I have to say just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by all of this talent! Not just the ladies I blog with here at The Midnight Society, but also those who have been so kind as to allow me to dig into their writer brains. Amazingness has come from these fabulous women and I hope to continue to be blessed.
Now, without further ado–please welcome Bailey Knight to the cemetery!
1. What does the word “horror” mean to you?
If it frightens me, I’m probably into it.
I love horror because fear is universal and unavoidable. We are all afraid of something, and good horror meets people where they are. Horror is an all-consuming genre that is as much about the storytelling as it is about the where and when of consumption.
There is a theory in media studies about transportation; in short, what makes a story successful is when you feel transported out of your physical reality — where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with — and into the story completely. It’s a full takeover of imagination.
For me, great horror fluctuates between complete immersion in the story and an awareness of my surroundings; it’s the current of fear that makes me hyper aware of my physical self when I’m reading a horror novel or watching a scary movie. Without constant vigilance, the imagined horror may just become something real.
2. Why write horror? What draws you to writing in this genre?
I have a deep and abiding love for what scares me (except butterflies; they are just evil). I have come to write horror the same way I consume horror: I just do it. I can’t remember not doing it. Maybe I’m hardwired for it, but it is invariably part of my storytelling.
As a reader, movie watcher, music listener, I am drawn to stories that connect people to their fears both because of and in spite of their differences of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality, etc. As a writer, I attempt to do some justice to the exploration of fears as related to both “human nature” and more individual characteristics — region, language, religion, race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.
I am particularly drawn to ghost stories.
As a bilingual woman, I spend time reading/watching/listening to ghost stories in both English and Spanish. Every culture, and its related language, has its own mechanisms for storytelling, and those mechanisms influence what’s scary (and why) in very interesting ways. Some stories are compelling and scary in every language, but the language does impact the deliverance of horror.
And most interesting are the stories that don’t — and sometimes can’t — jump the language barrier because they are so intricately tied to their culture center. You could translate them, sure, but will they frighten readers/viewers/listeners with a completely different cultural history?
Which fears are tied to being human, and which fears are tied to our cultural upbringing, and how do the two kinds of fears interplay to define what scares us?
These are the questions I am constantly asking when I’m writing horror.
3. What reactions have you received after telling people that you are a writer of horror? Any interesting anecdotes to share?
I usually discover very quickly what horror means to that person. Some jump immediately to the Saw franchise while others conjure up images from the 80s film adaptations of Stephen King novels. Several people have told me they would love to read what I’ve written, but definitely not if it’s horror! (Usually these are the same people who have read my short stories of the YA variety, none of which are particularly horrific.)
But really, I haven’t had too many interesting reactions. I am currently writing a speculative fiction novel that has strong elements of horror, but I wouldn’t classify it primarily as a horror novel. I do hope I have weird anecdotes for this in the future, though, as I continue to write horror stories.
4. I always tell the traumatic story of my first viewing of Poltergeist when I was in third grade and how it scarred me for years. Do you have any stories of fears to share? This has been a huge topic on our blog.
The Poltergeist is the first horror film I ever watched (except I was four) and I loved it. It scared me and I loved it because I was a little too young to be affected by fictional horror just yet; I still believed my parents would be able to protect me from abduction by evil spirits despite the entire plot of the movie.
In middle school and high school, horror began scaring me outright. I remember those as the years when I really began considering all the nuances of horror, and what scared me began changing. I loved monster movies and crime thrillers, and Stephen King was baffling to me because I either had to sleep with the lights on or I almost peed myself laughing. (I have had to rewrite and shorten this paragraph four times now because I can digress about King for hours.)
One Friday night during my junior year of high school, I went to my best friend’s house for a sleepover. However, there was an unexpected downpour. I stayed the full weekend at my friend’s house because the town was flooding and the roads were all closed. For those three days, we took turns reading Stephen King’s IT out loud to one another. We finished the novel by the end of the weekend.
IT is a frightening novel, to be sure, but what I remember the most about the whole weekend was everything else: the rainstorm and being unable to leave. The novel scared me, but my own fear of rainstorms and feeling trapped in someone else’s house made IT exponentially worse. That novel is forever intertwined with my memory of those three days. I am still afraid of rainstorms, and any time it rains like that I am sixteen, sitting on my best friend’s bed, watching the flooding outside, and her voice is narrating the scene with a little boy, his toy boat, and a clown in a gutter.
5. What is your favorite horror novel? Horror movie? Why?
I actually just have a favorite ghost story; no novel.
My favorite ghost story is La Llorona, which is a story every child in New Mexico grows up hearing — either in Spanish or in English. My mother told the story of La Llorona as “the ditch witch” because she couldn’t pronounce the Spanish name, but it’s a twist on “The Wailing Woman” and is a cautionary tale for children about the dangers of playing around ditches or arroyos in dry seasons.
As my mother tells it, the children of La Llorona were playing in the ditch when a sudden downpour began and they were washed away in the flash flooding; La Llorona searches and searches for her children, and eventually jumps in the ditch to search for them beneath the water. La Llorona drowns, but her ghost continues to haunt the ditch looking for her lost children. When children play in or close to the water, La Llorona will grab them and drag them under the water, thinking they are her children and wanting to reunite with them.
Of course, my mother told me this story about the irrigation ditch that ran the entire length of our hometown, and was only a half mile from our house. I spent a lot of time around the ditch as a kid because the road ran alongside it, and to get anywhere, you walked the ditch. It’s not surprising to me at all that even as an adult my two biggest fears are rainstorms and drowning.
For a favorite horror movie, it would have to be El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) by Guillermo del Toro (2001). Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite filmmakers, and he never fails to introduce me to a new level of terror.
6. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Folklore and ghost stories. Continuing from my answer to the previous question a bit, La Llorona is my favorite ghost story, and it has a long and rich history from Mexico up through the Southwestern United States. It’s a folktale that has changed in small, but meaningful ways through its history, but it remains horrific and frightening in every form.
Ghost stories exemplify a dichotomy between the widespread and the localized. Two countries share the story and the hauntings of La Llorona, and she is somehow the same and different within each community.
7. We love music here at The Midnight Society, especially when it helps us to write creepy stories. Any songs or playlists you can share that have inspired your writing?
I prefer listening to a set of albums (instead of a playlist) when writing; I can switch out albums when I need to connect with a character or invoke a feeling. I don’t think any of the music for my current project is very creepy, but somehow it puts me in the right frame of mind.
Most played right now is Lana Del Rey’s “Once Upon a Dream” (recorded for Disney’s Maleficent, and can I say I am so, so excited for this movie? Favorite Disney villain.) and Foster the People’s new album, Supermodel.
8. Any writing tips you can share with us?
I don’t usually share writing tips because, quite frankly, my writing process is chaotic and a bit academic. I’m an academic writer before anything else, and this translates into my creative writing processes in very frustrating ways. But, it’s how writing works for me, so what can I do?
I outline and research continuously, and when I want to alter or add something that has come before in the narrative timeline, I must deal with it immediately. First drafts of scenes are incredibly quick for me because I write in my head; the first times words hit the page it seems remarkably easy. Everything after that is like pulling my fingernails off with pliers. A first full draft will take months upon months, but by that time most of the novel has progressed into the second or third draft version.
Do what you do and embrace it. There is no “most correct” way to write a novel (or short story or poem) except to have a complete version at the end. At some point, there should be something with a beginning, middle, and end.
9. Add anything else you feel is important to your writing, reading, and other experiences:)
I should probably read less and write more, but that is never going to happen. The research stages of novel-writing will always be my favorite. I just like reading and learning new things.
10. Add your Twitter handle, blog url and Facebook links here.
If you aren’t published, please give send as much information about your stories as you can. I’d love to see things like an elevator pitch, first paragraph/first line, or anything else you’re willing to share.
My speculative fiction novel in-progress is affectionately referred to as #thatghoststory across Twitter and my blog. The title and most things about the novel are under wraps because this project has been a longtime labor. However, with this interview, I also wanted to release the first glimpse into the world of #thatghoststory, and introduce readers to my narrator, Vera Clarke.
I share a strange personal history with my colleagues: we have all died.
For several seconds or more than a minute, each of us has died. When we were resuscitated, we brought back our vision of the afterlife. This isn’t some “near-death experience” bullshit, either. The key to my clairvoyance is real death.
Don’t ask anyone what they saw in the afterlife. It’s a question we don’t ask, and no one remembers.
Of course, we still have our fanatics who conjure up beautiful or horrifying pictures of their experience, but that is bullshit. No one remembers, not really. We just see glimpses of it here, on this side. The ghosts.
You died for fifty-seven seconds and the EMTs on scene resuscitated you with a defibrillator. Your heart had stopped. You’re one of us. You can see ghosts now. I’m here to let you know there is a place where you can put that particular talent to use, where you can divine something rewarding from this bizarre ability, and where you may find comfort in knowing others with your skill.
Or, if you prefer, you can continue feeling insane most days because you can’t quite discern when the person standing in front of you is alive or dead.
My name is Vera Clarke, and I’m a recruiting mentor for The Ghost Society of Austin. Welcome to your real life ghost story.