The final interview in my WIHM series this year is with Erika T. Wurth! You can check out our conversation below. Be sure to also check out my interviews with S.C. Parris and Gretchen Felker-Martin!
Sonora: Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? Have you always gravitated towards horror and dark fiction?
Erika: I was a big reader as a kid, as long as it involved ghosts, spaceships or elves. But once I got to college, and then did my PhD, they ironed that out of me, and I started writing what some folks call literary fiction, and I would say is better labeled realism. But it was still dark. And eventually, I missed the ghosts.
Sonora: You recently released your third novel, White Horse. What was your inspiration for the story? What was it like writing it? Anything you want to share from the behind-the-scenes of getting it published?
Erika: It is my debut big five novel. I have two books of poetry, two novels and a collection of short stories ending in a novella out. In many ways, the novel is a love song to a dying Denver, where I’m from. And in other ways it’s a celebration of coming back to speculative literature. And it’s also about my grandmother who either suicided or was murdered by her husband, and the chaos that that caused in my family. I think this round it was a bit more joyful, because even though the subject matter is dark, I really loved returning to some of the things that I was passionate about as a kid. I also cared a lot more about structure and plot.
Publishing with a big five doesn’t necessarily mean you get everything you want, though I think that’s the perception that people have when they don’t. It means that IF your book starts to get a little bit of attention, then you get a bit more in the way of resources. But I had someone say pull out that Macmillan credit card! Let me assure you, there is no Macmillan credit card. Not for me. Additionally, on a completely separate note, it’s important to lift your peers up. If you’re continually only trying to get the attention of the big names in your field, or you’re pushing your peers actively down out of envy, it won’t serve you. The best thing you can do is pick a peer group who is writing in the genre and form you’re writing in, folks you really admire—and write articles about that work or at minimum uplift them on social media. Something that their editors might notice once it’s time for you to put that novel out in the world.
Sonora: Indigenous horror is a growing market, with stories from Stephen Graham Jones, Shane Hawk, and the speculative fiction of Louise Erdrich a few examples. What do you think indigenous authors bring to horror that’s unique from other stories?
Erika: I suppose I could see Erdrich in this camp, but I would add Jessica Johns BAD CREE, and V. Castro—she’s a Mexican Indigenous writer who is knocking it out of the park, and I think that THE HAUNTING OF ALEJANDRA is going to blow up. In general, I feel like this is a great time for Indigenous voices. There are those who want it to be only one, or those who want it to be all realism, but I think that Native American Science Fiction and fantasy and horror (and crime!) allows native people to get out of the box that fetishizes us. Horror specifically allows us to process some of the darker parts of our history. And it’s fun. We are allowed to have fun. We should be able to talk about darker subject matter in a speculative way, and we should be able to talk about the bogeyman from our own backgrounds.
Sonora: While many have done better to highlight diverse voices in literature, at least from what I’ve seen, they’ve often fallen short when highlighting Indigenous voices. What are your thoughts on the current state of Indigenous literature in the U.S.? What has gotten better with publishers, booksellers, and readers? What still needs to be improved?
Erika: I think there are those in the Native community and outside of the Native community that like I said, would prefer there to be one Native voice—with a creepy, pseudo-objective agenda as how to measure which one of us is the most authentic and the most tragic. It’s especially nauseating, because it plays right into the way in which Native people have been placed in this fetishistic space where everything has been done to crush our existence, physically and culturally. There needs to be a stronger sense of how complicated our history is, each one of us, each different nation—an understanding that many of us are urban, and have been for generations, and anyone who denies this, regardless of where they’re coming from—has an agenda, and that agenda is completely self-interested.
I have been a part of the movement in making it clear that it’s a much more spiritually and artistically healthy world when different Natives from completely different backgrounds are writing—and thriving— at the same time. And that is what’s happening. There are so many diverse voices writing right now, despite oppression from within and outside of our communities. Also, I would love it if more people would read books by Native Authors not to get a lesson in Native American culture, which you can get from a non-fiction, scholarly source, but because the book sounds fun and smart. It’s cool if you’re educated along the way, but we need to not allow ourselves to be fetish objects, but artists in our own right.
Sonora: Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?
Erika: In horror, I love Grady Hendrix. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Victor LaValle. My Indigenous brother from another mother, Stephen Graham Jones. And, of course, my partner in lifeL and in crime writing, David Heska Wanbli Weiden. I’m reading RF Kuang now, and I think she’s a genius. BABEL was groundbreaking in so many ways. And BL Blanchard, a Sci-Fi Anishinabee writer is KILLING IT. And Rebecca Roanhorse has change Native American fiction—in the best ways—forever.
Sonora: What are you currently working on?
Erika: I just signed the next contract with Flatiron for another literary horror novel, ROOM 904. It’s about a woman who finished her PhD in psychology, and just as she was about to go on the job market, her sister suicided, “turning on” the main character’s paranormal abilities. She becomes a paranormal investigator—and when The Brown Palace calls her to investigate a series of paranormal murders, where women check in every nine years and die three weeks later, she realizes it’s her sister who is now haunting the Brown. And then her mother checks in—and has three weeks to live if she doesn’t solve the murders.
Erika T. Wurth’s novel WHITE HORSE is a New York Times editors pick, a Good Morning America buzz pick, and an Indie Next, Target book of the Month, and BOTM Pick. She is both a Kenyon and Sewanee fellow, has published in The Kenyon Review, Buzzfeed, and The Writer’s Chronicle, and is a narrative artist for the Meow Wolf Denver installation. She is an urban Native of Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent. She is represented by Rebecca Friedman for books, and Dana Spector for film. She lives in Denver with her partner, step-kids and two incredibly fluffy dogs.