In a book with a name close to Gina Nutt’s debut essay collection, Loren Eisley wrote, “my thoughts are all of night.” It’s there
that we are most comfortable with the dead reanimating. Often too the
living, still lingering features of ourselves find ways to slouch through. This is the
space Gina covers in Night Rooms.
The rooms can fit all sorts of loss, even the kind not
fully realized. In one of the sentences that stayed with me long
after reading, Gina writes:
“Mourning is elastic and necessary, and not exclusive to death.”
Throughout Night Rooms, you use a variety of movies—from The
Night of the Hunter to Titanic—to approach issues like depression,
suicide, and death. In one of your essays, you write, “If we attach
ourselves to art, maybe art can attach itself to us. Do I find the
movies or do they find me?” What made you choose films as the primary
way of navigating the issues in the book? Was this a design principle
that began early in the writing process?
The first essay I wrote orbited death, anxiety, and It Follows. So,
films figured in my earliest writing toward this book, but it took me
time before I let myself say I was writing a book. I like to let my
writing wander in the early stages and see what happens, where it goes.
I may write into a mood, line, or image. If something I journal holds my
interest, I’ll circle back, transcribe, and expand in a Word doc. For
Night Rooms, I kept coming back to that first essay I wrote,
continuing to write about additional personal experiences and movies, so
I followed that momentum, as well as new threads that came through as I
Speaking of images, when I first read some of the book without knowing
your past writing, I could tell that you were poet. Night Rooms is
rich in imagery/impressions. Even the films themselves are often not
named directly, only described. Who are your major influences both in
poetry and nonfiction and how do they affect your writing?
I’ve learned a lot about image from writers like James Tate and Jean
Valentine. I love the dream logics, associative currents, and
imaginative minds I meet in their poems.
I toggle between poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. So, I’m drawn to the
work of writers who write poetic prose, move between poetry and prose,
or started out writing poetry and moved into prose. I constantly return
to writing by Mary Ruefle, Chelsea Hodson, Hanif Abdurraqib, Sarah
Manguso, Ocean Vuong, and Maggie Nelson.
I’m wandering a little here, but short stories also shape the ways I
imagine an essay, or a paragraph, could possibly move. A few collections
I kept close while writing and revising Night Rooms were: Black
Light by Kimberly King Parsons, Things to Make and Break by May-Lan
Tan, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, Her Body and Other Parties by
Carmen Maria Machado, any and all Joy Williams.
That’s a great reading list. To return to films and TV, there are lots
of works you mention that had me nostalgic and focused because I
remembered the dialogue or scene but could not immediately recall the
source (such as the reference to an unseen monster in the 90s cartoon
show Doug). Of the movies mentioned in the book, which had the biggest
impact on you and why?
It Follows was the first film I wrote about for this book. Everything
about that movie mesmerized me when I first saw it, and it still amazes
me. The idea of the malevolent following force, this slow-moving
horrible something walking toward us. The music. Jay, the protagonist,
also resonated with me as a new take on the final girl trope. She’s not
tough-as-nails, infantilized, or hyper-sexualized. Even more though, her
running and hiding are enmeshed with everyday activities—attending
class, driving, hanging out with friends—so, her fear and proximity to
danger are wholly threaded through her life. That sense of inescapable
dread hit a recognizable chord for me.
Genre movies and books—especially horror films—are often looked
down on. But they can be a way to comment on our most primitive fears.
What’s your take on the genre/”art” divide? Do you think the modern
horror scene has gotten better or worse in terms of tropes like final
Imagine the first person who said, “I want to film a ghost descending a
staircase. How will I make that happen?” That was a creative problem.
Someone solved it. At the same time, another filmmaker could have said,
“A ghost descending a staircase? That’s not art. These horses running
across a pasture though…” The human imagination is vast enough to
accommodate horses in pastures and ghosts descending staircases. Some
audiences want ghosts. Some audiences want horses. Ghost-makers and
horse enthusiasts alike though, everyone is making creative choices.
Horror films and “art” are so intertwined, talking with and borrowing
from each other. It’s a long tradition of tapping into deep fears and
commenting on familiar tropes, as you mentioned. And the modern horror
scene keeps building off what has been done, complicating the archetypes
and reimagining how an audience might experience fear.
Night Rooms doesn’t shy away from holding gory, gritty films and
moody, atmospheric films on the same plane. That’s how I encountered the
genre and how I continue to know and appreciate it, a panoramic view of
Well put and another way that view increases is through new mediums.
One that comes up throughout Night Rooms is the Internet; for example,
in the chapter on chain letters, you mention urban legends are now
creepypastas (one of my early favorites is Ted the
Caver). But you also mention
it’s possible to be “cached” forever online, whether it be in an angry
comment or through a posthumous profile. Is this a good/bad/neutral
thing and why?
Posthumous profiles can be a way to honor someone’s memory, comfort the
living. I also find them complex because at a point, fielding random
tags and comments in perpetuity, absorbing the fresh grief that emerges
on a public platform, can become a new wound. I hesitate to commit to a
value judgement though because I think it’s specific and personal to
each person grieving. Still that we can move from storytelling and
creepypastas to maintaining eternal online presences in just a few lines
speaks to the Internet’s omnipresence, our enmeshment.
You used to compete in beauty pageants. What was that like? What is a
memorable thing that happened at an event?
One thing that emerged as I wrote the essay about my pageant experiences
was their dual nature. Participating as a child, I liked dressing up,
having my hair and makeup done, but I struggled with the competitive
aspect. That’s one of the more vivid memories I have of an event,
standing in a mall parking lot after a pageant and making a
self-critical remark. My mom no longer signed me up for pageants after
Were you interested in creative writing at that time as well? Why did
you decide to get an MFA and what was your experience like?
I wasn’t writing during the stretch of childhood I was in the pageants,
but I loved reading. My grandparents on my mom’s side of the family gave
me a new book each birthday and holiday. I enjoyed going to libraries
around Syracuse, reading aloud to the family cat.
I applied to programs because I wanted to fully immerse myself in
writing and reading alongside people looking to do the same. Which ended
up being my experience at Syracuse. Some of the writers I read for
class, or who peers recommended, became some of my favorites. I liked
working across genre, and I appreciated the emphasis on nurturing and
following creative tendencies.
Indie publishers like https://twodollarradio.com/ have continued to
put out interesting and artistic books. What do you think of the current
state of publishing and the major houses/indie divide?
I’ve only ever published with indies and Two Dollar Radio is incredible.
They bring such care and attention to each book. They’re my dream press.
My bedside is piled with a mix of wonderful books. Some from indies and
some from major houses. I love the whole ecosystem. If I read
exclusively in one sphere, I close myself off to every possibility
beyond, and that’s the opposite of my creative sensibility and how I
move through the world.
On death, you write in Night Rooms, “I sometimes miss believing
dying meant going to sleep forever …” Where do you stand on religion
or life after death now? Has anything changed for you in the process of
writing the book?
Writing, for me, is one way to keep questions I can’t answer
ever-present. Religion and life after death are still enormous question
marks to me. So, even though my thinking evolved alongside the book, and
all its revisions, trying to understand these parts of life, among
others, is one of many reasons to continue writing.
Thanks for this interview, Gina. As far as horror or thriller movie
recommendations, what are some of your personal favorites that people
should check out? And finally, what’s next for you as a writer?
Thanks for your thoughtful questions, Sean. I’ll sign off with a few of
my favorites: A Nightmare on Elm Street, It Follows, and Dario
Argento’s Suspiria. Older films can be fun too, like The Night of the
Hunter, Carnival of Souls, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Anyone open to exploring horror can appreciate the genre on a level
that’s just unsettling enough for them.
As for what’s next, I’m excited Night Rooms is in the world, so right
now I’m focused on doing what I can to share it. Eventually, I’ll circle
back to a manuscript I stashed in a drawer so I could focus on
publication. It’s a different form for me, so I’m excited to sink back
into that book when it’s time.
Gina Nutt is the author of the essay collection Night Rooms and the poetry collection Wilderness Champion. She earned her MFA from Syracuse University. Her writing has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Ninth Letter, and other publications.