Sitting down with the impressive Rachel Unger, author of "Ringing the Bell", featured in our newest horror anthology It Calls From the Doors
Without giving away the story, tell us a little bit about the story you have in this collection Doors. What was your inspiration?
A critique partner and I had been swapping story prompts, and hers was a place in Washington State. They had an abandoned mine there, she told me, right near the wreckage of a B-17 crash. Surely there was a story there—and in fact, there was, once I combined it with the right characters: a group of whitewater rafting guides on vacation.
Are there tropes, particularly those about women in horror, you actively avoid in your writing?
Yes: stories with women or queer folx who are just there to scream or get fridged. I want characters with agency, even if it doesn’t save them in the end. And I haven’t been perfect at this, but it’s something I look for in every draft. Other things that enrage me in fiction: the villain’s a villain because they’re female/queer/disabled.
Writing in a pandemic. Has it changed the way you write? Has it made an impact on your voice?
Oof, absolutely. I went two months in 2020 where I didn’t write a thing, nor did I submit any work anywhere, trying to swim through this sort of panic soup. Then the state caught fire and I realized that I had to take self-care seriously. For me, that meant declaring all my pre-pandemic writing/submitting goals were no longer applicable, full stop, and letting myself write for comfort. That was hard—I set ambitious goals, and self-care felt uncomfortably like I was “failing”. Taking care of yourself isn’t failing. So I spent six months watching a lot of Bob Ross, picking away at two lo-fi spec fic stories, and trying to figure out what a sustainable writing practice looked like for 2021.
In early 2021, I’d written a horror flash again and felt it was reasonable to sign up for an online Southern Gothic course. By the end of those four weeks, my brain felt like cottage cheese because I had written full drafts of three short stories (I’ve since sold one) and had notes for three more. Was it productive and fun? Absolutely. Would it have been kinder not to have driven myself so hard? Definitely. I’m still writing, but nowhere near that rate. I seem to have found an amount of weekly time that I can sustain (I hope. Check back with me in 2022).
I don’t know about voice, but my focus has definitely shifted. I’m more interested in the small tensions that become unbearable, the peculiar in the familiar, in the potential for the weird and fantastic in relationships between people. It’s not hard to see 2020 in that. We all spent a year and a half becoming excruciatingly familiar with our own spaces, or own people, our lives shrinking and distorting.
What communities (online, IRL, paid, free) are you a part of that support your horror writing?
I met my first critique group because one of the members was married to a professor I knew. That group remains active, and we meet online monthly. I’ve met other writers through LitReactor classes online—one of them invited me to a very active Discord for horror writers, where we swap critique and share open submissions calls and celebrate when someone makes a sale. I’ve also met writers at conventions—I’m an introvert, and I worked up the courage to ask someone how they found their critique group. I was very lucky because after we talked for a while, she invited me to hers. I’ve met writers through brunch with other writers, because a lot of us also like to eat. It’s meant that I’ve been able to build a circle of critique partners with whom to swap stories. All of this took time and effort, and it’s all been incredibly valuable. That saying about how “it takes a group to raise a writer” is true. I’m better for it.
Any advice for people who are considering becoming an author?
Do it. Do it now. Write what you’d love to read, with the characters you want to read/see. That ending you hated in that other book/show? You can write a story with a more satisfying one. Then do it again, and again. Find a critique group that helps you level up, and help them level up. Keep going. Write again, and again.
It’s the zombie apocalypse and somehow you find yourself locked in a room with two other people and a horde of zombies on the other side of the door. There is no food or water, you have to leave to survive. Real or Fiction, who would you want in that room with you?
I think having Rogue and Harry Dresden with me offers a wealth of potential tactics—flight and strength, and then magic (including necromancy!) and of course that enviable trenchcoat. A non-zero number of Harry’s friends live, too.
You wake up in a dark unfamiliar room. You don’t know how you got there or where you are. There is a nightstand beside you with one item on it. What is that item?
It is absolutely a radio. (Hello, Silent Hill, I’m familiar with your work. Should we start with the creepy flashback, or go shall I find that flashlight and steel pipe first?) kkkssssssshhhhhhh
Rachel thinks that now is an excellent time for us all to be kind to each other. Yes, really. She spends her days excavating stories from the dirt, staring down a microscope, and daydreaming about her next bike ride. You can find her online at www.fictionbuffet.com.