Interview With Brenda Sue Tolian, An Author With A Masters In Horror

Brenda Sue Tolian is a horror author, co-host of the Burial Plot Horror Podcast, member of the Horror Author’s Guild, and a mother. She also just earned her Masters Degree in Horror from Regis University. The idea of the horror genre and the world of academia just never seemed to cross our minds, but Brenda was kind enough to educate us!

Image Courtesy of Brenda Sue Tolian

PopHorror: Brenda, this is so amazing! What specifically do you have your Masters in? I imagine this was not a solo mission.

Brenda Sue Tolian: I received my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Fiction from Regis University in Denver. I had wonderful mentors in the program, such as Mario Acevedo, Dr. David Hicks, Lori Ostlund, and Steven Dunn. My MFA thesis is what I call Southwestern Gothic Horror, and I was wonderfully supported there. I watched Mario Acevedo and Steven Graham Jones read one night during my residency, and I was amazed. I realized then I wanted to tell my story darkly.

PopHorror: Your Masters deals with the horror genre, and it is no secret that many writers and literary types—both in education and more mainstream genres—look at horror as that annoying kid brother. Do you think that the academic world is embracing the genre more now?

Brenda Sue Tolian: I think it is embraced more than it is given credit. I have presented academically on horror topics at Stoker in the Ann Radcliff Conference and at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Conference in Albuquerque. When I started looking, I found there are numerous calls for papers. Does it need more of a spotlight? Absolutely. I think humans need to look into the darkness to see and appreciate the light. Horror also has a long history, and we do it justice in its academic study.

PopHorror: What writers or movies did you focus on in your thesis?

Brenda Sue Tolian: My thesis was a creative work inspired in structure by John Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven and Italo Calvino’s If On A Winters Night A Traveler. Everything else came from tales gathered in the San Luis Valley and the creatures, cults, and cannibals who haunt the imagination there. I read widely from authors such as Steven Graham Jones, Vladimir Nabokov, Clive Barker, and Stephen King. Their form in storytelling is masterful. My critical essay was called Blood, Milk, and Teeth and centered on the female body from early mythology to modern horror. It was also a call for women to write about the horror particular to us and tell it as no man can.


PopHorror: How long did it take to write your thesis? What inspired the specific direction you took?

Brenda Sue Tolian: It took two and a half years to write it. A thesis is different than a book because you send a chapter to your mentor, and they do their job in teaching you how to make it stronger, and then you rewrite. It is timed and paced differently and is intense, hard work, but so worth it. My inspiration came from the valley I live in. The San Luis Valley is roughly 8,000 square miles and hits 7,000 feet above sea level, much of that even higher. It has two mountain ranges: the San Juan to the west and the Sangre de Cristos to the east. The Great Sand Dunes can be observed from almost any vantage point in the valley, keeping perpetual time of the hauntingly beautiful place. It is a place of stories some told since humans first encroached here. Gregory Alan Isakov recently wrote a song about it, reflecting its haunting ability to inspire art and word. From this valley, I drew my inspiration for my thesis. Here, tales of cannibals, cults, vortexes, Skinwalkers, UFO, and other creatures pool together in my motivation.

PopHorror: Is there a chance of turning this into a book about horror like Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix?

Brenda Sue Tolian: So glad you asked! Raw Dog Screaming Press has picked it up for publication. I am so blown away; they are a press I only dreamed of shopping it to. They are so respected in the industry and produce such diverse works. It is an honor to work with them.

Image Credit Raw Dog Screaming Press

PopHorror: Do you think the advent of the internet, smart phones, and the creepy pasta genre, not to mention the proliferation of mainstream and indie horror movies, has helped get horror into the hands of more people?

Brenda Sue Tolian: I think that technology certainly has helped in boosting appetites for it and consumption. I also think whether it is book, film, or music, horror is becoming more appreciated as art. Horror is, I believe, something bigger… a commentary on the world in which we find ourselves. If I read a book that moves me, I can send this thought out onto various platforms, and the work goes into more hands. There is fellowship on the live wire with like minds as I find in Denver Horror Collective, Horror Author’s Guild, and the Horror Writer’s Association.

Image Credit the Horror Authors Guild

PopHorror: Are there classical writers outside of Poe, Stoker, and Lovecraft that you wish more people would discover and read?

Brenda Sue Tolian: I appreciate the works of Algernon Blackwood. He wrote The Wendigo, as well as other stories that mess with the mind. There is Carmilla, written by Sheridan Le Fanu, a vampire story written twenty-five years before Dracula. I adore Angela Carter, who wrote The Bloody Chamber, and Franz Kafka, who wrote The Penal Colony, a terrifying story of torture by tattoo.

PopHorror: Who are your favorite authors?

Brenda Sue Tolian: I read a lot. I think you must if you want to write well. The favorites that I devour are Steven Graham Jones, Mario Acevedo, Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem, Josh Malerman, Owl Goingback, Gambino Iglesias, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Hillary Leftwich, and Christina Sng. I also read anything I can get my hands on by Stanley Wiater. No one knows horror like him. But, of course, this list is only a tiny part of the books and authors I hold dear. Honestly, I could talk all day on this topic.

Image Credit Clip-Art Library

PopHorror: Have you written fiction? If so, where can people find it?

Brenda Sue Tolian: I have. I am in the DHC anthology, Consumed Tales, inspired by the Wendigo, 101 Proof Horror, and Twisted Pulp 3, all of which can be found on my website. I also have a story coming out in the DHC Jewish Book of Horror and, of course, Blood Mountain from RDSP in the coming months. I also will be included in the HWA poetry showcase anthology. A fantastic author, Joy Yehle, and I started a podcast called The Burial Plot Horror podcast. Perhaps you would consider being a guest?

PopHorror: I would be honored! Thank you! Finally, how did you do this whole thing with a family? I bet it took a lot of effort to balance everything! For that, we salute you!

Image credit Clipart-Library.Com

Brenda Sue Tolian: My twins and I went through a lot of hardship, yet we grew stronger despite the difficulties of the past. We supported each other, even had college classes together. We are a small trio of a family that sets goals, and we work hard. It was not so many years ago that we lost our hope—but it is back in a big way.

PopHorror: And your achievement will inspire other people. Thanks so much for being with us!

Brenda Sue Tolian: Thank you!

Visit Brenda Sue Tolian at her site

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