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Interview: Ashley Blooms on “Hainted”

Ashley BloomsTell us a bit about “Hainted.”

“Hainted” is a story that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I grew up in a very small Appalachian town that was dominated by the coal industry. My entire childhood and my whole family were shaped by the mines. I knew that I wanted, and needed, to reckon with the impact of that in my fiction, but I wasn’t sure how to begin until I found Dallas and Johnny.


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

This story actually came out of Clarion UCSD in 2017. Lynda Barry and Dan Chaon guided us through a lot of generative exercises during week one and the two characters from this story—a little girl and her best friend’s father—emerged from one of those exercises. So Dallas and Johnny started out as two very poorly drawn doodles in a composition notebook. 


Was there any aspect of “Hainted” that you found difficult to write?

Emotionally, I found the writing of the haints themselves to be difficult. For many Americans, coal mines are a distant concept or talking point in recent news cycles, but for me, the mines were always both tangible and inescapable. My dad was an electrician in the mines so there were always rolls of electrical tape all over the house that we’d use to patch leaky sinks or spliced wires or cut fingers. Coal dust from his coveralls swirled along the kitchen floor and the mines were evident in how stiffly he walked or how much he slept on his days off, his constant aches and pains. So the haints became a representation of many of those things, including what the miners lost physically and emotionally due to chronic pain. The haints are also cobbled together with pieces of coal, which speaks, I think, to the reality of black lung. Miners work so long and so closely with this substance that it literally becomes a part of them, but a part that doesn’t belong. I wanted to explore the connection that’s forged between miner and mine, which meant making the physicality of the work very present in this story. But as true as it felt to do that, it was also hard to occupy that space at times.


What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

This is a hard question, because I can never know what the reader is bringing to the story or how much of themselves they’ll find within it. So I guess that’s part of what I want from every story I write—a moment of recognition or connection, the feeling of being seen or understood. I hope for any stranger to coal mining or southeastern Kentucky that they can see part of themselves reflected here, and in seeing that, come to know Appalachia as something not separate from the rest of the world, not isolated in time or space. I hope that anyone back home who reads this story feels within it the deep love and concern that I have for our home and that they see themselves portrayed with tenderness and with honesty. And I hope that readers enjoy the story as a story, as something that is entertaining and pleasurable that transports them someplace new for a little while.


Why do you write?

I write because I need help understanding myself and the world around me, but also because I need an escape from those things. I write because I get so grumpy when I don’t, and because stories give me a kind of joy that nothing else can. I write because I was a lonely kid and a lonely adult who believes stories are bridges to other people as much as they’re bridges to other places. 


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I have so many! Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love had a very particular impact on me as a young writer, especially in giving me permission to write about things that I may have considered out of bounds before reading that book. Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Kelly Link, Daniel Woodrell, Lewis Nordan, Dorothy Allison, Stephen King, and many others.


What are you working on now?

For most of this year I was hard at work revising a novel, which I’ve recently begun submitting to agents. So now that the book is out of my hands, I’ve split my time between revising short stories that have been neglected for too long and toying with a new novel idea, because I’m a glutton for punishment.


“Hainted” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Ashley Blooms’ picture will take you to her website.


One Response to “Interview: Ashley Blooms on “Hainted””

  1. Links (2018-08-22) | Featured Futures on August 22nd, 2018

    […] Interview: Ashley Blooms on “Hainted” : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The author of the best story in the latest issue of F&SF talks a little about it and its neglected background. […]

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