My Journey as a Woman in Horror

            You would think someone who was obsessed with vampires at a young age, obsessively checked out ghost stories from the library, and loved Halloween would always have been a woman in horror, right? That same girl who wrote two different vampire novels, a short horror film, and tons of dark poetry as a teenager? That same young woman who switched between writing dark, speculative stories and literary realism in her undergrad workshops because she didn’t want to be typecast? Well…I think realization and determination is more than half the battle. That didn’t happen until January of 2017.

            Epiphanies are wonderful things. I knew if I was accepted into an MFA program I’d be expected to commit to a singular vision of my writing. At the time, I planned on pursuing high fantasy. Then, almost out of the blue, I realized that—for my entire life—I’d been pulled toward the darker side of writing and had continually answered and then ignored it. Everything that could be classified as “horror” or “paranormal” was something I’d played with at some point in time, and kept coming back to. It felt more natural to me than the romantic meet-cutes or coming-of-age realism I’d tried before. So, in the lull between degrees, I decided to give into the urge and play…And I came up with over 100 story ideas.

            Whether this was boredom or something more, I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing and studying the craft of horror during grad school. Luckily, UNR is “genre-friendly.” I would be the first person to focus solely on horror in the program’s history (rather than just the occasional story), but that didn’t deter me. I wanted to see how much I could learn and push myself down this avenue. And, if anything, I could just go back to writing realism.

            So began my three year intimate study of horror and writing. In the second semester, I solidified my plan for my thesis—a winding, twisted novel-in-stories that fell somewhere in folk horror—and began finding comps. This meant I was reading more than just horror at the time since I also had to study the form and the region I was writing in, but it paid off in the end (I believe). So, yes, I read King. But I also read authors I genuinely care about like Morrison, Machado, Malerman, LaValle, and Proulx. Plus I was able to watch and study Midsommar.

            I developed good and bad writing habits during this time. My peers may have been amazed at my ability to bust out a 7,000 word draft in a single day, but I often came to measure my productivity and worth by high numbers. I was, however, able to complete numerous drafts before turning in the “final” version of my thesis. This did mean that I solely focused on my thesis—outside of poetry, which was a welcome break—and had little other work to show. (I am still working on my inferiority complex). That said, I’m proud of the ways I challenged myself to work with and diverge from what I knew of horror in my writing. Initially, most of my knowledge came from films versus books—the pacing, the beats, and tropes and tricks. I developed and learned. Sometimes the challenge was simple (two characters in a car, build from there) and sometimes it was more complex (show don’t tell memory-loss). I worked through my own fears and traumas—often tied to what was happening in my life—but whether people could tell or not I’m not sure. I would often take my own horror and layer it beneath a character and their story and then add another layer of horror over that. Men do it all the time—why can’t I?

            At the same time as I was writing the thesis, I continued writing reviews every October here on the blog. This was, in part, to expand my knowledge of the breadth and depth of horror films and their history. My first real foray had been back in 2009 with the iconic triple feature of Jennifer’s Body, Sorority Row, and Dread. I hadn’t fully converted to the genre until I decided to begin OcTerror in 2016 (on a real whim I think). Almost every year since then I’ve watched any number of films and seen new and old classics, plus some lost gems. I always find something to enjoy. Then there’s the addition of spooky music, home décor, book reviews, and more. It is a lot of work, but I love watching and learning more about the nuances of the waves of horror.

            That, of course, led to my first attempt at teaching horror. I was able to incorporate it into a first-year comp writing class by virtue of focusing on “Representation within American Horror Films.” While we mostly focused on writing techniques and projects, I was then able to structure those projects around horror movies (nothing too hardcore, and with room for choice).  Some of the research papers and presentations the students turned in at the end of the class were amazing and made me so proud. And I learned new things too! My next attempts were actually lectures to over 200 people each on film adaptations of Frankenstein; I’m really thankful the professor I was assisting gave us this opportunity. My first lecture focused more on the differences between the films and book, and the second honed in on how the films handled the text’s inherent feminist message. I was so nervous each time that I had to take a shot, but it was worth it.

            The academic side of horror has held a definite appeal, and I was able to present a paper at the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference in 2019 that combined my interest in food studies with Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. It was a great experience hearing the other presentations and seeing the wide possibilities of horror academia. Which is why I’ll be doing it again (virtually) this May, presenting my comparative research on shower scenes in horror (yes, this is a thing I’ve been studying for almost a year).

            So, yeah, I write horror stories, blog about horror, teach horror, study horror. I have become and AM a woman in horror.

            The official organization that started this monthly celebration 12 years ago has decided to disband because we the people have the power to celebrate all year long and pick our own months and times. I agree with this decision, not only because I’m not just a woman in horror in February and no other time, but because—as with all minority voices—we should be enjoying them anyway. Not just because it’s a History month, a Pride month, or an “In” month. The spotlight absolutely helps, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the year needs to revert back.

            So, if you haven’t already, please read a book or watch a movie by a woman in horror, a BIPOC woman in horror, a LGBT+ woman in horror…Our voices, our stories, our fears matter.

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