“Getting Darker: An Interview with Lynda E. Rucker”
Conducted by Steve Duffy © March 2023
Steve: In preparing for this chat, I reread all three of your collections [The Moon Will Look Strange, You’ll Know When You Get There, Now It’s Dark], and what struck me was that your style was pretty much intact from the beginning of your writing career—it wasn’t a case of “freshman to sophomore to senior”, or anything like that. Do you see an evolution in your stories?
Lynda: I definitely see an evolution in the way I write them, in that I have a lot fewer false starts and write far fewer first drafts. I’m a very instinctive writer, and my instinct is better. I have a better grasp of how to achieve certain effects. I think my prose is more precise now in terms of what I want to convey and I have a stronger sense of who I am (and am not) as a writer. But I don’t know if that answers your question? In a way, I don’t know if this is an answer that a writer can give. Maybe that’s something for readers and critics to decide.
I should probably add before we go any further that in keeping with the title of this collection, I am increasingly of the Lynchian mindset of “never explain”, although I have always very much felt that once a story is out there, it belongs to the reader who is reading it at any given moment.
Steve: Talking about style, there’s a story in Now It’s Dark where you’re picking up an idea from the much missed writer Joel Lane and developing it into a finished piece. Did you approach this differently from the way you normally develop a story?
Lynda: I did! I really wanted to honour Joel’s style and approach, so the first thing I did was read and reread a bunch of his work. My aim was to achieve a kind of cohesion between his themes and style and my own. I hope it doesn’t sound disrespectful when I say that I felt quite close to him in a creative sense as I was writing it. I definitely think of it as something apart from the rest of my work (although still very much a story by me, that I would write).
Steve: That’s exactly the way it struck me when reading it.
Lynda: Thank you! At least one person who knew him much better than me told me that he thought Joel would have liked it, which was about the best compliment I could get.
Steve: You mentioned the process of achieving effects, and Now It’s Dark employs, very successfully I think, a number of different modes of storytelling, from the “omniscient author” voice to the first-person narrator. This is something that interests me as a writer: do you always know the mode the story will be told in before you start writing it?
Lynda: Back to that instinct thing—I don’t consciously think about it in that way (I generally know very little about a story before I start writing it), but I think I always have a sense of it, that it’s going to be a stronger omniscient authorial voice or first-person or whatever. I’m trying to remember, but I don’t think I’ve ever changed a point of view once I’ve started writing a story. That choice is really embedded in what the story is, so you have something like “The Seventh Wave” where the voice of the first-person narrator was very strong in my head from the first sentence whereas I had a very different sense of how “The Dying Season” was going to start.
Steve: We’ve talked before about the writers who know how a story will end before it’s written, and those who genuinely don’t . . .
Lynda: Yes! I am in the latter category. Although I generally have an idea of the feeling I want to convey at the end, or maybe an image—I’ve always said I’m not very interested in plot and this was recently really brought home to me again in a huge way when I saw Enys Men the other night. Plot and “what happened next” is the least interesting aspect of storytelling for me in many ways. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care about endings—I do, a lot; they can make or break a story, and I will sometimes spend nearly as much time on the final paragraph as I do on the rest of the story.
Steve: One of the things I love about your stories is the open-endedness: as with all the best weird fiction, the weirdness resonates beyond the conclusion.
Lynda: Oh, thank you! That’s what I aim to do. I like stories that haunt me in that way—like Robert Aickman’s “The Hospice” or Shirley Jackson’s “The Demon Lover”.
Steve: Talking of Aickman, there’s a kind of homage to him in Now It’s Dark, which was written for the anthology Aickman’s Heirs. There are also stories that reference, indirectly or otherwise, Arthur Machen and Stephen King. What would be your dream invitation to a tribute anthology?
Lynda: In this collection and in previous stories, I’ve done for this several writers I admire and who have influenced me: Shirley Jackson is one for whom I’d still very much like to write something. Maybe Algernon Blackwood, specifically his mysticism. I actually had M. John Harrison partly in mind when I wrote the title story of my first collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, riffing a bit on Yaxley and the idea of unspeakable rituals from “The Great God Pan” or The Course Of The Heart, although no one picked up on it—the resonance with Don’t Look Now was a bit more overt, apparently! There’s J. G. Ballard, which might surprise people because his work is very different from mine but I’d love a chance to do a Ballardian turn. Alan Garner, lots of children’s writers—Susan Cooper, L. Frank Baum. I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as we finish this interview!
Steve: Any anthologisers reading this might want to take note of that . . .
In this new collection, as in the two that came before, you take your readers to a variety of places, and do so very convincingly. Rightly or wrongly, I link this to the amount of travelling you’ve done in real life, and I was wondering which of the places you’ve been to have yet to find their way into stories?
Lynda: Oooh! I’ve been thinking about this recently. One place that I’ve never been able to write about successfully is Nepal, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the ’90s. I’ve got one completed and several failed story attempts, but it’s not something I’ve tried to do for at least fifteen years, if not longer. In a way, I think that entire experience was too intense for me to write about it for a long time, and I just didn’t have the skill—and I’ve been thinking lately that I might be ready now.
Steve: Let’s hope so. David Bowie said that in the mid-1970s it became creatively necessary for him to leave Los Angeles and travel to a place he’d never been, and once there, immerse himself in the experience, lay himself open to new influences. Is that the way you approach new places?
Lynda: Oh yes. I’m delighted, by the way, to find this creative parallel with Bowie. It’s one reason I love to travel alone—to really get that full-on immersive experience. And I do think of it as something that goes hand in hand with my writing; I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t write anymore or couldn’t travel any longer.
Steve: Along with the sense of place, your stories are marked by an acute insight into the psyches of their protagonists—for me, these are the twin foundations of a typical Rucker story. (Put this another way: you don’t do many monsters.) Do you think that’s an accurate description of your work?
Lynda: I do, actually! In not all but most of my stories, setting is hugely important, often almost taking on the role of a character. And I’m endlessly interested in people, how they think, why they do the things they do, how fractured our minds can be. I know so many people who love monsters and I love the enthusiasm with which they love them, but for the most part I’ve never been a big monster person myself. Even in a great monster story like The Thing—it’s not so much the Thing itself that’s compelling as how the characters respond to it.
Steve: You do like a haunted house, though, so that’s something for the more traditionalist reader.
Lynda: I absolutely love a good haunted house story. And a good ghost story, whether or not the ghost is hanging round a house.
Steve: With three volumes of short stories under your belt, are you tempted by the longer story form? Have you, as the saying goes, a novel in you?
Lynda: YES. Or more accurately, god I hope so. I love short stories, but I love novels too, yet it’s a form I’ve really struggled with. Without going into too much detail, I’ve recently had some revelations about some of those struggles. I’m actually doing research for a historical novel that I want to write, and I’m also toying with a novella.
Steve: Finishing up: if you had to pick one story from Now It’s Dark to represent the best of Lynda E. Rucker—maybe for a Year’s Best collection, say—which one would you pick?
Lynda: This is a terrible question! I honestly don’t think any one story is representative—different stories display different facets of what I do. I will say I do have an inordinate fondness for “So Much Wine”, partly because it has always felt a little underloved to me. But writers are terrible judges of what their best stories are. I don’t think we can bring that kind of perspective to our own work very well.
Steve: The correct answer is “The Séance”, but I honestly think that any one of the stories wouldn’t be out of place in a Year’s Best. Thanks so much for talking to me!
Lynda: I did think about that too! Thank YOU!
Steve Duffy has spent the last twenty-five years trying to improve his writing over six short story collections. The most recent of these, The Faces at Your Shoulder, is out now from Sarob Press. In 2001 he won the International Horror Guild award for Best Short Story, and in 2015 the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette. Hopefully another twenty-five years should see him getting somewhere.
Lovely interview! Thanks to Rucker and Duffy (two of my favorite writers) for the insights.