I'm kinda-sorta celebrating the month myself since I'm kinda-sorta a horror writer. Last fall, I published my first horror story: "Direct Report" in Seize the Night, edited by Christopher Golden. (Seize the Night also includes horror tales by Femmes Charlaine and Dana.)In preparation for my first stab at horror--har!--I started researching the horror field and ended up joining the Horror Writers Association and have met some amazing people. But I didn't meet Elizabeth through HWA. Instead it was because her husband's sister works with my husband. Which just goes to prove that life is far more ludicrous than fiction. And I say that as someone who writes about an ambulatory skeleton!
But on to what Elizabeth has to say about women in horror!
“We Are Strong, No One Can Tell Us We’re Wrong…”
Raise your hand if you remember the raucous 1983 video of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield”? Pat and all those other gals in the brothel turning on the pimp and dancing toward him like they are going to eat him alive. Same gals, then, pouring out onto the street in the night to exert their innate powers, kick some major ass, and show the world they won’t be ignored, trifled with, or put down and woe to anyone who tries.
That is the attitude represented in some of the best of horror fiction written by women. The same energy, brashness, and fearlessness that seemed to have been, for a long while anyway, the purview of the guys. Kick down the door and make yourselves known, female friends! Terrorize us with your talents, gal pals! Scare the shit out of us. Stand tall, shout out, write well!
That no-holds-barred attitude and approach to life and circumstance seems to be why so many fans flock to horror fiction. Why many fans attend horror conventions. And why a good number of horror fans expect (or hope) the women horror authors they meet to be edgy, brash, assertive, and wildly confident, ready to kick major ass or eat someone alive. Some even seem to hope that we’ll be just a tad psychotic and dangerous. Goes with the territory, no?
No, not always.
A Peek ‘Neath the Bloody Leather Bustier
I know a number of women who write horror. I’ve been in the business a long while. My first horror short story was published in the Winter 1983/84 edition of The Horror Show. Yep, eons ago. Over the years I’ve met a bunch of horror writers – males, females, and several transgendered folks. I’ve become good friends with quite a few of them. And great folks, nearly every one.
Specifically speaking of the women horror authors I know, some are definitely edgy. They stand tall, shout out, and write well. They are brash and assertive and wildly confident, and it shows in their person and in their writings. Some are righteously angry and that helps fuel their creative output. Verily I say: these ladies kicketh much ass. It is who they are. Rock it, sistahs!
Then there are the rest of us – all falling along that spectrum. Some are quiet and reserved, even shy. Some are cheerful and upbeat. Verily I say: these ladies kicketh much introspection or happiness or goofiness. It is who they are. Rock it, sistahs!
I write horror. Some of it is quite gritty and gruesome. “Abed” has been called one of the most disturbing horror stories ever written. A review of my novel, Welcome Back to the Night, stated, “the villain of this piece is one of the most twisted characters I've encountered in a long time.” But I don’t fit the expected “woman horror writer” mold. I’m not edgy. I’m not very loud or assertive. I’m not particularly brash or angry, and I don’t look good in bloody leather.
Yet some readers have wanted or expected me to be that way, to be that way and more. I’ve had readers come up to me and gleefully exclaim, “You’re fucked up!” “You’re sick in the head!” “I wouldn’t want to be alone with you in a dark cellar!” “There is something seriously wrong with you!” I’m a female horror writer, right? So I might be all of those things, yes?
That's when I just smile and laugh. But again it makes me wonder: must a woman who writes horror adopt a persona that makes her come across as razor-clawed demon-atrix? In order to make ourselves known or remembered in the world of horror fiction, must we—as people—dance toward our readers as if we are going to eat them alive?
No, not really.
Not all western writers wear cowboy/cowgirl hats and ride horses. Not all romance writers are mild-mannered ladies in pastel dresses. Not all science fiction writers are serious, furrow-browed folks who love to sit on panels and debate the minutiae of scientific principals and how that applies to life on particular fictional planets.
We, who type up horrific stories on our keyboards, do it because we are compelled for one reason or other. Everything we’ve been through, everything we know, everything we believe, everything we fear or hope or long for makes us who we are. It also instructs how we write and what we write. It’s all highly personal. Writing in the same genre does not make us all alike.
As for me, I don’t write horror because I want to kick down a door or snarl in anyone’s face. I’m not keen to smear blood in readers’ faces for the fun of the reaction. I write horror because I’m sorry. I’m sorry for awful things people have done. I’m sorry for awful things people have endured. I want to submerge myself into that horror and see if I can figure it out in some way. In one of my collections, Sundown (Necon E-Books), I include this dedication: “This is for all who stare into the darkness to better appreciate the light.”
Horror writers are just folks. We are male, female, transgendered, etc. We are mild-mannered, we are outlandish. We are quiet and we are loud. We whisper and we scream. We have bones to pick with our families or societies or we don’t. We are angry or we aren’t. We our edgy, highly-sexy, sharp-witted or we aren’t. Let’s not assume the best horror writers are men. Let’s not assume horror writers are all “sick in the head.” Let’s not assume all horror writers are any one way. Let’s not categorize others and their creative endeavors based on our limited assumptions. Let’s read and enjoy their works and, if we meet one another, enjoy each other as we are, however we are. And hopefully, someday, special months celebrating one segment of the horror writing community or other will no longer be needed.
Toni/Leigh: Celebrate Women in Horror Monty with Elizabeth's latest novel Hell Gate!