Some months ago, I learned a new phrase: "l'appel du vide
." French. Translates to "the call of the void." What it refers to is that half-mad voice that whispers in your ear when you're standing at the edge of a cliff, and says, "Jump. Do it. You know you want to." You may not be depressed, or an adrenaline junkie, or even having an unusual day for any reason, and I'm not entirely sure everyone
gets this feeling. But a good many of us, for some bizarre reason, have that funny little trickster somewhere in our collective unconscious that teases us and makes us wonder if we're quite as sane as we thought. And for horror writers, it's this same tendency that we tease and exploit when we make up our gruesome little stories.
Welcome to Women in Horror Month, 2013! I'm trying to be a little better organized this year, and to that end I've joined a blog chain headed by Diane Dooley (link
). The official website for the WiHM movement is here
, where you'll find an abundance of links and activities the good folks who run this thing are moderating all over the country. If you're new to this blog--or in any case, if you weren't around last year--Women in Horror Month happens in February (obviously) and examines the role of women in horror: how they're portrayed, the messages female characters send to their audiences, and just the general affect of gender roles on this particular genre. It started out with a heavy focus in film, but as the movement has gotten larger, it's expanded to include television, comics, and literature.
This is where folks like me come in. Last year I took some time asking myself what attracts me to horror, both as a reader and a writer. For 2013, I want to do something different. One of the things I've talked about here and elsewhere on the 'net is how the main element all horror stories need is audience empathy. The goal of horror is to scare you, after all, and the most effective way to do that is to make the audience feel what your characters are feeling. So with that in mind, instead of looking inward at what I've done to make my characters squirm, I'm looking at other works and trying to pinpoint the universal qualities in each of them--that thing that ties the characters to the audience, that brings them all into the same place, and exposes them to the same fears.
Recently I found this essay, written by Joyce Carol Oates in 1993: Reflections on the Grotesque
There's plenty to savor, naturally, and I'm in awe of Ms. Oates not just because of the visceral beauty she injects into her pieces, but because she managed to garner respect, praise and relevance not just as a writer, but as a female writer of dark fiction. She's a recognized literary master, and proof enough for me that being female, and having an attraction to the macabre, need not get one shoved aside or dismissed in favor of proper "literature."
Now, having said all that, the thing that stands out most to me in the above-linked essay is this:
"One criterion for horror fiction is that we are compelled to read it swiftly, with a rising sense of dread, and so total a suspension of ordinary skepticism, we inhabit the material without question and virtually as its protagonist; we can see no way out except to go forward.
How many times have we watched a horror movie and yelled at the protagonist not to go in the basement or attic, not to investigate that strange noise or smell, not to go out into the woods? The general consensus is that characters in horror are just dumb, and while that's certainly the case sometimes, I'm not so sure it's that simple. And do we really mean it when we holler, "Don't go in there!"? Of course not. We want
to see what's in the basement, behind that door, hiding in the woods, buried in the back yard. The only way out is to go forward. The only way off that proverbial cliff is to jump.