Interview with Gemma Files | More2Read Interviews
 

Interview with Gemma Files


About Gemma Files:

Formerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published two collections of short work, two chapbooks of speculative poetry, a Weird Western trilogy, a story-cycle and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won a Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and a Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). She has two new story collections from Trepidatio (Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places), one upcoming from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better), and a new poetry collection from Aqueduct Press (Invocabulary).

 


 

The Interview with Gemma Files

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Welcome and congratulations on you new collection In That Endlessness, Our End.

Tell more please about the seed and inspiration behind a few of the tales of this collection?

 

Gemma Files:

 

A lot of my stories start with things that happen to me in real life, to which I add a sizable helping of creep. For example, I did indeed manage two AirBnBs for a while, and one of them genuinely was as physically off-putting as “The Puppet Motel” (though the anecdote about its non-Euclidean geometry comes from another AirBnB entirely, one I stayed in while doing a reading in New York). Similarly, “Always After Three” and “Bulb” also started as considerably less interesting/more annoying anecdotes about the apartment I still share with my husband and son. Of course, the smell in our case was weed (which is basically legal for personal consumption in Toronto) and the fact that none of our light fixtures work just means we had to buy a lot of lamps, but there you go.;)

For the last few years, I’ve taught a course through Litreactor called “Write What You Fear,” in which I tell my students that the easiest way to root a story in reality is to use whatever weird stuff comes your way, no matter how small it might seem–from my POV, almost all horror begins with the realization that something is wrong, and that’s why personal experience makes the best grit to grow your pearls from. That said, a lot of my stuff also involves adding my particular fears to the mix, which are probably pretty obvious: Mortality and body horror, loss of self, grief for those you love and lose, etc. I call it “one from column A, one from column B,” and it’s a strategy that’s served me well thus far.  

 

 


 

Lou Pendergrast:

Out of these stories which one do you think will translate well into a Blumhouse or A24 film adaption?

 

 

Gemma Files:

I’d be really interested to see what somebody could do with “The Puppet Motel,” particularly because it’s such an interior kind of piece. But then again, I’d also absolutely love to see the old-school F/X version of something like “Look Up,” if it could be done without offending too many Latvians, or “Distant Dark Places,” which I think could make for a serious Color Out of Space-type Lovecraftian freakout.

 


 

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Lou Pendergrast:

What do you hope to communicate with your works, past and present?

 

Gemma Files:

I think that the not-so-secret message behind a lot of my stuff boils down to the idea that fear isn’t something to be afraid of, necessarily. It keeps you honest, it helps you prepare for the worst and it also gives you an appreciation for the better parts of life. I’m also a big proponent of the concept of “monster pride,” possibly because a lifetime of undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome means I spent a lot of my younger years feeling like there was something wrong with me, that I was broken and unfixable and…well, monstrous. And maybe I am, by some standards, but I’m also me, and I’d rather be me than not.

 


 

LP:

From your latest collection to your first, what metamorphosis do you think has taken place?

 

Gemma Files:

I think about things a lot more than I used to, which I suppose is understandable, considering the fact that I’m almost 53. When I first started being published as an adult (I’ve been writing since I was nine or ten), I wasn’t married and hadn’t yet given birth, two things that taught me a lot about life in ways which have only improved me; I was more prone to jump in with both feet and just do whatever came to mind/turned me on at the time, which I kind of miss. On the other hand, I didn’t know what I was capable of, either. Now I have almost thirty years of publication behind me, fictional and non-. I’ve been in a position of authority, and people I respect have told me they were inspired by my work. It’s a very good place to be.

 


 

LP:

Is there a character you are not yet ready to tackle?

 

Gemma Files:

I’ve spent almost four years edging around writing a novel about a toxic friendship between two tweenaged girls who are both versions of me at the same age, and I’m determined that this year will be the year I make real inroads into that book. Otherwise, I don’t tend to write about people I can’t identify with, on some level.

 


 

LP:

 

Authors like Robert W. Chambers, Lovecraft, and Thomas Ligotti have had some influence in your writings. Tell me about “Oubliette” and “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars.” What influence did those writers have on them, and what were you trying to communicate, in particular with Oubliette? 

 

Gemma Files:

I first started writing tribute anthology stories for Ellen Datlow, with Lovecraft Unbound, and she has a really great way of asking for stories that don’t so much involve the same mythos as the people you’re being inspired by as the same themes, the same structures, or maybe the same feelings. And that was definitely what I was trying to achieve with both those stories, though I did put in far more direct nods to Chambers with “Slick Black Bones…”: The King, Carcosa, twin suns over the Lake of Halli, etc. Plus a bit of Lovecraft in terms of the small gene-pool/Othering that you see with the Carcosans. In terms of “Oubliette,” I was thinking about things I’d already been playing around with and how they might mesh with Ligotti. In this specific case, I wanted to deal with a person who had intense suicidal ideation, which reminded me of Ligotti’s philosophical views on antinatalism, and I cross-bred it with an idea I had about the ghost of a person who felt they’d failed because they hadn’t gone along with a suicide cult’s final “journey.” Also, I’m sort of terrified of outer space, and I thought that cosmic horror was a good way to go.

 

 


 

LP:

Any other tales you have written that fall into this realm of influence?

 

Gemma Files:

Little Ease,” “Hairwork,” “[Anasazi],” “Marya Nox,”…all of those were written for Lovecraftian anthologies. But I’ve certainly written lots of other stories with another writer, their tricks and tropes and whatever it is I admire about them, in mind; “Torch Song” probably reads like James Ellroy, because it’s meant to, while I wrote “This Is Not For You” with Elizabeth Hand in the back of my brain, not least because she’s also written about Maenads. I think that’s fairly normal.

 

 


 

LP:

Writing, when, where, and with what do you do it?

 

Gemma Files:

Well, because I have a son with special needs, I’ve gotten used to thinking about stuff pretty much all the time and taking down notes whenever they come to me–either in a notebook or on the Notes app on my phone, after which I’ll either transcribe them onto my computer or email them to myself and cut-and-paste them into a new file. On a good day, however, I try to start early…9:00 or 10:00 AM…and shoot to add a certain amount to whatever project I’m working on, in and around doing other things (helping Cal with his school and extracurricular activities, chores, email, social media, essays, articles, interviews like this). I try to hit between 500 and 1,000 new words a day, and I’m usually working towards a deadline, which means I often submit what are essentially first drafts (though I also tend to edit as I go). I like to think the fact that I’m a really easy edit–a journalism degree teaches you that if someone tells you something’s unnecessary, it’s often true–balances that out.

 


 

LP:

What key advice would you give an aspiring author?

 

Gemma Files:

Don’t get rid of stuff and don’t worry about writing “badly.” Bad writing you can fix; what you can’t fix is no writing. Most stuff is salvageable, and even if it isn’t, it’ll show you what to concentrate on for next time. Write according to your interests, and don’t worry about playing to any particular audience. Your audience will find you.

 


 

LP:

Which are the movies you would watch again, in a number of five or ten?

 

Gemma Files:

1. Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001)
2. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
3. The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)
4. Demon (Marcin Wrona, 2016)
5. May the Devil Take You (Timo Tjahtjanto, 2018)
6. Sauna (Anntti-Jussi Annila, 2008)
7. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
8. Phantom of the Paradise (Brian De Palma, 1977)
9. Pyewacket (Adam McDonald, 2017)
10. Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008)

But that’s just off the top of my head. There are a lot of others.

 


 

LP:

Tell me about your most memorable good or bad behaving characters from fiction?

 

Gemma Files:

Man, that’s really hard, particularly so because few of the characters I’m drawn to are “good” people, overall. They certainly don’t tend to think they’re good, at any rate, which is just as well, because they’re usually not.

 


 

LP:

Which recent books would you recommend reading?

 

Gemma Files:

I recently finished Bone Harvest, by James Brogden, which I think is his best book yet. It involves a theophagus cult organized around a minor British boar-god from the pre-Roman era, and the main character is a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I also recently finished S.P. Miskowski’s latest Skilute novels, The Worst is Yet to Come and The Best of Both Worlds, which are brilliant, much like the rest of her writing.

 

 


 

LP:

Future works. Anything you’re working on now?

 

 

Gemma Files:

Three novels, a bunch of short stories, all sorts of stuff. I’m always doing something.

 


 

LP:

What will be published in the future?

 

Gemma Files:

 

In That Endlessness, Our End officially comes out February 15, 2021. I also have a story in Dark Stars (Tor Nightfire, ed. John F.D. Taff), which comes out in November, plus other stories in a tribute to Shirley Jackson edited by Ellen Datlow, Beyond the Book of Eibon: A Literary Tribute to Lucio Fulci (Death Wound Publishing), and Hymns of Abominations: Secret Songs of Leeds, A Tribute to Matthew M. Bartlett (Silent Motorist Media). More to come, probably. Hopefully.

 

 

 


 

LP:

Thank you for your precious time and hope your collection In That Endlessness, Our End has a great printing run in 2021.

 

Gemma Files:

All best, Gemma.

 



Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 02 February 2021