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Gordon White is returning to Raleigh as a featured author at Quail Ridge Books this month. He talked with us about how his Southern heritage and travels across North Carolina inspire his characters and settings.
Tell me about your debut fiction collection “As Summer’s Mask Slips and Other Disruptions.”
It’s 15 stories written between 2012 and 2020. The shortest way to describe [them] is as horror and weird fiction, but the more detailed explanation is that they’re near-contemporary stories set in the “real” world but intruded upon by a dark, speculative element. The tones range from deadly serious to blackly comic, from bleak to hopeful, but they’re united by a focus on narrative voice and prose.
Readers will find a teenage witch in the rural South getting ready for their coming of age; a father and son fighting off slug monsters in a rundown apartment complex; a video editor under a dystopian regime who finds a wormhole into the great cosmic abyss; a group of prisoners trying not to get eaten by their alien captors; and a canoe trip to one of the world’s thin places that leads to a transcendental encounter with the ecstatic weird. These are stories of loss but also stories of hope. [They] hint at the sublimity in both the beautiful and the macabre.
How did you get started as a writer? How did you choose the horror genre?
Like most writers, I started as a reader. I remember distinctly in elementary school, if I couldn’t fall asleep, my mom would let me turn the light back on and read until I fell asleep. Of course, I abused the system by forcing myself to stay awake. I was actually a very tired child and it didn’t get any better as I grew up. When I got older, sometimes I would stay up all night on the weekends, reading Shakespeare out loud to myself—all the parts, in different voices—so in love with the sound of words and the structure of sentences.
I was lucky enough to find the right support at the right times. I’ve always been a lover of fiction, but didn’t think I’d end up writing seriously until after I completed grad school. In high school, I focused on essays and analytical writing, but in junior year I went to the NC Governor’s School East (which was at Meredith College, right by Quail Ridge’s location at the time) where I spent five weeks studying poetry. To be a teenager, in the summer, surrounded by poems was a magical time.
It was after grad school, though, when I was taking stock of what I wanted to accomplish. Going through that gave me a sense of focus that I hadn’t previously had and built up my perseverance muscles and I decided to focus on my life-long love of fiction. I kept going back to my love of the ghost stories and campfire tales my father told me when I was growing up. I’d always had a love of the dark and the scary, the unexplainable, and finally I realized I had been gradually accumulating the skills, the interests, and the discipline to finally bring my own ghost stories to life.
You grew up in Raleigh and attended Enloe High School. What was that like?
Enloe was a fantastic experience. They had a wealth of classes and opportunities for extracurriculars. Some of the friendships from class, as well as the wrestling team, have lasted long since graduation. I was actually blown away by the amount of support I’ve received from some of my former classmates when I released this book.
Guessing you spent hours in Quail Ridge Books as a book lover. How does it feel to be a featured author?
I probably spent as much time in bookstores and libraries growing up as I did anywhere else. My parents always made sure I had something to read and Quail Ridge was one of our favorites. I would go in and do multiple “laps” of the store, doing one pass over every shelf to find everything that sparked my interest, then a second pass—a third – a fourth—to winnow it down to a single book to take home.
Your book is receiving high praise as Southern gothic fiction. Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m a big fan of transformational literature and formal experimentation, but I also can’t deny the strength of my roots. My father’s side of the family has deep ties in Eastern North Carolina and they are all natural-born storytellers. From growing up there, I have all these ghost stories, casual haunts and voices—so many wonderful voices—that I can draw from.
North Carolina, too, offers so much. I grew up in Raleigh, but visited family out in the country, vacationed at the Outer Banks, went camping in the mountains. I canoed down rivers, learned to drive on back country roads, spent glorious afternoons in parks and museums. These experiences have given me so much to draw from now as I write that I often don’t realize quite how much I’m blending history and my lived reality into my fiction until the first draft is done.
Q & A edited for length
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