Sylvia has stories in Wicked Witches and Wicked Haunted, please visit her links and the bottom of the blog and visit her sites.
This year’s WIHM blog may be a bit of a downer. Or a PSA. Or both.
When I look back on what happened to women in horror in 2017, there’s a mixed bag of good and bag. 2017 was a great year for me. I released a novel, was in three anthologies, and sold a short story for 2018 publication. The coming year may suck, for all I know. This business is a roller coaster. It always has been, and it always will be.
Women put out some killer work this year. But, to be honest, that happens every year.
On the social end of the spectrum, there was a lot of talk about misogyny, harassment, and assault. While in Hollywood, some casting couches went up in flames, in the writing world, we heard some pretty fucked up stories about stuff happening at cons and events.
I’ve heard way too many of these types of stories, recently and not recently, from both in our little corner of the world and outside it.
So here’s my message to the other WIHM this year:
Predators are lurking in every industry and every walk of life. Doesn’t matter whether you are an accountant, a writer, or an aspiring actress. Slimeballs are everywhere. They can seem to be nice guys. They can seem normal. They can even be altruistic. They don’t walk around wearing abuser logos. They’re our neighbors, teachers, uncles, and coworkers. And, unfortunately, as we saw in the news this year, they sometimes make it into positions of power. Larry Nassar. Bill Cosby. Weinstein. Costner. James Franco. Countless coaches, priests, uncles, directors, teachers, agents ... you name it. UN Peacekeepers, for fuck’s sake. The arts, however, may be particularly risky, because we work in industries where word of mouth and connections are so crucial to people who are struggling to make their way up the ladder. When the people have the ability to elevate others, they have leverage. And because leverage in the arts is not something you can easily legislate against or even define, it becomes something we have to somehow navigate around.
If you really want to read something scary, delve into some true stories of encounters with creeps. Many of these stories would fit perfectly into horror novels. Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door is another example of this. I didn’t make it through either the book or movie on my first attempts. The night he died, I gave it another shot. This time –perhaps because I was prepared—I made it through, and was struck by both his talent and also by how he framed power as a catalyst for horrific abuse. It took serious chops to tell a story that brutal without sinking into torture porn. But Girl Next Door wasn’t just disturbing because of the story it told. The truly horrific thing about it was the fact that it was based on truth.
Reality is often much more terrifying than fiction.
This may be our blind spot.
We painstakingly consider every tiny detail of the fictional monsters we create. And yet sometimes we are oblivious to those same characteristics when they are present in our communities. We are so busy creating imaginary monsters that we don’t always see the real ones in our midst.
In reality, pepper spray and self-defense classes are a lot more useful than an ancient cursed sword.
In reality, the serial killer is always the nice guy that no one suspects.
In reality, we sometimes put monsters on pedestals. Who among us didn’t adore Bill Cosby as a kid?
So here comes the PSA part of this post:
Stay vigilant. Always follow basic precautions, whether you are at a con, reading, bar, mall, store, or party. Never accept an opened drink or leave your drink unattended. Don’t drink more than you can handle. Stay near trusted friends. Don’t walk alone at night. Take self-defense classes. (Bonus: this will also likely come in handy for your writing some day.) Carry pepper spray. Or a knife. Or a flamethrower. If you wear skimpy clothes, be extra vigilant. Not because you are asking for attention, but because there are men out there who see it that way, and a dark parking lot is not the place to debate that. Get a dog. Lock your doors. Avoid sticky situations and nope the hell out of anything that seems even slightly off. Watch out for each other. Don’t end up in a situation where you are alone with strange men. And when you go to or leave an event, con, retreat, bar, concert, store, or restaurant, watch out for creepers sitting two tables over, as well as ones in the parking lot.
That little warning bell that sometimes dings in our heads when something seems a little off? Ignore it at your own peril.
This doesn’t just apply to meat-space interactions: you also have to watch out for publishers and agents who will prey on you in other ways, through terrible contracts and shady business practices. It’s always great to get that shiny acceptance. But don’t let your joy blind you into signing a bad contract.
We are often told to make our villains likeable, to make them human. As writers, we hear time and again that even the most despicable antagonists should have good qualities. Shades of grey. As writers and artists, it’s our job to tell the story of our society, even if those stories are draped in fictional lands and haunted by ghosts and demons. We have this amazing/crazy ability to create—and kill—fictionalized versions of our monsters and demons. I hope that this year the women in horror create some truly horrific beasts, both human and inhuman. But as we are doing that, let’s not forget to watch for the real ones.
Ladies: have fun, stay vigilant, and keep kicking ass.