Shimmer #16, author interviews: Nicole M. Taylor
I have the best job when it comes time to talk with Shimmer authors. Nicole M. Taylor pens Shimmer 16′s “Gemini In the House of Mars.” If this story doesn’t blow you out of your chair, you need to read it again!
How did the story come to be?
This one actually had a kind of circuitous path into existence. I’m a big proponent of NaNoWriMo and, in my mind, the best thing about it is the community that surrounds it. The one year I actually completed a novel in a month, I think it had a lot to do with that community.
One thing I especially liked was the challenge threads, where people “dare” you to include various elements in your finished novels and there’s one that I really loved, which challenged you to write a story to a prompt every day of October. “Gemini in the House of Mars,” came from one of those threads with a really crazy list of elements I had to include. That list dictated almost all the content of the first iteration of the story, which was, perhaps not shockingly, a mess. I put it away and kind of forgot about it for a few years and then, a couple of summers ago, I was in Belgium for a few months. As I was on a visitor visa, I wasn’t legally permitted to work, so I decided to focus on my writing, specifically refurbishing old stories. One morning I came across Gemini and decided to clean it up and streamline it a little. Mainly because I think it’s the only legitimately good title for a story that I’ve ever developed, normally I’m terrible at that part of the process.
The prompt really focused on the adultery and murder in this very kind of noir way, but the twins were there as an element. As an only child, I’ve long been really fascinated with sibling and especially twin relationships. Those stories you hear about twin language or twins who are effectively living in their own private universe. That’s a very Narnia-like conceit for me and I think it fits really naturally into speculative fiction. So that’s what I really focused on when I revised it.
How did you celebrate your first fiction sale?
I am almost certain that I ate a really nice grilled cheese sandwich. That’s actually still how I celebrate. I’m a big proponent of all the dairy-based methods of celebrating accomplishments.
Do you have a favorite first line from your published stories?
That’s a great question! I’ve made a study of first lines. When I’m deciding whether to buy a book, I check the first line and the last line. If they aren’t both arresting and interesting, I don’t get the book. Sometimes I think my writing life is an on-going journey to perfect my own first and last lines. There’s a story I published recently in Northwind Magazine called “The Last Day of the Armistice” and it starts with the line “The war was coming in the windows.” I’ve always been proud of that one.
What is up with Are You Afraid of the Dark? If you were on that show, what would your role be?
I relocated to Los Angeles last year to be with my partner, who was committed to a PhD program here and, for the first few months, I was kind of flailing around. I was just out of undergrad and I was having a hard time getting work and I was sort of anxious and unsettled. A wise friend of mine advised me to use that time to develop my career as a writer, rather than just wringing my hands about my lack of job. He gave me a list of practical things to try and one of them was to update my blog regularly (something I still struggle with, obviously) and to create some sort of “hook” for the blog. Around that same time, I discovered that the entire run of the early nineties Canadian/American kids horror anthology show Are You Afraid of the Dark was on YouTube. I was immediately obsessed because I was all about that show when I was a kid. It was a kind of Night Gallery or Tales from the Dark Side, but for kids. I love anthologies in all their forms, honestly, short stories are by far my preferred form to work in and to read and I’ve always been really into anthology shows, especially anthology horror. AYAotD was probably my earliest exposure to that and I decided to do a mini-series on it, looking at a couple of episodes from each season that I remembered from my childhood. My goal was to see how it stood up to my adult sensibilities and to kind of examine what watching this and loving this might have done, in terms of forming me creatively. I was pleased to discover that, for a 30 minute horror anthology show aimed at tweens and younger, the show is surprisingly good. Inconsistent, as those kinds of shows always are, but usually fairly strong and often actually scary, especially in shockingly existential ways.
I’ve also noticed some amusing trends as I watch the show. For example, the stories almost always feature some sort of odd couple reluctant team up with the popular but troubled kid was a chip on his shoulder and the nerdy, goody two-shoes (almost always wearing age-inappropriate brown slacks) who have to work together to deal with the sinister supernatural threat. I know myself well enough to say that I would almost certainly be donning the Beige Slacks of Nerdom.
What’s your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
Oh man, that’s like picking a favorite baby (it’s this one. Definite best baby.)
There’s a section in From the Dust Returned where the family’s “daughter” of sorts (an insubstantial ghost/presence) decides she wants to explore life amongst the living for one night and she inhabits the body of a young girl preparing to go to a town dance. I read that for the first time when I was about twelve and the aching bitter-sweetness of that scene and the fully realized sensory story, has stuck with me ever since. But I really do find it hard to pick a favorite, so many different stories meant different things to me at different times.
What’s next for you?
I’m at the time in my life where I’m kind of building lots of things in different directions. I’m going to grad school right now and getting into professional ghostwriting, which has been awesome. Writing-wise, I’m working on completing a penultimate draft of the novel “The Undertaker’s Son” comes from, called “The Witches Knot.” It’s a dynastic fantasy story about five generations of a family of, for lack of a better word, witches. It’s partially a response reading a lot of fantasy about people who discover that they magical abilities and it changes the entire tenor of their life and thrusts them into a magical world, Harry Potter-style. I wanted to write a story about how magical ability might be shaped by the constraints of real life and personality. A person who never discovers they have magical powers has a wholly different experience of them than one who runs away from home and apprentices herself to a magical mentor who has a further different experience from someone who knows about their powers and has information available, but struggles with it because of contradictory religious beliefs. It’s also a bit of a love letter to the kinds of bizarre and baroque family stories that I would hear if I was quiet and patient after Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner about my paster great-great grandfather who founded a church in frontier Michigan in the midst of a diphtheria epidemic or my own freewheeling teenage grandmother. I’m hoping to have it finished before the end of the year. Beyond that, I have a big list of partially finished short stories to complete and a YA series of novellas that I’m really excited about. Essentially, I’m trying to work as much as I can, consume as many stories as I can and be ready to take the opportunities that fetch up on my doorstep.