Selah Janel was blessed with a giant imagination, even if it made her gullible enough to wonder if fairies lurked in the woods and vampires waited in abandoned barns outside of town as a child. As an adult, she writes in various genres, including horror and dark fantasy. Her work has been published in multiple anthologies, magazines, e-books, and a short story collection. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her faeries to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.
Selah is a wonderful and natural storyteller. We spoke of acting, writing, and the creative process.
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Selah.
SJ: Thanks for having me!
NTK: When did you discover horror? How old were you?
SJ: Oh, man. I’ve been aware of the genre my whole life. I was such a gullible scaredy cat as a kid—relatives convinced me all sorts of things were real and coming to get me. I was also super curious—I was the kid that would sneak off at the video store and read the boxes of every horror movie even though I couldn’t even sit through the movie commercials. When I hit junior high, I began to read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, got into urban legends, that kind of thing. In college and doing theater, I got into Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King…I’d hole up in bookshops on my non-show days and read when I was away working. And then, I began to do work on haunted houses, so I felt like I had to up my game and learn the genre. It’s been a slow progression my whole life!
NTK: How do you work with haunted houses? Are you a ghost hunter?
SJ: I mean haunted houses in the entertainment sense—amusement parks. For about ten or eleven years, I did a lot of work in that area. It started with performance to make some side money, and, because I also do costume work, it turned into that and character design and some concept work on ideas and themes for different houses and mazes. Not that I haven’t seen some really odd things in actual haunted places, but in this case, it’s all entertainment!
NTK: Oh, I see! What is the strangest thing that ever happened while you were performing in a haunted house?
SJ: Oh, man. It’s all on a scale of weird, really, because these are situations you just don’t walk into during normal life. Performance-wise, it was more about the people coming through. They get weird ideas of what’s allowed and tend to forget there are people under the makeup, so I got really good at being aggressive and chasing people out of the maze— I was the main character in the last room—so they wouldn’t try to grab me and try anything. Tech-wise, a lot of meetings you’re talking about things that sound insane—what’s the right amount of blood, which zombies need which clothes, etc., though a lot of that is safety and logistics, too. For me, nothing will beat the night I was walking between buildings to put some things away and these club cars zoom up and start chasing me. It’s like one in the morning and, at first, I’m blowing it off because there are people decorating, but they weren’t slowing down, so I take off running and get cut off by one. The headlights were blinding and I was already tired and freaked out, so when the guys driving these things jumped out and I saw they were covered in blood and had fangs I about lost my mind…until I realized they were friends of mine who were also working late setting things up after a rehearsal. Pranking each other during those runs is definitely a thing.
Also, I was in the Friday the 13th theme park show. Jason killed me five times a night. Six on Saturdays! (Laughs.)
NTK: That is really scary! (Laughs.) Did this job inspire your story, “Wallpaper?”
SJ: In terms of how I think of things, probably. Even doing costumes we’d usually tour the houses or zones and look at the rooms to get an idea of the environment so things could match up. As far as direct inspiration, it started with a picture I was given for the Ladies of Horror Flash Challenge—those participating get a picture and have to do a flash piece for it. “Wallpaper” started as my original idea for it, but it went long on word count so I tucked it aside and did something else. But physical places and the possibilities in them definitely intrigue me. We all go through our lives so quickly these days, it was interesting to think that something as innocent as wallpaper could change a life.
NTK: Awesome! What’s your creative process like? Do you plot? Fly by the seat of your pants? Or a little of both?
SJ: I do some of each. I like to have a beginning and end point at the very least unless it’s a flash piece. For me, those are more about moments with a small plot arc. For longer pieces, usually a concept or idea will hit me and I’ll sit with it a while. I want to make sure there’s an actual story there. If I get more ideas or feel really excited I’ll jump in and aim toward the end goal. Usually, while I’m writing things will change direction or characters will make different choices than I’d planned. I try to stay open to that because some of my better ideas and story moments have come from that instinct.
NTK: So, your characters have free will? You don’t control them?
SJ: I’d say they have input, but I’m controlling the reins. If something doesn’t feel true to them then I’m not going to do it. I’m willing to change direction to a point, but if a moment doesn’t fit the story it doesn’t fit the story. I do think that sometimes I can get really in my head plot-wise, wanting to check off boxes, so those are the times where if something comes out of nowhere, I’ll at least explore it. It’s definitely a balancing act.
NTK: What horror authors have influenced you? Who is your favorite author?
SJ: There are so many! Ray Bradbury. All of his work is exquisite, and I love his use of description and little emotional moments that build his stories. In his horror work, he’s so good at his endings. I think he said that he wanted things to feel like someone missing a stair, and that’s exactly what it feels like, this okay…wait, oh my god! I also really love Neil Gaiman. His use of folklore makes me so happy, and he just really GOES there in some of his pieces. Emotionally, he’s a dark, beautiful, uncomfortable, fantastic ride. I read Nancy A. Collins’ Sonja Blue books in my early twenties and they’re amazing and horrifying. The world building is so good underneath the layers of atrocities and nihilism. It really showed me that I can be a woman author and still go in hard if I want to. I like a lot of Clive Barker, love Shirley Jackson. I love a lot of horror comics and manga— I feel like so many people are missing out because they don’t realize how good the stories in those forms are. You can’t beat Junji Ito for creepy body horror. In terms of a favorite author, that’s so hard! Probably a tie between Bradbury and Gaiman, though there are a LOT right behind them.
NTK: So what is your favorite novel?
SJ: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I get something new out of it every time I read it. It’s unsettling, relevant, and the world and character building are exquisite. The car raffle gets me every time!
NTK: Is American Gods also your favorite horror TV show? If not, what is?
SJ: I’ve only seen the first season so far— I’m one of those that likes to wait til a season is out so I can watch it all at once. I think American Gods does a lot right—there’s a lot of people who would like it to be more like the book, but I don’t have any big complaints on the first season, and I love that they give the female roles more time. In terms of my favorite, I’m probably going to have to say the original Twilight Zone, though I haven’t seen the new one yet to compare, so that’s not me taking a stance on anything! I love anthology shows, and to me, there was such a great aesthetic there. Not all the episodes were great, but because of sheer volume, I think people got exposed to a lot of great “what if” lines of thought that gets under the skin.
NTK: What’s your favorite horror film?
SJ: I feel like the moment I give any answer besides this, people are going to come after me, so it has to be The Lost Boys. Granted, I haven’t seen it in years, but I first saw it in its entirety at a low place in my life and when I was really getting into the genre. Despite the eighties-ness, there are real stories of family and connection going on, and the production design is so cool. It felt accessible enough to me at a time when everything felt above my head while I was still in school for theater and felt like writing could only be a sometimes hobby. Along came this movie into my life and it hit me, “Oh wow, I could do something like that.” If we’re talking any other horror movie, I still kinda pick and choose because I’m more of a wuss than people realize, but I like a lot of Japanese horror, and I liked most of A Quiet Place, loved The VVitch and The Babadook.
NTK: You have experience with acting, who do you think is the best actor you’ve ever seen in a horror film? Who really made it believable?
SJ: Oh man, that’s so hard! The performance that’s really impressed and haunted me within the past few years—from what I’ve seen—is Essie Davis in The Babadook. She juggles a very real portrayal of grief with dealing with the stress of motherhood and the difficulties her child is experiencing. She just goes there in a way that for me is really raw and true. This isn’t just running away from a monster—this is dealing with so many layers and juggling emotions. You feel for her character and you dislike her in places. She comes across as so human, which can be so hard to do, to portray a role like that naturally. There’s a bit at the end when she’s been through hell and is standing in the basement just experiencing the aftershock of things—it’s intense. And when you compare that to the fact that she’s also Miss Fisher, which is WAY on the other end of the genre scale—I never would have initially believed it was the same person. Those are the types of surprises I love and the performances that really impress me.
NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do we have to look forward to?
SJ: I feel like I’m mid-transition at the moment. I had to really take a breath and figure out where I was going and what I wanted to do a year or so ago, and make changes accordingly. I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment, a lot of submitting, so as far as concrete projects, that’s still in flux, though I think a lot of artistic life is like that, more than a lot of people realize. I’m editing some books I hope to shop around in the future that I’m really excited about, and writing things of all different lengths. I’ve also been exploring screenwriting and learning from that, so really while there’s nothing I can talk specifically about at the moment, I think there are going to be some really cool things down the road.
NTK: Thank you so much for joining me! You were a great interview!
SL: Thanks again for having me! This was so much fun!