(Gemma Files is the author of A Book of Tongues and A Rope of Thorns, Volumes One and two in the Hexslinger Series (both CZP). She has also published two collections of short fiction (Kissing Carrion and The Worm In Every Heart, Prime Books) and two chapbooks of poetry. She is currently beating her brains out on Hexslinger book #3. Her “Blood Makes Noise” appears in CREATURES.)
What was the first monster that scared/moved you?
I was thinking about this this morning, and I believe it might have been the version of The Invisible Man directed by James Whale and voiced by Claude Rains. I saw it on the Canadian Broadcasting Company show Magic Shadows, hosted by Elwy Yost, a kind old autodidact who never met a classic he didn’t like. OTOH, he used to chop them up into half-hour segments and show them throughout the week, like haphazard serials, which I guess isn’t exactly reverent. Nevertheless, Mister Yost (whose screenwriter son, Graham, is best known as the man who gave us Speed) is the reason I’d seen most Universal monster movies by the time I was ten.
Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?
Pity is good, or at least sympathy, but I do think it’s entirely possible to be very sympathetic to a monster and yet know it needs to be knocked out on sight. We need to be respectful of things that are powerful and uncontrollable, whether or not they’re actively malign.
If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?
There’s something really freeing about the idea of being a werewolf. That berserker loss of responsibility–to always be able to go: “Oh yeah, that was me, I guess. Just couldn’t help myself.” Then again, I’ve also always wanted to be a witch, though the drawbacks of trading sacrifice for effect probably really do eventually outweigh the perks.
King Kong, or Godzilla?
King Kong, man. Godzilla’s just a reptile with an atomic stomach. King Kong is a tragic protagonist.
What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?
The very palpability of stuff once it’s seen on film can be a plus and a minus, and when you’re writing, you don’t really have access to that–instead of being able to say: “Well, of course it exists…it’s right over there,” you have to somehow conjure the creature out of thin air and a bunch of words. Still, sometimes that means you can get away with far more than most filmmakers, because your audience is actively collaborating with you rather than skeptically trying to tear you down. Your best tool is the reader’s imagination.
Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.
I’ve been very impressed by the sporadic rise of what I’d call the “tulpa”, or self-created monster–a sort of thought-form creature that cobbles itself together through evocation of fear and longing. It’s the underlying theme of stories in which you start out think a haunting is about some human being’s tragedy, but it turns out to be about something completely different, completely Other. Two recent good examples of this actually appear in the Paul Tremblay and Sean Wallce-edited anthology Phantom, in Steve Rasnic Tem’s “The Cabinet Child” and Becca De La Rosa’s “A Ghost, A House”; shades of it also pop up in stuff as disparate as F.G. Cottam’s The Waiting Room, in which a grieving WWI soldier’s family’s attempt to bring him back from the dead creates something that very likely isn’t him at all (something which can’t die, because it’s never been alive) and Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is For Witching, in which a house built by generations of British racists develops a personality that embodies its owners and inhabitants prejudices. (The wonderful ‘Net-based interactive story of The Dionaea House is a bit like this as well, a flytrap dwelling that infects and ingests anyone who occupies it, so that they then become its emissaries and tools.) Really hard to quantify and thus to do, but I wish more people would try.