New Author Spotlight: Allison Mulder
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I remember running around – in middle school, I think – humblebragging about how my science fiction stories felt like fantasy, and my fantasy stories usually involved science. In retrospect, this was not always as intentional as it should have been, and “science” was a pretty strong word for the slapped-together fantasy biology and abstract reasoning behind how my fantasy worlds worked. So, no, this is not a new direction by any means, but hopefully the execution is better than it was in my early days.
The theme for this issue is Anticipation. Did you write “Decay” for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
I actually wrote “Decay” for a horror class a few semesters ago at my college. It was meant to be the final project. I came up with the general idea about two seconds after our first class session. This means I had a lot of time to brood between the first stirrings and the final draft, and at some point this impending tooth-fairy-world-takeover thing took shape, which later seemed to fit the Anticipation theme well.
Why did you cast a villain as your story’s sympathetic main character? Were there any heroes in “Decay,” at all? Where have all the uncomplicatedly good people gone?!
Short answer: I love a good villain. I’m glad – if a bit surprised – you found him sympathetic!
Long answer: I’m a firm believer in the idea that every villain believes they’re the hero of their own story. Likewise, I’m not sure anyone can be called “uncomplicatedly good.” There are always complications, whether it’s “how to stay good,” “how to respond to badness,” or “whose definition of good are we going by?” Frankly, I think I’d be bored by an uncomplicatedly good character, because the complications are where all the interesting stuff happens.
Medium answer: The good people in this story are all in bed, asleep, after physically rejecting the worst parts of themselves, completely unaware that those worst parts of themselves are coming to seek revenge…
Why go to the trouble of giving creatures from a well-established legend their own systems of beliefs and laws, separate from the stories people tell about them? It seems like a lot of effort for a short story. Why not simply contemporize the existing myth? Or disguise your monsters as something less obviously like their inspirations?
I’ve always loved stories that are able to twist the familiar into something very different. One story can turn into so many different things – as proven by an abundance of fairy tale retellings. I especially like the challenge of stepping back from something well-established in our world, and looking at it in a new way. Sometimes a very creepy way.
As for whether this was too much effort for a short story, I come up with complicated belief systems and laws for my throwaway daydreams, too. That’s just how my brain operates, constantly turning over all the implications of a new idea, filling in all the little pieces that make it work. And if I’m going to puzzle through it all anyway, I may as well write it down.
In this case, the idea I started off with was, “Why would the tooth fairy even want teeth enough to pay for them? What would they do with them?” Which then merged with thoughts about where the monster under the bed / in the closet comes from, and then…
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
I have a growing stockpile of short stories, some of which work better than others. Several I hope to publish at some point, a larger number will hopefully never see daylight, and then there are some that are just odd. Nice, but odd, and potentially uninteresting to anyone but me.
Ditto with novels. I have a lot of drafts. Some are creeping ever-closer to the querying stage, but school has made it difficult to get through revisions. Luckily, I graduate in December, which means I should have plenty of time to revise while wallowing in post-grad unemployment.
The novel I’m closest to querying actually shares some themes with “Decay,” such as [mostly] invisible monsters and sociopathy and a shortage of uncomplicatedly good characters. I sometimes tweet about it under the hashtag #FairyPrisonBook (as @silent_pages).
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I have two identical puffy blue bedspreads. One for college, one for my parents’ house while on breaks. Usually I’ll burrito into one of those, find the nearest bed or couch, and spend far too long on my laptop, otherwise immobile. Music essential. Snacks optional (but recommended). Results may vary. Drowsiness may occur (but that’s because this often happens between, like, midnight and three in the morning).
Sometimes, to mix it up, I’ll pause wherever I am in my day to jot down a thought in a composition book. Hours later I will look up, stunned and disoriented, clutching dozens of pages somehow covered in my own handwriting. Actually, this is how most of my short stories start.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
My inner cynic can be found on Twitter, asking myself all kinds of questions no one else has voiced. Ex. “Allison, you really couldn’t come up with a better response than this?”
What’s the answer to that question?
Generally defensive all caps, followed by defeated resignation.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
I think some readers will be reassured to know there is not a malevolent, increasingly-angry tooth fairy growing under their bed, or in their closet, or in their brain. Probably.