a few items of possible interest

First, there is a lovely review of my second collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, at the site “See the Elephant,” written by Paul St.John Macintosh. You can, of course, purchase You’ll Know When You Get There from its publisher, Swan River Press.

Second, my Shirley-Jackson Award-winning story, “The Dying Season,” has been reprinted at Nightmare Magazine, where you can read it for free. I strongly suggest that if you like the story, you should buy the anthology it appears in, Aickman’s Heirs, which also won the Shirley Jackson and is one of the best anthologies I’ve read. (It’s available on Kindle as well.) Oh! And there is also an interview with me, largely about the story, at the same site.

Third, the writer David Surface has written a lovely piece on his blog feature, “One Great Story,” about one of my early published stories, “These Things We Have Always Known.”

Fourth, I’ve written a couple of pieces about other writers for Women in Horror month. Check out the list of recommendations at Mark West’s Women in Horror mixtape, and over at the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Jim Mcleod asked me to write about a woman horror writer who’d influenced me in the past and also a newer one that I would recommend.

Anthology Project for Women in Horror month

Breaking radio silence to point to this worthy-looking Kickstarter project. It ends in less than 48 hours, but even if you’re reading this after the funding period has passed (and it looks like they’ll reach their goal, but they’re going to go ahead with the project no matter what), check out their submission guidelines if you’re a writer and think about picking up a copy yourself if you’re a reader.

One thing I like about this project is that they aren’t restricting themselves to women contributors. Instead, they’re asking contributors of any gender to submit (along with their stories) 150-word recommendations of great horror stories by women writers. I appreciate this approach, which raises the profile of women horror writers but doesn’t set us off in our own little playground as though there is some concern about us punching above our weight. That sounds a little harsh; I don’t actually think that is the intention of anyone who produces all-whatever anthologies, and these thoughts are about me and my own ambivalence regarding the “woman writer” moniker, not about the motivations of those who work on such projects. (Would I decline to be included in such a project? Not on that basis alone, no. And, clearly, I make some effort here to write specifically about women writers from time to time. See ambivalence.)

At any rate, Deep Cuts is a project about which I am not ambivalent and I am excited to see how it will shape up over the next few months.

women in horror: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

To make a long story short: my blogging intentions as well as lots of other writing I’d hoped to complete over the last month or so were swallowed by the monster of Real Life Obligations. Isn’t that one of the worst kinds of monsters? It’s right up there with guys like Tedium and Reduced Expectation. And you can’t ever slaughter any of them; the best you can hope to do is keep them at bay long enough to get on with the good bits of living. Like writing. I really do enjoy writing, most of the time; I know that some writers don’t, and that must be excruciating. Anyway, I don’t want to let the blogging fall away, because I’m increasingly feeling the need for someplace public to natter about what’s on my mind at greater length than one can on Twitter or Facebook.

Writing and, when I feel like it, blogging shouldn’t be abandoned when crunch times occur any more than things like eating and brushing my teeth would be. Every writer deals with the question of how to prioritize their writing, and it’s not easy for anyone; yet for many or maybe most women there remains, even today, an extra dollop, a little bit more pressure, to put themselves last. Even for those who know so much better. And that’s my lead-in to today’s woman in horror, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who wasn’t actually a horror writer (nor was she primarily an SF writer, although she authored the 19th century feminist utopian novel Herland), but wrote one of the most powerful and still one of my favorite horror stories of all time, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a tale about the oppression and silence of women.

I first encountered this story as a teenager, and I was immediately struck, because let’s face it, this works first and foremost as a terrific horror story, and the image of that hideous wallpaper with the creeping woman behind it (Gilman’s use of the word there, creeping, is so effective) is downright scary. I still get chills when I read lines like this:

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Our narrator has been sentenced to a rest cure for her nerves, which includes a prohibition on writing (so she must scribble her account in secret, always hiding it when interrupted) by her physician husband, who isn’t an evil, conniving villain–he is simply incapable of hearing anything his wife is telling him, or believing in her intellect or agency. In fact, he infantalizes her. Our narrator says

 It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.

And we see this impossibility of talking to him:

 “What is it, little girl?” he said. “Don’t go walking about like that–you’ll get cold.”

I thought it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.

“Why darling!” said he, “our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can’t see how to leave before.

And so on. She can’t possibly be frustrated; she must be crazy. The true horror enmeshed in this story is not, it turns out, the creeping women in the wallpaper, but the destruction of the narrator by the person who is supposed to love her the most. But as with the best fantastical fiction, this effect is heightened to a feverish point that a tale of pure realism could not achieve.

Gilman wrote about her own experience undergoing a similar type of “cure” and how it was her inspiration for the story. And you’ve never had the pleasure of reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” yourself, it’s available in a variety of formats at Project Gutenberg.

women in horror: flannery o’connor

With just over 24 hours remaining in Women in Horror month, I’m continuing with my project to write about the women writers of horror fiction who most influenced me early on. Now, you’re either looking at that name up there and thinking “Flannery O’Connor–a horror writer??” Or you’re thinking, “Yes, of course.”

Horror, the grotesque, the gothic–call it what you like, but a vein of horror runs through the fiction of many Southern writers: William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, to name a few. And I like all those writers, but Flannery has always been the girl for me, ever since I first encountered her as a teenager. I think it’s her humor, her ear for dialogue, that first entranced me. It’s not that I had never read a Southern writer before–but listening to Flannery O’Connor’s characters talking was an awful lot like sitting around in the kitchen listening to my relatives.

Flannery’s sense of humor is on the pitch-black side; she was also a devout and literal-minded Catholic. Rubbing shoulders with the New York literati in the early sixties, she snarled at Mary McCarthy’s comment about some element of the Eucharist being a nice symbol that “if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” From Flannery we get the enduring image of the South as “Christ-haunted.” Christ-haunted, what an amazing turn of phrase. I wish it were my own. In Flannery’s fiction, religion may often be a locus of hypocrisy but the real deal, God and Jesus Christ and the angels, are terrifying. There is something almost elemental, something entirely inhuman and remote about the deity, and the world in which humans reside feels capricious and absurd.

Flannery made me look at the place and the people around whom I’d grown up with fresh eyes, and she showed me the ways in which everyday life is shot through with horror and humor and that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Her own life was as tragic and absurd as that of her characters: she spent the final weeks of her life dying in a room in Milledgeville, Georgia, all the while continuing to write,  and lupus claimed her before her fortieth birthday.

women in horror: lisa tuttle

There’s still a little bit left of Women in Horror month (we get an extra day this year!), but it looks like my little project will be extending into the beginning of March which is fine because, well, I am pretty much a woman in horror every day of the year.

I should clarify what I’m doing here: I’m trying to write about the women who inspired and influenced me early on, so I’m not really looking at contemporary work. The 1990s with Kathe Koja is as right-now as we’re going to get. In fact, I shall be writing about quite a few dead women.

But not right away. First I want to tell you about Lisa Tuttle. I first ran across her short story collection A Nest of Nightmares at the University of Georgia library when I was a student there. (They had a really terrific horror collection back in the day; it’s where I first encountered Karl Edward Wagner’s best of the year anthologies, among others.) I think Lisa Tuttle was the first contemporary female writer of horror fiction I really identified with. She was a Texan–a Southerner, like me (I know people say Texas is its own country, but much of it still feels like the South); the young women and girls in her stories were people I understood. They were like me. These stories seemed like the kind of stories I wanted to write someday.

A Nest of Nightmares is hard to find these days, and it’s no longer part of the collection at UGA (it’s one of the first things I looked for there when I moved back to town); it’s been so long since I read the stories that I can’t talk about them with any specificity, but I remember bits of pieces of them, and they got down deep inside me and stayed there and fortunately Ash Tree Press has released their first volume of her short stories, which I am very much hoping they will turn into an e-book, not because I don’t want to eventually own the physical book itself, but because in the meantime, when $49 is more than I can spend on a book, I could still return to those stories. I still remember how strange and off-kilter they made me feel and yet how they also made me feel in some secret way like I belonged with them, like she’d been writing them just for me.

women in horror: kathe koja

Hallucinatory, feverish, dreamlike–I keep writing and erasing these clichés to describe how Kathe Koja’s books felt the first time I encountered them in the mid-90s. She was, for me, the antidote to the complacent middle-class families threatened by horror in so much novel-length fiction of the 70s and 80s. Her protagonists were artists, fuckups, obsessives; her books felt dangerous. Performance artist Bibi can’t stop cutting her flesh. Tess creates massive SRL-inspired mechanistic sculptures. Nakota’s obsessed with the ‘funhole’ that’s appeared in the floor in Nicholas’s apartment. Robin, an artist with schizophrenia, begins to transform into an otherwordly being in the care of photographer Grant: supernatural event, or folie à deux? Koja wrote and still writes other books but it was this trilogy of novels that spoke to me then: The Cipher, Skin, and Strange Angels, all of them savage, bleak, relentless journeys into the psyches of lost and damaged people.

Her prose, her depictions of people on the edge, her eschewing of traditional plot devices–I loved all that, and she was fearless, she was audacious in these books. In the end I’m not sure the genre label was the best thing for them; she was working in a transgressive tradition that’s made literary cult heroes out of writers from Burroughs to Palahniuk and points beyond and in between. These days she mostly writes YA, which I’m sure is excellent, and a couple of years ago a non-horror adult novel, Under the Poppy, published by the delightful Small Beer Press. It seems only right, honestly, that she’s moved away from these sustained journeys into madness; it’s not a vein you can mine indefinitely with any integrity, I don’t think.

I haven’t read any of her novels in well over a dozen years; this blogger returns to The Cipher after many years and his thoughts on Koja really mirror my own.

february is women in horror month

I’ve been terribly remiss. It’s Women in Horror month and I haven’t done a thing for it. Last year I wrote an appreciation of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree for Peter Tennant’s Case Notes blog over at TTA Press. The year before that, I wrote about attending a festival of shorts by women at Athens Cine. This year, for what remains of February, I’d like to try to complete a series of blog posts on women horror writers who have been especially important to me personally.

As I say every year at this time, I have mixed feelings about this month. I don’t particularly want to be known as a Woman in Horror. I want to be known as a horror writer, full stop. (Come to think of it, I’d like to just be a writer–I am not that crazy about hairsplitting genre labels and categories either, but that’s another post for another day.) And yet I’ve heard enough stories that I do see a need to raise awareness that there are a lot of women who work in the genre and a lot of women fans of the genre.

The fact is, my personal experience with male editors has been nothing but positive. My personal experience with fellow writers/aspiring horror writers and fans has been mostly positive, and aside from having to occasionally dissuade people of the assumption that I must write paranormal romance or urban fantasy because I am a woman (not that there’s anything wrong with that! it’s just not what I happen to do!), those not-so-positives were quite a long time ago.

But women do get overlooked. I recently saw a horror 10 best of the year list for 2011, for example, and not one book on it was by a woman*. Okay, so it’s entirely possible that the compiler’s ten favorite books were all by men. But I couldn’t help thinking: really? Not one? And I can’t help wondering how much effort the compiler of the list put in seeking out horror by women last year. I’ve known quite a few guys who freely admit they don’t read books by women and others who, when pressed, have allowed as how they don’t have any particular opposition to doing such a thing, they just . . . don’t read women.

Now maybe this particular writer reads widely and just happened to not include any women writers on the list because they didn’t write any of his favorite books, and that’s cool. However, at that point, I’d have looked at the list and gone “Willya look at that! It’s a boy’s own extravaganza!” And then I’d have acknowledged that yeah, there are no women on this list. (And then maybe asked myself: really? Not one?)

Anyway, I’m going to try to write about some of my favorite women writers in the genre here over the  next week. In the meantime–I was going to send you back to the piece I assembled on women writing horror at Sinescope, but the site is temporarily down. I’ll link when it’s back up.

*I’m not linking to the list itself because the individual list is not the point–it’s part of a larger pattern of women too often being overlooked, and also because I’ve made wild assumptions about its compiler on very little evidence. (Yeah, I know that last bit is par for the internet course.)

some things to read

I’ve written a couple of things recently. No, actually, I’ve written tons of stuff recently, but most of it is stuff you can’t read yet. But here are a couple of little pieces you can read.

I wrote briefly about women horror writers in Dark Enough: Women Writing Horror Fiction, and then surveyed some women writers for their recommendations for the online journal Sinescope. There are some wonderful fiction suggestions there by some excellent writers, so be sure to check it out!

I also wrote about my top five favorite horror novels for the mighty mighty issue #300 (with 300 contributors! More than 300, actually!) of the Hugo Award winning fanzine The Drink Tank. (That’s a link to a big .pdf file.)

I hope I’ll be able to point you in the direction of some fiction soon.

appreciating women in horror

In better late than never news, my post for the last day of Women in Horror Recognition Month has been up for a few days at the Black Static blog. I wrote about Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree, a book which, as you will see from my piece, I like quite a lot.

One of the things I touched on in my piece is my ambivalence about the month, and the idea of being a “woman writer” instead of just a writer. (Yes, I know I can be both.) But I can’t deny that, now in its second year of its existence, the month certainly has raised awareness within the genre and got people talking more about these issues. And I have become a lot more aware of women who work in the field, in both film and fiction. These are good things. There have been some terrific pieces and interviews and appreciations and other contributions by people online all month long which really demonstrate what a rich and diverse field this is, and how many approaches one can take to “horror” and that it’s not all slasher films and buckets of gore (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

I have some other thoughts on these issues, but I keep typing and deleting, typing and deleting, so I think I’ll save them for another, more articulate day.

If he asked me for a bloodworm I’d find one

I’m a veteran of several years’ worth of short film blocks at Portland’s HP Lovecraft film festival, which is to say, I know the drill: some stuff works, some stuff doesn’t, and everybody likes the funny stuff more than me*.  Most of the films screened at the sold-out Women in Horror festival at Athens Ciné last night are steeped in an underground, DIY, punk rock aesthetic; most of the women who work on them aren’t looking to become professional filmmakers.  They’re just having a good time, and as part of the audience you can’t help having fun along with them.

Two things struck me during the screening: 1.  You can put aside any notions that girls are squeamish about violence, gore, and various bodily effluvia.  2.  So many of these films are suffused with a sense of femaleness, by which I mean not any sort of biological determinism, but a real engagement with what living in a female body and being female in early 21st century America is like.

Many of these films cut straight to the subtext–and gush it viscerally all over the screen.  The most striking aspect of the night’s program as a whole was the degree to which these films presented a picture of femaleness in such opposition to the mainstream images and ideas with which we’re bombarded constantly: Romcom women.  Nurturing women. Women in bromances (god help me, that is the first time I have ever written that “word” out and let it be the last).  Selfless women.  Not so these women.  Belated By Valentine’s Lover, directed by Ruby LaRocca and by turns poetic, surreal, and silly, turns tropes of girlhood and the good girlfriend inside out, following its protagonist from kitchen stove to washing machine, wrapping up a homemade gift for her boyfriend–a gruesome love potion–in a pretty package with a big pink bow.  The rage of the berated, bulimic wife in Heidi Martinuzzi & Leslie Delano’s Wretched (featuring the legendary Joe Bob Briggs) is literalized in a series of scenes so gross I couldn’t watch (I have a thing about vomit), culminating in a Gregory Nicotero-choreographed blood-spewing extravaganza.  From the supremely disturbing sexual self-loathing in Stacey Ponder and Shannon Lark’s Lip Stick to a little girl’s ambivalent love for her absent mother in Devi Snively’s blackly comic Death in Charge–with AFI funding this was the slickest of the lot–to the gleeful rage of a snuff filmmaker’s intended victim in Maude Michaud’s Snuff, so many of the shorts, consciously or unconsciously, upended notions of femininity that still seem to have such a hold today.

In fact, that girl we’re used to seeing–the one who appears over and over in movies and on television and in commercials, the one who waits anxiously for her boyfriend’s proposal, who reads cheesy romance novels, whose best day ever is the one in which she dons her white wedding dress and walks down the aisle with said boyfriend–well, she appears exactly once in these movies, and she ends up dead in the first scene, stabbed to death giallo-style.  Good riddance to her, I say.

*I like a good horror comedy as much as the next girl–Shawn of the Dead achieved a great fusion of humor and horror, even if it did spawn a zombie craze which ran its course years ago and still shows no sign of stopping, like that dumb kid in the back of the classroom who hasn’t figured out that joke was funny the first twenty times we heard it and he won’t stop saying it and now you just kind of want to beat the shit out of him not to mention the fact that zombies as an object of fear or even metaphor are ruined for at least a generation if not more–but by and large I prefer my horror straight, no laugh chaser.