R.A. Busby’s Short Sharp Shocks! is Book 43, Bits. It’s published on November 30th but available now for pre-sales...
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello, great to meet you. Let’s get straight down to it, tell us who R.A. Busby is and how you became a writer.
R.A. BUSBY: I started writing when I was seven and dreamt up a Wizard of Oz fanfic starring myself and my pet mouse. If I remember, my story took up three whole pages of that dreadful school paper with the large wood chunks in it, but what I loved was that in a way, the story did get me to Oz. The act of writing opened up what I think of as ‘the reality hole’ and I was able to fall inside. I was instantly hooked.
DP: With regards to Bits, can you tell your readers a little about your protagonist.
RAB: I started thinking about her when I was nearing the completion of my novel. Around that time, I had to go to an elementary school for a workshop, an experience I found personally unsettling. Friendly flower-covered signs were everywhere: Don’t walk on the right side of the hall, Cover your mouth, Wash your hands, Put your coat in the cubby, Sit on the blue squares for circle reading, and so on. When I had to use the teachers’ bathroom, I realized I’d come to the true heart of the place. The facilities were as I described them in the story, though I left out the Pottery Barn-style furniture. I started imagining the life of a teacher in this place that was all about regimentation, order, and of course, the complete denial of the female body. I thought, “Why, you wouldn’t even be allowed to possess something as embarrassing as toes, with all their clefts, much less anything else. Your body should be smooth all the way down, like Barbie.” Around then, I had also been thinking of women’s invisibility. Women take on a kind of invisibility past their forties, and I toyed with my protagonist becoming invisible herself, but I didn’t like the idea because (ironically) the process of turning invisible would actually attract attention, and besides, how would you function? Could you still drive? That’s when I came up with the idea that my protagonist was literally falling apart bit by bit, a fact she would feel ashamed of and have to conceal. Nadie Denneby’s name is a double pun, actually, a combination of the Spanish word for ‘nobody’ and the Irish for ‘no one’ (duine ar bith). Throughout her life, Nadie’s obeyed the rules: she’s covered her mouth and walked on the right side of the hall, and as an elementary teacher, she’s instructed children to do the same. Finally, she comes to the realization that a lifetime of obeying the rules―of toeing the line, if you’ll forgive the joke―has brought her nothing.
DP: In writing Bits then did you have to do much research?
RAB: I’m not an elementary school teacher, so I had very little idea of what teachers did in the first five minutes of their day, for example. Fortunately, I have friends and relatives who are teaching professionals, and on my own, I watched tons of classroom management videos and read about chore charts, study stations, and Cricut machines until I felt I could establish a believable scene. It also gave me a deepened respect for those teachers, especially their incredible level of planning and commitment, and an appreciation of the need for order and routine at that educational level.
DP: I suspect that some of the scenes were difficult to write?
RAB: No, they were extremely fun! I particularly enjoyed giving Nadie a chance to fight back, to tell off Cheryl and the patronizing doctor, and most of all, to make a last-ditch effort to strike out for freedom (and what I hope is a chance for renewal) at the end.
DP: That’s me told ha ha and you’re dead right, I really enjoyed Nadie’s character arc but I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil the story...what books / authors do you read and have they been an influence?
RAB: Although I have treasured every minute with Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, horror has always been a liberating genre for women both as authors and characters: it’s one of the few places where readers trust that a woman’s sense of things is actually right. She’s not crazy; she really is seeing things. As a writer, I’m deeply indebted to Shirley Jackson, whose work deserves greater acclaim for her careful focus on women’s interiority of experience, and to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Angela Carter, Amparo Dávila, and many more. More recently, I have delighted in the work of Carmen Maria Machado and other writers such as the incomparable Margaret Atwood, and above all, Toni Morrison, whose book Beloved blew open the genre and forged entirely new paths of its own.
DP: Again, we’re learning so many new names / writers here at Demain. It’s refreshing when our authors answer this question differently and of course there will be the standards like King, Barker, Poe, Lovecraft etc etc but you’ve mentioned some authors there we haven’t heard from but now we do know them we will seek out their work. Thank you. Any new horror book or film you’re looking forward to?
RAB: I’m excited about seeing Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. His work, especially The Witch: A New England Folktale, focuses so richly on isolation, of being wholly cut off from anyone except a tiny (and often antagonistic) group of others and forced to endure daily life in a wilderness that does not care if you live or die. I think it’s also why I loved Dan Simmons’ The Terror, both book and miniseries: they share that sense of isolation―and a similar loving attention to accurate period detail. In addition, I’m going to be re-watching Ari Aster’s Hereditary. In that film and in Midsommar, which I thought was spellbinding, Aster is so deeply concerned with exploring the nuances and shapes of deep grief, and he understands that this is the real source of horror for many people: not ghosts, but the loss they represent.
DP: So what scares R.A. Busby and do those fears ever make it into your work?
RAB: Oh, I’m afraid of a ton of things, but I’d have to say the greatest fear I have is one many of us share: the loss of the ones we love. I think that’s a major reason why many of us believe in ghosts: it suggests that there’s at least some kind of continuance of identity beyond death, that death is not really the ultimate end either for us or for those others. For that reason, I find horror really rather reassuring: it presents us with our worst fears (and I’m thinking of the wrenching losses in Aster’s Hereditary right now) and forces us to face them, often victoriously. In answer to your second question, it’s all my novel is about, really. My stories deal with loss as well: the loss of self, the radical revision of your identity or the understanding of those around you.
DP: Can you tell us something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
RAB: I can’t watch slasher films. When I was a kid, I must’ve seen every Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street that cable made available, even (God help us) Children of the Corn. Nowadays, though, I just can’t. I tried watching the new Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis, whom I love, and I couldn’t get through it. That said, though, I have a soft spot in my heart for offbeat horror—not precisely comic horror, but horror that is so Grand Guignol, so over-the-top, that it doesn’t take itself entirely seriously and yet enjoys every minute of the universe it’s creating. The Wicker Man is one film like that, and it’s no surprise to me that Christopher Lee considered his favorite role to be Lord Summerisle, but my all-time favorite is Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm. It’s hard to top Peter Capaldi using his bagpipes (and a hidden kilt mongoose) to subdue a vampire postman―that is, until you see Amanda Donohoe. What else? Well, when I’m not reading (or writing), I love trail running and obstacle course racing, and I’ve helped out as part of the World’s Toughest Mudder pit crew for several years, which has to do with a whole new set of fears mostly having to do with bandaging feet and not getting puked on.
DP: Ha ha ha ha, good for you. Final question then: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
RAB: I would love to finish editing my novel, which is about as much fun as it sounds, and publish it, which sounds more fun. Let’s keep fingers crossed.
We will, we will!
Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with R.A. Busby direct:
Instagram: R.A. Busby