Welcome! With the launch of our new anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight 3, we have a new series of interviews to introduce you to the authors you’ll find in the table of contents. Some of those authors will be familiar to the readers of our other anthologies; other authors are new to us, and we have a few debut authors as well. So settle in, and let’s begin!
When I read Rachel Unger’s story, “Red in Stile and Rail,” in my submissions pile, I knew that not only did I need this story, but that I needed it to open the anthology. As the door swings open, it invites you in … but to what purpose? Read on to find out more!
Q: What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A (Rachel Unger): In 2019, pedaling along a dirt path between towns on a bike vacation, I noticed a house huddled back amongst the trees. Cavernous windows, a bunch of the siding gone or rotting, obviously abandoned. The fascinating thing was that the front door hinges had been unscrewed and the door carefully removed. I stood there, peering up at this aching shell of a building, and wondered why anyone would take a door with them when they left. Then I realized that they had to. The curse demanded it.
Q: Why do you write horror? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A: There are a lot of eloquent arguments for writing horror as a genre, but I tend to interpret them as excellent reasons for *reading* horror. Horror is great at explaining humans to ourselves. YA does this too—both use heightened emotions, and both examine universal things we fear and face: changes to the body, injury (social or physical), aging, dying, upheaval and loss. I particularly like how Gothics look at isolation, the weight and responsibility of family history (and madness, often madness); how the weird can tackle the inexplicable or reasonless changes. Ultimately, my interests as a writer come back to my interests as a reader. I’m writing because I want to know the why or how behind something, trying to explain it to myself. (Or amuse myself. Or both.)
Q: There are a number of different flavors of horror. Where does your story fit, and what drew you to this particular category?
A: At one point I actually wondered if I had written a HGTV listicle, but horror. So… it’s paranormal, but practical, which seemed like the right approach for this particular narrative.
Q: What does it mean to read and write horror during a pandemic? How has it changed (or not!) your approach to the genre as a writer or as a fan?
A: The pandemic narrowed my horror reading, since all I wanted was Gothics (can’t imagine why narratives soaked in dread about people trapped in their houses became suddenly relevant!)
As a writer, I spent several months not writing anything. I wasn’t refilling the well—I was just trying to cope day by day with anxiety. (I’m definitely part of a group who assessed their cortisol and adrenaline levels and sought out all the Bob Ross episodes on the internet.) Despite my earlier answer about using horror to explain the world to myself, I eventually started writing lo-fi happy spec fic instead. Partly to process, yes, but mostly for comfort. I wasn’t alone in this since I noticed a shift in calls for submissions—lots of Wonder and Joy themes, and some places that weren’t taking pandemic stories to avoid retraumatizing their readers.
In early 2021, I started writing horror again with “Red in Stile and Rail.” At the time I didn’t think I was writing a pandemic story, but now I can see elements of it in the narrative if I squint. I think over the next few years we’ll see a lot of writing coming out that grapples with the past 18 months, either overtly or subtly.
Q: What’s next in your writing journey?
A: Keep banging out words, keep pushing myself to improve and editing the snot out of those words, and keep sending out stories.
About the Author
Rachel Unger thinks that now is an excellent time for us all to be kind to each other. Yes, really. She spends her days excavating stories from the dirt, staring down a microscope, and daydreaming about her next bike ride. You can find her online at www.fictionbuffet.com.