A Point of Pride: Interview with Edwin Brightwater
Edwin Brightwater lives in Taiwan. He was born in New Zealand in the 1970s and educated mostly in Australia. His native language is English. He is also fluent in Chinese, having learned the language in his late twenties.
Edwin Brightwater writes horror and suspense fiction that incorporates the unreal—gothic, dark urban fantasy, the paranormal and the magical, thrilling stories of things bizarre, grotesque, or utterly impossible.
His favorite authors are Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen and his oldest inspiration is “Doctor Who.” His preferred pastime is reading. His pseudonymous pen name, Edwin Brightwater, reflects his ancestry in the South Island of New Zealand.
Before writing fiction, he worked as a commercial lawyer in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He has also worked as a fruit picker, private tutor, charity collector, worm farm laborer, and English teacher.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was frustrated by the lazy storytelling we encounter these days, whether movie-of-the-week horror on Netflix or a top-selling novel from someone like Stephen King. Too many horror and suspense stories seem to fail in the third act. You might find an interesting premise and effective development in the first two acts, but then it all crumbles into nonsense at the end. This is why I’m an adamant plotter. Horror works best if you’ve already planned out your ending from the beginning.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Horror lets the writer tell an interesting story—something that grabs the reader and keeps her entertained—while simultaneously exploring deeper themes. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is the exemplar of this: thrilling, awful, mind-bending. You never stop thinking about it.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
The only thing a writer should consciously try to do is tell a good story. If LGBTQ material has a place in that, then so be it! My life experiences as a gay male mean that certain LGBTQ-related themes may crop up in my stories—though not inevitably.
My first story, “To Kill A Demon,” directly addresses the awful power of internalized homophobia. However, my second story, “A Vote For Death,” concerns the perils of political populism. It doesn’t touch on issues of sexuality or gender.
Both stories were developed from the starting point of character and setting, not theme. I imagined certain characters, dropped them into a literary crucible, and narrated the drama and conflict that ensued. The thematic issues each raised were very much secondary. And although it turned out that “To Kill A Demon” would address LGBTQ questions, I certainly didn’t set out to write a horror novel on LGBTQ themes.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Since I started writing fiction, I’ve become much more observant, especially of other people. I’m always looking for tells and tics that, if you set them down in writing, would instantly denote the essence of someone’s character.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I was born in the late 70s, and the biggest change is the way women are portrayed. When I was a kid, female characters tended to be written as screaming twits who perpetually hid behind their men. Completely unrealistic—and very unsatisfying to watch!
Then, starting in the 80s with characters like Sigourney Weaver’s Lt. Ripley in the Alien movies, things began to change. Now strong female leads in horror are not only common but very popular. Characters like Eleven in Stranger Things or Carol Peletier from The Walking Dead are true fan favorites.
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?
I’m glad we’re seeing less of the “bury your gays” trope, which seemed to require a dismal ending for just about every LGBTQ character. I hope, though, that this doesn’t get replaced with a box-ticking kind of representation, where a character is portrayed as LGBTQ because the writer feels she has to satisfy some sort of implicit diversity quota. Contrivances like this don’t do anyone—let alone the LGBTQ community—any favors.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
My all-time choice is Clarice Starling from the film version of The Silence Of The Lambs. Probably because the role is so closely identified with Jodie Foster, I’ve always thought of Clarice Starling as lesbian. And she’s definitely my favorite heroine in the entire horror genre!
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Patricia Highsmith! She had such an uncanny talent for turning the mundane into the macabre.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Keep writing! If you draft just a few sentences every day, you’ll have a finished story sooner than you think.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Tell the story that you want to tell. Don’t worry about what’s in vogue. Don’t try to write to market. Just tell your story.