Jill Girardi is the internationally best-selling, award-nominated author of Hantu Macabre, a novel which was optioned for a film starring MMA Fighter Ann Osman and directed by Aaron Cowan (a senior member of the Visual Effects team that won four Oscars for Avatar and Lord of the Rings.) Jill is also the founder of Kandisha Press, a company dedicated to women horror authors from around the world. She loves writing darkly humorous stories and still believes in twist endings. Find her on Instagram or Twitter @jill_girardi.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I was old enough to read, though the fever really took hold of me when I was about twelve years old. By mysterious circumstances, I was in our garage one day and found a book I’d never seen before, that I certainly didn’t own, and that was not one my parents would have purchased for themselves. It was clearly worn with age, the dust cover torn and fading. That book was Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier. The stories in that book changed my life, made me want to tell such stories myself, though my life would eventually take the path as a music producer rather than writing. As a result, it took quite a while to restart my journey as an author. I still own that book today, multiple editions, in fact, and it still inspires an awestruck desire to write like that. I named my debut novel Hantu Macabre, as a sort of tribute to that wonderful collection of stories. I’ve also been greatly inspired by Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, Creepshow, etc. That style of morbid humor truly appeals to me, and suits my own personality. I wanted to tell fun stories like that as well.
When I lived in Malaysia for several years, I also discovered an author by the name of Tunku Halim. He is a very, very famous horror writer in Southeast Asia, though virtually unknown in America. He had several short story collections out, and I bought them all. His original, fresh, and of course, frightening stories had me hooked from the first page. It made me think to myself, “I want to do that, too!” Strangely enough, when my novel came out, I found myself sharing a publisher with Tunku Halim, and we were even up against each other for the same award at one time. Funny how things came “full circle” with someone who has been such an incredible inspiration in my life.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
This is something I’ve found difficult to explain over the years. Going back to the subject of du Maurier’s work, I found her simple, direct form of writing to be both beautiful and haunting, evoking so many emotions in the reader. The symbolism of it struck such a deep chord with me. For example, in one of my favorite stories, The Apple Tree, a mere tree takes on the qualities of a deceased woman, one who withered from neglect and lack of love all her life. The image was one that stayed with me long after I first finished reading the story. Many people believe that horror is all about shock value, that there’s no emotion or any deep meaning in it. Those of us who read or write horror know otherwise. We know that something as simple as a tree can haunt you, and bring you close to your own pain. This is what I adore about horror. There is so much more lurking under its surface.
Do you make a conscious effort to include female characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
With my debut novel, my main character, Suzanna Sim, was definitely created with a conscious effort to depict a strong woman, unafraid to go forward into the world alone, and often choosing to go alone despite others offering support. I attempted to portray a human woman, who through many flaws made countless mistakes and ended up alienating herself from the world, resulting in a constant feeling of loneliness. Women are often considered a product of their mistakes and judged accordingly. Suzanna’s world is no different; she is judged and outcast for her “crimes”, yet somehow she keeps on living despite all the disapproval.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
That I, myself, am flawed and have made many mistakes in life, and that I can rid myself of my demons simply by writing about them. For example, in my story The Wet Dream (it’s about a boat!) I took a traumatic childhood experience that crushed my self esteem and turned it into a horror story. For others, it may be merely an entertaining, pulpy story. For me, it was an exorcism.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I am watching it evolve right now at the speed of light. Previously marginalized communities are being given a chance to shine for the first time in the history of the genre. I see a future where everyone is included, no matter who they are. Nothing is more beautiful than that.
How do you feel women have been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
I think the power of women horror authors is stronger than ever, and only continuing to strengthen as time goes on. My hope is that this bright light continues to shine on women and that we keep forging ahead. The time is now. Equality beckons.
Who are some of your favorite female characters in horror?
First and foremost, I’ll have to say Sadako from the Japanese horror movie, Ringu. The best and most terrifying character I have ever seen in my life. Even now, fifteen or more years after seeing it for the first time, I still get scared if I think about her too much. And I’m thinking about her too much right now…
Another one is Mitsuko Sôma from another Japanese movie, Battle Royale.
Who are some women who write horror you recommend our audience check out?
Mocha Pennington! I have loved every single thing I’ve read from her, and I’ve had the good fortune of publishing her work several times through my Kandisha Press Women of Horror anthology series that promotes diverse women horror authors from around the globe. Most recently, I published a story from her titled “Farewell II Flesh,” through an anthology I did with my friends at Silent House Press, and it was probably the most beautiful thing I have read in many years. It’s about a transgender woman who goes through plastic surgery in order to appear more beautiful and feminine to a world that rejects her. This was instantly relatable to me, as I, too, have been through something similar, though not with such horrific results. (I hope? hehe.) The story brought me to tears, and I have to say, it is an important story because it can bring us to a greater understanding of how our human struggles are the same, no matter who we are. This inspires compassion, and compassion inspires love. When you’re finished reading this interview, I suggest you google Mocha immediately. You will not be disappointed!
Other women authors I have come to love in the past few years are Lydia Prime, Catherine McCarthy, Michelle Renee Lane, Sonora Taylor, C.C. Winchester, Ruthann Jagge, Dawn DeBraal, Paula R.C. Readman, Carmen Baca, Rowan Hill, Marie Lanza, Ellie Douglas, Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn, K.P. Kulski, Tina Ishak, Lee Franklin, and oh, countless others. I could go on for days about all the fantastic women I have met doing the Women of Horror books.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Let go of previously taught beliefs that no longer serve you or the good of the world. Expose yourself to new ideas, new people. Accept inclusivity as part of this beautiful new world we are forging right now. Do your part to make the community a safe space for everyone.
And to the women who write horror out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Think about what you want to say to the world. What message do you want to give inside your stories? It doesn’t have to be a life-altering message, but you do need to have something to say: a reason, a purpose, and emotion or experience you want to portray. How are your characters alive with these emotions? This is how you take your stories to the next level. Learn and improve as you go. Don’t wait!
The viewpoints expressed in this interview are the opinions of the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily represent the views of the Horror Writers Association.