Karen Runge is a name I’ve seen in the writing community many times, and was happy to learn that she has a novel published with the awesome Grey Matter Press. She now shares a publishing home with many cool horror writers, including one of my favorites, John F.D. Taff . I am always encouraged to see women writing horror. So, I wanted to pick Karen’s wonderfully imaginative, and disturbing brain, and find out more about the woman the late Jack Ketchum confessed, “Karen, you scare me.” Now, there’s a compliment.
LF: When did you write your first book?
KR: I completed my first novel-length work when I was about fifteen. Of course, it was totally terrible (!) and I’ve long since lost that manuscript. I took another stab at a novel when I was around 21, tried to get that one published, but it fell flat (it was also… pretty terrible…) and I threw it away. After that I started concentrating more on getting my name out through short stories. The first story I sold (shortly after the burning of my second book attempt) was ‘The Lighthouse’, published in the awesome Horror/Sci-Fi magazine ‘Something Wicked’, which sadly is now defunct. From there it was a steady climb up to getting my first full solo collection ‘Seven Sins’ published (Concord Free Press, 2016). My first (finally!!) full-length novel, ‘Seeing Double’, came out with Grey Matter Press last year. Took a while, but hey, I got there eventually. And no, I am nowhere near finished.
LF: As a woman, what draws you to the genre horror?
KR: I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide horror along gender lines, because horror—real horror, in the real world—is something that we all experience in some way or another in our lives. This is what makes it such a powerful art form—it doesn’t discriminate at all. I can only say that as a person, it always resonated with me as a genre that was telling the truth about the darker conditions of human nature, and their impacts on individuals as well as societies as a whole. As in, there’s no bullshit here, this is the stuff beneath every surface. That kind of exploration is important, I think, in a very fundamental way. I honestly can’t pinpoint anything female-specific that draws me to it. It’s just there.
LF: How do women react when you tell them you write horror?
KR: That depends on the woman! My poor mother, bless her, is completely baffled!! I often get the cutesy, aghast reaction from strangers, “Oh no! I could never read one of your books!” which always strikes me as borderline silly. Is there a rule somewhere that women aren’t supposed to be open to this? Women, who (again, in the real world) are subject to some truly hair-raising acts of violence, in some cases even as the norm…? And then of course the badass babes think it’s fantastic. It’s nice when people choose to be curious about it at least, and that’s a reaction I’m always grateful for when talking to non-horror fans of either gender.
LF: I so agree!
LF: I’m going to ask this question because I’ve been asked this a few times and I’d love to hear your response. Why not write Romance?
KR: For me, personally, Romance has never interested me. I find it more than a little false, like a cardboard cut-out of what human relationships really entail. I read a few Romance novels as a teenager (under pressure from school-friends who wanted me to “Put Stephen King down, for god’s sake!”) and I rolled my eyes through all of those books. I don’t want to bash the genre—it’s there, it gives people a lot of joy, it wouldn’t exist without reason. But it strikes me (both personally and as an artist) as more fairytale-escapism than an actual exploration of anything. I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh—there’s nothing wrong with escapism. But for me, as a reader and a writer, I would much rather look at realities than candy-coated dreams. If we want to talk the complexities of lust and love, though, well… you can find those to greater or lesser degrees in pretty much every genre, portrayed under much more sincere terms than what is directly labelled as ‘Romance’.
LF: I couldn’t have said it better.
LF: Please tell us a little about your book, SEEING DOUBLE. Great cover by the way.
KR: Thank you! The cover art was done by Dean Samed, a really awesome visual artist. I was thrilled with it when I first got the cover reveal. It fits the novel just so perfectly. The story on the surface is about a depraved love triangle, who disconnect from any form of true empathy in order to satisfy their own desires. Beneath that, it’s an exploration of sadism and abuse and the long-term impacts these things can have on the soul, especially when combined with malicious influences. It was my attempt at capturing the Disturbo sub-genre of horror, and the thing came out to so freaking twisted I can only think of it as a fair shot!
LF: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
KR: I write piles of dark poetry (as a personal exercise, not for publication), and in that process I often find myself uncovering things I’d like to explore further through fiction. I’m also mad about music, and sound and lyrics do a lot to inspire me. Once I’ve started a story, and the plot starts fleshing out, there are always going to be themes or details that I straight-up don’t know enough about, and am going to have to research in order to write with any kind credibility. For example, for my short story ‘Exile’ (in the Double Barrel Horror series from Pint Bottle Press) I spent a good few hours researching… lawnmowers. Lucky me. All the research I’ve done over the years for various stories has already made me a little mine of totally random and (mostly) useless information. But if you’re going to talk about something then you do need to get it right, which makes those long hours worth it, even if it only appears in the finished product as one or two sentences.
LF: What does your family think of your writing?
KR: They don’t really know too much about it, to be honest. My father takes some interest, but the rest are just happy to see me doing what I love… since I guess for the most part they don’t really understand it! My older brother loves horror too though, and our shared interest has done a lot to encourage me over the years. ‘Seeing Double’ is actually dedicated to him. But he’s more a film fan than a book guy, so he’s not entirely sure what I’m up to in my own art either. And that’s okay too.
LF: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
KR: For the most part, in the aftermath, it makes me feel absolutely fantastic: super connected to myself and the world around me. A good day’s writing can put me on a high for days. Though to a degree it depends on what I’m writing, really. The heavier subject matter can be difficult to wield, juggling a ‘normal’ every day life when in the back of my mind I’m having to sift through some seriously unsettling stuff. ‘Seeing Double’, for example, was an emotional nightmare to write… but once I’d gone into it I knew I had to push through to the end. More to that point: You don’t always get to pick your stories; sometimes they choose you. But whatever journey it puts me on I love what I do, and I absolutely cannot imagine myself as anything other than a writer.
LF: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
KR: By the end of a serious day’s writing, I’ll have a very satisfying word count (we won’t talk about how much I’ll chop in edits the next day), and… a completely spotless apartment. I don’t know what goes on here, really. Writing will be going really well, I’ll hit a point, and the next thing I know I’m standing at the sink washing dishes. Or sweeping the balcony. Or doing laundry. I don’t even decide to do it necessarily… it’s like I’m aware that I need a break, but need to still in some way stay active. But all this is totally subconscious, at least for the first few minutes. It can be kinda scary. Hey, at least my home is squeaky clean!
LF: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
KR: Usually if I’m not writing, or if I’m struggling with whatever I’m currently working on, I’ll dust off my paintbrushes and get going on a visual project. Usually I’ll be listening to horror fiction podcasts like Pseudopod or The Drabblecast while I paint or draw… so it’s like ‘reading’ while working. It’s a way to switch off to a degree, while still feeding the beast. That’s honestly a very happy place for me, and I don’t give myself hell when I’m not writing. So long as I’m doing something creative, I feel like I can maybe still pass as human. Mwahaha.