Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Women in Horror Month Feature: Helen Marshall

Throughout February, ChiZine Publications is celebrating Women in Horror Month ( by profiling our female authors and staff.

Aurora-nominated poet Helen Marshall ( is an author, editor, and self-proclaimed bibliophile. Her poetry has been published in The Chiaroscuro, Paper Crow, Abyss & Apex and the long-running Tesseracts anthology series. In 2011, she released a collection of poems entitled Skeleton Leaves from Kelp Queen Press. Keep an eye out for her short story collection, Hair Side, Flesh Side, forthcoming from ChiZine Publications in November, 2012.

How would you describe your writing?

The short stories I've written for Hair Side, Flesh Side take up the theme of art, memory and love. They're quirky stories: generally, I take an idea--a "what-if?"--and stretch it out as far as I can. What if someone found a lost manuscript of Jane Austen on the inside of her skin? What if, at the age of seven, every child received the body of a dead saint? What if, when people mimicked the position of a statue for a photograph, they froze that way? The results are sometimes comical, but just as often they end up feeling genuinely disturbing because there's a kind of realism to them.

Who are your influences?

Wide-ranging! I obviously read lots of genre material and I've found I have the most sympatico with authors like Neil Gaiman, Robert Shearman, Tim Powers and Peter Beagle. But I read lots of the classics as well--lots of dead white men--Shakespeare and Marlowe, John Donne, Geoffrey Chaucer, Byron and Shelley and the Romantics. I mean, on the one hand you can trace most of the origins of genre writing to those guys, but on the other, it's just good writing. There's a reason it has lasted so long. It resonates.

How did you get started with your writing?

Most of my early work was poetry because it was short and sweet and I could throw it out if it didn't work without worrying too much. People get scared of poetry, though. You've never seen a buyer run so fast as when you tell them you've got a poetry collection! (That being said, I recommend you all pick up my collection Skeleton Leaves which is marketed, beautifully, as "poetry that doesn't suck!") But it was genuinely good training: I find when I write fiction I still tend to structure my work according to a kind of logic of poetry, developing the emotional beats of a story so that the reader's relationship to a character is constantly changing. Short fiction shouldn't always be easy to read. It should be a bit of a guessing game.

Why do you write horror?

Horror is one of the pivotal emotions of our lives. When I was a kid, I was terribly afraid. All the time. And I didn't like it. I remember watching a movie when I was in grade school called Step Monster starring Alan Thicke, which was intended to be exactly as frightening, I imagine, as it sounds. But I remember vividly that the only way to beat the Trapopkin (the eponymous Step Monster) was to play the violin--why? I couldn't tell you for the life of me, but I suppose it makes as much sense as buckets of soap and witches. It was a triumph of my senior year that I chose to learn the cello instead. When something affects you that much as a kid, when you encounter any emotion that visceral, well, it sticks with you. Fear became fascinating. And there are still plenty of novels, easy novels for most people, that I won't read at night. Ghosts in particular--terrifying! I don't know why, but they are the one monster I can't get over and a proper ghost story will leave me shivering for days.

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

I'd date the zombie since he'd like me for my brains. Cthulhu seems like marriage material: who doesn't want to wake up beside an omnipotent, devouring, tentacled Elder God every morning? Death to the wampyre!


Buy Skeleton Leaves here!

“Helen Marshall’s sinister and elegant vision permeates this beautiful book, leaving the reader feeling like they have somehow been transported to Neverland and back, bringing with them the shades of lost boys and their spectral mothers, trailing words flying from between dark stars. Gorgeous and heartbreaking.”

—Sandra Kasturi, author of The Animal Bridegroom

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