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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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Internet & Sex & Voice

Has the internet changed since those early DOS days of looking for cheap sex and hot chat? I remember getting on to the great vast abyss of the internet. There I sat before my black screen, the neon green cursor blinking a way. Like shouting into a black tunnel, I would send questions out, hoping for an answer from the unknown universe of the internet, not yet called the world wide web.

There was little in the realm of urls. Locally, there was an ISP called Mindlink. It might have been the only one or one of very few at that point. When I joined up and went online to these groups, Mindlink would show the names of all the people online. Sometimes it was ten, sometimes twenty at a time. I joined a couple of chat groups and found that they often contained pedantic blowhards who shot down anyone talking about a subject. They were so obnoxious in trying to show their stellar intelligence that I left them to join Mindlink’s nonsense group.

When you signed up for thsi group you were asked for an alias. Once given, no one would ever see your real name unless you chose to reveal it. For whatever crazy reason, I chose the moniker Laughing Fist. There were others on the group like Feste and names I no longer remember. And true to the name of the group, we talked nonsense. Sometime puns, sometimes jokes, sometimes mad ramblings, but the group was created to counteract all those “serious” groups of know-it-alls.

Mindlink would hold meets where members could meet in a pub in public. My partner at the time had no interest in computers and internet and I really didn’t feel a need to go to the meet-ups. As I was trying to find information on subjects, mostly for writing, on the internet, I discovered that there were numerous chat rooms. A lot of those early groups had specific topics or the alt.groups. But sure enough, about 90% of them dealt with sex, maybe because 90% of people on the net were men and boys.

Mindlink had instant chat and whenever I signed on to the list, where everyone could see your name, I would get guys messaging me right away. Everyone could post a profile and I made it clear that if you asked me how old I was first, then you weren’t interested in chatting with me but just trying to date me. And then there were the guys who would ask if I was interested in hot chat. Basic talking dirty online. I wasn’t interested, have never really been interested. For one, I had no idea how old the person was or what he was like. For two, I’m a writer. I can write all sorts of stories. It might get them off but I’d only be practising my writing.

I also realized in the nonsense group where everyone had shortened my name to Fisty, that they thought I was a guy. Probably from the name and from the way I wrote. Once I realized that, I said nothing that would give away my gender. It was fairly easy and made me realize how much you can have a different personality on the internet. Unfortunately as internet use expanded, the stalkers and degenerates found it as a way to lure impressionable and gullible teenagers. I did eventually show up at a meet where everyone was surprised to find out Fisty was a girl.

I don’t go searching out the millions of sites on porn, and as search engines have become more sophisticated one is not as likely to stumble on porn, hot chat, or sex sites unless one wants to. So what percentage of the internet is taken up with sex? I’m sure there is someone out there adding up the googling and could tell us…maybe. But I think even looking at WordPress and my blog gives an idea. I write on a range of topics but some of the ones that get the most hits are the ones about sex, genitals, prostitutes.

We think that humans are more advanced or far above our animal brethren but we forget we are run by the same instincts as they are: the need to procreate. Of course, we have gone further in eroticizing many aspects, making some good and wholesome, some naughty, dirty or downright perverse. We have cultural conventions and moires that animals don’t have. So in essence we have complicated sex, but people still think about it a lot. Whether we’re curious, or appalled or turned on, many still want to read about it.

I think the internet may be broader and more far reaching from those early days of hot chat but I’m not sure by how much. And look at how far we’ve come in less than twenty years. We have way more pictures. 🙂

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Perverts of the Past

There are hazards to being a woman, where you can be subjected to certain…displays. I’ve lived in Vancouver for quite a few years and in the West End, around Main and Cambie, and in East Vancouver. I’ve never lived in scary areas but in your normal range of dwellings; not upscale but still nice areas with families or many people. I’ve never lived near an area notorious for drugs and other criminal activities.

Still, in the course of just being a person I’ve seen my share of wankers. The most innocuous was the guy standing below the Burrard St. bridge in white socks and runners and nothing else. He looked up at the people walking over the bridge and played with himself. I found it hilarious and ludicrous.

Unfortunately the other incidents were closer. I was on a bus one day around 6 pm. I sat near the middle of the bus, on a seat beside someone, not even looking as I put my money away. The bus was full of people. I realized there was a rhythmic hand movement coming from the guy beside me. I got up and moved toward the front of the bus, disconcerted. In those days I was a little too timid to say anything. But an elderly man standing beside me said, do you know what that man was doing? I said I suspected and that’s why I stood. The guy got off at the next stop (no pun intended).

After that I moved to E. Van and into a ground floor suite. I asked my landlord for curtain rods (my landlords live above me) but he said, what do you need curtain rods for? Their main floor doesn’t have curtains on any of the back windows where kitchen, dining room and living room are. Their bedroom is on the top floor. So I had to tack up a scarf over the bathroom window and likewise for the bedroom. Murray didn’t seem to get that we lived right at the level where people can walk by the window.

My partner was working late at his studio that night. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, when I heard a tapping at the window. I thought my partner had forgotten his key. I pulled back the thin (it turns out, see-through) curtain and there was this guy illumined by the security light, his face turned away so I couldn’t see it, and he was wanking away and moaning.

The shock at such a sight up close is part fright at one’s privacy being breached. This guy could see me and knew which room I was in. I ran to the other room.  The pervert followed until he saw me calling the police. Then he scampered off. The police eventually showed up about a half hour later. At that point in time they were pretty lackadaisical. Shortly after there was someone going around beating women with a baseball bat and raping them. Any calls after that point, and the police showed up immediately. Oh, and yes, the next day I had curtain rods on the bedroom and bathroom windows.

The next time a wanker showed up at my place was after I broke up with a manipulative, arrogant guy I had been dating. He’d turned stalker for about a week or two after our break-up before I reamed him out. A month or so later I was working at my computer one night when I realized every light was on. So I walked from my den, down the hall toward the living room, turning out the extra lights. Outside my French patio doors and the small patio, standing up on the retaining wall, was a guy wanking off.

I ducked into the bathroom but had to pop out to call the police. I did so and they arrived quickly with dogs but the guy was long gone. Shortly after this my landlord put blinds up on my patio doors and more security lighting, and a taller (6′) picket fence in the back. A week or two later the ex-boyfriend wanted my opinion on a piece of his art. Being too nice I agreed to meet for a coffee. When he asked how I was, I said fine but there’d been a wanker at my place, not at all suspecting him. He blurted out, “It wasn’t me!” And that’s when I knew in fact it was him. I’ve never talked to him since.

The third time, in this same place, I again was getting ready for bed and when I closed the curtain in my bedroom I noticed the bushes move. So I snuck to my den next door, in the dark and peered out of one tiny corner of the curtained window…as this guy was trying to peer in the opposite corner, his hood pulled up around his face. This one scared me the most because I knew he’d been watching me for a while and he wasn’t just wanking off.

I called the police in the dark, knowing where the numbers were on the phone. They were coming with dogs but one of the police drove on the street first and the creep ran. Into the back yard…where there is no alley…toward the 6′ sharp, picket fence…with his bike. He made it over and was gone but his bike remained behind on the pickets. The police were amused and figured the guy might have injured himself. I was badly shaken and dreamt of being raped for a couple of nights.

The last time was a couple of years ago, during a bright sunny day. I was home and heard someone knock on the door upstairs. I peered out my window. If it’s the postman I’ll take packages for my landlords sometime. It wasn’t but the guy saw me. I don’t tend to answer the door to solicitors or strangers. Well this greasy haired, young guy knocked on my door. I didn’t answer and he started going around the house, knocking on every window and door, prying at some of them.

I grabbed my phone and sat below my door. It has a small glass window in it. The guy couldn’t see me at that angle but I could see his reflection in my bookcase doors that faced the doors. Out of sight, I sat and waited as the guy circled the house. Then he came back to the door and started ramming his shoulder against it. I didn’t wait to see if he would break in but called the police. He heard the beep of my phone and said, “I was looking for this girl I know. She lives around here. I thought this was her place.”

And all I could think was that if the girl gave a different address, there was good reason if this is what he did. The police came but as it is in all cases, they can’t do anything until the person actually hurts you or breaks in. I asked if I could charge hin with trespassing but they said no. The guy was gone anyways but in essence he could wank off, terrorize people and trespass on their property and get away with it.

A week later I the same greasy creep enter someone’s house across the street. The door was open on a hot day and he just waltzed in. The guy that tossed him out nearly broke the railing but didn’t hit this pervert. I was on my way to meet someone so I called the police as I walked up the street. All I got from them was a reaming out for not staying there. I’m sure nothing was done.

Since then, it’s only been someone breaking in to my place once and my car six months later. And I bet I fit into the average here. Ah, Vancouver, civilized and trendy city. Even wankers love it.

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