April Hawks is a Woman in Horror who is a total inspiration for anyone who knows her. Aside from being a writer, she’s a mum and mum to one hell of a tough little thug who had cancer at age 3. I’ve been Facebook “friends” with April for a fair while and though I don’t know her well I’ve been in absolute awe of her as a writer, woman and mum. When I decided to have Women in Horror Month interviews, I was thrilled when April said she’d love to take part. Thanks for stopping by April!!
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up about an hour northish of where I live now, and while there were the usual family issues any obnoxious teen thinks they have, my family is pretty cool. I actually live about ten minutes from three uncles, four aunts, a couple cousins and my grandparents and we are a tight knit clan. It is amazing to me how close my kids are to their great grandparents, and feel blessed that they have that as an experience. I am fortunate similarly, that I was able to get to know two of my great grandfathers and I still have letters from my Grampy White, who was an author as well. Though he passed in the early 2000s at 91 years old, I also have signed copies of each of his books that I treasure. I also gave my main character, from my novel The Birthday Slasher: An Arielle Charltray Novel, my grandmother’s maiden name. Unbeknownst to me, I gave my main character’s dad my great grandfather’s middle name as his first name. If that makes any sense. I had started the book a few years ago and I only found out last week that the J. in my great grandfather’s name stood for Joseph.
I have always loved to write and to read and when I started to buckle down and write and pursue publishing, it was an amazing feeling of coming home. I’ve been in and out of college since I graduated High School. Sixteen years working on my Associate’s degree, and counting. But I was going to school with a focus in English because I wanted to teach College level English classes. That has kind of fallen to the wayside, but not completely off the table.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something mad you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
I am laughing because I have changed so much in the last few years. I have known my friend and Mentor, Peter N. Dudar, for a few years, now. And when we met, I was a bit more shy, and intimidated as hell. Our kids went to the same pre-school program and though I had spoken to his wife regularly, I kind of freaked out when I found out he was an author. He had been published. Here I was, this mom with one marriage behind me, and a relationship that blessed me with two more kids. (Now, we have been married for seven years and added another kid.) Anyway, Peter told me that he wrote horror and I was thinking ‘I don’t even watch that shit, let alone write about it.’ And he told me he wrote short stories, and I was like ‘I want to write novels.’ But we continued to stay in touch, though my friendship stayed primarily with his wife. But Pete is a cool guy.
This kind of overlapped with an opportunity I was gifted with. The Wounded Warrior Project was introduced to me and they sent me to New York City to participate in a workshop with other caregivers of Wounded veterans. So, in June, 2012, I got to have this amazing two days of workshops with an amazing group of women, a small little group of six of us in addition to two mentors. I saw an off Broadway Play (or off, off Broadway, I forget) called Rapture Blister Burn, written by Gina Gionfrido who was another mentor. The play had an amazing cast including Amy Brenneman and Lee Turgison. It was AH MAY ZING. But I digress.
The workshop was in two parts. That was the first part. The second came in October, after the ground fell out from beneath my feet.
August 31, 2012
My son, who was three days shy of his third birthday, was diagnosed with Cancer. So September was insanity for me, and I really remember very little. But what I do remember is that I thought seriously about not going to the second portion. Friends and family persuaded me, reminding me that a recharge was a good idea after all we had been immersed in as a family. So I went. And I got an assignment from my mentors to write a personal essay. With the help of my mentors, I edited and re wrote and re wrote more. In the meantime, I buy copies of all the anthologies that Peter had been in and I read cover to cover and was intrigued, but not enough to try to write it myself.
So then, Peter comes back to me and tells me that he got an invite for an anthology that he thinks would be a great opportunity for me. When I read about it, I agree whole heartedly. I got in touch with the editor, Lori Michelle, and I made a friend and got my essay accepted for inclusion into the anthology benefitting the National Children’s Cancer Society.
On top of the essay, I literally thought “Fuck it. I’ll try a fiction piece, too.” And I did. And I poured so much into it that it soothed me and helped me process my son’s diagnosis and the symptoms that he was experiencing and…it just helped me sort my brain out. And it was total shit. But I had done it. And the process of writing that story, Dark Fever, was amazing. I had a complete piece. It may not have been great, but it was whole. And so I went from “I’ll never write Horror,” intending to leave both the genre and the format to Peter, to eventually taking on a challenge to write a story every week in 2014. And submitting work wasn’t intimidating anymore because after you hear the words “your son has cancer” it is difficult to be afraid of rejection for your writing.
Never say never.
Oh, I also want to say that my son is now six and a half and off treatment. And a nutjob.
What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
I would have to say that The Stand is my favorite. It was my Stephen King Gateway. Lol. I saw the movie when it was on television and I fell in love. It was sad and funny and thought provoking. It was an epic journey, much like the fantasy books I adore. And My favorite Martian was in it, so you know, win! And I had to read the book. And the book was more amazing than the movie. So that is how I do movie/books, now. Watch the movie then read the book. And I have liked King, and devoured what I could find. Except for IT which freaked me the fuck out at age 8 (still not mad, Jen. It is a great story to tell)
But even at that point, in my early twenties, I never looked past King and when I had exhausted what was around me of his work, I went back to my epic fantasies.
What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
I have written a novel, which is in vomit draft at the moment (first draft…get it all out and clean it up later. I can’t say Anne Lamotte’s phrase ‘Shitty First Drafts’ in front of my kids. Lol.) and I referenced it above. The Birthday Slasher: An Arielle Charltray Novel. Inspired by a date with my husband when we were first dating, actually. It is in the hands of beta readers at the moment and I am working on it while I wait for notes, too. I have also written well over 52 short stories (or pieces of 2500 words that could grow into more. That was my benchmark) from 2014. And I have an epic fantasy novel started and an Urban Fantasy novel as well. So I have a lot to work with and the desire to do much, much more. A few of my pieces have been accepted and some have been published and that is amazing to me. There is nothing quite like seeing my name in print with something I wrote. It never gets old.
I love my blog, because I used it as a tool for updates through the cancer treatments we have gone through and through my shaving my head to support St. Baldricks national campaign to raise funding for Childhood Cancer research. There is so very much of me in my blog. And I write about things I am passionate about: Childhood Cancer, Veterans issues, Childhood Sexual Trauma and Domestic abuse are my primary advocacy targets on there.
I would say, though, that Slippery Love was the piece that I love the most because it was what got me started. It got me started writing again, it got published, and it wasn’t all about the horrible stuff, on the surface. I wrote about a little boy and his pets- composting worms. But there was a lot underneath. And it was cleansing and healing. It was something I needed badly and hadn’t even known.
But I will also say that my short story, Organically Grown was the first fiction piece someone ever paid me for publishing. That will always be amazing to me.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
I like to listen to James Marsters read Jim Butcher books, but that is mostly because I would listen to him read the contents of dryer lint and be happy. I love Butcher, so I tend to read him in print more. I have a more recent adoration for short stories, and I love that I can make a complete package out of them in a shorter time span than my novels. But I love longer works and though I wouldn’t recommend writing a mystery as a first novel, due to the complexities of keeping track of characters and clues, that is more because of personal preference and my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Diagnosed, even)
And I have digressed, but really, I think they all have a place. Some people will go see a play before they would read. Others are more into television and movies. Others like audio because it works with their commutes. I think anything that engages someone is important and not to be overlooked. So I don’t really have a favorite form.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
Other than this interview? Hahah. (It was funnier in my head) Edits and rewrites for The Birthday Slasher, and when the kids return to school after February break, I will haul out my box of short stories and will play with them and look at getting some ready for submitting.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
The Bronte sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Shelley and the other classic women that paved the way, first and foremost. Jean Auel, who wrote the Clan of the Cave Bear series and wrote a strong female character that I wanted to emulate and was going to name my daughter after (har har. Joke’s on me. I have all boys.) But I will feel terrible if I were to list current women authors that reside in my Facebook Friends list and forgot some. Plus, there are so very many that I couldn’t possibly remember them all. Honestly, I don’t always pay attention to whether the author is male or female when I read a book. I just read and if I enjoy it, great! Then I get more of their books. If not, I don’t.
Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with?
Sadly, not at the moment. I am a solitary writer, other than my writer’s group, Tuesday Mayhem Society, with Peter Dudar and Morgan Sylvia. When we are able to get together we have an amazing and productive time.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
I am totally digging post apocalypse stuff at the moment. My TBR pile is GINORMOUS and again, I am not even sure what is on it. I have bookshelves of books to read and a ton of books on my kindle that I read in the order I downloaded them. (OCD though art a brutal mistress)
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?
There have been a few assholes on Facebook that have said stupid shit, but overall, I have found the horror community to be warm and welcoming. And to be honest, if publishers have rejected me because I am a woman, they have been wise enough not to say that to me. I have gotten into debates with people during the last two women in Horror months. The first started with me trying to give a person an opportunity to clear up his stupidity. I was assuming, since he kept saying that he wasn’t a mysogenist, that the words he was using were the wrong ones. So, I tried to help him out of the clusterfuck in which he had entangled himself. His beginning statement was that the official picture of women in horror month was a pair of bright red lips and fangs. That was actually not correct. The official picture was hockey mask. But he began to talk about how it wasn’t classy to use bright red lips and fangs. And then the conversation turned to vagina dentata. And there was a terrible spiral downward from there. Though I had submitted some stuff to him, and his press, I ended the debacle by blocking him. I have no interest in being affiliated in any way with that whole mess, or a press represented by him. But I will say that it was glorious to see so many people put red lipstick on in solidarity of the inanity. Even my husband took a red lipsticked selfie. And so there was a tremendous backlash for him and a rally around the women.
Last year, again trying to be helpful, a man asked about any writers in Maine, in a private group. I told him about Tuesday Mayhem Society and a couple other writers. and he went on a huge rant about how we were not actual writers and that all women in horror were hags. He was a real ass by the end of it. Again, I blocked. Both cases, however, I commented on in my blog. Once again, the backlash was not good to that man. And I think that is beautiful. In this case, we had profile pictures of “hags” and we were the Horror Hags! Men and women alike. And I was able to coin the phrase #restinghagface. Which I still use.
The most important thing that I walked away from both times was the support that we got. People all over Facebook rallied and took a stand that this was not acceptable. That is huge! I mean when I think of how many Facebook friends I have, to see that only two were douchetastic was very cool. And they aren’t my friends anymore, anyway. There is such a comradery in the writing community. And we handled it in a very tongue in cheek manner, which I think is great! There was an abundance of sarcasm and wink. Wink, nudge, nudgeing happening. So it was addressed, but in a funny way, I think.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you?
Because women still have more success when taking a gender neutral or a male pen name. Because the perception is still there that women are too soft to write anything scary. And I know, because I know what my perception of a horror writer used to be. In an ideal world, (which we all know this is not) there is no preconceived notion of what a horror writer should be or is. If someone wants to dress up to sell their books (an issue brought up last year in the crazy speak) fuck it! My first thought was “let them” but it is no one else’s decision to ‘let people’ do things. If the person in the booth next to you at a writing convention, is dressed like a vampire, who the fuck cares? We are way too tied into the way things should or shouldn’t be. And so there is still a perception that women shouldn’t be writing gore or whatever. Until people stop deciding what the picture for Women in Horror Month should or shouldn’t be, until people no longer associate women that write horrific things with hags, we will continue to need WIHM. It is sad to me, though, that in the year 2016, we still underestimate people enough that we NEED _______ (fill in the blank) month for any group of people at all. But that is another rant. Take some time and check out some female horror writers and see that we can do it just as well, and in some cases better, than our male counterparts. And I only say the last part because in any genre there is a bunch of poorly written shit out there, from any gender.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write. If you write, you are a writer. Publication is secondary.
April Hawks Links:
Facebook: Author page https://www.facebook.com/AprilDawnHawks
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/April-Hawks/e/B00FRLSH9I/