Behold, Never Whistle at Night, the anthology of Indigenous dark fiction. It’s a collection of 26 original works of short horror fiction by both emerging and established Indigenous writers—everyone’s in it, from Tommy Orange to Rebecca Roanhorse and Cherie Dimaline, and Stephen Graham Jones introduces it. And I know we aren't supposed to judge books by their covers—but look at that cover!
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing editors Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr. about this exciting new entry into the short horror fiction landscape. Here’s what they said.
Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
MARY KAY MCBRAYER: I loved the epiphany story in the promotional material about telling stories in the hotel lobby and being like, Wait a minute. We should write this down. My question is, then what happened? Can you walk me through the pre-writing and pre-publishing process of your anthology?
SHANE HAWK: Crazy journey. It started out on Twitter. Ted had the idea for years when he was at Native live festivals and conferences.
THEODORE C. VAN ALST, JR.: We’d always be in the hotel lobby after everybody else went to bed, Native authors and profs and sitting around telling those stories that you tell late at night, and I was like, “You should do something with these.” I just parked that, you know, ‘cause in academia got a lot of other stuff going on—other projects, getting tenure, and all this kind of stuff. But I never wanted to let that go... and then this really organic thing happens….
SHANE: On Twitter. [It] was a book reviewer (and now writer) who has been pushing indigenous horror for the last few years, Bear Lee, and they posted a tweet that said basically, “When are we going to get a native or anthology?” Because the only one, I think, at the time was Taaqtumi which has Arctic, kind of claustrophobic stories set up north. The Ted tagged me in it. And then our friend [Glacius] tagged us. I mean, I’d just put out a [note] by myself, self-published, so I wasn't even considered “published” by [someone.] I wasn't in the position to be like, “Let's do this.” We were just kind of looking at it like an outsider: “Who's gonna do this? We want this, so who's going to do it.” Because we don't have all this money. We don't have time—well, I guess I did. Not the money though. And we like to pay people for their work.
And then I actually got COVID. I caught the original strain. I was on the oxygenator for two weeks. It was like five days of insomnia, sciatica, visions, intense things that were going on in my brain… I almost died heading to the hospital. So I kind of developed that kind YOLO attitude, you know, I could die any second. Let's try to do some cool stuff.
I was always a very introverted person—I'm still trying to get over that—but I just started reaching out to people with this idea. Eventually in the end, we did the open call, but really, it was just organic through Twitter. And then yeah, Gabino Iglesias coming in and trying to help us out. He’s he was super busy with his own stuff. He still is crazy. Shirley Jackson Award. Stoker. And, you know, he was busy, we didn't want to bug him too much. He helped us find us an agent, which was all new to us.
Rachel Kolkowski basically offered not just representation for the book, not like one-project rep, but just to help me build my own career. It was really cool just having that phone call and it went from like zero to like 100. It was crazy.
And then Rachel said, Okay, here's the next steps. We're going to write a proposal. We're all going to edit it together, make sure it's top-notch. And I'm going to do what's called “shopping out to the industry.” They basically blasted out to all the publishers, and she even would copy and paste to a spreadsheet, like who was looking at it. And we were just like giddy the whole time because it was always big names. It’s crazy. There's even like a column for who's even opened the email, who has requested the manuscript or the proposal, or whatever was, but there was like a whole column, like a whole line that went over people that wanted it. And we're like, Oh, my God, this is crazy.
And so that was amazing. And we had I think five official offers, and they just kept ramping up. And I was, you know, substitute teaching at the time, and using that school's conference room to have these important phone calls with Ted, Rachel, and these big names in New York.
We landed with a global deal with three imprints of Penguin Random House, mostly, you know, Vintage Books on the US side with Anna Kaufman. It was crazy because they started it almost started like a bidding war. But we landed with a huge deal, and it's just insane.
MARY KAY: That's incredible. What a great story. I'm so happy for y’all. How did you decide—because you're both writers as well, and you both do short fiction—so how did you decide which of your own stories would go in the anthology?
TED: I had just signed for my collection. But because my attention span is shit, I don't really like long novels. So I write novels in ways that are… some people call it a mosaic, or a linked story collection, or whatever. But I like the short form the best.
For this one, I had the story that I had written—so I'm from Chicago, born and raised in the city, and most I live on the Southside. I write all the time bout the Northside of Chicago, so I want to do some pressing, you know, like something different. So the story for this book is written on the south side. It's like the first one. It's like, on the longest street in the world. That's Western Avenue. Full of history. And so I really wanted to do something different and for Chicago. The American Indian Center, all that kind of stuff is up on the north side, but there's, there's a lot of Native folks on the south side, you just don't hear that much about them.
And it has a monster in it. I write a lot of grimy, urban crime and stuff like that. Petty crime mostly. But I also write horror. I’m an HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) active member. I edited Stephen Graham Jones’ collection. So my story is all of that, all the stuff I do, but with a monster. I'm really excited about it.
It looks like Vintage is going to do the ebook. They're doing this 99-cent special on ebooks, and I looked at the lineup and it's like, Whoa. Steven King. It has a dope cover like with a vintage car, like really lurid colors. It’s really cool. I'm excited.
SHANE: I originally had a different story in mind. I wanted something fresh I wanted for this specific anthology. I was trying to write myself along the same deadline as the other writers, to kind of be fair a little bit. So I wrote an original story that was pretty cool. And then I had a phone call with my grandma and she was kinda like, “I don't know about you writing and sharing that with the world, at least not in that written form, where you think money and stuff off of it.”
Okay, I understand that. I respect my elders and my family, so I was like having a little crisis. Behind the Scenes, talking to Ted, I was like, “I don't have a story.” No one really knew at the time. They still don't, I guess, until they read this interview, that I was really trying to crush it, trying to do a new story that was still kind of about my family—about mostly my dad, and hunting—and it still was borrowing from… a lot of it's based on real life. And then obviously with the twist of crazy. My grandma hasn't read the book, but I sent them a galley… so I have a conversation coming about what she thinks about the new one, but I think it's safer territory.
The Longest Street in the World
MARY KAY: That’s tough. Like, it's your story, for sure, but when people you actually know show up in your memoir essays, and they don't want to, because it’s also their story… I totally get that. It’s super frustrating.
SHANE: It's a very creepy possession story, in my opinion, and I’m trying to make it nice and creepy and fun. Along with the body horror, the possession, the creepiness, and body colonization, I also kind of felt it was important to inject some Native joys and Native love, the bonding experience between that father and son, because I don't think we have a ton of that media. But also, in a cool way to kind of pay respects to my grandpa who passed when I was 16.
MARY KAY: Is there anything I should ask you that we haven't talked about yet?
TED: We both have our own projects going on, too, that we’re really excited about. I have a Southern Gothic that comes from Lanternfish Press in the spring. That's gonna be a lot of fun.
One thing I want to make sure we talk about that it was really important to us show the diversity of Indian Country. Of all the sorts of marginalized folks in this country, we are the most diverse. We’re talking about 567 (or whatever the latest call is) federally recognized tribes, and hundreds of state-recognized. And there are so many different traditions, languages, and cultural things to consider in Indian Country, making this just a small representation. We have 26 stories and an intro from Steven Graham Jones, so I think what folks need to know is that… you know, a lot of the time, people are reading this stuff as ethnographies. No. These are dark fiction stories. We’re just writers. We’re trying to make art!
Keeping that in mind, and knowing that we only have 26 stories…there are a lot more to go. I’m really hoping that this is received well and we can have additional volumes. This topic is so vibrant, and it just lends itself to multiple volumes. So if you're listening on random, I really believe that, so I just wanted to put that out there.
SHANE: Yeah, It's definitely something coming together. Early reviews—not all of them, but a handful—seem to think I represent Native American culture as some monolithic type of thing. That we're all the same. I think I saw a review today that said “Indigenous culture.” And I was like, what is that? Which one?
Even with the selection we have, we have a big range of voices: the emerging, established, the different genders… we have a spectrum here.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.