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[INTERVIEW] Glen Hirshberg, Author of GOOD GIRLS, on Vampire Culture, Horror, and What Makes a Good Story

Photo by Jonas Yip

Glen Hirshberg 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. His first novel, The Snowman’s Children, was a Literary Guild Featured Selection. A story collection, The Two Sams, won three International Horror Guild Awards and was named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Hirshberg has won the Shirley Jackson Award and has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Bram Stoker Award.

Glen answered a few of my questions about his new book, Good Girls, the followup to Motherless Child.


Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about GOOD GIRLS?

Glen Hirshberg: Good Girls is the sequel I never imagined to the vampire novel I swore I’d never write. And it sets up one more sequel which will complete the Motherless Children trilogy. This whole project has been such a surprise and a gift, for me. When I started, I really did think not so much that vampires were played out as that I had nothing new to offer on the subject. But as it turns out, I did have a specific vision about what would be most terrifying and harrowing, at least for me, about both encountering and being such a creature, and I’ve been able to use that to explore all the things I think my fiction has always probably explored: how we deal with the very real darkness inherent in living, where that darkness comes from, how we find and sometimes even make light within it.

KC: What makes Jess and Rebecca compelling characters?

GH: I can only answer for myself, of course. But both of them are survivors, though of very different tragedies and terrors. Jess, the bereaved mom, faces down life with a steely, relentless, and seemingly bottomless reserve that somehow allows her to get up, time and again, and keep fighting. Rebecca (in the third book, another character refers to her as the Little Orphan that Could) is, at least a first glance, a gentler soul, but her ability to see and empathize with others gives her strength, and also strengthens everyone around her.

But they’re alike in one crucial way: in the certain knowledge of very real horrors, both somehow continue not just to fight but to engage, to seek out people worth loving and then bestow love upon them.

KC: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to write three books? What originally inspired the idea for the trilogy?

GH: I didn’t even know Motherless Child wanted to be a novel. It started as a story commission from Ellen Datlow (which I turned down, with a haughty “I don’t do vampire stories”). Then, suddenly, I did, and wrote a tale called “Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey,” which introduced most of the key elements in what has become the trilogy. A year later, I literally woke up one day with an idea for what happens five minutes after the seemingly inescapable end of that story, and within a matter of months, I had Motherless Child written.

Then, when Tor bought the rights for the major-press edition, Jim Frenkel (my first contact there, before I started working with Melissa Singer) proposed buying a trilogy. I told him, “I don’t do vampire trilogies.” Twenty-four hours later, I had the core concept for Good Girls—and the ending to the whole trilogy—pretty fully formed in my head.

Put simply, these books apparently want to be written. So I’m doing my best to oblige.

KC: Did you do specific research for GOOD GIRLS, or just pull from the work you did for MOTHERLESS CHILD?

GH: Well, a lot of the research for things like the Policy game that the vampires use to guide their selection of victims, amongst other things, in this book—Policy was a sort of lottery and dream-interpretation system/game/numbers racket that spread particularly but by no means exclusively through immigrant and African American communities all over America during Reconstruction and well into the 20th century—was actually done for Motherless Child, but I didn’t wind up using it there. This book explores the vampire culture, such as it is, much more, and so I was able to employ more of what I’d learned. Inevitably, that led me to new things that needed researching. Frankly, I’m always researching, because I’m always curious. And it’s fun.

KC: What is your writing process like?

GH: Relentless. Grinding. Life-affirming. Exhausting. Liberating. Mostly, I’m the get-up-and-do-it-every-day sort. My days just never feel done if at least some writing work doesn’t get accomplished. When I can, I write to mesmerizing, often elegiac music, for some reason. I love good light when I can get it. But I’ll write whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.

KC: What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, horror?

GH: This changes from year to year, and I’m less sure all the time that there’s anything different about what I demand from horror than what I want from all art, whether I’m consuming or producing it. What I want is images I remember, people I wish I knew, atmospheres to burrow into, ideas that alarm and provoke and surprise even when they’re affirming or reassuring, moments and choices with consequences, and—for horror—heightened or subtly re-dreamed realities that cast shadows deep and murky and alluring enough to alter my sense of or connection to or opinions about so-called actual or lived reality.

KC: What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?

GH: What I like to see is everything noted above. Plus skillful or even dazzling language. Any book that isn’t delivering pretty much all of those things—or something brand new and electrifying and soul-stirring all its own—is going to get put down by me, these days. Life is short and full of life-stuff, and I’m increasingly aware that there is too little reading time (and too much wonderful writing out there) to allow any to go to waste.

That said, I love exploring, too, and watching books discover themselves, so I try not to be too quick on the trigger. My assumption, every time I pick up something new, is that I’m going to love it. Only when the book convinces me otherwise will I drop it.

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

GH: Ha. So many, especially because there are so many books I think I might experience differently—not more richly or in better ways, but differently—at distinct times in my life. But if I’m picking one, and if I could not just experience it for the first time but know nothing about it going in, I think I’d choose Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First, it ticks every single box I have listed above. Secondly, Stevenson is just always such an alert, generous, stylish, gregarious, and spooky companion. And thirdly—and this is a funny thing to say, I know, about one of the most famous books in all of western literature—it’s been weirdly undervalued, oversimplified, misrepresented, underestimated. It’s a towering, scary ghost story, and a work of profound political questioning and devastating understanding about how people become what they become.

KC: What are you currently reading?

GH: Everything good I can get my hands on, as usual. But things I’ve particularly liked in the past few months include:

Laura Van Den Berg’s What Will the Water Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (All her stories are tricky and surprising and empathetic and funny and good. And I thought vampire stories were hard, but she pulls off a devastating, beautiful Bigfoot story, which I think I really believed might be impossible.)

Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You (a soldier-coming-home novel as terrifying and relentless and horrific as any horror you’re going to read any time soon. Savagely beautiful book.)

Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane (sort of a Godfather riff in a slightly-future-ish, west-of-Ireland noir-land. But god, the shadowy skeins of language spilling out of this guy’s mouth…)

Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (My favorite pure ghost story of last year, full of music and dead birds and enigmatic, gifted people and a house I wish I could huddle in. Though doing that, of course, could well mean the end of me…)

KC: What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

GH: On April 6th, I have a ghostly novelette about St. Petersburg, Russia called “Freedom is Space for the Spirit” going up on Tor.com. Took me years to get this one right, but I have to admit that I’m pleased with the way it turned out, and I can’t wait to hear what people think. Meanwhile, I’m hammering away at the last Motherless Children book, which at least today is called A Whole Bucket of Stars.

There’s another story collection pretty much in the can, too, so I just have to get around to figuring out what to do with that.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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