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Women in Horror Month 2024: An Interview with Melissa Pleckham

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What inspired you to start writing?

Ever since I learned to read, writing has been a part of my life. As an only child, I often needed solitary ways to entertain and amuse myself, and I think writing gave me an outlet for my imagination that was easy to indulge in while alone in my bedroom. Instead of acting out scenarios with other kids via toys or games, I would write them down on paper. All of this is far less sad than it sounds, by the way — I still cherish my alone time!

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

I’ve always gravitated toward dark subject matter, even when I was very young. Part of this is because my parents would watch horror movies with me and tell me (allegedly…?) true ghost stories from their own childhoods, but I also think I have an innate inclination toward the macabre. I was officially hooked once I got my hands on all of the “gateway horror” titles a nascent ghoul could find at the typical Scholastic book fair in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s: Christopher Pike, RL Stine, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and the (incredibly underrated) Tales for the Midnight Hour series.

Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

Not usually, although as a woman and a feminist I think my own worldview inevitably colors my work. Looking at the stories I’ve written so far, I think the gender split is about 50/50 — about half feature female protagonists and half feature male protagonists. I usually don’t set out to explore specifically female or feminist themes in my writing, mostly because my process isn’t that intentional! I find it more challenging to write to a specific theme than to just start writing — usually I’m inspired by a setting, or maybe I have a vague idea of a character — and see what comes.

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

What I love most about horror is the way it makes me feel like there is more to this world than what meets the eye — that there’s something beautiful, and mysterious, and, yes, terrifying just beyond the thinnest of veils, if only we dare to look. It may sound paradoxical, but staring into the darkness has helped me see the light; I think horror — writing it, reading it, watching it —  has actually given me a more positive worldview than I would have otherwise.

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

I think horror has become so much more inclusive in just the last decade or so, with more representation from female writers, trans writers, queer writers, and writers of color — just the full range of human experience represented both on and off the page. When I was a kid, horror was mostly thought of as a “boys’ genre,” or at least that was how it was represented in a lot of mainstream media, and that’s simply not the case anymore. Going forward, I think we’re only going to see even more diversity, and the genre is only going to be stronger and better (and scarier) for it.

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?

There’s a belief — one that is frankly outdated — that horror is inherently misogynistic, particularly horror movies, although I think it extends to fiction as well. I don’t agree with that, and frankly I never have. If anything, in my opinion, horror tends to have more compelling female characters than other genres do. My only hope is that women keep writing horror and staking their claim on the genre as creators, as fans, and as arbiters of taste.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

My ultimate fave is probably Eleanor Vance in The Haunting of Hill House. She’s such an enigma, so complex, and I love the idea that her loneliness made her shine so brightly that Hill House essentially fell in love with her, became obsessed with her, had to have her. It’s so dark and sad and romantic.

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

It’s so obvious, especially given that there’s been a huge cultural reappraisal of her work in the last ten or fifteen years, but you have to read Shirley Jackson if you somehow haven’t! The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Sundial are all tremendously unnerving (and shockingly short) reads. I also still recommend Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado every chance I get. For poetry, Claire C. Holland has a collection called I Am Not Your Final Girl, featuring poems written from the perspective of various cinematic final girls, that I really adore. I also would recommend that people seek out the short stories of Kathryn E. McGee, especially her chapbook Mondays Are for Meat, which also broaches the topic of female loneliness, albeit in a very different way than The Haunting of Hill House does!

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

Don’t worry about where you think the marketplace is going, or what you think people want to read; write whatever sets your dark soul ablaze.

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

Keep going. Make friends who love the spooky shit and share your writing with them. Start a book club. Start a writer’s group. Ignore the voices that say no, even — especially — when they’re in your own head. And publish! It might take a while to get that acceptance, but it’s worth it. We need your voice.


Melissa Pleckham is a writer, actor, and musician living in Los Angeles with her lovely husband and their beautiful cats. Her work has appeared in Francesca Lia Block’s Lit Angels Literary Journal, Pyre Magazine, Tales from the Moonlit Path, The Sirens Call eZine, Rooster Republic Press, and a forthcoming issue of Coffin Bell, and her music has been heard on American Horror Story. She is currently writing her first novel. Learn more at melissapleckham.com.

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