AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Maria Dahvana Headley, Author of “Little Widow”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

It sounded like lots of fun, and also like lots of giddiness. Normally, given this concept, I might have written a comedic story, but I already had a notion about cults and Tyrannosaurus Hens – I’d read an article about feathered dinosaurs, what can I say? – and so I just kept going forth with Little Widow, which, it turns out, is a very dark and also somewhat funny story.  Maybe not quite as scary as some in the anthology. The phrase “what the fuck is that?!” is so gonzo in tone to me that I couldn’t manage to make it serious. Hence the wry teenage narrative voice.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

My idea spooled out from the line – now the first line in the story – “I was fourteen and at a sleepover when the cult drank poison,” which came to me suddenly one afternoon as I was doing laundry. Somehow I started getting interested in the idea that a cult might actually get the things their earthly batshit leader was promising them would be theirs in heaven. There’ve been so many cults run by solo dude wackjobs, you’d think the heavenly reward for the women and children might be some vengeance.  Add a little bit of dinosaur and a little bit of geekshow – actually that was the other element, the classic geek move of biting the head off a chicken. Feathered dinosaurs would be another kind of geek show, with just a little tilting of the world. In truth, the way my brain comes up with ideas is sometimes mysterious even to me. It grabs weird things from everywhere – science, religion, western carnivals – and then makes them into story soup. I feel like I’m just in charge of doing the grocery shopping to feed the story-making part of my brain.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

None, in this case. There was a carnival geekshow, and there was a very questionable thing happening at it. I feel this phrase was exactly what one would say if one saw a dinosaur’s skinny neck held between a pretty girl’s teeth.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I did a little research into suicide cults, which was bleak, and a little research into feathered dinosaurs, which was fascinating. I love research. It did make me want to write a few things more about female cult leaders. There are hardly any of those. Most cults, in the end, turn out to be one weirdly charismatic guy wanting a lot of wives, and at some point freaking out like a toddler and killing everyone in a sort of Daddy Knows Best, Drink The Poison fashion. This doesn’t tend to be a female version of reality – the female cult leaders are almost always celibate healers or huggers, and I don’t think there are any that have ended in mass suicide. Ah, the poisons of patriarchal culture. They make me say WTF all the time.  If there’s a real WTF is that in this story, there you have it. W. T. F.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Lots of things! The Mere Wife is coming from FSG in 2017 – it’s a Beowulf adaptation set in the present day suburbs. Aerie comes out in October from HarperCollins. That’s the sequel to Magonia. I have a story coming out in the Ellen Datlow edited Children of Lovecraft anthology which is a wacked out combination of House of Bernarda Alba and Lovecraft, so…it’s Spain, unwed daughters, monstrous mother, and you know, a hungry and tentacular monster. And I just wrote most of a new adult novel while I was off writing on a remote volcano. That one’s newborn, but I’m very excited about it! It’s been a prolific couple of years!