Horror Writers Association

Women in Horror: Interview with Geneve Flynn

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Geneve Flynn is an award-winning fiction editor and author.

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, which she co-edited with Lee Murray, won the 2020 Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson awards and shortlisted for the British Fantasy, Aurealis, and Australian Shadows awards.

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, PseudoPod, Crystal Lake Publishing & Black Spot Books, and Things in the Well. Her poetry appears in Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, Unbroken, a Bram Stoker Award-nominated collaboration with Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Lee Murray, and she has been nominated for both the Rhysling and Pushcart awards.

Geneve loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies. If that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

What inspired you to start writing?

Like many writers, I was a bookish kid and a daydreamer. I spent more time in my imagination than in the real world, and it drove my mum to distraction. I wanted to be Enid Blyton when I grew up. The idea that you could be paid to make up stories was rather appealing, but the adventures of the Famous Five were a little tame for me. I read lots of other books, but they were all missing a certain something. Then a friend gave me a copy of Stephen King’s It when I was a teenager and that was it—I knew I was home.

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

It’s a pretty honest genre, and shows an unsanitized view of the world. Yes, I love the chilly fingers of dread and out-and-out terror, and I think horror readers and writers have a natural affinity for things unwholesome, but I also appreciate that horror takes the unlovely aspects of life and holds them up for you to look at and think about. It gives space for the misfits and outsiders, especially in the current direction the genre is heading nowadays. I’m excited that there’s been a hunger for greater diversity.

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

When I first started writing, so many of my main characters were from a white, male perspective because that’s what I’d read and what was most often published. It took a deliberate mental shift and a bit of a leap of faith to think about and write female Asian characters. Writing for Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women was such a revelation: here was an opportunity to write about my own experiences. Would anyone want to read them?

The response to the anthology was wonderful and affirming. Folks wanted to read about otherness and alienation, and issues of race and gender. Now, almost all my main characters are female, and quite a few are Asian. One of my favorite things to portray is women who have hidden, often dangerous, unbecoming, aspects to them. The weight of being nice and making space gets heavy, and in my stories, I like to shrug it off.

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

This seems counter-intuitive, but it’s taught me that there are wonderful people in the world. Being part of the horror community and having a bunch of folks celebrate the traits within me that I had previously learned to quieten is marvelous. The other thing writing horror has taught me is authenticity. The best stories, the ones that really resonate with readers, are the ones where you peel open your secret and sometimes ugly heart and show all its inner workings. Trying to write to a market or writing what you think people want to see doesn’t work nearly as well.

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

As I mentioned earlier, there’s been a growing interest in diversity. Horror and publishing in general has historically been largely white, male, cis, and abled but that’s slowly and surely shifting. I mean, just look at the current (2021) Bram Stoker Awards® final ballot. We’re getting fiction and non-fiction from so many fresh perspectives, and that can only be a good thing for the genre. I really think it’s breathed new life into horror.

The way in which we read and publish has also evolved. There are so many avenues to reach your audience now, and writers have far more agency. Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon mean that writers and editors can make their own opportunities and have much more creative control, and that innovative, interesting projects that don’t necessarily fit the traditional publishing model get made. I think the same is true with the rise in independent publishers, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing.

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?

I think women have sometimes been relegated to supporting roles and stereotypes, such as the hapless girlfriend, the evil stepmother, the sexy serial-killer fodder, the virgin-to-be-rescued-and-kept-whole. Women were not often the protagonist, and didn’t have as much development and nuance as male characters. They didn’t get as much agency and their abuse or demise was sometimes used for titillation rather than anything necessary or meaningful in the plot.

There have been fewer opportunities and less visibility for women writers, but I think there’s a growing awareness of that imbalance. I hope that’s changing, and along with it, how women are represented in dark fiction. Women are getting to tell stories about women who are whole and interesting and the drivers of the narrative. More and more readers are crying out for these stories, and I hope that publishers are listening.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

Off the top of my head, Annie Wilkes from Misery, Melanie from The Girl With All the Gifts, Noemi Taboada from Mexican Gothic, Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies, and Soe-bi from the Kingdom TV series. I also read a lot of short fiction, so lots of my favorites are in shorter works, such as the narrator in Nadia Bulkin’s “Someday You Will Regret Not Replying,” and all the female characters in the stories from Not All Monsters: A Strangehouse Anthology by Women of Horror, edited by Sara Tantlinger.

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

Of course, I have to recommend the contributors to Black Cranes: Nadia Bulkin, Grace Chan, Rin Chupeco, Elaine Cuyegkeng, Gabriela Lee, Rena Mason, Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng. I’ll also mention the wonderful authors who provided the forewords for Cranes and also the companion poetry collection, Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, UnbrokenAlma Katsu and K.P. Kulski.

I’ll also give a shout-out to Lauren Elise Daniels, E.V. Knight, Carol Gyzander, Crystal O’Leary Donaldson, Cindy O’Quinn, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Angela Slatter, Rebecca Rowland, Renata Pavrey, Alp Beck, Lisa Macon Wood, Rebecca Fraser, Deborah Sheldon, Gwendolyn Kiste, Carina Bissett, Jill Girardi, Kaaron Warren, Lisa Morton, Ryder Kinlay, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Sarah Read, Doungjai Gam Bepko, S.P. Miskowski, Holly Walrath, Marge Simon, Isabel Yap, Stephanie Ellis, Kyla Lee Ward, Cassandra Khaw… There are so many talented women writing horror these days. I could go on forever listing them all. (Apologies to everyone I couldn’t squeeze in.)

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

Dive in: the well is dark and the water’s deep, but the horror community will keep you safe and warm. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations and to cheer for stories and writers you connect with.

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

Write what is in your dark and secret heart. Write characters and themes you haven’t seen before and want to read. There will be someone who wants that story. And I’d repeat the advice about finding your community. So much of what I’ve achieved is through collaboration: being lifted by and lifting other women writers.

Welcome, welcome! There’s plenty of room for everyone.

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