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Women in Horror: Interview with Nadia Bulkin


Nadia Bulkin is the author of the short story collection She Said Destroy (Word Horde, 2017). She has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award five times. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her Javanese father and American mother, before relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska. She has two political science degrees and lives in Washington, D.C. You can find her reviewing horror movies on Twitter and Instagram @nadiabulkin, or contact her through her website: nadiabulkin.com

What inspired you to start writing?

My brain uses narrative to process. I was retelling stories that my mother read to me before I could physically write. When I was young, other kids thought that I was “talking to myself” when I was really just reciting a story. It’s just how my mind churns.  

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

I’m one of those people who likes getting scared, so I found horror really exciting from a very young age. In real life I was an extremely cautious and even fearful kid (I grew up in Indonesia, so some of that was reasonable), but horror gave me a safe way to experience danger. 

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

Yes. I think I’m trying to portray women that I can relate to, or who would have made me feel seen as a teenager. The fact that they’re all a bit messed up, emotionally unstable, and self-destructive is a feature, not a bug! 

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

That I have a strongly pessimistic outlook on humanity. I don’t think this is universal among horror writers, though—I think people consume and create horror for a lot of different reasons, and I think those reasons change over time. As I’ve gotten older it’s become increasingly important to me to be true to the bleakness within, however.

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

Horror always reflects the social concerns of its time. Twenty years ago, I think there was a lot of horror about the aesthetics and purposes of violence. Right now, I think we’re seeing more horror grappling with alienation, social conflict, the condition of being alone-in-an-online-crowd. Given what I expect to see from society, I expect this to go on for a while. 

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?

Typically, either final girls with hidden strength or angry (dead) victims. Sometimes, I think men are afraid to write leading women that aren’t paragons of virtue. I’d love to see more bad or at least morally-ambiguous women, honestly. 

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

I love Katie from the Paranormal Activity series and Shirley Jackson’s female leads (Eleanor Vance, Merricat Blackwood, Natalie Waite). 

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

J.A.W. McCarthy, K.P. Kulski, Victoria Dalpe, Suzan Palumbo, Cassandra Khaw, Paula Ashe, Lucy Snyder, S. P. Miskowski, E. Catherine Tobler, Christa Carmen, among many others.

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

Don’t compare yourself to others; it’s a waste of time and not helpful to anyone. Find your comfort level with social media and don’t feel pressured to overdo it, because no matter what you still need to put in the actual work of writing.  

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

Feel free to explore various genres and subgenres, both in terms of what you write and what you read. Tell stories that speak to you. And keep going. 

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