Category Archives: Publishing

Guest Blog: Author JE Barnard

A small note that the last year has continued to bring trauma with a recent death in the family and a fractured ankle. As I literally get back on my feet I’ve asked a few other writers to be guests. Today, Calgary writer Jayne Barnard joins me. Feel free to ask some questions or leave comments.

KEYS TO A STRONG SERIES

Barnard Ice FallsEvery new mystery author dreams of landing a series. Many of us have several novels in mind with our lead character before the first one is finished. Yet how many of us recognize the many pitfalls to writing a series, in which every entry must be strong enough to both build our brand and pull our earliest readers forward?

Barnard Deadly Diamond from FB

Look for Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond here.

True confession: I don’t have the best luck with planning series ahead of time. The award-winning Maddie Hatter trilogy began with a fun, fast, one-off book titled Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, into which I tossed every silly send-up I could think of, from Belgian detectives to games of Clue. Unexpectedly, the book received nominations for both the Prix Aurora and the Alberta Book Publishing Award, and the publisher wanted more. After a panicked week of pacing my office and shrieking, “I don’t know where the story goes next!” I finally found a couple of threads in the first book that I could pull gently forward into a second. Fortunately, Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge worked out well enough to garner the same set of nominations, and was named the 2018 Alberta Book of the Year for Children & Young Adults by the Alberta Book Publishers Association.

For my second series, contemporary women’s suspense set in the Alberta foothills, the first manuscript was a finalist for the Debut Dagger in the UK and the Unhanged Arthur in Canada, but no publisher wanted it (A sad truth: some manuscripts are beloved of juries but not of publishers or agents). The second manuscript, with the same female lead—ex-Mountie Lacey McCrae—won the Unhanged and was picked up by Dundurn Press. The catch: they wanted that book and two further ones, but not the “first” book. In a rushed set of edits, I had to turn that second book into a first one, and shape a new series hook that would carry Lacey, and the readers, further into her future than I had planned.

The solution in both cases came from the same place: characters’ back stories. Somewhere in the history you gave them, perhaps planned or possibly on the spur of an inspired moment, is a clue that will lead you to a successful sequel, and forward through a series.Each book in a series has a central story question that must be answered, and it may or may not relate directly to the central series question. Both are important. One must carry a book, the other a series. In Flood the central story question is, “Can Lacey save Dee from a midnight prowler who may or may not be her ex-husband?”

The character arcs must also be addressed. The arc of the series protagonist must be visible in every book, and it must advance in some way during each book. It can evolve independent of each particular novel’s plot but is strongest when it is thematically or structurally related to that plot. Lacey’s own marriage, and her attitudes to relationships because of it, shape how she responds to Dee’s troubles, and how she interprets clues, even though we don’t learn a lot about the marriage during When the Flood Falls. In Where the Ice Falls (Dundurn, July 2019) we’ll see more events from her marriage and her RCMP career that impact events in that plot.

Barnard WhentheFloodFallsNew compressed 1

When the Flood Falls can be found at Amazon.

While a secondary character’s story arc can be made central to a single book, like Dee’s danger is in Flood, it can also remain almost invisible until it’s needed in a future book. So, to think about the characters standing around the edges of your current project. Give them hints of a life beyond their immediate function. You’ll thank yourself later.

The series question must matter intensely to the character—and the readers—and yet be readily separated into segments partially resolved in each book successive book. Lacey’s marriage is present from the first chapter of the first book to the final chapter of the third. Early in Flood we are presented with the question: What happened in that marriage that drove Lacey not only out of her career but five mountain ranges away from her husband, and what’s she going to do about it?” Right up to that last chapter of that last book, we want the reader on that journey of self-discovery and growth right beside Lacey.

Your series question won’t be the same as mine, but take time to think about all its possibilities before you get too far into your series. Readers can feel it when the tension has left the central series question, and their emotional investment in your series will sink just about as quickly. Dig deep. Agents, editors, and readers will thank you for it.

To recap, a series needs:

  • Strong individual book questions to keep old readers and pull in new ones
  • A strong character arc for the protagonist that advances in stages with each book
  • Recurring secondary characters with arcs of their own that can be foregrounded
  • A strong series question to pull readers forward through all the books in order
  • And one I didn’t mention above: to be grounded in a specific place or milieu with which series readers will become increasingly at home. Familiarity breeds comfort, and brings readers back just as surely as a strong series question does.

Bonus points if there’s a theme that ties all your books together. Mine is “Falls” as in both the nearby Elbow Falls—grounding in a place—and “everything falls apart,” which it continually does in Lacey’s world, usually at the moment when she about to get Life back under control.

JE (Jayne) Barnard is a Calgary-based crime writer with 25 years of award-winning short fiction and children’s literature behind her. Author of the popular Maddie Hatter Adventures (Tyche Books), and now The Falls Mysteries (Dundurn Press), she’s won the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur, the Bony Pete, and the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award. Her works were shortlisted for the Prix Aurora (twice), the UK Debut Dagger, the Book Publishing in Alberta Award (twice), and three Great Canadian Story prizes. Jayne is a past VP of Crime Writers of Canada, a founder of Calgary Crime Writers, and a member of Sisters in Crime. Her most recent book is When the Flood Falls and her upcoming one is Where the Ice Falls, both small-town psychological thrillers firmly rooted in the Alberta foothills west of Calgary.

You can follow JE Barnard through the following media:

@J.E.Barnard (Twitter)

@JayneBarnard1 (Twitter)

Saffron.hemlock (Instagram)

https://www.facebook.com/FallsMystery/

https://www.facebook.com/MaddieHatterAdventures/

About When the Flood Falls: Her career in tatters and her marriage receding in the rear-view mirror, ex-RCMP corporal Lacey McCrae trades her uniform for a tool belt and the Lower Mainland for the foothills west of Calgary. Amid the oil barons, hockey stars, and other high rollers who inhabit the wilderness playground is her old university roommate, Dee Phillips. Dee’s glossy life was shattered by a reckless driver; now she’s haunted by a nighttime prowler only she can hear. As snowmelt swells the icy river, crashing whole trees against the only bridge back to civilization, Lacey must make the call: assume Dee’s in danger and get her out of there, or decide the prowler is imaginary and stay, cut off from help if the bridge goes under. Can she find one true clue either way before Mother Nature make the decision for her? Can they both survive until the floodwaters fall?

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Women in Horror: Sèphera Girón Part II

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteSèphera’s back today, talking about earning a living as a writer and specifically about Patreon and how it works.

One of the things that help people like me, single people who don’t have a partner to support me financially or emotionally or even with posting a tweet and trying to figure out how to earn a living and keep all the balls in the air and get the work flowing again, is a Patreon.

Nowadays, a lot of people can turn to fund-raising events like a Go Fund Me or a Kick Starter for a specific project and things like that. I myself had a very successful Go Fund Me a few years ago. I had hoped to go to the Stanley hotel for a writers’ retreat to try and get back on track with my writing and I wanted to pay my own way, but the recession was huge here with no jobs at all, not even Starbucks would hire me. I took Amanda Palmer’s advice and laid out some of my story on Go Fund Me and asked for help. People were very generous and kind and understood how important that this retreat was. It wasn’t just me trying to go to a retreat every year and make people pay for it. It was important for my mental health to really try to get there to be with horror peers and to see where my favorite book originated, there was rumour of casting for new horror TV show, and things like that. So, I got to do the retreat through incredible generosity from the horror community and I have been very grateful!

I saw another platform called Patreon which seemed to be a different approach. The first Patreon I started, I was trying to do it more like a Kick Starter and that was not successful at all. I was trying to write a book about ghosts and ghost hunting with major emphasis on the Lizzie Borden house and I also wanted to do a New England tour. I was trying to get funding for that through Patreon and I didn’t. Patreon is not for those things but back then it wasn’t really clear what Patreon was.

Giron_APennySaved_VR3I found Patreon because I kept seeing Amanda Palmer coming through the various aspects of my social media talking about “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” I saw her blogs and TED talk and she talks all the time about not being afraid to ask for help, being on Patreon, interacting with fans and so on. For those of you who don’t know, Amanda Palmer is married to author Neil Gaiman, so theoretically he reaps the rewards of her hugely success Patreon platform.

I tried my Patreon again, taking her words more to heart than I did for the Go Fund Me and the first Patreon attempt. I restructured my Patreon and I’ve had it for over three years now.

When I first started it, I thought, “OK, I’m too depressed to write horror and so I’m going to write science fiction and I’m going to work on a space opera.”

For the first year I wrote a chapter a month for my space opera and I had one patron for the longest time (and I didn’t even know him in real life!) but then I started to realize from reading market reports that where I want to send it won’t take work that is previously on the Internet and specifically named Patreon as being previously published so I removed my monthly installations from my Patreon.

Now, my main goal is to show people the crazy writer’s life that I lead since a lot of people tell me my life is weird and it is and so I share my life with my patrons. I write or video several blogs a week, I talk about if I’m on a TV show or movie, I discuss what’s Giron2bugging me, I am disgusted with my weight, weird things happened to me such as I burned myself waitressing. Patrons of a certain level got to see pictures of my horrible burns and scars. I get weird allergies, so my patrons get to see my face all puffed up with hives and silly things like that. I might sing or do other stuff but it’s all part of the writing process, part of the being a creative human being process and so I like to amuse my patrons with various things. Sometimes I’m able to share short stories I’m working on, depending on which market I’m writing them for. Sometimes I’ll just put up rough drafts. Sometimes I’ll just put up the cue cards for the character notes, it depends on the project. There are three books I keep working on and off on for over the last few years. When they are finished, my patrons of a specific level will be acknowledged in the professionally published books. All of my patrons are thanked whenever I can on some YouTube videos. I did thank some patrons in a couple of books I republished that had been published long before I ever had a Patreon (A Penny Saved, Captured Souls, Gilda and the Prince). My patrons got to see the rough version of this blog post!

A lot of people consider Patreon to be begging. This means they don’t understand what it’s about. There are, I think, over a million creators on Patreon now. When I joined, there were a couple thousand, now there are over a million.

There are a lot of very important famous people on Patreon who have thousands of patrons in that they make thousands of dollars a month on Patreon. There are huge writers on Patreon who make thousands of dollars a month. Everybody expects something different with what they want to give and with what they want to receive.

I like to think that since I do a lot of things, I offer different experiences. Patreon is only one of many ways I attempt to earn an income so that I can get back to the business of creating actual novels and other entertainments for people. I do love to entertain other people. But when I see people calling Patreon creators “beggers” I always find that upsetting.

Patreon is more like a subscription service. There are writers who write books in a month on there. There are musicians who will create songs for you. Artists who will draw for you. YouTubers who will mention you. It’s endless in what you can offer and receive. I would bet many of us creators on Patreon work pretty hard for your subscription.

Giron7I look around on Patreon sometimes. You can only see so much if you’re not actually paying however, I do notice that some writers have Patreons and they haven’t even posted for their followers in over a year, sometimes many months, and yet they still are getting thousands of dollars. So this shows that those of you who are thinking about setting up a Patreon but not sure what to offer, some fans just want you just to get those books written and out in the world and they don’t care if you actually post on the platform, they just want to support you in your career and help you get some dental work done or see a doctor or whatever.

Speaking of which…here in Ontario, yes, we have free health care as in going to the doctor but if anything’s wrong with you, you have to deal with it. I’ve been be so grateful to my patrons that I’ve been able to get prescriptions when I got bit by a dog, had to get various prescriptions and bandages for burns and allergies, when I didn’t have money in my bank account for such things. I dream of the day I can see the dentist for the first time in ten years if my teeth stop falling out so that I have some teeth left to fix. Whether it’s through an influx of pledges from Patrons (I’d need a few hundred patrons!) or whether it’s from advances and royalties from work I’ve been inspired to create because I have patrons rooting for me doesn’t matter.

I have some health issues, a shaky hand for a few years that is growing worse every day, so my waitressing days are over. One can’t discount the impact that emotional illnesses can have on a creative person and yes, we have free “healthcare” here in Canada, but we have to pay for dentists, eye doctors, prescriptions of every kind, birth control, psychiatrists and psychologists, therapy, counsellors, chiropractors, and more. We can get diagnosed by a family doctor and can get “free” surgery, but god help you if you have anything you need to take drugs for and don’t have insurance. I’ve had dozens of jobs over the decades and have never once had insurance as it’s not a given widely here as it is in the States. I’m supposed to be on a few prescriptions like anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication and something related to the gall bladder operation, but I can’t afford them, so I just plow on through and lose days/weeks/months of work when the Black Dogs bark.

When you’re going through trauma, “going out and getting a job” isn’t so easy and when you have no present-day skills and are over fifty, well…

These days, everyone is an editor and the fees that hobby editors charge are destroying the industry much as writers who write for free destroy opportunities for all writers to get paid better. It also seems that everyone is now a tarot card reader as well so my tarot business has also been destroyed when people can get cheap/free tarot readings everywhere including from apps instead of paying a proper wage for skilled, professional work. My safety guard backup careers are just as unreliable as writing at this point. Background work pays minimum wage and I usually work one day a month. So, what do you do when you’re pushing sixty and divorced and lost everything you ever had?

So, my longwinded point in this blog, is that, ladies, especially single ladies (even if you’re married) who get nothing from the government, nothing from any spouses−I don’t get any support from anyone except my patrons−ladies, consider starting a Patreon. Patreon is a blessing for me, emotionally and financially.

I’m happy to see more people join the platform. Everyone who has joined my Patreon has stayed on the ride. Only one person ever quit on me ever in all the time I’ve had my Patreon.

Giron5So maybe I’m doing something right. I don’t know but it’s a fun platform for me. It keeps me from being depressed and from spending days going “what the fuck is my life?” because I have to answer to my patrons. I do make schedules and I try to hit them. I take pictures and videos at events, knowing I’ll be sharing them with my patrons. It’s helping me get back on my feet, really helping me focus on having most of my space opera finished, most of my next Witch Upon a Star book is nearly finished and I’m almost halfway through my next horror book.

My Women in Horror Month wish for all of you is to start a Patreon if you don’t have one. And if you have some extra money kicking around, consider supporting an artist or two on Patreon. Even if you sponsor for $1, when one hundred people give $1, that’s $100! (minus Patreon fees, of course!)

Be warned, you cannot find someone on there. Their search function sucks. There is no way to look for writers or anyone else, even if you punch in their name! The only way you can find someone on Patreon is if you already know they are there. Feel free to add your links at the bottom of this blog.

Patreon is a really great tool for getting focused and organized, building your fan base and rewarding your fan base. You can create whatever rewards you want depending on whatever it is you do and your finances.

Interesting that three times I put a call out on my Facebook for people, women, to post their links for a Women in Horror Month article I was writing about Patreon. I was hoping for lots of women for this article. But much like calls for horror stories and novels, men are quicker to respond. In a nutshell, you can see by the Patreon response, how it likely reflects horror writer submissions.

Even though I have nearly four thousand Facebook friends, you can see here, how many people shared their links.

Do we need a Women in Horror Month? I’m still not sure. But I do know that some of us sometimes need a helping hand to get back on our feet, or maybe to get on them for the first time. Keep writing and more importantly, submitting. Don’t worry if you’re a woman; you’re a WRITER! Use your real name and stand proud behind your work.

First, let’s acknowledge Amanda Palmer who drew my attention to this ride:

https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer

http://www.patreon.com/sephera

https://www.patreon.com/GaryABraunbeck

Http://www.patreon.com/monicaskuebler

https://patreon.com/maryrajotte

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=1002984

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=2887829

https://www.patreon.com/ObnoxiousAnonymous

https://www.patreon.com/westonochse

GironSèphera Girón is an author, actor, tarot card reader, and mom. She has over twenty published books. Watch for Taurus in the Witch Upon a Star series to be released this year from Riverdale Avenue Books. She has stories in Dark Rainbow, Dawn of the Monsters, Abandon, Group Hex 1 and Group Hex 2, Intersections: Six Tales of Ouija Horror and more. Sèphera is the astrologer for Romance Daily News. Be sure to watch for her monthly horoscopes at https://www.romancedailynews.com/ Sèphera lives in Toronto.

Drop by Sèphera’s Twitch TV channel and get a free daily tarot card reading. Be sure to follow so you know when she’s online. Click Witch Upon a Star for her series. Sèphera can also be found on her website, her Tarot Card Reading website, Instagram, and Twitter. Check out Sèphera on YouTube. Be sure to follow so you know when the next video is uploaded!

Sèphera’s courses are also available on Udemy!
https://www.udemy.com/secrets-of-a-background-performer/?couponCode=BGYOUTUBE3
https://www.udemy.com/read-tarot-cards/?couponCode=TAROTCARDYOUTUBE
https://www.udemy.com/so-you-want-to-be-a-horror-writer/?couponCode=BLOGHORROR2

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Women in Horror: Caitlin Marceau

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteCanadian Caitlin Marceau talks about horror in film and a few Canadian authors of horror fiction today for Women in Horror Month.

Great Canadian Horror

When you think of great American horror authors, a myriad of names come to mind: Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Shirley Jackson… the list goes on and on. When we think of great British horror authors, there’s also no shortage of names: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Clive Barker, M. R. James, Neil Gaiman, Susan Hill… youMarceau JulianneSnow get the picture.

But how many popular Canadian horror authors can you come up with?

It’s okay if you need a moment to think about it, most people do.

In truth, there aren’t many Canadian horror authors who are as popular or internationally renowned as those from other English language countries. Australia has the likes of Angela Slater, Kirstyn McDermott, and Greig Beck, and even New Zealand has Maurice Gee, but when you mention Canadian horror most people stare into the distance and come up empty.

Although there are a few powerhouse names that can be found here in the great white Bittennorth—like Black Christmas’ Roy Moore, Ginger Snaps’ John Fawcett, and horror twins Jen and Sylvia Soska—few of them are known for their literary contributions. Even David Cronenberg, praised internationally for his work (which includes The Fly, Dead Ringers, Scanners, and Shivers), is left out of the authorial conversation despite his reputation and having released his debut novel, Consumed, back in 2014.

But why does this matter?

Because storytelling is an invaluable tool in building a nation’s identity, an issue that Canada has struggled with since it was first formed. We’re a country with a complicated past, and an even bigger identity crisis. Summed up best in Earle Birney’s poem “Can. Lit.,” we’re a nation that’s always been at odds with ourselves, at odds with our history and origins, and at odds with what it even means to be Canadian (just ask someone from Quebec, Alberta, and Nunavut). Where other countries have fought to forge empires, to gain independence, and to find their place in the world, Canada has never really needed to. We didn’t revolt against England’s rule, our internal conflict between the French and the English never had the same violent conclusion that America’s Civil War had, and so—as Birney eloquently writes in his poem—”it’s only by our lack of ghosts/we’re haunted.”

Marceau OmensAlthough, if Canadian women in horror have anything to say about it, hopefully not for long.

Horror fiction has always been a great way of bringing people together. It gives audiences a safe space to explore their deepest fears and understand national anxieties. Horror also allows people to explore socio-political issues in a visceral, engaging, and sometimes more approachable way. While film has been especially great at this (just look at 2017’s Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, which explores racial tension and problematic white liberalism in the United States or 1954’s Godzilla, by Japanese director Ishirō Honda, which explored the fear of nuclear weaponry), literary works have been effective in this too (including both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, by American novelist Ira Levin, or Dracula by U.K. born Bram Stoker).

While Canada has a slew of great horror films that examine everything from gender issues to sexual assault through a cinematic horror lens, more and more female authors are doing their part to build Canada’s pantheon of horror creatures.

Nancy Kilpatrick is reinventing vampire lore through her Thrones of Blood series, and Marceau Nancymade speculative fiction with erotic undertones mainstream long before Stephenie Meyer. Kelley Armstrong is a fan favourite and legendary horror author, with her thriteen-book Otherworld series inspiring the show Bitten (2014-2016). Armstrong not only caters to adult horror fans, but has written several young adult trilogies (like the Darkest Powers & Darkest Rising series) which appeal to young readers and older ones alike. Her work features a diverse range of women, and explores both the idea of what it means to be a woman and what really makes a monster. Julianne Snow’s Days with the Undead series takes a northern approach to zombies, and breathes new life into an otherwise lifeless monster.

Canadian women are creating a national horror canon, are encouraging more women to get involved in the genre, and are inspiring new readers. It’s a legacy that—unlike Canada’s complicated identity crisis—will hopefully last for years to come.

Caitlin Marceau is a Canadian author and professional editor living and working in Montreal. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, is a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction.

Marceau_AuthorPhotoShe’s been published for journalism, poetry, as well as creative non-fiction, and has spoken about horror literature at several Canadian conventions. Her workshop “Bikinis, Brains, and Boogeymen: How To Write Realistic Women in Horror,” was acclaimed by Yell Magazine, and her first co-authored collection, Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror, was released in June of 2017.

As of 2018, she is the co-owner and CEO of Sanitarium, an indie publishing house dedicated to encouraging diverse voices in horror media.

If she’s not covered in ink or wading through stacks of paper, you can find her ranting about issues in pop culture or nerding out over a good book.

For more information, or just to say hi, you can reach her through infocaitlinmarceau@gmail.com, her website, or via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

 

 

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Women in Horror: Gemma Files

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteAward winning Canadian author Gemma Files talks about growing up, dealing with puberty and becoming a horror writer.

Women in Horror Month: Woman/Horror Writer

It took me a long time to think of myself as a woman, and getting my period at age ten and a half was part of that. As I blew straight through puberty over the next six months, it didn’t help my already awful social cred even a little: I was still angry, still “too smart” and still didn’t understand what made a person popular, except now I also had glasses, braces, pimples, cramps, my full height and breasts before anyone else, at a time when it was guaranteed to seem creepy rather than cool. Boys didn’t try to look down my shirt so much as they picked fights with me, while the girls I invited to my birthday party found a box of my maxi-pads and used them as impromptu decorations.

Files book-of-tongues-1172kbWhich perhaps goes a way towards explaining why I soon decided that my gender had nothing much to recommend it overall, and nothing to do with me. I spent the next twelve years thinking of myself as a brain on top of a spine before blundering into a group of friends just as Aspergian as myself, one of whom I eventually married. And all of them liked fantasy and science fiction and comics, movies and music and role-playing games, fandom and collecting and various branches of academic study—which was great, because so did I. But out of all these people, I was pretty much the only one whose thoughts almost always tended (as Yukio Mishima so beautifully put it) to Night, and Death, and Blood. Out of all of them, I was the person who called myself a horror writer.

I was a woman as well, though, and (since I’m cis) will always remain one. I was a woman when I fixated on vampires and studied black magic, a woman when I read my way through Tanith Lee’s back catalogue at Toronto’s Judith Merrill Collection or collected Fangoria magazine to educate myself about directors I idolized (like David Cronenberg, weird and Canadian!), a woman when I applied for my first film critic gig by writing unsolicited reviews of Silence of the Lambs and Pumpkinhead. So when I first started to send out the horror stories I wrote, part of the dreadfulness of embodiment I concentrated on very much had to do with the specific ins and outs of my own female flesh—and just describing things like menstruation, cunnilingus or childbirth in detail was enough to disgust and terrify, I soon found, especially when playing to what most people still assume is  a mainly-male audience.

Back in the early 1990s, the genre was full of extremity, Splatterpunk, “erotic horror”…people were always trying to push the envelope, to deliberately shock and offend, and where that automatically seemed to take a lot of authors’ minds was back to the female body, but always from the outside: as a prop, an artefact, a plot twist. Skimming through my local bookstore’s horror section, I mainly saw stuff that focused on the destruction and befoulment of people who looked like me, our inevitable and luxurious transmutation from sugar, spice and everything nice to a rotting corpse with a vagina full of teeth. When I sold five stories to The Hunger (an erotic horror anthology show produced by Tony and Ridley Scott for Showtime, which ran from 1997 to 2000 and shot out of Montreal), I got to visit the production office, where the writers’ room had a list of rules pinned up on the wall. I can’t remember all of them, but “If a woman gets naked, she’s evil” was definitely number one.

Though I’d cut my literary teeth on Stephen King and Peter Straub, like almost everyone Files Spectralelse in my generation, the people I increasingly drew direct inspiration from were exceptions rather than rules: non-default in terms of gender, sexuality and outlook. They were body-horror poets like Clive Barker, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Melanie Tem, Kathe Koja and Poppy Z. Brite; they were decadents from the underside of the 1980s horror boom like Michael McDowell and Douglas Clegg (both gay, I later found out), or forgotten mistresses from earlier ages like Marjorie Bowen and Vernon Lee, along with all the other ladies published in Virago Press’s two collections of ghost stories. And slowly but surely, I realized I was attracted to these people because the things which fascinated me also fascinated them. I’d never been mainstream, not in my life—but was that because I personally was singular, perverse, different from the norm? Or was it possible that all people who identified as different from the norm were just more likely to have interests which crossed over with mine, women very much included?

And at every point on this journey, I got asked the exact same series of questions: Why horror, and why horror for me, a woman? Why not write something else, something less upsetting and declassé, something less firmly located at the intersection of Gore and Porno Streets? What could I possibly get out of it, or assume anyone else would get out of it?

Here’s a sad fact: when you love a thing that supposedly only men love but you’re not “a man”…by which I mean the same limiting, parodic mainstream image of what a straight cis white male should be that makes even straight cis white males sometimes doubt their ability to live up (or down) to it…it makes it hard to love yourself. When the only image of someone like you you’re likely to trip across inside that thing you love is a joke, a sidekick, a monster or a dead body, it makes it hard for you as a person who loves horror and wants everything any other person who loves horror wants—transformation and apotheosis, power in darkness, revelry and revenge, (fictional) death to your enemies—to want to have anything to do with those characters, that gender, yourself. It makes you want to be sexless, a brain on a spine, a ghost. It makes you want to be a man.

Files Kissing-carrion-cover-w-introBut here’s how things have changed since I started writing horror, thankfully: much though I enjoy writing from their POV (particularly while watching them have sex with each other), I don’t actually want to be a man anymore. I want to be me. Because, as has always been the case, horror really is for women too, and queer people, and diverse people of all kinds—the whole intersectional non-default brigade. It doesn’t mean we hate ourselves by loving it, and it doesn’t have make us hate ourselves to love it, either. Because it shows us we can love ourselves all the better by not only embracing our own inherently monstrous-coded differences from “the norm,” but by understanding that the greatest trick mainstream culture ever played was convincing us there really was a norm to deviate from, in the first place.

Horror is for everyone, it turns out, because everyone’s equally afraid of their body, the universe, each other and themselves—because we all love things, and know we’re going to lose them; because we all know we’re going to die, and we all hate it. Because we all know this is going nowhere good, much as we may hope like hell otherwise. Horror is for everyone, male, female or otherwise, because it’s the genre that teaches us not to trust blindly, that behind every pretty lie is an uncomfortable yet freeing truth. That all of us could be monsters, and as long we let ourselves be aware of that fact, we also know we don’t have to be. That just as the grave has room enough for all of us, the grave’s rim has more than enough space for everybody who wants to take their turn donning masks and telling stories in the dark.

So many people just like me, all getting the same thing out of what I love that I do. It took me a long time to think of myself as a woman, far longer than it did for me to think of myself as a horror writer. Yet here I am.

In fact…I’m here all year. 😉

Files Interview SelfieFormerly a film critic, journalist, screenwriter and teacher, Gemma Files has been an award-winning horror author since 1999. She has published two collections of short work (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart), two chapbooks of speculative poetry (Bent Under Night and Dust Radio), a Weird Western trilogy (the Hexslinger series—A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones), a story-cycle (We Will All Go Down Together: Stories of the Five-Family Coven) and a stand-alone novel (Experimental Film, which won the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and the 2016 Sunburst award for Best Adult Novel). Most are available from ChiZine Publications. She has two new story collections from Trepidatio (Spectral Evidence and Drawn Up From Deep Places), one upcoming from Cemetery Dance (Dark Is Better), and a new poetry collection from Aqueduct Press (Invocabulary). She can be found on Twitter as @gemmafiles and Facebook as Gemma Files.

 

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Women in Horror: Bianca Pheasant

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteBianca Pheasant is a South African author who will talk about the beauty of horror for Women in Horror Month.

The Beauty of Horror

Horror, it’s such a beautiful thing. Most individuals would claim they do their best to avoid it as far as possible but deep in their souls, they know they want it, even if it was just a pinch. In fact, we not only want it, we need it.

When I was younger, I could not wait for the next Nightmare on Elm Street movie or the pheasantnewest horror novel. Not only did I eat it up like cake, I lived for it. I must have been ten or eleven when I read Tommyknockers−my first Stephen King novel. After that, I discovered Dean R. Koontz’s The Bad Place. Then I started writing. And of course, it was only natural that I would write books dripping with horror, aimed to terrify.

I’ve often been asked why I don’t write “happier” stories and why my work is always so bloody and depressing. My answer is always… “Because that’s what my readers want!” Besides… books about how lonely woman meets hunky man with a dark past and never-ending issues are just plain boring.

The reason I love writing in the horror genre is because I never have to walk on eggshells when I write. I don’t have to be conservative or mindful. The words flowing from my imagination need not be filtered for fear of being too gory or crass because the demand for exactly those things are high.

But that’s not all.pheasant 2

I believe that every person has two sides. The one side we show to the world. The other, well… this is the one we hide. We push it so deep into our psyches we sometimes forget it exists. We chain it like a rabid beast, lock it up and swallow the key.

The problem with that is that those bars rust and grow frail. That is when I write my best horror work. Once the beast breaks free, I can delve into the darkest corners of my mind and not be afraid. The thoughts and ideas I’m expected to hide ignite every brain cell concealed within my skull and as fingertips marry keyboard, the beast…my beast, isset  free.

pheasant3Being a writer gives me the ability to give the darkest fantasies of my mind a voice and watch them as they come to life right in front of me. I set them free and they write the story for me. Trust me when I say the author is NOT always behind the steering wheel. We are string puppets manipulated by the fictional, and sometimes not so fictional, characters in our heads.

Once they are set into motion, I sit and marvel at the chaos they create. Like the infamous Dr Hannibal Lector, I’ll feel proud because I know they are my design.

The best part of being a writer of terrible things is the research. I once did a whole study on how to poison a grown man using hemlock extract and how much Acepromazine it takes to knock him out without killing him. (Acepromazine is a tranquilizer used on horses, by the way.)

If someone had to look at my browsing history without knowing that I write weird and pheasant 4creepy tales, I can only imagine the suspicion, and maybe even fear, running through their minds.

Think about it for a second…

You’re having wine with this amazing couple you met a week ago. Expecting an important email, you ask if you can use the laptop laying on the kitchen counter. Your hostess smiles and tells you, “Be my guest, dear.”

You check your mail and out of curiosity you check the browsing history and finds this:

pheasant 5(Yes, that is my actual browsing history)

After a few minutes of awkward silence, you excuse yourself, never to enter that house again.

But… if you knew the user of the laptop was actually a horror writer, the weird subjects in the browsing history would not seem so scary anymore.

This brings me back to the point I tried to make earlier.

We love horror. We enjoy being terrified by the unknown and whether we like to admit it or not, we cannot get enough of the dark and twisted minds of the legendary fathers of horror like Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Bloch.

These are the people who twists our dreams into nightmares. They unsettle our comfort zones and tickle the monsters tucked far away in our subconscious, agitating them until they break free from the rusty old cages we rely on to keep them at bay.

As readers, we feed the imaginary evils we consume from the pages of novels written by these authors to our captive monsters. But as writers, we are able to share our dark creativity with the world without fear of being ridiculed, judged or burnt at the stake for being suspected of practicing witchcraft. I’m sure if this was the 16th or 17th century, no horror writer would have dared to pen their thoughts onto paper.

Can you imagine Edgar Allan Poe as a writer of romantic poetry?

So, dear reader, next time you read a novel filled with bloodlust and unexplained horrors, take a minute to realize one thing… every scene making you experience the slightest bit of discomfort… those are the mirror images of our minds. Know that we freed the untamed beasts so your need for horror could be fulfilled.

We expose our deepest and darkest fantasies for your entertainment and as our fingers dance over the keyboard in a tango of horrific beauty… we love every word, syllable and phrase.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABianca Pheasant is an aspiring new author trying to make her mark in a world filled with great ones. She lives in South Africa with her husband of ten years, only daughter and her trusted Staffordshire terrier. She has a fascination with crime and murder mysteries, the criminal mind, reptiles, arachnids and of course tattoos. She is a humble being who detests writing biographies about herself and dislikes photos of herself even more. www.biancapheasant.co.za. Check out Bianca’s Facebook page as well as her audiobooks and E-books.

 

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Women in Horror: Arinn Dembo

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteArinn Dembo, game and fiction writer, hails from Canada. Today, for Women in Horror Month she talks about a very special house.

Haunting the House

Horror did not just spring up out the Earth like a mushroom. Horror was built by human hands. And I would argue that those hands belonged to women.

Women came to the Lonely Place of Dying and called it home. Isn’t Death always a female realm the world over–ruled by a pretty young queen and her doting husband? There is a reason for that, woven into human flesh and bone. They call it “the maternal mortality bump” for a reason.

Dembo-Empire of the Necromancer-web

Illustration from Thasaidon: Tales of Death Magick by Clark Ashton Smith. Edited and annotated by Arinn Dembo, Kthonia Press

Our ancestors dug a foundation deep into black bedrock.

They built the walls from shipwreck timber and hanging trees.

They dug a cellar deep enough to keep wine and potatoes, and to soak up screams.

They hung windows that blankly reflected the bone white sky, and mirrors that reflected your true face.

In the warmth of evening firelight, women would spin thread and pass the time with ancient, bloody tales–the kind that we share when the children have gone to bed.

Men who smile, and flatter, and kiss, and kill.

Unlucky girls who marry a man in black.

Mad women. Mad men. Damned priests and cruel governesses. Girls who said “yes” to the wrong offer of employment. The unwanted…abandoned. The unloved…locked in freezing garrets or hurled bodily down the well.

In the 18th century parlors and the libraries, young women sat and scratched away with busy pens, writing the most popular novels of the age. Ann (Radcliffewas the reigning champion, of course—the best-paid writer in the English language during her time, just as J.K. Rowling is today.

Denbo Concept_Art_Black_Section-web

“Proteans Attack” – Illustration from Black Section: The Complete Files, by Kerberos Productions

Ann retold those old stories, gave them winsome young heroines with pretty faces and salted the old meat with a dash of romance. She grew rich on her tales, traveled the world with a pretty husband and fine clothes. And with her wealth she plastered the bare beams and dark walls of the House with new paper, laid carpets in the drawing room, hung curtains to discourage the curious.

The stories of that generation are still being told today, over and over. I can turn to any movie channel and find a dozen stories about women fighting for their lives and their families against the forces of psychopathy and abuse. And those tales are not “thrillers” or “psychological dramas” or what-have-you. They are Horror, grounded in fears that still have teeth. Because women in any generation have to live with the same threats: when passion fades and love sours, women DIE.

Men have walled off those old rooms, of course. The only part of the house that they want to call “Horror” is the part they have appropriated for themselves. And they actually believe they can keep women out! They try to make us unwelcome. (Unless, of course, they need a limp doll to play the Victim in one their pathetic little puppet shows…then our bodies will do.)

But it was Mary (Shelley) who built the new wing that they strut around in today. She lit the first gas lamps, and split the night with the crackle of electricity and the shrieks of rebirth.

Just as Shirley (Jackson) is the reason that stones rain from the sky, that houses eat their owners and knives whistle through the air with no hand to hurl them.

There is no age or era of horror as a genre that you cannot find female excellence. The house of Horror is built from the flesh and bone and blood and sweat and tears of women. Small wonder, then, that women remain loyal to the House, and have never left it…no matter how male dominated and obnoxious the mainstream offerings of Horror have become.

Female readers still buy the books. Female viewers still come to the theatre. They still turn out to honor their great-grandmothers and the old ways. They come to watch the Final Girls run screaming through a Man’s World, and those footfalls echo through eternity.

Why?

Denbo ICHTHYS

ICHTHYS – An Easter tale of horror in the catacombs of ancient Rome

Because every woman who exists on Earth today is the descendant of a Final Girl, even if her struggle is lost to memory.

Nothing has changed. The women in the stories still emerge alive. Bloodied and traumatized, crippled by loss and cynicism, older and wiser…but alive.

I would argue that the reason that women never abandon Horror is simple: Horror belongs to us.

Because Horror is the story of women’s lives.

Horror is the experience of being female in the world.

Horror is the genre where hypervigilance is a female super power and can be a guarantee of survival. Where Trauma becomes an asset, not a liability.

Horror is the genre where boundaries crossed result in the lethal consequences that women have always longed to see.

Horror is the school where we take night classes in Know Thy Enemy.

Women built this House. And we will always haunt this house.

We still prowl the oldest depths of the ancestral manse, telling stories of the poisons that leach from bad faith and black hearts.

We still kick open the doors that men try to nail shut and shout our stories into the room—even though we are seldom greeted with applause.

And women are still building new wings to this house. Sometimes the sounds that come from those new halls are unearthly, full of pain and terror…but sometimes they are orgiastic. In this brave new age, women are not always shy about pleasure as well as pain.

Women in Horror Month is a time of celebration, but I also see it as a time of truth and reconciliation. And really, if this is the only time of the year that you SEE Women in Horror…it’s because you know exactly Jack and Squat about Horror.

And Jack left town.

Denbo Concept_Art_Fort_Zombie_2

Fort Zombie 2 – The royalty of Erebos. Queen Zombie concept art from Fort Zombie 2, by Kerberos Productions.

Arinn Dembo is a professional writer and game developer living and working in Vancouver BC. She was the lead writer of Fort Zombie, the cult classic indie game which spawned a legion of zombie base-building and defense titles, and has brought a little extra creepiness to many other PC games for her home studio, Kerberos Productions. Her short fiction has appeared in HP Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, F & SF, Mad Scientist Journal, Lamp Light, Deep Magic and a number of horror anthologies, including Gods, Memes and Monsters, She Walks in Shadows, and What October Brings. To sample her short fiction and poetry, you can try her single-author collection, Monsoon and Other Stories, or grab her horror one-shot ICHTHYS.

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Women in Horror: Nancy Kilpatrick

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteIt’s bloody Valentine’s Day and who to know more about the horror of vampire’s than Canada’s own Nancy Kilpatrick. Nancy talks about collecting, vampires and all that crazy killer love of them.

Vampires. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. They’ve been around at least since the first written records of humanity’s history, and likely since the first mortals ventured out of caves and decided they enjoyed being bipeds. As we’ve evolved, so have the Undead. After all, we imagined them, so we have creators’ rights to bring them up to our speed.

Being one of those insane types who becomes obsessed about certain things, I’ve ended up with a library of vampire novels totaling over 2,500 volumes, which will be hard to move if I ever need to. I also own a hundred or so movie posters, games, dolls, toys, pamphlets, PhD dissertations, small press non-fiction offerings, movies, vinyl and CD music, poetry, jewelry, clothing, toys and much other memorabilia related to Bloodsuckers (and their less physical cousins who don’t want to sip our blood but do want to imbibe our energy, our dreams, our souls, or whatever else they desire which we possess).

kilpatrickI’ve also written quite a bit on vampires. Currently, my 22nd novel has just been released in a vampire series for adults called “Thrones of Blood.” Vol 4: Savagery of the Rebel King follows the bite trail of Vol 1: Revenge of the Vampir King; Vol 2:  Sacrifice of the Hybrid Princess; Vol 3: Abduction of Two Rulers.

Being awash in this crimson milieu has resulted in a bit of knowledge about these supernatural creatures, especially in terms of what’s been written, and what hasn’t. Which is why the great hoopla about the Twilight books and movies and others of that ilk has astounded me. Both the pro and anti positions are strong still and within those are factions like: Camp Edward (vampire) or Camp Joseph (werewolf)—pick your own fantasy guy.

Twilight has been viewed as teen fodder, but it was not only young adults and not only females that adored the material. Rumor has it that moms also jumped on the coffin wagon. This sanitized vampire world spoke to budding hormones, since the human protagonist didn’t have sex until marriage, which came at the end of the series. Edward Cullen (approximate age 117 years), aka The Good Boyfriend, was always there for his still-in-high school human sweetheart Bella Swan. Attentive. Kind. Not pushy. Self-effacing to a fault; he would rather harm himself than harm her, abandon her instead of inflicting his questionable true self on his true love. Much tease, little payoff.

But vampires have always had problems being accepted. Derived from legends and mythology with a few “true” accounts, in the past this creature was portrayed as horrific, violent, a fearsome, murderous, blood-drinking resuscitated corpse.

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Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The review in the Manchester Guardian on the 1897 release of Bram Stoker’s book is so scathing. Bela Lugosi played Dracula on stage and in 1931 on screen. While the movie was well received by the public, some of the female persuasion reputedly fainted en masse in the theater, The New Yorker’s negative review included, “there is no real illusion in the picture” and, “This whole vampire business falls pretty flat.” The Chicago Tribune did not think the film as scary as its stage version, calling it “too obvious” and “its attempts to frighten too evident.” Despite that, The Tribune deigned to conclude it was “quite a satisfactory thriller.”

All this to say that the vampire has floated side by side over millennia with us and that each incarnation has met with acceptance and rejection. Ultimately, the vampire, IMHO, is composed of many facets, which is why its popularity ebbs and then flows again at a re-envisioning, and why it likely will always remain the most popular supernatural. This monster is recognizable as us. Vampires were human and can still take human form.

We’ve cleaned up the vampire to meet our exacting germ-obsessed 21st century kilpatrick2standards. And that’s fine because it’s what the public demands. Each generation finds a new facet to engage with. Generation X had the most recent crack at redefining the vampire as a being that sparkles. A backlash resulted to return to the more terrifying Undead. We will have to wait to see what Gens Y or Z concoct. But if history means anything, it tells us that the vampire will not be staked into oblivion. If that was going to happen it would have already occurred. This dark archetype resonates in its myriad forms. Twilight is already part of the comprehensive history of the most intriguing of supernaturals.

Nancy Kilpatrick, who has been called Queen of the Undead, Canada’s Anne Rice, and That Hot Vampire Chic, says these monikers leave her delirious because “Somebody’s got to own it!”  Kilpatrick writes vampires, not only, but mostly. Her website lists her novels and collections. In addition, she has published over 220 short stories, 1 non-fiction book—The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined—as well as graphic novels and stories and lots of non-fiction articles. She whiles away her limited free kilpatrick3time visiting crypts, catacombs, cemeteries, mummies, jeweled skeletons and Danse Macabre artwork. Her latest creations are the sinister and seductive vampires in Thrones of Blood, with the first 4 books of this 6 book series out now. Check out the ebook of #4, Savagery of the Rebel King here  as well as at Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s website is here and if there’s something not there that you want to know about her, ask at the bottom of the page. Nancy can also be found on Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram and on her Blog.

Links to the Thrones of Blood series:

 

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Women in Horror: Chantal Noordeloos

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom the Netherlands, Chantal Noordeloos talks about the thrill of horror. What scares us and why we love it, today in Women in Horror.

Oh, the Horror…

What is it about fear that we find so incredibly enticing? Not everyone feels this way, of course. There are plenty of “sane”people in this world that stick to being drawn to less terrifying genres, but to us horror “freaks” (let’s face it, we don’t mind being called freaks, do we?) it’s an almost delicious feeling to be afraid. We look for it, and are often disappointed when a movie or a novel doesn’t succeed in scaring us.

It’s not easy to scare, (trust me, I’m a writer, I know about these things) because fear is Noorabout as personal as humor. What is scary to some might be a little dull to others. What turns me into a quivering jelly, hiding under my duvet, might be a big snooze fest to you. But we horror fans seek that which makes us cringe or shudder.

Noor2For me it started at a very young age. I would make my aunt read this story called “Ghost Ship” so often, she actually faked having lost the book to get out of reading it. I was fascinated with fairytales, which were pretty much my first step to horror. Witches were shoved in ovens and burned, wicked stepsisters cut off their own toes and heels to make a shoe fit, and one evil queen was trapped in a barrel in which someone had studded with nails, after which they rolled her down a hill. Charming stuff… and in hindsight it may explain my current psyche.

From fairytales I moved to ghost stories, and tweeny Noor3seances, where I would be accompanied by my fellow pimply faced giggly peers as we summoned spirits using a makeshift Ouija board (if you turned it around it was my mom’s scrabble game) and glass. We took ourselves completely seriously, of course. With an ominous voice we would ask the spirits to grace us with their presence, and then continue to spook each other so badly that at least one of my friends would end in tears, and I wouldn’t sleep soundly for nights after.

Some of my bolder friends had even seen horror movies, and they would tell the narratives in full detail. I was afraid of Freddie Kruger years before I ever saw A Nightmare on Elm Street. To be honest, I was much more afraid of him before I ever saw Noor4those films than I was after. After hearing the story of Bloody Mary, I avoided looking in mirrors all together for several weeks. As if I would accidentally call her by just thinking of her name whilst looking at my own reflection. It was very silly, but the mind can play nasty tricks on you, and my imagination has always been very active. Ever since I was very young, it has never been too difficult to scare me, because I am a big fat coward, and I’m utterly squeamish to boot. There, I said it.

Things haven’t changed much since I was younger. As an adult I can still utterly lose my composure after a spooky movie, and will absolutely turn on all the lights on my way to the bathroom. I am the most ironic horror writer ever, because I’m afraid of everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

My own writing can freak me out. In fact, I am not satisfied with my (horror) writing Noor5unless it does. One of the things that’s so delicious about writing, is that it’s as immersive as reading. When I create a tale, I’m there, living it. So, there are absolutely moments that I terrify myself so much that I need to take a little break and look at cat gifs or something. Anything to think “happy thoughts.” My husband can actually tell what genre I’m writing by what mood I’m in. If I am jittery and skittish, I’m probably writing horror. There are subjects within horror that can make me gloomy and depressed. Especially if I have to do a lot of research. For example, one of my main characters was a child bride. I was in a funk for days. Or when I wrote about Aokigahara (the Japanese suicide forest) in my last novel it really messed with me.

Yet… I seem to enjoy the fear. As much as I relish being afraid, I get an equally big kick out of scaring people. Horror is such a fascinating subject to write about. There is something almost beautiful in death and even gore. Something sensual in the darkness. There is no greater compliment to me than when someone tells me they were terrified when they read my work. (Well, perhaps the only greater compliment is if I made someone cry.) I delight in creating monsters that will keep people up at night. Even if I can’t frighten everyone, I write for those people that I do scare.

Noor6So what is it about fear that we enjoy? My theory is that we like not feeling safe all the time. It gives us a nice contrast to our daily lives. There is something comforting in crawling under the covers, and telling yourself that they’re only stories, or that it was just a movie. Perhaps horror tickles our inner masochist. Perhaps it just makes us realize that we’re alive. Whatever it is, it’s a passion that connects us all, and it will keep challenging writers, artists and film makers to find new ways to scare us. I, for one, certainly enjoy that challenge.

Chantal Noordeloos always wanted to be a mermaid or bard when she was younger, and since she could be neither, writer was the closest thing. She shares her real life adventures with many of her loved ones, among which are her wacky husband and her daughter, who will one day grow up to be a charismatic supervillain (she already has the mad cackle down).

You wouldn’t expect someone who is scared of the dark and who everyone calls “Noodles” to be a horror writer, yet Chantal has written things that made people want to keep their nightlights on at bedtime. She also dabbles in other genres, but is most known for her darker work.

At heart, she will always be a storyteller; she enjoys creating new worlds for people to escape to, and creating new characters for readers to meet.

If you’re interested in finding out more about her horror novels, you can use the following links.

Angel Manor: Lucifer Falls I

US: http://tinyurl.com/nljwcvs

UK: http://tinyurl.com/lcnxhxt

Even Hell Has Standards: Pride

US: http://tinyurl.com/pl8mgmk

UK: http://tinyurl.com/qhsygjr

Even Hell Has standards Wrath:

US http://tinyurl.com/z3wk8xa

UK: http://tinyurl.com/zbluqyg

Deeply Twisted:

US: http://tinyurl.com/ouvegb8

UK: http://tinyurl.com/k49v7t2

 

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Women in Horror: Monique Snyman

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom out of South Africa, Monique Snyman writes today and talks about what’s needed to write good characters. I hope you’re enjoying the different writers’ and editors’ perspectives here and will continue to check back throughout the month for Women in Horror Month.

Stepford Wives and Serial Killers: Crafting Complex Characters

People generally assume I am not a horror writer, due to my love of pastels and willingness to help others. Who I am simply does not gel with what is often expected of someone who has a deep affection for the genre. I’m supposedly “too nice,” “too normal-looking,” “too well-spoken.” As if appearances have anything to do with horror. Granted, perhaps I am all those things, but I also pride myself for not truly fitting into anyone’s preconceived notions of who I am to them. That, I guess, also makes me somewhat of a rebel—a rebel in a floral sundress. One, I regret to say, that has a real problem with authority, always have, and probably always will. Does my problem with authority make me a bad person? No. Is my love of pink supposed to make me any less of a horror writer? I hope not; otherwise my career is doomed.

What I’m getting at is that we make judgment calls based on appearances, but all human beings are complex. There are layers to who we are and what we are capable of doing. And what we see is not exactly what we get in the grand scheme of things.

Fictionalized characters, if crafted correctly, are exactly the same.

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Patrick Batemen examines his tools in American Pyscho

If there’s anything horror has taught me over the years, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. For better or worse, the bad guy isn’t always the monster and the good guy isn’t always squeaky clean. It’s because of this sentiment that I’ve always found myself drawn to crafting complex characters. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), for example, is still one of my favorite characters because he doesn’t initially come across as a…well, for lack of a better word, psycho. Bateman looks normal, is ambitious, seems to have it all, yet there is something seriously wrong with him. Funnily enough, as far as real life is concerned, I wouldn’t count Ted Bundy in on my list of favorite serial killers for exactly the same reasons. Perhaps it’s because I feel Bundy’s madness is more superficial than Bateman’s, and that Bundy did it all for show. I don’t know. I’m not a certified psychologist.

Another character I absolutely adore is Tiffany Valentine-Ray (The Bride of Chucky), because at first she comes across as this heartless serial killer, a thrill-seeker who’d do anything to keep Chucky happy, but she’s much more than that. Tiffany does display a softer side at times, and she does stand up to Chucky. Sometimes, when I feel especially sentimental, I can imagine she would’ve been content with a suburban life…for a while, at least. I mean, even a trophy wife can be much more than a pretty face and a pair of Louboutin’s. She can be a voracious reader like Marilyn Monroe, or she can be a complete lunatic like Linda Hazzard. It all depends on the things that make a person who they are—past experiences, present circumstances, future endeavors.

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Chucky and Tiffany planning creepy capers.

That’s the thing about characters, though, they’re basically people. Each one is unique in their own way.

 

Nevertheless, layers are important, because they allow readers to connect with characters and ponder the “what ifs” and “maybes” long after the book or movie is finished.

So, how does one go about creating a complex character? The truth is that there is no real trick to writing complex characters; you simply need to know your characters inside and out, and make them somewhat relatable. However, I do understand that some will find it easier than others, which is why I always suggest authors first write a character description, just to get a general idea of who they’re working with (appearances are important, whether we like it or not). Note the character’s sex, age, hair and eye color, height, weight, sexuality, and so on. I, personally, then tend to move on to the character’s preferred fashion choices (preppy, goth, jock, whatever), before I get into the nitty-gritty backstory. And yes, it is always a good idea to write a backstory, whether anyone else sees it or not, because your character’s choices are often dictated by a fictionalized pasts. From there, expand to include relationships—how, for example, does your protagonist/antagonist relate to other characters? How did they meet? How long have they been friends? Why don’t they like each other? When will there be conflict? After that, if you have to, gently prod your characters into position by making adjustments to the personality.

As Neil Gaiman said on a related topic, “It’s that easy, and that hard.”

It takes practice to write well, to craft unforgettable characters, to somehow navigate your way through intricate plots and subplots and whatnot. My best advice: Try and try again. I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade, and I can honestly say that honing a craft, in particular one that is ever-changing, is a full-time job. With practice, though, crafting a character doesn’t have to be a chore.

Synam 3Monique Snyman’s mind is a confusing bedlam of glitter and death, where candy-coated gore is found in abundance and homicidal unicorns thrive. Sorting out the mess in her head is particularly irksome before she’s ingested a specific amount of coffee, which is equal to half the recommended intake of water for humans per day. When she’s not playing referee to her imaginary friends or trying to overdose on caffeine, she’s doing something with words—be it writing, reading, or fixing all the words.

Monique Snyman lives in Pretoria, South Africa, with her husband and an adorable Chihuahua. She’s the author of MUTI NATION, a horror novel set in South Africa, and THE NIGHT WEAVER, the first installment in a dark fantasy series for young adults.

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Women in Horror: Lachelle Redd

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom the US, today’s author is Lachelle Redd. Lachelle talks about what inspires her to write horror.

I began reading horror in junior high. My first book was Dracula by Bram Stoker. From that moment, I was hooked. I collected stories about supernatural creatures and read the books from cover to end. My best friend started gifting me a Stephen King book every year on my birthday. One day I tried my hand at writing. Of course, in the earlier stages, my writing lay rejected, as happens with most authors. I gave up for a while, then the beauty of Facebook rekindled my fire to try again. I learned about horror submissions through the many different groups and soon I received my first acceptance letter for my short story, “Amy,” for the Love Kills anthology. I have taken small breathers here and there, thanks to life, but horror will always be my first love. I have written fantasy stories, and sci fi as well. But I adore the supernatural, a good ghost story and well-told monster tale.

dracula-jpg-20170208

Lachelle, like many writers, was influenced by Dracula, played here by Bela Lugosi.

I have wanted to play around with mythology and telling those tales in a new light. Greek mythology has always intrigued me. There are monsters, endless battles of good and evil, and in some cases, evil wins. I enjoyed reading about the trials of Hercules and Perseus. The heroes facing impossible tasks is a huge pull for me. My current short story is a retelling of a Greek tale where the horrible sentencing of the good guy is the platform for revenge. I won’t go into the details, but the path the characters are taking me on is very interesting.

I am sure you have heard that the characters write the story and that is so true. Each character speaks to you and that develops their individual path. Sometimes you may want to remove a character from the scene, but something gently whispers to keep them for a later death. As the author, you can create and recreate stories to awaken a new generation to the classics. It just depends on how you tell the tale.

I am also enthralled with the way TV portrays a story such as in Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful and Lucifer. They have the same good versus evil thread, but the trials that the characters endure get me thinking of ways in which I can improve my stories. Also, I am a great lover of period pieces. There is so much more room to elaborate on the supernatural in an era where the characters are more likely to accept the unusual. When viewing modern horror, most of the time the character is a skeptic and who requires proof of what’s haunting them (The Conjuring, Insidious). I enjoy both movies which give me a good thrill. I enjoy characters that are given into the world of ghosts, hauntings, and shapeshifters. The true horror is their journey into those realms and if they make it out alive. That is exciting and there is so much that can be done with the characters, torture wise. LOL

I am going to wrap this up with something simple. If you are thinking about writing, just do it. You may not even like the first draft, but remember there is something inside that made you take the time to put it down on paper. Go with that.

Lachelle Redd is an indie author with works in horror, fantasy and now science fiction. She started with publishing through Createspace and has had works published through online. Tale of the Black Dragon, The Wood Sprite Tales, and The Hot Cauldron anthologies are just a few and available on Amazon. She has released a new sci-fi novella titled Ports that is available on Amazon.com.

 She can be found on Blood Reign Lit Mags Facebook page as well as her own page entitled, Lachelle Redd. She looks forward to bringing you more books in the future.

I began reading horror in junior high. My first book was Dracula by Bram Stoker. From that moment, I was hooked. I collected stories about supernatural creatures and read the books from cover to end. My best friend started gifting me a Stephen King book every year on my birthday. One day I tried my hand at writing. Of course, in the earlier stages, my writing lay rejected, as happens with most authors. I gave up for a while, then the beauty of Facebook rekindled my fire to try again. I learned about horror submissions through the many different groups and soon I received my first acceptance letter for my short story, “Amy,” for the Love Kills anthology. I have taken small breathers here and there, thanks to life, but horror will always be my first love. I have written fantasy stories, and sci fi as well. But I adore the supernatural, a good ghost story and well-told monster tale.

I have wanted to play around with mythology and telling those tales in a new light. Greek mythology has always intrigued me. There are monsters, endless battles of good and evil, and in some cases, evil wins. I enjoyed reading about the trials of Hercules and Perseus. The heroes facing impossible tasks is a huge pull for me. My current short story is a retelling of a Greek tale where the horrible sentencing of the good guy is the platform for revenge. I won’t go into the details, but the path the characters are taking me on is very interesting.

Redd 2

Lachelle’s writing can be found at Amazon.com

I am sure you have heard that the characters write the story and that is so true. Each character speaks to you and that develops their individual path. Sometimes you may want to remove a character from the scene, but something gently whispers to keep them for a later death. As the author, you can create and recreate stories to awaken a new generation to the classics. It just depends on how you tell the tale.

I am also enthralled with the way TV portrays a story such as in Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful and Lucifer. They have the same good versus evil thread, but the trials that the characters endure get me thinking of ways in which I can improve my stories. Also, I am a great lover of period pieces. There is so much more room to elaborate on the supernatural in an era where the characters are more likely to accept the unusual. When viewing modern horror, most of the time the character is a skeptic and who requires proof of what’s haunting them (The Conjuring, Insidious). I enjoy both movies which give me a good thrill. I enjoy characters that are given into the world of ghosts, hauntings, and shapeshifters. The true horror is their journey into those realms and if they make it out alive. That is exciting and there is so much that can be done with the characters, torture wise. LOL

I am going to wrap this up with something simple. If you are thinking about writing, just do it. You may not even like the first draft, but remember there is something inside that made you take the time to put it down on paper. Go with that.

ReddLachelle Redd is an indie author with works in horror, fantasy and now science fiction. She started with publishing through Createspace and has had works published through online. Tale of the Black Dragon, The Wood Sprite Tales, and The Hot Cauldron anthologies are just a few and available on Amazon. She has released a new sci-fi novella titled Ports that is available on Amazon.com.

 She can be found on Blood Reign Lit Mags Facebook page as well as her own page entitled, Lachelle Redd. She looks forward to bringing you more books in the future.

 

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