1. What do readers need to know about Gordon B. White?
I’m not sure what readers need to know about me, but there are some things they might be interested to know.
I grew up in North Carolina. My dad’s side of the family has deep roots in the eastern part of the state, so I spent a lot of time in the rural areas when I was growing up. I didn’t realize at the time, but a lot of what I was absorbing then – the settings, the people, the stories and tall tales, the back country roads and that heavy air of religiosity and superstition – have resurfaced in my writing as I’ve gotten older. There’s some truth, it seems, to the idea that childhood fills the well we draw from as adults.
For college, though, I went as far from home as I could (as young people often tend to do) and ended up living in New York City for about a dozen years. Those, then, are my two poles – the rural and the hyper-urban; the small town and the big city; the familial history and the metropolitan anonymity. While sometimes one side or the other takes precedence in any particular story, that liminal, boundary space is where I think most of my writing falls.
I’ve always been writing, but I didn’t start to seriously pursue publication until around 2012, when I finished grad school. During my second year, my father passed away after an unexpected and devastatingly quick battle with cancer. Part of my reaction was to re-evaluate my priorities and one of my conclusions was that I needed to treat my passions as being as worthy of serious effort as my professional work. I stopped letting myself make excuses as to why I didn’t at least try to get things published, and so I asked myself, “What is it that I really want to write?” What immediately came to mind was my love of ghost stories and strange tales – most of which I’d learned from my father – and so that’s what I began focusing on.
Now for the lightning round: I have a terrible visual imagination, but am a stickler for excellent prose. I’m a graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop (Class of 2017 – Team Eclipse!!) and now board member. I do a lot of book reviews and author interviews for various outlets because I love analyzing things.
At present, I live in Seattle with my wife and our dog, Saucy. Saucy features prominently in most of my social media and promotional imagery. It’s gotten to the point where my editor, Scarlett Algee, has suggested I caption my author photo with the clarification: “Gordon B. White (right).”
2. What was the inspiration for As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions from Trepidatio?
As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions (Trepidatio Publishing) is my first collection. It collects fifteen stories – thirteen reprints and two all new ones – that were written between 2013 and 2019. One of them (“Mise en Abyme”) first appeared in the 2016-Stoker winning anthlogy Borderlands 6, while the closer (“Birds of Passage”) is going to be in this year’s The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 12.
This version of As Summer’s Mask Slips isn’t the first one, actually. I had originally submitted it around in a more bloated, less focused version – with more stories, but in a less coherent fashion. After it was politely declined from all publishers, though, I sat down and really looked hard at which stories I had available (including some new ones written during the book’s first doomed perambulation), and which ones really fit together. I trimmed out the wilder digressions, put in a few stronger pieces, and re-ordered the collection to create a more focused, curated experience. I tried to keep a thematic consistency – families, nature, dark intrusions into (near-)contemporary real world life – while presenting it in a way that highlighted my strongest and/or best-received pieces.
I aimed to create a flow to the way the reader experiences the stories from first to last. I’m a fan of structures and forms, whether overt or hidden, and so I grouped the collection in a way that it follows a thematic and emotional arc from beginning to end. There’s a modulation in the length of the pieces and the emotional content, so that every three or four stories complement each other, but also form a larger part of the overall flow. Just as a brief example, the general thematic tenor of the stories flows from “punishment,” to “resistance,” to “transcendence.” It starts pulpy and gets dark and ends sublime. (At least, I hope so!)
While there are quite a few B-sides and rarities that didn’t make the album (to adopt a lazy metaphor), I still love almost all of my stories. Some of them, though, just didn’t fit here. Some pieces – like the odd mash-up of J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my story “The Albatrossity Exhibition” – just work better as singles. (For now… who knows what complementary pieces may exist one day?)
All in all, this revision and reorganization it seems to have worked out for the better. I’m much happier with the leaner, more focused version of As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions. Readers seem to appreciate the focus, too – it received a starred review at Publishers Weekly and reader reactions have been very kind. I’m particularly pleased that each reader seems to have a different favorite story.
3. Who are your literary influences?
It’s always hard to name influences, I think. In part, there is an inclination to list those authors which one aspires to, even if their influence isn’t actually present. There’s also a difficulty in being blind to those influences that readers can see. There’s, also the fear of leaving someone out! With that caveat, here’s a staggeringly incomplete introspection.
I think my primary influence comes from my father’s tradition of ghost stories and tall tales. He was a born storyteller and so possessed of the gift of gab that you’d swear he kept a sliver of the Blarney Stone under his tongue. I grew up with so many wonderfully, casually strange and magical stories at bedtime, around the campfire, and just driving down the highway, that they couldn’t help but shape my own approach to narrative.
His real gift, though, was his ability to blend influences and make the weird seem as if it could happen just next door. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how many of his “true ghost stories” were repurposed Algernon Blackwood or M.R. James tales which he’d replanted in eastern North Carolina. That sort of seamless mixing of elements while grounding them in the real world certainly influenced the stories I try to write.
For authors, though, I think, like many males of a certain age and disposition, Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson loom large in my canon. Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Lydia Davis, Thomas Ligotti, too.
As I list them, it occurs to me that I love about them all is the strength of their prose and the clarity of the voice in their work. To me, the quality of the writing – the sound of the words, the flow of them on the page, the personality that leeches out from the syntax and diction – is my primary pleasure in reading. I don’t have a great visual imagination – I usually find it hard to visualize images, when I do they’re usually washed out and static – so I don’t fall into a fictive dream unless the words themselves and the authorial voice grab me and give me that “buzz.”
For that reason, I also love poetry, even though I don’t write much of it anymore. In part, I think that’s because I don’t have a strong desire to explore the speculative through poetry, so as I’ve been more and more focused in writing horror and weird fiction, the times when I think poetry is the optimal form for my own expression has diminished.
Speaking of poetry, I am also a big fan of structures and forms in poetry and also in narrative fiction, as well. To that end, Kij Johnson has been a huge influence. Her concept of “hidden spines” in stories changed how I approached writing stories for the better. Adam Golaski is another author who had a similar influence – the way his stories are wonderfully written horrors but seem to be scaffolded on a structure that readers catch hints of but cannot fully discern from the outside makes them into utterly weird, beautiful gems.
There are ten thousand that I’m forgetting, so I don’t want to go any further for the moment.
4. Can you remember the first thing you ever read that made you want to be a writer?
Another tough one! The first dream I can recall ever having was of a book – it was a still image of the cover of a book called Odd One Out. However, it was a picture book, so that probably didn’t spark my desire to be a writer….
I’m not really sure, as I was a voracious reader as a child but I can’t really pinpoint what it was that made me want to write. I remember in third grade we had an assignment to write a story so that the teacher could laminate and bind them as part of a project …. and I wrote, like, five, but that was probably more out of boredom than wanting to be a writer. I was always imagining things, and I don’t know when I decided that writing it down would be the way to go.
I’d always been good at analyzing and essaying, but as for fiction…. I really don’t know.
Actually, I think probably it came in middle school when I was drawn to tie-in novels and source books for RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons (particularly the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft novels) or Shadowrun, but I didn’t have enough nearby (or similarly inclined) friends at the time to play those with. At some point, I began to write out adventures where I was playing all the characters myself, and what is that but a narrative story? I think I also wrote extended Blade Runner universe fanfic around the same time, so that period was really where playing with others was replaced by writing for myself. From there, though, my other influences crept in and now here I am.
5. What’s next for Gordon B. White?
There’s a strange sense of both satiety and hunger that has accompanied publication of As Summer’s Mask Slips. Part of me thinks I should slow down and take my time on the next thing; part of me thinks I should speed up. All of me thinks there aren’t enough hours in the day. For now, I’m continuing to plug away at short stories for the time being. I also have a full slate of book reviews for Hellnotes and The Outer Dark’s podcast, as well as author interviews for Nightmare Magazine.
While Covid-19 has thrown some yet-to-be-announced projects into doubt, my story “Birds of Passage” will be part of The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 12 (edited by Ellen Datlow) later this year. Other plans and publications are less concrete at the moment.
Assuming that the pandemic subsides, I have a few live appearances scheduled for later in the year. I will (hopefully) being doing my first solo reading at my hometown bookstore, Quail Ridge Books, in Raleigh, NC, on June 21. I’m also slated to be a guest at The Outer Dark Symposium, which I will move heaven and earth to attend.
Finally, I have a long-standing and nebulous drive to one day write a Weird West legal thriller featuring a retired gunslinger turned lawyer. Maybe I’ll begin that soon…
Gordon B. White has lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the collection As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions (Trepidatio Publishing 2020). A graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop, Gordon’s stories have appeared in dozens of venues, including The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 12 and the Bram Stoker Award® winning anthology Borderlands 6. He also contributes reviews and interviews to outlets including Nightmare, Lightspeed, Hellnotes, and The Outer Dark podcast. You can find him online at www.gordonbwhite.com.