There's no denying that Zane Marc Gentis has a way with words. Indeed, his short story, Heirloom, which appears in Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar and Other Stories, he ventures forth into some truly unsettling territory indeed. So, Zane, what planted the seed for your story?
It’s probably a little creepy to say a story about a taxidermy girl was inspired by my girlfriend, so I’ll insinuate it instead. We were getting ready to go out, and she’d been working on her hair and said it had a ‘rag-doll’ quality to it. That set some of the creative cogs in motion. Cursed dolls and animated puppets are an old horror staple, so I knew there was something else I wanted to do with the concept, but wasn’t quite sure what yet. It wasn’t until I saw Coraline again and remembered that a taxidermist friend of mine uses buttons for eyes that all the pieces came together.
What are some of the themes you treated in your tale?
I wanted to write a story that was Lovecraftian in theme without being obvious. One of his central tropes is a distinguished family with a dark secret, Rats in the Walls being a good example. In this story that takes the shape of the deceased uncle with a collection of weird and eerie artefacts.
At the same time, I liked the juxtaposition of beauty and horror. Something that looks beautiful yet represents the monstrous is more interesting to me than straight-up frights. In this story’s case, what you see isn’t disturbing, it’s knowing what the object represents. Horror isn’t necessarily tied to external objects, but internal concepts or notions. True horror, in that sense, is something that we carry with us, and comes from inside.
What are the hallmarks of a great horror/dark fantasy author and story?
I’m biased in favour of body horror. The loss of control and subversion of normality really sell it to me. That’s probably a dead (ha) give-away that I’m a control freak and moving the sandwich meat out of alphabetical order scares me more than vampires ever will.
Part of the seduction of horror in general is that a happy ending isn’t assured. That means there’s the possibility for tragedy. If you have characters the reader can empathise with, the tragedy begins to matter. Their struggles and tension then become our struggles and tension, the frights and failures become that much more real.
How do you approach your creative process?
It generally starts with a single idea or question. This idea worms its way around in my head, and I play with it, adding more as the inspiration grows. Often I’ll cannibalize elements from my unpublished works.
At some point, the inspiration becomes too much and the idea needs to express itself. You feel like you’re going to explode if you can’t get it out with writing, or drawing, or…something. So I sit down and start writing until it’s done.
Typically the end of the story comes first in my head. Then I pick a beginning, and pin-point a few essentially landmark moments in the story. The rest of the plot writes itself as the writing veers between the landmarks. I like to give the piece the ability to surprise me, and find it comes out a lot stronger for it.
I wait between rewrites, giving myself emotional distance to be able to work out what’s good and what’s garbage in the current piece. Once something halfway decent has been achieved the rewrites stop and the edits begin.
I’d like to pretend I have a more sophisticated method, like something an intelligent person with seven middle names and twelve titles might have come up with. This is the method that’s worked so far, so I’m sticking by it.
What are you working on now?
The current WIP is a novel called Letters to Kitty. Our protagonist wakes up in a bathroom without any idea who he is, where he is, or whose blood is on his hands. He’s plagued by visions, and being hunted by beings who appear to be more than human. His quest for identity becomes a race for his survival as he puts together the pieces of his past, present and future. The reception from my beta readers so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a stand
alone novel with the potential for two sequels and an expanded world, but right now I’m focussed on just finishing it before I plan too far ahead.