Women in Horror 2019: Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in, thirteen of which appear in her debut collection, She Said Destroy (Word Horde, 2017). Her short stories have been included in editions of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, The Year’s Best Horror, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. She has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award five times. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her Javanese father and American mother, before relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska. She has a B.A. in Political Science, an M.A. in International Affairs, and lives in Washington, D.C.

Learn more at nadiabulkin.wordpress.com

1) what is horror?

For me, right now, horror is a triangle: the trespass + the price + revelry. The trespass is the breach of a physical/mental/spiritual boundary or social norm. The price is what must be paid for the trespass, and it must be steep. Revelry is a more recent conceptual addition, but it’s key. Horror savors this process. Lingers, lovingly, on the viscera and suffering. Clive Barker is the classic example of horror that’s high on revelry, to a near-spiritual level. Revelry makes horror beautiful, but it’s also where the dial can be twisted too far – I would say it’s the point at which people will say “I can’t handle it, it’s too much.” Ask me in a couple years, though, and maybe horror will be a diamond.

2) why horror?

Because it meets a deep emotional need tied to the horror-triangle: the need to transgress, to rebel, to break rules. I think transgression looks different to different people – my favorite kind of horror uses that power to challenge typical narratives and power structures. I think it’s important to give horror credit for being the only genre that really lets you engage in massive upheaval, and I think it’s interesting that we have no need to witness a safe return from the terror associated with that change. I’ve also found that horror has a comforting effect on my depression and anxiety, though I’m not entirely sure why. Something about reenacting trauma, sitting with intense fear, seeing the worst happen and still coming out alive. Maybe also the thought that “the world is fucked anyway. No use fighting it, may as well embrace it.” My therapist says the key to happiness accepting the fact that life is suffering. Horror certainly enables that.

3) where do you see horror going?

Worst case scenario, splitting into more and more subgroups. The big guns continue to be big guns, but below them, ever-shrinking ponds of like-minded editors, writers, and readers (who are all friends and all share the same taste!) churn out more and more niche and incestuous work. Best case scenario, horror enables porous borders, abandons all pretense of genre purity, and continues to challenge itself. There’s a lot of appetite for horror right now, including from people in other genres who want to come at it with new approaches, new angles. I hope that in the spirit of the trespass, horror lets them in, instead of putting on blinders and closing in on itself. I want horror to be ambitious. Big. Mind-breaking. The genre’s capable of amazing things, if we just let it air out.

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