Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Susie Moloney?
I’m a writer of horror fiction, and I live in Canada and the US, spending half my time in New York City with my playwright husband, Vern Thiessen. I’m a mom to two sons and a blind dog, and I love them all equally, no favourites.
I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, although when I first started writing, I used to illustrate them as well, and color the pictures. Somewhere there’s a pretty epic illustrated story about a black water beetle (“Blackie’s Story”) who isn’t black, but green. No black crayon.
To date, I’ve written four novels, Bastion Falls, A Dry Spell, The Dwelling and The Thirteen. My claim to fame is that A Dry Spell received the largest advance ever, in Canada. That may have changed by now, but it was a big deal back in the day. I’ve been on the cover of two national magazines. The week my cover on Chatelaine came out, was the week that Princess Diana died. True story: I walked into an airport bookstore to pick up something to read on the plane, and there was my cover, right next to the People Magazine Princess Diana cover. I turned around and ran out. It was too overwhelming, my face right next to hers. I read the in-flight magazine that trip.
Things Withered, Stories is my very first collection. I’m no longer a collection virgin.
What inspired you to write these particular stories? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
All my inspiration comes from really mundane, prosaic sources. I know everyone says that. But I’ll tell you, regular, ordinary everyday people terrify me. You know why? Because everyone has something special about them. Everyone. We were raised on that tenet. So if some regular Joe is standing in front of you, and you can’t quite tell what’s special about him — I just naturally assume his special quality must be that he’s a serial killer. Or what if he’s a vampire (if it’s at night), or a warlock hell-bent on collecting enough souls to pay a debt to Satan? What if there’s a suburban mom, slowly letting her oppression and anger drive her into madness and as a means of releasing that horrible pressure cooker of rage, she poisons cookies and brings them over? What if the cookies are super-good and you eat like, ten of them (not saying I’ve ever eaten ten cookies at once)?
I’m pretty sure regular, ordinary, everyday folk are seriously dangerous.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
The first genre book I ever read, if you can call it a genre book, was The Exorcist. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to read it, I was only a little kid. I certainly knew enough to read it with a flashlight in the cubby hole at my grandparent’s house. It was sufficiently terrifying that I went on to read Jaws I think that same summer. By the time I was a teenager, people were passing around Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and I alternated between horror and those bodice rippers that were all the rage in the ’80s (an entirely different kind of horror).
Up until then I was writing stories about my dog and the odd love story. Often someone died in what I wrote. After I finished reading Cujo, also by King, I just wanted to write something in the tone and mood of that book — and so was born Bastion Falls, my first novel.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Publishing has changed so much since my early days! In a lot of ways it’s much better. We do seem to be in some kind of a transition phase and I’m curious to know where it ends up. This is the most literate epoch in human history — we’re constantly communicating. Email, Facebook posts, Twitter (literate in 140 characters!). Everyone is clever and interesting and sharing. I love/hate it. Being a writer is no longer a special career! On the other hand, there has never been so much access to such an incredible variety of experiences and perspective, that a seeker of the human experience is the beneficiary of an embarrassment of riches, the likes of which have never been seen.
As for writing practices, the only thing I consistently do is burn a candle while I write. Makes me feel like I’m in a dark garret in the middle of Paris (never been, I hear they have garrets).
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
Aside from the aforementioned “Blackie’s Story,” the first substantial piece I ever wrote was about a single-mother vampire by the name of Aria. This was long before the Twilight days, long before vampires were ever even a thing — how about that, right? I invented vampires (maybe not — should probably Google-check that). The story came out of my experience of being a single mom back in the days when that was a bad thing. I felt like a monster much of the time, and I suppose that was my way of dealing with it. In the story the little boy is not a vampire and the mom — Aria — does her best to raise him even as she tries to adapt to her new form. There’s a version of it in Things Withered at the very end of the book, a short film script I wrote to adapt the story in some way.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I love how many women are writing genre now, and how that’s changing the face of genre. I have my favourites, like Gemma Files, Kaaron Warren, Barbara Roden — her book Northwest Passages is absolute not-miss — Tananarive Due, these are all great writers who are writing genre.
I never quite feel like what I’m writing fits exactly into the genre category. It’s not a perfect fit like some of the women I’ve listed. I feel like I’m writing about very dark subject matter, with some supernatural elements.
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’ve started a new novel, but it’s always slow going in the beginning. I always think of the first four-five months of a new novel to be the “mistake-making” time. I change my mind about the direction a character is taking and have to rewrite, or I decide one character is more important than the one I felt was the protagonist and have to rewrite, or I have an existential crisis and decide to spend a week drinking too much, doubting the value of my existence and the value of words in general, and have to spend some time drying out. I’m nearly through this part. Also, there’s still lots of crying.
This new (currently untitled, or more accurately, over-titled) is the first time I’ve written “in period.” It takes place in the very early ’70s. It requires more research than you’d think. Who remembers? You know what’s fun about it? Listening to the music of the time and remembering that most young girls listened to AM radio. Wow that was some really bad music (“Go Away Little Girl”, Donny Osmond), and some really exceptional stuff (“Ain’t No Sunshine”, Bill Withers).
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Right this very moment I’m reading The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott, a stunningly written story about a mother and her daughters on the Vaudeville circuit around the time of the first world war. I’m also reading Manson by John Gilmore. I’m a Gilmore fan, love his gritty edge, his no bullshit style.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m totally obsessed with Bonnie & Clyde. I have about twenty books on the subject and I’m sure I know everything there is to know about the deadly couple. I once started a screenplay, told from Bonnie’s POV and I called it “Dirt.” Never got very far with it, but I think about picking it up again about every six months. I also have a more minor obsession with Tudor history and the reformation. I like to think that gives me Nerd status on the street. I got juice, man.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I have a couple of projects that I’ll see the end of. It’s always nice to finish things. And I have the new novel… I’m hoping that my schedule will clear up enough so that all I’ll be working on is the new book. There’s something so extraordinarily wonderful about waking up in the morning and knowing that the only thing you have to do is toss yourself into the world you are creating and not come up for air until it’s dark.
I do love the dark.
Things Withered is out now, published by ChiZine Publications.