Like other writers who’ve penned novellas for eSpec Books’ Systema Paradoxa series, writer Carol Gyzander chose to make hers about the cryptid that lives near where she grew up. But as she explains in the following email interview, her book, Forget Me Not (paperback, Kindle), wasn’t just inspired by her local monster, but where it lives as well.
To start, what is Forget Me Not, and when and where does it take place?
Forget Me Not is a cryptid novella that takes place near Buffalo, New York. Sixteen-year-old Jane and her twin brother Rob go boating on Lake Erie, days before the American side of Niagara Falls is dammed off for maintenance in 1969. They’ve been terrified of water since their mother drowned. Their friend assures them all will be fine.
But when something nearly swamps the boat, the twins are lucky to make it home. Dad gives them Grandmother’s diary from 1939 and they learn, much to their dismay, that this isn’t the first time their family has encountered something in the lake. Jane and Rob must face the mysterious danger and confront their family history.
Forget Me Not is about The Monster Of Lake Erie. Did you start with the idea of writing a story about that particular monster, or did you come up with the plot of Forget Me Not and then realize The Monster Of Lake Erie was the perfect cryptid for your story?
Each book in the Systema Paradoxa series focuses upon a somewhat obscure cryptid, so I started by looking over the list of suitable creatures. I was intrigued by The Monster Of Lake Erie because I grew up in Buffalo, right on Lake Erie. My own family used to go out boating on the Niagara River, and I used that connection to start plotting what might happen with the creature, which is named Bessie.
Once I had selected my creature, I looked at some of the reported sightings of Bessie and started thinking about what was going on in those time periods. I was intrigued by 1969 as that was near the time when I lived there. As a kid, I was of course fascinated with Niagara Falls; we used to go there often since it was only about ten miles from our house. From there, I poked around and realized that was the time when hydrologists turned off one section of Niagara Falls to stabilize some of the rock structure. It wasn’t a big leap to tie the story in with their family in the area thirty years before, in 1939.
So, is there a reason why the main characters are twins, and a boy and a girl, as opposed to siblings born at different times or twins of the same gender?
Yes. They are different genders to show how the family’s secret works differently upon them. I made them twins so that they would be at the same stage in life, with the same friends, when they come across The Monster Of Lake Erie.
Forget Me Not sound like it’s a horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s a non-graphic horror story with a tender, romantic bent. Not in a weird way, but in a way that makes you care about the characters and what happens to them. I like to describe what I write as “Twisted tales that touch the heart.”
While Forget Me Not is your first book, you’ve had short stories in such anthologies as Stories We Tell After Midnight, The Lost Librarian’s Grave: Tales Of Madness, Horror, And Adventure, and Cat Ladies Of The Apocalypse. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Forget Me Not?
My stories in all those anthologies are subtle, quiet horror and that’s what I prefer to write. For Forget Me Not, I had Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes in the back of my head while writing the 1939 carnival scenes. Mine is not nearly so dark, but I wanted to channel the nostalgia for a bygone period that is so clear in several of Bradbury’s stories.
You’ve also edited or co-edited such anthologies as Merely This And Nothing More: Edgar Allan Poe Goes Punk, Hideous Progeny: Classic Horror Goes Punk, and, with James Chambers, Even In The Grave. You’re also one of the founders and, more relevant to this question, the editor-in-chief of Writerpunk Press. How do you think editing other writers influenced what you wrote in Forget Me Not?
Working with another writer’s words is both intense and rewarding. It has the advantage of allowing you to focus on the story, the characters, and their developmental arc with a clear and objective view — without either feeling threatened by someone looking at your own words, or by being so deeply immersed in your own story that you can’t see it clearly. Then, when you go back to look at your own work, you can use some of the same techniques that you’ve applied to the other writers’ stories.
Having edited so many stories in various genres allowed me to clearly lay out how I wanted to tell the story: through the close point of view of Jane, alternating with epistolary diary entries that turn into the first-person story of her grandmother in 1939.
And then, as for non-literary influences, was Forget Me Not influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I have to confess that I had the movie Jaws in my head while I was writing many of the scenes with Bessie in the water. Apparently, the giant animatronic shark was not working correctly when they were filming the movie, so they only gave tiny glimpses of the creature until they finally got it to work at the end. Well, the overall effect on the movie was fantastic as it really increased the viewer’s feeling of suspense — what is it?
Does this mean you think Forget Me Not could work as a movie?
Absolutely. There are many strong visual scenes in the story, both on the water and in the family’s carnival back in 1939. It’s told with a strong nostalgia for both time periods, and I think the alternating story timelines would be very effective as both Jane and her grandmother grow.
And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Jane and Rob?
Oooo! I’d say Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things and Enola Holmes as Jane, and Tanner Buchanan from Cobra Kai as her brother Rob. Millie Bobby Brown has the ability to show cleverness, courage, and compassion; Tanner Buchanan does a really good tormented, caring character.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Forget Me Not?
It’s a coming-of-age story with Stand By Me vibes that reaches you in the feels…and is scary as well.
Finally, if someone enjoyed Forget Me Not, which anthology that you either edited or had a story in would you suggest they read and why that one?
I’d suggest Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories Of The Yellow Sign, edited by James Chambers. My story “The Yellow Crown” has been described as having strong emotional resonance, like Forget Me Not, and there are some very intense stories in there that also pack an emotional wallop. Especially “Suanne” by Steven Van Patten.