Fiction Kitchen Berlin is back with another author interview! Today we are opening up the Kitchen to the talented Laura Eppinger, who hails from all over New Jersey, but most recently the South part. Her flash piece, The Jersey Devil Stays Busy, was published in November 2020, and was also featured in the Kitchen’s bi-annual journal of that year.
Hi Laura, Welcome back to the Kitchen and congratulations on the release of your new chapbook, “Loving Monsters”! Please tell us all about it.
Thank you! LOVING MONSTERS is a chapbook collection of flash fiction (stories 1,000 words or less) published by Alternating Current press, the first title in the Little Pigeon chapbook series. Each of the seven stories uses a trope from horror to explore elements of bad romantic relationships.
I don’t consider myself a horror writer because I have no stomach for gore and get scared very easily. But I am still drawn to scary books and movies and find monster stories oddly comforting. Or at least, they help me process and understand some of the rougher parts of my life. Now, seeing this collection put together, I can identify the times I turned to macabre stories to soothe me.
In May 2020, during COVID-19 lockdown, another tenant in my apartment building brought bedbugs to us all. I cranked the heat to kill the bugs, sweltered inside wearing only a bathing suit, and watched movies based on Stephen King books to distract myself. I felt rather unhinged in the situation but was also captivated by the idea that a vampire could get away with their secret by pretending their victims had bedbugs instead (this became the premise of the story “Unlucky Sometimes.”).
A year before this, I rented Midsommar and watched it at home, alone, realizing it was a breakup horror movie while I was also in a relationship that needed to end … But I didn’t want to admit that last part. The breakup themes in that film kept bothering me and I just couldn’t explain why.
The earliest origins of LOVING MONSTERS I can pinpoint was in 2010, when I got hooked on watching the Paranormal Activity movies while I was too paranoid to leave the house. I’d developed PTSD related to being mugged and having a horrible boyfriend, and the notion that I wasn’t safe where I lived resonated, disturbed me, and kept me entertained.
Of course, I have a special fondness for the Jersey Devil story, but I love the honesty of the vampire one, “Five issues that didn’t get resolved after we turned into vampires”. Do you have a personal favourite from the collection?
I was so thrilled when I saw a call for submissions from Fiction Kitchen Berlin via Twitter last summer. When I saw your special emphasis on folklore, something clicked for me. Early drafts of “The Jersey Devil Stays Busy” stumped some of the folks I workshopped with, who are from the US, but different regions. They wanted to know if I was writing about THE Devil, Lucifer, or the Paradise Lost guy? No, not quite. I grew up learning about the local monster myth of the Jersey Devil, and even studied the possible historical origins of this lore in my 5th grade history class called, “You, New Jersey, and the World.” But I don’t find the Jersey Devil recognized outside of this weird little region of the country I grew up in (of course there is a professional hockey team called the Jersey Devils, but I don’t imagine every US sports fan Googles the mythology behind team names).
That is all just to say, it was a thrill to be published by Fiction Kitchen Berlin! I don’t have a favorite story, I guess because I am too close to all of them. When I reread them, I remember where I was (geographically, emotionally, and all the rest) while I was writing them. The last story I finished was “One Day in the Life of a Haunted Minimalist House,” and while the couple in the story aren’t happy, this is the one that draws the most from what my life is actually like these days (except I’m in a healthy and happy relationship). My partner and I became homeowners during the pandemic and were able to channel much energy and anxiety during lockdown into painting a house, rehabbing furniture, and decorating. I learned a lot about Scandinavian design style, which I don’t dislike! The story may seem like it’s mocking minimalist style, but that’s what surrounds me every day and I love our home. My experience in lockdown with a partner has been harmonious and loving, fortunately. But I paged through his Ikea catalogues to write that story for sure!
If it’s not my “favorite” story in the collection, but the story about the haunted minimalist house is the one that reminds me that my life and romantic partnership are more happy and stable than they’ve ever been.
I’d be interested to know if the crazy events of 2020 and the past year have had any impact on your motivation to write? Or perhaps even your writing style?’
The COVID-19 pandemic and the government and business shutdowns to stop the spread absolutely gave me more time to write, and to think deeply about the world, and then also see that the themes I wanted to write about could fit into a collection.
Five of these stories were written during the pandemic. In May 2020, on a long (masked and socially distanced) walk at the park, it struck me that I had the potential for a themed collection and used my phone to send myself dozens of manic emails with ideas, including one about the title of LOVING MONSTERS.
I will say that “Five Issues that Didn’t Get Resolved After We Turned Into Vampires” was the first thing I wrote, chronologically. I didn’t have an idea for a collection of horror-inspired flash in mind in 2016. But I had a lot of bloodsuckers on the brain and that story just sort of came out.
In the two years before writing “Five Issues…” I took on the project of re-reading every Anne Rice novel about vampires. I didn’t do this for “research” per se; more like nostalgia. Rice’s vampires from the ancient world, like Marius and Pandora, intrigued me as a teen. They lived thousands of years and spent a lot of that time reading books, learning dead languages, and falling in love (which is how I would probably spend immortality). They are fascinated by mortals and mourn the loss of their humanities, while also needing to feed on blood to survive. When Pandora was a human child in ancient Greece, she got in trouble for reciting erotic Ovid lines at parties. I will love this character forever!
Returning to these stories 15 years after I first encountered them was a rich experience, not the least because this project overlapped with an intense and abusive relationship ending, starting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, quitting smoking, turning 30, and some other things. When I was 15 years old, I was hungry for life and wanted to be a hot goth forever, if given the chance. In my 30s, I feel I can understand why most vampires go mad in the Anne Rice vampire world—personally, the idea of being stuck with my brain for 1,000 years of consciousness sounds like pure torture. I know I couldn’t hack it—immortality and an undead goth lover are not for me!
As for the stories written during the pandemic, “Gains” addresses social distancing, masking, and vaccine misinformation. “The Jersey Devil Stays Busy” posits one supernatural cause of fake news online. And “One Day in the Life of a Haunted Minimalist House” follows an unhappy couple who have locked down together, while a ghost exploits all the ways they annoy one another. As a theme, the pandemic crept into these stories—though I like to think they are about so much more. Oddly enough, “The Beast” was written after 10 months of lockdown and doesn’t mention the pandemic at all—instead it dives into the mundane horrors of sharing household chores with a spouse.
As Managing Editor of the journal, Newfound, I am sure you have read your fair share of submissions over the years. Any writing advice or tips that may help newer writers to the scene?
My role as Journal Editor at Newfound has been so instructive for me and helped me build a literary community. And yet, I generally only read the work that has already been selected for publication, because we have such a great team of Section Editors and Assistant Editors who stay on top of our Submittable queue.
Between my role at Newfound and my work volunteering to read for journals like Spry Lit, I can say: Read the publication before you submit! If you can imagine your work at home with the place you’re submitting, that’s the sign to send your work along.
What is your own personal writing Kryptonite?
Length! How do people write novels? 50,000 words, at least? I went to Journalism school as an undergrad and spent four years obsessively trimming sentences, disdaining adverbs, and making every line punch. I haven’t worked as a journalist (beyond some freelancing here and there) so I veer from my Journalism education in creative writing but … I only want to write short things.
Ok, this could be a tough one: If you could be (or had to be!) any of the monsters from your chapbook, which one would you choose?
The really scary thought, after writing a book full of different monsters, is: Am I all of them?
But if I had to choose, I am probably the woman who becomes a giant monster in “Gains.” I spent far too much time on Twitter during the pandemic and would probably try to live Tweet my monstrous transition. Body shame and body image have been problems in my life for decades, and so the horror of having my body morph into something gigantic was (unfortunately) very easy for me to write and imagine.
I don’t want to end on that note! I think I would delight in being a ghost that messes, ever so subtly, with a house’s occupants. I wouldn’t ever jump out or being truly frightening. But breaking of tiny bits of wicker furniture and leaving them in weird places … Yeah, I’d do that.
Thanks so much Laura for this interview! It was a real pleasure having you on the Kitchen and I hope to read a lot more from you going forward.
Thanks so much to the Kitchen!
Flash Stories by Laura Eppinger
A clever vampire hides her secret by convincing her lovers that they have bedbugs. The Jersey Devil fans conspiracy theories in a world shut down by a pandemic. A haunted house, newly decorated in a minimalist style, wishes for more clutter to throw at its inhabitants. Laura Eppinger’s flash collection Loving Monsters gives voice to the supernatural beings who are just as confused in our modern world as the mortals who made it. It turns out that even becoming undead is no substitute for a good couples’ therapist.
• Flash Fiction | Short Stories
• Published by Alternating Current Press
• 4” x 6” Perfectbound Trade Paperback
• Cream Paper, 60 Pages
• Print ISBN-13: 978-1-946580-28-3
• First Edition: August 31, 2021
• Order today!
Laura Eppinger (she/her) is a Pushcart-nominated writer of fiction, poetry and essay. Her work has appeared at the Rumpus, the Toast, and elsewhere. She’s the journal editor at Newfound.
- Visit her here: https://lauraeppinger.blog/workspub/
- She Tweets at @lola_epp