This is the blog I contributed to the Women In Horror Month series from the New England Horror Writers. Link is here.
The first time I really paid much attention to Women in Horror Month was back in February 2015, during the kerfuffle now known in the horror community as #HagGate. Basically, several Maine authors—particularly us ladies—found ourselves being belittled and insulted by another local writer. This did not go over well, especially seeing as it was WIHM. What started as a storm into a teacup turned into a tempest that spread throughout the horror community. However, some good came out of it, at least for me. I realized that we have a wonderful community of horror writers—both male and female—that for the most part want to lift each other up. That’s so much stronger, and more important, than a few rude comments.
I don’t think being a woman in horror is something to overcome. I think it’s something to celebrate. If you are a writer—or a musician, or a painter, or any sort of artist—sooner or later, someone is going to say something nasty about you or your work. Criticism—whether constructive, harsh, or downright rude—is not just something women in horror have to deal with. It affects all artists, in all fields and genres. And maybe it’s not all bad. After all, any piece of art that was adored by absolutely everyone would probably be utter crap. Fortunately, most what we see around WIHM is not derogatory or critical, but is instead a loving signal boost for the many talented ladies in this field. As it should be.
But who are we? Who are the women in horror?
We’re mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, co-workers, bosses, teachers, students, and neighbors. It would be impossible to paint us all with one brush. We’re all very, very different, and I dare say most of us are probably at least a little bit mad. (In a good way, of course, as all the best people are.)
At least, that’s who we are in real life.
Behind the pen (or the keyboard), we are the mother, giving birth to stories and characters and poems, to tales woven from blood and ash and fire. We are the maiden, exploring new worlds, finding ourselves, discovering our voices, setting forth into the unknown, venturing into misty woods or haunted caves or dark alleys. And we are also the crone, the witch, keeper of secrets. We don’t all have grey hair and wrinkles yet, but we are earning those, one day at a time. Our characters dispense the wisdom we’ve fought to gain, word by word, page by page, book by book. We are flesh and blood and bone, wrapped around fountains of images and phrases that we spill onto the page or screen. We’re the ghost in the forest, the madwoman in the attic, the bag lady holding the poisoned charm, the witch in the well, the queen sipping blood from a teacup, the rape survivor, the banshee howling in the blizzard. And we, like our male counterparts, use our work to ask hard questions of the world, to wonder what if?
As we age, our stories change. And sometimes, our stories change us.
As writers, it seems we are always trying to describe our world, to trap it in words, to somehow make the whole universe fit into an alphabet. We may live in a broken, beautiful world, but we are lucky to live in an age where we can pretty much do what we want, within reason. (I probably would have burned at the stake had I lived in Europe a few hundred years ago.) Today’s women writers are reaping the rewards of the work our predecessors have done. Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, George Eliot, Maya Angelou, Mary Shelley, Anne Rice, and others broke the trail already. Our job is to widen it and take it in new directions. But we are also tasked with tasked with making sure the paths our forebears made for us don’t grow back in.
Art is always, to some extent, a commentary on the times it was created in. I don’t have to tell you that we are living in strange, dark days. We seem to have reached and passed a tipping point, and we’re now in this weird, surreal place where we are somehow simultaneously slipping back towards the dark ages and living in a time of technological wonders.
Tomorrow’s women in horror may be writing from hovels, or from spaceships. Or both. Either way, they’ll probably have their own detractors to face. No matter who you are or what you do, there will always be someone wanting to knock you down. That’s just a fact of life. We can’t change that. But what we can change is what we do for them.
If you want to make this crazy, broken, beautiful world a better place, improving arts and literacy programs for children—particularly those in impoverished areas—is a great place to start. Below is a list of literary and arts programs for kids. Feel free to add to it. (You can also mentally add your local library to this list.) And since I have your attention, I’m hoping that some of you will take a moment to help the future women—and men—in horror, and give them the tools they need to capture their time in words, to tell their own stories, regardless of medium, and also to read our work and perhaps understand our era. We’ve split atoms, gone to the moon, unlocked the mysteries of DNA, and harnessed electricity, but if we continue slashing arts, literacy, and education, we may only be offering these things to a generation of automatons.
We cannot pay our predecessors back for what they did for us. But we can pay it forward.
If even one person reading this helps—even if just by donating old books—you’ll have made my day. And, to be honest, it would be kind of awesome to replace #HagGate with something a bit more positive. Like #HelpGate, maybe.
Go on …