I really enjoyed this story. It reminded me of Stephen King’s “The Mist,” only more intense, more palpable, scarier; not to mention brought into that lovely, fully-fleshed-out apocalypse-mode. I just devoured 7000 words the way a dragonfly might devour a puppy.
Since “The Mist” is one of my favorite novellas ever, I take this as high and awesome praise. You are now my favorite.
I rarely have moments of fear/chill when reading horror, but I actually had a moment or two in this piece! For me, that’s delightful.
You are my double favorite.
As someone who is somewhat *cough cough* prolific . . . has horror become strategic writing and formula? Or do you enter deity-mode, gleefully yanking wings off characters? Or . . . are you immersed into your moments and people so that you experience what’s happening: the dread, the hopelessness, the . . . you know, emotions?
I try to sink as far down as I can, because it only really works if I can be caught up in the moment as I’m transcribing it. For me, part of being and staying as prolific as I am is about living in that narrative. I only go for a little while at a time, and we’re all pretty glad, since otherwise I’d be lost forever in a world of my own making.
I feel like there is a lot of mastery on display in this story. If I examine elements, lines, structure, I can pull out great aspects of the writing itself. You’ve generated tons of words, as well as spent considerable time studying writing. What are the things that you feel like you’re missing or haven’t yet achieved in your craft? Or, what are the things that you struggle with, that are harder for you to get “right”?
I have trouble with commas. I know, I know, but it’s true! I tend to view punctuation as a way to pace and space a sentence: When I put a comma in, it’s because I want the reader to take a breath before plunging onward. It’s almost like writing very long structured poetry. When I’m working in first person, I can get away with it, to a degree, but when I move to third, or even second, it can get awkward. So I have trouble with the actual, grammatical rules of punctuation.
Some of the story focus here is on being productive, “relevant” members of a surviving society. While narrative allows for exaggeration and bringing discussion to bear through analogy, I feel like “Dragonflies” really represents our own culture in ways that are closer than we’d like to admit. The notion of people being secretly grateful for younger members going missing, for example, and the line we negotiate between making demands vs. being monsters, reminds me of similar ideas/circumstances around homelessness, around mentally challenged individuals, and so on. Do you see this as the inevitability of human nature, that we are just a shade better than bugs, driven by the “mechanics of survival”? Or do you think we could potentially survive in ways that are sincerely gracious and generous? (And what would that take???)
I think we have it in us to be better than we are, but it is going to take reframing some attitudes that are currently very baked into our culture. We need to let go of the idea that health and wealth are somehow tied to virtue: that my busted-up ankle means I was somehow “bad” or “naughty” and need to be punished. We need to stop pretending that only people who fit our personal standards are worthy of life and love and happiness. We’re mammals. It’s natural to be a little greedy, to want a little more. But we’re also empathic and compassionate and capable of seeing the need for kindness. We just have to be kinder.
There’s something really interesting about the way the protagonist defines courage, applies it to Molly (as the bravest person she ever knew), but then actually steps into that definition later in the spider’s lair. It’s almost as if the story deliberately sets up the reader to realize how amazing the protagonist is, in case they might not get it. But in a sense, it’s also the protagonist becoming the person she admires, regardless of how she feels about failing in the extremely important goal of protecting Molly. Is this a personal reflection—are there specific moments or experiences of your own that come to mind as similar? Or is this simply a really wonderful literary element?
It’s what I strive for, always. Not maybe in such a dramatic fashion, but I am constantly trying to live up to the people I admire.
There are several things I really enjoyed about this piece. What is your best, most favorite thing about this story, for you? Or, what do you want readers to know about it?
Honestly, my favorite thing was coming up with a scientific justification for having giant bugs. I really, really like giant bugs.
This is such a cool story that I want to recommend it to friends. Which is saying a lot—I’m very picky (as you know, ha ha). For recommendations, what is your go-to story to date, the piece that, if someone has never read your work, if they are only going to read one thing, this is the one you want them to read (and why)?
Oh, goshbiscuits. Um. Right now, I would have to say Every Heart a Doorway. It’s short and sweet and sort of shows people where my wheelhouse is, even if there’s a tragic lack of chainsaws and mermaids.
Are you working on a Poképocalypse (Pokémon Apocalypse)? If you could say something about Pokémon to someone who knows nothing about Pokémon (ahem . . . no one in particular . . .), what would you want to tell them?
Always. And I’d want to tell them that I’m going to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them all is my real quest, but to train them is my cause. I will travel across the land, searching far and wide, each Pokémon to understand the power that’s inside. Also my Gym is Ghost/Fairy and it’s in a spooky cornfield, good luck.
The protag seeks a new promise at the end, rather than being crushed by the weight of her failed promise. Did you play with different ways to end this piece? What were some of the reasons you went for a tentative hope rather than a darker resolve?
I feel like if you never let hope have a moment, you’re being bleak for the sake of bleakness. I can do that much more quickly, and have a lot less fun doing it.
I’m supposed to keep this relatively short (fail!), but as someone who enjoys horror myself, I’m always curious about what other people who enjoy horror get out of it. Especially since many people can’t stand horror. So—what, if anything, do you get out of horror, both the writing and the watching/reading, that you don’t get from other types/genres of entertainment?
I love the thrill of it, the surprise, the slow expansion of what dread can mean. I love the tension. When I’m doing it right, I can even scare myself. That’s delightful. It is, as Stephen King once said, a kiss from a stranger in the dark, and there’s something beautiful about that.
Seanan, thanks for your time, and for the awesome story! I know you post updates on forthcoming works, appearances, and more at your site: seananmcguire.com. Is there anything coming up you want new fans to know about?
I have a lot of cons this summer, and some really awesome projects coming up, so both my website and my Twitter feed (@seananmcguire) are a great place to be!
Spread the word!