In the summer, I had a Zoom call with Conrad Loyer, author of the Issue 41 story “Haunted Home.” The conversation touched upon Conrad’s influences, inspirations, and creative process for the story as well as his other work.
The following interview took place via Zoom and has been edited for clarity.
Conrad Loyer is a writer and undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. His work has been previously published in cul-de-sac and is forthcoming at Westwind. He writes about magic on the margins and queer, Black adventure.
Berkeley Fiction Review: Were there any specific messages that you wanted to get across when you were writing “Haunted Home”?
Conrad Loyer: Yeah, so, I didn’t start with a specific message I wanted to get across, but there was definitely a specific kind of emotional vibe, a kind of resonance that I wanted to speak on. The more I got into further drafts and editing and all that stuff, this message, this explanation of my relationship with racial memory and inherited trauma, I think, started coming in. I started with wanting to tell this story about a cruise ship being haunted by a slave ship, and I mean, I should have expected all the resonances that would kind of come along with that as I started writing, but those were I think more of a feature of the editing process along the way.
BFR: I think that’s really beautiful, and I think inherited trauma and racial memory definitely should be more represented in writing and it’s amazing that you’re doing that. I’m also curious about the title; could you just elaborate on what inspired that?
Conrad Loyer: The title was a really late addition. It was the very last thing I decided before I actually turned it in. I think when I came up with it, I was honestly a little stressed out. I was trying to figure out what I wanted the title to be, and I had started with the title “Atlantic Alchemy.” I hadn’t loved the light emphasis of commerce that kind of came up with.
So I was trying to think and trying to think and … I think the very last line of the story, “Welcome home,” kind of stuck out to me. I thought it would make … The ideas that are in this story are about how a nation is inherited, how you get this presence in a culture that isn’t necessarily the culture you were born into, but it’s also the product of all of these different traumas echoed back through history.
I thought that echoing the idea of a haunted house, but kind of interpreting it in a more personal sense, I thought that made sense. It gives it almost a more permanent sense; a house is something that can be traded away back and forth, but a home feels like something more permanent, and I wanted that sense of permanence in the title.
BFR: I think that’s really interesting, the idea that like any house can be a house, but it has to have meaning to be a home. I was also wondering, are there any specific things that you draw upon for inspiration? What drives your creativity, whether it’s like a person, a place, a thing, or anything else?
Conrad Loyer: I find, for me, a lot of what drives my creativity is other pieces of art, and that’s not necessarily fiction. I mean, I’ve talked about this before, but “Haunted Home” was inspired by this French film called Atlantique that is like this haunted ghost story set in Senegal. That film was just amazing and wouldn’t leave me alone, and I had to kind of create “Haunted Home” around it.
I find music really inspires me a lot of the time; I find a lot of my ideas for pieces from music. I’m a big fan of audio fiction, so there are lots of podcasts that drive my inspiration. I find a lot of my inspiration comes from consuming other people’s art, having ideas based on their art, and reinterpreting things I felt during their art. That, I think, is a big part of what drives me creatively.
BFR: Yeah, I think that idea that something ‘won’t leave you alone’ is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Could you tell me about what attracted you to short stories?
Conrad Loyer: There’s something really cool about short stories. I mean … on one part, they are a work that gives way more immediate gratification than long-form fiction. Writing a novel, a book, or something like that involves this very long process where you don’t have a lot to show for it, and that can be disheartening at times, but with a short story you really quickly can get this kind of turnaround.
I also think there’s something that N. K. Jemisin—who’s an author that I’m just obsessed with—has spoken about a lot, that short fiction can often be a way, especially in speculative fiction, to experiment and to figure out new ways of storytelling and to figure out how a certain character will function. Or, if you’re building a world in speculative fiction like, “Oh, how does this culture work, how do I tell a story like this?”
I think short stories are such an excellent way to experiment and grow as a writer and to try to figure out new styles, new ways of doing things. I’ve taken part of N. K. Jemisin’s practice and kind of incorporated it into my own, in that before I start a long term project, I try to write a short story in the setting of whatever I’m writing just to kind of play with the story, play with the flow, try to get the aspects of what I’m trying to do in a longer-form story in the short story. I think that the short story is such an excellent space to do that kind of experimentation.
BFR: I know you mentioned N. K. Jemisin, are there any specific stories you would recommend?
Conrad Loyer: Oh, I mean, N. K. Jemisin, definitely all her work I can wholeheartedly recommend. I just recently read a story in … I believe with Uncanny Magazine, by Sarah Pinsker called “Where Open Hearts Do Gather,” and the creativity of it just staggered me. It’s a fantasy horror story told through the comment section of, like, a lyric annotation website … It’s all these voices that are annotating this folk ballad that reveals this horror story as it unfolds. I was just so blown away by the creativity of the formatting and the style—it was really, really remarkable.
BFR: I see you’ve had a good amount of work published and if there’s anything that you can give us a little bit of an intro to, if there’s anything on the horizon that you want to talk about that would be great.
Conrad Loyer: I have been working for the last couple months on this short story that I’ve been really excited about. I’ve been working on kind of a. .. I was fascinated by the queer lineage of “The Little Mermaid,” going from Hans Christian Andersen, who is generally understood to be a queer person, to Howard Ashman and his involvement in The Little Mermaid Disney cartoon and the way that like his queerness might have informed the process of creating that movie.
I was kind of interested in bringing my own imagining to “The Little Mermaid,” so I’ve been working on a short story around that, and that’s to the point where I’m already starting to get ready to send that out to various places. I actually just got a rejection today, so that’s fun … but yeah, just in the process of sending it out trying to see where it’ll eventually find a home.
BFR: Yeah, that sounds amazing! And, you know what they say, for every 10 rejections you get one acceptance, and you are clearly very talented.
Conrad Loyer: Thank you.
BFR: It’s been really nice talking to you, and thank you for answering all of my questions!
Conrad Loyer: Absolutely!
Conrad Loyer can be found on Twitter @stolenhyacinths