Those of you not in the horror-book biz (which I suspect is most of you) may be surprised to learn that February is Women in Horror Month, in an attempt to boost awareness of all the kickass women who are writing dark fiction. Not because they’re women, but because they write great, eerie books, books that are oftentimes overlooked because the authors don’t have the same equipment as a certain Mr. King.
But, that being said, this isn’t a post to beat you over the head with pleas for equality and justice. I suspect you get enough of that already. It’s just that I keep hearing the same misconceptions about horror, so I thought it was time to let you in on a few closely guarded secrets.
Gone Girl is a horror novel
Yes, it is–don’t argue with me. All the critical elements are there, including the blood, for those who think horror must include blood (not true, by the way). Have you read this book? Dark, dark, dark, all the way to the hopeless ending. “But J.H., it’s a thriller! It says so right here.” Of course it does. That’s because it was marketed as a thriller. You know why? In spite of the success of Stranger Things, Get Out, and Hereditary, the publishing industry continues to believe horror doesn’t sell (unless your last name is King). But trust me, that bitch is horror, all the way. And Karin Slaughter’s books? Holy horror, Batman! A rose by any other name is still a rose.
I was at a writers’ conference with medical thriller writer Tess Gerritsen recently, and she started describing one of her books. As she talked about this mysterious piece of violin music the protagonist purchased from a creepy antique store in Venice, and how, when played, the music made children go mad, kill animals, and attack their mothers, I knew exactly what rose I was smelling. I went up to her later: “A lot of your books sound like horror,” I said. She smiled and admitted there were quite a few commonalities, but they “aren’t marketed that way.” So, to all of you “I don’t like horror” folks, you probably do. You’re probably already reading it. It’s just not marketed that way.
Horror does not equal blood
Horror explores the darkness of the human psyche. The potential future consequences of our thoughtless actions. The longing for something that can never be. It’s not a trashy romp through blood and gore, but thanks to the slasher flicks of the ’80s, the torture porn of the early 2000s, and those horrible, cheesy covers with blood-dripping letters and glowing red eyes, horror is often synonymous with gore. And trash. Trashy gore. To be fair, some of it is trashy gore. But a lot of it is insightful, powerful stuff. Bird Box. Rebecca. The Woman in Black. The Road. By painting the entire genre with the same gory brush, you’re missing out on a lot of awesome books.
Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson do not need your endorsement
Sure, Shelley and Jackson were awesome. You know what? They’re also dead. So celebrating women in horror in February (or any time of year) by saying you love Frankenstein or The Haunting of Hill House isn’t doing anybody any favours. Shelley and Jackson are not going to benefit from your signal boost. You know who will? Living writers, like Catherine Cavendish, Somer Canon, Lee Murray, Caryn Larrinaga, Theresa Braun, and Tamara Jones. Never hear of ’em? That’s because people won’t stop talking about Shelley and Jackson.
My vagina does not write books
While talented, that’s not a trick it’s managed to master. So if you enjoy my writing, why qualify it with the word female? Trust me, my genitalia had nothing to do it. I don’t have to be your “favourite female horror author,” “a great female suspense writer,” or even “one of the best female authors” you’ve read. Just call me an author, please–of any genre. Otherwise, it sounds like I couldn’t live up to the exalted dudes and needed a lesser category all my own.
I hope I’ve managed to clear up a few misconceptions about the horror genre. True crime, thrillers, certain mysteries, supernatural suspense–they’re all sides of the same dark, twisted coin. If you’d like to clear up some misconceptions of your own, or–better yet–give a shout out to your favourite author of dark fiction (who just happens to have different equipment than Mr. King), please do.