Tag Archives: kaaron warren

Here’s to Women

I’ve been noticeably absent from my blog – not through choice but rather time constraints – I thought it fitting to return to it today. Just past Women in Horror Month, and it being International Women’s Day, what better time?

I am a woman working in horror, I am a woman writing horror, I am a woman raising a young woman… I am woman.  There are some, though, who don’t approve of that fantastic mix of women and horror (I’m not linking to any of that shite), and refuse to read any horror stories penned by women.  Hell, there are those who won’t read anything written by a woman, and while this might surprise some, it doesn’t surprise me – not in this world we find ourselves in.

Elitism exists in the publishing world, and has long-since been an issue for women who love the horror genre – those who write, read, act, direct, edit, et al ­– have faced criticism, ridicule, anger, disdain for daring to venture into horror. We’ve been mocked, derided, ignored, threatened, doxed, we’ve been made to feel unwelcome, our passion for the genre belittled because we don’t swing that Y chromosome. Get out of our man-cave!

Fury Road

I’m here to tell you that Y chromosome means squat when it comes to writing horror; the X chromosome means squat, too. You see, writing horror isn’t about chromosomes, it isn’t about being a man or a woman or neither of the aforementioned. It’s about writing a good story, a great story. It’s about making good art.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe horror/dark fiction is the bastion of men, and that’s why Women in Horror Month was born; to break down those walls, those prejudices, the ignorance. Women can’t write horror because they don’t know it? We don’t understand fear? Terror? Subjugation? Do my ovaries automatically signal my inability to dissect, disembowel, decapitate, dismember a character? Can I not create a world only to destroy it with impunity? Look away, uterus, there’s gonna be blood…

I’m not the only one who sees the ridiculousness of this. I’m not the only one who sees the disparity of the perceived belief of a woman’s “place” within the horror genre; within any publishing medium. If you think women are fairly represented, then take a look at this video and tell me this is right.

There are women writing amazing horror, women are editing, acting in and directing kick-arse horror movies and programs. Don’t limit your reading and viewing; horror and dark fiction is the greatest genre you can indulge in – a wide variety of voices and styles only enriches us all. Find storytelling from women, people of colour, from diverse backgrounds, from those who identify as LGBTI, from those with disabilities, from all walks of life, culture, religion and the non-religious. Open your scope and take in the wonder of diversity.

So as I sit here writing and drinking coffee from my Wonder Woman mug, here’s a small list of women writers and editors you should be reading:

Lee Murray, Silvia Moreno-GarciaKaaron Warren, Rivqa RafaelChristine Morgan, Nalo HopkinsonKirsten Cross, Sophie Yorkston, Angela Slatter, Octavia E Butler, Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks,  Rose Blackthorn, Zena Shapter, Paula R Stiles, Maria Lewis.

The above list only scratches the surface of women writers making their mark, and I encourage you to source more – diversity of voice will open worlds that ignite your imagination and take you to places of wonder.

And really, we’re all welcome in this place of storytelling.

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Horror and Writers and Interviews, oh my!

This February marks the 6th annual ‘Women in Horror Month’. Started by Hannah Neurotica, WiHM aims to: [assist] female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. The vision is a world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.

I have mixed feelings about WiHM, but I understand the need for its existence (this will be the subject of a post later in the month). I will always support authors – especially in my genre – and particularly female horror writers. Hell, I am one. Pay it forward and pay it back; karma will always be good to you.

I’ve received a lot of support from horror writers and readers, and I’ll be forever thankful for it. One of those who helped me enormously at the beginning of my writing career was the extraordinarily talented and supremely wonderful Kaaron Warren – one of the best horror writers about, no doubt.

I was lucky enough to be mentored by Kaaron, and what she taught me I will never be able to repay – her knowledge of storytelling and the industry was priceless. She was always there to look over my work (no matter how nervous I was) and answer any questions I had (no matter how ridiculous they may have been). I hope to one day help others as she did me.

WiHM 2015

Support comes in all forms, and I was the beneficiary of said support from the very talented Greg Chapman when he asked to interview me for WiHM. His questions were insightful and ones that deserved to be delved into. Not only that, I was interviewed along with Kaaron, which was like the icing on the cake for me.

The interview is here, and you’ll see that I’m far more ‘chatty’ than Kaaron – she really does know how to get to the heart of things succinctly! Our interview is part two of a series Greg’s doing. You’ll find part one here, where he interviews Marge Simon and Stephanie M. Wytovich – two very talented author/poets from the United States.

Greg asks us all which female horror authors we believe should be read, and if for nothing else, take a look at the lists the four of us offer – they’re wide-reaching and wide-reading.

So if you’ve never read horror written by a woman, or would like to read more horror written by women, check out Greg’s interviews.

Right then, time for me to get back to destroying a world of my own making. Horror writing really does rock!

 blood spatter

The Creative Proce$$

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain

Aah, words. How I love thee! They hold a power, a magic all their own. And Mr Twain speaks the truth – for a writer, there’s nothing like finding that right word, the right turn of phrase that will paint a world, a character, a scene with such vivid detail. It’s what has us rewriting and reworking until we hit that perfection.

Words are the life-blood of a writer. We love weaving them together to create wonder and enchantment. We want to take you places, leave you there for a while if we must, and have you take a little piece of it away with you.

We invest in our work, invest in ourselves to create that work. Time and learning our craft is the biggest investment a writer makes, but there are also times where dollars are invested. I’ve done it, and it was money well spent. Five years ago I joined the Australian Horror Writers Association crit group – the crit group was free, but a yearly membership of $20 was paid and worth every cent. Not only did I find a bunch of writers who helped me see where I was going wrong, and who supported and bolstered me and my writing, but more than that, they were (and are) some of the best people I know.

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When the opportunity arose for a mentorship, I jackpotted again and was mentored by the extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily lovely Kaaron Warren (read her work, it’ll take you to some very spooky places). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable, and the $165 I paid for the mentorship was a pittance compared to the experience and knowledge she passed along to me.

My writing improved a thousand-fold after working with Kaaron. Even my first drafts were not quite the crap they were previously (and we all know first drafts are crap), but the skeleton was stronger on which to build. It still meant rewriting and reworking that first draft, of course. It’s the investment of time. Time.

So when I came across a “book” professing a foolproof way to write your own book in less than a week, I was more than a little sceptical. More promises followed: six figure income in twelve months; will turn you into an expert in your field. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. And let’s not forget the “seminars” and “master-classes” (for more money, of course). Oh, and before you ask, qualifications? Pfft! Who needs those!

Now I have a healthy dose of cynicism, and could see right through this rot (note: I will not provide links to this so-called book, as… well, it’s a load of bollocks), but it’s not aimed at someone like me, someone who can call bullshit on their claims. It’s aimed at the most vulnerable of our writing community: the newbie. (Or as the book proclaims: “for the budding writer”)

bullshit

We were all newbies once; caught up in the romanticism of writing, of creating, of being published. And we still are. Those of us who have been writing for a while now understand the amount of work, the struggle, the yearning and the passion to create. There are no shortcuts. You can’t wave a magic wand over a first draft to turn it into literary gold. It takes rewrites and redrafts, rereads and reworking.

It takes time. Time to make those words that will resonate with a reader; time to learn your craft; time to make your story the best it can be. Can it be done alone? I haven’t come across any story (be it flash, short, novella, novel) that’s stuck with me that hasn’t been passed past another’s eyes, a professional, before publication. When I see someone professing to hold the golden goose out to new writers, I get mad. Duping up-and-coming writers to make a quick buck is unconscionable. These parasites make a mockery of my profession, of my passion, and do so with little regard to those they target. There’s a special kind of hell waiting for those who cash in on the dreams of a new writer, I’m sure of it.

When challenged on the veracity of the content and title of that scam-book, the “author” bid a hasty retreat. Another took up their cause, which ended in an interesting discussion on the creative process, and this person’s flat-out refusal to ever engage beta readers or a professional editor or proofreader – their work didn’t require it.

facepalm

As a professional (qualified) editor, I know this is not the case. All work, regardless of the author, needs another set of eyes passed over it (more than one set if you can manage it). It doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it doesn’t need to cost anything but time: reciprocity is a great foundation for beta readers, and also builds relationships with other writers (who are really quite astute readers).

Can a book be written in under a week? 10,000 words a day for six days gets you 60,000 words – the basis of a novel. Would you send it out in the world? Please don’t. Please, please don’t. You owe your potential reader more than that, you owe yourself more than that.

Can you make a six-figure income within twelve months on said book? Realistically? No. And promising a budding writer such is not only fraudulent, but downright despicable.

The creative process does cost, but most of those “costs”—time, sweat, and yes, sometimes tears—a writer is willing to invest. But those costs shouldn’t line the pockets of scammers trying to bilk money from those who are just starting out.

There are organisations—reputable writing centres, writing associations, writing groups etc—that are found easily enough on the ‘net. Invest the time to search for a group or association that fits your needs. There are a lot of genre associations who would be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t be taken in by “books” that promise the world. Remember, if something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

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.