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Celebrating Our Elders: Interview with Kathryn Ptacek


Kathryn Ptacek is the editor of the landmark Women of Darkness I and Women of Darkness II, published at a time when most anthologies included few or no women writers. She knew they were out there, though. She has published numerous novels, short stories, articles, reviews, and poetry in various genres. She edits the monthly HWA Newsletter. She is also the recipient of three of HWA’s awards: The Silver Hammer Award, the Mentor of the Year Award, and the Richard Laymon President’s Award. Her books are available on Amazon and from Crossroad Press as e-books. She also sells extra copies of her print books; contact her at gilaqueen@att.net or find her on Facebook.

Did you start out writing or working in the horror field, and if so why? If not, what were you writing initially and what compelled you to move into horror?

The first two novels that sold were historical romances (Satan’s Angel and My Lady Rogue). I had always loved history, and at that time, historical romance was hot hot hot … so I thought, what the heck! I’ll give it a try.

As it happens I have some darker elements in my historicals… I wasn’t even aware that I seemed to be moving in that direction … But looking back, I can see I was drawn to horror, although it wasn’t a separate genre as such back then. Long before that I had entered a radio’s writing contest about the Christmas spirit, and my entry had this dark creature crouching on someone’s roof late at night. Well, not precisely Santa or festive! And when I was eight or so, I did a series of watercolor comics which featured monsters. And when I was five and went to a New Year’s Eve party with my folks, I wandered through the house and found an older kid watching a movie: Frankenstein. I sat down and watched until the end; it fascinated me and didn’t scare me at all.

The third book I sold, though, was GILA!, which was firmly in the horror genre {and the big bug subgenre!}. As it happens, that was the first book that was published.

Who were your influences as a writer when you started out and who, if anyone, continues to influence you?

I always find this a difficult question to answer, because I really don’t know who my influences were. I read so many different authors in so many different genres … I also read a lot of nonfiction and started out to be a journalist. I have enjoyed hundreds of authors, but I don’t know that I can say any influenced me then or now. Well, I did once write an article for Tony Hillerman’s journalism class about the Geology Museum at UNM–but I wrote it in the style of a Georgette Heyer Regency. Yes, always marching to my own drum, I guess you could say.

How have the changes in horror publishing over the past decades affected you?

Well, there are no longer the dozens and dozens of horror magazines or book publishers that there used to be back in the ‘80s. It’s a narrower marketplace than in the past, and that means more competition for fewer slots. I also stepped back for a while, due to family matters, and so I didn’t pursue as much writing as I would have liked. And while I was away, as it were, things changed.

 Do you think you’ve encountered ageism? If so, how do you counteract or deal with it?

Yes. I think it’s not always obvious, and sometimes I think you just have to plow forward and seem to be oblivious. Often, when people talk about discrimination or forgotten groups, there’s a laundry list, but rarely is age ever mentioned. And when I and others have pointed that out, we’re met with surprise. It’s like seasoned folks are kind of forgotten. Or hidden. 

What do you wish you knew when you were just getting into the field?

I wish I knew that I would have to market myself and my work more, right from the beginning. Long ago, writers just didn’t do that; the book publishers did all that work, but somewhere along the way, things shifted, and most of the pr stuff was left to the writer, many of whom were ill-equipped to convince anyone to buy their books. Of course, they had to learn. If you find it hard to speak in front of a group, as I do, then this really restricts what you can and can’t do. However, I can write excellent press releases, so I guess that helps! Heh!

I also wish I could have pushed some of the distractions away to concentrate more on writing, but that is part of life, too. Grist for the mill, right?

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out?

Write. Just write. Anything. Everything. And read everything. Don’t confine yourself to one genre. And please do not forget the past … there’s a lot to be learned from what and who went before. 

Do you think older characters are represented fairly and honestly in horror fiction?

It depends, I think, on the writer, and if she has actually thought things through. But then all characters should be represented fairly and honestly, no matter what. 

What are some of your favorite portrayals of older characters?

Anyone shown to still have a brain and who isn’t dependent on everyone around them. I like the older characters who poke the hornet’s nest.

Do you have anything you’d like to add that we haven’t asked?

Yes, please buy my books! I have a lot vet bills to pay!

Thank you for this opportunity!

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