Ginger Nuts of Horror
Today it is the turn of Nicole Cushing. Nicole Cushing is an author of dark, weird fiction. The Black Dog & Leventhal anthology Werewolves & Shapeshifters: Encounters With The Beast Within includes Nicole’s short fiction (alongside stories by Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Charlaine Harris, and Chuck Palahniuk). Her work also appears in the Cemetery Dance anthology In Laymon’s Terms . Several of her stories have been (or are currently being) adapted for audio presentation on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify, Pseudopod, and Cast Macabre.
In March of 2013, DarkFuse will publish Nicole’s first novella, Children of No One in both signed, limited hardcover and ebook editions.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I'm a writer of fiction that tends to be classified as horror, dark fiction, or weird fiction. To date, I've primarily written short stories, with some modest success. (As I type this, one of my stories has been selected for the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award. Although this isn't a nomination – at least, not yet – it's still gratifying).
My first novella (Children of No One) is being released by DarkFuse, and I'm also very excited by that. I look forward to writing more and more longer works.
I've been writing – off and on – since childhood. But I've only written seriously (with some measure of consistency and self-discipline) since 2008. While I've occasionally flirted with writing science fiction, I'm pretty much a 110% horror/dark fiction/weird fiction writer. I could be wrong, but I don't think I could be much of anything else.
You see, I like to think that I didn't really seek out horror as much as horror sought out me. Horror had its claws in me ever since I was six years old (when I walked up to my grandfather's coffin at his funeral, patted his hand in a gesture of affection, and discovered just how damned cold his skin had become.) Even though I wouldn't seriously start penning tales for another thirty years, that was the moment I became a horror writer.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I'm not sure.
My heart says “horror”, because that's the terminology that I grew up with. That's the word that makes the most sense to me. But I'm enough of a realist to know that when the vast majority of the general public thinks “horror”, they're not thinking about Shirley Jackson or Gary Braunbeck or Glen Hirshberg or Thomas Ligotti. They're thinking about some laughable, low-budget, CGI-infested celebration of gore that's oozing out of their screens and into their living rooms. So “horror fiction” may be a thing of the past, in terms of successfully marketing our books to the masses. Who knows?
“Dark fiction” is kind of growing on me, because I tend to enjoy fiction with dark overtones, regardless of what genre it occupies. I find the “Weird Fiction” label appealing, too, but also somewhat frustrating (because there seems to be so many varying definitions of what constitutes “weird fiction”). There's what I like to call “VanderWeird” (the kind of stuff you see in Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's mammoth, sure-to-become-seminal anthology The Weird), and then there's JoshiWeird (as defined in S.T. Joshi's books of criticism, such as The Modern Weird Tale). These two varieties of the weird have definite overlap, but also – I think – some significant differences. I think we haven't yet arrived at a consensus on what “weird fiction” means. That makes the label difficult to embrace, wholeheartedly.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I'm a huge Thomas Ligotti fan. I think the man took our field into an entirely new direction. I hope one day he's appreciated for being the pioneer I suspect he truly is. When he's at the top of his game, I don't think anyone can match him as a prose stylist, either. I'm also fond of the work of folks like the aforementioned Shirley Jackson, Glen Hirshberg, and Gary Braunbeck. Bruno Schulz, Jack Ketchum and Tom Piccirilli, too. Caitlin Kiernan. Raymond Carver. John Cheever. Alan Moore. Damn, there are so many great authors out there.
What are you reading now?
For about the past eighteen months I've been reading a short story each and every night. (The idea actually comes from Ray Bradbury, who suggested that newer writers read a short story, a poem, and an essay each night for one thousand nights). By Bradbury's standards, I'm a slacker because I haven't read a poem each night or an essay each night. But I've still gotten a lot out of it.
So, this week, I've read short stories by Stephen King (out of his first collection, Night Shift), Harlan Ellison (out of a couple of different books), and Ambrose Bierce.
Which book do you wish you had written?
If we're talking about longer fiction, I'd say The Haunting of Hill House (because I'm a hard reader to please, and I found that book to be pretty damned near flawless). I'll also take it upon myself to add a short fiction collection category to this question, and will say that Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco is the one fiction collection I wish I'd written.
If you could use any other author’s creation in your own work, who or what would you use?
I've never considered this question before. In general, the use of other authors' creations doesn't appeal to me.
After thinking about it for a moment, though, I can see how it could be interesting. I think that Medea (the ancient Greek play, not the Tyler Perry film character), would be an interesting subject for a literary remake. If you think about it, you could graft a sort of Poe-like melancholy and madness onto Euripedes' Medea, and use that to infuse the tragedy with an even greater sense of derangement. (Who knows, maybe this question just gave me another story idea.)
Describe typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
For the past few weeks, I've been writing one thousand words each and every day. I love it. I usually start the day off by editing the section I worked on the day before, and then go ahead and plow forward with a fresh one thousand words.
As for unusual writing habits...well, it's hard for me to say (because, to me, they aren't that unusual). I'm aware that others might find them unusual, though. Sometimes, for example, I need to take a break and pace from room to room of my house so I can think through how a character would solve a particular problem. Also, before I submit any manuscript, I read it twice (once printed out on paper and another time on my phone), because I tend to be able to catch some typos more easily on the phone than on paper (and vice-versa). And it's not uncommon, at all, for me to edit a manuscript in the bathtub (either with multiple sheets of paper in there with me, or looking at my phone while in the tub). Although even that isn't really that unusual, because it's only one step removed from reading in the bathtub (which is something probably millions of people do each day). Although, I would never really consider writing a story in the tub. I write while sitting in front of a card table (and fully-clothed, of course).
All things considered, though, my quirks are fairly low-ranking on the scale of author eccentricity. I am, alas, downright boring when compared to an author like Phillip K. Dick (who admitted to popping amphetamines while writing, so he could crank out enough work to make a living) or John Cheever (who admitted to writing stories in his underwear).
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I'm proud of all of the work I've written in the past year, but I'm probably most proud of my novella, Children of No One because it has earned praise from my literary hero, Thomas Ligotti. I can cross “getting a Tom Ligotti blurb” off my bucket list, now.
What is the hardest lesson you have learned with regards to your writing?
I think the hardest lesson I learned, at the start of my writing career, was that I had a lot to learn.
In 2008 I attended a short story critique group workshop that Gary Braunbeck conducted for that year's Context convention in Columbus, Ohio. The story I'd written for the occasion quite rightly took some lumps in the course of critique. Afterwards, I came to realize that – despite having some degree of natural talent with words – I didn't know how to write stories very well.
It was a huge disappointment. I was quite naïve and impatient and thought that all I had to do was show up and – damn – I'd set the horror fiction world on fire. (This is the kind of attitude nurtured from reading short stories in small press anthologies and saying over and over to myself “Christ, I could do better than that!”) That's such an easy thing to say, but much harder to actually do.
So, I had to actually learn that I sucked. It was a hard lesson but probably the most useful lesson I learned. Because it was only after I learned that I sucked that I became willing to assume the role of student. And I've learned so much over time, and have improved steadily. But I wouldn't have learned anything if I hadn't gotten my ego knocked down a peg or two at the start.
What do you like to do to relax?
I tend to be a workaholic, and so relaxation doesn't come naturally to me. I enjoy hiking and spending time in cabins. Time in nature and away from people relaxes me quite a great deal. In the last year, I've also become a Cincinnati Reds fan. I find watching a Reds game on TV to be pretty relaxing (or, at least, it was relaxing, until they decided to blow a two game lead in last year's playoffs.) But I digress.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Children of No One is a novella published by DarkFuse. It's about a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze constructed in rural southern Indiana, as well as about the man who built the maze and the children who have been imprisoned there for the past ten years (and who, actually, can't really remember living anywhere besides the maze). There's an aspect of the occult in the story, too (personified by an eccentric English magician who goes by the name Mr. No One). He decides to use the underground maze as a sort of psychic magnet to attract the God of Nothingness, the Great Black Mouth.
The next book I'm working on is another novella (this one, a wee bit longer), tentatively titled The New God. This book is influenced, in part, by George Romero's obscure 1970s film Martin. In Martin, a young man believes that he's a vampire and an older man shares this belief (and, perhaps recklessly, even encourages the young man to hold this belief). Replace “vampire” with “god” and you have the initial scenario for this novella. The story, of course, differs significantly from Martin – but the film did provide the initial inspiration. I'm quite excited about this project.