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A point of Pride: An Interview with Wendy N. Wagner


Photo credit: John Kaczanowski

Wendy N. Wagner is a writer and Hugo award-winning editor. Her books include the forthcoming cosmic horror novel The Creek Girl (Tor Nightfire, 2025), The Deer Kings, The Secret Skin, and the Locus best-selling An Oath of Dogs. Her short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in seventy-some publications, running the gamut from horror to environmental literature. She is also the editor-in-chief of Nightmare Magazine and the managing/senior editor of Lightspeed. She lives in Oregon with her very understanding family, two large cats, and a Muppet disguised as a dog. You can find her at winniewoohoo.com.

What inspired you to start writing?

As a kid, we lived in a pretty isolated rural community. We didn’t have cable, and the tv reception was really, really bad. But every two weeks the bookmobile came. My mom was a big reader, so she really modeled books as both an escape and as a doorway into other worlds. My family really respected and loved books. At a certain point—around age seven—I began to understand that stories were crafted and shaped by actual people, and I immediately wanted to be one of them.

I was lucky to attend a lot of youth-writing activities in elementary school. It was an era where a lot of writers and organizations were active in Oregon, and they brought a ton of free programming to kids like me. I learned more about creative writing as a kid than I did in college, where a lot of my interest in writing speculative and dark fiction was crushed out of me.

It took me years to recover from college! I wound up writing my first novel as a single parent living back at home with my mom, writing during my daughter’s naps. It was a terrible book, but I had to write it—I knew I couldn’t look my kid in the eye without knowing that I had tried to reach for my dreams.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

I’ve always been scared of, well, pretty much everything. Shy. Nervous. Timid. My oldest sister loved it—she would chase me around acting like a vampire and pretending to drink my blood while she bit me (gently). When I was eight-ish, she checked out a short story collection from the bookmobile and got my mom and my other sister to read it because she thought one of the stories was super, super scary. So of course, I had to read it, too. It was like playing chicken or something, like I was trying to prove to myself that I was as tough as all of them. (The story was Stephen King’s “The Raft,” in his collection Skeleton Crew.) And it was scary, but not as scary as nuclear war or my parents fighting: all that real-life stuff. Knowing I could read that really made me feel better about myself, like maybe I could learn to be brave, so I kept looking for books like it.

I still really love that about horror—that you can practice being scared, but in a really safe way. Or you can practice being tough or cruel or whatever you need. Horror isn’t afraid of those tough feelings. So many other genres pull back from the difficult emotions of the world, burying them in abstraction or intellectualism, or just plain pretending they don’t exist. But not horror. I think that’s why we need it so damn much.

Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

I think it’s rarely a conscious effort; it’s just me working through my own stuff. I haven’t always done it gracefully or wisely, either, because I’ve been wrestling with my own gender and identity issues and not looking beyond my own needs. There are plenty of pieces I’d love to go back and rewrite because I can see that I haven’t done enough research, haven’t written wisely enough, just haven’t thought things through. I regret that. But I’ve also written some characters who are deeply, deeply myself, and I’m proud of that.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

That people are infinitely smaller than we feel we are; that we’re never as smart or as strong as we expect to be; that what will see us through the worst of times is our ability to love and be kind.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

When I first started working in the genre, eleven or twelve years ago, the genre still orbited around white men, and obviously that has changed—at least a little. Publishing has allowed a wider variety of people to appear in the upper echelons of the field, mirroring the trend throughout speculative fiction. I think a lot of that has been driven by the work of small presses and magazine, places like Lethe Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, FIYAH Magazine, and even by places like Nightmare. Those places have been training grounds for writers, places where people have been able to connect to readers and earn actual money for their writing. The strength of these smaller markets has given the writers strength, too.

I don’t think any of us is in a good place to predict what will happen in this genre! We’re seeing the film and tv industries entering a major contraction, shedding properties and cutting production. The United States is staring down the barrel of a recession. In the past, these kinds of moments are often accompanied by a major wave of conservativism in the arts, because money just vanishes. Will that happen in publishing? I don’t know.

But what I do know is that horror has always stayed afloat on the back of the small press. Whatever happens will depend entirely on our community’s love for the genre.

How do you feel the LGBTQ community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

Oh gosh, this is a tough question! When I was working on Queers Destroy Horror! (my first editing project, a special issue of Nightmare Magazine), I found a handful of small press anthologies that focused on LGBTQ writers. There was definitely a larger proportion of “L” and “G” writers in there than the rest of the acronym! Now I think we’re seeing a lot of writers from across the spectrum of identities stepping forward and being recognized by the community and by genre. It’s great to see more trans and nonbinary and ace writers getting acclaim! I’d like to see that continue.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

I love the ace narrator of “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future” by Carlie St. George. I love Miss Bertie and Fiona Wong in Victor LaValle’s novel Lone Women.

Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?

Novelists: Ally Wilkes, Caitlin Starling. Short stories: Suzan Palumbo, Robert Levy. Nonfiction: Dante Luiz.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

Don’t worry too much about success or critical acclaim—focus on telling a story that is uniquely yours and on making an authentic connection with your readers. That’s the way to build a readership, and building a readership is the key to surviving the publishing maelstrom.

And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

It connects to the one above: Be yourself. It’s scary and it goes against so much of the world’s advice, but it’s the only way to connect with people, and those connections are what will support you and build you up. And try to build up other people! We have to take care of each other.

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