An Interview with Christina Delia

Gab Harvey

Christina Delia writes horror fiction, plays and poetry. She holds a BFA in Writing for Film and Television from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Christina is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA).  Her plays have been performed in The Theater Project’s Think Fast Festival and The Secret Theatre’s Act One One: Act Festival. Her horror fiction is included in the anthologies What Monsters Do For Love: Volume Three, Shadowy Natures: Stories of Psychological Horror, Dark Dispatch, and most recently Unburied, the LGBTQ+ dark fiction anthology from Dark In Books/AM Ink Publishing. Christina also has a story forthcoming in Planet Scumm issue #11 “Snake Eyes” due out this summer.  She is also at work on her first dark poetry collection. Follow her on Instagram @christinadelia_writer.

Horror, plays, poetry… you seem to be a Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to writing. Would you like to tell us about your works, for those readers which aren’t familiar with it, yet?

Absolutely! I write horror fiction (mostly short stories), short plays with either dark or fantastical elements, and now I’ve written this poetry collection. I’ve titled my book Guts! Lips! and I plan to release it independently through Amazon KDP, something I have never done before, but feels necessary. If you’re wondering why the exclamation points in my book title, it’s because despite what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about them, (that exclamation points are, “like laughing at your own joke.”) I use exclamation points quite liberally, because it’s how I talk in real life. That’s not to say that I’m a loud person, because I’m not, but a conversation will go on and soon I will display enthusiasm or emphasize a topic. In this case, it’s poetry about my body; the guts being my stomach, and the lips being my mouth and my vagina, respectively.

Also, I’ve been known to laugh at my own jokes. Why shouldn’t I?

You’re working on your first collection of poetry. How difficult and how scary is that?

The writing poetry part itself wasn’t difficult and scary, but natural. Here’s the difficult scary part: So back in late December/early January I started experiencing hellish physical pain symptoms. I sincerely wouldn’t wish the pain on my worst enemy, or the physical symptoms that I won’t get into, but this got me panicked like, “What is happening?” I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, but in the time prior, during and right after, I couldn’t write anything but this poetry. This bonkers, abstract, liberating poetry that was freeing to me in a very punk rock way (the closest I’ll get to being a punk rock singer, as I am tone deaf!)  It’s free verse, and it’s time sensitive in that it covers this hellish year during which not just the pandemic made us lose time and loved ones, but my body got away from me, too. So that’s why all of these poems in this collection are about my physical body.

Writing the poems was a lovely release, because I hadn’t written poetry in years. I’ve published two of my poems in literary journals (in Elimae and The Edison Literary Review) but these weren’t recent publications. It was so gratifying to be back in touch with this part of me, and I remembered how much I’d loved writing poetry. It was the first kind of writing I ever created as a kid, and carried me through as a teen, and then I just sort of stopped and moved on to other forms of creative writing: screenplays, fiction and plays.) I didn’t realize how much I missed writing poetry, so I’m so glad I braved this collection during a time in my life when I felt so low. I wrote about my feelings: the not-pretty ones like romantic jealousy and the tmi bathroom ones, and I allowed the poems to just BE. I needed them to be abstract and unapologetically uneven. This is the first time I’ve ever written anything and not contemplated my intended audience, because I AM my intended audience. This book is a birthday present for me. If anyone else likes it, then that’s awesome, but I needed to write it. I had a friend who passed away without completing a project they were working on, and that really doesn’t sit right with me. Life is short and precious. I need to take the advice from my beloved Rocky Horror Picture Show that was my high school mantra: “Don’t dream it, be it!”

That’s the scariest part. “If I don’t publish my poetry book”…so I can’t let that happen. Anything else scary comes down to formatting, so any advice from fellow writers/editors regarding formatting a poetry book and publishing independently is certainly welcome (message me on Instagram.) That said, I don’t want this book to be heavily edited. I’m going for a raw sort of zine poetry aesthetic, because it’s been a hellish year, NOT a slick, polished one. One of my best friends Dominic Katransky is a visual artist (among other things; he’s also a musician and writer.) Dominic designed my poetry book cover, and I really love it, so that’s another driving force regarding publishing, “I wanna hold my poetry book in my hands and see Dom’s awesomely designed book cover art with my name on the front!” That, and a Carvel Cookie Puss cake, and this birthday will be a stellar one!

Vampires scared of crosses, possessions caused by demons, ghosts that can’t access the after-life: how difficult is it to separate horror from religion?

For me, oftentimes horror and religion are synonymous. They both frequently depict the battle between good and evil. To be religious requires you to accept not just the possibility of supernatural forces, but these supernatural forces become part of your day to day reality. You pray to them. You talk to them. You put your faith in them.  A lot of the concepts of Christianity: sin, punishment, hellish imagery, Purgatory all seem like horror to me. I was raised devout Roman Catholic. Confessionals are dark places. Jesus on the cross in agony. I always like churches that don’t have Jesus in agony on the cross, because I have to turn away. I don’t want to see him in pain. How could they do that to another human being? Because he was the Son of God, that’s what Christians believe, but he had the human side. How could anyone do that to anyone else? But that’s what they did back then, and unfortunately, horrifically still in some countries: they crucified not only Jesus, but many people, and here I am as a child in my pink dress, white lace ankle socks and patent leather Mary Janes with all my quaking anxiety “lighting” (aka. Giving a dollar, pressing a button) a candle for a dying relative. How is any of that not evocative of horror? I like going to church: the rituals, the architecture, the songs I’ve heard since childhood, the moments of collective prayer. Yet I write horror, and I often write about religion in my horror stories. Religion to me is horror, sadness, and comfort all rolled into one. There is beauty and there is peace, but there is acceptance of the inevitable, like in Genesis: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” It’s a cycle. I believe that religion contributes to making some people better, and some people worse.

I was angry since childhood because I had “original sin.” I used to think “Why’d I screw up like that?” I didn’t understand. I probably still don’t. But religious belief can be beautiful. So many religions have beautiful components, and terrible components. I couldn’t be an Atheist, because I think I’m too much of a magical thinker, but I do respect Atheists and science. On a dark day, I’m Agnostic, but there’s always that mustard seed of faith for me. I guess I’m spiritual, like so many others of my generation.

I believe in the paranormal. I question everything, and I’d have been a Salem witch for sure; I always felt that since childhood, reading The Crucible or watching the Bewitched episodes where Samantha travels to the witch trials, or thumbing through my Llewllyn’s Magical Almanac that one year in junior high school when I bought it and snuck it into my room. I was always buying dark and occult books and sneaking them into my room, kind of like a baby bat goth version of Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club, but without the hidden candy (and like Claudia, I loved Nancy Drew, too).

Despite my best intentions, I feel I would have been cast out back in Salem. There are very few places in life where I feel like I belong. Maybe that’s okay. 

Was horror a big presence on your bookshelf, when you were growing up?

Yes, but I actually read Shirley Jackson’s humorous story “The Sneaker Crisis” in a basal reader my mother had years before I read her horror fiction. In both her humor and horror writing, Shirley Jackson pulled me in tight, and I’m always particularly appreciative when I read her and find something funny in her horror stories and something wickedly dark or sharp in her humorous family anecdotes.

As a kid I was (and still am) a huge Twilight Zone fan, and I remember being at my grandma’s house and reading a Rod Serling book of Twilight Zone stories that likely once belonged to my aunt or my dad until it fell apart (initial childhood reaction: “THE TWILIGHT ZONE IS A BOOK, TOO!?!”) As a kid I read Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Till Helen Comes and Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders, and of course I thought Christina’s Ghost was the coolest book, because it had my name in it. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I read RL Stine’s Fear Street series before I read Goosebumps. I loved the Wayside School books. They were hilarious but there was a lot of odd horror imagery going on in there, No nineteenth floor! No Miss Zarves! And don’t get me started about the whole storyline with the pickles! I liked Caroline B. Cooney books, and I graduated to Stephen King, Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite, especially Lost Souls! I carried that book with me everywhere during my teen years.

After more than a year living in a world with a pandemic, does it feel “unrealistic” to write fiction with characters who don’t have to worry about lockdowns, social distance and so on?

I believe I’ll continue to do both. My story “Butcher, Baker, Widower Maker” (recently published in Dark Dispatch) takes place during the pandemic, as do a couple other stories I’ve recently written. If the mood strikes me to write about the pandemic, I will, but if I want to adopt a sliding doors mentality for a future story and consider a pandemic-less world, I’ll do that. Writing is freeing!

This pandemic is such a terrible tragedy, there’s so much devastating loss of life, health, human contact, that I can’t imagine it not affecting how artists create. I think as artists we have to be kind to ourselves and let our art heal us.

Is there anything you would change about the horror scene?

I appreciate the various subgenres within the horror scene. I feel like there’s a place for everyone. I would say not within the horror writer community, but one thing I don’t care for is when I see some members of the horror fan community on social media wearing serial killer-themed apparel. To be clear, I’m not judging. I’m not a person who is for censorship. Yes, we should all be free to wear what we want and express ourselves, but what I’m saying is that I don’t understand it. It’s not something I would glorify. These aren’t fictitious characters depicted in a film where everyone takes craft services breaks then gets up, washes off the fake blood and goes home. Because of what these individuals did, there are other individuals who can’t go home.

 I do watch true crime documentaries and sometimes read true crime books, but for me, it’s a desire to understand or try to comprehend even the most heinous human behavior. Why did this happen? Often there’s seemingly no rhyme or reason; it’s a terrible storm. And as a woman, I also try to learn regarding self-protection. There are valuable truths in these documentaries we hear from the profilers and investigators (don’t trust someone who comes on too charmingly, too pushy, trust your own instincts, if it feels like a red flag, it likely is, don’t let them take you to a second location, fight back, try to get a piece of their DNA, etc.) Why is the world so vile? When I was a kid, I lived a block away from the scene of a high profile murder case, and all I knew as a child was one day we were all allowed to play outside by ourselves, and the next, we weren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. I was aware of the darkness that fell, but I couldn’t understand what all the grownups were talking about in these serious hushed tones, or why I had to leave the room when the news was on (as the case was developing). This has certainly contributed to my becoming a horror writer.

I don’t like questions like “Who’s your favorite serial killer?” I don’t have a favorite serial killer. How could I? What the hell would that even mean? Where are they going with this, and what’s next? Favorite serial rapist? I find this fandom baffling and really offensive. Where I live (in The United States) we have free speech, we have the freedom to like and dislike what we want, and I am glad and grateful, realizing that a lot of countries don’t have these rights. I might not agree with someone, but I do defend their right to speak freely. Since you asked me in this interview, though, what I would ideally change, these are my feelings. I remember in college one of my professors posed the question on us if we thought that we as writers had a social responsibility to our audience? I was one of the few who felt that we do have a social responsibility. Many of my peers said writing is primarily to entertain, and yes, these were screenwriting classes, a medium where the goal is often entertainment, but I think humanity needs to be a factor, too.

You can find true crime stories interesting, sure, but more important are the victims. We should have a new word, I think, something other than victim, because it inspires the tsk tsk or the sad eyes, but these people had lives, families, friends, voices, talents. If you see video footage of them on some of these documentary shows, often they are so vibrant. Put them on a t-shirt. Not in a sad tragic way, but in a way to honor who they were and how they mattered. Give the proceeds to their families, or foundations that work to prevent domestic violence like Futures Without Violence or foundations like RAINN that strive to help solve the rape kit backlog. 

Another thing I don’t know if I would “change”, but I want to address, as it’s an ongoing conversation is that I’ve heard that some of my stories might be considered triggering. There was even a trigger warning issued for a recent story of mine, which had me scratching my head. I don’t know how I feel about trigger warnings. I get triggered a lot, and I personally don’t like having trigger warnings in something I’m reading, but I guess if it helps somebody, then they need it? I see trigger warnings everywhere lately, and I wonder if there are going to be trigger warning versions of horror anthologies, like how there were the edited-for-expletives music album versions? I used to get really pissed off when I accidentally bought one of those CDs, but my mom loved it.

I kind of expect to be triggered when I read or watch horror. If it’s too much, I can close the book, and read something else, or turn off the TV. Sometimes I get triggered watching horror movies, especially sexually violent ones, which I do try to avoid. In those cases if it’s in a movie theater, it’s the audience reactions sometimes that trigger me the most. Prior to the pandemic, I saw a horror screening of a movie that contained scenes with sexual violence, and was horrified by the audience laughing and cheering during those moments. This was an audience of males and females, and from what I could see, some of the women were covering their eyes, but some were cheering these sexually violent scenes as loudly as some of the men. It puzzled me. Human behavior is fascinating, but who can say what someone else is feeling? Should I play devil’s advocate and say possibly they were laughing because they were nervous, or scared? I don’t know. Yes, it pissed me off. I try not to judge, I’m not for censorship, however, I can understand why the trigger warnings in horror is an ongoing debate. It bothered the hell out of me to read that I potentially triggered someone with my story, because I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone else, ever. I’m often triggered, too.

I think it’s impossible to know for sure when reading horror or dark fiction what will trigger you. People are so complex; fears and phobias so varied. If there had been a trigger warning on Tod Robbins’ Spurs, I never would have read it, but I’m so glad I did. Stephen King’s The Boogeyman scared me to no end as a kid, and then he again scared me in a similar way with The Man in the Black Suit as an adult. And It is the only book I have ever thrown when reading it, at I think it was age eleven or twelve. At an early-on pivotal plot point, I screamed aloud and threw It, and that was that. It was a library book, and I made sure It was returned immediately. I wanted It out of the house. I’ve still never finished It, or seen the movie. I tried briefly with the Eighties film, but seeing Tim Curry as Pennywise, at the time, I didn’t want It to impact my love of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Clue. I shut It off. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see I never like Pennywise anything. But do I think It should come with a trigger warning? No, I personally don’t.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Writing energizes me into the trance-like state where I forget to eat and go to the bathroom. It’s like I’m a moth that has found the light. But then I get too exhausted, I think because it’s such an emotional process, but you want that as a writer. You live for that. That not-necessarily-sexual cousin to the French la petite mort. That glorious emptiness that is anything but hollow. You’re a vessel. I’m a vessel and I’ve lived and bled and worked myself up into a frenzy like one of those pastors with the snake you see on the news because the snake did them in, but my snake keeps me kicking, and now I can rest uneasy (because there’s always more writing to accomplish, thank God for that.)

Do you come from a literary background?

I’m not sure if you’re referring to my familial background or my educational background, so I’ll answer regarding both: I received my BFA in Writing for Film and Television from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In so many ways, UARTS prepared me for the writing life. That’s where I learned how to handle rejection well, and it’s certainly essential in a writer’s life to accept gracefully that those rejection slips (and now more likely, rejection emails) are part of a writer’s life and nothing to pout over. Keep going. Keep writing! I had some wonderful professors at UARTS who were and still are working writers: Jeff Ryder, Larry Loebell, Diane Walsh, and Elise Juska. I really look up to and admire them for not just the way they educated, but their commitment to their craft. It really is a life pursuit, and it was imperative for me to see that in action as a young and developing writer.

My mother named me after the poet Christina Rossetti and that shaped me, too: knowing my entire life that I was the namesake of this important woman writer whose poems my mother loved so much, and would read to me aloud. I am incredibly fortunate to have parents who have always believed in my abilities as a writer, and, most baffling to me, have never seen me as anything other than a writer. That in itself is freeing, and I know a lot of writers are not as blessed in that way as I am, and I am grateful.

What do you do when you’re not knee-deep in writing?

The Tao of Tony Danza. I’m a big sitcom fan, and I’ve found my sweet spot in Who’s the Boss? reruns. I don’t have to think! Great for turning off your brain and rejuvenating. These characters are entertaining but predicable (love that Mona!)

I’m a proud single mom, and I love every minute with my daughter. She is my favorite person on the planet EVER. I don’t know how the stars aligned to allow me to give birth to someone so spectacular, with such a wonderful sense of humor, who is so kind and with such an interesting personality, but thanks, Universe. We made up a game of backyard catch that we call Alien Ball (it’s fun and great for world building.) We also love watching Scooby DooThe Munsters, and the Beetlejuice cartoons together in no particular order. And reading! She has inherited my childhood books, and we read them together aloud (and she reads plenty on her own, too, like I do.) I think our favorite reads together thus far have been the Pippi Longstocking books, The Edward Eager books (Half MagicKnight’s Castle, etc.) and The Wind in the Willows.  

I’m also a fan of astrology, reading about the paranormal (blame my Eighth house moon) I enjoy museums and ghost tours, and I like paying my respects at the graves of famous writers. So far my highlights have been Louisa May Alcott and HP Lovecraft. I’m getting into Palmistry. I really love learning about the various pseudosciences. Of course reading and watching movies (horror and comedy, I appreciate the duality, and I love screwball comedies from the Thirties, and Abbott and Costello meet all the monsters), and I love music! Bands/artists I enjoy include: The Misfits, Alice in Chains, The Cure, David Bowie, Placebo, Billie Holiday, Mazzy Star, Tori Amos, Janet Jackson, Concrete Blonde, Cyndi Lauper, Tegan and Sara, Nirvana, The Muffs, Sublime,  The Descendents, Danzig, Stevie Nicks, The Clash, Prince, The Ramones, Madonna and I’ve been getting into Babes in Toyland and Motorhead. My junior high years had me listening to Nineties hip hop and R & B, the R & B to me draws definite comparisons to my getting into music like The Cure by high school; all those passionate declarations in Boyz II Men and Jodeci songs! I still love them. Prior to the pandemic, we used to go to this café where they played R &B, and my friend was astounded that I knew and could dramatically lip synch (as I’m prone to do!) every word of these Nineties songs. My dorkiest t-shirt reads, “If the love doesn’t feel like 90s R&B, I don’t want it.” Words to live by.

As someone who writes under a pseudonym myself, I have just realised I never asked this to anyone: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I never did. Very early on I felt innately that Christina Delia would be a writer. I was a really quiet child (blame my twelfth house Sun and twelfth house Mercury!) and all I ever wanted back then was to get over my shyness and to express myself. So here I am!

Do you hide “secrets” or “easter-eggs” in your fiction that only a few people will find?

I do. Sometimes I think I’m more overt than I actually am, and it turns out, I am perceived as more so cryptic. An example of this would be my story “Moi Aussi”. Me personally, I wouldn’t title a story with the French translation of “Me Too” if I hadn’t experienced sexual violence in my own life. What I’m saying is, “If you’re looking for me, I’m in here.” There is a fictionalized ghost story, but there is real jarring pain. I cried writing it. I cry writing a lot of my stories, but this is the first time I have explored this particular pain that I’ve carried. Maybe someday I’ll work more of my feelings out through my poetry, too, but I’m not there yet. That is not what this poetry collection is about, but it is what “Moi Aussi” is about.

I had read some early reviews where my story was called “The Weinstein Story”, and I get that, given the #Me Too movement and the fact that the Weinstein trial was so recent. Question: Why is it “The Weinstein Story”, and not “The Starlet Story”? Societally we need to take back the power from these abusers. That said, my story on one level was a response to the studio system, because abuse has been rampant in Hollywood since the dawn of Hollywood. That’s right, a lot of your grandparents and great-grandparents favorite Hollywood stars were exploited and abused, and it was wrong and still is, but now we get to talk about it, and back then they had movie star platforms and no voices (like the silent film actresses in my story.)

“Moi Aussi” is very personal to me and my own life. I just want to be clear because what I don’t want the takeaway from my story to be is that “Oh, here’s a writer who thought it would be fun to write about this topic!” NO. This was a very personal and very painful story for me to write. It started with me looking in the mirror, realizing “Holy shit, I’m getting older, and one day I won’t exist, anymore. Everything that ever happened to me won’t matter. I’ll be a ghost.” And I didn’t want that.

There’s a line in my story “Moi Aussi”: “I lived like I was dead until I actually was.” I have been outrunning events in my own life, some for over twenty years, and at some point, where do you put your pain? Well, I put my pain in my stories. I write horror. It’s more cathartic for me than going to therapy; there are tangible results that I see before me. That is not in any way knocking therapy, nor people in therapy or those who have benefitted from therapy, but listen, I’ve been in therapy, and for ME, it doesn’t work the way that writing does.

Horror writing IS my therapy. And I just want to thank the phenomenal horror editor and writer Rebecca Rowland, publisher Michael Aloisi and Dark Ink books for giving my stories proper homes, and giving me a place to heal. You’ve seen the books they put out. Gorgeous! “Moi Aussi” and “Like Abigail Winchell” (which is in another Rebecca Rowland edited Dark Ink anthology Shadowy Natures) are two of my favorite and most personal stories I have ever written, so the fact that they are housed in these beautiful anthologies is such an honor and SO satisfying.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Any part that isn’t creative.

Would you like to give us some of your contacts?

You can find me at Goodreads, Amazon, and on Instagram @christinadelia_writer.

About the Contributor

Gab Harvey was born in 1989 in Turin (Italy) and he lives in London with his wife. He loves writing horror fiction and reading a bit of everything. Follow him on Instagram @thegabharvey.

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