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Women in Horror: Pat Flewwelling

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom Canada, writer and editor Pat Flewwelling talks about horror, scary reality and maybe, just maybe why women write horror.

Writing Horror All Along

For some folk, horror is synonymous with supernatural evil and/or gore. I think that’s unfair. There are plenty of horror stories that are all creep and no gore, like the Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, and Beloved. And there are stories that have no supernatural evil and yet are still shiver-worthy, like the original Stepford Wives, We have Always Lived in the Castle, The Yellow Wallpaper, Rebecca, and Flowers in the Attic.

Pat asks, what is scary? Image: MoviePilot.com

So, for the purposes of this argument, let’s take the supernatural and the gore out of the equation, because to be fair, there are a select few well-paid authors who have diluted all fright out of things that go bump in the night.

Without eldritch beings, evisceration, and eyeballs dangling from their sockets, what horror have we got left? Scary evil human beings. Let’s pretend then, that we want to write an in-your-face-scary horror story, leaving out the supernatural—and the swearing!—while sanitizing the gore and the violence, shall we?

Perhaps we should tell a story about an anonymous serial killer. Those are always big box office sellers, right? Maybe we can make the killer that creepy lurker on your street corner, standing there with his mental checklist, hunting for That One hidden amongst The Many. We don’t know he’s there until it’s too late, and by then, he’s become a pernicious and inexorable threat.

Oh wait…that story has already been told. A lot. Like, a lot.

Or perhaps he’s not that snaggle-toothed rando lurking in the shadows. Maybe he’s known and trusted, maybe even has a “special bond” with your children. There’s no safety at home, because that’s where he lives; there’s no safety with your parents; there’s not even a safe refuge for you with your friends. He always seems to know where to find you.

But perhaps it’s all in your mind. You’re just being hysterical. You’re overreacting.

Ah, but you perceive a threat— everyone knows there’s a threat—but since he hasn’t actually done anything to you, the police can’t help you. You show them the emails, the text messages, but that doesn’t prove anything, does it? All the makings of a great psychological horror, if overdone. In non-fiction.

Scary, sure, but what about evil? Like, deep-down, weapons-grade evil? This is a horror story after all. Why not some psychotic doctors, or baby-stealers, or people who slash genitalia? That kind of evil doesn’t really exist in the world, right? I mean, if true evil existed in the world, we’d see things like rape of incapacitated patients, forced sterilization without consent, systemic child abduction, husband stitches, and FGM (female genital mutilation). Besides, it can’t be evil if it’s legal, right?

Yikes. I sound a little biased. Let’s redirect this conversation, shall we? Maybe we should flip the script and have a scary, evil woman.

Well, the old serial killer trope still comes to mind. Black widows are standard fare, too, but in some cases, that horror plotline can quickly become a comedy. Well, we could always pull in a standard stalker, or a not-so-standard stalker. It’s strange that all the “evil” female villains seem to engage in—and the really, really evil ones attack children, especially their own. The worst? When they attack children sexually. Not always, of course. Don’t get me started on articles about the psychological or financial abuse they commit on all genders and ages. Women are a nasty bunch of creatures all on their own. After all, who do you think supports FGM? Who do you think performs it?

I won’t even consider writing a story about violence done against or by transgendered women, so don’t ask me to go checking how often a story like that has been done before. Thanks anyhow.

Flewwelling BlightOfExiles

Find Pat’s Blight of Exiles through Tyche Books

Maybe women horror writers add that supernatural element in order to create a monster they can actually see, define, and conquer. A monster we’re allowed to attack, encouraged to destroy. In a story like that, we can become the Mama Bear you just don’t want to mess with. We don’t just beat up the demons and send them home again; we undermine them. We can get inside their heads, understand what makes them tick, and use that to our advantage. And oh, how we will destroy them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, sure; but hell hath no single-minded, red-raged resolve like a mother whose children you’ve threatened.

And maybe we write the gory details because we know what it’s like to suffer the indignities of our bodies uncontrollably mutating throughout our lifetimes—puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause. Maybe it’s our reaction to having our bodies and our lives constantly, publicly, dissected and deconstructed, not just by the male gaze, but by our own sisters and mothers and friends.

Maybe some of us are so sick of being never-good-enough that we just want to chuck deuces and become the whole-hearted villain they make us out to be. No holds barred, no flinching, all biting, all punching back, taking (for a change) instead of offering it up. Shackle-breaking. Free. Light. Instead of placating our attackers, standing up and fighting back. Striking first, instead of enduring a lifetime of hypervigilance, waiting, watching, wondering. Stabbing at ideals. Slashing at double-standards and artificial boundaries and self-imposed limitations. Bloody-toothed violence, but with a purpose and an end goal: Leave me and mine alone.

Or maybe women have been writing horror all this time, but calling it something else, like “autobiographies,” “statistical analysis,” and “autopsies.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe we’ve been calling it “journalism” all along.

Pat Flewwelling writes dark fiction of all kinds, from short stories like “The Great Inevitable” in Expiration Date (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, ed. Nancy Kilpatrick) and “Cyphoid Mary” in Alice Unbound (Exile Editions, ed. Colleen Anderson), to full-length novels like Blight of Exiles, Plague of Ghouls, and Scourge of Bones (Tyche Books, 2015, 2016, 2017 respectively). Forthcoming works include “Nowhere Time” in Canadian Dreadful (Dark Dragon Press, ed. David Tocher), and the fourth novel in her Helix series: Sedition (Tyche Books, 2019). On the side, she also runs a travelling bookstore, is a co-editor at ID Press, and works full-time as a senior business analyst.

You can find some of Pat’s work, Expiration Date, Alice Unbound and the Helix trilogy on Amazon.

 

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Media Creates Paranoia

I was talking with a few people at work today and it came up that one woman has a 12-year-old daughter who is just ready to start walking to school, as opposed to being driven. She said they let you know when they’re ready to walk. I sometimes pass a school in the mornings where there are numerous cars with parents dropping off their children.

When I was a child, at the tender age of six, my mother took me to school the first few times. My next older sibling was six years older and in a different school so she couldn’t take me. After about a week I was on my own, wending my way through blocks and blocks to school. That school was well over ten blocks away.

In the winter, outfitted in multiple layers and big, clunky boots, I would trudge through Calgary snows to get to class and get out of the snow suit, or tights and pants and toque for the classroom. I was late every day for over a week because I just couldn’t make it through the snow faster. My teacher said to tell my mother I was late.

But I still walked to school. My mother didn’t drive. My father often worked out of town and people just did not drive their children to school. It could be argued that people have to go greater distances but we were far enough away that it took a child over a half hour (maybe it took an hour) to get to school. It was at least a mile.

Junior high and high school were all about the same distance as the elementary school and yet we continued to walk it, winter or summer. No one was abducted. I don’t think anyone was even hit by a car. People didn’t drive as fast, roads weren’t as crowded. Perverts didn’t lurk around every corner. I don’t know of anyone who was killed by any means while I was in school.

And speaking of perverts, I bet most parents would quote safety from murderers and abductors as their number one reason for driving their child to school. Probably safety from traffic and then distance would rate as second and third reasons.

Interestingly, we were mature or responsible enough and given the freedom (told to) go to school on our own as children. Parents didn’t watch our every move. We weren’t given cell phones, we weren’t given cars (only a very few kids in high school had cars). The maturity hasn’t dropped in thirty years yet the responsibility level has risen, so what has caused the overprotective nature of parents and the dependence their children now have on them to do everything for them?

Fear. Fear of murder, of sexual abuse, of abduction, of traffic injury, of succumbing to the elements. Overall, the incidence of murder and child abduction hasn’t increased in thirty years. However, driving children to school has. Interestingly, in the US, even the rate of pedestrian-traffic accidents hadn’t increased, but 50% of children injured by cars were hit by parents or other students driving. And school zone speed limits are often exceeded. I see this every time I’m driving through a school or playground zone at 30 km and I’m passed by 90% of the cars.

The increased driving can be partly attributed to the fact that more parents work and fewer stay at home with the kids, there are more cars so that each parent may have one, and media. We now have radio, newspaper, internet and TV. There are more channels and you can get news 24/7 and the same news repeated. And repeated. And repeated. In fact, not only do the news channels repeat and update us several times a day on the same dire crime, they now go into long talk shows and reports and interviews and research on a particular phenomenon.

With the inundation of events, these murders and abductions move to the forefront of our thoughts. Parents hear the details of a horrific child abduction and murder, where the body was found, how the child was murdered, the search and rescue attempts, the hunt for the murderer, the sorrow of the loved ones, and the trial with all the horrific details again. It becomes one never-ending circle, a parent’s worst nightmare and it feels so close.

The media needs to take half the blame here for being too focused on the dark, dire and depressing. When various statistics for most Western countries indicate drops in all sorts of crime including those against children, consider if you’re coddling your child too much. Will the next generation hide in the cocoons of their homes and condos, only interacting through virtual media, too afraid to talk to anyone? I’m worried that it’s already happening, perpetuated not by crime but by the fears of it.

US report on kids walking to school and crime incidences since 1969: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

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