Formerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published four collections of short work, three chap-books of speculative poetry, a Weird Western trilogy, a story-cycle and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2016 Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). She has two new story collections upcoming, one from Grimscribe Press (In That Endlessness Our End, February 2021) and one from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better).
1. Tell us three things about yourself. (If you’ve done this previously, ideally tell us three different things than last time!)
Fairly recently, I found out that the half of my family I thought was Dutch was in fact German, or—given the etymology (Hoover/Hober/Haber)—possibly Bohemian Ashkenazi Jewish, as represented by a man who emigrated to Canada and married a full Cree lady, which is how one of my cousins on that side got a tribal status card. Similarly, the journey I've gone on while parenting my son, who is on the Autism Spectrum, has led me to accept the fact that if psychiatrists had been looking for girls with ASD back when I was ten or so (the height of my bullied-and-a-bully years) then I might have gotten my own diagnosis, as opposed to almost getting treated for early-onset schizophrenia; thanks, Mom, for totally rejecting that option. Oh hey, and remember how I said last time that I sang in a choir? Turns out, choirs are perfect breeding pools for COVID-19, who I guess means those days are over. For how long, we just don't know.
2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
A) Oh hells yes. B) Well...
My husband works from home, and my son has been out of school since the end of February. Neither of them are going back anytime before maybe October for Steve, next February for Cal. Which means that I spend a lot of my time doing quotidian make-work, laundry, shopping, cooking. I run errands for my Mom, who's been in full lockdown since before we started self-isolating. I also look after Cal, which as of September includes essentially being his Educational Assistant for stuff like “distance learning” schoolwork, music lessons and drama classes, all conducted over Zoom. I'm not trained for this, aside from loving him and understanding how he communicates, and it really knocks me out. But Mom has finally accepted him as part of her “pod,” which means she's okay taking him for a couple of hours so I can get 500-1000 words in here and there, and that's how I'm a few scenes into a whole new story. And after almost eight months of finishing very little except notes and poetry, that's no small thing.
3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
Still Experimental Film, I think. If that ends up being what I'm best-known for, I'll be content.
4. …and which makes you cringe?
I don't really hate anything I've written, at least not to that extent. Maybe that's because I started selling stories when I was already a “professional” writer? My parents are actors, and I grew up with freelance culture running through my veins; as long as you actually got paid something—even, say, five bucks U.S. and a copy of a magazine run off on a machine in someone's basement—then you're doing okay, by those standards.
5. What’s a normal writing day like?
Even when I don't get concentrated time to write, I'm still always writing. This is something I've come to both accept and depend on. I steal moments here and there, scribble stuff down in notebooks or on my phone (then email the files to myself), bookmark things I post on Facebook for transcription later on. Assemblage starts with making the components, right? So even just saving a new file, copy-pasting stuff into it and then moving those blurty little bits around until they start to make a kind of narrative sense are all part of the process. And when you can't concentrate enough to write you can still consume, which helps keep the juices flowing...hopefully, anyhow.;)
6. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
I have a new collection coming out in February that I'm pretty proud of (InThat Endlessness Our End, from Grimscribe Press), and I know that Jon Padgett is looking for people to review it in exchange for ARCs. Also, all the stuff I previously published through ChiZine Publications is finally available again, this time through Open Road Media. And then there's the two Trepidatio collections, Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places; the latter, in particular, could really use some love. Otherwise, if you've read Experimental Film then try out the Hexslinger Trilogy if you haven't already, and if you've read all of those try out We Will All Go Down Together. Plus, if you're broke, I do still “publish” fanfiction at Archive of Our Own under the handle handful_ofdust, like the fool that I am.
7. What are you working on now?
Right at this moment, I have a bunch of impending anthology requests I need to fill, so I'm working hard on that. In general, however, I'm plotting out a new novel...not the one I've been working on for the last three years, but something as physically far away from the slow apocalypse we're currently living through as humanly possible. It's called In Red Company, and it's set in 998 AD, Northumbria, England. The basic pitch is Midsommar meets The Devils. Plague-threatened nuns and visionary anchoresses and sexy relic-stealing bishops and old dead goddesses, oh my. No idea when it'll be finished, but it keeps me amused.
Hope you enjoyed the interview with Gemma. Tomorrow is the launch date for Roth-Steyr, and I'm very excited about it. Today's your last chance to pre-order it, which you can do here.