Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Hello Everyone:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm hosting Claire C. HollandHolland is a poet and writer from Philadelphia, currently living in Los Angeles. She has been a freelance writer for more than ten years, and her first book of poetry, I Am Not Your Final Girl, is available now. When she's not writing, Claire can usually be found reading or binge-watching horror movies with her husband, Corey, and Wheaten Terrier, Chief Brody. She is also a feminist, a tattoo collector, and interested in all forms of art strange and subversive.

I had heard about Holland's work at StokerCon this year when I was presenting a feminist lecture on Scream Queens: The Role of Women in Slasher Films. Several people asked me if I had read her work yet, so needless to say, I was so excited that I immediately downloaded in on my Kindle and read it on the flight home. I became a quick fan of Holland's work, because not only is she a fantastic poet, but her work is also empowering and it tackles a lot issues that we're all facing today, both emotionally and politically.

I'm beyond excited to have her here in the Madhouse with me, and I hope you'll all give her a warm welcome, check out her work, and enjoy the interview that we did below.

With razors and screams,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this collection, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

I think I started writing the book about a week after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. I was feeling incredibly depressed, hopeless, and scared - but also so angry. Angry that we had, in my opinion, failed one another as fellow citizens. I was angry at myself for not doing more before the election, and for assuming that the rest of the country would “obviously” not vote for a misogynist, racist reality TV show star. I needed to channel those feelings, and I deal with intense emotions by writing about them. I was already working on a YA novel in verse at the time, and originally, each section opened with a poem from the perspective of a final girl from horror film (the girl who survives until the end). I ended up simply expanding on that idea and running with it, and the poems practically burst out of me.

The book is about the interior thoughts of these fictional women, who I used to channel my own frustrations and fears about today’s world. It’s also about finding your inner strength, or even your inner monster - that extra bit of fight that I think every woman has inside her, that a lot of us are just discovering. I hope it resonates in that way for other people, too.

The collection is broken down by movies and then given female names as titles. How did you decide to organize the collection this way? Did you have the movies already picked out, or did you write to different movies as you worked through the book?

As I said above, I had already written three “final girl” poems for a different project I was working on, and that’s what gave me the idea. I’m obsessed with horror movies, so I already had a huge knowledge base and I immediately had a lot of characters in mind. Carrie White, Laurie Strode, Sally Hardesty - they’re staples of the horror genre and classic examples of the strong, smart final girl trope. As I kept writing, though, I had to mine a ton of movies for inspiration to finish the book. A scene or moment would eventually spark a line or an idea. I named each poem after the character because I wanted to feel like I was giving these women a renewed voice.

What is your favorite slasher film and how do you personally define Final Girl?

When Carol J. Clover coined the term, it just meant “the woman who survives until the end.” She was generally girl-next-door-ish, likable, bookish. Brunette. I think the term has broadened in recent years, at least in terms of what a final girl looks and acts like. In my book, there are several characters who don’t match the traditional description; I even have a few villains in there. I didn’t want to constrict myself to a completely classic view of the final girl, because I think our society is finally beginning to recognize that women can be antiheroes, too, and we’re allowed to root for them. I’ve sometimes been most inspired by “monstrous” female characters, because they’re really just smart and ambitious.

Asking me to name my favorite horror film is like asking me to name a favorite puppy… but my answer for the last few years has been Evil Dead - the 2013 reboot. I hope I don’t lose all my horror cred for naming a remake, but I love it. Green Room might be a close second at the moment.

You work is so empowering when it comes to slashing the tropes and stereotypes that women are usually cast in. I’m curious, what would you like to see change in the industry in regard to the roles women play both in horror fiction and film?

Thank you! I actually think horror is one of the most progressive, satisfying genres for a woman to be interested in right now. We have incredible new horror films coming out every other month, and so many of them are being created by women, from a woman’s perspective, dealing with women’s issues. Karyn Kusama, Julia Ducournau, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jennifer Kent - they’re all making movies about motherhood, grief, assault, growing up female. But they’re doing it through a very universal lens, which is what I love about horror. Anyone can identify with fear. So I think we are seeing a big change in the way women are being portrayed in the genre, because women are writing those characters. But I think race is an area that hasn’t been addressed nearly as well by the genre as a whole, so I’m excited to see a movie like “Get Out” getting so much attention. I hope we see more of that.

As for horror fiction, I’m going to have to out myself as a huge wimp right now and say that I read almost no horror, aside from young adult or poetry. I don’t know why, but a scary book is leagues more frightening to me than a scary movie.

What takeaway do you hope your readers leave your collection with?

At the very least, I hope it helps some women feel less alone. We’re all struggling through this scary time, and experiencing many of the same feelings. We’ve all been through things and made it out alive. I hope it empowers women to embrace their own strength.

How did you come to poetry and who are some of your influences?

I’ve written poetry for as long as I can remember. My mom read a ton of books to me as a child, including plenty of poetry, and I just loved the detail in it. You can write a whole poem about the beauty of someone’s fingernail, if you’re good enough. My biggest influence when I was younger was Francesca Lia Block - she writes the most gorgeous prose, it’s like poetry. I had a college professor, Jehanne Dubrow, who writes beautiful poetry and I feel like she taught me so much. Beth Bachmann is a poet I aspire to be more like; her poems cut straight to the bone.

Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits or rituals when you sit down to write?

Well for this book, if an idea wasn’t already brimming right at the surface, I would usually put on a horror movie and watch it in the dark for a while to get in the right mood. Other than that, though, I wouldn’t say I have much of a routine. I just like to be quiet and alone when I write. I wish I wrote in a leather-bound journal or something cool like that, but I always write straight on my laptop when I can so I can see what the poem will look like on the page.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

Janet Fitch is a favorite author of mine, and her newest book, The Revolution of Marina M., is actually about a poet, so I’ll be checking that out. Nova Ren Suma has a new book coming out soon that I’m excited about, A Room Away From the Wolves. I just read After the Witch Hunt by Megan Falley and really enjoyed it.

What is next in store for your readers?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m encouraged by all the positive feedback I’ve gotten so far, and I do have an idea for another poetry collection kicking around in my head. I’m just going to keep writing and see where it leads me. If Trump is president for much longer, I may end up writing a trilogy!

What advice do you have for poets working in the horror genre?

I think participating in an online community of like-minded people can really help, both in connecting to an audience and getting the word out about what you’re making. It may sound strange, because Twitter is often known for being a toxic environment, but I got so much support from other horror film fans on Twitter while I was writing this book. Many of them preordered it or bought it the day it was released, it and then posted about it on social media themselves. It was amazing. I think it’s difficult to find your audience as a poet, because the majority of people still tend to think of poetry as an old-fashioned kind of writing that isn’t relevant today. But I think if you can connect to an audience on multiple levels, it shows people that poetry can be just as accessible and relevant as any other art form.

Book blurb:
From Claire C. Holland, a timely collection of poetry that follows the final girl of slasher cinema - the girl who survives until the end - on a journey of retribution and reclamation. From the white picket fences of 1970s Haddonfield to the apocalyptic end of the world, Holland confronts the role of women in relation to subjects including feminism, violence, motherhood, sexuality, and assault in the world of Trump and the MeToo movement. Each poem centers on a fictional character from horror cinema, and explores the many ways in which women find empowerment through their own perceived monstrousness.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Hi Everyone!

Today in the Madhouse, I'm happy to participate in the cover reveal for my dear friend Matt Betts and his new book The Boogeyman's Intern. This delicious tale is scheduled for a release date of June 1st 2018.

Back of the Book Summary:

Not everyone lands their dream job.

Take Abe: He’s bottomed out as an Imaginary Friend and has to find a new job before his bosses assign him a truly crappy one. Just as he’s about to resign himself to a life of making toys in a workshop, he’s given a reprieve—of sorts.

Now he has the opportunity to be the first policeman on the Hill and solve an impossible murder. For assistance he ropes in his career counselor, a Bigfoot, and his best friend, a Boogeyman. The job requires him to talk to Tooth Fairies, Leprechauns, Yetis and everything else humanity has dreamt up over the years. None of them offer any clues, but since Abe’s supervisors are Mother Nature, Father Time and Death, he can’t just give up and walk away.

Dream job? Dream on.

Some More Explanation:

The Boogeyman’s Intern takes a light-hearted look at things that go bump in the night. These days it’s a mashup world and Betts is spot on as a culture DJ of sorts. He’s quite at home mixing old legends and new for the delight of modern readers. Add in a mystery and lots of quirky characters and you have a tasty recipe for offbeat fun.

Betts envisions a place for all our mythological characters to return to once they’ve fulfilled their part in the human realm. The Hill is home to all sorts of Imaginaries and usually they get along quite well. In fact, Imaginaries don’t die, and they’ve never even needed police, until now. The discovery of a murder has turned The Hill on its head. The Boogeyman’s Intern is a bit like Monsters Inc. for adults. Fans of Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett will especially enjoy a visit to The Hill.

Some Early Praise for the Book:

“What starts out as a quirky tale about a burnt-out Imaginary Friend turns into a locked room murder mystery for a creature that cannot die. An entertaining mash-up of Monsters Inc. and Chinatown in a world populated by Bigfoot, Tooth Fairies, and Boogeymen. Perhaps, the start of its own genre: Imagin-noire.” —Josef Matulich, author of Camp Arcanum

“Betts injects equal shots of wit and humor into a genre that often takes itself too seriously, all while never jeopardizing what makes it unique. With deft prose and sharp dialogue, this book is a refreshing take on the fantastical.” —Tim McWhorter, author of Bone White and Blackened

“Written with his characteristic humor and heart, Matt Betts illuminates the characters who appear in both our dreams and our darkest nightmares. Quite simply, he’s done it again.” —Mercedes M. Yardley, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Nameless: The Darkness Comes

Monday, February 26, 2018

On Being a Trans Woman in the Horror Genre: A Guest Post By Larissa Glasser

Good Morning, Everyone:

Today I'm sitting down to have a chat with Larissa Glasser, and I desperately wish we were able to do this in person because I could definitely use some coffee and lovely conversation right now. Larissa and I haven't actually met in person yet, but that's something that I hope changes soon because she is a writer (and super cool chick) who has been on my to-read list for quite some time now, and I'm very excited to be sharing a TOC with her in the Tragedy Queens Anthology recently released from Clash Books. She's a lovely, passionate woman, and I really admire her transparency and strength, and like I said, I'm really looking forward to reading her work soon. 

But yes, so far this month, we've covered a lot of topics ranging from race to sexuality in the horror genre, and today, we're going to tackle issues with gender, and Larissa has so beautifully composed the essay below to talk about her experience with being a trans woman working in the horror genre. 

On Being a Trans Woman in the Horror Genre
By Larissa Glasser

I can only speak from personal experience. Women in Horror Month elicits mixed emotions from me. While I appreciate recognition of our work, the gesture also feels like “othering” to some degree, a small little tent we might stumble into at the risk of being tokenized. However--with the bright sparkling kernel of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley invented our genre when she was only nineteen years old. Her mom Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the first feminist philosophers. It would therefore be nice to be seen and treated on equal merit with our male peers, but I am also realistic about our modern, universally gendered divides and the struggle of not just the creative process, but of bodily autonomy and equal rights.

Another element of this wariness I have for WIHM is that I am not even seen nor treated by many as a woman, because I was assigned male sex at birth. I can only bottom line this for y’all—after decades of navigating a struggle of incongruity between mind and body that much of humanity does not experience (or admit to doing so), I finally took steps to better my situation by taking action.

Being trans is something that happens randomly, seemingly to anyone, as being born left-handed or having green eyes rather than blue. It's like the rain of frogs in "Magnolia"--it's just something that happens. But the global perception of trans people has a long way to go, because post-colonial western society has been conditioned so very many of us to only understand a binary system in gender and sexuality: male or female, straight or queer. Many refuse to admit to the fact this way of thought is antiquated as those who believe the earth is flat. In fact, there are ambiguities in life that directly contradict the flat-earthers and for me, the characteristics of horror fit nicely into that perpetual uncertainty. I’ve lived with constant anxiety for most of my life, and that’s why I’ve always been drawn to the horror genre.

I don’t feel qualified to give a 101 on this topic (I recommend Julia Serrano’s Whipping Girl as a seminal text, and like I said earlier, I can only speak from personal experience), I can paraphrase an excellent distinction I’ve heard: sexuality is about who you go to bed with, and gender is about who you go to bed as.

I didn’t address trans issues in my writing until quite recently, when I attended a summer workshop with other trans writers and many of us bonded over that common experience. It wasn’t as if I needed express permission to address trans issues in my own fiction, but the encouragement certainly helped. 

I set to work last year, as I was recovering from a major health scare that also woke me up to a sense of purpose in my writing. As I crafted “The Mouse,” I wanted to address the “bathroom bills” that were being introduced nationwide in response to increased trans visibility (the radical right has to target someone in the wake of the historic SCOUTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage). The submission call for the Wicked Haunted anthology (New England Horror Writers Press) solicited ghost stories. I managed to channel and purge a lot of my sadness into the narrative, while also poking holes in the anti-trans sentiment I saw growing with the ascension of Trump.  

I wanted to try my hand at writing a love story with “Ritual of Gorgons,” which found its way into Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath (Clash Books). Another common misconception about trans people is that we are out to trick or deceive non-trans people in the dating scene. “Ritual” is the story of two trans women, both high-profile children of celebrities, who fall in love and exact supernatural revenge upon the paparazzi who stalk them and endanger their privacy.

I combined a few ideas I’d had cooking into my first novella, F4 (Eraserhead Press). More irreverent and hardcore than my previous two stories, I still pitch the book as a trans porn version of “Die Hard” on a cruise ship that is surgically grafted into a giant monster’s body. I combined my struggle with internalized transphobia and sexual yearning into the main character, Carol Stratham. Carol is also an unwilling celebrity, and when she becomes the target of an internet hate campaign, her life goes through upheaval and she flees to work on the cruise ship. Embittered by her loss, she is ultimately called to duty when disaster strikes and must save the other passengers from a malevolent supernatural force. The monster also plays a major role in the development of her character, but no spoilers. Suffice it to say that I wrote F4 as a paean to the bad 1980’s, hyper-masculinized action movies I had devoured as a young boy, wondering what the heck was going on with her internal contradictions.

So there is more to come. My next project is like “River’s Edge” and “Stranger Things” only with trans kids. Literature can address social issues, and I’m thankful to have realized this close to when I had decided to become serious about writing. I think there’s a long way to go (especially in terms of honing my craft), but suffice it to say that I hope more trans people will assert their right to exist, whether it is through their art, trade, and especially politics.

Trans women also deserve to be celebrated during WIHM, especially since we can offer a unique perspective in genre fiction. If you’d like to contact me and ask about other trans writers who have inspired me, totally hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. And always remember Mary Shelley.

Author Bio: Larissa Glasser is a librarian, genre writer, and queer trans woman from Boston. Her short fiction has appeared in Wicked Haunted (New England Horror Writers), Tragedy Queens: stories inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath (Clash Books), Procyon Science Fiction Anthology 2016 (Tayen Lane Publishing), and The Healing Monsters Volume One (Despumation Press). In 2017, Larissa co-edited Resilience: a collection of stories by trans writers (Heartspark Press), which helped launch a new touring media collective of trans women's and (C)AMAB trans writers. Her debut novella F4 is available from Eraserhead Press as part of its 2018 New Bizarro Author Series. Larissa is a Member at Large of Broad Universe, and she is on Twitter @larissaeglasser.

Shut the Fuck Up About Shirley Jackson: A Guest Post by Shane Douglas Keene

Good Morning, Everyone:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm sitting down with my brother-from-another-mother, Shane Douglas Keene, to talk about the state of women in horror, and I have to say, I honestly can't think of a better way to bring this series to a close than with Keene's essay, which I think stands on its own and doesn't need much of an introduction. 

[Insert cheeky smile here].

But before I turn things over to him, I know some people are probably right off the bat grumbling about the title of this essay, and I, as a woman working in horror, want to say that I could not agree more with Keene's sentiment here, and I think it's something that we all, myself included, need to really think about and meditate on when we're posed the question: who are your favorite women working in horror?

Something that I've noticed over the past couple of years is the repetition that seems to go around this month, and it's really frustrating. Sure, we all love and adore Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley, but come on. Everyone loves them, everyone knows them--even if they haven't read them--and their stories have gone down in history and are taught and talked about in high schools, colleges, and graduate programs throughout the world. But contemporary women working and writing in the horror industry? We're the ones carrying their legacy, and in order for that legacy not to to disappear, we need to start talking about our modern day sisters as well. This is something that I'm going to make a point of personally both in my creative life, and in my academic life, because I'm just as guilty of this, too. So for me, moving forward, I'm going to start paring classic/contemporary works together in my classes, and I'm also going to continue with my short story challenge and try to read at least 30 short stories by female authors this year. 

So I'm curious: what are your goals and who is on your reading list? 

With blood and ovaries,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Shut the Fuck Up About Shirley Jackson
By Shane Douglas Keene

When I set out to write this initially, it was going to be an entirely different thing than it is. I had several hundred words worth of notes alone, and it was looking to be an in-depth, thoughtful piece that in another venue and for another purpose might have some value, but by and large doesn’t address the very real problem that exists in the field of horror fiction and media today. I have a terrible—some would say narcissistic—habit of making the things I embrace about me, and I was doing just that with this column you’re reading today, making it a breathy, confessional kind of thing that served more to describe the nature of the problem, but did very little to suggest ways to fix it or even that it really could be fixed. But it can, and I’m here today to make some simple suggestions to hopefully help get the ball rolling in that direction.

First, a confession. Until about four or five years ago now, I virtually never read work by female authors in the horror genre or any other for that matter. The reason? Largely, nurture. I had a bias bred into me by my father that basically boiled down to this: people with penises couldn’t relate to literature that was penned by one of the vagina-endowed individuals in our genre. Bullshit, I know, but we carry our inbred biases, often unbeknownst even to us, as closely as we carry our own fingerprints, perceiving the world through the tainted vision of our ancestors and further influencing that vision via our own reading and writing habits. And it isn’t just men who suffer from that early life shaping. Some of my sisters share the same attitude towards female fiction authors as my father does, one that essentially says women make great romance and fantasy authors, but if you want some real meat with your potatoes, you must turn to the grittier, meaner, and more meaningful work produced by the swinging dicks in the crowd. Once again, bullshit, but what can be done about it?

Well, for starters, when some luddite to the wonders of female-penned horror approaches you for suggestions about where to start, shut the fuck up about Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. They don’t need your help. Everyone who ever attended more than one term of college—or attended freshman level high school—knows full well who they are and recommending them serves largely as the equivalent to not making a recommendation at all. In fact, you risk confirming to them that there really is no true depth to the well of women’s horror fiction. If we would choose to be advocates, then our purpose isn’t to draw attention to the only three women whose names are likely to spark a sense of familiarity in the recipient, but to instead somehow demonstrate the vast panoply of outstanding fictions being generated by female authors right now. Suggesting the aforementioned authors or even drawing on slightly more recent voices such as the great Bari Wood or V.C. Andrews certainly has its place in intellectual discussion, but it has no bearing on the problem at large or the eventual solution to that problem.

Instead, you should be drawing their attention to some of our brilliant contemporaries in modern horror. Point them to the exceptional works of authors such as Damien Angelica Walters, whose recent short story collections, Cry Your Way Home and Sing MeYour Scars are some of the finest in recent memory, or perhaps try the utterly brilliant Lucy Taylor or Karen Runge, two of the best short story authors I’ve ever encountered and whose work leaves me literally stunned more often than not. It would be impossible to list every single worthy individual in a single column, and I won’t even make the attempt. But let me name just a few that I think you should be reading. And if you are already reading them, these are some of the ones I not-so-humbly suggest you should be recommending to newcomers. They are:

Gemma Files, Kathe Koja, Sarah Johnson, this blog’s host Stephanie M. Wytovich, Caitlyn R. Kiernan, Susan Hill, Sarah Langan, Linda Addison, Tanith Lee, Sarah Pinborough, Nancy Holder, Elizabeth Massie, Kate Jonez, Izzy Lee, Editor Ellen Datlow, Lisa Morton, Charlee Jacob, Lucy A. Snyder, Gillian Flynn, Lauren Beukes, Ania Ahlborn, Rena Mason, Seanan McGuire, Nancy Kilpatrick, Rhiannon Frater, Elizabeth Hand, Cherie Priest, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Cina Pelayo, and on and on and on …

And that’s how it goes. That list, or any other you might encounter, is so far from all-inclusive as to be infinitesimal and unquantifiable. There are so many great women horror authors working in the industry that you could devote the rest of your life to their work alone and never get a chance to read them all before they finally submerge your moldering corpse beneath dirt and earthworms. And that’s not a nihilistic or pessimistic statement. To the contrary, its and entirely optimistic statement, one that says, “if you choose to drink from this well, your thirst will be forever slaked.”

So, if you’re like I was just a few short years ago, thinking that the only good horror fiction is born of testosterone, I’m here to tell you to pull your head out of your ass. The girls are fucking scary, people, and they’re scary-fucking-talented too. If you for some reason negate or avoid their works, or if you think it’s only fit for consumption by “like-minded” women, you’re giving yourself a major screwing and you should unfuck yourself as soon as humanly possible. Honor our esteemed Orange Overlord and go grab some women today. For maximum satisfaction, grab their books instead of their pussies. You can open up worlds of depth, wonder, and imagination that you never could have dreamed was real.

Bio: Shane Douglas Keene is a reviewer, columnist, and poet living and dying in Portland, Oregon.  He spends his spare time drinking scotch, playing guitar, and thinking of ways to scare small children and puppies.  He pays meticulous attention to beard maintenance, mostly because it freaks people out, and he writes about dark fiction and poetry in various venues including his blog at https://shotgunlogic.wordpress.com/ and at HorrorTalk.com.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How Lois Duncan Taught Me About Horror: A Guest Post by Janice Leach

Good Morning, Everyone:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm featuring horror poet, Janice Leach, who I've had the absolute pleasure of working with through Raw Dog Screaming Press. Janice and I met about four or so years ago during a writing retreat at a cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio, and we talked about poetry and marvelous witchy things, and then her husband, James, handed me some homemade mead, and Janice let me sample some of her amazing baking. Needless to say, I love these two for their warmth, laughter, and kindness, but the pies and mead were a nice addition to our friendship, too. 

What I love about Janice's work specifically is that it is delightfully beautiful and macabre at the same time, not to mention grounded in real-life horrors that detail family, friendships, and other significant relationships. She doesn't sugarcoat her work, or her voice, and beyond that, she finds the allure of the grotesque in everyday life, which is something that as a fellow poet and reader, I very much enjoy. 

For today's meditation before I turn things over to Janice, I want you to think about which YA authors you find yourself drawn to, and then I want you to think about what books changed your life growing up. For me, I didn't read a lot of horror per say as a kid, but I was absolutely enthralled with Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series because it let me travel throughout history and learn the mythologies and stories of famous people and other cultures. As I got older, I fell in love with Ellen Hopkins and it was her books that made me want to grow up to be a narrative poet. Now, yes, yes, I know that these women aren't horror writers, but they helped me grow into the writer that I am today, so for that, I am eternally grateful.
How Lois Duncan Taught Me About Horror
by Janice Leach
As it was for other nerdy girls growing up in the pre-internet 1970’s, the library was my search engine, the source of knowledge, and my fortress of solitude. The quiet space and organized shelves drew my attention as much as the seemingly unlimited resources. Here I could ask questions without appearing too curious, too weird or, frankly, evil, and find answers in texts themselves. I systematically read everything in the not-large non-fiction occult section, unconcerned about my checkout record because of my need to get information, and I likewise indulged in stories that took place in realities where witchcraft, astral projection, mind control, and secret murderous conspiracies were daily happenings.

Thank you, Lois Duncan, for writing those books.

With a firm foothold in the emergent field of Youth Adult Literature, Lois Duncan’s books shaped my understanding and expectations of horror. Her books explored speculative topics like witchcraft, possession and channeling, astral projection, and mind control as well as horror tropes of kidnapping, murder, and death. Her narratives also dealt with  life issues like love gone bad, violations of trust, and danger to or destruction of families. Mapped onto fictional worlds, these “relationship horrors” echoed the conditions of my suburban adolescent life: the specter of crushes and dating; rumors, gossip, and betrayal by friends; estrangements, separations and divorces in families that seemed to come out nowhere and happened at an alarming rate.

Duncan’s stories felt like real life. I identified with the heroines, and the characters who populated her worlds echoed my friends or neighbors. Although most of my teachers were kind, decent people, a few were awful and difficult. I could imagine hating a teacher so much that I would help classmates kidnap him to scare him, and we might finish him off accidentally like the kids in in Killing Mr Griffin. I valued my family, and still when teenage me learned some of those truths and secrets kept from younger children, a few relatives turned out to be jerks. Maybe that crazy cousin was actually a witch trying to steal our family like in Summer of Fear.  The adult authorities set limits and dictated instructions, making me feel used and manipulated-- much like the girls in Down a Dark Hall. The journeys of Duncan’s characters paralleled my own questioning of authorities, trust, and truth.

It’s no wonder then, given the foundations laid by Lois Duncan-type fiction, that the horror books and movies that I find most effective aren’t those featuring random invasion killers or monsters, but the narratives where loved ones or close friends turn out to be the unexpected monsters. In typical horror fashion, the recovering alcoholic heroine in A Horrible Way to Die fights for her life when it’s threatened; her other significant struggle is dealing with her inebriated past and her consequent blindness to her boyfriend being a serial killer. Themes of trust, friendship, love, and betrayal in films like the Scream series, High Tension, and I Know What You Did Last Summer (based on Duncan’s book) make my heart pound with worries as well as with fear.

Like many adult readers, I am a shameless fan of YA horror and YA speculative fiction too. I love the monsters and menaces, and I still read for the themes that first attracted me in junior high. The supernatural stories overlaid with the dominant emotional struggles of youth-- guilt, jealousy, suspicion-- provide double the satisfaction. Stories dealing with relationship horrors as well as the more traditional horrors remain my favorites. Books like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Reapers are the Angels, Allison Hewitt is Trapped, The Graveyard Book, Amulet series, and the Spiderwick Chronicles give me concern for the emotional health of the characters as well as their ability to stay alive and thrive under the challenges they are dealt. In YA horror, I find stories with both monsters and families, with the weird and the familiar, where characters come of age and fight for their lives at the same time. 

Author Bio:
Janice Leach co-authored a poetry collection with James Frederick Leach titled Til Death: Marriage Poems (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2017), which explores the love story and the "relationship horror" of a long partnership. She also bakes pies with local ingredients; volunteers at a long term garden project in youth detention; loves and defends those around her; and writes about it all in poems, grants, and blogs. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, she received a Hopwood Award for poetry. She tends a rollicking kitchen garden filled with heirloom vegetables and fruit trees. 

Instagram: horrors_and_happy_afters
Twitter: @JanArbor

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Am I a Horror Writer? A Guest Post by Michelle R. Lane

Good Morning, Everyone:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm sitting down to chat with a bloody brilliant lady who just so happens to be one of my most favorite people in the world: Michelle R. Lane. Michelle and I met in graduate school at Seton Hill University and became fast friends after a few classes and a trip to New Orleans together.  Since then, we've traveled the country, drank in more bars than I can count, shared our share of laughs and heartbreak, and probably talked about Hannibal a little too much for it to be considered normal.

But before I let Michelle take the stage, I want you folks to think about how you define horror, and then beyond that, what the social, cultural, and political ramifications are of writing a horror story that primarily deals with issues and topics of/surrounding race. Furthermore, I invite you all to think about the last horror novel/poetry collection/short story that you read by a person of color.  If you're finding yourself coming up short, might I recommend: Linda D. Addison, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Chesya Burke, and Nisi Shawl.

Am I a Horror Writer?
By Michelle R. Lane

I graduated from Seton Hill University in January 2015 with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and was pleasantly surprised to have a full house at my thesis reading. My thesis novel, Invisible Chains, is a slave narrative told from the POV of a teenage girl experiencing the real-world horrors of living on a plantation in Antebellum Louisiana. She witnesses a lynching, she is tied to a fountain and whipped, she is raped repeatedly, loses people she loves to gruesome deaths, hunted by slave catchers, and stalked and seduced by a vampire who claims to love her. I read the following excerpt as part of my presentation:

"The gentle babble of the water should have been soothing, but there was nothing peaceful about having my hands tied in front of me as I embraced the copper statue at the center of the concrete structure. I looked up into the nymph’s face. Drops of water splashed my cheeks and mixed with the tears. I wished my body were solid like the statue the first time the whip struck my back and split it open. After the fifth lash I lost count. Each time he struck me a new gash opened on my back. The pain was so bad I couldn’t catch my breath, which made it harder to scream. My dress was in shreds and so was the skin on my back. Blood and sweat mixed into a salty sticky mess that ran down my sides, stung my open wounds, and dripped into the fountain. Salt, musk, blood, and leather combined into a perfume of odors that on their own usually pleased me. Now, they would only remind me of pain and fear. My eyes were shut tight. I cried and begged, but no one heeded my pleas. Then, all of a sudden, the beating stopped. My back tensed as I waited for the next blow, but it didn’t come.

“What are you waiting for? Strike her again, James,” Lottie shouted.

“Hush, Charlotte. I heard something in the alley behind the house.”

Near the rear wall of the courtyard there was a sound like a low growl. I opened my eyes

and looked down into the fountain. The water had turned pink from my blood. I didn’t recall

throwing up, but vomit floated in the water, too. The growl came again, but I couldn’t see what

made it.

“Jimmy, go see what that is, but come right back. We’re not done here,” Lynch said.

I held onto the nymph to keep my balance, but my grip was slipping. All the strength had

left my body. Pain covered every inch of me. I couldn’t fight now if I had to. More than anything

I just wanted to lie down and die there in the garden. They could bury me under the herbs for all

I cared. I was about to fade from exhaustion, when something jumped over the wall and attacked Lynch. Lottie screamed.

With the little strength I had left, I turned to look at what could only be a wolf tearing its

way through Lynch’s throat and chest. It was the biggest animal I had ever se

en. At least as tall as a man, taller, and covered in course black fur. It stood on its hind legs and treated itself to a meal of that bastard’s flesh. It actually picked Lynch up and shook him from side to side in its jaws and then dropped him to the ground. Then it came at me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lottie crawl across the yard to kneel beside her husband’s corpse.

I was so tired and scared I couldn’t even scream when the animal fell forward onto its

front paws and walked towards me on all fours. Big John came around the corner of the house with an axe in his hands. He raised it over his head and ran at the animal, but he wasn’t fast enough. The wolf turned and snapped his teeth at Big John. He jumped back just in time and didn’t get bit, but the wolf bore down on him and chased him toward the house.  Lottie rose up on unsteady feet. Blood covered her hands and the front of her dress. She pressed her forearm to her mouth to hold in another scream and quietly backed away from Lynch’s body. She followed Big John into the house.

No one was coming to save me."

And yet, when I finished my presentation, people asked me if my novel was really a horror novel. They questioned the fact that I alluded to the real horrors of slavery and the society that allowed it to continue, as opposed to writing about ghosts, monsters, and serial killers. I wasn’t sure how to answer their questions, but I was certain my understanding of horror fiction was broader than theirs.

Genre is a tricky thing sometimes, especially when you’re attempting to write within a genre that has too many rules or assumptions made about it. Horror, is the fiction of fear. In fact, one of the most famous quotes about horror fiction is attributed to H. P. Lovecraft, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Lovecraft is half right. We do fear the unknown, but we also fear the things in our past that have hurt us the most. We fear being hurt again.

As a woman of color born in the United States, my ancestors were slaves. Recent science tells us that the traumas of our ancestors become part of our genetic code. The violence my ancestors experienced as slaves lives inside my flesh, like ghosts. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the best examples of a ghost story about slavery. It shows how the trauma of violence, both physical and psychological, can manifest as a literal ghost. Ghosts have stories to tell, and most ghost stories are about unspeakable horrors.

Despite the fact that my protagonist practices Vodun, has a vampire traveling companion, hides from slave catchers in a circus that only exists behind a magical door, and befriends a werewolf, people still felt the need to ask if I was writing Horror fiction. One of my mentors, Dr. Michael Arnzen, asked me to think about the social, cultural and political ramifications of writing a novel like Invisible Chains, because he was certain other people would be asking those questions.

I had thought about the social, cultural and political ramifications while I was writing the novel. I struggled with the fact that I was writing a slave narrative that not only focuses on the real horrors of slavery, but depicts white slave owners as the real monsters. I worried about how the novel would be received, because it deals with issues that might make some readers very uncomfortable if not angry, including:

●   Rape. When a woman of color writes about the rape of a slave by her white master, focusing only on the violence rather than the sex, it will almost undoubtedly anger the people who subscribe to revisionist history and uphold rape culture in America. Sexual violence is a trope within horror fiction, and aside from the blood and gore, is one of the reasons horror films almost consistently have an R rating. When you strip away the fetishization of female bodies and remove the script of rape fantasy, in a way, you are rewriting an expected aspect of horror fiction. Body horror is almost always in reference to violence done to female bodies. And weirdly enough, no matter how traumatic or terrifying, writers and filmmakers still manage to sexualize that horror.
●   Racism. America is not a post-racial society. Racism is alive and well and living in the United States. Racism helped to get Donald Trump elected. Racism is why police officers are killing black people in the streets with little to no consequences. Racism is why it’s not okay to say #BlackLivesMatter. Despite what a lot of people would like to believe, including the people who insist that they are color-blind, racism didn’t end with the Civil Rights Movement. It simply went underground and took on a more insidious guise while pointing fingers at White Supremacists as if they were just a bunch of dangerous crazies. Extremists. The fact of the matter is, Trump’s cabinet is bursting at the seams with racists, and not just their favorite scapegoat, Steve Bannon. Racism isn’t just a specter of our dark past, it is an evil that lives in the hearts of our co-workers, neighbors, family members, and government leaders. It’s worth writing about, and in my mind, it qualifies as a topic for horror fiction.
●    Interracial relationships. While my protagonist plans to settle down with a black man, that character is lynched. She later develops a relationship with a white man, and her vampire traveling companion is also white. I worried that writing about a woman of color who chooses the company of white men despite her treatment as a slave, would generate criticism from people of color. That hasn’t happened yet, and several of my beta readers have been women of color. Of course, Octavia Butler wrote about interracial relationships in Kindred, which also deals with the horrors of slavery.

So why were people asking if my novel fit into the Horror genre? Was it because I have a vampire antagonist? Vampires are monsters, right? So what if they appear in Paranormal Romance novels and take teen girls to prom? They’re still scary if you’re paying close enough attention, and my vampire is definitely a monster. Black magic is still scary, right? Was my genre in question because I chose to write a slave narrative? What’s more horrifying than slavery? Was my genre in question because my protagonist is a woman of color? I mean, judging by the number of horror films I’ve been watching lately, you’d think the only scary thing out there is crazy white women who nearly kill their children, and yet somehow don’t end up in prison or shot in the streets by police.

Like most writers who receive multiple rejections, I’ve begun to assume that the novel is just terrible. But then, people read it, like it, and keep asking when it’s going to be published. I’m not sure what to tell them, because I don’t know if the issue is a matter of genre, confusion over how to market it, or simply that people don’t think that women of color write good Horror fiction. Of course, I have had short stories included in Horror anthologies, so I must be doing something right.

My fear of rejection has not stopped me from writing. My protagonists are women of color. They are threatened by dark forces, sexual violence, and the realities of the past. And, despite how smart and strong they might be, they all seem to have the unfortunate habit of falling in love with monsters. Horror isn’t just the fiction of fear. It’s the fiction of facing your own demons, the fiction of self-discovery, the fiction of healing. When you write about the things that make people uncomfortable and ask them to look at themselves in relation to those things, most people don’t want to look. Horror writers hold up a mirror to society and have the nerve to show people what they fear the most: themselves. Perhaps, my novel raises too many questions about the past that make people uncomfortable. Or, maybe they just aren’t ready to hear that story told in the words of woman of color.
Author Bio: Michelle R. Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color who must battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work typically includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica. In January 2015, Michelle graduated with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her short story, “The Hag Stone,” was published November 2014 in the anthology Dark Holidays, available from Dark Skull Publications. She is a single mom who writes digital content for a toy maker and historic restoration company in Lancaster County. She lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her son.

Feel free to stalk Michelle online at Girl Meets Monster: https://michellerlane.wordpress.com/, follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chellane72/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/themichellerlane.