Glen Hirshberg was born in Detroit in 1966, and grew up there and in San Diego. He received his B.A. from Columbia University, where he won the Bennett Cerf Prize for Best Fiction, and his M.A. and M.F.A. from the University of Montana. He now lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and children.
Glen’s first novel, The Snowman’s Children, was published by Carroll and Graf in 2002. The Two Sams, published by Carroll and Graf in October 2003, collects his celebrated ghost stories which have received multiple International Horror Guild and World Fantasy Award nominations.
Tor recently reissued Glen’s novel, Motherless Child, and he kindly answered a few of my questions.
Kristin Centorcelli: I’m very excited that Tor decided to reissue your Southern horror novel, MOTHERLESS CHILD! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired the story?
Glen Hirshberg: This is the vampire novel I never expected to write. At its heart are two young single moms who have a terrible encounter, during a rare night out, with a musician known only as the Whistler. Terrified of what they already sense they are becoming as a result, the women leave their children and flee down the back roads of the Deep South. But neither motherhood nor the Whistler (and his Mother) prove so easy to outrun.
This one was inspired by all kinds of things: the profound impression the South left on me during the few years I lived there; the whistling loneliness at the heart of most transcendent American rock-and-roll and soul music; being a father. Most of all, though, the book was inspired by the two women at the heart of it, who just moved into my head one day and wouldn’t shut up until I got them down on paper.
GH: I’m pretty sure I was born a writer. My parents have a 90 minute cassette of me telling stories—actually, one story, about my just-born little brother (the villain of this particular piece) and a superhero who may or may not be a whale—from when I was two or three years old. I grew up mostly in Detroit. My mother was a psychologist, my father a designer and painter, and I think their influence still resonates through everything I write. I can’t draw a straight line, but I love painting with the language, and what interests me most in stories, even the spooky ones, is the way people respond to and discover one another as their lives unfold or unravel.
KC: Why horror? What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing dark fiction?
GH: I honestly wish I knew. I never set out to write “horror” or any other genre. I just love telling stories. But I do think there’s something about ghost stories and horror—the atmosphere, the essentially eerie and beautiful imagery, the primal and universal fears that encode so much human behavior and interaction, the way those fears trigger and heighten other primal and universal emotions—that seems to bring out some of the best writing I have in me. All those things, predictably enough, are also what I love about reading dark fiction. Although, honestly, I love reading any good fiction. Actually, any good anything.
KC: What is your writing process like? Is there anything special you do to get the creativity flowing?
GH: I’m a husband, a father of two, a full-time teacher, and so my writing process mostly involves sitting down and writing, any chance I get, anywhere I am, for as long as life will let me. Music helps. Good light helps. I love quiet and coffee when I can get them. But I can write on a bus, in a dentist office’s waiting room, in bed with a clip-on booklight, almost anywhere. And I try to do at least some every single day.
KC: You’ve undoubtedly influenced more than a few authors with your work, but who has influenced you in your work?
GH: I still feel as though I’m being influenced by something new and marvelous every single minute. But at the core? Robert Louis Stevenson for the charm of his voice and the generosity of his spirit (and the pirates, and those foggy, monstrous streets); Kipling, for the sheer virtuosity and range of his storytelling; Shirley Jackson, for the sustained sense of menace and devastating psychological acuity; Ramsey Campbell, for the variety and majesty of his spellcasting; Val Lewton movies for their skewed realities, alluring shadows, surprising sweetness; Mark Rothko paintings for that impossible, untraceable light; Richard Skelton’s music, and K. Leimer’s, for their restless stillness (if that makes any sense at all), their wells of winking melancholy. P.G. Wodehouse, for the sheer pleasure of his wordplay.
KC: Have you read any good books lately? Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to reading this year?
GH: I read all out of order, and in no one genre, so this is another constantly changing list. But recently, I was caught off guard by the uncharacteristic and delightful depth of character in Agatha Christie’s The Hollow (the book she claims she wrecked by wedging Poirot into it). I continue to love Colin Cotterill’s delightful and spectral Dr. Siri series (The Coroner’s Lunch,Thirty-Three Teeth.) And Nathan Ballingrud’s grimly glorious North American Lake Monsters triggered some most excellent disturbed dreams.
As for what I’m looking forward to? Honestly…there’s so much. I have a Google doc list. It’s 22 pages long.
KC: What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?
GH: Love the work: the grind, the dreaming, the distracted not-sleep, all of it. It’s the one thing in the job that will always be there, and the real pleasure in the profession. Everything else is luck.
KC: When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
GH: Playing German board games or hiking or watching wacky movies with my wacky, good kids and brilliant wife. Teaching. Reading. Watching darker, wackier movies after my kids and brilliant wife have gone off to sleep. Listening to as much music as I can wedge into each passing minute. Wandering used book and record stores. Talking to friends.
KC: What’s next for you?
GH: I’m close to wrapping up Good Girls, the sequel to Motherless Child, due out from Tor in 2015. Then comes another sequel, more ghost stories, a long-brewing haunted woods novel about domestic terrorism. Oh, I’ve got plans. Just need time…