Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with Author Skyler White

Skyler White crafts challenging fiction for a changing world. Populated with angels and rock stars, scientists, demons and revolutionaries, her dark stories explore the secret places where myth and modernity collide.

The child of two college professors, she grew up in an environment of scholarship and academic rigor, so naturally left high school to pursue a career in ballet. She’s been dancing around research and thinking through muscle cramps ever since. She has a master’s degree in theater and work experience in advertising, has won awards as a stage director and appeared on reality TV. She is mother to a tall red-headed athlete and a short blond Lego master, married to a Mohawk-wearing inventor, and lives in Texas.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Skyler White: For me, horror is a way of doing with fear what tragedy does with sorrow: It gives us a protected space to not just confront, but to actively play with, an emotion we typically avoid. It’s a little perverse, really, because there’s nothing saying we couldn’t just keep avoiding it; but I think that’s what’s interesting about fear and about the people who are attracted to it. We have a special relationship with fear.

Fatally Yours: How did you fall in love with the darker side of life? 

Skyler White: I fell in love with it because I couldn’t escape it. A sort of interior Stockholm Syndrome, maybe. I saw the dark side of myself, and my interest in the darker side of life as a pathology, as a deformity, and I chose to create myself around it. I don’t have a natural talent for happiness the way some people do. It took years of travel through some pretty dark places on my way to the life I have now. I’ve earned my visitor’s badge to Hell. And I go back the way you visit an aging but demanding parent, so they don’t arrive unannounced one day, plunk their shit in your kitchen and stay for six weeks.

Fatally Yours: How and when did you start writing about the darker aesthetic? 

Skyler White: Writing has always been my battlefield. Long before I thought of myself as a writer, when I had something I needed to hash out, anything I needed to wrestle with, I did it through writing.

Fatally Yours: Why do you choose to write about horror as opposed to other genres? Would you ever write in another literary genre? 

Skyler White: My past is too checkered to claim to be a purist in anything! I write a messy tangle of genres. and Falling, Fly (Berkley, March 2010) is part dark fable, part love story. In Dreams Begin (Berkley, December 2010) is part horror, part time-travel. Genres, to me, are like moods. You may have one that predominates, but it’s never all you are, or even all you feel in any given moment. Each of those books is also about many other things, too.

Fatally Yours: What sub-genres in horror (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.) are you sick of? What sub-genres do you want to see more of? 

Skyler White: I’m not really sick of any sub-genre. Vampires, zombies, and werewolves are centuries old, but they’re still exciting and enduring, and we always have something to learn from them. A werewolf can be Hesse’s Steppenwolf or Rowling’s Professor Lupin; what the beast-in-man means for each writer is so different! Sure, they can become a kind of shorthand, and writers can get lazy and let monsters-as-symbols carry too much of the narrative burden, but you can’t blame that on the werewolf!

So OK, I’m sick of certain portraits of vampires, but not of vampires altogether. I’m writing vampires. I’m writing vampires because I believe they will always have something new to say, and we have new questions. In and Falling, Fly, I’m using them to ask questions about desire, particularly about women’s relationship to desire. So take, for example, the old trope that vampires don’t have a reflection. Olivia (my vampire) can’t see herself in a mirror unless someone is looking at her. Her body alters to conform to the tastes of those who want her. She feeds on the desire of others, and would break her teeth on someone who wasn’t either attracted to or afraid of her. So I’m playing with the story to ask questions about what it means to have your survival depend on your beauty. To be so desirable to others that you can’t see who you are.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think the horror genre has been primarily male-dominated? 

Skyler White: You know, my first reaction to that was, “It is?” Most of the horror I read is written by women, so my perception is skewed I guess. I’ll give you a cynical answer and a speculative answer:
  1. Men have traditionally dominated most fields, why should this one be different?
  2. Men, perhaps, have a more convoluted relationship with fear. There’s less social permission for men to admit to being frightened and more direct interaction with things that are scary. Because the taboo is stronger for men, more of them have been attracted to exploring it in their work.
Fatally Yours: What elements can female authors bring to the horror genre that are lacking in males’ perspectives? 

Skyler White: I think there are anxieties and fears that are, if not unique to women, at least more prevalent among us, and female authors are more likely to explore those.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel women authors in horror get the proper recognition when compared to their male counterparts? 

Skyler White: Honestly, I’m new enough to this to just not know; but there is a tendency, I think, in the world in general to take the work of women less seriously that than that of men – as though male attention, by definition, makes something attention-worthy – so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to find that the case.

Fatally Yours: As a woman who writes about horror, have you found it harder to be taken seriously in a genre that seems to be dominated by males? 

Skyler White: I never really had any expectation of being taken seriously. Not because I’m female, but because I’m kinda weird. The things that interest me, the intersection of fear and desire, the line between sex and god, or sex and satan, I’ve always thought of belonging to conversations most people don’t want to have. It’s been incredibly gratifying to find other like minds “out there” who do take it seriously. It may be because I’m so new to it, but I’m just loving the conversation, and whether others outside that dialog take it seriously doesn’t concern me at all.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel that other people view women as being “soft” and not able to endure horror as well as men? How do you fight this stereotypical view? 

Skyler White: I think people often think of women as more vulnerable than men, so you have to careful not to invite the thought “a man could have defended himself in that situation.” It’s a sticky issue though, because a reader, even a female reader, is likely to judge a woman’s behavior differently than a man’s. You don’t think the man is stupid for going into the woods alone, but you’d have a hard time taking a mortal heroine seriously if she did. And you have to be aware of that in the minds of readers, even if just to point out it’s there.

Fatally Yours: How do you go about creating strong female characters? 

Skyler White: I try to write all my characters as a mix of strengths and weaknesses. I’m not a quick writer. It takes me quite a long time to write a book, so when I begin sketching the characters, they have to be interesting enough to hold my attention for the hours and months I’m going to be dealing with them. Pure weakness isn’t interesting to me. Damage, on the other hand, is interesting, as are compensated-for weakness and hidden or unknown weakness.

Fatally Yours: What women in horror do you admire? 

Skyler White: Anne Rice, Caitlin Kiernan, Poppy Z Brite, Elizabeth Hand, and Mary Shelley, of course…

Fatally Yours: What inspires, influences and motivates you to keep writing about the darker side of life? 

Skyler White: It’s where all the interesting people and ideas are! And honestly, I can’t do ‘light’. I’ve tried. I just don’t have the voice for it. I tried to write a straight, single-title romance. The female lead was a chef, ‘cause I love food, and food’s a happy thing, but even with antics in the kitchen and silliness on the stairs, I keep seeing the shadows under them finding myself drawn there instead.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want to become involved in the horror genre? 

Skyler White: Write the stories you want to tell. Write them and work on them. It’s the work that matters.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite horror authors and what are your favorite horror novels? 

Skyler White: I know Charles deLindt isn’t standard horror, but I just recently ready his Wild Wood and thought it was deliciously eerie. Add Poe and Lovecraft to the list of women (Rice, Kiernan, Brite, Hand, Shelley) from above, and that’s a pretty decent representation.

Fatally Yours: What was the last good book from the horror genre that you read? 

Skyler White: The Red Tree. If you want to talk about women in horror, there’s a voice, a delicately creepy voice, that I think could only be female. It’s a beautiful mind-worm of a story and done with such a light touch that you can never feel confident about where the real danger is located: In the story itself, in its narration, or in your own mind.

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the literary world? 

Skyler White: To keep writing things that challenge and excite me. Period. Now, that isn’t to say critical praise and popular recognition aren’t things I’d love to land, but I feel like they’re mostly out of my control, so I can’t really assign them ‘goal’ status. A goal is something you deliberately and methodically work to achieve, and I have enough trouble managing the stuff I’m directly responsible for.

Fatally Yours: Where can people find more info on you? 

Skyler White: My website,, has all the standard info, an appropriately dark tattoo contest, an excerpt from and Falling, Fly and a ‘contact me’ link.

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