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Random-Ass Interview: S.L. Edwards

How do you truly feel about sleds?

SLE: So I’ve made no secret that I am, in fact, a Texan. But I’ve lived in New Mexico, Central America and now California. I’ve never really been around snow, save for a few ski trips to Colorado. I like the idea of sleds. It sounds like fun. Why wouldn’t they be, right?

Do you worry your work is too political?

No. Fuck no.

But I do worry about getting type-casted into “political horror.” Which is fair, especially for readers and fellow writers looking to find a way to distinguish my work from that of other writers.

Someone said something to me recently, when I was describing a novel idea I’m working on. “Given what’s going on in this country.” I get sentiments like that quite often, even though the vast majority of my stories aren’t explicitly set in the United States. It seems to me that politics, and political themes are universal. There are certain timeless debates in the old Political Science 101 definition of government as “Who gets what, where and how.” Understandably, this invokes a lot of passion in people. As it should. These are defining questions of human activity, and cut directly to our lives and wallets.

I think it would be irresponsible for me to try and run away from these questions, especially in my fiction. I think politics lends itself to horror in particular, because the whole enterprise is terrifying. I don’t believe in many conspiracy theories, and remarkably am a bit more optimistic than one might expect. But at the end of the day, I still stay awake at night. If you are lucky, your government is helmed by moderately intelligent people who have imperfect information, incentives to act in very short-term interests and the command of huge armies. If we are lucky politics is the story of well-intentioned people making profound mistakes.

All this said, I’m not worried about people saying wringing their pearls and bemoaning that S. L. Edwards is “too political.” Quite frankly, if people are too squeamish to read about politics they shouldn’t be reading horror.

But I also write things that also don’t feature politicians or generals. I hope readers seek out those pieces too.

How many avocados for good guacamole?

You know, I actually don’t have a ready-made answer for this. I would guess it depends on how many people are going to be at the party, and if one of them is going to be me. If I’m going to the party, the answer is: as many as you can grab.

Is there a tense you feel you are better in? What tense are you worse in?

This is a fun question!

Some stories lend themselves to the third-person past tense. Like, if I’m writing a character who I know is going to come back for a later story, the past tense lends itself to chronological thinking. It helps me lay out the events and order of multiple stories. I’m also using this tense for the novel idea.

The present tense is far more kinetic. It’s fluid. You can sort of fuse exposition with action, which is good for me because I love exposition a bit too much. I try to use the present tense in my short stories for this reason. I especially like using the second person when I can. Tim Waggoner had a really good piece about the second person, how it forces readers to really imagine that they are someone they are not. S.P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You had some breath-taking second person sequences. John Langan too, has a phenomenal story called “Mother of Stone” (I believe, it’s been quite some time since I’ve read it), told in the second person. I’ve used it myself in a couple of stories, and highly recommend writers at least try writing in it once.

What tense am I worse in? I don’t write in the first-person, present tense a lot. In fact, really only in one story. I don’t know if that’s because I’m worst at it or because I have more fun with the third-person present. I’d have to think about that a bit more.

How do you feel about camping… in tents?

When I can be, I’m a fairly avid outdoorsman. I used to hike quite a lot, and still go camping when I can. This weekend I’m going with some friends to Mammoth. If you can, I recommend it. Fresh mountain air. Good friends. And some quiet time away from screens.

How would you describe your new collection?

It’s dedicated to my mom. And I love my mom.

But seriously, it’s a tough question for me to answer. It’s one I’ve thought about a lot.

The easiest answer is “beautiful,” though not for any reason on my part. I’ve been very fortunate in having a great and repeated collaborator in Yves Tourigny. All but one of the stories has an illustration from Yves, who also did a wonderful wrap around cover. Charles P. Dunphey, my editor and primary enabler, also did a phenomenal job with the layouts. Gwendolyn Kiste contributed an introduction that was just entirely too kind.

Beyond that, and getting to me, the truthful answer is “I’m not sure.” I say that, knowing that this interview is likely being read by my fellow authors and if I’m lucky, potential new readers. Putting a book together is a more emotional undertaking than one would think. Just when you start to feel a little bit of pride, something drags you down. It’s more than a little sad, I think, that the voices in our heads only get amplified with “success.”

Now, having spoke that truth, I can tell you and potential readers about it. “Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts,” is my debut collection. I had that in mind when assembling it, and it offers readers a little bit of everything that I do. My underlying philosophy when approaching horror is that I should be able to remove the supernatural aspects of a story and still be left with a horror story. The themes of the collection, if I did my job right, are relatable and universal. Addiction, cyclical violence, war. These are the ghosts that haunt my stories.

There are a few stories, however, that were told simply for fun. “Golden Girl,” and “And the Woman Loved Her Cats,” were written with fun in mind. Though…if I were to remove the supernatural aspects from these stories, I’d be left with a story about the unease of sudden physical attraction (Golden Girl) and animal hoarding (And The Woman Loved Her Cats).

If you could be a monster, which would you be?

Hrm. I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t want to be: a werewolf. The idea terrifies me, the complete destruction of the self and being subsumed in violence that you can’t control. The loss of your soul (if you believe in that sort of thing) and the inability to control yourself.

I find that terrifying. In a very Ligottian sense, even.

I don’t think I’d like to be a vampire either. Yes, you’re immortal, but only if you kill people. And you can’t go out in the sunlight. And you can’t eat garlic. That’s a non-starter, because garlic is delicious and garlic bread is life.

So many monsters are cursed, in some sense. At least the popular ones. No desire on my end to be a mummy, a creature from the black lagoon. Certainly not a zombie.

If I had to choose, I suppose it would be fun to be something like Randall Flag or Nyarlathotep. A shapeshifter. A traveler between worlds. Something with a secret, hidden knowledge and a set of interests that keep it going.

Yeah, I think I’d make a perfectly fine crawling chaos.

Favorite swear?

The other day I just got fed up and called someone “an insufferable chode.” That’s not a swear, but it did make me laugh. And it was a crowd pleaser.

My grandma throws around the phrase “They don’t know whether to shit or go blind,” and I’ve been bringing that into my vernacular too.

How’s California this time of year?

Not gonna lie, pretty awful. I live in the desert, and I kinda hate the weather. I oscillate between thinking the dry heat is better or worse than North Texas, which is an inexplicably humid swamp with mosquitos the size of baseballs.

There aren’t many mosquitos here, so I suppose that’s good. Lord have mercy though, this place does tend to catch fire.

What are some of your goals in the coming years?

The most immediate goal is to wait and see how “Whiskey” is received. So much of this (again, no one tells you this) is patience, and patience is my least favorite virtue. Just ask poor John Linwood Grant. Or Robert Wilson. Or Obadiah Baird. But it’s the truth. I’ve got to try and wait and see how the collection does. Initially reception has been quite positive, and that makes me happy. But really by the end of the December I should have a better idea of what avenue forward is best.

I do have a novel idea, I alluded to it in the interview. I’d like to write that one, though my discipline for longer works of fiction is pretty…in development, I guess. I’d like to promote more of my fellow writers. Especially the newer ones. I’ve gotten bad about spotting new up-and-comers, but I think that would be the most valuable thing I could do. Boost and help them.

Are you afraid of closets?

Kinda, actually. Closets are our first fears. They’re the darkest parts of the house, except maybe if your house has a basement, and they’re where you keep so many parts of yourself. Where you hide things.

I always thought the idea of a monster under the bed to be silly. But in the closet? Sure. Those spaces can go back forever. Those coats can fold between worlds. That’s hard for a kid to deal with.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to write?

I was the best man at my friend’s wedding. Two of my favorite people got married, and I had to nail the landing on that speech. I don’t think I did them justice.

Within fiction…hrm. I guess that depends on how we assess what “hard” means. The most time I spent on a piece was what ultimately became “my Vastarien story.” Jon Padgett and co told me that they might take the story with some serious revisions. Those revisions took about half a year, and the input of fellow author and friend Amber Fallon. But the effort paid off, and “The Hollow Songs of Father Prester” will be out sometimes this year (I think). And it’s a Ligottian weird western. I think that’s pretty slick.

The most emotional piece I’ve written is a story called “Please Don’t Worry,” a second-person ghost story that will also be out this year. This was a doozy, and not at all a war story. Instead it was a look at a family of good people, who are preyed upon and swallowed whole by something that has targeted them for some inexplicable reason. It was hard to hurt those characters.

Thanks for taking part. Any plugs?

Thanks for having me! Plugging other authors…*cracks knuckles*

Nadia Bulkin, in my view is the single most important voice in horror right now. Her work encompasses socio-political themes and magical realism. Hers, really is the most seamless combination of horror and magical realism. Recently, she’s also moved into something new. Her story in “Ashes and Entropy” is what we might call “sports horror.” And her thoughts on sports as tribalism, ritual and putting your body through absolute agony for spectacle is fascinating. It really wasn’t something I had thought about before, but makes for compelling fiction and non-fiction writing. If readers haven’t, they need to go back and grab her debut collection She Said Destroy.

John Langan’s newest collection Sefira and Other Betrayals came out this year. Characteristic of John Langan, it’s absolutely stunning. Just, really well-written and heartbreaking things. I’m currently re-reading Anna Karenina now, and I’ll have to ask John one day if that story inspired the collection.

I hate to admit it, but John’s is the only new collection I’ve read this year. But there are many coming out. Peter Rawlik’s collection predated mine at Gehenna and Hinnom, John S. MacFarland’s is following, along with poetry collections from those poets, Ashley Dioses and KA Opperman. Ross E. Lockhart told me about a Jeffery Thomas collection, The Unnamed Country that sounds brilliant. Farah Rose Smith’s debut collection is out too, and Scott R. Jones and Betty Rocksteady have their collections coming out too. Laura Mauro, who is a fellow fan of Stannis Baratheon, also has her debut collection coming out.

Matt Cardin has an omnibus coming out too. To Rouse Leviathan is going to kill us all. Leviathan should be thoroughly roused.

Max Booth III and Gwendolyn Kiste had the best novels I’ve read this year. Stunning stuff.

Let’s see…I mentioned John Linwood Grant, S.P. Miskowski. Mer Whinery is one of my all time favorites, and I have a big place in my heart for his writing. He’s a great friend too. Jonathan Raab, who probably won’t see this, is another one of my favorites. Amber Fallon. Robert S. Wilson is a great editor, but also a powerhouse of a writer too. His stuff is criminally under-read, but he sent me something to read this year that I thought was awesome. Just, stunning stuff really. Jon Padgett and Michael Wehunt are NOT, under read. They’ve been quite successful, but if you haven’t you should check out their debut collections too.

If you haven’t heard of Matthew M. Bartlett, or his cat, Larry, it’s probably too late. They’re both in your basement. Touching your things. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is also there, though he’s probably being nice about it.

Same with this guy “Sean M. Thompson” too. Keep an eye on him, because I expect good things, partially because Farmington Correctional set my expectations very high.

My friend Russell Smeaton could also use some love for his debut collection, Bedtime Stories. As could Duane Pesice’s “Crazytown,” which is coming out in November as I understand it.

Some other, more “hidden” gems of the genre include: John Paul Fitch, Can Wiggins, Sarah Walker, Lena Ng, Rob F. Martin, William Tea, Matthew St. Cyr, Maxwell Ian Gold. Fiona Maive Geist. Brookelynne Warra. Erica Ruppert and Alana I. Capria-Linares. Rebecca Allred. Gordon B. White. Garrett Cook. Luke Maynard. Tom Mavroudis. Mike Thorn. Calvin Demmer. Not all of these folks are “hidden.” Some are far more prominent than me, and rightfully so. But I need to stop this interview at some point.

And of course, Christopher Ropes. Christopher is one of the single most encouraging people on this planet. And he’s a great, great GREAT writer. His raw emotion, his empathy, and his command of the English language have led to some of the best handfuls of stories I have ever read. He transcends horror, and really cuts straight through all that dripping red meat right to the white, cracked bone. I cannot stress how fortunate we are to share this world with him. Chris knows that if he doesn’t let me blurb his debut collection that I will burn this whole ****ing planet to the ground.

And then I should spend some time on a particularly difficult plug: Last weekend we lost someone truly special in Sam Gafford. Sam was prolific, very prolific. His novel The House of Nodens was extremely good. His short story collection The Dreamer in Fire was likewise amazing. His novel, Whitechapel I’m told was very inventive.

Sam was one of the most caring, patient people in horror. He had no natural enemies, but many quick friends. He could write about occult detectives, Lovecraft, but Sam’s writing was best when it was his own. Nodens was the best parts of King and Straub, with a leaking darkness that cut right through me. He was one of the first people to encourage me, and to keep me going.

So many of us miss him, and I want anyone reading this who has the time and money to buy his stuff and leave reviews. Sam deserves far more credit than he got in life. And we can make that happen.


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