Welcome back for Part Three in our Women in Horror 2018 round table!
Last week, in part two, we discussed how political and social upheavals have affected our nine authors’ writing, as well as the underrated stories they’d recommend readers check out. This week, we discuss what advice they have for writers who are just starting out, along with their hopes for the future of horror. So ladies, take it away!
For all the newer female horror writers out there, what would you like them to know? Specifically, what advice do you wish you’d had as an author when you were first getting started?
Brooke Warra: Don’t wait to write the things that scare you, don’t wait to be brave in your work, don’t wait for permission or validation. Just write it. Don’t put your ideas on the backburner, waiting for approval from the community to tackle those tropes or those issues. I think when I was first starting out, I would scribble down ideas and think to myself, “I’ll write that when I am a better writer” or “I can’t write about that! What would people think?” and I hate to admit that, but it’s truly how I spoke to myself. I don’t anymore. And I would encourage a younger me, and anyone new to the genre, to just put that pen to paper and write your heart out.
Carrie Laben: If you’re like me, you start out feeling like everyone else is cooler than you and has more to say. They might at that but you won’t know until you press the absolute limits of what you can say and how cool you can be, whatever that means to you. Especially don’t assume that because someone older and/or male told you something in a declarative, confident tone of voice that it’s therefore a fact.
Kenya Moss-Dyme: Don’t be afraid to be different. The beauty of our chosen genre is that anything goes, there’s nothing too outrageous or unbelievable, because it’s all fantasy and imagination. So don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box, in fact, I highly encourage it. Sure, there’s a million zombie stories already, so make yours DIFFERENT. Sometimes you’ll get an idea and then discourage yourself because you think it’s already been done. So do it again, but make it stand out in the crowd.
Nadia Bulkin: Don’t try to imitate successful writers’ stories. Write the kind of stories you want to write and want to read, and submit to places that you would want to publish you. At the same time, sometimes the only way to find your path is to try different things. Always err on the side of challenging yourself rather than staying in your comfort zone. Be true to your truth. And on the publishing side, submit constantly, edit judiciously, and never ever take yourself out of competition. Give them a chance to reject you. Believe that you have a seat at the table. I think the number one thing is just don’t give up, though that’s way easier said than done. Oh, and there will be a lot of people pushing back against the particular effort to carve out space for women in horror. Ignore those people.
Rebecca Allred: You’re asking me?! I still feel like I’m still getting started! I don’t think I have much advice to offer that you won’t find in any number of places, but the things I’ve found to be most helpful are: a group of people I can trust to give me honest feedback, even when it hurts; giving myself permission to take a break when the words just aren’t coming; and reaching out to other authors who are still in the trenches. I wish I’d done the latter much sooner. I’ve learned so much from just talking shop with other writers, and it doesn’t hurt to have someone behind the scenes who understands what you’re going through when you need to blow off some steam.
Denise Tapscott: I consider myself as a newer female horror writer. My advice for newer writers in general and soon to be female horror writers is please, please, please, read and write. Choose to share your scary stories with the world. It seems overwhelming and frightful at first, but trust me there are a lot of great women (and men) in the world of horror that are supportive. The feeling of finding your tribe is an amazing experience. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the process, learn as much as you can, and ask for help when needed. The world wants to hear your voice and experience your stories.
Anya Martin: Just hang in there, I guess. Get good critical beta readers who will not be afraid to put you through your paces. And if you really try to write from an authentic female perspective, expect some rejections not because the story isn’t good but because some editors—and this isn’t exclusively limited to cis white male editors—won’t get it. Be strong and send that story back out. I’ve also put some stories away for years and then taken them back out and found that they sold with only minor changes.
Sumiko Saulson: You should network with other women in horror. Don’t let the glass ceiling slow you down. Ignore anyone who tells you that women can’t write horror. Shrug it off if anyone says you write soft horror, or tries to euphemize away your style with feminizing adjectives of any sort. You’re going to hear a lot of people say “I just don’t read horror” or “I would read your writing if you didn’t write horror.” Don’t believe them. Getting your friends and family to read your books is like pulling teeth. They won’t read them until someone else reads them first and tells you that they are good, and it doesn’t matter a whit what genre the book is in. They’re just using the fear of the horror genre trope as an excuse. Ask people for their honest reviews, and try not to be offended if not all of them are good. You need reviews to get on the radar of book sellers, and a bad review is better than no reviews at all.
Catherine Grant: Be fierce. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, even if you get labeled as “that bitch.” I think there are a lot of women in the industry who are afraid of calling out misogyny because they don’t want the drama to affect their careers. They play this game where they try to be sweet, unassuming and friends with everyone to avoid pissing off someone who could keep them from getting a book deal, story acceptance, or award. As a result, they are an ally to no one but themselves. If you are feminine, misogyny will affect your career no matter what you do. Might as well trample the patriarchy while you’re at it.
Looking forward, what is your hope for the future of horror? What would you like to see more of in the genre, and what would you like to see less of?
Brooke: I’ve really loved that the horror genre has become an art form in its own right, and I would love to see more literary, cerebral horror. I think it’s been grossly underestimated as a valid expression of art and I think we have seen that view change especially over the last few years. I’d absolutely love it if we stopped seeing violence against women as plot devices. We are so much more than the victims of crimes and we so often rise above and beyond those crimes against us. I’m beyond weary of revenge tropes, when the women I know in real life have lived through so much, and used that strength to move forward in life, rather than being consumed or destroyed by it. I’d like to see that perseverance reflected in horror. Where female characters tend to be stereotypes, I think we are ready to see ourselves as well-rounded, complex, strong characters. It’s time.
Carrie: Horror, rooted as it is in primal anxieties, can be profoundly liberating or profoundly regressive. I obviously have a preference as to which I’d like to see more of. On the aesthetic plane, I love that folk horror of all kinds – horror that connects to the rhythms of the natural world and a sense of ancient lore – is having a day in the sun, but with that inevitably comes derivative and plain bad work. And nothing is worse than the contrast between the whole grand sweep of the cosmos and the linguistic stylings of some twerp who photoshopped a spooky tree onto the inside of their eyelids.
Catherine: I’ve heard that Weird Fiction is the next big thing, and I am really looking forward to opportunities that might bring to Weird Fiction authors that deserve more universal success because they are mind-blowingly talented, but write in a genre that can’t seem to get literary recognition from large publishers. At the same time, I’d like to see less snobbery in the genre regarding pulp and trope-centered stories. There is an audience for stories about glittery vampires, right? Why not embrace that? Why not kick the idea that horror is low-brow and doesn’t sell right in the fucking face in the same breath, because no genre is one-note?
Kenya: I’m really enjoying the return of horror in sci-fi. It used to be that sci-fi was mostly aliens and spaceships, exploring outer worlds. We had Twilight Zone and Outer Limits but those types of anthologies had fallen off in production over the years. The last few years, we had some really great ones, like Galaxy of Horrors: really mind-bending stories that blend those worlds. At some point, you’ve exhausted all of your ideas about horror on earth and you gotta start looking into other worlds – or creating those worlds yourself!
Nadia: I hope for more subversive horror that challenges the status quo. More unsympathetic characters, more critiques of powers-that-be, more unconventional narratives. More interrogation of horror tropes and the reason those tropes exist. More unhappy endings, or as I like to call it, more payment of “the price.” I hesitate to say what I’d like to see less of because I think almost anything can be done well. I personally think that very internal horror based on underlying mental illness is very tough to do because most of us don’t know what severe mental illness looks like. So that’s one I’d like to see folks be more careful with.
Rebecca: I’d like to see a broader range of voices and more experimentation with story telling. Much of what I read these days is good, but in the same way I thought The Force Awakens was good. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery (and I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes try to mimic some of my favorite authors) it leaves readers standing at what at first appears to be an endless buffet, but in reality limits their choices to chicken, chicken, and more chicken.
Denise: I would love to see more character driven stories with a woman’s point of view, where she doesn’t have to rely on a man to save her. Maybe she does the saving. I’d also like to see more scary stories with more people of color with things they find culturally frightening. For example, I’d love to read more stories from an Asian woman that reveals something about her culture or folklore. I want to see far less stories about self-entitled teenagers who are lost in some place they were never supposed to be with gory storylines. We’ve been there, done that (the classics like Jason are always cool, so they are the exception). Someone show us something different. One of my goals is to reflect more people of color, more women, and more non-traditional American stereotypical characters in my stories.
Anya: I’m really excited about the expanding openness to different perspectives. There are more markets open to horror written by women than ever before, as well as people of color and LGBT writers. I’m not saying previous markets were closed per se to women and others, but what we’ve seen is a shift towards editors being more open to publishing stories that don’t fit into over-used tropes and long-held standards within the canon. Also I’d like to see more stories by writers from other cultures and countries make it into English translation. I’d like to see less of the same tropes used again and again in the same ways, especially vampires and zombies.
Sumiko: I would like to see more diversity in horror. If they had enough people of color to represent us as a percentage of the population, the old trope about the black person in the movie dying first wouldn’t be a thing, because there would be more than one black person in the movie. Women need to have more powerful roles than scream queen. The Walking Dead has some issues with its treatment of people of color as disposable, but they are doing a bang-up job of bringing feminism into the genre. Although there is still way too much macho chest banging, the toxic hyper masculine types are usually villains like Negan. Michonne, Carol, and Maggie are all very affirming characters for female viewers. I hated the way they killed off Abbie Mills and Jenny Mills on Sleepy Hollow so that they could make a more traditional, white male-dominated storyline with Ichabod Crane and his less than liberated wife. I loved the fact that the show went off the air afterwards, showing television moguls that this is not what people want.
And that’s part three of our discussion! Next week, we’ll wrap things up by finding out what these incredible authors have in store for the rest of the year and beyond, as well as any final thoughts they have on this month-long celebration!
Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month!