Where have all the dark goddesses gone? Where are the daughters of Hekate and Lilith? Please, some one, anyone, tell me: why can't the Horror genre produce one woman writer that can ascend to reigning queen of Horror? I glance through my local bookstores, and you can almost smell the testosterone wafting with the smell of dusty paper. You can give me your excuses: the fan base is male; violence is a masculine trait; the horror genre can't support that many authors anyways. Whatever. I cannot be convinced that I am some aberration, the lone twisted chickadee that adores the genre as well as any penis could. Not buying it. After all, if horror fiends were solely male, how would our kind reproduce? So you can't tell me somewhere out there, in a land far far away perhaps, there can never be a Great Dark Poetess that can manifest like Stephen King or Clive Barker.
For those of you who might quibble--what about Anne Rice? Many apologies, but no. Anne Rice is not Horror. I'm a fan of her work myself, but the lady is Gothic. The romance, the lush descriptions, the exploration of moral horrors more than physical horrors: it all screams Gothic. I won't debate here the differences between Horror and Gothic, or which Anne Rice lies in, but suffice it for this argument she cannot be in contention for the title of Great Dark Poetess.
I thought perhaps it would be Poppy Z. Brite, the sick salvation to female horror fans everywhere--finally, a woman as talented in Horror as any man. I absolutely quivered through the whole of her novel, Exquisite Corpe. Just as I became convinced that she had proven once and for all that a woman could become a great Horror writer--all my lil dreams come true, decayed sugar plums dancing 'round my head--Poppy Z. Brite put down her dark pen and turned to...
Wait for it...
I'm not one to judge, but it's a dissappointment to say the least. I don't begrudge her the choice: she's an artist and such things can't be forced, but goddamn, someone raped my parade. There she was, at least one woman writer proving that we, the testosterone deficient, could be beautifully perverse too, now just another chick writing cuddly-wuddly light literature. Is there some deeper issue at hand here when no woman can maintain the talent and fidelity to Horror that so many men have?
What about Tanith Lee, you say? Or Nancy Collins? Nancy Collins hasn't the artistry to be deemed 'great', and Tanith Lee writes horror as an after-thought--her true love is obviously fantasy and whatever flirtation she has with horror only springs from her fantasy background. And dammit, none of them even attempt gore! Horror without gore is like sex without orgasm--it can be nice, but after awhile, it just isn't worth it.
The list could go on and on. There are many almost good female horror writers, and even great Horror novels by women who flirted with the genre, but there is just no one female name that can be compared to Stephen King, Clive Barker, Richard Layman, and the like. It's very frustrating, for me at least. Am I wrong? Is she out there, my Great Dark Poetess? If so, please tell me, so I can immediately start stalking her--already I'm obsessed and yet I do not even know her name.
In my search for my Gore Goddess I have come across those who deserve recognition, minor deities of the genre if you will.
Laurel K. Hamilton. I went back and forth whether I could coronate her as the Dark Poetess. She's one of those authors that is so entertaining that you have to take a step back and actually think about how good her writing is as well as entertaining. It's so tempting to zoom through her books with out actually seeing her skill, she's such an easy read. When I first discovered her, I was so excited to find a new good author that I averaged a book of hers a week! I've since taken to pacing myself. Her descriptions, and the way she develops her characters make it clear that you, as a reader, are seeing exactly what she wants you to see. Sure, her romantic entanglements hint at those super-market bodice-rippers, but her characters feel real. Let's face it, as a genre, Horror is not exactly realistic--what pulls the reader into the total nonsense concepts is the realism of the characters. The reader believes the characters, if the characters believe the circumstances (UFOs,werewolves, whatever). This applies to semi-melodramatic romantic entanglements as well as UFOs descending fromabove. And goddamn, she gives good plot. Every time I read her I'm amazed at how many elements, characters, and subplots she juggles and how she makes them all come together so nice and neat for one orgasmic climax. Anyone who has attempted to write a novel must appreciate that. And she does the one thing that wins my heart: gore. She does gore, and does it well. It's such a refreshing breath of putrecent air to read something written by a woman that doesn't cringe away from the gore. No silly itty bitty splash of blood, but full on rot and guts and bone and all the things that make my Christmas list.
Ok, so I'm waxing on and on about Ms. Hamilton, yet I said originally I can't coronate her the Gore Goddess. That hasn't changed, no matter how much I gush. Part of it is that she seems dependent on doing serial novels. I would like to see what she could do with the genre when there had to be a definitive beginning and a definitive end, all loose plot elements tying together conclusively. She has a novel that is a non-serial--Nightseer, her debut novel--but it's Fantasy, so I just can't factor it in. The other reason I can't dub her the Macabre Madam is, sadly, one of the reasons I also love her. She is too damn entertaining. The goals of her novels seem to be purely entertainment. Not to say there are no deep moments, there are, since her characters are so well developed there is great emotional explorations, and Anita Blake (the heroine) has all sorts of moral dilemmas that reflect on human nature. But at its heart they are action novels, focused more on the events than any symbolism that arises. The characters are what make a book meaningful, once Laurel K. Hamilton can make the events more of a stage to present her characters instead of vice-versa, she will be a truly great writer. She has that potential, so I wait with bated breath to see if I can someday coronate her the Dark Poetess.
There's one more lovely lady I'd like to mention as a feminine influence in the genre, and that is Paula Guran. It amazes me how many places I see her name. I open Cemetery Dance, there she is. I research writers, and so many damn interviews have her name on the tag line. How's she do it? Has she cloned herself or something? I don't know, but I want her secret. I've been a subscriber to the DarkEcho newsletter for at least 7 years now, and was practically bereft when it no longer was a regular event in my life, because her insight into the industry was always educational and enlightening. Alas, I cannot dub her the Dark Poetess either. Though her influence in the genre is not to be underestimated, it is still a secondhand influence because she writes nonfiction. Her readers are not the majority of Horror fans, just us freaky-deaky extremists that can not get enough of the genre, so we just seek it out in every outlet. Still, kudos to her, and anyone that has not read Paula Guran, go forth and educate thyself.
So here I am, tired from a long rant, and I still haven't found my Macabre Goddess to admire and aspire towards. I'll still look to the Gods of Horror for guidance. My favorite authors are still Stephen King and Clive Barker. They've earned their fame and rep. But there's still this need in me, because there's just this hint of the feminine that explores humanity from a totally different perspective. It's a perspective that has been explored well by a very few, and I see the infinite possibilities that are there. That's why I wish that some Dark Poetess would manifest herself in the genre. And since the genre has been accused of being stereotypical and self-serving, a new perspective should be wished for by all.
Rant Post Mortem
And its not that I don't think male authors can't write women characters well! Stephen King is awesome at developing female characters. He does it better than most women writers do. Read Gerald's Game or Rose Madder if you want to see how good he is at writing women. Clive Barker is also amazing. He's great at writing, painting, and who knows what else. That guy's great at everything--is anyone else convinced that he's some evil scientist's creation?
Did I fail to mention a female writer you adore? If so, forward me their name, and I promise to explore their work. Think I'm horribly and unforgivably wrong about something? Even better! Let me know, conflict keeps brain cells buzzing. Think I'm right about something? You're an idiot and need to reconsider what you just read! Just kidding, let me know if you agree, a little ego stroking is always good for the soul. We can chat about how right we are, reaffirming our every thought 'til were so closed minded we convince ourselves up is down.
copyright © 2005, Aileen McAleer