Women Writing the Weird

twilight talesMy preference for weird and dark fiction is something that is often reflected in my writing. This wasn’t always the case.

When I was growing up, I tended towards fantasy. I would occasionally dip into murkier water, but the books in the horror section were most often written by men and that flavor of the macabre didn’t suit my tastes. The fantasy I penned often examined the dark places in the soul and I wished there were other women writing in the same vein.

armless maidenOver the years, I’ve been pleased to see more and more weird and dark fiction being produced and published by women. However, we are still a minority among writers working in a male-dominated genre.

There have been efforts in increasing the visibility of women writers of horror. In fact, the whole month of February (the shortest month of the year) is dedicated to spreading the word about women writing weird and dark fiction. During Women in Horror Month, lists of fabulous female horror writers are bandied about. The Horror Writers Association has even taken a stab at cultivating women writers in the field with the $2,500 Mary Shelley Scholarship (the first scholarships were awarded in 2014).

Erasures by Catherine Chauloux

 

It’s wonderful that the efforts are bringing women horror writers new readers, but what happens when February comes to an end? What happens to the visibility of the fabulous female writers working in the field the rest of the year? For the most part, we disappear.

armless maiden 2“Do we vanish from your minds the rest of the year?” writes Damien Angelica Walters. “I understand compiling lists and such, but is this the only time you pay attention to the women writing horror? If that’s the case, I’d ask you to ask yourself why. If your current reading lists or end of the year lists contain little or no work written by women or you typically don’t read horror by women, why? Yes, please read our work and talk about it in February, but please also read our work and talk about it the other eleven months of the year.”

These are questions that need to be broached. It’s a complicated business, but I have hope that women who are writing horror will continue to make their presence known. And that presence will grow.

Here are a few suggested reads (ranging from horror to dark fantasy) to whet your appetite:

Palingenesis by Megan Arkenberg
All the World When It Is Thin by Kristi DeMeester
The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr
eyes I dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine
It Feels Better Biting Down by Livia Llewellyn
Stopping by Woods by Lise Quintana
Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine
Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters
Even In This Skin by A.C. Wise
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong
Secondhand Bodies by JY Yang

Manuel Bujados (1889–1954), Illustration for 'La Esfera' magazine, April 1927

Images: The Mystic Wood by John William Waterhouse; Handless Maiden Series by Jeanie Tomanek; Erasures by Catherine Chauloux; illustration for La Esfera (1927) by Manuel Bujados

A Great Start to a New Year

6a00e54fcf7385883401a3fc18bb0e970b-800wiWinter is my favorite season of the year. There is something about dark days and long nights that nourishes my soul. The cold and quiet that comes with deep winter allows me the time to contemplate the direction of my creative work.

In An Unspoken Hunger, Terry Tempest Williams writes about these connections between place and creative healing. “Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories. By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society’s oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam.”

6a00e54fcf73858834019b047d4108970d-800wi“We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery,” Williams continues. “Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent….As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems.”

indexThe duality represented by bears presents a balanced cycle that mirrors my own journey through each year. Summer and autumn months offer prime opportunities to explore my surroundings. I collect material, capture color, and walk through the world gathering material for my own personal hibernation. When winter comes, I travel inwards through collected dreams and senses. This is my chosen time for creative work.

6a00e54fcf7385883401a51093139b970c-320wi“If we choose to follow the bear,” Williams writes, “we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretaker of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create.”

6a00e54fcf7385883401a510c7aab2970c-800wiThere is a rich history of mythic traditions relating women to bears. According to J. C. Cooper in An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, bears represent resurrection. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés links their transformative and regenerative power to many goddesses around the world.

6a00e54fcf73858834019b046fee95970d-320wi“The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, ‘digging out’ the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The crescent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.”

6a00e54fcf7385883401a510962d6f970c-800wi“In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one’s life, especially one’s feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one’s energy for the next cycle,” she continues. “The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one’s emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one’s territory, make one’s boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same.”

It’s going to be a wonderful year, indeed.

6a00e54fcf7385883401b7c7354494970b-800wiImages: “Playing With the North Wind” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), photography by Katerina Plotnikova, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” by Kay Nielsen (1886-1957),  “Hibernation” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The Snow Princess” by Ruth Sanderson, “Bear Woman” by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), “The White Bear King” by Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), and “Pink Moon” by Jackie Morris.