Spirits Unwrapped is a new anthology of creepy stories about mummies from around the world, edited by Daniel Braum.
So join me for the official unwrapping, because it’s out now from Lethe Press! The anthology opens with my story, “The Unwrapping Party.”
I got to chat with Daniel about the story, and about writing in general, in the interview below.
Welcome to the Unwrapping Party. An Interview with Joanna Parypinski author of “The Unwrapping Party” in Spirits Unwrapped.
I had a chance to speak with Joanna Parypinski about her work, weird fiction, monsters, and of course her story in Spirits Unwrapped. Joanna is one of my favorite “new” writers. Whenever I see her name on a project it is a must have for me to see what she came up with. One winter day when I was conversing with her I asked her if she had any stories about mummies or any interest in writing one. She replied by telling me about “The Unwrapping Party” and I just knew it was exactly what I was looking for to open up Spirits Unwrapped.
DB: What is the appeal of the short story for you?
JP: I’ve always been a novelist at heart, and it was always novels I wanted to write—but novels are such a commitment! The beauty of the short form is that it isn’t as much of a commitment, so you can give yourself room to play, to experiment, to test ideas. That’s what I’ve really come to love about writing short stories. An idea will strike me, and I’ll see where it goes (and if it doesn’t work, it’s easy to scrap and try again). I can’t really do that with novels, which, at least for me, require lots of planning and commitment to a singular idea and set of characters. I do love writing novels, but sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the usual suspects and dabble in something different.
I feel that short stories also allow us to really bask in the weird—for me, a novel has to have a solid sense of coherence in its plot, characters, and development, but short stories can roll around in utterly weird places without as much danger of losing the reader because, of course, they’ve only committed as much time to reading it, themselves, as it takes to get through one story.
DB: Can you tell us about your stories? Is there one that is representative or a good introduction to your work?
JP: My stories tend to focus on the overlap between the psychological and the cosmic/weird. I don’t know if I can pick one representative work, but here are a few of my favorites that might be good starting points:
- “We Are Turning on a Spindle” (published in Nightmare Magazine) was a notable selection in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 and blends sci-fi, fantasy, and horror in a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It has much more of a “fairy tale” feel than much of my other work. Another of my stories in Nightmare, “What’s Coming to You,” draws a bit from Joyce Carol Oates. Nightmare does a great podcast, so those two stories would be a good place to start if you’re looking for something to listen to.
- I may also have a thing for water-based horror… see my recent story in Black Static, “Beach People,” and “The Deepest Part of the Ocean” in The Beauty of Death 2.
- Another story that I’m fond of is “The Thing in the Trees” from Nightscript IV, which we’ve already had a chance to talk about since we were in that one together!
DB: What was it like working on your recent novel “Dark Carnival”? What was similar and what was different?
JP: I mentioned above the difference in the level of planning and commitment for a short story vs. a novel. I do plan out my novels in advance, but I like to leave a little up in the air as well, to give the story room to breathe as it develops and evolves into what it will be. Over-planning can sometimes be a bit of a straightjacket. Dark Carnival was interesting in that I didn’t actually plan it all out ahead of time. I started with a rough idea and kept outlining a few chapters ahead as I went, but I left the ending somewhat open until I came to it. This presented a bit of trouble when it came time to figure out how it was all going to wrap up, but somehow it worked out, and I revised the thing so many times since then I’ve almost forgotten what it was like not to know the ending! That process of discovery is fun, though, and now I can’t even imagine how that story would end up any other way.
Writing a novel is a bit like being in a relationship. The joy I get from writing a novel feels much deeper than writing short fiction because I connect so much with the material that I’m spending so much time with. But it can also drive you crazy, being so ensconced in that world. I do really like the development that novels afford—getting deep into the characters’ psyche and letting things play out over a longer space. But I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of brevity in the short form, too.
DB: What is your favorite of the “classic” monsters?
JP: Honestly, I’m not just saying this because of Spirits Unwrapped, but probably mummies… or skeletons. I guess I like desiccated creatures? I’m a bit bored by werewolves, zombies, and vampires (although I could probably watch the new What We Do in the Shadows series on repeat).
DB: What about mummies and mummy-lore is most interesting to you? As a fan. And / or as a writer.
JP: I’ve always been really fascinated by ancient Egypt. I never cared for those American history classes they make you take in high school; the more ancient the history, the more intriguing to me. So I think a lot of it has to do with the sheer antiquity and mythological element to mummies, since I’m fascinated by ancient mythology and folklore as well. Also, it’s so wonderfully macabre, isn’t it? The whole process of preserving the dead (and ripping their brains out through the nostril!).
DB: What about “The Unwrapping Party” is similar and what about it is different from some of your other short fiction?
JP: “The Unwrapping Party” is a period piece, which I haven’t done in my other work. I’m always cautious with period pieces because I want to be authentic, and if I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge to convincingly create a believable historical milieu, I likely won’t bother. After reading about real-life unwrapping parties in the Victorian Era, however, I felt I had to write about one—and the story just unfolded from there. I am interested in trying my hand at other historical horror, since I’ve found I do enjoy that genre, after reading works like Dan Simmons’ The Terror, Elizabeth’ Kostova’s The Historian, and Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. Hmm. I guess if I do something like that, I’d better name it The [Something].
There are ways in which “The Unwrapping Party” is similar to some of my other fiction, though. The cosmic strangeness that comes about is one of them. I’ve also found myself exploring women characters who choose not to have children, since it’s something I’ve been thinking about myself; having reached thirty, I still don’t want kids. But so much of womanhood is wrapped up in motherhood, and at a time when my peers are having children, I find myself interested in exploring fraught relationships with motherhood. Vera Babcock in “The Unwrapping Party” has sort of created her own mindset on the matter as a result of her infertility.
DB: What are you working on now? Is there one topic or theme you would want to work on but have not yet?
JP: I have another novel that is finished and which my agent is currently sending out to editors (which also happens to deal with the fraught entanglement between women and motherhood) [Edited to add: that novel, IT WILL JUST BE US, has since been sold to Crooked Lane Books] so I’ve been working on the next novel in the meantime, which is actually a bit different from what I’ve written before, as it’s primarily fantasy (with some sci-fi and horror layered in), and I’ve been toying with the idea of a trilogy since there’s more I want to tell in that world beyond the novel I’m working on. It’s been a lot of fun doing something a little different, and the story has honestly been in my head for so long that it’s flying out faster than my other work has (though I’m not an incredibly fast writer, so it’s not really that fast compared to some other more prolific writers).
One theme I’ve been thinking about lately is the question of how one is driven to become what others might perceive as a monster. Robert Eggers’ The Witch does this superbly, as does Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom and much other horror fiction. Although, thinking back on my work so far, I’ve realized it’s something that has probably appeared in my fiction without my knowing. Even so, it’s worth exploring further… along with many other topics and themes that I’m sure I’ll think of as soon as I finish typing this response.