Dangerous Dames: Women Who Write Horror
I started writing seriously in high school after reading several of Stephen King’s novels; I got hooked on horror at the tender age of twelve when an aunt gave me a copy of Cujo. I’ve been reading Stephen King’s books ever since. Growing up during the 1980s, I noticed there weren’t very may women writing scary stories. Inspired, I set out to change that. Why should men have all the fun, writing frightfully good fiction? After all, women are highly attuned to emotions — clearly capable of delivering subtle scares, as well as visceral visions that linger long after the reader turns the final page.
Horror is such a primal emotion. Humans have always endured dread — it’s enmeshed in our subconscious — the very essence of our being. Countless stories have been told about what scares us; an innumerable amount await.
When I first submitted my stories for publication, I encountered lots of rejection. Uncertain if this was because I was a woman, or due to the fact I was new to the genre, I eschewed self-doubt and quickly progressed from form rejection letters to the inclusion of personal comments, which proved quite useful. Fears unfounded. As the submission process evolved from via snail mail — don’t forget to include a SASE — to email, and ultimately Submittable, I grew bolder, grateful for Editors’ comments and fresh perspective, which enabled me to grow as a writer and submit my work to another market, where it was usually accepted.
After several stories found homes in various magazines, I challenged myself to send stories to anthologies and have been published in several. Such an honor when Editor Billie Sue Mosiman invited me to submit a story to Fright Mare, an all-female author anthology published in 2016, that featured stories by: Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Elizabeth Massie, Kathryn Ptacek, Loren Rhoads, Lucy Taylor, just to name a few. Twenty authors in all. It’s a fantastic compilation that demonstrates that women can write frightfully-good fiction!
As a female horror author, several male authors have asked how I manage to write men so well. They’re curious about my process for capturing different nuances and mannerisms. My answer is shockingly simple: I write from experience — the men in my life, past and present provide ample inspiration for my characters. Over the years, I’ve based male characters in my novellas and stories on co-workers, ex-boyfriends, or family. No man that crosses my path is safe from scrutiny.
Whether it’s his piercing blue eyes, the scuff of his beard when he kisses me, or the quiet desperation of a homeless man camped out on the sidewalk in front of his cardboard condo, rattling— clink, clink, clink — a dark, blue paper cup full of grimy change and crumpled dollar bills that says, IT’S OUR PLEASURE TO SERVE YOU in wavy, white letters that rise like steam, I’m always focused on minute details. A casual passerby that interests me starts out as a character sketch in a little, red notebook I carry with me everywhere, and if he’s interesting enough, I’ll flesh him out and work him into my latest novella or story.
I’ve been a published horror author for over twenty years, and while I’ve had my fair share of successes, there have been a few daunting experiences, too. I despise the misconception that only men can write effective horror. During the mid-1990s, when I started to attend conventions, I was one of a handful female horror authors there, part of a vast minority. We women banded together, seeking collective camaraderie.
When I first started out, I felt a bit intimidated by all of the male horror authors gathered together. I had male horror authors come up to me and ask, “Who are you here with? Where’s your boyfriend?” I would muster up some courage and say, “I’m here promoting my work. Come check out my reading at 3:00 p.m.” And some of those guys would show up and admit afterward that I’d managed to scare them.
I received an invitation to attend I-CON a convention that was held at SUNY Stony Brook in 1998, via an actual letter in the mail — this was before social media’s heyday, though, I did have a website back then — as an author guest and returned several times, it was here that I met the incomparable Linda Addison, one of the rare female horror authors there, and we became fast friends, appearing on several panels together! This was also where I garnered my first handful of loyal fans, who purchased my books and inquired on what I was working on. Such an exhilarating feeling, to be sought after!
From there, I appeared at several other conventions: Chiller Theatre in New Jersey, where I met lots of male horror authors, like Jack Ketchum and F. Paul Wilson, who were very approachable and interested in learning more about my work. At World Horror Con in Atlanta, Georgia way back in 1999, I met Ed Lee, who was also extremely welcoming.
The horror genre is a bit of a boy’s club, no doubt about it. The odds are stacked against female authors, but creative, ambitious women will always find a way to run with the boys. Besides me, over eighty successful horror authors come to mind: Linda Addison, Erin Al-Mehairi, Gemma Amor, Meghan Arcuri, Margaret Atwood, Nico Bell, Nadia Bulkin, Chesya Burke, V. Castro, Elizabeth Crowens, Nicole Cushing, M. Lopes da Silva, Randee Dawn, Sandy DeLuca, Tananarive Due, Stephanie Ellis, Kelly Evans, Gabrielle Faust, Alyson Faye, Graylin Fox, Fran Friel, Fiona Maeve Geist, Jill Girardi, Sephera Giron, April Grey, Carol Gyzander, Marianne Halbert, Sadie Hartmann, Laurel Hightower, Nancy Holder, Claire C. Holland, D.K. Hundt, Tonya Hurley, Magda Kaluzynska, Caroline Kepnes, Nancy Kilpatrick, Gwendolyn Kiste, K.H. Koehler, Kathe Koja, Samantha Kolesnik, Barbara Krasnoff, Monica Kuebler, Red Lagoe, N.R. Lambert, Michelle Lane, Sarah Langan, Charie D. LaMarr, Deborah LeBlanc, Livia Llewellyn, Lisa Mannetti, Chris Marrs, Rena Mason, Catherine McCarthy, S.P. Miskowski, J.H. Moncrieff, Christine Morgan, Lisa Morton, J. Motoki, Lee Murray, Joyce Carol Oates, Marie O’Regan, Kelli Owen, Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo, Sarah Pinborough, Hailey Piper, Cherie Priest, Lisa Quigley, Gina Ranalli, Sarah Read, Zin E. Rocklyn, Cat Scully, Hildy Silverman, Marge Simon, Lucy A. Snyder, Monique Snyman, Zoje Stage, Yolanda Sfetsos, Mitzi Szereto, Denise N. Tapscott, Sonora Taylor, Sara Tantlinger, Dani Trussoni, L.C. von Hessen, Damien Angelica Walters, Colleen Wanglund, Kaaron Warren, Sheri White, A.C. Wise, and Stephanie M. Wytovich.
I’ve gotten to know many of these lovely ladies at various conventions. I’ve noticed that we have several personality traits in common: We’re all extremely ambitious and self-assured — we’re not afraid to speak our minds — we’re also very outgoing and savvy.
At StokerCon™, in historic Providence, Rhode Island, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel comprised solely of female horror authors. In addition to myself, panelists included Meghan Arcuri, Mary Ann Back, April Grey, and Elizabeth Massie. We packed the room and had a lively discussion about the trials and tribulations of not only how we survive in the male-dominated horror genre, but how we manage to thrive! Our legions are growing — we know no bounds…