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Interview: K.C. Grifant on California Screamin’ and the Horror Genre

Autumn is a season of nostalgia. Leaves coat the ground in a patchwork of chestnut brown and daffodil yellow. Our homes smell of cloves, cinnamon, and apple… precursors to the delicious taste of warm cider. Branches rustle, scarves are donned, and family members prepare their annual pilgrimages home. Autumn soothes the soul.

Except for one night.

One night in autumn, things get dark. We don’t notice the leaves on the ground because we’re vigilant of the cobwebs between the branches. We’re distracted from the smell of cider as tiny ghouls and goblins approach our homes in a feral lust for candy. We gaze in confusion at our friends and family, attempting to recognize them. When did Aunt Lulu become a zombie? Was Uncle Steve always a pirate? I didn’t know he was switching careers.

Screams and terror fill us on a night ruled by mummies and vampires, when the air is filled not by comfort but by the purest of dreads. On that night… that delectably evil night in autumn… we celebrate Halloween.

In the spirit of Halloween, I had the opportunity to interview K.C. Grifant. K.C. is a horror writer with multiple publications in literary magazines and horror anthologies. Her most recent story, “Feast of the Goddesses,” appears in the upcoming anthology California Screamin’.

Legion of Leia:  Thank you for honoring me with this interview! I’d love to know a bit about what drew you to writing fiction, and how you got started.

K.C. Grifant: I started drafting stories and journaling as soon as I learned to write. My earliest writing memory is a tale I wrote in third or fourth grade about a girl who shrunk down in size to ride a paper plane. My story was read to the class, with the exciting ending of “…and it was all a dream.” (All of my stories ended this way for about a year or so). Since then I haven’t really stopped. I have bins upon bins of faded penciled notebooks of stories I wrote throughout the decades.

Legion of Leia: And why horror? 

K.C. Grifant: I wrote mostly adventure and fantasy stories as a kid. I got more into sci-fi and horror as a teen. The supernatural world piqued my interest, beginning with obsession with aliens when I was twelve through ghost hunting in high school. I’m a generally anxious person, but somehow… facing the darkness about what could be is cathartic.

Legion of Leia: Were there any stories that drew you into the genre? 

K.C. Grifant: I was drawn to the disturbing, but not necessarily gory, endings of the Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt and Goosebumps. Characters, despite their best efforts, could never escape the trap that was set for them or, more often than not, that they set for themselves. Those endings-with-a-twist are a stark reminder that the world isn’t a fair or perfect place… and that fate can come back to bite you.

Legion of Leia: Fear is generally considered a negative emotion, and yet the horror genre is incredibly popular. Why are readers so drawn to the things that scare us?

K.C. Grifant: Horror is usually considered a catharsis. You get to experience something horrific and frightening but come out in one piece… even if the character doesn’t. It might tap into the same adrenaline that gives people a rush when they’re on a roller coaster or skydiving, an I survived sort of high. Interestingly, different types of horror don’t have the same effect on everyone. For example, some people revel in reading or watching real-life horror such as True Crime, but can’t handle paranormal horror. I’m the reverse; the more creative and unusual the monster, the more satisfying it is for me to watch. But realistic hostage or serial killer stories freak me out. I think it comes down to everyone’s stress valves and what gives you a sense of escape and relief. The appeal of horror seems especially prominent right now, probably due to two factors: People needing a break from our current environment of unrelenting, distressing news and often negative hive-mind social media chatter, and a resurgence of high-quality shows and books to provide that release.

Legion of Leia: Have you come across any barriers being a woman in the field of literature, or working in the horror genre?

K.C. Grifant: Personally I have not, which I am grateful for. I am also fortunate to be a member of the H.W.A., which has many great role models, such as president Lisa Morton and others. However, I will say that the horror genre in general has some way to go in terms of equal representation. For example, if you ask someone to name horror authors, the usual suspects are Stephen King, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe. Occasionally people will name Mary Shelley but will be hard pressed to think of another woman in horror. Hopefully the great work being produced by many women writers, editors and publishers will gain more recognition not only inside the genre but outside as well.

Legion of Leia: K.C., you have a story in the upcoming anthology California Screamin’. Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

K.C. Grifant: This is a really exciting endeavor featuring work from local chapters of the Horror Writers Association (H.W.A.), which is the world’s largest and oldest horror society. Though this is not an H.W.A.-publication, San Diego chapter co-chair Danielle Kaheaku is the editor and has selected over a dozen horror tales that take place in Southern California.

Legion of Leia: Are you able to share a bit about your entry in the publication?

K.C. Grifant: My story, “Feast of the Goddesses,” tracks a cult of Los Angeles-based women who worship what they believe are the ancient goddesses of beauty, strength and wisdom. As one initiate learns, members of the cult receive enhanced talents—for a price of course.

Legion of Leia: Congratulations on the publication. When you sit down to write a story, what is your process?

K.C. Grifant: I am still trying to figure out an ideal process. At the moment, I don’t track word counts or plan out every plot detail because that distracts me from being in the moment of that world. I try to write something every day or else I feel icky. Recently I’ve been finding that monotonous driving can help me get through a plot snarl. Driving can also encourage what feels like a perfect line to pop into my head, which I then have to repeat to myself in a cold sweat until I hit a red light and can jot it down.

Legion of Leia: Do you have any writers that you look up to or strive to emulate?

K.C. Grifant: So many! In particular, writers who influenced me as an early reader include: Margaret Atwood for her utterly unique style; Herman Hesse for his infusion of philosophy; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his unforgettable characters; George Orwell for his dystopian world (some of the scariest horror I’ve read); Ursula Le Guin for her vision; Ray Bradbury for atmosphere; Shirley Jackson for her mix of artistry and creepiness. There are countless others, but those are a few who inspire.

Legion of Leia: K.C., thank you so much for your time. Where can our readers find a copy of California Screamin’?

K.C. Grifant: It is available for preorder on Amazon and can be found at local San Diego bookstores, including the amazing Mysterious Galaxy and Warwick’s.

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If you’re interested in reading Feast of the Goddesses and other creepy stories, ask about California Screamin’ at your local independent book store, or order it on Amazon.

About K.C. Grifant: K.C. is a founding co-chair of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) San Diego chapter. She is a New England-to-SoCal transplant who writes horror, fantasy, science fiction and “weird west” stories. Her nonfiction articles on science, medicine and technology have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers. Her fiction has found homes in card games, anthologies, and other publications. Recent anthologies include the Stoker Award-nominated FRIGHT MARE: Women Write Horror; California Screamin’, a collection of tales that take place in Southern California; Into Darkness Peering, featuring stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe; See Through My Eyes: A Ghost Mystery Anthology; and Hydrophobia, a charity anthology for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Other publications include the Lovecraft Ezine, Horror Bites Magazine, Electric Spec magazine and Horror Tree’s Trembling with Fear series.

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Dr. Billy San Juan