Interview with Selah Janel, author of Mooner
This interview is being included in the 2013 Women in Horror Interview Series. Every February, Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. You can find out more about WiHM here:
Selah Janel is fueled by a love of ideas, stories, and the potential of magic hiding in the mundane. She mostly writes fantasy and horror, but is known to stray into other genres if the idea is there. She is the author of several short e-books with No Boundaries Press and one with Mocha Memoirs Press. Her first novel, the urban fantasy story In the Red, blends dark fantasy with fairy tale themes and rock n’ roll. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, and several upcoming anthologies. She is currently working on the first book in her cross-genre fantasy series The Kingdom City Chronicles with Seventh Star Press, titled Olde School. A Midwest girl at heart, she’s also worked as a performer, puppeteer, and in costume design and construction. Feel free to keep up with her in the following places
Like many young men at the end of the 1800s Bill has signed on to work in a logging camp to earn a fast paycheck to start his life. Unfortunately his role model is Big John, the camp’s golden boy known for blowing his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and the lives of so many. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows, something that badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door or does someone have their own plans for his future?
Q. You write in multiple genres: urban fantasy, horror, fantasy, and young adult fiction. Do you think that it is getting easier for writers to slip the genre label niche?
A. I don’t know if it’s getting easier, but I’m the type that isn’t interested in being boxed in. If I get a good idea that I want to write, I’m going to do my best to write it, no matter what genre it is. That being said, I think there are more outlets for authors these days, depending on what it is you want from the experience. There are definitely a few publishers out there that are willing to let authors go from genre to genre, and I think readers are willing to accept that. A Neil Gaiman story generally always reads like a Neil Gaiman story, but Stardust is fairly standard fantasy compared to the more urban fantasy titles like American Gods or Neverwhere. He’s done his share of stories with horror elements, especially the Sandman series, and Coraline and The Graveyard Book are young adult titles. I think it’s definitely possible to be that type of author, as long as your work is good and people are willing to give you a chance in different genres.
Q. Do you enjoy combining multiple genres in your story?
A. Definitely. It keeps things interesting and keeps me on my toes. I don’t usually go into something thinking “Today I’m going to write a horror story” or “Thursday is fantasy day.” I usually get a germ of an idea, and as it grows I’ve learned to go where it takes me. If it segues into fantasy or historical or even literary territory, I’m totally willing to incorporate that. Even anthology shorts that I’m asked to write, I tend to try to find my own way into the genre or theme that’s being presented. Whether I’m reading or writing, the story absolutely has to keep my interest, so I do what it takes to keep me plugged in.
Q. Your recent demonic epic, “In The Red” is based on Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, “The Red Shoes.” In what ways did it inspire your story, and how did it differ?
A. In its very first incarnation it was a much shorter story and much more of a modernized narrative of The Red Shoes. I wrote different versions through the years, trying to make myself happy with it. Thankfully, I was given the chance to expand it before its release, because I suddenly realized while editing that there was a lot more story to tell, that I hadn’t gone far enough. The shoes definitely inspired the story, and the basic moral parts of the plot, as well. I think I deviate from the straight up “this is bad and this is good” vibe the original has, and I dig deeper into what would make a person give up everything for a dream or an object that is potentially not good for them.
The basic archetypes of the characters are there; I was careful to keep the core cast there in some form. Besides modernizing the story and adding the rock n’ roll elements, I really expanded it so I could delve into the characters and explore what it meant to get your dream and still fall hard, to explore why someone like Jack Scratch who’s so obviously evil would bother with wannabe musicians. I also needed the room to explore Jeremiah Kensington’s character and give him time to at least start on the road to redemption. I wanted to do right by him, and as I delved more into his character, a whole world of dark urban fantasy opened up, especially with the addition of more demonic characters into the cast. My version actively shows evil in many forms; it’s much less allegorical than the original story, but I think I also keep to the feel of the original in some ways. I purposefully left the ending ambiguous in tribute to the original story, and there are a few plot points that kept closely to the original, as well. I think my tale probably has a darker, meaner vibe in some places, but it also carries a lot of hope.
Q. Another of your recent horror genre tales, “Mooner”, takes place in a Western town in the early 1900s. Did you have to do a lot of research for the story?In some ways I feel like
A. I’ve been researching for Mooner for half my life! Growing up, my parents were big on vacationing at American historical sites, and I developed a love for different periods of American history. I was always drawn by the everyday stories, though, the kind of things you might see in a Ken Burns documentary. I’m not as big on battles as I am the everyday hardships that people had to face and overcome. I love the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m lucky enough to have had a book written about an ancestor of mine and his adventures serving in the Revolutionary War and then living in Missouri. Farmers, pioneers, miners—I’ve always felt a kinship reading about the hardworking people that helped form our country, and a few years ago I became attracted to lumber camp history. I had read about it in a few fictional titles and started doing my own digging. The plot of Mooner took a little bit to develop, and I definitely went to a few educational sites about lumber camps in the northern U.S. The hardest part was that I had seen the lumber camp vocabulary used really well in different places, and I really wanted to incorporate it into Mooner. The actual term Mooner was a lumber jack word for a legendary creature that roamed through the lumber camps, so once I found that I knew my story ideas weren’t all that crazy. The problem was finding ways to make it make sense within the story—I still kick myself for not including a word list in the actual e-book. I also tried to keep in mind not just the historical details, but what it would be like to be in that situation. There are a lot of conflicting personalities in that story, and I wanted to be true to those motivations as well as the setting and language, as well.
Q. What inspired you to combine historical fiction with psychological terror and traditional horror in your story “Mooner”?
A. Really, I wanted to tell a good story. I like unusual locations and settings, and I felt there was a potential for a lot of different types of characters. I don’t like typical situations, and I felt there was enough in the plot to draw people in, but also for them to relate to, even though it takes place in the 1800s. Everyone feels out of their element at some point, everyone thinks they know what’s best for someone else now and then. Plus, I love the concept of the creepy monster living in the woods, coming out when you least expect it. I really loved the idea of keeping that creature pretty monstrous, but also giving it human motivations, as well. I wanted to have those moments that make you want to crawl up a wall, plus since the lumber camp life was not pretty, I wanted to incorporate some of the gross and rough aspects, as well. I pretty much wanted to put in a little bit of everything I love about horror to hopefully make an interesting title.
Q. Do you have a favorite character in your books?
A. When I first started writing In the Red, Jeremiah Kensington/J.K. Asmodeus drove me crazy. He’s a fairly unlikeable character for a while, and it took writing the second half of the book for me to really get him. Once I did, I began to feel for him, and now he’s probably one of my favorite characters. I also really like his sister, Daniella, because she has that no-nonsense, strong female attitude that I love incorporating into my titles. She doesn’t take any of her brother’s crap, and her presence really took the book in directions I hadn’t anticipated. I also really grew to like Jack Scratch, who’s the stand-in for the devil in the book. He’s so outspoken and sly, and so ridiculously suave in some parts, but there was one scene that suddenly made me realize what his motivation was. It gave him a whole other level, but he still manages to be a threat and be a source of humor in the book. He was a lot of fun to write, more fun than I’d anticipated.
Q. February is Women in Horror Month. Can you tell our readers about your blog series on women in horror?
A. I wanted to take a look this year at the different ways women are portrayed in horror, as well as the women who love it or love to write it. I’m looking at it mostly from a writing standpoint, but I’d love to cover other areas in the future. I’ve invited horror writers and fans to contribute guest posts to my blog about why they like horror or like to write it (if they’re female), and the female characters or authors that are inspiring to them (if they’re male). For my part, I’ve started compiling lists of really awesome titles written by ladies, as well as character-centric lists. For instance, I’ve already done a post talking about great characters who were crazy women, and went on to take a look at female characters in horror film and fiction who are particularly badass. I’m going to do a follow up with more “innocent” characters, and then take a look at the obsession with nudity and sex in horror and if it’s being used effectively…and then I’m going to take a look at the tendency to really go over the top when portraying women as victims. It’s not glamorous territory to slog through, but if we really want to take a look at women’s roles in horror, then we have to take a look at all of it and see why this is going on and where we can go with it.
Q. Why do you think women in horror are still underrepresented?
A. I think people automatically assume horror is a testosterone-driven genre. People just assume women aren’t interested in it, but I see a lot of possibility in horror, a lot of freedom to break the rules and try new things. Women feel fear just like men do—maybe in different ways, but we still feel it. We have our own dark places. Maybe it isn’t ladylike to admit to it, but we have them. We get frustrated and angry, too. We may act on things in different ways, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t go there. Any woman who’s feared for their safety or the safety of a loved one, any gal who has to look over her shoulder in a parking lot, keep an eye on her drink, and wonder if someone’s being nice or angling for something knows that as a woman you have to keep a certain part of your brain on the awful possibilities to a certain extent.
I’ve had this conversation with different people, and on at least one occasion I was bluntly told that a woman’s place in horror is as a sex object. I don’t know about other women, but I’m not a caricature. There’s more to me and the characters I write than the ability to be a victim (and again, men can be victims just as much as women, but it’s so easy to forget that ). I think it’s easy to write a formula, and recent cinema history has shown that it’s bankable. That’s great, I’m not saying people shouldn’t make money or that we should get rid of the gore, but I want an equal chance to be able to take the horror genre in different directions. Just because certain things haven’t been done yet doesn’t mean they can’t be done at all. It doesn’t mean they can’t work. If men like Nicolas Sparks can write romantic, deep-feeling novels and movies , than there’s no reason why women can’t write and film amazing horror movies. I don’t know what the answer is exactly, but the fact that we have to talk about this is proof that we haven’t found the right answer yet.
Q. Is there anything you’d like our readers to know that we haven’t covered yet?
A. Just that I really, really love writing speculative fiction, especially urban fantasy and horror!
Catching Up With Selah Online:
http://selahjanel.wordpress.com/ Her Blog “Come Selahway With Me”
http://www.goodreads.com/SelahJanel On Goodreads
https://www.facebook.com/authorSJ On Facebook
https://twitter.com/SelahJanel On Twitter (
~ by Sumiko Saulson on February 21, 2013.
Posted in Interviews, WiHM 2013
Tags: Author, Fantasy, Horror, Mooner, paranormal, sci-fi, science fiction, Selah Janel, vampire, WiHM, WiHM2013, women in fantasy, Women in Horror, Women in Horror Interview Series, Women in Horror Month, Women in Horror Month 2013, Women in Science Fiction