I remember the first time I received validation for my writing. I was in a workshop headed by Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest, and The Adjustment. We were sitting in the loft at Meshuggah Café when he told me not only did I write well, I wrote noir—it was dark, weird, and full of bad people doing bad things.
I remember, too, the first time I got to say, “I’m a writer.” I’d just had my first short story published and I’d been so eager to tell someone. I don’t remember the man I was talking to, or why we were talking. I do remember this also happened at Meshuggah, and I remember his response.
“Ah, let me guess, romance.”
It wouldn’t be the last time someone tried to put me into a box they considered gender appropriate—whatever that means.
Telling a woman she shouldn’t write darkness is the literary equivalent of telling her to smile.
Alyssa Wong has a wonderful essay in Nightmare Magazine about writing horror. If you haven’t read it, it should be the very next thing you read. In the essay she talks about the rage needed to write dark, scary things.
Later, after I’d moved from St. Louis, I was looking for a community I could engage with and ended up contacting someone via email to arrange a visit to their group. When the man responded to my email he included a link to a social media profile for a woman who shared both my first and last name.
"Ooh, is this you?” he said.
The woman was very pretty, but from her stylish clothes to her expertly applied makeup she was the exact opposite of me. Despite my misgivings, I met with the group. When I walked in and introduced myself, the man I’d been emailing looked me over from my short hair to my boyish clothes.
“Ah…” He looked to the others in the group. “I didn’t know this was going to be so…weird.”
They say write what you know. Women know darkness.
With the emergence of the Me Too movement more women than ever are stepping up and speaking out, and for every woman that says, “yes” there are many more who are still too ashamed, too scared, too scarred to say anything. To quote Ms. Wong, “We have always lived in this place, occupying our bodies and suffering the injustices and very real horrors that come with existing in hostile spaces.”
In my opinion, horror—good horror—is not about the monster. It’s about how we deal with the monster.
Women sit in the darkness, cataloguing it and dissecting it to illuminate the way for others. Celebrate the darkness in women. It has galvanized us, and we are ready to lead the way.
This February marks the ninth annual Women In Horror Month. From Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson to Carmen Maria Machado and Gemma Files women have shaped the horror genre. And, you can’t be involved with the modern day horror world and not know who Ellen Datlow is.
If your bookshelf is light on women horror writers may I suggest Helen Oyeyemi or Jac Jemc? Or, if short stories are more your thing, look at the list I’ve curated below.
“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado. Published in Granta.
"Who Will Greet You At Home" by Lesley Nneka Arimah. Published in The New Yorker.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
“Wendigo” by Micaela Morrissette. Published in Nightmare Magazine.
“In the Cave of the Delicate Singers” by Lucy Taylor. Published at Tor.com
"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong. Published in Nightmare Magazine.
"The Pelican Bar." by Karen Joy Fowler. Published in What I Didn't See.
"Agata's Machine" by Camilla Grudova. Published at The White Review.