter what you think horror can do forever in about half an hour, E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" is available for free online because it was written two hundred years ago.
Want to see another work by Nicholas? Check out this piece on Goodreads.