Mary SanGiovanni has been writing fiction for over a decade. She has a Masters degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pittsburgh, where she studied under Gary Braunbeck and Tom Monteleone, two longtime favorites here in October Country. Like all writers, she’s juggling a number of projects, but was kind enough to take a little time to talk with us about her craft and career.
OC: Horror is a genre that has long been dominated by the male voice – have you encountered any particular barriers as a woman writing horror, or is it your experience that gender doesn’t matter as long as the talent is there?
MSG: I think the situation for women writers has improved in the decade or so that I’ve been writing. Initially, women were up against the mistaken belief that all horror written by them is really troped-up romance, that it isn’t scary, that it has no guts, etc. There was also something of the casting couch attitude to publishing women. However, The majority of my experience has been that fellow writers, editors, publishers, and agents truly recognize us not just as capable, talented, women writers, but as capable, talented writers, period.
Who are some of the female genre writers that have been mentors/heroes of yours?
Linda Addison, Sarah Langan, Melanie Tem, Beth Massie, Yvonne Navarro. I’m sure I’m forgetting others. I like and admire a lot of women in this genre, both as writers and as people, but these women’s works are both beautiful and terrifying. They have persisted with grace and talent and have really helped establish women as viable producers of quality frightening fiction. I also have immense respect for Ellen Datlow, who has produced many, many volumes of incredible quality fiction and is a talented editor with discerning taste. Ellen has never seen sex as a factor in picking out quality fiction, and I respect that.
Who do you feel were the women that have been instrumental in making this genre more accessible to female writers?
Ellen Datlow, as I mentioned above. I think her history of award-winning anthologies of top horror fiction (and prior to that, science fiction in some of that genre’s top magazines) have always acknowledged women, and the genre’s respect for her led folks to read more widely. I also think Poppy Z Brite made great strides for women writing horror during the splatterpunk movement and beyond, when so much of the genre was dominated in all subfields by men. More recently, Monica O’Rourke, Kelli Owen, Sarah Pinborough, Rhodi Hawk, Alex Sokoloff and the women I mentioned above (Linda, Sarah, Beth, Yvonne, Melanie) have consistently proven that they produce horror which is accessible and enjoyable to both sexes, and their work has gone a long way, in my opinion, toward dispelling silly notions that women can’t (or don’t) write horror. We do. I think our approach may be different, our style may sometimes be different, and what we have to say, our themes and messages, are also often different. But I think as creatures steeped in and relying heavily on instinct and emotion, there is a natural feel for writing horror, which, as a genre, is fueled by instinct and reaction to primal emotion. many women write distinctly layered and complex horror fiction.
Tell us a little bit about your approach to writing. Do you have certain times or places where you prefer to work?
I have recently been writing full time as a result of losing my job last October, and I have learned to develop a schedule which works for me and helps me produce more content on a regular basis. I generally write for a few hours in the afternoon, take a break around dinner, then write again at night until I go to bed. In doing this, and really sticking to it, I’ve increased my daily word count from 500 words to about 4-5000 words a day. And I almost always work in my bedroom, on my bed.
Do you use outlines, or do you just make it up as you go along?
I actually just told someone earlier this evening that I used to hate outlines, and only did them because to sell on spec, agents/publishers usually want a synopsis and the first three chapters. However, I’ve found that when writing under a deadline, having at least notes, even if they’re only one sentence about each section of each chapter, really helps when I get stuck. Under deadline, there’s no time for writing block.
I read in a previous interview with you that you often search for visual inspiration for your stories – can you give us an example of a visual that inspired you, and what story or book did it lead to?
I absolutely love David Ho’s work, and a picture in his Block Series (I believe it’s called “Looking Inward”) ended up inspiring a short story which appears in the limited edition hard cover version of Thrall called “The Days After the World Went Away.” As it turns out, David Ho did the covers for the new Hollower Trilogy, and it was seeing his cover for The Triumvirate that inspired the direction in which the book goes.
Thunderstorm Books is re-releasing the first two books in your “Hollower” series, The Hollower and Found You, later this year, along with a third in the series, The Triumvirate. Bring us up to speed on the series, and tell us how the new book fits in. Is this a trilogy, or will the series continue?
This is a trilogy — just these three books — and they’re being offered as a collection. The first book, The Hollower, which is available now, introduces a Hollower and the human prey being victimized by it. In Found You, a more powerful kind of Hollower seeks vengeance on the survivors of the first book and a looks to feed on a few new people as well. In The Triumvirate, both books of the series are tied in together, and the fates of the remaining characters are resolved. It explains more about where the Hollowers come from, why they come here, what their losely connected society is like, and what else is out there in the multiverse that we should lose sleep over. This book also ties in Thrall and For Emmy as part of that universe, as well as a novel I am working on now. In fact, it basically gives a possible explanation as to why any of my monsters find their way here.
You’ve written and published short stories and novels – do you have a preference between the two? If so, why?
I love short stories — they’re fun, they’re quick, they’re often a single shot of powerful emotion, and I enjoy writing them as much as reading them, but I prefer novels. I like having the room to stretch my creative legs and really delve into characters’ minds and explore the strange and supernatural. There’s an incredible sense of satisfaction for me in finishing a novel — I feel as if I’ve lived, laughed, loved, cried, and bled a whole adventure…and that I have a 2-300-page memory album to show for it.
What work of yours would you recommend to someone new to your writing?
My personal favorites are Thrall and For Emmy. I think if someone wants a taste of my range of writing, those two would be the way to go. Plus, they’re both available on Kindle now, so they’re easy to find.
Beyond the new “Hollower” books from Thunderstorm, what else do you have coming in the near future?
I’m writing a non-supernatural book with Brian Keene, due out in 2013, I believe, and I’m working on a new untitled novel that I’m almost a quarter of the way done with. I’m hoping this will be a good, productive year.