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Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We get a strong sense of who the man and the young woman are, but we never learn their names. Is there a specific reason you withhold that as part of their characters?

Janelle Blasdel: Oh, yes, I love this question. For me, the namelessness of these characters reflects a certain kind of relationship, the one we have with people we cross paths with regularly but don’t quite interact with, other than exchanging a smile or nod of recognition. They’re our acquaintances purely because of our routines, but we don’t typically know or ever learn their names. So, I like how by not naming the man or the girl, I’m able to surface those kinds of interactions. 

I also hope that the lack of names, especially early on in the story, adds tension or a something’s off but I can’t quite put my finger on it feeling that continues to build over time until we see what the man’s true intentions are. I love reading stories that balance just enough uncertainty with just enough clarity so that I enter a state of really precarious suspense. That was my goal, anyway, and I still don’t know their names!

RR: One of the more intriguing parts of the story is the ending. How did you decide to leave the reader without knowing what will happen?

JB: This ending was a challenge for me to arrive at. I think I wrote it at least five different ways, and the one that seemed most fitting to the story was the open one. Part of that comes down to the competing POVs. I think the reader’s interpretation of each POV might influence their decision on which way the ending goes, which character has more power by the time we get to the end of it. I also really enjoy stories that end with a sort of—I think I’ve heard it described as the resonance of a bell—where the narrative trails away and feels complete, yet leaves the world open too. That’s what I wanted to do with the ending here.

RR: We’re drawn in (and kept in thrall) by the subtle foreshadowing in “Prey.” How did you approach balancing the overt and hinted details?

JB: Striking the right balance between clarity and uncertainty was, wow, so hard for me and also a big goal of mine in this story. I had some great readers give me feedback, and they really helped me find those moments that felt too uncertain, to the point of confusion, and too clear, to the point of boring predictability or off-putting heavy-handedness. I knew there needed to be concrete details to give readers enough footing that they didn’t feel like this story was going nowhere or didn’t make any sense, but also enough mystery that there was room for suspense and surprise. I’m thinking specifically of the man’s POV and the serial killer hints he gives us throughout. My hope is that there’s maybe a moment where readers do a double-take at one of those details (“Did he just—?”) and then another moment when the reader is like, “Oh, yeah, that’s definitely what he meant by that, oh no!”

RR: We’re interested in how you break convention and include two points of view. Are there specific horror or thriller stories that you would say influenced this?

JB: I can’t say if there was one specific story I read that had two, third-person limited POVs happening, because I’m terrible at remembering things like that, but! There are definitely stories that influenced mine, especially Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and Zombie. I remember reading “Where Are You Going” for the first time and being so tense and nervous and stressed, and the entire situation was excruciatingly precarious. I’m in awe of that story, especially the push and pull between the two main characters, Connie and Arnold Friend, and how JCO plants little red flags and then bigger red flags and then, before we know it, we’re in the danger zone and Arnold Friend has trapped us too. It’s terrifying. And then Zombie is just so terribly, grotesquely dark and disturbing, and definitely haunted me as I wrote the man’s POV in my story. I also hoped that by offering each POV, it would add to that bubbling sense of doom for readers, especially when you get to the girl’s section. The audience knows more than she does, so when the man arrives at her house, well, we know this isn’t good news at all. The girl senses that it’s bad, but she can’t be sure, and we get to be the ones screaming at her to trust her instincts—to get help and get the hell outta there. 

RR: We understand you perform improv and sketch comedy. What impact has that had on your writing, or vice versa?

JB: Yes, this is true! I’m a big improv- and sketch-head, and my comedy and writing worlds definitely collide and feed each other in the best ways possible. In both, I’ve found that taking care of the details is so important. Not just being observant and mindful about keeping details straight, but the specifics of those details you choose to include. In improv and writing, it’s the off-beat specifics that make moments and characters memorable and authentic.

This question really has me pumped and my answer could start to take on a life of its own, so I’ll just say one more thing about this symbiotic writing/improv relationship. One major lesson I’ve taken from improv and applied to my writing is to not be coy, which can be hard when I’m trying to write something suspenseful. In improv, it’s important that I know who my character is and what my character wants, and that my scene partner knows, to some degree, these things too. I don’t have to be heavy-handed about it, but I do have to play true to it. If I’m withholding too many details in writing or improv, it’s usually because I’m muddy on those facts myself. That feeling, in both arenas, is a clear indicator to me that I need to make a decision and then play or write harder to that truth.

Janelle Blasdel’s work in Issue 7.2: