It’s Spooky Season and we’re featuring interviews from some of our authors whose books explore the horrors and vulnerabilities of a life lived. Erica McKeen’s Tear has been a spooky season fave with booksellers across the country!
“Tear is a melodious novel reckoning with adolescence, the complexities of home and the body. Mckeen’s protagonist, Frances James, is both bewildering and brilliant as she is introspective, navigating her isolated life in London, Ontario. She is a character whose pain and memory works to unearth a turbulent hunger for the past parts of herself, a hunger that will not subside. It is a hunger readers will begin to feel, too, as they immerse themselves in this luscious and monstrously deep work of horror.”—Mallory Tater, author of This Will Be Good and The Birth Yard
Invisible Publishing: Erica, what makes a piece of writing spooky/eerie/horrifying?
Erica McKeen: To me, a piece of writing becomes truly horrifying when it slips suddenly and almost seamlessly from the expected and familiar into the unexpected and unfamiliar. Horror is a feeling of falling—of missing a step while going down the stairs and discovering that not only the step but the entire staircase is missing, has been sawn away.
IP: As you were structuring Tear, which authors/works offered you guidance or insight?
EM: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was my biggest literary influence, especially in terms of the plot structure and themes of identity in Tear. I also drew inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, the dark fantasy elements in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and—although not a horror novel—the temporal transitions in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
IP: What kind of catharsis did you experience during the writing of your book?
EM: It was extremely satisfying to flip the script on the scary experiences that women go through almost daily. Many women—and marginalized people in general—experience a low-grade feeling of danger and fear in their everyday lives. Writing Tear gave me a sense of power, release, and relief—an ability to harness that low-grade fear and mould it into something resilient, determined, and (at times) monstrous.
IP: And now that it’s landed in the hands of readers, what catharsis have you experienced upon hearing reader feedback on your book?
EM: So far, it’s been exciting and validating to hear what readers think of the “horrific” scenes in the book. It’s an amazing feeling that so many people, and women in particular, understand why I included such violent descriptions in my writing. I’m so happy when readers echo my own thoughts and feelings back at me, when they say, “Yes, that’s how scary it feels to be a woman in the world.”
IP: Is there a particular visceral scene in this work that stands alone for you as a favourite? Like, “I can’t believe I got to write this?!”
EM: The most violent scenes always feel the riskiest, so I still feel lucky to have been able to write—and have Invisible publish—the “forest scene” as well as the final scene of the book (no spoilers here!). I felt that I was pushing the boundaries of graphic description but didn’t want to hold back on what I knew to be a vital parts of the story. (Editor’s note: Get your own copy to read the “forest scene”!)
IP: As we head into Spooky Season, do you have any beloved rituals (annual traditions or repeat film viewings) that you’re looking forward to?
EM: Carving pumpkins and eating way too much pumpkin pie—of course—but I also do my best to watch either The Evil Dead or Evil Dead II every year. Another favourite ritual in recent years is to pick up some seasonal beer from a local brewery and watch Over the Garden Wall with friends!
With the thematic considerations of Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson’s work, and in the style of Herta Müller and Daisy Johnson, Tear is both a horrifyingly deformed Bildungsroman and a bristling reclamation of female rage. Blurring the real and the imagined, this lyric debut novel unflinchingly engages with contemporary feminist issues and explores the detrimental effects of false narratives, gaslighting, and manipulation on young women.
Erica McKeen was born in London, Ontario, where she studied at Western University. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, longlisted for the Guernica Prize, and shortlisted for The Malahat Review Open Season Awards. Her stories have been published in PRISM international, filling Station, The Dalhousie Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Tear (Invisible Publishing) is her first novel.