A Point of Pride: Interview with Kristen Arnett
Kristen Arnett is the author of With Teeth (Riverhead Books, 2021) and the NYT bestselling debut novel Mostly Dead Things (Tin House, 2019) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction. She is a queer fiction and essay writer. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s Literary Award in Fiction, has been a columnist for Literary Hub, and was a Spring 2020 Shearing Fellow at Black Mountain Institute. Her work has appeared at The New York Times, The Cut, Oprah Magazine, North American Review, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Guernica, Buzzfeed, Electric Literature, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, Bennington Review, The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her next book (an untitled collection of short stories) will be published by . She has a Masters in Library and Information Science from Florida State University and currently lives in Miami, Florida. You can find her on Twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett.
What inspired you to start writing?
I feel like I’ve always been writing, at least for as long as I can remember! I spent a lot of time reading as a child and loved being drawn into universes and lives that were expansive and different from my own, which felt small and stifling, especially as a closeted lesbian growing up in a very strict evangelical family. Writing furthered that ability to escape; allowed me to create worlds that I could shape and construct. Worlds that contained all the different types of queerness in everyday life that I was always desperate to read. I think I still feel that way about writing today!
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I was not allowed to read anything aside from books from the christian bookstore when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time hiding the things I wanted to read. A lot of the stuff that was expressly forbidden was horror. I loved (and continue to enjoy) these fascinating takes on the world that contained all the raw messiness of humanity. Horror takes readers on journeys that are different from most other genres. It allows a kind of freedom to embrace terror and the everyday alike. I am a huge fan of writing that allows readers to revel in the messiness of people.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I consider myself to be a queer writer. I feel that as someone who identifies as a lesbian/queer person that it naturally finds its way into my work. My writing is queer because I am queer, you know? I am very interested in writing (and reading) about the daily lived experiences of queer people. I don’t want the coming out story, I want the story about what comes after. I want the lesbian taking out the trash, the lesbian making herself dinner (and maybe burning it on the stove in the process), I want the lesbian out at the bar having one too many drinks with her friends, the lesbian having a one night stand. Messy, glorious humanity. And queer.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I think it has taught me so much about how I see and write other people. To look for what’s hidden below the surface. The stuff that’s buried deep, sure, but also the stuff that’s just waiting to be seen, already peeking through. Glimpses. It’s taught me a lot about humor, honestly. Because if we know how to be scared, we know how to laugh at ourselves. And that feels wildly important to my work.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
It’s so wonderful to see it spread and grow in wildly diverse directions. Horror that’s not just white and cis and straight. Stories that take up myriad ideas about what it’s like to be a person and move through the world. Work is so boring when all it wants to do is repeat itself ad nauseum. It’s been brilliant to see the wild ways that writers have been able to stretch it and shape it into terrible, fantastic shapes. I think (and hope) it will continue to grow this way!
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 think we quite often have seen ourselves as tropes in this kind of work, but it’s been amazing to see the community shift out of those roles and find ourselves as leads in these stories. My hope is to see that continue. I want to see work that allows queer people to be everything in the genre, good and bad alike. God knows I’m a huge fan of messy characters.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
Oh my God, I love Carmilla. That feels very lesbian of me to say, but it’s true!
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
is one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her Body and Other Parties is just fabulous stuff, and very, very queer. I’m also a huge fan of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Write the story you want to read. That’s the advice I try to stick to every day when I get up to work. Write what you want to read, because at the end of the day, you’re your best and most important reader.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Be easy on yourself. It can be so discouraging to work sometimes, especially if you’re a harsh critic of yourself and what you’re doing. Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the work. And that’s what matters.