Blake Crouch is known for his psychological thrillers like Desert Places and his latest novel Abandon.* He's also recently turned his hands at the short story form. I reviewed one of his stories, "Shining Rock," last week after it ran in EQMM and he has another story out sharing space in an anthology, Uncage Me!, with one of my Stoop, the Thief stories. He was kind enough to take time away from work and family and answer a few questions for me:
1 - If it doesn't reveal too much about the plot, can you talk about the genesis of the "Shining Rock" story?
When I was a boy, I did a lot of backpacking with my parents and younger brother, and one of our favorite places to go was Shining Rock Wilderness in the North Carolina Mountains . One summer evening as we were setting up camp in a remote area of the wilderness called Beech Spring Gap, a gentleman came over to our camp and introduced himself. He was a burly fellow in his fifties wearing blue shorts and a vest brimming with camping accessories and various patches. He also had a machete lashed to his back and mentioned in the course of small-talk that he’d fought in Vietnam . The interaction was unsettling and more than a little awkward. I was twelve at the time but found out years later from my father that he’d been terrified, so much in fact that he and my mom had whispered in their tent late that night, debating leaving because they were afraid this man was going to come back and murder all of us while we slept. Obviously, that didn’t happen. My family struck up a friendship with the man (who turned out to be a gentle soul) and we accompanied him on future backpacking trips. But the strangeness of that initial encounter and the fear my parents must have felt never left me, and the experience inspired a short story called “Shining Rock.”
2 - You've also written a story for the anthology UNCAGE ME called "*69". That story has a seriously creepy element to it. Do you work on creepiness or does it spring naturally?
Well, in full disclosure, you have a story in UNCAGE ME called "The Biography of Stoop, the Thief" which I thought was just first-rate and had a real delicate emotional core. Might be my favorite of the collection. Creepiness does tend to infiltrate my writing. I think it's the shady side of human nature that fascinates me (all of us crime writers, right?). So far, I've been devoted to exploring how far down our depravity goes (bottomless I think), but I'm trying as of late, to see the way out. We know we're bad, but so what? What do we do about it? The dicey morality stuff is infinitely harder.
3 - Is short story writing fundamentally different from novel writing for you?
Yes, I think it's much more difficult. With a short story, I'll only start writing one if the idea is very strong, self-contained, and something I'm just dying to do. It's one of the hardest forms of writing I think, because it also has to have a twist, and I don't mean a surprise ending, but a tension between reader expectation and what actually happens, no matter how small. Otherwise it's just like reading the alphabet. I also find that unlike novels, with short fiction, I can put it aside for months at a time, and then come back to it. My stories really benefit from that time away, but if I took off that much time from a novel in progress, I'd lose it. But I love writing short fiction. When it works, it just flat-out works. Like a gut-punch.
4 - Any favorite short story writers in or out of the genre that readers should be aware of?
Well, the old pros...Raymond Carver, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block. I love Annie Proulx's stuff. Adam Haslett's first short story collection YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE really made me want to start writing short fiction.
5 - Any short stories coming in the immediate future?
My story, "Remaking" just came out in the THRILLER 2 anthology, as well as an audio exclusive called "On the Good, Red Road " that I recorded as a bonus for the Brilliance Audiobook of ABANDON. Of course, there was the abomination called SERIAL I wrote with JA Konrath which is far and away the most messed-up thing I've written. His publisher, Grand Central, made it available everywhere as a free eBook. So with 5 stories out this year, that may be it for 2009. I've got two longer short stories that I'm really happy with, and one more I still need to rework. The two that are finished are on submission, so you know how that goes. Could see them this year, maybe next, maybe never. It's a tough business.
My many thanks to Blake for taking the time.