“Daddy Long Legs of the Evening” combines the best, and most chilling aspects, of fantasy, horror, fairy tales, and political commentary I have ever read. Since its initial publication in Naked City in 2011, how do you feel the story has aged? Do you find that its hidden dreads are still relevant today?
There’s something about spiders that creeps certain people out, that’s for starters. I doubt the story will ever lose that angle. The story is also told in a sort of fairy tale mode, albeit a dark one, and that might offer some staying power. And the political underpinnings seem to point out a certain insect fear and cold predation that is the heart of politics these days and doesn’t look like it’ll be changing any time soon. So, yeah, I think it stands up and will for a while at least.
Tell us about what inspired the story.
I went to a Salvador Dalí exhibit. I think it was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the double martini of art museums. The show was fairly extensive, having rooms upon rooms of painting, drawings, collages, etc., and ending with a holographic image Dalí had created of Alice Cooper. Within that show hung the artist’s famous painting “Daddy Long Legs of the Evening—Hope.” It’s kind of a typical Dalí painting, as much as you could say any of his pieces is typical—you know, you’ve got a melting violin hanging over a tree branch, a horse in the background, a yellow puddle up front that could or might not necessarily be someone’s profile. Crawling on that indistinguishable mass is a Daddy Long Legs spider. That’s where I got the title from, but the inspiration came from a cartoonish drawing in the same show of a spider wearing a top hat and tails (I forget the title of that piece). When I saw that, I thought of the movie Daddy Long Legs with Fred Astaire. Also on my mind at that time was a certain dark fairy tale like story I’d read in Robert Coover’s book A Child Again about The Pied Piper. That stuff all blended together with memories of someone telling me that Daddy Long Legs spiders were the most poisonous arachnid in relation to their size—whatever that meant—and a kid I knew when I was very young, capturing one and pulling the legs off one by one, making me want to puke.
Your rich prose carries the reader along, exploring multiple points of view and narrative without impeding the steady, inexorable plot (the electric gray cake of the brain; the memory of their fear burrowed in a spiral pattern to the center of their minds and played them like zithers for the rest of their days; It was dinnertime in the city that never woke; leaving old luggage indiscriminately in his wake.) How did you decide on the narrative tone for the story?
That aspect of fiction writing just comes to me when I am able to envision the setting and feel the mood of a story. It changes with different types of characters and narrative structures. I have no idea how that all works. I guess I get it from whatever process or presence I get the story from. I usually have a feeling that the story already exists, and in writing it I’m merely revealing it. Some very mysterious whim-wham.
The transformation of the young boy from cherubic to Daddy hearkens back both to traditional tales of stolen infants and changelings left to unknowing parents, but it also touches on the fears many parents experience when their child suddenly becomes “different,” “the other” as seen through the lens of special needs. As a writer, what is it about exploring the idea of “the other,” whether special needs, sexual preference, race, religion, or any other identifier that appeals to you?
When first conceiving of the character, I considered Daddy as totally “the other”—not “the other” as you describe in your examples above but completely alien, devoid of humanity, self-serving, and treacherously narcissistic. Since we’ve seen the results of the recent presidential election, though, I realize that Daddy is my neighbor, and I wonder how long it will be before he comes for me.
If you would, share a bit about your writing process. Plotter or pantser? A marathon writer or do you steal writing time where you can?
My writing process? I write primarily in the morning and afternoon. When I was younger, I’d stay up late at night and write, but as my father-in-law, who was a professional cartoonist, told me when he was my age, “The night is a cruel mistress.” When I got older, I found that to be true. I basically sit there and write. Either I’ve got something going and I’m directed, or I fuck around and try to come up with an idea. I save all my failed story attempts and pieces of stories that went nowhere or ones I’d always intended to return to and sometimes when I’ve got nothing going, I’ll look through them and see if the path opens up. I try to sit in the chair every day and at least type. A good day of writing for me is around 1500 words. Sometimes it’s less. Sometimes it’s way less. Sometimes just getting the first paragraph of a story is enough for a day’s work, but I’m satisfied because I have found the voice and the rhythm and I know a little more about the characters. There are times when I’m in the zone and I can bang out ten pages at a pop. Not so much of that anymore. Ten-page days were more usual when I was younger, but when those ten pages were edited, etc., they’d usually turn out to be about three and a half, which is about 1000 words. When I’m engaged in the middle of a story or book, I start out by reading over and editing through what I’ve written already. I go back to the beginning and run through the whole piece, and then I’m ready to start putting new stuff down. If it’s a novel, I go back a chapter or two and then come to the point of pure invention. This way you get to go over and over the work as you go and it helps you each day to fall into the world of the story. I also listen to music—Harold Budd, generally—contemplative, head music I probably wouldn’t listen to for anything other than writing. I don’t keep a notebook, I don’t plot things out. The most I might do is draw some pictures on the back of an envelope. Once I have the start, the setting, and the mood I want, then I’m off to the races and the thing just grows organically. I’m not a bricklayer or a schemer, although I know some writers who are and they’re fantastic. To each her own, when it comes to this game.
You are a prolific writer, with dozens of novels, collections, and short stories under your belt. Are there writing projects you have yet to tackle, any chances with words you have yet to take?
Actually, I’m not a prolific writer with dozens of novels, collections and short stories. I’ve published eight novels, five collections, and about 130 to 150 short stories. I have a new novel in the works for Morrow, a novella in the works for Tor.com, and about five or six stories wending their way toward publication. I do know writers who are prolific, and I take my hat off to them. Actually, I’ll take my hat off to anyone who legitimately publishes a story, novella, or novel. Every time out is a challenge—not just the writing, but managing one’s life in order to accomplish the writing. A big round of applause for the serious beginners, the determined plodders (my category), and the brilliant geniuses, all. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike till it arrives. I’m just going to continue to try to do the best job I can in writing the stories and books I have it in me to write. Each outing is exciting to me. Each work brings me new ideas and things to learn. I never grow tired of it because I only have ever written what I wanted to. This isn’t a factory job for me. I’ve worked factory jobs, loaded trucks, cleaned toilets, whatever. Writing, for me, isn’t that.
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