As someone who’s been writing for many years, iconic horror and weird fiction author Lisa Tuttle’s influences are pretty well ingrained at this point. But that doesn’t mean she’s not still affected by other writers. In the following email interview about her new short story collection, Riding The Nightmare (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), Tuttle explains how several of these stories were written in response to other people’s tales.
Photo Credit: Colin Murray.
To start, is there a theme that connects the stories in Riding The Nightmare?
No theme. For my first two collections, I chose stories based on genre: horror in A Nest Of Nightmares, science fiction in A Spaceship Built Of Stone. But my stories don’t always fit neatly into one category. My third collection — Memories Of The Body — does have a theme, described in the subtitle: Tales Of Desire And Transformation. That theme presented itself naturally, when I realized I’d written a lot of stories that had characters who longed for someone or something, and / or underwent some sort of physical metamorphosis. Most of those stories could be classified as horror, but some are fantasies, and at least three are science fiction.
This new collection includes three stories from that collection (it was never published in the U.S.): “Riding The Nightmare,” “Bits And Pieces,” and “The Wound.” I also had a theme for another collection, reflected in its title: Ghosts & Other Lovers, mostly ghost stories, or strange stories about love and sexual relationships.
Is there something else that connects these stories? Genre? Timeframe of when they were written?
Well, the main connection is that they are all written by me. (Hah!) And, given the fact that this collection followed two others published by Valancourt, it seemed like a good idea to stick to stories that more or less belonged to the same genre: i.e. horror or weird.
Moving on to the always beloved questions about influences, what writers do you think had the biggest influences on the stories in Riding The Nightmare?
It is hard to unpick literary influences, especially now that I have been writing for so many years. But as it happens, this is a pertinent question when it comes to this book, which contains several stories written in response to stories by other writers, all of whom were important in my formation as a writer. “After The End” was my response when I was invited to write a new story about C. August Dupin, the first fictional detective, created by Edgar Allan Poe, for the anthology Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales Of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1st Detective. “The Mezzotint” is my modern reworking of the classic story by M.R. James, one of the greatest ghost story writers of all time. And there’s Walter de la Mare, whose eerie tale “The Riddle” — read at the age of 11 and never forgotten — gave me the idea for “The Last Dare.” Ursula Le Guin’s ground-breaking sci-fi novel The Left Hand Of Darkness was one of the first and most famous fictional challenges to the way we think about sex and gender, and it inspired me to write my own take on the subject in “The Wound.”
How about non-literary influences? Were any of the stories in Riding The Nightmare influenced by any movies, shows, or games?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I have a “cinematic” imagination; I tend to concentrate on the interior lives of my characters, their feelings, thoughts, and relationships, though physical settings are important, too. Like all writers, I think, I find inspiration comes from all over — mostly from life, real places, my own experiences, overheard conversations, all sorts of random encounters, as well as philosophical musings, dreams, personal fears, and asking “what if…?” all the time.
Unless I miscounted (and please correct me if I did), Riding The Nightmare is your ninth short story collection…
I am willing to take your word for it; I thought it would be the eighth, but numbers are not my strong suit.
Either way, what do you think makes Nightmare different from, say, The Dead Hours Of Night, A Spaceship Built Of Stone, and, most relevantly, A Nest Of Nightmares?
I think every story I write is different — I do hope so — but they share a similar voice and style, as well as exploring the same personal obsessions, which haven’t changed that much over the years. If a reader liked my earliest stories (some in A Nest Of Nightmares were written while I was a student in the early 1970s) I think they will also like my later stories, too. Riding The Nightmare includes a few stories from the late 1980s, but most were written between 2012-2018.
All of the stories in Riding The Nightmare have been published before in journals and anthologies. But are the versions the same as they were in those journals and anthologies, or did you change anything about them (save for typos)?
In general, I tend to think that once it has been published, the story is finished, and unless there were some mistakes (factual, grammatical, or spelling) I have kept to it — with only two exceptions out of more than 100 stories I’ve written.
The first was “A Birthday,” originally written and published in 1987, but later revised because an editor who wanted to reprint it made a convincing case that it could be improved if I added a few paragraphs to make the characters’ reactions to a very strange situation more understandable.
The other story, “The Dragon’s Bride,” which is included in Riding The Nightmare, requires more explanation. It was first published in 1986 in Night Visions 3. That was the third in a series of original horror anthologies with a difference: each one had a different editor, and three invited authors who each contributed one-third of the book. The editor of this one was George R.R. Martin, and my fellow contributing authors were Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker. Ramsey wrote seven short stories for it; Clive wrote a novella, “The Hellbound Heart,” which was the basis for his film Hellraiser; and I contributed three stories: “Riding The Nightmare,” “From Another Country,” and “The Dragon’s Bride.” A dozen years later, I was approached by an editor who said she was looking for horror novels to start up a new list. I’d always had an idea for a sequel to “The Dragon’s Bride,” and now it struck me that “The Dragon’s Bride” could be the first section of a novel in three parts. So, I dug out the story and revised and expanded it; the original story was about 17,000 words, the rewrite brought it close to 24,000 words. I sent that along with an outline to the editor and waited. And waited. Finally, the editor returned it with an apology: her boss at the publishing company had decided not to go ahead with the new list; horror didn’t sell well enough. As I recall, that was the general feeling throughout publishing at the time. But having revised the story and imagined it as the start of a novel, I no longer thought of including it in any of my collections. Until someone commented that it should be reprinted; and not too long afterwards I was asked to put together a new collection for Valancourt. Comparing the text of the 1986 original with the revised, expanded version of 1998, I decided the latter was better, and then did a little more editing since I had to retype the whole thing in order to provide a digital file. (Nobody wants a paper manuscript these days!)
Writers seem split on whether their short story collections should include anything about how each story came to be; some include that info, some don’t. What do you do in Riding The Nightmare and why did you do whatever it is that you did?
I’ve tended to be guided by the publisher on this. An introduction is not strictly necessary, and sometimes there are financial limits on how long the book can be. And in terms of talking about each and every story — well, some have more interesting back-stories than others. And when you come right down to it, it’s the stories themselves that matter.
Along with all the stories, Riding The Nightmare has an intro by Neil Gaiman. Why did you want him to write the intro? Besides the obvious reason, of course (him being on The Simpsons…twice).
I didn’t think of asking Neil to write the intro; that was the publisher’s idea. It came about after Neil mentioned one of my books on Twitter; he’d also kindly provided a great blurb for my previous collection, The Dead Hours Of Night, so Jay asked if I knew Neil, and was it possible he’d agree? No harm in asking, said I. It turned out, Neil was agreeable, despite his many other commitments.
And yes, of course, his guest roles on The Simpsons should undoubtedly attract more people to buy this book. I hope this cunning plan will work.
It should. People love The Simpsons.
Speaking of love, Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in Riding The Nightmare that you think could work as a movie?
“Riding The Nightmare” was produced as an episode of the TV series The Hitchhiker back in 1991. So far, I’ve only had short films made from a few of my short stories, but I would not object to a full-length, big budget Hollywood film based on absolutely any of my stories, if the terms were right.
Finally, I’ve long felt that short story collections are a good way to get to know a writer. Do you think Riding The Nightmare gives people a good sense of you as a writer? And if so, which of your novels would you suggest they read next?
I think this collection gives a good sense of my abilities and interests as a short story writer. I don’t know about it as an introduction to my novels…it depends on the novel. The ones I think are most like my short stories are The Pillow Friend and Familiar Spirit. Otherwise, for those who like these stories, I suggest they get themselves a copy of The Dead Hours Of Night for more authentic Tuttle literary horror. And then keep an eye out for My Death, a short novel that’s being reissued with a new introduction as an NYRB Classic in October.