8 Authors to Follow: the Women in Horror Edition

As many of you may know, February is Women in Horror Month. I’ve always been a fan of it because I love horror, I’m a feminist, and I myself am a woman in horror. It seems a pretty safe bet that I’m going to love any movement in line with those things, yeah?

It’s surprised me a bit recently to read some push-back about WiHM, especially from other women in horror who I admire. The argument seems to be that women-only anthologies, all-women panels at conferences, and WiHM itself all serve to segregate more than integrate. If we keep calling female horror work “female horror work” doesn’t that just serve to keep it out of the greater sphere of “horror work” that we’re striving so hard to become more noticed in?

I see their point. But at the same time, as a young woman working in an industry that’s already hard, in a genre that doesn’t particularly welcome me, seeing successful women who’ve done it before me is invaluable. At World Horror Con last year, the “women in horror” panel was one of my highlights. Seeing all of those badass ladies in one place was incredibly inspiring – incredibly encouraging. They were lined up for me to learn from, but also as proof that what I want is possible to achieve.

Maybe the problem isn’t having all-women panels or female anthologies or even WiHM. Maybe the problem is calling them that. Because sadly, that panel was audienced almost entirely by women. The topic of the panel wasn’t women, not really, but because the only people on it were women, little to no men came. The real problem here is that male topics are considered “for everyone” while female topics are considered “for women.” So maybe what we should do is keep having these things that highlight and inspire women, but stop highlighting the gender of it. How shocking would it be for a male con attendee to walk into a panel about avoiding horror tropes and see an all-woman panel whose gender has nothing to do with the topic? Pretty shocking, which is very sad, because I’ve walked into countless all-male panels and never batted an eye.

Okay, that’s enough of that. It’s a complex topic and I really don’t think there are any simple answers. My point is not to defend or attack Women in Horror Month. My real point is to honor some of the women in horror who’re inspiring me right now. Read: here are some kickass horror authors (and an editor) I recommend following, no matter who you are, and no matter what month it is.

Lisa Morton

Lisa Morton currently serves as the president of the Horror Writers Association, and she’s amazing. She runs HWA enthusiastically and openly. She’s unbelievably generous with herself; I honestly don’t know how she does it. She works at a bookstore, has an incredibly impressive and prolific career as a writer of fiction and nonfiction, runs a major organization, and still reaches out to help other writers when she can – and she does it all with kindness and poise. She’s a fantastic role model and a very nice person, and her nonfiction book on Halloween was a blast.

Ellen Datlow

Ellen Datlow has become my favorite short fiction editor over the past few years thanks in large part to her Best Horror of the Year series. I now buy each year’s edition, and am also working my way backwards through the early ones that I missed. I love reading the stories she curates. I always enjoy them, always find at least a few that deeply impress me, and often find one or two that blow me away. Ms. Datlow is incredibly hardworking, but also so generous with her knowledge and thoughts. She’s a don’t-miss for staying current in the industry.

Gemma Files, Lucy A. Snyder, Damien Angelica Walters, and Alyssa Wong

I listed these four together simply because they’re all so new to me. I don’t know them as people yet and I’ve only discovered a small amount of their work so far, but I’ve read stories by each that knocked my friggin socks off. All of them were so good that I added their names to my mental list of authors to look for more from. Here’s a quick highlight of the works I loved:

Gemma Files– “This is Not For You.” I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. I told my husband all about it just because I had to talk out loud about how brilliant it was. Feminist themes in a story about a group of serial killers? Hell yes; sign me up. As if that weren’t enough, her story “Nanny Grey” is eerie and disturbing and wonderful too.

Lucy A. Snyder– “Magdala Amygdala.” This story won the Bram Stoker Award in 2012, and holy wow did it blow me away. I remember feeling shocked that someone actually wrote it. It was just so weird and (forgive the expression) balls-to-the-wall. If you don’t like your punches pulled, this is one to read.

Damien Angelica Walters– “Sing Me Your Scars.” This one’s currently on the Bram Stoker Awards preliminary ballot. It’s unique and twisted and really, really beautiful. I’ve never read anything quite like it. “The Judas Child” is another well worth reading. Sad and twisted.

Alyssa Wong– “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.” Also on the Stoker preliminary ballot. The story is as haunting and original as the title. Equally as sad and strange and lovely: “Scarecrow.”

Linda Addison

Linda Addison is another author I met at WHC, and she left quite an impression on me. She’s the type of person who lights up a room. She’s friendly, generous, and bold. She exudes a sense of welcoming that felt authentic and all-inclusive. I really enjoyed listening to her on panels and chatting with her, and I adore the forward motion she’s making in dark poetry. And her own poetry is great too; I had the pleasure of hearing her read some and it was wonderful.

(Being awesome on your own and giving back to the community; there’s a trend here…)

Anne Rice

It’s no secret that I love Anne Rice’s work. Her Vampire Chronicles were elemental in my growth as a reader, writer, and thinker. She was one the first introductions I had into how thoughtful and intelligent dark fiction can be, which was tinder on the fire of my love for vampires, gothic, and speculative fiction – as well as being exemplary of upmarket fiction. But more recently, I’ve discovered her beyond her work, and if anything I’m even more impressed by her as a person. I can’t believe how generous, authentic, and kind someone who’s that busy can be. She’s unapologetically herself both in her social interactions and in her art. Not only that, but she’s confident, humble, kind, and welcoming. I really can’t think of a better role model to aspire to.

There you have it: eight women in horror who, no matter your gender and no matter the month, are well worth checking out. I hope you’re all having a wonderful February!

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  • Except for Anne Rice, I don’t think I’ve ever finished a woman’s horror novel. (Of course I’ve hated and not finished plenty of guy’s horror novels too.) But I can’t re-read Rice’s works now–the long-winded writing bugs me–although she’s a wonderful person. To me, the thing that usually makes the difference between male and female writing is plot vs feeeelings. I don’t need to know the backstory, divorce woes, and sad childhood of the character to enjoy the story. Also quite a few women “horror” authors are actually Paranormal Romance authors. I find it a shame that Meyer and her ilk took the “monster” out of horror. But I realize lots of people (especially women) like soap operas, whether they’re in a horror novel or on The Walking Dead. And they’ve made horror more mainstream. Probably not a bad thing…

    • I actually thought you were a horror author as well, Lexa. Your comment surprises me. What’s any book without emotion? I believe good writers mine emotion no matter their genre. Melodrama is a whole different ballgame (as is paranormal romance, to me). Funny that you associate backstory and childhood history with women writers, too, because when I think of those things + horror, Stephen King immediately comes to mind. IT was almost nothing but, for example. He’s the epitome of stopping the plot to delve into character psyche. I personally love that, but to each her own! I’m also reading an Anne Rice novel right now and think it’s exquisite and perfectly paced. I know you’ve said you don’t care for literary fiction, though, so maybe that’s why it’s not for you. I love the way she blends commercial and literary; entertaining and thought-provoking is a win-win for me!

      • Absolutely true about emotion. A book’s not worth reading if it doesn’t have intelligent and deep characters with relate-able goals. But both the last two books I tried to read of Rice and King (Merrick and The Duma Key) I gave up a third of the way through because there was no discernible plot. Probably the only King novel I’ve enjoyed in recent years was Cell, blessedly free of backstory. Before Merrick, I tried to read Rice’s The Mummy, but found it to be a romance novel and a ridiculously illogical one at that. Perhaps I’ve just been picking the wrong books. 😛

        • Goodness, I think you must be. Cell is my least favorite King I’ve read. (Maybe we have opposite tastes?) Have you read The Shining? Or ‘Salem’s Lot? And as to Anne Rice, the Vampire Chronicles trilogy is phenomenal. It does have some dark romance in it, but it certainly has horror too. I think they’re gorgeous books.

          • I’ve read those and loved them. Did a quick google search to find I’ve read (to the finish) 17 of King’s 50 books, 10 of Rice’s 34, 25 of Koontz’s too-many-to-count books, and 13 of McCammon’s 22. (He’s another big fave of mine). Most I read when I was young in the 70s-90s. After studying craft, it’s harder to enjoy books now, especially when I promise to read/review ARCs from horror writers I know. It’s like some writers never even bother to learn craft at all! No character arcs, telling not showing, tropes, stereotypical characters, physical descriptions lumped in paragraphs like laundry lists, chapters of rambling before the inciting incident, and head hopping (oh, how I hate 3rd person omniscient!). And we won’t even talk about typos and grammatical errors. Yet when I get the chance at a free horror novel, I keep saying “Yes, please!” What a dummy! LOL!

            But at least we agree on Malerman’s Bird Box. That was awesome!

          • I think we do have quite different taste. Man, Lexa, if reading ARCs makes you feel that way I’d stop. There’s so much good horror out there, why make yourself hate it by reading the stuff you don’t love? I’m glad you like Bird Box, at least. Otherwise we’d have to fight. 😉

  • Peggy

    Great post! I’m not a writer but, oh my goodness, the happy hours I’ve spent reading Anne Rice!!! I also remember The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson as one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Of course, we can’t forget Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

    I haven’t kept up with the more current writers (because I’m a lot older & don’t read much horror anymore), but some of the best and most disturbing horror stories I’ve ever read were yours. “Hide”, “Honey”, and “Zanders the Magnificent” are profoundly disturbing, horrifying, and scary! “Jack and the Bad Man” is just an indescribable delight.

    In my opinion, the perception that there are no good female horror writers is a natural result of a society where we all grew up influenced by the (usually unspoken) powerful assumption that men are better at everything. I dare say that most women never had the audacity to think they could rise to the top in any “male field”. Of course, this is changing, and it’s surprising that it’s still an issue. Younger women who don’t just think – but know they can accomplish anything they want to are at the forefront of this exciting progress. I sincerely hope that you keep writing horror – I can’t get enough of your horror stories! And kudos to you and all the wonderful female horror writers and editors, such as the incredible Anne Rice, who do everything they can to encourage and promote young female talent in their field!!!

    • Yes, such wonderful classics! It’s kind of you to mention my work, too. Thank you so much. <3 I agree with you re: societal influence. It can be so insidious and quiet that it's easy to convince ourselves it isn't even there, or that it doesn't matter, but it is and it does. Thanks for this comment!

  • Andrea Blythe

    Great list! Gemma Files is a name that immediately comes to mind when I think of women in horror. Her Hexslinger series involved magic and gay cowboys and incredible amounts of gore. Every time her name pops up on one of these books it reminds me that I need to read the last book in the trilogy.

    Other great writers: Shirley Jackson (whom you probably already know), Caitlin R Kiernan, Mira Grant, and Kelly Link.

    I’ve only read one book by Kiernan, The Drowning Girl, which is a complex work of psycological horror. I really enjoyed it.

    Grant borders more on science fiction thrillers. I really enjoyed her Newsflesh trilogy, which is about a world living with zombies as a constant threat.

    Link is one of my favorite short story writers and her fantastical works sometimes slips into the realm of being terrifying.

    I really intended this to be a much shorted comment, but as I started thinking about female horror writer more and more came to mind, which is kind of exciting.

    • Thanks, Andrea. Gosh, I love this comment. I agree; it’s exciting to see how many there are. Kiernan has been on my to-read list for a few years now, and Shirley Jackson is one of my all-time favorites. I’m adding Grant and Link now, thanks to you. Other WiH who come to mind: Joyce Carol Oates, Kate Jonez, Rena Mason, Billie Sue Mosiman, and, oh, goodness, even Toni Morrison!

      • Andrea Blythe

        Oh, yes! Toni Morrison! And I always forget that Joyce Carol Oates writes genre. You’ve given me two more names to look into too. Sweet!

        • Peggy

          Me either, and I’ve read a book by each of them. Many years ago I read “Do with Me What You Will” by Oates but found it not to my taste & didn’t finish it. I had absolutely no idea she wrote horror.

          • Oh yeah, Joyce Carol Oates writes quite a bit of horror fiction! Her novel ZOMBIE has been on my to-read list for a couple of years. And I’m reading BELOVED by Toni Morrison right now; it’s dark, heartbreaking, exquisite horror. Both of them write other things too, of course. I loved THE BLUEST EYE by Morrison but it’s much more traditional literary fiction.

  • Regina Richards

    Fascinating post. I’m not sure where I come down on the whole segregation by gender within genre thing. I’ll need to think on that one a while.

    • Thank you! Me too, Regina. I see valid points from both sides, and I think it’s way too complex (and important) to have an unchangeable view.

  • Jay Lemming

    Peggy mentioned Frankenstein. I think if you want to herald the success of women horror writers in a male-dominated field, the story of how Frankenstein was written is the classic example, which you may already know about. Mary Shelley, her husband the poet Percy and their friends Lord Byron, were hanging out at Byron’s countryside mansion during a pretty fierce thunderstorm and agreed to a contest. They would each retire to their room, write a horror story (as inspired by the inclement weather) and then review each other’s work. Well, Byron and Percy’s stories ended up being largely forgettable but Mary’s story ended up being the germ for Frankenstein.
    In terms of Anne Rice, I loved Interview with a Vampire, thought The Vampire Lestat was okay and honestly couldn’t get through more than the firs 50 pages of Queen of the Damned. But I thought the multi-generational family history in The Witching Hour was one of the most breathtaking things I have read….horror or no horror. Its sequel Lasher was disappointing with none of the sweeping history or backstory. I actually enjoy reading about characters’ lives in context of their history–never thought whether that was a female or a male thing. It’s much more realistic (gets closer to the literary aspect of writing) as far as how people live their real lives. As a result, I agree with what Annie says about Stephen King’s IT….great read!

    • Yes, I love that story! I think that night/game they played has a name of some kind, but I can’t remember what people call it. Frankenstein is such a masterpiece. It’s horror, science fiction, literary… it’s truly a classic as well as a fantastic example of so many things, including women writers kicking some serious ass. 🙂

      I’m reading The Witching Hour right now, actually! I’m not very far in yet, but I think it’s breathtakingly well done. I agree that the character backstory and history is part of what makes it phenomenal. For the record, I don’t at all think that’s a male or female thing: I think that’s a style/taste thing. I think IT helps prove that. The book could’ve been much shorter without the extensive backstory, but the first half wouldn’t have felt as realistic or powerfully rendered.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jay!

  • Cynthia Robertson

    I’m with you on Anne Rice: when I discovered her vampire novels I had to read through her whole horror oeuvre. And I don’t even LIKE vampires (much).
    I agree with your take on women in writing, horror genre, or otherwise. We need to support and learn from each other, and if some men have to be surprised into attending our lectures and classes, and reading our stuff because otherwise they wouldn’t *shrug* oh well! So be it. 😉

    • Yes! I love vampires (even still!), and she’s a huge part of the reason why. Lol to “have to be surprised into it.” Truth. We’ll do what we must. 😉

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  • You make a very good point! While there is certainly a need for panels, groups, discussions where women and/or people of color can come together for support and community, it can do a disservice when the point is to demonstrate inclusivity. Maybe there should be both. Maybe cons should broker symposiums that are directed at a certain group as well as quote-unquote mainstream panels that um… just happen to be all women. Or all Asian. Or all Latina… (Found you by accident. I just may be back 😉

    • Thank you! I like your phrase “demonstrate inclusivity” in this context, because that’s what the all-whatever panels feel like sometimes, especially when every other panel at the con is mostly men/white/whatever. One all-something panel is like a token “proof” of inclusivity instead of actually being inclusive all around. Anyway, I’m glad you found me. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • A. B. Davis

    Wow, this post prompted some great comments. Regarding the post, these stories all sound so good and I will be adding them to my list. 🙂 I love your idea, Annie, for panels that don’t advertise as “all-women” panels. I agree that a problem arises in not acknowledging the achievement of these great women authors in overcoming the history of our sex. Like Peggy mentioned, some women “never had the audacity” to think they could achieve what men have in these fields, and encouragement is needed to counteract this. But sometimes this specificity required in celebrating “women’s achievements” or those of “people of color or diversity” can backfire. For instance (and this is slightly unrelated), I read a review on a favorite novel of mine, Eleanor & Park, that bashed the author for not doing more with the main male character, Park’s, ethnicity–Korean. This was disappointing to me, because I think the reviewer was looking for something sensationalist: she wanted more attention drawn to the racial tensions of this time period (1986). However, I felt the novel touched on some unique matters regarding the character’s race AND gender (not to mention that the character was just a sweet, interesting character REGARDLESS of his race) that this person, sadly, overlooked, all because she wanted the book to push some sort of agenda? I’m not sure. But sometimes, people lose sight of what the point is of these things: to celebrate great literature., sometimes because of the discrimination the authors faced, but sometimes, I think this celebration needs to be regardless of it.

    • Yay! I know you’ll find some stories in there you’ll love. For some reason I think you’d particularly like “Sing me Your Scars.” (That’s also the name of her story collection, but there’s a single story with the title too.)

      I *love* the way you said that. We should celebrate the triumph over harder odds, but also celebrate work regardless of those odds. I think both are important, which I hadn’t thought of in quite that way until you worded it like that. So thanks for that perspective. I’m on Team Both!