Tag Archives: Mary Shelley

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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: Penny Jones

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Today, from the UK, author Penny Jones talks about why she loves horror and how it might just be normal.

Women in Horror month is a strange concept for me; on one hand, as a fairly new female writer I love it (any exposure is good exposure), and I get to learn about what some of my favourite writers are up to, and read some work from other writers who are new to me. But on the other hand, I’ve always read female horror writers. At my first ever convention I was a giggling mess when I met John Connolly and Simon Bestwick, but I was equally in awe of meeting Cate Gardner and Thana Niveau at the same convention. My bookshelves have always been pretty 50/50 when it comes to male or female authors. So I wonder if the issue isn’t around women in horror, but around people’s perception of what horror is.

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Penny Jones indicates her part in Great British Horror

Now I’ve always been lucky (though I didn’t realise this until I met other horror writers). My family and friends have always been big readers, and they’ve also been big horror fans. So, when I first went to a convention it was a shock to hear other authors saying it was nice to be around people who understood you, and who didn’t ask, “Why don’t you write something nice?” Because I’ve never been in that situation (see told you I was lucky).

As a child I was more likely to be watching a Hammer Horror than I was a Disney film, and my parents happily bought me Mary Danby’s ghost stories, as well as a Rupert the Bear annual at Christmas. Horror has never been a dirty word in my life. Also, horror wasn’t introduced to me as being all about excess gore and shock value. In fact, I don’t really like what I term “Tits and Torture” (I’ve been trying to gear myself up to watch Saw for years now. I love the concept behind the story, but I really am too scared to watch it). But most of the “Tits and Torture” that I’m too squeamish to watch isn’t actually sold as horror anyway; it’s sold as mainstream TV such as Game of Thrones or Vikings. That’s not to say I won’t read the more extreme side of horror. One of my favourite writers is Alex White who wrote several stories for the Pan Book of Horror, including my favourite of the entire series The Clinic and, you guessed it, Alex White is a female author (though I only found that out a couple of years ago). It is something I see time and time again−female horror authors who people think are male, either that or female horror authors who aren’t described as horror writers.

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Penny shares her poetry in a unique fashion

If you walk into your local bookstore and look at your meagre one shelf of horror books, it is a pretty sure bet that the only authors you will see there will be Stephen King, Dean Koontz, with the occasional Herbert, Barker or Neville thrown into the mix. But if you look elsewhere in the book store and take a peek at the crime, the classics, and the literary shelves, you’ll find plenty of amazing female horror writers. There’s a joke that if you want a horror book to sell you call it a literary book and put a picture of a tree on the front, but I think what’s equally true is that if you want a female horror writer to be commercially viable you don’t put their work on the horror shelf. Look at Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House; it is quite clearly a horror book. It has the word “Haunting” in the title for God’s sake, but still you will usually find it snuggled next to James Joyce on the literary shelves in the store.

If you weren’t as lucky as me, and your only concept of horror is the trailer for the latest slasher flick or seeing the latest Stephen King bestseller on the shelves at WHSmiths, then here are some of my favourite female horror writers for you to get your teeth into:

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Dark Voices includes one of Penny’s tales.

Priya Sharma−All the Fabulous Beasts

Tracy Fahey−New Music for Old Rituals

Alex White−The Clinic (Which can be found in: Back from the dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories)

Shirley Jackson−The Haunting of Hill House

Daphne du Maurier−Don’t Look Now and Other Stories

Susan Hill−The Woman in Black

Alison Littlewood−A Cold Season

Laura Mauro−Naming the Bones

Cate Gardner−Theatre of Curious Acts

Thana Niveau−Unquiet Waters

Georgina Bruce−This House of Wounds (Out later this year by Undertow Publications)

Charlotte Brontë−Jane Eyre

Mary Shelley−Frankenstein

Marie O’Regan−Times of Want

A.K. Benedict−Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts

Sarah Pinborough−The Death House

Jones 4Penny Jones knew she was a writer when she started to talk about herself in the third person (her family knew, when Santa bought her a typewriter for Christmas). She loves reading and will read pretty much anything you put in front of her, but her favourite authors are Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and John Wyndham. In fact Penny only got into writing to buy books, when she realised that there wasn’t that much money in writing she stayed for the cake.

Penny’s horror has been published in: Great British Horror 2: Dark Satanic Mills, Dark Voices, Black Room Manuscripts IV, and Along the Long Road. You can find out more at www.penny-jones.com

 

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Women in Horror: Arinn Dembo

It’s Women in Horror Month and I’m continuing to highlight Canadian women who write dark fiction of one sort or another. Today’s author is Arinn Dembo who has contributed background fiction and narrative design for 12 computer games for the PC, including a horror RPG, Fort Zombie. Her fiction has been published in F & SF, H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror and various anthologies. The short story “Monsoon” won the Best Fantastic Erotica contest sponsored by Circlet Press in 2006.

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Women in Horror Month, sponsored by the Viscera Organization

Arinn’s military science fiction novel, The Deacon’s Tale, and a collection, Monsoon and Other Stories are currently in print with Kthonia Press. She has an upcoming RPG called Sword of the Stars: The Pit, and she is working as editor on three illustrated editions of classic horror tales, two by H.P. Lovecraft and one by Clark Ashton Smith. You can check out her day job here: http://www.kerberos-productions.com/

ARINN DEMBO

1.  Why do you write dark fiction/horror? Some people consider it only a sensationalistic tableau. Why this genre over others or do you span the literary landscape?

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Sword of the Stars RPG forthcoming from Arinn Dembo

I am officially described as a “multi-genre” author, but almost everything I write has a touch of horror. I cannot say why, except that people tend to write what they know. I am not an unhappy person, but I have seen a lot of pain, blood and bones in my lifetime.

2.  What dark themes do you explore in your fiction?

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Arinn Dembo explores cannabalism.

Cannibalism is a pretty common theme in my work. I also write a lot of stories about how love not only goes wrong, but horribly wrong. And in most of my stories, anything with power that approaches the Divine is usually pretty sadistic, its desire for worship wholly selfish and narcissistic. I’m with Pablo Neruda on this one: “All gods are our enemies.”

3. Do you feel horror/dark fiction is an important genre and why; what does it bring to the table or allow you to explore? Who inspired you?

Fear is one of the primal human passions. Pain is one of the central human experiences. The Universe is not necessarily a friendly place. These are the fundamental truths that horror puts on the table; it’s definitely an important genre.

As to who inspired me—the usual male authors (King, Lovecraft, Bloch, Matheson, Poe), but I was also inspired by the fact that the genre originated with a woman (Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley), that its most popular 19th century practitioners were women (the Gothic writers were often female), and that some of the strongest and most original horror authors of the 20th century were female. Shirley Jackson, Alice Sheldon, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Anne Rice taught me that you could aspire to the highest literary art and still write horror.

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Deacon’s Tale by Arinn Dembo, through Kthnoia Press.

4.  Do you feel women are under-represented in any way in the speculative arena or do you think there is more focus on them than on men? (or examples of how there is a balance).

Women do write and read a great deal of horror, but they are deliberately marginalized when it comes to professional recognition and awards that the genre can offer. When Rice and Laurell Hamilton hammered out a new sub-genre of horror in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it was deliberately re-branded “fantasy” and then “paranormal romance” so that their enormously popular books wouldn’t drown out the “real horror” that male authors write, and male readers prefer.

I’ve read these books, and they are full of blood, depravity, witchcraft, torture and murder. The fact that the protagonists have lusty sex lives or romantic relationships would not be a problem if the protagonists and the authors involved were male. And it’s certainly not that the genre as a whole cannot cope with innovation or change—so long as men are driving it. Look what happened when David Schow, R.C. Matheson and a movement of primarily male authors came up with another new sub-genre of horror during the same period.

“Splatterpunk” is classified as “real horror” today and has been incorporated seamlessly into therest of the genre, because…penis. End of story.

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Fort Zombie, the role-playing game

5.  Abuse against women is worldwide: the gang rape of the Indian woman, women assaulted in various terrorist attacks or protests against regimes (Egypt, Syria, etc. throughout time), domestic violence and murder at the hands of boyfriends, fathers, families and husbands, sexist representation, being treated as second class citizens or possessions and made to dress in a particular way, etc. With all that’s going on, what do you want to say about where women are what we can do to stem the tide?

The violence is happening because we ARE stemming the tide. The world is changing, and The Man is fighting a desperate, last ditch battle to defend His traditional privileges. The beatings, the acid attacks, the rapes and murders, are all a frantic attempt to scare us back into our cages.

This time, don’t go back. Be willing to die rather than live as a slave. No human being has ever been free or ever will be free without that courage.

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Moonsoon and Other Stories, by Arinn Dembo

Patriarchy always has been and always will be a protection racket. It is based on the same fundamental principle that drives the economy of terror between the Mafia and the shopkeepers in a ghetto. The Man tells you a horror story about what will happen if you don’t pay up. “It would be a shame if you were to get raped or killed, if I was ever to stop…protecting you.”

Don’t fall for it. Live free or die.

6. Lastly, this is your space to add anything else you would want to say.

Keep writing, keep reading, and for God’s sake, support each other! Buy books by women, read books by women, demand that female authors be recognized and given their fair share of awards. Men didn’t get to be in charge by stabbing each other in the back or clawing each other’s eyes out, fighting on the floor for a pitiful handful of scraps.

Demand your seat at the table. Horror belongs to women as much as anyone.

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Writing: Is It Just About the White Guys?

 SF Signal (www.sfsignal.com a good site for SF news) has seen an explosion of comments over the posting of one new book coming out, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF edited by Mike Ashley. MammothDebate It seems this collection of mindblowing stories, “the 21 finest stories of awesome SF” has not one woman in it or author of color and this has caused quite a hullabaloo.

 There are still more writers in SF who are male than female but that gap has closed a great deal from the early days of SF. There are even fewer authors of color. So it could be that in a sampling of stories that came in that the best were from the white males. However there are several factors that work against this supposition for editor Ashley (who I believe made an oversight more than an intentional choice to exclude female authors).

The Mammoth series of anthologies can be on anything; road trips, horses, brides, vampires, SF. The scope of the series is large and many of them originate in the UK. The Mammoth books also usually tend to have many stories in them (part of the whole mammoth imagery). This book failed in that department by only having 21 stories. Anthologies in general sell less than any novel so an editor and publisher must look at what will sell the book. In that case you will always want a few recognizable names that most readers will know. This alone will narrow the scope of an anthology And of course the books do have themes. Other anthologies might be for a region or a country and there can even be anthologies on the best new SF by women or gay men or whatever.

There are many restrictions on an anthology that will limit whose work is published. The payment for a story may be too little for some authors to submit. Other anthologies are invitational. If you’re not asked, you can’t write for it. Some are partly invitational, and some editors might post their guidelines in exclusive areas (such as members of SFWA may submit, but only members). But going through slush piles of hundreds or thousands of submissions can take a very long time and editors often have a timeframe to work within. Therefore, when an anthology that is not open to any writer makes the claim as having the best, the most awesome or mindblowing pieces, it can be challenged as being exclusionist or elitist. When that claim is made and there are no women either, it ruffles quite a few feathers.

When I edit I look first for the best story or poem. I don’t look at the author’s name or credits, nor what their gender or color is. But when you have invited several people to send in stories and have reprints from others (some for the name) then there is still a possibility to include both genders. It could be that the editor only received stories from males but it is still so narrow a focus that questions arise as to the intent.

On top of this Mammoth book not living up to the usual range of many stories and including SF from women, it also has cover art derivative of the 60s and 70s. But I also don’t know what the editor said in his introduction. Maybe these were mindblowing stories for him when he was a teenager, or smoking pot, or in a geographic area. Maybe he really liked these stories and ignored even past works of authors such as: Le Guin, Tiptree, Tepper, Cadigan, Cherryh, (Mary Shelley if we want to go to the advent of SF & women writers), Norton, McCaffrey, Bear, Henderson, Butler, Scyoc, Hambly, etc. I haven’t read the stories so they could all truly be awesome SF, but I just think some women could be in there too.

Because there has been a history in writing to exclude females in the past it is still a touchy subject. Doing my degree at UBC I saw this attitude, especially in some parts (instructors) of the English department. The only good writer is a dead white male, followed by a live white male. This attitude is changing but it means that editors do have to be aware of the stories they’re receiving and if they want their anthology to be indicative of the overall demographic of writers. Not to mention that there are many many women readers and many of them read SF and fantasy.

I have a feeling that editor Mike Ashley is shaking his head, realizing belatedly that he inadvertently created a hornet’s nest. One writer at SF Signal said that she had been asked to submit, so women were included in the submission process. I could just as easily pout that Canadians had been excluded, but I don’t know the nationality of all the writers, and even if there are only US and UK writers, well, that happens a lot, depending on where the guidelines were listed and whether it was invitational. And at only 21 stories, Ashley probably only asked a select few and chose some reprints on his own. I’m also sure his next anthology will have many more women in it.

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Weird Science: It’s all About the Brains


We have a few years to go until brain or head transplants are carried out, and long before they’re common, if ever. However, serious research was done on transplanting heads in the 50s. Bizarre to think of but then heart transplants were once unheard of. This fascinating article (below) opened my eyes.

The article asks near the end, but would we want to do this? Earlier it raises the possibility of such science being used for someone whose body is dying but the brain is alive. Would it be beneficial to paraplegics who cannot use their bodies because of spinal cord injuries? In theory, with enough scientific research, head transplants could become possible.

Would the the person pick up phantom memories from his/her host body or have phantom pains from the old one? Would there be a disembodied or disassociated feeling? Since phantom pain is a very real phenomenon and there is some indication of people with heart transplants having memories that belonged to the host’s heart, it’s an interesting realm of the unexplored.

Vladimir Demikhov was one of the pioneers, in Russia, where Stalin was trying to beat the West in medical science. A no-holds barred approach ensued where Russian doctors dreamed the unthinkable. Demikhov, in the height of the 50s, believed any organ could be transplanted, like hearts and lungs. We have now seen many of those and in the last few years, people getting heart, lungs and stomachs transplanted all at once. Now that a face transplant has been done, who knows how close we could be, but sometime just maybe, your head could end up on another body.

Transplanting a head is probably easier than transplanting a brain, since there are less very touchy nerves and such to reattach. Still it’s a formidable thing, to put a head on another body. However, Robert White, in the US, then took up the challenge and transplanted a brain into the neck of a dog. The brain lived for several days but no one could ask it if it still thought. The freakish Frankenstein dog with the puppy’s head attached lived for six days, both dogs panting if hot, drinking and retaining individual personalities.

White went further and replaced one rhesus monkey’s head with another. It could drink, bite and watch what was going on. But it couldn’t move its body. Since there are still a phenomenal number of nerve threads that would have to be reconnected, it was beyond the doctors’ abilities. White argued that a paraplegic whose body was dying could at least have another body to keep the head alive, even if they still couldn’t move.

Dr. Frankenstein may have been a bizarre imagining of Mary Shelley, but only time will tell if science can transplant our heads. I joke about having my brain put into a new body and someday it could be true. However, I do have to say the whole two-headed dog head thing is kinda gross and creepy, to say the least. Shades of Mars Attacks.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=426765

or: http://static.scribd.com/docs/kewb70kz1183c.pdf

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