This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.
My next guest is Kathryn E. McGee! Not long ago she was a guest on the Ladies of the Fright podcast and I adored her feature on haunted houses. I wanted to find out more about Kathryn’s work. Happy reading!
Kathryn E. McGee’s horror stories have appeared in Gamut Magazine and anthologies
including Dead Bait 4, Horror Library Vol. 6, Winter Horror Days, and Cemetery Riots. She has an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside Palm Desert and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. Her monthly horror book club, The Thing in the Labyrinth, meets late at night at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. She is also co-author of DTLA37: Downtown Los Angeles in Thirty-seven Stories, a non-fiction coffee table book about Downtown L.A. For more information, please visit http://www.kathrynemcgee.com.
ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?
KM: Thanks for including me! I write horror fiction. I’ve published a handful of horror short stories and have a novella in the works. I also moderate a monthly horror book club at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.
ST: Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?
KM: I’ve always been drawn to the dark and supernatural and love writing in a genre where anything goes. Stories that are bizarre but also relatable give me the sense that there is more out there, there’s always something left to discover. That feeling of the potential in things, what could happen, is so exciting to me. I think horror also offers an amazing opportunity to express ideas through metaphor. Some ideas are too difficult to understand without that kind of abstraction. The haunted house story, for example, offers a wonderful framework for plot and character development. There’s nothing like trapping a protagonist in a bad place with a haunted history and watching them try to sort out their internal issues while lost in an endless hallway, while seeing ghosts appear in the mirror, while avoiding that dead woman waiting for them in the closet that looks a little too much like their mother.
ST: I’m a fan of the metaphors as well, especially since so much of horror reflects society back at us in one way or another.
I loved your guest spot on The Ladies of the Fright Podcast where you showcased your background expertise on haunted houses and how the way we occupy space can completely change human behavior. Do you have anything in the works for (or have you ever thought about writing) a non-fiction book exploring all the excellent points you discussed on the podcast?
KM: Thanks for listening to the podcast. It was really fun discussing haunted house fiction—one of my favorite topics. I would love to write a non-fiction book or essay about it at some point. While in my MFA program a few years ago, I gave a lecture on why characters tend to stay in haunted houses, as opposed to simply leaving when the ghost shows up or when bad things start happening. I focused on examples like Fall of the House of Usher, The Haunting of Hill House, Burnt Offerings, and The Shining. Since then, I’ve been reading haunted house stories written more recently in an effort to study how the form is evolving. The way we use domestic space is always changing and it’s interesting to see how fiction responds. I just read Dale Bailey’s recent novel In the Night Wood and was blown away by how he did something new with the form. To answer your question, I don’t have any non-fiction in the works, but I’ve been continuing to think about the subject and would definitely like to write something on the topic soon.
ST: That research sounds great! Please do keep thinking about doing something down the road with that topic 🙂 I’d love to read it.
In addition to writing, you also moderate The Thing in the Labyrinth, a monthly horror book club at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles! Do you think being active in book discussions has helped your writing or inspired ideas within your own writing? Does living in LA creep into your writing, too? I imagine the unique culture of LA must come with some inspirations for horror?
KM: I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to moderate the book club. We have a really smart and fun group of people attending, and the discussions have been great. Plus, we meet late at night in the dark, which makes it even better. So often you read a book on your own and just move on to the next one. Having to sit down every month and figure out questions to ask the group and ways to tease apart the story—what the author was really trying to get at, how they crafted the narrative—has been really cementing the stories in my mind. We’ve been reading mostly new releases. Staying on top of what current horror authors are doing has given me a ton of fresh ideas. It’s a great way to study the craft of writing. I always go home feeling inspired.
Life in LA can’t help but creep into my writing. One of my best friends finally told me I needed to stop writing stories that start with people driving, but I sometimes find it impossible to think of my characters doing anything else! Also, the city has a ton of unique history. There’s so much here. Lots of potential settings. I work as an architectural historian, so I’m often doing site visits in old buildings and learning about obscure aspects of local history. There’s something new around every corner and I find it to be a constantly engaging environment.
ST: Your job sounds fascinating! The history must be amazing for inspiring new story ideas, and just learning about the obscure aspects in general seems really intriguing.
What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?
KM: Just keep writing, keep getting feedback, and write more. It’s terrifying to share your work the first few times you do it. It’s actually scary every time. But you get used to that fear. You stop feeling ashamed when you write something that doesn’t work, because sometimes you write something that does. Horror is such a wonderful vehicle for self-expression. It allows us to express our feelings on some of the darkest subjects. You might think your ideas are too weird or that no one will relate, but there might be someone out there who needs to hear what you have to say. Keep writing, relish the strange.
ST: I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?
KM: I think Carmen Maria Machado’s work is amazing. Her collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is so beautifully written. She deals with issues regarding the female experience in a fresh way with stunning prose. Her story, “The Resident,” is my favorite in the collection. I read it as a modern retelling of The Haunting of Hill House and was so inspired by how well it was written that I felt emotional by the time I got to the end.
ST: One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?
KM: I just hope women and diverse authors continue to create the meaningful art they are already making within the genre. While horror can be extremely fun and entertaining, it also provides a wonderful framework for telling important stories with relevant social or cultural messages. I’ve read many books by both men and women this year that have done an amazing job of conveying current topics of critical importance. Samantha Schewblin’s Fever Dream, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, and Jennifer Wolfe’s Watch the Girls are all good examples.
ST: Great points. I loved Tremblay’s novel, and will definitely be checking out those other two works!
What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?
KM: I’ve been focusing on longer works and recently finished writing a novella about a haunted studio apartment. I’m also editing a novel, which is a dark thriller set in a historic hotel in Los Angeles. Information about my other work and book club is on my website at www.kathrynemcgee.com. I post about what I’m reading on Instagram @kemcgee30.
ST: Thank you so much, Kathryn! I am already eager to get my hands on that novella.
I HIGHLY recommend the LOTF haunted house episode: https://www.ladiesofthefright.com/podcast/2018/10/30/lotf-23-tropisode-2-haunted-houses-with-kathryn-e-mcgee
Check back on Friday to see who my next guest is!