It’s time to introduce you to another new author. Today’s spotlight belongs to speculative fiction author Rowan Rook.
I’m so excited it’s October. Thank you for letting me interview you.
Today we are sitting down with Rowan Rook to talk about The Woods at the End of the World, the Vampiric Virus series, and what makes them tick.
So, you’re a horror author. When did you first realize you loved horror?
That’s a tricky question to answer because I can’t remember a time before I was at least drawn to horror. At the risk of sounding eccentric, I grew up in a house that was almost certainly haunted. My family situation wasn’t exactly stable either, and being LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent in a conservative Christian school was at times unnerving in its own right. I began to struggle with mental health issues and OCD early on in life and anxiety was a constant undercurrent; I don’t recall exactly when, but I realized that the horror genre actually provided a sort of catharsis—a safe way to make sense of and conquer fear. I started reading and watching the scariest stories I had access to. When I tossed and turned at night, I also imagined scary stories to help myself deal with whatever I was feeling; it sounds counterintuitive, but it worked.
Similarly, I never quite felt like I fit into the world, and spent much of my time in my head as a kid. Some of my earliest memories involve mentally grappling with the concepts of death and eternity and the unknown—all sorts of terrifying and sometimes wonderful things. Horror, and to an extent other speculative genres like fantasy and sci-fi, helped me process these feelings, too.
What came first? The horror movie or a scary story? Tell me about it.
I don’t remember the first actual horror movie or story I was exposed to, but I can say that the first book that ever terrified me was the Bible. Although still Christian, I have a complicated relationship with religion now, and I certainly lost sleep over the fire-and-brimstone lectures that started as early as preschool. I still find it ironic that the Christian-school environment which called horror harmful didn’t have a problem trying to terrify kids into obedience with tales of eternal torment.
I also remember the movies targeted at my age group when I was young being much more horrific than most of today’s kid’s movies. I thrived on films like The Secret of NIMH, The Last Unicorn, Once Upon a Forest, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, and when I was feeling particularly brave, Watership Down (some of the imagery in this one still haunts me). They looked benign enough on the surface to skirt past my more conservative family, but offered some of the scares and intensity I craved.
I doubt it was truly the first, but the earliest actual horror story I remember falling in love with was a little-known book called The Year the Wolves Came by Bebe Faas Rice. Its character-centric anxieties and haunting ending have stayed with me since and still influence my work.
There are so many different types of horror, how do you decide what to write?
I let my muse guide me where it wants to go rather than restrain myself to any particular genre, but because the unknown both frightens and fascinates me, I most often find myself drawn to supernatural, cosmic, and more broadly, psychological horror. Non-speculative horror, with serial killers and stalkers, doesn’t capture my imagination in the same way and often leaves me more depressed than afraid or cathartic. I also love how speculative horror offers so many ways to explore metaphor and theme: Why do we each fear the particular things we do? What is death? How far would we go to succeed? What happens when any particular emotion twists into something obsessive? How can we pretend that society makes sense when we’re really just tiny, fragile organisms hurtling through space, understanding almost nothing about the Universe we take for granted? If an interesting question comes to mind, I’ll try to frame a story around it.
What is the hardest part of writing horror for you?
One of the same things I love about it: the intensity. Due to OCD and some emotional regulation issues, I sometimes find it challenging to convince myself to sit down and write when I know that doing so means confronting some intense, and sometimes unpleasant, things. Still, writing horror—and writing in general—has helped me overcome my own anxieties, and the catharsis leaves me feeling more alive.
Do you dress up for Halloween? Do you go all out with the haunted graveyard, smoke, and creepy music for trick or treaters, or do you just like the candy?
I love the Halloween season, but I don’t usually do much on the actual holiday, itself, and my neighborhood doesn’t often get trick-or-treaters. For the most part, it’s just the one day of the year when I can maybe talk my family and friends into watching a horror movie with me (none of them are fans of the genre). Still, I make sure to soak in October to the fullest: bingeing horror shows and games and books, making pumpkin pies and other autumnal treats, getting outside and enjoying the crisp air and fall colors.
Has becoming a horror author made you more afraid or less afraid of the world around you?
It hasn’t actually made as much of a difference as I once wondered if it would. If I wasn’t telling the stories on paper, I’d still be telling them in my head.
Who is your favorite horror author and which book of theirs is the one that sealed it for you?
It’s hard to pick just one when there are so many great authors to choose from, but I’ve been enjoying Ambrose Ibsen’s catalog for the last couple of years. The first book of his that I read, The House of Long Shadows, dug under my skin. Stirrings in the Black House and Midnight in a Perfect World are also some of my favorites from his bibliography.
Do you listen to music while you write? What’s on your horror playlist?
Sometimes I savor silence while working, but I also love music and it definitely helps me access my muse. I’ve had some difficulty finding a playlist that specifically works for writing horror—while there are strong options like Nox Arcana or Adrian von Ziegler’s gothic albums, cinematic music often overwhelms too much of my focus. I usually end up listening to wistful chillwave mixes on YouTube, instead. Still, if I’m trying to get myself pumped up for a horror story before I start writing it, my go-to bands are The Birthday Massacre and the fantastic Dance with the Dead.
And finally, what three pieces of advice would you give a fledgling horror writer?
Firstly, I think it’s important to face your own fears while writing—dig deep even when it’s uncomfortable. If you hold back, readers can tell. People read horror because they want to feel something—fear, sorrow, catharsis—so don’t hesitate to go all out. It’s perhaps ironic, but to write horror, you have to write bravely.
Secondly, while horror is all about fear, the intensity of the genre also makes it fertile ground for other vulnerable emotions: grief, anger, love, hope, wonder. Give your characters—and readers—reasons to be afraid: something to lose or something to fight for. Similarly, fear itself is largely about dread—about build-up and anticipation. Take your time setting up the stakes and raising them; just make sure the climax is worth it!
Finally, as cliche as it might be, one piece of advice I’d give to any author is to write authentically. If you try to chase trends or follow supposed rules that don’t resonate with you, your work won’t typically be as strong as if you embraced your own weirdness and followed your passions. Readers can tell when your heart’s not in it, too.
About the Author
Night Plague, Rowan’s debut novel and the first book in the Vampiric Virus series, was published in 2018 with a sequel planned for 2020. The Woods at the End of the World, a post-apocalyptic ghost story, was published in 2019. Rowan is also a writer at Scare Street and is working on interactive fiction games for Tales and Choice of Games.
Books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rowan-