Women in Horror month is an annual event when we celebrate women horror writers. Sounds fairly obvious, but there’s an emphasis here that’s worth mentioning. At first glance, the genre appears to be sadly male dominated. Yet the first real science-fiction/horror story, Frankenstein, gothic and tragic with large dollops of horror poured on thick, was written by Mary Shelley. The point of the matter is that you don’t need a whole month devoted to reading nothing but horror written by women. You could start reading nothing but horror written by women right now and read your entire lifetime, barely scratching the surface of what they’ve done for horror. If a month-long celebration is the kick in the pants readers need to get out of their male dominated comfort zone, then yes … we need a Women in Horror month.
Don’t know where to start? Let me show you the way. Kathe Koja, The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin, Strange Angels, to name a few. Load ‘em up on your Kindle, or plop down some coin at her website. Once I read Kathe’s books, I saw the direction the horror genre was headed, and I liked that direction very much. It was my crush, my drug, my addiction. Still is. How about Shirley Jackson? We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Haunting of Hill House. There’s enough creepiness in her short story collections to send you to the looney bin. Then there’s Tanith Lee. Lyrical and haunting, it really doesn’t matter where you start with her work. Even her fantasy driven books are worth checking out. A good starting point is The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales. Bari Wood, author of The Tribe and Twins, later adapted into the Cronenberg film Dead Ringers, writes stories that will curl your toes. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, with its innocent cover featuring a manor straight out of Southern Living magazine, holds such wretched horrors inside you’ll have nightmares forever. Anne Rice revitalized the Vampire genre with her instant classic, Interview with the Vampire, and continues the saga of Lestat today. These are just a few of the women horror writers that shaped my influences and inspired me early on, definitely books I cut my teeth on.
Want some horror fiction that’s more contemporary? Sara Gran’s Come Closer is a nightmare-fueled paranoia rollercoaster that never ends. Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters doesn’t mess around either. Often grounded in reality, Ania Alhborn still knows what scares the crap out of you. Brother, and her latest, The Devil Crept In cements her as one of the best writers working today. Gemma Files, Experimental Film. Weird and creepy and thoroughly interesting as hell, Files knows how to make you care about her characters until the bitter end with stories you won’t soon forget. Damian Angelica Walters will rip your heart out and toss it away with Paper Tigers. You need to keep an eye on her because she’s just getting warmed up. S.P. Miskowski’s Knock Knock is an instant classic, another writer to be on the lookout for. Autumn Christian already knows your nightmares and makes them reality. Read her collection Ecstatic Inferno and prepare to be blown away. Molly Tanzer walks on the weird side, and that’s really all you should need to know to get into her work. Vermilion is an excellent starting point. Jessica McHugh, extremely prolific, extremely scary, extremely horrifying, extremely extreme. The Train Derails in Boston, need I say more? Rebecca Jones-Howe’s Vile Men will make you feel like you need a shower when you turn the last page, in a good way. Kristi Demeester is one name you should certainly be watching, especially her contributions in the Nightscript volumes, Eternal Frankenstein, Shimmer and Black Static. Certainly, Ellen Datlow deserves a mention here. She’s edited some of the best collections and anthologies out there. With a keen eye and expert selection, she knows the genre better than anyone, which means she knows what scares us the most.
Nicole Cushing is a modern-day Clive Barker, twisted and demented with The Sadist’s Bible, while Sarah Langan spins a vicious web of environmental horror with The Missing. Tiffany Scandal knows a thing or two about the darkness inside us all with Shit Luck, while Rios de la Luz shows us the farthest reaches of the universe in The Pulse between Dimensions and the Desert. Nnedi Okorafor brings our post-apocalyptic visions home with Who Fears Death. Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall may be one of the best single author’s collections out there. Our very own Michelle Garza is one half of The Sisters of Slaughter with Melissa Lason. Be sure to check out their first novel, Mayan Blue. Angela Slatter, author of Vigil and Sourdough and Other Stories, is comfortable writing horror and fantasy, often at once. Besides her editorial duties at Gamut, Mercedes M. Yardley is quite an accomplished writer of horror fiction, and Pretty Little Dead Girls is a great starting point for her work. If you haven’t read any work by the haunting and lyrical Livia Llewellyn, then you need to start with Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors, then on to Furnace.
Just because HORROR isn’t stamped boldly on the spine doesn’t mean it’s not scary. Toni Morrison nails the genre down like a lab frog and dissects it with glee with The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Flannery O’Connor isn’t exactly known for horror, but she’s about as dark as you can get without blinding your eyes. Joyce Carrol Oates, one of the greats, has dabbled in darkness longer than many of us have been alive, and always brings her A-game. Gillian Flynn is so damn good at capturing modern issues that you will forget you’re reading a story, convinced the words on the page are right out of a newspaper article.
And this is just scratching the surface, the tip of the iceberg as they say. The problem with lists is that someone invariably gets excluded, and if that’s the case, the fault is mine and mine alone. The purpose is to open your eyes and broaden your horizons. To fully understand the human condition, we must look at all perspectives. As long you keep your blinders on to reading just the male authors of the horror and weird genres, you are severely limiting yourself to a one-sided worldview that isn’t true and terribly skewed. If we need a whole month devoted to the women writers of horror to see the whole picture, then it’s high time we rip the blinders off and open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts, to all that horror fiction has to offer. You’ve got your starting points now, so get to reading.
The end is nowhere in sight.