Adam McOmber is the author of two story collections This New and Poisonous Air and My House Gathers Desires (BOA) as well as a novel, The White Forest (Touchstone). His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, Diagram, and Fairy Tale Review. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
His story, "There's Someone at the Door," appeared in Issue One Hundred and One of The Rupture.
Here, he speaks with interviewer Andrew Farkas about simple problem stories, a Schrödinger neighborhood experiment, and the self as other.
Please tell us about the origins of "There's Someone at the Door." What sparked the initial idea and caused you to start writing the first draft?
I wanted to think of story based on a simple problem. I like the idea of setting up a problem at the beginning of a story and then allowing the piece to move forward, step by step, with the characters attempting to solve the problem.
I live in an apartment in Los Angeles, and every so often, I think that maybe I hear someone knock on the door. Sometimes, I go to the door and look out the little peephole, but there's never anyone there. This is, of course, scary in itself.
So when I thought about my "simple problem" story, I pictured this husband and wife arguing about whether or not someone knocked at the front door of their house. Then I thought: what would it mean to answer a door if no one knocked? It seemed to me that doing such an act might cause a lot of metaphysical issues that could not easily be resolved.
In this story, you take a completely banal situation (a couple after dinner hearing a knock at the door) and make it, I don't believe I'm overstating here, terrifying. There's no axe murderer or supernatural slasher, but when Alan decides to open the door, I was the person in the movie theater saying, "No! Don't do it!" So, what about the banal can scare us so much? And what about this situation lent itself to investigating this idea?
The door of Barbara and Alan's house felt a bit like the box in Schrödinger's thought experiment about the cat. If the couple doesn't answer the door, then a wide variety of possibilities exist. That's creepy! Then I decided to challenge myself to see if I could continue the feeling of Schrödinger's Cat even after the door was open. Could I make it feel as though there was both someone at the door and no one at the door simultaneously? How long could I continue that feeling?
I'm really interested in Mrs. Miller. At first, she's just there to star in Alan's sick joke. Then, she becomes more of a character when we learn about her life (her husband died and now she lives alone). But by the end, when we combine all of what we've learned about Mrs. Miller together (even her role in the sick joke), she becomes something much bigger – even though she's never actually on-stage. So, how do you see Mrs. Miller working in this story?
I love that people are asking me about this character. I recently had someone tell me that she thought Mrs. Miller was some kind of witch or a ghost. Now I want to write a story simply called "Mrs. Miller." There's something freaky about the blandness of that title. It pulls at my imagination. In all honesty, I came up with Mrs. Miller because I was trying to think of a possible person who could be at the door. One of my good friends always talks about the "neighbor ladies" who would come around and visit his family in his small town in Iowa. So I created a neighbor lady in this story. Mrs. Miller is a neighbor lady with problems. Her husband is dead. She has lost her keys. She is also, I think, something like Jacque Lacan's mirror. She is the self as other. Barbara and Mrs. Miller may very well be the same person. Perhaps all neighbor ladies are Lacan's mirror?
What have you been reading recently that you might recommend?
I'm rereading all of H.P. Lovecraft's stories. "The Rats in the Walls" will seriously mess with you. Along with that, I'm reading several books by Slavoj Žižek. I particularly like his book called Event. Also on my nightstand are Brian Evenson's A Collapse of Horses, Jim Woodring's Fran, and also How Jesus Became Godby Bart D. Ehrman (a seriously brilliant atheist and New Testament scholar).
What are you writing these days?
I'm trying to write a lot of little horror stories. I also just finished a big horror story about Jesus and the Apostle John. They're lovers and they get in some big trouble after the resurrection. We will see what happens with that.