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Arts & Culture

Local author discusses book of shorts, how Indiana influenced her horror stories

We Are Here to Hurt Each Other Paula Ashe
ELLA ABBOTT
/
WBOI
'We Are Here to Hurt Each Other' is Ashe's first book, a collection of 12 short horror stories.

Before we talk about 'We Are Here to Hurt Each Other.' Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself? You're originally from Ohio, right?

Yes, I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio. I moved to Fort Wayne in 2009, I believe, and I work in higher education. Currently, I'm the program assistant in the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Purdue Fort Wayne.

Horror as a genre is something that I, as a little bit of a horror nerd, myself, feel is still pretty heavily dominated by men. So what about the genre called you?

I have always been into horror. I was just reminiscing on Twitter this morning, which is, first of all, probably a bad idea. But I was reminiscing on Twitter this morning about how the first horror movie I ever watched was A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I was 5-years old. Now, the only reason why I was watching a Nightmare on Elm Street at five years old was because I begged my mom to let me watch it. I think I'd seen like trailers or I don't know. Somehow I knew that it existed, I wanted to see it. And so my mom said that I could watch it as long as I... I hid under a blanket for the scary parts. And if you've ever seen the original Nightmare on Elm Street, the whole movie is just a scary part. So I spent most of the movie just kind of peeking through a hole in the blanket, but and it scared me to death. It scared me for years. But I loved it, there was something about it, that I just really appreciated.

Paula Ashe
NICTITATING BOOKS
Ashe grew up in Dayton, Ohio and moved to Fort Wayne in 2009. She says the abandoned industries and wide-open spaces of the midwest influenced some of the horror in the collection.

And I think specifically as you know, as a woman, I... There's a lot of talk about how you know, like, horror is very misogynist, and it's very sexist. It's always, you know, particularly in horror film that it's, you know, it's just women being killed in these really graphic ways. And that is often true. But I think for both horror film and in horror fiction, a lot of -- as far as genre goes -- the genre conventions of horror, make it that often those are the films and you know, stories where women also have power. You know, they're the ones who fight against the slasher, or the serial killer, the monster, and you don't always get that in other types of fiction and in film. And so for me, I think that is something I picked up on really early as well, particularly like with Nightmare on Elm Street. Heather Langenkamp's character, you know, she outsmarts Freddy Krueger, that's the only way you can, you know, he can get you in your dream. So that's the one of the few ways that you can, you know, you have to be smarter than he is and stronger than he is. And so I think, early on, that's something I picked up on and I really appreciated.

And that's been the case, you know, since I was 5-years old, like I've... not to say there hasn't been individual stories and films that have disappointed me in that regard, but as a whole, the genre is very, I think, welcoming and empowering to a lot of women for a variety of reasons. But that's kind of been a very, that's been very intentional on behalf of the people who create and contribute to horror as a genre, I think.

And so I think even before we can get to the contents of the book itself, we have to discuss the title. 'We Are Here to Hurt Each Other.' It's kind of, it's a jarring title.

It's pretty confrontational. Yeah.

Where did that come from?

So the title itself came from one of the stories where one of the characters says that. She says, "we are here to hurt each other." You know, that's, it's sort of the answer to 'why humanity, why do we exist, why are we here?' And she feels like, the answer that has been given to us is that we are here to hurt each other. Which is pretty dark. But the reason why I picked that title is because I think all of the stories kind of contemplate that, but the the relationships that we have, and how whether they're, you know, romantic, familial, whether it's friendship, or even just, you know, the same people that you come into contact with on a daily, you know, on a day to day basis, whether you want to or not, at some point, you're going to, if not outright hurt them, you're going to disappoint them in some way. And so I think a lot of the stories deal with that. And, of course, because it's a collection of horror stories, it deals with that in the very extreme sense. But I think that's, that's where it, it came from.

All of the stories are just about how our relationships with people, there's always an assumption, like, even if you are, you know, in a relationship with somebody, or however you're connected to somebody, and it's a fantastic connection, you know, eventually that connection is going to be severed, because we all have to deal with our own mortality. And so that will hurt somebody too. And so that's where that title kind of comes from. I think it's an all encompassing kind of explanation about these relationships. I know that makes it sound like I think relationships are bad. That's not what I'm saying. But I think that is a truth that we all have to kind of navigate and deal with.

The central figure of the first few stories and he's also on the cover, is this Man With the Face Made of Teeth. Can you tell me about the inspiration for that?

So I'm super weird. So I think this is just because I'm a horror writer. So, at night, when I'm falling asleep, I often think of like, so what's the scariest thing that could happen to me right now? Like, what would just freak me out to no end? And it's always just, you know, the idea of somebody showing up in my, you know, in my room, and I don't know who they are, or how they got there. Because that's pretty frightening, just in general. And I was trying to figure out a way like, so I had that image. I knew I wanted to write something from that. And I was and I don't know, you know, again, the question, is that space between A and B? I have no real answer for that. But I just thought what would be the scariest thing and I was like 'what if... what if his whole face was just teeth?' Like, again, very unsettling.

And I also was inspired by I have a 4-year old. And, you know, before they were born, I was just looking at like, because I was thinking about, you know, like when the teething process, and I saw a picture of an X-ray, or of a like an infant skull, and it never- See, yeah, you know, I'm talking about. It never, I never had thought about that before. But our faces are just filled with rows and rows of teeth. Because we go through, we have our baby teeth, we don't have, you know, we don't have to the first, then our baby teeth come down. And then after baby teeth, our adult teeth come in. So they all have, I don't know where I thought they came from. But they're all in there when we're born. And I saw that, and it was just one of the most... That freaked me out so badly. And so that's, I think, that's where that came from, like, what if you could just see that and it was in a more, you know, protrusive kind of way. And that's where that image came from and my imagination just kind of ran off with it from there.

One of my favorites of the stories is 'Exile in Extremis,' which is told exclusively through emails and an instant messenger. So we only get like a vague idea of the horrors that these two people have been experiencing and talking about. And it gives that idea of like a found footage, but in print. What made you want to tell a story through that medium?

A couple of things.

The first is for a very long time, I was very into internet culture, I just find it really fascinating. And I'm working on a PhD in American Studies at Purdue West Lafayette and my dissertation is on social media. So I spend a lot of time online and in various like social media communities and on various platforms and things like that. So I've always just been really fascinated. You know, again, I'm I was born in the 80s. So I came of age, around the same time the Internet came of age, so you know, chat and email and, you know, forums and stuff like that was very much a part of my, like, formative teenage years, for better or for worse. And so, so that was just always kind of there.

As far as telling the story in that format, there's a story by Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer called 'Each Thing I Show You is a Piece of My Death.' And it's a story that's told in a similar fashion. It's like news reports and articles and instant messages and I believe emails and things like that that kind of like digital epistolary style, and I was just I was so struck by that, like you said, like, it's like, you know, textual found footage. And I just really, I appreciate that like method of telling a story because it makes it seem almost real, because that's the primary documents, right? Like, that's the, like, if you were writing something about this thing that happened, you would go to those documents as evidence of, you know, this is true, this is realistic, this happened, here's the the evidence. So I think that that is really fascinating to me. And also it just it keeps the story kind of moving because it keeps you kind of guessing and moving from one conversation to the next.

Several of the stories take place in parts of Ohio and Indiana. What about your experiences growing up in Ohio or living in Indiana, helped inspire those ideas.

A friend of a very good friend of mine named Jody Miller ghouls, she and I talked a lot about what we call the Rust Belt Gothic and it's just you know, it's so I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. And I grew up along a lot of like, dilapidated factories and, you know, these spaces of industry where there's all this concrete and glass and metal, but they're all in ruin. Because it's this is from a bygone era, you know? So, this is a few years to decades, the industries have moved on. But those buildings, those spaces are still there. And so that is a big that plays a big part, I think, in a lot of my work. I think urban ruin is really beautiful and fascinating, even though it's, you know, an eyesore, to some people, I just like it.

So that's one thing. But at the same time, as much as we have that like urban decay, you know, Ohio and Indiana, there's a lot of open spaces. You know, it's most of those open spaces are filled with corn and soybeans and things like that, which is also creepy in it's own right. But they're these big expanses of like, just wilderness, which anything could be out there. And so, or like, you know, a dilapidated factory, anything could be in there. And it just, I think, lends itself well to telling kind of creepy stories.

In the outro, you talk about why you write this darkness for people to sort of stop and stare into even for just a brief moment. When you write stories like the ones collected here, what do you hope that people can take away from that darkness?

When you write horror, people often are like, what's wrong with you? Which is fair. That's a fair question. There are some people I know who write horror, and I'm like, 'no, but for real, what's wrong with you?' But for me, what I want people to take away is, so much of the stories are sort of trauma is the catalyst, right? Like something happens, something bad happened to somebody, and they are really struggling because of that thing that happened to them. And the horror comes from that. And so I think what I really want people to get from it is; One, that we do have a choice. I know the title of the collection is 'We Are Here to Hurt Each Other,' but we could also choose to not. That may be why we're here, but we do have some level of agency to do something else. And if we don't do something else, then you know, in a way than what's in the what's in the book is kind of like the end result of that.

And then also, I'm a lot of the stories, particularly the ones that are more, the ones that are more sort of graphic like Bereft, The Mother of All Monsters, those two stories are influenced or inspired by actual events, like real things that that happened. And so, I guess my other sort of thing I want people to take away from it is the fact that so much of what we see on a daily basis is part of these larger kind of darker stories that take place in our society and in our communities. We have to stop turning a blind eye to those things. Like we have to, we have to look at it, we need to look at it and own it, and see our complicity in it. And I know that's a difficult thing for people to deal with. But there's, you know, whether it has to do with like, you know, acts of racist violence, or like domestic violence or child abuse, these things are happening constantly. And there's always -- you know, there's more clarity, in hindsight -- but there's always an opportunity for somebody to intervene. And so often we choose not to, because it's easier. Like it's easier to just pretend that whatever we're seeing isn't actually happening, or it's easier to, you know, assume good intent with everything. And I know, there's always the risk of being wrong. But I just think that like, clearly we have to stop doing that. Like, clearly, we have to deal with the fact that what we see, you know, those people who we presume are sort of harmless and innocent and could never do whatever. Maybe we should ask some more questions in some cases. And certainly, I'm not saying like, you know, let's bring back like witch hunts or something. But certainly, you know, there are instances where we see at some point, again, in hindsight, we see at some point that there was an opportunity for intervention, and it just wasn't taken because people didn't want to shake up the status quo.

And I think if we want to create a world where people are- where the most vulnerable among us are protected, and our, you know, our communities come together to help those people, like that's something that we have to do. W e have to, you know, again, I know it means coming out of your comfort zone, but I think ultimately it's worth it.