Friday, February 19, 2016

Women in Horror Part 2

We welcome Trisha Wooldridge for the next guest blog.

Women in Horror: The stories that need to be told…

There’s a regular debate that happens whenever a “special” month or celebration comes up: Black History, 

Women’s History, Native American…

“Why do we need a special month for…?”

There are plenty of studies and statistics. Take some initiative and Google them. I’ll summarize: Even with the extra attention on these histories, these stories, these people, these authors—even during these “special” months—these voices of the non-dominant culture are STILL outnumbered and overshadowed by the voices of the dominant culture: white, male, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual…

Since I write for both grown-ups and children, I have been able to work with the We Need Diverse Books organization. One of the frequently given answers to “Why DO we need diverse books?” is to explain that we need both mirrors and windows. Readers need to be able to see themselves in fiction and they need to be able to see others besides themselves.

With horror, in particular, we need this.  The point of horror is to face the things that frighten us in a “save” environment of a book. Horror also develops empathy as we care about characters going through the dangers and fear in the pages. In this case, people in the non-dominant cultures need to see themselves; they deserve to have that ability to face fears safely in the pages, to have that catharsis, to feel empowered. And those reading already in the dominant culture need to share the fears of people different from themselves, to learn about horrifying things they may not have realized are horrifying.
Looking at women in particular, since I’m writing for the “Women in Horror” aspect of February, I often share this story with people.

In an old writers group I used to belong to, I shared a story where a key plot point was where a mother and daughter were approaching the car and the mother avoids an immediate attack by checking the back seat before she got to the car.

The usually-first-to-comment gentleman in the group asked, “How did she know to look in the back seat? Was something off? You need to show that.”

I, and every other woman in the group, responded, “You mean you don’t naturally check the back seat when you approach your car?”

That threw him off. “No, why would I?”

You see, if you’re a guy reading this who may not have had a lot of interaction with women or has not had regular discussions with women about how safe we feel in the world, you might not realize that just about all of us have been taught by our mothers, from a very young age, that you always, always, ALWAYS, check the back seat of any car you are approaching.

And that’s without—at least in the case of my mom—having seen an abundance of horror films where the killer rises ominously out of the back seat. You just check.

Just like you always de-escalate any confrontation with men, you always go to the bathroom with friends, you take extra care if you walk out to your car alone, you wait till your girlfriends get safely into their houses after you drop them off, you watch your drinks—and your friends’ drinks, you are prepared to be abused for dressing too sexy or not sexy enough or not smiling—because everyone else knows better about what you should be doing with your body. Women live being prepared for more frightening things than most men realize.  My list is incomplete, so take a few minutes to check out a more complete one here.
And that’s just regular, everyday horror preventative planning.  There is also regular, everyday actual horror, like this.

How women deal with threats and violence, how they are taught to protect themselves, and how their brain chemistry drives them are all different—and we know when a portrayal of these things is inauthentic. We get frustrated when women do stupid things in horror novels and horror novels that we know women just wouldn’t do. Without women writing these things accurately, misinformation given in literature and pop culture gets accepted as reality—we already see that with our existing rape culture.

And then we are further isolated, our real-world issues continue unabated and unaided and unknown to the people who actually have power to make laws and decide court verdicts. That’s another level of horror: A system we cannot count on. After all, in 2005, it was mandated by the Supreme Court that the police don’t have to protect you. Even if you’ve got a restraining order. Against someone who’s violently attacked you before.

We won’t even get into how fucking hard it is to prosecute rapists. Even with DNA evidence. Just Google it; there are far more links than you want me to post in a single blog.

And then, of course, when women take matters into their own hands to protect themselves, they face even more horror stories. Beyond being called bitches, saying we should be punished for being “uppity,” we also get hit with the arguments—often from other women—that “we shouldn’t have to teach women to protect themselves from rape; we need to teach men not to rape.” And then we get assaulted with memes that blame us for letting other women get raped whenever we teach preventative measures.

To which I have a longer blog post brewing that I can quickly sum up, now, with a “teaching people to not murder, since the first recorded, codified laws, carved in stone, from Ancient Sumeria, has TOTALLY stopped people from being murdered.”

But yeah, if a woman hasn’t got one end of culture blaming her for getting raped, she’s got another group of people vilifying her for not getting raped. That’s not a horror story at all.

Basically, there is a lot of horror in a regular woman’s life. Besides just violent assaults, rape culture, passive sexism—there’s also how difficult it is for women to get medical attention for serious issues (that don’t involve removing “ta-tas” because we should all keep our sexy ta-tas for the pleasure of those gazing upon them). But really, how many advertisements do we see on television for erectile dysfunction? How many have you seen for the extremely common issue of dysmenorrhea, or severe menstrual cramps that have one in five or more women in incapacitating pain? Every. Single. Month. What, you haven’t seen those ads? Oh, right, there isn’t one. Because there isn’t research going into that and there isn’t treatment beyond birth control or some sort of surgery (all of which actually require serious hoop-jumping for women to get, particularly the latter two because it could, possibly, interfere with a woman’s baby-making capabilities. Regardless of if she already knows she doesn’t want children.)

Women have a lot of stories to tell. A lot of horror stories. These stories should be out there, informing our culture and giving comfort, catharsis, and “no, you’re not alone in this” assurances, to women who deal with their already regularly-scheduled, everyday horror.

The way we tell these stories, with our voices filled with our pain… The way we market them, the way we want to be marketed to, the way we feel comfortable marketing, in our voices and our styles... All of that so very often is, at best, ignored, and at worst, openly mocked or considered an excuse for some man to tell us we deserve to get raped for such crimes against “real” horror or literature. 

And no, I’m not exaggerating that last point either. Hell… look at any feminist post on anything and you can write a horror story from the comments section.

Really. Google it.

So, taking a month to try and have these voices less ignored, less mocked—and maybe, just maybe, taken seriously, supported, shared with people who need to read them—that’s why this month is important.  Would I like to see a day when we don’t need to take this extra effort? Of course I would.  When will that be? Well, to paraphrase the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg when she’s asked when there will be enough women Justices on the Supreme Court… We won’t need a Women in Horror month when all-women anthologies aren’t “something special,” when award dockets are just as likely to be all women as all men, when publishing houses release a month or more of titles that just happen to be women, when a year goes by where all titles happen to be ones written by women, when I can mention that I write horror and not get incredulous looks, when stating “I don’t read horror by women” becomes an embarrassing phrase people are ashamed to utter in any company.

Until then, we need our special month. And so do you. And so does everyone who reads horror and claims they appreciate horror.

You can find Trisha on Facebook and all over a certain online book retailer: Trisha's author page

Friday, February 5, 2016

Women in Horror: part 1

This year to acknowledge Women in Horror month, we've asked/borrowed blog posts from our female fiends... friends.  The first post is "borrowed" from Larissa Glasser.  Read on and enjoy.

Let the Bad Guys Win!

Let the Bad Guys Win! Finally back!
And just in time for Women in Horror Month!

Much like NaNoWriMo, this celebration of womens’ contributions to the SF/H field provides me with bonus incentive to get as much reading and writing done in relatively short time period (erm–and WiHM celebrations take place during the shortest month of year). But 2016 is a leap year, so that gives me an extra fucking 24-hours to finish the  Rabies draft! I know–whoosh! Stadium lighters in the air, right?
Haha, no seriously, it’s nice to have the month of commemoration, but we can all uphold the same visibility and appreciation during the entire year. Mary Shelley lays a wholly legitimate claim to the most auspicious origins of our genre, after all. And don’t forget that Gamergate tripe from last year–it seems to have accelerated–the same flaccid, sexist bullshit still wheezes right along, egregiously in some SF/H circles like some New [Old] Right Warrior principle-crusade. Pfffffft lame.
So keep the legends alive, discover and share new ones, contribute reviews of authenticity, and kick ass moving forward. Women destroy, men destroy, queers destroy, trans destroys, metal destroys, ALL DESTROY.

I spent part of January 2016 enrolled in my first LitReactor class “The Choreography of Violence” with John Skipp, an auspicious workshop experience that provided some clear-cut, indispensable tech pointers I was able to apply towards the next installments of Imperator–Terror Lizard along with the new Rabies project. I don’t know long the latter will be–with the scope of WTF I’ve been plotting for her ladyship, she’ll likely exceed 10K. We’ll see–there’s the Cut 10% [MINIMUM] rule, all told.
So while I was away (sort of), I was hardly idle in late 2015. I was grinding edits and heavy macro-development into my novel, submitted it around a bit. I’ve decided moving forward I’m changing the title to The Night Faith, because that fits in much better with the newly-accelerated cult violence and mortal trauma I put my narrator through. I’m hoping to put him through even worse for the next two books. Be careful what you wish for.

Writing a narrator of the opposite gender is always a fun voice to summon. I like to throw chainsaws at his flailing arms. It’s nice character building–after all, we are what we do in reaction to fucked-up things.
I also think Night Faith sounds much appropriate for the evil forces in the story–I kept thinking of perfect soundtrack accompaniment and that Melvins classic “Night Goat” kept coming back at me. That bass riff just oozes atonal filth, evokes wide vistas of corrupt and diseased flesh/spirit, and somehow just makes me keep thinking of the lengths kids might go to stave off their boredom in suburbia. I was a suburban kid who got into my share of River’s Edge mischief, but never to the extent of ritual sacrifice (not even in my nightmares, trust me folks). But looking back at that time, I kept thinking about how things could have gone differently, had I fallen in with a hypothetical group of kids who actually wanted to act out some of those Slayer lyrics –“hey why not just kill that whole family next door and hold their souls captive? Spark up a fatty behind the K-Mart afterwards?”

That’s the level of crassness, viciousness, recklessness I was going for with these kids. Oh, and speaking of which, they do of course have their Pied Piper — multiple edit passes also made me see I had to really also crank up the Iago-maliciousness of the book’s main antagonist, and when I realized that anger and envy motivated many of the enemy actions against my main character, that evil became much more fun to pin down. Anger and fear makes people do shitty (and stupid) things, then the cycle of victimhood revolves as the main character seeks retribution. Icelandic sagas are stacked with this revolving moral ambiguity.
But even as any neatly-wrapped story of good vs. evil will come out with one on top, I’m so tempted to let evil win. Like I said, The Night Faith is first book of a trilogy, and I’ve got the series plot nailed pretty tight, but I’m also harboring a lingering doubt as to who will (or should) really win this fight in the end.
So okay then, let’s say I decide to give evil the day—why would I even be tempted to let the bad guys win? Perhaps because there’s a part of me that finds an evil victory oddly satisfying, and wanting more to come back for more and eventually achieve the goodness of true justice (perhaps in the hopes of eventually arriving at a Purple Wedding moment, a less morally ambiguous conclusion?).

I admit my favorite part of The Lord of the Rings is when Sauron ultimately topples, and he realizes he fucked up BAAAADLY because it hadn’t even occurred to him that by investing all of his power, greed, and hunger into The One, he effectively murdered himself. But another part of what makes the buildup to that so awesome is that he almost wins several times over! Part of me wants evil to prevail even in my most extravagant fantasy, because in real life, we don’t live in a reliable meritocracy. The vicarious satisfaction through fiction is such a relief, because we observe from a fairly safe distance.
Sometimes the worst evil is rewarded, encouraged. Tolkien’s saga is often criticized, rightly so, for having an ingenuously binary view of good vs. evil.

We are all capable of good or evil, degrees of both, intentionally or not. Simultaneous attraction and revulsion. Horror at its deepest, roiling, wonderful core.
So in lieu of anymore pedantic reflection on why evil in literature and film is, in its own devious way, very appealing even to the best angels of our nature–here is a list of my Top Five Bad Guy Wins in film.
I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. Still–if you haven’t seen any of these, look away, close this window, watch them and then please come back, comment, contribute your own lists also. Life is a motherfucker so I don’t like to flinch from the realities (and appeal) of letting the bad guys win. Often, these victories border on the heroic, and that is pretty fucking disgusting. Nom nom.

1.) The Vanishing a.k.a. Spoorloos (1988)
This story is glorious in its portrayal of obsession and the psychology of a murderer. Most people who have seen “The Vanishing” tend to agree it’s one of the most messed up, glorious endings in the history of horror. Based on Tim KrabbĂ©’s 1984 novella The Golden Egg, the story centers on a man who, after years of public campaigning to find out what happened to his girlfriend (she’d gone missing during a petrol stop), finally meets and confronts her kidnapper. The man only wants to know what happened to her. The suspect agrees to show him what she experienced.

2.) Arlington Road (1999)
At first, “Arlington Road” follows a somewhat pat, milky “Rear Window” scenario. A widowed history professor, played by Jeff Bridges, greets new neighbors (played wonderfully against type by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) and comes to suspect by degrees that they are planning to bomb the FBI headquarters in Washington. The story becomes increasingly more compelling, however, as false threads are unraveled, re-strung, tightened wherein Bridges’s girlfriend and son are drawn into the domestic terror web. As the story becomes more frenetic, and drenched with even more distrust and paranoia, Bridges falls victim to a ploy of “Wicker Man”-like proportions and the final beat made me sit back and exclaim “Holy Shit!” And then history is written by the victors, and that freaked me out even more. It’s worth seeing at least once. Evil walks!

3.) The Collector (1965)
William Wyler directed two overwrought, mewling melodramas that I love dearly–“Ben Hur” (1959) and “The Children’s Hour” (1962). He also directed one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. “The Collector” is so beautiful, and so infuriating.
The main character Frederick (Terence Stamp) is the real deal–sociopathic, self-absorbed, cold, and so unpredictable he makes the pathology of that boring cisgender dingleberry Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs” seem like a feminist icon.
After coming into a sudden, fateful torrent of fortune, Frederick buys a fortified estate and kidnaps a young art student Miranda (Samantha Eggar, who you MUST also see in “The Brood”) whom he’s obsessed over for years. A duel of wills, propriety, manipulation, and abject cruelty ensues. It is very uncomfortable to watch.

“The Collector” is gendered horror is its most profane and malignant form–“I’m going to make you do want I want, because that’s what I want, and you have no say in the matter. I know I promised to let you go. I changed my mind. That’s my right, and not yours.”

4.) Chinatown (1974)
Noah Cross = Father of the Year?
Vomit–the horror of that final girl Katherine Cross’s fate after the police “deal with” her mother, the very person they should have been protecting, sets this story apart from the rest. Polanski has his personal baggage, of course, but that soul-sucking ending belongs to Robert Towne. I should add, in fairness, that “Chinatown” also offers some of the funniest moments in 1970s cinema, carried brilliantly by Jack Nicholson. These interspersed clown-penis jabs at the expectations of the audience are another caustic element of Polanski’s work that, despite his obvious character flaws and the disturbing nature of his subject matter, makes his accomplishments in eliciting horror difficult to deny.

5.) A Clockwork Orange
Alex doesn’t just get away with it all–he becomes a scion of the state. No ill deed goes unrewarded. Alex’s journey grinds him through the gears, to be sure, but his ultimate triumph is a modern dystopian fairytale, and of course Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) also gives me the shudders, but IMHO he is a lightweight by comparison.
I welcome information on anything you know of–any character trajectory that’s more fucked-up than that of Alex. Because I think I would like to get away from him, even if that means falling out of the frying pan and into the fire. Comment away.
Pleasant dreams.

Please DO visit Larissa at