Hey everyone. One of today’s WiHM7 interviews is with Dr. Angela Slatter. Angela is a British Fantasy Award and World Fantasy Award winning author; a Dr of Creative Writing; an incredibly kind and generous person who has been especially welcoming of n00bs like myself, ever since I stumbled into the world of writing, editing and genre fiction. Probably one my ginuwine favourite interwebz people, although legend has it she also exists on the corporeal plane… the stupendously talented Angela Slatter:
A. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
AS: I’ve always been a voracious reader and I’ve always scribbled, but I only made the decision to start writing seriously about twelve years ago. I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and think “Jeeez, I wish I’d given that a go.” So I threw in a high-paying job in Sydney, moved back to Queensland and started learning the writing craft from scratch. I did a Grad Dip in Creative Writing and was lucky it was a good practical program, then started an MA and produced a collection of rewritten fairy tales, all of which were published before I submitted my finished project for marking − my first sale was to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the second was to Shimmer. I started a PhD, which I eventually finished, and have been consistently publishing since 2006. I’ve had six short story collections published (two with Lisa L. Hannett), there’s a seventh coming out in October 2016, and last year I signed a three-book deal with Jo Fletcher Books for an urban fantasy series − the first book, Vigil, comes out in July 2016.
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!”?
AS: I think it probably crept up on me … I read a lot of horror as a teen, a mix of Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, Clive Barker, and anthologies edited by Stephen Jones which brought together the likes of Kim Newman, Steve Rasnic Tem, et al. I sought out female horror writers like Tanith Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Marghanita Laski, Barbara Baynton, Mary Shelley, because I often found them more subtle and more chilling (not all the time). One of the first stories I remember writing was about a woman obsessed with books who killed someone in order to get a book that she’d been denied. Probably my first dark detour! Writing for me has been a lot of trying out different genres and styles, as well as reading a lot before I found my own voice.
When I write a fairy tale influenced piece, I’m always drawing on the old horror of the original tales. When I write a modern horror story, I’m still drawing on some inflections of horrific elements in old fairy and folk tales. I think the horror stories that I’ve written that creep me out the most are “Finnegan’s Field”, “Winter Children” and “Cuckoo” … I think they all cut very close to the bone of women’s lives.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
AS: I’m not precisely sure what ‘jimmies’ are … if you mean scared the bejesus outta me, then there have been a few for different reasons:
I’ve said a lot of times that Marghanita Laski’s “The Tower” was the first horror story I read that I just adored coz it’s so atmospheric and filled with dread. Then there’s Barbara Baynton’s “The Chosen Vessel”, which I realise I read much earlier than the Laski, when we lived out at Longreach − I was still in primary school and the story is about the murder of an isolated woman, the wife of a drover and her child left on a property while her husband goes off shearing … I think because the story echoed the landscape I was living in it was extra disturbing. Then there’s anything by M.R. James. but particularly “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad”. There’s Saki’s “Gabriel Ernest” and “Sredni Vashtar”. The “Wendigo’s Child” by Thomas F. Montelone gave me nightmares as a kid.
What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
AS: Seven short story collections, two novellas, one novel, and over 150 short stories. All are listed here http://www.angelaslatter.com/publications/, but the ones that are of most interest:
- Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, 2010) − shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and Aurealis Award for Best Collection
- The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales (Ticonderoga Publications, 2010) − won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection
- Midnight and Moonshine (with Lisa L. Hannett; Ticonderoga Publications 2012) − shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection
- The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press, 2014) − won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, shortlised for the Aurealis Award for Best Collection.
- Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications, 2014) − shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards for Best Collection.
- The Female Factory (with Lisa L. Hannett; Twelfth Planet Press 2014) − won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection.
- Of Sorrow and Such (Tor.com novella series, 2015).
- Ripper (novella in Stephen Jones’ Horrorology: The Lexicon of Fear, Jo Fletcher Books 2015)
- A Feast of Sorrows: Stories isn’t out yet but will be out in October 2016 via Prime Books in the US, which will be my first collection specifically released in the US. It’s mostly a reprint collection, with two new novellas in it.
- Vigil: Book 1 of the Verity Fassbinder Series, out in July 2016, from Jo Fletcher Books in the UK and Hachette in Australia.
General points of interest:
- I’m the first Australian to win a British Fantasy Award (for “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” in Stephen Jones’ A Book of Horrors, Jo Fletcher Books).
- In 2014, I had three collections out and in the 2015 Aurealis Awards all three were shortlisted in Best Collection − Lisa and I won with The Female Factory.
- In the 2015 Aurealis Awards Shortlists, I had two entries in Best Fantasy Short Story (won with “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls), and one in the Best Horror Short Story (which I won with “Home and Hearth”).
- The Female Factory got an Honourable Mention in the Norma K. Hemming Awards.
Also: I cannot pick a favourite child. Don’t Sophie’s Choice me, dude.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
AS: At the moment I am being squeezed mercilessly by March deadlines. I’m editing the last novella (Darker Angels) to go into the Prime collection A Feast of Sorrows: Stories (mostly reprints but with two new 20k novellas); I’m finishing the novel Corpselight, which is the sequel to Vigil; I’m working on a weird noir story for Joe Pulver, called “Dahlia Blues”; I’ve just agreed to write something else for someone else; I’ve got about four secret anthology projects that I’ve got to write stories for … and there’s a novella called The Briar Book of the Dead that either needs editing or turning into a novel … and when I finish Corpselight, I have to start writing Restoration, which is the final Verity book in the trilogy … then I have to start looking for a new three-book deal! AND I’m also doing a book of film criticism for Neil Snowdon and Electric Dreamhouse Press (an imprint of PS Publishing) this year focusing on the Karnstein Trilogy of films made by Hammer Horror.
Q. You do the odd spell of freelance editing and you certainly have the talented and skill to go down that path if you ever felt like it. Do you ever see yourself editing an anthology or other forms as a career or creative choice?
AS: Every so often I think “Yeah, I could edit a really interesting fairy tale, mosaic world anthology” … then I go and have a lie down until the feeling passes, because I remember precisely what’s involved. Not just the sourcing stories (managing whinging from writers you didn’t contact or whose stories you didn’t accept), gladhanding and ego-massaging the writers whose stories you need to edit, dealing with contracts, printing, finding a publishing house you can rely on, getting typesetting done, commissioning cover art that doesn’t just look like a stock photo with bad font over the top, then ensuring everyone’s paid … then marketing the damned book, finding reviewers, eventually (if you’re lucky) then having to dole out royalties to authors … and all that time and stress is time and stress I could be usefully applying to my own work. So if I ever say “I’m editing an anthology” you’ll know I’ve been kidnapped and am trying to give a signal or I’ve gone mad.
Similarly, occasionally I think about writing a film script: “Hey, 90 pages, how hard could it be?” It’s fucking hard!!! That’s an art form all on its own and I am not a master of it. A mate of mine did something like four scripts (commissioned) in two months − hats off to him, the mad sod, but he did it, and he did it because it’s his field and he’s an expert at it. So, I’ll stick to what I know!
Q. Is there any quality or skill etc that makes a good horror editor, specifically? s
- Knowledge of grammar, spelling and sentence structure. The general skills any good editor in any genre should have as well as contacts in the industry rather than just a whim/fancy to be an editor.
- The ability to help the writer tease out the story’s best shape, NOT t he desire to make the story into the one they would have written if they’d had a chance.
- Open-mindedness about the various forms horror can come in, so it’s not all just “Saw”, but rather things that are more subtle, a mix of light and dark, not just body horror.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
AS: Argh! How can you choose? Why would you ask me that? Why?
I love the particular subtlety a lot of female horror writers bring to their work, even though it’s that very subtlety that often causes them to be dismissed as horror writers. “There’s not one chainsaw, NOT ONE in this work, how can you call her a horror writer??” But the more subtle and insidious the tales are, the more I like them. So, I will make a list that cannot possibly be complete and some will say “They ain’t horror authors”, to which I reply “You ain’t reading them right.” Tanith Lee, Thana Niveau, Alison Littlewood, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, Lisa L. Hannett, Nnedi Okorafor Kirstyn McDermott, Kaaron Warren, Kelly Link, Gemma Files, Damien Angelica Walters, Lisa Tuttle, Caitlín R. Kiernan,Shirley Jackson, Sarah Langan, Molly Tanzer, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lynda Rucker, K. Tempest Bradford, Maura McHugh, Margo Lanagan, Anna Tambour, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro …
All are women who’ll lead you in quite gently then unsettle you and then slap you in the face with some terrible thing that isn’t simply about body horror, but the actual destruction of a soul, of happiness, of love. Examples? Nalo Hopkinson’s “Greedy Choke Puppy”, Lisa Hannett’s “Forever, Miss Tapekwa County”, Tanith Lee’s “La Dame”, Damien Angelica Walters’ “Sing Me Your Scars”. And I must add Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” as I just read it the other day and it blew me away − extremely visceral, haunting body horror very skilfully done.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
AS: The TBR pile is presenting a danger to all and sundry, but these are the ones I’ll pick out: Will Lawson’s When Cobb & Co Was King, the Audrey Niffenegger anthology Ghostly, Mary Norris’ Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove, C.S.E. Cooney’s Bone Swans, and I’m re-reading John Connolly’s Nocturnes collection as well as Dark Hollow.
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?
AS: I’ve been relatively lucky, but the main ones are either dismissal on the grounds of having a lack of white penis (or indeed any penis at all) − “She can’t write horror for she has no wang!” − or reviews that smack of hurt male feels − “She’s written about awful men doing awful things to women! She must hate all men! Also: waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!”
Both of these things are childish and tiring.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important?
AS: I admit to feeling conflicted about it. It annoys me that we need it, like some kind of remedial training to remind certain readers we’re here. It feels a bit like we’re Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny: mythical creatures that people remember once a year. Remember folks: a female horror author isn’t just for Christmas, she’ll scare the crap out of you all year round.
But on the other hand I’m happy to see my fellow female horror writers highlighted and for readers to get to know work they might not naturally seek out.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
- Keep writing.
- Learn your craft and never ever think you know it all.
- Develop a thick skin, but realise that story criticism is aimed at making the story better, not at making you feel bad about yourself.
- It’s better to have someone find problems with a story before you send it out into the world.
- Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships with other writers and publishers, not just about you getting what you can.
- Don’t send Facebook friend requests to other writers and then ask them to like your page and buy your book: (a) it’s just rude and (b) other writers are not generally your audience.
Angela Slatter Links:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005QQ9FOA