What are your feelings on the Horror genre?
Jessica (J): My dad was a huge horror movie nut, and both he and my mom read a lot of horror, so it was always a part of my life. I have vivid memories of seeing Poltergeist when I was 6 or 7 and my dad told me I looked like Carol Anne, which I totally did. I liked going to Blockbuster Video and looking at the art on the VHS boxes in the Horror section. Several horror movies made an impression on me when I was young. In The Serpent and the Rainbow, there’s this zombie lady in a bridal gown. I would get up to pee in the middle of the night in middle school and have this strong feeling that she was on the other side of the door. In Dead Alive, it’s the mom which got me the most, and I won’t go into too much detail, but I couldn’t eat pudding for a good decade after that.
Mandy (M): I have a complicated relationship with horror, and I know early teens I really liked it. And then I don’t know what happened. I sort of deviated from it for a long time. Jump scares specifically, I do not like. I like when something terrifies me, but goes about it in a smart way and I think jump scares are cheap shots. I believe humans are the worst monsters. I’ve read a lot of Erica Spindler, and though there’s always an element of romance in Erica’s novels, that’s not what drew me to her work. Bone Cold follows a surviving victim of a serial killer and it was absolutely fascinating and creepy to me. What I like to watch in film is probably considered horror-light; things like The Walking Dead. I loved Mandy (not because my name is Mandy), and of course Interview With a Vampire.
J: Anne Rice is considered controversial these days because of some of the themes in her books but when it comes down to it, I am 36. When that movie came out it showed another side of horror I hadn’t thought about at the time. Interview took horror and romanticized it to a ridiculous degree, and since I was coming of age at the time, I got totally sucked in. It was influential and I don’t think we could have this conversation without bringing up that particular piece of her work.
M: Right. And Crimson Peak, which is considered more gothic romance. I liked the concept of it, the story that’s portrayed and the struggle each of the characters have to go through. We both enjoyed American Horror Story: Asylum and Hotel.
J: Hotel was the first time I had ever seen Lady Gaga act and she was amazing. Denis O’Hare as Liz Taylor was just MUAH, perfection. Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson. That series has a lot of strong female characters, or characters presenting as female, who drive the story.
M: Yeah it’s always such a strong cast of characters. How about Elvira?
J: I think Elvira plays a special part in the Horror genre. Dude, I adore her. She is smart, funny as hell, and very self-aware. Her whole vibe is fantastic, and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is campy and hilarious.
What scares you?
J: Uncertainty. Feeling wrong-footed or that I don’t know where to go or what to do when there is not a clear path and you are just worried about getting lost. And deep water, because fuck that. But again, that also speaks to uncertainty, because I don’t know what’s under there. I don’t know if that’s a control issue or whatnot. It’s like a cyclical thing. It’s not as simple as spiders or clowns.
M: Yeah, I mean, can there be scary spiders or clowns, yes. But was Pennywise terrifying to me because he presents most often as a clown? No. I think not being in control is terrifying. And crowds are a big one for me, but then again, I don’t feel in control. If something turns in a crowd, then I am stuck in this mass of people who aren’t going to listen to me.
J: When you break it down like that, it’s no wonder we went and started our own publishing house if our deepest fears are not being in control of all things!
M: I think that’s probably why Mother! was so effective, because she’s never in control.
J: That’s probably what repelled me. I know that a lot of people champion that film, and I can see where they are coming from, but to me it was so abhorrent because of course I am going to put myself in Jennifer Lawrence’s shoes. She’s at the mercy of Him and all those random people. At one point she’s like “What are you doing? GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”.
M: And nobody listens to her.
J: They don’t even tell her to shut up. She is not seen, she is not heard, and that shit is terrifying.
Author and Filmmaker Mallory O’Meara said, “Women are the most important part in horror because, by and large, women are the ones that horror happens to.” Do you agree?
J: I do. There’s of course the “final girl” or the different roles, whether it’s Virgin, Mother, or Whore. I think that also has to do with the fact that by and large in horror movies the killers tend to be men. Not to say that they don’t kill guys too, because they definitely do. But more often than not it’s women who find themselves in these awful situations. I think it might have to do with the fact that traditionally, women are seen as more vulnerable and easier targets and maybe not as level-headed or whatever trope you want to apply to when it comes to the horror movie scream queen.
M: I agree with you. O’Meara also said, “Horror movies help explore these fears and imagine what it would be like to conquer them.” We live in a world where the people who murder are typically men. These films portray a woman who survives these horrors and either wins, or survives long enough that she becomes the monster.
What are some strong female horror movies that immediately spring to mind?
J: Alien and Aliens, for sure. Talk about a fucking awesome female protagonist! It’s Ellen Ripley on her own, or eventually vs the Queen. It’s “Stay away from her, you bitch!” All the archetypes are either played through her, or the Xenomorph, or through Newt in those movies. And talk about being vulnerable; she was in her underwear! And, of course, The Babadook was directed by Jennifer Kent. You wanna talk about that one?
M: Well I mean I didn’t find that one scary, but that was because the demon looked like Noel Fielding fucking around in the wrong movie. So it was funny to me when it shouldn’t have been. It was bad parenting decisions, a crazy child, and Noel Fielding as a revamped version of the Spirit of Jazz. So, the demon that is supposed to scare me doesn’t because I’ve seen The Mighty Boosh.
J: I think that’s so funny because after you said that, that’s all I could see too.
M: I just remember watching that movie with your husband Chad and being nervous. It was the first time he and I had sat down to do anything together before; our first roommate bonding experience alone. It was also the first horror movie I had watched since I was a teenager, not counting Crimson Peak, so I was like great, I’m going to freak out in front of my roommate who doesn’t realize I have a severe aversion to jump scares. But then the entire movie I was struggling not to crack up, because it’s just bad parenting and Noel being weird. Not to say it’s a bad movie; it’s not at all! I just saw it through that particular lens and couldn’t break out of it.
J: How about We Need to Talk About Kevin, directed by Lynne Ramsay?
M: Ezra Miller as Kevin was fuuuuucked. The character of Kevin was unsettling throughout the whole thing. Like even when it wasn’t Ezra, and it was like a toddler or a kid playing him, you could tell that there was something wrong with this boy. And it only gets worse as he gets older.
J: There has been a big uptick in female-led horror movies over the last few years. I mean you’ve got Hereditary, which I wasn’t as drawn to as a lot of other people, but I really enjoyed Annihilation.
M: I wanted to see that one, but I never got around to it.
J: Ugh, that bear thing is really unsettling; very effective. And that’s like an almost all female cast. Like it’s her and four other chicks in this out there insane setting. I have a teenage child who is really into Annabelle and The Nun. It’s not necessarily my preferred flavor of horror, but it’s nice to know that there are options out there that aren’t sex-driven, so my child can explore these horror elements in a more suitable way. I know that I saw a lot of stuff far before I probably should have, being a child of the 80’s and 90’s.
Would you ever consider writing horror?
J: There’s horror aspects to what I write. There are horrific things that happen, yeah, but to just write a straight horror novel? I don’t think my talents lie in that direction. But I love reading it, I love finding new ones, and I definitely want to expand what Shadow Spark Publishing offers in the horror genre. Benjamin Langley’s upcoming novel Is She Dead on Your Dreams? is a great example of exactly what we are looking for when it comes to publishing horror through Shadow Spark. It takes a lot to squick me out, and that did on multiple occasions. I knew halfway through the manuscript that we needed to offer him a contract.
M: I do think that the first thing that I will be writing for Shadow Spark will be a horror novel or novella. The premise of the story is supernatural, but it goes back to what scares me the most; that lack of control is exactly what Jason struggles with the entire time. He’s not in control of his body. Losing time the way Jason does, waking up in pools of blood and not knowing who’s blood that is, like, that is the most terrifying thing I could think up for the narrative.
J: It’s like cordyceps, man. Fuck that shit.
Jessica Moon & Mandy Russell founded Shadow Spark Publishing in 2019 after going through the query process for the upcoming series, The Alvertaen Axiom.
Since founding Shadow Spark, they’ve connected with like-minded creatives, & are expanding at a steady clip, unwilling to submit to labels & preconceptions of what it takes to be successful in the publishing industry. They are building a strong base of creatives who work with the House to ensure all voices are heard, all works are exactly as they should be, & both House and creative alike profit in all ways from mutual support & association.
Their next novel, Benjamin’s Langley’s supernatural horror Is She Dead in Your Dreams? will be published in early March 2020.
Jessica Moon is on Twitter and Instagram @jhlmoon
Mandy Russell is on Twitter @mandypants2987 and on Instagram @mandyrussellbooks
Shadow Spark Publishing will be opening once more to queries in 2020, and is on Twitter -@shadowsparkpub – and on the web at www.shadowsparkpub.com