Author Interview for Alaric Cabiling
By Diane C. Donovan
Alaric Cabiling, Author
When asked how I first ended up writing and who influenced me, I usually credit my English teacher in sophomore high-school for engaging my interest in reading and writing. I was not a voracious reader and writer in my childhood, but when she had asked me whether I’d be interested in doing a book report on Edgar Allan Poe’s work, I greeted the prospect of doing so with enthusiasm. I ended up loving Poe’s tales and shortly thereafter fell in love with the creative process – simply enjoying my development and improvement as a writer by practice. Later on, an editor in Richmond, VA who I will not name gave me some incredibly beneficial critique about my early short stories. Most of those short stories ended up in Insanity By Increments after many drafts and many revisions.
2. Your short stories offer slow build-ups and inject rising drama into everyday scenes, as in the meeting of two brothers in 'Once Found, Once More Forsaken' ("…he enshrouded the most menial with a semblance of mystery."). What authors or writings influenced these kinds of forms and styles for Insanity by Increments? How do you feel that your works differ from either 'classic' Gothic approaches or standard, contemporary horror styles?
Contemporary horror doesn’t usually involve such intricately-woven metaphors or the use of such effusive language. Authors like Poe used what might even be termed ‘exhibitionist’ language to convey the mounting psychological horror that was prevalent in much of his work. Besides Poe, I was drawn to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Goethe, and Mary Shelley’s use of complex scenic arrangements to convey what emotions might be building in characters as events in the story unfold, without simply telling the reader. Subtlety plays a greater role in narrative fiction than everyday life seems to offer. I will also add that Insanity By Increments is different from the works of my influences as it is a more concerted attempt at modernizing said influences, presenting them in ways that are more contemporary. I have done this to establish more relevancy in my work, since my work is rooted in styles that are no longer relevant.
3. What was your motivation for writing a Gothic/eerie short story collection (as opposed to a closely related genre, such as horror)?
The horror fiction genre is also close to my heart. I plan to release work in this area in the future. But for Insanity By Increments, the intensity of the psychological horror is a little more restrained. As noted earlier, subtlety is an element lost in some modern literature these days. It is this subtlety that I use with prolificity in Insanity By Increments and the rest of my earlier attempts at short story writing.
4. One of the more remarkable features of your short stories is their ability to juxtapose protagonist vulnerabilities with the kinds of choices that ultimately prove life-changing (or life-threatening). In what way do these stories mirror your real life experiences, and in what ways do they differ?
I find it interesting that I share some traits or opinions with those of my characters. Take for instance, my first person narrative character on Frailty’s dislike of nine-to-five jobs. I also prefer to work my own schedules, choosing projects that interest me, which said character in Frailty admits to doing exclusively, in spite of their lack of earning potential. Also, see how Marc Stevenson, lead character in the first story, comes across as an eccentric who loves to revel in moments that appear quite mundane, such as the scene where first light is breaking and he professes to love watching it transpire. I also love to watch the light break through, as said character does. I frequently use details that I relate to or feel strongly about in an effort to write about them with greater detail and poignancy. If I know what it is I’m talking about, I feel more confident in my abilities as a writer to convey it.
5. Do you feel that your works incorporate a geographic sense of place (either your present home, or your past)? If so, what place; and how do these past and present environments influence the settings and characters of your short stories? If not - how did you create the atmospheres and backdrops for your scenes?
Some of the inspiration behind the scenes in Insanity By Increments comes from old Gothic fiction stereotypes: bog, old house. Although, most of it is contemporary Americana, as in Scuttlefield and Return to Desolation’s suburban Richmond, VA. Most of the stories weren’t rooted in my native country culturally and scenically because I don’t feel that I can accurately portray contemporary culture in the Philippines. I grew up behind bookpages and western TV mostly.
Life in Richmond, VA and the United States figured prominently in how the backdrop and scenes were arranged to suit the stories. Some places weren’t actually visited in spite of the attention to detail that was utilized to properly narrate the course of events in the scenes, like those in the desert in Frailty. I had a map and google search handy for that segment.
6. In what ways have your personal life struggles helped define your subjects and approaches to Gothic writing? What was the hardest part of writing the stories for Insanity by Increments?
I suffer from depression, which I openly admit to for the sake of diffusing some of the cultural stigma surrounding the illness. A lot of times, creative projects help people cope with depression, and it’s my way of therapeutically alleviating my symptoms. Apart from being my dream in life, becoming a successful writer helps you recognize when you are suffering from low energy levels and lack of productivity or motivation. Gothic fiction in particular, helps address the symptoms of having darkening morbid thoughts about death and sadness that people with depression don’t know how to openly express.
The hardest part of writing Insanity By Increments was balancing the gothic elements and style with contemporary language. My aim was to render the Gothic style in a way that readers in the present age can relate to, and that ultimately led to Insanity By Increments going through many drafts before the final version was ironed-out.
7. If you were to identify one single work, out of all your writings (either individual pieces or books), that represents your greatest achievement to date, what would that be; and why does this piece stand out from the rest?
I actually have mansucripts worth of material that are waiting in the wings. To date, I feel Insanity By Increments showcases what I’m capable of as a writer, even though most of the stories in it were written years ago. Insanity By Increments represents a bold move for a writer in present times, offering a fresh take on the Gothic fiction template that people have left behind for years now. It’s my debut release, and the next releases have different things to offer, in spite of some similar use of dark atmosphere and theme. Insanity By Increments was positioned to introduce me to a new audience, and build on that audience steadily with each release. The later works are more exciting for me, of course. But, in order for readers to appreciate my evolution as a writer, I felt that Insanity By Increments had to be released first.
8. One of your techniques involves avoiding predictable behavior patterns and outcomes by twisting character or plot. How did you conceive of and develop these techniques?
The characters in Insanity By Increments present as flawed, troubled, or eccentric individuals, and these traits make the process of manipulating the conflicts in plotlines much easier. Some of the lead characters especially have to deal with sets of circumstances that are particularly difficult for whatever character traits makes them so distinct. Like Grant Millstrom in The Illusion of Progress, the death of his son is exactly the sort of situation that he is emotionally equipped to handle the least, so it makes for a juicy plot to see how he reacts to such an ordeal. Hope Leaves’ Nick Hodges goes through something similar, leading to a greater awareness of what plot conflict makes itself so unique to his situation. He is a race car driver, but loses his wife to a routine car accident, and cannot use any of his special skillset in order to save her. Whatever unique set of circumstance occurs in a story suits the set of traits that embody the lead characters in each story.
9. Many horror and Gothic writers are influenced by a combination of psychological introspection and family and environmental factors. What elements in your life helped refine your approach to the short story in general and eerie and Gothic writing in particular?
Like I’ve shared in another answer, depression is/was a strong motivator in my development as a writer. Because the arts provide therapeutic value in the recovery process, creative endeavors tend to come along much better for authors and artists who use creative means of expression. Gothic fiction in particular, is so deeply entrenched in expouting the mental faculties and emotional ambiguities of the characters used, that the whole process of expressing these aspects of dysfunction in characters becomes expressive for the writer who manipulates them. Individuals with difficult life situations can find some cathartic release in the form of creative expression.
10. Now that Insanity by Increments has been released, what is your next step? What are you working on, and will it be in the same vein (eerie/Gothic short stories)?
Insanity By Increments is only the beginning. I have plenty of work and plenty of ideas that can come into fruition in the form of more short fiction. I plan to keep releasing collections of short stories until I tire of the literary form. Right now, short bursts of creative energy are better-suited to my short attention spans. If I can have a career in writing similar to that of Alice Munro, I would be blessed.