Who Needs Women in Horror Month?
Guest Blog by James Chambers
Admission time: When I first heard about Women in Horror Month, I questioned the need for it. A visit to my bookshelves turned up ample evidence not only of landmark horror fiction written by women but also their consistent, ongoing contributions to the genre.
I found Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ “The Yellow Wallpaper”; Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle; Joyce Carol Oates’ Expensive People and The Accursed; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hotel Transylvania; Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, to name a only few among many other highly influential and popular works that helped define the horror genre through much of its history.
On another shelf sat countless horror anthologies edited or co-edited by women, including Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, whose decades of steadfast curation of horror have helped codify its best and darkest works.
Intermingled among these books lurked even more examples of fantastic female authors who keep the genre’s pulse pounding. Linda Addison’s Animated Objects and Being Full of Light, Insubstantial. Catlin Kiernan’s The Ape’s Wife and Other Tales, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, and Alabaster Wolves. Elizabeth Massie’s Shadow Dreams and Wire Mesh Mothers. Lisa Morton’s The Castle of Los Angeles. Kelli Owen’s Black Bubbles. L.A. Banks’ The Awakening and The Hunted.
A quick skim of my Kindle turned up still others. Lisa Mannetti’s The Box Jumper. Chris Marrs’ Wild Woman. Rena Mason’s The Evolutionist. Lucy Snyder’s While the Black Stars Burn. Stephanie Wytovich’s The Eighth. Mercedes Murdock Yardley’s Pretty Little Dead Girls.
Dipping into the anthologies added even more names to the list of outstanding female authors writing horror today. Meghan Arcuri-Moran. Emily B. Cataneo. Gemma Files. Nancy Holder. Erinn Kemper. Nancy Kilpatrick. Kathe Koja. Yvonne Navarro. Mary SanGiovanni. Marge Simon Angela Slatter. Mehitobel Wilson. To name just a few.
From the perspective of an avid horror reader, female authors and editors comprise a force to be reckoned with in the genre. So why Women in Horror Month?
On February 28th the New York Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, which I coordinate, is holding a night of readings at the KGB Bar to celebrate WIHM—Night Terrors: Women In Horror. Six New York horror writers, all women will read from their work: Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Amy Grech, April Grey, Charie LaMarr, Lisa Mannetti, and Kathleen Scheiner. Our chapter has a strong female membership, and each of these authors has a powerful, distinct voice. A night of readings seemed like a great way to showcase their work and support women in horror.
These are my friends and colleagues. I’ve read with them. I’ve been published with a few of them in anthologies. I’ve beta-read stories for some of them, and some of them have beta-read mine. I’ve been on panels at conventions with a handful. (If you ever doubt how tough women horror writers can be ask me sometime about the panel at WHC 2014, Portland, I did with Lisa Mannetti that she broke out of the hospital to moderate.) We’ve swapped stories about editors and markets, ruminated about the ups and downs of writing, and talked about our favorite books and writers. I’ve had the good fortune to do the same with more than a few of the other writers listed above as well. I’ve shared great experiences with them.
I haven’t shared certain negative ones, though. I haven’t faced dismissive attitudes and disrespect based solely on gender or been targeted for insults and online bullying for the same reason. Nor have I been stalked or harassed by readers or other writers. I’ve never been sexually assaulted at a convention or feared I would be. For the most part I’ve barely witnessed those things in person. Online, though, by some strange alchemy, bad behavior that often remains behind closed doors in real life crystalizes for public consumption on Facebook, Twitter, and message boards. I’ve seen too much such nonsense on the Web—but also an encouraging amount of pushback. I know more about the real-life threats too because of a number of incidents that have affected friends of mine, including a few that came to light last year. All of it is more than enough to highlight the necessity of a month supporting women horror writers.
Women in Horror Month marks a line in the sand drawn by the horror community. It celebrates the work of women writers and provides an unequivocal rejection of those who judge them by any other measure than the quality of their writing. It’s a statement that can sometimes be made loudest by male writers who understand how far a little support can go and how often it can be best made through actions rather than words.
One reason I organized Night Terrors: Women in Horror was to cast a spotlight on how vital women authors are in our local horror community. Another was to provide a forum for their voices. A third was to better understand how men in horror can support women in horror.
It’s not a question I’ve often asked myself, but I should’ve. I’ve been writing and working in publishing close to a quarter century. My first writing teacher was a woman. My first big gig in publishing was in production at a national women’s magazine. All my bosses were women. The publisher at my second gig was a woman, and so was the editorial director at the one after that. I’ve edited fiction and non-fiction written by dozens of women authors. Maybe I’ve taken it for granted that women in publishing are my colleagues and leaders and have just as much to say as male authors in every field of writing.
Women In Horror Month is a reminder to still ask that question, to keep in mind that despite all their contributions to the genre, women sometimes have a very different experience than I do out and about in the horror community.
Our night of readings is one way to support women in horror. Another is reading their work. Simply recognizing that they’re colleagues and treating them as such is another. One of our Night Terrors readers told me that last one especially is a bellwether. She’s often reserved at conventions or when meeting new writers until she sees how they’re going to interact with her and she can feel comfortable.
I asked our other readers for suggestions too. One told me just sharing and liking their writing announcements online is a great support. Offering a word of encouragement now and then helps too. Taking time to answer questions is also an excellent way to show support, especially to writers who are starting out. Another of our Night Terrors crew told me a story about a well-known, best-selling author who replied to her questions about writing pitch letters and other topics almost immediately with great information and how helpful that was.
This is all part of “writers helping writers.” The horror community excels at that. Most of us offer advice and support to other writers without a second thought. That’s why it’s easy to miss the point of Women In Horror Month. We don’t always see the bad stuff that slips through the cracks. WIHM is a necessary reminder to look for it now and then, ask ourselves how we can support women in the genre, and to remember how easy it is show that support.
About the Author
James Chambers writes tales of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He is the author of The Engines of Sacrifice, a collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas published in 2011 by Dark Regions Press which Publisher’s Weekly described as “…chillingly evocative….” He is also the author of the short fiction collection Resurrection House (Dark Regions Press, 2009). Dark Quest Books published his dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos, as well as The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, volume one and two in his Corpse Fauna novella series. In August 2005 Die Monster Die Books published his first short story collection, The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, created in collaboration with illustrator Jason Whitley. A graphic novel he wrote, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe (Moonstone) has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for 2016.