Daphne Strasert grew up in St. Louis, Missouri with her loving family and a menagerie of animals too long to list. She began writing in first grade and continued writing into her teenage years. She attended Rice University, where she taught a semester course titled Werewolves, Zombies, and Why We’re Afraid of the Dark: A Brief History of Monsters. She later graduated with degrees in Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science.
Daphne now lives in Houston with her husband. She writes novels, short fiction, and blog posts. In 2017, she placed third overall in the Horror Addicts’ Next Great Horror Writer Contest and she is the Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner of 2021.
NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?
DS: I was probably 8 or so when I discovered horror existed. My parents were watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and there was a dark scene where a vampire jumped out and I remember finding that really frightening. I went into a sort of horror hibernation after that because I thought that horror was way too scary for me. So, while I found the premise of horror movies really compelling, I was too afraid to watch them. Instead, I gravitated toward the Disneyfied monsters that came out during the late naughts like Twilight and a number of paranormal romance novels. It wasn’t until college or so that I reconnected with the genre through the classic Universal monster movies like Dracula.
NTK: Did this re-connection help you discover other films? What are your favorite horror movies?
DS: Absolutely. It acted as a springboard into the genre as a whole. I followed actors and directors that I enjoyed into darker films that pushed my limits until I realized that I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought I’d be. It came down to a matter of taste. Horror, like every genre, has different flavors. I discovered that my preferred “flavor” tended toward the paranormal or psychological rather than the slasher movies that I had always associated with the genre. And, once I’d stepped in, I could see how the themes related and how different movies learned from and played off one another. I enjoy looking at horror from a historical perspective and watching how it evolves. My favorite movies are the ones that turn expectations for the genre on their head. I rank Hush very highly for that reason. They took the very basic, generic slasher concept and retooled it. It stars a Scream Queen who literally can’t scream for help and the entire production takes place in a single location. They managed to up the tension and remain true to the tropes while creating a genuinely gripping movie.
Of course, I’m also a sucker for the classics, so Dracula is a must-see. And, gothic romance like Crimson Peak also ticks off all the right boxes.
NTK: What TV shows keep you engaged?
DS: I have been watching a lot of documentary series lately. Netflix has a great selection. I focus on nature shows like Planet Earth or documentaries on cults, serial killers, and prisons. I will go through those like popcorn. My queue can’t keep up.
NTK: Awesome! You’ve become quite the connoisseur of horror. Where do you find inspiration?
DS: Much of my inspiration comes from things that I personally find terrifying. I’m an easily frightened person. I get inside my own head a lot. For me, scariest situations are the ones where the villain/monster/etc. doesn’t necessarily think they are doing anything wrong. They’re acting in their own self-interest. So, starting with a fairly normal situation and twisting it until something terrifying comes out works pretty well. It’s a practice of continually asking myself, “What is the worst possible thing that could happen?”
NTK: You have a degree in psychology, does it help you create realistic characters?
DS: I suppose, in a way, it did. But really the degree and the realism of my characters come from the same desire: to understand people. I’ve always been interested in people and why they act the way they do. My characters are deeply rooted in my people-watching observations and I studied psychology for the same reason. My characters perhaps have a more scientific basis, but most of the feel of the writing is from my personal experience.
NTK: Fascinating. Are you a plotter, then? A pantser? Or both?
DS: I am an absolute plotter. I love my plans and outlines. I will start a story by collecting scenes that come to me as I live my life, but before any real work begins, I map out the plot, usually in an excel spreadsheet. I know the number of scenes—even the number of words—that need to happen between each major plot event. Humans love stories, but we love them to be told in a specific way, with rising action and turning points and a climax with resolution. People find stories compelling if they have the right structure. I stick with that structure in general. I might be more experimental as I gain experience but for now plotting works for me.
NTK: You taught a class at Rice University for a semester. Could you tell the Addicts a little about that?
DS: I did! It was called “Werewolves, Zombies, and Why We’re Afraid of the Dark: A Brief History of Monsters.” That class really is a highlight in my life. Each week I looked at a different monster—werewolves, zombies, vampires, mummies, aliens, etc.—and examined the roots of the mythology. Monsters appear in many forms across different cultures, but the same ideas tend to pop up over and over again. I collected those to paint a picture of how our modern interpretations of that monster appear. The way pop culture portrayed each monster has changed over time, typically going through a cycle of scariness, sexualization, oversaturation, silliness, and obscurity. You can see this clearly with vampires, who went through the sexualization and oversaturation part of the cycle fairly recently. We also talked about the underlying fears that seemed to form the basis for each monster.
NTK: What inspired your story, “The Music Box?”
DS: I often write about the relationship between mothers and daughters. I’m close to my own mom and have so much respect and admiration for her. I think that informs the kind of stories I’m drawn to. Personally, I think motherhood is one of the most terrifying journeys a woman can take. All of the responsibility of caring for someone else–of having a piece of your heart living outside your body–scares me. For something outside of your control to hold sway over your child would be truly horrific. I think that’s what the music box represents for me: all the dangers that could threaten my family that are beyond control.
NTK: Daphne, what does the future hold for you? What do HorrorAddicts have to look forward to as far as publications?
DS: I am currently drafting a novel about a haunted house. I’m really excited about this project since it is a step in a new direction for me and has me stretching some unused horror muscles. Hopefully, Horror Addicts will see that published in the coming years!