Horror readers should feel right at home with S.P. Miskowski. Author of Knock Knock, Delphine Dodd, Astoria, In the Light (the Skillute series), as well as I Wish I Was Like You ( 2017’s This Is Horror Awards Novel of the Year and the 2017 Charles Dexter Award from Strange Aeons Magazine), her short fiction has been published in Identity Theory, Black Static, Strange Aeons, Supernatural Tales, among other publications in print and online. She’s been nominated for three Shirley Jackson Awards and a Bram Stoker Award.
“Gritty and insightful, funny and despairing by turns. Refreshing to read some balls-deep outsider fiction again.” – Adam Nevill, author of Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors on I Wish I Was Like You.
What was the impetus for writing this story?
SP: I’m like most writers. All of these stories are in my mind, waiting for an occasion to take their final form.
The Worst Is Yet to Come began with a contest. I don’t ordinarily enter contests anymore but the judge for the final round was Megan Abbott. I’ve had a writer crush on her work for a long time, so I couldn’t resist. The challenge was to write a complete suspense tale in 1,000 words. My stab at this didn’t make it past the preliminary stage but I ended up with the basis for a novel.
Every draft added more layers and relationships. It quickly became a complicated tale of secret histories and strange alliances, with both psychological and supernatural elements. I had originally planned it to be psychological suspense but the location—the fictional town of Skillute, WA where my first novel and three novellas were set—kept offering little surprises. I decided to go with it and see how these characters, urban dwelling and affluent, fit together with this haunted place. Why did they seek it out? How does it respond to them—naturally, socially, and supernaturally? This family is trying to enjoy ‘the good life’ in a place where terrible things have occurred, and they’re oblivious to the forces around them until a stranger enters their lives.
What lessons—good and bad—did you learn writing this story?
SP: Well, it’s an old lesson but we all need reminders from time to time: Don’t worry about capturing the whole story and its final structure on the first draft. I usually push myself to get the spine of the story, or something like it, right away, and then work outward. This novel went through drastic changes from one draft to the next. Luckily my editor, Jess Landry, is brilliant—patient when she needs to be, completely honest, inventive within the framework of the story at hand. When you work with a fellow writer who’s a great editor, and she believes in the book, you can speed up the creative process. But the main thing is to get the first draft done, no matter how hideous it might seem, and no matter how far you have to travel to reach the final version of your story.
If you were to write this again what would you do differently?
SP: I don’t think I would dramatically change the book. I would definitely change how I handled some of the things going on in my life that year. I would try to be kinder to myself, to relieve some of the anxiety during that time.
Describe your writing routine whilst writing this story and how long did it take you from first draft to final edit?
SP: How long a story or a book takes to write—this is always an interesting question. Certain images and scenes in this novel occurred to me months or years ago but I didn’t know what they meant or how they fit into a story. There was a breakthrough moment long before I started writing The Worst Is Yet to Come. When I read Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, a couple of years ago, I stopped at a breathtaking and audacious revelation in the text and thought, “Hell, yeah. This can be done. I don’t know if I can pull it off, but it can be done.”
I’m not comparing the two books, only saying that I admired the sleight of hand so much, it changed my view of what can work in a novel. Later when I started writing this book, I felt freer and more willing to take a risk at certain points. Not that I thought I could measure up to Pinborough’s wonderful book, only that my faith in the reader had been underscored by the success of Behind Her Eyes.
I say this because we live in an era when it can seem daunting just exchanging a mundane bit of information online. Perfectly intelligent adults clash over a simple message, and some (thankfully, not many) readers take every aspect of a novel literally. It was good to discover that a great swath of the reading public will take a leap of imagination with a writer in the context of an otherwise realistic and plausible narrative, if the story is engaging enough.
My routine is to start early every day with tea and toast, and barrel through until I hit an objective for the day. It might be a word count or the completion of a key scene. I work until I achieve that goal.
When I’m writing I check social media briefly, to see if I need to answer messages, to make sure friends are okay, and then I get out. I try not to get involved in long discussions or arguments, and I avoid drama. This can be challenging, depending on the news of the day.
I’ve only ever listened to music while writing one story and that was my first novel, Knock Knock. I played the soundtrack to Skeleton Key a lot. Not a great film but it had a few interesting moments, and the soundtrack was good. Ordinarily I can’t stand to listen to music while writing. It messes with the rhythms of the language in my head. I might leave a film or TV show on, with the sound off, and glance at it from time to time. But I don’t listen to music while working.
If anything breaks down, if I can’t get past a scene, if I don’t feel creative, I go for walks. I walk, take the ferry, take a bus, ride a train, and walk around another neighbourhood. Walking is a kind of medicine.
Even on our rare vacations my husband and I plan very little. We don’t go to tourist spots. We take a train someplace and walk around, see what it’s like, shop and visit bookstores, follow up on whatever’s listed in the paper that day—galleries, movies, lectures, whatever it may be—and stop to eat at a local spot when we’re hungry. We might ask people where they like to eat, and we’ll go there. I prefer this to having an itinerary to follow.
SP: Quite a few stories and films influenced the themes and ideas, but it’s hard to talk about them without introducing spoilers. I think this is the first book I’ve written where readers and reviewers have gone out of their way to keep plot twists secret. I hope this means they’re having fun with the story, and want others to have fun as well.
What were the biggest challenges you faced writing this story?
SP: My life. I’m sure all writers understand what it’s like to keep writing while it feels like crucial aspects of your life are in jeopardy. It was a year of health issues for family, friends, and pets. Money was suddenly scarce and we had no resources. My husband and I held fast to one another to get through it all. And in the middle of it, I wrote this novel three times—as a psychological thriller split into two point-of-view sections, then as a more suspenseful version with alternating POV chapters, and finally as a psychological and supernatural horror novel. Many of the more important events and relationships emerged after I forced that alternating POV structure. When it came together, I knew it.
What do you hope readers get out of this story?
SP: Entertainment followed by interrupted sleep patterns. If readers find themselves wandering the back roads and deserted houses of Skillute in their dreams, pursued by shadows, my work is done.
About The Worst Is Yet to Come
For most of her fourteen years, Tasha Davis has languished in the rural-suburban town of Skillute, Washington. Her parents offer plenty of comfortable—if stifling—emotional support, but what she needs is a best friend.
In her final year at Clark Middle School, Tasha meets a strange, new classmate. Briar Kenny is the self-styled rebel Tasha wants to be, and the Davises are the kind of close-knit family Briar covets. A moment of unexpected violence spawns a secret between the two girls and awakens a mystery from the past.
Unknown to Tasha and Briar, their secret also attracts something monstrous from a forgotten corner of Skillute. The town is haunted by its history, scarred with the lingering spirit of broken and scattered families, abandoned real estate ventures, and old scores never settled between neighbors. But there’s more to the place than memory and legend. Beneath the landscape something malignant rages, and it will stop at nothing to find a route into the physical world.
BOB PASTORELLABuy The Worst Is Yet to Come by S.P. Miskowski