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WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH 2024: AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER BROZEK

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What inspired you to start writing?
Once I started tabletop gaming, I started writing character stories. Then I started writing plotlines for games. Then I discovered I had other stories I wanted to tell. I’m not one of those people who “always” wanted to be a writer. I was more of a reader. It was a good way to decompress from my tech job. However, once I got the writing bug, I didn’t stop. I started being professionally published when I turned 31. 

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I vastly prefer supernatural horror over realistic horror. Supernatural horror as a story makes sense to me. There are good guys and bad guys (in the form of a monster or supernatural situation) and the story is, usually, about how the good guys overcome the bad. It gives hope in the darkest of nights. Horror tells us that the good guys can win the day. It may hurt, it may take a sacrifice, but you can win against all odds. 

Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Absolutely. I grew up military, and the girls I hung around were not much like the traditional female characters in horror stories. We were all taught to be aware of our situation, to advocate for ourselves, and to fight when needed. That is what I want to see in horror stories: real portrayal of female characters—good, bad, and everything in-between. I think many people believe a female character needs to be perfect or basically a guy with female parts. I don’t believe this to be true. I believe women can be just as good or bad or pragmatic or vicious as any man. It is our motivations that differ. That is one of the thing I want to express in my writing: why women do what they do in the circumstances they are in. 

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
First, that I was (still am) just as susceptible to patriarchal programming as everyone else. I had to learn to express myself in feminist terms rather than the spoon fed stereotypes I grew up with. A woman does not have to act like a man to be considered competent. Descriptions of characters in my stories do not need to be for the male gaze.
Second, I need to be careful in not simply flipping the tropes, putting the “damsel” characteristics on the male characters. Stereotypes are there for a reason, but that doesn’t mean I can’t subvert or use them to my advantage in my storytelling. However, I can’t be lazy about it.
Third, I learned when someone told me a female character was “unlikable” or “bitchy” to have the gumption to ask, “Would you say that if [male character] had uttered those words/did that action?” We all have biases. Even our trusted first readers. 

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I have seen a distinct effort to break away from stereotypical molds and to bring more diverse voices and points of view into horror as well as moving away from strictly Western types of stories. Subverting stereotypes as well as going back to old favorites and rewriting them for a much more aware and savvy audience. Not to mention a different take on motivations. It’s no longer a single iconoclastic white man saving the world from whatever and getting the girl as a reward. There are more stories about what people owe society and what their responsibilities to those around them are rather than what the world owes a single white male hero. Of course, there are those who will complain about these changes. However, those voices most likely aren’t reading me because they like such work. They are hate-reading with an eye towards unfair critiques. 

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 think modern audiences demand more from writers today: more voices, more points of view, more nuanced portrayals of female and non-binary characters (not to mention BIPOC POVs). As writers, I think readers and some editors pick their token diverse voices then stop looking for more rather than push themselves to specifically look for more books, stories, and voices outside what they “know they like.” I hope the louder, younger generations demand more from their stories, the more the storytellers will follow. Change is uncomfortable, but it is necessary for the genre to grow into the future. 

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?
I’m all over the place, really. Old school: Ripley and Newt (Alien/s), Regina and Sam (Night of the Comet), Nancy (Nightmare on Elm Street), Sarah Jane (Doctor Who) New school: Liz Danvers and Evangeline Navarro (True Detective, S4), Georgia (Newsflesh series), Isabelle (Kingdom of Needle and Bone), Miriam Black (Blackbirds series).
I know there are more but I can’t think of them off the top of my head. 

Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?
Mira Grant, Cherie Priest, T. Fisherking, Sarah Day, Shirley Jackson, Tananarive Due, Cassandra Khaw (who is nonbinary), Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Rachel Brune, and of course, the author who made me understand the magic of reading horror, Susan Cooper. 

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Your voice matters. Only you can tell your stories and those stories are needed today. Don’t let anyone tell you that horror is dying or isn’t “real writing.” Your story may be the catalyst needed to pull someone out of the pit of despair.

And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
I always give two pieces of advice and I think they are worth repeating. First, every bit of advice you get from writers is nothing but opinion based on the experience of that writer. It may be a good opinion, but it is still just an opinion. Second, write what you want to read. That way you will please at least one person: yourself. All my best successes came after I started following that bit of advice. 


Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented, award-winning author, editor, and media tie-in writer. She is the author of Never Let Me Sleep and The Last Days of Salton Academy, both of which were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Her BattleTech tie-in novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, won a Scribe Award. Her editing work has earned her nominations for the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Hugo Award. She won the Australian Shadows Award for the Grants Pass anthology. Jennifer’s short-form work has appeared in Apex Publications, Uncanny Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and in anthologies set in the worlds of Valdemar, Shadowrun, V-Wars, Masters of Orion, Well World, and Predator

Jennifer has been a full-time freelance author and editor for over seventeen years, and she has never been happier. She keeps a tight schedule on her writing and editing projects and somehow manages to find time to teach writing classes and volunteer for several professional writing organizations such as SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. She shares her husband, Jeff, with several cats and often uses him as a sounding board for her story ideas. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com or her social media accounts on LinkTree.

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