Welcome back, folks. For my next interview I’m speaking to Chantal Noordeloos. Chantal has been raising eyebrows with her scary stories of late, including the novel Angel Manor which made the 2014 Preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. It is inching closer to the top of my TBR pile. Take it away, Chantal!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
CN: I always leave this question for last, when I’m filling in these interviews, because I never know what people would want to hear about me. I’m Dutch, but at age 15 I started with an English education, because the language appealed to me. That was coincidentally around the age I decided I wanted to be a writer. It took me a long time to finally focus on writing, but I’m glad I did.
Aside from my work, which takes up a lot of my time, I’m a happily married mom, who is terrorized daily by her two cats. That sounds a lot more ‘normal’ than I feel I am *grin*. In reality I’m one of those restless creative souls that just can’t sit still. I’m always doing something. If it’s not writing, I’m creative some other way. I paint, sculpt miniatures and meeples out of polymer clay, draw, role play, LARP (which I also used to organize and may do again one day), travel, and am a complete board game geek. There’s rarely any calm in my life, but luckily my husband and daughter enjoy weathering the storms with me. That said, I absolutely hate any drama, and will run and hide from that. I prefer fun storms.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
CN: I sat and stared at this question for the longest time. It’s a great question, but giving the right answer is difficult. I think most of us are fascinated with fear, and I’m no exception to this. If I wanted to be mature and eloquent about it, I’d probably say something like “There are many things in the world that frighten us, and horror gives us a controlled means to deal with that,” but in all honesty… I like scaring people. I’ve always been fascinated by horror, even though I am by nature a deeply frightened person (perhaps that’s the exact reason why I’m so fascinated). Before I started writing books, I would write role play adventures (table top role play as well as Larp) that had a strong horror element to them. It gave me quite a reputation, and at one point, in the Larp world, I was known as ‘the lady of high terror’. I only felt they were successful if the games scared me too. I’ve always enjoyed that type of fear.
When I started writing short stories, it wasn’t a far leap to write horror tales. In all fairness, I write all different types of speculative fiction, not just horror, but horror is the genre that seems to come easiest to me.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
CN: Story wise, it would have to be Bloody Mary. That has always frightened the living daylights out of me. I’m an adult woman (I would debate the whole ‘mature’ thing), who still is scared of mirrors in the dark. And, though I don’t believe in anything… you would never catch me saying Bloody Mary to a freaking mirror. I don’t know why, I just won
Movie wise, ‘the Ring’ had the same effect on me. That freaked me out. If my husband wants to scare me, he’ll whisper in my ear “You shouldn’t have helped her, Rachel,” and I’ll be a mess. *hugs herself and rocks back and forth*
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
CN: As I mentioned before, I write more than just horror, but for now I’ll stick to my horror stuff (since that is the theme and all). In the genre I’ve written one novel so far, called Angel Manor, which is the first book in the Lucifer Falls trilogy. Aside from that I’m working on a series of seven novelettes which is called Even Hell Has Standards. Each novelette represents one of the seven sins.
I’ve written several short stories for anthologies, and most of them are bundled in my Deeply Twisted collection.
Which is my favorite in the horror genre? Wow… that’s a difficult question. It’s almost like asking a mother to pick their favorite child *grins*. I do have a few that I struggle to decide between. Soulman (short story in Deeply Twisted) is one of my absolute favorites. The Even Hell Has Standards series is too, despite it being the most difficult thing I have ever written. It’s a series in which I tackle real human horror (though with a supernatural twist) and the subject matter can be brutal. I do feel very connected to these stories, in a strange way. Especially Pride (the first one in the series) is one that’s very special to me. The last on this list is a reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, which I haven’t really given a home yet, so it’s not out in the world. I just love the story, and it’s very dark and very ‘me’. These three stories say a lot about my writing style and the subjects that interest me, if that makes sense?
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
CN: I love it all. Don’t make me choose *puppy eyes*. As someone who struggles a lot with concentration issues, I am very grateful for audio books. When my mind can’t focus on any written word aside from that which I’m writing, I still get to ‘read’ while I’m doing something else (like most of my creative hobbies).
Audio drama’s and podcast are just so much fun. I’ve loved a good audio play since I was a little kid, and the idea that one of my stories may become one, one day… that is just ‘writing bucket list’ material.
Writing short stories is very fulfilling. You get to tell so much in so few words. I love writing them, but I have to admit, I need to be in the right frame of mind for it. When I’m working on longer pieces, I find it difficult to switch back to short stories. This is the reason why I very often decline requests I get for anthologies. It’s not that I don’t love to be asked, it’s just that I need the mind space for writing them.
Novel writing is amazing too, and it’s so immersive. I can get so utterly sucked up in the setting of my novel, and it’s actually difficult to come back to reality, once I’m fully ‘in’ the story.
So… ehm… not really answering your question here. The answer is: No… I do not have a favorite *whispers* they are all my precious.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
CN: At this moment I’m working on the sequel to Angel Manor. It might be called House of Dolls, or something like that. Good titles are like unicorns to me, they feel impossible to find.
I’ve been working on it for quite a while, but it’s been tricky, because the whole Lucifer Falls trilogy ties in with another (urban fantasy) series I’ve been writing called Celestials, and it’s actually also connected to the Even Hell Has Standards series. I just like working with this great big world, and I can go in several directions with it.
This does means I need to go back and forth between the projects a lot.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
CN: I’m sorry to say that my favorite female writer is not a horror writer, but a young adult fantasy writer. I would have to go with JK Rowling. Her work really speaks to my imagination.
Having said that, there are a lot of female horror writers I have met during my short career that absolutely kick ass. I always get very nervous naming people I know, because I’m afraid to forget to mention someone. I hate leaving people out.
It’s my hope that people will look deeper into female horror authors. Not just the famous ones, but the ladies who are published by small or independent presses. There are some real hidden gems in their midst.
Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with?
CN: I’m completely oblivious to any projects at the moment. I’m working on my novels, and haven’t really been looking around.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
CN: *looks at the huge stack of books in her TBR pile and giggles nervously* Gee… have you got a moment… or maybe a year? I think there are easily a few hundred books in my TBR pile, so I won’t mention them all. I just finished Dune, and my next read will be High Moore 3 by Graeme Reynolds. I’m going to be listening to the audio book version narrated by the very talented Chris Barnes for this one. Lisa Lane’s Private Sector will be the first book I will read when I find some peace of mind. I started it, and it was awesome, but I want to give it my full attention. It’s not the kind of book that I would just skim over, and this lady is an amazing author
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?
CN: *gets that ‘deer in headlights’ look in her eyes*
Right, okay… we’re doing this. As much as this is a very important question to ask, it’s extremely difficult to answer without sounding like a ‘victim’. So, I want to point out from the beginning, I don’t want to sound like a martyr, or give the impression in any way that the ‘big bad writing world’ is trying to crush me.
Having that out of the way… yes, there are challenges that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, and not just the horror genre (don’t even get me started on Science Fiction). As I’m sure that in romance there are unique challenges in being a man. There are certain stereotypes and expectations you have to deal with as a female. Some of them are a mere annoyance, but there are things that I’ve come across in my relatively short career, that really changed the way I view the world.
First of all, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m surrounded by people who treat me with respect, so the problems I deal with are marginal compared to what some others face. Yet, it’s impossible to get around certain prejudices. For one… it’s more difficult to get readers. Getting people to read your work is always a challenge as a writer, but I have had people tell me straight out they refused to read horror written by women (not just men either). There is this notion that women can only write novels from a romantic perspective. I can’t even blame the readers for this, because so many books are badly categorized, that it would create false notions. Publishers get their genres mixed up, and readers read the wrong books.
A few years ago, right after I had this debate about women not being able to write horror, I walked into a bookstore and saw in the very small horror section “Flowers in the Attic” by Virginia Andrews. My first reaction was: “Well, here’s your problem”. I will admit the book has a certain darkness to it, but I would not categorize it as horror. It’s drama with a twisted sense of romance. Not meant to scare. Horror should always at least aim to scare the reader. Not that it always will, but the aim is enough. I was even more surprised to find the Twilight series in the horror section of another store. Part of me still hopes that someone accidentally misplaced the entire series.
I wouldn’t be impressed with female horror writers either, if VC Andrews or Stephanie Meyer were my basis of comparison. When I read horror, I want it to be the right genre. That’s not all, either. I’ve read a few online articles of female horror writers complaining that their books were given the wrong covers. The covers would hint at a more romantic content to the book, rather than portray its true horrific genre.
This can be killing for any author, because you want your book to hit the right audience. If the cover is wrong, it will not only put off your target audience, but it will appeal to the wrong ones. I really wouldn’t want people, who are looking for a paranormal romance, to pick up any of my horror books. I don’t think they’ll like me very much for it. My work is neither ‘soft’ nor ‘romantic’.
But the most disturbing thing about being a female horror writer is how some people treat us. Aside from refusing to read our work, there are people who will go as far as insult us. I have seen the strangest accusations towards women in horror. Our appearance seems to mean a lot to a number of people. They can’t decide whether we need to be beautiful or ugly, for that matter. I’ve, directly and indirectly, been called a hag, a slut, needy, attention seeking, ‘not classy’, and ridiculous. Not because of anything I did, but because I’m female. People have hinted that women use their looks to sell books. We’ve been ridiculed for the way we dress, for using pictures of ourselves holding a book, or for being outspoken. It’s not something I see my male colleagues struggle with in the same degree. It’s okay to use your picture when you’re a guy, but when you do the same as a woman, you’re ‘typically female’ and you’re ‘so needy for attention’.
Personally I don’t see what my looks have to do with my writing. I doubt Stephen King has had many problems regarding his appearance. It’s weird that we are expected to live up to all these demands (which contradict each other). This part can be disheartening.
There are other things, but I honestly think I’ve spent enough time on this subject, and I’ve made my point. This has been more serious than I often care to be in interviews, so let’s get on with the fun stuff.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you?
CN: *laughs* Okay… have it your way… more serious stuff it is.
Because the world still needs to be reminded that we’re here, and that we can honestly write horror too. Because when I look into lists of top 10 classic horror writers, Mary Shelley (who is one of the founders of the genre) is almost always missing. Because we are too often forgotten, overlooked or worse… not taken seriously.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
CN: If you’re like me, you dream big, and you will have high expectations of the writing world. Unless you get extremely lucky (it’s rare, but it happens… some people win the lottery, some people become an instant writing success) you will find that it’s not an easy world. There will be a point where you will be utterly disheartened by everything. Don’t give up. You will push past that, and you will learn to love the profession again. It’s not easy, but it’s so much better than not writing. That’s what’s most important.
Another thing is… Do the research. Don’t just sign contracts, make sure that they are fair to you (too many won’t be), and that there’s a reasonable way out of them. Make sure you research publishers and agents too, not all of them know what they are doing.
Always have your work edited by a professional. I don’t care how good your language is, do it anyway. Your editor will pick up things that you are blind to. We all have our blind spots, and there is no shame in that. This is not about ego, this is about putting out the best book you can.
And lastly: You can’t please them all. You will want to, but you can’t. There will be people out there that will absolutely hate your work. If you don’t believe me, read the reviews of that famous writer that you adore. Someone hates them too. It’s okay. We can’t have it all, and that’s fine. Learn from critique, but focus on the love. It will make you a happier writer.
Good luck, and thanks for reading!
Chantal Noordeloos Links