Often when a writer assembles their first collection of short stories, they do so by picking the best ones, or the best of their recent ones, or maybe ones that fit a theme or fall into the same genre. But in the following email interview about her first short story collection, Where You Linger & Other Stories (paperback, Kindle), writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam explains that the “theme” of sorts she started out with was geographical in nature.
Photo Credit: Tony Najera
To start, is there an underlying or obvious theme to Where You Linger?
I think one of the major themes is relationships — and the complexities that arise when people strive to find connection. It’s also about ghosts, both literal and figurative, and how the past haunts us.
And did you start out with this as the theme…
The themes came together on accident; the theme I was looking for was stories set in the fictional town of Riddle throughout time. It just so happens that Riddle is a town I use to explore those themes.
But, to be honest, I didn’t think about the theme beyond “stories set in Riddle” until the blurbs and reviews started to come in. But it makes sense that the past would crop up a lot in my Riddle stories, as they’ve been a way for me to explore my own hauntings. In my own life, I’ve found that examining and coming to terms with the past is revelatory, and making my characters explore their pasts is a powerful way to evoke change in them.
So what other parameters did the stories in Where You Linger have to fit? Did they have to be a certain length, did you only include ones that were relatively new…?
The city of Riddle is similar to the town where I live, and it’s populated with characters who reappear. I tried to include the most emotional stories including these characters, and I wanted to start with stories that dive into the prehistoric past — with the presence of dinosaur skeletons roaming the land — and then move through the present, into a science fictional future for the final three stories.
Since all of these stories are connected by being set in Riddle, people might consider reading Where You Linger the way they read a novel. Do you think that’s a good idea, or do you think it would work just as well, or maybe even better, if someone read, say, one a day, every day, for [counts] 12 days?
I think either way of reading could work, but yeah, reading the stories in order will prove the experience of moving through time.
What genres do the stories in Where You Linger represent?
They’re all over the place. The ones in the beginning are fantasy and horror, or draw from those genres, but a few might be considered slipstream or something less easily classifiable. Others are horror, or draw from horror. Toward the end of the book, they delve into science fiction.
So, are there any writers who you see as having a big influence on specific stories in Where You Linger, but not on your style as a whole?
“Triceratops” by Kono Tensei [which appears in the anthology The World Treasury Of Science Fiction] had a direct impact on two stories in this collection: “Skeletons” and “The Mammoth.” I was so intrigued by the concept of that story that I ran with it in some different directions. And Philip K. Dick influenced “The Damaged,” though subconsciously — as I hadn’t read Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? or seen Blade Runner yet when I wrote it.
I also love such genre-crossing writers as Kelly Link, Helen Oyeyemi, and Aimee Bender, but I think those writers have influenced me overall.
Along with fiction, you also write poetry. Which suggests that you also read poetry. How do you think writing and reading poetry may have influenced the stories in Where You Linger?
I used to write much more poetry, and several of these stories started as poems. “They Come In Through The Walls” started as a poem called “Dining With Echoes,” and “Where You Came From” started as a poem called “The Werewolf.” Poetry taught me the importance of rhythm and gave me my love of lyricism.
And how about non-literary influences; are any of the stories in Where You Linger influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I don’t read a lot of noir, but I like watching it, so “Heart Appetites” was influenced by movies like Drive and the show Veronica Mars. Kingdom Hearts obviously influenced the video game aspect of “The Queen Of Kingdom Arts” and the joy of traveling worlds in a game.
Speaking of games, you work as the Narrative Designer for the mobile game Chapters. How do you think writing that game may have influenced the stories in Where You Linger?
Well, all of these stories were written before I started working there, so my work there didn’t influence these stories. But I’ve loved learning about the romance genre and how the hero’s journey works in romance — which has influenced my current work.
And what about your “mysterious number of cats”? How do you think they — both individually and as an uncountable mob — influenced the stories in Where You Linger?
I started a long time ago listing my cat’s names in my bio…then I realized that was a problem when I lost two of them in my divorce, and three of them eventually passed away. So, it’s a mysterious number, because I got tired of changing the bio, though right now, their names are Ichabod and Wednesday, they’re toddlers, and they’re in great health.
They’ve all been my writing companions, though, warming my lap and begging for attention, causing terrible and cute distractions. They keep my company while I write, but to be honest, they’re terrible for bouncing ideas off.
Now, along with Where You Linger you also have a novella coming out September 13th called Glorious Fiends. What is that story about, and when and where does it take place?
It’s a horror novel. About a sapphic lesbian torn between her bloodlust (emphasis on lust) and her friendships. She resurrects her two besties, Mx. Hyde and Medusa, only to be confronted by the Guardian of the Underworld, who demands that she replace their souls and slay three equally terrible fiends — without taking the lives of any innocents. It takes place in a Hammer-esque world, but the monsters they face are pulled from ’80s horror movies.
Is it super scary?
It’s horror, and it’s got some twisted imagery, some tension, and some gore. It’s influenced by my love of body horror, so there’s a lot of that in there. I find over-the-top horror comedic, so that’s where a lot of that came from.
On your website you say that Roxanne is an “infamous hot mess vampire.” Which makes me think this book might be a supernatural comedy, or at least be somewhat comedic. Is it?
It’s comedic, yeah, but it has its fair share of scares and gore. I had a lot of fun with it, particularly with the character of Roxanne, exploring her struggle to put aside her own desires in order to save her friends. She fails a lot.
Going back to Where You Linger, Hollywood loves turning short stories into films. Do you think any of the stories in Where You Linger could work as a movie?
Yeah, several of them could work as grounded sci-fi or fantasy, and my favorite actors are the ones I see in my favorite androgynous roles. “Where You Linger” has Russian Doll vibes, with layers of reality and a hot mess main character. “Hearty Appetites” would make a fun noir, with Kristen Stewart [Spencer] in the lead, as a bisexual P.I. taking on capitalism with the help of an AI. “The Lifespan Of Shadows” is a haunted house story that would make a fun Haunting Of Bly Manor / Hill House sequel. I can make a case for any of them, to be honest.
Also, given your work on Chapters, would you want to write the screenplay for the movie?
No way. I’m not a screenwriter. I like working in games, but the whole Hollywood script world is even rougher than fiction in terms of constant rejection and far-fetched chances of success. I can’t handle it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Where You Linger, what short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read next while waiting for Glorious Fiends to come out?
If they’re reading me, they’ve probably already read Kelly Link, so I’d recommend Revenge by Yōko Ogawa.