Thomas Ligotti has become one of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Like my favorite contemporary science fiction writer, Ted Chiang, Ligotti writes exclusively short stories. Both writers have never published anything longer than a novella. In this excerpt from an interview, Ligotti explains why he has not and never will write a novel:
I think it’s safe to say that I will never write a novel. The reason is this: I really don’t like fiction, and novels are what fiction is all about. The only fictional works that I’ve ever admired are those which have their formal basis in essays (Borges), poetry (Bruno Schulz), monologues (Thomas Bernhard), or all three (Poe and Lovecraft). I want to hear a writer speaking, not see a movie in my mind that takes days or weeks to get through rather than 100 minutes or the time it takes to watch a multi-part mini-series. Why would anyone want to read The Silence of the Lambs when they could see the movie?
A story is most powerful and memorable when tethered to an emotional reaction. People become emotional when something negative happens to someone they care about. That’s why you will never forget traumatic events involving close family members, whereas a story about an acquaintance from years ago may easily slip your mind. Likewise, you will struggle to remember anything from a history test you studied for twenty years ago. With no emotional connection to those events, they did not get stored as lasting memories.
Writing is my life’s calling, but I came to it relatively late in life. It wasn’t that late (my early 20s), but it was late compared to those who claim to have known for as long as they can remember that they wanted to be writers. They were writing short stories in grade school and submitting to magazines in high school. For me, it wasn’t until my final year of college—when two events coincided—that I realized I wanted to do with my life.
I am growing tired of trilogies these days—and series in general (in both books and film). It seems like every successful piece of intellectual property in the entertainment industry must be prolonged indefinitely. What happened to a single complete story with a beginning, middle, and end? Most series would best be novels, most novels would best be short stories, and most short stories would best not exist.
As a child I was terrified of horror movies and avoided watching them. Two of my favorite movies were Jurassic Park and Independence Day, and while they were not directly horror, there were certain scenes in each film that I had to close my eyes during because I was so terrified. (They were when the raptors popped out and when they showed the alien body in the Area 51 base). Though I avoided explicit horror, I enjoyed spooky movies and TV shows intended for children, such as Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?. I liked PG horror because it was merely spooky and creepy, not outright terrifying. The first true horror movie I remember seeing was Scream, which came out in 1996 when I was ten years old. Though that movie was meant to be somewhat comedic, the Ghostface mask nevertheless remained burned in my mind and gave me nightmares for months after.
“I have now, and have had since this afternoon, a great yearning to write all my anxiety entirely out of me, write it into the depths of the paper just as it comes out of the depths of me, or write it down in such a way that I could draw what I had written into me completely.”
— Franz Kafka
Whenever something is bothering me, and I am overcome with running thoughts, the best way to relieve that anxiety is to write my thoughts down. Afterwards, I almost always feel better and the running thoughts subside. Simply writing about my fears and worries helps in easing them. Why is that?
Tenet is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film conceptually to date, which is saying something considering he made Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar. Without spoilers, Tenet involves time travel, but it is a unique version of time travel—perhaps the most inventive form of time travel I’ve ever seen in a movie—and the most complex.
Perfectionism is a gift and a curse. Before publishing a work of fiction, I spend an inordinate amount of time rewriting and editing it, long after most writers would consider it “done” and publishable. I re-read the manuscript again and again, going over every sentence, every word and punctuation mark, making sure it is precisely as I wish.
Mystery is the key to every successful story. Even if a story is not explicitly a mystery, it needs to have some element of mystery within it. If there’s no mystery, wherein the reader is wondering what will happen next, they have little reason to continue reading the story.