Interview With Gemma Files, Author of In That Endlessness, Our End

Gemma Files was born in London, England but has lived almost all her life in Toronto, Ontario. Her parents are both actors. She trained as a journalist, spent roughly ten years as a film critic for eye Weekly (a defunct Toronto culture weekly newsmagazine) and roughly ten years more as a teacher (screenwriting, film history, TV series development), while simultaneously developing a career as an award-winning horror author.

After losing both her jobs around the same time her son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, she switched to full-time writing and has thus far produced four collections of short fiction, five novels and three collections of speculative poetry.

She still watches way too many movies a week and insists on talking about them, even though nobody’s paying her for it anymore. Her latest collection is In That Endlessness, Our End (Grimscribe Press), a series of short stories about haunted Air BnBs, mythological kings, bottled rage, modern changelings and body horror apocalypses, amongst other things.

Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied your latest collection, In That Endlessnes, Our End?

Oh boy, do I! I’m definitely one of those annoying people who used to make mixtapes for their current bedtime fantasies (I called them Tapecase Movies), and these days I definitely tend to compile iPhone playlists of songs that remind me of whatever I’m working on at any given time. Given I wrote a lot of the stories in In That Endlessness… over the last five years, I guess it makes sense that a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to falls under the general category of metal: Black Metal (Teitanblood), Doom Metal (The Body), Sludge Metal (Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou), Pagan Metal (Rotting Christ), Feminist Anti-Tolkien Metal (Feminazgul), Mongolian Metal (Altan Urag), Lovecraftian Ancient Egyptian Death Metal (Nile), Viking Folk Metal (Wardruna), etc.

I also listen to slightly more ambient creepy stuff like Lustmord (who recently contributed to the soundtracks of The Empty Man and The Void), Sunn O))), the Haxan Cloak, Hexentanz, etc. Then again, I also like Nick Cave and Sia and stuff like that, and when I name stories after songs, they tend to be from the lighter side of things. (It’s sort of hard the think of a story to go with titles like “Masturbating the War God,” though I’d love to try.)

What is the significance of the title?

The phrase In That Endlessness, Our End refers directly to a line in one of the stories, “Distant Dark Places,” in which a woman tries to track down her former girlfriend, who’s disappeared into a conspiracy theory rabbit-hole of extreme eco-terrorism; it’s a cosmic horror kind of narrative, as are a lot of the stories in the collection, once you pare them down far enough.

From my POV, cosmic horror involves realizing that losing your own humanity might not be so bad after all, because the universe is so huge and unknowable that really no one micro-scaled thing is any different from any one macro-scaled thing because everything is made of the exact same substances, plus a hefty admixture of nothing and everything at once. Physics! It makes me want to puke with fear, but it’s also sort of hopeful, in a numinous-without-religion sort of way.

What is the key theme and/or message in the book?

Don’t be afraid of fear. Fear keeps you honest. It prepares you for difficulty and disappointment. It helps you to reframe. It reminds you that the end of one thing doesn’t have to be the end of everything. These all turned out to be pretty good messages to internalize, given what happened over 2020.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

I suppose in a weird way, what’s become increasingly difficult about writing characters who identify as male for me is how relatively easy it remains to put myself in their headspace. Somebody on Tumblr was talking the other day about how Tolkien basically said he didn’t put many women in his books because he didn’t feel he understood them well enough to do them justice, and how interesting it would be if female-identifying writers felt like they could do the same: “Oh yeah, I just decided all my characters would be anything but [normative cishet] male because I don’t feel like I understand them well enough to try and write from their POV (or possibly I’m just bored with privileging that POV, because I see it EVERYWHERE).”

Whereas my reply to that was to immediately think: “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I hadn’t been raised in a system where identifying with male characters always seemed like it was so much easier then identifying with female characters”…ie, where all protagonists hadn’t been coded as male, so the “easiest” way to see yourself as a hero wasn’t simply to cisswap characters you were interested in inhabiting and just proceed as usual. I sound pretty old when I hear myself talking like that, these days, and I’m glad for it. But then again, I did make the decision to mainly stop writing about guys/straight people a while back, just for my own comfort and to set myself an interesting challenge. Which is why you’ll find very few of them in In That Endlessness, Our End.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I do, actually. It makes me literally itchy inside my brain to go too long without doing some sort of work that boils down to stringing words together, no matter whether that work involves taking notes, planning, brainstorming, analyzing, generating text or editing it. There’s a rhythm to writing that’s meditative yet exciting; it can calm you down, rev you up, burn calories. It’s my vocation. I can never get too far away from it.

Would you rather be in a room full of snakes or a room full of spiders?

I had a snake as a pet in my thirties, so…snakes? Though I don’t actually find spiders disgusting/frightening. I’d just worry too much about crushing them as I moved around if they were smaller than, say, a tarantula.

Are you a morning person or night owl?

I used to be a serious Night Owl, in that I could stay up late and still work effectively. Now I often go to bed in the early morning, but I find it difficult to do any sort of writing at the same time, as opposed to doing chores, or cooking, or painting, or watching stuff. And I really like to be asleep, when I can.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

At the moment I have a bunch of short stories I owe to various people, on account of having had Pandemic Brain throughout most of last year. OTOH, I also have three novels I’m in various stages of development with. One’s about Erszebet Bathori, but in a very fantasy-inflected way, not a super-historical way; my husband calls it the Dracula Untold of Blood Countess books.

Do you feel women are treated differently in the genre? If so, how?

When I first started writing horror, which was back in the 1990s, the genre seemed very much like a boy’s club…or better yet, a straight white man’s club, where the general sense was that stories either had to be super-bleak and fetishistically cruel or normatively restorative in a Stephen King/Poltergeist sort of way—there’d be an incursion from the outside, a lot of Othering, then everything would go back the way it was before, or if you were really brave then it’d just be the worst stuff possible happening in the worst way possible, forever and ever, amen.

I was coming in from a position of finding horror exciting, fascinating, transformative and weirdly uplifting; I started out wanting to make horror movies, and when people asked “Like Friday the 13th?” I’d say: “No, like Hellraiser or Nightbreed.” I felt like a monster, so I wanted monster representation; I wanted things to change, not revert, and even if the changes were painful, they should also be strangely satisfying. And in a lot of ways, I think that’s a POV that’s really come around in today’s horror, especially with female-identifying authors. Not to mention the fact that horror is now being cited as an innately “female” genre, which really only makes sense, considering who it started with.

It’s a place where the Other is centered and celebrated, a place where queerness and weirdness abounds, a place where hard political and psychological questions can be not only asked, but maybe answered. I love that, and if my own work can be considered to have had any sort of influence on that movement, I’m both glad and proud.

Can you tell us about women who inspired you. And tell us why?

The three women who had the most influence on me as a young horror writer were Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite (now Billy Martin) and Caitlin R. Kiernan. The woman who had the most influence on me as a young writer of any sort was Tanith Lee. All of them are decadent, lush, idiosyncratic, queer, daring and startling, which are all things I’ve aspired to be.

Many thanks to Gemma for spending some time with IndieMuse during our Women In Horror Series. Mark your calendars for her next release which will be issued by Grimscribe Press on February 15, 2021!

In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files

Amazon.com Price: $20.00 (as of 05/06/2021 05:54 PST- Details) & FREE Shipping.

COME CLOSER, FRIEND. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY.

Heard the one about the Airbnb that eats your dreams or the iron-crowned king who preys on his own bloodline from the air, still smoldering centuries after being burnt alive? How about the cloudy antique bottle you can wish your excess rage inside, or that crooked alley down which something waits to replace your disappointing child with a far more pleasant facsimile? We all know the truth, especially in times like these-in an anxiety-ridden, sleepless world such as ours, it’s only ever our very worst dreams that come true. Here streets empty out and people pull themselves apart like amoebas, breeding murderous doppelgangers from their own flesh; houses haunt, ideas possess and a cold and alien moon stares down, whispering that it’s time to spawn. New myths rise and ancient evils descend. From the seemingly mundane terrors of a city just like yours to all the most dark and distant places of a truly terrible universe, nothing is as it seems…not even that dimly-recalled cinematic memory you’ve been chasing all these years, the one you think might be just something you stumbled upon while flipping through channels after midnight. The one that still disturbs you enough to raise a cold sweat all over your body, whenever you try to will its details clear.

Hot on the heels of her 2018 This Is Horror Award-winning short story collection Spectral Evidence, critically horror author Gemma Files compiles fifteen more of her most startling recent nightmares-a creepily seductive downward spiral of dark poetry and existential dread, entirely suitable to the slow apocalypse going on all around us. So take your mind off your troubles and send it somewhere the rules still operate, if only to punish those who violate them.

RICHARD MARTIN

Richard started reading horror books at a young age, starting with R L Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Point Horror’ series. He traumatised himself at the age of twelve when he read Stephen King’s ‘IT’, and never looked back. He is currently based in the UK, where he lives with his partner, and an inappropriate amount of books.

Curation Results: In That Endlessness, Our End

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Curator Notes: "Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, this collection will surely be a frontrunner for best of the year." —gHoster

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