Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Today we talk to Emily Dorffer, a technical editor with an adoration of baking -- leading us directly to Unhealthy Coping Mechanism, Emily's Flash Fiction contribution for The Needle Drops... Volume One. Developed as both a short story and novella over the course of the pandemic, we talk about just this, learn more about Emily's profession and past works, and there's also mention of chocolate snickerdoodles to highlight but a few...
Emily Dorffer is a technical editor who has quite a sweet tooth. When she isn’t busy writing, she can often be found with her hands covered in flour and her mouth covered in chocolate. Over the course of the pandemic, she has found herself turning to the warmth of the oven for comfort more often than she used to, although she likes to think she’s better at coping with her stress than Harriet is.
Emily’s short stories and poems have been featured in a variety of markets, including Daily Science Fiction, Short Édition, and Breath & Shadow.
So, Emily - Unhealthy Coping Mechanism works fantastically as an enthralling, relatable flash fiction piece that feels particularly relevant in this pandemic era. With a novel-length version available over on Wattpad, can we ask the origins of the story, and what it means to you?
In the early months of the pandemic, I was dealing with a lot of stress. I’d just started a demanding new job, and with the entire world dealing with something that had previously belonged only in the realms of history and apocalyptic fiction, I didn’t feel comfortable venting my stress to anyone at first, at least not directly. Like Harriet, I sought solace by channelling my emotions into creative work. Putting all that pent up frustration on the page was very cathartic for me.
For the novel-length version of Unhealthy Coping Mechanism, I was basically writing a cautionary tale for myself. I know how easy it can be to self-isolate and run from negative emotions instead of reaching out to people and trying to process feelings in a healthy way. Harriet’s story is all the more relatable in the novel-length version because there are a lot more characters than her husband and son at play, and their different struggles and coping mechanisms have a lot more space to influence each other. That sense of interconnectedness was far easier to explore in depth in the novel-length version, so I’m looking forward to hearing what reader’s think of it!
Is exploring food -- especially within the horror genre -- something you do often in your writing? Is it a topic that interests you in other folk’s fiction?
Unhealthy Coping Mechanism was actually my first foray into horror fiction! I do absolutely love reading and writing about food, though. It’s a universal aspect of the human experience, yet everyone’s relationship with it is unique. You can tell a lot about people and characters based on how they approach both the preparation and consumption of food.
Not to mention food is just fun to read about.
I especially love how vividly people describe it. One of the things I value the most when I’m reading a story is how much of an emotional reaction it gets out of me, and the strong sense of immersion that often comes with vivid descriptions of food is a tell tale sign that I’m in for something that will really speak to me (or at least my stomach!).
How do you approach poetry vs. short fiction, and which do you find yourself drawn toward more often, if any? Do you often explore different formats with one narrative concept, ala Unhealthy Coping Mechanism?
I don’t write nearly as much poetry as I did when I was in college (primarily because prose is my passion and poetry is just something I dabble in every once in a while), but when I do I mostly stick to haiku and similar forms. Funnily enough, I actually wrote 200 food-themed haiku a few years ago. They’re all available in Crumbs, one of my poetry collections on Wattpad.
My poetry tends to hone in on very small or especially striking aspects of things that interest me, often either food or animals. There is quite a bit of overlap with my fiction, although my poetry is far more grounded in reality than my fiction.
"My poetry tends to hone in on very small or especially striking aspects of things that interest me, often either food or animals."
Being a technical editor, you produced (Dis)Ability: A Short Story Anthology -- a collection that centres disabled folk and emphasises that they are not solely defined by their disabilities, and instead celebrates their many abilities. It’s available to download here. Could you share a little about the editing process and how such a varied collection of stories came into fruition?
There honestly isn’t a whole lot I can say about the editing process for that, largely because the stories I received were already incredibly polished. As for how I got so much variety, I advertised my call for submissions like no tomorrow! In addition to getting it listed on the Submission Grinder and reaching out to several disabled folks I know personally, I advertised it on dozens of subreddits focused on different disabilities and reached out to a doctor from a hospital I used to go to when I was younger to see if he’d be willing to spread the word among his teenage patients.
I’m still completely flabbergasted that I got so many amazing submissions! I’d love to put together another anthology like that someday, and if I ever get the chance to do that, you can bet everyone and their mother will hear about it.
Outside of literary fiction, what is your experience with the horror genre at large? Like many of us, has a specific film or series stuck with you to this day?
My experience with horror films and TV shows is quite limited, although Coraline is a classic and I’m a huge fan of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal. The vast majority of my experience with the genre comes from several amazing writers on Wattpad.
I can blabber about all those amazing folks for hours, but out of all of them the biggest influence on my horror writing is T.L. Bodine (@TLBodine on Wattpad). Her guide to writing horror has been an invaluable resource, and her story The Hound is really something special. It’s not every day I can confidently compare someone’s writing to the absolutely astounding Ray Bradbury, especially not within the first chapter!
The Hound is actually set to be adapted into a film. When it finally hits the silver screen, I’m absolutely going to watch it, probably while hugging my cat half to death.
Baking is a somewhat popular pastime amongst our contributors -- could you share a favourite recipe of yours that you feel you’ve ‘mastered’ during the pandemic?
That would have to be chocolate snickerdoodles. The cayenne’s definitely the best part. It makes every cookie taste like a warm hug.
I’d give you the recipe, but considering how dangerously delicious those are I think that bit of baking knowledge is better to keep a secret!
"That would have to be chocolate snickerdoodles. The cayenne’s definitely the best part. It makes every cookie taste like a warm hug."
What can our readers expect from you in the near future? Is there a specific project you’d like to highlight?
I’m currently posting Moose on the Loose, an #ownvoices horror novella, on Wattpad with a new chapter coming out every Friday. If you’re interested in a quick, action-packed read, this is the story for you!
In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Unhealthy Coping Mechanism?
Intense stress baking.
Thank you, Emily, for your insight, knowledge and kind participation in our Beneath the Needle series. Unhealthy Coping Mechanism is a Flash Fiction feature in The Needle Drops… Volume One, out later this year.
Emily publishes stories on Wattpad (@sandydragon1), including a novel-length version of Unhealthy Coping Mechanism.