Holley Cornetto

Holley Cornetto

by Samantha Dunne

"As a human being, I'm a very anxious person.” Gotham teacher Holley Cornetto says.

“There's a lot of things that I'm afraid of and horror kind of gives me that safe space to confront my fears and to deal with and work through those emotions in a healthy way where I'm not actually putting myself in danger."

Holley’s fascination with the genre started early, on the bookshelves of her childhood home in rural Alabama." I started with the R.L. Stine's Goosebumps and graduated to Fear Street,” Holley says. From there, Holley conquered Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Hennessy Saul.

"My mom loved to read, so we would always carry books with us when we went places," Holley says. "I would read things and love them and think, 'Could I do this too?'"

(Spoiler alert: She could.)

Holley knew, even at an early age, that horror was more than just monsters under the bed. To her, real fear is a lack of agency over your life, an imbalanced power dynamic, a gradual descent into madness.

The Southern radicalism Holley saw was the stuff of nightmares—snakes in churches, religious leaders preaching kindness while judging others, cynicism lurking beneath the surface of smiles—but it was also great inspiration for horror stories.

Holley’s most recent series Trailer Park Witches touches on a girl and her friends wanting to escape a trailer park filled with broken dreams and antiquated ideals, not unlike her own hometown.

"At its core, it's a book about female rage," she says. "And a lot of that stemmed from me growing up in a very fundamentalist environment in the South where women at that time were more associated with being docile and submissive. And there's not really a place for feminine anger in those scenarios."

It was cathartic for her to explore darker emotions women aren't often allowed to feel or express.

"I love witches, because for me, a witch stands for any and everything that a woman in society is not supposed to be," Holley says. "Witches are like the ultimate female archetype."

But Holley's first foray into professional writing began long before Trailer Park Witches—in Gotham's Creative Writing 101 workshop, actually. It was in that very class she wrote a short story she decided to submit to a lit mag. To her delight, it was accepted.

"That's why I came back to teach at Gotham," she says. "Because it kind of has a special place in my heart and in my journey personally as a writer. Gotham can literally take you anywhere."