Carrie Laben is the author of A Hawk in the Woods, coming from Word Horde in March 2019. Her work has also appeared in such venues as Apex, The Dark, Indiana Review, Okey-Panky, and Outlook Springs. In 2017 she won the Shirley Jackson Award in Short Fiction for her story “Postcards from Natalie” and Duke University’s Documentary Essay Prize for the essay “The Wrong Place”. She has been a MacDowell Fellow and a resident at the Anne LaBastille Memorial Residency. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and now resides in Queens.
Learn more at carrielaben.com
1) what is horror?
I don’t love putting fences around genres, but horror at its best is where we directly confront the conundrums of being embodied, made out of meat. I’m not just talking body horror here. For some this means grappling with the fact of being a spirit in a sausage casing and for some it means grappling with the fact that we’re not, the sausage is all there is and for some it means living in the condition that we just don’t know for sure. Each way has produced classics and continues to produce great work. The main thing is that you don’t shy away from the sausage and how it’s made (or if you do – did I mention I don’t like fences? – you do it in a such way that the aversion itself is meaningful.)
Once you have that as your basis, I think all the trappings we associate with horror – death and undeath, the grotesque and the abject, monsters human and inhuman – follow naturally.
2) why horror?
Because we’re made of meat and we’re gonna have to deal with it somehow!
For me personally? Because I find that I can better access the themes I want to address from the meat side, and better yet if I allow myself access to the supernatural as well. The absurdities and hypocrisies that most people have trained ourselves to gloss over in their day-to-day outfits can be made more evident when placed in the startling costume of horror. And for me, once I’ve found a loose thread the impulse to pull it and see if it ravels is hard to resist.
(Both the metaphors I’ve used so far are about getting under surfaces, which of course is just another metaphor – and while all art, at its best, gets under surfaces, I find horror to be my favorite and most efficient tool for doing so.)
3) where do you see horror going?
It’s expanding and I believe it’s going to keep expanding.
In part this is because we’re always learning more about our meat and that opens up new vistas. The road from Frankenstein to Borne and beyond shows the compelling link between the most primal horror and the new tensions opened by new scientific discoveries. When done clumsily this can create work that’s reactionary and anti-intellectual, but when it’s good, it is horrid.
In part because the field is opening up to voices that, while never truly absent, have been pushed to one side by too many gatekeepers in the past. Being genuinely uncomfortable in your meat – being never allowed to forget that your skin marks you out, say, or being unable to reconcile your own experience of your gender with the label slapped on you at birth – can grant a person a perspective on how the sausage is made that’s difficult to arrive at by intellectual exercise alone.
In part because the genre is growing more diffuse and, though I use this word advisedly, more ‘respectable’. Personally I’m a nerd and I like the trappings of academia, but the fact that the academy has increasingly embraced horror and other popular fiction isn’t magical validation in itself. At its best, though, it does help create the kind of conversation that drives any artform to evolve and split and multiply and thrive.