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Women in Horror: Interview with Sadie Hartmann


Sadie Hartmann, a.k.a. Mother Horror, is the co-owner of the horror fiction subscription company Night Worms and the editor-in-chief of her own horror fiction imprint, Dark Hart. Her non-fiction book 101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murdered is coming from Page Street Books in August 2023. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of more than 20 years, where they stare at Mt Rainier, eat street tacos, and hang out with their three kids. They have a Frenchie named Owen.

What inspired you to start writing? 

My mom told me about Goodreads ten years ago and encouraged me to leave reviews for the books I was reading, so she could decide if she wanted to read them. A lot of my early book reviews sound like personal notes to her: “You would like this one, Mom,” “This one reminded me of that one book you told me about last summer,” things like that. Eventually, other people started following me there and I realized this wasn’t an audience of one anymore. I started writing more generalized reviews. Later, I joined the #bookstagram community on Instagram, which is full of personal accounts dedicated to sharing one’s love of books and reading. Over time, I discovered I enjoy reading genre literature, so I transitioned my account into a horror book freak show.

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

Horror calls to me, promising an escape from the reality of my personality. I’m very timid. I’m all about practical life choices and managing a plethora of anxieties, worries, and doubts. Horror allows me to leave all of that behind. I live deliciously through the exploits of agents of chaos and mayhem. It’s everything. I love horror.

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 write non-fiction so I’ll twist this question to ask if I make a conscious effort to include female horror authors in my to-be-read stack for review and inclusion in articles. The answer is yes. I love the female perspective and horror centered on the female experience. Who better to write horror than from those who walk this earth as prey in a predator’s world? Those who are treated as less-than? Those whose bodies can go through an amazing transformative cycle to bring life into existence! I mean, anyone can write horror, but I feel like women bring a pretty unique perspective to the table. It’s so exciting to see a much larger selection of horror books written in voices varying from what we previously have seen in years past.

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

Horror truly is the genre with the level playfield. The common denominator. The great equalizer. Say what you will about other genres, everyone has experienced horror. We have felt it, seen it, dreamt about it, sensed it, warned others of it. We’re actively engaged in it or surrounded by it. It is a part of us so anyone can write about it or read it with some level of expertise and personal experience. Horror has taught me so much about the experiences of others and has given me superhuman levels of empathy. Horror fiction is the most effective when we care about the characters involved. The emotional risk is so high that the horror author quite literally holds power over their audiences deepest emotions. I guess I show up for that time and time again. I love to feel my feelings in a safe and controlled environment like a horror book.

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

I have seen horror grow in popularity. I have seen horror books and authors win literary awards outside of genre-specific awards. I see readers demanding diversity in their horror, primarily emphasizing the voices telling the story, as well as overall representation. The industry is making adjustments to accommodate these demands, however slow and reluctant those wheels may turn. I like that bookstores are having to create horror sections in their stores to keep up with the volume of horror releases. I love that new imprints like Tor Nightfire have a green light to keep up with supply and demand. Horror is normalized on social media. I used to feel like a soloist and now there is a whole fucking choir! It’s an exciting time to be a fan, a changing of the guard in real time.

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 feel like women in the genre were represented through a male gaze primarily. Even horror written by women sometimes presented female characters that way because that was the understanding of the genre. I think the industry believed that men were writing it and men were reading it. Women who wanted to write horror were marketed as thriller writers, maybe? I don’t know exactly what happened, all I know is that sometime around 2012 or so, horror got its shit together and now we have a more balanced genre.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

All the main characters from Rachel Harrison’s novels

Beatriz (The Hacienda)

Noemí (Mexican Gothic)

Tamsen Donner (The Hunger, by Alma Katsu)

Maryse Boudreaux (Ring Shout)

Tomie (Junji Ito’s books)

Malorie (Bird Box & Malorie, by Josh Malerman)

Holly (Bill Hodges trilogy & a new book, by Stephen King)

Abitha (Slewfoot, by Brom)

Jade Daniels (The Lake Witch Trilogy, by Stephen Graham Jones)

Who are some women and people of other marginalized genders who write horror you recommend our audience check out?

Tananarive Due

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Kristi DeMeester

Sarah Langan

Alexis Henderson

A.C. Wise

Wendy Wagner

Christina Henry 

Sara Gran

Nadia Bulkin

T. Kingfisher

Kathe Koja

Danielle Trussoni

Rachel Harrison

Sarah Gailey

Hailey Piper

P. Miskowski

Kelsea Yu

Cynthia Pelayo

Alma Katsu

V. Castro

Jennifer McMahon

Anne Rice

Lauren Beukes

Cassandra Khaw

Gemma Amor

Meg Ellison

Laurel Hightower

Sarah Read

Just to name a few; I mean, at some point I have to stop myself

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

Comparison is a thief of joy and so is social media. Just write. Don’t worry about what everyone else is saying or doing or writing or whatever. Just tell the stories you have inside of you for the readers out there looking for it.

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

Tell your story. It doesn’t matter HOW or WHY, just write it. Nobody in the world is like you so your story is already unique and needs to be told. 🙂

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