As a horror short story writer, novelist, audio-playwright and scriptwriter, I have had the great fortune of creating hundreds of characters. Most of which have been pulled through a proverbial knot hole of the grotesque, as they have had to endure; drooling creatures of the night, malicious ghosts, or even fellow humans with an appetite for death and mayhem.
Sometimes they are victorious. They grow like a gnarled, old elm through out the story, accepting the darkness around them, finding their own inner-complication, and learning how to fight back. And sometimes they are bad themselves. They allow their greed or pride or even laziness to win out, and that means the monster takes them. Or, of course, they are the monster.
As a woman, I’m most compelled to tell womens’ stories. I appreciate the nuance of what it means to be a female in contemporary times, and I have worked to try to understand what it would’ve been like in other eras. It is complicated, like horror itself. A multi-faceted identity.
In my first short story collection Twisted Reveries: 13 Tales of the Macabre (Inklings Publishing) it was vital to me that I told stories about different kinds of women. Not to rely on female tropes, which in horror are often “the kick-ass woman” or “the hag.” (These I have explored in great detail in my co-authored book The Science of Women in Horror (Skyhorse Publishing))
I wrote a story about a woman who abandoned her small children in pursuit of quiet, only to be visited by a physical manifestation of her guilt. I wrote about a very unlikable motel owner, so uncomfortable in her own skin she is not only mean to everyone, but sets dangerous fires in a misguided attempt to find relief. Yes, I wrote about pleasant heroines, too, ones who were maybe a touch weak and then found their strength. Ones we could revel with in their triumph.
But, it is the ones who make choices that are confusing, upsetting, just downright wrong, that stay close to my writer’s charred, black heart. Like the narrator of one of my most popular stories “The Pit”, who uses a special relationship with an underwater creature to drown people she doesn’t like. One can find a glimmer of empathy for her as a child, yet as she grows it becomes increasingly obvious that she is not a heroine but a villain.
So, why is this so important? Simply because it hasn’t been a luxury afforded to very many female characters. The ability to be selfish, amorous, or morally questionable, has rested much more easily with the male characters of not just horror fiction, but all fiction. It made readers uncomfortable to follow a woman who was not either all good, think of a film “final girl” like Nancy of Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or all bad, like, I don’t know, pretty much a million archetypal witches in cinema from The Wicked Witch of the West, to Maleficent, to even those pesky witches of Hocus Pocus (1993). This debate raged when the characters of the beloved TV series Breaking Bad (2008-2013) were placed under opposing scrutiny. It seemed that viewers were empathetic to Walter White’s criminal dalliances, as well as his aggressive techniques, yet when his wife Skylar employed the same traits she was the object of vocal hatred.
Long before I was born, or there were any horror sections in bookshops, women like Mary Shelley, Ann Radcliffe, and even the Bronte sisters were exploring gothic literature through the eyes of the female experience. It was a way for them to digest the misogynistic world in which they lived. This continued with Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Shirley Jackson, among many others, unraveling the female sphere by telling stories of ghosts, murderers, and psychological decay.
As a modern teller of horror stories, I hope to continue this tradition of shining a light on the women who are too often ignored; the complicated, the imperfect, the scared, the ones blind to their own faults.
You know, the ones just like us.
In Twisted Reveries 3, Bram Stoker Award nominated horror author Meg Hafdahl continues her twisted tradition of female-driven tales with a razor sharp bite. This third collection is steeped in the gothic and antique terrors of years past. Among an intriguing cast of characters, we meet a suffragette who has a sudden brush with telepathy; a deaf widow haunted by her own, devious past; and a young girl fixated on vanquishing the monster who killed her.
Travel into bygone eras and experience thirteen chilling stories that will undoubtedly make you question the shadowed, terrifying memories of the past.