As we approach our upcoming submission deadline for the women-identifying only issue of Black Candies, our journal of literary horror and dark fiction, So Say We All‘s Julia Dixon Evans spoke with the “Gross and Unlikeable” issue’s guest editor Natanya Ann Pulley over email. We love Natanya (pretty sure you will, too) and can’t wait to see what she comes up with for this issue. Obviously it will be on fire. Have a little read and get to know the guest editor. And then tell us a story, okay?
Julia Dixon Evans: Hi Natanya, we’re so happy you’re working with us on this project! What drew you to horror writing?
Natanya Ann Pulley: Well, I’m scared of everything. And for a long time, I thought this meant I wasn’t tough or even capable. But I was always drawn to darker concepts and the consuming nature of fear and to things unsettling, weird, off, and dangerous. And gross. Eventually, I started reconciling the two (the fear/insecurity and the desire to be near the uncanny and the abject) and I began to see fear as a way of learning about myself and the people around me. We fear what we don’t know and worse, we fear what we do know and choose to ignore just to make it another day on earth.
JE: I love that: the bedfellows of fear and desire in dark stuff. What are some of your favorite elements of a dark story?
NP: The unexpected. But also when the expected is interrupted or mutated. And the vulnerable and raw parts that peek through the violence or threat. The monster or when the monster is a mirror. This is to say I like the complexity of horror because it always looks very surface and obvious, but I think we are motivated by fear and we build our understanding of life on imagined safety measures. I enjoy when the rug is pulled out and we realize how close we are to horror on a daily basis.
JE: As far as dark fiction and horror stories penned by women, what do you love?
NP: This year Catapult published a story called “Boyfriend” by Carmen Lau that I cannot get enough of. It’s dark, icky, and unsettling. But a little humorous and definitely nodding toward some real-life horrors.
JE: God damn. That story is amazing.
NP: I want everyone to read that story. On a broader scale, I think my enjoyment of dark fiction begins with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. And since I gravitate to weird horrific, I like Alissa Nutting’s stuff, Amelia Gray, and Kelly Link. I wish I read more commercial fiction to balance out the literary fiction I read, but I always manage to find literary horror and darkness to my liking.
JE: What are your influences as a writer?
NP: Everything. I think everything I see, read, experience, etc. influences my writing. For the sake of this question, I wish that a certain text influenced me more than watching the squirrel in my front yard terrorize my dogs, but really they are all the same thing. Play of power, hiding vulnerability, the expectation meeting reality, the meat and space and thought of it all. But, I think I am supposed to provide texts here. So this: Joyce, Beckett, Calvino, Kathy Acker, Shelley Jackson, Lidia Yuknavich, Lydia Davis, Carol Maso. New stuff: Lily Hoang, Ramona Ausubel, Layli LongSoldier, and Porochista Khakpour.
JE: Can you give us an example of your experience writing and publishing as a woman?
NP: It can mean being edited the hell out of. It’s something I’ve noticed in fiction that doesn’t just happen to me but other women as well. Too wordy. Too emotional. Too chaotic or sprawling. I’m not an essentialist and don’t believe writing by a female (in itself) is very different from writing by a male, but I do think the current trend in editing is to reduce the sentence and tame it as a form of mastery, which feels very masculine to me or, at least, is something I see many male editors doing. I’m amazed at how often my writing is trimmed and whipped into something more manageable by male editors when female editors (and some editors of color) tend to embrace a sentence that slips and grows. There’s still editing involved for clarity and grounding, but female editors don’t lop off whole sentences to “get to the point.” I feel this is probably a trend that moves beyond a female/male binary as well–the privileged editor looks for ways to control the marginalized voice in an effort to “make it count.” I see myself doing this with student writing sometimes and have learned to curb that carving desire. However, a joy of being a female writer is finding other female writers who I enjoy and finding writers who support female work. It’s out there–but one must slog through a lot to get there.
JE: Is it easier for a woman to get away with stories that aren’t so dark? Or is it surprisingly easier to get away with being on the fringe? Does “otherness” shape the way you write or publish?
NP: I see this question falling into/under my identity as a female writer and as a Native American writer who is writing on the fringe (experimental/dark/absurd) as well. I’m not sure it is easy to get away with anything as a writer–I don’t know what easy means for a writer. I guess it could mean in terms of who gets heard and I’d say that it’s not easy to be heard as a Native American female writer of fringe. An audience looking for something to add to the canon of Native American literature won’t find easy markers of indigenous or cultural identity in my work, but they won’t find real sentences or plot either sometimes. And some of what I write about is taboo in my culture, which isn’t very new to contemporary Native American artists–but it’s still something that I worry about. There’s no ease there and in many ways there’s actual outright resistance. Dark seems to be granted to men (unless it can be sold as sexy). There seems to be a line of “too dark” for female writers as well as one for people of color. Too dark in content, of course. But also in the tenacious or swallowing line. My work has been called alienating before and we are always advised not to “alienate” our readers–which is a silly idea to me. I want to be an alien reader from time to time. Sure I read for pleasure and I do read to connect (or rather to see myself in something else), but I also read to enter new terrain and breathe a new air–to worry about my safety and sense of self among a strange or peculiar system of words, sounds, ideas, and bodies. I love confusion and anxiety in writing. I’m sick of understanding or at least recognizing my understanding of life in every little thing I read. It’s boring.
JE: That’s a great perspective. And I feel like that sort of idea is what [Black Candies editor and founder] Ryan Bradford has been striving for since he began this project. What do you think sets Black Candies apart?
(vintage Black Candies)
NP: I still have copies of the first stapled copy of Black Candies–red cardstock cover and white xerox copied pages. But now it’s an adult and I feel like a creepy aunt sometimes when it comes to BC. Like I changed its diaper but now I want us to move in together after years of watching it grow. But really it’s always held itself to a standard on the sentence-level and in the conceptual root system of each piece. And that is what I love best about it. It manages to satisfy all the markers of horror with things scary or strange or gross or unsettling, but it doesn’t forget that it’s still made of words and that words create a feeling as much as their meaning creates a logic. Also, BC loves its stories, loves a home for them and I think the idea behind BC has never been to create a theme and collect stories, but rather to provide a dark corner for these little scuttling and crawling and slogging creatures. Happy monsters.
NP: Oh and the name. Lord, the name. Love it. Black Candies.
JE: The most important question here: What’s your guilty pleasure?
NP: My whole life is a guilty pleasure. But I guess I’d have to say nostalgia–particularly lovesick nostalgia. The kind that means watching teens fall in love. Watching cheerleader teens fall in love. I’ve got a thing for Hyde and Jackie of That 70’s Show lately (and I got it bad). I didn’t feel very present during that time of my life–the teen years. I returned to my body with a vengeance in my 20’s, but as a teen, I was sort of floating outside myself. So I return to this era through what could never have been. I’d like to imagine that I was the Watts to every friend crush I had. But I don’t even think that was true. I wasn’t on the radar, I think. I just crushed on everyone and everything. WANT. I feel visiting this imagined past life through story is always somewhat safe–safer than music or attempting to reach it through any memory of the real. I think I sometimes end up there in the late-late night too. Or close to it. Or close to the darkness of it. I’m not an insomniac and I do work late, but not this late. Those 2 to 3:30 am hours are a guilty pleasure. Tunneling away at time to some other/outside of self time. It moves me through the past and through the lovesick and it’s very Jesus & Mary Chain and Jawbreaker and sad Led Zeppelin. And Bjork, of course. Guilty pleasure Bjorkian time. But it sours so soon–which is important for a guilty pleasure, right? If it wasn’t in danger of souring, if it wasn’t close to something harmful or undoing in some sense, it wouldn’t be guilty. It would just be a pleasure. Mogwai turned Gremlin time, I guess. So my guilty pleasure is toeing the line between nostalgia and life-regret. Whoa. Can I try this one again?
JE: No no, I refuse. That was perfect.
NP: I’m changing my answer. Guilty pleasure: Black cherry soda and George Michael circa “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice.”
JE: And is there anything on your wish-list for this issue, our women-identifying Gross and Unlikeable issue?
NP: I’m mostly just so excited about what is coming in! I imagine it is all across the board in terms of horror, grossness, haunts, and unsettling feelings. Wavering realities. My dream though is to have someone totally unexpected offer something up. Like Beatrix Potter, if she weren’t dead. Or Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Or Gillian Anderson. Or Kim Kardashian.
JE: FYI this is the best interview I’ve ever done that mentions both Kim Kardashian and horror.
NP: I bet she has some horror stories in her.
Thank you so much, Natanya, for taking the time to talk to us and answer some Black Candies questions. We can’t wait for this book. The submission deadline for the upcoming women-identifying only issue of Black Candies, “Gross and Unlikeable,” is April 30th. Send us your darkest and grossest. Submission guidelines and a link to our submission manager can be found right here.
Black Candies: Gross & Unlikeable Guest Editor Natanya Ann Pulley