Women in Horror 2019: S. P. Miskowski

S.P. Miskowski’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her books are available from Trepidatio (an imprint of Journalstone), and from Omnium Gatherum. Her work has received two NEA Fellowships, and has been nominated once for a Bram Stoker Award and three times for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her second novel, I Wish I Was Like You, was voted 2017 Novel of the Year by This Is Horror fans and Favorite Novel of 2017 by Strange Aeons. Learn more at spmiskowski.wordpress.com.

1) what is horror?

Horror is that territory where the human mind must grapple with what is beyond our control. This can be an unknown or unexplored part of the universe, a strange or familiar element of the natural world, a biological fact, anything threatening our ability to escape to safety and composure. The underlying constant is our awareness of mortality—repressed, reasoned into submission, ignored, or temporarily forgotten.

2) why horror?

For better or worse—usually worse—I’ve always been that person who yanks the bandage off, who opens the door and rushes at shadows. I’m not under any delusion that this is courage. I think it’s a particular kind of fear, a reckless, instinctive desire to get right to it, to see the monster and know its dimensions rather than waiting in the dark. I’d be the first character to die, in A Quiet Place or Bird Box. The tension in my stories comes from twin, conflicting impulses: to survive, and to discover the truth. I want to know the source of our uneasiness. I’ll pull up all of the floorboards to find it, like Gene Hackman in The Conversation, probably going mad in the process. My characters may or may not learn the nature of the beast, but I pursue it obsessively.

3) where do you see horror going?

A lot of today’s horror is going toward redemption, which is unfortunate. If we find redemption in horror, I’m not sure it’s serving its purpose. I see a lot of fiction and films trying to bridge horror and a more potentially heroic fantasy, ending up in the middle with a sort of blithe hope that stuff will get better somehow. Things are not getting better, and idling in a dream that the world might fix itself if we’re brave and love one another is, to my way of thinking, a form of insanity. I’m not talking about characters surviving an ordeal. That can happen without lapsing into the fantasy that it makes everything magically okay. The beauty of fictional horror is that we find no redemption in it, and we are forced back out to the real world, to act and (maybe) to live. When fiction is crafted to satisfy our craving for solutions, and reassurance, it doesn’t get to us. It doesn’t connect in a painful enough way. When writers and filmmakers pull back, and let characters off the hook because we wish the real world were better, or because we allow our fear for the safety of real life loved ones to turn our nightmares into nursery rhymes, horror loses its function as a reminder of the worst that can happen. We have to know the worst, if we want to strive for something else in life. Before we can do anything, we have to know the face of the monster.

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