Photo credit: Courtney Gould
Since I was in middle school, I’ve wanted to be a published author. What person doesn’t, as a child, dream of creating something that changes lives? It didn’t matter how
I changed lives; I wanted to elicit the kinds of reactions I had to my favorite books and shows. I wanted to devastate people. I wanted to make them really feel
something. I took writing classes in middle school, wrote like mad in high school, posted my work in online forums, exchanged rough drafts with friends in hopes of satiating my need for an audience. When I got to college in 2012, I was fairly certain I was on the right path. I knew what I wanted to do, I’d practiced, and all I needed was the degree. But in my first-ever college writing class, I was asked a question that changed my entire outlook on writing.
What do you want your work to do
No one show this essay to my senior thesis professor, because here I am five years after graduation, a book launch looming on the horizon, writing about the same thing I did back then. In 2016, with graduation only a month or so away, my professor asked us to write a statement on what we want to build our careers on. What is the thing that makes our work different from everyone else’s? What is the thread we want to carefully sew into all of our work? At the time, I’d written a handful of short stories, a horrible draft of a low fantasy, and the outline of what would be a horrible contemporary fantasy. When asked what it was that connected all my work, I wanted
to say "bad writing."
But even then, there was one device I felt particularly attached to. It was in my fantasy, in my short stories, in my outline. It’s all over The Dead and the Dark
. It’s in my sophomore novel, Echo Sunset
, as well. As I draft an adult fantasy, it rears its head. This common thread is using the speculative to highlight the real.
Back in college, the books that I most closely associated with my goals were Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle
. I was enchanted by the way that Stiefvater always tied the light, whimsical, speculative elements in her work to real-world consequences and issues. I wanted the magic in my work to feel connected to the world we live in. I wanted it to explain something about how the world works, how it should
work, and all the ways it’s broken. All of my favorite speculative horror does this: The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones asks us to think about the complicated role of tradition in Indigenous communities; The Cabin at the End of the World
by Paul Tremblay asks us to look at the sacrifices queer people have to make for family; The Bright Lands
by John Fram interrogates the way a legacy of people forced to hide who they are can fester into something evil.
Writing the speculative with a purpose is what made me love writing.
In 2018, when I began drafting what would become The Dead and the Dark
, I didn’t know what exactly I meant to say. I had a couple of key things in each hand — a small town that doesn’t like outsiders, two girls standing on opposite sides of this town trying to reckon with their differences. But like the books I discussed in my senior thesis, I wanted my work to say something broader. I wanted it to strike a chord deeper down and pull something out that we’re all afraid of. I’m not from a small town, but I have family and friends in small towns who painted a vivid picture for me. A place where nothing is private, where your business belongs to the community, and where belonging is everything. That’s when the Dark was born, and that’s when I understood what The Dead and the Dark
Without spoiling it, The Dead and the Dark
is, in a way, two stories. The primary plot is the one I mentioned above. Two girls with very different upbringings are forced to reckon with the legacy and secrets of an isolated small town to solve a string of disappearances. But the Dark has its own story as well. It is a kind of monster that has existed as long as memory, and it has sinister intentions. And like any good monster, it is created by humans and the human experience. All throughout drafting, redrafting, and revising, I was pushing myself to tie the Dark to the greater world. Yes, we’re all scared of an evil presence that lingers in the shadows, waiting to prey on us. But there are forces like that in the real world, too, and they’re much harder to pin down. They’re much harder to get rid of. To get to the heart of what makes the Dark terrifying, I needed to dig into what I was afraid of in real life.
Isolation. Loneliness. Knowing that, no matter how hard you try, there’s nowhere and no one who will love you.
I’ve often said that The Dead and the Dark
is not really
a murder mystery or even a romance, when it’s boiled down to its purpose. It is a love story in the sense that it is a story about love. It is a story about a town and the way the people there live, whom they choose to love, and the people they believe cannot belong. It is a story about how hate and love are always intertwined. The Dark is a monster that feeds on that feeling, spreading its poison into small communities until it’s the only thing left. It is the human element that makes the Dark as scary as it is.
I believe that this connection to a real-world feeling — a real-world experience for marginalized people in rural communities — is what makes the Dark scary. It’s what makes people root for TDATD
’s protagonists, and it’s what makes people care about the twists and turns. Writing the speculative with a purpose is what made me love writing The Dead and the Dark
. As people begin reading, I look forward to all the different ways this message will land. The pieces of real life readers will find in the pages.
finds its place on bookstore shelves, my attention pivots to my next book, Echo Sunset
. I am excited and anxious to do this all again. I am excited to carve out a piece of life and turn it into something otherworldly. While the focus is different, the setting is different, and the "monster" is different, I believe that these books go hand in hand. Girls trapped in a monstrous cycle, facing off against a force that is both supernatural and all too real. I force my protagonists to reckon with the issues inside them before they can square off against their big bads, and I believe their growth is better for it. Soon, I’ll get to talk about that book in more detail. Soon, I’ll be at this exact same point with another story, talking about the real fears I pulled from my own chest to make a monster.
On August 3, 2021, The Dead and the Dark
will enter the world. If it’s successful, readers might think twice about the types of people they include and those they exclude. I’m not naive enough to think that every problem in the world can be solved with the power of love, but employing basic human empathy and kindness is always a good place to start. This is the message I finally found in the words of The Dead and the Dark
, and it’s the one I hope readers come away understanding. And as the years go on, I look forward to turning everyday evils into ghosts, monsters, aliens, and more. If we can’t defeat hate head-on in real life, maybe we can do it in the pages of a book. I can offer that much.
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writes books about queer girls, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 2016 with a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing and Publishing. Born and raised in Salem, OR, she now lives and writes in Tacoma, WA, where she continues to write love letters to haunted girls and rural, empty spaces. The Dead and the Dark
is her debut novel.