Women in Horror Month Feature: Amanda Hard

When we first met Amanda Hard, her enthusiasm was as contagious as the smile she brought to the conversation. It isn’t difficult to see why we hear her name often in the horror genre. As we continue our celebration of Women in Horror Month, please enjoy the talented featured author, Amanda Hard.

Women in Horror Month Feature author, Amanda HardCharon Coin Press: What drew you to the horror genre? 
Amanda Hard: As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by ghost and monster stories. I was something of a suspicious child, never content with the “official” explanation of anything, so I enjoyed horror stories that featured priests who were really demons or little old ladies who were actually monsters in disguise. I remember reading Daniel Cohen’s books of ghost stories for kids, and trying my hand at writing Twilight Zone stories when I was in grade school. I guess I never actually got over that paranoid feeling of “nothing is what it seems,” so horror, especially of the supernatural kind, really appeals to that side of my personality.

CCP: Do you have a favorite monster/horror character?
AH: There is a soft spot in my heart for sea monsters, but I’d have to say demons are my absolute favorite.

CCP: Do you have any advice for other female writers who want to write horror?
AH: When I talk to other women horror writers, the one thing we seem to have in common is guilt. First we feel guilty for “stealing” time away from our families to write. Then we feel “guilty” for writing about human suffering or murder or monsters. I’ve had people look at me sideways and ask (in all seriousness) what kind of mother I think I am if I’m writing “that” sort of thing. I’ve had people ask me if my stories are a “cry for help.” Our society has always had a kind of stigma attached to horror (even when it was the best-selling genre out there) but that stigma still seems to be applied more heavily to women. Angela Carter was one of the first writers I discovered who wasn’t hiding behind a pseudonym or apologizing for her horror fiction. Her characters were murderous and sexual, everything “good girls” weren’t supposed to be, and they didn’t feel the slightest amount of guilt over it. Clearly, neither did Carter. She became one of my early role models.

My advice is to find ways to carve out that writing time from your schedule. You need it. You need this “writing thing” for your own personal self-expression. And don’t be afraid of the “self” that it expresses. Remember: You are not your Art. Your subject matter does not make you a bad person or a bad mother or a bad wife. But be aware that plenty of well-meaning people will try to save your soul and rescue you from the genre. Learn the subtle art of the polite brush-off. Be firm, but be kind.

Also, read Angela Carter.

CCP: What do you look for in a good horror story?
AH: I enjoy the creepy feeling—the one that makes me uncomfortable reading the story alone. If I have to keep looking over the back of my chair to make sure nothing is standing there, then I’m hooked. But even if a piece lacks the creep factor, if the language is good and it draws me into the environment of the story, I’m also hooked. Shirley Jackson was really a master of this.

Convoluted plots are fine, but it’s really the characters that win me over. And I like an element of sadness too, the kind where the main character loses some essential part of his or her soul (metaphorically or otherwise) during the events of the story. Resolution of conflict in horror should come with a heavy price. Horror and tragedy go together nicely, I think.

CCP: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
AH: From reading. I was a very early reader for the time, and I remember being frustrated once that there were just not enough of one particular book series in the library. I decided to write my own stories about the characters (bears of some sort) but lacking the physical coordination to actually hand-write so many sentences, I ended the series with only one or two completed tales. A few years later I tried again, writing a kind of primitive Star Wars fan fiction, and later some experimental Twilight Zone stories. I wrote my first official “horror” story in high school, and maintained an interest in the genre while pursuing a BFA in creative writing, despite the advice of a professor who asked why a “nice girl” like me wanted to write “that stuff.”

I actually pulled away from writing horror for a while after that, not because of the stigma but because it was, quite frankly, incredibly difficult for me. My work was unsatisfying. It wasn’t scary, wasn’t creepy, wasn’t horrifying at all. I read and reread the old masters, and immersed myself in Stephen King and Peter Straub for a decade, but it wasn’t until the birth of my son in 2011 that I really got my groove back. You really don’t know the meaning of fear until you become a parent.

CCP: Who is your favorite horror author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
AH: I’d almost have to say Lovecraft is my favorite, but Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison both rank pretty high on my list. All three are genre-benders, and all three worked primarily in the short form, which is my true love.

Lovecraft’s writing is so incredibly moody and I love how his descriptions can evoke dread out of something as benign as a summer picnic in the country. Bradbury was just genius. His language was beautiful but simple, understated. Ellison’s language has a similar beauty but he draws on so much classic literature and myth that his work is literary baklava, with layer upon layer of reference and meaning. With all of these three writers, I can revisit their work repeatedly and still be surprised by it–still be drawn in, enchanted, and then horrified. I’ve been reading them all for over 30 years now, and  they just don’t get old. Their stories are as personally relevant as ever.

CCP: What are your favorite horror films? What book would you love to see on the big screen?
AH: Well, I’m not sure I’m allowed to admit this, but I’m not a huge fan of horror films. I got freaked out enough by Vincent Price when I was young that I’ve avoided the big screen for the most part. I will go on record as saying I thoroughly enjoyed Halloween 3, and I make no apologies for that.

I’ve heard a rumor they’re making a film version of At the Mountains of Madness, so I don’t know if this counts, but that would definitely be my first choice. That novella has long been my favorite Lovecraft story—for the language. I’m not sure how that language will translate visually, especially in a landscape that is pretty much nothing but snow, but I have high hopes for it.

The late Graham Joyce wrote an absolutely beautiful book called Requiem, which would make a visually stunning film. So much of his work would translate into great films if the director knew how to handle it.

CCP: What are three “Good to Know” facts about you? 
AH: Under a different name, I was a classically-trained dancer who had a reasonably successful second career as a belly dance performer. I mention this because I think my experience in performing arts has helped me understand the need to “practice” writing on a daily basis.

Despite being a lapsed atheist, I’ve had a life-long fear of accidentally selling my soul to the devil.

Whenever I see something universally recognized as beautiful or sweet (a rainbow, a group of baby rabbits, a majestic sunrise) I wonder what’s hiding in the bushes behind it, or what’s just waiting for night to fall so it can feed on the living.
CCP: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
AH: Staying “horror” when writing a horror story. My work tends to track more “weird” than horror sometimes. I also write literary fiction, so I’m not completely opposed to that diversion, but I have more fun with horror. Also, revision. I usually do quick first drafts that require a lot of revision and multiple drafts, and I’m lazy so they take forever to get finished.

Join us as we visit with authors to celebrate the final week of Women in Horror Month. Before we leave you for today, let’s get a little more information on author, Amanda Hard.

Amanda Hard Bio

Amanda Hard lives with her husband and son in the cornfields of Evansville, Indiana. A former journalist and magazine editor, her horror fiction has appeared in (or is forthcoming from) Ruthless Peoples Magazine, 22 More Quick Shivers from the Daily Nightmare, State of Horror: Louisiana, and State of Horror: Tennessee, both from Charon Coin Press. Her blog, “Horror the Hard Way” can be found at http://hardwayhorror.blogspot.com/

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