Swetha Amit: What inspired Here in the Night? How did you put it all together?
Rebecca Turkewitz: I wrote some of the earliest stories in the collection during my MFA Program. When I started writing stories, I was trying different ideas and perspectives. It wasn’t until later that I started thinking about how to put the different stories into one collection. I found that the collection linked more to some of my spookier stories. When I began writing the second half of the collection, I thought more about what it’s like to be a woman in this world and gradually began assimilating it into a project.
SA: What drew you towards the genre of horror?
RT: I have always loved ghost stories my entire life. When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of scary stories like Goosebumps. We used to sit in the bush during recess and tell ghost stories. I think, as kids, it’s the only time you get to talk about these big ideas of death and life in a fun manner. As a reader, I am drawn to the horror genre even though I read widely. What I read always influences my writing.
SA: You chose the setting to be Maine/New England. Was that a conscious decision to provide a link to these stories? How did that come about?
RT: Place plays a vital role in my writing, and I like to create a strong setting for my stories. Except for one story, most of the stories in my collection are set in places I have lived in, like the Mid-West or New England. New England has such a rich, literary, spooky legacy. I love the landscape of that place. So, yes, the setting was a conscious choice.
SA: In your collection, you have used first person and omniscient voice in some stories and second person in one story. How did you make these choices?
RT: I like thinking about the construction of stories. For me, stories are always about perspectives and structures. I like to experiment with new things. I tried to write convincingly in the second person and wondered how one uses the first-person plural-we. I was inspired by Julie Otsuka’s novel titled When the Empire Was Divine, and I was fascinated by how she gets to stay in the ‘we’ voice. I used that perspective in my story. It’s different tonally and stylistically.
SA: While the stories are about spookiness and sending a chill down the spine, there are elements of loss, loneliness, and grief that the characters experience. How did you manage this balance?
RT: Besides horror, I also read a ton of literary fiction. When I thought of putting these stories together as a book, each story I worked on felt like a separate project. My work lives in this strange in-between space, making it challenging to explain as a project. This collection also lives in between two genres- character-based literary fiction that’s reckoning with complex parts of life and horror where there is an immense amount of fear. It’s a fun and weird place to be doing both.
SA: Regarding the in-between space, spirits also tend to be in this in-between space between life and death, which lends well to the structure of your stories. Did this factor also contribute to your stories’ themes of loss and grief?
RT: I think when you pay attention, many spirits are sad. Some of their deaths are caused by suicide. Often, you hear stories about ghosts looking for lost lovers or grappling with the loneliness of unrequited love. In this sense, it attributes well to both genres-spirits and characters experiencing complex emotions.
SA: Did a real-life incident inspire any story in the collection? Have you had any supernatural experience?
RT: I am not a very autobiographical fiction writer. Usually, I would have a question I was thinking about. I think about the different ways people cope with grief. I also like thinking about a story within a story. For instance, in the story- The Elevator Girl, set on the Ohio State Campus, a tiny kernel of that is based on a fact. There is a real ghost story about someone getting stuck in an elevator. I built the story around that myth and based on what I heard.
SA: Your story Warnings, as did some of your other stories, had a social message. What is it you want readers to take away from your book?
RT: The idea behind Warnings was to write about a tragedy that happened to some runners. I was consciously thinking about violence against women and how they are conditioned to be afraid. It’s like an active terrorism, and so the idea to write that story was intentional. I am a writer who writes because I love to read. What I want the reader to take away is to have the stories mean something to them or resonate with them strongly, emotionally, or thematically.
SA: How long did it take to put this collection together? What’s your writing process like?
RT: It took me forever to put this together. I am a full-time public high teacher, so I write slowly. I usually revise heavily. Sometimes, I set a story aside for a year before returning to it. The oldest story in that collection is a decade old. It was revised at many different stages. I write a rough draft quickly, but a finished draft takes a long time.
SA: Who are the authors/books that have inspired you?
RT: Shirley Jackson has been my most significant influence. I also love Jesmyn Ward, Louise Erdrich, ZZ Packer, and Alice Munroe. I learned from authors like ZZ Packer when I first learned to write.
SA: Are there any upcoming works in the pipeline?
RT: Now I am done with my short story collection, I am ready to write something new. I have an idea for a novel. I have notes for it and have yet to start writing it.
SA: Lastly, if you ever come face to face with a ghost, what would you say or do?
RT: Oh my gosh. I would be so scared that I couldn’t say anything. I would focus on getting out of there.
Rebecca Turkewitz is a writer and high school English teacher living in Portland, Maine. She is the author of Here in the Night (Black Lawrence Press, July 2023), a collection of thirteen spooky literary short stories. Her fiction and humor writing have appeared in The Normal School, Chicago Quarterly Review, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from The Ohio State University. You can find her at her at rebeccaturkewitz.com. Twitter: @r_turkewitz Instagram: @rebecca_turkewitz_writes