It begins with a freak snowstorm in May. Hit hardest is the rural town of Colby, Connecticut. Schools and businesses are closed, powerlines are down, and police detective Jack Glazier has found a body in the snow. It appears to be the victim of a bizarre ritual murder. It won't be the last. As the snow piles up, so do the sacrifices. Cut off from the rest of the world, Glazier teams up with an occult crime specialist to uncover a secret society hiding in their midst.
Chills is only one of many great horror titles published by Kensington.The gods they worship are unthinkable. The powers they summon are unstoppable. And the things they will do to the good people of Colby are utterly, horribly unspeakable…
But I digress. Mary graciously allowed me to print her essay entitled, "Women in Horror," which will be included in her upcoming nonfiction collection, A Weirdish Wild Space. In this essay she shares her honest feelings about her place as a woman who writes in the horror genre, and has for a while now.
This is a must read.
Much thanks to Mary for allowing me to share this post with all of you. I hope it helps you to suggest a woman in horror to a reader at your library this month, or any month, all year long.
WOMEN IN HORROR
by Mary SanGiovanni
Well, it’s February, which means it is time once again for Women in Horror month, and I thought I’d lay down some thoughts about being a woman horror writer. Now, I am only speaking of my own personal thoughts and experiences, and do not presume to speak for all women writers. However, I think my experiences are fairly common and I hope this post sheds some light on what I believe women writers ultimately want to accomplish in this field.
I’ve been in this business now for almost fifteen years. People often ask if I’ve ever been a victim of or seen in action the “boys’ club” mentality. Well, I can recall hearing terrible stories of misogyny and harassment suffered by women writers in generations who came before me, stories of unacceptably poor treatment in the business from the '70s on. I myself have been propositioned for publishing, I have been hit on during business meetings, and I’ve had people accuse me of only getting published because of having traded sex or sex acts with the editor, or because of whom I’m dating. I have been put on countless sex and horror panels under some unspoken assumption that because I’m a woman and I write horror, I must be knowledgeable about erotic horror or paranormal romance. I have heard people say I am not capable of writing anything truly meaningful or scary because I’m a woman. I’ve heard of a number of women passed over for anthology invites because women’s work isn’t as widely recognized or not as “sellable,” leading to Tables of Contents that are all or mostly male. And I would venture that a number of women, both new and established, writing in the spec fic genres today, have suffered many similar indignities.
However, more often I have been delighted to discover so many supportive fellow writers, editors, publishers, and agents, both male and female, who don’t see the sex of the writer as having anything to do with the writer’s talent or business acumen. They find sexist and misogynistic behavior intolerable and will speak out against it. They judge horror literature and other horror media for the quality of the work and not the sex, gender, color, race, or orientation of the creator. And in my observation, this trend of equality thinking is, at least in the horror publishing field, picking up momentum (I can’t speak to film, comic books, or video games, as I am not a regular creator in any of those fields.).
I enjoy being a woman. I enjoy being a “girly” type of woman, wearing makeup and heels and pretty dresses and lacy underthings. I like to look pretty for my partner. And I enjoy it when others tell me I’m beautiful or sexy. I don’t find this offensive in the least – so long as we’re not doing business. I think it’s flattering when people think I’m good-looking; it makes me feel good, as I think it makes most people of either sex feel good to hear nice things. To me, it’s not sexist to compliment someone, so long as you are respecting his or her personal and professional boundaries.
I also like when people compliment the quality of my writing. I love when people enjoy my books. I love when others tell me my writing is beautiful or scary. I love hearing that one of my stories made someone want to turn a light on before bed.
These things are, to me, separate aspects of my being. I don’t use my sexuality to try and get published, so I don’t see any reason why I would have to play up or play down my sexuality in my life; sexiness and talent are not mutually exclusive, nor are assertiveness and professionalism. I don’t, after all, type with my sex organs, nor create stories there. My work comes from my heart and my mind, attributes I’m glad to possess regardless of whatever body they are housed in. To assume that physicality compromises creativity is unfair to the woman (or man) in question.
Now, I would probably agree that, generally speaking, women tend to factor emotional components into decision-making more often than men. We have women’s intuition, a kind of gut instinct which is part intellectual, part emotional, and hell, sometimes part psychic, that we have come to feel confident relying on. I think in our thought processes, we have more difficulty divorcing obvious emotional factors and their impact from the overall picture. If anything, I think that makes us particularly suited to write in a genre whose existence is based on that which has been defined as one of the oldest and strongest emotions of mankind. Also, women do have potentially different life experiences than men, different fears in the forefront of our existences, and different training in processing and responding to them. Women may sometimes have a unique perspective on fear, given centuries of hyperawareness of and particular adaptations to true bodily terror.
As a horror writer who also happens to be a woman, I don’t think the presence of rape, say, in a story makes it misogynistic. I’ve used rape or allusions to rape in my work before, because it is a horrific and terrifying act and the story called for that particular reference. I like to believe I handled those occasions with dignity and decency. I believe that just because one is a woman shouldn’t automatically make using rape okay; that one tries to handle the subject matter with sensitivity to those who may have experienced it and acknowledgment that it is a brutal act and not a fetish to be giggled over in a prurient and puerile fashion is what should make the difference. To reveal the human significance of an experience, whatever the type, and impart the deeper truth or strength that a reader may get out of it is a crucial cornerstone of horror. That should hold true whether the writer is a man or a woman. If we write horror, it is usually inevitable that a bad thing will happen to a good person. That’s not just horror, and it’s not misogyny; that’s life. However, our intent, our focus in creating, makes all the difference. We strive to write stories with emotional impact, stories to terrify, horrify, or sometimes even to repulse. If we treat horrors against women (or children or minority groups or men, for that matter) with the respect and understanding we should give any aspect of our work, it makes for a better story anyway, and one that is justly written. To simply put horrific acts like rape off limits as if they don’t exist is to deny a work its possible profoundness of impact. I also feel it denies the acknowledgment of the strength and resilience of those who have experienced these acts, and the stance of intolerance of the horrific acts being performed. I have always believed that acknowledgment of these things — human strength and dignity as well as the exemplified abhorrence of hateful violence — are important in quality and lasting horror fiction.
As writers, we create characters we hope will ring true with readers; this means we have a whole host of personalities to choose from when writing men or women. As long as each character is believably realistic and suitable for the tale to be told, I think we can transcend the use of stereotypes of either sex or gender without sacrificing what those types of characters might bring to a story.
I think sometimes considering the full spectrum of human beings and their capacity for both good and evil, weakness and strength, is something women, who are often full-spectrum, layered thinkers themselves, bring to horror fiction. Women are multi-taskers even when we imagine, and ever aware of the emotions that permeate every look, act, or word.
However, I am not saying women are better (or worse) equipped to write horror. I mean that while it may be different, women’s horror work can be equally as powerful, profound, skillful, and terrifying as men’s because of an emotion-based skill set we are innately endowed with. The key word here is “equally.” And that’s what we want: equality thinking from colleagues and readers alike. That we have a month in order to raise awareness of our presence, educate others, and validate our abilities to those who may not understand or believe in them — that’s great. We appreciate the support. But it would be nice if every month accomplished these same goals, and the fact that we are women didn’t have to come before the fact that we are writers.
Which brings me to my thoughts on modern-day feminism, and what, as a writer, I look to achieve in my field. True equalitarian feminists, in my opinion, aren’t looking to beat down opposing ideas with vicious hate or manically rabid force. They aren’t looking to tear down others based on every little individual quirk or idiosyncrasy that could be construed (or misconstrued) as sexist. They aren’t looking for special privilege. Rather, with firm assertion of grace, class, and talent, they strive to produce and keep producing quality work that cannot help but be considered the equal of their male counterparts. They look to build an atmosphere of mutual respect. They assertively and respectfully point out unjust, threatening, and unacceptable behavior, to make others aware of insensitivities to others' situations or conditions. They look to set the example of the climates we’d all like to live and work in, and to be the kind of person others to recognize with respect and maybe even admiration.
I appreciate the support I have received over the years both personally and professionally, and I hope that my experiences may inform my fiction in such a way that it is emotionally and intellectually meaningful, scary, and moving.
I am a woman, and I am a horror writer. Thank you to all of you who recognize I can be both successfully, without having to be one or the other.