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!

No comments:

Post a Comment