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Horror & High Heels – Interview With Kristi Petersen Schoonover

Another Women in Horror Month interviews, and this one is a very familiar … voice. She’s the co-host of the Dark Discussions Podcast. Kristi has been on the show for years and has been a fabulous contributor with her analysis and critique of the movies covered. But she’s also a bit more than a podcaster. Let’s see what else she’s been up to.

Philip of DD: Thanks for your interest in being interviewed. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Kristi: I’ve done lots of things—volunteered at two different aquariums and a zoo, worked at just about every single backstage position I could in community theatres, and was a local actress. These things are over, now, though, and at heart, I’m a short fiction writer. I have been since I was a teenager, although I know I was writing little stories here and there from about the age of 5 (my first story was about a tree that wanted to commit suicide because its leaves were turning brown). Last year, I realized my life-long dream of founding and editing a fiction magazine full of the stories that I love to read—true cross-genre dark/horror literary with a visceral punch. That’s been a true joy for me, especially when I get to publish stories that neither traditional horror nor traditional literary would touch because it doesn’t fit with their vibe. Which is the way it should be done. If you’re going to produce a magazine, you really have to stick with your vision and develop your brand. You can’t thrust things in there if they don’t really fit simply because they’re good, otherwise you’ll have no clear identity and it’s harder to develop a following.

Philip of DD: I know a lot of folks aren’t able to do their passion as a full time job. Many have to work a day job to pay the bills. So to put this into two questions, how long have you been around? And are you able to do it full time?

Kristi: I’ve been at the same day job for going on 21 years. It’s funny—in the past, some people (mostly my family) were not really supportive of it, because it’s a mindless job. They’d always say to me, ‘You have your degree, go teach!’ ‘You should really get a job that challenges you!’ But I’ve stuck to my guns. Because the secret, here, is that if I have a job that requires no brain power, then even if I’m not actively writing, I’m thinking about it. I’m making notes. I’m doing research. This mindless job keeps my brain clear so I can pour all of my energy into my creative projects. If I had to teach or if I had a job that really utilized my skills? I’d have nothing left over for writing. I also keep this day job by choice. Sure, I could write full time, but that brings a whole lot of stress with it—I have so much respect for writers who do that, but I don’t ever want to have to worry about putting food on my table or having benefits. My life doesn’t depend on whether or not I sell that novel, which leaves me room to write things I want to write no matter how “unmarketable” they are, and truly focus on the craft.

Philip of DD: What made you get into horror? Were you always into horror movies and thrillers? Or just into monsters in general? 

Kristi: My mother and aunt loved their horror movies, but I was never, ever allowed to watch them—Mom insisted I had too vivid an imagination, and she was right, because all it’d take is one image and I’d be terrified of the dark and of sleeping for weeks (truth be told, I’m still like that). However, I was always attracted to scary movies, and when we’d go to my aunt’s house in every Sunday in the ’70s and ’80s, Channels 11 or 5 ran all sorts of monster and horror films that I could watch in the kitchen while the adults weren’t paying attention. The movies that really frightened me in those early years were The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), The Bermuda Depths (1978), The UFO Incident (1975), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and I could never get enough of In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy—especially the episode on The Amityville Horror. Disaster movies, like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, The Devil at Four O’clock, and When Time Ran Out also scared me, but Mom and I watched those together. When those came on TV, that was our ‘girl time.’

Philip of DD: Do you dabble in other genres too such as science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, mystery, or grand Guignol?

Kristi: If something pops into my head that’s in a different genre, I go with it. I don’t ever plan anything. What comes out is what comes out.

Philip of DD: Was there any specific thing as a child or teenager (things like a movie, a horror author, a horror monster) that affected you and turned you into focusing on a specific subject?

Kristi: I was a curious kid and I read everything, but I was really drawn to the sciences—particularly volcanology and marine biology. I read a lot of National Geographic, and articles I read or photos I saw would often inspire a story. I went through a phase in which I was so excited about the discovery of a preserved body in the depths of Lake Placid that I wrote about seven different short stories surrounding that alone.

Philip of DD:  What are some of your favorite horror movies and why?

Kristi: My very first horror film—in which I really fell in love with the genre and was finally old enough to fully embrace it—was in 1991, when I was 20 years old. A friend of mine lived in the attic apartment of a seriously creepy old Victorian house. She rented Robert Wise’s The Haunting. I’d never been so scared—and so in love—in my life. It was intelligent, it was beautifully shot, it was scary as hell, and I so identified with both Theo and Nell. That was when I realized that horror wasn’t really about monsters. Horror was about the monsters inside us. That will forever remain my absolute favorite horror film. Other than that, I have favorites in many subgenres. My favorite subgenres include found footage, Asian horror, creature features, nature gone nuts, and ghost stories.

Dark Discussions Podcast co-hosts
Eric Webster & Kristi Schoonover

Philip of DD: And what about books? Do you have a favorite horror book/author?

Kristi: When I was younger, my favorite was Stephen King. I think I read everything of his up until about 1994, and then I just grew out of it. Over the years, my favorite writers have included Koji Suzuki, Joyce Carol Oates, George Saunders, Die Booth—but I grew up loving short stories from many different writers, because my dad was an English teacher. I love short stories, and nothing excites me more than when I get a new collection or the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines. I have two giant binders of my favorite short stories, and sometimes I go back and read those over again.

Philip of DD: Even though you are a distinct artist/podcaster/writer with your own techniques and your own visions, were there any individuals in the genre that influenced your work and the path you took to be who you are today as an artist/podcaster/writer?

Kristi: As a writer, everything I read greatly influences my work—which is why, sometimes, it’s honestly difficult for me to read anything. Halfway through something I find myself inspired and I abandon it to go write my own work. But I’ve been greatly influenced by Anais Nin, Koji Suzuki, O. Henry, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Edgar Allan Poe (this one especially), and more recently, H.P. Lovecraft, to name a few. I spent a year studying poetry—and I’ll tell you right now I’m awful at poetry. Absolutely awful. But the year I spent learning about it, and attempting it, really improved my short fiction. That was the year I also learned that the art form I was the best at was short fiction, and to really focus on that.

Philip of DD:  How about telling us a little about some of your other past projects that would be of interest to speculative fiction and horror fans?

Kristi: Other than checking out the first two issues of 34 Orchard—which feature fantastic dark work from writers all over the world—there’s my novellette, This Poisoned Ground, which anyone who enjoys Poe would probably like. There’s my short story collection, The Shadows Behind, which is all about the monsters within ourselves. There are also two earlier projects out there—Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole: Tales from Haunted Disney World (which was my master’s thesis and is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks) and a novel, Bad Apple. Anyone who’d like to check out my writing can go to my website and click on the “Read My Work” page, where there are links to whatever’s available in literary magazines for free.

Philip of DD: What is your favorite horror villain or monster?

Kristi: Oh, hands down: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and Hedorah (from Godzilla vs the Smog Monster). Those have been my three favorites since I was about 9 and nothing’s changed.

Philip of DD: Where can folks find you, online, at conventions, social media? Let’s have it.

Kristi: I’m on so many it’d be ridiculous to list them all. The best place to find out more about me is my website, https://kristipetersenschoonover.com/. I hang out mostly on Facebook, and that’s here: https://www.facebook.com/kpschoonover/ If you’d like to check out 34 Orchard, you can do that here: https://34orchard.com/

Philip of DD: Lastly, anything else you have that our readers would like to know.

Kristi: I’m going to step down from a few things so I can focus on my own work and on 34 Orchard. Over the pandemic summer, I wrote and polished six new stories—I haven’t shopped those around yet, so that’s on my plate. I’m working on three different short stories for upcoming deadlines now, and I’m finishing my novel, Tidings, which I serialized and mailed to my friends over the course of the pandemic but will be published as a whole in 2022 next year (I already have a deal for it).

Philip of DD: Thanks for taking your time to let the readers know so much more about you. We’ll catch you on an upcoming episode of the Dark Discussions Podcast.

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