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WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH 2024: AN INTERVIEW WITH LILA DENNING

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What inspired you to start reading?
I started reading at a young age thanks to Sesame Street and wanted to work with books and reading. I became a librarian after first getting a master’s degree in religious studies. After changing my mind about seeking a Ph.D., I got a library science master’s and started working in a library branch. Before graduate school, I worked as a manager in a bookstore and managed a comic book store so I have worked with books for a while. Currently, selecting adult fiction is among my responsibilities for my library system.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
My mother was a huge fan of horror. The first adult horror novel I read was Cujo. I was in middle school and ran out of my own books to read on a family vacation so I borrowed one of my mother’s books. She always had a lot of horror and suspense novels around the house so there were plenty of books to read. I was always a voracious reader and I had tried science fiction and fantasy but they didn’t resonate with me. Horror is a way to explore emotions and topics that are harder to process and discuss. The fact that not all endings are happy was exactly what I was seeking. It was a gift at that time because of family issues and just the chaos of adolescence. 

Do you make a conscious effort to seek out female characters and themes in your reading habits and if so, what do you want to see portrayed?
I love reading books that focus on groups of women who have strong relationships. There are so many wonderful books coming out now that explore women with a lot of depth- not just as victims or one-dimensional villains – they are messy, complicated, and fully human. 

What has reading horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Reading horror is a way of directly facing and processing your fears and traumatic experiences and immersing yourself in the dark parts of humanity from the safety of your living room. It can be cathartic to experience deep emotion through reading a novel and we can learn that it’s okay to be afraid and for life to have messy endings. It’s also a way of distracting yourself from whatever is going on in the real world. 

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
At the library, the popularity of horror as a genre is the biggest change I have seen. Readers are also more likely to pick up titles that have blended genres like mystery and horror or science fiction and horror. I think the boundaries between genres will continue to be crossed and blended even further. We are also seeing more small press and independently published titles be included in library collections and requested by patrons. We ordered the Splatterpunk Award winners last year and they were popular with our patrons.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?
Jade Daniels (Indian Lake Trilogy), Mercy (The Pallbearers Club), Kris Pulaski (We Sold Our Souls), Odette (Boneset & Feathers).

Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?
There are so many great books coming out by women. Make sure you check out Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo- read her poetry even if you don’t read poetry, Gwendolyn Kiste – Boneset & Feathers is one of my favorite witchy novels, Jessica Johns, Erika T. Wurth, Hailey Piper- slasher fans need some Benny Rose, The Cannibal King in their life, Tananarive Due – if you are only familiar with The Reformatory, check out her African Immortals series. 

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Remember that social media is a marketing tool and a way of building an audience. It’s a way of connecting with your audience on a personal level but not everything needs to be put out there for consumption.

And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Reach out to your local public library and get involved. Talk to staff about assisting with Halloween-related programming or summer reading. Libraries often have local author programs so you can get your book in the collection but by getting involved you can create a larger presence for yourself. Also, if you live where there is a local chapter of the HWA, reach out to the chapter and network! Local chapters are one of the best benefits of being a HWA member. 


Lila Denning is the acquisitions coordinator for the seven libraries of the St. Petersburg (FL) Library System. Lila has worked in circulation and reference and has done programming for children, teens, and adults. Beyond her current role in her library, she trains librarians nationwide on passive reader advisory. Her long, rambling road to the library included stops as a manager of a comic book store, a manager at Barnes and Noble, and a stint at a brokerage firm, among other adventures. In addition to her MLIS, Lila has an MA in Religious Studies with a focus on Holocaust Studies. She currently serves as a volunteer coordinator for the Horror Writers Association.

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