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"Women's Horror"?

Posted on 2006.06.26 at 14:42
What's in a category?  Is there such a beast as "Women's Horror"?   (Cross-posted from Justine Musk's livejournal, Moschus

Justine, my lovely woman,

I'd say that part of the difficulty with categorizing your brilliant debut novel, "BloodAngel," is that it is horror, it is urban fantasy, it contains weird elements, and dark fantasy. Same problem with trying to define Clive Barker's books post "Weaveworld"--"Coldheart Canyon" being a notable exception, as CC is a dark fantasy that has plunged much deeper into the horror pool. Clive described his work as "fantastical fiction" or imaginative fiction, and said he didn't want any restraints of category, only the limits (or lack thereof) of his own imagination. As for Mr. King, I think another reason he is so pervasively popular is that his horror touches men and women, and he has a profound gift for capturing women's voices and experiences. "Dolores Claiborne" was a spectacular example, where if I didn't know who wrote it, I would have no trouble believing it was written by a woman--same goes for "Cujo" and "Misery." And there are voices in women's horror that strike me as particularly muscular and fierce--Poppy Bright's early work, obviously, the first two novels by Kathe Koja, and P.D. Cacek's "Wind Caller." Then, let's not forget one of the most important voices in 20th century horror, Shirley Jackson, whose chilling, "Haunting of Hill House" paved the way for Stephen King's "The Shining." And while it is clearly a gothic novel in the baroque, classic sense, and Romantic in the Byronic sense, Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire" is beyond doubt horror--alternately visceral and existential.

The issue of revulsion toward particularly visceral scenes is a tough one. When they are handled as you handle them, they are like black and red traceries running through an arabesque on a Persian Rug. When I write them, I see them as tableaux, akin to walking into a gallery of Francis Bacon paintings or Joel-Peter Witkin Photographs, hoping the context of the narrative gives them some sort of archytypal power. My intention is never just to titilate. I think what is thought of as "Guy horror" is often just the reverse, where the primary emphasis is on titilation and shock.

Brian Keene is definately up on the gore-o-meter, but his work stands out because he also writes believable, fully-fleshed characters, and his books have strong female characters and even elderly protagonists. Edward Lee's books are horrific, but much more pornographic afairs--have sex, summon the devil, get raped by demons and die, die, die!  In Borders all the "Post-Buffy" fiction, with the exceptions of Laurel Hamilton and Kim Harrison, are put in romance. It's about pervasive content. Is the story primarily about romantic fantasies with supernatural badboys, or is the intent to unnerve the reader and send shudders up his/her spine?

Like Clive, to whose literary altar I still bow, I think it all gets down to following your own imagination. No limits, no boundaries, and no eyes focused on a particular demographic or short-livd cash cow. Those who stay true to their own inner vision, as you do, will never be easily pidgeon-holed into marketing categories. When I've sold your books, its about a 60/40 female to male split, and that's with a cover that definately is targeted toward female readers.

Women's horror, bah! There ain't no such thing. If it keeps you up at night in a cold sweat, it's horror--if it doesn't, it's not. If you read the book and pine on your bed for a vampire with a waxed chest to fill you with his manhood, all the while panting, "My Dark master!" it's a romance. If you read the book and you experience a mix of awe, horror, romance and wonder, well, you've trancended into the nebulous weird (which tends to have bizarre, reality-bending creatures i.e. Lovecraft and Mieville) or plunged into the dreamsea of fantastical fiction.

P.S. If you're going to pick up Brian Keene, try "Terminal" his most emotionally complex book, or the wonderful, two-book zombie opus "Rising" (pt 1) and "City of the Dead" (pt 2.). 

By the way, have you ever read Danielewski's "House of Leaves"? It's mind-blowing!


josiefiend at 2006-06-26 22:33 (UTC) (Link)
I bought Danielewski's "House of Leaves" after hearing it sampled in Poe's "Hey Pretty." I was in the middle of reading something else when it arrived so I loaned it to a friend. I had forgetten all about it until this post. I think it's time to get that one back!

I've never given much thought to male vs. female horror. I've always leaned toward more masculine style, I guess. Clive Barker is definitely of my favorite writers while Stephen King is not. I grew up on RE Howard, R Heinlein and ER Burroughs. I just noticed there's a lot of "Roberts" in my repertoire. You're in good company, my friend ;)
Justine Musk
moschus at 2006-06-27 14:03 (UTC) (Link)
Just to say, once again, how much I appreciated your feedback (I was hoping you'd weigh in) -- I have not read 'House of Leaves' but have been circling it for a while, so now I'll have to -- thanks for the Keene recommendation as well...My Dark Master! (Had to say it. Had to.)

Justine Musk
moschus at 2006-08-04 20:45 (UTC) (Link)
Where in the world is Rob Crowther Jr?

Throw a word -- or a bone -- to your fans, wouldja?

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