Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interview with Mary SanGiovanni

Mary SanGiovanni is the author of novels The Hollower and Found You and the collection Under Cover of Night. Her next novel, Thrall, will be released from Thunderstorm Books in early- to mid-March. You can find out more about Mary at her website.

What drew you to the horror genre? 

The horror genre has always appealed to me for its scope, for the endlessness of possibilities about worlds beyond our own. I really believe the best horror fiction (and movies) looks at the unbelievable, often heretofore undiscovered strength of the human spirit, and its ability to overcome in the face of incredible dangers.

What scares you?

Realistically, anything bad happening to loved ones. Sickness. Despair. Fire. Probably very, very tight spaces, since I seem to have claustrophobia nightmares lately. I also have a sort of irrational fear of masks, gurneys, hospitals, and faceless things.

Why do you think there are fewer women writing horror than men?

I think horror's pulp roots, following in the footsteps of old-school sf, were written by men primarily for men. Traditional gender roles would suggest that the violence inherent in pulp horror, generally directed toward women, might turn women off. I think there used to be a pervasive belief that women didn't have the constitution to write, read, or watch horror. Our empathy made us more susceptible, maybe. But that's just it – horror is a genre hinged more on the effective conveyance of emotion than nearly any other genre. It's gut instinct and survival. It's the empathic link with the hero (or heroine) that makes us feel the horror they feel. Horror's boundaries have shifted, and what constitutes horror has broadened as well. I think women bring a different psychological bent to horror; we relate to the world in a different way. The industry has realized this just in the decade or so I've been in the business, and I'm seeing more and more readers and members of the general public branching out from the safe horror islands of King and Koontz. I think as we make our mark as equals in society, more people will come to accept the unique, sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal take that women bring to horror.

Who are some women horror authors that you admire? 

Shirley Jackson. Sarah Langan. Beth Massie. Poppy Brite (although she is lately working outside of the genre). These women masterfully use the written word to convey the complex and often incredibly disturbing aspects of the human character, and the worlds beyond casual, general human experience.

What is your advice to aspiring women horror writers?

I think my advice would be to consider yourselves writers first; if marketing folk choose to label you a woman writer or a horror writer or an African American writer or any other neat little promotional pigeonhole they can find, let them. Don't be afraid to be both beautiful and dangerous. Say something; I mean, really say what's in your soul, what you feel passionate about – that's what “writing what you know” REALLY means.

What are your favourite horror novels?

The Shining. It. The Haunting of Hill House. Legion. Ghost Story. I'm considering adding Audrey's Door to that as well, but I haven't finished it yet. ;)

Who are your favourite authors? Who influenced you the most?

Stephen King, of course – I think he's influenced my entire generation of writers. Richard Matheson. Peter Straub, who could describe a grocery list and make it sound beautiful. Shirley Jackson, whose subtlety is delicious. Brian Keene, for the utter heart-wrenching realness of his characters. Gary Braunbeck, whose prose can often move me to tears. I'd say I learned something from each of these writers about the beauty of the written word, but also about the psychology of horror, about the true nature of people's fears, and how less is so often more.

Who is your favourite character you’ve created? Why?

Hmmm. I'd have to say Tom Wyatt, from Thrall. To me, he's the quintessential hero: brave nearly to the point of being reckless, selfless to the point of being damn near suicidal, funny and serious, lightning quick and very smooth. I'm also partial to my monsters; the Primary Hollower from Found You, for example. It's mean, it's utterly alien, and it can take the form not only of your worst fears, but of your deepest, most secret and shameful insecurities. The Hollowers are the total of all my worst fears about me.

As an author who was published by Dorchester in the past, what do you think of their switch to trade paperbacks and e-books, eliminating mass-market paperbacks?

Let's see how I can answer this diplomatically...I think that, given that their business model relies primarily on sales from outlets and chains like Walmart, Shop-Rite, airports, etc., that their switch seems an unusual decision. I realize that like any business, the e-book component is their move to keep up with ever-evolving technology. However, I'm not sure all their decisions are in the best interest of the stable of writers, past (like myself) or present. I'm interested to see whether their financial issues are resolved in a way that allows us either the rights back to authors' back-logs, or to the often overdue royalty statements and payments owed to their writers.

Do you own an e-reader? How do you think e-readers are changing the publishing industry? 

I don't, but I often get audiobooks for my iPod. I have mixed feelings about e-readers. On one hand, they're green, they're cost- and space-effective, they give authors new subsidiary rights to negotiate, and they allow for the possibility of literature becoming a more interactive or multimedia-incorporated experience beyond merely reading the story. There could be embedded links to cool side stories or backstory info, there could be interactive cover art, all kinds of cool things. However, with e-reader software comes the facility of making ones own books and flooding the market with work that is sub-par in terms of quality, formatting, editing, etc. I'd hate to see new technologies that could innovate and enhance the reading experience cause some kind of horror boom, bust, and fizzle like it did in the 90's.

Can you tell us about your upcoming novel, Thrall?

This book is my favorite thing I've ever written. It's a story about a man whose life has been one of running and hiding – from the truth about the very unusual things that used to happen in his hometown, to the people he left behind there. After receiving an urgent phone call from his ex about a daughter he never knew he had, he heads off to find them in a town overrun with deadly monsters. The influences are very much visual, and in my mind, capture the tortured and guilt-ridden soul that carries its own demons into the heart of a supernatural and psychological hell – there are shades of Silent Hill in there, as well as shades of Dark City. There are shades of In the Mouth of Madness and Lovecraft's larger-than-life cosmic horror. This is, to date, my big bad-ass monster story, and I really hope readers enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

What do you hope readers get out of your work?

Honestly, I hope readers will feel a sense of connectedness and ability to relate to the characters. I'd like them to feel that they are not alone. I'd like them to believe that all the strengths and tools one needs to survive are inside a person, and that it's just a matter of tapping into what he or she does well to find them. I'd like readers to see my work as scary, terrifying, disturbing, gets-under-your-skin-and-makes-you-think-about-it-days-later kind of writing. But above all, I want to convey the (possibly overoptimistic) belief I have in the innate goodness of even the most flawed humans, and their natural ability to rise above and beyond themselves to keep the nightmares of this world (and others) at bay.

What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a new novel and two short stories, all supernatural, all very psychological, maybe moreso than my last three books. Possibly a bit more surreal than the Hollower books, too. They'll still have the subtle connections to the other books, just as both The Hollower and Found You have subtle connections to Thrall. I'm open to taking on new projects, and really building my career from the foundations I made at Leisure and now with Thunderstorm.


Unknown said...

great interview

Heidi Ruby Miller said...

Engaging interview! Kudos to Melissa and Mary!

And, Mary, I so agree about Tom Wyatt. :)

Congratulations on the new book.


Sean Thomas Fisher said...

Nice interview. I stumbled onto your page while at Brian Keene's. Love your blog's title and will be back!

It's funny how some authors and agents can tend to view eReaders as Terminators, here to destroy book-kind as we know it.

Some are here to save it...