Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Interview with Nancy A. Collins

Nancy A. Collins is the author of the Sonja Blue vampire series which includes the novels Sunglasses After Dark, In the Blood, Paint it Black, A Dozen Black Roses, Darkest Heart and Dead Roses for a Blue Lady (a short story collection featuring Sonja Blue). She won a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for Sunglasses After Dark. She is also the author of the novels Tempter, Wild Blood, Walking Wolf: A Weird Western, Fantastic Four: To Free Atlantis, Angels on Fire, Lynch: A Gothik WesternFinal Destination: Looks Could Kill, Final Destination II: The Movie, the Vamps series which includes Vamps, Night Life and After Dark, and Right Hand Magic; short story collections Nameless Sins, Avenue X, Knuckles and Tales and Dead Man's Hand: Five Tales of the Weird West; chapbooks The Tortuga Hill Gang's Last Ride: The True Story, Cold Turkey, Voodoo Chile, The Thing From Lover's Lane; and edited the anthologies Forbidden Acts, Dark Love and Gahan Wilson's the Ultimate Haunted House. She is also the author of several short stories and comic books including Swamp Thing, Jason vs. Leatherface and Sunglasses After Dark.

What drew you to the horror genre?

I have always been a fan of horror and the weird fantastic. It probably has a lot to do with my maternal grandfather, who was a huge fan of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Sr., as well as the Universal monster films of the 1930s-1940s. One of his best friends owned the local movie theater, and would host what would now be called 'classic film nights' during the week, showing prints from his private collection. I remember watching 'Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein' in a movie house when I was around 3-4, and actually being scared during the scene where Lou Costello is strapped to a gurney and being spun back and forth between the Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster.

What scares you?

Well, in terms of physical things, I have a fear of snakes, especially venomous ones such as rattlers, water moccasins & cobras. However, I've handled small-to-medium tame pythons and boa constrictors in the past to force myself to overcome my phobia, and find a beauty and elegance to their skin and musculature. I also have problems with heights, as I suffer from vertigo, but more on the line of standing on ladders than flying or being in tall buildings. I also suffer from claustrophobia, but only if I'm having to share the space with another person. None of it is debilitating, though. On a more abstract level, the older I get the more I worry about the loss of family members, friends, and my own health.

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

I don't know if there are fewer women in the field, to tell you the truth. It also depends on what you define as 'horror', because there are numerous women working in the adjacent fantasy & science fiction genres who have contributed to the art form. However, whether attention/respect is being properly paid to them is another question. Certainly some of the most influential contributors to the genre have been women (Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice). Off the top of my head I can name Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, Lucy Taylor, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Christa Faust, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Holder, Elizabeth Hand, Tabitha King, Elizabeth Massie, Ann Billson, Yvonne Navarro, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tanith Lee, Ann Rivers Siddons, Kit Reed, Suzy McKee Charnas, Melanie Tem, Mehitobel Wilson, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman as examples of women who have been contributing to the art form, both in and out of acknowledged genre, for decades.

Who are some women horror authors that you admire?

She usually is pegged as a Southern Gothic writer, but Flannery O'Connor was a huge influence on me, the same with Shirley Jackson. I also enjoy reading Joyce Carol Oates, who I view as the proper heiress to Shirley Jackson's literary tradition.

What is your advice to aspiring women horror writers?

The same as I give to any other--read outside your genre, write even when you don't feel like it (believe me, that will prove to be a good portion of the time once you turn pro), learn to do research, and grow a thick skin. Criticism--especially now, in the day and age where everyone has a blog and an opinion--can prove daunting if you don't know how to handle it.

What are your favourite horror novels?

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Some Of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
Hell House by Richard Matheson
The Shining by Stephen King
The Doll Who Ate His Mother by Ramsey Campbell
Crash by J.G. Ballard
Blood Meridien by Cormac McCarthy
The Elementals by Michael McDowell
Stiff Lips by Anne Billson

What is your favourite novel you’ve written and your favourite character you’ve created? Why?

I would have to say that LYNCH: A GOTHIK WESTERN was probably my favorite novel, as it was the most fun to write. It seemed to flow out of me. As for my favorite character, I still have to go with Sonja Blue, as she is my oldest character--and the one I know the best. I created Sonja Blue in high school, and she has traveled with me, in my head, throughout my adult life. 

You have written several novels about vampires. What interests you about vampires?

Vampires are useful metaphors for the human condition, in particular mankind's penchant for cruel & exploitative behavior, whether in terms of a personal relationship or a larger, global context. You can play them as monsters or misunderstood heroes, depending on the mood. The Sonja Blue novels have a running sub-text of battling against innate monstrosity to remain 'human', even though it would be 'natural' or 'easier' not to.

In addition to your horror novels, you’ve written young adult fiction, movie tie-ins, non-fiction, short stories and comic books. How did you end up writing in so many different types of literature? Do you have a favourite?

Well, the reason for that is called 'making a living''. :)  I got into comic books because I had a background as a fan/reader, but most of the other venues I've found myself in had more to do with finding paying work as a writer. If I had my druthers, I would do nothing but write Southern Gothic short stories, but since I have to pay rent and keep the lights on, I write novels, usually in the horror and fantasy genres.

Can you tell us about your latest release, Right Hand Magic?

Right Hand Magic is the first book in a new urban fantasy series, set in the supernatural ghetto of New York City known as Golgotham. The view-point protagonist is a human artist named Tate who ends up renting a room in Golgotham so she can work on her sculptures without being bothered. Her landlord is Hexe, a young wizard-for-hire who is trying to make his way in the world by using only Right Hand (positive) magic. Together, they conspire to hide a young were-cougar who has escaped the clutches of the local crime-boss, who runs an illegal pit-fighting ring where were-people and other supernatural creatures, such as minotaurs and unicorns, battle one another to the death. The Golgotham series is my tip-of-the-hat to such classic proto-urban fantasies as Bell, Book and Candle, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and is far lighter in tone than my previous work, without being comedic.  I'm enjoying writing the series, as it enables me to step outside the grim & gritty genre expectations people might have concerning my work.

Those who are curious as to what Golgotham is about can get a taste at

Do you own an e-reader? How do you think e-readers are changing the publishing industry? Do you plan on making your older novels available as e-books?

No, I don't own an e-reader. Yet. I suspect I will have one by the end of this year, though. E-readers are definitely changing the publishing industry. I suspect within 5 years time the paperback original will be a thing of the past. I will probably be making my older, out-of-print books available, but I am tempted to revise them first. It's simply a matter of having the time to do so. It also depends on whether a publisher steps forward and makes an offer on my back catalog.

What do you hope readers get out of your work?

Well, I hope they get entertained, and a chance to see things from a perspective they wouldn't otherwise enjoy. Readers come to their books with expectations and needs as varied as the readers themselves. So I hope they find the time they spend with my works rewarding and/or pleasurable.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on LEFT HAND MAGIC, the second book in the Golgotham series, which focuses on the problems created in Golgotham when gentrification becomes an issue, as well as the challenges Tate & Hexe's relationship faces from both human and Kymeran society. And a flying pig.

I'm also working on KILL CITY, the first Sonja Blue novel in ten years. It's about Sonja tracking down a teenage girl who has willingly run away with a vampire boyfriend. It has the potential to be the darkest Sonja Blue story yet. There is no flying pig in it, though.


Will Errickson said...

Great interview! She names some great female horror writers. Love her insights into the genre. I recall liking Sunglasses After Dark when I read it ages ago, as well as her story "Necrophile" in the zombie anthology Still Dead. Thanks for posting this!

Andrew said...

Cool interview!
I'm interested in Sunglasses After Dark now.


Nick Cato said...

Very nice---read SUNGLASSES AFTER DARK several years ago and enjoyed it.