Friday, March 21, 2014

Deep breaths

I've been quite the busy bee, but unfortunately my buzzing around hasn't involved writing. It's a shame actually because my brain is currently crammed with stories that are aching to be told. I go to sleep at night with plots unfolding in my head, characters whispering tantalizing dialogue, and a feeling of anticipation throbbing an erratic pulse through my body. I'm anxious and excited all at the same time but such is life, I just don't have the time to do anything about it.

Therefore, I've decided to take deep breaths. Center myself until the madness that is my work schedule settles down, and tonight when those characters whisper to me once again, pleading to have their stories told, I'll reply with, "Not yet, but soon." 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Selah Janel's Thoughts on Women and Horror

So although I'm righteously delayed, I've put together a series of interviews on my own blog in honor of The Grotesquerie, and for Women in Horror month, in general. Yeah, that was last month, but you know what? Screw that, this thing is bigger than a mere twenty-eight days (Seriously, why is it the shortest month; what's up with that?)

However, there is one person I didn't interview, because I always feel weird about it, but since I try to share bits of myself here and there, I thought I'd just go for it. I'm going to answer my own set of questions here, and share a bit of my own personal horror journey.

Q:       Why horror? Out of all the things to write, why does this genre appeal to you?

SJ: When I read horror, when it's done well it's one of the things that causes a huge, visceral reaction. I love reading or watching things that make me feel. It reinforces what's powerful about storytelling. When I write horror, I can channel those emotions and thoughts that everyone has, those parts that we hide because of social niceness. It's an emotional catharsis, but the horror genre is also incredibly liberating: there are so many subgenres and different facets, that it can be fairly limitless for an author. Plus, as a woman, it's one of those things where I'm expected to write girly stuff, I'm expected to play nice. That's not what being a woman is all about. If anything, I think we're more wired for horror in some ways because we're encouraged to cover up our ferocity, our violence, our emotions. I don't know about you, but I'm a whole person, and there are certain things that just really trip the trigger. I want to play with that, explore that, write about those triggers and fears, to either understand them, or explore the emotional consequences.

Plus, horror is freakin' cool.

Q:   Who or what were your horror genre inspirations growing up? What made you realize that you wanted to explore and participate in the genre?

SJ: I was one of those kids who was terrified of every scary commercial on TV, yet every time we went to the video store (remember those?), I would run off and read the box of every horror movie I could get my hands on. I couldn't stay away. From a young age I was hoarding contraband RL Stine, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, books of urban legends, etc. As I got older, Poe, Ray Bradbury, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Clive Barker became big influences. Probably Ray Bradbury and Nancy A.Collins made me realize that this was a genre I had to be a part of. Bradbury has this insane way of describing things and exploring familiar emotions, putting them with environments that turn a situation on their heads. It was a very literary type of horror, very Twilight-Zone in a sense, but I would stay up all night reading his shorts because I just couldn't bear to not find out what happened. His endings are like falling down a flight of stairs and catching yourself at the last minute, they're just so startling. I really love a lot of literary horror because of him, and I always strive to find those core emotions in my own work because of his influence.

On the other end of the spectrum, I kind of assumed that as a woman I had to write things a certain way, and I was used to Anne Rice and others like her (There is nothing wrong with that. I love some of her books). A friend gave me the first three Sonja Blue books by Nancy A. Collins and my world was rocked. For those who don't know, she writes splatterpunk, which is a very, very graphic subgenre. Her ideas were really innovative, she walked a very fine balance with her main character (especially in the first two books and some side shorts), yet it was SO brutal, I was both repulsed (in a good way) and drawn in. It floored me that someone could write a character I related to, but set it with tones and themes that were really gruesome. And it was all written by a woman. That, I think, was definitely the moment I realized I had no excuse to sit on the sidelines.

Q:   What are women’s roles as horror characters? Are we doomed to be portrayed as victims or numbers on the sexual richter scale? Is it possible for male readers to find female horror characters that resonate with them?

SJ: This is probably an aspect of horror that bugs the crap out of me. While it's mainly noticeable in film, it shows up in horror titles as well, especially those that are going for a pulp vibe. I get traditions and archetypes, but the fact is that genres don't have genitalia, so to presume it's about scaring people with a side of male fantasy is so frustrating to me. I think we're slowly growing. There are some writers who really do well with presenting female characters, even in a sexual context (Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman come to mind). 

Part of my irritation isn't even because I'm a woman...I find that while archetypes are familiar and useful, I also feel that unless they're explored and grown, it can be lazy writing. There are only so many ways the same story can be repackaged, and honestly, if any genre is going to grow and flourish, at some point things have to be changed up and shaken around. When I read books like the Sonja Blue series or The Moth Diaries, those characters are absolutely real, and they definitely aren't chainsaw bait or there as sex symbols or victims. They have real emotions and their own problems. That's what I want from any character, male or female. I think there will always be readers who shy away from female protagonists in horror, but I think we're finally getting to a point where at least the possibility is being entertained by male readers. I want to believe that, at any rate, although the realist in me knows it's probably an uphill battle.

Q:    Why do people need to know about women horror writers, film makers, etc. What makes us equal or special in this already-saturated genre?

Because other than Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite and a few others, I think there's still an assumption that there just aren't a lot of female horror writers. People tell me this isn't an issue, but when I ask them to name a woman horror writer off the top of their head that isn't Anne Rice, it's rare that they can really do it without googling. I'm talking about the people who don't explore indie authors, who only know what's out there in terms of bestsellers or what they see at the grocery store or front library display. In film, horror is still seen as something of a testosterone-fest...I don't know that it's fully understood that we can and DO participate in the genre unless we're wannabe writers complaining or scream queens. For every film you see, there are costume designers, makeup artists, production crew, etc, many of whom are women. For every Stephen King, there are a lot of us who were inspired by him and want to make our own mark on the genre. It's interesting, I did a horror panel last year with L. Andrew Cooper, who just knows an insane amount of the genre, and he was quick to point out that before the turn of the century, a lot of the Gothic pulp/horror stuff WAS dominated by women. We've cycled away from that, but to assume that horror has always been a man's game just isn't the case.

While I think there are a lot of emotions that are felt by both sexes, I think women tend to view things a little differently and are willing to go darker emotionally. We can be crazy, because a lot of what we have to put up with is crazy. Despite all the freedom we have in this day in age, we can still easily be victimized, and then have judgement passed on us because of how we dress or act. We still have to watch our backs and our drinks, are still encouraged to stay in groups, still have to worry about certain fundamental issues. We've seen our mothers and grandmothers struggle to make decisions after the loss of a husband or lover because people don't always take them seriously. We have a lot to be frustrated about, a lot to be angry about, a lot to be nervous about, and the horror genre is a fantastic place to channel all that, whether it's through psychological horror or blood and guts.

 There's this misconception that women don't like or write gore...I think, if anything, we're a little more judgmental about where those scenes goes, but I, for one, don't shy away from it. When I write vampires, I write it so I can let it all hang out and see blood fly. It's cathartic and relaxing. I'm not going to write something with fangs because I want to climb it like a tree. I write vampires because they can get away with an insane amount of stuff that no human can, and it's really fun and interesting to write it.

Q:       Who are some women horror writers/film makers/etc that people definitely should know about?

SJ: I'm all about the writers, so my list would be: Shirley Jackson (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House), Nancy A. Collins (the Sonja Blue series), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Rachel Klein (The Moth Diaries), Angela Carter, Tanith Lee. 

Q:  1.      Where do we go from here? Is it a matter of authors reaching out to local stores and libraries during February to encourage displays or readings by women horror writers? Is this an issue that should be taken to publishers to make sure there is equal representation of female-written horror in their catalogues? Is it a marketing issue, something that just gets lost in a jam-packed market? Is it a matter of readers just not knowing or caring, of sticking with what they know?

I think as authors, we need to be more outspoken about presenting our work to the world. We need to get on top of marketing, and be willing to go to libraries and/or schools, stores, community events, etc and say "hey, this is what I write, what can we set up? Or if you don't want to use me, can I help coordinate some outreach that at least showcases these other female horror writers?" We can take advantage of February, sure, but it shouldn't stop and end there and October. When I do cons, I always point out that I write horror along with my other work. Even my fantasy titles can get really dark and have some really dark elements, so I always offer to sit on horror panels or suggest topics for them. I've had some great experiences where I'm the only girl on the panel and all guys show up, and we've gotten to have really great conversations, because I'm willing to ask what people consider horror, what they're willing to read, and all that. It doesn't hurt that I have a pretty decent understanding of some more modern titles and horror comics, and I love talking about them. The more it's kept a topic of conversation, a real conversation and not two sides screaming at each other, the more I think we're all going to eventually realize that we want similar things.

It's going to take a lot of determination and not getting frustrated. I get a lot of people don't think there needs to be a month dedicated to this. I'm sure to them it looks like some crazy fringe element trying to use our gender to our advantage, to get attention. The thing is, have these people read female authors? Have they seen movies like Near Dark, that have a woman director? What do they really consider to be horror and why do they have such a problem with it being an equal-opportunity place? I don't hold anything against them, but it would be more conducive to find out what's actually going on than to have to put up with more vitriol. I think what people tend to forget is we're not trying to usurp everything or take a genre away from people. I'm not some angry harpy. I'm not here to say we can write this and you can't. I'm not saying women write it better, or the entire genre has to change because I said so. We just want it to be known that we're here, too. Because horror is about possibility. Because it's a huge playground with room for all. Because I absolutely love reading it, watching it, and writing it. Those feelings don't change because of my gender, and I know it's the same for a lot of others, as well. 

My story, Sandy, appears in The Grotesquerie. It's the story of two sisters. The oldest feels out of place and has the unfortunate affliction of sudden hallucinations. The youngest has an imaginary friend that's dear to her, far dearer than any of her friends at school. It doesn't matter that they're freaked out by him, that he might bring about the end of the world. It probably does matter just a little, though, that he might very well be real. Feel free to enjoy this little tidbit, and then by all means, go get the book!

“Sandy…is that a girl in your class I forgot?” their mother gasped.
“No, Mommy! It’s Sandy! He’s coming tonight because he’s gonna make the world end and we’re all gonna get to see it!” Tabitha jumped up and down like she had when they’d gone to see Sesame Street Live. “The stars are gonna burn the whole world away, and Sandy’s gonna come up and devour all the bad people and the nonbelievers! I’ve gotta go get ready. We’re gonna have the best time!”

 Mocha Memoirs Press Store                          Kindle                     Paperback
Twenty-two short horror stories written by women are here on display for your enjoyment or your perverse fascination. Within these pages, beauty becomes deadly, innocence kills, and karma is a harsh mistress.
 The Grotesquerie is now open…

Want to hear more from Selah Janel? Check out her blog and facebook page!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Putting Yourself Into A Story

E. A. Black writes horror, dark fiction, and fantasy. She writes erotica and erotic romance under the pen name Elizabeth Black. Ms. Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband and four cats. You may find her on Facebook or on her web site.


I'm in the middle of a work in progress called "Longing" that is taking a lot out of me. I think it's one of the best things I've ever written. I'm a very private, almost secluded person so writing from the gut like this isn't easy for me. I doubt it's easy for anyone, though. I usually go for much more light-hearted fare, although my story "Alicia" is far from light-hearted. It's horror romance, after all.

I wondered what it would feel like to lose someone who is failing right in front of me and there is nothing I can do about it. Watching someone I love die before my eyes would be too much for me to bear. My husband has already told me if he ever came down with dementia and got to the point where he needed help cleaning himself and could no longer think properly, he wouldn't want to live. I have no idea what I would do if I were in that situation. If I had the ability to upload our memories, desires, and our very being into an A. I. would I do it? What would I really upload? Would it be him or what I wished he would be?

Here is an excerpt:

Longing overwhelmed me as my mind drifted. I needed Eric in my life but it hadn't been easy. He'd lost so much over the past four years. I did what I could to make him more comfortable but each day brought new worries. To see him on this beach, our favorite hangout when he was able to walk, was the only solace I could get amid long stretches of despondency watching him draw farther and farther away from me; not willingly of course, but we both expected that. It didn't make his regression any easier to deal with, though. Knowing how little time we had left, we uploaded our cloned minds into the Cloud so we could be together as we once had been - alive and vibrant.

As he jogged towards me from up ahead, arm waved in greeting, my heart soared at our new day in the sun. Forget about the i.v.s, his emaciated body, and the fading memories. Here in our special place he is vibrant and gloriously alive with energy and love for me. On this beach I'm his Sunshine, and I always will be.

"Sunshine! I've missed you so much," He said as he wrapped me in his strong arms. He nibbled on my ear and kissed my throat. I craved the feel of his arms around me, but with a flash of insight I realized he never nibbled on my ears or kissed my throat. I had always wanted him to do both but he never did. How much of the A. I. was Eric as he really was versus what I wished he would be? I wondered if I missed the real Eric or if I missed what we never had?

I can only write about 800 words at a time before I'm overwhelmed. Getting to my soul as I write hasn't been easy but I'm able to do it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Love in worlds beyond

Speaking as a writer in the paranormal and science fiction genres, I'm pleased that this new year is seeing a shift back to sci-fi and paranormal visual entertainment.

Science fiction retreated into dim memory after 9/11; a society consumed in fear, seeing a world of darkness and enemies forgot for a time how to dream.  Gone were the hopeful days when we imagined putting aside our differences and creating a united world, flying to the stars, seeking out new life and new civilizations.

Well now, our long-repressed precious capacity to dream (the very thing that makes us human) seems to be re-surfacing.  Science fiction and paranormal fiction seem to be making a comeback.  But, as our collective psyche evolves through these rapidly changing times, science fiction is evolving too; a strange, dark evolution, but one that is spawning some very intriguing fiction.

Most of the sci-fi movies and television shows now emerging are geared towards younger audiences, and set in dark, post-apocalyptic futures.  In many ways, the trend is reminiscent of the dark, apocalyptic sci-fi of the 1970's.  The popular "Hunger Games" franchise offers young love in the midst of bloody post-apocalyptic tyranny and escalating insurrection. The TV series "Revolution" teaches dark life lessons in a shattered world where passion and power vie for the soul.  "Tomorrow People" presents young love set in a struggle for Darwinian survival as a new race is born.  "Star Crossed" is a sci-fi Romeo and Juliet; a high-school romance between a human girl and a boy from another planet, in a near future in which aliens are treated like illegal immigrants, persecuted by KKK-like anti-alien groups and agitated by AlQuaeda-like alien dissident factions.  The forthcoming "100" is a space-age "Lord of the Flies" featuring still more comely teens.  The soon-to-be released film "Divergent" is yet another teen love story about kids who are different and hunted by intolerant adults.

Yes, the target audience is young, angry, amorous and confused.  The older generation depicted in these stories is clearly suspect; fearful and also confused, if not necessarily evil.  The young have started dreaming again, but the dreams are dark, disturbed and seeking.  The direction of today's sci-fi is inner space, not outer.  (Understandable, perhaps, since all that self-confident adult military discipline featured in yesterday's space-exploring science fiction doesn't allow much room for confused, seeking, hot-blooded youth.)  Science fiction has never appealed much to lovers of romance fiction, but that may be changing, too.  The one thing that the kids in these stories can count on as their worlds crumble beneath them is love.

In "Black Goddess," I tell the story of a young, troubled Gulf War veteran who can't survive unless he finds answers to ancient and basic questions.  He seeks his answers by going backwards in time, towards the very moment of Genesis.  Obsessed with storming God's citadel, he's destroying himself and everyone around him.  But, he finds his salvation in the love of a young woman who teaches him that love is the one light in the darkness.

In optimistic times, sci-fi reflects the optimism in bright dreams, sometimes drifting into arrogance and earning it dismissal as "dork fiction".  In troubled times when the young are looking for answers, life may seem a dark journey reflected in a humbler, more twisted kind of sci-fi, perhaps more accessible to the young adult mainstream for its emphasis on love.  Love is presented in such stories as the nobler path, since hate is presented as the far easier and more seductive path.