How did “The Red Piano” come about?
I overheard Ellen Datlow talking about an Edgar Allan Poe tribute anthology at (I think) a NYRSF reading here in New York. I’ve been in a lot of her anthologies, but always the fantasy anthologies she edited with Terri Windling, never the horror anthologies, because I don’t do horror. And yet, I loved (for a given value of “love”) Poe as a child, and was fascinated by certain aspects of his tales as an adult. So I asked if I could submit a story to her, and she (bless her) said yes.
The rich, gothic language choices: Were you reading works of similar style while writing or does the language come to you once you’ve chosen the story style and setting?
Language doesn’t come to me. I choose it, carefully, to reflect the kind of story I’m writing. I went to a very old-fashioned school, back in the day, where we were taught to write by copying models of classical prose. Somewhere in my papers are my Addison and Steele essay, my Francis Bacon essay, my A.A. Milne story, my E.R. Edison story, and others I have thankfully forgotten. From time to time, when it’s appropriate, I still do this—although I try and put enough of a twist on my homage to make it mine.
The paragraph introducing Roderick is almost over-the-top in its delightful camp: The whole story turned for me at that moment from a straightforward ghost story to one paying a loving, if not gently teasing, homage, to gothic romance. Was that deliberate?
The impetus of this story, for me, was to take the Poeian model of a doomed family, a beautiful but accursed woman, an oblivious hero, and a horrific fate, and do a little gender-flipping. When one focuses entirely on the beauty and doomed, mysterious nature of a character (as the classic gothic writers did with women), one tends to create objectified and highly colored portraits. “Hyacinthine locks,” by the way, is a favorite Poe descriptor for male hair. Think of a hyacinth’s myriad little up-curving petals—like that. Only not purple. Unlike the prose.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about this story?
I had a blast writing it. I am very fond of Dr. Arantxa Waters, who I modeled on the stereotype of the dedicated, monkish professor (male). This allowed me to make Roderick do all the emotional heavy lifting in the story, which was also fun. As was the final scene, which may be pretty tame as modern horror goes, but did scare me while I was writing it.
Any news or projects you want to tell us about?
This is a big year for me. If you like historical ventriloquism (historical fiction, that is, not puppets sitting on comics’ knees), you should know about Whitehall, the Serial Box serial I’m writing with Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Robins, Barbara Samuel, Sarah Smith, and Liz Duffy Adams. It’s about Charles II, his wife Catherine of Braganza, and Barbara, Lady Castlemaine, his mistress, and it’s just full of all kinds of seventeenth-century intrigues and shenanigans, plus some very luscious poetry. I’m also working on a clockwork-punk novel I like to think of as Dickens meets Conan Doyle, with occasional excursions into China Miéville territory. And my middle grade fantasy The Evil Wizard Smallbone is coming out in September.
Spread the word!