Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in, thirteen of which appear in her debut collection, She Said Destroy (Word Horde, 2017). Her short stories have been included in editions of The Year's Best Weird Fiction, The Year's Best Horror, and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. She has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award five times. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her Javanese father and American mother, before relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska. She has a B.A. in Political Science, an M.A. in International Affairs, and lives in Washington, D.C.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
- I've been stung by jellyfish or jellyfish-adjacent creatures twice, in California and Florida. The second time was actually a man o' war, and I had to rip the tentacles off my leg with my hand while swimming. Suffice it to say, I didn't take any chances when studying abroad in Australia.

- My first dream job was "first female soccer player," until I realized many women had gotten there before me. My second was paleontologist. I still fantasize about that one.

- I'm kind of obsessed with plane crashes, which I realize is very morbid. I find shows like Air Crash Investigation very calming (although I'm still not sure the Hong Kong International Airport should have aired it), because they show how far we've come in aviation safety.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
"The Five Stages of Grief," a short story in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, in 2008. It's about a family that can't let go of their dead youngest daughter, even when her ghost starts going bad. The first stories I published were almost exclusively about mourning and accepting deaths in the family - it was the best way I knew to work through my father's death. It helped a bit, though therapy helped more!

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
 Probably "Endless Life," which I reprinted in my collection. It's a story about a hotel that's haunted by the ghost of a maid; except everyone assumes that she's the ghost of a famous dictator who died in the hotel. Writing this story was like standing up a ship in a bottle - it needed such a soft touch, writing from the perspective of a bored and angry ghost in a post-colonial, post-authoritarian society - even my subplots about death tourism and paranormal investigations were tricky issues of power and exploitation. I loved writing it, and the end result was very me.

4. …and which makes you cringe? A lot of my writing, obviously, makes me cringe. Stuff I never finished, stuff I should have taken another editing pass at. I definitely cringe when I read the stuff I wrote as a kid. I think the only piece that I actually regret publishing was a modern magical realism/fantasy story that I think gave people the wrong impression of who I was as a writer. The sad part was that people really liked it! Alas, I was just mimicking a popular style instead of trying to find my own voice. And that's the part that makes me cringe.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
It involves a lot of walking. I need a lot of "processing" time to write - when I was a kid walking around the playground and talking to myself, it didn't come across so well - and I process best when walking and listening to music (I make playlists for every story). When actually writing, I always have the TV on. That may sound weird, but sound and stimulation are a huge crutch for me - silence actually makes me kinda panicky. I'm a slow writer, but I'm very deliberate - I don't do second drafts.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
Depends on what they like (is that cheating?). To compromise between out-and-out horror and "softer" horror, I'd say "Intertropical Convergence Zone," about a lieutenant collecting magically-imbued items for the dictator he works for. I think that story was the first piece of mine that a lot of people read, and it's on my web site. However, I wrote that story ten years ago, so for something more recent I'd say "Wish You Were Here," which can be found in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year vol. 9.

7. What are you working on now?
My agent and I are pitching a grief/mental health memoir, written through the lens of being a long-suffering tennis fan. If it gets picked up, it'll be the saddest thing I've ever written, so I really hope it does! I'm also pleased to be participating in a few fun projects I can't talk about yet.

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