How well do you know the people you chat with on a social network?
Thirty-seven year old Ellie Blake is about to find out. Her Bible Belt community wouldn’t dare accept her if she came out as a lesbian. Her husband, her pastor, and her neighbors would be scandalized by such a disclosure. But Ellie’s desire for another woman’s intimate touch grows stronger with each passing day, as does her desire to be dominant – to tell another woman just how to please her, to tie up another woman so that she’ll never, ever leave.
Ashamed of these feelings and hopeless of ever satisfying them, Ellie goes to a secret group on the social network and seeks out a partner for a suicide pact. There, she finds twenty-four year old Lori Morris–a woman who also claims devotion to death and lust. She agrees to meet Ellie in a hotel for an intense night of decadent sex and torture before suicide. But Lori has another agenda, too: to escape an oppressive force that might be God or might be the Devil. A force that even suicide may not allow her to escape. A force that wants Lori, Ellie, and all of humanity broken and brought to its knees.
Hellnotes (HN): Where did the idea for The Sadist’s Bible come from?
Nicole Cushing (NC): It came from a half-hallucinatory daydream that occurred while I was sitting on a rooftop in New Orleans. Every once in a while I have such strange experiences. They usually come when I’m resting. In this case I was enjoying some down time at a hotel’s rooftop pool when I had a vision of a hideous supernatural realm. I don’t believe this was an actual encounter with the paranormal. Nor was I drunk or stoned at the time. But I think that, when I’m resting, my imagination has a chance to simmer. And sometimes that simmer turns into a full boil.
When I returned home to Indiana I knew I wanted to write about the realm I daydreamed about while in New Orleans. I also knew that I wanted to write about a road trip, because it seemed like a good way to unmoor the characters from their everyday surroundings and immerse them in the unfamiliar. A road trip (or a voyage of any kind) can serve as a strong narrative bridge between the ordinary and the supernatural.
HN: What kind of research went into preparing for this novella?
NC: I didn’t need to do a lot of research for this book, because I’ve lived in the so-called Kentuckiana region (the Kentucky/Indiana border area) for thirteen years now. I know the culture and the landscape. I also take semi-regular road trips to see family and friends back on the East Coast (where I’m from, originally).
Because there’s a scene set in a Cracker Barrel restaurant, I went online and researched the menu to make sure it would be authentic. I’m obsessed with getting little things like that right.
HN: Was it difficult for you to write certain scenes?
NC: I wanted the book to have a big payoff at the end, and that meant I had to put a great deal of work into getting it right. The ending, I think, benefited from some revisions I did late in the game that broadened its scope and heightened its energy. Those revisions were difficult.
HN: How important was it to you to not only have a female-driven story, but to have the two main characters in a relationship (of sorts)?
NC: The single most important thing, for me, is to simply write the very best fiction I can. So I don’t think about the gender or sexual orientation of my characters before I write. Most of my fiction evolves from daydreams, nightmares, and similar experiences. I just go where my imagination leads. In this case, it happened to lead me to Bible Belt lesbians. It came about organically. My fiction almost-always comes about organically.
That said, I’ve gotten fan mail from women who’ve read the book and were grateful that it told a story they could relate to. So for some of the readers, that’s important. And I don’t want to dismiss that, because the messages I get from these women are quite moving.
HN: A lot of people find sexuality and religion to be taboo subjects — your novella puts them hand-in-hand, then promptly drops them into a woodchipper, Fargo-style. Was there anything cut from the story because it may have been too “extreme” or was it all included?
NC: The book went through a rigorous editing process, but—to the best of my recollection—none of the edits involved toning things down. One of the reasons I appreciate 01 Publishing is that they embrace the edge, they don’t run away from it.
HN: Is there any subject you wouldn’t touch as a writer or is it all fair game?
NC: I think just about any taboo subject can be successfully addressed in horror fiction, as long as it’s handled in a way that realistically depicts its emotional consequences. Take Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, for example. Sure, that book can be called extreme horror. But it’s extreme horror that invests its characters with realistic emotions. It’s about real people who gradually become sucked into an extremely horrific situation. The victim isn’t two-dimensional cannon fodder. The perpetrators aren’t larger-than-life, charismatic bad guys like the ones found in pop culture. The traumatic experiences are neither trivialized nor sensationalized. That’s the same approach I prefer to take.
So for me the question isn’t: “Is there a subject I wouldn’t touch?”, it’s: “Do I have what it takes to tackle any given subject in a way that’s emotionally realistic?”.
HN: Do you find that you write from experience, or do you try to challenge yourself and write about things you’re not familiar with? Or a mix of both?
NC: For me, it’s a mix of both. Experience can be a great muse, but so is empathy. I try to find a way into the deepest recesses of my characters’ minds; into the thoughts they might never share with anyone else. To do that, I use my own experiences as a starting point. Then I use empathy to imagine what it would be like if they were tweaked this way or that.
HN: During your free time, which authors do you like to read?
NC: I love reading (and re-reading) Poe. I love Thomas Ligotti’s work, as well as Jack Ketchum’s. I also have a thing for any author who successfully depicts the underbelly of society. I’m thinking of Henry Miller and Hubert Selby, Jr., in particular.
Also, there are some phenomenal Russian and Eastern European writers from the early 1900s who are now criminally obscure. I’m so grateful to have discovered such writers. (Leonid Andreyev and Hermann Ungar are two that quickly come to mind.) There’s just something about Russian, Hungarian, and Czech literature that resonates with me. Books from that part of the world seem to be more willing to explore themes of alienation and madness.
HN: Some writers have a space, like a writing room in their home, where their creativity flows. Do you have a space like that? What sort of items do you keep in it to inspire you?
NC: I have a home office, and I use it often. It’s a fairly simple set-up, quite cluttered at the moment. I write on a card table with a green tablecloth draped over it. I could get an actual desk, but I’ve always preferred the card table. It just feels right. So if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The office is decorated with posters related to Vincent Price, George Romero, Rondo Hatton, Rod Serling, Sammy Terry, and H.P. Lovecraft. I don’t expect any of those posters to inspire me, but I like that they’re there.
I’ve also written in the living room, in the basement, and in a cabin in the woods. I don’t need any particular setting or any particular rituals to get going in the morning. In my opinion, the important thing for a writer is to work, period, and not worry about the surroundings. Just find a place that’s quiet enough to work, wherever that is. And if you literally can’t find such a place, go to the store and get earplugs. They’re cheap and they work.
HN: Can you tell us about any future projects you may have coming up?
NC: Last year I started on a novel tentatively titled Knife and Wound. I had to set it aside due to a variety of short fiction deadlines, but I’ve recently returned to it. It’s good to be writing a novel again.