February is Black History Month, which I’m happily observing this week by watching Lena Waithe’s fabulous The Chi on Showtime; reading the time-travel classic Kindred, by Octavia Butler, visiting the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum in Joshua Tree; and lining up for Black Panther.
February is also Women in Horror Month. I hadn’t remembered that until today, because, well, it’s been Women in Horror Year, now into Year Two of the horror.
But my name and books always pop up for Women in Horror month in my Twitter feed and on my Facebook page (like this review of Hunger Moon in Cemetery Dance) because that’s where I started as an author, and did quite a lot of as a screenwriter before that. Being a woman in horror gained me some instant recognition, because there are so few of us writing if. In fact, I was just at The Last Bookstore in downtown LA this week, and the “Horror Vault” (a literal bank vault) consisted of shelves of male authors plus Anne Rice, whose books I love, but to my mind she’s not really a horror writer at all.
And neither am I, any more, for many reasons.
There’s definitely a bias in the industry against female horror authors. It doesn’t affect me in a practical sense because I’ve moved into writing very dark thrillers rather than overt horror. I love both genres; I went back and forth between the two, or crossed the two, as a screenwriter – and I’m a full-time writer, so I’m not about to struggle against a genre that disparages women AND doesn’t pay as well as the thriller genre.
|The Haunted thrillers, box set|
Beyond that, I’d really rather not use the word “horror” to describe even my four supernatural novels because I think the genre has been brought to a very low, base level by torture porn. I find it disgusting and harmful. It doesn’t deserve to be listed with the true psychological horror of Jackson, Lovecraft, Shelley, King, Poe – the great explorers of the dark side. I don’t write torture porn and I won’t read or watch it, either.
But there’s no question that part of my brand as an author is mixing elements of horror with crime. I started that with my witch thriller Book of Shadows, which crosses a police procedural with an exploration of modern witchcraft practice and the possibility of demonic possession and satanic murder.
But I really found my stride with the Huntress Moon series, which confronts the existential horror of sexual abuse, sexual assault and sex trafficking in a realistic FBI procedural. The collective evil of sexual predation and the laws and social systems that defend and perpetuate sexual abuse take on an almost supernatural presence in the books, without ever becoming overtly supernatural.
I use techniques I learned writing horror for both books and film to create that creeping sense of suspense and evil, and it gets readers turning pages ever though I’m writing blatantly social and political themes and confronting real legal deficiencies and institutional atrocities.
It’s made the series quite successful as books and led to a TV deal, because this is just the kind of edgy boundary-pushing that is finally, finally popular in television now.
Using horror to explore social and political issues can be powerfully effective, as we saw last year in Jordan Peele’s razor-sharp, game-changing Get Out.
And I just read Kindred, the classic, brilliant, brutal time travel/neo slave narrative novel by the Grande Dame of science fiction, Octavia Butler (my way of celebrating both Black History and Women in Horror at once).
Kindred takes its 1970’s African American heroine, Dana, on a harrowing time trip back to the 1815 plantation where her ancestors were enslaved, and she must both survive the and guard her white plantation ancestor from harm in order to preserve her own family line.
Now that’s horror – the horror of slavery that we’ve never healed as a nation, so evident in the racism which is rising up around and apparently in us again today. (People in my neighborhood got it delivered right to their doorsteps this week: racism not only in the headlines, but in the white supremacist flyers that someone had slipped into the newspapers).
And of course, using horror to explore philosophical and political issues of the day goes back much, much farther than that. Consider Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein is being feted all over the world on its bicentennial anniversary. Her themes of the moral implications of scientific exploration and the failings of the patriarchy still resonate powerfully today.
So how about you authors out there? Have you ever considered using the conventions and sugarcoating of genre to deliver the themes that are most important to you?
And readers, do you have favorite genre-benders that carry a potent social or political or philosophical message?
All five books of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers are on sale – $2.00 through February on Amazon US.
This really is a series that needs to be read in order, so this is a fabulous way to get started.
Audiobook fans – you can add RC Bray’s award-winning narration for $3.99 or under!
Book 5 of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers.
College rapists better watch their backs.
Book 5: in print, ebook and audio. Buy here,
In the new book, Roarke and his FBI team are forced to confront the new political reality when they are pressured to investigate a series of mysterious threats vowing death to college rapists… while deep in the Arizona wilderness, mass killer Cara Lindstrom is fighting a life-and-death battle of her own.
For thousands of years, women have been prey.
Via: Alexandra Sokoloff