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For Gemma Files, Horror Is Therapy

Gemma Files was born in England, but she’s lived in Canada for most of her life. Horror has always been a love. She still has a piece of her horror writing from when she was ten years old called “Gore in the Woods,” which ends, “It hurt more as the [eerie, glowing green] worms began eating through the muscle wall and burrowed into his stomach. Then he could feel them slipping into his intestines and up his esophagus towards his mouth. Others burrowed into his veins and began drinking his blood as they slithered towards his brains. ‘This is it,’ he thought. ‘This is the end,’ as one of the worms finally reached his heart. And it was.”

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Files feels like the horror genre gets a bad rap in literature. She explains, “I have always had an urge towards the horrific. Often I say that horror is a ghetto inside a ghetto inside a ghetto, in terms of genre. There are science fiction people who like fantasy, and fantasy people who like science fiction, but there are not a lot of fantasy or science fiction people who like horror. On the other hand, there are horror people who like both science fiction and fantasy, and I’m one of them. (I don’t love all of it.) But horror is the place where people won’t go, the place where suddenly things aren’t good anymore.”

Files believes horror gets maligned because people tend to think of the genre as slasher films rather than rich and varied. ‘‘I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that people always think of horror as a very limited spectrum,” says Files. “When I was around seventeen years old and telling people I wanted to write horror movies, they would say, ‘Oh, like Friday the 13th? Ha-ha.’ And I’d go, ‘No. Like Hellraiser.’ They had no idea what the difference was.”

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For Files, horror has always been her go-to genre, helping her puzzle out her fears and understand them. “Horror is comfort food for me. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. It’s like therapy, not least because it takes place under inherently safe conditions. Reading, viewing and writing horror makes me look at my fears as a spectrum, not some huge, solid, indigestible mass—to understand what scares me and why,” says Files. “And that’s really useful, because it allows me to both acknowledge those fears and sort the ones which can be dealt with practically from those which can’t. When I shut the cover of a book or press stop on a DVD, I am in control; there are rules to follow, formulas and patterns to map, a sense of order, not chaos. The real world can knock you down at random and steal everything you have in a heartbeat, but horror is like any ritual, whether sacred or profane: At base, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. And I appreciate that.”

Files first started publishing short horror stories in the 1990s while working at the weekly newspaper Eye Weekly. She says, “I started writing on the job. I wrote a couple of really terrible screenplays, and eventually I wrote the first short story I ever sold, ‘Mouthful of Pins.’ I wrote that entirely on the job. That was the beginning of me selling stuff on the side while reviewing some for the paper. When the person who’d done film reviewing there was moved to another section, the reviews editor said, ‘Gemma, I hear you like horror films, weird films, independent stuff.’ So that was pretty much my slot. As I was doing that, I started writing—and placing—more and more short stories and to a range of venues.”

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To commemorate her first sale, Files had inspirational words put on her body. “When I sold my first short story, I celebrated by getting a tattoo—two quotes, in a spiral on my right shoulder: ‘Be neat and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and creative in your work,’ which is from Flaubert, and ‘Listen to stories; it’s always interesting, and sometimes it improves you,’ which is from Peter Brook’s stage production of the Mahabharata,” says Files.

Files logs every word and movie she has produced or consumed in her blog and tallied 161,441 words for the year 2015. She describes her writing process as, “Get an idea, scribble it down in a notebook, transcribe the notes into a file, start hooking them together. I also compose stuff in my head when I’m walking around, doing chores or working out. I try to average five hundred to a thousand words a day when I’m working on something, and resist the urge to edit or rewrite until I’ve got a first draft. The point is to get as much down as you can, then go through, trim off the fat and find the real text underneath. I’ve been known to cut up to a third of my first draft, but a lot of that tends to be repetition and overwriting. The order that things come to me in is almost always character dynamics, dialogue, scene action, plot fixes, then—last of all—retroactive world building to explain exactly why it was necessary for things to go from x to x.”

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When writing, Files also finds music to be an important part of her writing process. She says, “Music is a huge thing for me, especially in terms of creating and sustaining a mood. I get some of my best ideas when I’m walking around listening to music, or working out with my iPod on shuffle, and I usually end up posting playlists after I’m done…”

In her reading, the latest pet peeve for Files is the unreliable narrator. She likes to take a trip when she’s reading and feels cheated when that world has been compromised. “I’ve really taken against the idea of the unreliable narrator, at least when the explanation to ‘what’s happening here?’ turns out to be ‘oh, none of that even happened, because the person telling the story is totally nuts,’” says Files. “It just feels like a massive waste of my time, no matter how well executed that particular might be.”

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Sources:

http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2011/12/gemma-files-the-sex-and-death-show/

https://litreactor.com/interviews/10-questions-with-litreactor-instructor-and-horror-writer-gemma-files

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2016/02/5-questions-with-gemma-files-author-of-experimental-film/

http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/editorial-2000/An-Interview-with-Gemma-Files

https://sites.google.com/site/thegemmafiles/home?pli=1

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