I love Quirk Books. I really do. They publish some of the most unique books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Though not everything has been my favorite, I so appreciate how different they are as a publisher. They take risks, and they’re doing what no other publisher is doing. So when they asked me to be part of a blog tour, of course I was going to say yes. I’ll do whatever I can to make them visible and to get their books out there where our blog readers can see them!
We have Grady Hendrix on the blog today, author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism. He wrote the 2014 hit, Horrorstor. And if you came here from Once Upon A Twilight, yesterday’s stop on the blog tour, welcome home!
Grady has written a guest post for us on forgotten female horror writers! I need to pick up some of these books!
Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?
Forgotten Female Horror Writers
By Grady Hendrix
Forget Stephen King and Clive Barker. The biggest voices in horror have always been women. The very first horror novel was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and shortly thereafter, Ann Radcliffe started writing bestselling Gothics about young girls in crumbling estates haunted by wailing spectres that roamed the halls and were, ultimately, unmasked, Scooby Doo style, and revealed to be garden variety pirates. Jane Austen got a lot of mileage parodying Radcliffe’s bestsellers in Northanger Abbey and, as silly as the gothic can get, Joyce Carol Oates, V.C. Andrews, and Daphne du Maurier have kept the form respectable well into the 20th and 21st centuries.
Some jaded people might say, “Oh, sure, women have always written Gothics, but what about real horror?” One of the 20th century’s great American writers was Shirley Jackson, and her The Haunting of Hill House is pretty much the gold standard for haunted house novels. Anne Rivers Siddons, best known for her realist novels, delivered one haunted house book back in 1978 called The House Next Door that is the meanest, nastiest, most enjoyable ghost story I’ve ever read. And Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a horror novel through and through, complete with ghosts, possessions, and haunted houses.
Charles Dickens wrote a few ghost stories but female writers of his day turned out ghost stories by the truckload. Charlotte Riddell’s The Uninhabited House isn’t very scary, but it’s one of those Victorian novels that’s obsessed with money, class, social standing, wills, and deeds, which is no surprise since Riddell was married to a man who lost every scrap of the considerable fortune she built from her books on dumb investments. On a cozier note, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s “At Crighton Abbey” is practically a Currier and Ives print of Victorian Christmas cheer, a ghost story that makes you feel like you’re sitting in front of a crackling fire with snow tapping on the windows.
But none of these writers tops Vernon Lee, aka Violet Paget, a woman who spent 40% of her life dressing as a man and writing books on aesthetics, Italian art history, and the psychology of music, 40% of her time writing horror stories and novellas, and 20% of her time trolling Henry James because he irritated her. Her novella, “The Phantom Lover,” is as accomplished as James’s “The Turn of the Screw” with its story of a crumbling marriage, haunted landscapes, and a past that reaches up through time to consume the present. Her short story, “A Wicked Voice” is dripping with decadence and decay as a man becomes obsessed, then haunted, then driven mad, by the disembodied voice of a long-dead castrato.
Even the paperback horror boom of the Eighties had its share of female writers like Kathe Koja and Ruby Jean Jensen. But one of the best among them is Barbara Engstrom. Two of her novellas are packaged together as When Darkness Loves Us and they are two of the most disturbing books ever written. The title novella is about a woman who winds up pregnant and trapped underground after her wedding. What happens next unfolds over decades and it’s one of the only horror novels that ever left me feeling well and truly horrified. Then there’s “Beauty Is” the second novella in her collection, a female riff on Flowers for Algernon with a lot more sex and just as much heartbreak.
There’s no reason these women have been written out of the history of horror, except for the fact that they’re women. And that might be the most horrifying thing of all.
Grady Hendrix’s previous novel, Horrorstör, was hailed by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. He lives in New York City.
The next stop on the tour will be tomorrow at A Dream Within A Dream. Be sure to continue the journey there, but be sure to come back here for more great discussions, reviews and giveaways!