The Gemma Files

An FAQ and Media Kit about author Gemma Files


Though she was born in London, England, Gemma Files is a Canadian citizen, and has lived in Toronto, Ontario for her entire life (thus far). She is the daughter of two actors, Gary Files and Elva Mai Hoover. Files graduated from Ryerson University with a B.A.A. in Magazine Journalism, then spent roughly eight years as a film critic, primarily writing for local alt-culture journal eye Weekly. By 1998, she was also teaching screenwriting, short screenplay writing, television series development, film history and Canadian film history, first at the Trebas Institute, then the Toronto Film School. After leaving eye, she taught full-time,  while also publishing two collections of short stories (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart, both from Prime Books) and two chapbooks of poetry (Bent Under Night, a Sinnersphere Production, and Dust Radio, from Kelp Queen Press). In 2002, she married fellow author Stephen J. Barringer. In 2008, the Toronto Film School closed down and Files' son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She became a stay-at-home Mom, finally beginning serious work on her long-planned first novel. A Book of Tongues: Volume One in the Hexslinger Series (ChiZine Publications) was released in April, 2010, and will be followed by two sequels, A Rope of Thorns (2011) and A Tree of Bones (2012).

Frequently Asked Questions

Why horror?

Why breathing? I always knew that I was going to write, no matter what; started out in science fiction, but that got put paid to pretty quickly once I realized just how crap I was at the "science" part. I then drifted briefly into fantasy, but got side-tracked by the one-two punch of Stephen King and Peter Straub...and though some people might debate whether or not you can call what I do horror at all, given that it owes a far greater debt to Tanith Lee than Edward Lee, my dial has remained stuck on "dark" pretty much ever since. Essentially, I suppose that like Yukio Mishima, my heart's inclination has just always been to Night, and Blood, and Death.

But you seem so...

Nice? "Normal"? Was that it? Utterly, boringly normal?

Frankly, yes.

Tattooed on my arm, I have a quote by Gustave Flaubert: Be neat and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and creative in your work. I chose it because I've always been the least interesting person I knew...and yet. Whenever you flip the top of my head up like a lid, all this stuff comes spilling out. I continue to enjoy the dichotomy.

What was your first story?

The oldest thing I still have a copy of comes from when I was ten. It's called "Gore in the Woods", and contains this deathless moment:

It hurt more as the [eerie, glowing green] worms began eating through the muscle wall and burrowed into his stomach. Then he could feel them slipping into his intestines and up his esophagus towards his mouth. Others burrowed into his veins and began drinking his blood as they slithered towards his brains. "This is it," he thought. "This is the end", as one of the worms finally reached his heart. And it was.

The same year, I won a prize (a copy of that carrot-sucking vampire rabbit classic, Bunnicula) from Cricket magazine for my poem "Earthquake". A short excerpt:

Your father writhes in unnamed spasm
and hurtles down the deepening chasm;
don't stop, for now the darkness has him.

Your lungs are crushed by gasping breath,
you do not see the ending cleft,
you hurtle to an unknown death.

So, yes. Even then.

First professional fiction sale?

"Mouthful of Pins", to legendary editor and gentleman Don Hutchison, for Northern Frights 2 (Mosaic Press). I'd just interviewed him about Northern Frights, his groundbreaking anthology of Canadian horror, and took shameless advantage of his friendliness. That sale led directly to my brief involvement with The Hunger, an erotic horror anthology TV show produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, who optioned five of my short stories and contracted me to adapt two of them myself, thus garnering me both an American agent and a Writer's Guild of Canada membership. I made $15,000 for writing the script for the episode "Bottle of Smoke", which was as much as I'd normally made in a year up to that point.

Success, straight out of the gate?

Not quite. But I freely credit everything that's come my way since to Don buying that story.

Have you won any awards?

In 1999, I won the International Horror Guild award for Best Short Fiction for "The Emperor's Old Bones", first published in Northern Frights 5 (Mosaic Press). It was later republished in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 13 (McClelland & Stewart), edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. In 2006, I won the Chiaroscuro Magazine's twelfth annual Short Story Contest with my story "Spectral Evidence". Freakishly, the first case involved me beating out Neil Gaiman (amongst others), while in the second case, he threw the deciding vote in my favor.

How long did it take you to write A Book of Tongues?

I started thinking about it near the end of 2008, decided to work on it as a New Year's resolution, and first broke "ground" in a fresh file on January 2, 2009. By April I had seven chapters done, and sold the book on the strength of those plus an outline for the rest. The contract I signed gave me until the end of October for a full manuscript, and I got it in on time. Then there was a brief medical procedure-related pause, after which I spent the rest of 2009 cutting 100 pages out of that first hot mess; by January it was fit to be seen in public, and I was hard at work on A Rope of Thorns.

How long did it take you to be able to write A Book of Tongues?

Give or take? Twenty years.

Tell me a funny story about that.

When I was eighteen or nineteen, I met Nancy Kilpatrick (author, editor, vampire fiction stalwart, national treasure) for the first time. She was roughly the age I am now, and had just published her first novel. When I asked her how long it had taken to sell a book, she said: "Twenty years, give or take...and that's normal. Actually, I'm very lucky."

Are you very lucky?

In that I get to do what I love most five hours a day and be recognized for it world-wide? Yes. Add lots of money to the mix, and I would truly be living the dream. But I'm also a professional writer, and luck has nothing at all to do with that. That's a near-fatal combination of inspiration, commitment and a sad addiction to storytelling, plus at least the minimum  ten thousand hours of hard damn work.


Tanith Lee, Clive Barker, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Kathe Koja, John Connolly, James Ellroy, Vertigo Comics, Mike Mignola, Susan Musgrave, Gwendolyn MacEwen. Too many movies and musicians to count.

What if I want to know more?

Feel free to contact me directly at filesgemma@gmail.com, or check for updates at my professional website, http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.com.

The Critics Rave

Nobody in a Gemma Files story puts a hand on a doorknob and opens the door they shouldn't--these folks are already in the other side. And that's to my taste.   
Paula Guran, DarkEcho

Horror, the way Gemma Files writes it—wielding her words and her images deftly as a straight razor, slicing so surely that the reader isn't even aware that the protective skin of his imagination has opened into two neatly divided flaps, (with) a few seconds of red grace before the pain comes and the screaming begins.
Michael Rowe, editor of Queer Fear I and II (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Boldly, brazenly, Gemma Files pushes her hands deep into the red and seeping unconscious places and finds the bits of treasure worth pulling back out into the light.
Caitlin R. Kiernan, author of The Red Tree (Roc)

Files' prose is terse and muscular yet highly poetic. Her stories are equally full of pain and humanity, injustice and solace. And they enter your brain like a spike between the eyes.
Dale L. Sproule, Rue Morgue

Gemma Files writes dirty, which in her deft hands is a good thing. At her best, she combines an intense, internalised narrative perspective with moments of jaw-dropping horror, perversion, or sexiness, and frequently all three in the one image or scene.
Mike O’Driscoll, The Fix

Her work may leave you breathless. It could awaken realms within. At times you may sit stunned, wondering at the richness of writing, reconnecting to the reasons you have always loved to read.
Nancy Kilpatrick, editor of EVolVe (Edge SF)

Recent Hi-Res Photo (Please Credit to Andrew Specht)