Writing Horror and Humanity: Interview with Stephanie Anne
From her childhood introduction to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to her deep dive into the horror genre, Stephanie weaves her life experiences and love for storytelling into her creepy and unsettling works. Her cats may be her fluffy muses, but it’s her embrace of the dark and the monstrous that makes her writing compelling. Read on as Stephanie opens up about her writing journey, her love for her feline companions, and how they make appearances in her stories. And do not miss her insights on horror tropes she’s eager to explore as well as her advice to aspiring authors dying to venture into the unsettling world of horror.
GeekPost: Can you tell us how you first fell in love with the horror genre?
Stephanie: Honestly, I’m not sure that there is a single moment I can look back on and say, “That’s it! That’s when I became a horror fan!” I suppose if we want to go all the way back into my childhood, it might have started when my nanny first had me watch The Nightmare Before Christmas when I was only three years old. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that horror began to infiltrate my life.
A number of things happened all around the same time when I was in high school, so it’s hard to tell which came first. The short version is that a family friend got me started on Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter series, my Grandpa got me started on Stephen King, and my Mom sat my down to watch John Carpenter’s The Fog. From there, it was a slow transition into horror as anything filmed past the 80s was too intense for me, and the only horror I would read was Stephen King and anything to do with Hannibal.
My problem was that I love a good story but was too scared to watch horror movies. If I read the book first, I was fine because I knew what was coming. For anything that wasn’t based on a book, I read the synopsis on Wikipedia. That has come back to bite me in the ass now that I’m brave enough to go back and actually watch all those movies. Turns out I spoiled some good twist endings for myself.
The genre crept up on me as I entered my 20s. I went through some dark times with my mental health, which made me turn towards darker subject matter. And then eventually a love of film caused me to step further and further outside my comfort zone.
I always thought I would be a sci-fi writer, but one day I realized that my work was stronger when I leaned into my dark side. When the pandemic hit and I had a chance to experiment with my writing, I fully embraced the darkness. Next thing I know, I’m binge-watching Saw films, and reading books like Woom.
GeekPost: How do Max, Minerva, Finn, and Bubs contribute to your writing process, other than sleeping on the job? Do your feline companions ever inspire any characters or scenes in your stories?
Stephanie: Absolutely! Although Max passed away in the spring, he is forever immortalized in my story “Silver” (from Coping Mechanism). I even named the cat in the story Max. That particular short story is based on a traumatic experience my husband and I actually lived through. At the time, we only had Max and Minerva in our lives. When writing the story, it made more sense to have only one cat (it’s best not to clutter your short stories with too many characters). Max made the cut because his personality was better suited to the situation.
Minerva has had her moment to shine though. She has inspired two of my fictional cats: Minnie in “Cold Cuts & Cigarettes,” and Hazel in my upcoming novella Skull Daddy. Both are strong, independent little ladies, just like Minerva.
Finn and Bubs have yet to make an appearance in my work, but they still like to get involved. Finn is a snuggle bug who keeps me going when things get tough (and believe me, self-publishing is tough). Bubs loves to sleep on my desk while I write. But rather than sit on the designated cat bed, he sleeps on top of my notebooks and kicks both my mouse and keyboard. He has added a few unnecessary words and letters to my stories that always need to be edited out.
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GeekPost: What would you say are your biggest influences, and how would you say that they fuel your creativity?
Stephanie: Thanks to my Grandpa – who got me hooked on both sci-fi and horror, and who helped fund the publication of my first book shortly before he passed – I am a huge Stephen King fan. I have a substantial collection of his work, even titles that are out of print! I would be lying to myself if I said he wasn’t an influence. In reading so much of his work, and watching the film adaptations as well, I’ve picked up a few writing habits based on his stylistic choices and made them my own. I particularly enjoy the way he writes a train of thought.
It’s not just his writing style that has influenced me, but his personal history as well. It would be so easy to give up when things don’t go well or according to plan. But I’ve had to remind myself that even the great Stephen King struggled in his earlier years.
As I mentioned, I’m also a lover of film. I’m a fan of Guillermo Del Toro and even have some of his movie monsters tattooed onto one of my legs. He loves monsters, and I love monsters. I am in awe over his treatment of these outsider characters as the monster is always the best and most intriguing part of a horror story (even if that monster is a human).
GeekPost: Your author bio mentions a love for “all things strange and monstrous.” Can you tell us more about that?
Stephanie: I have always loved the “strange and monstrous” characters. Specifically, I’m known for a love of blue people: Abe Sapien, Cad Bane, Thrawn, Kisame Hoshigaki, Nightcrawler, Beast… You get the picture. Even when Grandpa got me started on Star Trek TNG Mr. Data became an instant favourite.
It’s only been over the past few years that I’ve really stopped to think about why I’m drawn to these kinds of characters. It’s not just because the outsiders make for better stories. I think it has a lot to do with my own personal experiences. For most of my life, I’ve felt like the black sheep of my family. I’m the token queer one, the tattooed one, I’m the cat lover in a family of dog lovers, etc.
Also, during the early months of the pandemic, I learned that I am on the autism spectrum and that I have OCD on top of all of my various forms of anxiety and depression. So, the more I learn about that side of myself, the more I start to think “Huh, maybe that’s why I feel so out of place in certain social situations.” I like to think that I’m the strange blue monster – the loveable Guillermo Del Torro kind of course.
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GeekPost: What work of yours has garnered the most attention so far, and do you have a lesser-known piece you feel deserves similar acclaim?
Stephanie: Although the cover of They See Me (designed and drawn by my longtime friend Emily Bain) is the one that grabs people’s attention, it’s the stories in Coping Mechanism that get people talking. I tell everyone that my husband is banned from reading Coping Mechanism because of the story “Silver.” As I mentioned earlier, it is based on something we lived through, and I know he would be triggered if he tried to read it. Not to mention that he cannot handle horror like I can.
But that’s not the only story that gets talked about. “The Farmers” was featured on an episode of the podcast “Haunting Season,” and stories like “Here I Come” and “The Devil’s Cards” are the ones people seem to love the most. But “Silver” and the titular “Coping Mechanism” are the most disturbing stories in the collection. Some of my beta readers are still deeply unsettled by those two.
My favourite thing I’ve ever written is my stand-alone short story “Cold Cuts & Cigarettes.” It came into existence because of a writing prompt that fell into my lap around the time of my uncle’s funeral. I put so much of my own family into that story, hidden in the layers of the characters, that it has a special place in my heart. It’s going to be featured in my upcoming short story collection Falling Apart (coming out November 21st, 2023), so hopefully more people will read it then.
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GeekPost: What is one horror trope you have not tackled yet but are eager to explore in your future work?
Stephanie: I would love to try my hand at folk horror. Because of my extensive sci-fi background (I came from a Star Trek family), I’ve always leaned into the sci-fi parts of horror when appropriate. I love killer robots and post-apocalyptic monsters/wastelands. I feel like folk horror is on the other end of that spectrum. I can’t say that I’ve read much folk horror, but based on the movies I’ve watched I would love to play around with a cult or an old non-Lovecraftian God. I do have a WIP that might be a good fit, so perhaps I’ll use that as a chance to play around.
GeekPost: What advice would you offer aspiring authors who want to delve into the horror genre?
Stephanie: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Not everything has to be published, so it’s okay to mess around. If there’s a particular style or sub genre that you want to try your hand at, go for it! Worst case scenario, if it’s trash, no one has to know, and you’ve learned something new. Best case scenario, you learn your new favourite style/sub-genre to work with.
I’ve tried experimenting with comedy – never again. Although I am silly and weird, I am not funny in a comedic sense. Only one of those experimental stories actually turned out well. But I had fun writing some silly little stories and tried out some new ways of storytelling.
GeekPost: When you are not writing, what hobbies do you enjoy?
Stephanie: If it’s not already apparent, I love reading and watching movies. I also enjoy cooking. My husband actually set up a make-shift TV for me in the kitchen made from an old computer monitor so that I can watch my movies and shows while I’m cooking (that’s how much time I spend in the kitchen). Whether I’m following a recipe from a meal kit, cooking something fancy from a hardcover cookbook, or just messing around with what we have on hand in the pantry, I find cooking to be a very relaxing experience. And yes, I even enjoy washing the dishes!
I used to do a lot of loom knitting while I watched movies, and although I don’t do that nearly as much anymore, I still love to pull out some yarn on a cold rainy day while I watch a movie on the living room TV. However, that hobby can be dangerous if the cats realize what I’m doing and decide they want to “help.”
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GeekPost: Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline?
Stephanie: Absolutely not! I actually have regular (friendly) arguments about plotting vs. pantsing with my friend and Writing & Robots podcast co-host Trevor. He is a plotter through and through, but my writing style is the complete opposite.
I like to start with a general idea, or writing prompt, and I just let my brain take me where it wants to go. If I do any planning beforehand, it’s usually minimal. I prefer to make changes in the editing process after I’ve gotten all my initial ideas on the page. I’ll even do my research after the first draft (if I need it) because then I have a clearer idea of exactly what I need to research to flesh out the story.
Editing is when I add more structure, theme, character development, etc. Anything that the initial bout of word vomit is missing. That being said, I’m trying my hand at outlining for my NaNoWriMo project this year, so we’ll see how that goes. So far, I’m procrastinating on finishing the outline, so we’re off to a great start!
GeekPost: Is there anything else you would like for our readers to know about you?
Stephanie: My love of cats extends beyond my own cats. As my sister once said when someone asked her why her schedule is always jam packed, “If you can’t give back to the community, what’s the point?” I’ve chosen to take that approach with my own work. I have a platform, so I should use it. Brace yourself for some shameless self-promotion of my charity work.
All of our cats but Max have come from the Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue, so a couple of months ago I came up with an idea to use my work to raise money for them. It started out with a pile of books that I was trying to get rid of. I had donated to some of the charities in the city who were only looking for specific titles, but I still had A LOT of books left. I also knew of some friends/family had found themselves in similar situations. So, I created The Book Purge.
Whenever I have a table selling my books at a craft market or event, I dedicate a portion of my table space to these second-hand books that have been purged from people’s collections. 100% of the sale of those purged books goes to the Ottawa Stray Cat rescue. So far, the whole thing has been a success, and I would love to keep doing it!
I understand that the trope of harming animals in some way can deliver on those visceral feelings of discomfort that some readers crave in horror, but I choose not to do that. Personally, I prefer to look for other ways to generate that discomfort. And although I love putting cats in my stories, I don’t think I will ever be able to harm them (even if they are fictional). I would much rather use my stories to help cats and the Ottawa Stray Cat Rescue.
A gracious thank you goes out to Stephanie for sharing her insights, her love of horror, and what makes her tick in this special interview. Stephanie has shown the layers of a creator unafraid to delve deep into the darker aspects of the human experience and the monsters that lurk there. She has shared with us, her passion for storytelling, her unconditional support offered by her feline companions, and her genuine commitment to giving back through charitable efforts. Stephanie’s unique voice in horror literature continues to resonate with many and is sure to do so, in the years to come.