Welcome back to another WIHM Interview! Today we have Karen Runge visiting my blog. Karen Runge is one my favourite authors. We first crossed paths in Jack Ketchum’s horror class at Litreactor.com. The work she presented in class was so good that I invited her to put a story in my debut anthology Suspended my Dusk. Karen has since gone on to sell to Shock Totem and we even co-wrote a story together, High Art, that was collected the Death’s Realm anthology from Grey Matter Press.
Probably one of the more twisted women in horror, I give you: Karen Runge.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
KR: I’m a horror writer, dark literature writer, wannabe poet and artist… well, a lover of all things creative. I’m native to South Africa but was born in France, and have been past resident of several other countries too over the years. Okay, this is already too complicated! I don’t have a straight-lane background. But since we’re both in the lit world, I’ll try to keep it there. I’m primarily a short story writer, but have a novel coming out this year as well as my own short story collection. Maybe I write because I’m trying to make sense of such a muddled history and background? I wouldn’t be the first!
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!”?
KR: Essentially what draws me to this marvelous, diverse genre is its depth. People who aren’t into horror tend to think that its fans and creators are lunatics, sickos or psychos, or just generally very shady people. Not at all. Horror, first and foremost, is an exercise in empathy. From schlock to high-end dark literature. What they all have in common is that if it doesn’t make you feel, it’s not working. Horror tells hard truths from all angles, and from what I’ve seen it’s the only genre that does so without flinching. Sincerity can be brutal. But it’s also honest. I admire that. No, I adore that.
My “Fuck it!” moment probably happened when I was very, very young—too young maybe to even know that word! My older brother, in true bully-little-sister style typical to that age, used to take horror story collections out of the library, read them, and then retell them to me (with heavy embellishments)—hoping to make me cry, give me nightmares, I don’t know. It kind of backfired because I loved it! My first ‘horror stories’ were drawings I did of werewolves and beasties based on the stories he’d told me. I can’t have been more than six or seven years old, but already I was obsessed. Down the years my English teachers quickly came to know that any creative writing assignments I handed in would be more than a little… well, let’s say quirky. Thankfully they encouraged me, and there weren’t too many awkward teacher-parent conferences!
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
KR: That’s tricky. I read horror from all edges, and when I’m impressed I get so drawn in I forget the others for a while. I guess there may be a few, from different stages of my life. I read Stephen King’s IT when I was about thirteen, and I was so struck by it that to this day I still have dreams with a distinct Derry-town feel. I know, it’s so common to list Mr King as the jimmy-rustler. But hey, it’s true. That one hit me hard because the horror I’d read up until then (and loved) had been very pulpy. That book was the first to show me how very serious and adult horror can be, even when talking about a psycho alien ‘clown’. It completely shifted my perspective on the true nature of horror as a creative medium. Joyce Carol Oates’ MAN CRAZY took it even further–into abuse cycles, physical and psychological trauma… the first time I recognised what I’d argue is a horror story without the supernatural bend. Latest on my knee-jerk list was Stona Fitch’s SENSELESS. It’s what some would describe as Torture Porn, but there’s a storm of very intent, focused intellect driving it. Again, one to show that what you assume a genre or sub-genre is can be very different when done right, by the right hands. Which I think is sheer magic.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
I’ve had a bunch of short stories published—first appearing in South Africa’s Something Wicked, on to a few little ezines, on to Pseudopod, Shock Totem… and from there the very excellent Grey Matter Press. My favourite short would probably have to be GOOD HELP, the story I wrote in the workshop we took together, dear Simon. Not because it’s the best writing I’ve done, but because as a story it was probably the most concise. That one came out in Shock Totem #9 – my first 100% pro-published story. So it has a special place in my heart.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
KR: I’m a hardcore book junkie. I love the feel, the smell, the story that builds within the story each time you turn a page. I’m all for coffee stains and dog-eared pages. They show that a book has been read, really read—which means loved. I listen to podcasts at least three times a week when I’m mucking around, doing housework or whatever. But without actual books… my life would not be complete. And so of course I love seeing my own name, my own stories on paper. It’s a thrill that never loses its potency.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
KR: Edits! Oh joy. I started what might maybe be a new novel a few weeks back but, as I mentioned, I’ve got two books coming out this year that are demanding my attention. I’ll get back to the real work soon, very soon, because this one keeps on nagging me and I think that means she’s serious about being written. But for the moment, it’s all about the red pens.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
KR: I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates. I simply cannot choose between the two. I loved Lionel Shriver’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, but that’s the only book of hers I’ve read. I’ve been obsessed with Sylvia Plath since I was about twelve. What do these women have in common? They talk real, they talk deep, they talk disturbing. They’re not afraid of their own intelligence, and their works are super powerful. Any artist—never mind woman—who can create like that has my full attention. Not to mention my admiration.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
KR: I’m currently reading Sidney Sheldon’s THE NAKED FACE. I’ve never read any of Sheldon’s work before, so I’m taking my time with it to see what all the fuss is about. I’m also due to reread LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN by Hubert Selby, Jr. The one that sparked a court case over its obscenity, and almost got itself banned. Or did? I think it actually did, somewhere. Yes, that one. I first read it when I was about eighteen and its unflinching rawness beyond impressed me. I’ve thought about it often over the years. So, it’s time for a revisit I think. I also have a pile of dark lit books on their way to me from the States… South African bookstores don’t understand that the Horror section should not necessarily be the exclusive domain of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. So I’m really, really looking forward to getting my hands on them. When they finally do arrive, I’ll probably give up sleeping altogether just to make time for them!
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 you faced that are complicated by your gender?
KR: There’s a reaction I sometimes get from men. A kind of You?? No way! reflexive double-take when I mention I write horror, collect disturbing films, or even just say anything that doesn’t fit the corset confines of what they assume I must be into / like / do as a woman—or as I appear to them, as a woman. You have to work harder to get people to accept that, yes, you really do like this. Yes, you really do do this. That you’re not just posing to get in with the boys or look cute or what have you. The irony is that women have created this problem themselves, by posing/feigning their interests to get attention. It’s created something of a vicious circle I think. When I was younger I’d get a bit worked up about that—being talked down to, being misunderstood (or even disbelieved) on the basis of my gender. Now I just shake it off and get on with it. Over the years I’ve developed something of a I’ll show ’em attitude, as opposed to tears or helpless outrage. Never a bad thing, right?
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you?
KR” Because of the above-mentioned—guys just don’t expect to see women in the darker edges. We’re supposed to be planning weddings, mooning about having babies, scrapbooking… something. We’re not supposed to cheer when someone gets taken out in brutal fashion in a Slasher film. We’re not supposed to be first in line at horror conventions. WiHM is in place to shift that over a little, wake people up to the fact that maybe the girl in the flowery dress has a shelf full of Stephen King novels at home. Maybe the babe with the big blue eyes has a penchant for cannibal films. But I do also have to say here that the men I’ve come to know in horror lit circles have been incredibly open and supportive. No, that’s not right. They’ve been normal. Totally normal. Not a blink at the fact that I’m a female with a desperate fascination for the hardcore macabre. Thanks, guys! So the tide is already shifting, which is more than encouraging. Let’s keep at it though, because we do still have a ways to go.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write it, don’t be afraid of it, just do it. Do not stress about what other people will think of it. Write to express yourself. Do it for you.