For me, this is a story about a kid who struggles to define both himself and his world. And in defining, exerts a sort of control. He tends to take a certain comfort in routine and the expected, even when unpleasant. Yet . . . in moments of the unknown, fear and joy are intertwined. Do you feel like this is a cultural condition, like we tend to want to exert control over our circumstances, even if we believe that control only exists in defining it—or in maintaining a status quo; and even if suffering is expected? And conversely, is joy found not by following the routine, but in the unexpected?
I suspect almost all control is an illusion, and a comforting one at that. My character here is desperate to apply some schema to the world to give it a reason for moving the way it does. I don’t think status quo really plays into things precisely—at his age, you don’t really know what the status quo is. Everything is new and terrifying and you’re still sorting it all out. Growing up is definitely about figuring out where we fit into things—attempting to exert control is part of that. Or perhaps, in some cases, creating belief systems that explain why we have no control, and that belief system makes the lack of control bearable. We all instinctually believe we should have some measure of it—control. But I think many of us find the amount very much lacking. Especially when we’re kids.
I love the personal feeling of this piece, the conversational tone. I had this sense of being immersed into someone’s history, rather than reading fiction. How much of this is drawn from your own past? And what are the elements and tools that you use to create a tale that is so convincingly real?
Almost all of it is based in parts or events from my own childhood. The supernatural elements, well . . . perhaps not so much, although I did entertain a belief in the Bermuda Triangle, psychic powers, and all the other paranormal things popular in the ’80s. The geography is especially true to my childhood’s reality, and the relationships mirror my own in elementary school. It’s the most painfully honest thing I’ve ever written, to tell you the truth. But I think hopefully putting so much of myself into it made for a richer experience in the end.
The speculative element is kept at a distance, and potentially doesn’t even exist, depending on how you read the story. It could be that the detective work of this kid is unraveling a supernatural mystery, or it could just be his way of using imagination to make sense of the world. Importantly, it’s real to him.
In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not, because it still guides his actions and drives the narrative. This makes it real for the reader (for me, it did), and makes the ending resonant.
Did you toy with the idea of making the speculative element more direct and present? Or do you usually prefer mystery, uncertainty, or ambiguity in your stories?
As a kid, I wanted very much to believe in the supernatural. I sought evidence for it all around me, because there was always this lingering sense of “is this really it?” As I grew older, as life got harder and as my family struggled to make it in tough times, my wonder at the universe seemed to diminish. I took refuge in the idea that Bigfoot might live in the woods behind my house. In exploring the idea of the Philadelphia Experiment, and UFOs.
There is comfort—a kind of safety—within the realm of belief in things unknown. That comfort is more real and more important to this story than any concrete answers. This story is very much about that ambiguity, what it means, and the role it plays in protecting our psyches. I imagine this means some will find it dissatisfying who want concrete answers, but I hope they can see the value in the experience nonetheless.
I wanted to write a realistic story of the paranormal, where just like in my own experiences, there are never any real answers, and concrete, lasting belief is just beyond reach, always perhaps debunkable, and yet . . . and yet . . .
At the end, everything is literally enshrouded in fog, and despite the various pains of his existence, he’s glad to have this fear of losing it all. There’s something so understated and touching about this final scene, with him running and his new friend trailing him. What is the most important aspect of this moment for you?
The final scene contains a special mixture of fear and hope—an emotion I am very intimately familiar with, but rarely see captured in a way that resonates with me. I feel like I’ve spent half my life experiencing that emotion, the kind of emotion you half-expect there be a precise German word for, but if it exists, nobody has ever taught it to me.
So much of life is unknowable and really cannot be trusted. But we run forward into the fog of our futures anyway. I love that.
This was a great tale. What are you working on now that we can look forward to?
Thanks so much. I’m very proud of it.
I’m working on a few novel ideas slowly, and follow-ups to October’s “Cavern of the Screaming Eye.” Dungeonspace seemed to strike a nerve with readers—and is a much more upbeat, enjoyable series to revisit. I am slowly at work with a number of other personal stories that deal with other “mysteries of the unknown” from the ’80s. Up next is something about lake monsters. Still taking shape.
Thanks so much for your time, Jeremiah!
It’s my pleasure. Thanks very much for your questions.
Spread the word!