Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…. Why yes, it’s another consecutive post on The Belle! I know, I’m excited too. But not nearly as excited as I am to tell you about our latest author, Pamela Troy. She is featured in State of Horror: Louisianna, coming soon from Charon Coin Press.
What influences your stories?
Nobody could tell a ghost story (or a joke) like my parents. My childhood home in Louisiana was full of short fiction anthologies, and outside was an environment dark with bayous, Spanish moss, and racial guilt. All of that was certainly an influence, but what truly started me on the road to writing horror fiction was an Alfred Hitchcock anthology – Stories that Scared Even Me. Several of its stories have remained with me after forty years, including Margaret St. Clair’s “The Estuary,” Theodore Sturgeon’s “It,” and William Wood’s “One of the Dead,” a truly great haunted house story. It has a final line that still trickles down my back like melting ice when I read it.
I discovered Elizabeth Bowen after I knew I wanted to write. Her stories showed me the most effective chills are inspired, not by graphic descriptions, but by sparking the reader’s imagination. “The Cat Jumps,” the story of party in a house where a husband had murdered his wife, is frightening because it’s less a haunted house story than a fable about everyday misogyny and the violence lurking just beneath its surface. I remember reading it in college and thinking “If only I could write something like that!”
How do you balance writing and the realities of life?
I am lucky. My husband is a writer, so he understands what’s involved, and I work in the Events Department at a cultural treasure here in San Francisco – The Mechanics’ Institute, a very old membership library. Every day I come into contact with both professional and aspiring writers, and that definitely lessens the inherent loneliness of writing. My job doesn’t require me to go in until the afternoon, so I can go to my desk first thing in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, and spend at least two hours writing or editing or sending stories out.
One reality writers have to confront is rejection, so it helps to have a diamond-hard ego and an obsession with storytelling. While I enjoy good fiction and admire other writers, the most fascinating stories for me are based on what I see and hear around me at home, at work, at parties, at family gatherings, in dreams, or in pictures and photographs. Those are the stories I want to embellish and tell, the stories I’m convinced only I can do right. “Doing it right” is never out of reach. You just have to do it wrong a few times in as many drafts as it takes.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The long slog towards a good, finished story is my biggest challenge. My stories always go through several very different incarnations, with additions, subtractions, shifts in emphasis, etc. If I feel my attention flagging, I set the story aside and move on to another one. Otherwise, I’ll get to the point where I despise every word. Later, when I look at it with fresh eyes, it’s often clear exactly what needs to be taken out, rejiggered, and rewritten.
“Risen” had to go through that process longer than many of my other stories. Any writing based heavily on childhood memories runs the risk of including too much and going on for too long. You want to invite everyone to the party. I found myself thinking “I must include him,” or “that incident was so interesting I’ve got to figure out a way to fold it in” or “that image is unforgettable. Surely there’s a place for it!”
The result was a vast, meandering splat of words on the screen in front of me, none of which had any real meaning any more. So, I put it aside and went back to it a year later. Then I was able to tell my year-ago-self “oh, that’s good, but for pity’s sake what are you going on about here? And what is he doing in this story? Can’t you see the poor man is lost? Find some other story for him. Yes, yes,” (ruthlessly scratching with my pencil) “I’m sure you found that very interesting, but it’s not interesting, Cupcake. Out it goes. The interesting part is in the next paragraph, and you need to build a bit on that.”
That’s the part that makes the “slog” worthwhile — the moment when the branches part and you can see exactly where you’re going.