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Women in Horror Month 2024: An Interview with Chloe Spencer




What inspired you to start writing?

When I was a kid, I was a big reader. I used to check out 20-plus books from the library at a time. I read anything I could get my hands on across all kinds of genres, but the series that resonated with me the most were Erin Hunter’s Warriors, and Michelle Paver’s The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. At a time when a lot of books revolved around familial conflicts or were otherwise dominated by popular titles, these stories stuck out to me for the dark themes they explored, the brutal violence, and the dynamic character relationships. I’d read Wolf Brother and wished I could write something like it, and try, try, try, I did. My parents weren’t a big fan of me wasting paper, so they didn’t give me notebooks for that sort of thing; instead, they let me use the family computer and I taught myself how to type. And I just never stopped.

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

There are so many things that I love about the horror genre. I love how it tries to terrify, disturb, and thrill readers. I love its versatility, and how it can so effortlessly blend together with other genres. But I also think I love horror because oftentimes, at the core of these stories, there’s some level of tenderness to it. Like yes, a slasher can be about a guy slinging around a machete and chasing kids through the woods, but it can also be a story about how love and friendship triumph in the face of violence—I think Kalynn Bayron’s You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight is a fabulous example of this. Horror is a genre that welcomes the uncomfortable, and as someone with PTSD, I enjoy having the freedom to explore my feelings, thoughts, and experiences in a “safe” environment.

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! Most of my stories (shorts, novellas, novels) center around female characters and female relationships. Mewing, my most recent release, barely has men mentioned in it, although they are present; they just don’t have many speaking lines. I love writing women, and most of my characters are sapphic (usually bisexual, but I do have some lesbian characters, too!) Many of them are neurodivergent and/or disabled. A lot of my characters have PTSD and/or anxiety and depression due to surviving violence or abusive situations. I think I actively try to portray “bad,” immoral, or morally gray women. I like to explore the way that trauma can impact our ability to make intelligent decisions, or how it can disable our ability to healthily cope with overwhelming emotions. The women I write about are scorned, distrustful of authority figures, and sometimes, desperate to be loved. Some of them are rewiring their brains to be more empathetic and compassionate, whereas others are indulging in their bad habits, and bringing about their demise. I write these kinds of characters not just because they are reflections of me or qualities that I have, but because they are more interesting. Honestly, I don’t want to pick up a book and read about a goody-two-shoes doing their best in the face of violence and evil. I’m not sure if it’s because I find it boring, or because I don’t believe that a good person could go through a violent situation and come out the other side “normal.” Being subjected to trauma changes you, and impacts how you relate to yourself and others. In all of my work, I try to explore that.

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

I think writing horror has taught me to be more compassionate to what other people are going through. But I think writing horror has also helped me develop a stronger sense of justice, too.

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

The horror genre has definitely become more inclusive over the years! There are a lot more stories by disabled, LGBTQ+, or BIPOC writers, and this is absolutely to the betterment of the genre. I’m more interested in reading now because there are more works that better represent me, or will otherwise challenge or entertain me. I feel like there are more stories that are “new,” in the sense that we’re addressing and exploring topics that have never been done before. Right now, everything feels fresh and exciting, and I don’t think that things are going to get stale anytime soon. Historically, I think that the horror genre has had “boys’ club” vibes, and while I think some of that is still present, it’s being dismantled. There’s still work to be done, particularly in some sub-genres (splatterpunk and extreme horror come to mind), but I think we’ve come pretty far. And I think a lot of people are open to change, which is always lovely to see.

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?

While I think the horror genre has historically been great when it comes to representation of women—yes, women are often the victims but they are also usually the sole survivors, ie, “The Final Girl.” For the most part, I think women have been represented as strong and capable, but there are some that argue they’re oversexualized or perhaps punished moralistically (for example, the trope of the teenage girl who gets killed while having sex with her boyfriend.) I can see arguments for either end, but I do think the idea that women are punished for sexuality is quickly on its way out the door, thanks to the rise of the erotic horror genre, and the increasing presence of women in horror. If women are sexualized within the genre, it’s less male gaze-y nowadays, and more so comes from a place of empowerment. I think V. Castro’s Queen of Filth is a great example of this. I think things have even gotten better when it comes to men writing women; I’ve seen a lot of men who approach women’s stories with a sensitivity that might’ve been absent from writing in previous decades. So a lot of attitudes are changing as the genre overall is becoming more inclusive and welcoming. In short, I have high hopes, and I think things can only get better from here.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

Jennifer and Needy from Jennifer’s Body. Pearl from X. Pearl. Asami Yamazaki from Audition. Wendy Torrance. Meg from Ali Seay’s Go Down Hard. Finley from Remy Oliver’s Panic Playhouse. Kim from Full Brutal.

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

Kalynn Bayron and Tiffany D. Jackson for sure. They’re auto-buy authors for me. If you haven’t read The Weight of Blood yet or the now STOKER NOMINATED You’re Not Supposed to Die Tonight, you are missing out. Other authors I enjoy are Hailey Piper (Queen of Teeth), Cynthia Pelayo (The Shoemaker’s Magician), and Caitlin Marceau (This Is Where We Talk Things Out.) Emma E. Murray, Mae Murray, Cat Voleur, and Stephanie Sanders-Jacob are also fantastic, talented writers. I.S. Belle is another friend of mine, and she puts out banger after banger. She writes mostly YA horror novellas but does have an upcoming thriller based on Fight Club releasing this April, entitled Girls’ Night.

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

Normally my advice would be to write things that you’re interested in, but I think that it’s critical not to compare yourself to other people. I think a lot of writers and authors, when they’re just starting out, have this tendency to see other people around them as competition. Don’t do that. Not only are you going to embarrass yourself by being hostile, you’re going to ruin your chances of developing working relationships and friendships. In all honesty, publishing is a lonely and brutal industry. You endure a lot of rejection, day after day. It’s nice to have people around who can uplift and support you, and to do the same in kind for them.

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

Don’t be afraid to be disgusting. Don’t be afraid to be violent. Don’t be afraid to write characters that are seriously, fundamentally flawed. But while you’re doing those things, focus on making it good. One of my favorite reviews of my work is a 2-star review on Goodreads which says they were overwhelmed by how gross and gory the story was, but because it was so well-written, they couldn’t put it down. Honestly, I think that’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received for my work. People may not resonate with what you’re trying to do, and you can’t control your ratings, but if even people who dislike your work are motivated to finish it because they recognize the strength of your craft? You’re absolutely on the right track.

Minnesota native Chloe Spencer is an award-winning writer, indie gamedev, and filmmaker. She is the author of multiple sapphic horror novellas, novels, and short stories, including the recently released Mewing with Shortwave Books. In her spare time, she enjoys playing video games, trying her best at Pilates, and cuddling with her cats. She holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Film and Television from SCAD Atlanta.

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