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IWSG: WIHM–An unpopular opinion

So, it’s February again already. How did that happen?

It’s also Black History Month. And, unless you’re a part of the horror writing/reviewing/blogging community, you may not know that it’s also Women in Horror Month (WIHM).

To be honest, I usually forget all about WIHM until I’m tagged in a post on social media. I’ve always looked upon this occasion with dread.

Why, you may ask?

It’s largely a popularity contest. Female authors are often tagged and featured because other writers know and like them, whether or not they’ve read their books. Long lists of “Female Horror Authors You Should Read” abound, and I remember how awful it felt to never be on any of those lists. Now I am on some of them, which is great, but I know all too well what it feels like not to be. A lot of great females writing dark fiction are still not on those lists.

The second is that most people miss the point. The point is to bring awareness to all of the awesome female authors who are writing dark fiction (hey, chicks can write stuff other than romance! Who knew?), so that someone might actually *gasp* buy one of their books. Which is a noble and worthy cause, but…

What ends up happening (aside from the popularity contest) is that there’s a whole lot of talk about Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and–to a lesser extent–Anne Rice.

Every freaking year.

Ask yourself: do these three women really need an annual awareness-boosting campaign?

Two of the three are dead.

One is among the most famous writers of all time, and wrote one of the most famous novels of all time.

Another, though deceased, just had one of her ultra-famous novels turned into a television series. (It had already been turned into at least two movies.)

The only living author on that list is a major bestselling millionaire, with a huge Hollywood blockbuster to her name.

See where I’m going with this? It’s not sour grapes, though it may sound bitter. I don’t begrudge these ladies any attention. It’s important to recognize our trailblazers.

But the whole purpose of WIHM was theoretically to boost the signal of writers who desperately need the boost.

Shelley, Hill, and Rice do not.

So why are we still talking about them every February? If we’re going to do WIHM, let’s do it right. Who are some of your favourite lesser-known female authors of dark fiction?

One of mine is Catherine Cavendish. Even though I’m not usually a fan of witchy books, I loved The Pendle Curse. Somer Canon‘s Vicki Beautiful was cringe-inducing, in a good way.

On an insecure note, I finally finished the first draft of the long overdue Mask of Ghosts, the fifth book in my GhostWriters series. Hooray! But also, Does it suck? Does the ending suck? Will people hate it? You know, the usual best of times/worst of times all writers go through. Also, Dragonfly Summer drops next week. Will anyone buy the darn thing? Will they like it? Insecurity, thou name is writer.

Happy February, everyone! This rant has been brought to you by…

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1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
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75 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you so much for the mention, J.H. and I am delighted to hear there will be a new GhostWriters book soon. I love those stories! I agree with you about Somer Canon’s Vicki Beautiful as well. It’s an amazing story.
    During my surgery and follow up treatments, I was often asked what type of stories I wrote. One nurse even made the assumption, “So do you write romance or children’s books?”
    “Oh no,” I replied, somewhat bravely (or stupidly on reflection, as she was at that moment grasping a particularly sensitive part of my anatomy). “I write horror.”
    Fortunately, consummate professional as she was, the look of sheer amazement on her face didn’t translate itself into a sudden grasping tug, but I am a little more careful how I break the news these days!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the kind words, Catherine, and for sharing your funny story. I guess we have to be careful how we reveal these things!

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Glad you finished the next book in the series!
    I’ll name Shannon Lawrence who also knows how to write creepy horror.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good point, Alex. How could I not have mentioned her? She definitely deserves a recommendation.

      Reply
    • Avatar

      Congrats on making the list! That’s huge. I dont read horror but I found your post very interesting. I wish you the best with your launches!

      http://Www.alliebock.com

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Hey..
        Great you made it to the list! I do hear you about the same set of people making it every time. It’s so important to applaud new people. Wish you luck with the book!

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks, Sonia! Appreciate the kind words.

          Reply
      • JH

        Thanks for the kind words, Allie. Most of my work (including the new release) isn’t horror.

        Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Randee!

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Firstly, all fans of the Ghostwriter series are going to love Mask of Ghosts. Trust me. Forget your doubts on that one J.H.
    Secondly Ann Rice is an author I have not been able to appreciate. I have only tried to read one of her books, “Blackwood Farm” Gave up after about fifty pages, her writing style just didn’t hold my attention.
    In recent years, the only female author (apart from yourself of course) of dark fiction that I have read and enjoyed is Elizabeth Kostova. Her novel “The Historian” I found very enjoyable.
    As you know, I am not a writer or a blogger just a humble reader who knows what he likes!
    “Dragonfly Summer” I will be buying too.
    Catherine’s work looks like something I should check out too!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Jim. Great point re: Elizabeth Kostova. That book was amazing. I loved it too.

      I really appreciate all the encouragement and support. It means a lot.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    Hey! I get where you’re coming from. But I think what a lot of us (or at least me!) try to do is name writers who the general reading public might not know. Small press and mid-list authors. Do we (I) know some of them? Sure, we’re part of the same circles. But it also gets the names out. When I talk about influences, I name the great female writers. But when I talk about women writers you should be reading, I try to stick to those who either aren’t best sellers or who have maybe faded from view after having some big books in the 80s or 90s.
    Not being on a list does suck; however, we all can’t read everyone and we all have our favorites. It’s all we can do, until someone comes out with a list of every single dark fiction writer.
    And it’s good to see you on lists, because you, like many others, deserve it.

    Reply
    • JH

      I wasn’t referring to you, JG. You definitely try to get the word out, and were one of my earliest cheerleaders in the horror field.

      Great doesn’t always have to mean dead. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    Well done on finishing that first draft! And good luck for next week’s release! I’m sure it will do awesome out in the world. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Madeline. I really hope so. I miss the days when I could focus more on writing. Going a little mad over here…

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    There are so many other authors who need the spotlight instead. Everyone knows them. What authors don’t they know about?

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly, Diane. You get it!

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    I’ll give a shout out to Bloodwalker by L.X. Cain. Maybe the more well-known authors are like click-bait. They can grab the attention of a bigger audience. But that power could be used as a spring board to bring more attention to less-known female authors.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, yes, good one. How is she, do you know? I’ve lost touch with her. 🙁

      I totally agree with you. I just wish more of the ones mentioned were actually alive!

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    Yay! A new Ghostwriters book! All the best with the Dragonfly release. I’m sure it will do well and folk will love it because you’re an awesome writer. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Ellen. That’s very kind of you to say. Hope all is well with you. x

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    I will admit, besides yourself, Anna Spark Smith (who is more dark fantasy than horror) and Kelley Armstrong, I’m not familiar with many female horror writers. I didn’t realize that Anne Rice was a still a horror writer – doesn’t she write stories about Jesus and Vampire Mermaids now?

    I guess my goal for this month is to find a new female horror writer! I hear Mary Shelley’s good… 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Not sure about Anne Rice. I’ve lost track of what she’s up to.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    It’s not a genre I’m familiar with, so I’m grateful for the suggestions (from both yourself & in the comments). Oh & well said 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s probably more familiar than you think, if you read any thrillers or suspense. A lot of horror is marketed this way, as those genres are seen as more profitable. Gone Girl is a good example.

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    Truth is often unpopular but that does not make it false. I am sure your MASK OF GHOSTS will be just as exciting and suspenseful as all your books. You are too much a professional to let it be otherwise. 🙂 Thank you for the mention in your class.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Roland. It’s well deserved. I’m sorry I haven’t kept up well with all your new releases–you’re much too fast for me!

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    Horror isn’t a genre I often venture into. The authors I know of are the ones I’ve met through IWSG. I have to say, I find many of Madeline Mora-Summonte’s short stories delightfully creepy.

    Reply
    • JH

      She is great, I agree.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    When I first read Shirley Jackson (age 15), I was blown away. I’ve never recovered from The Lottery, for example. I do not need a booster shot of Jackson. Let’s hear more about those up and coming in the genre!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee. I agree; that was a great story.

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    I’m guessing insecurity never goes away. Hang in there. I have no doubt it will knock their socks off.

    I just read Hill House. After two movies and the series, I thought it was time. hehehe

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Reply
    • JH

      Nope, I think writers and insecurity are pretty much inseparable.

      I actually wasn’t a fan of Hill House. I can’t understand the hype. But I love The Lottery.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    Tough one to answer (often presented as examples because more generally recognized?), but WIHM was complete news to me until I read your post. Congrats on your first draft. Gonna add Courtney Alameda to the list. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, David. I will check Courtney out.

      Therein lies the problem–how will the living writers become more recognized if people remain fixed on Shelley and Jackson?

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    I’m so excited for Dragonfly Summer. It will be on my audible playlist soon! You’re right about supporting other authors. It’s time. I need to broaden my reading in the dark fiction genre. I love your books!!!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mary. Thrillers, suspense, and a lot of mysteries totally count.

      Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Patricia.

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    As a woman who writes horror, I feel like I should have known about this but I didn’t haha. I agree with you that there are way more than three female authors worth mentioning though!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Take it from me–you’re not missing anything. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    Hi,
    I know it is hard and sometimes the recognition doesn’t seem like it is coming but I hope you hang in there. Ranting today is just what you needed to let off steam. Wishing you all the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Pat. I’m fine with my personal level of recognition–I learned long ago that relying on external validation isn’t healthy–but my post was for all female writers of dark fiction. It would be lovely if we were recognized in general, instead of people thinking that the only good female horror writer is a dead one.

      Reply
  19. Avatar

    Great point! I wish I could contribute to your list, but I’m way too wimpy to read horror any more 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      No worries, Jemi. Most of my work isn’t horror, in any case.

      Reply
  20. Avatar

    Didn’t know about this month, but perhaps the lesser known names could be tactically dropped into discussions of the “big three.” I’ll suggest DR Cartwright as another good female horror writer.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the suggestion, Nick. I’ll look her up.

      Reply
  21. Avatar

    Congrats on finishing the first draft of your latest of the Ghostwriters series! It’s not that you’ve been bored the months ahead!

    And, yes, your readers will love your upcoming book. As for horror writers, I don’t even know the three famous ones you mention (yes, I do live under a rock, or in a metal box), so I wouldn’t be able to mention lesser known and evenly deserved horror writers. Apart from you, of course. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, I’m only a part-time horror writer, but I appreciate that you would mention me. 🙂

      And as for not knowing them, I find that refreshing.

      Reply
  22. Avatar

    Congrats on all the progress and wishing you a huge release day in sales. Happy IWSG!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Juneta! I hope you’ve received your reviewer copy by now.

      Reply
  23. Avatar

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, J.H.. I’ve been conflicted about this, as well, for the same reasons you’ve listed. We’d support women horror writers more if we’d promote those that aren’t already household names. Especially since there isn’t a horror equivalent to SinC for horror writers. I have no answers, except to read new authors as much as I can. And thanks to you, I found Catherine Cavendish.

    And congrats on your upcoming releases. I’m thrilled that you’ve become a household name!

    Reply
    • JH

      😀 Thanks so much, Lee. I’m hardly a household name, but I appreciate the fame upgrade.

      The fact that people default to the same big names means that the problem WIHM was designed to solve still exists–people still aren’t reading female authors of dark fiction. If they were, they’d be able to name someone a little more current than Mary Shelley!

      Reply
  24. Avatar

    Congratulations on getting the book done!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks again! It was a huge relief.

      Reply
  25. Avatar

    Great post and I agree. The same thing can happen in some circles because it is Black History Month. The same authors, usually those that are already well known and famous are the books that get pushed. Those are the ones that people talk about. And even more so, when the month is over everyone goes back to “business as usual” as if they can only read books by the certain author group during the time that is the “focus”. Annoy and not an unpopular opinion at all.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ah, I can totally see that, Meka, and what a shame. Let me guess: Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Terry McMillan? Great writers all, but how about the lesser-known scribes who could use some support?

      The month-long focus is a double-edged sword too, I agree. It almost underlines that there’s a problem, that people have to be convinced to give books by black authors or female dark fiction authors a shot, even though that wasn’t the original intent.

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    Well, as you know, the horror writing community is rather incestuous. I’ve been part of it for nearly 20 years and it’s–broadly speaking regarding awards and short lists and awareness lists and all that–just a bunch of public glad-handing of friends or defaulting to the “big” names. You’re not being insecure nor do I see sour grapes. You are making a valid point. This is a long discussion that we can always talk about next time I see you. But, no, you’re not being insecure.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, A.P. This comment made my day, as what you described has totally been my experience, for the most part. It’s always the same names who are nominated and win the awards, the same names on the “best of” lists.

      It can get frustrating, but it’s not worth dwelling on. I only have one foot in horror, as I write in other genres more often, so perhaps that will be my saving grace.

      Reply
  27. Avatar

    Guilty of bringing up Shirley Jackson. She is my favorite, but you’re right about the purposes of the month. Have you read Nicole Givens Kurtz? Her dark fiction really leaves me thinking.

    Reply
    • JH

      I haven’t, but I’ll look into her. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I have nothing against Jackson, but there are a lot of contemporary female writers who are just as talented. They sadly never seem to get a shot, as we keep talking about Jackson and Shelley instead of celebrating those who are currently writing.

      Reply
  28. Avatar

    Hahaha – I had to laugh at the thought of that nurse, who was making conversation and had to remain calm when she heard what you wrote. I agree with you about WHIM month although, quite honestly, I don’t even read horror and I hadn’t heard about WHIM till I read it here. Good luck with the new book.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Kalpana. Chances are you have read horror and didn’t realize it, because it was marketed as something else. Like Gone Girl, for instance. Marketed as a thriller, but totally horror.

      The nurse story was Catherine Cavendish’s, but pretty funny, I agree. 🙂

      Reply
  29. Avatar

    I’m adding my congrats on your upcoming release. Forget popularity lists. It’s like being back in middle school. I don’t read horror (don’t ride roller coasters or watch horror films, either), but I can appreciate the hard work that goes into completing a new book. Yay!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane. At least 70% of my books aren’t horror, including Dragonfly Summer. But I totally agree with you re: the popularity lists.

      Reply
  30. Avatar

    Good luck with the release!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Damyanti!

      Reply
  31. Avatar

    Happy Women in Horror Month! (Wow, that sounds discordantly chipper, somehow.)

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Karen. I’ll be happy when it’s over.

      Reply
  32. Avatar

    A very enlightening post for me being unfamiliar with WIHM, but I totally see your point. Glad you finally made a list. I may start to read more in this genre just to educate myself.
    Congratulations on the new release.

    Reply
    • JH

      I hesitate writing posts like this, because a lot of readers will think it’s about you when that’s not how you really intended it. I’ve been on lists for the past few years, which has become more common as more people hear about me. It’s nice, but I’d prefer there were no lists at all. A lot of women still aren’t on them, and I remember what that felt like. Even being included doesn’t make me like the lists. I wish we could step away from the popularity contests.

      Reply
  33. Avatar

    I appreciate your take on the ladies of horror fiction and people focusing on ones who don’t need the attention for one reason or another. When I was still teaching biology (now retired) I had as a project each year a research a scientist paper, but I called it “No Dead White Guys” because as you might suspect that was usually what students picked. They could select anyone, as long as they didn’t hit all three of those descriptors (at once). So they could be dead and black or a woman or a living white guy, or combinations between.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a great idea, Helen. Well done!

      Reply
  34. JH

    Thanks, Glenn!

    Reply

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