The air conditioning whirred, television cackled in the living room, water boiled, the microwave made its grinding noise. All of this going, and still she heard her father say, “Maxine.” It wasn’t harsh, like a command. If anything, he sounded amused. She went into the living room, and he was not there.“Night, When Windows Turn To Mirror”, by Christi Nogle
When I first began to conceive of the Mooncalves anthology, I had a list of authors I thought might fit into it, but as there was no theme, it was an open question of how they would do so. I solicited stories from numerous authors, and the first story that felt strongly “of” the anthology was “Night, When Windows Turn To Mirror” by Christi Nogle. I offered to acquire it immediately, and in many ways it set the tone and opened the door for what came after it. It set, as they say, the vibe.
I reached out to Christi to talk about “Night…”, her relationship to writing, and her recent work (including Beulah, her debut novel from Cemetery Gates).
NO Press: One of the things that intrigued me about this story was its use of juxtaposition: Maxine’s chaotic rooms against her father’s orderliness, her definition within spaces against his constant slipping, the way that one pole seems to pull at the other as the story literally and figuratively expands. From where did these originate? Did you set off with them or did they reveal themselves in the text? Did you guide them or did they guide you?
Christi Nogle: Yes, there is a certain messiness associated with Maxine. I suppose I associate chaos with vitality. A closet strewn with clothes and a bathroom littered with all sorts of products indicate someone who is busy and off in search of adventure—or someone who wants to see herself that way. The “cup of stars” episode from The Haunting of Hill House haunts this story, I think. Maxine is someone who’s given up on so many aspirations, not least of which is a vision of who she might have become, and the story finds those hopes reawakening.
As for the inspiration or origins of what happens in the story, . . . it’s complicated. One place where this story originates is my own tendency to get lost. I’ll find myself in a part of town or in a building I’ve visited many times, find myself surprised by areas I do not recall ever seeing before. I often dream about cities and buildings that change and expand, and I love encountering such things in books, such as in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.
NP: At first glance there are two repeating movements in the story: The expansion of space, and the losing track of things previously unmentioned, both of which have the weird and unresolvable qualities of dream. Does the story continue on beyond the text, in your mind? Is the situation something that will ever truly dawn on Maxine? What do you suspect would happen if it did?
CN: These are fascinating questions! No, I do not think Maxine ever could work out the mystery of what is happening to her. It’s her life; it’s never going to be entirely clear.
In one way, the story is larger in my mind. There are more rooms that Maxine explores and more entities she encounters on the first and second floors. In another sense, no; the story does not continue past what happens in its final lines. She’s decided to go down to the basement, and that’s the end of her, as a character at least.
NP: Was there anything forbidding, anything that spooked you while writing this story? Anything in the telling that invited you in, seemingly for its own motives? Did you accept or reject that invitation?
CN: There are some moments in the story that spooked me a bit, such as the windows seeming to be covered in black fabric, as well as the events on the second floor.
NP: Last year you published your first novel, Beulah, a wonderful story of a life in haunting, via Cemetery Gates Media. How has the completion of that project affected your work since? What’s next on the horizon for you?
CN: Beulah is a work I am very proud of, and I hope your readers will pick up a copy. I have one novel and have completed over a hundred short stories, so I still see myself very much as a short story writer, but the greatest effect of Beulah was to show that I can write a novel even though it is more difficult than a short. Ever since completing the book, though I spend most of my time on short fiction, I have been working on a second novel titled All My Really Good Friends, as well as planning other longer works for the future.
NP: Is there anything in your work that seems to recur, anything that came up during the drafting of this story that seemed to visit from another?
CN: Oh yes. The back cover copy for my first short story collection actually sums it up nicely. It was shortened a bit to fit, but the original went like this: “Beware: this book is filled with Virginia Creeper, decaying and expanding houses, unrecognizable faces in the mirror, cosmic parasites, complicated love affairs, deserts and desert flowers, towers of water-damaged books, unreliable narrators, frustrated artists, trees and sculptures depicting trees, algae and fungi, a multitude of windows and doors, several grandmothers, pies, puppies with human features, dollhouses, homunculi, dream imagery, and many, many ghosts. ”
So, though “Night, When Windows Turn to Mirror” is not in this collection (It will be appearing later in a collection titled One Eye Opened in That Other Place), it still circles around some of those same topics such as domesticity and caring for the elderly, the decaying and expanding dream house, questions about identity, etc.
NP: Beyond this antho, what else are you working on? What’s coming down the pike for you?
CN: Recent and forthcoming books are Beulah, an anthology I co-edited with Willow Dawn Becker of Weird Little Worlds called Mother: Tales of Love and Terror, and my debut short story collection from Flame Tree Press called The Best of Our Past, the Worst of Our Future. Recent stories include “Millions” in Cosmic Horror Monthly, “The Pack” in Underland Arcana, “Out at the Old Trestle” in Campfire Macabre II, and “Naked Shark” in Tales From Between. Also watch for more story collections from me in 2023 and 2024 as well as the forthcoming anthology Wilted Pages: An Anthology of Dark Academia, to be co-edited with Ai Jiang and published by Alan Lastufka’s new press Shortwave Publishing, planned for August 2023.
Thank you to Christi for talking with us, and for writing such amazing work!