Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick

Nancy Kilpatrick is the author of several novels, three comic books, over 200 short stories and is the editor of several anthologies. You can find out more about her at her website.

What drew you to the horror genre?
It’s a genre I’ve always been attracted to, even as a kid. Horror movies were my favorites, and when I started borrowing books from the library and then buying books, they were horror titles. My preferences went to vampires and ghosts. There weren’t many zombie movies or books until more recently but the z’s have become favorites too.
What I like about horror is that it allows the reader and the writer to go outside the norm and into the world of the darkest and scariest fantasies where ideas can be explored in a way that no other type of writing allows. The dark side of life is there, pretty much ignored by the ‘normal’ world which is so busy with work, family, hobbies and activities. The dark side of life deals with fears, crushed hopes, the uncontrollable. Looking at this material as a reader and certainly as a writer allows you to see what can, and cannot be done in the face of the frightening. That, too, is a large part of life and this is one realm where it can be looked at.
What scares you?
In the real world: When otherwise normal and sane people band together and lose their individual minds and go after someone. I think it’s the most despicable thing to do, for several people to gang up on one person, whether it’s an emotional, mental or physical attack, or all three. You see this all the time from the police and military ganging up in 3s and 4s to attack one weaponless person, to rioters and protesters who gang up on and hurt an individual policeman. It’s disgusting. Akin to that are adults who hurt children and animals. If a person can’t see that being 5’9” tall and weighing 160 pounds outweighs a 12 pound cat or a 40 pound child they’ve just slapped, then they have a serious problem and should get help because they are at best a brute and certainly a sadist.
In the fantasy world: Some ghosts, some vampires and almost all zombies. Many ghosts aren’t scary and don’t even give me the creeps. But when they are well written or well portrayed in film and the story or film creates an eerie other-worldly mood, yeah, they get to me. I’ve read and written so much about the vampire that it would take some astonishing scenario and some incredible writing to rekindle fear in me. Zombies for the most part are like gangs coming at you and they are by nature mindless.  You can’t reason with a zombie. Who isn’t scared of that?
Why do you think there are fewer women writing horror than men?
There aren’t fewer women writing, but women aren’t published as often. That’s been the case forever. 
In 1988 Kathy Ptacek edited two anthologies called Women of Darkness in which she gave reasons for this. She said women were published in the small presses that pay nothing. Men were published in the major anthologies. Women have a harder time selling a novel than male writers. That spoke of the general inequality of gender in society and the glass ceiling all women in the work/career realm faced. Since Kathy published those books, and perhaps because of them, more women are making it into major anthos, and a few more women have had novels published. Oddly, now it seems that in the small press, there are less women being published. In January 2011, Lisa Morton did an informal survey of the 2010 output of 6 of the larger small presses. She discovered that the percentage of women published was an abysmal 7.07%.
There was a flurry of activity regarding more women being published in the 90s, but the rush to publish women horror writers has faded. Some say that if supernatural romances and urban fantasy were included as horror, then the number of women published would be higher. But, a lot of women horror writers write straight horror. And those women were not well represented in those 6 small press anthos, and you can count on two hands the number of horror novels written by women that have come out from major houses lately. 
There have been a few publishers with horror lines that made room for women writers of novels. One of the significant ones was Dell in the 80s/90s, with editor Jeanne Cavellos at the helm. But most haven’t. More recently, look at Leisure Books—Don D’Auria was the editor. Leisure was the only publisher with a horror line for the last few years, until they went belly up recently. Leisure put out a lot of books but there were painfully few women on the list of authors, and it was rarely you’d see a woman’s horror novel pushed in Leisure’s publicity. 
My opinion is this:
First of all, horror is an outsider’s realm. It’s a realm for rebels.  It’s an old-boys network because boys are rebellious and like to push the death envelope. Plenty of girls are rebels and also like pushing envelopes but they are, in the end, girls, and they are not taken as seriously. 
Our culture, despite all its strides forward regarding gender and despite the realities of how people actually live, work, bring in money, etc., does not easily make room for women. Somehow, the old chestnuts have still not been crushed: Men have to support a family so they need a career.  Women are supposed to have children and, if they write, it’s a sideline.These attitudes permeate certain genres like horror. In other genres, for example mystery, there are a lot of published women writers and best-sellers. But although mystery deals with blood and death, it is not as in-your-face as horror. It’s not outsider art. And horror has a very small share of the market compared to mysteries.
A male writer gets married or has a girlfriend/partner and that woman supports the guy emotionally and, in fact, will do a lot of the crap work that needs to be done in terms of promoting his writing, helping the guy with his career. A woman gets married or has a boyfriend/partner and I think I can count on half a hand the number of husbands/partners who help the woman writer do anything to move her career along. Some won’t even read their material—I know this for a fact, both from direct experience and from female writer friends who have been in the same situation. Also, it’s common today that married women must work outside the home and take care of the home and the kids, so that means far less time for writing. If she’s a single mom, well, that’s overload. I know quite a number of male writers who, when they reached a certain level in their career, their wives quit their day jobs to work for them, pushing hubby’s careers. And of course that helped those men considerably. I guess there’s a man or two out there who has quit his job to help his wife’s writing career, I just don’t know them. All this is really traditional thinking, which says that yeah, the guys are rebels but they end up fairly regular dudes and the head of the household with the woman as helper. Woman as the head of a household is still a rarity in terms of perception. Add to this equation that many women horror writers are alone, sans husband/partner, divorcees, or have not as yet found a partner. These women have a really hard time because they have no help. 100% of the household work and 100% of the bills fall on their shoulders. Not to mention the lack of emotional support one gets from a significant other, even if that SO won’t read your writing!
You can also factor in that women struggle more than men with aging, in life, and in careers and writing is no exception and possibly it’s more of an issue in horror writing. In the mystery and fantasy field, you see a lot of older women writers, but not so in horror. Women writers of horror who are attractive have an edge just like attractive women (and men) do in all areas, especially the arts. Any of us old-time writing warrior queens who lived through the 90s recall the year that LOCUS magazine decided to profile women horror writers by putting on the cover the 2 most conventionally sexy female writers in the field then, which apparently was because the editor had a thing for tall, slim beauties and most female horror writers, most females in general, are not playboy bunny material. These are stereotypical values, really, and go across the board in society. Add them to the rest of the limitation of the horror field and if you’re a woman, you better be prepared for a very tough road if you’re looking to have a career as a horror writer.
All of what I’m saying is generalization and we all know exceptions to everything. But I’m not saying anything new. It’s all been gone over before, many times, although you’ll hear some women horror writers deny that there’s a problem. They’ll say this on panels, for instance, because they don’t want to be perceived as women’s lib or man haters. Or the old: I’ve been published and am making big bucks and I’m a woman, so women don’t have a problem. That’s part of the cream rises argument, which leaves a lot of variables unaddressed. 
Less women horror writers get published but I’d say an equal number of women write horror. Women get paid less in horror than males—and you only find this out when you reach a certain level and can command a certain number of dollars. Or if you’re an editor, like me, and you have men wanting more money for their stories and women not even asking. 
This is a cultural perception of women and the horror world is not different from the rest of society but maybe has a tad more bias because it’s such a boy’s club as compared to some other genres. If you think of the fantasy genre, it’s the opposite—women dominate. The same with romance, although quite a few men write romances using a female pen name.
I know it sounds discouraging. But I think it’s important for young women writers to know what they are up against in the horror field. There are some good publishers and editors out there of both genders whose agenda is good writing, good storytelling and who don’t notice race, religion or gender. It’s all about finding those people and working with them. Unfortunately, many of them work in small or medium presses, with only a few in major houses. Some are freelance editors but are gender-blind when buying stories. 
Everyone has heard the view that women write a different type of horror than men do, less edgy, less visceral, less powerful, perhaps more psychological. That, I don’t believe. But in one sense a woman’s concerns are different than a man’s concerns: A male character trapped in a house with a demon obsessed with blood? Right, he fights for his life, no matter who is writing that story. But a female character trapped in a house with a blood demon? Think about it. Sure she fights for her life. But what woman wouldn’t have awareness that the female character could be menstruating, drawing the demon to her. No male writer will think of that first and probably not write about it at all because he doesn’t really have a clue what that is all about. For a woman writer, it’s real. But, she may not write about it because then you get down to the idea of who would find that menstruating character and her situation horrific? Would a male reader? Maybe, but maybe not, since it’s out of his realm of direct experience.  But a female reader would. But the bottom line is, would the editor buying the story think it has universal appeal. Maybe, or maybe not. 
I tend to believe—and as an editor, I’ve seen this—that a well-written story by a person of either gender is going to reach inside a reader of either gender even if they haven’t had the experience because when we talk about horror we’re talking about an emotion, and emotions are universal. We’ve all felt, for example, fear.
Who are some women horror authors that you admire?
I rarely mention living authors because there are too many and I worry about inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings by accidentally leaving them off my list. I love Angela Carter and especially the ideas and the writing of Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite Jackson stories is “The Lovely House”, which is hard to find, but I think it’s an amazingly creepy tale sitting right on the line between realities. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is pure genius and yes, I consider that horror although some deem it science fiction. I suppose it’s in the same cross-over realm as the Alien movie series. 
What is your advice to aspiring women horror writers? 
Persevere. Writing as a career is a harsh, tough, and unfair business. You can succeed but you need the female equivalent of balls. You will find a lot of rejection here, especially at the start of your career. You’ve got to believe in yourself and keep pushing, do all that you have to do to succeed, which might mean crafting yourself into Miss Congeniality so you can win horror awards, or it might mean posing naked on the cover of LOCUS! (joke). Take nothing for granted because the success you have today can fade in a heartbeat. Keep moving, keep writing, keep submitting material. Keep making contacts. And don’t limit yourself. Go in a lot of directions at once, as many as your multi-tasking abilities can handle. You never know what will lead where. As the I Ching says: perseverance furthers.
What are your favourite horror novels?
Again, I don’t tend to mention the works of living authors, although I’ll make an exception for the German author Patrick Süskind. I was knocked off my feet by Perfume: The Story of a Murderer when it first came out in the late 80s. Sadly, the film took forever to make and didn’t do the book justice by a mile. But the writing in the book is staggering. Süskind (in translation) managed to describe 18th century France through the sense of smell. That was innovative, an eye-opener.  I love writing that startles me.
You’ve published over 200 short stories. Do you have a favourite? Why?
I have no real one-favorite, although I guess like many writers, the most recent stories are always the ‘best’. I was just rereading “Vampire Anonymous” (published in Vampires: Dracula and the Undead Legions - 2010) because it’s been purchased for reprint in Paula Guran’s Vampires: The Recent Undead. I like the story quite a bit because it’s modern but blends in history too.  I also like “Traditions in Future Perfect” (published in The Bitten Word – 2010). I think I have a new twist on vampires in the ending, and I enjoyed constructing that story to get to that ending. An older story of mine which has been published several times and is just now being reprinted in Best New Vampire Tales (Books of the Dead Press – 2011) is “Farm Wife”. It’s a wacky point of view, which is one reason I like it. And two others I like are humorous horror stories—although I’m not noted for my humor!  “Bitches of the Night” and “The Ghoul Next Door” were published in Blood Lite and Blood Lite 2—Obsession, respectively.
Much of your work involves vampires. What interests you about vampires?
I’ve been fascinated by the undead since childhood when I saw the old b&w movies from the 1930s on TV. I love the idea that these creatures of the night look like us and usually once were mortal like us, but now are different—yet they can pass for human. I like that they prey on us arrogant Homosapiens, we who consider ourselves at the top of the food chain. They live forever, and don’t need to abide by society’s rules and regulations, although they have their own limitations, of course. There’s nothing NOT interesting about vampires.
In addition to novels, you’ve written three issues of VampErotic comics, radio scripts, a stage play, non-fiction and edited several anthologies. How did you end up writing in so many different types of literature? Do you have a favourite?
I’ve always followed my heart. I have an adventurous spirit when it comes to trying new things in writing. I like to step out of my comfort zone a bit and see what else I can do, stretch myself. Scripting the comics was fun because they were based on three of my interconnected short stories: “Passion Play”, “Theatre of Cruelty” and “Metadrama”. BTW, those comics and the stories plus an interview and some intriguing extras like a free song DL from the Vampire Beach Babes band are all in the graphic novel Nancy Kilpatrick’s Vampyre Theater, coming out in 2011 from VampErotica/Brainstorm Comics. I’ll post something on my website ( and on my Facebook wall when it’s ready for launch.
My non-fiction book came about because I was asked to write The goth Bible and it took me two years to compile that book, which was an amazing experience. Looking back, I can’t believe I did so much work! The scope for that book is wide indeed. But I learned a lot and have made some new friends too.
I think one of the cool things about trying something new like a stage play and radio scripts is that, not having done those things before, when I took them on it was exciting and a way to explore a new arena. Of course, once you’ve done something you begin to see how much you don’t know in that arena! These are areas I haven’t pursued further. Anthologies, I’ve just edited number 11. And I’m still writing novels and short stories and the odd non-fiction piece.
Can you tell us about Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, the anthology you edited last year?
Evolve was a dream I’d had for a number of years. The idea crystallized from this vague thought into something intelligent and possible around 2008/9.  I’d co-edited Tesseracts Thirteen with David Morrell (he of the book First Blood on which the movie Rambo was based). We had a number of vampire stories submitted for that horror and dark fantasy anthology, but ended up using none of the vampire fiction. As I reread these stories, seven stood out as being innovative and I then realized it was time to do the antho I’d wanted to do.  David was busy but gave me his blessing to go ahead on my own and I approached the publisher of Tesseracts Thirteen. Although he’d never done a vampire anthology and the only horror antho he’d published to date was the one David and I co-edited, he got excited about Evolve. I put out word for more stories and received some incredible tales.
I wanted Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead to show the vampire that we see now and the one we’ll be seeing in the immediate future, say, the next ten or twenty years. Essentially, I wanted to drag the vampire kicking and screaming out of the past in which he/she has been mired in people’s awareness and show the world that the vampire, like humanity, has moved on. The stories that I selected more than met my expectations and I’m delighted with the phenomenal success of Evolve. Barnes & Noble’s book club reviewer ranked it #5 on a list of the top fifteen vampire books of 2010—a year that saw 1,000 vampire books published!
Somewhere along the way, I realized there was another vampire anthology I wanted to edit and now have. Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead is coming out in 2011. In it, we go beyond 2025 and show the vampires of 2035, 2065; 2095; 3005. There are some amazing writers in this anthology, including Tanith Lee, Kelley Armstrong, John Shirley, Thomas Roche.  I think readers will be blown away by this entirely new approach to the nosferatu.
Do you own an e-reader? How do you think e-readers are changing the publishing industry? Do you plan on making your novels available as e-books?
I do not own an e-reader. I can see the value for travel but otherwise, I still prefer paper. I’ll likely get an e-reader one of these days.
Today’s youngest readers will feel comfortable reading novels and short stories on an e-reader, but older people seem to prefer paper. Yet having made that generalization, the statistical reality is, more and more people of all ages are reading electronically and I think this is the future. One editor, though, said this, and I think it’s also true: books will never die out because you don’t need to buy the latest expensive technology to read a paper book.
As to turning my books into e-books, yes, that’s in the works. The problem right now is figuring how who to go with because each reader only reads certain formats. There are, of course, ways to shift the format for different readers but it’s not that easy, and I really wish the industry had had a little foresight about this instead of just rushing in to make the bucks as companies always do. It’s a disadvantage to readers. 
What do you hope readers get out of your work?
I want people to come away satisfied. If it’s a short story or a novel, I want them to feel entertained but I also want them to feel they’ve seen a new angle on things and in one small way realized that life offers options in dealing with the unexpected. I tend to write about the shadowy realm between worlds and that, to me, has always been fascinating. I think my readers are also fascinated by the notion that there’s a kind of hidden seam between realities and that sometimes that seam splits briefly and we can glimpse another realm. We’ve all had that experience in life, and I try to incorporate that in my work, both my writing and my editing.
What are you currently working on?
I’m about to hand in the finished manuscript for EVOLVE Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead—which should be out in either August or October, 2011, I’m told.
I’m always busy with short stories and have two more due very soon. Well, one’s already late, but never mind!
For the last couple of years I’ve been working on three novels. I have little time to write now, which is sad, so my progress is not as good as I’d like.  They are:
-       Another book in the Power of the Blood vampire world
-       A futuristic horror/science fiction novel
-       A supernatural mystery series

And I have an essay to write about film.
That’s as of today. Tomorrow will likely bring something else!

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