Women in Horror: Interview with Rachel Harrison
Rachel Harrison is the national bestselling author of Cackle, Such Sharp Teeth, and The Return, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Guernica, in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, as an Audible Original, and in her debut story collection Bad Dolls. She lives in Western New York with her husband and their cat/overlord.
Her fourth novel, Black Sheep, is out September 19th from Berkley.
What inspired you to start writing?
It’s something I’ve always done. I used to dictate stories to my mother before I could physically write—I was an insufferable child! Writing was an inevitable pursuit.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
The intensity of conflict in horror drew me in. The stakes are just inherently higher. I love the drama. And then, of course, it’s fun!
Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Most of the time I write to figure out how I feel about things. I explore my own feelings and experiences and struggles through writing. Because of this, my work is personal, and it reflects my personal experience of womanhood. I hope to portray this experience in a way that’s relatable, so readers can connect to it and either feel less alone or gain new perspective. There’s a lot of debate about likable and unlikable female characters, but most of us humans don’t fall neatly in one category. We’re nuanced and flawed, we’re likable or unlikeable, depending on the day or who you ask. I want female characters— and frankly all characters—to transcend the debate, because it sure is boring!
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
It’s taught me to be more hopeful about the world. It’s changed my relationship with fear. I put my characters in really bleak situations, and they choose to fight on. That must come from me, right? From somewhere inside me. I always joke about how I’m not resilient, how I’d be the first to die in a real-life horror scenario, but maybe that’s a lie I tell myself and the truth is in my fiction.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
haven’t been in the game that long—so my perspective here is limited—but I do think the landscape has broadened and the general public’s idea of, and respect for, the genre has shifted. I hope horror will continue to evolve to include and uplift more voices. I hope it continues to gain respect within the literary space and beyond. Let horror movies take home Academy Awards.
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’d rather just look ahead and focus on what I can control, instead of what I can’t. I hope women feel welcome and safe and supported and appreciated and respected in the horror community, and if there’s someone trying to break into the genre, I hope I can help them in whatever way I can.
Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?
Most recently would be Noemí from Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and all the heroines of Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth. And of all time, Eleanor and Theodora from The Haunting of Hill House.
Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?
Alexis Henderson, Kristi DeMeester, Carmen Maria Machado, Erika T. Wurth, Hailey Piper, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Emily M. Danforth, Alma Katsu…in my mind I hear the orchestra playing me off, but I could go on!
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Read across the genre.
And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Connect with other writers. Don’t be afraid to reach out, get in the DMs, join the HWA and do the mentorship program. Writing can be isolating, and publishing can be heartbreaking. We all need support and community, and it’s here for you! Come say hi!