[NOTE: This is part of a series of Q&As with the Shirley Jackson Award nominees.]

Nicole Cushing is an author of dark fiction.

She is the author of the novellas Children of No One (recently nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award) and I Am the New God.

The anthology Werewolves & Shapeshifters: Encounters With The Beast Within includes Nicole’s short fiction (alongside stories by Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Charlaine Harris, and Chuck Palahniuk). Three of her tales received honorable mentions for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume 5. One of her stories was selected for the Tangent Online 2013 Recommended Reading List. Several of her stories have been (or are currently being) adapted for audio presentation on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify, Pseudopod, and Cast Macabre. All told, Nicole has sold well over twenty short stories to various markets in the U.S. and U.K.

Her essay on the racism of H.P. Lovecraft has been quoted by The Guardian and linked to by The Atlantic Monthly.

She invites correspondence via Facebook, Twitter, or (if one must be old-fashioned about it) email at nicolecushingwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. A native of Maryland, she now lives with her husband in Indiana.

Nicole was kind enough to answer a few of my questions…


Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the Shirley Jackson Award nomination! Will you tell us about your novella and what inspired you to write it?

Nicole Cushing: My novella, Children of No One, is about a group of boys who have been imprisoned in a pitch-black, underground maze for the past ten years and raised to believe that there is nothing outside that world. It is also about the man who imprisoned them there — a performance artist named Thomas Krieg (who conceives of the maze as a living, black canvas — a sort of avant-garde piece of installation art), his nihilistic collaborator Mr. No One (who wants to use the dark maze for his own occult magickal purposes), and a rich patron of the arts who pays to put on night vision goggles and watch the children suffer.

I was inspired to write it by a line from the Borges story “The Garden of Forking Paths” — a reference to “a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.” In the Borges story this is dismissed as just one in a series of “illusory images”, but I began to wonder what it would be like if the universe literally was comprised of nothing but labyrinths. The story idea quickly morphed into the sadistic scenario I described above.

KC: What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, and why did you first begin writing?

NC: I’ll answer the last question first.

As children, my brother and I wrote stories for each other as a way to distract ourselves. It was cheap entertainment. A newsstand comic book might cost seventy-five cents. That was almost a whole day’s salary, in our little under-the-table dog walking business. Writing our own stories was far more frugal and fun.

But we never shared our stories with anyone else. Our stories were innocent satires of the television sitcoms we always watched, but we had a sense that — simply by writing — we were engaged in something taboo. You have to understand, I grew up in a particularly stodgy blue collar family that saw any sort of artistic interest (indeed, any use of the imagination at all) as goofy, dangerous and/or inappropriately self-indulgent. It took a long time to break those mental chains. I didn’t start writing — in earnest — until I was in my mid-thirties and several hundred miles from home.

So it may come as no surprise that the experience of growing up in a suffocating blue collar family is one of my biggest influences. The experience of abruptly moving from my home state of Maryland to the Midwest is another of my influences. Placelessness is an influence. Alienation is an influence.

The writers who most appeal to me (and have, in some ways, probably influenced me) are those who have never quite mustered up the gumption to turn their frowns upside down: Edgar Allan Poe, Sadegh Hedayat, Tadeusz Borowski, Shirley Jackson, Sylvia Plath, Hubert Selby, Jr., and Thomas Ligotti.

KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

NC: Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti.

KC: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award?

NC: This is my first award nomination. Children of No One was my first novella. So the Jackson nomination provides validation. The fact that the jury has short listed my book alongside work by several well-established authors says that I’m at least capable of playing in that league, at that level.

Moving beyond the personal impact of the nomination, though, it just feels good to be associated with what the Jackson awards are all about: honoring “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic”. I find that there’s sometimes a negative stereotype about these genres — genres that I love. There’s a misunderstanding about horror (in particular), that it can’t say anything more intelligent than “Boo!”. Once upon a time, Pamela Sargent defined science fiction as “the literature of ideas”. It feels good to be associated with an effort that — year after year — points out that psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic can lay equal claim to this definition. These genres, too, can be the literature of ideas. It’s just that the ideas may be descended from Schopenhauer rather than descended from Stephen Hawking.

KC: What’s next for you?

NC: I’ve completed a short story collection, another stand-alone novella, and a novel. All three are at various stages of finding good homes.

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