To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.
Next, I’m interviewing Sonora Taylor, author of “Hearts are Just ‘Likes'” in Quoth the Raven.
Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?
I love that his work focuses on a slow building of unease that culminates in terror, as opposed to jump scares, “Gotcha” endings, or supernatural creatures. I’ve read some great horror that incorporates those things, but the horror that sticks with me the most is atmospheric, slow-burn horror that’s rooted in reality – and if something otherworldly is present, it’s not the scariest part of the story.
Pick three adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.
Connected. Frenzied. Violent.
Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?
It’s an update on a story written when this elevator was likely constructed, and most of it takes place on this phone I’m going to use to call for help when the elevator likely breaks down.
Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?
It’s “Hop Frog.” I love many stories by Poe, and think his talent for dark fiction is unique. But as dark and atmospheric and lovely as his works are, “Hop Frog” is the only one that scared me. I still remember everything about reading it: the one lamp on in my room, my old middle school room adorned with posters of JTT and Devon Sawa, the small font and the purple, glossy paperback cover of the book in my hands, and the imagery in my mind of a dwarf stringing up the king and his men in their orangutan costumes, sentencing them to their deaths in front of all of the king’s subjects with none of them the wiser. I had trouble going to sleep that night. I’d tell him all about that (and then explain who the men on the posters were).
As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?
I think the build towards the terror is important. Jump scares and sudden surprises accomplish scares, but it’s the slowly-building terror that sticks with you and settles into your bones. I also think having a sense of the characters beyond their function to the plot is important – internal thoughts, mental processes, etc. Without these, it’s easy for the characters – both good and bad – to just be cartoons that aren’t that scary because they don’t feel real. We know a lot of horror isn’t real, but it has to feel real in order for it to be effective.
As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?
I like to read journeys into dark corners, especially the dark corners of someone’s mind. The mind can be terrifying, especially if it’s a nervous or anxious mind. I’m most drawn to stories that aren’t just about a dark force, but how someone’s responding to that darkness. For instance, my favorite story by H.P. Lovecraft is “The Rats in the Walls,” because the terror isn’t from the rats, it’s from the narrator’s complete mental breakdown at the end.
I enjoy reading these kinds of stories because it’s a way to engage with terror without feeling it so fully. I both read and write stories rooted in suspicion, anxiety, distrust, and fear because those are feelings I struggle with (though not at the dark extremes of my characters). Though it’s a hellish experience in my day-to-day, I feel a strange sense of comfort when experiencing it in fiction. I get the same sense of comfort in dark humor, which I also like to see in the fiction I engage with.
I think many fans of dark fiction have a similar experience. Reading dark fiction allows one to experience darkness at a safe distance, and – unlike the characters – come out safe by the story’s end. It’s choosing to experience fear on your own terms and with a sense of removal from the terror’s grasp.
What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?
“Shadder” by Neil Gaiman. It’s a tiny story that appears in the introduction to “Trigger Warning.” I read it in bed (having learned nothing since reading “Hop Frog” in bed all those years ago). Even though it’s short, even though I knew it was fiction, even though I had all the lights on and even though my bed is up against the wall, I still felt the urge to look behind me by the story’s end.
Who are some of your literary inspirations?
I really like the dark fiction of Flannery O’Connor. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a great example of a subtle, slow-burn build-up to darkness. The way the fate of the family unfolded really stuck with me, as well as O’Connor being satisfied with most of the violence happening off of the page.
I also really like the work of Augusten Burroughs. He writes about a dark life, but with biting humor. “Sellevision” is excellent, but I find the most inspiration from his memoirs. I often re-read “Running with Scissors,” “Dry,” and “A Wolf at the Table” all in a row as a trilogy.
One of my most enduring inspirations is comics. I grew up reading newspaper dailies, slice-of-life indie comics, and Archie. Newspaper dailies and daily web comics especially inspired my humor, slow-burn build-ups, and dialogue. My biggest inspirations include Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), Bill Amend (Foxtrot), and Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine).
What are you currently working on right now?
I’m working on my second novel, Without Condition. It’s about a serial killer navigating through her first relationship – namely, what a relationship means for her side gig. It’s part dark comedy, part chiller, part romance, and part family drama. I expect to release it on February 12, 2019 – just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?
The best place to find me online is my website: sonorawrites.com. You’ll find information about me and my books, as well as a blog that I update once every week or two.
You can also follow me and shelve/review my books on Goodreads.
Finally, you can find my books – both in ebook and paperback – on Amazon.
Sonora Taylor has been writing for many years. She is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Wither and Other Stories, and Please Give. She is also the co-author of Wretched Heroes, a graphic novel co-written and illustrated by Doug Puller. Her work appears in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. She is currently working on her second novel. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.
About Quoth the Raven:
The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.
In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.
Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.