The author is Shirley Jackson, perhaps most well known for the short horror story, THE LOTTERY. first published June 26th, 1948 in The New Yorker. I got tuned in to reading her on hearing an NPR interview with the author of a new biography of Jackson. What caught my ear was the description of how Jackson uses very precise details to build her horror very slowly. That interested me because I am currently working on a new story that could definitely fall into the macabre category. Now that's a place I never thought this sci-fi crazy kid would ever go as an author any more than I ever thought I'd write a baby board book.
And so I open her collected shorts (a form I don't read a lot of) and start reading and – wham! - I'm completely captivated, simply fall right into her words...story after story and not a robot or space ship or alien in sight! In fact one of my favorites is call “Like Mother Used to Make” and is about this guy completely obsessed with his new silverware and matching tableware and cozy apartment and solid ordered life and making a 'just so' dinner for his sloppy neighbor, who happens to be a young lady he might have romantic ideas about...maybe. You're never quite sure. That kind of ambiguity and mystery is at least one key to captivating readers, I think. The story has to raise questions that the reader cares to find the answers to. The tricky part is to do that without frustrating the reader with a sense that the author is deliberately hiding the necessary details. The story needs to seem to unfold naturally, from it's own internal drive that sweeps us along with it, never allowing the niggling details to knock us out of the “willful suspension of disbelief”.
Jackson, I discovered to my delight, is a master at this. So I find myself devouring her domestic dramas with their strange twists and macabre zingers in this genre I usually don't care to read. And that discovery is a great relief to me because the issue of genre is a problem for me – it can be both a blessing and a trap. I often write in one of the great classic genres, sci-fi. And I often write for kids. Many times you find stories in this field that take it for granted the reader is already a devoted fan. The writer doesn't have to work quite so hard at drawing the reader into their world. There's a certain presumption that you are interested in this stuff already.
But kids aren't usually fans yet and besides that, I want my stories to captivate the reader regardless of their preconceptions, just like Jackson. I want Racing the Blue Monarch to appeal to readers even if they are not race car fans or solar power believers or environmental activists or a young man or a kid. Just as I became terrible caught up in Jackson's drama seemingly founded in silverware and table settings, I want every reader of my story to be like the young lady who visited my booth at the Authorfest in Maine recently.
She did not look like a fan of any of those elements in Blue Monarch, but when she picked up the chapbook with the first two chapters of the story, she went from sentence to sentence and I could see her become captured. Very gratifying, I assure you.
I cannot begin to say if my skills will have the same effect on the majority of readers, however, I can definitely affirm that Shirley Jackson's stories do. Try one and see.