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Gordon B. White Interview


Gordon B. White has a new short story collection coming out this fall called Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s). White has wonderful range, his stories often taking readers to unexpected places. Here, you will find humor. You will find chills. Tale by tale, White creates…well…you saw the title: haunting weird horrors.


Read the full interview below.


I had the pleasure of hearing you read the title story for this collection at StokerCon in 2022 and it remains a favorite to this day. Can you talk a little about writing that one? The setup is so unique.


Sure! For those that don’t know, the title story is a second person POV story about signing up for horror author Gordon B. White’s Patreon page. The perk you select is the monthly “Postcards of Lesser Known Haunted Houses,” but they come with something a little … more. It came out in Nightmare Magazine’s July 2021 issue and has just kept going and going – it was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, was translated into Chinese and published twice, and translated into Spanish, where it was included in an anthology that won the Premio Ignotus.


All of which is even more flabbergasting when I tell you that I wrote the first draft for an open call that I completely misunderstood. I saw an anthology looking for “spook house” flash fiction and, in what is not an uncommon occurrence, I totally did not understand what they were looking for. I thought they were looking for “haunted houses” and so figured I could cram a bunch of haunted houses in by writing a story where there are postcards of the haunted houses and just snippets of the ghosts that haunt them, rather than trying to develop any single one in the limited space given.


So, in a rush – because I also often wait until the last minute – I cranked out a first draft. While the draft was quick, it actually combined a bunch of influences that I’d been thinking about for a long time – the postcards came from author Nicole Cushing’s actual Patreon, where she does send a monthly postcard with a cool little drawing on it; the use of “Gordon B. White” as a character came from reading a lot of Jeffrey Ford’s use of “Jeff Ford” as a character who shares certain similarities, but is not the same, as the author; and the snippets of grotesque ghosts came from exploring Matthew M. Bartlett-style weirdness, albeit at a much less sustained level. I also wanted to see how many times I could get my name in print in one venue, which is a little cheeky. That was the primordial soup of influences and the misunderstood “spook houses” call for submissions was the lightning that struck it to create a weird new lifeform.


Of course, it got rejected pretty quickly, which is fair because it wasn’t at all what that editor was looking for. But I sent it over to Nightmare Magazine’s “Horror Lab” submissions, which were looking for experimental stuff and flash fiction, both of which this was. Wendy Wagner snapped it up and, under her keen editorial eye, she gave me permission to go a little above “flash” length and had some very helpful suggestions in where I might let the story breathe a bit and even get a little weirder without sacrificing the quick pace.


The rest, as they say, is history.


One of the things I love about your work is you are not afraid to write in the second person. Is that something you’ve always been interested in?


Part of my creative process usually involves setting little stylistic or technical challenges for myself in order to stave off the boredom that can set in on a project. At first, with “Gordon B. White is creating …” the decision to work in the second person was just sheer contrariness. There’s a semi-regular discourse among us terminally online folk about how second person doesn’t work, nobody likes it, editors don’t want it, etc. So, of course I set out to use it as blatantly as possible.


But as I’ve thought more and more about why some readers bounce off of it and many authors shy away from it, I’ve come to appreciate the second person a lot more. I’ll spare you a full treatise, but I think that the main reason people dislike it – much like the reason why I first started using it – is that nobody likes being told what to do. It’s one thing to tell a reader how a character feels and get them to empathize, but as soon as it’s framed as a “you feel” or “you do” or “you are,” then readers start chafing and bristling. “No I don’t,” they say.


As a result, while second person seems like it should be the most intimate, it’s ironically the most distancing. As a result, I’ve become very interested in finding ways to use second person to intentionally create or leave space for the readers to fill in their own emotional charge and reasoning in order to provide a throughline between the fixed events of the narrative. I’ve been really inspired by video games with silent protagonists where you (as the player character) interact with the pre-determined events of the game world and the NPCs with their static dialogue, but somehow still draw the player in. I think it’s because while the actual events are set in stone, the real story is the Why and How of the ways it affects the player (not the character) and those can be unique depending on what each person experiencing brings to the table in order to fill in those blanks.


So lately I’ve been playing around with very detailed stories and very specific actions taken by the second person “you,” but without ever defining “you” or saying “You are this,” or “You feel that,” or “Your experience means this thing to you.” I’m depending on the reader to fill in those emotional and sometimes logical blanks that I’ve intentionally left, and hopefully that ends up making them into the co-author of their own experience. It’s a real challenge, but a lot of fun.


That said, my story “Godhead” in the new collection and my story “Bury My Bones in the Bastard that Killed Me” in the upcoming anthology Dead Letters from Crystal Lake Publishing (ed. Jacob Steven Mohr) probably exhaust that line of experimentation for me … at least for a little while. I need to find something new to push against.


I’m always curious as to how short story collections are ordered. Did you work with an editor on ordering the stories or did you order them ahead of time?


For my new collection and for my first one, As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions, I spent a lot of time myself putting them into order. I’m a big believer that, as authors, our job is to present the reader with a curated emotional experience. On a story level that means controlling the flow of information and the pacing of the events, creating tension and then offering a space to breathe, building up to a big event and then coasting to a stop. We should aim to be writing rollercoasters – very intentional ups and downs – rather than flat boat rides like “It’s a Small World” where images just sort of float by like chunks of soggy bread on a lazy river.


To me, that applies to collections as well. There’s a guiding principle in all of the placement and I spend a lot of time playing not just with the contents of which stories to choose, but where each story comes in relation to the others. It’s based on length, tone, POV, themes, type of main character or conflict, and so on. I usually start with a spreadsheet that has those basic things laid out and then just sort of shift them around until I find an order that resonates. However, even when working on the printed proofs, I’m still usually futzing with where one or two stories that could fit in multiple places might go.


One of the secrets, however, is that I break the collection down into chunks. So I have three or four “chunks” in each collections with three to five stories each, so that each chunk feels consistent but with enough variation to have texture but still maintaining a very specific flow of emotional energy. I want that grouping of three to five stories to feel like a rush and then, after that last one, a good place to take a break for the night. But even then, there’s still an intended flow to the collection as a whole so that if you were to read it all straight through – or even just retained enough of that charge from sitting to sitting – by the end, the full experience of the journey the reader has been on would be more than the sum of its parts.


But of course, people then come in and read it out of order … ruining everything. :P. (Just kidding – there’s no wrong way to read a book!)


You have such a talent for being funny and unsettling at the same time. How do you balance those elements?


Honestly, a sort of dark sense of humor has always been a large part of my personality and I’ve just gotten more comfortable at letting myself be myself on the page. I also have my morose side, which I think people expect to see on the page for horror and so was never an issue to let loose, but the lighter side required more conscious permission. So, I don’t aim to be funny and unsettling, but I am as a person and nowadays I try to let myself write myself.


I love narrative experiments and exploring different characters or writing in different voices, but it’s taken me a while to let those humorous parts of myself out onto the page without being worried that it’ll fall flat or that it won’t be “horror” enough. When I look back at earlier attempts of which I’m not as fond or at projects that stalled out, I can see that many of them share the same element of me trying to write what I think I should be writing and not what I *want* to be writing.


Of course, that’s just the spark. There’s a lot of editing that goes into then, too, because horror and humor both live and die by their pacing. I get as much inspiration from discussions on how the A, B, and C plots of sitcoms work as I do from notes on writing supernatural horror.


This is your second short story collection with Trepidatio Publishing? What has it been like working with them?


They’ve been really good to me and easy to work with. Scarlett R. Algee has been a great editor and incredibly supportive of me making things weirder and bringing stranger stuff to the books. She’s also super cool about letting me make changes right up until the end – sometimes big ones, like adding in another story or reworking an entire ending – when I get that flash of inspiration late at night.


They’ve also been really great at letting me be as involved with the process as I want to be. I love learning how things are done, and so I’ve been able to get involved with things like the covers – in fact, I designed the cover for my novella Rookfield and also for Gordon B. White is creating … The former was done with composites of stock images and the latter is using open license material from the Wellcome Collection.


What would you say is the biggest difference you’ve noticed between putting together this collection and putting together your 2020 collection, As Summer's Mask Slips and Other Disruptions?


I think that As Summer’s Mask Slips was probably more tightly themed – not around an overt theme like “pizza” or “spooky dolls” or “revenge” but more like the type of story: they were mostly set in a recognizable contemporary-ish reality, intruded upon by a dark speculative element. They hewed closer to what we would think of as “horror.” By contrast, I think Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s) is much more diverse.

In part that’s because as I’ve become more comfortable with writing, I’ve become more comfortable at channeling what I want to write – sometimes that’s weirder than a lot of “horror,” but other times it’s just absolutely devastating; sometimes it’s close to reality, and other times they might not even have a passing acquaintance. But while the newer pieces I’ve written since Summer’s Mask are usually odder, I’ve also taken a look back and seen that some older pieces that didn’t quite fit Summer’s Mask now *do* fit with this new collection.


I wouldn’t change Summer’s Mask, though. As a first collection, I think it was important to put my best foot forward and put together a cohesive and (hopefully!) impressive body of work to let readers know that if they like strange and spooky stuff, I’m here for them. But now that I’ve proven that I can do that, I feel freer to do new and different things.


The most illuminating comment I ever got from an editor was when I told them I didn’t know if the idea I had for their anthology was really “horror” or what people wanted, they said: “At the end of the day, what the people really want to see is a Gordon B. White story.” And yep, that’s what this second collection is.


The first collection was to introduce myself to people that wanted horror but didn’t know me or my work, whereas as this one is for people who like what I’m doing and trust me to show them something cool, whether that’s “horror” or only “horror-ish.”


You’ve written in a lot of different subcategories of horror. Is there one in particular that you especially love to read or write?


I really like what might be called “weird horror,” although mostly because it’s such a nebulous category that it can encompass many things. But while I love all kinds of horror, the kind that speaks most to me is very atmospheric, usually very prose-focused, and has glimpses of the unknown rather than full on. I’m really drawn to the kind of strange intrusions onto everyday life that suggest that even if we could see all of it, we still wouldn’t understand it. Let the mystery be!


That said, I’m also getting more and more into the ramifications of impossibly large and weird horror. Something where the speculative element is so big, so intrusive and undeniable, but so incomprehensible, that people have to reshape how they live based on its presence. That’s more character-driven and often more slow burn but, to use one of my unpublished stories as an example, I’m at a point where I want to explore how a civil servant in a small town continues to live their daily life when an Eldritch horror has just been floating in the sky for months, rather than what it’s like being chased by a monster.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask how much say your dog, Saucy, has in the editing process? Our Dog-in-Chief, Phoebe, may or may not have insisted I include this question.


This kind of canine-related nepotism is the very definition of dog-rolling! But seriously, Saucy is very much my constant companion around the house and particularly when I sit down with my laptop or my notebook. For a while when my wife and I were taking exams or doing job interviews, there was a running “joke” (not really a joke), where immediately beforehand we’d look at a picture of the other one of us with Saucy and say, “I’m doing it for you guys.” And that’s actually pretty true.


Also, Saucy has forced her way into every published author photo I’ve had.


Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?


Yes! One fiction and one non-fiction.


For fiction, my story “Thirteen Ways of Not Looking at a Blackbird” will be reprinted and given life as an audio version on Pseudopod at some point soon … although I don’t actually know if it will be this year. Let’s say it is, because otherwise I don’t have much. But anyway, I was surprised and incredibly honored that it was selected to represent No Trouble at All, the anthology of “polite horror” published earlier this year by Cursed Morsels Press. The anthology’s editors, Eric Raglin and Alexis Dubon, were incredibly supportive during the editing process and after publication, so I’m excited for even more people to hear that story and then go seek out the book.


For non-fiction, I have a feature interview with Keith Rosson about his new novel Fever House coming out in Nightmare Magazine’s October 2023 issue. Keith is one of my favorite writers and that book is taking off, so I’m really excited for readers to learn more about it, as well as about Keith’s process and his other work.


What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.


I recently picked up Lauren Groff’s books after reading a piece on her working process and am loving her collection of short stories, Florida. Her name is one that I’d heard a million times but I’d been remiss in getting around to reading, but the first story in that book (“Ghosts and Empties”) is a knockout – her prose and literary sensibilities just tick all my non-genre boxes, so I’m savoring them one by one.


More genre-related, I also recently came across Micah Dean Hicks for the first time via his story “The Carpenter and the Beast of Teeth.” It’s surreal, nightmarish, beautiful, and moving – while still involving a carpenter, talking envelopes from the bank, and surprisingly sympathetic monsters getting beaten to death with tools.


Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!


Thanks so much for having me!


Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror(s) hits shelves on October 13, 2023.



Gordon B. White is a Seattle-based author of horror and/or weird fiction. He is finalist for both the Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award, a Clarion West alum, and the author of As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions; Rookfield; and And In Her Smile, The World (with Rebecca J. Allred). Gordon’s stories, reviews, and interviews have appeared in dozens of venues. You can find him online at gordonbwhite.com or on most social media @GordonBWhite.

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