This is the eighth post published in conjunction with the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology. The Great Unknown is available from Booktopia, Readings, Avid Reader, Fishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.
A.S. Patric‘s excellent third book, Bruno Kramzer, was released by Finlay Lloyd last September. He is also the author of the collections Las Vegas for Vegans (Transit Lounge) and The Rattler & Other Stories (Spineless Wonders). Here he tells us about his dark and powerful story ‘Memories of Jane Doe’.
What did you enjoy/find challenging about writing to this particular brief or theme?
There’s a notion of separate categories, of the naturalistic and the fantastic, but I can’t slot ideas in that way when I’m working. An idea emerges before or even after you begin writing, but whenever it strikes your imagination alight, all you want to do (carefully, desperately) is kindle that illuminating energy. Trying to control how strange or realistic the emerging piece is, would kill it. I was just happy that my story ‘Memories of Jane Doe’ came along when it did and that it was welcomed into The Great Unknown.
Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.
I had a creative writing teacher who had spent years in jail. He told a story about battery hens which might have been more reflective of his prison experience than a actual phenomenon. This is the way he told his anecdote/fable: Battery hens are raised in a hectic, compressed world that gets worse as they grow. A relentless, ruthless trajectory from birth to death, but along the way they’re prone to a particular kind of murderous frenzy. A chicken within the cage can get nicked and display a spot of blood. The other birds in the cage see the spot of blood and begin to violently peck at it, until the chicken is dead. Other chickens get spots of blood and the process continues until the whole cage is filled with dead or dying birds. My story is about three people who all die because they don’t see that they are living within a similar cage/cell.
What memories do you have of watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or of reading spooky/uncanny stories as a kid? Did these play any role in your developing imagination? Which films, TV shows, books etc provide that same sort of allure for you these days?
There were a few episodes of The Twilight Zone that fired through my imagination so deeply that, even now, decades later, I find story shards rising up again to reflect on a particular thought or feeling. The best of these kinds of stories can function as a personal, elemental myth. Beyond that, it was being a kid, sitting on the carpet and as close to the television as possible, watching the opening credits of The Twilight Zone. In the next moment anything, literally anything might happen. That break from the mundane sequence of our daily lives is still what most people look for in books, films, shows, etc. A place where it is neither day nor night, where dreams enter the mind even though you are not sleeping. Writers that have that allure for me these days are Stephen Millhauser, Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Robert Walser, Haruki Murakami, George Saunders, Edgar Allan Poe, Gerald Murnane, Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr, Etgar Keret, and I could go on.
Despite her success as a writer of quality macabre and psychological thrillers, Patricia Highsmith was, to her great disappointment, never published in The New Yorker. Has anything changed? What thoughts do you have on the current status of writing in this genre?
If you’re speaking specifically about The New Yorker then, yes, I think there have been some changes. Among other exciting writers, they publish George Saunders regularly, and his stories are often speculative fiction. ‘Escape from Spiderhead’ is an example. In fact, it’s a masterpiece very much in the vein of the science fiction classic, Flowers for Algernon.
If you’re speaking more generally about the acceptance of the same story elements in literature, I’d say that mainstream literature is itself a genre. In Australia we are dominated by rural locations written in a naturalistic mode. Think of it as a restaurant franchise: the menu remains the same year after year and apparently it comforts the general patron to see the same faces managing our dining experience and the same names in the kitchen preparing the expected meals. There are exceptions and some allowances are made, but they go on the specials board. The era of franchise restaurants might soon end. It doesn’t really matter though—there are all kinds of places now to find more interesting culinary/literary options for appetites bored by the usual fare.
You might also enjoy reading about stories by Marion Halligan, Guy Salvidge, Kathy Charles, Ali Alizadeh, Ryan O’Neill, Carmel Bird, Rhys Tate, and Alex Cothren.