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Interview: Stephanie Feldman on “The Barrens”

Stephanie FeldmanTell us a bit about “The Barrens.”

“The Barrens” is about five teenagers who venture into New Jersey’s vast Pine Barrens in search of a pirate radio station and its elusive DJ. They should be more worried about what might find them first.

The piece is a twist on horror movie tropes, but it’s also about storytelling and desire, as well as the environment and folklore of the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up and still live.



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

This story started with one very specific inspiration: My Favorite’s song “Let’s Stay Alive” from the album Love at Absolute Zero, which I played quite a bit back when I was a college radio DJ. Here’s a line from the song: “On the pirate radio station, in my car with no destination, as bright and lost as the stars above, we will reinvent love! Let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive…” In my story, the pirate radio station becomes the destination and “let’s stay alive” becomes a literal imperative. The song has this shimmery, pure, desperate spirit that captures adolescence, and I wanted to write a story with that same energy.

My other goal was to take my first straight dive into horror. I grew up on horror movies and my work has always nodded to the genre—it was time to come home.

Was “The Barrens” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It draws on my own memories of being a teenager. All the characters desperately want something: to be loved, to experience something bigger than themselves, or to simply feel alive. Like them, I also turned to music when the rest of my life felt unsatisfying.

The story reflects my adult experience, too. I moved to the suburbs a few years ago and felt a bit stuck and bored. I’ve been using my writing to rediscover greater Philadelphia—to turn it a little weird and mysterious. I’ve never been a Jersey girl, but I’ve always been Jersey-adjacent, and I loved digging in to the local legends and folklore for “The Barrens.”


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Barrens,” and what was the most fun?

Usually my process is thorny and angst-ridden, but I had so much fun writing this story. Maybe it comes back to my inspiration—the reckless energy of the music—or maybe it was imagining those kids speeding through the dark woods, both hunter and hunted. It was all adventure. (The characters would likely disagree.)


What are you working on now?

I’ve spent the past year putting together the anthology Who Will Speak for America?, forthcoming from Temple University Press in July, with my co-editor Nathaniel Popkin. As a writer, I find these times both urgent and challenging. It’s as important as ever to write honestly and fearlessly about who we are and what we care about. At the same time, the political chaos can be stifling. So I’m thrilled to share the voices of over 40 fiction writers, essayists, poets, and artists from across the genre spectrum, including Charlie Jane Anders, Sam J. Miller, Malka Older, and Fran Wilde, all writing on the subject of identity and the current political crisis. (Royalties go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which fights on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.)

I have a story, “The Elites,” in Gordon Van Gelder’s recent anthology Welcome to Dystopia.

I’m also working on a novel and a few stories. Most of these projects are engaged with horror, and some of them explore Pennsylvania folklore and legend. I’m filling the suburbs with monsters.


“The Barrens” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Ms. Feldman’s photo will take you to her website.  You can also find her online here:


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