Carol Clover wrote about “The Final Girl” thirty years ago and in that time fans of the slasher subgenre have seen any number of subversions of that trope, including characters who are aware that the trope exists and what the rules are (thank you, Wes Craven). Why was it important for your characters to know what kind of horror story they were in, and how did that inform the story’s trajectory?
I’ve always been interested in stories that begin after the epilogue—stories that acknowledge that life goes on, past the big moment of narrative catharsis. A character’s just been through a huge adventure, had a bunch of trauma dumped on them, saved the day . . . and what happens next? I love seeing characters reckon with what they’ve just been through, so I try to be really intentional about where I position a story within the broader timeline of a character’s life. If a character has a full lifetime that spills out of the bounds of the story, my first and most difficult task is to pick the right moment to pin down on paper.
For Nathaniel, I always knew that the right moment was the aftermath. The most interesting thing about him wasn’t surviving a massacre but moving through that trauma. I wanted to highlight the power of looking back at something with the clarity and distance required to say “Hey, that was fucked up, and it fucked me up, and I’m going to be okay someday.” That hindsight and self-reflection could only come from Nathaniel and all the other final girls acknowledging what genre of story they’re recovering from. There was no way I could’ve written this if Nathaniel, Ellie, and the rest of their Discord friends didn’t know they were final girls.
It’s a very good time to be a fan of queer horror. If you were to create a syllabus for Queer Horror 101, what would you include on it?
I love this question! I’ve gone back and forth on how I want to answer it: Do I want to use my background in academia to construct an actual syllabus, prioritizing works that could make for fun and fruitful discussion? Do I want to give a broad survey of queer horror’s history, as I understand it? Do I want to talk about works that led me to writing horror, by showing me what the genre can do? Do I just want to gush about the works that I’ve been loving lately?
This list is my attempt to split the difference. Here’s the (incomplete, chronologically sorted, sparsely annotated) Queer Horror 101 syllabus of works that I enjoy, that felt formative to me as an artist, and that I would love to lead a discussion on. These texts may not all have explicitly queer characters, but I can make a case for a queer reading.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Alien, directed by Ridley Scott
“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler
This was the story that showed me what speculative fiction has the power to do, with respect to reimagining gender and sexuality.
Scream, directed by Wes Craven
Jennifer’s Body, directed by Karyn Kusama
Carrie, directed by Kimberly Peirce
This is the 2013 remake, because it spoke to me to see a woman reimagine this story; the 1976 version (and the book, honestly) feels like a male fantasy of female adolescence. The 2013 film isn’t perfect, but it isn’t afraid to lean into the inherent horror of teenage girlhood.
Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink
Hereditary, directed by Ari Aster
The Perfection, directed by Richard Shepard
I don’t know how to categorize this movie, except to say that it’s really stuck with me. I’ve been completely unable to stop thinking about it.
The Haunting of Hill House, created and directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix
The Haunting of Bly Manor, created by Mike Flanagan, Netflix
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Yellowjackets, created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, Showtime
Bodies Bodies Bodies, directed by Halina Reijn
Nope, directed by Jordan Peele
There is so much to unpack in this story––on the top layer are trauma, survival, and gender identity; then, below the surface, there are gestures toward closed and open spaces, the boundary between the individual body and the public’s “right to” that body’s story (something that also comes up a lot in true crime criticism), the slasher as a gendered subgenre, and the inherent dis/comfort of persona in online spaces. All that being said, the story never feels weighed down or inaccessible. Before this results in more of a comment than a question, can you talk about how genre in general (or horror in particular) makes space for these sorts of massive concepts in your writing?
Thank you so much for your kind words! I was able to squeeze in so many concepts because genre gives us tropes as shorthand narrative building blocks that stand in for something new each time they’re repeated. I see genre as a pantry of familiar ingredients to choose from, with new combinations being discovered every day. Those unique combinations are where the big concepts live. They’re the synthesis of a bunch of smaller elements, all working together to nudge the reader towards a specific interpretation.
Would Ellie and Nathaniel survive the sequel?
Yes! Nathaniel’s immediate impulse would be to hide, but Ellie would be hyper-competent and badass enough for the both of them.
What does 2023 hold for you and fans of your work?
More short fiction that I can’t quite talk about yet. As for the rest, it’s up in the air! The best way to stay up to date on my work is to check out my website at dominiquedickey.com.
Spread the word!