In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Shannon Scott
We get an unexpected supernatural twist in “The Snow Maiden.” Can you talk about how you utilize the supernatural within your writing?
When I write a story where something supernatural happens it doesn’t feel supernatural, it just feels like what is supposed to happen in the story. I’ve never been good at planning stories in advance. When I teach, I have lesson plans. When I present at a conference, I have my lecture written. I am not an “off the top of my head” kind of person. Writing fiction is the only activity I do that isn’t planned out. I think if it was, I wouldn’t do it. No surprises would mean no fun. If a spaceship wants to land, that’s great. If a woman in painting has something to say, as in “The Snow Maiden,” I’m all ears. Anything goes.
You reference the original tale of “The Snow Maiden” in your work. Looking back, many folk tales and fairy tales are rooted in horror and violence, especially towards women. What drew you to the tale of the “Snow Maiden,” or did that thematically grow out of the plot of your work?
I’ve researched and written about wolves and witches in Russian fairy tales. It’s certainly true that women don’t fare well in Russian fairy tales, unless they’re a witch, like Baba Yaga, or a blessed daughter, like Vasilisa. That leaves a lot of women in between two terrible fates—my favorite was a woman who was thrown to the earth so hard all they found was her braid. I’m not sure why brutality feels honest, but I’ll take it over Disney any day.
In your interview with Tara Laskowski, you say that “Human monsters are always scarier” than other monsters. This is a theme of horror that I absolutely love. Can you talk about how you weave villainous humanity into your writing?
Yes! This is a topic my students love. They aren’t afraid of monsters, but people, hell yes. Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Ghostface. But it’s not just the psychopaths and serial killers, they crave a supernatural element too. When we screen films together—The Conjuring or The Exorcist—they are especially interested in demonic possessions. It scares them more than anything. When I ask why, they say it’s about the loss of control—not being able to stop what happens to your body—not having your body belong to you anymore. This seems like a reasonable and, sadly for some, legitimate fear.
When I ask them if they believe—like many people used to—that evil as an outside force as opposed to a mental illness, they say, no way, evil comes from inside, not outside, but a few of them will debate. I never let them get away with saying a character or a real-life individual is “crazy” because even the most deranged person has a certain logic to their actions, some kind of motive, even if we find it appalling or don’t understand it. I think this is especially important to remember when writing horror fiction. I never judge my characters. They can do whatever they like. I have to trust that they have a reason for doing it, and that they will eventually reveal the reason to me.
Your stories and essays are featured in a number of journals and anthologies, and you’re currently co-editing Terrifying Transformations: An Anthology of Victorian Werewolf Fiction, 1838-1896. What other projects are you working on?
I’ve been writing a lot of conference papers this summer. The research is fun, the writing is less so. I just finished presenting a paper on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia at the Victorian Popular Fiction Association. I’m currently working on one for Fear 2000: Horror Uncaged in July. I present on dark faeries at the Festival of Monsters at UC Santa Cruz Center for Monster Studies in October. I’m really looking forward to attending that!
What writers inspire or influence your work? Who are some authors you enjoy?
I love getting a chance to read for pleasure over the summer. I’ve been working through a pile on my nightstand. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman and Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke both blew me away, though for completely different reasons and in completely different ways. I still take comfort in my Victorian authors—I like to reread Charlotte Brontë and Wilkie Collins. Victor LaValle’s novel The Devil in Silver is one of my favorite horror novels because it does the opposite of what most horror novels do—it restores my faith in humanity.
SHANNON SCOTT is a professor of English at several universities in the Twin Cities. She has contributed essays on werewolves to collections published by Manchester University Press and Routledge. In addition, Scott has published short fiction in Nightscript, Coppice & Brake, Dark Hearts Anthology, Hawk & Cleaver, Oculus Sinister, Nightmare Magazine, and Midnight Bites. She is co-editor of Terrifying Transformations: An Anthology of Victorian Werewolf Fiction, 1838-1896. She has also created an Audible Original lecture series on wolves and werewolves and is currently working on a horror series for Audible Originals.