Author and Scriptwriter

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

Thursday 11 May 2017

The Lowdown with... Emily Cataneo

Emily B. Cataneo is a writer and journalist currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from magazines such as Nightmare, Interzone, Lackington's, Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, and The Dark. She was long-listed for John Joseph Adams’ Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, and her debut fiction collection, Speaking to Skull Kings, is forthcoming on May 19 from JournalStone. She is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego and the Odyssey Writing Workshop in New Hampshire. She likes hats, dogs, crafts, and historical research.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

--I didn't study creative writing in school, instead opting for a journalism degree. I've spent the bulk of my professional life working in that field, writing for papers like the Boston Globe and Financial Times. Working as a reporter actually changed my personality. I was a very shy person for the first twenty years of my life, terrified to make phone calls or approach people, but journalism jolted me out of that. Once you've stormed into a city police station with a stack of court documents demanding confirmation that one of the officers there committed a crime, it becomes much easier to telephone a pizza place and order takeout.
--For several years in my early twenties, I dreamed of moving to Berlin, Germany, although the logistics of moving to Europe seemed like an impenetrable mystery. Finally, when I was 25, I decided to just go there and see if I could make it work. And so I flew across the ocean with no job, no visa, no German skills, and few friends in the city. Looking back this was a rather large gamble, but I managed to find a writing job, get a visa, learn German, and write my first novel while there. I ended up living in Berlin for two years, and I actually met my now-husband there too.
--Last fall, I moved into a new apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and didn't realize for several weeks that I had subconsciously organized my bookshelf into "Favorite Novels," "Favorite Short Story Collections," and "Victorian Gothic Literature." If a book has a haunting on the moors or a creepily overbearing housekeeper in a spooky manor, then I will probably (re: definitely) read it.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
My first published story was "The Desert Cold Oasis and Spa," which appeared in the online journal "The Colored Lens" in 2013. The story was inspired by a road trip my best friend and I took through Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington in 2012. One evening during that trip, we wandered into Zzyzx, an abandoned mineral springs and health spa in the Mojave Desert that was started by a radio evangelist in the mid-twentieth century and eventually shut down due to tax evasion. I'm always on the lookout for atmospheric locales that might inspire my writing, and this place had more than enough atmosphere: abandoned rowboats listing in the sands, peeling decayed signs from the failed spa, fan palms and Joshua trees and other vegetation that appeared alien to a New England girl who'd never set foot in the desert before. I knew I had to set a story there.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
Of my published writing, I'm proudest of "Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse," which appears in Interzone this month. This story takes place on the New England coast--a place where I've spent much of my life--and tells the story of an intense friendship between two girls, one of them a vacationer to a seaside community, the other one a year-round resident. It's about the ocean and fate and class and female friendship, and I put a lot of myself into writing and crafting it. I hope everyone likes it as much as I do!

4. …and which makes you cringe? 

Luckily none of my published work makes me cringe, but there are definitely some documents on my hard-drive that I'm quite grateful never saw the light of day.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 
My writing schedule recently changed a lot. From 2014 through 2016, I was working as a freelance nonfiction writer and journalist. This allowed me to structure my days as I saw fit, although there always seemed to be myriad distractions and temptations taking me away from my desk ("I MUST have Halloween spider lights for my porch! Now!" was a typical thought). Now, though, I'm working fulltime at a wonderful online feminist historical archive, so I've had to become a lot more strategic about structuring my writing time. I typically wake up early so that I can write for two hours before work (no mean feat for a sleep addict such as myself!) and try to spend at least one weekend day writing with two friends of mine in a cafe somewhere in Cambridge. Having accountability partners really helps.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
I would suggest "The Lily Rose," which appeared in The Dark in February 2017. It features spooky New England, a group of girls, ghostly events, characters grappling with loss, and Russian royalty--all common motifs in my stories.

7. What are you working on now? 

Right now, my big project is working on the fourth draft of my aforementioned first novel, The Elephant Girl Gang, which takes place in Germany during World War 1 and follows the story of four teenage girls who accidentally unleash a death omen curse and must destroy it before it destroys them. It has castles and female friendship and the Great War and socialism and smoky dance halls and messy magic and visits to the land of the dead and spiritualism and-- and you can see, I'm very excited about it, and can't wait to share it with the world. I'm also working on various short stories; collaborating on a novelette with the author Gwendolyn Kiste; and gearing up for the release of my collection, Speaking to Skull Kings, which I am also quite excited to share with the world!