WIHM: Scores for Horrors: Women Who Pioneered Creepy Cacophonies

Scores for Horrors: Women Who Pioneered Creepy Cacophonies
By: Cat Kenwell

You know the scores…John Carpenter’s Halloween. Bernard Hermann’s Psycho. John Williams’ Jaws. Male composers dominate the terrifying tunes that come to mind when we think of horror soundtracks.

Or do they?

Well, no. If you’re looking for the really creepy sounds—the ones that will keep you awake at night—you’ll want to give a listen to the work of three women who pioneered electronic music and scared us silly in The Innocents, The Legend of Hell House, and The Shining.

As part of a series celebrating Women in Horror Month, this blog digs into the fascinating iconic musical contributions of female composers Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, and Wendy Carlos.
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WIHM: Two Victorian Women in Horror

Two Victorian Women in Horror

Jill Hand

The nineteenth century produced some top-notch women horror writers. Today I want to draw attention to two of my favorites:  Amelia B. Edwards (1831-1892) and Bithia Mary Croker (1849-1920.)

Edwards resembled one of those supremely capable Victorian women who occasionally appear in works of fiction.  A poet, composer, journalist, and Egyptologist she excelled at pistol-shooting and horseback riding. She traveled extensively and was an active supporter of women’s suffrage. Her self-illustrated 1877 travelogue, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, became an immediate best-seller.

Edwards also wrote horror stories. Her 1881 short story, “Was it an Illusion?” appears in the Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert, 1991, Oxford University Press.

Another of her stories, “The Phantom Coach,” was published in 1864. Like “Was it an Illusion?” it takes place in a harsh, wintery landscape, creating an atmosphere of terror and death. It tells of James Murray, a young lawyer who gets lost in a snowstorm while hunting on the English moors. He stumbles onto a farmhouse, apparently the home of an elderly recluse, a scientist who grudgingly allows him to come in and get warm.

I say ‘apparently’ because it’s unclear whether the old man is real or a hallucination.

Murray says he has to get back to his wife. She must be frantic with worry. His host tries to talk him out of going back out, but he insists on leaving. In that case, the old man says, he can catch the coach that carries the night mail. It’s a three-mile hike to the crossroads where it will pass by, but if he hurries he can make it.

Murray sets off in the company of a servant. It’s snowing like crazy. The servant tells him about a terrible coach accident that took place in the vicinity nine years previously. Then he leaves him to meet up with the night mail.

The stage is set. We know something spooky is about to happen.

Through the snow dim lights appear. It’s the coach! It’s freezing cold and snow is blowing down in sheets. Murray waves for the coach to stop. He’s relieved to climb inside and take a seat. But he’s not relieved for long. Something’s funny about the coach. It’s falling apart and it smells bad and there’s something wrong with the other passengers.

 I won’t give away the ending, but it’s worth reading.

The second of the two female Victorian horror writers who merits mention is Bithia Mary Croker (1849-1920.) She wrote novels and short stories based on her 14 years in India and Burma, from 1877 to 1892.

Her short story, “To Let,” tells of a family driven from their vacation rental by the sounds of a fatal accident that happened there years earlier.

It’s an early example of the trope of the house that at first seems too good to be true but is gradually revealed to hide a dark secret.

The house is called Briarwood. It’s in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The accident that triggered the haunting involved a horse and rider falling from the verandah and sliding down the mountainside. Everything’s fine while the weather’s good. Then on rainy evenings the terrified occupants of the house start to hear a series of sounds. First there’s the clip-clop of hooves as a rider approaches. Then a man’s voice calls out a greeting from the verandah, followed by a splintering crash and a woman’s scream. Nothing is seen, only heard, but hearing is bad enough. Finally the family can stand it no more, and flees.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Rudyard Kipling’s short story, “The Phantom Rickshaw,” is also set in Shimla. In it, Kipling casually mentions various local hauntings. He states, ‘Dalhousie says that one of her houses “repeats” on autumn evenings all the incidents of a horrible horse-and-precipice accident.’

The town of Dalhousie is spread out over five hills in the northern Indian state of Himachal  Pradesh. Shimla is its capital. It was also the summer capital of British India. It is famous for its spectacular mountain scenery. Its houses and roads cling to the mountainsides, with sheer drops to the gorges below. It seems evident that Kipling and Croker were describing the same haunting. The question is, was Briarwood a real house that experienced a “repeat” haunting, or was it just a rumor?

Several of Croker’s horror stories set in India were written from the viewpoint of a woman driven from her home. Her descriptions of life in the “hill stations” seem enviable at first. The transplanted English residents enjoy a social whirl of teas and concerts and excursions to points of interest, made possible by numerous Indian servants.

The sense of unease slowly builds, as it becomes evident that the narrators are outsiders in a land where their presence is tolerated but not welcome. The ghosts they encounter serve both as a warning to those who venture into places where they’re not wanted and as a symbol of the negative effects of empire. It is especially appropriate to us from a twenty-first-century viewpoint. But even simply taken at face value they’re enjoyable horror stories.

Jill Hand

Jill Hand is a member of the Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers. Her short stories have appeared in Test Patterns, Test Patterns: Creature Features, and Caravans Awry, from Planet X Publications. Her literary criticism of the work of Shirley Jackson appeared in Vastarien: Vol. 1, Issue 2. Her Southern Gothic thriller, White Oaks, will be released in May by Black Rose Writing.

You can see Jill’s Amazon Author Page Right Here!

WIHM: Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Choosing to be Seen

Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Choosing to be Seen

By Sonora Taylor

 

Traditional or self-publishing – what’ll it be? We’re in an era where one can choose both. I think that’s especially helpful for writers who are unsure about how they want to get their stuff out there, but know for sure that they want to.

 

I was that writer in 2016, when one of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend a little time writing after work each day. I started a short story I’d been plotting in my head for a few months – a story that eventually became “All the Pieces Coming Together.” I finished that one, and wrote another one. Then another. Then, I started a piece that I slowly realized would become my first novel.

 

The publishing side of writing is a whole other world, and almost a full-time job; whether you’re querying with publishers or deciding to go at it on your own. I decided to self-publish before I discovered the ins and outs of submitting to publishers. I’d heard the pros and cons of self-publishing, and decided I liked the pros of it.

 

Two years into self-publishing, I still do. I like being able to choose things like my title and who gets to design my cover (all of my covers were illustrated by the super-talented Doug Puller). I like being able to work consistently with my wonderful editor, Evelyn Duffy. I like seeing my books sell, and I like hearing feedback from readers. And, I especially like getting to see just what happens when I put my work out in the world.

 

Nothing huge has happened yet. None of my work has blown up, but it also hasn’t collected digital dust. It’s been read, and it’s been enjoyed – all at a calm and steadily-growing pace, one I can still control by controlling the publishing side as much as the writing side.

 

This control has helped give me more confidence to put my work out there. I have anxiety, and something that often sets off my panic is unforeseen ramifications from putting something of mine out in the world (be it a book, an email, or even an opinion – it’s exhausting, but that’s for another post). Before publishing my first short story collection, I was fraught with nerves. What will people think? What if everyone hates it and there are hate blogs or hate tweets talking about how shitty my work is? I still remember my heart ramming in my chest at these thoughts, the sadness and ways out I was devising for these scenarios. It took up a lot of my time, time that would’ve been better spent writing.

 

When I self-published “The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales,” none of those things happened. It sold at a reasonable pace. It got some reviews on Amazon (all positive for now – yay) and appeared on strangers’ Goodreads shelves. It’s still out there and still selling. It’s quietly present – an evergreen experience I’ve found with each piece, and an experience that helps to temper my anxieties about sharing my work.

 

By choosing to self-publish, I was able to give myself a confidence boost that’s made writing, submitting, and publishing a much less stressful experience. When I was first submitting, I went through similar panicked experiences before ever pressing “Send.” Self-publishing isn’t a catch-all for what comes next, but it gave me a good idea – and helped calm me down during the submission process. I began submitting more peacefully, looking at calls for stories and getting my stuff out there, but always with the knowledge that I had choices when it came to releasing my work – work that people wanted to read, and work that people enjoyed. And wouldn’t you know, I got my first acceptance almost one year after self-publishing “The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.”

 

I can’t say what my future in publishing will hold. Even if I end up releasing something through a publishing company, I don’t know if I’ll ever give up self-publishing. I like setting my own production and distribution schedule, and I like working with Doug and Evelyn. I also like having self-publishing as a constant in terms of getting my work out there. I like being able to do both, and I think authors being able to choose both is a great place to be in.

 

You can check out Sonora’s latest release, ‘Without Condition’ on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NJDCWGQ/

Sonora Taylor

Sonora Taylor is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was included in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call and Mercurial Stories. “The Crow’s Gift” will be featured on the horror podcast “Tales to Terrify” later in 2019. Her second novel, Without Condition, is now available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online:

Website: https://sonorawrites.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonorawrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonorataylor/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/sonorawrites/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17015434.Sonora_Taylor

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Sonora-Taylor/e/B075BR5Q7F/

Blog: sonorawrites.com/blog

WIHM: Men Use Saws, Women Use Scalpels

Men Use Saws, Women Use Scalpels

By JD Blackrose

A while back, a writer and publisher friend of mine, John Hartness, shared the scariest story he’d ever written. Naturally, I read it, girding my loins for the horror. The story ends with the protagonist tied to a chair, covered in honey, listening to the squeaks of oncoming rats. 

My reaction? It was icky, but I wasn’t horrified, so I decided to write the scariest scene I could think of. It involved a woman watching her son be tortured for something she’d unknowingly done in the past. When I shared it with a beta reader, he said, “Don’t ever make me read anything like that again.”  

But that was my nightmare; my scariest scenario. That was much more horrifying than rats. This scene got me in my core. My son is violently tortured and it’s my fault? That cuts to the bone, deeper than the bone. That’s crazymaking, soul destroying stuff. 

Another story, never published, is entitled The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell and is a study of a woman’s descent into mental illness and psychosis after she loses her infant baby in a freak accident and the town believes it was her fault. 

I wondered, why was John’s story scary to him but my story was scary to me? Well, for one thing, John is not a parent, and when we become parents, we suddenly realize that the world now has a whole new way to hurt us. Your children are the most vulnerable extension of who you are, the open, raw, incomplete, still-growing, naked part of you.  

But that couldn’t have been all of it, so I landed on a massive generalization that is faulty on its face, but gets the conversation started. Here’s the general thesis: 

Men in horror, be they film auteurs or writers, tend to focus on body horror, and that body horror often is often rooted in a fear castration, physically and mentally, a loss of power and manhood that cripples the man and strips him of his masculinity while positioning the woman as the victim or castrator. The psychological torture in these movies/books stems from the changes and alterations in the body. One cruelly crystal-clear example is the movie Teeth, released in 2008, directed by Mitchel Lichtenstein, where a woman literally has a vagina with teeth, but we could easily include The Human Centipede and even Alien, which turns men into baby carriers who give “birth” in a particularly horrible way.

As Rebecca Hawkes writes in the Telegraph, “…in male-directed horror, female bodies and characters are often either brutalised or turned into primal, biology-fuelled beasts.” 

In contrast, women’s horror is often emotional at its base, focusing on mind games and psychological torture, often around issues of pregnancy, rape, menstruation, birth, loss of bodily control, and mothering, with body horror thrown in. Looking for examples? A great book list to check out is this one from Unbound Worlds and this one in Bustle.com. As writer Emma Madden says in the Bustle article, “What’s great about these books is that they imagine the format spun on its head. What if horror was at men’s expense? Or, better still, what if horror could be used as a vehicle to either say something important, or as a window into the nuances of life you don’t usually get to see?”  

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. One obvious refutation of this thesis is Rosemary’s Baby. The book was written by a man, Ira Levine, who one writer calls “…one of feminist horror’s pioneers. Rosemary’s Baby is a musing on women’s bodies and their own female autonomy.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the movie only amplifies Levine’s approach probably because it was made by master female manipulator, creepo rapist, and fugitive from justice, Roman Polanski. In Polanski’s version, we cringe as watch Rosemary lose her autonomy and question her sanity as she is cut off from normal friends and is told to eat the damn chocolate mousse. “That’s silly, honey. There is no undertaste,” says Guy, and then admonishes her, “There’s always something wrong.” Classic, cruelly effective ghosting by someone who probably knows a thing or two about the subject. 

What do you find horrifying? Leave your thoughts below.  

 

J.D. Blackrose

J.D. Blackrose loves all things storytelling and celebrates great writing by posting about it on her website, wwwslipperywords.com. She has published The Soul Wars series and the Monster Hunter Mom series, both through Falstaff Books, and numerous short stories. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and watch for her latest macabre story in the upcoming anthology, Tales of the Old Black Ambulance, by Prospective Press (March).

WIHM: Spotlight on Tananarive Due

Women in Horror: Spotlight on Tananarive Due

By A.E. Santana

            Horror comes in all shapes and sizes, and while a general audience may think of horror as low-brow and gore-fests, fans understand that this genre can also be a way for socially sensitive themes and topics—hidden behind frightening icons such as demons, ghosts, and mass murderers—to be discussed and explored. In these horror tales, the real-life fears bleed through the pages and haunts readers. Tananarive Due, an American award-winning author of horror and fantasy, successfully masters this in her short stories and novels.

            Due’s writing is unique to her—an African-American woman born in Tallahassee, Florida and raised by Civil Rights activist parents. She has taught screenwriting, creative writing, and journalism, and teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Due earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and her master’s degree in English Literature, with an emphasis on Nigerian Literature, from the University of Leeds. Her acclaimed non-fiction works are centered on the history of the Civil Rights movement, including personal experiences from her mother. Due also writes horror—horror that presents real-life fears that are entertaining, intelligent, and impactful.

Due was listed as one of the 23 Great Women Horror Writers to Feak You Out This October by Literary Hub, one of 13 of the Most Influential Female Horror Authors of All Time by iHorror, and her collection of short stories, Ghost Summer, was listed in the 13 Great Horror Books Written by Women by Vulture magazine. Due’s works showcase horror tales that are sometimes familiar—a ghost story, a haunted house—with a distinctive lens cultivated from her personal experience, especially as a woman of color. Her 2003 novel, The Good House, is an excellent example, and was listed in Unbound World’s 21 Best Horror Books by Women.

            Like most great haunted house stories, the themes of The Good House revolve around more than just a scary building, in this case: family, legacy, community, and skeletons in the closet. In the novel, Angela Toussaint is a Los Angeles lawyer and head of her own Hollywood talent agency. Angela throws herself into her work and marathon training to escape the grief of her teenage son Corey’s suicide at her late grandmother’s house in Sacajawea, Washington. This house, known as The Good House to locals, is not only where Angela made cherished childhood and adolescent memories, or the place where Corey took his life, but where her grandmother, Marie—a medicine woman and practitioner of voodoo—battled an evil spirit, a baka. Angela travels back to The Good House for closure. There, she must not only come to terms with the death of her son, but also confront the baka that has tainted the land and house.

            In the novel, supernatural scares are associated with the demonic energy surrounding The Good House, yet the characters drive the story forward—their grief, agony, and dread are captivating and chilling. Each character is so devastatingly human, so flawed and alive, that it’s terrifying to journey with them into their dark places. Due’s understanding of the human condition, her slow-drip reveals, and unexpected twists, keeps readers on their toes and turning pages. Yes, an evil spirit resides in The Good House, but the themes addressing grief, suicide, domestic violence, and the dismantling of a family are the underlying fears that continue to linger. 

            This type of horror is what fans of the genre know to be more than just jump scares and hapless victims. The Good House, and Due’s other works, are about people and community dealing with stress and situations outside of their control, and having to own the role they played in creating it. Although all her characters are vibrant and believable, as a woman author of horror, Tananarive Due weaves tales that connect deeply with female understanding and suffering, whether the role be mother, daughter, sister, or lover.

To find out more about Tananarive Due and discover a full list of her works, visit www.tananarivedue.com.

A.E. Santana

A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who writes horror and fantasy. She received her MFA in fiction from University of California, Riverside and her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and minor in script writing from California State University, San Bernardino. She taught fine art, theater, and writing at the middle school level. A.E. Santana is a founding playwright for the East Valley Rep Theatre Group and is currently a communications editor for a non-profit organization. She has quite an affinity for cats. A.E. Santana can be found at www.aesantana.com, facebook.com/authoraesantana, and on Instagram and Twitter @foxflur.

Guest Post: Writing the Elevator Pitch, the Blurb, and Short Descriptions of Your Latest Book

Writing the Elevator Pitch, the Blurb, and Short Descriptions of Your Latest Book

by Albert Wendland

 

            “The Elevator Pitch.” You’ve all heard of them, and many of you have written them.  Describing the story of your book in one line, so you can describe it to an editor you just happen to meet during a brief encounter.  (Not an exaggeration. I once found myself in an elevator with Tom Doherty of TOR Books. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a book to pitch—and two people he knew stood between us.)

            “High concept” is often part of it, taking a well-known idea, like the story of a popular film or novel, and marrying it to another idea.  Like “Lawrence of Arabia on another planet” (Dune); “Marines in space” (Aliens); “a Disneyland where the visitors get eaten” (Jurassic Park); “Lord of the Rings from the Orcs’ point of view” (The Black Company).

            And then there’s “the blurb.”  The short-paragraph description that goes on the back cover or is used for publicity. Not quite as hard to write as the synopsis, but darn close. Every word really counts.   

            And finally, you have the quick little summaries that one plays with, maybe for fun, but good gems for conversation, and especially interviews, a creative way to come up with a new angle on a work you’ve become too familiar with.

            So, here goes.             

            I’ll use what I currently know best as an example, my own In a Suspect Universe, which just came out last year from Dog Star Books (an imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press):

            The high concept

 

            “Adam Strange meets The English Patient—then H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick.”

            (Okay, that’s going overboard, but it’s accurate. The idea worked well for my first book, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, which I described as:  “The Maltese Falcon in outer space.”)

            The elevator pitch –

 

            “A mystery-romance space adventure becomes a dark planetary noir.” 

            (Clever, but people might not understand what “planetary noir” means.)

 

            “A jaded spaceman finds the world of his dreams, but he has to fight as it’s taken away from him.”

            (More to the point, but maybe a downer, and not representative of the pace and feeling of the story, which is more thriller than elegiac tragedy.)

 

            “A solitary explorer of alien worlds must endure the revelation of a secret from his past.” 

            (Not too informative, but I love the mood, and the hook that’s left hanging at the end.)

 

            “One man’s desire for adventure and romance confronts secrets from a deep past on a threatening and changing world.”

            (This was promising, and I liked the evocative word-choice of “desire,” “secrets,” “threatening,” and “deep.”)

 

            The blurb

 

            “In this planetary adventure of mystery and romance, Mykol Ranglen, the space-wanderer from The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, finds the planet of his dreams and the future he desires, but he learns they come at too high a price. The terrors of a mysterious alien ‘Blight,’ the schemes of ancient galactic civilizations, and the hidden surprises of a ‘suspect’ universe conspire to stop him. From out of this buried tale in his past, the secrets revealed, and the chances lost, will haunt Mykol Ranglen forever.”

            I liked this, and it has good specifics.  But, darn, it’s never the exact experience of reading the novel itself. It’s only a snapshot—of a preview, of a preface. 

 

And here are some quickie descriptions, a bit of play, but not entirely tongue-in-cheek:

  • A pulp adventure that gets darkly serious.
  • John Carter loses his way but then finds it again.
  • A planetary romance becomes planetary noir, then interstellar tragedy.
  • A satisfactory life on another planet demands the loss of a reassuring universe.
  • Classic SF (the human colony on a distant world) confronts postmodern reality, or unreality, where Dreams walk, where the Dragon, the Spider, and the Serpent live, but only to torment the people who believe in them.

            Okay, that’s enough. I think I’m getting too extreme now, and more confusing.

            But maybe that’s the whole point.  Have fun and stretch the limits. Try to come up with what seems most accurate, and then push it until you reach a whole new perspective on the story.

            See what you can get. And, good luck. 

Albert’s Latest Book –

 

In a Suspect Universe

 

Albert’s Latest Book came out in August of 2018 and is called In a Suspect Universe. In this prequel to The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, we learn the story that Mykol Ranglen has kept buried in his past. It’s a mystery of ancient galactic secrets, an adventure on colonized alien worlds, a romance in distant star systems, and a dark and sinister planetary noir that disturbs all he’s known about his universe. He must decide just how far he’ll go to keep the planet of his dreams and the future he desires. But what he learns about his world, and what he has to do to save it–and to save himself–will haunt him forever.

 

Praise for Albert Wendland

 

“In Wendland’s intricately plotted, character-driven debut, pulp exploration meets philosophical speculation, and a moralistic sensibility is fused with Philip K. Dick’s paranoid fantasies and Ray Bradbury’s awe of alien encounters.…Impending doom pervades ripping action scenes, the Lovecraftian theme of ancient warring aliens lends cosmic menace and authenticity to a grandiose mystery…deeply absorbing.”—Publishers Weekly starred review

 

“…shows a narrative energy and enthusiasm for the genre…there is an intriguing mystery subplot, and when the action picks up, readers will want to stay for the final act.”—Library Journal

 

“Inside are alien worlds and titanic space habitats and a brilliant and paranoid hero, all skillfully blended together with long-vanished galactic secrets.”—William H. Keith, New York Times Best Selling Author

 

“…an exotic and transcendent technology, but the truly amazing machine operative in this novel is the one Wendland stores in his skull: a device that can ingest back issues of Black Mask and Astounding, extract their respective hardboiled and hard-SF essences, and bring forth a narrative bursting with the pulpistic pleasures we’ve all been missing without knowing it.”—James Morrow, World Fantasy and Nebula Award-winning author

 

“Mystery, heart-pounding adventure, and the dazzling wonders of far-flung space play significant roles in Wendland’s breakout novel, all while gifting us with a mesmerizing tour of alien landscapes destined to get under your skin and remind you of the very reason science fiction exists: Not to escape to other worlds, but to find ourselves within them.”—Diana Dru Botsford, author of The Drift and Four Dragons

 

Purchase Link

Amazon

Or order direct from Raw Dog Screaming Press

 

Albert Wendland

Albert Wendland has made a career out of his life-long interests in science fiction–and photography, art, film, and travel.  He teaches popular fiction, literature, and writing at Seton Hill University, where he has been director of its MFA in Writing Popular Fiction (the program famous for its exclusive attention to genre writing). His SF novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, was a starred pick-of-the-week by Publisher’s Weekly, and the prequel, In a Suspect Universe, was published in 2018, describing a story from the protagonist’s past.  He’s now writing a book of poetry supposedly written by the protagonist of both works.  He’s also written and published a book-length study of science fiction, a chapter in Many Genres, One Craft, a poem in Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, and several articles on SF and writing. He enjoys landscape photography, astronomy, graphic novels, and the “sublime.”

You can follow Andrew’s work and writing advice at: http://albertwendland.blogspot.com/.

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