A Spooky Q&A, with Sydney Hegele (The Pump)

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. Sydney Hegele’s debut The Pump (Invisible Publishing, 2021) was a finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award and winner of a 2022 ReLit Award.

“What a strange surprising delight this collection was… at once untenable and grotesquely beautiful.” Heather O’Neill, author of When We Lost Our Heads

Invisible Publishing: Syd, what makes a piece of writing spooky/eerie/horrifying?

Sydney Hegele: I think that the spookiest, most horrifying writing is truth-telling. When we reveal the hidden things in our society that aren’t talked about — the intimate violence, discrimination, and trauma that haunts us in real life. That’s horror to me. 

IP: As you were structuring The Pump, which authors/works offered you guidance or insight?

SH: So many works inspired the structure of The Pump. Those that immediately come to mind are Daisy Johnson’s Fen, Flannery O’Conner’s collected works, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Other Stories, George Saunders’ The Tenth of December, Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behaviour, William Falkner’s collected short stories, and Stephen King’s Thinner. 

IP: What kind of catharsis did you experience during the writing of your book?

SH: When I started writing The Pump, I really believed that when you lived in a small town and were different from those around you, you had two options: stay and assimilate or leave. It took me writing the book to realize that I think there’s a third option — an important one. Staying, and making space for others like you. 

IP: And now that it’s landed in the hands of readers, what catharsis have you experienced upon hearing reader feedback on your book?

SH: It’s been really powerful to hear how many young people have connected to the two most queer stories, “Mal Aux Dents” and “Home”It’s healing to that part of me that needed queer representation when I was young and still living in my small town. 

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?!”

SH: The end of the story “Vellum” holds a very special place in my heart. That whole final scene with Margaret and Eloise in the ice-covered marshes feels like it has a life of its own. Reading it always makes me a little out of breath. It includes this odd exchange between the two characters about love and grief and what it means to lie about these things. It’s probably my favourite scene in the book. 

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?

SH: Spooky Season always feels like the best time to do more tarot readings for myself and those I love. Something about autumn makes me feel like I’m coming alive again after drowning in sweat for three months, and I end up more in-tune with my spiritual side. 

In Sydney Hegele’s interconnected stories, no one is immune to The Pump’s sacrificial games. Lighthouse dwellers, Boy Scouts, queer church camp leaders, love-sick and sick-sick writers, nine-year-old hunters, art-eaters—each must navigate the swamp of their own morality while living on land that is always slowly (and sometimes very quickly) killing them.

Sydney Hegele (née Brooman) (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection, a finalist for the 2022 Trillium Book Award and winner of a 2022 ReLit Award.

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