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.”



Sarah Pinborough Delivers Scares Across the Pond

Sarah Pinborough grew up living in a lot of different places—Syria, Moscow, India, and Sudan—since her father worked as a diplomat. When she moved back to England at eight, she started attending British boarding schools, a setting she has used in some of her writing. She wasn’t very happy there and spent a lot of time on her own, searching the backs of cupboards and wardrobes, looking for the entrance to Narnia. But to her classmates, she was seen as the jokester, the class clown.


In her last years of boarding school, she discovered acting after being chosen for the lead role in the school play on her first day at Edinburgh Academy. After that, she decided that she was going to be a great actress, but things didn’t go as planned.


She had a series of “adventures” in her twenties, and after hating school for so long, she found herself a teacher when she was thirty. Pinborough liked teaching and interacting with students, telling kids that second place meant they were “first loser,” and she became the head of English after only two years. She taught in total for six years before focusing exclusively on her writing.


Pinborough had written a little here and there and came to publish her short stories when somebody read a few that she had accidentally left out while babysitting. Before, when she was twenty-three, she had submitted a story and was told that “I was terrible and an incompetent writer and I’d never be a writer!”


After she published a few short stories in her late twenties, she married and was living in Devon when she decided that she wanted to write a horror novel—a natural fit after being influenced by Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, and others. She wrote The Hidden about a woman with amnesia who is trying to get on with her life, but dark forces beckon to her from behind a mirror. While she was on vacation, she saw novels in the airport from Leisure Books and decided to send them a synopsis and her first three chapters. The publisher requested the rest and then bought her novel, and for the next six years, Pinborough published a novel a year with them. Pinborough says, “When I wrote The Hidden for Leisure, they didn’t edit your books. I handed my book in, and they would change ‘got’ for ‘gotten’ and that was it. There was no copyedit, there was no line edit. I just got page proofs. There was no learning curve.


“I only started learning and being edited properly when I started at Gollancz. It was great being edited—just stupid things like sentence construction, learning clauses, and things like that…I think horror writers tend to get a bit caught up in it, because you have to make people suspend their belief so much, so you overdo the description. But I learnt to pare it back and learn that less is more.”


While writing a movie based on her first novel The Hidden, she revisited the work and wasn’t happy with some of the writing she found there. “I look now at the dialogue and think, Jesus Christ, what was I doing?” she says. “I think dialogue is the hardest thing for novelists to get right because it can be a bit stilted, particularly historical or fantasy. It can go a bit, ‘Where art thou?’ When I was a teacher, and you teach kids to write stories, they will very often avoid dialogue because it is quite hard to do it naturally.”


In 2013, Pinborough published a trilogy of dark tales based on classic fairy tales—Poison, Charm, and Beauty—and Murder and Mayhem, two books in a supernatural series, exploring serial killers that come after Jack the Ripper in Victorian England. She’s used serial killer characters often in her work.


Pinborough says, “If horror and crime are cousins, then the serial killer is their love child. He fits so perfectly into both genres (I chose to use a serial killer in A Matter of Bood and had also used one in a horror novel). The serial killer is the embodiment of every boogeyman under the bed or monster in the closet for those who are too grown up to believe in such things. I look at films like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs, and I can’t decide whether they’re crime thrillers or horrors.”


“The serial killer is the adult’s nightmare, in the way ghosts and vampires (the old-school sort, anyway) should scare children. So maybe, in a lot of ways, the genre of crime is for grown-ups who like horror. Certainly more women write crime than they do horror, and the whole world knows we’re the more grown up of the sexes! Also, the women writing crime are writing some quite horrific stuff—I visited a friend of mine yesterday, who told me he’d been reading a Karin Slaughter novel. He paled slightly and said, ‘She doesn’t pull any punches, does she? That is some really graphic shit.’”


While doing research on the Victorian era, Pinborough discovered that women numbered among serial killers, too. She wrote in The Big Issue, “Women were not to be outdone by their male counterparts, either. Mary Ann Cotton was suspected of the murder of twenty-one people by arsenic poisoning by the time she went to the gallows. The baby farmers, like Amelia Dyer, hanged at Newgate in 1896, promised to find homes for children of the poor but took their money, murdered the babies, and then dumped their bodies in the river. Only charged with one death, Dyer was suspected of murdering up to four hundred more.”


Pinborough no longer considers herself strictly a horror writer, but her novels are hard to classify as one genre. They jump from sci-fi to fantasy, young adult, and now crime, but they all share one thing—she agrees—they’re dark. “I write stories with dark elements. I do have a penchant for the darker side of life…you’d never guess!”



Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Silverwood (INTO THE SILENCE, THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD)

Mary Shelley Makes a Monster

Mary Shelley is painted as the queen bee of women who write horror, but in the environment in which she wrote Frankenstein, I’m pretty sure she felt anything but. Mary was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, a noted writer and philosopher, and William Godwin, also an intellectual. Her mother died days after her birth, and Mary never knew her. She was a favorite of her father, who praised her intellect, but he didn’t know what to do with the children he’d been left with. (Mary had an older sister Fanny, who was illegitimate.) Her father married again, and Mary did not get along with her stepmother, though she liked her stepsister Jane and stepbrother Charles.


When she was sixteen, Mary went to Scotland for her health and to keep the peace between her and her stepmother. Her father William always struggled for money despite his fame, and he became friends with Percy Bysshe Shelley, an aristocrat. The two schemed to get money by cashing in on Shelley’s expected inheritance; then Mary arrived back from Scotland, standing out dressed in tartan. Her father wrote of her: “Mary, my daughter…is singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible. My own daughter is, I believe, very pretty.” Though Percy was married with one daughter born and another child on the way, he was immediately taken with Mary, and she came to fall in love with him, too.


Her father William forbid them from meeting, and so she ran away with her stepsister Jane to elope with Percy. She and Jane were sixteen, Percy was twenty-one. This odd threesome made their way across France and to Switzerland with barely any money to survive on. Mary and Percy shared a diary during their travels, and Jane requested paper so she could have her own diary. At one point the three were so desperate for money that Percy wrote his discarded wife Harriet, asking her to join his commune and bring some money with her. She refused. The three had to return to England with no place to stay, since Mary and Jane’s father refused to have anything to do with them after the elopement.


Mary and Jane were dependent on Percy, and at seventeen, Mary was pregnant and often sick (perhaps due to the vegetarian diet that Percy had them on), so Jane (now calling herself Claire Clairmont) and Percy were often thrown together, which Mary did not like. Percy had to go into hiding because his creditors were after him, and Mary and Claire were left together alone in an apartment, except for Sundays, when Percy came to visit them since creditors couldn’t work on the holy day.


At this time, Percy’s old schoolmate Thomas Jefferson Hogg came to London and told Mary he had feelings for her. (He’d also done this with Percy’s first wife Harriet.) Percy seemed to encourage this romantic attachment, and according to one story, Mary put her head on Claire’s pillow crying because Percy wanted her to sleep with Hogg. There’s speculation that Claire and Percy were sleeping together at this time, too.


Mary had her daughter prematurely in February 1815, but the baby died a few days later. Mary was grief-stricken after losing her daughter and she was still unhappy with all the time that Claire was spending with Percy. She wanted her stepsister gone, but Claire refused to go home to the Godwins. Finally she convinced Percy to send Claire away, and Mary and Percy traveled together by themselves with Mary becoming pregnant again, due to give birth near the end of the year. She had William in the beginning of 1816.


Claire did nothing but sew and read while she was in exile, seeing no company. After Mary’s son was born, she was allowed to rejoin the household again in the spring of 1816. At this time, Lord Byron was the rock star poet of England, and Claire boldly propositioned him in an unexpected letter. Using her relationship with the poet Percy Shelley and Mary, Claire was able to gain a meeting with him and started a fling.


She chased after him, knowing that he was planning a trip down the Rhine valley to Switzerland, and convinced Mary and Percy to accompany her. Once again, Percy had money problems so he wanted to get away, and he was anxious to meet the famous poet Byron. He agreed, and the three arrived in Geneva. Byron came later with his hated companion John Polidori, a doctor, but he ignored Claire’s letters to him, requesting meetings. Despite that, he met Percy and his entourage by Lake Geneva one afternoon after boating, and he and Percy developed a quick friendship.


Percy and Byron had breakfast almost every day after that meeting, and sometimes Mary joined them—Byron thought she was clever. The group boated often on Lake Geneva, but what started as a wonderful spring turned into the Year Without a Summer. An 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia caused climate changes throughout the world, and in Geneva, Mary, Percy, Claire, Byron, and Polidori were often kept indoors because of an almost constant rain.


Mary wrote of the thunderstorms and weather, which filtered into Frankenstein: “An almost perpetual rain confines us principally to the house; but when the sun bursts forth it is with a splendor and heat unknown in England. The thunderstorms that visit us are grander and more terrific than I have ever seen before…one night we enjoyed a finer storm than I had ever before beheld. The lake was lit up—the pines on Jura made visible, and all the scene illuminated for an instant, when a pitchy blackness succeeded, and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the darkness.”


Mary said that during one of these rainy nights, the group was bored and Lord Byron came up with a challenge for each of them to write a scary story. Mary thought about this for days, and then it came to her: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.”


She started writing Frankenstein in Geneva, and after her group left, upon finding out that Claire was pregnant with Byron’s child, she kept at it. During this period, Mary was surrounded by death. Her older sister Fanny committed suicide, and Mary felt guilty for not responding to her despondent letters. Then Harriet, Percy’s wife, committed suicide—though Mary was able to wed Percy after this and officially become Mrs. Shelley. She published Frankenstein in 1818, and the story was quite popular, though some people thought it was Mary’s husband who wrote the work, including Sir Walter Scott.


After this success, death came again. Mary’s second child Clara died after a rushed trip to Italy that Percy insisted on, to help out her stepsister Claire, and Mary blamed him for her death. And then a year later in 1819, while Mary was pregnant with her fourth child, her son William died. At this time in their marriage, Mary’s novel Frankenstein was getting more attention than Percy’s poetry, and this contributed to strained relations. Mary continued to write, but Percy could be disparaging about her work. When Mary was in the middle of writing her Italian historical novel Valperga, Percy described it as “raked out of fifty old books.” Mary also saw her husband becoming infatuated with younger women now that she was getting older. He wrote a poem about one titled Epipsychidion, which he tried to keep hidden from Mary. That work was published in 1821, and a year later Percy drowned in a boating accident.



Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Bring on Women in Horror Month 2016

I went to my first horror convention in 2007, covering it for a French magazine that I freelanced for at the time, and the event they really wanted me to focus on was a horror indie that would show in the evening. I was at the con the entire day, and though it was male dominated, I didn’t feel uncomfortable until it came time for me to do my job and watch the film. Right then, just as the lights went out, a guy who had been roving up and down the aisles with a walkie-talkie took a seat next to me, saying, “I’ve seen you sitting here all day, and you’re kind of cute.”


He was so close that I could smell the peanut butter on his breath, but I didn’t respond. I stared straight ahead, trying to get the gist of the story line and take notes, which miffed him, making him say next, “Now, I just want to fuck with you.”


I had to get up and move away from him, but the harassment threw me, and I was off my game for the rest of the night. This con introduction came to color my experiences in the horror industry, where I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male colleagues. Once I piped up during a convention panel on horror comics, wanting to talk about Alan Moore and his revolutionary work on Swamp Thing and then perhaps segue to the wonderful work being done by horror manga writers and artists, but I was shut down and told to “go read his work and then report back.” I’ve been reading his work since I was twelve.


I struggled as the only woman in a theater full of men viewing Gary Sherman’s 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006) movie and had to leave the Q-and-A afterward, as serial killer specialists argued about how there had never been a female serial killer and Aileen Wuornos didn’t count.


So I was thrilled when Women in Horror Month began, where the entire month of February celebrates females working in the horror industry. To me, it’s obvious that there’s a problem—so often I open a horror short story collection and there are only men listed in the table of contents, or maybe a token woman. Caitlín R. Kiernan has shared, “It is genuinely frustrating—and somewhat bizarre and also embarrassing—how often I’ve found myself the only female author in a collection. (Note: Once would have been too often.)”



With my writers’ group and others, though, I’ve heard the argument, “I don’t think we should have to divide things according to gender.” And in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to, but the division is going on now, and I so want to be represented by fair numbers and stories. I want everybody to be represented in horror, to be able to find that one spooky story that speaks to them and scares the daylights out of them. But until that happens, we need to put in the hard work to get there, and part of that is reminding people that women write horror, very good horror.


I was part of New York Comic Con last year, after a several-year absence, and right before the attendees came in, I immediately got anxious, ready to be challenged on my horror cred. But things had loosened up since my last con. While behind the table for the Horror Writers Association, I saw both female and male faces, in pretty equal proportions, looking for a good scary story. But unfortunately most of what was represented on the table were male stories. When women and girls turned away, not inspired by the choices, I tried to give them recommendations of other authors that they could try. But what I really wished for was that I had those stories to give them, stories about girls who look like them and are totally badass, slaying the monsters or even being them. The audience is definitely there; now we need to give them the books.


Listen to Fareena Samad tell you about the stories she cares about, and let’s try and get some more into her hands.