Tananarive Due Digs Out Horror from History

Tananarive Due was born in Tallahassee, Florida, to parents who were prominent civil rights advocates, and later in college, she majored in journalism. She worked as a reporter at the Miami Herald while writing her first horror novel The Between and another called My Soul to Keep. Due says, “The advance for my first novel, The Between, had been slightly higher than my annual salary as a reporter for the Miami Herald.  My next, for My Soul to Keep, was higher still.”


Due says her publishers were trying to push her as the next Terry McMillan, but her stories were much different. She found the horror community to be welcoming toward her work, though. “It was a surreal experience to publish my first novel…I was given a book tour and a nice advance…And then the Horror Writers Association discovered me and this was my first entry into that world of what is known as ‘fandom,’” says Due. “Going to that Horror Writers Association meeting felt like going to a family reunion for the white side of your family that you’ve never met. It was estranged and thrilling.”



Due has been attracted by the ideas of death and fear since an early age and found an outlet for it in her writing. She still does to this day. “My fascination with mortality began at a young age, and I have been trying to process it ever since. I don’t have the ability to pretend it away, and less so since I lost my mother in 2012,” says Due. “This awareness has driven my ambition, my faith, my writing. I write stories of unimaginable crisis to process my fears of loss, illness, death. I write to witness the amazing inner strength of my characters. The zombie apocalypse is fiction, but every generation suffers its apocalypse. We are the walking dead.”

With the success of her first two novels, Due quit her job at the Miami Herald in 1998 after working there for a decade. But it got difficult for her once her creativity was monetized, and she had to produce novels in order to support herself. “‘Celebrated author’ and ‘rich author’ are not synonymous—and never have been…Most novelists you read and admire have day jobs, often as college English or writing professors. I have been teaching part-time in an M.F.A. program at Antioch University Los Angeles since 2007, and I have private writing clients. Writers also earn income through speaking engagements and writing workshops,” says Due. “But it’s a piecemeal and unpredictable living.”

Besides horror lit, Due has also written historical fiction in the vein of Alex Haley. She used his research for her YA novel The Black Rose about Madam C. J. Walker who became the first black female millionaire from selling her hair care and beauty products. But Due says her work tends to be more on the scary side. “Horror is just a label. But I like to write scary stuff. I don’t know why.  If I want to write about a woman in a difficult relationship, her lover is an immortal. If I’m reuniting a character with her grandmother, Grandma has been dead for years. I can’t help myself. Sometimes I wish I could,” says Due.

“The scariest book I’ve written may be a novel called The Good House.  It’s my only book about characters facing a force that’s evil through and through—so evil it had to be put to sleep hundreds of years ago, and my characters accidentally woke it up.”


Though Due hasn’t published a novel in a while, she’s working on one now based on horrific history involving one of her own relatives. “I am, at last, researching a new novel. My working title is The Reformatory, and it will be a historical supernatural suspense novel set in 1930s Florida. As for The Reformatory, I’m not going to say much else about it except that it’s from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy who get caught up in the horrors of the era’s criminal justice system,” says Due.

“My research into the abuses against children at the Dozier School in Marianna, Florida, has been a vivid reminder of how so-called ‘horror’ in fiction is mild compared to the horrors in history.”





Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires by Gregory Jerome Hampton

Shirley Jackson Pens Legacy in Haunted House

In horror literature, Shirley Jackson would certainly rate as one of the four on its creepy Rushmore. Born in California, Jackson moved to the East Coast when she was seventeen years old and attended Syracuse University. There she met her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who would later become a critic and writer for The New Yorker. Jackson experienced almost immediate success with her short stories and had the first of her two children. They lived in New York for a time and then moved to Bennington, Vermont, in 1945 when Hyman was offered a job at Bennington College.


There they rented an old rented Victorian home that appears to have been haunted. Jackson said that at first they weren’t accepted in the town, and when she tried to have work done on the house, painters, plumbers, carpenters, and such wouldn’t come out once they found out she lived in “the old Ogilvie house.” Even her groceries would be dropped off at the end of the lawn because the delivery boy didn’t want to come close to the house. Jackson said, though, that she and her family adapted to the ghostly presence.

“Once, a little round rug disappeared for almost a week from the study, as though it had been absorbed into the floor, and reappeared after a while looking the same as ever, and so natural that for a while we forgot to be surprised that it was there. Several times I left groceries on the kitchen table and found them later neatly put away in the pantry; one reason I am sure I do not do this myself in a sort of trance is that the refrigerator is never used—butter and milk and such are set on the pantry windowsill, where it is cool. Once, buttons appeared, newly sewn onto my son’s jacket, and another time my daughter’s stuffed lamb had a blue ribbon removed and a pink one substituted. A day or so later the blue ribbon was back, washed and ironed,” Jackson writes in her essay “Good Old House.”


This is the same house where she wrote “The Lottery,” which appeared in 1948, the short story that made her both famous and hated in the United States. “I have been assured over and over that if it had been the only story I ever wrote or published, there would be people who would not forget my name,” said Jackson. “Of the three-hundred-odd letters that I received that summer I can count only thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they were mostly from friends. Even my mother scolded me.”

Her son Laurence Jackson Hyman, who helped edit Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson along with his sister, said, “My mother wrote often about alienation and withdrawal, fear, phobia, disassociation and paranoia, in ways that often leave the reader uncertain as to whether things are real or imagined. She created one of the most famous ghost stories of the twentieth century—The Haunting of Hill House—without revealing any ghosts at all. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle and many of her stories, she gives us narrators so obviously unreliable that the reader has to decide for himself what to believe.”


He dissects her unnerving style, a huge influence on Stephen King, saying, “Shirley would typically present scenes of seeming tranquility, whether in the city or the country, and then would go on to find, as one of her stories puts it, ‘The Possibility of Evil’ within her characters, and sometimes within buildings and other inanimate objects.”

Though Jackson wrote every day, she also was the mother of four children and did a lot of housework. This is where she would start weaving her stories, while caught in the boring cycle of laundry and cleaning. “All the time that I am making beds and doing dishes and driving to town for dancing shoes, I am telling myself stories. Stories about anything, anything at all. Just stories. After all, who can vacuum a room and concentrate on it? I tell myself stories. I have a whopper of a story about the laundry basket that I can’t tell now, and stories about the missing socks, and stories about the kitchen appliances and the wastebaskets and the bushes on the road to the school, and just about everything. They keep me working, my stories,” said Jackson.


Writer Joan Schenkar was a student of Jackson’s husband and came frequently to the house for dinners, though she never stayed all the way through one, finding its atmosphere too tense and uncomfortable. “The first thing you heard about Shirley Jackson was that she was a witch. Shirley tacitly encouraged this rumor, although the evidence supporting it would have been admissible only in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Shirley had written a book about witchcraft; she was known to ‘read’ Tarot cards; she inserted into her exquisitely written fictions quotations from her large collection of grimoires and magic books; and she gave to some of her many cats—eleven cats! they must be her familiars!—the names of the dukes and demons of hell,” said Schenkar.


It was in what some might see as the mundane details of daily living that Jackson found the material for her stories. She said, “I cannot find any patience for those people who believe that you start writing when you sit down at your desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put down your pen again; a writer is always writing, seeing everything through a thin mist of words, fitting swift little descriptions to everything he sees, always noticing. Just as I believe that a painter cannot sit down to his morning coffee without noticing what color it is, so a writer cannot see an odd little gesture without putting a verbal description to it, and ought never to let a moment go by undescribed.”



Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson




Mira Grant Revolutionizes Zombie Lit

Mira Grant is the pen name of amazingly prolific writer and blogger Seanan McGuire. Grant was finally able to quit her day job in 2014, so she could write full-time and add even more titles to her extensive list. “It’s been two years of self-employment,” says Grant. “I’m still learning. Budgets aren’t easy, either of time or money. I’m still figuring things out. But I’m still moving, and I’m still not bored. Saying ‘I quit’ was the smartest thing I ever did.”


Grant came up with her pen name because she wanted a separation between her horror/sci-fi writing and urban fantasy titles. “I wanted a pseudonym for my science fiction because I wanted to create some distance between it and my urban fantasy work. Mostly, I wanted people to judge the Mira Grant books on their own merits, not based on how much they read like something they’d expect me to write,” says Grant.

Grant has published the zombie trilogy Newsflash—Feed, Deadline, Blackout—and will be adding a fourth book to the series in September, Feedback. When asked to describe the series, Grant says, “The zombie apocalypse happened more than twenty years ago. Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t all die out, largely because we’d had years of horror movies to tell us how to behave when the dead start walking. We fought back, and we won…sort of. The dead still walk; loved ones still try to eat you if you’re not careful; the virus that caused the problem in the first place is still incurable. But at least we lived, right?

“The Newsflesh trilogy is a story about blogging, politics, medical science, espionage, betrayal, the ties that bind, the ties that don’t, how George Romero accidentally saved the world, and, of course, zombies. It’s thoughtful horror, and horrific science fiction, and I’m very fond of it.”


While doing research for the Newsflash series, she reveled in the varied ways she was able to spend time getting things ready for the writing process. “Feed was a fantastic excuse for me to watch every zombie movie made in the last thirty years and call it serious research. It was an even better excuse for me to audit epidemiology courses and read books with titles like Virus X, The Speckled Monster, and Return of the Black Death: the World’s Greatest Serial Killer. It was a good time,” says Grant.

While working on the series and a couple of short one-offs, Grant looked for a fresh approach to the zombie genre. “I love zombies and I love epidemiology, and my big problem with a lot of zombie fiction is that ‘well, it was a disease’ seems like an easy answer, but really isn’t. So I started thinking about what sort of a disease you’d need to actually have a zombie apocalypse—and the thing about diseases is that they don’t actually want to be slatewipers (diseases that wipe out the entire susceptible population), because doing that also destroys the disease itself. I started tinkering with my post-zombie world, trying to figure out what it would take to rebuild society, what kinds of social structure would arise…”

Grant also wanted to up the horror factor and really scare her readers. She says, “I’m fascinated by the difference between terror and fear. Fear says, ‘Do not actually put your hand in the alligator,’ while terror says, ‘Avoid Florida entirely, because alligators exist.’ I figured terror would be a huge component of the post-zombie world. Everything arose from there.”


With the success of her Newsflash series, Grant is pleased that her dreams have become reality. “I have wanted to be a horror writer my entire life. The fact that Feed is more science fiction was sort of accidental, because I am in love with the transcendent ‘why,’ but I wanted to write my take on zombies so bad,” she says.

“What’s kind of funny is that Feed was started long before the current zombie boom. I spent a couple of years kicking the world around in my head before it got a story to go with it, and then it took me about two years to write the book, because I was still trying to feel my way into things. So the timing of it all was just an incredibly happy accident.”

Along with her frequent publishing schedule (she usually comes out with several novels and short stories a year under both her pen name and real name), Grant is a constant blogger, which was a huge influence on her Newsflash series. She’s even been able to make a little money with her blog writing. “When I was getting ready for the release of Deadline, when it was coming out soon, I decided that the appropriate way to get people excited about the book would be to write a novella in thirty pieces, and publish a piece on my blog every day for a month…during a convention, a week-and-a-half-long trip to New York, and a doll traders’ expo. And I managed to do it without missing a single day,” says Grant.

“And when it was all done my editor at Orbit was like, ‘Hey, that thing you did, you want to sell it to us?’ So I said, ‘Sure,’ and they bought it, and they put it in the Orbit short fiction program. So I think that that actually counts as ‘monetizing my blog.’ I’m very proud of that.”


But along with that Internet presence comes problems, especially with comments from angry readers. After a mishap happened with the timing of a hardback book and ebook (which she had no control over), Grant was shocked by the vitriol she got via e-mail. “The amount of hate mail I received in a twenty-four-hour period exceeded the previous eighteen months. I was called a ‘greedy cunt.’ I was called a ‘stupid whore.’ Pretty much any variation of ‘cunt,’ ‘whore,’ or ‘bitch’ that you can come up with was applied to me directly,” says Grant.

“I had several offers to ‘rape the stupid out of me.’ I had one particular master of the rape threat threaten to rape my best friend in front of me repeatedly, so that I would understand his position—somehow raping my best friend is equal to you not getting an ebook when you want it, when when you want it is prior to the release date. And I looked at the fact that I was crying so hard I was shaking, and I said, ‘You know what? That’s why I have a personal assistant.’ And I gave the password to that e-mail box to my PA, and told her not to let me see anything.”








Mo Hayder Goes for the Gore

Mo Hayder was born in Essex, England, and took a circuitous path to becoming a writer. She ran away from home when she was just fifteen and moved to London, where she worked in the bar scene. After a brief marriage, Hayder bought a one-way ticket to Japan while in her twenties, thinking she might become a geisha. Instead, she worked as a hostess in a Tokyo nightclub, where one of her coworkers was beaten and raped. This set off a chain effect of death it seemed to Hayder. “After my friend was raped, I went through a phase where I kept seeing people die,” says Hayder. “The first time, I was sitting in a coffee bar when someone at the next table died of a heart attack. A week later I saw a workman fall to his death from a high building. Then I saw a young boy die of a snakebite.”


Shortly after this, she moved to Los Angeles to study film, but again she ran into problems—this time dealing with people. For film projects, Hayder found she couldn’t speak to people, so instead she made fanciful works using Claymation. “There was one film where this couple go to bed together and then he pulls her head off and eats it and throws the skull out of the window,” says Hayder. “I won an independent film award for that, but the local TV station wouldn’t run it with the other category winners. I got this apologetic note saying, ‘We’re really sorry…but on this channel we don’t agree with cannibalism.”

Hayder was inspired to write her particular brand of gore after becoming upset with psychological horror and thriller writers who wouldn’t go there. “There was a time when I became suddenly very cross with P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, because you read their books and never see the reality, you never saw the shit and blood and vomit. Or any of the mess the killers made,” says Hayder.

The daughter of a scientist and English teacher, Hayder’s approach to horror reflects this as she gives minute details of viscera and gore in her writing. For her first novel, Birdman, which took three years to write, she displays a clinical approach to her description, but that coldness adds to the horrific imagery: “The corpse’s scalp had been peeled from the skull down to the squamous cleft of the nose, and folded over so the hair and face hung like a wet rubber mask, inside out, covering the mouth and neck, pooling on the clavicle. Krishnamurthi lifted the intestines out and slopped them into a stainless-steel bowl.”


Hayder got lucky with Birdman. She sent her completed manuscript off to five agents with the intention of getting a little writing help, not selling it. Hayder says, “I’d had little formal education having left school at fifteen and didn’t know a soul in the writing business. I was also incredibly naive. So when four of the five agents I sent the manuscript to wanted to take it, I was understandably delighted.” This novel ended up setting off a bidding war at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where she scored a two-book deal for 200,000 pounds.

Hayder explains that her love for gore “is a kind of obsession. I have this kind of compulsive need to wriggle my toes in life’s gutters. I’m sure a lot of people think it is a prurient interest, which is a bit destructive, but for me it is about getting rid of ghosts.”


Doing so much research on sexual violence, corpses, and serial killers, Hayder has become inured to death. “If I drove past a car crash now, I wouldn’t be frightened,” she says. “Before I might have been nervous about what I might see. But now I’ve seen pretty much everything. On the negative side, having read so much about sexual crime, I realize how we are always, always at risk. Since writing, I’ve become a kind of cave fish. I won’t go anywhere. I sit at home with big bars on the window. I’m exaggerating slightly, but I do now find it difficult to be on my own.”

Some object to Hayden’s portrayal of such graphic violence, but she’s not bothered by this, saying, “If people don’t like the blood and violence in my books, fine, they can always close the cover and put it aside and maybe read a romance instead.” In fact, she finds much of what she sees in the real world more bloodcurdling than what she’s written about. “Compared to some of the real-life crime I’ve researched,” she says, “a lot of that is so gruesome you couldn’t fictionalize it—it would sound ridiculously over the top.”


Hayder thinks she has such an audience for her writing—particularly women—because there is something cathartic in her horror and violence. She says, “I think readers, particularly in this genre, read because—whether they admit it to themselves or not—they are scared on some level and are looking for pointers. They’re scared about some unidentifiable threat out there, and they’re searching for role models to help them cope with that violence. If they read about a character who is subjected to a violent experience, they’re very often finding clues in that character’s response to the violence and maybe even preparing themselves in case it happens to them. I think a lot of women walk around thinking it could happen any day and wondering what they would do.”









Libba Bray Terrifies with YA Horror

Libba Bray had a tumultuous childhood, growing up in Texas after her parents moved there when she was three. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, who was also gay, and her mother a high school teacher. Starting when she was fourteen, Bray helped her family cover up her father’s homosexuality because they were afraid of him losing his job. It was the thing they didn’t talk about: a secret.


Bray lost her eye when she was in a serious car accident at age eighteen, and during the next six years, she went through thirteen surgeries to repair her face. She went through a terrible depression during this time, but writing was her lifeboat. “It literally saved my life,” she says.

She’s been writing and reading horror for as long as she can remember. Her first horror story was written in fifth grade. “It was a graphic novel/horror comic–style tale, which included colored pencil illustrations of buxom, semi-clad women being ravaged by vampires. No one was alarmed. In fact, I think I got an A,” says Bray. And Bray says that some of her favorite books when she was growing up were Helter Skelter and Catcher in the Rye, which she calls “the preferred tome of serial killers and dysfunctional stalkers…” But “Salem’s Lot is the book I have reread above all others.”

It’s two young adult series that combine horror, historical fiction, and fantasy, which have made Bray’s reputation. There’s the Gemma Doyle trilogy, which she has already completed, and The Diviners, where she’s published two of the intended four-book series. She also has two stand-alone YA novels, as well as others that she ghostwrote while under contract with the book packager 17th Street Productions.

Writing YA literature was an easy choice for Bray to make. She married children’s book agent Barry Goldblatt, and he encouraged her while she was writing her first solo novel. When asked how she feels about young adult lit, Bray says, “I just read this great quote by Junot Diaz, he was talking about true intimacy, and he was saying that it was the willingness to be vulnerable and to be found out. That’s what I felt that YA did. It wasn’t pretentious, and it wasn’t hiding its heart. It wanted to be found out…”

When it comes to genre, Bray says, “Horror has always been my genre of choice. The creepy, the spooky, the phantasmagorical—all catnip to me. Summers when I visited my superstitious, Pennsylvania Dutch great-grandmother, she would regale me with ghost stories about my great-great-great-grandmother, an undertaker’s wife and psychic who could, allegedly, see and speak to the dead. Then she’d send me to sleep in the attic. This is why I have issues.”

Bray says she was inspired to create the Gemma Doyle series (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet and Far Thing) because “I wanted to write a gothic creepfest of a Victorian story with a heroine who could kick butt and take names all in a crinoline and corset—sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Henry James and Charlotte Brontë.”




Now Bray’s immersed in her four-book series The Diviners, which she describes as a “supernatural historical series set in 1920s New York City. It’s taking me back to my love of horror and sprawling, historical dramas. By that I mean that when I realized my historical story was becoming a sprawling mess, I felt a sense of true horror. It is filled with all of the things I love: creepy things, politics, history, serial storytelling, New York City, and good versus evil.”

Bray’s writing process is often long and painful, and sometimes she ends up scrapping half of what she’s written. “When I’m working on a rough draft, I usually write most of it longhand in a spiral notebook. I go to my favorite coffeehouse across the street, the one where the college kid baristas play these multiple-personality music mixes that range from old Dusty Springfield to the Grateful Dead to electronica. There’s something comforting and stimulating about being surrounded by people but being in my own head at the same time. If I get stuck, I can people watch for a bit, and that usually sparks something,” says Bray.

But she stumbled when writing her follow-up to The Diviners, Lair of Dreams. “One of the wonderful parts of writing a series is that you really get to immerse yourself in the world you’re creating. You get to spend a great deal of time digging into your characters, getting to know their wounds and strengths, reaching greater understanding over time. As someone who really enjoys the serial as a form, this is terribly exciting and addictive,” says Bray.


“The negative aspect is that series, by their very nature, require stringent scheduling. Anyone who has ever waited five years for the next installment of a beloved series can understand how that feels. But sometimes, the novel isn’t cooperative with your time frame. And then the panic starts.”

Eventually Bray found a way through Lair of Dreams, but it took a lot of heartache. “I asked two of my good writer buddies, writers I trust implicitly, to read the first three hundred pages. As delicately, but honestly, as possible, they confirmed what I felt in my gut: The novel was a stone-cold mess…,” says Bray.

“I tried organizing scenes on note cards.

“I wrote out emotional arcs on paper.

“I tried writing scenes that come later in the book, hoping that the deeper emotional wounds of those scenes would lead me in a circuitous route back to what was wrong with the first three hundred pages.

“When that didn’t work, I went back to the beginning and wrote my sixth new opening chapter, carefully crafting it to set up the reworked plot so that it could segue seamlessly into the new, restructured second chapter, which had previously been the tenth chapter.”

Lair of Dreams was finally ready after Bray wrote a seventh new opening chapter, and she’s now hard at work on the third novel in the series.







Stacy Schiff Breaks Down Horror of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Stacy Schiff started her publishing career as an editor for Simon & Schuster, where she took on about an equal number of fiction and nonfiction titles. But then she really wanted to see a biography done on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a pilot and writer who penned the classic story The Little Prince. Originally she planned to find a writer for it, but she became so consumed by the subject that she decided to write the book herself. And that is how a biographer was born. “That always happens with biography—you become obsessed with someone else’s life,” says Schiff.


Schiff was born in Adams, Massachusetts, on the other side of the state from Salem, but she says she became interested in the Salem witch trials when she was a teen. She says, “Everybody goes through a Salem phase.” However, Schiff’s obsession grew into a five hundred–page book, The Witches: Salem, 1692.


Schiff is interested in giving women a voice, and much of her writing has focused on those who couldn’t tell their stories, such as Cleopatra and Véra Nabokov, determined to show what was the truth. Unfortunately, it was difficult for her to find a voice from any of the teenage accusers during the Salem witch trials. At that time, women were taught to read the Bible, but not to write. “Could one of these girls just have left a diary!” says Schiff. “To do this without them speaking for themselves just seems like writing a book with your hands tied behind your back.”

Schiff points out what was going on, though, around the time of the witch trials to give it context. Most of the teen girls during this period were traumatized by violence that they could not control. “The amount of pressure on these women were extraordinary,” says Schiff. “Everyone knew a story about a dismembering or an abduction. That was especially true of the convulsing Salem girls, of whom at least half were refugees from or had been orphaned by attacks in ‘the last Indian war.’”

Almost everybody in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 was a Puritan, and they were frightened on all sides by Native Americans, who came and went silently; the French; and the Quakers. Cotton Mather, who was a famous pot stirrer during the witchcraft trials, liked to compare them to all matters of beasts, says Schiff: “He routinely muddied the zoological waters: Indians comported themselves like roaring lions or savage bears, Quakers like ‘grievous wolves.’ The French, ‘dragons of the wilderness,’ completed the diabolical menagerie.”

The eerie event started when two young Salem girls were afflicted and witchcraft was blamed for their strange symptoms. Schiff says, “Their limbs are paralyzed, they contort, they’re going into trances, and they’re screaming—night and day, screeches. And one of their first acts after the witchcraft has been diagnosed is to interrupt a minister in meeting. And you can imagine how that went over in a place where women were meant to be submissive and meek and silent.” By the time the year drew to a close, nineteen people were hung for witchcraft and another pressed to death by stones.


More than a hundred people were accused of witchcraft, and the father-and-son ministers Increase and Cotton Mather both wrote books on the subject of witchcraft and how to tell a witch. The two disagreed in their dueling books Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits, by Increase Mather, who believed it was better to err on the side of a witch going free rather than killing an innocent person, and The Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather’s book, which was more in the vein of the Old Testament “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Cotton Mather suffered a lot of fallout from his book, with people saying terrible things to him and behind his back. And the topic of the Salem witch trials faded from the public consciousness.

“It’s a little while before anyone is even willing to address the episode. The weight of the tragedy is clearly enormous. There will be a commission established by 1711 to weigh the claims of those families who had lost members. And at that point, you get this tremendous groundswell of people demanding justice, demanding that their prison fees, that their properties be returned to them. But then for the most part, you still get this chilling silence,” says Schiff.

While undertaking the project of writing The Witches: Salem, 1692, Schiff says, “I realized the only way to do justice to it, to make it seem real, was to begin by buying into the idea of witchcraft. Because if you just think of this as a weird, superstitious belief, which it wasn’t, then the whole thing doesn’t make sense.”

Though Schiff wasn’t able to find teenage girls’ diaries to help with her research, she did find the nine-volume Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts to be a gold mine of information. “It’s an irresistible anthology of infractions and abominations. Our Puritan ancestors filched marmalade from one another’s cellars, and defamed ministers (one was ‘more fit to be in a hog sty than in a pulpit’), and attacked constables with scissors, and stuffed hens down their breeches. Men turned wives out in the snow; women cracked pots over husbands’ heads. They drank until ‘they could not tell ink from liquor.’”


She was disturbed by what she uncovered while researching and writing the book for three years. Men were accused as well as women, and many relatives went against one another, giving false confessions. Daughters accused mothers and fathers while husbands turned in their wives. Schiff recounts one case where a young girl rode to jail with her brother on one side of her and a minister on the other—both had accused her of being a witch—and there was nothing she could do about it. “Anyone who really stands up to the authorities isn’t going to make it. Defiance comes at a price,” she says.



Jennifer Kent Makes Female Horror the Scariest

Jennifer Kent has been acting since her teens, but nobody had really heard of the Australian writer, actress, and director until she burst onto the scene with her truly frightening horror indie The Babadook. New Yorker critic Anthony Lane was so impressed by her debut that he said, “Let a law be passed, requiring all horror films to be made by female directors. The law would restore horror to its rightful place as a chamber of secrets, ripe for emotional inquisition.”

Funny enough, when Kent started out in her career, she didn’t see directing as an option open to her. “I wrote, directed, and acted in my own stories as a child. But when it came time to study in my late teens, I chose acting. I wasn’t really aware at that stage that women could direct films. After a few years of professional acting, I naturally gravitated toward writing and directing,” says Kent.


Kent had written a few screenplays, but she was not able to direct those because the scope was so big and she wasn’t able to secure the budget for it. “I’d been working on a number of film scripts, and they were just too out there. Screen Australia supported me up to a point, but they thought these scripts were too ambitious financially,” says Kent.

“So I realized I needed to look at an idea that was contained and more intimate, and this idea…The idea of facing your shadow side is my myth, something I think is really important in life. You see people who are really messed-up by not facing stuff, and that’s what all addiction is about. People become alcoholics or drug addicts because they can’t face something inside.”

Kent was able to get the last bit of funding for her movie with a Kickstarter campaign. She said, “Kickstarter was incredible in that they gave us that house. Without Kickstarter, we’d have a pretty flimsy-looking set. The construction of the house was meticulously planned. It had real floorboards and was very large. All of that had to be created. The money went to that construction and we would have been lost without it.”


While writing The Babadook, Kent explored what makes a mother turn into a monster, not the nurturing ideal of motherhood usually portrayed, and she realized that few movies dealt with this subject. “Apart from We Need To Talk About Kevin, I can’t easily think of other examples [that address the subject] and it’s the great unspoken thing. We’re all, as women, educated and conditioned to think that motherhood is an easy thing that just happens. But it’s not always the case,” says Kent.

“I wanted to show a real woman who was drowning in that environment. I thought that maybe I would be criticized by women, by mothers, because I’m not a mother. The opposite has happened; I’ve experienced a collective sigh of relief that women are seeing a mother up there that’s human. Sure, it’s an extreme situation, but what I realize is that a lot of women have felt those feelings that Amelia [protagonist of The Babadook] goes through at some point along the way.”

Kent’s approach to directing The Babadook was to storyboard everything like legendary horror director Alfred Hitchcock. “Every scene had a certain visual map. And I did storyboard—I did very bad stick drawings—but I always came in with a sense of how the world had to look,” says Kent. “It starts very centered, everything is framed—very centered and composed—and as the film goes on, people’s heads start to drift to other sides of the frames, and things start to become more discordant visually.”


A mysterious book, The Babadook, is the entryway for the monster in the movie, which harkens back to graphic stories children were told as warnings, such as in Grimm’s fairy tales. “I think some fairy tales are designed to keep kids in line and make them stay safe, and there are the other ones, the ones I’m attracted to, that point out the chaos of life to kids. Because it’s not perfect. It’s not always neatly tied up. I think that’s what horror can do as well. It can actually be a refreshing way to look at the world, when it’s not about perfection,” says Kent.

While directing the movie, Kent ran into snobbery from others when she said it was a horror film. “People would be very excited to hear that I was directing. Then when I described it as a horror film, I may as well have said I was directing a porno. They were like, Oh, that’s not a real film. It’s disgusting. And also, why would a woman want to direct that kind of stuff?” says Kent.

“People very easily forget films like The Shining and Let the Right One In, and going back further, Les Diaboliques and Eyes Without a Face. All these films that have a poetry to them, and something deeper going on.”



Since her success with The Babadook, Kent is fielding a lot of offers for directing. She says, “I’m reading a lot of scripts at the moment, and they’re all from the male perspective. Most are written by men. That’s where I think it’s difficult. It’s difficult to get the stories through that give a female perspective. That’s why I’m committed to writing more stories from my perspective. We just need more balance.”

The next project she has coming up is a film based on a U.S. true-crime story that happened in 1892 when two women fell in love—nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell and seventeen-year-old Freda Ward. Mitchell decided to dress and pass as a man in order to marry Ward, but their love letters were discovered and the two were forbidden from seeing each other.

Ward accepted this in a cavalier manner that crushed Mitchell, and so she slashed Ward’s throat with her father’s razor. During a trial in Memphis, Tennessee, Mitchell was declared insane and sent to an asylum. She died there a few years later under mysterious circumstances. The film is based on the book Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis and has been likened to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.


Jennifer Kent’s Top Ten List of Horror Films

  1. Black Sabbath (1963)
  2. Georges Méliès Shorts / La Maison Ensorcelée (1908)
  3. The Tenant (1976)
  4. Lost Highway (1997)
  5. The Amityville Horror (1979)
  6. Halloween (1978)
  7. Vampyr (1932)
  8. Black Swan (2010)
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  10. The Innocents (1961)







Pack Rat Octavia Butler Leaves Behind a Gem

Octavia Butler started on her path to writing when she was twelve years old. She was stretched out in front of the TV, watching a sci-fi movie called Devil Girl from Mars, a black-and-white film from 1954. “The beautiful Martian woman arrives on earth to announce that all the Martian men have died off, and there are a bunch of man-hungry women up there. And the earthmen don’t want to go. As I was watching this film, I had a series of revelations,” said Butler. “The first was that Geez, I can write a better story than that. And then I thought, Gee, anybody can write a better story than that. And my third thought was the clincher: Somebody got paid for writing that awful story. So I was off and writing, and a year later I was busy submitting terrible pieces of fiction to innocent magazines.”


Butler’s fiction has been characterized as horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but she didn’t like to think of herself as working in one particular genre. “I don’t like labels, they’re marketing tools, and I certainly don’t worry about them when I’m writing. They are also inhibiting factors; you wind up not getting read by certain people, or not getting sold to certain people because they think they know what you write,” said Butler.

Butler’s last published book Fledging about a vampire had been planned as a trilogy before Butler died unexpectedly of a stroke in 2006. In Fledging, Butler used a female vampire, finding them lacking in the literary world. “Most vampires I have discovered are men for some reason. I guess it’s because of Dracula; people are kind of feeding off that,” said Butler.

Her character Shori “has amnesia, she’s been badly injured, she’s been orphaned. And she has no idea what she is or who she is. It turns out she’s the first black vampire because of her people’s desire for a twenty-four-hour day and her female ancestor’s discovery that one of the secrets of the twenty-four-hour day is melanin.

“It helps to have some protection from the sun, so her people managed to genetically engineer her. These vampires are a different species. They are not vampires because somebody bit them—she is genetically engineered to be quite different from her own people,” said Butler.


When Butler was trying to make it as a professional author, she took boring, manual-labor jobs, so she could focus all of her energy on writing. She worked these menial jobs for more than ten years before she made enough money to support herself as a writer. “It was very nice to be just as grumpy as I felt, because I was getting up early in the morning and writing and then going to work, and the last few hours of the day I was pretty much on automatic,” said Butler.

“I remember working in a mailing house; I don’t even know if those places still exist.  They had both machines and people putting together pieces of mail for advertising. It was like an assembly line at a factory, only a little more complicated. You might be doing something with each piece of mail, not just putting them togeth­er. You did this over and over and over all day until your shoulders wanted to desert to another body. The only thing I could do to keep myself somewhere near conscious was to sing, very softly, to myself. I don’t have the most wonderful singing voice, and the supervisor kept walking by giving me funny looks. Finally she came up and asked, ‘What are you doing? Talking to your­self?’”

Finally, in the 1970s, Butler was able to stop working at these jobs and focus on her writing full-time. “After Patternmaster came out in 1976, I started working more sporadical­ly, at tempo­rary jobs. I didn’t get an awful lot of money for that novel; I’ve gotten more money for the best of my short stories—but also, things cost a lot less then. The last job I held was in a hospi­tal laundry. In August. Bad. And this was after I had written and sold three novels. When I got the money from the third, I was able to quit and go off to Mary­land to research Kindred.


Butler was a pack rat and still had books from her childhood when she died. “My big problem is my mother gave me this gene—there must be a gene for it, or several perhaps. It’s the pack rat gene, you know, where you just don’t throw things out. I haven’t thrown books out since I was a kid,” she said.

“Even my comic books—I have first editions of this and that, the first issue of the Fantastic Four. I used to collect them, not in the way that people collect things now. I didn’t put them in plastic bags and never touch them. I read them and they looked pretty bad, some of them. But they’re still worth something just because they are what they are.”

Because Butler never threw anything out, the Huntington Library inherited boxes and boxes of rough drafts, notebooks, and drafts that most writers would probably be embarrassed by. Instead, one of Butler’s notebook covers from 1988 has been inspiring joy in writers because she had a very clear plan of what she wanted to do with her life and wrote it down to remember.







Callaloo, “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler”



Tags: Octavia Butler, Kindred, Fledgling, Patternmaster, Devil Girl from Mars, pack rat

Sarah Lotz Turns Her Phobias into Horror

Sarah Lotz is one of the key members in the South African horror and sci-fi community, which has come to dominate the genre, much like Scandinavian crime writers have taken over murder mysteries. She’s a screenwriter and novelist working in Cape Town in a house with her family and rescue animals and has two solo horror novels, as well as a slew of collaborative work with cowriters—including her daughter, Savannah—which they release under various pen names.


As a child, Lotz was raised on horror and disaster movies, which left a dark imprint on her imagination. She says, “Growing up in the ’70s, I was very influenced by disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure and Jaws. I think those kinds of movies and books help breed phobias, especially when you’re a kid and you’ve got so much imagination.”


In her youth, books were also not off-limits subject matter. “My dad had a huge and eclectic collection—everything from Philip K. Dick to Jackie Collins to Chandler to Tolstoy. I read the lot. He never censored my reading, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for encouraging me to read The Wasp Factory and The Shining when I was far too young.”


This influenced her first solo horror novel The Three about simultaneous airplane crashes in different parts of the world, where the only survivor in each accident is a child, who changes utterly from their former selves. Lotz says, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel about plane crashes and the media’s fascination with these tragedies. I’m flight phobic, which is probably why I’m obsessed with air travel.”


She followed The Three up with Day Four, about a cruise ship disaster where the action is happening simultaneously with the story from The Three, and that novel was written as she coped with post-traumatic stress disorder from a horrific event in her real life. “I’ve had a very strange life. While I was writing Day Four, I was in one of those violent home invasions in South Africa,” says Lotz. “We woke up and there were four guys standing around the bed with guns and knives in balaclavas. Coming out of that, I had a bit of PTSD. Writing this book, which is all about fear, was an absolutely intense experience.


“I haven’t really mentioned this before, but I think it’s important because that’s what was happening as I was writing Day Four, and to some extent, it’s connected. Even though it was an absolute nightmare, as a writer, as I was going through it, I was thinking, How am I going to use this? In every life-or-death experience I’ve ever had, I’ve always thought about how I’m going to use it in my writing. It’s kind of a coping mechanism.”


Lotz likes to write in her pajamas while under the influence of massive amounts of caffeine and nicotine. She says, “Most of my writing is done in a rickety attic space above my bedroom in my tiny tumbledown Cape Town cottage. It’s full of junk, half-finished paintings, and page proofs. The wall is scrawled with notes and reminders, including a detailed sketch of a cruise ship deck plan. There’s usually a cat and at least two dogs up there with me (one or more on my lap). I can write anywhere, though. I’m usually on a deadline, which is brilliant for eradicating any highfalutin notions about only being able to write under ideal conditions.”


In the novel-writing process, Lotz’s favorite part is right at the beginning, doing all of the outlining and research for a new project, but that doesn’t make the writing stale for her. “I love the planning and plotting stage of a new book. Starting a new work is simultaneously scary and exhilarating as I really get a kick out of discussing character motivations, plot ideas, settings, etc.,” she says. “After that, I enjoy the actual writing. My stories and novels never turn out as I initially think they will, so the process is always surprising and never dull.”


Lotz’s main influence as a writer was Stephen King, which she has been reading since she was a kid. “I really have been reading him my entire life, and I think for years it was quite interesting how he was really undervalued, partly because he said that thing about him being the Big Mac and fries of the literary world, and of course, he was completely wrong about that,” says Lotz. “In terms of storytelling and characterization, he’s number one as far as I’m concerned. I mean occasionally there’s the odd clunky sentence, but fair enough, so what?”


She still reads Stephen King and a lot of mainstream horror. Lotz says Peter Straub, Dan Simmons, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, David Moody, and Sarah Pinborough have been on her reading list lately. “The last time I was really scared was after I’d finished Adam Nevill’s story ‘Florrie’ in Jonathan Oliver’s awesome House of Fear anthology—it gave me nightmares. And while not truly horrific, I find photographer and artist Charlie White’s work genuinely disturbing (check out Understanding Joshua or Monsters).


Sarah plans on following up her disaster novels The Three and Day Four with something that will tie them all together, making them a loose trilogy. “There will be an origin story, not a sequel, that will wrap everything up, just not for my next book, because I think I need a break from it,” says Lotz. “But I’ve got it planned. Even if the publishers aren’t willing to publish it, I’ll write it, so that the people who are interested in the mystery behind the story will get complete and utter answers. And I can tell you the third one won’t have a number in the title!”








Kaori Yuki Finds Her Voice in Horror Manga

Kaori Yuki is a pen name used by the horror manga writer and artist who says Kaori is part of her real name. Yuki began thinking about creating manga in elementary school because she liked to draw. She started publishing in the Japanese manga magazine Hana to Yume in 1987 and rarely appears in public, saying she likes to live like a hermit, though she has traveled to places like London and Germany to do historical research for her series.


Yuki seems to be working constantly; her Twitter feed is updated almost daily with drawings from her works in progress. She’s worked on many shorts and series, including Devil Inside, Angel Sanctuary, Earl Cain, Godchild, Boys Next Door, Blood Hound, Ludwig Revolution, Fairy Cube, Grand Guignol Orchestra, Demon from Afar, and Alice in Murderland.


Yuki can’t envision her life without drawing and writing manga. She doesn’t have to go search for motivation; it just exists inside her. She says, “It’s not even a question of motivation—it’s obvious: I am a mangaka, so I draw manga. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg…I do not see what I could do other than mangaka. It’s not even imaginable for me…I don’t have anything if you take away manga.”


Most of Yuki’s influences come from the Western canon. She’s drawn to Grimm’s fairy tales, stories from the Bible, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass rather than Japanese stories. Yuki explains that for her, “it’s simply because that is what is foreign and is not understood intrinsically.” The Western influences for Japanese are “more exotic and mysterious,” she says. “That’s the allure of Western culture for me but also for many Japanese. What they say in fairy tales or the history of France and elsewhere, it seems really mysterious to us.”


As a woman, Yuki found it hard at first to make it in the manga world until she found what she truly liked working on and then a readership followed. “It’s true that when I started, I did not manage to sell my manga well. One of my colleagues—an older mangaka—made ​​the following reflection: ‘Frankly, with this type of stories and designs, you’ll never sell.’” This shocked Yuki at the time, so she tried her hand at more traditional stories. “I tried to get into romantic comedy, and I proposed several stories in magazines, but it did not work,” she says.


She had her breakthrough when a magazine asked her to do a series. “The first chapter had not really been appreciated, the second a little more, and from the third, we finally got better reader response,” she says. “It turns out that this miniseries was rather dark in the genre, scary, and my editor at the time said, ‘It’s that kind that you should do.’”


Much of Yuki’s work is historical, and she likes to get the details right, but there are added complications when she is trying to accurately represent a time period visually. “I try to find books myself, and I also ask my publisher to collect data on the time, on who had a particular culture,” she says. “What is complicated is when there is not a lot of accurate data on the time visually. Even if there are drawings, all this was arranged to the taste of the time and does not necessarily reflect reality, so I had to put my own ideas in finally.”


When Yuki sits down to draw and write, she has certain materials she likes to use, and she’s not a big fan of color. She likes Pilot’s art ink because it “dries fast.” For color, she prefers Canson paper with color ink, and uses pen and mechanical pencils for the main lines. Yuki says, “For the drawings, I try to draw it from different angles, but it doesn’t work all the time. I also pay attention to design and layout, but it looks really bad when it’s done. To tell you the truth, there aren’t much colors that I like. I really suck at this.”


Yuki’s titles feature a lot of strong women characters, who are often seductive and evil. Yuki says she’s drawn to many different types of women. “I love female characters who are strong, and perhaps even more than the male characters. Their strength lies in the fact that nothing is holding them. For me, there are really many kinds of female characters that seem attractive. There may be a sexy woman, charming and with a big chest; the little girl who needs to be protected but has a big mouth; the girl full of energy that looks like a tomboy…”


Yuki tackles a lot of dark themes in her work, such as incest, which she believes is easier to get away with in a manga, where the characters are obviously not real. She thinks, “It’s okay if it’s a film or a manga. They should wear a condom—I’m joking.” But because the subject isn’t approached a lot, Yuki says, “It doesn’t happen, so I wanted to write it.”


Sometimes her work has become so twisted and controversial that magazines have censored it or asked her to change the story. Yuki says, “The themes of murder or incest, they are not problems for magazines, as they are among the favorite themes of the readers of shoujo manga.” It’s when she’s visually portraying murder and sex where she’s run into trouble by pushing it too far. “If I start to draw a particularly horrible murder scene, sometimes they ask me to change a little,” she says. “This can especially be a problem: how to show things. The sexy scenes, I’ve always wondered what is the limit in shoujo manga. I do not draw too much to avoid the problems, but it really is a question I ask myself: How far can we go in the description of a sex scene?”


To get ideas, Yuki likes to immerse herself in music and the world around her. She says, “I put on my Walkman and go for a walk. Depending on the song, sometimes I am crying as I walk so I don’t notice the people or a cat in front of me. I get surprised when I almost crash into them. I’ll probably get run over by a car one day.”


The music she listens to comes from her high school days and includes Culture Club, Animotion, Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Billy Joel, Kate Bush, John Howard, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, David Bowie, and the Pet Shop Boys. “The musicians that made me during high school,” she says.


She’s also influenced by many Western movies, as well. When asked to list them, she mentions a lot of teen classics, as well as horror films. “The Legend of Billy Jean, Picnic at the Hanging Rock, Sid and Nancy, The Dead Zone, Paperhouse, Pretty in Pink, The Hidden, Heathers, Phenomenon, Salome, Gothic, Torch Song Trilogy, Fright Night, Lost Boys, Aliens…There’s more, but I’ll stop here.”