Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to bring your story “The Black and White” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came about?
The idea of “The Black and White” has been kicking around in my head for a really long time and was spurred by a terrible thought. I used to have this great fear that I would lose contact with my sister and the only thing that would reunite us would be our father’s death. Over time, that fear or anxiety started to change shape into something more fantastical, like many of my fears. It became a story idea about two estranged sisters who were reunited by their father’s death, except these women weren’t human, and neither was their father.
Originally, the idea was going to be this novel following these two sisters as they carved their way across America, hunting monsters and mending their relationship. But the idea was so strong that I didn’t want to wait to turn it into a longer story and instead wrote it out in a day during one of my August write-a-story-a-day challenges. It took maybe a few hours the first time I wrote it, but then I put it away for about a year to develop my skills and practice writing a bit more. I returned to it this year, a few months back, with a whole new outlook for the story and sharper skills to make it happen. I put it through two rounds of edits with my critique group, who helped me clarify and heighten what I was going for within the story. They were especially helpful at getting me to up the emotions of the piece. I first sent it out to The Dark, then Apex, next Nightmare, and finally it found a home at Fantasy!
The strongest theme I got from this story was that taking revenge for what happened in the past can be essential to moving forward, surrounded by feelings of exhaustion and abandonment. Were you hoping to generate those reactions in your readers, or were you looking for something else?
It’s funny that you mention that theme because, while it is definitely the sisters’ driving theme or motivation, it’s not so much the story’s. The story’s theme was based around the destructive effect of an “us vs them” or a Manichean way of being and how it can distract from everything else surrounding you. The feelings or reactions I wanted the reader to feel aren’t related to the theme but to the sisters’ relationship. I wanted readers to feel the fractured relationship of the sisters and how they slowly tried to mend themselves when faced with each other. I wanted the readers to feel that pull to run away, but the need to stay. That feeling of missing someone even if you don’t really know them anymore. If I could cast the readers into reacting, it would be to want the sisters to mend their relationship and stay together, whether or not that meant following their nature or choosing their own path.
I was intrigued by the way you set up Maria and Mal as vampire-esque hunters, and how there were times it struck me as metaphorical as much as literal. What led you to add that layer to the story, and are the hand-tentacles your own creation or something from the wider world?
Vampires hunting vampires is something I’ve always found interesting. I’m a fan of Buffy, Supernatural, and the other paranormal hunter shows where monsters hunt monsters on the regular. It always brings up so many themes around self-hate and wrestling with aspects of ourselves by destroying those who remind us of who we are.
I don’t think there’s anything new under the tentacle sun. For me, the imagery of hand-tentacles was introduced by The Faculty when I was young. There’s this very specific scene where hand, or rather, finger tentacles, appear that has lived rent-free in my mind ever since I was like 13. The addition of being able to see the sisters’ second-skins as tentacles was a later one I added because I thought it would help lock this story and the characters in the reader’s mind more.
The title you chose, “The Black and White,” simultaneously carries simple and complex meanings. In what ways did this title speak to you?
So many ways! But the main ones were visual and thematic. The visual meaning leans into the road tripping or driving setting of the story and the black and white stripes on the road. The thematic meaning plays into the black-and-white thinking at play in the story that drives the sisters to do what they do and behave the way they do.
Is there anything you’re working on now that you’d like to talk about? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I am one of those writers constantly working on projects. I’m currently querying a horror fantasy book, also with vampire-esque creatures, about Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and monsters. I’m also working on revisions and rewrites for a dark fantasy about home, death, and growing up. I publish weekly on my websites, Byline or By Crook and At Home Pro Writers. Byline is my author site where readers can find updates about stories I’m working on and find links to my published work. At Home Pro Writers is my site for helping writers become better at their craft.
In the coming months, readers can find my stories in tons of places! I have a nonfiction piece out in the October horror issue of The Writer on writing thematic horror (like “The Black and White”). I also have a dark fantasy novelette, “To Carve Home in Your Bones,” coming out from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in their Nov/Dec 2022 issue. The novelette is about a shipwrecked swim team trying to make a home in a world where trauma monsters burst from your skin—it’s a doozy! I also have a short story coming out in Interzone Issue #295 called “Building Blocks” about home, self-identity, and what we do for things we want. I also write a monthly horror short fiction and poetry review series for Tor Nightfire called “Into the Night” and review books monthly for Lightspeed Magazine.
Spread the word!