Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Women in Horror Month Feature: Caitlin Sweet

Throughout February, ChiZine Publications is celebrating Women in Horror Month (http://www.womeninhorrormonth.com/) by profiling our female authors and staff.

Caitlin has been a writer since she was seven and her grade two teacher informed her that her stories were “too long,” and that one should never end a story with “And it was all just a dream!” Caitlin's third novel, The Pattern Scars, was published by ChiZine Publications in September 2011. At the moment she is making slow but encouraging progress on her fourth, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast via Minoan Crete.
Photo by Rebecca Springett

How did you get started with your writing?

I was seven, in Miss Frew's grade two class. We had thin orange Hilroy notebooks, and we bent over them with pencils and erasers when it was story-writing time. I never wanted to stop. I wrote my first novel at 14 and my next at 15; I revised the latter during grade 9 Latin class. This teacher, Miss Kennedy of the electric blue eyeshadow, knew, and was totally fine with it (so long as I'd finished declining and conjugating).

That's the "when", but you asked "how"! That has to do with a childhood filled with incredibly supportive people (my parents, and teachers--for Miss Frew ended up coming around to my overlong stories) and books. Stories were everywhere, from the Greek myths my father told me at bedtime to the stacks of novels I'd bring home from the library, and I never wondered why I felt compelled to write my own.

I trace the "how" of my professional writing life back to 2000, when I posted some sample chapters from my then-work-in-progress on the Del Rey Online Writers' Workshop. It was the first time I'd shown it to anyone other than family and close friends, and the response was enough to propel me into the process of finding an agent--which I did. Three years later, that nameless work-in-progress was published as A Telling of Stars.

How would you describe your writing?

I always feel uncomfortable when people ask me this. So often, when someone says "I write literary fantasy," it sounds pompous. Same goes for "I write dark fantasy." Of course, "literary" and "dark" are two words that are applied to my writing all the time, by readers, agents and editors alike. "Lyrical," too. So, absolved of perceived pomposity (maybe!), I'll try to analyse why.

I write about other worlds, but many of the inhabitants of these worlds struggle and suffer in ways that I hope seem real--and meaningful, rather than gratuitous. Each of my three books features endings that are either ambiguous or downright sad (though at least a couple of main characters in my second do end up happy). I'm really aware of language and tend toward the poetic, or at the very least, the sonorous. (My first book, A Telling of Stars, was beyond sonorous--so much so that I'll even make up a term for what it frequently was: purple-prosèd.)

In three words, then: Literary, dark and lyrical. There!

Who are your influences?

Lloyd Alexander, whom I wrote rhapsodic letters to when I was 14, 21, 28 and 33, and who always wrote me back. Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges; I was fluent enough to read their books in Spanish, once (or, había una vez...). Ursula LeGuin. Homer. Aeschylus. William Morris. Judith Kerr (because yes, picture books about a forgetful cat must be influential, somehow).

Why do you write horror?

I wasn't even aware that I had written horror until someone read an early draft of The Pattern Scars and informed me that that's what it was. I've always defined myself as a fantasy writer--and, grudgingly (see answer #2, above), as a "dark" fantasy writer--so the horror label was both surprising and surprisingly satisfying.

Attempted definitions aside: my books have been getting progressively darker. This latest one even has some zombies in it! (I don't call them that, perhaps for the same sort of reason that the tragic, terrifying creatures of The Walking Dead aren't called that.) (Though, presumably, the inhabitants of post-apocalypse U.S.A. would be familiar with the word, which makes it feel a bit disingenuous when they don't use it.) (Enough with parentheses, already.)

While I thoroughly enjoy many stories with happy endings and clear-cut delineations between good and evil, I just can't seem to write them. Prickly, difficult, even desperate scenarios interest author-me far more.

Horror's top creature features: who would you date, marry and kill?

Date: The Creature from the Black Lagoon. He's been described as "an aquatic Romeo"--how could a girl not be curious? Then again, there's Spike, from Buffy. Does he count? Because if he does, no contest.

Marry: None of them. I'm pretty sure the divorce/s would be messy.

Kill: The enormous blue Muppet. I know he's benign when you're awake--but when I was seven I had a nightmare about him that still makes me shudder. But no--I wouldn't be able to kill a Muppet, even if this one did crash through the back of a bus to attack me. So...one of the obscenely large, randomly flammable fish that lay waste to the Amazon in Mega Piranha. (Watch it--without laughing. I dare you.)


The Pattern Scars
Caitlin Sweet's shimmering prose, already apparent in her debut novel A Telling of Stars, reaches new heights in The Pattern Scars, which is so replete with luminous images and an evocative atmosphere that even now, a week later, these sensations still haunt my memory as if they had been real, a country I visited and would return to again.

It should have been a relief to awaken from The Pattern Scars, after all its horrors. Yet the richness of the world, the complexity of the main character, and the intensity of her tragedy evoke memories that linger for a long time. It is the rare reader who could read this book and be unaffected—or unscathed."
The Huffington Post

Buy The Pattern Scars Here

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