Women in Horror Spotlight: Morgan Sylvia
Even though October is over, I will still be highlighting the work of Women in Horror and introducing some new people to their work. I will be writing about authors, filmmakers, podcasters and other aspects of horror-related creative endeavors; I ask each of them several questions and share their answers with you in this series of articles. Remember – Halloween can be observed year round if you keep the spirit of the season in your heart. October may be over, but the work of women in horror lives on all year!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work…
Well, I live in Maine and am a full-time freelance writer. I grew up an only child with a librarian mom in a somewhat remote spot, so I became a bookworm at a pretty young age. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, though I only started publishing a few years ago. My first novel, ABODE, was released this past summer by Bloodshot Books. It’s about the aftermath of a terrible haunting that destroyed a family who moved to a piece of land that had been inhabited by witches—and something much darker—for hundreds of years. As far as things I’ve published, in addition to ABODE, I’ve sold several poems and short stories. I also released a horror poetry collection, Whispers From The Apocalypse, back in 2014. I’m told the fact that I’m a poet shows in my work. I guess I fall somewhere between literary and atmospheric on the horror chart. I’m currently working on several things at once. The next story I have coming out is called The Thin Place, and it will be in an anthology by the New England Horror Writers. I’m also working on a piece called The Bone Road, which is supposed to be a novella but may grow into a novel.
What’s your earliest memory of horror influencing you?
It’s really hard to pick a specific moment. I can think of a few possibilities. One was a trip to Disney when I was five or so. I remember going through the Haunted House, and being quite taken by the whole thing: the atmosphere, the dancing ghosts, everything. I also remember reading a library book about Dracula while I was pretty young. There were photos of stills from some of the early Bela Lugosi films, and they were just so striking, they sort of struck a chord, I guess. There was also a kid I went to school with who was very much into horror, who would tell me about things like The Amityville Horror and whatnot, in kindergarten, even. But really, there’s not just one thing. I guess I’ve always been aware of it, to some extent. I mean, even the cartoons we watched back then had horror elements, like witches and mad scientists and whatnot.
What drove you to the horror genre?
I started out writing fantasy, but even the fantasy I wrote incorporated a lot of horror elements. It was just a natural progression. My work has a very dark feel. I guess as my tastes in music darkened, so did my taste in literature . . . and so did my own work. To me, if I’m going to write horror, I want to actually scare people. So I’m delving into all sorts of fears and creepy elements in my work.
As you started delving deeper into the horror genre, how did your influences change? What I mean is, there was something that drew you in, and eventually you branched out and started becoming interested in other aspects. What drove you to the other branches of horror maybe from slasher flicks to zombies, or to psychological horror?
Each subgenre of horror has its strengths and weaknesses. I never cared too much for gore that is done just for shock value, but aside from that, I like all the genres. I do particularly like psychological horror and things that are atmospheric, but at the end of the day, the story itself needs to be good, no matter what genre or subgenre it’s in. As far as writing, though, I tend to delve into paranormal/occult topics. I just find them more interesting to read and write about.
When you settle in to write something, what do you watch or listen to in order to help get your creative juices flowing?
I’m all over the place, really. I love metal, but I’m really quite eclectic and listen to whatever suits the story. Some of the bands that have made my writing soundtrack include Emperor, Acid Bath, Tiamat, Enslaved, Tool, Dead Can Dance, The Moon and The Nightspirit, Beherit, Saturnalia Temple, Black Sabbath, Behemoth, Iron Maiden, WASP, Perfect Circle, Death, Johnny Cash, Anathema, Halou, Air, Portishead …. I’m really all over the place. I choose my soundtrack scene-by-scene and try to find something that fits the mood I’m looking for. If I find a perfect fit, I’ll just put a song on repeat, and listen to it over and over.
As a woman in the horror genre, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in the pursuit of your art?
I think personally my biggest challenge has been—and to some extent still is—learning how to read to an audience. In part that’s because there are quite a lot of words that I’ve only seen written but never heard spoken aloud, words I can spell perfectly but completely mispronounce, so I’m always worried that I’ll mangle a word without realizing it. I’m also just not really one for being in the spotlight. The whole reason I enjoy writing is that it happens offstage, so to speak. I’ve gotten better at it, but I’m definitely not there yet. I also find marketing and promotion difficult, but that’s just par for the course. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who just wants to write and leave the sales to others, but it just doesn’t work that way.
What other things influence you, aside from horror?
History, music, art, and nature are all major influences on me. I may see a picture of a certain landscape, and think of a story that would match it. Or I’ll hear a lyric snippet, and think of a story that would lead to it. I’ve also gotten ideas or inspiration from various historical figures or specific eras. I also love walking in the woods. That always gets my creative juices flowing. I’m very big on opening yourself up to things that could influence you. I soak up documentaries, books, music: my brain takes these things, spins them around, mashes them together, and spits them out as stories. I think you have to feed your head in order in order to create.
Is there a specific person in horror that you try to emulate?
Not at all. It’s always better to be yourself than to try and emulate others.
Who is your favorite horror villain?
Hmmmm. I think I’d have to go with Pinhead for that one. He’s so well-written, and really has a lot of depth for a villain. He’s capable of completely tormenting people, but there’s still that tiny flicker of humanity in him.
Tell us about another woman in horror whose work you think the folks reading this should check out.
I’ve got to go with two – Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, who write together as the Sisters of Slaughter. Check out their books Mayan Blue and Those Who Follow.
Finally, what’s the one Halloween-specific movie that makes its way into your regular rotation throughout the year? Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. I never tire of watching that movie. It’s just so beautifully shot. But I am also quite obsessed with As Above So Below, which I found utterly terrifying. That one’s not as Halloween-specific, however.