The wonderful S.P. Miskowsi has released her latest instalment in the Skillute Cycle, In the Light. Knock, Knock, her debut novel, and Delphine Dodd, a novella, were both shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award. Black Static’s Peter Tennant has described her as “one of the most interesting and original writers to emerge in recent years.” She is one of my favourite horror authors, and here she talks about tales of ambition and envy, what scares her, and disappointed women.
What do readers need to know about S.P. Miskowski?
I would be ecstatic if books could, in some magical way, sell themselves so that writers could stay in their caves and do the only thing we’re good at. I’d love to write books and stories for the rest of my life without having to charm, impress, seduce, or mislead anyone into thinking I’m a fascinating, sexy creature whose work they ought to read. I think my wish tells you something essential about me. So I’ll leave it at that.
What was the inspiration behind the Skillute Cycle?
A night of insomnia at my husband’s grandmother’s house, in Rose Valley, Washington. The sky was black. There was a cold breeze, and tree branches scraped against the outside walls of the house. Everyone else was asleep. I was thinking about childhood visits to my grandparents in the country. I thought how beautifully dark the woods were at night, yet alive with creatures we can’t see. I wondered what it was like for young girls who aspired to leave that place and failed to escape, for whatever reasons. Then I thought about all the things that might keep a woman tied to a town she didn’t like. And the book began to take shape.
What first made you want to write?
I can’t remember choosing to write, only filling notebooks with lines and loops at the age of three, before I knew how to read. Maybe it’s a nervous disorder. My sister taught me to read and I started writing stories in those notebooks. My eighth grade English teacher recognized my inclination and became my first mentor, supplementing the school reading list with books from her library. She was a huge influence. But I’ve always been a writer.
What can readers expect from In the Light?
More clues! More mysteries! Two characters with only a superficial social connection are about to collide. Their real relationship will make sense, I hope, within the novella. But to really understand its origin you have to read the four books and put all of the pieces together. My wish is for readers to find that process entertaining and challenging, rather than maddening. We’ll see.
You’ve also been a playwright – what did you learn from that experience that you put to work in your novel writing?
First: Revisions never end. You can always make another change for the better. There is no final, perfect draft, only the draft you consider ready for an editor’s judgment. Knowing this has kept me from treating my work as something too precious.
Second: No matter how many tricks we devise to make writing seem less solitary, ultimately it comes down to you, alone, with words. As a playwright I tried to be collaborative. It was interesting. Collaboration is beautiful when it occurs naturally. It’s rare. Not something you can expect when you’re jumping from one production to another, one group of collaborators after another. What I learned from playwriting, beyond anything technical, was to accept solitude.
What scares S.P. Miskowski?
The inevitability of causing harm simply by living day to day, causing harm without realizing it. We make decisions which cause damage to others, damage to the world, and we are barely aware, if at all. Arrogance. Self-regard. The inevitability of greed and the desire for power and control. People who think their ideas are so cool they should be imposed on everyone. Human nature, which doesn’t change, or changes so gradually the difference can’t be detected from one generation to the next, no matter how drastically our living conditions are altered. What scares me is my nature, our nature. Knowing how far we go to justify what we want and what we do to get it.
In the Light is the last part of the Skillute Cycle – how does it feel to be closing a loop?
I’d like a parade and a bottle of champagne, please. A writer comes to the end of a project that’s taken years to complete, and naturally it feels like there should be a celebration. But in fact there’s only more writing. I took a few minutes to congratulate myself for sticking with it, before I went back to my usual self-criticism. It’s good to stand on the ground I saw from a distance. Not that I achieved all I hoped to achieve, but making it to the end of a marathon feels good.
Who are your literary influences?
Flannery O’Connor, Janet Malcolm, Shirley Jackson, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith…
A message to your younger, more angsty self?
Don’t waste any time trying to fit in. You never will. Just keep writing.
What’s next for you? Can you ever really leave Skillute?
We will see. I don’t know. I never stop thinking of new stories and characters related to Skillute. Maybe the buried demons and disappointed women of Skillute will follow me to the city. The novel I’m working on is an urban tale of ambition and envy, with a supernatural twist. At its heart, the book is a murder mystery about social and personal identity. Another obsession, another story.