Horror Writers Association

Women in Horror: Interview with Becky Spratford

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Becky Spratford trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She writes book reviews for Booklist and a horror review column for Library Journal. Known for her work with horror readers, Becky is the author of three books, most recently, The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Third Edition [ALA Editions, 2021]. She is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and currently serves as the Association’s Secretary and organizer of their annual Librarians’ Day. You can follow Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.

What inspired you to start writing?

As long as I can remember I have been writing, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college when I spent a year writing and researching an undergraduate thesis on Ken Burns, his Baseball and Civil War documentaries, and how they followed the classical epic model as established by The Illiad, that I realized writing nonfiction, specifically nonfiction about storytelling, was something I might be able to do for a living.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

Horror is a genre that is driven by emotions. How it makes you feel? I am always in awe of how authors can take letters and put them together into words, that form sentences, that eventually form stories that can make the reader feel the emotions, tangibly, in their body. It never ceases to amaze me. In my books about the genre and reviews Horror. I focus on that emotion and how each author does this in their own unique way. That is why I am drawn to it.

Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

This is an important question because I have seen an evolution with myself, one that makes me less proud of past Becky, but very proud of myself now. In the second edition of my Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror [ALA Editions, 2012], I thought I was being so good to include a special list of women in my chapter about the current state of the genre. Every author I talked about in that chapter was a man and then I had a subsection on women to pay attention to. And then in the chapters with lists of books, it was very difficult to find more than 1 or 2 women represented. When I went to write the third edition in 2019-20 I not only set out to correct this mistake, incorporating women [and authors from marginalized identities] intentionally and everywhere, but I also called myself out for the mistakes and unintentional marginalization I advocated for in the second edition.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

Spending my time researching the genre and reading dozens of books for review, I have learned that it is 100% true, at least for me, that immersing myself in Horror has been an effective way for me to cope with the real horrors in the world. I have written about this appeal of the genre in my books, but living through the past few years, I have seen it in action. There were weeks in 2020 when being contractually obligated to throw myself into a Horror novel or spend an entire day working on my book was alive saver. The excuse that I had to be surrounded by fiction horror and write about it, allowed me to process my feelings about the world.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

I am happy to see Horror publishing go from a mainly white, male-driven genre, to a genre that represents all people and genders. Fear, the emotion that drives Horror, is a primal, animal emotion. To see it explored from different perspectives keeps the genre fresh. People on the margins experience fear in a different way than the dominant culture. We all benefit when more perspectives are invited to the table. I think that we are seeing how the genre is improved by the inclusion of a wide range of creators, with new monsters, new tensions, and new scares. The genre is being reinvigorated and it is not only helping all creators explore Horror in new ways, but also, giving readers even better stories to read and experience. So how do I think it will continue to evolve? Well, we cannot go back to only hearing from white men. The diversification will only grow, and we will all be better off for it.

How do you feel women have been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

Don’t have anything to say here that I haven’t said already

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

I am a book person first and foremost. While others may turn to movie characters, I find my favorite characters in books. The women I am drawn to are not totally innocent, they are flawed and complicated, and they act, making choices that are not always the right choices, but they make them. No one else is pulling the strings. Recently examples of some of my favorite female characters who do exactly this are Merry from A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Jade from My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones, Phoebe from The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, and most recently, Yaya from Queen of Teeth but Hailey Piper.

Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?

I mentioned Gwendolyn Kiste and Hailey Piper. I also think that V. Castro does an amazing job of giving women the power to get revenge against the Horrors done to them without denying their sexuality. Carmen Maria Machado is a master of language that makes you feel every emotion that is Horror. Cynthia Pelayo, Kaaron Warren, and Linda Addison are also authors who I will read anything they write.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

I have nothing to add here that I don’t say below.

And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Tell the story you want. Don’t worry about trends or what others are doing. Until recently, women have not been encouraged to write horror, but now that the voices of women are finally coming out, with their teeth bared and their terrors on display front and center, readers are eager for even more. Keep it coming. There is a huge audience for your voice and we have only just started to see what all of you have in store for us.

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