TIH 543: Rachel Harrison on Writing Horror Stories, Weddings, and Goblin

TIH 543 Rachel Harrison on Writing Horror Stories, Weddings, and Goblin

In this podcast, Rachel Harrison talks about writing horror stories, weddings, Goblin, and much more.

About Rachel Harrison

Rachel Harrison is the National Bestselling author of BLACK SHEEP, SUCH SHARP TEETH, CACKLE, and THE RETURN, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Guernica, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, as an Audible Original, and in her debut story collection BAD DOLLS. She lives in Western New York with her husband and their cat/overlord.

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House of Bad Memories by Michael David Wilson

From the author of The Girl in the Video comes a darkly comic thriller with an edge-of-your-seat climax.

Denny just wants to be the world’s best dad to his baby daughter, but things get messy when he starts hallucinating his estranged abusive stepfather, Frank. Then Frank winds up dead and Denny is held hostage by his junkie half-sister who demands he uncovers the cause of her father’s death.

Will Denny defeat his demons or be perpetually tortured for refusing to answer impossible questions?

House of Bad Memories is Funny Games meets This Is England with a Rosemary’s Baby under-taste.

Hail Santa by John McNee

The ultimate Christmas story. Out now.

Michael David Wilson 0:28

Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers, and creators. I’m Michael David Wilson and every episode, alongside my co-host, Bob Pastorella we chat with the world’s best writers about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Before we get into today’s conversation let’s have a quick advert break.

John McNee 1:01

the town of St Nicholas in northern Canada, a community in decline until it's purchased by a Chinese American corporation intends on turning it into a luxury ski resort. There was neither the residents or their new benefactors realize this and Nicholas already has an owner something strange and inhuman which has long held the town in its Thrall and won't give it up without a fight. The children call it Santa Claus. Blood bone books proudly presents hail Santa by John McNee this Christmas season reject God worship Santa's

Bob Pastorella 1:31

house of bad memories. The debut novel from Michael David Wilson comes out on Friday the 13th this October via cemetery gates media. Danny just wants to be the world's best dad to his baby daughter. But things get messy when he starts hallucinating has a strange, abusive stepfather, Frank, then Frank winds up dead and Danny is held hostage by his junky half sister who demands he uncovers the cause of her father's death with Danny to feed his demons or be perpetually tortured for refusing to answer impossible questions. Clay McLeod Chapman says house of bad memories hit so hard, you will spit teeth out once you're done reading it. Preorder house of bad memories by Michael David Wilson and paperback at cemetery gates media.com or an e book via Amazon.

Michael David Wilson 2:15

Today we are chatting to Rachel Harrison for the first of a two part conversation. Now Rachel is the National Best Selling Author of black sheep, such sharp teeth, cackle and the return which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in her first novel. She has also written a wide range of short fiction, which has appeared in publications such as Gernika electric literature has recommended reading as an audible original, and in her debut story collection, bad dolls. She lives in western New York with her husband, a net cat slash overlord. Now as this is the first time that we've spoken to rate your you get a lot of those early life lessons her origin story as a writer, and we really dig into and go to some fascinating places about both Rachel's life and her journey as a writer. So with that said, let us not delay. It is Rachel Harrison on This Is Horror. Rachel, welcome to This Is Horror.

Rachel Harrison 3:44

I'm happy to be here.

Michael David Wilson 3:46

I'm happy to have you here. And Bob and I just recently finished reading black sheep, which is going to form quite a bit of the conversation, particularly in the second half. Fantastic novel. But before we get into that, I want to know what were some of the early life lessons that you learned growing up?

Rachel Harrison 4:11

Hmm. That's a deep question right off the bat. Early life lessons. I was very I was a very creative, spacey kid. And luckily, my mother was always very encouraging and patient for me in my artistic expression. I was a theater geek when I was little. So rejection, getting rejected, auditioning and being rejected when I was very young. Like 789 10 was a very valuable early lesson. I think. Being rejected and being told no. And having to kind of pick yourself up is a good lesson to have early On and allows you to become a little bit more self aware. And for me self deprecating other early lessons, I think, just finding joy through art. And I, Art has always been, like a coping mechanism I'm very, I'm having a tough time with anything I like to escape into not deal with the issue, obviously, to kind of escape into other worlds scape into music, books, movies. So as I've gotten older, I've learned you how you can't do that all the time. But when I was little, I think anything that felt difficult or rough in my childhood, my coping mechanism was always escaping into imagination or literature, film, cetera.

Michael David Wilson 6:00

Yeah. So do you remember the first time that you faced rejection as a child, I wonder as well, how you dealt with it in that moment?

Rachel Harrison 6:12

dramatically, I'm sure. I'm trying to think like the first time I auditioned for something and didn't get it. Probably in the fifth grade. I auditioned for like, the play. And there were seven actor roles. And I didn't get an actor role. And I remember being very devastated by that. Just having to like learn that Oh, life goes on. But yeah, of course, I probably cried. I still cry when I get I'm an easy crappier and my emotional by get like, angry to past a certain point sad past a certain point, like, anytime my emotional level, brim like, goes above anything. Other than moderate, I usually start crying, even though 34 year old woman. I'm learning now as I'm speaking that maybe I didn't learn enough lessons.

Michael David Wilson 7:16

Yeah, but I think as well, it's far healthier, you know, when something builds to let it out in some way. And yes, you know, I learned as an adult, so almost embarrassing to say, as an adult, but that is, for me, I feel it's healthier. For it to be let out through sadness and crying rather than through anger. Now, it'd be better for Neva. But I think like if, if it's like kind of sadness and crying, you're far less likely to do damage to other people, you know, it's going to be less destructive in that sense.

Rachel Harrison 7:57

Yeah. And I think for me, being able to let emotions out as they come like to have the catharsis of just being like, I'm upset, I'm gonna have a little cry, and I'm gonna move on with my life is better than times where I've tried to suppress all of my emotion, and then it kind of just simmers under the surface. So I'm very pro crime. Yes, you cry.

Michael David Wilson 8:22

Yeah. And I think once you cry, you feel a little bit better after having done it. It's like, right. Well, we've dealt with that now.

Rachel Harrison 8:34

notion. Yeah. Lauren it into a tissue, and now I can move on.

Michael David Wilson 8:38

Yeah. Well, I didn't think we were gonna get into crying in under five minutes, but sometimes in this,

Rachel Harrison 8:46

he's never met me before.

Michael David Wilson 8:49

That is true. It's very true. And, I mean, in terms of your artistic upbringing, I mean, you've mentioned the theater. But I understand, too, that prior to writing, you would actually tell your mother stories, and she would write them down.

Rachel Harrison 9:11

I would say, I would like have stories. And because I couldn't write yet I'd be like, mother, like, please come here. And I would make her right. I would just dictate to her mind. And, you know, it's like, I was obviously very small. So it'd be like nonsense stories, she would patiently sit and dictate. So I'm very lucky that I had a mother who would encourage encouraged my creativity and also have the patience to put up with me.

Michael David Wilson 9:49

And did you find too that people at school both students and teachers were equally encouraging my

Rachel Harrison 9:58

fellow classmates probably Not as much, you're probably sick of me like wanting to play pretend and coming up with, like, elaborate stories. But my teachers, I had an library alert librarian in elementary school named Mrs. Mason who was very encouraging and would always give me books to read. And then a few of my teachers were very encouraging of, of my writing ability. I remember in seventh grade, we got an assignment to write a mystery story. And I think it was only supposed to be five pages, and I turned in like a 25 page. Epic. And, you know, I still got a good grade on it. She wasn't like, I can't believe I have to great. I asked for five pages. And she handed in a novelette. So yeah, it was, I think, very lucky growing up that people were patient and encouraging. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 10:57

I remember when I was younger, the storytelling and creative writing it was quite easy, because the barriers to entry were low. And I know one exam, I effectively just wrote for the entire exam time and atmospheric Silent Hill rip off. And now you've got a top mark. And he's like, Oh, this right in business is okay. Yeah, fast forward a decade or so. And it's like, Oh, damn, this is not. This is not easy. Oh,

Rachel Harrison 11:28

but still preferable to math. In my Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Michael David Wilson 11:32

Yeah, definitely. But do you remember when you first read a story to an audience?

Rachel Harrison 11:40

I don't remember reading a story to an audience. I remember doing monologues in my theater class, and in theater clubs. But in terms of sharing my own writing, I don't I can't recall. I don't think I read. Not until I was an adult. I don't think reading like my own work in front of the crowd. So

Michael David Wilson 12:06

did you ever share the stories with classmates? Or was that something you were private about too?

Rachel Harrison 12:13

I think I was pretty private about it, because I don't think my classmates would have been interested. Like, I, I had friends who were creative, but not a lot of friends who had the same passion for reading that I did. So you know, I was reading like White Oleander in like, eighth grade, my friends were not reading that. And I remember, like, reading Sylvia Plath in in high school, too, and none of my friends were like, particularly interested in the same things that I was reading, or Shirley Jackson or anything like that. So I didn't really share my own work. until probably College, and even when I got to college, is mostly I was a screenwriting major. So mostly screenplays and things like that.

Michael David Wilson 13:11

Yeah. Sounds like in terms of your education, you were always kind of reading one level above. So Sylvia Plath and Jackson that feels like university, but you're like, Well, we're going to start that in high school. Yes,

Rachel Harrison 13:25

yes. Reading for. I mean, a lot of teenagers do this. But in my, in my school, in my circle of friends, I was definitely strange and an angsty and bookish.

Michael David Wilson 13:43

And in terms of your taste, I mean, of course, at the moment, you're most known within the horror genre, I would say. But what about your taste when you were growing up?

Rachel Harrison 13:59

I didn't read horror, aside from Jackson, and then maybe the occasional Stephen King story. And I'm sure others that I can't quite recall, but I didn't read horror until my early 20s Because I scare very easily. And when I was growing up, I thought I didn't like horror because I was such a fraidy cat. So it took me a while to realize like, oh, no, I actually love I love this genre, and it's fine that it freaks me out. When I was younger. I read a lot of like, JD Salinger, Sylvia Plath. I read all the like, books were assigned in school. I read Zora Neale Hurston I read trying to Think what I read that was like off syllabus. I read Jane Austen, I kind of I would go to the library and kind of just pick out a book that looked interesting to me and read it. But when I think back on those times, I think in like the structure of my teen years, I remember a lot of the curriculum, like the scarlet letter, and oh, gosh, I read The Fountainhead during for AP English one year. But if I'm like, thinking back on the snapshots, I think about a lot of the curriculum that I had to read. I don't know, I guess, like now that I'm in my 30s. My teen years just seem like a fever dream. That's something that just happens where I'm like, I don't remember what I read these books. I don't remember when I read them. Or I know I read them, but I don't remember.

Michael David Wilson 16:07

Yeah, and it sounds like a lot of what you were reading. I mean, it was kind of hora 10, gentle, or at least genre 10. Jen Oh, and then he had a, I guess does an argument. When does Gothic become horror as well. And I tend to find and I wonder if it was a similar case with you that some people will feel that they don't like horror, and then their definition of what horror is expands and they realize oh, okay, it can be all of these things. Yeah,

Rachel Harrison 16:45

I, I definitely think that when I was younger, I would think about horror, mostly in terms of a film. And then Stephen King books. I like was deeply affected by any horror that I saw. So I remember watching The Blair Witch Project, when I was I think 1211 and being terrified for weeks. And so I wouldn't pick up a horror book because I would think like, I'm not going to do that to myself. But I think reading horror and watching horror, feel there's a different feel to it. And we, I think internalize things differently, I have an easier time reading horror than I do watching horror movies. Like, I read it, by Stephen King, that, like, the book itself, and this is gonna sound like I'm trying to flex it. But it just didn't scare me. I love the book. But it didn't scare me. The movie, like part one, at least, there was parts in that movie that scared me that were uncomfortable to watch. So I think it's just how I interact, how I thought of the genre and how I interacted with it. And I think as the more you immerse yourself in the genre, the more you understand what it has to offer, and how broad it is.

Michael David Wilson 18:21

Yeah, sounds like you have a similar relationship to horror as Sadie Hartman because I know that of course, she can devour as many horror books as possible. But with films, it can be a slightly different story. And it's, it's interesting how different people react in different ways. Because, in a sense, like, some horror books can be far scarier for me than the movie because I'm filling in the blanks with my imagination, whereas on the screen, it just is, whatever is presented to you.

Rachel Harrison 18:58

Yeah, I think it depends on the visual like, what? For me, what scares me in a horror book is the slow build of dread. That is the like, the militia house by John Majlis this thing between us by Gus Marino. I'm currently reading horror movie by Paul Tremblay which is coming out in June. I believe, like it the uncomfortable dread feeling it leads me with it freaks me out. The visuals can be scary, but and I am able to conjure terrifying imagery in my head. But in a movie, if it's like a slow burn, and there's like, I'm just waiting for the jump scare and I'm more annoyed by that than I am scared by it. But the visual like a visual that I cannot control that I am not conjuring that's being projected to me that's more terrifying in a horror movie. So I don't like and I don't even know if it's that I couldn't come up with anything as scary in my own brain. Versus it's like my own monster. And I feel like Dr. Frankenstein like I'm in control of the image. So it's less scary because I'm in control. I think it's more of a control thing. And in when there's that, like slow burn of dread in a book, I'm not in control.

I don't like

at all. Yeah, yeah,

Bob Pastorella 20:47

it's hard to get it jumpscare in a book, there's, there's very few books that can accomplish that. And I know because the times that I've experienced it, I can I can count on two hands and have fingers leftover, but it was a very visceral experience. In a movie, I'm like you I don't like like, you know, the start hearing the notes on the piano or whatever. Like, oh, they're about to do jumpscare and it's probably going to piss me off because it's not going to be scary. Yeah, I don't like those. That's annoying. Yeah. Now you pull you know, you pull a Mike Flanagan in like episode. I think it's episode seven or episode six of Haunting of Hill House when they're in jeep. And you pull that kind of jumpscare shit. I'm scared that that scared the piss out of me. I mean, what the hell? That was

Rachel Harrison 21:55

his new one the House of Usher.

Bob Pastorella 21:57

I am like three episodes in. I'm taking my time with it. Because

Rachel Harrison 22:05

there's a jump scare in the limo. Limo door. And it's a scary visual and it's a jump scare. But I'd rather the jump scare be a legitimate jump scare versus no length. You know, like, we're leading up to a jump scare. We're gonna jump scare you. I don't like that.

Bob Pastorella 22:26

Yeah. Tell them the music changes you almost had. Yes. And it's like, come on. How cheap. Can we get it? It's like, Do you buy that? He was like when you're making a movie. Hey, yeah, we need to jumpscare music. Yeah. Get the guy in jumpscare. Yeah, we got to do it here. It's in the script. Yeah. I mean, it's like it's pre packaged. Yeah, surprise me, and then make it memorable. You know? And that's, but it's really hard to pull it off in a book. Really?

Michael David Wilson 23:01

Oh, yeah. And I think in terms of films and TV, and it certainly really just occurred to me as we're having this conversation. But Mike Flanagan is kind of the master of what I want to term, the quiet jumpscare. He is particularly in The Haunting of Hill House, there will be ghosts that are just in shot, but you only notice if you really pay attention. So yeah, he doesn't really do much of the buildup. It's just there.

Rachel Harrison 23:33

Yes. And I think especially in Hill House, where there's like the ghosts and the like, you could be watching it and then all of a sudden, like out of the corner. I see it. But I like like, it doesn't feel like it's trying too hard, I guess. I don't know. Maybe like, I've been in the genre too long. And now I'm pretentious. Where I'm like, don't try to do impress me just do it. But yeah, the quiet jumpscare I think you're absolutely right.

Michael David Wilson 24:07

Yeah. Well, I mean, going back to your childhood, I mean, you told us you were telling stories. You in theater, then at university, you were screenwriting. So I'm wondering when you were growing up? What was it that you wanted to do? Or what was it that you wanted to be?

Rachel Harrison 24:32

I wanted to be when I was younger, I wanted to be an actress. Because going back to that, like sort of escapism I thought, like how can I be anyone but me? How can I you know go travel and I think I was just looking for any excuse to be someone else and be somewhere else when I was growing up? And I think a lot of the times that I was writing, that was what I was trying to do. But when I was younger, I was like, What's a job where I could be someone else? It's like, go be an actress. So when I was younger, I aspired to that. And because of how much I loved film, that's kind of how I got into screenwriting. And subsequently novel writing. When, when it was when I soured on Hollywood.

Michael David Wilson 25:35

Right, well, I understand, too, that you used to work in TV. So I mean, I want to know a little bit about your journey in becoming a novel writer. And I want to know, what happened before the screenwriting and the TV work, because this is an area that I have not heard you speak about? Yeah,

Rachel Harrison 25:58

so I graduated college in 2010, in December of 2010. And the US was still in a bit of a recession at that time. And my last semester of college, I, I went to college at Emerson in Boston. And my last semester, I did, they had a program in LA. So I was living in LA, at a place called the Oakwoods, which is infamous for housing child stars. So it was like a bunch of college kids. And, like, stage moms drink, like smoking cigarettes by the pool, like the little child actors running everywhere. It's very interesting. And I interned at Focus Features. And at that time, what I really wanted to do was become a script development executive. So readings, and that was my internship, I was in development, I was reading scripts, I was passing them along to my supervisors being like I like this isn't. So that's what I was doing. And that's kind of the path I saw for myself. But I was 21. And I was afraid the cat and I couldn't crack it. And I am not a very good driver. And in Los Angeles, you have to drive. And so I was too intimidated to stay in LA. So I moved to New York City. And because the economy wasn't great at that time, and because generally, there's just not as many film and TV jobs in New York, I got a the first job that I could find, which was working as a production assistant on the newlywed game, which is a game show, a very, like, cheesy game show that I believe it's been around since the 70s. And I was working 14 hour days on set, like ordering food, like making sure the whole like crew was fed. Collecting receipts doing like I was assisting the line producer. So it was not glamorous work. And it was very consuming work. And so I didn't have a lot of time to write. And from there, I worked on another game show pilot, and was just sort of miserable, and 22 years old, in New York City, barely making any money. And I got a job at a TV lighting company. And I was basically the receptionist there. So like all of this like to being like I worked in TV. Sounds cool, but it like was pretty much not cool. Just a lot of like running around. And or sitting around. And being angsty and being like what happened to my life. I had a very specific vision for what was going to happen. And but when I worked at the lighting design company, I started to write prose. I I'd sort of at that time given up on writing screenplays and feeling a little like I fudged up my Hollywood aspirations. I started writing prose and then throughout my 20s after working at the lighting design company, I got a job working in publishing contracts. First for a textbook company, and then for Penguin Random House. And then I got a job as an executive assistant at a big corporate bank. And throughout all that time, I was working on my craft, I was writing short stories, I sort of fell back in love with genre, and I was writing weird, speculative fiction stories. And when I got to my late 20s, that's when I wrote the return. So it was a very, it was a very weird time, and funky time, but, and part of me doesn't like talking about it, because I don't know if it's particularly interesting and but part of me thinks it's important to talk about because there's anybody else who's aspiring to write who feels like maybe they're stuck or, like, wonders, if they're on the right path, like I think just forging ahead, because like, when I was sitting at the reception desk, of that lighting design company, I was sort of like, I've done it, I've given up like, I've ruined my chance of ever, like making my dreams come true. And just was filled with despair, but kept writing and worked out, man. So yeah,

Michael David Wilson 31:20

there's so much to say about all of that. And something that I'm sure I've mentioned before, but I feel that, you know, all the way up to graduating university. And when we're in early 20s, there's this urgency that we have to find the path or we have to find the career we have to be in the job that we want to be in. And if we're not on that path by 21, or 22. It's like, oh, well, you've ruined your life. But then, when you get to your 30s, you realize Hang on, this isn't true at all. We've got so much more time and why are we being fed this lie, you know, to do with careers to do with relationships, there's this urgency. And I think like a lot of people are probably happier in this is an I assume 40s too, because they kind of see the system and the world for what it is. And they realize that there isn't a prescribed path fever. I mean, if you want to be a writer, right, that is effectively the path and so many people I mean, they get their start doing it in between jobs in between, like part time jobs or on their lunch break. And yeah, it's not as glamorous as perhaps we thought it was growing up, but it is the reality. So I mean, people shouldn't give up. And if we look at when a lot of writers wrote their first book, I mean, so many people, it was in their 40s, their 50s, their 60s, so we we have more time than we think we do.

Rachel Harrison 33:10

Yeah, and when you're young, everything feels permanent. Like when I was in these unhappy jobs, I felt like, I'm gonna be here forever. Like, I'm never gonna get out of this. Like, it's hard to fathom that it's just a blip in like a long in a long series of events. Because it's, you don't have as much context. The older you get, the more you're like, Oh, I was only at that job that I didn't like for two years. When you're 22, two years is forever. When you're 34. Two years is like, that was two years, like had I and had I had faith that I it was temporary. I think I would have been happier at the time, because everything is temporary. But that's a hard thing to wrap your head around when you're in your early 20s. And life doesn't look the way you thought it was going to look or is quote unquote, supposed to look.

Michael David Wilson 34:12

Yeah, yeah. And I want to go back to you having a job working on the newlywed game show because there is a delicious irony and something darkly comic you're probably thinking well, not for my life. Thank you very much for finding amusement in it. But weddings and this kind of sharp, social satire to do with weddings. It's something that I see throughout your work. So the fact that you're working on a newly weds year that yeah, there's something called ironic that something perfect but it probably wasn't very amusing to you at the time, but hopefully you can glean some human now looking back and the trajectory that you're still reads have taken.

Rachel Harrison 35:01

Now I love it. It's fun to, to reflect on that. Especially have like, thinking about my body of work. And if anyone has read my work, I do think it's funny.

Michael David Wilson 35:16

Yeah, and I mean, we're going to talk about weddings and wedding culture, because it is such a part of your work. But I thought something that would be interesting to begin with. I want to know about your wedding, because there's so much that you don't like about weddings, what did your wedding look like?

Rachel Harrison 35:41

To to preface this? Like, I'm very okay with anybody who wants to do if people are into weddings, like good on them. I like whatever makes people happy, do it. I my wedding, I got married on a Tuesday morning at the courthouse in Brooklyn. And then we got pancakes. And then we went bowling. And that was it. I didn't like I didn't have a big. I don't like to be. I like praise. I don't like attention. I don't want to be the center of attention. So like, and I don't like planning I don't. I kind of, yeah, wedding weddings are not for me. So I like to be a guest sometimes if it's like a low stakes situation. But I think I was in a few weddings in my 20s that were so in as a bridesmaid that were so stressful. And there was so much drama around the wedding, that I kind of they kind of spoiled weddings for me. Please pray that those friends are not listening to this. But yeah, I think I'm a little jaded because of personal experiences, being in other people's weddings, versus more than anything else. And I also do think wedding culture is a bit out of control. But

Michael David Wilson 37:17

yeah, yeah. And when you decided to go for the low key pancakes and bowling wedding, did you have any kind of, I suppose, negative reaction to that? Did you have any, like members of family that were upset? Because they wanted a big wedding? What are you doing your was it all quite amicable?

Rachel Harrison 37:42

I think my, my mother and my mother in law might have been a little disappointed that they weren't there. But nobody, I think was like, completely disappointed. I mean, I, my husband has family, across continents. And so that would have been complicated. If we did have a wedding, they might not have been able to make it. And then my mom is one of seven and my dad is one of eight. So like, there was no way to have like a small, something like and, like, to me, it just would have been awkward. Like, my parents are now divorced. Like it was just I think everyone was just like, we're fine with like, let us not be bothered. So I didn't have a lot of pushback. So personally, like I couldn't have imagined a better day to do and to me, like if you're committed to somebody or committed to somebody I didn't really care so much about, like, having being married. Like to me like, again, my parents are divorced. I'm not like marriages romantic. It's forever. Like, to me the commitment is more important. So I was fine with the pancakes in bowling.

Michael David Wilson 39:16

It sounds like a perfectly reasonable day and a fun, you know, low stress time.

Rachel Harrison 39:23

Yes, low stress is ideal.

Michael David Wilson 39:25

Yeah, yeah. I'm sensing a theme there. I mean, as somebody I suppose, who isn't? How to put this. I'm in your opinion, I suppose from what you said, has to do with marriage as an institute. It is not that high. So I wonder what was the impetus there you and your husband though, you know what, despite seeing that there's a lot of facade in terms of weddings and marriages. We're going To do this anyway, I wonder what was the impetus there? Um,

Rachel Harrison 40:03

I mean, I think there is some, like romantic, like, we'd been together for a while and it seemed like a Knesset, like, it seemed important in the sense of like, you know, to I mean, there is some romance in it. But, so I want to say that but I also like, also taxes and health insurance and the logistics of of it. We're all so important. So, a little bit of both. And because everybody like, it's annoying if people are like, you've been together winning like, like, we're we're together like fight like we're married. I think the like, Oh, why are you gonna get engaged? Like that? Always? bugs me.

Michael David Wilson 41:01

Yeah, well, you here pretty quickly, cuz you're like, right, pancakes bowling done. You can't ask me anymore. It's done. Well, as we're talking about weddings, I want to jump into goblin. Now I was like, Do I Do I go with black sheep? Or do I go with Goblin, but I want to go for goblin right now. And so I mean, perhaps a bit of misdirection for the listeners that haven't read it, because it's not really about weddings, you know, the protagonist mag is preparing to go to a wedding. And it's really about eating disorders and dieting. Now, I believe you wrote this in 2016. So based on what you said, I imagine this must have been one of your earlier stories. Yes.

Rachel Harrison 42:07

It I wrote goblin before I wrote the return.

Michael David Wilson 42:16

And you've said that this is one of your most personal stories. So I know we could start there. And I wonder, I mean, what challenges did you face writing a story that was so deeply personal to you?

Rachel Harrison 42:33

I think at the time that I wrote it, I assumed no one would write like, no one will read it. And then panic later, is kind of my how I feel. Because this was before, like, I wasn't getting anything published, I didn't have a novel to go on submission with I'd never written a novel. But I struggled with disordered eating. Pretty much. One of my earliest memories is being six years old, and dealing with negative self talk and specifically related to body image. So, but I'd never written about it. Before. And I one of the things that I love about writing horror is it allows me to, you know, I talked earlier about escapism, and like not confronting issues. When I write horror, it's the perfect marriage of both. I can confront marriage, confront it issues in my life. But I can do it in a way that also feels like escapism that feels fun and where I feel in control. So Goblin is a perfect example of that, because I'm dealing with something I've personally experienced. And it's a part of my life that I don't know if I will ever get past. But I'm also having a lot of fun writing something like messed up and gnarly. And it has one of the most, it was the ending of that story. So satisfying to write. And it really surprised me, I didn't see it coming until it happened. And I was disgusted with myself and also completely satisfied. So high. It was I didn't like sit down and think like, oh, yeah, I'm gonna, like, get into this deeply personal thing I didn't think about like, it's going to be a personal story. It just sort of happened. And there was some catharsis in it. And I'm proud of that story. And it's probably the, the thing that I've written that I I think about the most.

Michael David Wilson 44:56

Yeah, and in terms of that ending I mean, Bob, when he's talking about writing advice, he'll often say that for a story to be successful, it has to be logical, but unpredictable, and absolutely logical and unpredictable. And, you know, now that I've read it, I mean, what while reading it, yeah, I didn't know, where is this going to ultimately go. But as soon as you finish it, it's like, well, will it had to, to end like that? And yeah, I, I really do. People who haven't to absolutely read it. So I believe that it is in the bad doll short story collection, but it is also available online. Is it a website called something like electric literature?

Rachel Harrison 45:50

Yes. Yes. Electric literature. Okay.

Michael David Wilson 45:52

Exactly. Electric literature.

Rachel Harrison 45:56

It's something it's exactly. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson 46:00

Yeah, but yeah, so So yeah, a remarkable story. Goodness. Now we've got this spoiler talk dichotomy, because I do want to talk about it, but then it's like, or should I just leave it for people to, to experience? Well,

Rachel Harrison 46:19

we can give a spoiler warning. And if people haven't, they can fast forward.

Michael David Wilson 46:24

Yeah, so so mild. Spoiler warning, we'll start with some low level spoilers deteriorate from there, but you can go to the show notes on this is horror.co.uk, to see when we stop talking about goblin. But I mean, something, as well as eating disorders. I mean, it seamlessly fuses that together with kind of a reliance on technology or addiction to applications. And so the goblin the titular Goblin is referring to an app that gives you a literal goblin that is going to help you lose weight. So did you kind of know a lot of the elements of this story going into it?

Rachel Harrison 47:21

It's been a while so but I do think I had the idea of a dieting app, where you, there's a creature who literally bats food out of your hand, like who is physically there to deprive you of things. Because there I don't remember when certain apps came out, but you know, there's like, I have a Fitbit. Like, there's new, there's, like now Weight Watchers has an app and I grew up in the 90s. And like, I think anybody any woman who grew up in the 90s has some issue with food because there was the heroin chic. And even just watching like going back and watching episodes of friends. If you grew up watching friends, all those women are bone thin, and all of these and then there was like yogurt comers, like any. There's a lot of literature about this online, but it was kind of ingrained in me and then I get to a certain age, I get to my mid 20s. And I start to realize that maybe this is wrong. It had never occurred to me that they were wrong, that the magazines were wrong, that it was always something is wrong with me because I cannot be that or that I'm not there yet. I am not good enough yet. And so I had this like, I finally it's, you know, foreshadowing, but it's like, cult deprogramming for you start to to realize, wait a minute, what, like, they're telling me I need to eat this yogurt to be thin. But they're not. Like it's not about that it's about me buying this fucking younger. And so I think I hit these epiphanies in my mid 20s. But also felt unable to break out of, you know, there's the, the more disordered eating stuff underneath that, but to sort of on on top of that, kind of peeling back the societal All pressure and seeing through that, and like, you aren't trying to help me be better, you are trying to suck me dry, and take my money by constantly telling me, I'm not good enough and you can help me. And so thinking about and seeing that transition from commercials and TV shows to apps on my phone, that kind of transition. Like, Kate, that's sort of where goblin was born out of reaching these in my mid 20s, kind of reaching this point. And seeing that shift in, in my own perception, and then also in diet culture from where it used to be, which was more on my TV and magazines to like, what followed me here. Like, they figured out a way to, to reach me someplace else. And kind of this idea of like, having this epiphany that I'm never going to be free of it. Like, I have to free myself. And so that that's, I remember feeling those kinds of frustrations and, and having conversation with my friends at the same time being like, what, why are we doing this to ourselves to our bodies, and there's a salad place chain that popped up in New York City around this time called sweet green. And I kind of vaguely referenced it in the story, but people would lock line around the block to get a salad. And it was like $17 and like having the sense like waiting in the line and just being like this is ludicrous like having those kinds of realizations that I had never had before in my life so yeah $17 Wave never wait in line for salad. I'm sorry.

Bob Pastorella 52:12

$17 it very come with a pizza. Like Daniel

Michael David Wilson 52:23

I've been before because I have a gluten allergy. So it means that my you know what I can eat is limited. So I have had to queue for a bloody overpriced salad before because it's the only kind of option that's available and yeah, I mean, at that point, it's like I could just do a bit of impromptu intermittent fasting is not eat let's wait till we get home and have a goddamn steak and potatoes. Let's do something proper.

Rachel Harrison 53:00

To be fair, from what I remember, they were good salads, but like, yeah, no salad. Is that good. But yeah, I think it was more about like, it's one thing if you actually want the salad. And it's another thing if you're like, I need to be eating the salad. It's a different, like, mentality. And I don't know if it was culturally a shift or just the age I was when I wrote the story where it felt like I was coming out of this and being like, you know, like I said, and like a call towards like, they promised me the apocalypse eight times. Maybe it's not actually coming. Like, that's kind of how it felt. And that's where the story came. came from and then just having the visual like, I was probably eating something I felt like I quote unquote, shouldn't have been eating and Bing like, what if a little creature came and was just like, No. just smacked me.

Michael David Wilson 54:03

Yeah, yeah. Because I mean, yeah, you will metaphorically being hit by every 90 sitcom. And yeah, easy and commercial anyway, might as well manifest into reality. Loves been rewatching a lot of 90s movies recently and everything you're saying is so on point. And there seems to be in the vast majority of films, even some kind of subplot about a woman wanting to lose some weight. And the thing that I suppose is even more shocking, you know, watching it in 2023 is the amount of times you will see just some bloke who I mean, it's kind of beside the point, but he ain't that great looking. He ain't in shape at all. And he'll say To a woman who by no definition is even a bit overweight, he'll start poking fun at her weight. And, I mean, I think what it was was it wasn't even about wanting the woman to lose weight. But it was that people realize this is something that women are sensitive about. And they're just going to be in so like the, you know,

Rachel Harrison 55:27

into to look back on and to, to have grown up in an environment where that was so like unapologetically in our faces, it was impossible not to internalize that. And to get to the point, like, even recently, I, I put on Superbad in the hotel room at night, because it was on and watching it back. And this isn't about weight, but just watching super bad and being like, Oh, this age terribly. Like this is so like, this isn't even like, this isn't funny. It's just like, kind of sickening and sad. And to have these, like, epiphany is later when you watch stuff back, I think, is very eye opening. And it's, it's sometimes it's enraging, but sometimes it's also very freeing to be like, I cared so much about these things. Or like, I thought I had to be this way, because this is what society was saying, and how they thought I should be and then kind of letting go of that and rebelling against it. Like diet culture, like wedding culture, like, having to deal with somebody making raunchy jokes, like a raunchy, super badass joke. And then if you as a woman don't like it, then oh, you're not, you're not cool. You're not like with it. So it's interesting to look back on this stuff. And then to have you know, I, sometimes I look back on the things I write and I'm like, Oh, my gosh, I'm angry. Like, why am I so pissed off? I read that, like, I don't think I'm an angry person. And then I'll read stuff that I write, and I'm like, like, where's this anger coming from? And then I'll like, watch Superbad and be like, it's here. It's because I watched this movie, like sitting next to a bunch of my dude friends, and they were all laughing. And I felt like I had to laugh too. And if I didn't laugh, there were something wrong with me. And like, not the fact that like, this is like teenage boys, just like, objectifying their female classmates to the point of like, just like beyond anything. And yeah, maybe that's where my rage comes from. Maybe that's why goblin ends, the way it ends. Because, like, I had to watch those fucking yogurt commercials when I was eight years old.

Michael David Wilson 58:09

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, of course, I mentioned in movies, like blokes making fun of women. But of course, like, there was also a lot of women poking fun of a women. Like, I remember with my own mother, and I don't think if she watches this, she should take too much offense because Mom, I love you. But you know, it's true, but she had a lot of issues with with her own weight. But then, like, apropos of nothing, you know, someone would come on to the television and she'd be like, she's put on a bit of weight. Not me, not my dad. Nobody said comment on this, but it would happen they'd be like sniping of women and like an unwed comments that really just reflected, you know, her own insecurities being like, Oh, I've noticed this and like what one thing that I have observed. A lot of women seem to be really obsessed or fixated with cellulite, but I have never met a man that says like, you know what I don't like on a woman. cellulite. It doesn't happen. We we don't care. We don't think about that kind of thing. I once

Rachel Harrison 59:32

met. There was a woman who taught pole dancing close to Emerson College, and my friend and I went on Valentine's Day to take a class with her and she was a brilliant woman she studied like she wrote a book about dead Pope's like, brilliant. Like she was like, very like think she had I had a PhD, but like, very cool and also like a very talented pole dancer. And she looked at my friend and I, and she was like, people are stupid. If you're confident in yourself, no one's gonna care. If you look at somebody and you're like, This is my cellulite. This is the hottest thing you've ever seen in your life. They're gonna be like, oh, yeah, like, it's, it's about confidence. And I think a lot of what, what happens in society is trying to break down women's confidence, for money. And it ripples throughout society and culture. Because if a woman feels like, she needs to hide her cellulite, she's gonna buy the cellulite cream that you're selling. And, and then it's like, okay, then they're making money off this insecurity. But there's nothing wrong with you. Like, probably very hot. And I think something that I always struggled with was I always found other, like, women beautiful. Like, I never, ever looked at anybody else's body and thought, like, anything but positive things about them. It was always specific to me. And I think that was another I think, some they made attempts. Like, there's definitely, like you were saying about your mother making comments. Like, I think that might have been a generation above me, because my mother would make comments like that too. Because I think there was pressure on them to, but they took the pressure and sort of externalized it. And I think for me, as I'm a millennial, for me, and all my friends we always internalized, it was always like, you know, we would always make self deprecating comments about ourselves, but never about our other friends. So it's interesting how that how generationally, it is, like, different and, like, I'm very grateful to see, I feel like it's now moving in a different direction, and there's more body positivity. But, you know, it's, it's definitely, like, we could talk about it for a long time and unpack it for a long time, because there's a lot there. And I think it's kind of a reckoning that we all have, personally, and I think it's a reckoning, that kind of happens, comes in waves, like you'll see articles about it and come out around the same time. But it's worth reflecting on. And I think that's why goblin was so cathartic, and why still think about it so much. Because even though it felt good to write it, like, I'm never going to completely exercise that demon, because it was just baked into me since I was a kid. Yeah,

Michael David Wilson 1:03:19

and it seems like obviously, from talking to you, now that you've seen what has happened, you realize where the eating disorder came from, you can see to that it was a lot of manufactured bullshit from companies trying to sell products. But as you say, it isn't a cent still baked into us. So I mean, what do you do when you have that kind of head Goblin, which is a wonderful metaphor, kind of telling you these things and trying to encourage eating disorders for one have better phrasing,

Rachel Harrison 1:03:59

a think it's hard, because some days, you can dismiss for any sort of negative self talk, and some days you can dismiss it and other days, you stew in it. And so I don't really have a solution other than to know, I always when I was younger, I thought I could beat it. Like if I were were to be like if I were to starve myself. If I were to be smaller, if I were to look different. If I were to look better, then I wouldn't feel that way. And that's something that I confronted in Goblin as well. Where Meg is, has this realization that she has this vision of herself on her wedding day, making herself throw up, and she realizes that she's never gonna hit a point where she feels Feels good enough. And that was an epiphany that I had to where I'm never going to feel 100 Like, I'm never going to feel good enough, I'm always going to have these moments where I feel like I should not do this thing because it is bad. Because it will affect will make me feel uncomfortable in my body, it will make me It's wrong. It's wrong for me to do this, it's better for me to deprive myself, that deprivation is good. I will be accepted if I like eat the fucking salad. And I think learning that that's even if I don't feel good about myself, on a day, knowing that it's not like, well, if I did xy and z, then I would feel good. I kind of know that like, I'm never going to reach a point where I'm completely free of the goblin. I'm always going to live with the Goblin, but to not let the goblin run my life, sort of where I've landed. And

Michael David Wilson 1:06:08

how does this manifest into other areas of your life? Because I mean, as writers, we often have self doubt, on some level. So I'm wondering, what do you do in those moments where you have self doubt or self deprecation in some way, are there things that you've got in place to help with your mental health and to help put things in perspective,

Rachel Harrison 1:06:36

I rely on people who am close to who loved me, I, when it comes to writing, there are a certain compliments that I've received from writers I respect that I keep in my back pocket, well, this person said this to me. And so like, that makes me feel really good. I also have when I was in high school, I knew this, this girl who I walked into her bedroom for the first time, we were hanging out, and she had a wall of photos of herself. And she was like, I'm not conceited. I'm just very insecure. And these are all pictures that I think I look good in. And I like that stuck in my head for a really long time. And so if somebody tags me in a really nice review, or sends me a message, like, I really connected to this book, I screenshot it, and I put it in a folder that I have a little album called confidence boost. So if I get tagged in a nasty review, or if I'm having a day where I feel like bad about myself in terms of writing or my career, I can look back and be like, No, what I do matters and has value. So little bit of that. And then I was having a tough time this year. And so I went on Lexapro. Like, I think there's nothing wrong with like, when you have if you're struggling with your mental health, getting help where you need it. So in many ways, like this was like a really good career year. But like, I think also, as you get older, you realize that, you know, just because when I was, you know, 25, that the lighting companies sitting in front of that desk, I was like, If only, like, I was always a happy when person, like I'll be happy when I get a book published, or I'll be happy when I get two books published. And then kind of realizing that, like, success doesn't necessarily equate to happiness, and like having a happy home life doesn't like is not going to solve your mental health issues, or your anxiety and things like that. So yeah, a mix of the confidence boost folder, having a good supportive group of friends and some medication, a low dosage of medication to just help me through.

Michael David Wilson 1:09:17

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I mentioned before eating a gluten free diet. And so that came off the back of me being in considerable pain because of arthritis and then experimenting with diet and it got me off 10 prescription pharmaceutical tablets a day and injecting myself once a week. And then for a while after that. I became quite reluctant to take any pharmaceuticals I think because I was terrified of having some sort of dependency or going back to that situation that I was in before. But, you know, luckily, I realized, like, look, sometimes you don't have to make life hard for yourself. You can just take a pharmaceutical, you know, don't don't rely on it every single time, perhaps. But there are certain times where it's just easier. And it's like, you know, we're living in the modern world, there is modern medication. So yeah, sometimes you just got to take that pill.

Rachel Harrison 1:10:30

Yeah, something if you need help. I think there's nothing wrong with scanning it. And so, yeah, earlier this year, I was like, Yeah, I think I need help. And I got some help. And I'm doing much better. So big advocate for doing whatever works for you and not being not suffering in silence. Yeah, absolutely.

Michael David Wilson 1:10:55

Thank you so much for listening to Rachel Harrison on This Is Horror Podcast. If you want to get each and every episode ahead of the crowd, and support the podcast, please head over to www.patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror, and consider becoming our patron. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you get to submit questions to the world's best writers. You can also listen to exclusive Patreon only podcasts including story on box the horror podcast on the craft of writing, in which we unbox and dissect short stories and movies, the patrons only q&a sessions with myself on Bob Pastorella, where we answer all of your questions writing related and otherwise, and a video cast on camera off record. And if that is not enough, you can also become a member of the writers forum over on Discord. So head over to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Have a little look at what it is that we offer. Listen to the testimonials from others who are patrons. And if it looks like a good fit for you, then I'd love to see you there. Now another way that you can support the podcast absolutely free of charge is to leave us a review on Apple podcasts. to rate us on Spotify, or to follow us on social media. We are This Is Horror on X formerly known as Twitter. And we are This Is Horror Podcast on tick tock for video clips and little bites of motivational goodness and a splash of humor. You can also sign up for our newsletter at this is horror.co.uk. And if you would like to read my fiction, you can check out books including The Girl in the Video and House of bad memories. And if you want to read Bob Pastorella as fiction, do consider picking up a copy of mojo rising. You can also check out our collaborative novel They're Watching. Well okay with that said, it is now time for a quick advert break. House

Bob Pastorella 1:13:31

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Michael David Wilson 1:14:46

us again next time when we will be chatting once again with Rachel for the second and final part of this exciting conversation. So if you want to hear all about black sheep than that, my friend is the conversation for you. Well that about does it for another episode of This Is Horror Podcast. I'll see you in the next one. But until then, take care yourselves be good to one another, read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.

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