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Women in Horror Month 2024: An Interview with Sarah Walker

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What inspired you to start writing?

Temporal lobe epilepsy inspired me to begin to write. I have temporal lobe epilepsy and the specific kind I have gives me constant anxiety. Things like heartbeat acceleration for no reason, shaking, memory disorders, and unwanted images in my head, (kind of like dreaming) and my favorite, not recognizing places or familiar faces that I should. It is not a pleasant feeling. It is distracting. It is also frightening. For a time, it ran me. I wasn’t able to do much other than get pummeled by my own bleeding brain. But then something magnificent happened. I learned early on that I could temper it if I did something creative. I discovered it was a ravenous electrical beast. It did not care what it did to me, it only wanted to be fed. It had no rhyme or reason. It was governed by things as hidden as the tide. When I accepted there was no cure, I started to understand that it would eat me unless I fed it. It needed to be occupied or it would turn on me. And writing or artwork seems to work best, plus it brings me joy like no other. I don’t understand it. But for some reason it all goes away as long as I do something creative, write, speak, paint. Things like that. As long as I feed it, I am let be.

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

I have always been attracted to dark imagery. I never was a ‘normal’ girl. I rode motorcycles and hiked around mountains and explored mines, and I remember feeling the breath of those mines and how it terrified me, but I remember how this kind of fear felt good. It silenced that real-world losing-my-mind fear that the stupid seizures caused. Growing up away from civilization I think also taught me to love horror. Anyone who has been out in those woods alone will begin to sense there are presences out there. There is also practicality to my Horror writing. It is true that horror is one of the last genres where you can write almost anything creatively and still be read. Horror is also a genre that allows experimentation and innovation more than other genres. It allows us to play with the darkness that we as humans must face but often, we run from knowing in our cores that it is the one running the show here, not us. It is also a safe place for someone like me to be who I really am instead of worrying that people will think I am a loon.

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

Maybe? It is true that I have many female characters. But to be honest, I think whether the character is male, or female, neither or non-binary just depends on the specific story. I do try to  represent women for the complex people they are.

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

It has taught me that the world is infinitely more beautiful than you can imagine as well as infinitely more dark. It has taught me as well that at the heart of all creation is destruction. For westerners, this is an idea I think that is not well understood. We demonize these gods and goddesses in other cultures when in reality these gods and goddesses are not evil. They are a necessary part of the creation of new life. We also tend to have this binary philosophy in the West where we say it is an either-or thing, meaning there is ‘good’ and then there is ‘bad.’ In watching more Asian diaspora horror I found that reality is often much more nuanced and complex. I think horror is one of the few places we can see that reality.

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

Yes, I have. I am seeing a broader sampling of people writing horror and that makes me incredibly happy. I love the recent combination of genres. Horror comedy, Sci-Fi Horror, etc. I also love the variety and number of writers who are amazing wordsmiths that are around. Up in Oregon and Washington, we have all these incredible Weird Horror authors. Adam Bolivar is one of my favorites, David Barker as well, and the work of much-missed Wilum Pugmire, RIP. And then there’s the pure bite-through-your-bones and peel-off-your-eyes horror- Jon Padgett, Paula Ashe, Rebecca Allred, Gemma Files. Gordon White. And the cinema is changing! We have films like Midsommer and Viejoes. And then there are the films of Jordan Peele. I love horror from the past so much, Le Fanu, Bram Stoker was a genius. But I also feel very lucky to live in an age where horror is finally getting its day onstage.

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?

Meh. But it is changing, and it is also true that Horror has been one of the few places where women could really stretch their literary wings. People like Shirley Jackson. Wow, she was so damn good. But I feel like a lot of female writers were missed. And that makes me quite sad. I hope that going forward we work hard to give others the way to make their voices heard and to show them the way to relieve even just a little of that anxiety scratching at the back of all of our Necks.

Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?

Kirsty In Hellraiser! Nell! Annie Wilks! There are so many. Pretty much any Jamie Lee Curtis film, including her newest appearance in Everything Everywhere All At Once, and though that film isn’t horror, that film made me cry. Many of Anne Rice’s characters like Rowan Mayfair. Lestat’s mother. Karys in The Damnation Game.

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

There are a ton of female writers actively writing that are amazing right now. Check out Sarah Read, Christie Nogle, Gemma Files, Rebecca Allred, Paula Ashe, Nora Peevy, Can Wiggins, and Erika Ruppert.

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

Don’t fear what you are becoming, only fear what you may become. Now is the time to do that book, that screenplay, that poem. Now is the moment. We can dance if we want to.

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

Believe in yourself. No one else can do it for you.


Sarah Walker is a multimedia artist, professional anthropologist, and writer who loves to scribble scary stories when she can. Her work has appeared in Audient Void, Lovecraft Lunatic Asylum, Shoggoth.net, Vastarien. Lovecraft Ezine, Nightmares and Dreamscapes from Antimony and Old Lace, Weird Fiction Quarterly, Demagogue Press, and more. Currently, she is working with Weird Fiction Quarterly, a flash fiction weird horror journal created by Russell Smeaton. Along with Chris Karr, Scott Couturier, Shayne Keen and Nora Peevy we have released a number of issues and are now planning on starting a sister publication with the help of Nora Peevy focusing on 1000 word flash. Stay tuned for that. Finally, Sarah also helped edit and illustrate A Walk in a Darker Wood and its sequel, A Walk in a City Of Shadows, as well as having stories in these books. This coming year she is involved in editing and publishing an anthology of horror devoted to the work of Gemma Files with Gordon White. Phil Breach, and others. That Kickstarter will be opening this summer. All profits will go to Autism Works, a charity Gemma Files chose. Lastly, Sarah’s first novel will be coming out in late 2024 or early 2025.

 

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