My Women in Horror Month interview series continues with a conversation with Gretchen Felker-Martin! You can find our conversation below. And in case you missed it, be sure sure to check out last week’s interview with S.C. Parris!
Sonora: How long have you been writing? Have you always been drawn to horror and dark speculative fiction?
Gretchen: I’ve been writing since I was about 14, and yeah, as a kid I was drawn to things that scared me and disgusted me. There was a sympathy there, I think, because as a fat and obviously queer child I disgusted and frightened many of the people around me.
Sonora: I loved your debut novel, Manhunt. What was it like writing it and then publishing it?
Gretchen: Exhilarating, weird, frightening. From the second I shared the premise I started catching flak from anyone and everyone. TERFs, trans people who didn’t like the kind of story I wanted to tell, polite liberals who thought I was a wrecker trying to disenfranchise the trans rights movement. The best thing to come of it, though, has been the response from trans people after publication, which is strong and varied and vehement. My favorites are people saying “wow, this really makes me feel seen, it puts a voice to these thoughts I don’t feel allowed to speak out loud.” That’s why I wrote it.
Sonora: Horror has had many issues with transphobia and trans erasure. While these issues still exist, there is growing and better representation in both the stories and the authors writing those stories. What do the genre, publishers, and readers do well in terms of trans representation and treatment? How can the treatment and representation of trans people in horror still be improved?
Gretchen: I think in some ways we’re moving ahead and in others we’re falling back. With increased trans visibility comes increased pressure from both cis and trans people to be a model minority, to not “give ammunition” as it were to our ideological and material enemies. You wind up seeing a lot of trans artists voluntarily defang themselves in the hopes of appealing to a more mainstream audience, and you see a lot of anger and vitriol directed at trans artists who refuse to pander.
Trans people are exploding into horror fiction in a really exciting way right now. Alison Rumfit, Eric LaRocca, Eve Harms, Hailey Piper, Briar Ripley Page — and into literature more broadly. Jackie Ess, Torrey Peters, Shola von Reinhold, Davey Davis; all these artists who are bringing their own unique experiences to the field. So, cis publishers and readers are learning to embrace these voices, and trans people are connecting through our art, enriching our shared culture. I think where we still have a lot of room to grow is in getting away from writing everything to cater to and educate a cis audience; I want to see more trans artists write for themselves and their fellow trans people.
Sonora: What unique perspectives do you think trans authors bring to the horror genre?
Gretchen: There’s a tremendously intense consciousness of the body inherent to being trans, a prolonged contact with really fundamental questions of what organs and musculature and skeletal structure mean to yourself and then to the world around you. It lends itself well to body horror, and to any horror about alienation and otherness. I think also a lot of us lead very hunted, vigilant lives, and that dovetails very neatly with capturing the feelings of helplessness and terror that make for great horror writing.
Sonora: In addition to writing fiction, you are a film critic. What draws you to film critique and analysis? Do you have a favorite genre? Favorite era?
Gretchen: I got into film criticism after finding the work of Sean T. Collins, who’s now a good friend of mine, and it just really spurred something in me. I’d always been kind of a casual cinephile, but at that time in my life, in my early 20s, I was so depressed and miserable, it wasn’t much of a challenge to sit down and watch two or three movies in a night, plow through contemporary critical work and books on film theory, and just sort of give myself an ad hoc education on the subject. When I finally started to get my life together, I was lucky enough to catch a series of breaks and start writing film crit professionally.
I love horror, unsurprisingly. It’s definitely my favorite, though film noir and period dramas are close seconds. I’m a big fan of the 70s. Barry Lyndon, The Devils, News from Home, Jaws — it’s an incredibly rich decade for film. You have the birth of the blockbuster, the modern action film is taking shape in the wake of Hong Kong’s martial arts boom, Kubrick is at the height of his career. Exciting stuff.
Sonora: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
Gretchen: George R. R. Martin, Porpentine, Umberto Eco, Alison Rumfit, Torrey Peters, Ursula K. Le Guin, Melanie Tem, Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, Borges, John le Carré, Nabokov, Patrick Suskind, Otessa Mossfegh, Pär Lagerkvist, Arundhati Roy, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Dorothy Allison, Cormac McCarthy. Some favorite books: Perfume, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Moby Dick, The Name of the Rose, The Virgin Suicides, The Devils of Loudun, A Feast for Crows, Lolita, Trash, Wilding, Lapvona, A Universal History of Iniquity, Ulysses, Kalpa Imperial. Honestly I could go all day, but that’s a good start.
Sonora: What are you currently working on?
Gretchen: I’m waiting for edits on my second novel, Cuckoo, which is a body snatcher story about queer teens at a conversion therapy camp in the mid nineties, and writing a screenplay adaptation of Manhunt, which has been a fun challenge for me, learning a whole new way of writing. I’m also drafting my third horror novel, Mommy, which is about cannibal witches and intergenerational lesbian relationships — the dreaded “age gap”. Past that you’ll have to wait and see!
Gretchen Felker-Martin, author of Manhunt, is a Massachusetts-based horror author and film critic. You can follow her work on Twitter and read her fiction and film criticism on Patreon, Nylon Magazine, The Outline, and more.
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