“I always reinforce the idea that the writing world is a community and not a competition.”
I have spent most of my adult life as a mom and a historian. I have only returned to writing very recently, but I am very glad I did. I have never really stopped writing, but until the last few years I have spent most of my time on academic writing and the occasional poem. I simply haven’t spent the time I once did on short stories and longer works.
I am lucky enough to have some wonderful writing groups where I live. New Hampshire-and New England in general – is a great source of inspiration for me, and I am not alone in that. We have an enormous creative community here and I take full advantage of that! I can always encourage other writers to do the same. I know most of us are introverts; we can be socially awkward and the like, but I think that forging a writing tribe is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as an artist.
Coffin Bell: What got you started writing?
Jennifer Ihasz: I am not really sure what started me in writing. I was always an avid reader. I loved stories of folklore and mythology when I was younger, and I think that sparked my imagination. I also lived in the country where it was fairly isolated and I had to play by myself a lot. My grandmother gave me a beautiful series of books called My Book House and I used to make all of the stories into plays and act them out in my back yard with all my stuffed animals as the other parts.
CB: Who are your influences?
JI: My biggest influences are Flannery O’Connor, Haruki Murakami, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, and Leonora Carrington. I also love newer works by Charlie Jane Anders, Cat Valente, Carmen Maria Machado, and Helen Oyeyemi. If it seems like that is a lot of female influences…it is. I am happy to be living in a time when female artists are becoming more recognized. I love reading and writing about complicated women. So as not to leave Murakami as the lone male, I can also say that I love Neil Gaiman. Not only is he a wonderful writer, but he also seems as if he is a wonderful person. I think it is fantastic that he takes the time and effort to encourage young and beginning artists. I could also add Donald Barthelme because he is just so wonderful and ridiculous.
CB: What draws you to dark fiction?
Loving dark fiction, I think, can be traced back to my New England roots. The Puritans do love their fire and brimstone, so we are fairly steeped in it around here. New England lore is pretty heavy in dark stuff and I love reading about it all. I also love oral storytelling traditions and that is something that has been kept alive in New England. We still hold fireside storytelling events and have several storytelling groups so there is no end of good spooky tales to listen to. And pretty much everything in New England is haunted. There is no end to inspiration for the horror-lover around here.
CB: What advice can you give to new and emerging writers?
JI: I love working with other writers, especially newer or young ones. I think that there has been so much less emphasis on the arts in schools and in life in general that many people push aside any need they may have to use creative outlets. I work as much as I can with writing groups in my area to create events and gatherings for people so they can have an environment that encourages them to work. If there is one piece of advice I could give to newer writers, it is to be nice and stay humble. I have had many experienced writers who have helped me or worked with me and I work hard to pay that forward. It never does anyone any good to be ugly in this business. You are best, at least as a horror writer, to keep that on the page. I always reinforce the idea that the writing world is a community and not a competition. We are all in this together.
Read Jennifer Ihasz’s “A Hunger to the Bone” in issue 1.1 of Coffin Bell!