Joe Sullivan: Your Twitter bio says Aussie/Yank, and I’ve seen your volcano videos from your current living situation near Mt. Etna–so I’m extra curious what horror and dark fantasy media you grew up with and where?
Rowan Hill: Yes, it’s a little mysterious, huh? A short summary would be I was born and raised in California with my tweens and teens in Coastal Australia. With family all over, I had summers in Indonesia and the South (of America). I’ve got an adventurous side and after college, I wore out my passport and hiking boots, mostly in the U.S, Asia, and Europe, and worked a ton of odd jobs, (think everything from first-mate to ski-bum to Professor), and though I am currently in Sicily, I’ll be returning to the States soon. I was weaned on Goosebumps but had a sci-fi/ fantasy household and it’s my first love. I remember the first piece of literature to ever make my heart skip was LOTR and under the dank earth with the Barrow-wights. But we had a pretty rounded-out exposure with horror and I will never forget my dad leaving 10-year-old me alone in the rumpus room while Killer Klowns From Outerspace played. I was a teen in the Wes Craven slasher era, a magical time for youth who could go to midnight movie marathons, and I would say that was what started my affair with horror.
When did you decide you wanted to write for professional markets? What, if anything, inspired you to send off your first submissions?
In 2019 I was in a transitionary time and free to work on my writing. After finishing a larger (now shelved) novel, I took a breather and tried to write something short and dark and randomly came upon the Kandisha Press ‘The One who Got Away’ prompt. I tried my hand at it and Jill Girardi wrote me a few weeks later and gave my first bit of praise. And as a new writer, those few words were everything to me (don’t worry, I told her so). So, I tried again and found that there isn’t a feeling quite like that acceptance high, is there?
You have a degree in Applied Linguistics. What is your specialty? Have you pulled from your research for your fiction?
My degrees specialized in ESL (hence all the travel and living abroad) and my earlier studies often involved the cultural cues we use in language. Slang, jargon, colloquialisms, the way you can distinguish whether someone is from North or South Arkansas based on the way they say ‘bayou’. How saying ‘mate’ at an Aussie barbeque at the right moment can either greet a friend or admonish. Since I write over so many locations, I feel I absolutely have to include speech cues and cultural dialect to add authenticity. Plus, it’s just fun to add Aussie slang into anything. Have you heard Aussie blokes when they are three pints in? Hilarious.
I’m familiar with your short stories and see you’re in a few upcoming anthologies that I’m looking forward to checking out, but I imagine you’re most excited for your debut In the Arctic Sun. What can you tell us about your novella from D&T Publishing?
First of all, thank you! I’ve been very fortunate this year with anthologies and loved them all. And yes, I am equal parts excited and terrified for In The Arctic Sun to come out. It is one of those annoying situations where too much info will ruin the climax but it’s the story of a woman living in Alaska’s Arctic Circle and currently dealing with a bad case of insomnia from the constant summer daylight. Her quiet life is further disturbed when she believes an oil company moving through her valley has woken up something beneath the frozen earth and can’t distinguish between hallucinations from exhaustion and reality. It deals with issues of isolation and what it means to be a woman alone in the wild, fighting against men and nature itself. If I had to liken it to anything, I would say The Babadook and put it in the ‘psychological creature feature’ genre.
What writing plans do you have beyond your novella and short stories? What themes and motifs interest you in the horror genre right now?
You know what? For the last year or so, I notice I have been drawn to stories of women villains and writing them in my own works. Whether it is a lonely cattle herder in the outback or a stripper in Vegas. I believe that’s why the team at Kandisha Press is killing it. Who doesn’t love a good, vengeful woman? I often write about women protagonists who may or may not be the bad ‘guy’ and explore how they are treated in society, especially those with traumatic histories. There is probably some therapy 101 issues to be dissected with my predilection of women empowerment to the extent that I make them all into the predators, but I’ll wait til my mid-life crisis hits before I tackle them.
Additionally, as with Arctic Sun, I adore a good ‘man vs nature’ plot. I think this is because I’ve experienced a few of them myself. Deserted Slovenian woods at night? Altitude sickness among Nepalese mountains of ice? Rats running over your toes in a Bangkok alley? Nature is terrifying, and what it hides even more so. Christina Henry’s ‘Near The Bone’ was a great read this year. What are men compared to rocks and trees and terrifying beasts stalking you in the woods, am I right? For my current WIP, ‘Horror’s Daughter’, I like the idea of merging genres and I’m trying to improve my gothic prose to write a modern Southern Gothic Slasher. Like, I said prior, my family is from the Deep South and there is some darkness in that area that both saddens and terrifies me. It’s an amalgamation of the land, brimming with secret bayous and woods between farmlands, and the mentality of insular life in small-town America. Many people never leave these areas, whether by choice or desire and in both instances I think that is worth exploring through the horror lens.
Rowan Hill is on Twitter and likes stuff and things.