Halloween Haunts 2013: Stoker Spotlight on Lucy Snyder
1. How would you describe “Magdala Amygdala”?
I’d describe it as a soft apocalypse story. I used it to explore the natures of self-identity and memory along with the fears of disease and loss of self. I also employ an unreliable narrator to provide the reader with a story that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. For instance, I never actually specify the gender of the protagonist, although practically everyone reads the narrator as female, presumably because I’m female.
2. Tell us about what inspired you to write “Magdala Amygdala”?
A couple of years ago, I was working the weekend graveyard shift in a computer data center. The night shift can do horrible things to your brain after a while, because often you just don’t get the right kind of sleep (if you can sleep at all during the day; I never got the hang of it), and it kills your social life dead. I felt disconnected and zombified, and my short-term memory was starting to slip.
My story came out of that experience, specifically my wondering what if I’d been put on that shift precisely because I was some kind of monster who couldn’t be allowed around normal people.
3. What most attracts you to writing dark fiction?
I write about what’s in my head, and what’s in my head is often pretty dark. Ideas for horror stories are like cats: I wake up, and there’s a new one waiting on my doorstep. I don’t have to go looking for them.
4. What are you writing now?
I’ve gotten several anthology invitations since the Stoker Awards, and I’m mostly working on those. I also have a dark urban fantasy novel I’m working on bit by bit.
5. What advice would you share with new horror writers? What do you think are the biggest challenges they face?
I give the same advice to new horror writers I give to any other new writers: stick with it. You are likely to get a bunch of rejections before you make your first sale. There’s a distressing amount of luck involved in getting published, and even if you’re very good right from the start, it can be a frustrating process. Making your first ten fiction sales might feel like you’re trying to juice a hunk of granite. I know a lot of talented writers who gave up prematurely. So, don’t give up.
6. Name three of your favorite horror stories?
There are a lot of stories! It’s hard to choose. But today I’ll pick “We Now Pause For Station Identification” by Gary A. Braunbeck, “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.
7. What’s your favorite Halloween memory or tradition?
It’s trick or treating, definitely. I don’t dress up for Halloween any more, but I still enjoy seeing what the kids (or their parents) come up with in the way of costumes. We see a lot of princesses and superheroes but every once in a while a kid will come to the door in something really creative. They get extra chocolates for that.
8. Given a choice, trick? Or treat?
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LUCY A. SNYDER is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Spellbent, Shotgun Sorceress, Switchblade Goddess, and the collections Orchid Carousals, Sparks and Shadows, Chimeric Machines, and Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, Hellbound Hearts, Dark Faith, Chiaroscuro, GUD, and Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 5. You can learn more about her at www.lucysnyder.com.
Read an excerpt from “Magdala Amygdala” by Lucy Snyder:
“So how are you feeling?” Dr. Shapiro’s pencil hovers over the CDC risk evaluation form clamped to her clipboard.
“Pretty good.” When I talk, I make sure my tongue stays tucked out of sight. I smile at her in a way that I hope looks friendly, and not like I’m baring my teeth. The exam-room mirror reflects the back of the good doctor’s head. Part of me wishes the silvered glass were angled so I could check my expression; the rest of me is relieved that I can’t see myself.
Nothing existed before this. The present and recent past keep blurring together in my mind, but I’ve learned to take a moment before I reply to questions, speak a little more slowly to give myself the chance to sort things out before I utter something that might sound abnormal. My waking world seems to have been taken apart and put back together so that everything is just slightly off, the geometries of reality deranged.
Most of my memories before the virus are as insubstantial as dreams; the strongest of them feel like borrowed clothing. The sweet snap of peas fresh from my garden. The crush of hot perfumed bodies against mine at the club and the thud of the bass from the huge speakers. The pleasant twin burns of the sun on my shoulders and the exertion in my legs as I pedal my bike up the mountainside.
The life I had in those memories is gone forever. I don’t know why this is happening to humanity. To me. I’d like to think there’s some greater purpose, some meaning in all this, but God help me, I just can’t see it.
“So is the new job going well? Are you able to sleep?” My doctor shines a penlight in my eyes and nostrils and marks off a couple of boxes. Thankfully, she doesn’t ask to see my tongue. It’s the same set of questions every week; I’d have to be pretty far gone to answer badly and get myself quarantined. The endless doctor-visits wear down other Type Threes, but I hang onto the belief that someday there might be actual help for me here.
I nod. “It’s fine. I have blackout curtains; sleep’s not a problem. They seem pretty happy with my work.”
My new supervisor is a friendly guy, but he always has an excuse for why he can’t meet with me in person, preferring to call me on his cell phone for our weekly chats. I used to bounce from building to building, repairing computers, spending equal amounts of time swapping gossip and hardware. After I got out of the hospital, I went on the graveyard shift in the company’s cold network operations center. These nights, I’m mostly raising processes from the dead, watching endless scrolling green text on cryptic black screens. I’m pretty sure the company discreetly advised my quiet coworkers to carry tasers and mace just in case.
“Do you feel that you’re able to see your old friends and family often enough?” Dr. Shapiro asks.
“Sure,” I lie. “We meet online for games and we talk in Vent. It’s fun.”
For the sake of his own health, my boyfriend took a job and apartment in another state; we speak less and less on the phone. What is there to say to him now? We can’t even chat about anything as simple as food or wine; I must subsist on bananas, rice, apple juice, and my meager allotment of six Bovellum capsules per day. The law says I can’t go to crowded places like theaters and concerts. I only glimpse the sun when I’m hurrying from the shelter of my car’s darkly tinted windows to monthly eight AM appointments with my court-ordered physician.
So I’m striding up the street to Dr. Shapiro’s office, my head down, squinting behind sunglasses, when suddenly I hear a man in the park across the street shouting violent nonsense. Or he used to be a man, anyhow; he’s wearing construction boots, ragged Carhartt’s work overalls and a dirty grey T-shirt, all freshly spattered with the blood of the woman whose head he is enthusiastically cracking open against the curb. He howls at the sky, and I can see he’s missing some teeth. Probably whatever he did for a living didn’t pay him enough to see a dentist. But his skin looks flush and smooth, so much healthier than mine, and for a moment I envy him.
He stops howling and meets my shadowed stare, breaking into a gory, gap-toothed smile. The kind of grin you give an old, dear friend. I’ve never laid eyes on this wreck before, and the woman beneath him is beyond anyone’s help. They both are. I don’t want to be outed, not here, not like this, so I pretend I don’t even see him and stride on.
A few seconds later, I hear the spat of rifle fire and the thud of a meaty body hitting the pavement, and I know that the SWAT team just took out Ragged Carhartts. They’re never far away, not in this part of town. And once they’ve taken out one Type Three, they don’t need much excuse to kill another, even if you’re just trying to see your doctor like a good citizen.
“Oh, God,” a lady says. She and another fortyish woman are standing in the doorway of an art gallery, staring horrified at the scene behind me. They’re both wearing batik dresses and lots of handmade jewelry. “That’s the third one this month.”
“If this keeps up, we’ll have to close.” The other woman shakes her head, looking grey-faced. “Nobody will want to come here. The whole downtown will die. Not just us. The theaters, the museums, churches—everything.”
“I heard something on NPR about a new kind of gel to keep the virus from spreading,” the first woman replies, sounding hopeful.
I keep moving. Her voice fades away.