INDIGENOUS HERITAGE IN HORROR MONTH: INTERVIEW WITH SHANE HAWK
SHANE HAWK (enrolled Cheyenne-Arapaho, Hidatsa and Potawatomi descent) is a history teacher by day and a horror writer by night. Hawk is the author of Anoka: A Collection of Indigenous Horror and he has other short fiction featured in numerous anthologies. He lives in San Diego with his beautiful wife, Tori. Learn more by visiting shanehawk.com
What inspired you to start writing?
The moment after turning the last page of Stephen Graham Jones’s Mapping the Interior in July 2019 pushed me to attempt writing. I had only started reading books about three years prior, barely dabbling in Horror along the way. That novella spoke to my spirit, my essence, my experience as an NDN. At that point, I hadn’t read any genre works by Indigenous writers, and it just blew my mind. I just wanted to get my words out there too, all the pain, all the identity crises, and all the untapped fears brewing in my veins.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
The moment in which I gained consciousness and formed a memory that stayed was Halloween 1994 when I was just four years old. My parents brought me across the street from my grandma’s house for trick-or-treating and the older gentleman who lived there had a realistic pig mask on and was oinking and freaking me the hell out. Ever since, I’ve been drawn to horror and movies with a darker, grittier tone. As a kid, I was a fan of any narrative that was weird as hell, just outside the bounds of reality and toying with that thin line with a pair of scissors. My dad introduced me to the slashers at an early age; he even showed me The Blair Witch Project and pretended it was a video tape he found at a garage sale. The adrenaline of fear, of hiding behind your hands but still having that curiosity, that drive to peek made me love it. Like I said before though, I hadn’t gotten to Horror fiction until I was 26 or older. Then I fell in love again because Horror on the page is related but quite different from that on the screen.
Do you make a conscious effort to include Indigenous characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I’m unsure any Native person has to concentrate or make an actual effort to include Indigenous characters in their writing. They’re just there. They’re us. Maybe not exactly, probably best to avoid self-insertion in your narratives; it usually ends up being corny. But obviously, we all write what we know, what we’ve experienced. Our tangible lives get chopped up, blended, and poured onto the page. Indigenous characters, or themes for that matter, may be the most scrutinized literary representations of any BIPOC “group” today. And I use quotes around group because we aren’t exactly a homogenous community, are we? We may share similar histories, experiences, and more, but we are all so vastly different when you take a couple steps back. In my fiction, I like to portray Indigenous characters that deal with identity issues because that’s my real life. Some days are better than others, but it is still there. Think of writers’ imposter syndrome but for your flesh-and-bone identity.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Writing Horror has taught me that my fears are very much real, and that I can attempt to stare them in the face on the page without any repercussions. It’s all an extremely safe “what-if” playground to confront things you normally wouldn’t in real life. Writing Horror is therapeutic, cathartic some days. The world is an amazing place full of beauty and ugliness. It’s all a wonderful circle, and you can catch yourself at any point in that cycle and reflect on things. We all are beautiful and ugly; it just depends how we carry it all, what we select to show others, and what we hide away inside ourselves.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I’ve seen a lot more writers from historically marginalized communities gain recognition whether it be awards, better publishing offers, more opportunities to advance into the larger institutions, etc. My main mission is to get more Indigenous folks to write genre fiction, particularly the dark stuff. That’s why I wanted Never Whistle at Night to have an open call and save around half the page space for newer and emerging Indigenous writers. It all helps. As for the Horror community, I think I’ve seen ever type of controversy under the sun, and I think the majority of folks are dealing with these things using empathy and love for victims, with a strong backbone to stand up to abusers, liars, cheaters, etc. It’s neat to see people come together and make it feel like an actual community at large. Going forward, I hope people still stand up to racists, sexual abusers, drunk assholes, Nazis, and anyone else needing confrontation and frankly ostracization. We can see this general repulsiveness of these behaviors in the genre as well, with more narratives confronting things that may have slipped under the radar in the 80s and 90s.
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?
I think the previous decades have been rough for Indigenous representation on both the page and the screen, however, things are definitely improving, or at least, there seems to be a concerted effort for change. Pretty sure we’re all aware of the Indian burial ground trope, or the Mythical Medicine Man trope, in the older books and stories. Non-Indigenous writers still come to me to ask permission to include monsters from Native stories in their own as if I’m the arbiter of all NDNs. My main question to these Non-Natives is: “Why is it dire that this particular creature is in your narrative?” Usually, they confess that it isn’t that important or they can easily swap it out with some other creature from their imagination. Some things are worth gatekeeping in my opinion. Allow Indigenous Horror writers to delve into these stories with these creatures because historically speaking, we’ve had non-Natives tell our stories for centuries. Take a step back and give us a go. As for including Indigenous characters in their stories, that is fantastic, and I will always support it. Just give time and care to them; don’t make them cardboard; be cognizant of stereotypes and contemporary optics.
Who are some Indigenous horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
I’ll shout out some who are lesser known but deserve a lot more attention. Y’all should check out: Norris Black, Amber Blaeser-Wardzala, Phoenix Boudreau, Carson Faust, Kate Hart, D.K. Lawhorn, Conley Lyons, Nick Medina, Tiffany Morris, Morgan Talty, D.H. Trujillo, and Mathilda Zeller.
What is one piece of advice you would give Horror authors today?
I would say try your best to create something fresh, something unexpected. Readers love surprises, twists and turns, and WTF moments. Once you finish your manuscript, look at it with a macro lens. Is it exciting? Has it been done before by many people? If you read this for your first time, would you be shocked and thinking it’s a true page-turner?
And to the Indigenous writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Be real. Pour bits and pieces of yourself onto the page. Have fun and allow your pen to take you on a journey in which you don’t know the next step until you’re already there. Be bold. Be unapologetic. In your own way, maybe help us bury those outdated stereotypes, those tired, colonized narratives and perspectives, and create something to make your ancestors proud.