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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Woman In Horror: Editor and Author Jeani Rector

Grave Events book cover with photo of aged human corpse.
Photo Credit: The Horror Zine



To close Women in Horror Month, I’ve asked editor and author Jeani Rector to be my guest blogger for this post. Jeani is the founding editor of the online literary journal, The Horror Zine. Her latest novel is Grave Events which released last September. She was elected Best Magazine/e-zine Editor by Preditors & Editors three times: once in 2012, again in 2013 and then in 2014. I’m proud to say she is a fellow Sacramentan and so resides in the Sacramento area.

Jeani presents us here with a very intriguing article that breaks the stereotype of horror as a man’s genre. And now heeeere’s Jeani . . . !

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WOMEN IN HORROR
by Jeani Rector, Editor
The Horror Zine
http://www.thehorrorzine.com

“What’s a nice girl like you doing editing and writing horror?”

This is the reaction from some when I explain what I do. “Women in horror” is a difficult concept for some. We are perceived as more submissive than men, and…well…nice. And many do not view the horror genre as “nice.”

In reality, women in horror have been a vital life force in horror since its inception. Remember that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. And we all know the impact that Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House had on the ghost story crowd.

The concept of horror has unfortunately been stereotyped for many people by slasher and gore films.

I am not saying that slasher and gore are not horror. I am saying that slasher and gore are only one sub-genre of horror.

So let’s ask: what is horror?

People are attracted to horror books and films because it is similar to riding a roller-coaster: you get excitement and thrills, yet you know deep down that you will land safely because it is all pretend. Horror is fun without consequences.

There is something visceral and ingrained in people to seek out the morbidly fascinating. Reading a horror story or watching a film often makes us more appreciative of our own calm existence after vicariously experiencing a protagonist’s fears.

According to Glenn Sparks, Ph.D, a professor and associate head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, one reason for the appeal is how you feel after the movie or book. This is called the excitation transfer process. Sparks’s research found that when people watch frightening films, their heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases.

“After the film is over, this physiological arousal lingers,” Sparks said. “That means that any positive emotions you experience—like having fun with friends—are intensified. Instead of focusing on the fright you felt during the film, you recall having a great time. And you’ll want to come back for more.” [1]

A misconception about horror is that some people erroneously equate it with Satanism. While there are books and films that contain the concepts of Heaven and Hell (think Blatty’s The Exorcist), in no way do you see the horror genre promoting or endorsing devil worship. In fact, most of the time, good triumphs over evil in the end (think Stephen King’s The Stand).

How did horror get its start?

Filmmakeriq.com states: “Monsters, murderers, demons and beasts have been around since antiquity, and ghost stories have been told round camp fires since we learned how to talk. But the roots of filmed horror were an extension of a genre of literature that got its start in the late 1700s: Gothic Horror. Developed by writers in both Great Britain and the United States, the Gothic part of the name refers to pseudo medieval buildings that these stories took place—think of a old castle on a dark and stormy night—gloomy forests, dungeons and secret passage ways.” [2]

A good place to learn about how the horror genre came into being is the film A History of Horror (also known as A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss), a 2010 three-part documentary series made for the BBC by British writer and actor Mark Gatiss. It is a personal exploration of the history of horror film, inspired by Gatiss’ lifelong enthusiasm for the genre.

Horror is a genre in fiction, yet it comes with many sub-genres.

Here are my preferred sub-genres of horror:

Ghost: This is one of my favorites. Ghost stories depend upon atmosphere. Often in a film, the ghost is never seen, but is replaced by tension. (Drummer Boy by Scott Nicholson or The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson)

Monster: Another favorite. The monster can be made to be sympathetic or evil. The Bride of Frankenstein is a perfect example of a sympathetic monster.  In my opinion, it takes more talent to make a monster sympathetic than evil. (Jurrassic Park by Michael Crichton, Jaws by Peter Benchley, and of course Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)

Alien: Horror marries sci-fi. (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury or the film Alien)

Zombies: Used to be part of the monster sub-genre, but are now so popular, they have their own category. Same with vampires. (anything by Joe McKinney)

Psychological: Often contains the element of surprise. When done well, this category is very effective in the tension and suspense elements. (Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris or Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane)

The above sub-genres are why a nice girl like me does what I do. These categories take talent to create good character development and an effective plot-line. They do not rely on shock but require an actual story.

Here are other sub-genres that are not my favorites but are popular nonetheless:

Splatter-punk: Gore, gore, gore, and hardcore, hardcore, hardcore. Does not rely on plot, but on shock.

Killer: Lots of stalking and usually revolves around a female victim.

Slasher: Like splatter-punk but without the hardcore. Slasher often revolves around teenage victims and doesn’t need a plot, which is why they can re-make Friday the 13th ten billion times.

What writers can be considered today’s “masters of the macabre?”

Ranker.com lists Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, James Herbert, Richard Matheson, and Robert McCammon as their top five. [3]

While those names certainly are deserving of the top five (especially Ramsey Campbell), I would like to include some more modern horror masters of my own:

Joe R. Lansdale: Mr. Mojo writes in a folksy, southern voice that makes you comfortable before he bites you with surprises. My favorites are The Bottoms and Lost Echoes.

Joe McKinney: McKinney is becoming the reigning King of the Zombies. Don’t miss his Dead World series.

Scott Nicholson: Just as McKinney is King of Zombies, Scott Nicholson is King of Ghosts. I loved his authentic Drummer Boy and let’s not forget his best-selling The Red Church.

Lisa Morton: This Bram Stoker award-winner writes non-fiction about the history of Halloween, but her new mystery series Netherworld is fiction at its finest; combining 19th century sleuthing with the paranormal.

John Farris: Oh my god, you have to read Son of the Endless Night. Talk about good versus evil. This one is probably the scariest book I have ever read. It is a mixture of demons and psychological terror.

Susie Moloney: No one does character development better than Susie Moloney. Her characters feel like your neighbors, or worse, your own family. Try The Dwelling, A Dry Spell, or if you like witches, The Thirteen.

Bentley Little: The beauty of Bentley is that he takes average people and thrusts them into not-so-average situations. That makes the reader think, “This could happen to me.” I like his The Association and The Haunted.

Stephen King: Well, of course, I have to include the King of Everything. I grew up on Stephen King. Favs are The Stand and Salem’s Lot. I will always prefer early King over his later stuff.

So there you have it: why a girl like me edits and writes horror like that.





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Don’t forget to check out the neat work at TheHorrorZine.com! 

Until next time . . . 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

5 Shorts by Female Authors of Fear

February is Women In Horror month and that includes female authors of fear. Most of what I’ve been reading in celebration of this month has been short stories that fall into the science fiction category but they also overlap with the horror one. Many of them contain mutant monsters and psychotic killers. These five stories come from either of two anthologies that I checked out at the library several weeks ago (and renewed recently). And so here is . . .


A List of Female Authors’ Fear Stories

One of the stories is by Octavia Butler and comes from a book entitled Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams. The term “zombie” has almost become the equivalent of “apocalypse” in a lot today’s sci fi and horror. However, I’m not sure if there are any zombie stories in this book since I’ve only read two contributions so far. But, sorry zombie fans, the Butler story is not a zombie one but is still a good one. 

Butler’s story is called “Speech Sounds” and is set in a time after the world’s institutions have fallen and all is anarchy. The closest things to infrastructure are buses, run by independent contractors who’s services are unreliable (sound a little like some of today’s bus systems?), and mercenary cops. And where there’s no unifying law there’s bound to be mad killers which you’ll definitely find in this story. Not to mention, universal communication has broken down making these murderers even more monstrous when they speak in seemingly non-vocabularic sounds. The story lives up to Butler’s literary appraise.

The four other stories are from the second anthology I checked out. There had been no story in it that I had intentionally been looking for. I just happened to come across it while searching for the Butler story that I was looking for to read in honour of Martin Luther King Day. But that’s the great thing about libraries: you often come across titles you weren’t originally looking for that seem so intriguing that you check them out. This anthology is called The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination also edited by Adams. The title caught my eye so much since I’ve always been a big lover of the mad scientist character which has been so closely associated with modern horror (early 20th century and on). I grew up on old horror movies involving mad scientists, including the numerous Frankenstein movies (both Hollywood’s and England’s Hammer Studios’).

Painted portrait of Mary Shelley.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Speaking about movie adaptations of classic novels, I have to pay at least a small tribute to the one who started the Frankenstein myth: Mary Shelley. She is truly a woman of horror since her famous novel gave life (pun intended) to a monster myth that would eventually permeate all the way into pop culture, a pop myth written by a female author during a time (late 18th century) when women writers were almost unheard of. 

But now for the anthology’s stories that I’ve been reading for Women In Horror Month:

“The Last Dignity of Man”, Marjorie M. Liu: This story is themed off of the super hero/villain character which is becoming a trend in sci fi novels and short stories today due to the big comic book nerd craze going on for the last 5+ years. (I in no way intend this to be demeaning, since I’m a comic book nerd myself.) The story is about a young bio engineer exec who is obsessed with Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor. The story involves mutated, waste-eating worms that the government uses under conspiracy but these worms will eat anything if desperate enough--even live humans. This story’s protagonist and even the secondary character who he befriends were both really well developed making them lovable to the reader. 

“Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution”, Carrie Vaughn: This is a neat steampunk suspense-thriller. It’s not only set in an alternative Victorian England like typical steampunk stories are, but the main characters are two of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren: Harry (short for “Harriet” I assume) and Marlowe. The story is mostly through Harry’s point of view and so she investigates the lab of a criminal scientist who is under house arrest. But it’s not an electronic manacle (“brace” as they call it in today’s “humane” language) that binds him to his home. Instead it’s a fence that’s electrified by an aetherian device. The horror in this story? I don’t want to create a spoiler but I can guarantee you that horror is inhuman enough for any sci fi-horror fan.

“Laughter at the Academy”, Seanan McGuire: This is a story that involves a two in one menace of horror: a psychotic killer who is a mutant and is psychotic because of. The psychosis is caused by an epidemic of a sort that infects geniuses for some reason, including scientists. The plot was very clever, keeping me on edge and wanting to read more.

“The Mad Scientist’s Daughter”, Theodora Goss: The daughters of several of classic literature’s mad scientists gather in this story to form an all-girls’ club as support in their struggle with their paternally abusive past. Even Sister Hyde show’s up in this one. So far it’s been interesting but I’m in progress of reading it so I can’t say exactly how good it is yet.


Some Updates

Speaking about comic book super heroes and villains, the literacy program, 916 Ink, that I intended to donate to during Christmas finally replied back with the greenlight to send them my comic books for their kids. So I was more than happy to do that and so that’s what I did last week. I want to make sure that kids in my community/home area of Sacramento are given a chance to experience creative writing and literature through the speculative mediums that they otherwise would not be encouraged to do because of their disadvantaged, socio-economic backgrounds.

The staff at HorrorAddicts.net had asked me if they could include a couple of my articles in an anthology they’re putting together. I said I would be delighted if they did. The staff has always been encouraging of me and my work and I was more than happy to give them my consent. So I sent them my revised copies today. The anthology is supposed to release sometime this year. I’ll keep you updated on further details as they come in.

I’m aware that today’s Valentine’s Day, and even though I don’t celebrate the holiday (mostly for political reasons related to excessive commercialisation) I still want to wish you readers out there who do celebrate it a Happy Valentine’s Day! As I said, I don’t celebrate the holiday, but my critique group wanted each of us to write a story with a love theme. My story was a horror one where Cupid is a monster of a sort, as in an evil god. Sadly, I was trying to write it too close to the meetup time and didn’t finish it. I’m not really good with writing stories based on prompts although I do plan to finish the Cupid story eventually. When? I don’t know at this time, but when I do finish and publish it I’ll let you know.

I’ll try to have more on Women In Horror and female authors of fear next time.

Until then . . . 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Writer’s 3 New Year’s Resolutions


I apologize for not posting for the past two weeks. My schedule has been filled up with more client projects than before and I’m just learning the details of a new platform I’m doing freelance blogging for (not my own blogging, but clients’). I’m trying to get things settled with these projects so I can go back to posting here once a week again.

The first month of a new year has just flown by! Can you believe it? I said in my last blog post that I would have a list of my New Year’s resolutions for writing and so you’ll find it below. But I think I would like to look back on key points from last year before looking ahead, which is partly what New Year’s is about: looking back so you can look ahead to see what you can do better. And so it goes along with the Roman myth of Janus, the god with two faces: one face looks forward while the other looks back.

Looking Back At 2014


2014 was a great year. Besides selling several copies of The Fool’s Illusion, I sold my first one to be displayed in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, the Avid Reader in downtown Davis. I started my first novel ever. It’s actually a novella but my longest fiction project yet. I don’t count Fool’s Illusion because that’s an anthology and so consists of several short stories I did as separate projects to begin with. I also don’t count a 90 minute screenplay I wrote with a friend several years ago (that I don’t think ever got filmed, at least not yet) since screenplays are not primarily made to be read by a mass audience.

I didn’t quite keep this resolution from last year: to write a new short story at least every two weeks. However, I think I did write more short stories in 2014 than in any other year. I plan to make that resolution follow through completely this year.

Looking Ahead to 2015: New Year’s Resolutions



A zombie head with a gaping mouth.
Looking A Head.
Photo Credit: OpenClipart.org



My first resolution is to make precise deadlines for my writing projects, and this includes both fiction and non-fiction but more so fiction. When I’m writing fiction I’m doing it more for myself than when I’m writing my non-fiction journalism projects (which I’m doing for specific clients or sources such as Examiner.com), so I don’t feel as rushed. But when I take advantage of that luxury of flexibility it means less books written and published in a life time. As a creative writing instructor told me during my junior college years, your writing will be as successful as your self-discipline.

So I’m going to not only set deadlines on a calendar but also break up each project into, what one source I write for calls, milestones. Therefore I’m going to set deadlines for aspects of a project. For example, I’ve set an August deadline for the completion of my next book of short stories  but I’ve also set up early deadlines for phases of the production. Therefore I have deadlines for phases such as the final revision of each story and for the cover illustration. Within the cover illustration project, I’ve set deadlines when to have particular concept sketches done such as a February 20th deadline for the final concept sketch. I’ll probably post that sketch here.

My second resolution is to make a blog for topics other than those of writing and literature. Yes, you will likely see a new blog of mine this year sometime. (I don’t know when yet. I still have to apply my first resolution to that one.) I’ve noticed that the Fantastic Site has been getting visitations to posts on writing and reading fiction more than posts on other topics. So to accommodate for those visitors who are more into the other blog posts--which are mostly on topics of other types of pop culture such as movies, TV and video games--I’m going to create a new blog for those topics.

Bear in mind, those of you who are into other types of popular culture such as movies and anime, that, because writing and genre literature are my main subjects, I probably won’t be posting at the second blog as frequently.  But at least there will be a place where you know you will find posts on those topics you enjoy most. If you have any ideas for the new blog then please let me know in the comments box. I want to make sure you’re getting your time’s and bite’s worth!

My third and final resolution for this new year is to finish at least the first draft of my novella, a space opera. I don’t like leaving projects unfinished unless they are totally not going anywhere. But because I have had so much on my hands since December, I’ve put the novella on hiatus, a hiatus I’ll have to end soon if I want to keep that resolution. I’ll keep you updated on that.

The Now


I just got done with an oral proofreading of my current short story that I’m sending off for critiquing. One of the best ways to search out mistakes or short comings in your stories is to read them aloud. If it sounds good out loud as well as when you read it silently (in mind) to yourself, you most likely have a winner. Maybe not a bestseller, but a winner of some sort. In my opinion, the best stories are those that can be read both silently as well as verbally. After all, the very first tales were told out loud and so a story should read good both silently to the reader as well as orally to an audience.

And so now I am going forward into this new year to work these projects that you’ll hear more about. It will be a very busy year for me.

Again, have a Happy Year of 2015 and . . .


Until next time.