Thursday, February 28, 2019

Women in Horror Month - the Finale

We round out #WIHM 2019. Thank you for reading and please visit the ladies' pages and show some support.

Please read on for Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert:

My Journey to Horror (and Why Women’s Representation in Horror Matters)

I’ve always loved horror. I didn’t fully realize it until a few years ago.
As a panelist on horror-related topics at genre conventions, I often joke that “scifi was my gateway drug to horror.” This is true; and scifi partly obscured my love of horror until I was in my 40s.
One of my first exposures to horror was the TV adaption of Planet of the Apes, circa 1974. I think I’d already seen the movie/(s) by then, but I distinctly remember sitting in my living room, on the green shag carpeting, eyes glued to the television, watching humans suffer at the hands of intelligent apes. Even at six years of age, a part of me understood that this was a metaphor for how people treated each other.
Although most would consider the “Planet of the Apes” products to be scifi, there are definite horror elements—who can forget Charlton Heston seeing the Statue of Liberty buried on the beach at the end of the 1968 film?

Scifi was on quite a bit at my house because my father was a fan. Reruns of Star Trek. Dr. Who. Creature Double Feature on the weekends (if you grew up in the Boston area, and are of “a certain age” you should know what this is!) All of these have noticeable horror elements, even though, again, they were primarily billed as science fiction.

I grew older and discovered my love of reading; I was particularly attracted to dystopias. I began to write dark poetry. A few years later I was reading the early Steven King novels, V.C. Andrews, Coma by Robin Cook, and in high school “true story” novels such as Helter Skelter. By then I’d seen movies such as Amityville Horror, 2001, and Alien (which continues to be one of my top five movies of all time.)
But I did not consider myself a horror fan. In the mid-to-late 80s, the kids I knew who “liked horror” listened to heavy metal music (I didn’t) and watched the predominant horror movies at the time, which were quickly becoming the slasher variety. While never adverse to blood and gore, the “slasher” type of movie never appealed to me (give me demonic possession or an alien bursting out of a chest any day.) In contrast to the “horror fans” I knew, I was a three-sport athlete and involved in various school clubs and activities.

By the time I was in college, it was clear I liked my entertainment “dark,” but I did not embrace the “horror fan” label. I still did not have any close friends who were horror fans, although I did seek out the scifi-loving, “alternative” crowd at my small, catholic college.
Looking back now, I can see that despite being a lifelong feminist, it never occurred to me that “liking” horror was a viable option (there’s an important point to be made here about representation, and I’ll elaborate on that below.) I was already considered odd because I wrote poetry and liked to read science fiction.  And the science fiction I was reading at that time did address more feminist, intersectional, and queer-positive themes (e.g., The Handmaid’s Tale, Woman on the Edge of Time, The Left Hand of Darkness.) Many years later—after almost a decade of often debilitating anxiety and depression—I would re-discover my love of writing and my love of dark fiction. I stumbled upon Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, and my life was never the same.
If you haven’t read Butler’s work (and if you haven’t, you must rectify that immediately) you know how perfectly she combines science fiction and horror, while speaking to issues of race, privilege, gender, and sex. 
And now, back to representation.
Every February during Women in Horror Month, people make statements such as “we need to get to a place where we don’t need a Women in Horror Month.” I agree. And until we get there, we need Women in Horror Months, Black History Months, and similar ways to raise awareness of traditionally-underrepresented groups. This is why representation matters.
I wonder what kind of difference it would have made for me as a youth if I knew of more women writing in horror and other speculative genres. If I’d seen women represented in these genres on-screen in more nuanced and humanizing ways.
As Women in Horror Month draws to a close, I hope to be more visible. I especially want my sisters of color and my queer sisters to be more visible. Our visibility is crucial to the world. Who knows how many girls are out there, waiting to be inspired? Waiting to be told their love of reading, watching, and writing speculative fiction—including horror—is perfectly okay? Similarly, males need to see women represented in fully human ways, no longer simply the “Mary Sue,” the “Manic-Pixie Dreamgirl.” Women’s suffering in fiction should no longer be the easy plot device, driving men’s growth.
Go forth and represent, my sisters!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Womin in Horror Month - Week 3

This week we bring you E. A. Black.

Real Locations For Famous Horror Stories
By E. A. Black

I'd like to thank New England Horror Writers for inviting me to post during Women In Horror Month. So far, my horror writing has consisted of short stories with topics running the gamut from infectious disease to crazy cat ladies. I've been published by small presses. My story "Fog Over Mons" appears in "Wicked Tales: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers Vol. 3".

I used to work in the movies and on TV. I mostly worked as a gaffer (lighting) but I also did scenic painting and makeup including F/X. I did lighting for "Die Hard With A Vengeance" and the movie "12 Monkeys". I did makeup for the TV show "Homicide: Life On The Street". I also did crew work for a slew of concerts and stage shows. So the making of movies and TV has always interested me. I also like to travel, especially to haunted locations, so I always check to see where something is filmed. More often than not it's a sound stage but sometimes there are real locations involved.


I'd wanted to know where 1963's "The Haunting" was filmed ever since I first saw the movie when I was a child and read the novel later as an adult. I wanted to know what influenced Shirley Jackson to come up with such a fun house of a haunted mansion. Turns out she may have been influenced by the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. I've been there twice. This rambling mansion has doors that open into dead space and stairs that go to the ceiling without opening into anything. Sarah Winchester's purpose for having the house built like this was to confuse the spirits searching for her from within. She was told by a psychic (I mean flim flam artist) that the spirits of those killed by her family's famous rifles were out to get her so she needed to build onto the house to keep them at bay. I can see that mansion inspiring the doors that won't stay open in Hill House and the Gothic design of the place.

The Ettington Park Hotel in Warwickshire, England provided the exteriors for Hill House in Robert Wise's 1963 film "The Haunting". This 60 room mansion is reportedly haunted. Of course it is. I've never been to this hotel but if I ever travel to England I'd love to spend some time there.


And now I come to Stephen King's "The Shining". The Overlook Hotel was based on both The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (book) and the Timberline Lodge in Oregon (Kubrick movie). I visited the Stanley Hotel in 2015 for the second Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat.  It was a bit on the run down side but still enjoyable. The hotel is of course rumored to be haunted (aren't they all?), but I didn't see or hear anything unusual. Guests included Josh Malerman, Daniel Knauf, and Jack Ketchum. The thing I liked best about the retreat was how informal, cozy and accessible everyone was. I attended some informative lectures and toured the hotel and grounds. I even did some writing.


Manderly is based on Menabilly, an Elizabethan-era mansion author Daphne du Maurier first saw in the 1920s while trespassing on the grounds. Two decades later she rented the place and lived in it with her family until 1969. Don't try to find the mansion as depicted in the movie since Alfred Hitchcock filmed on a stage set.


More du Maurier and Hitchcock. Bodega Bay is a very small village located on the northern California coast. I've been there. It's very remote. The Potter house, which was used as the schoolhouse in the film, is now a private residence but I managed to drive past it and get a good picture of it. There isn't much reference to the movie in the village but one shop had pictures of the actors and Hitchcock on the walls.


The Murder House from the first season of "American Horror Story" – The Rosenheim Mansion in L. A. Built in 1908 by Alfred Rosenheim who designed it himself.

The Exorcist – The famous staircase where Father Karras met his end is located on M Street near Prospect Street near Georgetown University. The house where the movie was filmed is a private residence but the stairs may still be open to the public.


E. A Black had enjoyed telling scary stories to a captive audience since she was a child. She grew up in Baltimore, the home of Edgar Allan Poe who has inspired her to write. Due to her love for horror and dark fiction she joined Broad Universe, a networking group for women who write speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Zippered Flesh 2, Zippered Flesh 3, Teeming Terrors, Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2, Wicked Tales: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers Vol. 3, Heart of Farkness, and more. She won a Best Short Story mention on The Solstice List@ 2017: The Best Of Horror for Invisible, which appears in Zippered Flesh 3. In addition to horror, she writes erotica and romance as Elizabeth Black. Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, where she posts as Elizabeth Black. Check out her web site at She lives on the Massachusetts coast in Lovecraft country. The beaches often call to her, but she has yet to run into Cthulhu.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Women in Horror Month - Week 2 2019

For our second installation of Women in Horror month, we welcome Christine Lajewski.

Christine Lajewski                                                                             

                                                             She’s Got Agenda
            Women in Horror Month is a good opportunity to praise horrible women.  My appreciation for dreadful femmes has grown over time, and they have become frequent companions in the creative process.  I don’t just enjoy reading or writing about them.  For six weeks every year, I get to be one of them.
            I am a scare actor during the Halloween season.  I played bad people in haunted attractions for about ten years before I started writing horror. (Prior to that, I wrote about my teaching experiences and spiritual fantasy.) Something shifted during those seasons I spent made-up as something wicked, waiting for the next group of guests to stray past my shadowy corner.  During the lulls between scares, I began writing short pieces of horror fiction in my head.  It was inevitable, I suppose, that the first ones revolved around terrible ways to die.  Mental images of the big dust storms of the 1930s, for example, eventually became a story that asked:  What if dust had a malevolent will?  What if it ebbed and flowed and rippled across your parched land, and crashed in filthy tsunamis against your house?
In time, my stories moved from horrible deaths to horrible women, inspired by the characters I portrayed each Septober:  a mole rat woman at a toxic dump, a spider woman protecting her egg sacs, and a variety of ill-tempered hags. The horrible women on the written page were not necessarily the same ones lurking at the spooky attraction, but I found myself channeling a certain energy when the Halloween season ended, and I resumed writing.  The stories not only included dangerous ladies; they often skewed into insane agendas.
In a haunt, an actor has anywhere from thirty seconds to a couple of minutes to make an impression on her “guests.”  Costume and makeup help but they will not carry the scare any more than good cover art will sustain the book.  I am an older woman who can be physically imposing up to a point. If I’m going to make you scream, however, I’m going to do it by being disturbing, and setting every expectation of what a matronly woman should be on its ass.  My most successful characters have pursued the insane agenda--motives that are never fully explained but hint that something unusually horrifying is about to happen.  Guests will always pose questions: “Are you a witch?  Are you a vampire?”  They want to identify my character with something they already know, something that is less scary because it is familiar. I won’t give them an answer. I’ll make insect clicks or animal noises or croak nonsense.  I will silently pursue.
 It turns out the haunt minute is not far removed from a piece of horror flash fiction.  The insane agenda became an intrinsic part of many of my fictional females, quickly sketched out in my head, then expanded on paper.  (In my collection Erring on the Side of Calamity, “Dämon Tanze”, “Tiny Spider Love”, “Yum-yum, Bite-bite”, “Evicted” and “Babies” were hatched over long hours spent in a creepy locale.)  Certainly, male characters have crazy motives, too.  But I believe our ancient expectations of the feminine imbues dysfunctional, infanticidal, despotic and cruel women with a peculiar and appalling flavor.  
            What makes a character a truly horrible woman with an insane agenda?  Francisca in The Eyes of My Mother is one of my favorite examples.   For my purposes, she needs something beyond a hunger to feed on hapless victims or to carry out acts of violent retribution.  I’d like to think she might have been a goddess, displaced by new gods, unceremoniously dumped into a lower order of being.  At one time, she might have lashed out against her humiliators, and the devotees who turned their backs on her.  Five millennia later, she no longer feels any rage. Her compulsion to inflict pain and death is now merely ritual.  She neither knows nor cares how to answer her victims’ cries for reason or release.
            Perhaps she is a more maternal sort.  She thought she had a loving spouse until Daddy did something awful to her children.  But Mommy is benevolent.  She’s not interested in punishment. She believes it’s more important to teach Daddy how to be a good father—no matter what it takes, or how long Daddy needs to be schooled.
Or, maybe she is not the matriarch she used to be.  Long ago and with good reason, her children abandoned her. She is more obsessed with feeding others than in satiating herself.  She is a harpy with a bared breast, and the teat she offers lets down a black, viscous, toxic milk.  Woe to the unattended babe in the cradle.
            She could be young, newly independent and inquisitive about the world around her. She opens one Pandora’s box after another, just to see what happens.  But it’s not actually a box; it’s someone’s skull or abdomen. Flies gather, the stench is horrible, and the plaything begs for death. She is not bothered by that.  Her curiosity is detached and fathomless. She takes a last look at her handiwork and moves on to the next surprise.
            Some of these horrible women popped into my head during the most recent haunt season, others later, but it is a process that continues through the year—story ideas alongside potential haunt characters for next fall.  I don’t know which ones will be acted and which will be written.  But this is how I keep Halloween going all year, with horrible women as my co-celebrants.

Read the first 60 pages of Bonebelly, about a hell dweller fascinated by a local haunt, at this link:
Author page:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Clutching My Pearls; or Sushi Rolls Not Gender Roles

Clutching My Pearls; or Sushi Rolls Not Gender Roles

By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

            This post has no swear words.

            You see, I recently received some notes from an editor for a flash story I submitted. It was rejected, but I’m always happy to see feedback with my rejections. Constructive criticism is rarely a bad thing.

            Except most of the feedback was positive. “I was engaged from the beginning. I loved this.” But. In rejection notices, there’s always a but. “Your language was excessive.”

            I completely understand there are stories for which peppery language is unnecessary and even distracting. I wouldn’t write a story in which the protagonist was a child and drop infinite F bombs. That would be inappropriate.

            This story, however, was about the front-woman for a punk band. It’s been pointed out to me that this probably explains the hesitancy of this publication to accept something they otherwise enjoyed. I have a strong female protagonist who––GASP––uses swears.

            Women––and men, too––are conditioned to believe that women are soft and proper. We’re not supposed to swear or have ambitions beyond being an agreeable doormat. And if we do voice dissenting opinions, we’re expected to be reasonable and polite about it.

            Horror itself has long been a genre dominated by men, despite Mary Shelley’s significant contributions.

            Growing up, I read speculative fiction almost exclusively. Horror and science fiction writers were my rock stars. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be one of them. I learned how to be a writer from people like Stephen King and Octavia E. Butler and Harlan Ellison and Flannery O’Connor. They fueled my imagination.

             It was pointed out to me by well-meaning but judgmental, backwards, and narrow-minded relatives that romance was a great and lucrative genre in which to write. And they were right, of course. Romance is popular. I have nothing against romance novels or their writers, but it wasn’t my place.

            I was a bookish dork who loved B-movies and comic books. What did I know about romance? More importantly, romance fiction held no interest for me beyond the dogeared pages my friends passed around at our lunchroom table in middle school. The implication was clear. Romance was acceptable for a woman to write.

            The language of romance is soft and proper. The more vulgar words for male and female genitals are window-dressed in ambiguous terms like “manhood” and “flower.” Swear words are kept at a minimum and are almost always uttered by men in a fit of passion or rage. Curse words are manly.
            Eons ago, I dated a jerk who seemed genuinely appalled that I drank and swore. This was a person who fancied himself a “progressive.” Spoiler alert: That relationship did not last long at all. My former husband once suggested I might have Tourette syndrome because I swear so much. I have no neurological disorder, I’m not a loose or immoral woman, and I’m not possessed by a demon––not that there’s anything wrong or bad about any of those things. I’m actively seeking a demon, as a matter of fact.

            What I am is a human being. There are times when a swear word is the only one that will properly convey what you mean or how you feel. There are times when you’re just really CENSORED angry, and a well-placed expletive makes you feel better. And, yes, there are situations in which excessive language is absolutely appropriate.

            Let’s say I’ve written a story set on the high seas. Bartelby Q. Squigly, sailor extraordinaire, gets whacked in the back of the head by a mast boom. This is probably going to hurt. Should our hero shout out:

A)    Golly-gee, fellows. I say. That conked my coconut but good. I shall have to lie down.
B)    Boy-howdy, does that smart! I am truly one foolish individual, getting smacked like that.

If you chose option C, you’ve probably been hit in the head before.

      Choosing the proper swears and the proper occasions to use them in fiction is just as important as choosing any other word. In short fiction––and especially in flash fiction––words are at a premium. Selecting the right ones is crucial to building a world beyond what you see. Painting a picture is essential for your reader. The frontwoman for a punk band is probably going to swear. A lot. She’s probably going to be a take-no-crap strong woman because, much like horror, her world is male-dominated. In order to make a name for herself, she’s had to claw her way past a lot of people who didn’t believe she deserved to be there.

      There will always be people who object to strong language. There will always be people who believe women should be quiet and proper and obedient. You’re not writing for those people.

Lady writers, let the F bomb drop if it suits your needs. If your beer-swilling, punk-listening protagonist needs to let fly and call the President of the United States a name Samuel L. Jackson has made his trademark, go for it. And if anyone tells you women shouldn’t swear, feel free to wave at them with your favorite finger. 


About Sheri:

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel’s short fiction has appeared in a number of publications over the past decade. Spirits, her first novel, will be released in July from Haverhill House Publishing. She lives in the Northeast with her partner, the writer Matt Bechtel; her three children; and an 80-pound lapdog named Nya.