Friday, February 6, 2015
MMP Celebrates Women in Horror Month: Selah Janel
I really never thought too much about women who write horror—admittedly, I fell into reading horror genre a little late, and then it was the typical Stephen King, Anne Rice, and whatever best of anthology fell into my lap. Even then, I wasn’t making it a point to really keep track of who wrote what. I just knew I liked certain stories. Even when I fell in love with the genre, I always felt somewhat separated from it, because I didn’t know if I could fully go to a place that was either frightening enough or hardcore enough to be part of the genre. Like a lot of other things, I blamed it on my gender rather than the fact that I needed to get my ass in a chair, start writing, and let myself fail a few times.
Really, I think that’s part of the beauty of Women in Horror Month. Suddenly, there’s a way to look around and say “hey, there are ladies playing in this genre, just like how I want to do.”
Some are authors and filmmakers and the like who already have a lot of stuff out there, and some are newer, which is fabulous. We should be getting the word out, because yes, it’s hard to find the women horror writers at times, but I also think that people forget to look for them. At the very least, if you want to not focus on the gender thing, it also gives a bit of variety by providing lists of titles you may not know about, and discovering new horror titles is always a good thing.
For me, the discovery of two specific horror authors blew my mind right open. I’d been fussing
with a half-attempt at vampire fiction, and while my own story was long and aimless, a friend of
mine who’d been reading what I sent her saw some things that reminded her of Nancy A. Collins. I’d never heard of this author to save my life until one day I received a package in the mail from my friend that contained the first three books in the Sonja Blue series. This was not only my first introduction to Sonja Blue and to what could probably be called an early-ish take on dark urban fantasy, but it was also my first exposure to splatterpunk.
I was stunned. Floored. My jaw was on the ground. Up until that point, I admittedly avoided anything too gory (unless I was writing it), but Sonja was such a great character that I plowed through those books. It was amazing to me the visceral reactions those stories gave me—to this day, Sunglasses After Dark is the only book that’s ever made me vomit. What was even better was that those books were written by a woman, so now I had no excuse to play safe with my own attempts in the genre. In a lot of ways, her presence was there to egg me on, to keep whispering more, more! in the back of my mind when I found myself holding back.
Years later, I was looking for a spooky read one October, and happened to grab Shirley Jackson’s The House on Haunted Hill from a library display table. The newest version of the movie was one I had done design work to in college, though it didn’t really do much for me and I had a hard time seeing Eleanor as any kind of great protagonist.
Two nights later, I was hooked on the book. Eleanor’s emotional state was delicate and ever-changing, and the way Jackson uses ambience and interaction to create tension had me enthralled. What made it better/worse was that the song lyrics used in the books are from a tune I’d performed when I’d studied voice, and their use in the book was just so unbelievably creepy that I really found myself getting freaked out. It’s a slow burn, a real lesson in how to build tension and play with psychological horror. When I got to the ending, I sat there in shock for a good five minutes, before I frantically paged back, trying to figure out what the hell had exactly happened. I love how the book version is much more open-ended, and although Eleanor still isn’t a badass, she’s much more of a grey area than her mousey, do-good, remake equivalent. In a lot of ways, her psychological state is just as chilling as the house. It also made me think back to reading The Lottery in school and how disturbed that story had always left me. There’s something to be said for taking the feminine emotional state and the classic female roles and turning them on their heads, and Shirley Jackson does it beautifully.
For me, that’s what this month is all about. Taking a chance, picking up a new title, and really letting myself be surprised, delighted, and hopefully severely creeped out. It’s not just about celebrating female horror authors—it’s about celebrating really good horror authors.