How did this story come about?
“The Horror of Party Beach” is part of a longer series of stories I’ve been doing, in which I borrow the titles of cheesy SF/horror movies from the 1950s (and in this case the ’60s), and use them as the inspiration for a new piece. The original intent was to write emotionally serious stories around these ridiculous titles—to take the situations they suggested and treat them with the seriousness a mainstream literary writer might bring to his or her material. And that intent, mixed in with some humor, has largely held true throughout the series—there have been seven of them now. But with “The Horror of Party Beach,” I just collapsed into the absolute pulpy goodness of the thing. Though I hope there is a strong emotional core to the relationship between Mike and Elaine, the story is essentially my own version of a so-bad-it’s-good SF/horror picture of that era. You can’t take it seriously—but I hope you do, because, as I said, there is something real (I think) to the core relationships in the piece.
The setting feels like Lovecraft’s New England—deliberate?
Not at all deliberate. I was thinking mostly of the movie itself, which was one of the only (if not the only) ’60s beach movies actually filmed on the east coast. But the Lovecraft thought is an interesting one, because setting is so central to so many horror stories. Though I would argue that “The Horror of Party Beach” isn’t trying very hard to be a horror story, I can’t imagine it working if you translated the action to sunny Long Beach.
Which character was the most difficult to hammer out?
I don’t know that difficult is the right word. They mostly came pretty easily because, in keeping with that pulp tradition, I think they’re by and large flat characters. Brad is the Big Man on Campus. Dr. Gavin is the Mad Scientist, if you take my meaning—so I was mostly dealing cards out of a deck of pre-established archetypes. Mike and Elaine are real characters—mostly three-dimensional characters—who have (to their misfortune) fallen into a pulp story . . . But the character I most enjoyed playing with was Dr. Gavin, especially in terms of the quest for knowledge that drives him. And I had the most fun of all working out the specifics of his “science”—of course a mad scientist would inject his daughter with irradiated coelacanth blood! It’s the only thing to do!
Whose horror writing do you admire?
I admire many writers of horror (not to mention writers of lots of other stuff), but I will limit myself to two. I love Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work because of the imaginative range she brings to her material. Her knowledge of every living thing under the sun—and her understanding of how human beings tick—makes her every story utterly convincing. The beautiful prose is a bonus. I also love the work of Nathan Ballingrud. We’re close friends, but even if we weren’t, I would admire the understated emotional power of his work, the entirely convincing depictions of the desperate lives of his sad, wounded characters. He, too, writes beautiful prose, and in his new stuff, he’s really stretching his range. I’m on the inside, and I have to tell you, there are some brilliant gonzo stories on the near horizon.
Any news or projects you want to tell us about?
Short stories coming out here and there. But the big news (for me, anyway) is the publication of my new novel, In the Night Wood. It’s a totally different kind of animal than the pulpy “The Horror of Party Beach”—it tends far more to the literary end of the spectrum—but I think readers will enjoy it. I hope so, anyway. I have a daughter to put through college!
Spread the word!