The series Women Thought Leaders in Horror is to celebrate, showcase, and elevate women who are thought leaders in the horror community. From authors and poets, to expert fanatics and avid horror readers, these are bad ass, multi-talented women from all walks of life who bring value, heart, soul, intelligence, and insight to all things horror.
Today's thought leader is Laurel Hightower, author of Whispers in the Dark and her second novel Cross Roads is coming in fall 2020.
As always, buckle up for the ride.
1. Why horror? What fascinates you about horror and enticed you to write in the genre?
LH: Horror is a feeling – a happy place. I couldn’t say where it started, unless it was those blustery days headed to the library as the nights got long. Unearthing cheesy Halloween decorations to set the mood for the season, and realizing that was the time of year I was happiest. That reading all those ghost stories, watching the films that make you jump is kind of like riding to the top of a roller coaster, the build up as delicious as the joy of the scare itself. Halloween 365, baby, because I like that anticipation all year long.
2. What is your favorite era of horror and why?
LH: For reading, I’d say it’s Gothic. A time before cell phones and easy rescue, when everything was black lace and haunted houses. When every gas or candle lit room was bound to hold a ghost or two – I never get tired of haunted house stories, and it’s an era that lends itself deliciously.
For writing, or the actual era of horror existence? It’s now – we are absolutely drowning in incredible horror. Subgenres upon subgenres, speculative, splatter, punk rock beauty. Voices, so many diverse voices – so much of what scares us is personal, and as people, we’re made up of our culture, our history, our past and our future. I love being scared by folk legends I’d never heard before, introduced to terrors that never crossed my mind. Sharing our fears is sharing that thrill, but conquering it a bit, as well.
3. What are some of your guilty horror films?
LH: I’ll start by saying I think you shouldn’t feel guilty for watching what makes you happy, so if Twilight’s your jam, you do you! For me, my constant favorites I come back to all the time are Poltergeist, The Exorcist, Aliens, and Jaws. I do love Leprechaun though – I think because it was one of the first really cheesy horror flicks I was able to watch, so it represents a lot of that excitement. Motel Hell is amazing – I need to rewatch it. What other film has chainsaw fights wearing pig heads? Also Krull. Was Krull horror? I have no idea. It was weird as shit.
4. What do you think the genre of horror brings to the world in terms of values, beliefs, impact?
LH: Horror is honest in ways that many things aren’t. I’m not a believer in the premise that horror has to be bleak from start to finish. Sometimes the story calls for it, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve noticed that there’s some horror that seems incredibly bleak, but if you’re looking for it, you see the hope, the silver lining peeking through. On top of which, for a lot of us, horror brings us joy. The well-done ghost story that throws those scenes at us that made us jump out of our skins – we live for that, don’t we? Whether it’s the adrenaline rush, or the appreciation of the evocation of just that right mood – it makes us happy, and that alone has an immensely positive impact on the world.
5. How do you think your writing reflects you as a person or your life overall?
LH: By now I’ve come across the same reaction most of us have – a shift backward, a little moue of distaste. Horror? Really? I think sometimes people don’t expect it out of me, maybe because I work in a professional environment, and they haven’t heard me cuss like I do in real life. But I’ve had a similar reaction from people learning that I read fiction, or used to power lift, or have tattoos. Some folks will always have preconceived notions of things they don’t know much about, and I’m comfortable with that. For the most, part the people in my life who didn’t know I was writing have been accepting and excited for me, even if ghosts aren’t their thing. I’m grateful for that – friends and co-workers have really stretched their comfort levels to support me, and isn’t that amazing? And for the very few that are still judgy? Well, you kinda have to pity anyone who gets that stuck in their own world view. To each their own.
6. What do you think lies ahead for the genre?
LH: In a word, more. More voices, more diversity. A greater abundance of choices as indie presses move forward, as more writers decide to self publish to get their story in the hands of readers. Folks that have been marginalized in the past are getting fed up of waiting, and they’re doing their own thing, and I love it. I think we’ll see ideas no one’s ever come up with, collaborations and publishing strategies we’ve never seen. I think we’re going to see more of all of it, and I’m here for it.
7. Like many things, women are underrepresented in the horror genre. Why do think this is and why is it critical to have women more represented in horror?
LH: I think there are any number of reasons for the underrepresentation – I don’t think it’s because we weren’t writing it, but maybe our manuscripts just weren’t being seen. It can be hard to change the status quo, but having female voices (and all forms of diversity) in the horror genre is imperative to shaping the stories that contribute to our human tapestry. Think of how much of our horror is so uniquely influenced by the experience of being (and identifying as) a woman. By our bodies, both the way we view them, and the way they’re viewed by the outside world. Our abilities, our experiences, our emotions. The focal point of what scares us – even if it’s a more universal concept – the way a woman experiences and relates what scares her is going to be unique. And by reading each other, by better understanding or experiencing someone else’s horror, we get insight into folks who are different from ourselves, which is imperative to moving forward, both as a genre, and just as a species.
8. Any tips for new women writers in the horror genre?
LH: Push the boundaries. Write like no one’s going to read it, put your secrets on the page, because that’s the stuff that’s going to burn into your reader’s brain. Don’t be afraid to make it a fully feminine experience, or not. Do what works for you, but don’t pull the punches. Write what you’re excited about, and then go get excited about other writers. Plunge in with both feet – interact, get involved. Read and celebrate other books you love – shout them from the rooftops. Encourage each other – we’re not competition, we’re your support structure. Watch what other folks do if you’re not sure, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Oh, and develop a network of beta readers you trust – everyone needs eyes on their work.
9. Who are some of your favorite women horror authors to read?
LH: Ha! How much space do you have? Even knowing that I’m going to inevitably miss someone and feel terrible about it, a non-exhaustive list: Hailey Piper, Eve Harms, S.H. Cooper, Gemma Amor, Sonora Taylor, V. Castro, Jessica Guess, Red Lagoe, Sara Tantlinger, The Sisters of Slaughter, Cina Pelayo, Stephanie Wytovich, Sarah Read, Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie Evelyn, Cherie Priest, Caitlin Starling, Carmen Marie Machado, Faye Snowden, Tananarive Due, Lydian Faust, Erin Al-Mehairi, Catherine Cavenidish, Samantha Kolesnik, Darcy Coates, Shirley Jackson. Keep your eye on Lilyn George – I’ve been privileged to beta read some of her work and she has a natural talent we’re going to be seeing. Also want to give a shout out to my friend Bianca Spriggs, an incredible poet everyone should be reading, and who is working on her first horror project now. The takeaway from a list like that is, there are a TON of female horror writers out there. Dive in!
10. For readers who have never read your work, what should they start with and where can they find more information about you?
LH: The only published work I have out there currently is my debut novel, Whispers in the Dark. My novella, Crossroads, is coming soon from Off Limits Press, and I have two pieces of short fiction scheduled for publication in the near future. My website is www.laurelhightower.com, but as you know, I’m a Twitter addict, so find me there at @HightowerLaurel and catch me every week on the Ink Heist podcast with my brothers in horror, Rich Duncan and Shane Douglas Keene.
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Did you miss the last Women Thought Leaders in Horror article with Mercedes M. Yardley?
READ IT HERE.
Thanks for tuning in and until next time.
I am Sterp. I write horror fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup will be in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet in 2020. I am also a painter.
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