Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, check out the guidelines here.)
My guest is multiple Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author S.P. Miskowski, whose latest book is the novella In the Light. Here’s the publisher’s description:
While fleeing from neighborhood bullies, a lonely girl uncovers a dark secret buried near the abandoned ruins of a house mired in local legend. Ruth hopes the charred remains that she unearths will bring a bit of magic to her life. But she’s no match for the force that dwells in this place, waiting for a chance to live again.
A displaced child neglected by affluent parents and a former preacher burdened by the tragic and scandalous circumstances of his mother’s death face a final reckoning at the hands of a woman with the power to summon good and evil.
In the Light is the final book of the Skillute Cycle, a chronicle of one fictional town and an abiding horror that lies just beneath the surface. In the woods. In the water. Beneath the ground. The time has arrived. Something evil has come home.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for S.P. Miskowski:
Recently I completed work on the Skillute Cycle, a series of books constructed around, and including, my novel, Knock Knock. This four-book series is published by Omnium Gatherum. In the three novellas that grew from the novel I’ve created a prequel, Delphine Dodd; a concurrent story, Astoria; and a sequel, In the Light. My intention has been to write four stand-alone books which, read together and in order, form a complex kaleidoscopic pattern with overlapping characters and events.
Most of the action in the series occurs in the fictional small town of Skillute, Washington. I’ve taken care to establish ways in which the town changes across time. As drastic economic changes occur, expectations and perceptions change. At the same time, I’ve chronicled the town’s underlying, mythological history. Locals tell stories of a scary creature who haunts the woods but few people realize that these stories have their origin in actual events.
Horrible things happen in Skillute, many of them triggered by a seemingly innocent game played by three girls whose only crime is boredom and frustration. The girls feel an impulse to break free of the social constraints that define their lives. This is a running theme in the series, women who find their situation unbearable and reach out or lash out, only to find they are trapped by a natural, malevolent force. Ironically, the force against which they struggle may have its origin in the very disillusionment they express, reiterated through several generations.
For me, the scariest and most daunting aspect of this cycle was returning to Skillute time and again, even though the town could sometimes be quite beautiful. I was afraid of the same things the women of Skillute fear, the long afternoons and empty nights, the loneliness which has no beginning or end, the sense that life may not have meaning beyond the ones we invent. My aim was to create a location which inspires claustrophobia and paranoia, in which reckless acts and desperate measures make sense. My growing uneasiness indicated that I had succeeded.
I’ve never lived in a small town but I spent a lot of time visiting the rural places where my parents grew up. As a child I only perceived these towns with an attitude of adventure. I saw the novelty and not the hardship. It was only after I grew up that I understood how my parents had barely managed to contain their youthful energy, and why they had run away as soon as they were old enough to do so. The picturesque and eccentric elements of small town life had masked, for me, the burden of history inherent to such a close-fitting world.
The girls of Skillute take an oath in the woods. They believe that if they can disrupt one building block in the life they are consigned to lead, the whole structure will topple and they will be free. Such are the dreams we cherish when we’re children. Escape is so much more difficult. However much we kick against the rules that shape our lives, we remain largely a product of our time and place. Real escape requires a deep understanding of where we come from and what we want, as well as an acceptance of our nature as something less pretty and more frightening than we ever imagined.
S.P. Miskowski: Goodreads
In the Light: Preorder from Amazon
S.P. Miskowski’s debut novel, Knock Knock, and her first novella, Delphine Dodd, were shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award. Both books are part of The Skillute Cycle, which includes two more novellas: Astoria and In The Light. All four books are published by Omnium Gatherum Media.
Rated by Black Static book critic Peter Tennant as “one of the most interesting and original writers to emerge in recent years,” Miskowski has written short stories published in Supernatural Tales, Horror Bound Magazine, Identity Theory, The Absent Willow Review, New Times, Fine Madness, Other Voices, and the anthologies Detritus and Little Visible Delight, and in the forthcoming anthologies Cassilda’s Song edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Chaosium) and October Dreams 2 (Cemetery Dance Publications). Her work has received a Swarthout Award and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships.