For those of you who do not know, February is Women In Horror Month, where publishers and other horror-related media come together and thinks about what it means to be a female writer in the horror genre, female actress, and female producer. It’s also a good month to think about female characters too – especially those final girls.
On February 2nd 2014, Mocha Memoirs Press released The Grotesquerie: An Anthology of Women In Horror. I was lucky enough to be part of the anthology for my story “Baby Eyes.” My short story involves a woman whose daughter, Natasha, loses her first tooth. The mother character, Nicki, is a proverbial nervous-mother who frets far too much about the ethics of parenting – from the nature of cosleeping and about whether or not she should “lie” to Natasha about the Tooth Fairy being real. She decides to go for it anyway, and that’s when things get really interesting. Natasha starts to ask when she’ll lose her “baby eyes”. When her mom tells her that we keep our baby eyes until we are adults, both Natasha and her mother spiral downwards. Part body horror, part evil child trope — and lots of fun to write. Hopefully – lots of fun to read, too.
One of the organizers around Women in Horror Month sent around a bunch of questions for the authors of the anthology to answer. Here’s what I said:
- 1. Why horror? Out of all the things to write, why does this genre appeal to you?
Short answer: it’s beautiful.
Longer and more in-depth answer: horror as a genre allows me to explore things to do with gender, sexuality, and other taboo subjects that I may not have been able to do in other genres I write in. Through this exploration, I can look at things that once frightened me and render them into something beautiful, yet horrifying at the same time. In that way, they become manageable and no longer as scary.
- 2. Who or what were your horror genre inspirations growing up? What made you realize that you wanted to explore and participate in the genre?
I grew up when R. L. Stine was huge. I loved his books though they were all carbon copies of the same story. It didn’t matter – they were great. When I got older, I realized how often he based his basic story (high school female protagonists) on the old tropes of slasher films for his Fear Street Series in particular. So I watched a bunch of slasher films and became a fan from there.
In university, I discovered the academic work of Carol J. Clover who wrote Men, Women, and Chainsaws. That was another interesting turning point, too. Clover can discuss the relationship between gender in slasher films a lot better than I can right now, but what she realized was that there was always a “final girl” who survived at the end of this. You can see this final girl image lasting and then transforming as horror has grown. Another thing Clover stated was that horror films become teenager’s versions of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They deal with unconscious hopes and desires, but they present it in a visceral, gritty way that does not try to hide reality. The best advice you can give kids is not that monsters don’t exist – it’s that kids can, like the boys and girls in fairy tales, beat those monsters at their own games and survive.
I also absolutely admire Angela Carter. She wrote speculative or weird fiction more than she wrote straight up horror. But her stories are deeply rooted in that same tradition that Carol J. Clover discusses. She uses psychoanalytic images, the final girl archetype, and typical fairy tale tropes to flesh out her worlds. She’s most well known for her short story collection The Bloody Chamber, but I love her dystopian sci-fi novel The Passion of New Eve. Utterly horrifying and mythic, but absolutely beautiful. I wish to produce the type of horror that, in the end, is as beautiful as it is terrifying.
- 3. 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?
Absolutely men can identify with female characters. I think that times are changing in particular. The audience is getting smarter and knows when to reject bad characters or bad plots. And I think that TV shows and movies are adapting right alongside.
- 4. Why do people need to know about women horror writers, film makers, etc. What makes us equal or special in this already-saturated genre?
Unique perspective. Horror is as much about inhabiting a different POV than your own to see if what they find terrifying is also scary to you. One thing that unites us all (other than maybe love) is fear. We all know, in the most basic and visceral sense, what it is like to be afraid. Ultimately, people should want to know about women (or transgender or gay or people of colour) horror writers because it provides a unique perspective – with the hope to then unify in some way.
- 5. Who are some women horror writers/film makers/etc that people definitely should know about?
Angela Carter, easily! There is a film of her “wolf” stories, that all revolve around a similar Little Ride Riding Hood Motif (though I assure you, it’s not just little red riding hood and the huntsman) called The Company of Wolves. Highly recommend. I think Carol J. Clover’s scholarship is a must-read for any female horror writer, too.
Also – give the Hannibal TV show a chance. One thing that Bryan Fuller (producer, writer) did with this version is he gender swapped two of the main characters from their male counterparts in Thomas Harris’ saga. That’s a practice usually done in fan fiction to queer up the text, but Fuller’s done it right from the start! He’s also gone on record stating that he will not resort to the rape-kill trope so many other crime shows use. This show also does the type of beautiful horror that I love. Just gorgeous cinematography, fully-realized characters, great writing, everything. Go and watch. Right now.