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Interview: Jeffrey Ford on “The Winter Wraith”

Jeffrey Ford, portrait by Gerard Wickham

 Portrait by Gerard Wickham

– Tell us a bit about “The Winter Wraith.”

The “Winter Wraith” is a winter holidays story, or I should say, just after holiday story, about a man in the middle of nowhere Ohio whose wife leaves right after Christmas to go on a 3 week long business trip to China. They don’t get a chance to take the Christmas tree down before she leaves and, because she likes to wrap the ornaments a certain way when storing them for the next year, she tells him to leave the tree up until she gets back. The tree becomes this forlorn presence in the hundred plus year old house of theirs out in the farm country. The loneliness and the brutal weather – polar vortex and plenty of snow – traps him inside with it, and a kind of haunting occurs.

– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Not what was the inspiration but who was the inspiration. The writer Kit Reed and I were online one day last year discussing how hard the winter sucked. If you remember it was a tough one in the East. Kit mentioned the “Winter Wraith” in one of her comments, and I said to her that I thought it would make a good title for a story. She told me, “OK, write that story.” So I did. People give me advice about what I should write all the time, and I usually ignore them, but Kit is one of my writing heroes, so a suggestion from her carries a lot of weight. There’s also a tuckerization in the story. Bothwell the dog, who is a character in the story, belongs to the writer Ysabeau Wilce, who made a donation to the Shirley Jackson Award fund raiser to have his name appear in one of my stories.

– Was “The Winter Wraith” personal to you in any way?

Well, I don’t want to put too fine a point on this because it isn’t completely autobiographical, but parts of it are. My wife and I live in an old old farmhouse out in the country in Ohio surrounded by farm fields. She does travel quite often, and last winter was pretty grim out here. Where it differs from real life is I don’t have 1 dog but 4, not 1 cat but 6, and presently my sons are at home, so it never gets hallucinatingly lonely. When we were young there were years where we left the Christmas tree up too long. The sight of it is so damn depressing after a while, though, I’ve learned to ship that shit out the door as soon as New Year’s Day arrives. I do know loneliness from other times in my life, and I wanted to capture how that condition can color one’s thoughts and make one’s feelings manifest in th
e world.

– What are you working on now?

I have a lot of projects going, but I won’t talk about them for fear of jinxing them. What I will tell you about is what’s finished and coming out. I’ll have a new collection out next year, 2016, in July, A Natural History of Hell, from Small Beer Press. There will be a story, “In Havana,” in License Expired, which is an anthology of new James Bond stories. That’s coming out from ChiZine and can only be purchased in Canada – edited by David Nickle and Madeline Ashby. I’ve got a new story, “The Three Snake Leaves,” in an anthology, Grimm Future (fairy tale meets science fiction), edited by Erin Underwood for NESFA. And there’ll be another new story, “The 1000 Eyes” in the anthology The Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominic Paresien for Saga Press.

“The Winter Wraith” appears in the November/December 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can buy it here:

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