We’re celebrating the launch of our Gothics issue by finding out what it is about the Gothic that appeals to our authors, and what inspired their Issue 17 stories.
Lackington’s: You mention that you have family connections to the Cuco folklore that inspired your story, “Cavity in a Hurt.” Can you talk about how you became familiar with the lore, and how you connect that to the Gothic tradition?
JMG: My grandmother—the nicest person in the world (as grandmothers are)—used to warn me as a child that if I didn’t go to sleep, the Cuco would come get me. It was always this amorphous, thinly sketched boogeyman. And ironically, it was the lack of detail that stuck with me: the absence of scope (like…take me for how long?), the changeling descriptions which made Cuco sound almost like a process. A force. Something that takes children who are bad in the Dominican Republic and beyond to…somewhere.
And I thought of the idea of a monster taking a child away. And then, I thought of a child—now an adult—who wanted to be taken away. With that came the slip into Gothic tradition: the relationship between girl and house, but also an intimacy between girl and house. Girl and ruined township. And, of course, a mingling with the dark.
Lackington’s: “Cavity in a Hurt” is a story about a hunter questing after quarry, but the setting is a fantastical cityscape. Why did you decide on the urban setting for this story, and how does the character of Santi work through this setting?
JMG: I feel like traditionally inhabited spaces that are empty often ask the same question: where did everyone go? And the “empty” township, as a sentient place, is in conversation with Santi. After all, how can Santi not interact with a place that she travels across? And Santi is pulled across these streets of bleached buildings, which are basically like…supernatural Gothic surveillance cameras. Santi, as exorcist and hunter, is both conjured and watched by her quarry. Thus: the buildup to confrontation.
And I wondered and continue to wonder: Is it still an exorcism when the house—the streets, the buildings, everything—may want to be exorcised? Is it still an exorcism when the exorcist may want to exorcise herself?
The setting gives space for these questions to build into a tension (hopefully an effective one!). The fantastical nature of it is revealed in a very deliberate order: details of the setting are established as Santi navigates her way to the house in a way that reorients everything that was previously known about the setting. As a story about encounter and confrontation, it is only fitting that it is also about the process of revealing. Or…an unpeeling.
Lackington’s: The writing style in this tale is arresting: rich and poetic and startling, forcing the reader to slow down to take in the action and catch the voltas. It’s part of what we love about this piece. Have any particular writers influenced your unique voice?
JMG: Yes! Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching is a clear, unabashed influence for this piece. There are stylistic techniques I have entirely lifted from that novel and incorporated into my writing with zero shame. There’s also “Daedalum, the Devil’s Wheel” by E. Lily Yu. The narrator’s conversational tone and the usage of questions to jumpstart exposition served as foundations for the first person perspective of the house/setting. Both works are so intimate, revealing, and almost invasive: I knew right when I read them that they had lessons to teach which would sink into me.
Lackington’s: Is there something about unconventional modes of storytelling that you find especially compelling? Why do we need to make space for stories that don’t always work the way that readers have come to expect?
JMG: Unconventional modes of storytelling reflect unconventional people, experiences that aren’t so neat that they can be buried in the minutiae of standardization, but more than that: it’s important to be startled. It’s necessary to have voices that are not quite so human, so familiar—particularly in speculative fiction. If there are no spaces for these voices, that means there’s no space for a story where a house talks. And where’s the fun in a world like that? Where’s the mystery?
J.M. Guzman is a Dominican-American who writes about ghosts, coffins, and all the things in the dark. He has forthcoming fiction in Liminal Stories and Daily Science Fiction. You can find him on twitter @jmguzman_.