I’d like everyone to take 10 minutes out of their day and read an interview with one of the most exciting and talented writers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
Her name is Karen Runge, and her work is top notch. I am firmly convinced she’s going to be the next big thing in horror fiction.
Ladies and Gentleman, without further ado, I give you: Karen Runge.
1. So you’re a South African lady, living in China. How did that happen and what is life like there?
I am. And it’s a very long story. Short version is when I was living in Johannesburg, I got a chance to start studying Chinese with a fantastic tutor. She kept telling me I should try it for a year, so I did! Then I met my wonderful Italian man, and ended up staying. Six years later, here we still are. Life here is pretty easy – we get paid well and don’t have to work long hours, which gives us lots of time to focus on other things – like writing!
2. Do you feel that your experience in China has had any influence on your writing?
Actually no, not at all. I grew up in the Natal Midlands, which is a really stunning, mysterious part of South Africa. Lots of woods and misty hills. It really has its own soul. It did a lot to shape the sorts of atmospheres I like to write about it. The remote, the strange, the beauty that hides the beast. Not much of that here in Beijing!
3. Why horror? Have you always gravitated towards the genre or been a genre fan?
It’s always been something inside of me. I remember when I was a kid, there was this hit song on the radio about a loner falsely accused of murdering his lover. It was a pop song, but there was something so deep about it. I was only about seven or eight and a normal, happy little girl. But I remember being so intrigued by the lyrics, all that depth and darkness, like it was opening something up inside of me. I remember sitting by the radio with a towel around me, glued to the speaker after bailing out of the bath to run and catch the end of it! It had that kind of impact. From there I can thank my older brother for making me watch horror movies with him when we were both waaay underage! I am definitely a hard-core horror fan. Everything from schlock to disturbos. They all have something, some level of emotion or atmosphere that fascinates me.
4. Who are your biggest influences in the horror genre and, are you mainly into fiction or do you get into horror films as well?
So far I’d say Margaret Atwood and early Clive Barker are my biggest influences. I love poetry of language, I love hinting instead of saying things outright. They both have these intense, heavy styles, but there’s always something subversive there, something slithering in the corners. Margaret Atwood isn’t what you’d call an out-and-out horror writer, but so much of what she writes is smothered in darkness. It’s like she’s slowly, sweetly sliding needles under your fingernails. Clive Barker has so much imagination, he holds nothing back, and he’s not afraid to break away from more traditional approaches. I like stories like that.
As for horror films, I am a hopeless addict! To the point that I have a pretty weird hobby: I actively seek out the most disturbing films I can find. I save lists and lists of them and hunt them down at every opportunity. While I enjoy more conventional horror movies as well, I’m always seeking the emotional journey you’re forced to take with yourself when you watch these films. The ones that get stuck behind your eyes and put you in places in your head that you didn’t know existed. They’re often not what you’d call ‘enjoyable’, but they get you thinking.
5. We both got to do the Talking Scars course on Litreactor taught by the horror legend, Jack Ketchum. What was the highlight of the course for you and what did you take away from that course which helped improve your writing the most?
Personal trumps, the day Jack himself told me I scare him! I’d never done a course like that before and had a few misgivings about workshopping with a bunch of strangers. LitReactor and the Talking Scars class really changed that for me. I got to go on a journey with a group of like-minded people, we got to learn with each other and a lot of us really bonded, I think. In terms of writing, it would have to be what Jack said about writing about what scares you, and writing about what you love. That’s a critical balance in horror, I think, and one which we can all too easily drop.
6. You’re a fantastic short story writer, and for those who don’t know you’ve just sold a story to the fantastic Shock Totem Magazine. Do you think you’ll always write short stories or do you see them as a stepping stone?
I just want to write! Short stories, novels, anything. Short stories for sure are a stepping stone into novels, because this is how you meet people, meet editors, get your name out there. But I think I’ll always do both.
7. A little bird told me that you may be working on a novel. Any clues as to what it may be about?
Must be the peacock whose tail feathers I bought! I am writing a novel, and am just finishing up the second draft. I’m superstitious about talking about what I’m writing until the first draft is done, so if you’d asked me this question a few months back I wouldn’t have been able to answer you! I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s about two sisters who get drawn into a damaging, occultic situation when they meet this guy who calls himself Beast. The working title is The Blood Flower Cult.
8. Personally, I’m predominantly a short story writer and I struggle to write longer works. How are you finding writing a longer form story?
It’s a lot tougher! But rewarding in that it’s a world you get to stay in for a while, which is really stimulating mentally. Often my Italian would come home from work, and over dinner I’d be thinking, ‘What happened today that’s really important? What was it that I wanted to tell him…?’ And then realise that it was a plot point, or an event in the lives of the characters that I was thinking of! That can be quite trippy. You have to really love what you’re writing, I think, to stick with it through the rough patches and force yourself to keep giving it your best. We’ll see how this one turns out, though.
9. What are your big writing goals for the next few years? (e.g target markets for short stories or novel publication?)
I would really love to get into Cemetery Dance. I actually haven’t even tried yet, but the next time I have an ‘Aha!’ moment I’m going to write it with them in mind. Of course I’d like to get Blood Flowers published – but I honestly have no idea how much more work she may need once I hand her over to a pro editor. Another project I want to do is actually a film, with a friend of mine here in Beijing who is a producer. He’s an Italian, and has made some really amazing films. Morituris, which got everyone shrieking, and more recently Across the River, which just won an award. He and I often talk about working on a film, and we’re constantly sharing ideas. I’d love him to adapt one of my stories, and go through that process with him. We just need the right idea!
10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers in general or, in particular, aspiring horror writers?
We’re all different, of course, but the one common thread I’d say is that you have to stick with it, take it seriously, embrace it with every part of you. I recently met someone who said he used to dream of being published, but now he just ‘writes for himself’. It broke my heart, because I could see it was really because he was jaded after all that rejection. While getting published is tough, it is still possible. You learn so much even by being rejected. It forces you to keep reaching higher. Teach yourself to challenge the agony… it’s so important to keep going. For horror writers, I’d say don’t be afraid of going there. If that means you wind up staring at yourself in the mirror wondering if there’s something wrong with you, then you’re probably doing it right!
There you have it folks, the fantastic Karen Runge. You can find more information about Karen and some her publications here: karenrunge.wordpress.com