Women in Horror 2019: L. S. Johnson

L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California, where she feeds her cats by writing book indexes. She is the author of the gothic novellas Harkworth Hall and Leviathan. Her first collection, Vacui Magia: Stories, won the North Street Book Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Find her online and sign up for her newsletter at www.traversingz.com

1) what is horror?

It’s the darkness we don’t want to face. When I think about horror, I think of quick topic changes at the dinner table, or the whispers of parents overheard by their children. I think of misleading headlines, deceitful policies, distorted statistics. I think of NIMBY, of things that happen in shadowed corners while everyone keeps walking by. I think of acquaintances who make us uncomfortable, family members we know we should talk to someone about, neighbors whose behavior our minds worry like loose teeth long into the night. Darkness thrives on aversion; horror is what happens when that darkness blossoms forth.

2) why horror?

I was five when Etan Patz disappeared. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in New York that summer; it was so shocking. We lived in Chelsea, and I knew kids who knew him. All that summer I dreamed I saw him disappear; I dreamed that it was I who turned the corner and disappeared. And it seemed a terrible thing that people could just go on, that you could vanish from the world and everyone would just keep playing and eating pizza and watching cartoons. I wanted very badly to make everyone do something; I wanted people to think about Etan the way I was thinking about him; I thought that somehow they must not understand what had happened to him, otherwise they would go find him and bring him home. So I guess, in some ways, I’m still trying to make people think about bad things the way I do, to feel as upset as I do. Perhaps if we faced these things together, we could do better in the world.

3) where do you see horror going?

Horror is having a renaissance right now, unsurprisingly. I think people are being forced to look at all the darkness in the world and asking, how did we get here, how bad can it get, how do we cope? Because that’s one of the things people don’t realize about horror: it’s not just what happens when the darkness blossoms forth; it’s about how people survive it. How they look and fight back and survive. There’s a lot of hope in horror, and we’re going to need a great deal of hope in the years to come.

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