Verónica Cervilla – Sofía Guardiola – José Luis Pascual – José R. Montejano
Verónica Cervilla: “For me it was Carrie by Stephen King what dragged me into the horror genre and I realized that was what I wanted to write. What book or short story did it for you? What made you fall into this wonderful world of horror literature?”
Sara Tantlinger: I read a ton of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when I was really young! I loved the Goosebumps and Fear Street books so much. Shortly after, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and his short stories and poetry had a huge impact on making me fall in love with horror.
Altavoz Cultural: “How did you build the relationship between both protagonists, Andi and Luna? When was the first time you saw sex scenes in a horror book and how did you connect sex and cannibalism?”
Sara Tantlinger: The relationship between Andi and Luna happened really organically. While part of me wanted to give them a happier ending, I think it’s important that horror shows us the gruesome ways life can end, and the terrible ways that a relationship, even one built on love, can go wrong in such dark and toxic ways.
Sex and horror have been closely entwined for so long, especially in film. However, when we see it on film or read it in books, the majority of the time it’s through the male gaze. It’s important that we see intimacy approached from other points of view in horror, especially since the different experiences of women is likely to give us creative details that a man might not think about while writing a sex scene. And then sex and cannibalism, while it has definitely been done before, is something that I wanted to explore since it pushes so many boundaries with the ideas of raw hunger and Andi’s need to physically, emotionally, and even spiritually consume her lover.
Sofía Guardiola: “Did you use any documentation about obsessions and how they affect those who suffer them to write your novel To Be Devoured?”
Sara Tantlinger: When I wrote my first poetry collection, Love for Slaughter, I did a lot of research on obsession, stories of love gone wrong, and on the concept of “Folie à deux” (madness shared by two). I definitely think my research there helped with To Be Devoured and with developing Andi as a character. I know mental illness is often represented poorly in horror, and while it would have been great for Andi to get the help she needed, I wanted to show the darker, more extreme side of what could happen if that help is never obtained.
José Luis Pascual: “Which would you say is the function of explicitness in speculative fiction?”
Sara Tantlinger: Well for horror, explicitness often stems from the gore factor. I don’t mind a good gory book, but I do prefer the explicit scenes to feel earned. I want to be invested in the characters and story. Gore scenes and sex scenes in fiction both have that same intense lens where we’re zooming in on something that feels forbidden to read in a way, so if a book is just using those scenes for the sake of using them, but it doesn’t really feel earned, then I think the book loses its potential for effectively implementing explicit moments in powerful ways. Taking the time to build up to those scenes is always going to come across stronger, in my opinion.
José R. Montejano: “Besides your references from ‘fiction of the macabre’, as Harlan Ellison would say, you write poetry too, specifically ‘weird poetry’ or ‘horror poetry’, as we can see from The Devil’s Dreamland or Crandleland of Parasites. How does it feel to write this kind of poetry?, how do you craft it? Do you believe speculative fiction can produce poetry in a relevant way, for an international audience?”
Sara Tantlinger: I love horror poetry so much! It’s such a great challenge on learning how to write sharp, effective words in a short amount of time because poetry doesn’t have as long as a book or even a short story to tell the tale. I think it would be amazing to see more speculative poetry translated and shared internationally. Though I do think poetry translations are a bit trickier than prose translations for a book. However, being able to share speculative poetry with more people, and maybe inspiring others to write their own poetry, would be incredible. So many people don’t realize “horror poetry” even exists outside of Edgar Allan Poe, so any chance to broaden that knowledge would be a great opportunity.
Verónica Cervilla: “It was precisely Stephen King who said to know a story is worth your time it has to stick with you long enough, you must get a little bit “obsessed” with it, and that’s how you know you have a good one. How do you pick the story you want to write about?”
Sara Tantlinger: That’s a great question! And to echo what you mentioned from Stephen King, I’m always writing down story ideas or concepts, but so often there’s one that sticks in my mind more than the others. I start to imagine the characters or random scenes, and when you keep going back to that idea, to the story that seems to want to be written the most, I think that’s always a strong sign. I also like to make sure that the next book I write is very different than the last one I wrote. I love the challenge of tackling something unfamiliar because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, which I think is where some of the best writing can happen.
Altavoz Cultural: “How do you feel about the Spanish edition of To Be Devoured published by Dilatando Mentes? What do you think could be the main difference between English horror stories and Spanish horror stories?”
Sara Tantlinger: The Spanish edition is so beautiful! Dilatando Mentes has been amazing to work with, and they really brought the story to life in such an incredible way. I am very lucky to see my work translated. So far, the reviews I’ve read from Spanish readers have been so insightful. There’s been some amazing analysis and conversation about the work that shows some similarities and differences compared to how English readers may have received the book. I think translations present a great opportunity to learn from each other and the varying ways we can tell stories.
Sofía Guardiola: “Do you feel that horror books are underestimated, or that people who are not familiar with horror literature feel that these stories are not as good as, for example, science fiction or fantasy ones?”
Sara Tantlinger: I love this question! And yes, I do think horror literature still faces a great deal of stigma. Horror is so broad, and it can mean many different things to different people. It’s the universal emotion that connects us all, yet many people shun the genre, I think because of how it can push boundaries that not everyone is ready for. Horror can make someone reflect on their own decisions, past, trauma, and more in really personal ways. It’s both cathartic and painful at times. Horror has been with us since people began telling stories. It’s a smart genre with much to offer, and I sincerely hope we keep seeing a boom with horror stories, especially more diverse stories, in all the years to come.
José Luis Pascual: “Whether in films, books or TV series, what have been the wildest things you have ever seen?”
Sara Tantlinger: Right away I’m thinking of the book Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. I just read the novel last year after it got translated into English, and it’s hard to even put into words until you’ve read it yourself. The book focuses on a dark dystopia that tackles cannibalism in an entirely unique way. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are scenes in that book that still haunt me. Bazterrica handles the book with unflinching rawness that really shows how talented of a writer she is. I highly recommend giving the book a read, but be warned it is not for everyone!
José R. Montejano: “You have also played the role of editor. I want to ask you about your experience with the anthology Not all Monsters; how could you find the right balance to bring together all those different stories?”
Sara Tantlinger: Editing an anthology is an amazing, humbling, and interesting experience. I learned a lot. For Not All Monsters, I really wanted stories that stayed in my mind long after reading them. I wanted to bring together tales that showed a range of experiences for women in horror. For me, I think the balance really came from having a thread that tied the stories together in how either metaphorical or literal monsters were dealt with, but I wanted every story to truly be unique. I’m so very lucky I received many wonderful submissions! I’ll be editing another women in horror anthology later this year, and I can’t wait to share more details about that in May!