In honor of Wicked Women, the latest anthology from the New England Horror Writers, I’ve invited the other contributors to crash my block. Today we have Kristi Petersen Schoonover, author of Arbor Day.
Okay, who are you?
Kristi Petersen Schoonover has enjoyed visiting creepy forests since she was a kid, which isn’t difficult when you live in New England. Her work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and she’s the author of the short story collection The Shadows Behind. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as a co-host of the Dark Discussions podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 Orchard, and lives in the Connecticut woods with her husband, Nathan. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.
What is your story about?
On Linden Island, the Family Tree isn’t something you build on Ancestry … and a man heartbroken over the death of his wife is about to find that out the hard way.
What inspired your story?
In 2018, I wrote two short stories, “Wrecking Malcolm,” and “Malnourishment.” Both were set on a chain of islands with populations who were able to connect with the dead through certain holiday rituals. A year later, an annual contest that I don’t always enter had announced that their theme for 2019 was “Family Tree,” and I thought, what if a family tree were something literal? Although I can’t say more than that or I’ll give it away, I can say that I invented another island in the chain and connected it to yet another holiday ritual. A dear friend of mine suggested I write a bunch more of these and create a collection. I’m definitely considering that.
What drew you to writing?
I wish I had a flashpoint, but it’s more like it was just always in me. My father was an English teacher and read me short stories, so it’s only natural, I guess, that I started writing them. The earliest one I recall writing was when I was five. It was about a tree who wanted to commit suicide because his leaves were of many colors—it was autumn—but the others around him were evergreens. At the end of the story, he found out he was “dying,” so to speak, but that in the spring, he’d come alive again. He had only to wait it out, and he’d be reborn anew. After I wrote that, I just kept going and I haven’t stopped. So the only answer I have to the question “Why do you write” is “I wouldn’t know how not to.” I’ve just always been doing it.
Who are your favorite authors?
I’m a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe. But on the contemporary front, I read mostly short stories, and mostly in journals such as The Fiction Desk, Orca Lit, and a handful of others, so I can’t say I have a favorite. My go-tos include Koji Suzuki, Gina Ochsner and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, but I have stories that grab me by the throat and they might be penned by someone I’ve never heard of. Some of my favorite stories recently have included Matt Harris’ “Broken Pixel,” Alanna J. Faelan’s “The Taurids Branch,” Die Booth’s “Twice a Day with Water,” Adam Stempel’s “A Season’s End,” and Douglas Bruton’s “Thirteen Wedding Dresses.”
Ok, it’s 2020. What guilty pleasures are helping you cope?
Tarot readings and flavored coffee throughout the day and evening (normally I don’t drink flavored and I only have coffee in the morning).
What’s your favorite line or snippet from your Wicked Women story?
“I walk around with an emptiness so sharp it feels like my insides are full of broken glass.” I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but it took me hours to get that line to do exactly what I wanted; it went through several iterations. I worked harder for that line than I did for any other line in that story.
What are you currently obsessed with?
My obsessions change depending on the story I’m working on. Right now it’s unexplained bird kills, mass animal deaths, and volcanic eruptions.
What are your writing mantras, rules, and/or rituals?
I write when I’m inspired and pretty much anywhere—just recently, I bought a waterproof notepad for my shower (it’s awesome! Every writer should have one!) However, my favorite place to write is on my back porch in the summers and in my home office the rest of the year. I need coffee, music, and a candle. I also find doing sprints with other writers online to be very helpful in keeping me at the keyboard.
I’m uncertain if the real Henry Miller said this and in these exact words, but my favorite quote has always been “I’m ready to celebrate my failure,” from the film Henry & June (for many years I even had it printed on my personal checks). In the act of creation, there’s really no such thing as failure, because everything we create, ultimately, has a purpose. Even that unpublished draft in the drawer gave us joy while we worked on it, taught us new techniques, or opened our eyes. Therefore, any attempt at the work is a thing to be celebrated.
Where can people find you? (links go here)