[NOTE: This is part of a series of Q&As with the Shirley Jackson Award nominees.]
Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Nightmare, Shimmer, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Electric Velocipede, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, The Minnesota Review, and The Rumpus, among others. He is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop, a 2013 nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, an anthology published by the University of Texas Press. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com.
Sam kindly answered a few of my questions about “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides”, which has been nominated for Best Short Fiction!
KC: Congrats on the Shirley Jackson Award nomination! Will you tell us about your story and what inspired you to write it?
Sam J Miller: “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” is the story of a bullied small-town gay boy with a gnarly supernatural ability that allows him to take a harsh revenge on his tormentors, but in the process he might just destroy the only thing that matters in his life. The story has its roots in my own feelings about privilege, and how failing to understand our own privilege can cause us to misunderstand our relationships with other people who don’t share that privilege… in potentially devastating ways.
SJM: My mom’s a phenomenal writer, and she showed me how to write a cover letter and do a self-addressed stamped envelope and submit to magazines when I was thirteen. And later, as an adult, her own writing would be hugely meaningful and transformative to me. Big influences not actually related to me by blood include Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Ted Chiang, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Eudora Welty, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston…
KC: If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
SJM: Oooooh, good question! I think that Ray Bradbury’s short stories have such primal, almost mythic simplicity to them, rooted in tricks and surprises that we now take for granted, that it’s difficult for me to imagine what it was like to come upon them fresh, before all these tropes became second nature to us as writers and readers. So I’d like to be able to experience those for the first time again. Sort of like The Twilight Zone in that regard – watching an episode now, we know all the beats, even if we haven’t seen that particular one, because these things shaped the entire genre in really fundamental ways.
KC: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award?
SJM: Shirley Jackson has always represented all the genre’s best tendencies and strengths, for me – she was one of the very first writers I read who opened my eyes to the true depth of what genre fiction can accomplish – when I graduated from the Stephen King/Dean Koontz school of horror into the idea that complex human characters are more bizarre than any space alien, and human emotions are more frightening than any monster. Things that go bump in the night are scary, but human loneliness is scarier. So to be nominated for this award was a total shock, and then a deeply moving and impactful thing – also because so many of my favorite writers have won it, including Karen Joy Fowler and Jeffrey Ford, to name but a couple.
KC: What’s next for you?
SJM: Tons of stories, always, bouncing around in my brain and my desktop and the slushpiles of various awesome spots. A novel that is causing me astonishing amounts of anxiety and self-doubt and annoyance. Maybe a couple other baby novels lurking in the basement of my brain. Maybe more than a couple.