Her Own Horror: Part One in Our 2020 Women in Horror Month Roundtable

Welcome back for part one in my Women in Horror Roundtable for 2020! I introduced all of my amazing featured authors earlier this week, so that means it’s officially time to start unveiling their awesome interviews. So let’s take it away, shall we?

Welcome to my 2020 Women in Horror Roundtable! I’m so thrilled to be talking with all of you! To get started, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the horror genre.

Erin Sweet Al-MehairiERIN SWEET AL-MEHAIRI: I’m an author, poet, editor, publicist/PR professional, journalist. I suppose I’ve done a little bit of it all as I enjoy all aspects of publishing. I have my degrees in English, journalism, and history (yes I was crazy enough to have three majors to complete) and I’ve spent 27+ years in some sort of communication job: PR, Marketing, Advertising, Editing, writing, working in many avenues from healthcare to clothing to festivals to non-profits to publishing. I’ve owned by own PR business for 11 years now. When I decided to own my own business and freelance, to stay home with my youngest daughter for homeschool pre-school and because I was diagnosed with some auto-immune disorders, I decided to also try to read and write for pleasure again, and keep up some writing and journalism skills, by starting my blog. It quickly, due to my past work experience and expertise, turned into a business as well as an extension, so Hook of a Book was formed as well.

The blog is 9 years old now, and I’ve been reviewing horror that long, but I’ve been doing editing and PR/publicist work in the genre for about 7 maybe. I’ve worked for authors as a personal stand-alone publicist and editor, as well for many publishers. I’ve also managed coordination from covers to author liaison to finished product to market for publishers.  As well I’ve helped launch books from editing to finish for self-published authors to nice success as well. I still do I should say! As well, I still run my site with reviews and interviews for authors in the genre (and many other genres) who are not my clients (so no conflict of interest) and try to do special things during Women In Horror Month and National Poetry Month in April to showcase other authors and support the community. Though I work in other genres some, especially with editing, most of my time is spent in horror currently.

Beyond that I’m also an author and a poet. I have a collection called Breathe. Breathe. published by Unnerving that is half poetry and half short stories. I have poems and stories also in several other anthologies and magazines. I’ve co-edited a gothic anthology and I’m currently the editor of an upcoming charity anthology for this year called Survive with Me from Alien Agenda Publishing (Glenn Rolfe).

TERI.ZIN: Hi! I’m so excited to be a part of this! I write under the pen name Zin E. Rocklyn. I currently have five short stories out in the world and one essay about being an unseen, yet monstrous image in horror fiction and film as Black woman. I enjoy the brutal catharsis of horror and feel it is the most accurate genre to express obstacles in a way that is viscerally affecting to those who may not understand.

LARISSA GLASSER: Hi everyone! I’m Larissa Glasser, I’m a librarian at a large university and after about a decade playing in metal bands, I decided to get more serious about writing genre fiction. Of course, I gravitated to horror first because it was the genre I loved the most when I was a young kid renting VHS tapes in suburbia. I’ve got a few stories in anthologies but my first novella, F4, which was published by Eraserhead Press in the beginning of 2018, was the first time I let my horror freak flag fly.

V. CASTRO: My name is Violet. I am a mother of three living in London, but I was born and mostly raised in San Antonio, Texas.

Horror has been a great love in my life since childhood, however, one thing that was missing in the genre was representation. This did not hit me until later in life when I began to seriously consider writing and I looked at my own book collection. My Mexican American heritage is rich in folklore and history, and I wanted to share that with others. But horror!

MICHELLE RENEE LANE: Thanks for inviting me, Gwen. What can I tell you about myself? Well, I’m a Gen-X single parent raising a 13-year-old boy in the era of YouTube and social media. I work at a small liberal arts college and struggle to pay my bills. I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction and an MA in English. I’m a woman of color who is ethnically mixed — German American and Jamaican American — who grew up in a homogeneously white rural smalltown in Central PA. My origin story as a horror writer began when I was very young. My mom was a single parent until I turned 5 or 6, so we lived with my grandparents. My grandmother loved folklore and scary stories and she was an avid reader of horror novels. Stephen King and Dean Koontz were among her favorites. My grandfather loved watching spooky movies and TV shows, so we watched Hitchcock and Hammer Horror movies, The Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. My mom introduced me to Dark Shadows and gave me a copy of Interview with the Vampire for Christmas when I was 11. I was raised on a steady diet of horror and monsters, while growing up in the racially charged 1970s and 1980s.

All of these early experiences have shaped my writing. I write stories about women of color struggling to understand who they are and where they fit in the world while dealing with monsters — human and supernatural. I’ve always identified more with monsters, so humans are often the most dangerous characters in my stories. My fiction usually tackles some social or political issue, but I don’t always know what that issue will be until I start writing and tap into my subconscious. But honestly, 9 out of 10 times, I’m writing about racism and racial identity in America, specifically from a feminist perspective. So, I guess you could say that I write stories about monsters while exploring the intersectionalities of race, gender, sexuality, and class.

LISA QUIGLEY: My name is Lisa Quigley. In February of 2018, I started the Ladies of the Fright podcast with my creative partner in crime, Mackenzie Kiera. We’d gotten our MFAs together in the UCR Palm Desert Low-Residency program. We’ve known we wanted to collaborate pretty much since day one, but we weren’t quite sure what form that would take until we created the podcast. What we initially envisioned as an in-depth craft show in which we’d break down horror and other dark-themed books has grown to be much more than that. We’ve interviewed many of horror’s top editors, authors, and other industry professionals on the show, and we’ve even collaborated with Library Journal and the HWA to promote the Summer Scares horror reading initiative. Producing our show is a labor of love.On the writing side, last year my first two fiction publications appeared in Automata Review and Unnerving Magazine. My debut novella, Hell’s Bells, is schedule for publication by Unnerving in May 2020.

MACKENZIE KIERA: I’m Mackenzie Kiera. I’m the other half of the Ladies of the Fright podcast where we talk about dark and stormy literature, movies, and whatever else strikes our fancy. Lisa and I are active in the horror community as we are the official podcast for Summer Scares and Stoker Con.

Women in Horror Month is amazingly in its eleventh year now. When did you first hear of Women in Horror Month, and what, if anything, does it mean to you personally as a female creator?

ERIN SWEET AL-MEHAIRI: I think I heard about it… taking a guess… maybe five years ago? I think at first it mostly really highlighted women in horror film. A lot of horror promotion was focused on film. They did a great job of highlighting that portion of the genre. See, when I started reading and reviewing horror back 7 years ago it was mostly still men in the genre with a few classic authors and less than a handful of women horror authors who’d been around a long while and even did the convention circuit (how you promoted yourself you know before social media came along and even I should say…. social media became a use for authors. I don’t think that happened even until 5-7 years ago!). Now, in the past 5 years and more each progressive year, women’s names are more known and there are more women horror authors. So though there is still work to be done, there is A LOT that is better both in women being published, working in the field, and being read.

It means a lot to have the month, no matter if other women or men give it push back. I come from the awareness side of the fence, probably because I worked in PR for so long in healthcare. I did a lot by looking at the yearly calendar and seeing what monthly and weekly awareness promotions there were! For instance, we all know that heart disease kills women, we all know there is breast cancer, and do we need to fight it every day – yes! But is it a great time, when February rolls around and it’s Wear Red for Women, or October comes, and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to wear red or pink and talk about the issues. Yes. Deluge the masses with information and as for Women in Horror Month have a celebration as a way for us to share what we’ve done, what we will do, and keep staking our claim. We’re a sisterhood and I hope that NO ONE ever forgets that, not even the men. And if they want to join our circle, then they’re welcome as brothers in arms.

TERI.ZIN: I believe I first heard about WiHM about four years ago and to be honest, I was dubious about it. There are few Black women writers of horror that are ever featured in lists like this. I’ve mostly read white women and women of colour in horror; the dudes eventually annoyed me with their myopic presumptions of women’s stories and voices in particular. While the shine of reading white women and women of colour in the genre was comforting for a bit, I wanted to see more Black women of horror being brought to the forefront. Scattering articles would try, but it is still irritating. There are plenty of us and yet you don’t see us. I aim to improve that.

LARISSA GLASSER: I first heard of WiHM a few years ago, when I had made more connections with horror writers on social media and went to some more cons. I remember feeling great that women in horror are being celebrated–I mean, WTF Mary Shelley wrote the original breakthrough horror/SF book Frankenstein, and her intelligence not only crafted an incredibly bleak story but she also addressed ethical issues, along with body horror. I think the world was in a lot of upheaval at that time, and as women’s voices and public autonomy were beginning to gain more traction, Shelley struck right place, right time. It also isn’t lost on me that Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer in advocacy for women’s rights, was her mother.

I am also of two minds about WiHM – I don’t think women in horror should be considered for just one month, we should be read, taken seriously, and respected throughout the year. There is pushback against diversity in the genre even today – even if white cisgender guys don’t intend to be dicks about it, they still manage some bad optics because maybe that is what they’re used to, or to be seemingly “against PC culture” gives them extra street integrity or whatever. Also, I am considered by some to not be a woman because I was (C)AMAB [coercively assigned male at birth]. The trans experience is as unique as one’s own fingerprints, and it’s just something that happens. We don’t ask for it, and transition is the only cure – you’ve got to be who you need to be. But I’m not going to give a 101 on that, I’ve spoken and written about it at length. But honestly the biggest surprise I had after F4 was released is that there are already plenty of trans women writing in the horror genre – I’m not going to name names because I never out anyone without their express permission. Suffice it to say I don’t feel so alone now, and meeting allies and supporters in the field has helped my confidence immensely. Cons are the best places to meet people in the field. Hover at the bar.

V. CASTRO: I first heard about it on Twitter from the Ladies of Horror Fiction. A group I hope people will follow and support if they don’t already.

Women in Horror Month is a bra set on fire and held overhead. It is a line drawn in the sand for women to reclaim their narratives and express their truth. It is 2020 and you still have women written in ways that are not realistic or downright offensive. Our stories should be told through our perspective. I’m not saying men don’t have the right to write women, however, I am saying that we should have the same opportunities to publish and receive recognition for these stories.

MICHELLE RENEE LANE: I first heard about Women in Horror Month while working on my MFA at Seton Hill University. That program not only reignited my passion for writing, but reaffirmed my belief in the scholarship of horror fiction. Horror fiction is one of the most challenging genres to write in because you have to tap into raw emotions to convey the horror happening in your stories. And, it allows you to write about the real horrors happening in the world around you, much like science fiction holds up a mirror to the present to show us a glimpse of the future. I met a lot of women who were writing horror in the MFA program and it made me realize that the myth of horror being a male-dominated genre was bullshit. Sure, more male authors line the bookshelves in the horror section, but some of the best horror writers at this moment in time are women and people of color. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. There are a lot of terrible things happening to marginalized people in the world right now. Our day-to-day lives provide plenty of inspiration for writing horror stories.

LISA QUIGLEY: It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly, but I want to say I found out about it once I really became invested in writing in the horror genre. It’s a long story, but I didn’t always know that what I wanted to write (and what I was writing) was horror. So I was kind of a late bloomer in that sense. I think I learned of Women in Horror month about two or three years ago.

What it means to me personally as a female creator? On the one hand, I think it’s awesome. In many ways, horror is perceived as a male-dominated genre (although there are lots of reasons I could argue that’s not true in actuality…but that’s a conversation for another day.) At any rate, the dudes in the genre (awesome as so many of them are!) do tend to get a lot of the attention and spotlight. I think Women in Horror month is pretty cool because it does generate the awareness that like, hey, there are tons of incredible women out there writing horror, too. On the other hand, it does sometimes bother me that women need to be “called out” in one month. I think sometimes there can be this feeling that like…okay, we spent a whole month shouting out women, and now we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming. It would be super awesome if we got to the point where we didn’t need our own separate month. I am an optimist in that way, because I do feel like in so many ways we are headed in that direction. I am not naive, though. I know there is still a long way to go, and for many, this month serves as a way to amp up awareness and visibility. I am all for it, with the caveat that I certainly hope the day will come when we won’t have the need for it.

MACKENZIE KIERA: I suspect I heard about it in college at some point, but I didn’t take notice. (Sorry!) At that point, I thought I was going to work in emergency medicine, so while I’d always been fascinated by horror, I don’t think Women in Horror month showed up on my radar until Lisa and I started up the podcast. I feel like this month is important as it highlights the fact that it’s no longer just straight white men writing horror. Not that it ever was. Seems like people conveniently forget about Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley when they discuss horror. Like it’s only got room for three big man names. Like it wasn’t around until Stephen King claimed a couple bookshelves in the stores for himself. As a creator, I think it’s a good thing, even though a month isn’t nearly long enough to talk about all of the amazing strides women are making in the genre.

And that’s part one of our Women in Horror Roundtable! Join us next week as we discuss favorite female characters in horror and underappreciated stories!

Happy reading!