Horror has always run along two veins: the “quiet” variety, a term associated with Charles Grant, and extreme horror, which took on its most extreme form with the Splatterpunk movement. The former addresses its subject matter through psychological means with allusion and foreshadowing. The latter, on the other hand, comes at the story graphically with viscera, axes, and bloody stumps over your head. Lovers of the genre usually claim allegiance to one form over the other. In defense of quiet horror, the stories are just as chilling, and for Splatterpunk, it had literary tendencies.
When it comes to women horror writers, most readers (or writers) don’t associate women with extreme horror. Well, that’s their initial reaction: women don’t write that stuff. But if you make them pause and think it through, they’ll suddenly start coming up with names of women horror writers who do write that stuff. It’s probably social conventions clouding their memories for those first few moments.
One of the names that will come up is Nancy Holder. While much of her current work is Young Adult, there was a time when she was part of the bloody stump crew: “I became a splatterpunk because someone turned to me at a con and said, ‘Of course, women can’t write splat.’ I think sometimes we’re still considered somewhat unusual. But I love seeing more women in all aspects of horror publishing—editors, agents, executives, artists, writers.”
This isn’t to say that her current work is in any way tame. When asked how her writing reflects who she is as a person, Nancy states, “I have a number of writing ‘faces.’ Some of my writing is kind of soft and gentle, and there’s the brutal stuff. The older my daughter has gotten, the more self-conscious I’ve gotten. But I had a breakthrough the other day—she was shocked by something I’d written, and I just laughed. So maybe I’m through that phase.”
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your bid to build a successful career?
Staying in the game! I keep thinking “now I can relax” but there’s no relaxing in publishing. You keep writing, networking, proposing, thinking, reading, and writing. (And watching movies and TV—okay, I guess there’s some relaxing involved!)
What has been the most fulfilling experience you’ve had in your career?
Doing signings and panels with my daughter. We have sold two short stories together. We’re getting ready to work on a blog post.
What does the label “horror” mean to you?
Horror is a mood—disquiet, unease, lack of stability. There’s a continuum from “something’s off” to “we’re gonna die.” It’s the dark places. Clive Barker said writers go into the caves and come back to tell the rest of the tribe what’s there. I agree with that. Horror can mean giving voice to the unspeakable.
If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?
As Neil Gaiman said in his wonderful recent commencement speech, I would enjoy it more. I’m a fretter and a planner. I have a plan B, C, and D. It’s tiring keeping track of all those plans! But I’m still here, so I guess having backup plans was a good plan!
What advice would you give to others who want to achieve the level of success that you have?
Just keep going. Finish what you start. I have so many friends who have started five zillion projects and finished none of them. The path is made one word at a time. If you fall down, get back up. And READ.
What do you feel are the benefits of short fiction?
Short fiction is my favorite form. I wish I could make a living writing short fiction. You can explore and experiment, really try things out, go crazy, get down and dirty.
Have you ever written anything that surprised you by how disturbing it was?
When I go back to read some of my earlier stories, I am surprised by how disturbing a lot of them are. Some of those are my splat stories.
Where do your ideas for horror stories come from?
When I started out, I thought I could never have a career in horror because I could only think of one idea a year. But your imagination is like an engine. You have to feed it and use it to keep it in good working order. Now they just sort of show up–usually when I’m supposed to be working on something else!
Tell us about your latest project and what it means to you.
I just finished a TEEN WOLF book. It’s called ON FIRE. It’s a sort of “the further adventures of” for the main characters, and a couple of the secondary characters. I had such a great time working on it. I had a meeting with exec producer/showrunner Jeff Davis before I started it and that made all the difference. He’s a creative, articulate man. I got to create backstory for several characters, which I took as a huge vote of confidence—and a gift.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
I want to thank all the women I’ve been fortunate enough to work with in publishing. Sisterhood really is powerful.
From her Buffy books to her visceral short stories, she has shown that a true writer can write anything because it all comes down to a writer’s most powerful gift: imagination. Nancy Holder is testament to a long and illustrious career as a writer, a horror writer, and a woman horror writer.