Women in Horror Month may be entering its final days, but we still have two more round-tables for you here in the Library. In our first, authors Jemiah Jefferson (Fiend, A Drop of Scarlet), Gwendolyn Kiste (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe) and H.R. Boldwood talk about their work and writing scary stories while female, and tell us all about the tough chicks – both real and fictional – we should have our eyes on.
Welcome ladies, tell us about the type of horror you write.
Gwendolyn Kiste: My writing tends to fall in the categories of body horror as well as dark fantasy inspired by fairy tales and folklore. I love exploring familiar territory like the worlds of fairy tales and finding those creepy elements that truly abound in the source material. It’s so much fun as a storyteller to take something you think you know and discover something new and utterly horrifying about it. Likewise, with body horror, I both love and loathe the idea that these skins we live in can be so unpredictable and untrustworthy. That notion supplies endless amounts of inspiration to my fiction.
Jemiah Jefferson: I have written stories about a group of vampires and their interactions with the humanity of the last 300 or so years, and a ghost story. I’m interested in writing about emotional and physical extremes; getting to know people through how they respond to fear, lust, and desperation.
H.R. Boldwood: I write all kinds of horror—Victorian themed featuring mystery and mood, as well as slip-stream, monsters, serial killers, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and mutants. I’ve even been known to write some clown horror. My character, Mister Weasels, is a real gem.
I’ve recently completed my first novel, an urban fantasy with horrific elements, featuring a bad-ass female zombie hunter. As for the future, I hope to spin my novel into a series. I’d also like to branch out into less traditional horror tropes. It’s time to stretch my writing skills a bit!
Does being a woman affect how you write and tell horror stories? Why or why not?
JJ: I think that having menstrual periods gave me a lot of exposure to the sight of blood and the sensation of many different types and flavors of pain, and the fear and despair that can accompany them, as well as the defiance against that fear and despair that’s necessary to live through the experience. This isn’t to say that there aren’t equally horrific experiences that can happen to people without uteruses, or periods, or the medical misalignments that led to my particular pain, but that’s what happened with me. I also suffered from chronic nosebleeds as a child, so I’ve never known a life without lots of gore.
HRB: It’s difficult to know if my sex predicates what or how I write. If it’s true that women are more empathic than men perhaps that allows me to better understand what motivates my characters. It may also drive me to focus more on their internal struggles.
I’ve not received any feedback that my male characters are any less developed than my female characters. I think a good writer of either sex observes human nature and learns to imbue their characters accordingly.
My taste tends to run toward psychological horror. A little well placed gore is always fun, but too much gore isn’t frightening—just gross. (Don’t let Mister Weasels see this interview. He’d be very, very disappointed with me.) But there are plenty of men who share my taste in horror, too.
So… I’d have to say that if my feminine nature affects my writing, it’s in an increased awareness of internal conflict.
GK: Yes, for me, it absolutely does. Much of my horror, in particular my stories that focus on body horror, deal with the ways that others can weaponize women’s bodies against us, specifically how society often strips women of our agency and how, even in some small ways, we can try to fight back against this injustice. Also, although I’m not a parent, the transformations that women’s bodies go through during pregnancy and childbirth are among the scariest experiences I can possibly imagine, so I often use my deep-seated fears of motherhood in my work as well.
Name a female genre author and/or female protagonist and tell us why more folks should know about them.
HRB: Wow! So many!
I love a mix of old and new masters. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a masterpiece. Her prose is magnificent:
“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Who hasn’t fallen in love with those words?
Mercedes Murdock Yardley’s Loving You Darkly is otherworldly. Sheer brilliance. Again her prose takes my breath away.
Lisa Morton is another fav of mine. She’s completely out-of-the-box! I read her story “Cognition” in Madhouse and have been hooked ever since. There’s a character in her story “Larue’s Dime Museum” in the Crystal Lake anthology Behold whose organs are on the outside of his body. I read that story probably a year ago and that disturbing visual still haunts me.
Anything Charlaine Harris writes is always a fun read.
You can’t go wrong with any of the above.
Protagonists? I love strong-willed females with attitude problems. Think Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake. I just picked up an urban fantasy book by Kim Harrison, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead featuring her bounty hunter character, Rachel Morgan. Can’t wait to dig in! But my absolute favorite bad-ass is Allie Nighthawk, the protagonist in my new novel The Corpse Whisperer. Wish me luck. I’ll be pitching it a Stokercon in Providence.
GK: I’m going to opt for a modern female genre author here and say Brooke Warra. She’s a relatively new voice in horror and weird fiction, but she’s a truly vital one. All of the horror she writes is filled with such raw and honest emotion. Her recent story, “Heirloom,” which came out last year in Dim Shores’ Looming Low, is such a beautiful and haunting tale of the bond between two sisters. Since the first time I read it, I can’t get it out of my head, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s that good. I will admit that Brooke and I are very close friends now, but we both started out as fans of each other’s work even before that, and it’s been such a joy and privilege to watch her career blossom over the last couple years. She has definitely battled for and earned every bit of her success.
JJ: I’m glad to have been exposed to the work of Caitlin R. Kiernan, who specializes in the weird, uncanny, creepy, inexplicable, and ancient. She created a suite of tales about an albino girl named Dancy Flammarion and her adventures navigating eldtrich evil in the swamplands of American’s south-eastern regions – very unsettling and yet beautiful and delicate work that I find haunting and unforgettable.