Looking for the perfect New Weird horror story? You’ve come to the right place! Today we’re highlighting Issue 051‘s “Redbean” and talking to author Dixon March, who shares the unsettling inspiration behind this story.
LSQ: What a delectable horror story! I was especially impressed with the creative worldbuilding. How did you get tortured souls from beans?
Dixon: Wow, thank you! That compliment will keep the miserable screeching bean of my writerly confidence warm for a whole year.
The world in this story was not-so-subtly inspired by one of my neighbors’ utterly bizarre Halloween displays. The year I moved to the block, the guy two doors down from me sets up a plastic skeleton with a cowboy hat, sitting on a hay bale and holding a sign that read, “Pray for Harvest: Corn, Beans, Souls.”
It was among the most sinister things I’ve ever seen. It actively haunted me. I live in a large city in the middle of the US plains states, which is a very agricultural environment even within crowded urban spaces, so out here we’re susceptible to bad traffic and corn cults. A neighbor into harvesting souls is not something to ignore.
As in most cases, I managed my terror by writing. At the time I was interested in stories about criminals and frequently built settings that had a mix of urban and rural environments (which both have their share of monsters). All these things tangled up in my nightmares until it came out in the form of a mutated Jack and the Beanstalk tale.
I don’t know where the decapitated heads came from. Decapitated heads tend to show up in my stories more than I care to admit.
LSQ: This story has just the hint of a dystopian or at least an extra dysfunctional society. Is this a genre you like to write in? What are your favorite types of stories to write?
Dixon: Oh, yes. To me, the best stories are those that reflect the dystopia and dysfunction we live in now. A sort of “death sight” if you will.
My genre of choice is New Weird, which I liken to speculative lit on the edge of fantasy and horror or a spooky, pessimistic magic realism. To me it’s a fiction rooted in anxiety, liminality, and estrangement. I’m also a fan of cosmic/sci fi horror, ghost stories, and anything gothic for similar reasons. My favorite stories speak to the disillusioned and disenfranchised.
While I write in this genre, I actively avoid the tropes handed down from weird fiction writers of old who used these genres as a soapbox to promote their own xenophobia and misogyny. It has to be said: they made some ridiculously wrong-minded stuff. Still the genre has a great potential to illustrate the monstrousness of institutions. This is why my favorite stories have characters who are outsiders, law-breakers and anarchists and contrary intellectuals and antifascists—you know, cool people.
LSQ: Larron’s backstory puts her in a delicate position: on probation, hungry, and without friends. She is also still a thief. How does this affect her decisions about what happens to her in the story?
Dixon: The reason Larron is able to survive and thrive within the confines of her struggle is because she is a thief. Just like ol’ Jack.
A thief, on some level, has to be insane to so easily trespass where they’re not allowed to go. They make their living off of this transgression of space and class, and they see opportunity where other people see do-not-enter signs. That’s why Larron’s response to the strangeness of the Jackelsons’ farm is not to cower in its shadow but instead to exploit it.
While I don’t necessarily espouse breaking into strange cottages full of decapitated heads that appear behind our apartments, this willingness to transgress is something to be admired. So many rules are imposed on us by institutions (consume, breed, obey) to make us more easily controlled (and devoured in some cases). Maybe if we learned to break the rules more often, we’d be a little less hungry.
LSQ: I love the power of the last line. She has her crowbar, and she has some attitude. Why do I get the feeling that Larron is about to conquer the world?
Dixon: I’m glad you got that feeling, because she is. Larron can’t outright defeat the Jackelsons—they’re too large a monster—but in small ways she can defeat them to get what she needs; food and resources for herself and her unborn, in the same way Jack brought back those golden eggs for his mother. Larron is absolutely going to use that crowbar to crack open creepy cottage windows, sneak around the monsters to take what they’re hoarding, and profit off it. In that, she models a strategy I’d like to employ more often to confront my terrors of the dysfunctional world we live in (and potentially that soul-harvesting neighbor if he ever comes around to start something). Even if we can’t bring these institutions crashing down on our own, then maybe in small ways, we can still undermine them. We just need to think like a thief.