Emily Ruth Verona
Katrina Monroe Interview
Last summer, Katrina Monroe gave us a haunting, gothic tale of history and motherhood with They Drown Our Daughters. Her new novel is called Graveyard of Lost Children and explores motherhood’s relationship with identity and the self, asking that age-old loaded question: what does it mean to be a “good” mother?
Read the full interview below.
They Drown Our Daughters and Graveyard of Lost Children both center around motherhood. Was that intentional or is it a theme you just found yourself drawn back to?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I’m a mom to two teenagers and for the first five years of their lives I was a very young single parent. A large part of my identity is wrapped up in momming, for better or worse, and it’s almost impossible to remove that perspective from my writing. Like most women my age, I also have a difficult relationship with my mother, who was young when I was born and all but raised me and my siblings on her own for most of my childhood. There’s trauma in that and therapy is expensive, so it tends to come out in my fiction. Write what you know, right?
Water seems to play a critical role in both books. They Drown Our Daughters is all about the sea and Graveyard of Lost Children features a well. What’s your relationship with the water like?
I grew up in Florida and have spent the last 10 years or so living in Minnesota (land of 10,000 lakes). I suppose you could say I’m drawn to it—I’m fascinated by nautical stories and history, especially tales of what might live in the depths. Water is vital and sustaining, but also terrifying and could kill you. How could you not be intrigued by that kind of dynamic? I grew up learning the sting-ray shuffle to avoid getting stung, how to spot the difference between a shark fin and dolphin dorsal, but my instinct was never to just avoid the water altogether. I’m sure that says something about my personality, but I don’t want to think too hard about it.
When I first read the description for Graveyard of Lost Children I saw the word “changeling” and was intrigued. Changeling folklore is particularly heartbreaking. Were you interested in it prior to writing this book or did you learn about it for the novel?
I love changeling stories. This probably relates to your first question, but I find any folklore that centers on parenthood to be particularly interesting because it pokes a sharp stick into the soft places, drawing attention to the things we, as a society, don’t like talking about. I had been thinking about writing a changeling story for a long time, but I think I was too afraid to go to the dark place where GRAVEYARD lives. Now that my kids are older, and I’m older and more self-aware, I can look back at those first few weeks of their lives and remember thinking, “Who are you?” I had known, logically, that they were my children, that they were pieces of me, but I saw none of myself in them (likely because I was nineteen, barely an adult, with no sense of self to draw from). And it was that memory that I kept going back to when I was thinking about changelings. The story just sort of fell out of it from there.
Pregnancy and postpartum narratives are incredibly compelling in horror. Even without the horror element, there is so much change one experiences throughout the process of giving birth to a child. What was it like writing a character who was going through that?
It was a little bit like looking in the mirror. GRAVEYARD isn’t biographical, but a lot of what Olivia experiences, especially in the first few days after giving birth, do reflect some of the feelings I had postpartum. It’s easier to look back now and draw parallels between my symptoms and postpartum depression, but back then I just felt wrong. Weirdly, the dynamic between Olivia and Shannon—being able to see her experiences reflected in the journal—was something I wish I’d had. The only thing scarier than going through a traumatizing ordeal is knowing you have to do it alone.
The book is told in dual POVs between Olivia and her mother, Shannon. What was your favorite thing about developing this story in two voices? Was there anything particularly challenging about it?
My favorite part about writing dual perspectives is planting seeds for the reader that don’t exist for the other character. As a reader, I like knowing things before the character does. It creates a particular kind of tension that you just have to sit with until it finally breaks. The challenge in this book was ensuring the two were similar (they are mother and daughter after all) without the voices bleeding too much into each other. Shannon’s POV is, in a sense, unreliable, because we’re reading a journal, which gives the allusion of being in her head. Really, she could be lying to us. Balancing that potential for dishonesty while trying to remain authentic to her character was difficult. But it was important for the story that both of their POVs existed to make the reader question their own conclusions—is the Black-Haired Woman real? Or is she only in our heads?
Horror is a rich place to explore characters who aren’t quite certain what they are experiencing. It’s one of the things I love about it. How do you approach walking that line in a story where there could be mental illness or there could be supernatural forces at play? Or maybe even both are present at the same time?
I love an allegory. In They Drown Our Daughters, the curse represented generation cycles, the main character faced with the impossible task of breaking those cycles for the sake of her own child. In Graveyard of Lost Children, I think the allegory was pretty obvious, but that was intentional. I didn’t want to write a story that dismissed postpartum depression by relegating it to a supernatural entity. The entity is there to make the allegory palatable. What I mentioned before about things society doesn’t want to talk about? Horror, and allegory in horror especially, provide the perfect vehicle for those conversations. The story scares us, but it isn’t until we think about it later that we discover why it got under our skin. It wasn’t the monster, but what the monster represented. There’s this story we like to tell ourselves, that motherhood is bliss from the moment we see our child, birthed violently from our bodies. It’s not true, but it’s easier to believe than the idea that some mothers just… don’t attach. It’s easier to believe that it’s because of some creature. That it can be defeated. But horror (and life) tells us that isn’t always the case.
Your writing has some beautiful gothic vibes. Do you read a lot of gothic lit or watch a lot of gothic films?
Thank you! I think I consume about as much gothic media as other genres, but it’s usually the gothic stuff that ends up being favorites. I’m a sucker for a dark, lush atmosphere, and gothic always delivers.
The cover is gorgeous. Every time I look at it, I see a new detail to love. Who designed it?
The cover was designed by Sarah Brody! It is amazing, isn’t it? When the publisher sent me mock ups, this was the one I was rooting for from the get-go. I’ve been very lucky so far with incredible cover designs.
Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?
A. Not this year! But next year Poisoned Pen Press will be releasing my third book (a horror/thriller) called Through the Midnight Door.
What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.
I picked up If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio on a recommendation. I devoured it in less than a day and then sat with it clutched to my chest while I cried. It’s gothic, it’s dark academia, it’s an incredible character study… I’m so mad I didn’t write it, but I am so grateful to have read it. I hock it to anyone and everyone who will listen.
Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!
Graveyard of Lost Children hits shelves on May 9, 2023.
Katrina Monroe is the author of Graveyard of Lost Children and They Drown Our Daughters. A private investigator by day and active HWA member, she lives in Minneapolis with her wife, children, cat, and the ghost that haunts their bedroom closets.