Interview: Lynda Rucker on “Where the Summer Dwells”
– Tell us a little bit about the story.
Oh dear! I’m never very good at talking about stuff I write. I’d much rather have someone tell me about the story. Okay. Here goes. Although an atheist, I am fascinated with the idea of encounters with the numinous. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that nearly everything I write is dealing with that on some level. I am especially intrigued with how people cope with the rest of their lives in the wake of such an encounter. “Where the Summer Dwells” is, in part, about that. It’s also about memory, and loss, and longing, and growing up.
– What was the inspiration for “Where the Summer Dwells,” or what prompted you to write it?
This is a story that came from lots of little bits and pieces over a long period of time. It actually started living in my head sometime in the mid-to-late oughts; I was working on a graduate degree in medieval English literature and taking what I thought might be a permanent break from fiction writing. Of course, I was still scribbling down bits of stories now and again, because they kept taking shape in my brain and refusing to leave me alone. At the time, I was living in Portland, Oregon, and I watched a documentary about the South called Searching for the One-Eyed Jesus, a romanticized but evocative portrait of the region where I’d been born and raised. Although I hadn’t lived there for well over a decade, it was one of several things I encountered around the same time that made me homesick, and somewhere along the way I started thinking of a summer I’d spent with my best friend in high school exploring abandoned houses and cemeteries and endless back roads in rural Georgia—oddly, because I’m not nostalgic about being a teenager or where I grew up (and the story’s not about my friend!). And I liked the documentary but from it came the idea of a dilettantish filmmaker imagining the South as a sort of exotic theme park. (And that doesn’t offend me—I’m endlessly fascinated with all the different ways that outsiders and insiders, visitors and locals, view their environments.)
The feeling of the story, the recollections of those long-ago explorations, the characters, and the train tracks were all more or less in my head from the start, although for a long time the story simply lived on my hard drive as some vignettes and some photos grabbed online of abandoned train tracks. Eventually I found my way back to writing fiction again and the story was there, waiting.
– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?
None. Well, I did look up the kind of camera Seth might have. That information’s already out of date by now, though!
– This is your F&SF debut, correct? How long have you been writing, and would you say that “Where the Summer Dwells” is typical of what you write?
Yes, this is my F&SF debut. In fact, I’ve only submitted to F&SF a couple of times in the past because I rarely write fiction that I think is right for the magazine—I mostly write horror fiction.
I’ve been writing, literally, since I could hold a pencil and print or peck out letters on a typewriter. I started seriously submitting fiction in the late 90s, although I took four or five years off, as I mentioned above.
I think the style and some of the preoccupations of “Where the Summer Dwells” are fairly typical of what I write, but as I also mentioned above, I mostly write what I think is horror fiction. However, sometimes people tell me they don’t like horror but they like what I write. I think that has more to do with misconceptions about the scope of good horror fiction and what it can do than my writing, specifically. But I’m also pretty bad at saying what my own fiction is, and it turns out that at least some people consider this to be a horror story as well.
– What might you want a reader to take away from your story?
I don’t tell the reader what to do, or even what I want them to do. That’s dangerous territory. When I release a story into the wild, the story becomes a part of anyone who wants it. Maybe that’s what I want a reader to take away. The story is yours now, whatever it means to you, if you’d like to have it.
– What are you working on now?
I’m working on several short stories. I’d like to put a collection together and people keep asking me about one and so I’m going to try to focus on that in the year ahead. I’ve got a YA novel circulating which is, to quote from my blog, a “dark fantasy novel about bereavement, family secrets, and the great god Pan.” I’m also working very hard on a book for adults—a horror novel? shall we call it a ‘supernatural thriller’?—set in the present, but in part about thirties/forties pulp writers and secret societies and other things I’m not yet ready to talk about.
“Where the Summer Dwells” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue.
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