‘It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out-and come back for more.’ – Bela Lugosi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bela_Lugosi ).
When I tell people that I’m a writer, their first question is, “what do you write?” When I tell them I write horror there is an immediate shocked silence. They then either laugh, change the subject, or walk away. It is only the brave few who, after they’ve laughed, will ask more questions. The next question is usually, “why?” Or they make a comment about the fact that I’m a woman. Apparently nice girls don’t read horror, let alone write it. Then there’s the fact that I’ve been dumped by guys a couple days after they’ve read my books or my short stories. Apparently they have a hard time making sense of the nice woman they’ve been dating and the woman who could come up with such twisted stories. Strange but true.
When Mary Shelley first published Frankenstein it went to print without having an author named. At the time women authors were frowned upon and in order to get published or taken seriously as writers, they had to use a male pseudonym. Gothic horror, though written predominantly by women, like Anne Radcliff, for women, was far more romantic and very similar to today’s romantic dark fantasy. The women, like Mary Shelley, who wanted to write more main stream horror had to write as men or not put a name to their work at all.
Thankfully things have changed somewhat. Women are no longer just there to scream or be the damsels in distress. But it seems the debate around gender equality in the genre still goes on. It is still a very male dominated genre. When I asked my twitter followers what came to mind when I said Women in Horror, I only got two responses and they both listed Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson. Now, being a woman who writes horror and who is proud of it, I found that a little sad. Not only because I know quite a few talented female horror writers, but because both those women have been dead for a long time. There are so many women in the industry and they aren’t just writing dark fantasy, paranormal romance or erotica. They aren’t just writing about having romantic liaisons with Vampires or teen love triangles with Vampires and Werewolves. There is so much more out there being written by intelligent women.
Some feel that the problem lies with the publishing industry. That women aren’t getting enough recognition. Other’s feel the problem is with readers, with the public perception that horror novels written by women aren’t as gritty or as good as those by the men, even though some of the most inventive horror is being written by the women in the genre. The fact is there are more men writing mainstream horror than women. Women seem to migrate more easily towards dark fantasy and Paranormal romance. And those of us who choose to write mainstream horror should probably focus on writing strong, well-written, character driven novels that scare the living daylights out of our readers and stop worrying about issues we have no control over. Our work will speak for itself. And maybe a little reader education could help. Women in Horror Month (http://www.womeninhorrormonth.com/) is dedicated to promoting women in the genre and well worth having a look at.
Have you read any horror novels written by a woman (and I don’t just mean Mary Shelley here)? Have a look at the list below. It’s a pretty decent list, but it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Start with these women, they may surprise you.
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
- Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice
- The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff
- Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
- The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton
- Come Closer by Sara Gran
- Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand
- The language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough
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