In Glen Hirshberg’s powerful Motherless Child, young mothers Sophie and Natalie are turned into vampires by an ancient creature called the Whistler, and they must send their children into hiding with Natalie’s mother to keep them safe.
What led you to use motherhood as a theme in a horror novel?
Like most of my work, I think, Motherless Child winds up being about loss, and how and to what extent different people face it—as well, I hope, as a blistering, scary, good read. The mother-child bond seems to me at the very heart of our species, and maybe all species. Pretty quickly, as this novel evolved, I realized this book was going to give me the opportunity to explore that.
Natalie’s mother, Jess, protects the children and becomes an increasing focus of the novel. Why make her so prominent?
Motherless Child evolved out of a short story I wrote a few years ago called “Like Lick Em Sticks, Like Tina Fey.” That was just a Natalie and Sophie story. Once the novel began to emerge, though, Jess appeared, and in her quiet resolution, her openness, her ability to face the world and see what’s there without hating it, she became a character I cared about very much. Of all the elements of this book, she was the one I planned the least, and yet she became arguably the single most important piece.
A jumbling of emotions, both for humans and vampires, is a central theme and driving force in the book.
I think that jumble is central to everything I’ve ever written. I love scary stories, always have. I also believe that fear, by itself, is a primary-color emotion, overly familiar, easy to generate, and ultimately kind of boring. But it’s a wonderful catalyst. And I think a lot of the most intense emotions we feel aren’t one emotion at all, but almost impenetrable collages of timing and interpersonal interaction and the music playing and the light and what we just ate and who we’re missing at that one particular moment.
In what ways is it particularly rewarding to write about the supernatural?
I don’t know that it’s the supernatural itself that attracts me so much as the world of imagination, which I think people underestimate in determining how happy or how well-adjusted or how sane we are at any given moment. Most of the things we care most about are things we’ve first imagined we cared most about. One of the oldest creative writing “truisms” is that we should write what we know. But one of the things we all know best is our own imagination, and yet that tends to be discounted when cataloguing the things we are supposedly experienced enough with to write about. There’s a reason, I think, that supernatural tales have existed in virtually every human culture, regardless of prevailing norms or attitudes or scientific knowledge, and that—at least before 1965 or so—virtually every single American writer of significance tried his or her hand at speculative fiction of one sort of another. I don’t know that I can put my finger on exactly what that reason is. But I’m pretty convinced that it’s there.