V. C. Andrews Made ‘Fairy-Tale Horror’ with ‘Flowers in the Attic’

V. C. Andrews’s books have become cult classics, but when they first came out, her publisher wasn’t sure how to classify them so they were labeled horror and actually outsold Stephen King’s work at the time. Andrews was born Cleo Virginia Andrews in Portsmouth, Virginia, and lived there most of her life—much of it while ill and confined to bed and a wheelchair.


Andrews fell down a flight of stairs when she was in high school, and after she had surgery, she began to suffer from arthritis that fused her spine. She was only able to complete high school with the help of private tutors and then worked as an artist, drawing portraits of apple-cheeked girls and still lifes of flowers that are quite at odds with the dark portraits later used to illustrate her series. She lived alone with her mother Lillian until she died of cancer at sixty-three.


Her editor, Ann Patty, bought the ninety-eight-page manuscript of Flowers in the Attic in 1978, though it needed a lot of editorial guidance. Before she offered to buy the book for a $7,500 advance, one publishing insider said the manuscript had been rejected more than twenty-four times by various editors. Patty told a marketing director who complained about Andrews’s stilted dialogue, “It’s her style—it may be awful, but it is a style, and it will be read as original.”



Patty had already gone through two revisions with Andrews (the first one causing the manuscript to increase to six hundred pages), and in her second editorial letter, she said, “I’ve frequently noted where you start sentences with adverbs or reverse the natural order of a sentence. It’s good to do this sometimes, but you do it too much, and it often makes for rather awkward reading.”


Andrews was influenced by fairy tales when she was young. “I loved the fairy tales. But there is an element of horror in fairy tales, so that when I would go through the woods, I was always looking for something—a witch, an ogre, something scary—and it was never there, and that was a little bit disappointing. I didn’t want a real horror, liked a rapist or a murderer, but I wanted a fairy-tale horror,” she said.


Youth is an obsession in Andrews’s books and it appears to have been a topic that was always on her mind. After an unflattering article ran in People magazine, where she said her age was inflated and photographs portrayed her as an ancient recluse, Andrews rarely gave interviews. “The first interview I ever had was with People magazine,” said Andrews. “And they told me, quite frankly, that they come to get dirt. They ask all of your friends and everybody they can find, ‘Tell us the dirt about V. C. Andrews.’ And when they don’t find any, they make up things. For instance, I wouldn’t tell her my age. So she went around and found somebody who told them I was older then I was. I said, ‘You must have found an enemy.’ And the reporter said, ‘What are you trying to hide?’”


Andrews was so angry about the interview and pictures printed that she wrote her relative: “How dare you say those photographs in People’s magazine are good? They were awful! I don’t look like that old woman peeking out of the window! I hated the photo of me in the chair! I refuse to allow pictures of me sitting in that thing—but they sneaked in one, and I couldn’t tell when the photographer was shooting the entire time she was here—about six hours. We were taken out to lunch in a nice French restaurant, then back home, and all the time I was interviewed. Taped too. Dolly Landon wrote thirty pages and it was edited down to that short amount you read—thank goodness. From now on I am demanding editorial and pictorial control or NO interview! I showed the magazine to my photographer friend and he said the one in the window had been airbrushed to make my face shadowy and spooky—all to sensationalize the type of books I write. No wonder movie stars hate journalists! I’m with them all the way! They snoop, pry, question, when my life is none of their damn business!”


Andrews said a lot of people assumed her work was autobiographical—that she was a victim of incest and had been locked away by relatives who wanted her unseen, as happens in her famous Dollanganger series. “They see me as an abused child who has really suffered. They feel sorry for me, terribly sorry that I have gone though this awful abuse and was then locked away. A lot of them say, ‘Don’t be ashamed that you are in love with your brother.’ All of these kinds of things,” said Andrews.



Instead, Andrews said her family was very nurturing and supporting. “A lot of people think I was tortured, but my parents didn’t do anything. They didn’t beat me. They didn’t whip me. They didn’t lock me away. I didn’t even go hungry. And I had a lot of pretty clothes,” she said.


Her editor says that the Dollanganger and Casteel series, which make up the authentic V. C. Andrews canon, along with stand-alone My Sweet Audrina (numerous other series are written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman hired by the Andrews estate), are both based on true stories. Andrews heard them when she was in the hospital for surgery. It was “some doctor there,” says Patty. “So I’d guess that some aspects of it were true—at least the aspect of kids being hidden away. Whether the twins were real, the sex, the time frame, probably not. I think it was just the concept of kids hidden in the attic so the mother could inherit a fortune. The idea for the Heaven series is also based on a true story and how that all came about—I will write about that in the memoir I’m writing about my relationship with Virginia and her books.”








V.C. Andrews: A Critical Companion by E. D. Huntley

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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”








Ana Lily Amirpour Bends Horror Genre

Ana Lily Amirpour was born in England and moved to the United States when she was a kid. In Florida, Amirpour was teased for her accent, so she tried doing a couple of things to make herself more American. She started a fan club for General Zod from Superman II, which never really got off the ground, and dabbled in filmmaking with her dad’s camcorder.


Her first feature was a slumber party horror movie that she filmed when she was twelve. “The movie did have a kill scene that was pretty scary,” she says. “I showed it to my friends and their parents, and everyone jumped. I was like, ‘Ahhh!’”

Her family, though, had different plans for Amirpour. Her parents are Iranian, and Amirpour says, “Iranian parents are very, they’re like, ‘You’ll either be a doctor or a lawyer,’” she says. “I was very arty in high school and my mom was like, ‘Yeah, so you can be a plastic surgeon.’”

Instead of studying textbooks, Amirpour credits Michael Jackson’s ode to monster making to helping her with her film career. “I watched the making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video thousands of times,” she says. “It taught me how to be an American.”

Other influences are too many to count. “I love James Dean, Die Antwoord, Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Bee Gees, Sergio Leone, David Lynch, Sophia Loren. I’m obsessed with this album Escape Yourself by Footprintz,” says Amirpour. And Bruce Lee. “Read Striking Thoughts, his philosophies on life and art—they’re the most gangster-ish you’ll ever read. He’s all about obstacles being in the past.” Also: “Anne Rice was my first thing. I loved—addicted loved—all of that.”

Amirpour went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and was pursued by Hollywood agents after that. But instead of doing the Hollywood thing, Amirpour took a sabbatical in Germany, where she got her head together. “I ended not making those [Hollywood] films, and I am so glad. They were not my pure soul matter. In Germany, I got to sit and think about the shit that I love,” says Amirpour. “I thought, I’m going to write something where everything people say and do turns me on.”

The idea for her successful first feature A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night came to Amirpour when she was directing a film short and an extra walked through the set wearing a chador. To Amirpour, it looked like a bat and she asked to try it on. That’s when she thought “Iranian vampire,” which became the core of her movie. She started using Indiegogo to crowdfund her Iranian vampire film and raised $57,000 before SpectreVision stepped in as a producer. “A vampire is so many things: serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict—they’re sort of all these things in one,” says Amirpour, who released a comic after the success of her first film.



“It’s a mash-up, but it becomes really liberating, because as a kid growing up I wanted to be American, like my white American friends, but I am Iranian and my culture is very fixed and strong and it’s been an overwhelming presence in my life,” says Amirpour about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is told in Farsi. “How do you explain that is part of who you are?”


Another reason Amirpour likes vampires is because she fears death. “I hate it, I don’t want to do it,” says Amirpour. “I also don’t like old. I don’t care how many fuckin’ Ansel Adams photos you take of old people and try to tell me it’s beautiful. It smells bad and shit’s failing. You’re rotting inside yourself, inside your own body. That’s what it is, in my opinion.”


Amirpour is sure, though, that a cure lies just around the corner. “I’m extremely greedy about life. In fifteen years, there will be a nano-shot where you can live forever. I’m sure of it. I don’t think it’ll be FDA-approved and I don’t think it’ll be given to everybody. But I would fucking take it in a second,” she says.

In the meantime, she’s working on her second horror feature, which she plans to debut later in 2016 at the Cannes Film Festival: The Bad Batch. Amirpour says, “The Bad Batch is a post-apocalyptic desert cannibal love story.” Originally she wanted Jennifer Lawrence to star in her movie as bait for cannibals. “She’s so fucking dope,” Amirpour says, “she’s so gangster.” But instead Suki Waterhouse ended up being cast as her leading lady.


Ana Lily Amirpour





Elizabeth Hand Adds to Maine’s Horror Output

Elizabeth Hand grew up in an Irish Catholic family in New York and now lives in Maine after falling in love with the state, which is featured in her Cass Neary series. “Maine is a tough place to live. There’s a great deal of poverty, a lot of depression, a lot of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol,” says Hand. ‘There’s often resentment on the part of natives toward people from away. In the islands and smaller communities like the one I live, you often have witch hunts, where relative outsiders literally become outcasts. It’s beautiful here, but it can very suddenly get very ugly and scary. There’s a kind of human weather that can shift as suddenly and dangerously at the actual weather.”

liz hand

Hand’s fears have driven some of her writing and she finds it cathartic to release these through her fiction. “As a parent, my greatest fear is that something will harm my children. But the truth is I’m afraid of everything. I wasn’t always—I was abducted and raped when I was twenty-one, and that left me with this vast reservoir of rage and fear,” says Hand. “I get panic attacks. I have sometimes violent parasomnias, which is when you act things out while asleep; the most dramatic of these was a few years ago when I thought there was an intruder in my bedroom. I jumped out of bed, ran to the other side of the room, and ripped a heavy wooden curtain rod from the wall to use as a weapon. I came to and found myself standing naked in front of the window, screaming and brandishing an eight foot wooden pole—an event that was a weird catalyst for Generation Loss.”


As a child, Hand remembers herself differently. She says, “I wanted to be tough. When we lived in Yonkers in a neighborhood full of kids, I was always getting into fights with boys and coming home with a black eye. I was provoking fights with boys. I liked fighting, even though I always got decked. I should have gone into roller derby.”

Film, sci-fi, and mysteries were also heavy influences during her childhood. “I was obsessed with monster movies, too—if I had kept all my issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, I never would have had to write Catwoman,” says Hand about one of her movie novelizations that now embarrasses her. “I read 1984 at a precocious age, like eight, and when I did the math I realized that Julia, Winston Smith’s lover, was born the same year I was, 1957. I read that book over and over again, with the 1960s as a backdrop, anti-war and anti-bomb protests and this general pervasive sense of doom.”

Hand came of age during the seventies and punk was the music she listened to as a teenager, which is a theme in many of her works. “I still love it. I love lots of other music, too, and always have, but punk’s the soundtrack of my youth,” says Hand. “I think you never escape the music you’re listening to and seeing when you’re seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old. So I feel really fortunate that I was at the right place at the right time.”


Originally, Hand wanted to be a music journalist, like Lester Bangs, but she ended up working at a museum in Washington, D.C., before she began pursuing writing as a full-time career. “What spurred me to finally quit my job and focus on writing full-time was David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, one of the great neo-noir films. I was already a Lynch fan, but when I saw that I thought, Man, if this guy can make a living out of this weird shit, so can I,” says Hand.

“But I never seriously considered writing anything in that vein until I saw Silence of the Lambs. I watched that movie and thought, You know, I could do this. The story was driven by the characters, and it had those over-the-top Grand Guignol set pieces—it wasn’t that different in some ways from what I did with some of my own work.”


It’s tough making a living from writing, but Hand has retired from doing any more movie novelizations, which kept her going financially for about a decade, along with her own work. “I’m trying not to do work-for-hire anymore, i.e., novelizations and the like. I don’t know how many prime writing years I have left, and I decided I wanted to focus as much as I can on my own stuff,” says Hand. “I’m doing more teaching now, as faculty at the Stonecoast MFA program, which is a bit more rewarding than novelizing Catwoman. And I’m still doing book reviews, which I love—gives me a chance to keep the critical part of my brain cranking.”


Lots of underdogs are featured in her work, and Hand says, “I have kind of a soft spot for lovable losers and misfits and outsiders, people who in real life can be very difficult to take. I’ve known quite a few of them, and I really do think you can learn from people who see the world from a different angle… As for writing about people who the world perceives as royal fuck-ups, I try to give them the happy endings, or at least happier endings, that evade them in real life. Maybe that’s wish fulfillment, or arrogance. Maybe I just relate better to flawed people because I’m one of them.”





An interview with Elizabeth Hand

Interview: Elizabeth Hand

Joyce Carol Oates Talks the Art of Horror

Joyce Carol Oates has been writing since before she could read. She remembers making books by drawing in tablets and coloring and scribbling, and her characters were animals—chickens and cats—immortalized in her first novel The Cat House, which she still has somewhere.


Her very first books were Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking-Glass, which also terrified her. Oates believes a lot of horror comes from those first impressions formed during childhood when one is trying to figure out the rules of the world. “Children are particularly susceptible to images of the grotesque, for children are learning to monitor what is ‘real’ and what is ‘not real’; what is benign, and what not…The earliest and most horrific image of my childhood, as deeply embedded in my consciousness as any ‘real’ event (and I lived on a small farm, where the slaughtering of chickens must have been frequent) sprang at me out of a seemingly benign children’s book, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking-Glass,” says Oates, when “Alice escapes the nightmare prospect of being eaten…”

Looking back on her own childhood, Oates says, “Like most children, I was probably afraid of a variety of things. The unknown? The possibility of those queer fortuitous metamorphoses that seem to overtake certain of Carroll’s characters? Physical pain? Getting lost?…My proclivity for the irreverent and the nonsensical was either inspired by Carroll or confirmed by him. I was always, and continue to be, an essentially mischievous child. This is one of my best-kept secrets.”


Oates believes that readers crave dark, scary fiction just the same as happy stories. “This predilection for art that promises we will be frightened by it, shaken by it, at times repulsed by it seems to be as deeply imprinted in the human psyche as the counter-impulse toward daylight, rationality, scientific skepticism, truth and the ‘real,’” says Oates.

Reading horror fiction is a way for one to re-experience childhood, according to Oates, believing completely in what is around them. “One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist; we can see no way out except to go forward. Like fairy tales, the art of the grotesque and horror renders us children again, evoking something primal in the soul,” she says.

Oates has received a fair amount of criticism for her horror work. When her serial killer novella Zombie came out in 1995, New York Times critic Steven Marcus chastised her for her “longstanding interest in the extreme, the gruesome, the bizarre, and violent in American life” and believed her protagonist, serial killer Quentin, was supposed to be a representation of American society. That time, Oates wrote back in a letter to the editor that he had misread her novel, but in general, she says, “A writer who has published as many books as I have has developed, of necessity, a hide like a rhino’s, while inside there dwells a frail, hopeful butterfly of a spirit.”


As a female writer, she feels that she is able to hide to a certain extent because of her sex. “Being a woman allows me a certain invisibility,” says Oates. “Like Ellison’s Invisible Man. Because a woman, being so mechanically judged by her appearance, has the advantage of hiding within it—of being absolutely whatever she allows herself to be, in contrast with what others imagine her to be. I feel no connection at all with my physical appearance and have often wondered whether this was a freedom any man—writer or not—might enjoy.”

Oates’s daily schedule mainly consists of writing, revising, and reading. “I haven’t any formal schedule, but I love to write in the morning, before breakfast. Sometimes the writing goes so smoothly that I don’t take a break for many hours—and consequently have breakfast at two or three in the afternoon on good days,” says Oates.

“When I complete a novel I set it aside, and begin work on short stories, and eventually another long work. When I complete that novel, I return to the earlier novel and rewrite much of it. In the meantime the second novel lies in a desk drawer. Sometimes I work on two novels simultaneously, though one usually forces the other into the background. The rhythm of writing, revising, writing, revising, et cetera, seems to suit me.”

Oates interrupts her writing life for chores and hones her observation skills that way, looking for the story. “I enjoy the much-maligned occupation of housewifery,” she says. “I like to cook, to tend plants, to garden, to do simple domestic things, to stroll around shopping malls and observe the qualities of people, overhearing snatches of conversations, noting people’s appearances, their clothes, and so forth. Walking and driving a car are part of my life as a writer, really. I can’t imagine myself apart from these activities.”


Oates’s next collection of psychological horror will be coming out later in 2016—The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror. Here’s an excerpt from “The Doll-Master”:


When I was five years old, Baby Emily disappeared from my room.

I was so surprised! I looked under the bed and in the closet and in each of my bureau drawers and then I looked in all these places again as well as beneath the covers at the foot of the bed but Baby Emily was gone.


I ran to my mother, crying. I asked my mother where Baby Emily was. My mother told me that my father “didn’t think it was a good idea” for me to be playing with a doll at my age. Dolls are for girls, she said. Not boys. “Daddy just thought it might be better to take the doll away before you got ‘too attached’…” Guiltily my mother spoke, and there was softness in her voice, but nothing I said could change her mind, no matter how I cried, or how angry I became, slapping and kicking at her and saying how I hated her, my mother did not change her mind because my father would not allow it. “He said he’d ‘indulged’ you long enough. And he blames me.”


In place of Baby Emily who was so sweet and placid and smelled of foam-rubber, my father had instructed my mother to buy me an “action toy”—one of the new-model expensive ones—a U.S. Navy SEAL robot-soldier that came fully armed, and could move forward across the room, empowered by a battery.


I would never forgive either of them, I thought. But particularly, I would never forgive him.





Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque by Joyce Carol Oates

The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. III edited by Philip Gourevitch

Kelly Link Looks for the Perfect Ghost Story

Kelly Link is primarily known for her short stories and has released four short story collections characterized as weird and slipstream fiction—a blend of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and literary fiction—Stranger Things Happen, Pretty Monsters, Magic for Beginners, and Get in Trouble. She also works as an editor and runs Small Beer Press, a publishing house, with her husband. And now she’s working on a novel for Random House about a haunted house.


Horror has been a big influence on Link’s fiction, especially ghost stories. “I’ve always loved horror, although I have trouble with gore…In fiction, I love ghost stories and stories of the uncanny the best,” she says.


Link loved being read to as a child, but when it came to learning how to do it herself, she was reluctant. “I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. My dad read me all of Tolkien when I was in kindergarten. My mom read me all of C. S. Lewis. And then when once I learned to read—I was a little bit slow—I would just go to the library and sort of work my way through the shelves,” says Link.

“My parents have explained to me that apparently I was…a little bit lazy. I felt that if I learned how to read, that in fact they would stop reading to me…I think what they finally did to get me to read was, they sat me down on the couch and explained that if I would learn how to read, I could read any time I wanted to read. And that was persuasive.”

Link studied writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but says what she mostly did during her workshop was reading. And she believes that one book taught her everything she needs to know about writing: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. “Everything I needed to learn I found in The Bloody Chamber: the playfulness and generosity and friction—of ideas, in the admixture of high and low, the mythic and the realistic. Here are ten overlapping stories about marriage and sexual awakening, decay and transformation, house cats and big cats, wolves and people who act like wolves,” says Link. “There are retellings of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Bluebeard.’ There are counts and countesses, brides and husbands, mothers and fathers. There are only a handful of named characters, many just signifiers: Mr. Lyon and Beauty and Wolf-Alice.”


Having taught writing, Link advises authors to read as much and as widely as possible. “I write genre fiction, and so I encourage my students to become well read in genre fiction at the very least. I tell them that even if they don’t plan to write straight-out fantasy and science fiction and horror, they may want to borrow the techniques and the tropes of genre, even if they want to put these to slightly different purposes. I believe every good writer has at least one good ghost story in them, and I badly want to read it,” she says.


Link admits to being hooked on love stories and romance and encourages writers and readers not to be ashamed by going after what they like. “I do love love stories. I spent a lot of the time when I was going through an MFA in creative writing program sneaking out to bookstores and reading paperback romance novels…and I would really hope now that if anybody out there is in a writing program, that they would boldly read their romance novels. That’s one of the things about figuring out what kind of story you want to write, is figuring out the kinds of things you are drawn to, even if you feel you shouldn’t be drawn to them,” says Link.

A big part of Link’s reading diet is rereading things she’s liked before. “I do reread books and stories, all the time. Often children’s books and ghost stories, especially anthologies of ghost stories,” she says. “Stephen King’s novels or collections. I reread things that I loved, or that had a particular effect on me. I once asked a bunch of horror writers why it was still pleasurable to reread scary stories when their power to scare us has diminished. The writer Nick Mamatas said, ‘I read to feel a sense of dread.’”


Most of Link’s writing process, she says, is avoiding it. “I find it hard to make myself sit down and write. I have a hard time making myself continue to write. But once I have a solid first three to five pages of a story, things improve. I like getting to the last third because by that point I know what I’m doing,” says Link.

As for the most satisfying part of the writing process, Link says that is working out the issues of a story. “The part of writing that is most pleasurable to me is problem-solving. Story math. How do I achieve a certain kind of mood? What can I leave out? What are the different ways to read the fantastic bits of the story?” says Link. “The introduction of the fantastic means that there are going to be metaphorical meanings, and this gets messy very quickly, especially with horror. What are we afraid of? Who is the other? Who is being punished and why?”








Melissa de la Cruz Slays with Vampires and Witches

Melissa de la Cruz was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated with her family to San Francisco when she was thirteen years old. De la Cruz studied art history and English at Columbia University and that’s when she fell in love with New York.


She began writing her YA vampire series Blue Bloods after she moved back to California when her dad became sick, and because she missed New York, she chose the city as her setting. “Blue Bloods was my love letter to New York, set in my favorite nightclubs, hotels, and restaurants and featuring the sardonic, sophisticated and sly sense of humor of its citizens,” says de la Cruz

She also says Blue Bloods is based on her life in Manila. “I grew up in an insular, elite society in Manila, and that was the foundation of Blue Bloods more than anything I knew about New York,” says de la Cruz. “I understood the way a rich and sheltered and protective society works. My dad always said New York is Manila with more money, and people are the same everywhere truly.”


Besides vampires, de la Cruz has penned another series about witches. Witches of East End came near the end Blue Bloods, and de la Cruz says she was inspired to write it because of her family. “I wanted to write about a family of women, about sisters and a mother. I wrote it after my dad had died, and maybe in a way I was trying to console myself by saying, ‘Hey, Dad’s gone, but look how amazing it is that you have such a close relationship with your mom and sister (and brother, too).’ The family structure is my family structure (two girls and a boy), but their characters are their own and of course it’s fictional!” says de la Cruz.

“I was tired of writing glamorous big city stuff. I wanted to write about something else. There’s so much of me in that book, about my values and my thoughts about women. I really wanted to write a woman who was sexual and powerful, and her sexuality was not something that weakened her, but strengthened her. I’m tired of the slut-shaming in our culture. I wanted to celebrate beautiful and sexy women.”


De la Cruz’s Witches of East End novel was picked up by Lifetime and made into a series that lasted for two years, created by Maggie Friedman. Seeing her work transition to the screen wasn’t a rough step for the author, but she believed in the team behind it. “When Maggie Friedman’s script came in, I cried. I thought it was beautiful and such a great translation of the book into a television show. I didn’t even notice the changes. Of course, you have to see the girls learn they are witches on-screen! I understood the decisions she made. I saw my book in the script and I was very moved that she had read it so deeply and then translated it into another language—television language. When I read the script, I knew the show would get made. It was good and I knew other people would see that, too,” says de la Cruz.


De la Cruz’s writing process changes all the time. She tries to start with a concise outline, but has actually approached each one of her books differently. “The creative process is hard to pinpoint and explain. Mostly I’ve talked about writing an outline and then fleshing it out, and that seems to satisfy a lot of people, and it sounds neat and tidy and wonderful and connect the dots and easy. But it’s not like that. Writers lie,” she says.

“I’ve done everything. I’ve outlined. I’ve jumped around. I’ve worked toward the ending, and I’ve gone in order. I’ve done it all. There is no ‘right’ way to write a book. They all work, and everyone does it differently, and I would say each of my books has had a different process from the other. But I never know what it will be. What I do know is I start with an idea, then I figure out the story, which means I have a hazy idea of what the story is and I know the ending. I always know the ending. But see, that’s not true either because sometimes I’ve changed endings. For instance, Witches of East End had a very different ending in my drafts than the one that is in the final book. I knew the ending didn’t work, and it drove me crazy. Finally, when I figured out the right ending, I rewrote the book to match it.”







Artist Fiona Staples Blends Horror with Sci-Fi Fantasy

Fiona Staples is a Canadian artist who’s drawn for Trick ’r Treat, 2000 AD, and the wildly popular Saga series. She’s been making art since she was a kid, but where most quit, she kept on going. “I think all kids like to draw and I just kept doing it; I never stopped. When I got to high school, I decided I’d like to go to art college and somehow make a living out of it,” says Staples.


Archie comics were the first comics that Staples began reading, she remembers. “They were…pretty much the only ones I had access to as a child. You really have to go out of your way to get into superhero comics or anything like that, and you can only really buy them at specialty comic shops, which is not the case with Archie, obviously; it sold at every grocery store and gas station,” she says.

While in college at the Alberta College of Art and Design, Staples was influenced by American, Japanese, and European comics. “I was really into Heavy Metal for a while,” she says. “Stuff like Heavy Metal made me realize painted comics were a thing—that comics didn’t have to look a certain way or be a particular style. That was a huge revelation.”

Staples started drawing her first comic series during her last year of college. “We had this sort of portfolio building class where we would put together whatever we wanted to do, so I started working on this comic. I worked with this writer, Andrew Foley, from Edmonton. We met on a message board for local creators and he sent me the script for Done to Death. It was five issues and the first issue was out by the time I graduated. That summer, in fact,” says Staples.

From her work with Foley, Staples landed her job on the horror graphic novel Trick ’r Treat, which also coincided with the last time she did work by hand. “Trick ’r Treat was the last thing that I did drawn in pen and ink, but colored digitally. The next series was Hawksmoor, which was on a really, really tight schedule. I had to turn around a fully colored issue in four weeks for six issues, so I thought there’s no way I can do this unless I go digital,” says Staples.


Of the comic genres Staples has worked with, she’s found herself drawn to horror. “I really enjoy doing horror stuff actually. A lot. I don’t have any particular affinity for superheroes. It’s not something I’m really interested in doing,” she says.

Staples finds the superhero genre to be limiting and wants to bring diversity to comics, something she and Saga writer Brian K. Vaughan have especially concentrated on in their series. “All the corners of the comics world except mainstream superhero books have pretty much agreed that diversity is a positive thing. I think the important thing to do now is create women-friendly books, and that will lead to more female creators in the next generation,” she says.

Though Saga is “not horror, unfortunately,” Staples has injected some elements of the genre into the series. “I’ll always leap at the chance to draw a weird monster. I loved doing horror work, so it’s always cool when Saga takes a turn for the creep—although I don’t think our ghost girl Izabel is scaring anybody,” says Staples.


As far as her top characters for the Saga series, she says, “Lying Cat is a favorite!” She’s learned a lot while drawing the series and is happy with the artwork and characters she designed early on. “There’s nobody I’d change, because accepting weird decisions you made on the fly years ago is part of doing an ongoing series. You just live with it! My favorite moments are whenever we see the surface of a new planet for the first time, or a new character is introduced with a splash page.”


When buying comics for herself, Staples goes after what pleases her visually. “If I don’t enjoy the artwork, I can’t enjoy the book,” she says. “Sometimes the story can be enough for me to get into, but usually I buy what looks good. What can I learn or steal from them?”

Looking at others’ work has helped Staples develop as an artist, and she does not limit herself to just comics. She’s also influenced by painters, classic illustrators, and especially animators. “You have to look at everything else that’s out there. That’s how you improve your taste, how you see what’s good. You study it and then go back and give your own work a very hard look to see where it is and where it needs to be. It’s something I try to do constantly,” says Staples.

Staples’s work process varies somewhat day to day, but she tries to be consistent when working freelance. “I try to stick to a schedule, but it doesn’t come easily. I usually double my workload as a deadline looms. Probably like most people, I would imagine,” she says.

She’s found that to be the hardest part of working as a freelance artist. When asked what is her biggest obstacle in regards to work, Staples says, “Fighting procrastination or anxiety at your own work and sticking to a schedule, which can be hard to do when you’re home alone all day with no one really monitoring you. Yeah, that’s the hardest thing to get right, but I think I’m there now or at least close enough to where I can do an almost monthly book on time.”


The success of Saga staggered Staples since she considered it an odd story unlikely to get much of a following. “I’m really, really grateful to our readers who decided to show it to their friends or give it to their mom or their girlfriend or husband because I’m pretty sure that’s how we got our readership—through word of mouth and people lending their books out. It’s been really amazing to see. I never thought a book this weird would reach this many people and I’m kind of continually surprised,” she says.

Though Saga is not ending anytime soon, Staples would like to dabble in more projects that focus on horror. “I think it would be cool to do something in the Hellboy world some day. I love that sort of folklore-based horror stuff,” says Staples.









Lauren Beukes Springs from Serial Murderers to Horror Comics

Lauren Beukes was born in South Africa and says, “I’m a South African writer who is incredibly lucky to get paid to make up stories all day. It wasn’t always like this. Over the last fifteen years, I’ve been a journalist, a TV scriptwriter, a documentary maker, and a mom to a small and amazing daughter—and had to find time to writer novels in between.”


Beukes’s big break came with her YA horror novel The Shining Girls published in 2013, which went on to win several awards. The book is now in development with Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Ways with plans to adapt it into a TV series.

The Shining Girls began as a tweet when Beukes was avoiding her work. She says, “This is a little embarrassing. I was messing around on Twitter instead of writing (as you do) and threw out the idea in the middle of a random conversation. I immediately deleted the tweet because I was like, Yes! That must be my next book! Quickly! Before someone else thinks of it! But I think that’s often the way of interesting ideas—they come around when you’ve let your subconscious off the leash to romp in the grass.”

Taking a cue from police procedurals, Beukes created a large “murder wall” in order to track the movements of her time-traveling serial killer character in The Shining Girls. “It’s full of crazy pictures, three different timelines, murder dates…It’s been completely insane trying to keep track of all of this.”


Though the novel took a fantastic amount of research, Beukes says, “I wanted to use time travel as a way of exploring how much has changed (or depressingly stayed the same) over the course of the twentieth century, especially for women, and subvert the serial killer genre by keeping the focus much more on the victims and examining what real violence is and what it does to us. The killer has a type, but it’s not a physical thing—he goes for women with fire in their guts, who kick back against the conventions of their time.”

For her follow-up horror novel Broken Monsters, set in Detroit, Beukes stayed in the serial killer genre, but she decided to root the story in the present, using lots of pop culture and social media references. Beukes interviewed teenagers in Detroit about how they used social media and found that “your social media identity is something that is very carefully curated. And it’s not necessarily real life, the real-life Detroit teenagers that I interviewed, we talked about the idea of Shakespeare and all the world’s a stage, and I was like, ‘Well, what’s the stage? Is the stage social media or is it your real life?’ And they were like ‘No, no, social media is the stage where you present this idea of yourself. And real life is what happens in the wings.’ And that’s the rehearsal. That was very interesting, that these kids were living their lives so absolutely on social media.”


Being a stickler for details, Beukes went to the Detroit police station, hoping to find an old precinct with character. What she found instead was something shiny and new and felt it necessary to represent modern Detroit accurately. “I went to visit Detroit Homicide with a box of doughnuts and it’s a brand swanky new building,” says Beukes. “Everyone has computers, they have their own gym with TVs and this sort of thing. I was like, Are you kidding? It looks like a fucking Dilbert cartoon! And I’m like, ‘No, no I don’t want this!’…I could have said, ‘Oh, we’re in the police station and it’s so fucked up and there’s stains on the floor and there’s this creepy interrogation room and there’s broken glass…,’ but that’s not the reality and I did feel a moral responsibility not to misrepresent Detroit like that.”

Growing up in South Africa, Beukes witnessed the horrors of apartheid and that has made it into her work. “There are a lot of social issues that leak through my novels. It comes from having grown up under a terrible repressive racist regime and ten years as a journalist, getting backstage in the world,” she says.

Beukes says her dark, morbid ideas come from a strange place in her mind. “There’s this crazy insane hoarder room in the back of my mind, all kinds of weird stuff I’ve kept back,” she says. “Actually, it’s more like a mad science experiment, with all sorts of horrible mutations.”

Now Beukes is hard at work penning an original horror comic with writer Dale Halvorsen (aka Joey Hi-Fi) called Survivors’ Club, which is being published by Vertigo. It’s based on children from the 1980s who have lived through scenarios from various horror movies, such as surviving a killer doll, being possessed by a poltergeist, etc.

Beukes felt this story would do better as a comic with big visuals rather than with prose. “The concept is very visual. Comics just felt right, although it is much harder juggling a large cast in a comic book. It’s like a horror super team, all with their own dark secrets and terrifying backstories and little reason to trust each other, so we’re dealing with the over-arcing mystery, the immediate mystery, and all their backstories,” says Beukes.


Her horror novels have taken place in the United States with American characters, but in Survivors’ Club, Beukes introduces a South African character, Chenzira. “She grew up under the extreme oppressive racism of the apartheid government and her mom, a freedom fighter, was killed in police custody. As a kid, playing video games at the local arcade in Soweto became her escape from the monstrous society around her, but then the game she played opened a doorway to allow real monsters through,” says Beukes. “A running theme in my work is how we’re haunted by the past, how those monsters come back to bite you, and Chenzira is very aware of that because of her personal and political and supernatural experiences. It’s made her keenly focused and driven to confront her demons head-on, which is why she called the other survivors together.”





The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

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