February 18, 2014

The Monster Can't Be Hated: an interview with Mary SanGiovanni, author of "The Fading Place"

I had the good fortune to read Mary SanGiovanni's thriller, The Fading Place, recently. The review appeared on the blog yesterday, and as an added treated, I got the chance to ask Mary a few questions about the novella and writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: With DarkFuse, the novella has really been afforded a place to shine, especially with the rise of ebooks I feel, and The Fading Place wound up being another strong example of what a good, taut thriller should look like. Was this story designed to be a novella from the outset or was that just how it turned out once you had a draft finished?

Mary: Thank you! Yes – writing it, I knew that the best length for making this kind of story work would be a novella. A short story would have made it feel too rushed and the characters too underdeveloped; a novel would have drawn out the tension maybe too long to keep it sustained. A novella seemed like the right form to tell the story at the pace and level of development I wanted to achieve.

Gef: Simone feels like a villain that is a special kind of crazy. It's like even she is aghast by her own mania during certain moments. Was she a character that came to you fully formed or did her rather tenuous grip on reality and dire need to be close to little Haley develop over the course of drafting the story?

Mary: She developed into a more human, more layered person, I think, as the story developed. I had originally considered the focus of the horror on the idea that this deranged woman wanted to take away the most precious thing a mother has. As I was writing it, though, and exploring Simone's motivation for wanting the baby, I realized that what I had was a woman that you wanted to hate because you could both sympathize and completely abhor her. To me, the real horror in people like Simone is that they aren't alien types boogeymen so far removed from us that we know we could never identify with them; rather, the idea that she is just as human as Charlie, and but for the misfortune of some chemical imbalances, once on the same trajectory of life as Charlie. That the monster can't be hated and safely distanced from oneself because it is not so much different than we are is frightening to me.

Gef: With the "mother and child trapped in a car" scenes, I couldn't help but pick up a Cujo vibe. Granted, the threat is inside the car for The Fading Place. I don't suppose there was wink-and-nod to Stephen King, was there, or was I just reading too much with that?

Mary: You know, I never thought of that, but it's an interesting point, now that you mention it. I always did find the concept of the car as both prison and protection in that story very unsettling, especially given the overriding and conflicted maternal need for a mother to protect her child, so it could have been a subconscious influence.

Gef: You've been in the trenches for several years now, right in the thick of the morphing landscape of publishing and a horror genre that has been challenged and bolstered by the e-book marketplace. Along with honing your craft as a writer, have you noticed much of an evolution in the business of writing or is it just the same lovely grind with a few more bells and whistles?

Mary: I think some of the basic ideas are the same – you still need to write a good story, you still need to get it into the hands of readers, and you still need to be prolific. However, while the principles might be the same, I think the basic tools of the trade have changed. For example, I think e-books will (and have already begun to) replace mass market paperbacks as the quick reading fix, the airport impulse buy or beach read. I think it's important for writers to include e-book versions of their books as well as print. Also, I think the brick-and-mortar bookstores are essentially being replaced by online stores; therefore, the hand-sell by staff that used to move so many copies of an author's books – that word-of-mouth viral marketing – is being replaced by reviews by online bloggers and e-zines. I think the writer has to take a much bigger role in his/her own self promotion than in the past, which is a whole topic in and of itself to cover, but basically, social media and the internet are new tools to master in terms of self-promotion and marketing. They have their upsides and downsides.

Gef: Despite what a few troglodytes might think, there is no shortage of quality horror fiction written by those of the female persuasion. So, since February is Women in Horror Month, how about some book recommendations? I'll go first and recommend Sandy DeLuca's Hell's Door (another offering from DarkFuse).

Mary: I agree. ;) There are a number of great reads by women horror writers out there. A few off the top of my head: Sarah Langan's AUDREY'S DOOR, Shirley Jackson's HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE or WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Charlotte Gilman Perkin's THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, Kelli Owen's WAITING OUT WINTER. I also think V.C. Andrews' FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC and MY SWEET AUDRINA are scary books.

Gef: And once folks get their fill of The Fading Place, what more can they expect from you in 2014?

Mary: I am currently working on a new novel (a kind of ghost story), a number of short stories, and a new supernatural novella, to all hopefully be completed and published this year. Details as they are made available to the public can be found on my website (http://www.marysangiovanni.com). I also do semi-regular blog postings for Apex Publishing's blogs.