Indigenous Heritage in Horror: Interview with Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson is a Cherokee citizen and author of the New York Times bestselling Robopocalypse and its sequel Robogenesis, as well as How to Survive a Robot Uprising, The Clockwork Dynasty, and Amped. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Machine Learning and Robotics. His latest novel is an authorized stand-alone sequel to Michael Crichton’s classic The Andromeda Strain, called The Andromeda Evolution. Wilson lives in Portland, Oregon.
What inspired you to start writing?
I fell in love with reading science fiction short stories as a kid. Eventually, I wanted to try it myself. We all have thoughts and ideas we want to share, and there are a lot of ways to do that. My first taste of sharing my ideas was coding really simple computer games in a programming language called Pascal. As a teenager, I began experimenting with writing short stories in my spare time. It’s incredible that we can examine our own dreams and ideas, translate them into symbols on a page, and then implant a shadow of those ideas into the minds of other people.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
As a young writer, it gave me a sense of power to throw out a shocking phrase. I would invoke violent imagery or frightening monsters as a shortcut to grabbing a reader’s attention. And as I have continued to write, I still enjoy the power of a vicious twist—but I also appreciate the more subtle approach of creating juxtapositions between things that are normal and things that are hideous. It’s a lot of fun to feel out and expose the seams of terror that lurk in the boring moments of everyday life—particularly in the technology that surrounds us.
Do you make a conscious effort to include indigenous characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Native themes show up naturally in my work because I’m often writing about the world I grew up in and the subject matter I know most about. That said, over the years I have become much more intentional about invoking Native themes and portraying Native characters. It has slowly dawned on me that my background is somewhat novel to a lot of my readers. I have an opportunity to help tear down inaccurate stereotypes. Toward that end, my goal isn’t complicated—I just want to include Native characters in genre stories they would normally be left out of.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
I’m a big fan of the Lovecraftian (and very Native) notion that most of reality is invisible to human eyes and outside of human comprehension. We are a narrow species, looking at a narrow slice of reality, understanding very little and yet thinking of ourselves as masters of it all. Having spent my career carving out tiny parallel worlds, I spend a lot of time thinking of all the invisible, undiscovered, and just plain mind-boggling things that exist beyond our senses.
How do you feel the indigenous community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
The indigenous community has been stereotyped in every genre for a long time. I think that will change as Native writers continue to take agency over telling our own stories. Part of me just wants to see a Native character show up and exist in a horror story without performing a traditional ritual, demonstrating a supernatural connection to nature, or haunting a bone-filled, defiled ancient burial ground. As more Native writers are included, I think we will see more Native characters depicted without histrionics or exaggeration, simply as normal people who form a valuable part of the fabric of our modern society.
Who are some indigenous horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Apologies if this suggestion is obvious, but lately I’ve been on a Stephen Graham Jones binge—absolutely loving the syrupy, horrific atmospheres he explores in Mongrels, Mapping the Interior, and The Only Good Indians. And for a super fun indigenous zombie movie, I’ve got to recommend Blood Quantum with Kiowa Gordon, Forrest Goodluck, and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
My advice is to value the details of your particular background and upbringing. When I was young and growing up in North Tulsa, the world around me felt normal and boring. For a long time, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be interested in my life in Oklahoma. But just because your background feels ordinary to you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting to the rest of the world. Those facets of truth that come from your home are the gold you build stories from.