The Writing Process Blog Chain

My buddy, Andrew J McKiernan, tagged me into this Writing Process blog chain, and I don’t know whether to smack him or buy him a beer at our next writerly get-together. You can read all about Andrew’s writing process here, and as he was brought into this by Alan Baxter, you can read all about Alan’s process, too (guilt by association, Al!). It’s been a real eye-opener reading about the varied way authors approach their craft.

The idea behind this blog chain is for writers to answer four questions that discuss their work and their process (minus the tears and rocking in a corner, I’m guessing), then tag three other authors into laying themselves bare. I’ve enjoyed reading about the writing processes of other storytellers – each as diverse as the writers and the words and worlds they create.

Now it’s my turn to be uncomfortable…

1. What am I working on?

I’m currently working on the draft of my first novel – a horror story in a fantasy world. I know the term most used is ‘dark fantasy’, but I look at it as a horror story set in a fantastical world. I hate labels, by the way. The novel is based in the world of a short story I wrote for ASIM #48 in 2010 – The Whims of my Enemy. It’s a desperate, genocidal world, where the lines between right and wrong, of good and evil, are blurred.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That’s always a tough question to answer. The best I can give is ‘voice’. Every writer has their own; their own way of building their worlds, their characters, and how each interacts with others and the world they’ve created – we all bleed differently onto the page. If I look back at the short stories I’ve written, the unifying idea behind them would be horror versus hope, be it an internal battle or all-out bloody war. I’d say my writing examines how different people react and cope with truly horrendous situations, and how it breaks some and makes others. Do I compare or liken myself to other writers? No, that does no one any favours, least of all me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Aah, I’m asked that a lot. Actually, it’s more: “My god, why?” And that’s more with me being a woman who writes horror (and a mum to boot!). I’ve dealt with this in a post here, but one of the simple answers is: it’s what flowed. No doubt my writing was influenced by my reading habits, which have always been on the darker side of fiction. There was very little chance I was going to be a romance writer (sorry, Dad!). Why do I write it? I love it. I love putting characters into ghastly situations to see what they’re made of… or what they’re not. And I hope it makes for an uncomfortably thought-provoking read.

4. How does my writing process work?

It differs. For short stories, I’m a ‘pantser’ – I sit down with an idea and just write. Sometimes I have an idea of where the story will go, sometimes not. I’ve even worked a short from end to beginning.

As for my novel, this has been the steepest learning curve, and to be completely honest, the scope of it has been more than a little frightening. I’m actually on what technically would be my second draft, as I chucked the first one – it took me 52,000 words to realise it wasn’t working, and that was due to me constraining the novel to the boundaries of the short story (not smart, I know, but hey, you learn from your mistakes). Still, those 52,000 words gave me a greater understanding of the world and my characters, so not all bad. While I had very detailed character lists and a basic story outline, I tried to ‘pants’ my way through this, and that didn’t work either. So while I now have a very vague chapter outline, I still like to let my characters lead the way – they know the story they want to tell. Sometimes they let me in on it, other times, not. I’ve been pleasantly (and unpleasantly) surprised on more than one occasion by the decisions and choices they’ve made.

This first draft also has a deadline thanks to the awesome Black Friday Wager group, which was set up as a way to help a bunch of us achieve our goals. So the first draft of my novel needs to be completed by Friday, June 13, 2014 or I owe Marty Young a bottle of scotch. Unfortunately for Marty, he’ll be the one ponying up a couple of volumes of Gaiman’s Sandman, as I will get this first (second) draft done!

So that’s me then. Now it’s time to tag three other amazing writers into this blog chain. If you haven’t read their work (or those of Andrew McKiernan and Alan Baxter), go out and find it – you’ll wish you’d done so earlier!

Over to you:

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Greg Chapman

(Note: Devin, Marty and Greg will post their responses to the question next Monday, March 10th)

Inkwell on an old letter

Planet Word

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

With today being the last day of Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d sneak in one last post on gender. Today’s topic? Words. Gender-specific words. (It’s true, they exist.)

As an editor of both fiction and non-fiction, I spend a lot of time immersed in the words (and worlds) of others. For fiction, gender-specific words work – your characters are female or male (as yet, I’ve not worked with an author on a story containing a transgender character), so there are very few instances where gender-specificity becomes an issue. With non-fiction and copywriting, I’ve often found it to be a minefield of exclusivity.

What started out as a discussion with an editor friend of mine, Geoff Brown, about gender-specific pronouns grew into a Facebook experiment (here and here), where I posed a question and asked for replies on whether there was an error. The question was simple enough:

If a doctor doesn’t bulk bill, should he be required to work longer hours?

Out of fifteen responses (and a lot of fun had along the way), only five picked the gender-specific pronoun. Why should the doctor be a he? Why indeed. Another pointed out that when the word ‘nurse’ is used, most think ‘she’. While historically these professions have been gender-defined (with some wonderful exceptions here and here), they are no longer, but so ingrained is our concept of gender-identification that we allocate (mostly subconsciously) language that suits individual ideology.

What’s wrong with that? Well… plenty. Let me set the scene: I have two children (a girl and a boy – both amazing kids); now, using the example above, if my kids are to only ever hear me refer to doctors as ‘he/him’ and nurses as ‘she/her’, am I not reinforcing (however subliminally) gender-discrimination?

words have power

Even writing this, I wonder if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill (and I’m sure some might believe I am), but language is powerful, and studies show that from the womb, we’re attuned to it. From birth, we’re encouraged to speak (nothing beats the first time my kids said ‘Mumumum’); children pick up nuances of language – they mimic, they learn, they apply.

As a writer, I love language. I love words and what they can do. I love using them to create people, worlds, cultures, beliefs; to create monsters, gods, conflict, harmony – the possibilities are endless. As an editor, I have a responsibility to ensure language is inclusive (linguistic inclusivity). As a writer, I do as well – why would I limit my audience?

But surely a simple pronoun wouldn’t do that. I ask you this: as a woman, if you were to read a piece of copy or non-fiction where the only pronouns used were ‘he/him’, would you feel it was written for you? As a man, if you were to read an article or non-fiction piece where the only pronouns used were ‘she/her’, would it resonate with you? Would you notice? Does it matter?

Call me crazy, but to me it does. Words matter. Context matters. Inclusivity matters – be it gender, ethnicity, age, ability or disability – it matters. Words; wield them well, my friends.

words

Women in Horror (part two) — F**k the Naysayers and Make Good Art

So here we are, Women in Horror Recognition Month, 2014… and what a sad state of affairs it’s been. Over the last few weeks I’ve read a plethora of posts and blogs and forums both for and a reasoned post against WiHM; some made me applaud while others made me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.

In part one of my WiHM post, I mentioned my support of the month (and for those women who write/read/film/act in this amazing genre), and my despair for its need. Yep, I said ‘need’, and that makes me sad. To my knowledge, I’ve not been the subject of gender-bias within the industry, but I’d be a fool to say it doesn’t happen. All one has to do is read a couple of comment threads to know that it is real and it’s out there, clubbing its Neanderthal way through the genre I love.

Some of the vitriol I’ve read is mind-blowing. I get mad. I get frustrated. And at times I’ve wanted to reach through my screen and throttle the ignorance right out of someone (now there’s a horror story in the making!). There have, however, been cheap shots thrown from both sides; reasoned debate fast falls away to slanging matches that put pre-schoolers to shame. A lot of these comments are made by authors, by those who understand the power of words, yet a ‘fuck you’ seems to be a go-to response.

Stay-Classy-Internet

I’m no stranger to swearing, and anyone who’s read my stories knows I can curse it up with the best of them, but when it comes to something as important as equality in the industry—‘cause really, folks, that’s what it boils down to—devolving into playground bullying doesn’t do anyone any favours, especially when some posts have gone viral, and damage the genre and those who like to play in it.

When I first decided to write a post on WiHM, I fully intended to go in all guns blazing – I’m a woman who writes horror, why shouldn’t I be taken seriously? I don’t write stories with my boobs, and my uterus doesn’t scream ‘don’t do it!’ every time I torture and/or kill a character. I’m just as sure that men who write horror don’t do so with their penis, and their balls don’t swell with ‘manly pride’ every time they torture and/or kill a character. So why the distinction between female horror writers and their male counterparts? It can’t be anatomical, surely.

Women can write the brutal stuff just as well as men (one story I wrote for ASIM offended a reader so much with its violence he cancelled his subscription – a proud moment for me, no doubt; something I’d written deeply touched another), we can write psychological horror, subtle horror, slasher and any other label you’d like to attach. So why is there a resistance to women putting horror to paper? Makes no sense to me.

I don’t care what gender the author of the book I’m reading is; for me, it’s all about the story. But here, we might be getting into tricky territory. With a perceived belief that women can’t or don’t write horror (or write it well), some authors choose to write under a male pseudonym and others choose to use their initials so it’s not readily apparent that they’re women. A sad indictment. I chose to write under my decidedly female name (this was a personal choice, and is no way a judgement on those who have selected not to). Could I have gone with my initials? Sure. But what does that tell my daughter? Hide who you are so you can be accepted in your chosen field? Being a woman can hold you back? Hell no. I’m not teaching her that, even subliminally. And I’m not teaching my son that either.

hell no

But instead of the ‘all guns blazing’ approach, what I’d like to talk about is art. The art of creating a world, characters, creatures, cultures from nothing but imagination. Forget about gender, forget about the politics, the naysayers; fuck those who say you couldn’t, you shouldn’t, and MAKE GOOD ART.

That’s what it comes down to. That’s all it comes down to. Immerse yourself in your worlds, sidle up to your characters and learn their secrets (share them if you must), give them loves, hates, give them lives – beautiful and horrible. MAKE GOOD ART. Everything else is secondary. The accolades, the recognition, the story acceptances and rejections, reviews (peer and otherwise), none of it matters when you’re knee-deep in your story, giving life to your imagination, creating something essentially out of nothing.

When you’re making your word-babies are you thinking about the Stokers, Aurealis, or Shadows awards? Are you tailoring your creations to market trends? Are you wondering whether readers will care what does or doesn’t swing between your legs? No? Then back to it, my friend, you’re doing it right – MAKE GOOD ART.  If you are, then this may be the wrong gig for you. You’re missing out on the pure, unadulterated freedom of creating. Shed those self-imposed shackles and run naked through your imagination (I lost a shoe there once, so it’s best to go in unfettered), and see what happens. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Is it not the act of creating that draws you back time and again?

Lost my shoe

Let the anxiety, the fear, the ‘what ifs’ go. Hard though it may be (and that bout of writerimposteritis can be a bitch to shake), believe in your story and believe in yourself, it’s the least you can do. So you didn’t win an award this year, didn’t make a shortlist, didn’t get the recognition you thought would come… did you make good art? Yes? Then I take my hat off to you – you’re a writer, the best and sometimes worst gig in the world. But I can’t fathom doing anything else.

So, Women in Horror Recognition Month, I thank you for bringing attention to what can be a downright disgusting part of the industry; I thank you for giving voice to those who suffer under draconian beliefs of a woman’s ability to write in my favourite genre; I thank you for opening the eyes of readers who may not have picked up a horror tome penned by a woman. And to those who think women don’t or can’t write horror? I thank you, too. You’ve bolstered the drive and determination of those us who write this genre to prove you wrong. Bravo!

If there’s one thing I want you, dear reader, to take from this (no matter the genre you write) is: FUCK THE NAYSAYERS AND MAKE GOOD ART. Go on, I dare you…

WIHM 2014

Women In Horror – Wielding The Axe Against Stereotype (Part One)

Yes, this will be a two-parter… just bear with me. Last year I penned a post on women in horror, which detailed my experiences as a female horror writer. As Screaming Ink has now slipped into the ether (may she wreak havoc wherever she goes!), I thought I’d revive the post here. In the next few days part two will go up. So without further ado, part one…

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” Mary Shelley.

February heralds the third annual Women In Horror Month. Established by Hannah “Neurotica” Forman in 2009, her manifesto is part call-to-arms, part raising awareness and support for those of us with the ‘XX’ chromosome who read, write, act, film, and love the horror genre.

I’m an avid supporter of recognising women in horror – hell, I am one; what I find sad and a little irritating is the need to raise awareness of the contribution women make to the genre. That we should have to push to be heard/read/taken seriously et al, because of our choice of genre is a bloody sad indictment on the industry(ies) and society.

I didn’t make the conscious decision to write horror; when I began putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), horror was what flowed, and I was damn happy about that. But I admit, I did think long and hard on my publishing name, and had a long back-and-forth with my buddy and fellow horror writer, Mark Farrugia, on the issue. AJ Spedding is genderless, and even at the beginning of my fiction writing, I understood the perceived societal belief that horror is the ‘man-cave’ of the genres. Would my horror stories be more readily accepted as AJ instead of Amanda?

Surely, we’re well past the point where ‘women in horror’ are relegated to scream queen status—don’t get me wrong, I love a good(bad) 70s B-grade horror flick—but am I deluded in my thinking that being a writer of merit is enough? Is my horror-writing success dependent on whether I have boobs? As far as I’m aware, they’re not sneaking off to write my next story while I sleep (kind of like ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ only much classier).

I went with the name my parents gave me because of the little lady in my life. What message would I be sending my daughter by using my initials so I’m not immediately recognised as female. I want her to grow into a proud, strong woman who doesn’t put up with misogynistic bullshit. That starts with me.

zombie crop

So here I am, Amanda J Spedding, female horror writer, who has too often been on the receiving end of ‘The Look’ (you know the one, part disbelief, part confusion and yep, a little touch of horror) when I tell people the genre I write. The Look is usually followed by: “Really? No.”

Just last week I got ‘The Look’ again from the parent of one of my daughter’s classmates when she overheard me talking to a friend about an upcoming publication. “You’re a writer? How exciting!” she enthused. “Do you write children’s books or romance?”

Really? Those are my only options? Would she have offered the same genre-choices had I been swinging the Y chromosome? I doubt it. “No,” I told her with Zen-like calm. “I write horror.” Aaaand, there it was – The Look. I’d hit the double-whammy, you see. Not only was I a woman writing horror, I was a mother, too.

It’s the follow-up questions I most enjoy: “Good heavens, why?”

Now, The Look and I have been sparring partners for a good few years, so depending on how high the eyebrows rise and how far the jaw drops, I spout one of two replies: a) “It’s so much easier to explain away the sacrificial goats/virgins/widdle kittens; or b) “So I don’t become a news report that ends with ‘and then turned the gun on herself’.”

I went with my goat-response (my two cats know where I sleep). Before the woman could grab her child and flee, I asked why she thought I wrote children’s books or romance, and not any other genre. When she gave her response, I saw the realisation of her misogynistic remark settle in her eyes. “Because … you’re a woman.” There it is. She was embarrassed, which wasn’t what I wanted – education and awareness is key here if women are going to be taken seriously as horror writers.

This parent is a well-educated professional (and perfectly nice), but like most of society, has the ill-conceived belief that women don’t write horror; or that if we do, we’re not all that good at it, I mean, we grow and sustain new life and are classified as nurturers (Aileen Wuornos, anyone?), we couldn’t possibly know or understand true horror (again, Aileen Wuornos, anyone?). Society seems hard-wired into the ‘men write horror’ credo.

At a recent birthday party, I was sitting with my husband and a few fellow horror writers when one of the guests assumed my husband was the one who wrote. “Nope,” my husband told him. “That’d be her,” he grinned as he pointed to me. I don’t get offended (unless the response is offensive), nor do I go on a rant to explain the prodigious amount of female horror writers in the industry. I’m a writer. Horror is my genre. It’s really quite simple.

Enter stereotype number two: “You don’t look like a horror writer.” Now I’m not sure what a horror writer is supposed to look like (I didn’t get the memo). But we come in all shapes and forms: short, tall, blond, brunette, bald; a diversity of ethnicity and beliefs, and, surprisingly … drum roll please… female and male. Shocking, I know. We’re just like everyone else, it’s more we tend to exorcise our ‘demons’ onto the page. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Stereotypes suck, and more often than not, they’re way off-base. No one woman is a stereotype, just as no one man is. We’re all individuals, and we each come with our own qualities and our own crap. I’m sure male authors who write romance are subject to the same genre-prejudice, but I don’t write romance, I write horror and I love it. I love putting my characters in terrible situations, pushing them to (and often past) their limits, and giving them shitty decisions to make. I want to invoke the ‘what would I do?’ response in the reader; I want their heart to hammer, their gut and their sphincter to tighten, and I want them to be compelled to turn the next page all the while dreading it. That’s my rush.

(From comic ‘The Road’; script: Amanda J Spedding; artwork: Montgomery Borror; lettering: Nikki Foxrobot)

I’ve read a lot of posts lately about the under-representation of women horror writers (here’s another); how horror anthologies are skewed toward male authors over female. Peter Tennant from Black Static has broken down some of the anthologies he’s read here. It makes for some interesting reading. There are, however, always exceptions to the rule: one of the first horror anthologies I was in: Festive Fear (Tasmaniac Publications), had 7 female authors out of the total of 14 – a 50/50 split seems pretty rare, though.

There are some fantastic female horror writers about, especially in Australia, and I was lucky enough to be mentored by the truly gifted and extraordinarily nice, Kaaron Warren (she’s a mum, too). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable – and that she’s smashed through that ‘man-cave’ wall and is setting up house, continuing to pave the way with the likes of Gemma Files, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough, only brings more recognition and awareness to the ability of women in horror.

As member of the Australian Horror Writers Association (and former committee member), I love this genre – it’s where I like to lay my machete, and we encourage and support anyone, regardless of gender to join our community. And a great community it is. There’s no gender bias – we’re writers, plain and simple.

Changing the preconceived ideas of women in horror is going to be a long, hard slog, but the skill and talent I’ve seen out there will break down those walls. Women have been fighting for equality for … well forever, really, and when it comes to writing, it’s been an uphill battle.

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, many believed it was her husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron who had more than a hand in it – Germaine Greer tackles one such moron here (although I don’t agree with her assertion Frankenstein is crap). Then there’s the HG Wells vs Florence Deeks plagiarism debate on The Outline of History, and the alleged assertion Macmillan & Company passed Ms Deeks’ manuscript on as they wanted a male author. (Note: all Ms Deeks’ litigations were summarily dismissed, but there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence to support her claim). Scroll to the bottom and read here; and the author of this post – Jonathan Bailey – states Deeks lost her court cases based on her gender.

So to finish this … essay off, where does that leave us? With an amazing amount of female horror writing talent, and a growing awareness of the strong and wickedly loud voice of women horror writers. Publishers, editors, readers, film directors, producers et al, will see an ever-increasing number of women’s names attached to the horror stories they’re reading, and they’d better sit up and take notice.

I’ve only been writing horror for three years, and I’m proud to say that to date, I’ve never experienced gender-bias in the industry (that I’m aware of). I’m also proud to shout from the rooftops that some of my strongest supporters are men: my amazing husband Eddie who supports me (and my genre) wholeheartedly, my Dad (who’s too frightened to read my stuff but demands a copy of every publication), my brothers (who are both proud as) and the three men with whom I share this blog (big up Marty, Mark and Dave!).

Fighting against the gender bias in publishing, and the misogynistic generalisations of horror being a man’s world is an ongoing battle, but one that is seeing a lot of play in the media. Here’s hoping it’ll give those who need it, the kick up the bum they deserve. As for me, I’ll continue to write the best horror that I can, safe in the knowledge that I have the unending support of my friends and spec-fic community – no matter the chromosomes they carry.

Virgin Post

Let’s be clear: this is the first post out of the gates of my new blog, not a post from a virgin (my kids are beautiful, but no one’s going to believe an immaculate conception story…).

So here we go…

While I’m not new to blogging, this baby is all mine, and will continue to grow and develop as I do. I was part of the awesome ‘consortium of the imaginarium’ that was Screaming Ink – a joint blog with the very talented Elizabeth Bathory, Marty Young, David Schembri and Mark Farrugia. But we’ve all put our big-girl (and boy) pants on and struck out on our own. I packed a lunch and thermos of coffee for my adventure (and an obligatory sword, but that’s for another post…).

While this blog will be filled with my ramblings about all manner of things (and I should probably put in a disclaimer, but hey, why not live on the edge?),  be warned that writing, publishing, reading, and editing will no doubt take up a fair amount of space.

With February being ‘Women in Horror’ month, expect a post on that in the near future, what with me being a woman who writes horror. And with all the chatter on social media about women ‘ruining sci-fi’ and all that other crap, it’s extremely unlikely I won’t wade in guns blazing (or swords swinging).

Well, that’s me then — cherry broken!

As you were…

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