Guest Article – Why I Love Horror by Rebekah Ross

I’m walking in the woods. There’s no one around, and it’s 2005 so I don’t have a cellphone. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot him – Edgar Allan Poe. To his left a raven flaps its wings and quoths its lore of some sad sorrow nevermore. To his right, the ghost of Annabel Lee floats eerily far from her graveside by the sea. This horror drew me in with a sort of inevitable curiosity to look at the things I was told didn’t exist. It reaches out to the misshapen in all of us: the still-bleeding wounds, the aching scars, the hidden traumas. The monstrous side of us refuses to be shut out from our lives, and it’s only by embracing it that we find our humanity.

I was instantly fascinated by the dissonance inherent between the melodiousness of Poe’s language and the brokenness of his characters. Call me a sucker, but any fool with a thesaurus and a solid grasp of assonance can lure me into their wine cellar for a good time. The beauty of it beats like a still thumping heart under your floorboards. Poe’s characters all had some idée fixee that we do not understand and perhaps do not entirely wish to understand, and it drove them further and further into the territory of the morbidly inexplicable and societally incorrect. Nevertheless, the horror is real whether or not we want it to be real and whether or not we can believe it to be real. The story is right there on the page, solid in black and white. It cannot be untold.

It’s 2010. I’m walking through a foggy town. The cars lining the sidewalks are empty and still, and the houses lining the streets are dark and void. I shiver. Before me looms the brick-and-mortar school where my dad works. It was built in the 30s, and hasn’t been renovated in at least twenty years. As I enter, I can almost hear the shriek of mouldering monsters behind me, lonesome forgotten things that have never seen sunlight. Each step of the old wooden staircase creaks with age and memory, the ghosts of schoolchildren that have long since grown and gone. It isn’t Silent Hill, but it could be.

That could-be is enough to make me quicken my walk and rush to the safety of electric light where nothing can lurk in the corners unseen. There isn’t anything out there, of course; but the thought that there could be makes me more careful in places where I’m at my most vulnerable. I think twice. I watch where I’m going. The memory and resonance of horror keeps me safe, because it keeps my eyes open and my feet fast.

It also raises questions. Silent Hill has two states of being: the Otherworld, and the real world. The real world is an abandoned small town, foggy and isolated; the Otherworld is a rusty distortion of that same place, bleeding and populated. The one place can rapidly shift into its double with little to no warning. The monsters themselves are psychological amalgamations of the protagonist’s fears and leftovers from previous games – but it’s never entirely clear if they’re humans you see as monsters, or delusions of your drugged imagination. In the same way, it’s rarely clear whether or not the protagonist is as much of a monster as the ones they fight. The question raised is this: what makes a monster?

It’s 2013, and my first year away from home for college. I’m alone and don’t know anyone in the area yet. I do the research; I learn the risks; I calculate the odds. One out of 8 women get sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, and it’s rarely the stranger they have to worry about; it’s the people they already know. The Gift of Fear teaches me how to watch out for myself and for others, how to trust my instincts, and how to see boundary-crossing for the dangerous thing it is. I learned how not to excuse the inexcusable, even if making excuses is easier. I know what things go bump in the night, and I bump back.

It’s 2014. I’m looking for fun things to do on the internet, and I find Fallen London – a Victorian Gothic interactive fictional take on history, if history had included London being stolen from the Surface to far below the earth’s crust. The overriding theme of Fallen London is complicity. What are the things you’ll say yes to and the things you’ll say no to? You start the game dropped in prison and have to fight your way out into the city. Any purity you could lay claim to is vanished. As soon as you escape, you’re plunged into a world of hanged men’s clothes and whispered secrets. While the status quo may level out to an ersatz normal at first, the things beneath the normalcy are far stranger and mysterious than could possibly be imagined.

Small horrors grow in the gaps between larger ones, and they all become commonplace through exposure. It just stops being weird to have primordial shrieks and stolen correspondences in your inventory. Scams become organized crime, and a cut-throat becomes a policeman. Jack-of-Smiles could possess any passerby in a murdering frenzy, and no one would blink. You simply get up, heal your capacious wounds, and go on with your day. Your Cheerful Goldfish can become a Haunted Goldfish without very much effort on your part.

It takes all your wits to survive. Devils want to purchase your soul – after all, it’s not as if you’re using it, dear. Something eternally hungry walks of nights and calls you delicious friend. Rubbery Men, weird tentacled things, slosh the streets in ill-fitting human suits of clothing. Clay Men speak little and do much. And the rumors about the Royal Family are scarcely to be believed! You can’t thrive in Fallen London if you don’t compromise on something, somewhere. It’s a world where there are no good choices and the line between human and other is continually contorted.

In a place of such fluid moral ambiguity, monstrosity is a matter of definition. Anything can become normal; anything can become horrific. Your choices drive your failures as much as your successes.  For me, this was a liberating narrative. In Fallen London, you are free to do as you will, with all the consequences that result from such agency. The only thing you have to carry is the memory of the things you’ve done. The monster at the end of the book, so to speak, is you – even in a darkness of larger ones with sharper teeth and stranger skins. They’re coming to eat you, if you don’t eat them first.

It’s 2018. Because of horror, there’s now more monsters in my closet than clothes. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories whisper strange truths to me about the toxic tincture of violence and love: how violence can warp and mold a person, how love can be selfish and self-sacrificing all at once. Frankenstein’s monster is still sitting on an iceberg, having isolated itself from the world it wanted so much to know – forever rejected and three times a murderer. The Phantom of the Opera is here, inside my mind.

I admit some slight hyperbole, but that illusion of closeness matters. That these things can wind themselves into our imaginations and haunt our nightmares – it makes a difference. You don’t get that kind of impact without some sort of connection. The horror is in our relation to these creations of our unthinkable uglinesses. They are us, at our most socially unacceptable. They are us, when we look into the mirror in the middle of the night. They are us, when we don’t want to be ourselves.

So what does it mean, really, to look at the horrific and see humanity? The monster in the closet is yourself; or a reflection of yourself you’d rather not look at; or worse yet a reflection of other people through the filter of your imagination. They are a transgression. You can run and never truly escape from the fear that pursues you, or you can choose to reach out and touch the thing that scares you. Choosing to embrace these things is the way I find I have to approach horror. It’s a place of empathy – of looking at the ugliness and refusing to look away – and it has defined so much of my approach to life that I could never be ungrateful.

International Women’s Day – Silvia Brown

Before I was aware of International Women’s Day and the women’s rights movement, the 8th of March meant only one thing to me. My gran’s birthday.

Grandma Montse was the matriarch of our family and the reason I became a horror writer. She never learnt to read nor write but was a gifted storyteller that spooked young and old with creepy stories passed down through generations. Given the opportunity, I believe she’d have been a reader and a writer.

Grandma passed away when I was 12 years-old. I watched it all happened from my hiding spot under the living room table as my family set up her death bed in the same room she used to tell me stories.

It’s hard to lose someone so important so early in life. Gran was the one person that accepted me for who I was and encouraged me to keep doing what I loved: Reading and writing. Grandma Montse would have been 85 years old today. She taught me to be brave and to embrace the darkness in my soul.

A darkness I share with my peer women horror writers. Emerging and established writers from all over the world thriving and leaving a path for the rest
of us to follow. Grandma would be proud I look up to such strong women. Today may be International Women’s Day and last month may have been Women in Horror Month, but to me, you ladies should be celebrated every day.

 

-Silvia Brown

 

Silvia is a member of the Australasian Horror Writers Association. You can find her on twitter here and on her personal website here

Guest Article from Jillian Maria

They say “write what you know,” and I do. Most of the time, it’s on purpose — I’ll draw on my own mannerisms and reactions to make characters believable, or I’ll pull on tropes that I like and subvert the ones that I don’t.

But sometimes, I write what I know without even realizing that I’m doing it.

My main project, with the working title of Songbird, just finished its second draft recently. In it, a girl named Elizabeth is kidnapped by an evil, immortal witch known only as the Mistress who locks her in a bird cage, curses her to grow feathers that slowly suck the life out of her, and forces her to sing on a stage every night.

Like all of my horror-based projects, I drew on fears that I knew I had. Cages, body horror, public speaking (or, well, singing, in Elizabeth’s case). But when reading through the draft with fresh eyes, I noticed something a little more insidious lurking in between the lines.

When Elizabeth is kidnapped, her clothes are taken from her and replaced by a white dress while she’s unconscious. The Mistress has the power to give commands that are physically impossible to disobey using only her voice. At one point, Elizabeth notes that her body hasn’t really felt like her own since the moment she woke up in the cage. The feathers turn it from a home home to a tomb of hollow bones for her to rot in. And the Mistress’s voice turns her mind against her, too.

From a young age, I was raised with the knowledge that someone could, at any time, override my desires and force me into an encounter that I did not ask for or want, leaving me feeling much like Elizabeth does in Songbird.

Now, make no mistake — sexual assault, and the resulting crises that stem from the loss of autonomy and consent, does not just happen to women. It’s something that can happen to any gender.

But from a very young age, I was taught to never leave my drink alone in an unfamiliar place. I was sent off to college with a can of pepper spray. Whenever I tell my mom that I’m going out with friends, she inevitably tells me carpool so I don’t have to drive through the city alone after dark. I am an adult, and I should be self-sufficient, but I always make sure someone knows where I’m going, who I will be with, and what time I intend to be home.

I have been raised with these expectations, with this fear, because I am a woman. There’s no way around it. Every time I mention it to my friends, it only confirms my suspicions — my female friends will inevitably share my experience, while my male friends are more often than not surprised.

I didn’t realize how pervasively that fear cropped up in my own writing until I read it. Indeed, most of the horror in Songbird stems from the absolute helplessness Elizabeth feels when confronted with a villain that she physically cannot say “no” to. It stems from the same fear that puts the pepper spray in my purse, the same fear that makes me bring my drink with me to the bathroom when I’m out at the bar.

There’s something a little disturbing about the fact that I didn’t recognize it for what it was until after I was finished writing it. It’s because I’m so used to it. I’ve known this fear for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, I even forget that it isn’t something normal, that I shouldn’t have to feel this way.

Of course, we’re making strides as a society. We’re getting better at identifying abusers, at punishing them. But I have to wonder how many generations it will take before little girls aren’t raised with the inherent fear that my friends and I have learned.

Jillian Maria can be found on twitter here

You can find Jillian on tumblr here

Dear Horror Fans – A Love Letter by Danica Deering

Dear Horror Fans: A Love Letter

 

Spoiler alert: this letter is going to be an internal struggle. A horror fan mustn’t ever reveal their soft side!  I am chomping at the bit to rattle off a string of obscenities on this page. I don’t know if I can censor myself. I will try. I might fail.

So… we’re highlighting women in horror this week. I suppose I can now consider myself a “woman in horror”, perhaps through my treasured title as the resident “Monster Honey” over at The Horror Honeys . Or maybe as a result of my twisted after-hours job producing the horror films of Night Walker Cinema. OK, there was the shameless promotion, but really, hop on over and check them out. You won’t regret it.

Still with me? Thanks for sticking through that.

In reality, I jumped on the horror bandwagon from a very young age. I wrote a bit about this in another article featured on this wonderful site several months ago. In that article I posed a question: is there a “profile” of a horror fan? Is there something about us that is sick, or wrong, or just plain crazy?

Wait- don’t answer that.

Since writing that article, I believe I have found an answer. YES, we have a “profile”. This profile is in stark contrast to what many have conjectured in the popular media. I wrote this very early in my tweeting career, but I still believe it to be true: horror fans FEEL deeper, play HARDER, love FIERCELY, give COMPLETELY, and are THE most supportive people I have EVER met. Many of us also struggle harder with our own torturous demons.

But WHY, or more importantly, HOW? How can we go from cheering on a dismemberment by chainsaw one moment, to gushing about our beloved children and pets, offering praise (and sometimes honest criticism) to peers, donating to a worthy cause, or listening to a friend in need?

Because we fucking CARE.

I told you I would fail.

Whether it is loving or hating something, you are going to know our stance. Male or female, we will fully and systematically defend ourselves and others. We are not for the faint of heart. We really should come with those warning signs you see at roller coasters.

Horror encompasses every single genre of film. Drama, comedy, action, adventure, romance- you name it, horror has covered it. On TOP of all of this, you then have to SCARE the audience, or elicit another raw emotion. It’s not easy to do, and it’s a sad fact that horror doesn’t gain more praise in the industry.

THIS is why I love horror, why I love what I do, and most importantly, why I love all of YOU.  I hope you do too.

——————————————————————————————-

As mentioned, Danica is a producer for Night Walker Cinema, “Monster Honey” for The Horror Honeys and a great friend of the website. You can and should follow her on twitter

Humble Beginnings: An Aspiring Author on Writing Horror By Kira Butler

 

My mother always wanted me to like nice things. Barbies, for example (which I did, until I stumbled into adolescence and realized that I could string together Barbie’s severed heads and wear them as a necklace; much like the destroyer-goddess Kali Ma — the knots in the synthetic hair binding together each smiling face.)

 

When I was a kid I wore pink frilly dresses and white patent leather shoes, and ate my grandmother’s cookies with milk. I was a good kid. I was mostly a good teenager too, save for the necklace incident. Mostly, I think I was pissed off that Barbie could do anything and be anything — doctor, lawyer, vet, whatever — and I was thirteen years old and shocked that attending high school didn’t automatically mean that the world was offering up its adventures for my “grown-up” self.

 

Like most teenagers who are seeking an out from the overwhelming disappointment of early adolescence and the revolt it inspires, I was searching for something to assert myself; to carve out my own place in the aftermath of frills and patent leather. I stumbled into trying to piss my parents off by reading Stephen King.

 

To this day, I still remember my mom asking repeatedly, “Why would you read such garbage when there were so many nice things out there?”

 

Something to that effect.

 

The answer, quite simply, was that Mr. King wrote about characters that I could identify with. They were kids too. Granted, they dealt with their dead pets returning from the grave, and predatory clowns, and their fathers trying to murder them due to prolonged isolation and inhabiting a haunted hotel, but they were kids and Mr. King was speaking to me through their voices. Their voices, subsequently, were telling me that to be afraid was normal. To respond to these stimuli — supernatural or otherwise — was a purgative; it ensured that your sleepless nights made the reality around you (as sucky as it was) a little more interesting when you started second-guessing what might be hiding in the shadows.

 

At the time, the young adult market was dominated by Judy Blume books (which I learned are excellent, though that realization came much later) and if I wanted to read horror for my age demographic, I was stuck with Christopher Pike and R.L. Stein. I read all of them, but at a hundred pages a piece, they didn’t sustain the appetite for a prolonged, well-paced scarefest.

 

My thirteen year old brain equated a book with the thickness of a brick to a decent adrenal-dousing. The bigger the book, the longer my synapses fired.

 

Now, given my mother’s distaste for my choice of reading material, it figured that every opportunity I got to squander my allowance at the nearest used bookstore offered ample opportunity to get my hands on the next toothy beastie, psycho killer, were-thing, or tentacled and suction-cupped creepy crawlie that was too terrible to describe. That usually meant Saturdays.

 

(Forget the local library. I exhausted the horror section mid-way through the summer, and subsequent trips were usually a disappointment when they didn’t restock my favourite authors fast enough.)

 

Saturdays meant shopping day. Shopping day meant enjoying the many magical aspects of suburban consumerism, including the used book store in the strip mall with its coroplast signs with overlarge type announcing the sections by genre. The horror section had its corner at the back of the store. I could make a beeline for it down the right aisle, dodging the overcrowded bins that littered most of the floor space.

 

I remember this very clearly, because it was one particular Saturday spent whipping by the Danielle Steel titles that I found the book that would trigger something vicious in me, catalyzing a long-standing love affair with the macabre into something else:

 

Something with teeth.

 

Something that wants nothing more than your blood and your sanity and your in-between hours to give it life.

 

It was a story about five boys, set in the 1960’s, from a small town in Illinois called Elm Haven. The cover of the book was die cut to show the hulking mass of a Victorian-inspired school building with a bell tower shown through a house’s window, with curtains billowing beneath arching, shiny type the colour of freshly oxidized blood. Four boys on bicycles rode by in the frame created by the window in the falling dusk.

 

It was written by an author named Dan Simmons.

 

Summer of Night gave me nightmares for the following decade, and to this day, I still manage to draw up a latent fear when I look through the second story windows in my parents’ home when full night has fallen, and the only thing I should be seeing is my reflection against the darkness.

 

It was a book that impacted me so strongly that, to this day, I still see the white face of something else floating two stories off the ground.

 

I hope that many aspiring authors experience this at some point: you either finish reading a book that sucked harder than Edward Cullen on a mountain lion and declare that, “I can write something better than this,” or, “I want to write something that makes other people feel so strongly that they’ll never even have to consider Edward Cullen.” Summer of Night inspired the latter, (and *Twilight* the former, but that’s another story.)

 

I think that we find our niche as writers by developing a willingness to explore subjects that are titillating. Fear, for me, is a big one. Childhood fears, especially, because even in my adult life I find that fear of the unknown is still a relevant consideration when you reiterate questions like, “Where do you go when you die?” and the reassurances you received in childhood may no longer be applicable.

 

My solution for these and other problematic existential questions was to provide my own answers through fiction. The worst-case scenarios:

 

Revenants. Spectres. Moving shadows beneath doors that open to reveal empty rooms.

 

The direct route to ensuring that I confront these fears isn’t a means of overindulgence anymore, either — it’s become an exercise in plumbing the depths of the things that I thought I buried with my Barbie heads in the niches of my parents’ crawlspace in their suburban home. The things you’d think you’d grown out of when you passed the last years of adolescence and survived the real-life horrors of your twenties.

 

It never quite disappears when you grow up, you see. It just hides for a time. As a writer, I look for others with similar preoccupations; similar night thoughts that they imagine into existence to commune with the unknown and make it more bearable.

 

At the end of the day, for me, writing horror is the craft of managing fear; it’s the bold face of defiance that looks into the shadows for a time, and tries to scrape the worst things from the walls of the places where they were created, ten, twenty years ago.

 

I found those decapitated Barbie heads, recently, by the way. Holding onto that necklace of fuzzed blond synthetic resin, I thought to myself that there was something artful in ruining those dolls:

 

Sometimes it takes a little destruction to be able to create something from the wreckage of a misspent childhood.

 

 

Kira Butler is a graphic and web designer based out of Montreal. She is writing her first horror novel for young adult readers, with the intention of self-publishing in 2014. You can reach her on Twitter @kirabutler, or at her blog (http://www.kirabutler.com) where she is documenting the writing process.