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Jan Stinchcomb Interview

From the author of The Kelping and The Blood Trail comes a novel about a dark family legacy that blends elements of fairy tale and horror. Jan Stinchcomb’s Verushka follows Devon Woodward, a young girl whose family has been hounded for decades by a half-human witch. “Jan Stinchcomb has crafted something truly special…” says Gwendolyn Kiste. “This is a devastating tale of the bonds between mother and child as well as the all-too-real terrors of growing up. An astounding book and one that you'll want to read immediately."

Read the full interview below.

When did you first start working on Verushka? Did you always intend for it to be a novel instead of a novella or a short story?

I started Verushka during quarantine. I always knew it was going to be a novel, but I hadn’t even mapped out the trajectory. It began with a little family living in Topanga, and I was soon obsessed with the consciousness of the child, Devon. Is there a way to render a child’s imagination on the page? I let that question be my guide in the early stages of the novel. As I continued with the story, I realized it was actually a family novel and ideal for multiple-POV narration.

Fairy tales/fantasy and horror pair so well together. Was Verushka designed to include that genre mash-up or did one start to seep in after you began writing it?

Fairy tales are my first language, with horror as a close second, so the seepage was unavoidable. There’s a small forest of sorts next to the Topanga “chalet” in the first section of the novel, and we all know that forests are inhabited by more than birds and squirrels. You could meet literally anyone in a fairy-tale forest. Talking animals, a central part of little Devon’s world, belong to both fairy tales and horror. One interviewer pointed out that the colors red, black and white kept coming up throughout the novel. Those seem perfect for the merging of fairy tale and horror, but it wasn’t intentional. And of course, the showdown between good and evil is another important way in which the genres are similar.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale or witch from literature and/or film?

Baba Yaga, the world-famous Russian witch with her hut on chicken legs, is my favorite. I first read those stories in elementary school. Baba Yaga appears in many tales but the classic is “Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Wise,” beloved by many because of the magical doll who helps the heroine. Another tale I often find myself returning to is “Little Red Riding Hood” because of its simplicity and brutality. As far as films go, I recently rewatched the charming Jacques Demy musical, Donkey Skin (Peau d’âne). I would also recommend films like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders or Pan’s Labyrinth for their atmosphere.

The cover really has that fantasy/horror feel to it. Who did the artwork and how did you feel when you saw it finished?

Don Noble is the artist. I love my cover and I’m so grateful. When I first saw it, I felt understood. He really captured the beautifully seductive aspect of this evil woman. Everybody responds to the cover. One of my kids says it’s the best cover I’ve ever had.

The book covers multiple generations of a family. I know from experience that this can be tricky. Did you make any family trees or charts through the writing process to keep that information organized for yourself?

I specified the year in which each section takes place to anchor all of us. I kept going back and checking details so that I stayed true to the various time periods. Typically when I’m working on a longer project, I leave notes for myself at the end of each chapter, and you can imagine how extensive these became for Verushka!

Verushka as a character is described as a half-human witch who is “both victim and villain” in this story. Was it difficult to write her in that way or did it come naturally?

It’s still hard for me to find the right word for Verushka. She’s not exactly a witch (or is she?), but she’s definitely half-human. She certainly acts like a witch and has a very specific agenda. As soon as I began her origin story, she became more complex and interesting. I think it’s important to flesh out a villain, especially one with human origins. I couldn’t stand for Verushka to be one-sided. I want the reader to feel a certain degree of empathy for her or at least to be conflicted.

The novel is told from multiple points of view. How did you make the decision to frame it this way?

I love multiple POV as a reader and a writer. I enjoy going back and forth between two time periods or two characters. I know a family novel with so many points of view feels like a high risk endeavor, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Which character perspective did you enjoy writing the most (if you have a favorite)?

Elaine and Verushka carried me through. I love Elaine’s world: the Bay Area of the late sixties, especially San Francisco. I tried to remember the things my family members told me about that time period. This was challenging and painful since I am the youngest and so many of my relatives have died. Verushka’s world is almost entirely imagined. I don’t even specify her country of origin because I want her enchanted forest to be a place you can’t find on any map. As for telling the story from her perspective, whatever you may think of her, she is a survivor.

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

I have a story, “The Pre-Code Girl”, coming sometime this year on the Tales to Terrify podcast. I’m very excited to hear it read by an actor.

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

I adored The Flames by Sophie Haydock. It’s about the artist Egon Schiele told from the perspective of his different muses, who were real-life women, of course. Another multiple-POV novel!

Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!

Verushka is available now.

Jan Stinchcomb is the author of Verushka (JournalStone), The Kelping (Unnerving), The Blood Trail (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have appeared in Bourbon Penn, The Horror Is Us (Mason Jar Press) and Menacing Hedge, among other places. A Pushcart nominee, she is featured in Best Microfiction 2020 and The Best Small Fictions 2018 & 2021. She lives in Southern California with her family and is an associate fiction editor for Atticus Review. Find her at; Twitter: @janstinchcomb; Instagram: @jan_stinchcomb

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