Before earning her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, M. Rickert worked as a kindergarten teacher, coffee shop barista, Disneyland balloon vendor, and personnel assistant in Sequoia National Park. She has published three short story collections, Map of Dreams, Holiday, and You Have Never Been Here. Her first novel, The Memory Garden, was published in 2014, and won the Locus Award. Her second novel, The Shipbuilder of Bellfairie, was published in 2021. She is the winner of the Crawford Award, World Fantasy Award, and Shirley Jackson Award. She currently lives in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Her latest book is Lucky Girl, How I Became a Horror Writer: A Krampus Story and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Lucky Girl: How I Became a Horror Writer A Krampus Story?
I began this as a Christmas story to give to my siblings, but it quickly became apparent that the story was going to be too long to finish in time for the holidays. Much of it was written during the first winter of pandemic seclusion, and while there is no obvious correlation between that experience and the story I wrote during it, I found working on Lucky to be an emotional release as well as a welcome distraction.
Are Ro, Adrienne, Keith, Lena, Grayson, or any of the other characters in the novella inspired by or based on specific individuals?
Well, I am very different from Ro in many ways, but I, quite consciously, used bits from my own background for her. I did buy a Christmas tree when I was nineteen, and, too poor for lights, a man in the lot hammered wood into the trunk so the tree would stand. There are little moments like that from my life as a young writer in Ro’s story, but I never experienced anything like her tragedy. I think there is a little of me in Lena as well.
How did the novella evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
I was very fortunate to work with Ellen Datlow as my editor. She did an amazing job of crawling right into the text to weed out any distractions or detritus. Nothing was lost through the process, really. I mean, things were cut and altered, but that’s all forgotten because a great deal of the process of writing is letting go. I often think of it as a "carving out" to reveal the story. I will share that I do remember, early in this process, going to my husband, teary-eyed, saying, "She doesn’t like this sentence." My very supportive husband—who works in business and not the arts—just looked at me and shrugged, which was basically a perfect response. I laugh about it now and have no idea what that precious sentence was. Still, I do want to share that I won’t cut anything that doesn’t feel right to me, but arriving at that place is sometimes an emotional journey.
Are you a fan of Krampus? Do you have a favorite Krampus story (novel or short story), television or motion picture, or other types of adaptation/interpretation? A least favorite? (I realize that you may not want to address this one, and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)
I really don’t know what happened to me in regards to Krampus. I had always been invested in keeping my holiday celebration sweet, and then, some years ago, I watched the 2015 film Krampus, which I absolutely loved for its cozy wintery atmosphere juxtaposed with humor and horror. That, really, was the beginning of my fascination. After that, I bought the gorgeous book, The Krampus and The Old, Dark Christmas Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil by Al Ridenour, which I highly recommend. There’s also a very short film, under three minutes, called A Krampus Carol by Anthony Bourdain which is, well, horrifying.
Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how Krampus has become so popular over the last decade or so?
Well, I think the Krampus, or creatures like them, have been popular for a very long time around the world, but the American embrace does seem newish. I suppose our relationship to the myths often evolves in response to our relationship to ideas of good and evil.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
As a young child, my favorite picture book was Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman, which I thought was terrifying, heartbreaking, and in the end a great relief! I felt much the same way about The Tale of Peter Rabbit, written by Beatrix Potter.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
There wasn’t. I have six siblings, and my parents were not focused on micro-managing us. I’m not sure I could have found anything they would have objected to, but I also can’t imagine my father even noticing what I was reading. I do recall my older sisters being concerned when I started reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, thinking I would be traumatized by it, but my mother did not agree.
Is there a book you've faked reading?
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
I can’t, and I do love cover art!
Is there a book that changed your life?
The book that changed my life was The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I had been writing these weird little stories for years without any idea where to go with them. I worked on my own a lot, but even when I did have teachers, they were quite supportive but also equally perplexed about where to go with the story about the woman who glowed, for instance. And then, I discovered this anthology at the library. I took it home, read it, and thought, well, this is the stuff I write. I checked out many of those volumes with their beautiful Thomas Canty cover art, eventually deciding that the stories which reminded me the most of my own were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. So I sent them my story "The Girl Who Ate Butterflies," which had been getting rejected for years, and Gordon Van Gelder, the editor at the time, accepted it. Now, that was a wonderful day!
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
It feels awkward, but I would like to take this opportunity to be a bit of an evangelist for my two published novels: The Memory Garden and The Shipbuilder of Bellfairie. I seeded both stories with moments of homage to other works that influenced me from Bradbury to Hawthorne to Melville, and I hope at least those who might enjoy these books will read them. I have told many people to read The Tattoo Artist by Jill Ciment and My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, and many various novels by Alice Hoffman (depending on what I think might suit my friend’s interest at the time) and I am not exaggerating when I say that everyone always comes back and tells me how much they have loved these books. Oh, and also Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
Probably Moby Dick, which I adored.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
When I first moved here and started going to yoga, there was a woman in class who arrived early and sat in the back, reading. So, of course, we are friends now! Her name is Marcia Gorra-Patek, and she is one of my favorite artists and a source of inspiration for me. She recently posted one of her paintings on Facebook, which she painted with her feet, her mouth, her elbow, I think. It is beautiful, and I was so lucky to be able to talk to her about her experience creating it. Everything Marcia does, she approaches as art. Her food is gorgeous! Also, she is incredibly generous and non-elitist about her work. She has a show right now at the local bagel shop. I have another friend, Ruth Lee (who works at a library in Michigan), who has been posting a poem a day on her Facebook page for more than a year now. I love them and love the spirit of generosity with which they are shared.
I’ve been enjoying a bit of film recently, finding three horror movies I really appreciated: The Eclipse, a 2009 film set at an Irish book festival, a story about grief and ghosts. Silent Night, 2021, disturbing and strange, set at Christmas. Coming Home in the Dark, 2021, there’s a lot of darkness in this one, and there’s a lot of compassion.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
My perfect day starts with a yoga practice at Yoga One Studio here in Cedarburg. It’s a beautiful fall day. The sun is out, but there is a chill in the air. The leaves have changed color, and a few drift past my face on my walk home, where I eat a smoothie bowl on my three-season porch while listening to a podcast about writing or fiction. ("This is Horror" is a favorite). Then I make a pot of Iron Goddess of Mercy tea, which I bring upstairs to drink while I work on my writing, soft piano music in the background. Since it’s a perfect day, the writing goes well. I break for a late lunch, then take a walk by the river, where I see the old blue heron. I get home just before the rain starts. I take the book I’m reading, which I love, to again sit in that porch, curled up beneath a blanket. Later, I talk to one of my dear friends on the phone, or we meet at the local coffee shop. I eat a little chocolate. My husband comes home and makes dinner for us. Let’s have it be the vegan lasagna. We talk for a bit, then watch a movie. Just before going to bed, we take a little walk down my street. I call it “putting my neighborhood to bed.” The rain has stopped. Lights glow softly in the windows, and the breeze rustles the leaves overhead. Night clouds, gray wisps like ghosts, drift past the moon. Back home, slightly chilled, I go to bed. The covers are heavy and warm. I can smell the autumn air in my skin. I sleep.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?
Ha, it is true that I have thought of questions I would like to address at different times. Recently I have hoped to talk about how my yoga practice has impacted my relationship to my work. I had been in a bit of a rough patch with my writing for a few years and began to wonder if perhaps I should retire. I seriously considered doing so but kept coming back to the fact that while I find the business side of being a writer enormously challenging, I do love to write. So once I had that clear in my head, I decided I would just write but forget about publishing for five years, which eventually dwindled down to a year. In the end, I became dissatisfied with the publishing sabbatical solution. I realized that what I needed was to find a different template for relating to my writing life. It took a while, but eventually, I thought about yoga. I have practiced yoga for twenty-five years. I love yoga. That’s the thing. It has been a long, sustaining presence in my life, and I have never asked more of it than that. (Well, maybe I occasionally felt ambitious, but I was always able to leave that fairly easily. I tried teaching for a while and, when that didn’t work out, realized it didn’t matter to me. Sometimes I have developed a desire to "achieve" a pose, but I’m able to let go of that pretty quickly too.) What I give to my practice is that I show up with love and what it gives back to me is that I show up with love. That, I decided, would serve me well as a way to relate to these final years of my life as a writer. I want to show up at my desk, write, and enjoy what comes of that, releasing the ambitions that have only made me sad.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a winter horror short story. I wish I could tell you more, but I learned years ago that talking about a story before it is finished kills it.