Women in Horror: Interview with Lee Murray
Lee Murray is an author, editor, screenwriter, and poet from Aotearoa-New Zealand. A USA Today Bestselling author, double Bram Stoker, and Shirley Jackson Award winner, her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories. Lee is the curator-editor of eighteen volumes of dark fiction, among them Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn). Lee’s first poetry collection, Tortured Willows, a collaboration with Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn was released in October 2021.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was always a bit of a scribbler, but as far as full-time writing is concerned, perhaps I was tired of being quiet. Maybe it was time to speak up and tell my stories in my own way. To write the stories that I wish had existed when I was growing up. Or maybe it’s because my husband told me to please stop rabbiting on about writing a book and just do it.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
There’s an honesty to horror, isn’t there? A willingness to address subjects that are off-limits or taboo. To open closets. Share secrets. In many ways, women’s lives are lived in the margins, as appendages of other people, subsumed by family and community. Yet horror, with its underlying subversiveness, welcomes us, giving us voice, permission to speak about the things that smother, consume, and terrify us. Lately, I’m realising just how much freedom there is in that.
Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I strive to create characters that are authentic, plausible, and recognisable. I’m excited about horror narratives which portray Asian women’s experience, New Zealand narratives, women in science, women as warriors, older women, mothers and daughters…stories which address universal themes that resonate for all readers.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
- Different things scare different folks, which means definitions of horror vary.
- Some people will look down their noses at you when you say you like / write / read / watch horror [insert all that apply], and that’s okay (they’re allowed to be wrong).
- Writing a novel is magical indefinable process, and after writing more than a dozen books, I’m still amazed when I pull it off.
- Writing horror helps me to process things; it’s important to my well-being.
- Horror folks are lovely.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Maybe I’m more attuned to it than I was before, but since the publication of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, I’m excited about the surge in Asian women’s voices in horror, particularly those authors whose work touches on the tensions of the diaspora and the conflict women face when living at the intersection of culture. Growing up in Aotearoa-New Zealand, I never saw myself reflected in any fiction I read. I was invisible. To a certain extent, I still am. I resolved to write some of those stories, to fill a void. It’s a big task. However, in February, when the HWA announced the Bram Stoker Preliminary Ballot, its annual long list of works that have resonated among horror readers, I noted seven women horror writers of Asian descent (including myself) with works across multiple categories: novel, long fiction, short fiction, fiction collection, short nonfiction, and poetry. Fabulously talented colleagues, including Cassandra Khaw, Isabel Yap, JAW McCarthy, Angela Yuriko Smith, Geneve Flynn, and Christina Sng. I have no idea if this is a record in terms of representation, but this groundswell makes my heart sing at the prospect of our stories being read and our voices having impact. The possibilities for increased understanding and compassion that arise from shared narratives are thrilling. I hope the trend continues.
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?
Perhaps it is because women have been instrumental in developing and shaping the genre from the get-go—women like Shelley, Jackson, Rice, and Clover—that the horror community has been willing to examine its shortfalls. For some time now, we have seen convention panels and presentations on how to improve representation and diversity in our community, how to move away from final girl tropes and women-as-victim narratives, and on the importance of creating authentic and diverse characters. There is also a move towards better representation by women at all levels in the industry, and editors and publishers are actively seeking work from marginalised voices, all of which are making a difference. I feel hopeful for the future.
Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?
I’d love to have some Annie Wilkes sorts on my street team. Not really, of course, because I value my ankles, but show me the writer who wouldn’t love a bevy of fans as invested in their stories as Annie was?
Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?
Not fair. There are simply too many. Okay, maybe a few…off the top of my head… K.P. Kulski is a writer who deserves more attention. Her latest novella, House of Pungsu, releases this year and is exquisite. Late to the party, I’m currently enjoying Yvette Tan’s Waking the Dead and Other Stories, and I’m also discovering Cassandra Windwalker’s fiction in Hold My Place. In short fiction, Carol Gyzander, Cindy O’Quinn, Megan Arcuri, Jess Landry, Rhonda L Jackson are must-reads. Jezzy Wolf, EF Schraeder, Stephanie Ellis, and Sara Tantlinger in poetry, and Victoria Nation is an emerging writer who I think we’ll be seeing more of.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Read, read, read. Read widely. Read closely. Be a student of the genre. Time poor? Read anthologies and novellas. These shorter bites make perfect samplers, allowing you to discover new authors, new voices, and innovative approaches.
And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
There is power in the sisterhood. Reach out, connect.