The Big Idea: Hailey Piper
Sometimes, in the times with the most trial, a single thing can make the difference between despair and survival. In this Big Idea for A Light Most Hateful, author Hailey Piper shares what that one thing might be.
What if, in the moment your life shattered to pieces and left you tumbling like you’d been thrown down a hillside, there was someone waiting to catch you?
The idea feels impossible sometimes. We’re living the curse, often misattributed as a Chinese expression but more likely a mistranslation or fabrication by British envoys, “May you live in interesting times.” There’s an invitation to mire in hurt and despair. The idea that someone unflinchingly has your back in the darkest of times might sound preposterous. But what the hell else is fiction for?
I grew up in a small town, and that plays into my book A Light Most Hateful, where Olivia has found herself in Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania three years after leaving Hartford, Connecticut as a teenage runaway. It’s clear her arrival was the most exciting thing to happen to this town in a while, and nothing much has happened since.
But an eeriness has taken up residence with Olivia on her Friday night shift at the drive-in, that sense of something lurking beneath the small town’s stillness. A pressure in the air ready to burst with storm, and it does, in the shape of a people-eating monster, the town residents falling under a violent trance, and more bizarre phenomena that follows as the night of terror rides on, straining the limits of reality and friendship.
Within that chaos, there’s potential to show devotion. Olivia’s best friend in Chapel Hill (and her secret crush), Sunflower Mason, is missing, maybe dead, maybe turned into another violent wanderer like the rest of town, but Olivia is determined to find her and escape together. She will not let this grim night split them apart if she can help it.
And then there’s the stranger, Christmas. They’re tall, broody, and they pretend they don’t care about anyone, but there’s a brightness in their eyes that suggests they care so damn much, as if the night’s lethality has forced them to either be a protector or be nothing.
Olivia has Sunflower’s back, Christmas might have Olivia’s back. Even as the residents of Chapel Hill threaten anyone who touches them and cracks begin to grow in reality itself, imagine knowing you aren’t alone, no matter what you face. Even Sunflower’s looking out for someone, albeit lost in her memories.
There’s a duality to a life-changing experience—wonder and horror, hardship and triumph—that lives in Olivia’s story. Potential for death, yes, but also the true nature brought out when the chips are down and the outlandish notion that someone can be their best self with everything else fails.
I’ve said elsewhere, but for me, horror is the most honest genre. Part of that is the breadth which horror explores different sides of people. And part of that is, you find out who people really are when they’re afraid. Sometimes, they surprise you in the worst ways. Or if you’re really lucky, they surprise you by showing the best sides of themselves.
Maybe now and then, living in interesting times is worth it for the people you meet.