OK freaks, let’s rot and roll! Today’s WIHM interview is with author Mary SanGiovanni. Thanks for stopping by for a chat, Mary!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
MSG: Well, I’m a native of New Jersey, of Irish and Italian descent, an Aquarius, and a leftie (handed, and more or less politically, I guess). I’m not a bad singer but I’m a terrible driver. Decent cook, terrible baker. I have a Masters degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and am a member of The Authors Guild and International Thriller Writers. I’ve been published by both NY publishing houses and small presses, and have been in this business for about 15 years.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
MSG: I think that I write horror for a number of reasons. For one, there’s a thrill in writing a fun, scary story. But it’s more than that. With all the injustice in the world, all the unexplained violence, all the senseless brutality that we have little or no control over, preventing, or fixing, fiction gives me an outlet to vicariously re-establish justice in the world, to oversee or control the universe. Also, I believe essentially in the innate goodness of human beings. Horror to me is a genre of hope, of survival – in this genre, we can safely explore and learn to cope with a wide range of fears and insecurities. Often, horror re-establishes perspective on one’s own life, and offers a glimpse into not just the lowest and vilest that humanity has to offer, but also the most heroic, clever, and triumphant.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
MSG: As far as short stories, go, Stephen King’s “Monkey Shines.” It’s terrifying if you’re a child, and it’s equally as terrifying if you’re an adult. And it works for the same reason superstition works – the what if.
For novels, it would be a toss-up between It, The Shining, and Ghost Story. All of them are masterfully put together and have some of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen created with the written word.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
MSG: I’ve written six novels: The Hollower Trilogy, which includes The Hollower, Found You, and The Triumvirate, Thrall, Chaos, and my latest, The Blue People, to be reissued this September in e-book and later, paperback as Chills. I’ve also written a few novellas: For Emmy, The Fading Place, Possessing Amy, and No Songs for the Stars. I have two fiction collections, Under Cover of Night and A Darkling Plain. And I’ve written a bunch of short stories.
I’d say my favorites of those are probably Thrall and For Emmy – they’re the ones I think are closest to my heart, to what I love about the horror genre.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
MSG: I prefer novels, I think, because I’m chatty by nature and because I can explore the monsters and the worlds they come from at length, but there is something pretty perfect about the novella length for telling a good, scary story. A novella is long enough to really invest yourself in the characters, and short enough to be able to maintain an atmosphere of terror without flagging.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
MSG: I’m working on my next novel for Kensington, tentatively titled The Elemental. It’s a ghost story of sorts. Forests are a source of endless fascination for me, and this is sort of my tribute to the chiaroscuro of the deep woods of New Jersey.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
MSG: That’s a tough one – there are so many talented women writers out there. Shirley Jackson and Sarah Langan are two of my favorites.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
MSG: I’m about to start The Complex by Brian Keene. He read tiny teaser pieces to me as he was writing it, and I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing from start to finish. I also have a Clark Ashton Smith collection and some Ramsey Campbell on my TBR pile. I’m not as fast a reader as I used to be, so I’m trying to incorporate more time to do it instead.
Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?
MSG: I think there used to be a pervasive belief that women didn’t have the constitution to write, read, or watch horror. Our empathy made us more susceptible, maybe, to the emotional implications. So there has always been a belief, held by some, that women only write romance, say, dressed up with horror tropes, or that women are incapable of writing the good, old-fashioned terrifying, adventurous, unflinching horror fiction that most self-identifying horror fans enjoy. This belief has manifested itself directly ( sexual harassment, claims that successful female horror authors are only accomplished for having slept their way there, etc.) and subtlely (people choosing to pass over a horror novel because of a woman’s name on the cover in favor of one with a man’s name). Honestly, despite the aforementioned issues, I’ve been lucky enough to have a network of colleagues, readers, and editors, both male and female, who support my writing, and all do what they can to erradicate the notion that female writers should be marginalized or even minoritized simply for being “women” writers.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you?
MSG: I think it’s important to remind people who care about quality horror fiction to consider broadening their horizons, or at the very least, to make them aware of possibly homogenized reading habits. I Every year, each time this month rolls around, I’ve watched horror’s boundaries shift, and it’s very gratifying. I’ve seen that what constitutes horror has broadened as well, which in itself is good, because it allows for new ideas and new presentation of ideas to be more widely accepted in the genre. I think women bring a different psychological bent to horror; we relate to the world in a different way – and that’s okay. That’s a cool thing. The industry has realized this just in the time I’ve been in the business, and I’m seeing more and more readers and members of the general public branching out from the safe horror islands of King and Koontz. I think as we women more firmly and lastingly make our mark as equals in society by producing work of recognizeable, even irrefutable quality, more people will come to accept the unique, sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal take that women bring to horror.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
MSG: Be persistent and be patient – there’s no race/competition with anyone but yourself. Just keep reading and most importantly, keep writing. Go to conventions and network with editors and agents. If you sell one book, they’re likely going to expect you to produce something else within a reasonable amount of time thereafter, so keep at it. It’s a long, slow business, but it isn’t impossible, and you only get better as you go.
To women horror writers in particular, I think my advice would be to consider yourselves writers first; if marketing folk choose to label you a woman writer or a horror writer or an African American writer or any other neat little promotional pigeonhole they can find, let them. Don’t be afraid to be both beautiful and dangerous. Say something; I mean, really say what’s in your soul, what you feel passionate about – that’s what “writing what you know” REALLY means.
Mary SanGiovanni’s Links: