If you’ve been a long time reader of horror short fiction, you know the name Mehitobel Wilson. For everyone else, allow me to introduce you to a master of visceral literary horror. When I say horror, I don’t mean splatterpunk (although she’s written some of that too). I mean those pieces that leave you with a feeling of forebording, of looking over your shoulder, of not wanting to turn the lights off. “Brisé,” Wilson’s piece in this issue of Apex, is not your standard, expected type of horror. This is the kind of horror that tricks you into thinking it’s something else, it’s a shapeshifter. But when you get to the end of story, you’ll race to read it again, where the story becomes something completely different, the characters shifting under suddenly different light.
Can we wake up tomorrow and be better, stronger, smarter than we were yesterday? Can we will ourselves into being someone completely different? How does wanting to be someone else destroy who we are? Those questions and more are explored in “Brisé.” In my interview, I asked Mehitobel if these characters are as we perceive them through Erin’s eyes. And I ask you, the reader, the same question.
Along with those heavier questions, Mehitobel was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes view of her nearly twenty years in the publishing industry, everything from writing, to editing, to conducting interviews not much different from this one. She even gave me some tips on how to level up my creative foul mouthness!
Mehitobel lives in Kentucky and has succeeded in becoming nearly completely nocturnal. She loves pickled everything, baroque music, and Cantonese hip-hop. Learn more about her work at her website,www.mehitobel.com, and while you’re there be sure to check out the gallery of her painted ball jointed dolls.
Questions about the story
APEX MAGAZINE: Although I had to look the word up, readers who have studied ballet will immediately know from the story’s title to look for a ballerina. Erin’s relationship with her body and her attitude towards competition show an intimate knowledge of the strenuousness that can border on obsession of ballet. What research did you do to get the ballet details just right? Are you a dancer yourself?
MEHITOBEL WILSON: I’ve always been a dance enthusiast, but not a dancer. I don’t think I did any research specifically for this story, but I’ve watched and read tons about dance throughout my life and just absorbed stuff. I hope it’s believable within the story: I don’t want any dancers to come beat me up for getting the details wrong. Dancers are hardcore athletes with incredible focus and would demolish me.
AM: Let’s talk about Erin and Richard’s dysfunctional relationship. Married after a brief courtship and the end of her career as a ballerina, she becomes little more than an ornament on his arm. Who was Erin before she got married? Is Richard really as callous as he seems?
MW: Erin was the embodiment of that focus. I think Richard is a decent guy. Erin’s just so bitter and self-absorbed that she sees him through a crappier lens than he deserves.
AM: What’s really stopping her from dancing again?
MW: Pure cowardice. Fear of not being as good as she has spent all of her life training to be. And, really, she’s afraid of the stage itself, and makes excuses to avoid it.
AM: What inspired this story? What was the trigger in your life that put you down the path of writing about a doomed dancer?
MW: I told myself I could wake up tomorrow and be a better—or at least, different—version of myself if I wanted. I could take a breath, and with the next one, be more. I could be more dedicated, faster, more gregarious, more fabulous. But I took the next breath and woke up tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, and a bunch more yesterdays. Every day, I forgot to try.
So, I figured I’d write that out of my system. I don’t know why I chose a dancer; I probably had just wrapped up a rewatch of “Bunheads.” Seems likely.
Questions about writing in general, and other things you’ve made me curious about
AM: You’ve been publishing fiction and non-fiction since the late 1990’s, with many of your short fiction pieces receiving honorable mentions in five consecutive volumes of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. What are your favorite themes to write about? Which of your own stories have been your favorites over the years?
MW: The HMs were awesome. I’m not sure I’m the best person to pinpoint my favorite themes; I think I’m too close. I’m notoriously forest-blind, missing the screamingly obvious because I’m inspecting some little bitty thing that doesn’t matter. I guess I write about a lot of bummed-out people. There’s a shining promo tagline for the ages!
I really love writing “around the corner.” I like following the stories of people who are peripheral to the big show, but are damaged by the main event. That’s why I love the movie Cloverfield so much, for instance. It’s also why I dig Burial’s music—it makes me feel like I’m sitting outside the club, hearing what bleeds through the walls. The ripples interest me more than the splash, a lot of the time.
My favorite story in that vein is “Strays,” which is in Dangerous Red. I’m very pleased with how “Brisé” turned out and will look back on it as a favorite, for sure. My novella Last Night at the Blue Alice will be out from Bedlam Press this autumn and I really love it, too. I sat down and wrote a list of all the story elements that excited me most—including people who were more in the wings than in the spotlight—and realized I could use them all simultaneously. So I did.
AM: Brian Keene called your short story collection Dangerous Red “the best collection I’ve read in a long time,” and China Mieville called it “Caustic. classic, classy, nasty, elegant, relevant post-punk horror for people who give a shit.” What are your thoughts on Dangerous Red? For readers new to your work, what can they expect?
MW: I’m really proud of that book and grateful for the wonderful things people said about it. I don’t think I could write those stories now; I’m less furious nowadays than I was when I was younger, and don’t go for the gross-out as often. I used to be a total gorehound, but finally hit a saturation point and/or just got old.
AM: Early in your writing career you were a contributor at Carpe Noctem and Midnight Hour Magazine, and received a Bram Stoker nomination for your editing work at Gothic.net. How is editing and contributing non-fiction different than working on the fiction side of things? Is magazine editing something you see yourself ever returning to?
MW: No, as it stands, I wouldn’t want to do much more nonfiction or editing. It takes a lot of focus and energy, and I have very little of either, and even less patience. I absolutely loved doing it, though—especially interviewing people. But I also loved waitressing and working retail, and dread ever having to do any of it again.
AM: In your bio on your website, you list a handful of jobs you’ve held, including “Executive Director of Violent Cussing at an art college.” As a lifetime student of violent cussing, can you offer me any tips to bring my cussing to the next level?
MW: Enter into battle against helicopter parents and the magic will happen. Just thinking about it is about to make the magic happen right here; I’m liable to wake up the dog if I’m not careful.
AM: A few clicks beyond the bio on your website brought me to your glorious gallery of Ball Jointed Dolls. How did you get interested in this hobby, and is there any connection between the dolls and your fiction?
MW: Oh, thank you. I’ve always collected action figures, including plenty of figures from movies I’ve never seen and comics I’ve never read. I just like the sculpts and paints and stuff. When I found out about BJDs about ten years ago, I thought I could buy just one and repaint/restyle it whenever I wanted, make a big articulated action figure. The plan was to make a Voldo from Soul Calibur. I can’t draw or sculpt to save my life, and with the dolls, the hard work—the sculpt—is already done.
But then it turned out that I had a knack for painting them, and that I didn’t want to wipe and repaint—I liked each one. So I accidentally started collecting them. Plus, it means I have boxes full of body parts and eyeballs, and who doesn’t love that?
There’s no connection to my fiction, no. A lot of people in the hobby write stories and select dolls to represent the characters, which is cool. I just think they’re pretty. But my dolls all look either pissed or miserable, so in that regard, they’re a lot like most of the characters in my fiction, now that I think about it. Ah, well.
Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. If she’s not walking around her day job with a coffee mug in hand, then she’s at home with a book in one hand and a craft beer in the other. She can be found online at her book review blog Little Red Reviewer and on Twitter, where her handle is @redhead5318. You wouldn’t know it from this bio, but Andrea is a very goofy person.