• “Wild Acre” first appeared in Visions Fading Fast from Pendragon Press, a collection of novellas written by a handful of prominent names in the genre. How did you get to be part of this project? Did editor Gary McMahon approach you with a set theme or general aesthetic approach for the volume?
Gary asked me for a novella, but he left it wide open as far as the theme was concerned. I was flattered to be asked — I think Gary and I approach horror and dark fantasy from very similar vantage points. The story wasn’t written specifically for that book, though. It had already been bounced from a few places; one editor called it an “anti-horror” story. It’s always been one of my more polarizing stories. Gary understood its intent immediately, though, and I was pleased he helped to usher it into the world.
• I believe that at the time “Wild Acre” marked your longest published work to date. How did you approach the notion of tackling the format? Had you tried your hand at lengthier efforts before?
Length wasn’t a consideration at all. The story just took as long as it took. In fact, I had to ask Gary if it was all right if the story came in a little short of the definition for a novella, and he was kind enough to allow me some leeway. Because this was a story about the aftermath of a supernatural event, I wanted to make sure I took the time to let people’s lives and conversations play out naturally. I wanted slice of life scenes. The party scene specifically needed space to breathe before the climax. That just ended up translating to a longer story than I’d been writing up to that point. Though I did write something longer, once: a 20,000 word novella sometime in the years before I started publishing again, which has since been lost, and mercifully so.
• Did you want to write a werewolf story prior to this anthology? What were you hoping to bring to the lycanthrope arena with your contribution?
I did. I love playing with the tropes of genre fiction, and the werewolf is one of my favorites. If done right, I think they’re genuinely scary monsters. So I wanted to make the werewolf encounter visceral and terrifying, and also beautiful in the way that only horror can be. But more importantly, I didn’t want to subsequently go down the same worn path that so many monsters narratives do: the paranoid hunt, the final confrontation. I wanted to write about what it would be like to experience it and then never get that resolution. What if you were revealed to be a coward, and you never got to atone for it? What happens if Chekov’s gun never gets fired? The lack of resolution is the point of the story. It fell in so naturally with the story’s other themes. It proved to be a sticking point with some readers and editors, but I’m pleased with how it came out.
• Was it already a conscious decision to leave the supernatural in the periphery before you put the story to paper or did you find yourself going down that path during the composition?
It was my intention from the beginning. I’d been writing a lot of stories with that approach. I was fixed on the idea of writing stories about background characters. We all know what the heroes of stories like this do. What about the other people, who are caught in the wake of something monstrous or supernatural? How are their lives changed?
• Do you expect or hope to ever do another werewolf story? Are there other creatures of myth or other fictional universes that you’ve wanted to apply your voice to?
I think I might take a crack at it again one day, just because I love werewolves so much. But there are no immediate plans, and I have no idea in place just yet. No other specific creatures I have my eye on, at the moment. I did my spin on most of them in the collection, North American Lake Monsters. Right now I’m having fun playing around with different tropes: a baroque Hell, retro-space horror, mad scientists and diabolists. The next book will be a lot pulpier in flavor.
• Your blog records that the story was workshopped at the Sycamore Hill group. Care to share some of that process? What elements of the story did their feedback help you finesse and strengthen?
As I recall, the story was mostly finished by the time I brought it there. It had already been bounced by editors a couple of times, so I felt that maybe there was a problem with it that I couldn’t see. Fortunately, the response it received was mostly positive. They gave me the confidence to keep sending it out. Although I should say that I got my title there. The Sycamore Hill Writers’ Workshop is held at a retreat in the Appalachians called Wild Acres. When I brought the story there, it had the dreadful title “Alpha Dogs.” I knew it was a horrible title, and I begged for help. Most of the suggestions didn’t fit any better. It wasn’t until near the end when Karen Joy Fowler suggested naming after the place we held the workshop. Not only was it a tip of the hat to the location, it was thematically perfect. Karen gets credit for the title.
• You mentioned in the past that you’ve considered “Wild Acre” to be your best work. Is that still true now? What did you feel you had achieved with this story?
I don’t know that it’s still true, or even if it was true when I said it. What satisfied me about that story was that I managed to get what was in my head almost exactly onto the page. Usually there’s a level of distortion between the idea and the reality. You have to settle for however much of the idea you can translate onto the page. Woody Allen once said that The Purple Rose of Cairo was his favorite of his own films, because it came the closest to realizing his original vision. That’s how I feel about “Wild Acre.” And I’m proud of that closing image. I think I hit the bell just right on that one.
• What’s a short story you’ve read recently that really blew your socks off?
“Past Reno,” by Brian Evenson. It was originally published in Letters to Lovecraft, edited by Jesse Bullington, and you can find it reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Seven. It’s a strange, haunting story, full of longing. It’s a beautiful nightmare. When I finished it, I thought, “That’s what I aspire to.”
• What might our readers expect to see from you in the future?
My second collection of stories has sold to Small Beer Press, so that should be appearing sometime in late 2016 or early 2017. And I’m working diligently on a novel; one hopes it won’t be too far behind.
Keep up with Nathan’s work at his official site!
Jose Cruz is the editor-in-chief of The Haunted Omnibus. He lives in southwest Florida with his wife, their very furry child, and a decent amount of books.