Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews M. Rickert

What was the inspiration for "Holiday"?

Many years ago I wrote a poem that revolved around the idea of a young beauty queen child having been killed by her parents. On several occasions I set aside this particular poem to be included in a submission packet, or I thought I did, but when I checked the packet prior to sending it out, that particular poem would be missing, though it always showed up later. Rather than focus on whether the strange disappearance and reappearance of this poem was caused by a trickster ghost or a subconscious act on my part, I thought about what I knew for sure. Eventually, I decided it was unethical for me to suggest that this child was killed by her parents when I had nothing to base the assumption on other than gossip. I tucked the poem into the “Do Not Send” file where it was soon joined by all the poetry I ever wrote because I discovered that I am not a poet, though that is another story, for another cup of tea.

When I assembled my short stories I realized that I had written, over the years, many that featured dead or missing children. The publication of my collection seemed a good time to break free of that theme and move on to others. I issued myself an edict. No more dead children stories.

Then she came back. I don’t often have ideas for stories; they generally come to me as voices. I’ll just sit down and start writing, sometimes several pages in different voices until one sticks. This day, I wrote, “She says her name is Holiday, but I know she is lying.” Then I wrote a few more lines, realized what it was about, folded it up, tucked it into a desk drawer and tried to forget about it (her).

It stayed there for a long time, until, after a cross country move, I came across the haunted paragraph and, desperate for something to write, gave myself permission to write one more, final, dead child story. But before I did, I needed to do some research. I read every book our local library has on this particular case, including the one written by her parents. In the end, I have no idea who killed her. I thought I’d have a hunch, but I don’t.

I wrote “Holiday” for the dead kids. Not just the famous ones, but the others as well, the kids whose skin color correlates with less news coverage, those whose names we don’t remember. I’m not happy with the ending of this story, but I’m not happy with the beginning of it either. It’s that kind of story.

What for you is more terrifying: the story wherein the horror is internal or external? How has this influenced your writing?

What terrifies me most is the inner beast, the unspoken thoughts, the secret deeds, the unbearable legacy of damage humans have done to each other, the way we pretend none of it has occurred, or if we admit that it has, it is an anomaly, an enigma, a strange crack in the perfect world, when, in fact, the bad things we do to each other defines us.

Humans have the ability to consider existence, time, and space. That so many, in the light of this potential for creation, choose destruction instead, terrifies me. This is why I write horror the way I do. When I have met the monster, its name has always been Human.

Were there any elements of the story that scare you in real life (i.e clowns, ghosts, criminals)?

I’m not afraid of snakes, even rattlers, even when I almost stepped on one, or spiders, though I do prefer they stay outside, or lightening, or bears but once, when I was hiking alone in the high Sierras, a man passed me going the other way on the trail and he sent a shiver down my spine that I remember all these years later. I thought, at the time, how happy I was that there was a group of German tourists hiking not far behind me. That’s what I’m scared of most of all, the stranger whose proximity turns my blood to ice, and, most especially, the one who doesn’t, but should.

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