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Recently, we here at FBC HQ learned that Betsy Nicchetta, one of our fabulous Feminist Book Club members, had contributed an essay to Hear Us Scream: The Voices of Horror Volume II. In this anthology, women and nonbinary folks explore the various ways in which the horror genre has made a difference to them.
We decided that, obviously, we had to give away a copy of this book. I mean, the book just sounds rad and also relevant to so many of our interests (look out for that giveaway opportunity in our Instagram feed).
And I decided that, obviously, I had to talk to Betsy, if only to nerd out about the glories of horror.
I read Betsy’s piece, “From the Safety of My Couch,” before we chatted. It’s about how the nuanced depictions of Christianity in Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass were a source of healing when it came to the wounds left by Betsy’s own departure from the church.
“Faith was a huge part of my journey for most of my life,” Betsy told me, explaining how—at one point—it was both her community and her career. “And so, when it got to a point where I had to walk away from it, there was this huge, gaping hole that I didn’t know what to do with.”
Betsy didn’t expect horror to fill that hole, but as she immersed herself in the genre, it did. “One of the things I love about horror,” she says, “is that it doesn’t gloss over a lot of the things I was told I should be glossing over.”
Because of that, works of horror were hugely therapeutic during her healing journey.
Read on for more of our conversation, which has been condensed for clarity and space (because, honestly, we could have continued rec-ing horror stuff to each other forevs).
The press release for Hear Us Scream says it is a powerful testament to horror’s ability to reach out and touch the people who need it, often in the times they need it most. What first drew you to the horror genre and what need did it fill?
I’ve always been a very hungry reader, reading everything I could get my hands on. I grew up in a household where we were always watching movies and reading books. But I wasn’t exposed to horror until my adult life.
I do remember, with Disney movies and stuff, that I was always more drawn to the witches than the heroes. I always thought they were more interesting in that they weren’t always marriage-oriented, plus I was drawn to the supernatural.
Later on in life, I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and I was like, “Oh yeah, this is what I like. This is checking all the boxes for me.” I’ve read it so many times now and it always scares the shit out of me. But at that point in my life, I was having all kinds of issues with day jobs. When I read Hill House, I was actually working in a call center. During a dead day, I brought out the book and I think there’s something about being scared that actually is very escapist. It really pulls me out of myself in a way that other stuff just doesn’t. I think when you’re dealing with something that really speaks to your emotions in a fictional setting, I think that’s extremely escapist.
I also like that line in the press release that says, “Horror is our world, our language, and through it, we can know ourselves and one another.” How has horror—as a genre—illuminated the truths of the world for you?
I would say that I think, in general, fiction helps humanize things in a way a lot of other genres can’t. When I was a sociology major in college, I had to read part of The Feminine Mystique for a class. And on my own, I stumbled upon The Stepford Wives. And honestly, I felt like it was hitting all the same stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Feminine Mystique was an incredibly important book. But Stepford Wives kind of embodied those lessons even more for me. And in a more compelling way.
Similarly, one of my absolute favorite books from last year was The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias. It’s just a phenomenal book. It’s about a guy who takes a job as a hitman to pay off his mounting pile of bills. I think one thing the book does exquisitely well is to show us the life of this person we would normally demonize. And you’re forced to empathize with him. And through the course of the book, you can’t not talk about things like economic stratification and immigration. And this unreliable narrator kind of helps you grapple with these things in a humanizing way.
As I was reading your piece, I found myself relating to how you were able to approach your complicated feelings about your past at a remove, in a way you could control. In your piece, you focus on Midnight Mass. But since we’re a bookish site, I have to ask… Are there any horror books that have resonated with you in a similar way?
I think the way [Midnight Mass director] Mike Flanagan did it was just amazing. The writing on that show is just so exquisite. It’s almost like reading a really, really good book.
But since we are talking about books, I have to start off by saying that in terms of my own personal religious trauma, a lot of nonfiction has played that role for me. Particularly Pure by Linda Kay Klein. I’d say that one helped me a lot.
But for more horror books here on that topic, I recently read a book called Village Heresy. The suspense aspect of it is a little flat, but the horror is really good. And a book that’s more on the light side is Everything Is Wonderful by Shane Blackheart. The protagonist is a trans person and the book takes how we usually think about the apocalypse and the war between good and evil and kind of turns it on its head. It’s very irreverent and extremely fun. I’m also reading a collection of short stories right now, The Sacrament, a religious horror anthology edited by Kelly Brocklehurst and Jamie Stewart.
And I have to dive back into some of the classics we might not even consider horror. Like The Scarlet Letter. For me, it’s clear that Mike Flanagan was probably reading a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work when he was writing Midnight Mass.
And I know Sinclair Lewis was always more of a satirist, but Elmer Gantry comes to mind. I love that book so much. It was actually, for me, a huge permission giver. It was probably the first thing I read that had a more scathing view of religion and of everything I had been through.
Since we’re also a feminist site, I’d like to acknowledge how horror can also be social commentary. Which horror books have you read recently that do a particularly good job of illuminating issues that we as feminists should be concerned about? Which horror authors do you think do this consistently well?
Okay. I just read a phenomenal book that came in my Night Worms box [a curated horror box]: Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt. It’s one of my favorite tropes, which is haunted house stuff. It’s written from the perspective of a trans person and it kind of tackles a lot of things feminists should be aware of in terms of intersectionality. That’s an author I think is going to be very much worth watching.
[Okay. At this point, Betsy started listing out All The People, so I thought it made more sense to create a bulleted list.]
- Rachel Harrison (“I just listened to her collection of short stories, Bad Dolls.”)
- Tananarive Due (“I’m not gonna not mention her.”) [I, personally, am looking forward to The Reformatory, out in October.]
- Hailey Piper
- Gwendolyn Kiste
- Cynthia Pelayo (“Her book Crime Scene uses poetry to dive into our culture’s obsession with missing girls.”)
- Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Isabel Cañas
- a book series by Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence that includes The Science of Women in Horror, The Science of Stephen King, and The Science of Witchcraft
- Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
- “And I’d follow Sadie Hartmann on Instagram [one of the folks behind the Night Worms box]. She is the person to watch when it comes to this kind of stuff and she really uplifts more of, well… not so much the white cis male authors.”
And I will cut us off there, even though we also talked about our favorite comedic horror authors (lord, that should be another post), whether we prefer happy, sad, or uncertain endings in our horror stories (it depends), and about how there have always been women writing horror (Mary Shelley, anyone???).
At that point, Betsy asked me about my favorite horror authors, and then my brain short-circuited.
ANYWAY. If you found our chat interesting, keep an eye out for our book giveaway on Insta. And remember, you can always pick up a copy here.