Crossroads by Laurel Hightower
Published by Off Limits Press
Interview conducted by Tave @readswithdogs
Does writing such an emotional story take an emotional toll on you?
It definitely can – I’ve sometimes written things in order to rewrite history if that makes sense. If something didn’t turn out well in my life, I’ve made it do so in a story. Looking at the idea of losing a child was, and still is, something I don’t want to look at or think of directly. But that helped shape Chris, her experiences, and how she copes. The way she’s turned away from friendships because of people wanting to assign blame to Trey in his death – they have to have something that separates their lives from the what-if of someone else’s tragedy. And I get that, but it’s also divisive and isolating. Sometimes shitty things happen, and that’s the end of it. Adolescents do dumb things – all of us have, and in a perfect world, they’d all get to recover and learn from their mistakes. So some of it was cathartic, really, addressing that part of things. And there’s the fact that Trey’s death happens off stage – we’re looking at the aftermath, so that’s a different animal.
I went through a full series of feelings reading Crossroads, so I can only imagine what it was like to write it. My first child was murdered by his father 10 years ago and there was something really special to me in reading such a cut open portrayal of raw grief. I'm sorry for whatever you've had to experience to be able to explain it so well on the page.
I am so very sorry for your loss, Tave, I can’t imagine. I’m glad Crossroads was able to be something special since that’s something you’ve dealt with directly. Thank you so much for reading it, since I know there’s more to it, for you.
Has becoming a mother changed the way you write?
Completely across the board. It’s changed it in the sense of the mechanics and time – I used to write for hours every week, and now I get nap times on weekends, and that’s it. So it’s made me even more reliant on outlines and planning, to make sure I make the most of my time. And I’m certain it changed the type of stories I get ideas for – short stories have been fun for me lately because they’ve given me an outlet for addressing some women’s issues I’d internalized before. Body issues reaching a whole new level, childcare disparities, and the kinds of things that scare me now are different than they used to be. And I’m sure it’s changed my writer’s voice in ways I’m not even aware of. Then there’s also the fact that I apparently cannot stop myself from giving parenting advice and/or mothering people wherever I go...
Did you always see Crossroads ending that way? Was there a possible scenario where Chris lives?
I didn’t know, until close to the end of writing Crossroads, what the resolution would be. I usually do – in fact, often, the end is one of the first things I know. I’m a planner, an outliner for sure, and even though it’s more of a general story arc outline, I usually know the high points. I had an idea of where it was going to end up, but I didn’t know for sure what would happen until I got there in the writing. By then I was pretty familiar with Chris, and the choices she would make, and it felt like the only way things could happen.
There’s an interesting debate in horror, though I haven’t seen it much in recent years, that for a story to be true horror, there can’t be any kind of happy ending. And then I also read some writers who will make sure there’s a happy ending no matter what. I’ve come to think, for my own writing at least, that as long as the ending is earned, then it serves the story. This felt like the only end that served the story.
In your mind what happens to her cat afterward?
Dan totally takes Penny Lane. She was already staying at his house, hanging out with Tootsie, and Dan will see her both as his last act of caring for Chris, and his last connection to her.
What's next from you? I know you've teased a bit of Silent Key before…
I’d say what’s next is pretty up in the air, at the moment. Silent Key is probably my favorite novel to return to, but it’s also a monstrosity, and I’m not sure there’s a market for it right now. I’ve got a thriller that I’ll be working some revisions on soon, and some other ideas that will probably end up novella length. I’ve fallen in love with the novella – when we had Josh Malerman on InkHeist recently, he talked about a story holding a single note throughout, and how the novella is custom made for that. I agree, and I like the challenge of holding myself to a simpler story. I also really like the way Stephen Graham Jones does things. Whatever project he’s completed, he does a 180 for the next one, and I like the freedom of that. I was apprehensive initially with Crossroads because it’s so different from Whispers in the Dark. But I think that’s a good thing, and my hope is that whatever number three ends up being, it’s a whole new thing unto itself, as well. Ha, vague enough for you?
Bourbon plays a big part in Crossroads...do you have a favorite brand? Matt Redmon of the Nightworms has a guess that it's Buffalo Trace…
Ha! That’s a good guess – I absolutely love their Bourbon Creme, and they have a haunted distillery tour that is amazing! I don’t have a brand that I stick to religiously, but currently, I’m digging Bernheim’s Wheat – it’s similar to Weller’s but much easier to come by. I also love Rowan’s Creek and Four Roses Single Barrel. Bulleit Rye is another good one...okay tell Matt we really need to sit down to a bourbon tasting to pin this down.
What are three books you've read and loved lately that you want to see get more press?
Ooo, this is hard because there are so many in the indie market that just knocks your socks off. But for ones I’ve read recently, Seeing Things, by Sonora Taylor, was excellent – a fully enjoyable ghost novel. I also really enjoyed Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess, and We Need to Do Something by Max Booth III was amazing.
Also, as a horror movie fan, I must know some of your favorite movies…
My tried and true favorites are Poltergeist, The Thing, The Exorcist, and The Shining. I also love The Eclipse, which is an Irish ghost story, and I will always love Motel Hell. I’m realizing lately how long-lasting a love that’s been for me – I used to beg to watch horror movies at every opportunity as a kid, and I still get that anticipation when I’m starting a new one. Hell House, LLC was also incredible – it’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up late to finish a movie, but that did it for me.
If you don't mind would you share some photos of your dog and kitty? I love seeing all the rescued animals!
Absolutely! Pics of my babies are attached – I included an old one of Yattering, who’s still with me, the white kitty in the middle, with Isis and Jack, who have both passed. Ladybug is my rescue pit in the pic by herself – she’s my little love.