Can Wiggins Talks About Ghosts, Grits, and Writing

Let’s welcome Can Wiggins. Can and I came to know one another through mutual Facebook friends, and by having short stories published in some of the same anthologies. Can’s body of work includes “Haint,” in The Phantasmagorical Promenade, and “I’ve Lived in This Place a Long Time,” in Test Patterns, both from Oxygen Man Books. Her short story, “King o’ the Wood,” will be in the folk horror anthology, A Walk in a Darker Wood, coming this fall from Oxygen Man Books and edited by Duane Pesice, Sarah Walker, and Gordon B. White.

Q: What are you currently working on?

I have four – at this time – projects including a short story I’m sending out in a few days; I have a novella in the works, a dystopian after the end tale which is told from a girl’s viewpoint in a rural environment. There aren’t many Appalachian/Deep South post-apocalyptic tales so I thought it would be fun to get that going. And my partner and I are resurrecting a SF mythos *plus* a crime/noir series set in Georgia.

Q: You describe your home as “The Spooky Old House.” How old and spooky is it?

A: It’s a rambling three-story house built in the 1980s (I think) by a guy who never intended to live here and you can tell. Some things are just “off.” But I’m surrounded by greenery, including a side yard I call The Nursery as deer drop their fawns there every year. There are massive water oaks on a nice piece of land with a creek, deadfalls, possums, hawks, mushrooms, fairy rings, and wildlife. I’m very careful to not take that for granted or disturb it. I don’t cut the grass in the back yard, which is fenced in. This means I get to grow things there and in The Sacrificial Pit, on all three decks, and watch the deer and birds and butterflies come in and make themselves at home and I really like that. It’s spooky because I leave it alone and let animals live there. I let Nature take Her course. And when the Hallelujah Chorus (owls in the trees outside my windows) starts up at 2 in the morning? FUN. Plus I watch/read/write/discuss the weird, the odd, the scary with my partner on the regular and we also report to each other when we do have something weird or spooky happen. The things that go bump in the night? Those. I am cheek by jowl with those.

Q: Have you ever seen a ghost? If so, what was it like? If not, would you want to see one, or would you prefer ghosts not manifest when you’re around?

Not that I was or am aware of, although I have had “experiences” and have witnessed things not easily explained or understood. I’m writing a story about one such time, because that’s what I do. I would prefer ghosts do what they have to do.

Q: You live in Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia, beloved alma mater of Blanton Trapnell, patriarch of the mad Trapnell family in my series of Southern Gothic thrillers. Have you always lived in Athens? What are its pluses and minuses?

I have lived in The Classic City for approximately 15 years, moving up from Atlanta where I lived even longer. I visited off and on when I still lived in Atlanta and Decatur, usually Thanksgivings, or to check out a restaurant. I’ll never forget the first time I ate at “The Last Resort” on Clayton. That was heaven on earth on a plate. “Five & 10” by Hugh Acheson was/is also a treasure but it’s a little pricey so it’s a twice-a-year treat.

A lot of people don’t realize that Athens is a great foodie destination. That’s the plus. The minus? Blind-drunk vomiting and crying out-of-control kids downtown during home football games. I don’t mean a few. I mean a few hundred, a few thousand.

Q: You eat well at the Spooky Old House, judging by the photos you share on Facebook. What’s your stance on grits? Salt and pepper only? Cheese? Hot sauce? There are people who put sugar on grits. Are you one of them?

Thanks for the love! I do eat grits but usually only in the colder months. I would never ruin grits with sugar or hot sauce. I butter my grits, I don’t use much salt or pepper but on weekends, I top them with bacon and a soft-boiled egg or chopped up scallions. I basically make a ramen bowl, but with grains.

Q: You have a number of side gigs, in addition to writing. You edit and proofread and you’re a scopist. Please tell our (very few) readers what that is and how you got into it.

A scopist is a proofreader/editor who edits transcripts of official proceedings, like those created by court reporters, for official hooha such as court hearings. They transcribe spoken word to written text. I worked for Reuters AP and that’s what I did, only for financial earnings LIVE calls of any company on the NYSE/NASDAQ, as well as the other stock markets around the world. I’m good with languages but – whew. I also did a couple of Congressional hearings after 9/11. I also worked for CNN and TBS and did this. Had a ball but it was incredibly stressful. You had to be 100-percent every second. I was tapped for those jobs by folks who had worked with me and thought I’d be a good fit.

Q: Who’s your favorite author, and why?

Uh-oh. This is similar to asking me which child is my favorite, isn’t it?. So, let me give you a handful of authors I always search out or those I always come back to.

First things first: I read a lot. I read books for a living one year and it was like entering the Kingdom of Heaven Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. So, here we go.

Lawrence Block, especially his short stories – his economy of language is a gift and he grabs you from the first sentence; Flannery O’Connor; Carson McCullers; Ursula K. LeGuin; Laurie Colwin – a very different genre and writer for me; China Mieville – a definite trip off the rails with his mixing of genres. Noir AND Science Fiction? I’m in!; Shirley Jackson – her short stories are still first in class, sparse and to the point; Kij Johnson – if you haven’t read “26 Monkeys or The Abyss,” do that as soon as you can; Elizabeth A. Lynn no longer writes but in the ‘80s she wrote a fantastic series titled “The Chronicles of Tornor,” which changed the way I looked at alternative worlds in science fiction and fantasy including POC and gay characters well before it was “cool.” Well worth finding/reading.

Now, I want to talk about some others. I also read and search out small presses and their authors. I enjoy Duane Pesice’s work quite a lot. I cut my teeth on the Golden Age of Science Fiction and it’s always fun and honestly comforting to see someone with that similar background roll out fresh takes on the nuts and bolts fiction that drives the machine. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is another favorite. His short stories and poetry always make me see the world through a much wider lens. Who else? Craig L. Gidney is an incredible writer and, if I ruled the world, reading his work would be mandatory.  Nadia Bulkin’s stories are like pearls washed up on the beach, just laying out there for you to pick up.

There are so many folks to tap here, it’s crazy hard to keep up with everyone and everything. I mean, I have to stop but I don’t want to. You scratch this surface and you will find so much more underneath.

I will wrap this up by telling you that I like Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction but it’s his and Ann VanderMeer’s co-edited anthologies that are the real juggernauts worth investigating. They are doing great and important work – I can’t emphasize this enough – with compiled works from decades, even centuries ago, from around the world, and from other authors. I can’t say enough good things about this.

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